Monthly Archives: September 2012

Friday musings

* It’s still so early in the college football season and while there aren’t a lot of great games across the country this weekend, there are three intriguing and important match-ups in the Big 12. Baylor goes to West Virginia and while the Mountaineers have probably

West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is considered one of the frontrunners for the Heisman Trophy.

established themselves as an early favorite for a league championship (Kansas State is in the mix, too), this will be a test. West Virginia can score, but can West Virginia defend? Baylor can score, but can Baylor defend? Will this be a 62-58 game? Also, Texas visits Oklahoma State and we’re just not sure about either of these teams, are we? That Longhorns defense hasn’t been as dominant as was expected and OSU is a load for any opponent in Stillwater. Finally, Texas Tech visits Iowa State. Both teams are considered on the outside looking in on the league race, but the team that wins Saturday could kick open that door slightly. It’s shaping up as an interesting Saturday in the Big 12.

* Congratulations to Kansas basketball coach Bill Self for signing a contract extension, with a boost in pay, with the Jayhawks. Self is now under contract through 2022, when I’ll probably be retired. On second thought, I better be retired. Two of my best friends have retired early and neither is having any problem with it. And while I love what I do, I’ve been working full-time for a long, long time. Retirement appeals to me, although I really have no idea what I’ll do. Oh my goodness, what will I do? It just occurred to me that it’s probably best to have something to do when one retires. I apologize. What started out as a congratulatory note for Bill Self has turned into a personal panic attack. Maybe I won’t retire. Maybe I’ll work until I’m 100. Then again, what if nobody will have me? This isn’t good. Not good at all.

* Aerosmith is coming to the Intrust Bank Arena on Nov. 11 and I love me some rock and roll. These kinds of acts have been in short supply for Wichita, which has been deemed by the concert promoters as a “country town.” Hey, I don’t know if I’m comfortable with that label. So I have a chance to do something about it by purchasing Aerosmith tickets. And don’t forget, Cheap Trick is also a part of the Nov. 11 show. But – and this is a huge BUT!!! – the best tickets for the show are $150 each. And I don’t go cheap when it comes to concerts; I want the good seats. Question is: Is Aerosmith (with Cheap Trick) worth that kind of money? The danger with a concert like this is that Aerosmith will play more of the songs from their upcoming CD, “Music From Another Dimension,” than the old hits. That new music, by the way, is scheduled to be released just five days before the Wichita show. It’s important for us to support rock and roll acts at the IBA so as not to be completely overwhelmed by country music acts. But this is a tough one for me.

* If this sounds unpatriotic, I apologize. But as I was watching the Ryder Cup earlier today, I found myself rooting for the Europeans in almost as many matches as I was pulling for the Americans. But I don’t really view golf through the prism or patriotism. There are players I like and players I don’t like and their nationality doesn’t much come into play. I do know this; the Medinah Country Club, located just outside of Chicago, looks spectacular. It should be a fun weekend of golf and I do believe the Americans will pull it out.

* Would U.S. captain Davis Love III think about benching Tiger Woods? Just a thought. Probably not.

* I love playing golf. I wished more people asked me to play. I should cultivate friendships, maybe that would work.

* As I’m working on this blog, the guys who are painting my house just pulled up. That excites me and I can tell because I’m typing really, really fast at the moment. Why don’t I paint my house myself? Because that’s hard work and because I have always been terrible with a paint brush in my hands. Art was my worst subject in school. I have a paint-phobia because of it, really. It’s best to leave the painting to the professionals.

* The fall is the best time of the year for movies. So I spent some time earlier looking through the list of films that will be released from now through the end of the year. And I wrote down 27 movies that I feel like I should see. That’s ambitious, considering I’ve been to the movies once in the past four months. Pathetic.

* It feels like a huge fall for movies to me. I underlined five must-see movies, starting with “Lincoln,” directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Doesn’t that have to be one of the greatest movies ever, considering the subject, the director and the lead actor? How can this movie miss? Four others that I think everyone has to see: “Hitchcock,” starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren and Scarlett Johannson; “Zero Dark Thirty,” about the hunt for Osama bin Laden and directed by Kathryn Bigelow; “Argo,” directed by and starring Ben Affleck; and “Django Unchained,” directed by Quentin Tarentino with a cast that includes Jamie Foxx, Don Johnson and Leonardo DiCaprio. There are lots of other movies on my list, including: “The Paperboy,” “Oranges,” “Butter,” “Seven Psychopaths,”  “Alex Cross,” “Paranormal Activity 4,” “The Sessions,” “Cloud Atlas,” “Flight,” “A Late Quartet,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Killing Them Softly,” “Hyde Park on the Hudson,” “This is 40,” “This Must Be the Place,” “Jack Reacher,” “The Impossible,” “Les Miserables,” “The Guilt Trip,” and “Promised Land.”

