Friday, July 22, 2016

J.J. Watt and the knife

It could certainly be argued Houston Texan J.J. Watt is the best defensive end in the NFL. For that matter, it's not much of a stretch to claim he ranks right up there with the best of all time. Only the late Reggie White had more sacks in his first five years than Watt.

Further, such is Watt's revved up "motor" that he is viewed as a team leader. He gets the rest of the guys fired up with his sheer enthusiasm. No doubt about it, Justin James Watt truly loves playing the game of football.

That's what makes his current situation so tough to understand. Watt recently had back surgery to repair a herniated disk. OK, those things can happen to anybody and they're certainly no fun (I had one myself years ago).

Yet given Watt's passion for the game, the timing seems all wrong. Watt had the same injury last year and, to his credit and toughness, played through it.

His 2015 season was over last January -- a full six months ago. It's a given that NFL teams either have on staff or have access to some of the finest medical personnel, including surgeons, in the world. This also includes diagnosticians. They (and Watt) knew exactly what was wrong all the way back to last year. They likely also knew that surgery would be required to properly fix it. Life in the trenches of the NFL isn't exactly a desk job. Injuries are going to get aggravated if the player continues to play. And herniated disks are nothing to fool around with.

So here's the question ---- why did he wait so long to go under the knife?

Had the procedure been done way back in January, he would have been completely healed by now and good to go. After all, training camps will be firing up soon. But now there is much question whether Watt will even be ready to go when the regular season starts. If all goes well, say the docs, it's going to be close.

Ah, but perhaps an ulterior motive lurks. By delaying the operation as he did, J.J. doesn't have to participate in the grind of training camps and the meaningless preseason games. In a perfect world for him, Watt will go back to work when it counts -- the regular season. While his teammates are beating their brains out for the next several weeks, J.J gets to rehab, likely in an air conditioned facility.

A pretty sweet deal, all things considered.

You have to hand it to him. J.J. Watt is not only a phenomenal football player -- a terror while on the field -- it appears he's a pretty slick operator.

So far, nobody has questioned the "timing" of this. The talking heads and fans are only concerned as to whether he'll be ready to go in Game 1.

And hey, if he was good walking around with a herniated disk for 6 months (it couldn't have been THAT bad) in order to skip out on all the drills and practices -- more power to him.

Smooth, but it doesn't necessarily smell right.......

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Detroit Tigers and the clock

The 100 game mark is quickly approaching and the Detroit Tigers remain as mysterious as ever. Game after game goes by -- win a few, lose a few -- but they seem to be in a rut. Tick, tick, tick.

The Motowners hover somewhere around 7-8 games back of the division leading Cleveland Indians and a few games out of a potential wild card spot.

They can score a bunch of runs one day, then have their bats go silent the next. Beat good teams, lose to bad ones. The longer this drags on, the worse their chances at making the post season get. It's unlikely Cleveland will go into a tailspin. They have too much talent, both pitching and hitting, to suffer a lengthy losing streak. Sure, it could happen, but the odds are highly against it.

In the east, the Red Sox are cruising along, and the Orioles and Blue Jays are both quality teams. Also with better records than the Tigers.

The same can be said for the Astros in the west, where Texas leads the division.

Assuming the Tigers won't catch Cleveland -- there will only be two wild card spots available. Throw Detroit in the mix with Baltimore, Toronto, and Houston, and their chances at reaching the post season don't appear good.

True, the Tigers could get hot and there's "plenty" of games left, but as each day goes by and they hover just over .500, the clock is working against them. Tick.

With the notable exception of J. D. Martinez, the Tigers have been relatively major injury free. They remain who we all know they are. Lots of good hitters in the line-up, mediocre starting pitching, not much team speed, and a disaster for a bullpen. Typically, they need to score a bunch of runs to win, because their beleaguered pitching staff is surely going to surrender a few on most days.

It is interesting to note manager Brad Ausmus, in the last year of his contract, has yet to receive a renewal offer from the club. If the Tigers make the playoffs, and a little noise once there, it's entirely possible BA will be re-upped. But not a sure thing. If they don't make the playoffs, he is almost surely history. It always seemed strange that, never before managing at ANY level, the Tigers tagged Ausmus as their skipper. Of course the players have to play the game and the general manager is in charge of procuring them, but losing typically falls at the feet of the manager.

Further, puttering along as they have been for the last few months isn't helping them any. There's too many other teams, as mentioned above, that remain ahead of them. And just like the Tigers could get hot, they could also swoon. If 7-8 games back turns into 13-14, with fewer yet left to play, they can pretty much kiss the season good-bye.

When the Tigers locked up several players for long term contracts, it was thought to be a good thing. Yet it might well be backfiring on them. They're stuck with what they have. Other teams are mighty wary of taking on a long-term mega-contract for a player that isn't exactly living up to his billing. And as the season winds down and several clubs are making a playoff push, they'll ALL be looking to add a key piece here and there. And, like the Tigers, such players won't come cheap or easy for them. They'll have to give up something, be it a good player another team covets, or a few top prospects. In other words, going for it now often means mortgaging the future.

