Friday, February 27

Winslow dealt to Bucs for draft picks

Kellen Winslow II, one of the most controversial figures to ever don burnt orange and seal brown, is now a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Earlier today, the Browns shipped K2 to Tampa for undisclosed draft picks. In 2008, Winslow posted subpar numbers (43 catches, 428, 3 touchdowns) in just 10 games. His stats were hampered by injuries and the entire offense's gross underperformance.

Winslow was drafted in 2004 after Butch Davis executed one of the worst draft day trades you'll ever see, dealing a second round pick to the Lions to move up just one slot in the first round (from number seven to number six). The fact that Davis was taken advantage of by Matt Millen, well, that just adds insult to injury. Winslow's first season was marked by a lengthy holdout and a season-ending injury (broken right leg) while attempting to recover an onside kick.

In 2005, Winslow's bizarre little circus reached its peak, as The Soldier famously wrecked his motorcycle while doing stunts in a parking lot. Winslow's Evil Knievel impression came just months after he had recovered from his broken leg, and left him with a torn ACL in his right knee. While he was on the mend at the Cleveland Clinic, Winslow was struck by one of the infamous staph infections that have plagued Browns players in recent years. Winslow's right knee would never fully recover, and his right knee gave him problems during the remainder of his Browns career.

Winslow played saw his first action in nearly two years in 2006, when he grabbed 89 receptions for 875 yards and 3 scores. It was an impressive display considering the obvious physical toll of Winslow's injuries, and he carried that momentum into 2007, when he posted 82 catches, 1106 yards, and 5 TDs. That performance earned Winslow a Pro Bowl selection, and helped the Browns win 10 games; the only time the club has posted double-digit wins since its return.

The struggles of quarterback Derek Anderson and the offense as a whole led to a lackluster '08 season for Winslow, which will probably be remembered best for his shady hospitalization (staph infection, and problems in the nether regions) at Winslow's home away from home, the Cleveland Clinic. Winslow's trip to the hospital resulted in peculiar semi-public spat with then-GM Phil Savage, which ultimately ended with Savage suspending Winslow for a game. After that incident, it was a good bet that if Savage was still with the team during the off-season, Winslow wouldn't be. Apparently Eric Mangini and George Kokinis mirrored Savage's sentiments.

It is awfully difficult to evaluate this trade before we know what draft picks the Browns received in exchange, but assuming they weren't terribly hoodwinked, I like the deal. And it's not because I didn't like Winslow, because he was one of my favorite Browns when he was healthy. Say what you want about Winslow, but at least he was never in trouble for drug problems or DUIs, and he gave 100-percent whenever he was on the field. He was one of the few players who made you feel like he cared just as much you did as a fan, and I'll always appreciate that. That said, trading Winslow makes sense from a business perspective (again, that's dependent on what the Browns got in return).

While he was a terrific player, we can all agree that Winslow's career probably will be shortened by injuries, and it's usually better to unload guys like that a year too early rather than a year too late. Winslow was making decent money and had voiced a desire for a new contract in the near future, he always had a high risk of injury, was a mediocre blocker at best, and there was always a chance he could go rogue when talking to the media. Plus, the rest of the league probably views the Browns as incompetent, believing that the Browns were wrong about Winslow, and that on a different team, K2 could post monster numbers. Perhaps they're right, but my money's on Winslow getting more and more banged up, and eventually retiring early. Mangini and Kokinis need to cash in on the prevailing wisdom that the franchise is rudderless as long as they can.

The trading of Winslow may be yet another indicator that this new regime is emphasizing character more than the Browns have in the past, which leads to further speculation on how they'll handle the Shaun Rogers drama. At any rate, K2 is heading back down to Florida after nearly five years up north. Winslow gave us two years of headaches, two years of solid play, and a mediocre season in 2008. We should appreciate the intensity and production he brought when healthy, but this strikes me as a classic "sell high" scenario.

The NBA's All-Time Greats

Somehow in my Internet travels the other day, I ended up on this page, which has the all-time leaders in various statistical categories in NBA history. It's kind of a weird link - the title has "LIDERES" in Spanish instead of "Leaders," and I couldn't find a way to click through the main NBA site to get there.

Anyway, there were a number of interesting players and numbers that I found, and so I thought I'd share them with you.

Jordan and Wilt, no surprise at the top, whatever. More importantly, we've got LeBron sitting third. This seems like a good time to mention that his passing and rebounding skills are superior to Jordan's and that Wilt was like a foot taller than everyone else when he played. There, that was fun.

Interesting to see some of the surprise names on the list. Adrian Dantley at 15? Who is Paul Arizin? Where's World B. Free?

Ha, have fun with 3rd place, Jordan, you turkey.

This basically amounted to a longevity contest, with Kareem averaging slightly less than Karl Malone over his career but managing to appear in 84 more contests. Poor Malone, always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

A couple of other surprises here: Alex English? Gary Payton? I knew the glove played a long time, but didn't realize he scored that much.

Rebounds per game
If you need any proof that the game was a little different back in the day, the top two finishers here, Wilt and Bill Russell, should take care of that. Both are over 22 RPG - 22! How often do we see a single 22-board game in the whole league anymore, like once a week? Old-timers will point to this as an indication of these players' dominance or toughness or some nonsense - I say they were good, yes, but it clearly reflects a change in the game, like how Cy Young's 511 wins in baseball is so far out of reach to modern players.

A non-LeBron Cav appears here, courtesy of Nate Thurmond's 14 464 rebounds (8th all-time). Not surprisingly, Wilt and Russell still man the top spots. It's funny how counting stats are less interesting in the NBA than rate stats, where the opposite is often true in baseball.

Field-goal percentage
Larry Nance (14th) and Brad Daugherty (26th) represent the Cavs in this big man-dominated statistic. When you think high FG%, you think: Artis Gilmore. Or maybe not. And who is Mark West, anyway? Who are Steve Johnson and Jeff Ruland? It should tell you something that the links to their names from this page lead nowhere.

3-point percentage
Yep, that's Jason Kapono sitting in the top spot - good thing the Cavs gave up on him so early! He's only played half as many games as second-place Steve Kerr (another former Cav), so he may drop, but an impressive start. It's a pretty steep initial drop from those two guys, Hubert Davis notwithstanding. Steve Nash at 5th is a bit surprising - I think of him more as an assist man than a long-range bomber. Cavs are all over this list - Kapono, Kerr, Wes Person (8th), Mark Price (21st), and look who it is at #16 - current Cavalier Wally Szczerbiak!

Probably the biggest surprise to me is ESPN analyst Tim Legler at .431. I didn't even know he played!

3-pointers made
Reggie Miller must have been a serious chucker - at .395 career he didn't crack the top 30 in percentage but tops the list of total makes. Check out Antoine Walker at #11 shooting at a .325 clip. Wow, dude. Still, that translates into a .488 rate at 2-point field goals, which isn't bad. That's the beauty of the three-ball; you only have to hit about 1 in 3 to match a reasonable percentage on short shots, although I'm ignoring all post-shot effects. Miller's, for instance, works out to .593, aka Artis Gilmore Territory.

Free throw percentage
Mark Price, baby.

Wally pops in at #26 with a respectable .860 mark.

Free throws made
Hey, Karl Malone won something!

This figure represents a huge chunk of wasted time. Malone had this stupid, really unnecessarily long pre-shot ritual that lasted far longer than the NBA rule giving players a maximum of 10 seconds to shoot. Opposing fans would count off the time he took and it always went far more than 10 seconds, but no ref ever called him on it. Boo.

Assists per game
This looks pretty much as you'd expect, with the game's finest point guards manning the top spots, headed by Magic Johnson. Former Cav PG Andre Miller clocks in at 16, Price and his coach Lenny Wilkens tied for 24th at 6.7, and LeBron cracks the list at #30 with 6.6. Who knew Lenny had such court vision?

Steals per game
Somehow I knew that the answer to this was Alvin Robertson. Not sure how that managed to stay in the memory banks, nor even how it got there in the first place. Micheal Ray Richardson (spelled correctly) is second. Fat Lever edges out Slick Watts in a battle of comincally bizarre names - I wonder if Houston's Von Wafer will be joining them on the list? Incidentally, Chris Paul would bump Jordan from 4th on the list if he had enough games to qualify.