” That’s an ambitious list, yes? But they all sound so good.

” It feels strange not having a college football game to cover Saturday. My plan is to hunker down in front of the TV and watch some of those interesting Big 12 games.

* I had lunch today at Cheddar’s. That’s one of my favorite restaurants.

* I’m headed out to my son’s bachelor party a little later. He’s getting married three weeks from tomorrow. It’s all a little surreal to me. But I’m very excited.

* Thanks for reading. I pretty much just wing it with these Friday blogs. By the way, my Lutz Live Chat (LLC) will be up and running again Tuesday, and every Tuesday thereafter through at least the college basketball season. I look forward to getting back to the people.

 

The name game

You know the drill by now. I’ll pick a name of an individual or group and give you a brief (most of the time) thought. It’s so much fun and something I look forward to every Thursday. But, then, I lead a dull life.

Oakland A’s — Pardon me, please, this one isn’t going to be brief. Even after their 9-7 loss to Texas on Thursday, the A’s are still in decent shape at 88-68 as they attempt to hang on in the American League chase for the second wild card. And the A’s are doing it with

Right-hander Jarrod Parker is one of the Oakland A's top pitchers. He's also more proof that "Moneyball" works.

the least amount of talent in baseball. That’s a bold statement, I know, but please hear me out. Oakland ranks 28th in the big leagues with a .237 batting average. They are 21st in OPS and 17th in total bases. But Oakland is ninth in home runs, ninth in stolen bases and sixth in walks. On the pitching side, The A’s rank only 26th of the 30 teams in strikeouts. But they have the eighth fewest walks and fifth best ERA, though there currently are only two pitchers on the staff with double-digit wins. The aces are Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker, and if you have heard of either pitcher before reading this you’re to be congratulated for being a true baseball fan. Milone, with 13 wins, is tied for 29th among victories among big leaguers. Parker, with 12, is tied for 38th. The A’s have no one who is among the league leaders in any category. None. But they do have a good bullpen with two pitchers – Grant Balfour and Ryan Cook – who have combined for 35 saves. Oakland’s best hitters are Cuban defector Jeonis Cespedes and former Boston outfielder Josh Reddick. They’re a lot like the Baltimore Orioles, another over-achieving team, but with even less name recognition. Great story in Oakland, especially when you consider they’re batting the star-studded Los Angeles Angels for that final wild-card spot.

Pete Carroll — I was talking with some friends earlier, and one of them wondered why Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll didn’t go ahead and admit that the replacement officials made a bad call at the end of Seattle’s game with Green Bay on Monday night and then proceed to say the victory should belong to the Packers? We all laughed and immediately thought it was the craziest notion we’ve ever heard. Who would give back a win? Well, the more I think about it, the more I believe Carroll would have become a national role model if he had made that choice. Not that Carroll is looking to become a role model, mind you. He did bolt USC when the Trojans were facing an NCAA probe, after all. Instead, Carroll is standing by the win and the call that allowed it to happen. Too bad. I do live in the real world, and I recognize there’s probably not a coach in the NFL who would have done anything differently than Carroll in this circumstance. Still, it would have been nice.

Roger Goodell — Not a good week for you, Rog. Not a good season so far. Really not much of a year. I love how you made player safety the No. 1 goal of the NFL and then allowed replacement officials to work the first three weeks of the season. That was masterful, Rog, and I’m sure it helps your credibility inside the league. And that was brilliant, too, to stand behind the horrible call the other night in Seattle and refuse to ever just admit your replacement guys botched the play. Now that the real refs are back on the field, you need to get as far from the football arena as possible for a while. We’re sick of you and we’ll tell you when it’s OK to come back.