The Tigers appear to be in limbo. Not terrible, but hardly great either. It's hard to imagine how adding a key player -- or even two -- to fill spots of need would propel them into being contenders. Again, they are what they are.

And as the games keep going by with no movement of note, their chances get slimmer and slimmer.

Tick, tick, tick.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Phil and Henrik

By all rights, Phil Mickelson should have won the British Open. I mean, good grief, he was only one shot off the lead heading into the final round, then went out and blistered the course with a 6 under 65. But on this day, Lefty would come up short.

As in three whole shots worth. In an amazing display of golf, his Swedish playing partner Henrik Stenson shot an incredible 63 -- eight strokes under par. Mickelson would later say he played about as well as he could, but just got beat.

What made Stenson's round even more impressive was it included two bogies. That means he played the remaining 16 holes in a jaw dropping 10 under.

Henrik Stenson has been a touring pro for almost two decades (he's 40), but this was the first major championship he captured. Oddly enough, it was also the first by any Swede. His final tally of 20 under par was the lowest score -- ever -- in the Open.

On the other hand, Lefty is now 46 years old. He was aiming to match Jack Nicklaus' record of oldest player to win a major. He might still best it in years to come, but this was a chance that didn't exactly get away, but was rather snatched by Stenson and his round for the ages.

Hats off to Henrik. He da Man. Also a gentleman's gentleman. It couldn't happen to a nicer and more deserving guy.

Maybe Phil can dial up some of that old magic down the road in another major, but 46 is 46 and it won't get any easier in years to come. Especially with all the young guns that inhabit the tour. They keep popping up like dandelions in the spring.

But he shouldn't feel too bad. After all, 17 under par at any major championship is quite the impressive score. And he got paid handsomely, to the tune of 675,000 bucks, or Euros, or pounds sterling, or whatever currency it is they use in the British Isles these days.

Still, this was Henrik Stenson's time to shine. His performance will long be remembered as one of the greatest ever in a major championship. And the final round duel between him and Mickelson was absolutely epic. The nearest other competitors finished over 10 shots behind. That's a bunch.

An aside. Many thanks to the readers of this blog and your patience and understanding while I was off for a while -- no cracks, LOL -- due to the death of my mother.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Death in the family

My mom has passed away. I will be taking a few days off from the blog.
Thank you.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The insane NBA merry-go-round

Well, let's see. Dwayne Wade pulled a Lebron and went home. (He's from Chicago and played his college ball at nearby Marquette.)  He'll slide into the place vacated by Derrick Rose, who left Chitown to go to the Knicks.

Rose will team up with Carmelo Anthony in the Big Apple. It's doubtful Rose can stay healthy and Melo still can't play any defense. The Knicks aren't going anywhere. Nor are the Bulls. Decent, but the addition of Wade hardly makes them a title contender.

The Detroit Pistons gave center Andre Drummond a super-duper max contract. This for a guy who can't handle the ball, has no outside shot, and his free throw shooting is legendary -- as in pitiful. Motown wisdom rolls on.

Everybody knows Kevin Durant left OKC to team up with Draymond and the splash brothers on Golden State. OKC looks to be in big trouble. They let All-Star guard James Hardin dash off to Houston a couple years ago. Now Durant's gone. Fellow superstar Russell Westbrook's contract is up after next year. He'll probably be gone too. Pity the poor state of Oklahoma. The Thunder are their only major professional sports team, and it looks to be coming apart at the seams.

Lebron James is technically a free agent. Would he dare sign anywhere else but with Cleveland again? If so, that whole bit about leaving Miami to go home would ring quite hollow. With Lebron, the Cavs remain a serious threat to repeat as champions, Golden State notwithstanding. Without him, they can kiss it goodbye.

Quietly, as has always been his nature, San Antonio big man Tim Duncan is rumored to be strongly considering retirement. Hey, he's 40, and not near the player he used to be. Perhaps it's time. Thing is, Manu Ginobelli and Tony Parker are becoming "senior" citizens as well. They ain't what they used to be either. Kawhi Leonard is an extraordinary talent, but when the Big Three go bye-bye, the Spurs years of being a top flight team might very well end. Nothing lasts forever. The Los Angeles Lakers are Exhibit A.

All the while, the salaries have gone insane for star players. You're just not cool unless you're making over $20 million a year. Once upon a time, yours truly was all for the advent of free agency. After all, a worker should be able to shop his talents and hire on with whatever company he chooses. But this has gone WAY overboard and is out of control. A guy making 20M is knocking down north of $250,000 -- per game. For playing basketball. It's outrageous. And the contracts are guaranteed. If a guy gets hurt (see Derrick Rose above), even long term, he gets paid the same anyway. Shouldn't they have some sort of lesser sick-leave pay like manhy other employers? If a guy can't produce, why should he get the same salary?

Here's the scary part. With even more huge TV dollars set to roll in next year, the salary cap will go up quite a bit. Today's 20 million might well become 30 million next year -- or more. Ticket prices will go up -- again.