Blocks per game
Just a list of tall, awkward dudes, headed by none other than Mark Eaton at 3.5 per. Manute Bol managed second place, though he more than made up for it with an occasional hilarious halfcourt shot. The Cavs are represented by Nance (the all-time leading shot blocker among forwards), Thurmond, and Ben Wallace.

It seems to me that blocks weren't kept as a stat back in the day; otherwise, I'm sure Wilt and Russell would have had like 8.4 per game each.

Total blocks
(H)akeem leads here by 550 over second-place Dikembe Mutombo. ("Who wants to sex Mutombo?") That might be a tough mark to chase down.

Minutes per game
I wish this crappy NBA page would list the minumum games played to qualify here. Kevin Willis is 30th at 26.9 minutes per contest, but I know LeBron plays like 67 a game and he's nowhere to be found. Wilt and Russell are again atop the list - no wonder they had time to get all those boards!

Kareem and Malone 1-2 again. Kareem's figure of 57 446 total minutes adds up to 5 weeks, 4 days, 21 hours, and 26 minutes, in case you were wondering.

I expected more journeymen here - all we get is Cliff Robinson, Buck Williams, and Ho Grant.

What do we learn from all this? Nothing, really, just interesting to see who slots where. I've gained a new appreciation for Hakeem Olajuwon, at least.

Tuesday, February 24

Can I make this my ringtone?

Cleveland Cavaliers announcer Austin Carr

Every time Austin Carr laughs, a baby with leukemia is healed.

Also, check out How hasn't some dedicated a site to AC already?

Monday, February 23

The NFL Scouting Combine

Who cares how far someone can long jump?

Sunday, February 22

Hafner takes live batting practice, film at eleven.

Well with the dearth of interesting information out of spring training so far let's go over what we have heard.

- Andy Marte was designated for assignment before the first spring training game took place.

- There is a field at the new spring training venue with the same dimensions of Progressive Field.

- Carmona has put on a little weight in the offseason.

- Dellucci is already behind.

- Peter Gammons things David Huff will see a good amount of time in the rotation this season.

- Barfield looks good at the third and the outfield.

- Sowers is our spring training opening day starter for 2009 3:05 PM against the Giants of San Francisco on Wednesday. And yes STO will show the game.

The big news today was the question mark that is Travis Hafner took batting pratice beat writer Anthony Castrovince covers all the angles over at Highlights include dingers, more details on how much the shoulder hurt Hafner, and how many steals Hafner is projecting. Wedge mentions that Hafner shouldn't be under pressure to perform as he once did - what the team does need is a dependable Travis Hafner. No part of today's story should comfort your fears on the Hafner situation - well maybe just a little - but let's wait for some spring training action before we get too excited. Luckily for Hafner and Dellucci I guess is that the WBC will extend spring training a little.

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/Paul Connors)

Friday, February 20

Garnett injured. Booya!

KG left the late game in Utah this night/morning with a strained right knee. My prognosis? Amputation. It's really the only option, you can't be too careful.

At any rate, Boston lost, and they're now a game behind the Good Guys in the loss column. I'll hit you with more Stuart Scott. BOOYA!

Also, Kenny Smith thinks that Orlando picking up Rafer Alston makes the Magic better than the Cavs. That's ridiculous.

Wednesday, February 18

All-Star Saturday

I was once again excited to see the NBA's All-Star Saturday festivities, which I typically find more interesting than the game itself. I was particularly intrigued by the addition this year of H-O-R-S-E...which showed at 5 pm and thus I missed it. Damn! Weirdly, TNT never bothered to replay even a second of it during the other four competitions. I only just now bothered to look up the fact that Kevin Durant won.

Of course, TNT had to make room for the ridiculous WNBA/NBA/old NBA guy thing they did, which kicked off the prime time festivities. I like the halfcourt-shooting aspect of it and would like to see some sort of competition with just NBA guys to chuck up halfcourters. However, the WNBA thing has to stop. Yes, NBA, we know you own the WNBA and keep losing money on it; don't you think it's time to give it up?

Next up was the NBA's Skillz competition, won by Derrick Rose. He was good, but I'm still not happy with that dumb ballboy getting in Mo Williams' way and costing him a spot in the finals. Kid, what could you possibly be thinking?

I think the Three-point Shootout is the best of the events. There's no subjectivity like the Slam Dunk, no randomness like the Skillz, and no WNBA players. You just make the most shots and you win. I was happy to see ex-OSU Buckeye Daequan Cook use a late rally to take the title, dethroning two-time defending champion and former Cleveland Cavalier Jason Kapono. The only thing I didn't like was the inane commentary by Reggie Miller and Kenny Smith. Those guys are normally good, but they were insufferable during this event. They kept talking about their past performances, argued about the importance of the center rack (hint: it counts the same as all the others), wrote off Cook halfway through his second round (which tied him for the lead), kept trying to label guys as "shooters" and "scorers" as if that determines their Three-point Shootout fates, and claiming that Kapono wasn't enough of a great to win three straight (like, apparently, Craig Hodges was). Shut up!

The Slam Dunk was a bit of a disappointment, mostly because of how fixed the judges were (sorry, Larry Nance) and how contrived the theatrics of it were. First of all, Rudy Fernandez and JR Smith deserved better, especially Fernandez. His behind-the-back off the backboard alley-oop and behind-the-backboard bounce from Pau Gasol should easily have netted him a spot in the finals, and Smith's two-bounce dunk was no joke either. Unfortunately, the NBA wanted Dwight Howard and Nate Robinson in the finals to follow the script so Howard could break out a 12-foot rim and a Superman phone booth and Robinson could show off his ugly green Knicks jersey (i.e. Kryptonite). Eh. Howard was given two absolute gift 50's in the first round, and Robinson advanced easily as well.

Robinson eventually won by jumping over Howard (impressive, but it's not like Howard couldn't easily have gone higher), but I think the best dunk of the night was Howard tossing it off the side of the backboard and throwing it down. That was a monster. I guess for a more satisfying resolution, I'll have to wait until next year when LeBron throws the hammer down.

Tuesday, February 17

A trade for Stoudemire is well worth the risk

With the NBA trade deadline closing in, it was starting to feel more and more like Danny Ferry and his Cavs might just stand pat. And why not? The team was experiencing unprecedented success. Why mess with a good thing if a clear upgrade didn't exist? But then the Amar'e Stoudemire rumors started to swirl, and the game changed.

General fan sentiment seems to side with making a deal for Stoudemire, so I may largely be preaching to the converted. However, the mere fact that there are Cavs fans out there shooting down a trade for Amar'e is troublesome. Should the Cavs make a play for the athletic big man? Um, is that even a question? The answer is an obvious and unambiguous "YES!" In fact, you have my permission to give a Rick James/ Charlie Murphy open-handed slap to anyone who even suggests that the Cavs shouldn't doggedly pursue Stoudemire. You can even give them a closed fist to the face if you like, provided you're wearing your "Unity" ring.

This trade makes so much sense for the Cavs that it almost makes you worry subconsciously. We've been trained from youth to learn that anything which seems too good to be true, well, usually is. We've had our mailboxes filled with letters from Publisher's Clearing House, we've bought Powerball tickets (seriously, you might as well burn your money), and we've been promised free iPods by popup ads. As skeptics, we've become so well-conditioned we frequently forget that a place exists where you can still get something for nothing. That place is the NBA.

These "found money trades" don't come along often, but when they do, you have to pounce. You usually need two things -- a star with a big contract playing for a lousy club who's looking to slash payroll, and a trade partner with the contracts (preferably expiring) to make the money match up-- to make one of these deals a reality. The Lakers got lucky with Pau Gasol. The Cavs got lucky with Mo Williams. To a lesser degree, Boston got lucky with Kevin Garnett (Minnesota actually got something in return, just not equal value). Heck, the Bulls were even willing to take Larry Hughes off our hands last February. That should be proof enough that the NBA trade market is professional sports' answer to Disney World.