Melky Cabrera – Good of the PED user to say he doesn’t deserve the National League batting title and to withdraw himself from consideration for that crown. And good of the San Francisco Giants, who Cabrera stabbed in the back after being caught and then serving a 50-game suspension, to take Cabrera off the postseason roster. I applaud Cabrera, to an extent, for being stand-up about all of this. But he’s also a cheater and it’s difficult to find much good will. It would have been a horrible PR move for the Giants to have allowed Cabrera back for the postseason. Fortunately, that’s not going to happen.

Bo Porter and Manny Acta – I’m not sure who had the better day Thursday – Porter for being hired to manage the Houston Astros or Acta for being fired as manager of the Cleveland Indians. I would probably go with Acta. Porter, currently the third-base coach for the Washington Nationals, will oversee a gargantuan rebuilding job in Houston, where the Astros have zoomed past 100 losses and are fielding a team that probably couldn’t win the Double-A Texas League. Also, Houston is heading to the American League West next season to slug it out with the A’s, Angels, Rangers and improving Seattle Mariners. As for Acta, he had to go. Cleveland has collapsed in each of the past two seasons after decent starts. I imagine he’s relieved.

 

I need two of me

I apologize if the headline of this blog sounds or looks egotistical. It’s not what I mean. Obviously, one of me is as much, or more, than anyone can stand.

What I mean is that I need two of me to watch television. One of me can’t watch enough.

Guys watch lots of football on television. It's part of being a guy. But sometimes I don't want to watch football. Can I still be a guy?

Because ESPN feels it is the duty of every American to watch as much football on television as humanly possible, I attempt to oblige. I watch a fair amount of football. But – and I’m sorry if this offends anyone – football doesn’t consume me. It’s not my be all, end all. It’s a great sport and all of that, but just because the NFL dominates the American sports scene like nothing we have ever seen, do I have to watch every flippin’ game?

The NFL Network is now giving us a Thursday night game. Every Thursday night. The network used to start with its Thursday night schedule on Thanksgiving and go on from there. But because of our insatiable appetite for NFL – replacement officials or not – the NFL Network got wise and recognized that ratings were there to be had.

But I have an issue with watching the NFL on Thursday nights. And that issue is called life.

There are a lot of good television shows. Some of my favorites, in fact. “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” are shows I don’t like to miss. At the urging of some friends and my son, I’m going to start watching “The Big Bang Theory,” recognizing I’m late getting to that party. New shows like “Last Resort” and “Elementary” intrigue me and I think I’m going to watch “Scandal,” on ABC.

That’s a lot of shows, isn’t it? And many of you are probably thinking to yourself: “This guy needs to get a life.”

Well, I think I have one. And it’s not consumed, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, by televised football games. I’ll watch when the game grabs me, but Thursday night’s Cleveland-Baltimore game doesn’t interest me that much. Does that mean I’m going to have my Man Card revoked? I hope not because I thoroughly enjoy being a man.

And I suspect that I watch close to as much football as most people. But there comes a time for me – perhaps because what I do for a living involves going to many games – that they all start to look the same for me. Also, it’s difficult for me to have a game on television without giving it my full, undivided attention. That’s how I watch games when I write about them, surprising as that might seem to those of you who regularly read my columns.

So, I am announcing here that I have no plans to watch the Baltimore-Cleveland game Thursday night. My fellow men will chastise me for making such an admission. Watching football in the eyes of many males is a strong indication of their machismo. But if I’m that lone duck guy who chooses to be with Rainn Wilson and Amy Poehler on Thursday nights, so be it.

Plus, it’s still baseball season. And I’m more Baseball Guy than Football Guy.

For men, these are not easy admissions to make. Guys love football, even if they really don’t. It’s part of being a guy in American society.

Well, I love football, too, but on my schedule. Just because a game is on TV doesn’t mean I’m going to watch it. And if that makes me less of a man – gosh, I hope it doesn’t make me less of a man. Does it?

 

We want our NFL back

The NFL has officially jumped the shark. It has become a joke and an insult to our intelligence.

By standing behind the touchdown call that gave Seattle a 14-12 “win” over Green Bay on Monday night, the NFL has become folly. Any time Roger Goodell speaks, circus music should be played as accompaniment.

The NFL owners, rather than respect their fans, have collectively thrown pie in their faces. Abbott and Costello should star in a movie about this year’s NFL because it’s been pure slapstick.

