Saturday, September 09, 2006

Ryan Howard: The New Hotness

Normally, I wouldn't interrupt my College Football Saturday for any other sports, but Ryan Howard's 55th and 56th home runs have got me energized, to say the least.

This has become (or will quickly become, with each new HR) the biggest storyline in MLB this season. More than the Wild Card races. More than the Marlins' overachievement. Way more than the Red Sox missing the playoffs.

And to think, everyone was thinking that Bonds' "Chasing Aaron" would be the storyline of the year. (At least I did.)

No: It's Howard's "Chasing Maris." Because here's where it gets interesting: If/when Howard tops 61 home runs, there is a VERY intriguing debate -- over the soul of baseball, if you think about it:

Is Howard the REAL single-season home run champ?

Consider his competition:

Bonds? You all know why that's suspicious.

McGwire or Sosa? They went from "saving" baseball in 1998 to ruining it (in McGwire's case) and evaporating from it (in Sosa's). Both are totally tainted by the 'roid era.

Ahh, but Howard is pure. Or seems pure. The big boy certainly doesn't look like he NEEDS steroids, and I suggested earlier this week that he volunteer to take every test ever invented -- and even volunteer to take new experimental tests that are totally unsanctioned.

If only to prove without doubt that he is clean, positioning him in a debate with the other guys where they can't touch him. Think McGwire is willing to swear to being clean? We know his answer. Sosa? Please. Bonds? No way.

Obviously, this is a very messy issue: I'm of the mind that we're stuck with the stats we've got -- you can't dismiss Bonds or Mac or Sosa and trigger an impossible slippery slope of rewriting history and making judgments that no one is equipped to make. Hell, why pick on those three? Everyone was doing it.

In the end, I think it's up to the individual fans to decide how they judge any stat -- particularly stats from the Steroids Era. If you want to dismiss Bonds or Mac, that's your right as a fan.

If you want to embrace Ryan Howard as the TRUE Home Run Champ, that's your right as a fan.

I just wanted to flag that you'll be hearing a LOT of commentary from baseball experts, ex-players, bloggers, the sports media, whoever over the next three weeks about whether Ryan Howard should be considered more "legitimate" than Bonds, Mac or Sosa, even though they may technically end the season with more home runs.

Excuse me for kind of thinking this through as I write the post. But it looks like the debate centers around the theme of "Legitimacy."

And right now, Ryan Howard has it. Oh, does he have it.

-- D.S.

Friday, September 08, 2006

First Full Week (in Review)

I want to just take a sec and thank everyone for making it such a fantastic first full week. (Though now that I think about it, it was only really a four-day week.)

Obviously, I'm still sorting out the format -- I appreciate you rolling with it. The comments sections have been awesome, and I'm trying to pop in and add my own opinions to the spin-off debates within the comments.

I really have appreciated all of your emails. It's both flattering and daunting that I have received so many -- I am committed to responding to every single one. (Or, in Quickie style: Every. Single. One.)

It may take a little while (and I get further behind with each new day), but if you wrote to me, I will try my absolute best to respond. (That includes those of you who sent in an email during the final two weeks of the Daily Quickie's run on

Meanwhile, if you have friends or colleagues who read the Quickie and haven't been alerted to this blog yet, any endorsing/promoting you can do would be appreciated. And if you're a blogger yourself, I'd be honored if you'd add me to your blogroll. (And email me to let me know, because I'll return the favor with a shout-out right here.)

Anyway, I may update the blog later today with more items, if news (or the Comments section) warrants -- and I am still deciding if I'll update over the weekend. There certainly won't be a lack of material, and I have little excuse not to, given that I'll be in front of the TV all weekend.

But huge thanks again for reading this week, and I'm glad you've enjoyed it. If you have any comments or suggestions or feedback or whatever, feel free to email me at the address on the upper-right corner of the blog (danshanoff-at-gmail).

Enjoy the weekend!

-- D.S.

NFL Week 1 Preview/Picks:
Manning ManiaJust stop!

Week 1 Picks (home teams in caps), listed roughly in chronological order of game times:

Saints over BROWNS: Yes, I am suckered into believing that Reggie Bush will do something sick, leading the Saints to the win they deserve.

Seahawks over LIONS: Without the suspended Joe Cullen, how can Detroit possibly beat the defending NFC champs?

TITANS over Jets: I really do like Eric Mangini (if only for the cachet of his youth), but the Jets are going to S-T-I-N-K (Stink! Stink! Stink!) this season. (Too early to start the "Adrian Peterson Watch?" Never!)

Bengals over CHIEFS: The Chiefs D is improved, sure, but not enough to counter (a) Cincy's offense and (b) Herm Edwards' offense.

RAMS over Broncos: I don't buy into the love for the Rams this season, but I really want to see Jay Cutler starting for Denver. This helps.

PATS over Bills: Buffalo fans might be hoping for 5-6 wins, but this sure as hell won't be one of them.

I recommend checking out the Comments section on this particular post, where an interesting debate has broken out about the Bills' future -- particularly whether Brady Quinn is the answer. Or whether Quinn is destined for the Jets. And what impact Mangini's time with the Pats -- and Quinn's connection to the Belichick Family Mafia (via Charlie Weis) means to the debate. Oh, and why the Jets won't be taking him, no matter how much Weis lobbies Mangini. There's an obvious pick for the Jets next April, and you can find it under my comment. The answer is here...

BUCS over Ravens: Three words: Take. The. Under.

PANTHERS over Falcons: The Carolina bandwagon is so crowded that a season-opening loss at home to Atlanta might take out half the "expert" population.

Eagles over TEXANS: I really want to pick Houston here. I really want Mario Williams to have 3 sacks, and for Wali Lundy to make fans forget about Reggie Bush. But that just isn't going to happen.