It looks like another one of those found money trades might be upon us with Amar'e Stoudemire. To acquire Stoudemire, the Cavs would likely have to give up Wally Szczerbiak and his expiring contract of almost $14 million, either JJ Hickson or Anderson Varejao, and one or more draft picks. It's also worth mentioning that there are some external factors outside of the Danny Ferry's control which could put the kibosh on a potential deal.

First and foremost, nobody really knows how badly Phoenix GM Steve Kerr wants to slash his club's payroll, save Kerr himself. If we knew that, things would be far less complex. Kerr doesn't have much on his side, but he does have that one element of uncertainty. Second, we can't know for sure what other teams are willing to give up for Stoudemire. The Cavs may not be able or willing to give up as much as another team (likely an Eastern Conference team; Kerr would probably prefer to trade Amar'e out of the West), and if that's the case, this whole discussion is moot. But assuming that the Cavs have a real chance to land Stoudemire, let me run down a few reasons why Danny Ferry shouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger.

Amar'e and LeBron on the floor together? Pinch me!
If we're talking about upgrading the talent on the roster (and that should always be a priority), then it's a no-brainer that the Cavs are better with Amar'e than they would be without him. We're talking about a guy who's made 4 All-Star teams, has averaged 20 points per game every season except his rookie year (excluding '05'-'06, when Stoudemire only played 3 games due to injuries), runs the floor as well as any big man in the league, and is only 26. It's no stretch to call Stoudemire the most athletic big in the league outside of Dwight Howard. Sign me up.

Injuries, attitude, defense...
On the other hand, Stoudemire doesn't come completely risk-free. He had microfracture surgery on his left knee in 2005, which is a legitimate concern when we're talking about a power forward/center. Amar'e has also developed a reputation for being a bit of a selfish, "me-first" player. Concern number three is that Stoudemire's defense is somewhat mediocre (that's putting it lightly).

Of the three red flags, the knee problems are my only legitimate worry. When big guys' knees start to head south, they generally continue deteriorating, and often at a cumulative rate. Still, all signs point to Stoudemire having made a full recovery; he only missed three games in the two seasons following his surgery. But bigs are delicate, and like Zydrunas Ilgauskas' feet, which have more screws in them than a Home Depot, Stoudemire's knee is could go at any time. By the same token, every player in the league is one catastrophe away from retirement. Considering his tremendous upside, Amar'e is worth the injury risk.

As for the bad attitude, the Suns have been in a state of flux since Steve Kerr took over almost two years ago. Once a perennial contender, the Suns have descended to somewhere in between the second and third tier of the Western Conference, and losing tends to make players think more about their own numbers than the win column. Sure, Amar'e doesn't work all that hard on defense, but neither does anyone else in Phoenix. Given Stoudemire's athletic ability, I'm willing to bet than he can at the very least be an average defender when removed from the run 'n gun Phoenix culture.

Plus, didn't we hear the latter pair of criticisms about Mo Williams when he arrived from Milwaukee? Williams has been everything the Cavs have wanted and more. Aside from a handful of true wackos (read: Ron Artest), a team with strong leadership, a defensive mentality, and a winning culture tends to encourage most players to get with the program, and there's no reason to believe that Amar'e would be any different.

Are we mortgaging the future?
The Cavs may have to part ways with JJ Hickson and one or more draft picks to make this deal work, so it's natural to wonder if they're swapping immediate success for future hardship. This trade would do no such thing. Hickson is an intriguing prospect, and I love his strength and athleticism, but he's still extremely raw. There's no guarantee that Hickson will be a Drew Gooden, let alone an Amar'e Stoudemire.

I think Hickson ends up as a solid power forward, even if he isn't a game-changer like Stoudemire. A 15-and-10 average isn't out of the question for Hickson at some point down the road. But Hickson is almost an entirely unproven commodity, and passing on a rare talent like Stoudemire because there's a chance that Hickson may one day be a poor man's Stoudemire is ludicrous.

Trading draft picks can set your team back, and the Jiri Welsch trade is still painfully fresh in our memories. But we need to keep in mind that however many draft picks the Cavs deal to the Suns, they wouldn't be giving up any lottery picks. As long as LeBron James is wearing wine and gold, the Cavs should consistently pick in the high 20s, and hopefully at number 30 a time or two. Those draft picks are inconsequential when compared to the proven commodity that we'd be receiving in Amar'e. For every Tony Parker picked in the 20s, there are at least half a dozen Shannon Browns. Again, the reward greatly outweighs the risk.

Mortgaging the future? We might just be saving it.
Regardless of what we say, LeBron James' pending free agency haunts the dark corners of our minds. If you put a gun to my head, I'd tell you that I think LeBron will stay in Cleveland, but nobody, perhaps not even King James himself, knows for sure. But one thing is certain: it will be much tougher for LBJ to say sayonara if he has a strong supporting cast in Cleveland.

If the Cavs trade for Amar'e, they will have a strong core in place for the long haul (Stoudemire, Mo Williams, Delonte West, Daniel Gibson), and that will be tough for LeBron to walk out on. Stoudemire will likely opt out of his deal after next season, but the Cavs can give him a max deal along with LeBron James.

While James might be able to walk away from a max deal in Cleveland because a few million dollars are inconsequential to him, and he can make more from his endorsements in a larger market, it's pretty unlikely that Stoudemire would balk at such an offer. If Amar'e is in Cleveland for the long-term, it's going to make it much more difficult for LeBron James to walk away, and that's reason enough for Danny Ferry to jump through hoops to get this done.

Chemistry? What chemistry?
Repeat after me: Wally Szczerbiak is not crucial to the team's chemistry. Although others might try to convince you to never tinker with a winning team, I'd contest that a little tinkering might turn this winning team into a shoo-in for the championship. Well, "shoo-in" might be an exaggeration, but they'd certainly be the prohibitive favorite.

Look, Wally Szczerbiak is by all accounts a good guy who plays hard. He's clearly worked on improving his defense since arriving on the north shore. The problem is that Wally simply doesn't have the physical tools to play the kind of defense Mike Brown would like him to play. Szczerbiak turns 32 in March, and he's not getting any younger. More importantly, he's not getting any faster, his lateral movement is likely to diminish, and age doesn't make one run less flat-footed. Szczerbiak's a good shooter when he's standing still, but he's a square peg in a round hole.

The bottom line is that Szcerbiak plays 21 minutes a game, averages 7.4 points, and he's a defensive liability whenever he's on the floor. With Delonte West on the mend, Wally's expendable. Sasha Pavlovic can slide into Szczerbiak's role when he's healthy, all while being a solid defender and a better scorer off the dribble. It's too bad for Wally that it has to be this way, but Danny Ferry has to do what's best for the team.

JJ Hickson's 11 minutes and 4 points per game are even less significant. As long as the Cavs aren't forced to give up Anderson Varejao in the trade, Hickson wouldn't be missed.

Acquiring Amar'e erases AV's leverage.
It seems like ancient history, but a year ago we weren't too far removed from the drama of Anderson Varejao's messy holdout. You remember the situation; the Cavs wanted to sign Varejao (a restricted free agent, meaning that the Cavs could match any offer from another team) to a long-term deal worth $5-6 million a year for about 5 years, and Varejao was seeking something in the neighborhood of $9-10 million per season. When the Cavs countered, Varejao held firm, and Danny Ferry dug in his heels.

Varejao didn't end up back in C-Town until early December, after the Cavs matched a 3-year deal worth $17.4 million offered to Varejao by the Charlotte Bobcats. The contract allows Varejao to opt out after two seasons, so he'll likely become an unrestricted free agent this summer. With Varejao hitting the open market and likely looking for the pay day that evaded him two years prior, the Cavs could be facing a minor crisis in the front court. If they don't add a big before the trade deadline, they could end up with just Ilgauskas, Hickson, Ben Wallace, and Darnell Jackson on the roster next season.

Ilgauskas is poised to retire in the next year or two, while Wallace will be 35 in the autumn and will have a very tradeable expiring contract. Even with a year under each of their respective belts, Hickson and Jackson will both still be very green. As usual, the free agent market won't be teeming with big men. The Cavs may have to choose between overpaying for Varejao, pursuing one of the most loathed men in Cleveland sports, Carlos Boozer (who's an injury risk to boot), or heading into the 2009-2010 season with a thin front court full of guys who are either too young or too old.