People aren’t watching games for the competitive tussle, they’re watching because the league has become a sitcom. Integrity has been replaced by a laugh track.

America, having gone through so many difficult times recently, needs something to snicker about. And the NFL has come to our rescue. If ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” isn’t nominated for an Emmy next year in the Best Comedy category, I’m going to be disappointed.

Instead of getting back to the bargaining table with its locked-out officials Tuesday, the NFL issued a brief statement, stating it stood by the ruling on the field that Seattle receiver Golden Tate had simultaneous possession with Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings, which counts as a reception. It’s pure fiction, complete hogwash.

But at least it now provides us with a villain in this matter. The NFL and the owners are the bad guys here; apparently so oblivious to the expectations of the people who built their league (people like you and me) that they’ve entered a world of make believe. They are so arrogant that they actually believe a ridiculous statement like the one released Tuesday will carry some weight.

In the statement, the league did admit that Tate should have been called for offensive pass interference before the catch, when he blatantly shoved a Green Bay defensive player in the back. But, as they so eloquently point out, such a call cannot be reviewed by instant replay.

The NFL, though years of unbridled success and unparalleled popularity, has gotten to the point where it obviously takes its fans for granted. We are shills in the big picture. Our disgust, anger and frustration are white noise to the NFL and its owners, who continue to rake in their millions. There is no incentive to get a deal hammered out with the regular officials because the people who run this league and its franchises know we’re going to keep coming back.

And to really take it to an even higher cynical level, I’m guessing there are owners out there who enjoy the controversy the replacement officials are causing. Has there ever been a 12- to 14-hour period during which the NFL was discussed more?

Integrity has been compromised, yes. But not to the point where the NFL was running to correct its problem today. Instead, the league issued a silly statement that backed up the confusion and ineptitude that reigned over the finish of the Monday night game.

I feel terrible for the replacement officials, who couldn’t have known the quagmire they were stepping into. In fact, would it surprise you if these poor saps threw up their hands and said they have had enough? It wouldn’t surprise me. I half expect it. Working an NAIA game has probably never sounded better to some of these guys.

So what can fans do? Well, for starters, they can boycott these games. I heard a Green Bay fan say on radio today that he wants every Packers fan to stay outside of Lambeau Field on Sunday until after the opening kickoff against the New Orleans Saints. He even furthered the notion that fans should stay in the parking lot for the whole game as a way to show the owners and the league that they have had enough of this inferior product.

And make no mistake, the NFL is an inferior product because of the replacement officials. It’s become an out-of-control league in which players and coaches feel like they can push around the refs because, well, they can.

I was disgusted last night to hear the Seahawks’ Tate and Seattle coach Pete Carroll meekly support the outcome of the Hail Mary pass that resulted in the winning touchdown. Their team may have escaped with a win, but the league lost big. Tate and Carroll should have acknowledged the embarrassing turn of events that led to the Seattle victory for the good of the game and for the solidarity of the cause.

What is the cause?

The cause is make the NFL viable again. It’s for the league’s owners and the officials to iron out an agreement that gets the best refs back on the field, understanding that both sides have to give.

Until that happens, the shield should no longer be regarded as the defining emblem for the NFL. This league isn’t protecting anyone from anything.

 

The NFL has issues

* Don’t you imagine NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is squirming a lot these days.

First, replacement officials are threatening to damage the credibility of the 2012 season – or are they? More on that in a bit.

Oakland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey gives a thumbs up to the Raiders crowd as he leaves the field on a stretcher Sunday following a big hit by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But secondly, players are throwing themselves around with reckless abandon, despite Goodell’s pleas for safety. Vicious hits are the norm and several players had to be carted off the field during Sunday’s games. Violence in the NFL, I fear, cannot be controlled. And it could threaten the long term health of the game because as hard as Goodell has tried, he can’t make the players smaller and slower and he can’t take the aggression completely out of the game.

Then it wouldn’t be a game.

As we were watching football in our basement yesterday, I told my wife that football as we know it wouldn’t be around in 20 years. She gave me that look that wives give husbands. I explained in more detail what I was talking about and she nodded in agreement.

Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub said he had part of an ear taken off by a wild hit in a game against the Denver Broncos. Oakland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was unconscious before he landed on the turf after being mauled by Pittsburgh safety Ryan Mundy. Every week there are 10 to 12 hits that make me cringe. The human body obviously isn’t built to withstand this kind of abuse, which has jumped exponentially because of the increase in passing.