Round and round it goes, and where the insanity will stop nobody knows.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Durant, Detroit Tigers, and Williams sisters

Most think Golden State's acquisition of Kevin Durant make them a lock to win next year's NBA title. They might well be right. After all, the Warriors made it all the way to the Finals THIS year and were up 3-1 on Cleveland before Lebron and the Cavs came roaring back. Adding a superstar like Durant to an already formidable team would seem to be a no-brainer.


The Warriors had to get rid of three players to make salary cap room for Durant. And those three -- Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, and Festus Ezuli -- logged a lot of minutes. While GS opted for shock and awe power in their starting line-up, they also sacrificed depth. And as great as Durant may be, he can only take up one spot on the floor at a time. Further, he can't play every minute of every game. He's going to have to sit for a breather here and there. Further yet, how the whole "chemistry" thing works out remains to be seen.

Dropping a mega-talent onto a team that already has a few others doesn't always pay off immediately. Remember when Lebron left Cleveland for the Miami Heat to join Wade and Bosh several years back. Though they made the Finals their first year together, they were also bounced by the Dallas Mavericks once they got there. And there's the tricky part. Durant signed a two year deal but the second year is a player option. If the Warriors don't pull off a championship next year, KD could bolt and go yet somewhere else. To boot, sources are saying Dwyane Wade has become unhappy with the Miami Heat. So what might happen if he rejoins Lebron in Cleveland?  True, the Cavs would have to shed a few players of their own, but a Finals rematch would become even more likely, and GS might not be the lock they appear to be now. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

The Detroit Tigers offer up an unusual statistic. Currently, they're 7 1/2 games back of the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central. Might as well call it eight (they've played one more game and lost it). Amazingly, Cleveland has played Detroit 11 times so far this year -- and won all of them. So against all other competition the Tigers are actually 3 games better than the Indians. A local sports columnist recently cited the "ABC" factor when it came to the Tigers. All But Cleveland. How right he was. Very strange stuff.

In this year's Wimbledon tennis tournament, both Serena and Venus Williams have made it to the semi-finals. Though few notice it at the time, the way the tournament is seeded before it ever starts can make a difference as it winds down to the end. Of course, Serena would be seeded #1 going in, but Venus' spot is pretty much at the whim of the tournament officials. There's not a whole heck of a lot of difference between players ranked, say, #6 and # 10 in the world. But exactly where they slot Venus before the tourney starts will determine whether or not the sisters can meet each other in the finals, or have to square off in the semis.

In years past, their father has strongly protested when one of his daughters had to eliminate the other before the finals. If the tournament organizers want to eliminate the possibility of an all Williams finals, it's as easy as sliding Venus up or down a spot in the brackets.

Turns out this year, daddy might get his wish. Their semi final matches are against other players. True, when it gets down to the final four, everybody's really good and there's no guarantee either S or V will move on.

But at least we won't hear any more whining over some kind of self-perceived prejudice out of the old man this year. Dude needs to shut up.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

A weird golf ruling

Dustin Johnson, recent winner of the US Golf Open, added another doo-dad to his trophy case by bagging the Bridgestone/Firestone championship in Akron, Ohio. The sponsors and hypesters call this tourney the "World Golf Championship", but it hardly looked the part. Several of the top golfers in the world didn't even bother to show up.

DJ's title came about by an unlikely scenario. Aussie Jason Day, the #1 player in the world, was cruising right along on top with just a few holes to go. Day is certainly not known as a choke artist, but in this case he made a bad shot, then compounded it with some horrible decisions. He would wind up tied for third place.

But something very unusual happened and yours truly can't figure it out. Day had driven his ball far into the left rough and found it to be behind a large evergreen. He was able to hit the ball out but then found himself in the right hand rough with his ball square behind the trunk of a large tree. He would have to waste a shot to go around it. Or so it appeared. Play it where it lies or take a penalty stroke -- right?

Not so fast.  After conferring with a rules official, Day was allowed to pick his ball up and drop it to the side of the tree. No penalty stroke. How could that be?

It got stranger still. After a "drop", the ball landed in a poor lie. Day was allowed to re-drop. Huh? The same thing happened yet again. Another bad lie. Incredibly, Day was then allowed to place his ball as he saw fit.

What the hell was going on here? Since when do PGA players get a free drop, then another, then be allowed to choose what sort of lie they have to hit their next shot out of?

Almost fittingly, Day would whack the next shot into a lake. Good-bye championship.

This is nothing against Jason Day. Besides being currently ranked the top player on the planet, the Aussie is a world class gentleman as well. It's almost impossible NOT to like him.

Unlike most other sports, where players try to get away with whatever they can (cheating), golf has long held itself to a much higher standard. The players will call penalties on themselves if they inadvertently commit an infraction. So no, this is not to say Jason Day cheated in any way. After all, he called a rules official over, and it was THAT guy that allowed the above to transpire.

Still, yours truly remains at a loss. How was this allowed to happen?

Anybody know? If so, please enlighten me by posting a comment below.