Bringing Amar'e to town will alleviate that problem in one of two ways. Either Varejao is shipped to Phoenix and becomes someone else's problem, or Hickson is sent to The Grand Canyon State, in which case Stoudemire's presence makes the Cavs very comfortable to part with Varejao. Either way, the score would move to Ferry 2, Dan Fegan (Varejao's agent) 0.

The trade deadline looms. By 3:00 tomorrow afternoon, we'll know whether Danny Ferry made a move or not, and Ferry's decision will be crucial to both the short and long term success of the franchise. Maybe the relationship between Danny Ferry and Steve Kerr can help grease the wheels of a potential deal, maybe not. Maybe Phoenix's willingness to trade Stoudemire has been overblown, and maybe not.

Regardless, if there's even the slightest chance that the Amar'e Stoudemire will be dealt, Ferry needs to go after him like gangbusters. Sure, there are risks involved -- there always are. But the potential reward of adding a special talent like Stoudemire isn't merely the potential capture of the title that has eluded Cleveland for so many decades, it's possible birth of a dynasty.

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Saturday, February 14

Pitchers and Catchers are already in Arizona!

I originally set out to write the most spectacular comprehensive Indians Spring Training Preview ever. Of course that got shelved and this post is what you get. The easy part of this whole thing is that Shapiro and Wedge hate going into Spring Training actually having to make decisions. So, much like last year, there aren’t a lot positional question marks. The only possible major shakeup I would suspect could even come close to happening is Pavano sucking it big time in spring training and not making the team out of Goodyear. But again, that still isn’t something I expect to happen. Much like how NBC decided to run 46 episodes of Joey the Indians front office aren’t ones to not give guys a chance to get established. While this often helps out the sports talk shows more than the team, I appreciate the Indians' patience.

In years past, far too often a depressed (or normal, whatever) Indians fan would grumble about how Shapiro didn’t do enough in the offseason. Pre-2008 it was hard to watch the Tigers coming off an OK season adding the kind of talent they did. Of course we all know that pitching was their real problem and they didn’t do anything there to help them out. I often sided with Shapiro on these things, saying that the free agent market wasn’t where the Indians will ever build a team and trades are where Shapiro usually makes his hay, so to speak.

With that said, what Shapiro did this off-season is commendable. First, signing Kerry Wood to a two-year deal was the biggest free agent non-returning signing Shapiro has made in a long time, maybe ever. Supposedly this was driven by Eric Wedge wanting a ninth-inning guy he could go to without having to be second-guessing himself. Wood is that guy, and for the first time in a long time I think Indians fans can be excited, in a good way, when the Indians take a lead into the ninth. Last year I pondered that not all losses were equal, wondering if these late-inning relief pitching collapses weren’t eventually going to get to the Indians mentally. It would appear Wedge had grown tired of mustering his troops day in and day out only to watch the relief fail. On top of the Wood signing, Joe Smith was added. I think Smith could be a sleeper this year. Sure, I’ve railed against this guy’s plain Jane name, but I suspect he’ll provide more stability to the bullpen then say, Masa provided in 2008.

As far as the infield situation with the trade of Casey Blake (man that was a good trade) third base was a big question mark. Marte isn't going to get it done and Wes Hodges is at least a year away from contributing. So what to do? There was talk of a trade for Brian Roberts to take over second and slot Jhonny and Asdrubal over to 3rd and SS respectively. I never liked this trade of Shoppach for Roberts since we got only a year of service from Roberts and Jhonny at 3rd is still a complete unknown (I don't count winter league). So the trade for DeRosa right before the New Year was a pleasant surprise to say the least. My only real regret is again that all we get from DeRosa is a single year of service. Jhonny took the winter to play third in the Liga Dominicana and says he was OK there but still needs to work on fielding bunts. All things considered, adding DeRosa even for just a year was a brilliant move that still allows for Luis Valbuena to take over second in the not too distant future.

So what are the things you should be looking for this spring? Here are some key questions to be answered:

- Is Hafner lifting the ball? When the shoulder went what was really lost (besides average) was his ability to hit for extra bases. Average may take a while to come around, but hitting the ball deep would be nice enough in spring.

- Is Choo for real? Can his amazing second half translate into a real season? I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t get a real sense of this during spring training.

- Is Pavano a viable option? All he has to do is not get lit up Jorge Julio style every time out there. Pitchers are always hard to judge in spring (remember Lee’s 08 spring) because they’re working on a pitch or delivery or timing issues and aren’t so concerned with winning the game.

- Can Dellucci be traded for cash or future considerations? No? Damnit!

- Who’s breaking spring training as the fifth starter? My list (in order) is Laffey, Lewis, Huff. Sorry Sowers.

- Minor concerns include Carmona's walk count, Reyes' elbow, how Wedge is going to break it to Marte that he's no longer welcome around here anymore, and general team health.

There you have it. Not much to look forward to this spring. Ha ha ha, I’m just kidding - baseball is back! And not just any baseball, Indians baseball! Now where is that MLB radio account of mine?

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/Paul Connors)

Friday, February 13

Downtown decor

Since I'm the only member of FCF who actually lives in the Forest City, I thought it appropriate to keep readers abreast of developments in the appearance of the downtown area, specifically as it pertains to our favorite sporting clubs. In the past week or so, there have been two notable developments.

One is Medical Mutual finally pulling the plug on those tragically optimistic pro-Browns signs they posted mid-summer this year. Featuring plain brown text on an orange background, they featured slogals like "There's Always This Year" and "Every Dawg Has His Sunday." As the Browns' horrible 2008 season dragged on and the touchdownless streak grew longer and more pathetic, the signs became increasingly sobering reminders of what a sad season this was. The billboard went down in due time, but some of the kiosks on downtown streets remaind until just recently. Wow, take those things down! The big posters right by Cleveland Browns Stadium laying out their 2008 schedule still remain up as almost an act of self-flagellation. You'd think they would have burned those things by now.

The good news is that Medical Mutual has put up some new signs, these ones featuring a wine-colored background. Fortunately, this time there is reason for optimism in the form of the 39-10 Cavaliers who are legitimate title contenders, losses to the Lakers notwithstanding.

My favorite of the signs reads "A Parade Would Be Nice." Man, would it ever. This got me to thinking: would I take a vacation day from work to attend a championship parade? Absolutely yes I would, no question. Let's hope I get a chance to put my money where my mouth is come June.

The other major downtown development is Progressive Field coming out of hibernation with its own festive signs. There's a huge banner by E. 9th and Carnegie proclaiming "__ Days Until Opening Day!" It's actually 57 as of the publish date of this post - I'm not sure when they're planning to formally begin this countdown, but Tribe fans everywhere are ready for some Indians baseball.

The other thing the Tribe has unveiled are the player posters they hang from the streetlights around the park. Each post features two different Tribesmen, identifying each on a first-name (or nickname) basis. I like this - it makes the team and its players seem friendly and plays well into the Tribe's family-friendly approach to marketing the team. Anyway, I see these every day as I drive to work and like trying to find the connection between the two players featured. For fun, here are the ones on E. 9th St:

In case anyone was wondering whether we have the league's best catching tandem, here's a nice reminder.

An all-nickname team, though it's a shame Choo's doesn't say Big League Choo. Apparently Choo has made it known that he wishes to be known as such, and Tribe fans showed last season that they're more than happy to oblige.

The franchise cornerstones.

Ouch! My arm!

I see it as strength up the middle. Others might see it as fanning the flames of message boards and blogs lobbying for AsCab to take over Honny's spot at SS.

Viva los Venozolanos!

Dudes with vaguely oddly-spelled names? I give up, Indians management, you've stumped me. What's the connection?

OK, I admit it, I made this one up, but how come it's not there? What a missed opportunity! I bet the Mariners would have put up a Ken/Ken poster the year the Griffeys played together.

Our Cy Young winner and the catcher who will likely not catch any of the games he pitches.