There is a bloodlust to get to quarterbacks and if they’re fortunate enough to have time to throw the football, then defensive players are looking to level shots on receivers. Play on the interior line has also become more dangerous because of the sheer size of the linemen. It’s good that Goodell wants flags thrown for the cheap hits, but there are so many hits that border on vicious that it’s difficult to know where to differentiate.

Meanwhile, the lack of institutional control from the replacement officials not only enhances the opportunities for injuries, it makes the games look amateurish.

The NFL is on display to the nation every Sunday – and these days every Thursday and Monday nights – and I can’t believe the image that is being portrayed this season hasn’t forced Goodell to get a deal done with the regular officials, who are on strike.

Then again, does the general public care? The media cares. The coaches care. The players certainly care. But is there an outrage among fans, outside of the ones in Baltimore last night who without a shadow of doubt let everyone know what they thought of the way the game against the New England Patriots was being officiated.

But I’m not sure the group of people watching on Sunday afternoon while they grill hamburgers cares who officiates these games. I think America is so immersed into the NFL and all of the social togetherness it fosters that officiating isn’t that important to people. Nor are injuries. The general attitude of fans, I believe, is that if a player gets hurt there’s always another one to replace him.

Now, if one of the players on your fantasy team gets hurt, that’s a different matter. The concern there is legitimate, if not pointed in the right direction.

Anyway, the NFL marches on in a country that can’t get enough. The real refs will be back on the field soon, we assume. As for safety? We hate to see a player get injured, but that’s just part of the game.

Right?

 

Friday musings

* Even in this NFL crazy culture in which we live, you are not required by law to watch every game that is on television. So, I skipped the Thursday night fare between the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers and I didn’t miss a thing. It’s OK, people, to occasionally turn your attention away from the NFL. There is a great big beautiful life out there that doesn’t necessitate being able to recite the statistics for the Jacksonville Jaguars. It’s refreshing to sometimes turn away from the NFL and to remember what life was like before that league took over the planet.

* That said, I can’t wait for Sunday’s Rams-Bears game in Chicago.

* As you might know, I’m a Rams fan. And this team has excited me a bit through the first two weeks of the season. I like what Jeff Fisher is building, particularly on defense. I expect St. Louis to get after Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. I know if I was a Rams defender, I would want to get after Cutler.

* The Chiefs are big underdogs in New Orleans this week. Yes, the same New Orleans that somehow lost to Carolina last week is nearly a

Can Matt Cassel and the Chiefs get off the schneid Sunday in New Orleans? Don't count on it.

10-point favorite over Kansas City. And the crazy thing is that I expect the Saints to cover. The Chiefs are in a bad, bad place at the moment. It’s probably going to get worse.

* I made the statement on “Sports Daily” this morning that Bob Dylan is the most iconic American musician in history. I based that mostly on his songwriting and longevity. Especially the songwriting. Any thoughts?

* I’m really looking forward to covering Saturday night’s Kansas State-Oklahoma game in Norman. After so many years of doing what I do, it takes a special moment or game to get me amped up. This one qualifies. I have a really sneaking suspicion that K-State could pull the upset, even though the Cats are 14 1/2-point underdogs, last I checked.

* If Kansas can continue to force turnovers, the Jayhawks have a chance to win at Northern Illinois on Saturday. But my sense is that the turnover game will even out some and I think the Huskies will protect the football better than previous KU opponents. That’s why I think Northern Illinois wins in the 10- to 14-point range.

* Aerosmith is coming to Intrust Bank Arena in November, along with Cheap Trick. These are the kinds of rock concerts I’ve been hoping would be more frequent in town. Now the question becomes whether I’m willing to pony up $150 per ticket to go to the show. It’s about 50-50 for me now. However, I do think that it’s important those of us who live here show our support for these kinds of shows in order to make sure we get more of them. For me, it’s much more attractive than the country shows that have dominated IBA since it opened close to three years ago.

* Billy Gillispie needs to write a book. What a troubled soul.

* It was fun this week to interview former Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer for a column. I interviewed Switzer one other time, a long time ago. He’s one of the best conversationalists out there and hard not to like, although some Dallas Cowboys fans might disagree.