Bears over PACKERS: Nothing will start the Favre farewell tour off right like losing at home in the opener to the team's biggest rival.

CARDS over 49ers: There's a reason that the Cards were rumored to have requested that the Niners were the team to open the Cards' new stadium.

JAGS over Cowboys: By far the most unpredictable game of the weekend. The Jags D is great, but if Mike Peterson is limited (and Stroud out completely), it's a toss-up. If they were considering suspending the DB, Williams, for his DUI, I think that's out the window now. (See how I didn't even mention what's-his-name from Dallas? I have an allergy.)

Colts over GIANTS: I finally figured out what the "Manning Bowl" is best used for. Retching into.

Monday picks coming... uh, Monday. (But to give you a clue, I'll be taking both road teams.)

(LW: N/A. Season: 0-1)

-- D.S.

CFB Weekend Preview: Buckeyes Will Rule

The Big 'Un: No. 1 Ohio State at No. 2 Texas.

Let me count the ways this rules...

1. Biggest/best game of the season.
2. Will likely determine (at least) one half of the BCS title game.
3. Rematch of last year's most important game of the season.
4. Showcases 2 of the Top 5 Heisman guys (Smith, Ginn).
5. Austin in Primetime.

I know UT is playing at home. I know that everyone still has questions about OSU's revamped defense.

But I'm picking Ohio State to win on the road and cement its status as the No. 1 team in the country.


OSU's offense is better than UT's defense more than UT's offense is better than OSU's defense. Did that make sense? Basically, I think it'll be a shootout, much like the Rose Bowl's was last year. Ohio State's offense is every bit as good as USC's was last year. (Yes ,you read that right.) But Troy Smith is more clutch than Matt Leinart. One might even say that Smith is "Young-ish," but not because he's a black QB -- because Smith is a gamer, just like VY was.

Then there's the qualitative factor of REVENGE. Losing in Columbus on a late TD, for a loss that essentially cost OSU a chance at a national title? That's some solid motivation. Dethroning the defending champs? No win right now could be sweeter.

So I'm saying Ohio St 30, Texas 27 in a game that lives up to the hype.

As for the rest of the Top 25:

No. 19 Penn State will beat No. 4 Notre Dame at ND. This isn't just my obvious dislike for the Irish showing through. (Well, that's SOME of it.) I just think that ND is overrated. Penn State is probably underrated. I know that picking against ND at home is probably a mistake, but Penn State's defense is good enough to keep it close, and this would be Paterno's biggest win of the season by far. Again with the "motivation" angle. (Then again, want to bet Charlie Weis is using doubting opinion angles like mine to fire up HIS team?)

Upset Special: South Carolina over No. 12 Georgia. This is precisely the kind of game that Steve Spurrier loves: Any game against UGA. He owns them. The Gamecocks are playing at home, and UGA ain't that great. The QB situation is VERY sketchy. (I watched last week's game while down in SEC country...Joe T inspires ZERO confidence from Dawg fans.)

(My second choice: Fresno State over No. 20 Oregon. Oregon looked the best of any Pac-10 team last week, but the Ducks are at Fresno, which has "giant-killer" written all over it. Fresno St LOVES these games.)

Game of the Week: No. 24 Texas Tech at UTEP. I love Texas Tech's offense, enough to have a blind spot in a very possible upset game. UTEP is no slouch, and – again with this week's theme – this would be a Win of the Season for them. What does two sick offenses mean? How about my setting an over-under at 100 points and happily taking the over? Here's the true test of the new CFB clock rules: If THESE two teams can't rack up 90-plus plays each, the system really is screwed up. Pick: TX Tech.

Intriguing Game of the Week: No. 18 Clemson at Boston College. In my Quickie CFB season preview, I picked Clemson as a team set up for a breakout season. When I looked at their schedule, THIS was the game that scared me the most. A loss sets them up at 1-1 and your usual 8-4 season. A win puts them at 2-0 with a VERY quality win -- like "put-'em-in-the-Top-10-next-week" win. Pick: Clemson.

The rest (Sorry, no upsets)
4 Auburn over Miss. St
6 WVA over E. Wash.
7 FLA over Cent. FLA
8 LSU over Arizona
9 FSU over Troy
10 Mich over Cent. Mich
11 Tennessee over Air Force
13 L'ville over Temple
14 Iowa over Syracuse (at Cuse)
15 Oklahoma over Washington
16 VA Tech over UNC (at UNC)
17 Miami over FAMU
21 Nebraska over Nicholls St
21 Cal over Minnesota
23 TCU over UC-Davis
25 Ariz St over Nevada

And, finally, in my own personal hell: I can't shake the feeling that Northwestern is going to lose its home opener to 1-AA powerhouse New Hampshire. I don't write "powerhouse" with any sort of irony; they are good -- and this would be a program-making win for them. For NU, there is very little to gain here. Even a win would be "only" a win over a 1-AA team. I really hope I'm wrong.

-- D.S.

Steelers-Dolphins Reax

Just a handful of observations:

Why do TV people think that fans who are willing to tune in for a pre-game show want to see stupid (and lip-synched?) musical acts?

Who had Charlie Batch starting as their Fantasy QB this week? Anyone? Anyone? I take it back that they would miss Big Ben. Very back.

For all of Nick Saban's rep as some kind of coaching genius, he sure pooped the bed on that late replay flag.

(But let's not overstate: The ball would have been on the 1; the Steelers would have scored a TD...)

(...Of course, with Butterfingers Batch under center, having the ball at the 1 is no gimme.)

Daunte's debut was solid (enough), but those 2 late picks should trouble everyone: He was forcing the issue. (Didn't he do that pre-injury last season in Minnesota when he racked up turnovers like they were paying money for them?)