Player Who Had a Shaky 2008 and "Are You in the Tribe?"
Some of them don't feature two players but instead just one player and the Indians' marketing slogan, which is once again "Are You In the Tribe?" Couldn't come up with something new for '09, boys? Anyway, one features Asdrubal Cabrera, another Rafael Betancourt, and one more, yes, Pronk. Cabrera had a terrible 1st half before lighting it up in the second half, Betancourt was largely ineffective all season, and Hafner is one big gigantic question mark. It almost reads as a challenge: hey, you guys in the Tribe this year, or what?

Needless to say, the combination of the pro-Tribe decorations and the countdown to what is sure to be an epic Opening Day for FCF (let's just say, it's on a Friday and I'm off work) have me excited for baseball's imminent return to the Cleve.

Thursday, February 12

The Real Culprit

If Bud Selig entertaining the notion of penalizing Alex Rodriguez for his positive PED test from 2003 comes as a surprise, it shouldn’t. Selig is a jumping to incorrect conclusions and making poor choices. Had Selig adopted George Costanza’s dogma of simply “doing the opposite” when he took over as commissioner in 1992, he might be considered the best commissioner in sports.

Yes, Alex Rodriguez cheated, and it’s despicable. But he also deserves to be treated fairly, and the fact remains that his positive test came under the conditions of public confidentiality and zero repercussions. When the players submitted to that drug test in 2003, those were the terms. The list of those who tested positive includes 103 other players, none of whom have had their names leaked, and none of whom are in line for punishment from Selig.

If anything, it’s Rodriguez who has the right to be miffed about his name being released; an inappropriate move by Sports Illustrated reporter Selena Roberts. If Rodriguez wasn’t in damage control mode, attempting to repair what’s left of his public image or at least stop the bleeding, I wouldn’t blame him for feeling a bit litigious.

As Walter Sobchak so eloquently put it, “This is not ‘Nam -- there are rules.” If Commissioner Selig were to discipline Rodriguez, he would have no choice but to punish the other 103 players who tested positive, which would not only violate the consequence-free terms of the testing, but also the confidentiality agreement.

We also need to be straight here. Rodriguez’s name was leaked to Roberts by a source who must have had access to the list, and also must have had motivation to launch a vendetta against Rodriguez. The release of only A-Rod’s name makes that clear. By threatening to punish Rodriguez, Selig is merely making himself a part of said vendetta, and is clearly just trying to redirect the steroids spotlight away from himself. This is old hat. After all, it wasn’t long ago that Selig was trying to pass the blame for the steroid era onto Barry Bonds.

When it comes to Selig, one of two things had to be going on during the steroid era. Either Selig was aware of the problem and simply chose to ignore it, thus making him complicit and a de-factor accessory to the players’ abuses of PEDs, or Selig was such a chump that he truly didn’t know what was going on, in which case he’s honest, but clearly unfit to be commissioner. Considering that steroid use had been baseball’s elephant in the room for the better part of a decade before Selig finally took action, the latter is an awfully tough sell.

But it was Barry Bonds who really pushed things over the edge. When Bonds shattered Mark McGwire’s single-season home run record only three seasons after it was set, and then appeared primed to zero in on Hank Aaron’s 755 -- the most revered stat in American sports -- Selig was forced to act. ESPN was singing off the same song sheet; to say that they slightly spun the steroids story to make it about Bonds and not baseball in general would be a gross understatement.

In fairness, Bonds wasn’t just persecuted because of steroid abuse and the home run chase, but because he had an uncanny ability to rub everyone the wrong way, especially media members. Some might see a racist undertone in the public’s general distaste for Bonds, but I’m not buying it because of a) Bonds’ demeanor, which made him about as lovable as Marilyn Manson, and b) he took the career home run record away from Hank Aaron, a fellow African-American. Bonds was guilty of using steroids, and he was a jerk, too. But if he was going to be crucified, then hundreds of other crosses should have been erected.

The point is that like Bonds, A-Rod is being treated differently than other steroid users because of his excellence and the fact that he’s in line to challenge some of baseball’s most storied records. And just like before, Selig is trying to pass the buck onto a household name, instead of standing up and admitting that he played as significant a role as anyone in the steroids era.

Of course Selig wasn’t in locker rooms shooting guys up, but his inexcusable negligence makes him culpable. Selig knew about the steroids culture that was prevalent in many clubhouses, but until his hand was forced, he did nothing to squash it. As long as the turnstiles kept clicking and the hot dogs kept selling, Bud kept looking the other way, and that makes him the ultimate enabler.

Depending on your point of view, the face of the steroids era might be Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, or even Mark McGwire, but if commissioner Selig is still searching for the real culprit, the nearest bathroom mirror is a good place to start.

Deep!...In the Q!

Snapped me a photo from Loudville (pop. 8515) last night, thought I'd share with all the Cavs fans. This is only the second game I've been to this year. I went to the opener, which kicked off a 23-game win streak, and now I've gone to this, which will hopefully be the start of another extensive skein.

There were a number of things I wanted to comment on from the game last night but can't remember too many. All I got is:

1) The guy who shot the National City 3-point challenge had his feet well inside the line on every single shot he took. That's $150 of dirty money.

2) Loved the cocky kid who won the trivia/shooting game. You start at halfcourt and move closer for each correct answer; the kid knew his stuff and the questions weren't too hard, and he arrogantly breezed his way in for a layup. He answered the question about who drafted Varejao (Orlando) without waiting for the girl to say the multiple-choice answeres; on other questions he made her list them all and shook his head mockingly at each "no" before answering. Awesome work.

3) How does Moondog shoot from halfcourt that well? He shoots backwards granny shots and, according to the scoreboard, was 13-29 going into last night's contest. He went 1-of-3 last night, or 2-of-3 or 1-2, depending on how you want to count the one that got wedged between the boackboard and rim that LeBron went and tipped in. There's something fishy here - no one could be so accurate on such a long shot and they even had a video ready for the wedge shot. Strings? Magnets? Industrial Light and Magic? I want to know how this is done.

Wednesday, February 11

Pro Bowl recap

I just now realized that I still do not know who won the 2009 NFL Pro Bowl. Yes, that's right, the All-Star game of the top league in one of my favorite spectator sports took place three days ago, and still I have no idea who won, nor any inkling to find out.

The funny thing is, I even saw a bit of the game. It was on at Scorcher's while I was watching the Cavs play the other day, and I caught a few plays, enough to remark how, even though I loved seeing a few of them out there, orange helmets look awful against red jerseys. But after I left the bar, I didn't once think about the game until Tuesday, when I read a funny sarcastic remark by Brian McPeek on TCF wondering (the day after the game) when the Pro Bowl was scheduled to kick off.

This game is irrelevance defined. It will be interesting to see how plans to move it ahead of the Super Bowl work out. What I'm most curious about is: will guys in the Super Bowl participate? I'd guess not, but the allure of Pro Bowl Glory runs deep.

Pacers outlast Cavs in a crazy finish

It was a boring game for about three and a half quarters. With the exception of LeBron James having a very efficient night shooting from the floor and the free throw line, it felt like the Cavs were phoning it in. Then LeBron James exploded, TJ Ford made some shots of his own, and two of the most controversial calls you'll ever see were made. As it turned out, a 47-point outburst from King James wasn't enough to secure a victory.


Except for a buzzer-beating three at the end of the first quarter by LeBron James, and a vicious block of TJ Ford (by -- you guessed it, LeBron James) you could basically fast forward to the last four or five minutes of this contest. The Cavs allowed the Pacers to hang around all game long, and the Pacers held a slim lead through most of the fourth quarter. With just under 3:00 to play, the Cavs trailed 88-82, and LeBron James had one of his transcendent dunks that make you appreciate how truly special he is. Danny Granger drained a three at the other end, and LeBron answered with a trey of his own to keep the deficit at four.