* As I write this, we’re about a half hour away from Chris Carpenter making his 2012 debut for the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field against the Cubs. Carpenter has missed the season so far because of a nerve issue in his neck and right shoulder, one that required extensive surgery just two months ago. There were questions at the time about whether he would ever pitch again, let alone get back on the mound this season. I’m a huge Carpenter fan so this is a big deal. And I’m nervous for him. I hope he’s good today.

* The Emmys are one of my favorite awards shows and they’re coming up Sunday. I know you’re interested in my Emmy predictions, so here are some. Drama – Homeland; Comedy – Modern Family; Actor, drama – Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad; Actress, drama – Claire Danes, Homeland; Actor, comedy – Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory (I have to start watching this show); Actress, comedy – Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep; Supporting actor, drama – Giancarlo Esposito, Breaking Bad; Supporting actress, drama – Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad; Supporting actor, comedy – Ed O’Neill, Modern Family; Supporting actress, comedy – Julie Bowen, Modern Family.

* I would love to see “Saturday Night Live,” get some recognition at the Emmys. Bill Hader is up as supporting actor, comedy, and that guy would be a deserving honoree. Funny, funny man.

* I’ve been reading some lukewarm reviews of Clint Eastwood’s new movie, “Trouble With the Curve.” Hard for me to believe it’s not a really good movie.

* Do the Milwaukee Brewers ever lose a game these days?

* The Kansas City Royals are going to finish well below .500, but to their credit they have definitely been a thorn in the sides of both of the American League Central contenders, Detroit and Chicago. I appreciate the moxie of this Royals club, which still doesn’t have enough starting pitching to be a factor. Kansas City must address its shortage in that area during the off-season. A good place to start would be to extend a contract offer to free agent right-hander Kyle Lohse, who has been so good this season with the Cardinals. Unfortunately, he’s an odd man out in St. Louis.

* I like the concept of the FedEx cup to keep those of us who enjoy watching golf interested after the PGA Championship. But with so many other things going on in sports, golf has gotten lost in the shuffle. That said, I’ll watch on Sunday – even with all of the NFL games and the baseball pennant races happening – if Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are in the hunt in the Tour Championship in Atlanta, the final FedEx tournament of the season.

Thanks, everyone, for reading my blog. I appreciate it. Last year, I subjectively picked the 50 best City League boys basketball players going back to the mid-1960s. I’m considering doing the same soon for City League football. Folks love lists and I love compiling them.

Have a great weekend.

 

The name game

You know how it works. I go with a name, a place, a thing and expound on the subject with a few words. Not many, just a few. You can, if you like, play along at home.

Vince Young – So, the quarterback who cashed in on $26 million after being the third player taken in the NFL draft six years ago had squandered all, or most of,  his money? There’s a part of me that feels bad for Young, who apparently was swindled by people he trusted. But there’s another part of me that says you have to be crazy to lose a fortune like that in such a short amount of time, swindled or not. My promise to you, my faithful readers, is that if I ever get my hands on $26 million, I will not take my eyes off of it.

John L. Smith – The interim Arkansas coach – emphasis on the word interim – is also reportedly having financial difficulties. And, judging from his news conference in Fayetteville the other day, sanity difficulties. Did you catch that media session, during which Smith pleaded with the media members in the room to stay positive and “smile? SMILE!!!” Wow. I smiled, all right. Smith, reportedly nearly $26 million in debt, is in an impossible situation not only financially, but professionally, having taken over the Razorbacks in the wake of Bobby Petrino’s untimely firing. But he doesn’t seem to be making anything better after a devastating 0-2 start.

Miguel Cabrera vs. Mike Trout for AL MVP – Even though Cabrera has a legitimate chance at becoming baseball’s first Triple Crown winner since 1967, this is a legitimately close race. But what swings it for me toward Cabrera is his offensive performance down the stretch. Both teams are chasing the post season and Cabrera has put the Tigers on his back for the past month. I think it is meaningful to look at how the candidates in a close MVP race perform in the most important games. And the Angels and Tigers are playing important game. In the past 28 days, Cabrera has batted .375 with 10 homers and 25 RBI in 23 games. During the same span, Trout has batted .247 with three homers and five RBI. True, their styles of play are vastly different. Trout is a leadoff hitter; Cabrera resides in the middle of Detroit’s batting order. Still, Trout has been a run producer for the Angels, just not so much lately. In the past seven games, for instance, Trout is batting only .211 without a homer or RBI. Cabrera, meanwhile, has five homers and 12 RBI in the past week with a .458 batting average and a crazy OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of 1.708. Trout is a better defender and base runner, hands down. But Cabrera’s offensive production when the Tigers need it most can’t be ignored.