If there was any solace I could take from blowing the game prediction, it's that Ronnie Brown was a fantasy revelation.

Quickie readers know I was struggling with an internal debate over whether to take him with the 4th overall pick: A large reach (considering the consensus support for Tiki at No. 4, which I couldn't deal with), though not insane given the muddle between the 4th and 10th RBs.

Well, if Ronnie B. can score 2 TDs for me every Sunday, I'll be VERY happy -- even if the Dolphins lose the rest of their games.

(That's a fantasy GM for you.)

Feel free to add your own analysis/reactions in the Comments section.

-- D.S.

Friday A.M. Wrap

Too much other stuff to get to...

Clinton Portis unlikely
for Week 1: If "MNF" wanted a brilliant start to the season, they'd bring him up to the booth as Coach Janky Spanky.

Steve Smith potentially out for Week 1, too: Even if it only might take the Panthers 14 points to beat the Falcons, this is still a hit.

Ryan Howard hits No. 54: Only 8 away from topping Maris and claiming the status as baseball's REAL Home Run Champ.

Federer defeats Blake at US Open: I like the joy that Blake brings, but when "I took a set!" is your moral victory, Fed's still The Man.

Is Frank Robinson retiring after the season? All that does is drive up Joe Girardi's price with the Cubs.

Joe Cullen: 1-game suspension. So he reportedly gives a peep show to the drive-thru worker at a Wendy's and all he gets is one game?

Hoops Hall: Barkley et al inducted today. For all of Barkley's bluster, do you think he'd trade his Hall status for a ring? I don't, and that's why I think his "all I ever wanted was a ring" is b.s.

Uecker stalker banned from Miller Park for 4 years. I'm sure that makes Uecker feel better, but not entirely great.

New charges for Clarett: Go figure...

More coming today: Steelers-Dolphins reax, CFB Weekend Preview and NFL Week 1 Picks (after my TERRIBLE start last night!)

-- D.S.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

NFL '06 Picks

I will say that one thing I'm bummed about not writing the Quickie anymore is that Will Leitch over at Deadspin wasn't able to point to my season predictions for his "Pants Party" posts with a range of opinions from quote-unquote "experts."

Anyway, here are my division picks for the '06 season, just in under the wire, and cribbed from my Quickie column on Aug. 30:

NFC East:
1. Giants
2. Cowboys
3. Redskins
4. Eagles

(Scary enough, I have been saying for weeks that the entire division will go 9-7, and there -- lo and behold -- SI said the same thing in their preview issue last week.)

NFC North
1. Bears
2. Vikings (WC)
3. Lions
4. Packers

NFC South
1. Panthers
2. Falcons
3. Bucs
4. Saints

NFC West
1. Seahawks
2. Cards (WC)
3. Rams
4. 49ers

AFC: I'm going to change my picks from the Quickie column on Aug. 30 where I made my "official" picks. Call me a little bolder, now that I'm simply doing this on my own blog:

AFC East
1. Dolphins
2. Pats (WC)
3. Bills
4. Jets

(In the Quickie, I had the Pats winning the division and the Dolphins as the Wild Card. I think the Dolphins start the season off huge with a win over Pittsburgh tonight, then ride that momentum all the way to the division title.)

AFC North
1. Bengals
2. Steelers
3. Ravens
4. Browns

(In the Quickie, I had the Steelers winning the division with the Bengals winning the Wild Card. Now, I think that the Steelers will start in an 0-2 hole and not recover in time to win a Wild Card spot. They used up that mojo a year ago.)

AFC South
1. Jags
2. Colts (WC)
3. Titans
4. Texans

(Obviously, if you read Deadspin, you know I'm into the Jags this season. In the Quickie, I picked the Colts to win the division and the Jags to miss the playoffs altogether. Now that I'm on the Jags bandwagon, I'm blinded by my new loyalty. Colts questions at RB are key.)

AFC West
1. Chargers
2. Broncos
3. Chiefs
4. Raiders

(I picked the Broncos in my Quickie preview, but unless they switch from Plummer to Cutler at QB, they're not winning the division. I like Philip Rivers with a breakout year as a steady hand.)

Yes, I still stand by my original Colts-over-Bears Super Bowl. (For now.)

-- D.S.

Lead Story: NFL Season Starts! ('Roid Up!)
Plus: Dolphins over Steelers!

Remember when Ken Caminiti told SI that 50 percent of MLB players use some kind of steroid, and everyone kind of scoffed at him. Couldn't be! Then it kinda turned out he was right? (No, not right: Underestimating the total!)

The NFL has had its "Caminiti Moment," courtesy of the eminently more respected offensive lineman Jon Jansen, who pegs the number of NFL players who use PEDs at "15 to 20 percent."

That might seem shocking on its face, but only because it seems so low! I'll take the "Over" on that and double my kid's college fund.

Jansen also says he thinks PED use is "on the rise" because of HGH, which, as we all know, is the gold standard for cheating athletes because it's undetectable.

On the day its 2006 season begins, the NFL is threatened to be undercut by the PED issue, which has always been bubbling under the surface and only recently gained traction.

I still contend that (1) every fan figures most of the NFL cheats with PEDs, but we don't care, and (2) the league is such a juggernaut even widespread PED use or a PED scandal can't touch it.

(Where's my evidence? How about the lack of any outrage over the Panthers 'roid scandal a few weeks ago? Or the fact that most fans won't blink at this "15/20 percent" number.)

And if you thought that the baseball media turned a blind eye to steroids in MLB, they've got nothing on the see-no-evil reporters who cover the NFL.

(Aside from the Panthers, can you think of another single big 'roid story? Are the NFL writers trying to say there isn't a PED problem in the NFL? They're either fooling themselves or simply covering up for their meal-ticket. I don't blame them: NFL fans have indicated that they don't want to know.)