TJ Ford is a guy who always seems to give the Cavs fits, and last night was no different. The speedy Ford was toasting Mo Williams all night long, but LeBron played some stellar defense to cut Ford off in the lane on one of the game's final possessions. The Cavs had the ball, trailing by two, when LeBron drove and found Wally Szczerbiak wide open cutting to the hoop. Szczerbiak converted an easy layup and the game was tied at 93 with 20.8 seconds left. (Wally proceeded to double-fist Gatorade on the Cavaliers' bench. Yes, really.) Indiana held for the last shot, and TJ Ford hit an impressive 17-foot fader with 0.8 seconds remaining to give the Pacers a 2-point edge. That's when things got strange.

Mo Williams inbounded to LeBron James, who was forced to go up for an alley-oop due to the time constraints. LeBron wasn't able to gain possession, due to what appeared to be some pretty solid defense by Danny Granger. But wait! A foul was called on Granger, giving LeBron two free throws, and granting the Cavs new life. James hit both freebies, and the game was tied with 0.4 seconds remaining. At that point my buddy Chris turned to me and said jokingly, "Just enough time for another foul." I might let Chris pick out some lottery numbers for me tonight.

On the other end of the floor, Danny Granger went up for a very similar alley-oop, only this time LeBron James, with the roles reversed, was called for the foul with the clock reading 0.1 seconds. Granger hit the first of two free throws, and missed the second intentionally, giving us the final margin of 96-95, and giving the Pacers a win by the slimmest of margins. That peculiar sequence of events translates better through video than text, so be sure to check out the highlights here.

Quick Hits

About those late whistles...
It's pretty clear what happened: the official who called that first foul on Granger immediately regretted the decision, and the refs decided to look for any excuse for a make up call on the other end.

Allow me to be blunt about the situation: if you think that Granger should have been called for that foul, you're a homer. Granger was playing good defense, and had position on LeBron. Neither foul should have been called in the first place, and the Pacers should have won by two. You probably don't see either of those fouls called at any point during the game, let alone in the last seconds, when officials generally are a little more lax with their whistles because they don't want to decide the game themselves.

With that in mind, it's also a slippery slope for refs to issue blatant make-up calls during the course of a game. Basketball is the most difficult major sport to officiate, and mistakes are going to be made. But the mistakes are still relatively low, and they tend to even out during the course of 48 minutes. Although Granger's foul never should have been called, two incorrect calls don't equal a correct call, and the refs probably should have let the teams duke it out in overtime.

That call wouldn't have defeated Indiana, as they would have had a chance to win in overtime. Indiana would have had a legitimate beef, but now both teams feel like they were in some way wronged. Instead, the refs made another call which unequivocally decided the game. The foul on Granger was bad, but the foul on LeBron was worse. The way to rectify to one obviously lousy call is not to make a second, especially in that situation.

Well, that worked, so obviously we can't do that again
The Cavs got a key stop to set up Wally Szczerbiak's game-tying layup when LeBron James matched up with TJ Ford and negated his ability to drive into the lane. When guarding Ford, LeBron's body language screamed, "Not this time, little fella." Given how Ford was torching the Cavs and how effectively LeBron defended him the last time, don't you put LBJ on him for what appeared to be the game's final possession? I don't know, I'm not a doctor.

Spread thin
With JJ Hickson playing just five minutes, Mike Brown essentially went with a seven man rotation for the second time in the last three games. One has to wonder if the Cavs are getting a little worn out, especially with injuries (Sasha Pavlovic, Delonte West) testing the vaunted backcourt depth. Sasha Pavlovic should miss most of what remains of the regular season, but Delonte West appears primed to return shortly after the All-Star break if all goes according to plan. The Cavs desperately need some reinforcements in their backcourt.

Speaking of the current lack of depth at guard, it's contributing to some defensive problems. With Delonte West still on the shelf and Sasha Pavlovic sidelined for the foreseeable future, the Cavs are left with Mo Williams, Wally Szczerbiak, and Daniel Gibson at guard. In other words, the Cavs are without their two best perimeter defenders outside of LeBron James.

It was way too easy for TJ Ford and Travis Diener (who?) to get to the rack last night, and the Pacers did a good job exposing the Cavaliers' current lack of depth at guard. Szczerbiak was never fast, but at this point in his career he's so slow that you can only hope to hide him on defense. It's a well-known fact that Daniel Gibson's size --or lack thereof -- makes him a popular target for other teams, and his problems on defense have definitely cost him playing time with Mike Brown in the past. Mo Williams has been playing better defense since arriving from Milwaukee, but he's in the same boat as Gibson as far as being undersized, and he's never been known for his defense, either. The moral of the story is that Delonte West needs to get back on the floor as soon as possible.

No adjustments
The Cavs didn't do a very good job adjusting to what Indiana was doing offensively. The Pacers shot an absurd .478 from 3-point land. Maybe they didn't pay attention during a film session or something, but it looked like the Cavs had no idea that Danny Granger and Troy Murphy, two bigger guys, were good three-point shooters. Granger and Murphy were a combined 7-of-12 from beyond the arc, and although Murphy was a particularly lethal 4-of-5, the Cavs still managed to forget about him time and again.

Speaking of Troy Murphy, is anyone else continuously blown away by the size of that guy's nose? There's a picture of Murphy here, but it doesn't really do justice to that magnificent beak. Honestly, put Murphy out there in Indiana's road yellows, and you might think that you've stumbled onto an old episode of Sesame Street.

Big ups for Roy
If Roy Hibbert had entered the NBA draft as a junior, he probably would have been a lottery pick, and he probably would have gone in the top 10. Instead, Hibbert returned to Georgetown for his senior year in search of a national title. As happens frequently in such cases, Hibbert's stock fell, and he slipped to number 17 in last June's draft. Many supported the Cavs drafting Hibbert, and they may have if he had been available when they came on the clock at number 19.

Maybe it was all for the best, as Cavs fans are very happy with young JJ Hickson, but Hibbert looked good against the Cavs last night, and I'm glad to see him having some success. Hibbert looks slimmer than he did in college, and more mobile than I remember him. In fact, he was a very efficient 6-of-9 for 12 points. The former Hoya did most of his damage early, and the Pacers should have kept feeding him the ball. He probably doesn't have the tools to be a 20-and-10 guy, but 15-and-8 isn't out of the question.

Dan's the man
Due to playing for lousy teams in small markets, Danny Granger and Kevin Durant might be the two best-kept secrets in the NBA. Granger and Durant are fifth and sixth in scoring, respectively, and although Granger struggled shooting last night (5-of-18), the Cavs got a good look at his versatility, athleticism, and outside shooting ability that most guys his size simply can't match. This is only Granger's fourth season, and he's shooting nearly 40-percent from beyond the arc; scary for a guy his size.

Indiana has been in disarray ever since the Ron Artest debacle, but they've made some prudent decisions since then. Unloading Jermaine O'Neal when they did turned out to be a stroke of genius, and with a solid young nucleus of Granger, TJ Ford, Jarrett Jack, and Roy Hibbert, the Pacers may be able to right the ship sooner rather than later.

DiGiorno Pizza® Austin Carr Quote of the Game
"The Cavaliers have to wake up now! [Indiana] is starting to fill their Cheerios."
No words. Just no words.

Up Next: 2/11, Phoenix Suns, 7:00, Quicken Loans Arena

The Cavs will aim to avenge a two-point loss to the pre-Shaq Suns last January, in addition to getting their first look at the Shaqtus. Phoenix isn't the force that they've been in the past, treading water in the Western Conference at 28-22 and barely holding onto the 8th seed. It will be interesting to see how the Cavs handle the Suns' front line combo of Shaq and Amar'e Stoudemire, and whether or not they can slow down another small, speedy guard in Steve Nash.

Tuesday, February 10

My extensive summary of tonight's Cavs game:

Bad call.


Even a casual follower of baseball has by now learned the news that Alex Rodriguez was one of 104 players who tested positive for illegal performance-enhancing substances in 2003. Sports Illustrated first published the story and A-Rod himself confirmed it a few days later.

It's obviously a significant blow to the game's already-eroded integrity, and columnists are falling all over themselves to write the most earnest columns about what a terrible thing this is for the sport. Agreed, but what surprisingly few people have pointed out is this: the tests were anonymous. In fact, the players' union agreed to them ONLY under the condition that they be anonymous and that no players testing positive would have their name released or otherwise be punished. The agreement was that mandatory testing (with consequences) would be put into place the following year if more than 5% came up positive (it was about 8.7%). The only reason anyone found out about A-Rod's results is that the federal government seized the test records for their case against BALCO and someone leaked his name.