St. Louis Rams – As you know (or perhaps you don’t), I’m a Rams fan. At least I’m a Rams fan when they’re playing OK, which isn’t that often. But this year could be different. I’m reading where Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III is complaining about some cheap shots he believes the Rams put on him last weekend in a tight St. Louis win. And to this I say: Way to go Rams. I am not endorsing cheap shots. But I’m also not endorsing Griffin’s viewpoint, especially since I watched the game from start to finish. I didn’t notice any cheap shots. But I did pick up on the Rams’ tough, physical style of play and that’s something I applaud. I’ve watched a soft Rams team get chewed up and spit out in recent seasons without putting up much of a fight. I’ll take this more hard-nosed group under first-year coach Jeff Fisher, who has a reputation of building up-to-the-line-without-crossing-over defensive teams. Griffin’s complaints are a good sign for the Rams, I believe.

Roy Williams – I was shocked to hear that Williams had a tumor removed on one of his kidneys this week. But he was released from the hospital today. It’s hard for me to fathom that Williams is beginning his 10th season as basketball coach at North Carolina. It’s also hard to believe Williams is 62. Here’s hoping for a quick recovery for a coach I have always liked.

Cam Newton – The Carolina quarterback is the main attraction for me tonight, when the Panthers hook up with the New York Giants. Newton was so good during his rookie season in 2011 and he’s off to a nice start this season, too. He’s the kind of quarterback you love to see pass and you love to see run. I think Carolina beats the Giants tonight and that’s because of how much of a believer I am in Newton.

Allen Craig – Yes, he’s a St. Louis Cardinal. And my team has struggled for consistency this season. But not Craig, who has been a force and is making quite a bit less than the man he’s replacing at first base, Albert Pujols. In fact, had Craig not missed a bunch of games because of injuries early in the season, his numbers would be better than Pujols. Even with those missed games, they’re comparable. How about a little love for Allen Craig?

Thanks for reading. Check my Friday musings tomorrow if you have time. Have a great weekend. I’m really looking forward to being in Norman, Okla., on Saturday night for the Kansas State-OU game.


O’s in extras

I’m in a baseball frame of mind today, so after blogging about the Pittsburgh Pirates earlier I wanted to address the season of another perennial loser, the Baltimore Orioles.

The Orioles, it appears, are going to the playoffs. The Orioles, for sure, are going to break a streak of 14 consecutive losing seasons

Who is this man? Why, it's Baltimore Orioles closer Jim Johnson, of course.

since 1997 as they surprisingly surge toward 90 wins with manager Buck Showalter, a shoo-in for manager of the year.

The O’s are a robust 83-64. How have they done it?

Smoke and mirrors seems to be a popular answer. Nobody – and I mean NOBODY – expected this kind of season from Baltimore, which had lost 92 or more games in each of the previous six seasons.

So, once again, how have they gotten to 19 games over .500?

Extra-inning magic, that’s how.

Since dropping their first two extra-inning games of the 2012 season to the New York Yankees in April, the Orioles have run off a string of 14 straight wins in extra frames. In those 14 games, Baltimore has played 51 innings and outscored its opponents, 28-2.

Baltimore eked out an 18-inning win in Seattle on Tuesday night, beating the Mariners, 4-2. They also got the best of Seattle in 14 innings on Aug. 7 and have beaten Tampa Bay (twice), Detroit, Philadelphia (twice), Boston (three times), Washington, Kansas City, the Los Angeles Angels and the Chicago White Sox in extra innings during this mystical streak.

The Orioles have a bunch of home run hitters and an inexplicably great bullpen, led by Jim Johnson. He’s about as flashy as his name indicates, but Johnson has nailed down 43 saves and has a 2.82 ERA in 63 games.

The rest of the Baltimore bullpen includes a bunch of guys you would turn your nose up about if they showed up in your baseball card package, but they’re the strongest group in baseball. The O’s pen includes Luis Ayala (2.70 ERA, 60 games); Pedro Strop (2.31, 64); Darren O’Day (2.54, 62) and Troy Patton (2.58, 50).