Related: The league and the union are talking about increasing testing, though union honcho Gene Upshaw seems pretty content to let things stand. "Toughest standards in sports" sounds great in a sound-bite, but remember that's relative; it doesn't mean the NFL actually has particularly tough standards. Otherwise, how could that "15-20 percent" number come up?

Meanwhile, the 2006 season kicks off tonight in a game between the Dolphins and the defending champ Steelers (minus Ben Roethlisberger).

We've seen this story before: No Big Ben means big problems for Pittsburgh. And Miami is a trendy team to pick for a breakout season (me in the Quickie, Dr. Z, countless others).

Between the Dolphins D (or the impotent Steelers O), the effectiveness of Culpepper-t0-Chambers and the overnight emergence of RB Ronnie Brown as a sensation, I'm taking the Dolphins over the Steelers.

Tomorrow's storylines today:
*Defending champs reeling!
*Dolphins poised for playoff run!

Commenters: Who's your pick and why?

-- D.S.

Star of the Day: Joe Cullen

The scandal torch has been passed: The Lions are the new Vikings, a "nude car" is the new "sex boat" and Joe Cullen is the new Fred Smoot.

Drunk-driving is bad: Considering the NFC North, it could/should/would be a fire-worthy offense. (And the closest thing to "offense" that the Lions have seen in years.)

But "NUDE-driving" is infinitely worse. When you're driving around naked, you're looking for (or perhaps simply asking for) trouble. Not that I've tried it. Uh, no. Never.

Here's why it's worse: DUI is lamentable, "D-Nude-I" (or however we'll short-hand it) is just about as humiliating as it gets. Arrests while naked usually end up that way.

And the Lions already have enough humiliations in that front office; Cullen may have picked the wrong team and the wrong time of the season to enjoy "commando cruising."

-- D.S.

(Presumably, Cullen's antics will be eclipsed in pop culture by Paris Hilton's DUI arrest, but among sports fans, I expect Cullen to remain a source of amusement.)

Sanchez No-No Adds to BoSox Misery

Boston's 2006 cycle of humiliation is complete as Anibal Sanchez -- who the Red Sox traded away, along with Hanley Ramirez, for Josh Beckett, in a Marlins heist of increasingly huge proportions -- threw the only MLB no-hitter of the season (and the first in two years).

That Sanchez is the 19th rookie ever to throw a no-hitter isn't nearly as impressive as the fact that the Marlins have four pitchers in their short franchise history who have thrown one. (By comparison, the Mets still have ZERO.)

If the Marlins offered Sanchez back to the Red Sox for Beckett straight up -- and demanded the Red Sox pay all but a $1 million a year of Beckett's salary -- I suspect Boston would do that deal in a second.

(Hell, if the Marlins offered their starting-pitching staff -- factoring in age, salary and ability -- to any team in the league straight up for that other team's SP staff, I would imagine that only the Twins would turn them down.)

Commenter question: Are the Red Sox (a) regressing to the mean, (b) merely stumbling for one season or (c) flashing signs of a bigger long-term problem? (You don't have to comment exclusively on this question. I'm just throwing it out there.)

-- D.S.

Thursday A.M. Wrap

Marion Jones "B" sample tests clean: I think "not not not guilty" sums up the general perception that will continue to dog her.

Michelle Kwan headed to U. of Denver: Hard to believe she couldn't do better than UD.

Andy Roddick wins again: Is it me or is this guy turning into the sports world's biggest douche?

(Sucks to be: Rafael Nadal, upset by Michael Youzhny and denying fans a chance to see another Federer-Nadal. It'll be more interesting to see Federer dismantle Roddick.)

It also sucks to be: Dmitri Young, released by the Tigers. Maybe the D-Rays will pick him up to re-unite with little brother Delmon for a 1-2, all-crazy sibling punch.

Is the PGA ready to test for PEDs? Apparently, the mild public pressure (of the "if you have nothing to hide, why NOT do it?" variety) is enough to make them do a 180 on their previous chicken-egg stance that they didn't need to test, since no one has been caught yet.

Charles Barkley re-affirms his commitment to running for governor of Alabama, but now says he's an Independent, rather than a Democrat. Must have heard from too many big donors that they wouldn't give money to an outright D. I still imagine his policies lean to the left.

Finally, those pesky Lance/Matthew McC. rumors just WON'T go away.

-- D.S.

Jaguars Preview on Deadspin

Happy 1-year anniversary to Deadspin: They celebrated, at least in part, by running my preview of the Jaguars as part of their NFL preview coverage.

Here's the link to check it out.

(Sorry I'm late with the posting. It's been live on the site since the late afternoon. The reading series was a success tonight, but where was the blog-reading contingent? Next month for sure!)

-- D.S.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Reader Reaction

Would you prefer if I created each topic in an individual post OR ran everything, Quickie-style in one long post? Give your opinion in the Comments section. Thanks. -- D.S.

(The pro is that it's all in one place. The con is that you can't comment on an individual item as easily. Hmm...)

Wednesday 9/6/06 A.M.: 1 Day 'Til NFL

Today's Hot Stories at a Glance:

*Don't miss your FFL roster deadline!
*Is Jim Tressel just sloppy or really a fraud?
*Why Ohio St will beat Texas
*Blankings remind us how bad MLB pitching has gotten
*Is Lena Girardi the new Suri Cruise?
*Joe Torre: Soft-porn producer?
*More NFL PED-testing? Not if you love the game.
*Brett Favre takes career advice from Phil Simms
*Not-on-Sports: Katie Couric's Evening News debut
*NYC readers: Don't forget tonight's reading!

Don't forget to set your NFL fantasy rosters. (That's it. Hey, can't an item simply be about the public-service for once?)