What annoys me the most, then, is that SI writers Selena Roberts and David Epstein decided to publish the story even though these results were supposed to be confidential. This shows absolutely no respect for an individual's privacy and for the agreement that was made between MLB and its players. Frankly, I feel that Roberts and Epstein had no right to make this information public. Even though he's now a certified cheater, I think this situation is totally unfair to Rodriguez.

Adding fuel to the fire, Curt Schilling has now come out and said that the other 103 positives should be identified, rather than just singling out the highest-profile of the violators. I do not agree with this. His point is that the 1094 players who were clean are now guilty by association and deserve to have their names cleared. Perhaps, but they're also innocent until proven guilty, and the tests, once again, were supposed to be anonymous. I can't over-stress this. The best solution would be for no one's name to have been made public at all, but we can't go back in time and stop SI's attention-seeking blabbermouths, so the best approach from now on is to keep the remaining 103 names confidential, as all 104 of them should have been.

One final question: why 1198? If you tested every team's 40-man roster, you'd get 1200. What happened to the other two?

Thursday, February 5

FCF is off to the races!

In addition to covering the professional and occasionally collegiate athletics happening in and around Cleveland and Ohio, some of the members of Forest City Fanatics also participate actively in local racing events. JHH completed a marathon a couple of years ago; Nick and Andy are both avid runners and triathletes (in addition to Andy's myriad of other sporting endeavors), and I've only met Figgs like three times and have no idea what he does for fitness.

As I was running around Cleveland during a recent snowy evening, I was excited by thinking of the opportunites the local 2009 race calendar affords, so I thought I'd offer a simultaneous look back at a productive year of racing as well as a look ahead to warmer, happier times. I've provided links to race home pages throughout, as well as to articles I've written about select races and results from ones I've completed. My name is Andy Francis, if you're looking to verify any of my past finishes.

An organization here in Cleveland called Hermes organizes a number of quality events for denizens of Northeast Ohio; in addition to hosting frequent road races, they also oversee the local Corporate Challenge (Andy's heroics from last year are described here, here, and here) and a Sports and Social Club.

Anyway, their 2009 race season kicks off on February 7 with the Tackle the Tower event, where participants head downtown to climb the 37 floors (646 stairs) of the Tower at Erieview. A prior engagement is keeping me out of this event, though it seems like a fun, creative way to hold a race when there's a ton of snow and ice on the ground..

One of Hermes' major events, and the place where I expect to start my 2009 campaign, is the Hermes 10 Miler, held on April 25 and taking place right along the lake. Their tagline is "run like a god," which I fully intend to do except for the fact that I will actually exist. I consider myself a middle-distance runner; anywhere from 10K to half-marathon is my sweet spot. I don't do enough speedwork to perform great at shorter distances, and anything above a half-marathon I'm just trying to finish. Speaking of which, 10 miles should slot nicely into my training schedule this year because of the...

Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon. That's right, Nick and Andy are stepping up to the plate and tackling the full 26.2 this year on May 17. I ran the race in 2005 and finished it in 4:07:43 and found it to be a great experience. Now it's time to prove that my finish was no fluke. Nick will be looking to join the illustrious ranks of Andy and JHH as marathon finishers as well. Considering the fact that my apartment basically borders the Start/Finish line (pre-race announcements woke me up last year and reminded me that I needed to go downstairs to volunteer), we'll have a great location from which to depart for the big race. I'm fully confident that only an injury can keep me from the finish line in the 2009 race. Bring it on, Cleveland!

Prior to that, if I get really ambitious (read: foolish) there's the option of taking on the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon, to be held on May 3. It's bigger and goofier than Cleveland, but I'm not sure I'm up for two marathons in three weeks. We'll just have to see.

After that, my calendar is suspiciously quiet for a while. I realized that last year I didn't participate in my first race until early August, although I went on to finish seven before the year ended. This year I'll have to search out events to break up the training monotony during the summer. One possibility is the First Town Days 5K, held in my hometown of New Philadelphia, OH. I've completed four of these races, I think, each taking place the Saturday of 4th of July weekend in scenic Tuscora Park. Here I should point out that I'm bent on defeating my now almost-10-year-old 5K personal record (PR) of 21:50, which is totally lame, was set in my first ever race, and is really annoying me. However, the FTD race isn't an optimal time to best my mark, because the course is hilly and I inevitably end up entering it with some degree of a hangover. If someone has a nice flat 5K on a non-party weekend in mind, I'm all ears.

Next up on the calendar is my first scheduled triathlon of the season, the Pittsburgh Triathlon and Adventure Race, held July 29, in my second hometown of Pittsburgh, PA. Triathlon season typically starts later in the year, at least in the Midwest, so as to give the water a chance to warm up. Last year was my first season triathloning, and I did three, all at the sprint distance (approximately 750 m swimming, 20 km biking, and 5 km running). This year I plan to execute my first Olympic (aka International) tri in Pittsburgh; this length is simply double all the sprint distances. After spending all my triathlons so far swimming in Lake Erie, it will be interesting to test the waters of the Allegheny River.

After making my 2009 triathlon debut in the Steel City, it's time to come home to C-town for the big one, the Super Bowl of my racing calendar, the event that keeps me motivated to run in the cold and lift weights while I'm bored: The Cleveland Triathlon. Held August 2 in the North Coast Harbor, Cleveland Memorial Shoreway, and streets of downtown, this is the marquee event of the year as far as I'm concerned. Nick and I both entered our first tris last year in Cleveland and each notched 2nd place finishes in our age groups.. I don't necessarily expect to take the top spot this year - I'm really not that good - but I definitely can knock down my time from last year. I'm excited just thinking about the Cleveland Tri. Hopefully we do a better job of reading the race instructions this year so we can avoid pre-race scrambling.

Following last year's effort, I also entered the Lorain Triathlon and posted a decent effort. For some bizarre reason, the whole week before the race, I had this pain in my side, like one of those sidesplitters you get when you try to run too far after eating a lot. Really, really weird and not fun. It was on the decline when I did the race, but still annoying. Independent of those medical woes, I may or may not enter Lorain this year.

Next up is the Presque Isle Triathlon, held in Nick's residence of Erie, PA. Nick and I both completed this last year, despite some dismal conditions. First off, on our way out the door we discovered that Nick's bike had an irreparable flat, so we scrambled to find a replacement cycle and ended up showing up late. Luckily, a hurricane was apparently hitting Erie at the time, so I got to park in a big pool of mud and we got to stand on the beach freezing until they put us in the water...then dragged us back out to count and tossed us back in. Other than that it was great. Tough field, though - I felt good about my race, plus it had proportionally less swimming and more running (my best event) than standard distances, but somehow I couldn't do any better than 97th. Wow. PI is a maybe for me in 2009.

A few weeks later, we have my big 10K weekend. Last year I entered a crack squad from work in the Road Runner Akron Marathon on Saturday (my leg, the third, was 10K of the total), drove to Pittsburgh, and the next day finished my sixth career Great Race, a name which I find entirely apt for my favorite road race.

Akron has garnered popularity and a lot of good press over the past few years, and deservedly so: nice course, good weather, very well-organized, neat finish. In this, my second Akron relay (I led off with a 10K in 2006) I took my 5-man team (Project Exodus) into battle, and we earned 30th place out of 853 all-dude teams. The effort was spearheaded by my own 44:01 in leg 2, by far my PR for the 10K distance. Score! After the race, your bib entitles you to three free beers, and, this is important so pay attention, you can have all three at once. Score! So, expecting my team to finish shortly, I grabbed my three, grabbed a field box seat in Canal Park, and watched really fast marathoners and really slow half-marathoners cross the finish line. I'd like to maybe do half or all of Akron on September 26, but at the same time I like my relay team, so maybe I'll see if I can get anonther 10K slot. Wait, I'm the captain, I can have whatever slot I want. Score!