This is a baseball season full of great stories and the Orioles are at the top of that list. In a division with the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays, it’s Baltimore that has risen to the top with only a handful of players even the most studious baseball fan has heard of.

Tremendous stuff.

 

Walking the plank

The biggest and most important story in sports has nothing to do with replacement officials in the NFL, the lockout in the NHL, the chase for the cup in NASCAR or every waking moment of Tim Tebow.

No, what every red-blooded American sports fan should be paying attention to is the plight of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are desperately trying to avoid their 20th consecutive losing season, the longest for any professional sports franchise.

Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen was a legitimate MVP candidate in the National League for much of this season. But as the Pirates have struggled, so has McCutchen.

The once-proud Pirates have been a parody of themselves for two decades, since playing in back-to-back-to-back National League Championship Series from 1990-92.

The losing started in 1993, when the Buds were 75-87. And it has continued to this day.

Pity the poor Pirates.

On Aug. 8 – just 41 days ago – the Pirates were sitting pretty at 63-47 and trailed the first-place Cincinnati Reds by just 2.5 games in the National League Central.

It looked there was a strong likelihood that not only would the Pirates break their embarrassing string of losing seasons but also reach the National League playoffs as at least a wild-card.

But now all of that hangs precariously in the balance. The Pirates, who lost 6-0 to the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday night and continue a series with the Brew Crew in Pittsburgh tonight, are 3.5 games out of the second wild-card position and have gone 11-26 since Aug. 8.

Pity the poor Pirates.

This is, after all, a proud franchise and one that is still 109 games above .500 (9,956-9,847) during its 120-year history. The Pirates were winners in 19 of 26 seasons from 1958-1983. They have produced a bunch of Hall of Famers and some of the most iconic players in baseball history, including Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Pie Trayor, Lloyd and Paul Waner, Ralph Kiner and Arky Vaughan.

The Pirates play in one of the best stadiums – PNC Park – in all of baseball. I’ve been to a bunch of ballparks in my life and PNC might be the best.

And Pittsburgh hasn’t abandoned its Pirates. They led the National League Central deep into the 2011 season before a 21-46 collapse left them at 72-90 for the season.

Nobody loses like the Pirates.

I went back and checked to see how much sustained losing there has been for some of the other top franchises in MLB and was surprised to find out that the New York Yankees, for instances, have had only 10 losing seasons – total – since 1919.

The Los Angeles-Brooklyn Dodgers have had no more than two consecutive losing seasons since having six losing seasons in a row from 1933-38.

The San Francisco-New York Giants have never had more than four straight losing seasons.

The St. Louis Cardinals had nine consecutive losing seasons from 1902-10, but haven’t had more than three losing seasons in a row since and have endured back-to-back seasons only twice during the past 53 years.

Now the Philadelphia Phillies did some epic losing in the first half of the 20th century. Epic losing that would even grab the attention of downtrodden Pirates fans who probably feel like this streak is never going to end.

From 1918-31, the Phillies suffered through 14 consecutive losing seasons. They did have a winning season in 1932, but then went through a 16-season losing streak from 1933-48. That’s 30 losing seasons in 31 years and there’s never been anything quite as bad as that.

The Phillies eventually came out of it. And so will the Pirates. I think.

As Pittsburgh grasps to its 74-73 record, with losses piling up and postseason chances diminishing, think a nice thought for all the Pirates fans out there who must wonder what it feels like to follow a winner.

Thank goodness for the Steelers and the Penguins, highly successful franchises in the NFL and NHL. At least Pittsburgh sports fans don’t suffer year around. Just during one baseball season after another, after another.

Pull for the Pirates to finish above .500. They have endured enough misery. This losing must end.

 

 

Where is the Lutz Live Chat?

The Lutz Live Chat (LLC) is currently under construction and today’s attempt went for naught.

However, we are committed to the LLC, we applaud the LLC and the LLC will be back in its regular Tuesday time slot (1:30-2:30 p.m.) soon. At least before the bridge over the Big Ditch is constructed.

I enjoy doing the live chat and have built a loyal following or six to eight people over the past few years. The “six to eight” comment is obviously an attempt at humor. The viewing numbers for the LLC are much, much higher. Of course.

Anyway, thanks for your patience. I will talk to you – rather chat with you – next week.

Bob