Jim Tressel: Full of it? This is the intriguing story of the day: Jim Tressel claimed he voted Texas No. 1 in the coaches' Top 25, but it turns out that he had Ohio State No. 1, because his lackey in the athletic department was the one who turned in the ballot.

It exposes a couple of things:

(1) It reinforces my suspicion that coaches don't actually vote in the coaches' Top 25. (And even if they did, I have always wondered how an uber-busy college football coach would have the time to watch the games necessary to make an informed decision about an entire Top 25. The truth is: They don't. (And neither do most AP media voters, but that's another story...)

(2) All coaches' ballots should be published every single week – and not just at the end of the season. Fans and media place so much weight on these week-to-week polls that it's outrageous that there isn't more transparency in the process. Obviously, it can't hurt. The coaches have always been resistant. If they don't want the distraction/hassle of defending their "own" picks, they shouldn't be voting.

(3) USA Today erodes its journalistic integrity by agreeing to keep the ballots a secret. Of course, kudos to them for publishing that Tressel was misleading to the media, but all it does is highlight that USA Today facilitates the shady process by being the poll's "administrator." Are they in the business of covering news or making it? Title sponsorship of the poll is obviously worth more to the paper than its pride in its ethics.

Why Ohio St will beat Texas: UT suspends Tarell Brown. It was the right thing to do, and any other alternative would have brought down such an avalanche of bad p.r. that it would have done more damage than losing the game without Brown.

I think.

We'll see, because without Brown, Ted Ginn Jr. will emerge from the weekend as a Top 3 Heisman finalist, having run roughshod over the UT defense in a huge Ohio St. win.

MLB Wrap: Pitching in general has taken a beating from analysts and fans this season, so it was nice to see at least one day when pitchers ruled. 7 shutouts are the most since '72...

Wild Card Mania: Or maybe it should be "NL West Mania?" The Padres have made their way to 1 GB the yo-yo Dodgers, who lost their 3rd straight...

Johan rules: After racking up his 17th win, I think it's Johan Santana's AL Cy to lose...

Papi comes back, but Papelbon is out indefinitely. And the beat goes on for the Red Sox...

Credit Jays owner Ted Rogers for acknowledging that his team will have to spend even more this winter to compete in the AL East...

Meanwhile, Rangers owner Tom Hicks spent his Tuesday ripping his team for not being mentally tough enough. That's you, Buck Showalter, on the hot seat...

Ken Griffey injured? Say it ain't so!...

"Shadows" update: I think there continues to be a disconnect between the media's built-in sympathy for the "Game of Shadows" reporters and fans' common sense that while it was sensational to learn the Bonds details, the reporters did technically break the law to give those details to us...

I don't know how Joe Girardi could manage the game last night a mere two hours after his wife gave birth. Congrats on Lena Yvonne (7 lbs, 19 inches is just about the same size as Gabe was at birth.) Somehow I doubt pictures will generate as much attention as Suri Cruise's. (See item below.)

Joe Torre: Soft-core porn producer?

NFL: Increased drug-testing? Does the NFL really want to open the Pandora's box of stricter drug-testing? Sure, the Panthers story was an embarrassment, but -- and this is key – it barely made a ripple, despite essentially claiming that the team's championship runner-up was loaded with 'roid-mongering players. Maybe they're just trying to be pro-active to avoid the prying attention of Congress. Story link here.

More NFL: Favre on HBO. Did Brett Favre make his decision not to retire from listening to Phil Simms on a satellite-radio sports talk show? Yeah, he sure is quite the decisive leader.

More NFL: Foley twist. This Foley thing is very very strange. is all over this, and I'm finding that site is becoming more and more must-read as the season approaches.

Man law? Man law. Some team's recruiting plans have been shot to hell: The Governator signed a bill that convicted violent felons can't play college sports in California. Will probably do more to hurt Pac-10 football than even the mediocre level of league comp. What would be even more interesting is if he signed a bill that no convicted violent felons – from any state – could play within the boundaries of California. There MUST be a legal tripwire in that idea...

Brother Mazone: When they make the "Invincible"-style movie about 31-year-old pitcher Brian Mazone, who was supposed to make his MLB debut last night if not for Mother Nature pissing on his moment, I wonder if they'll gloss over his May suspension for steroid use? Can you imagine the movie pitch? "It's 'The Rookie' meets 'The Program!'"

(Speaking of Mazone, I know that the reference up there was a misspelled play on The Wire's "Brother Muzone," but who else saw that HBO put the season premiere of The Wire on On-Demand yesterday, in a sneak-peek before Sunday's broadcast? Welcome back to the best show on TV.)

Sporting News sold: Excuse me for being underwhelmed. Aside from being mismanaged into worse than oblivion – irrelevance – it simply isn't a player on any level: Print, online or other.

Wie to play in Men's Euro Masters: Quickie readers know that I'm a huge fan of Michelle Wie. You can gripe all you want about a woman playing in a men's tournament, but she's the greatest 16-year-old golfer -- male or female -- of all time.

Here's my favorite follow-up: If 16-year-old Tiger (or, for that matter, 16-year-old Nicklaus) teed up against Wie with her current skill set, she would absolutely obliterate him. It wouldn't even be close. I can only imagine how good she (not to mention some of the other top women's teens) will be when they are Tiger's age now.

(Random guess: Not good enough to put the LPGA on the mainstream map... hell, men's golf is already on the periphery. But good enough to play regularly in men's events... and do well.)

Saturday's OTHER game: Notre Dame vs. Penn State. That's TWO games with national title implications, and when Penn State beats Notre Dame, can we FINALLY stop talking about the Irish? Who's with me that BOTH programs make you want to gag. Penn State is Notre Dame without the religious affiliation. Touchdown Jesus vs. Touchdown JoePa.