Then I sobered up and jetted to Pittsburgh for the Great Race the very next day. This was my first-ever 10K way back in 2000, where I lived along the course and my drunk (at 9:15 am) roommates made me stop for a beer before I could advance. Good times. Like Akron, the weather for the Great Race is just right, and Pittsburgh is a fun downhill course that takes me by a lot of places I remember fondly from my nine-year stint in the 'Burgh. Nick and I both participated, despite a questionable evening prior to the race filled with beer, Nintendo, and not much sleep. Undaunted by either that particular training regimen or my effort at Akron, I handily set my course record, kicking out a 44:37 that fell just short of the previous day's mark. Nick and I then proceeded to watch the Browns with our old friends at the Pittsburgh Browns Backers and enjoyed a rare Cleveland win. Nice. Let's hope things work out this well on September 27 this year.

Emboldened by my 10K success and looking for a new challenge, I entered the Towpath Marathon, held along the towpath in the greater Cleveland area. This was a lot more rural than the races I usually do, and I really enjoyed running on a trail through the forest. I entered the Half Marathon distance despite a serious lack of long-distance training, and absolutely destroyed my PR, posting a 1:39:44. I rank this as the best race of my career. Consider that I ran at an average 7:37 mile pace and that my previous half-marathon in 2005 was a 1:53:57, or 8:42 per mile. Hell, I don't always even break a 7:37 pace on a 5K! OK, I usually do, but I've never gotten it under 7:00. I'd definitely like to return to the Towpath on October 11, either for 13.1 or 26.2.

I wrapped up my 2008 campaign at the Pigskin Classic, a football-themed race held in downtown Cleveland the day of the OSU-michigan "game." I put up a pedestrian 22:23, but ended up with a boss OSU shirt and had plenty of time later to enjoy watching the Buckeyes pound michigan once again.

Overall, a really fun and productive 2008 racing season, and I'm definitely looking forward to more action in 2009. If you're an FCF reader and run in the area, feel free to check us out or make some suggestions as to possible races.

Tuesday, February 3

Utter Domination

The Ohio St-michigan rivalry is starting to look like Browns/Steelers, except that in this one, our fans are on the winning side of things for a change. Last week, Ohio St basketball blew out the Wolverines, 72-54. This was the second time OSU defeated their nemesis this year, marking yet another 3-0 season sweep (along with the football team's win).

Let me throw some numbers at you. Buckeye football has toppled michigan 7 out of the last 8 times, including the past 5. On the hardwood, (insert sexual innuendo here) scUM has been downed by the Bucks 8 of 9. This means that in my 4-year college career, OSU holds an 11-1 record in the two sports combined. Wow. Just for fun, Ohio St Women's hoops has rolled up 13 straight. There has never been a better time to hate michigan.

Speaking of hating michigan, quick story. One of my students came in with a michigan sweatshirt last week, and I told him to take it off or turn it inside out because it was offensive. He did not, and we began to get into an argument. In the end, it was decided he could wear it. Stupid second graders.


Monday, February 2

Wrapping up the big game

What a game yesterday! I think all of us Cleveland fans were excited by the dramatic finish to Sunday's big showdown and had big smiles on our faces from the final result. Yes, I'm talking about the dominant 4th-quarter effort the Cavaliers employed to grab a rare road win in the Palace at Auburn Hills, taking down the Pistons for a satisfying 90-80 win. Wait, what game did you think I meant?...

Oh, that one. Eh. The less said about that, the better. Between that and Punxsutawney Phil's declaration that there will be six more weeks of winter, Western PA is really screwing me over today. As for the game itself, I'm definitely taking the ostrich approach to dealing with it - in other words, not really dealing with it at all. Serenity now! Since I have no real desire to talk about the actual game, let's talk about amusing topics peripheral to the contest, shall we?

First off, let's recap the work of FCF's fearless predictors in the NFL postseason. As you may recall, Andy won the regular-season title by 11 games over Nick and roughly 168 games over Figgs. Heading into the Super Bowl, Nick had a one-game edge on Andy in postseason prognosticating, and was three up on Figgs. However, Nick was the only one of the group who had the Steelers, who did not cover, thus Andy was able to force a tie and Figgs earned...a less embarrassing 3rd place. The lesson, kids: never trust the Steelers. The final numbers:

Super Bowl Sunday
Andy: 1-0
Figgs: 1-0
Nick: 0-1
Nick's Money Picks: 0-1

Andy: 6-5
Figgs: 4-7
Nick: 6-5
Nick's Money Picks: 4-5

A few remarks on this year's Super Bowl commercials. Most them were so-so, as usual, and there were a few standouts and a few clunkers. I'd say Anheuser-Busch was the big loser with their bizarre fixation on horse-themed advertisements. Who does this resonate with? continued their impressive run of terrible advertising - not only do most people think they look buffoonish, but hardly anyone knows what they even do. My three favorites were:

3) PepSuber
A randomly funny SNL-flavored Pepsi ad that managed to poke fun both at over-earnest product placement and at MacGyver, featuring Richard Dean Anderson himself.

2) Conan O'Brien
The lanky late-nighter had two excellent spots. One, a Bud Light ad, found him reluctantly accepting an offer to do a spot when told it would only appear in Sweden. The hilariously bizarrer commercial-within-a-commercial was classic Conan, and of course the spot ended up being shown in Times Square, to O'Brien's chagrin. I also liked the promo for Conan's own program where Tina Fey says "If your Conan lasts more than three hours, contact your doctor."

1) Career Builder
A late-game spot where they show, "12 Days of Christmas" style, a number of reasons why you may want to consider a new job. I could watch that Asian guy walk by the guy's desk and say "hey, dummy" a hundred times and not get tired of it. This ad literally made me laugh out loud, and more than once.

Nick either reads the right articles or is quite an idea man, because he had two gems related to the Super Bowl. Before the game, I posted a link to Super Bowl Monday, a website dedicated to making the day after Super Bowl Sunday a national holiday. Seems like a solid plan. Nick, thinking outside the box, has a way better idea: just have the game on a Saturday so everyone can party properly. I cannot think of a single drawback to this idea. Please, NFL, as long as you're keeping the two-week break between the championship round and the Super Bowl, just have the game on a Saturday. The nation's football fans as well as its employers will thank you.

The real story of the game last night, as I saw it, were penalties. Penalties, penalties, penalties. Now, I'm not going to go into some big long thing about how the refs favored the Steelers or anything; even though there was a big disparity in yardage (Steelers 7/56, Cardinals 11/106), the refs got most calls right and Arizona continually shot themselves in the feet, though there were one or two 15-yarders I thought were of questionable merit. No, my larger issue is how penalties are affecting my ability to enjoy professional football.

- Holding penalties, even just the threat of them, just kill me. I can't even enjoy a long, exciting play, because they get called back so often that I just sit there, nonplussed, looking for the yellow "FLAG" bar to appear on the screen. When I've verified that it didn't, the successful play is over and the time for excitement has passed. I have no solution to this problem, unfortunately.

- Nick's other great idea was this: stop penalizing teams yards for personal fouls. Make them fines-only, make them punitive, but stop having it affect the on-the-field play. Yes, roughing the QB needs to be discouraged and quarterbacks protected, but hitting a guy after he throws doesn't affect the result of the play. Fine the hell out of dirty plays, but don't have them influence the game like they do. This is especially pertinent to excessive celebration penalities, which have absolutely nothing to do with the on-field action, yet still net a team -15 yards each time they're whistled. Yes, I know the players should know and obey the rules, but these little conduct penalties have a really unnecessary intrusion on the play.

- Related to that: what the hell was that Cardinal thinking running over the Steelers' placeholder on that short FG try? Wow.

- Some commentators mentioned how Santonio Holmes should have been flagged for his celebration after catching the winning TD because he used the ball as a prop. Indeed, this is correct according to the rules, and the refs actually should have flagged him by the letter of the law. But frankly, I'm glad they didn't, even though it would have given Arizona a better chance to win, for the reasons cited above. It had nothing to do with the game. I think all excessive celebration and taunting penalties are stupid - who the hell ever came up with this ridiculous "ball as a prop" clause? And the thing where you can't include teammates? It's insane. Penalties schmenalties.