What did you think of Katie Couric's debut on the CBS Evening News? I don't watch nightly network news, but I tuned in for her. I thought it was pretty smooth, actually – better than the other two network broadcasts (though admittedly I don't watch them nearly enough to really compare). But not nearly as relevant to viewers as Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert or even Keith Olbermann.

It's also possible that, as I've argued for years, the network Evening News has simply run its course with viewers my age (and, frankly, 10 years older) and everyone younger. I doubt I'll tune in tonight -- not necessarily because Katie is good or bad, but because she -- like the other two -- are increasingly irrelevant.

As the father of a newborn roughly the same age as Suri, what I was stunned by was her hair. Was it me or did it look sort of dyed? Meanwhile, Gabe had his first day of full-time day-care yesterday -- after three-plus months of being around him 24/7, it was a little strange to be back in the house by myself. (Yes, the idea of me being a full-time "manny" was discussed... and dismissed within about 5 seconds, by both me and my wife. I'd ruin the poor kid.)

Odds and Ends: Apparently, Title VII is the new Title IX. It's a shame that minorities would have to resort to lawsuits to get a fair shot in athletics hiring, but the process remains deeply flawed...

Was Zidane justified in head-butting Materazzi if Marco dissed Zizou's sister? The original rumor was that he dissed his mother to earn the Head-Butt Heard 'Round the World (Cup), but family honor is family honor. Two things: (1) "I did your sister" jokes might be even more of a staple than "I did your mother" jokes -- and far more tolerated. And (2) It still would have been an infinitely more effective comeback for Zidane to wave the World Cup trophy in Materazzi's face.

Reading Series: Tonight! NYC! 8 p.m.! If you're in the city, feel free to come on by. (Details below.)

Bear with me: I'm still refining the format of the blog, whether to split posts up individually (which would help readers who want to comment on a particular topic to have a stand-alone forum for that). I'm also planning to link a lot more to outside stories/blogs. I also have a ton of reader emails to respond to, which I'm slowly but surely getting through. If you've emailed me and I haven't responded yet, please accept my apology for the delay. Your emails have meant a lot to me over the last week (and the last few weeks, too).

-- D.S.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Reminder: Wednesday Reading Event in NYC

Don't mean to beat you over the head, but if you live in NYC, I personally invite you to come to tomorrow night's "Varsity Letters Reading Series" event, featuring Seth Mnookin, Jeff MacGregor and Warren St. John. I will be hosting, which is a role I only "earned" because I created the thing.

(If you don't live in NYC? No problem: Email/call/tell any/all of your friends/colleagues who might be interested to drop on by.)

The details:

When: Wednesday, Sept. 6

Doors open at 7:30
Event starts at 8 pm
Happy Ending Lounge
302 Broome St.
(between Eldridge and Forsythe)

It even has got a blog. (Yes, it's minimal.)

Thanks, and hope to see you there -- or hear from you that you've sent dozens of friends to attend in your place.

(By the way -- in an exclusive scoop for this blog's readers -- tomorrow night, I'm going to announce that the reading series is going to be sponsored by ESPN Books, in partnership with Borders. What does that mean? Well, the biggest impact is that the best sports authors might now return my calls to participate... and, yes, I am well aware of the irony of the new relationship.)

-- D.S.

New Top 25 Rant

Since I started the day with a rant about the Top 25 poll, I might as well get some closure, now that the new list is out:

Ohio St-Texas are 1-2:
Unsurprising, but nevertheless refreshing to see the voters kick ND down a peg (or two), setting up a de facto playoff game to determine at least one half of the national title game.

(Will it be fatal for the loser? Hardly. While the winner gets a virtual free pass, the loser -- by winning out -- will almost certainly put itself at the top of the mix of once-beaten teams in the event the game's winner is the only unbeaten team left at the end of the year.)

Outrage: Somehow, West Virginia dropped from 5th to 6th, even though it won handily this weekend. And yet Notre Dame stays AHEAD of WVA. The drop from 2 to 4 isn't dramatic enough to reflect the game's result on Saturday.

FSU's reward for beating a Top 12 team? A mere two-spot bump. Again, as I said this morning, they earned a Top 5 least for THIS week.

Louisville holds at No. 13? You can't possibly tell me that Louisville is the same No. 13 team it was a week ago when it was No. 13 without all-world RB Michael Bush. Apparently, the AP voters don't think losing a Heisman-caliber RB makes a team worse. And yet...

Oklahoma dropped from 10 to 15 as voters begin to realize how foolish they were to keep OU in the Top 10 even AFTER they lost Bomar.

And saving the biggest joke for last: Even with the first REAL week of data, the AP pollsters were unwilling to swap out even a SINGLE team from the original Top 25. The same 25 teams are still there.

Teams in the "Also Receiving Votes" area apparently don't just have to play well (like, say, UCLA), but they have to hope the teams ahead of them lose...even in Week 1. What a crock.

-- D.S.

Tuesday's Top: Bull Circle

Everyone knows the preseason Top 25 is a sham: What, exactly, are the so-called "experts" basing their picks on? Last year's performance? This year's returning players?

This is how you end up with the ultimate "rep" pick: Notre Dame at No. 2. And you can't even claim "West Coast Bias!" (At No. 9, Cal was obviously overrated.)

But after Week 1, there are actually some real game data-points that fans and voters can look to: A chemistry of how top teams played, and – as important – who they beat. And, based on that, here's what my Top 10 ballot looks like:

1. Ohio St.
2. Texas
3. West Virginia
4. Florida St.
5. USC
6. Auburn
7. Tennessee
8. Florida
9. Penn St.
10. Oregon

(Where's Notre Dame? STILL out of my Top 5.)

Why is FSU at No. 4? Are they really the 4th-best team in the country? Hardly (especially if you watched last night's game).

But they beat the best team of the week. (Yes, I'm discounting Tennessee's win over Cal, slightly, because the Bears had no business at No. 9.)

That win should be good enough to put FSU in the Top 5 – for now. And, next week, it could be – and SHOULD be – radically different.

But the point is this: In Week 1, pummeling a weak team shouldn't be given an inflated bonus -- but beating a good team should earn some extra credit.

The Top 25 poll should be fluid, especially in the first few weeks. For now, teams like FSU and Tennessee have proven it on the field... in 2006. Will they be this high in October? Probably not, but who cares? All we can go on is what limited data we have now.

Fans should demand more than "inertia" as a Top 25 voting strategy. But I suspect that's what we'll get in the new Top 25.

-- D.S.

Texas: Screwed vs. Ohio St?

Now THIS is some big-game intrigue: We'll see what Mack Brown is made of, now that he's a "championship coach." There's no reason in the world a player arrested on drug and weapons charges ("even" a misdemeanor) should be allowed to play in the next week's game.

Aha, but this is Texas, and they are hosting a "de facto" national championship game vs. Ohio State next Saturday. And the player in question is a starting senior CB whose assignment was likely to have been covering OSU stud Ted Ginn.

Suspending Tarrell Brown is the right thing to do -- but it could cost UT a shot at the national title. What would YOU do? What if it was YOUR key player on YOUR favorite team in YOUR most important game of the year?

(I suppose that UT could find a justification to play him this weekend – "he hasn't been convicted yet, blah blah blah" – and take their pound of flesh later in the season, when the opponent isn't, say, their biggest rival for the BCS title game. Too cynical?)

More CFB: NCAA clock-killing works? Average game times were down 17 minutes (3:03 vs. 3:20), a function of the new timing rules. Some coaches (most notably, my boy Urban Meyer) hate it, but I have little sympathy: If a coach wants to have more possessions (or to run more plays), he can simply call plays faster, can't he?

-- D.S.

Tiger: Bad for Golf?

After his 5th straight win, I think it's time to ask whether Tiger's dominance is actually bad for golf?

Perhaps it's a testament to how shallow most fans' interest is in golf, that they can root for one guy to win every single weekend.

Because, otherwise, his winning week after week means that other players aren't getting the chance to improve their reps.

"Tiger vs. the Field" is a catchy way to sum up the state of golf, but when "I'll take Tiger" becomes everyone's default answer every weekend, it sucks the drama from the sport.

-- D.S.

Ryan Howard: The new Maris?

You can keep "Chasing Aaron." Bonds' home-run surge, however impressive, won't culminate until next year (at the earliest). And, even then, it's obviously tainted.

Meanwhile, we've got a bonafide "Chasing X" right now: Ryan Howard's "Chasing Maris."

Because if Howard (now at 53 HR), can get past Maris' 61, we can have a VERY interesting debate about who the REAL single-season HR champ is.

(What: You're going to argue for Bonds? Or McGwire? Or Sosa? I'll se your "sketchy 70-plus" and take Howard's 62-plus and no suspicions.)

-- D.S.

Tuesday NFL Wrap: Questions?

Will Big Ben only miss Week 1? Given the nasty strength of the Jags' D he'll face in Week 2, they might want to consider him ducking out that game, too.

T.O. ready for Week 1?? Speaking of the Jags, their season-opening game against the Cowboys will get slightly harder if T.O. plays. But, again, it's not like the Cowboys' offense is a juggernaut, let alone against the Jags. Take the under here.

Is Koren Robinson headed to Green Bay? Wait: I thought his arrest would trigger a season-long NFL suspension?

C Hank Fraley to Browns: Injured yet? It's a sad punchline that writes itself. Over/under on his career-ending injury: Week 2.

Isn't it freaking amazing to finally be able to work on your starting lineups for fantasy this week?

-- D.S.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Monday A.M.: First Take

Lead Item: NFL Waiver Mania! For one day, NFL GMs act EXACTLY like you do in your fantasy league:

They scour the list of players released by other teams -- as the final cuts, these are the best pickins -- and pounce:

Most notably, Gary Kubiak picked up his Broncos reclamation project Ron Dayne after Denver cut the disappointing RB. Yet another team for Dayne to offer the promise of productivity, but ultimately let the fans down. (I was high on both Morency and Lundy, and I hope that Kubiak doesn’t automatically give the goal-line carries to Dayne.)

Nick Saban claimed Lee Suggs (injuries and all), apparently continuing his strategy of filling his entire roster with players from the Southeast U.S.

I’m not sure where Najeh Davenport ended up, but the team should make sure there’s a clean hamper for him.

And Charles Rogers was released, thus ending what will go down as one of the Top 3 biggest draft busts of the ESPN Era.

(Finally – thankfully – the ridiculous Jeff George storyline in Oakland is over. Has a washed-up player ever gotten more publicity off of a one-week stint with a team? Sorry, Whitlock.)

MLB Wrap: Howard vs. Pujols. Anything you can do... I have Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard 1-2 in my NL MVP balloting. I’m just not sure which goes where.

My heart says Howard. My head says Pujols. If the Phillies win the Wild Card, I think it has to go to Howard. (Remember what I said Friday: Howard is the new “Face of Baseball.”)

Here is THE MLB storyline to watch: With a month left in the season and Howard at 52 HR, is it possible that he can top 61? And, if he does, can he claim to be the TRUE all-time Home Run Champ?

(If he did hit 62-plus, if I was him, I would immediately offer to take every level of drug test available to science, all the better to strengthen a claim as the REAL single-season HR champ.)

More MLB: Does anyone really think that Jason Varitek’s return to the Red Sox will mean anything? I didn’t think so...

Big Ben out 2 games: Is this just a blip on the season or foreshadowing of larger problems ahead? (Remember, as long as the Steelers make the playoffs and Big Ben can play for THOSE games, the Steelers are fine. Then again, it’s no guarantee the Steelers will get into the playoffs this year without a full-strength Big Ben.)

Andre Agassi: Career over! Here’s what I’ll always remember/appreciate about Agassi – he was sports’ Madonna: Able to reinvent his career (and persona), from “Bad Boy” to “Wise Elder.” Mostly, I think he exposes the bandwagoneers in the media, most of whom cursed him when he was brash and young. He wouldn’t have been “Wise Elder Andre” without “Brash Young Andre.” Strike that: He COULDN’T have been the Andre now without the Andre then.

USA Hoops: Bronze. I think the fact that the USA team beat Argentina is certainly better than losing, but if the team took any satisfaction out of coming in third, they’re destined to lose again. Anything but gold should be thought of as completely unacceptable.

Tonight’s Best: FSU-Miami. I’m not sure how much of the “Full Circle” coverage I’m going to engage in (beyond the standard game broadcast), but there’s something to be said for the end-zone-cam view (which could be dubbed the “Madden View,” inspired by that Slate piece on Madden ‘07 last week). I sat in end-zone seats at the Swamp on Saturday, and – while not as good as the usual seats I sit in – it really is fascinating how you can track the development of the plays so much better from an end-zone view. It’s the Maddenification of the fans. (Hell, when is the first crappy team going to try to market their crappy end-zone seats as “Madden Tier seating!”)

Sucks to be...: Michael Bush. The Louisville RB was an outside Heisman contender (though quickly moving up the rankings after scoring 3 TDs last night), right up until he broke his leg, ending his season. I guess it kinda sucks to be Louisville, too.

I’m traveling back from Florida to NYC today, but I’ll be back with a new Quickie-ish “Wrap” post tomorrow a.m.

BY THE WAY: If you live in/near NYC, don’t forget that I’m hosting my monthly sports reading series on Wednesday night at Happy Ending (302 Broome), featuring readings from Seth Mnookin, Jeff MacGregor and Warren St. John. It’s free and it’s a great night out!

-- D.S.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

College Football Hangover: Week 1

Notes following a day of immersing myself in all things college football in Gainesville, FL:

(1) Notre Dame ain't that good. It's not simply that Notre Dame isn't even CLOSE to the No. 2 team in the country; it's that I question if they're even Top TEN.

"But it was a road game" and "But GA Tech was better than people thought" aren't legit excuses. The oh-so-vaunted Notre Dame offense was a dud. Brady Quinn has no business being at the top of Heisman leaderboards today. Maybe down the road. But today? No way. (More on Heisman below.)

Quickie readers know I didn't have ND in my preseason Top 5, and I think that last night's performance justifies that. I hope voters don't simply keep them at No. 2 out of inertia -- just because you're No. 2 and win doesn't mean you EARNED the right to be No. 2.

(2) Colorado: Worst loss ever? Losing to 1-AA Montana State is, at least on the field, infinitely worse than anything that ever happened in the Barnett Era (and that includes last year's Big 12 title game 70-3 pasting). It's a sign of how low the expectations in Boulder are that fans and boosters haven't asked for Dan Hawkins' head already.

(3) Vols still stink: I'm biased, having spent the weekend among Gators fans, but Tennessee's win over Cal is overrated. For starters, and speaking of overrated, Cal was, period. Freaking Pac-10... it's like a rule. Second, UT had ALL OFFSEASON to prepare for this game -- it was, for Phil Fulmer, the must-win of must-wins. Wait until they have to get through the rest of the SEC, particularly on the road.

(4) Florida report: The Gators were not particularly impressive, though the benefits of recruiting were obvious, in the form of depth and team speed. True freshman stud (and consensus hs p.o.y. last year) Percy Harvin justified the hype; every time he touched the ball, it felt like he could take it to the house. That makes him CFB's Freshman Class heir to Reggie Bush.

(Ted Ginn is Reggie Bush's true heir this season, but Harvin is right in the mix -- particularly for a true frosh in his first game. And where Ginn seems to be mostly a threat receiving and returning, "Oh, Mercy Percy" (that's my instant nickname for him) showed skills as a running threat, too.)

(5) Ohio St-Texas preview. Speaking of Ginn, it's not too early to start promoting next weekend's Ohio St-Texas game in Austin, which -- rightfully -- will likely determine one half of the national championship game. (I'd actually argue that the losing team could even end up in the BCS title game vs. the winner, in a rematch everyone would want to see.)

I keep waffling back and forth about who I think is going to win, but after looking at yesterday's games, I think that Ohio State outscores Texas in a shootout to rival last year's national title game. OSU has an offense that rivals USC's from last season (but their defense is probably just as sketchy as USC's was).

1. Troy Smith
2. Adrian Peterson
3. Steve Slaton
(Out: Brady Quinn)

Last thought: By the end of the season, I think most experts and fans will agree that Peterson is a better NFL prospect than Reggie Bush. Maybe not with Bush' potential as a flashy game-breaker, but with the potential to be an awesome every-down back, which Bush doesn't look like he's going to be. How crazy would it be for Houston to end up with Peterson -- I think many people could argue they would be better off with Peterson (and Mario Williams) than Bush (and next year's draft's top defensive player). Of course, the Texans will find a way to screw this up; I'm sure Gary Kubiak thinks he can get away with the Broncos-style revolving door of RBs. If that's the case, I'm sure any of the other "dregs" teams -- like the Jets -- would be happy to have him. But if I had to put together an NFL draft board now, regardless of position or knowing the needs of the NFL team drafting No. 1, I'd take Peterson over Quinn, who looked solid but certainly not spectacular last night.

-- D.S.