6.16.2009

A Couple Things Baseball GMs Should Consider

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1. The Nationals have two paths to take: Manny Acta or Stephen Strasburg
For a team that is farther behind than many thought possible, the Nationals are truly a team in crisis. They can't draw fans to their brand new, state-of-the-art ballpark. Last week after a rain delay, fewer than 100 fans remained in the Beltway's crown jewel, conjuring up memories of Italian soccer games played behind closed doors.

So what's the problem that they face? Quite honestly I would say it stems from the league take over a few years ago, and one that put Bowden in charge as GM. Other than the super 2006 season of Alfonso Soriano, the Nats have failed with every transaction that they have made, manager Manny Acta included.

So 29 games under .500 in the middle of June has got to be worthy of a sacking of Acta right? I believe so. Ofcourse you cannot pin the blame completely on him, but let's face it, Acta is not the guy that is going to lead them to the promise land anyways. So why not cut him now, and see how the team reacts? As one blogger says, "Sometimes you just have to give the players a fresh outlook. Axe Acta now, Washington." That's exactly right. Whats the worst that could happen? They lose 110 instead of 105? Get it done.

Signing Stephen Strasburg is more of need right now than a manager that is neither qualified, nor truly to blame for poor players. Focus elsewhere.

2. Gerald Perry was not the cause to the Cubs hitting troubles, Piniella is more of a total problem however.
The Northsiders have struggled to hit more than ever these days, something that cost batting coach Gerald Perry his job this past weekend. Why? Since Perry took the reigns for the 2007 season, the Cubs hitting approach has changed completely. Gone are the days of Sammy Sosa and Jeremy Burnitz swinging for the fences and whiffing, under Perry the Cubs(sans Alfonso Soriano) have become a patient ballclub for the most part.

In 2006, the last year before Perry's appointment, the Cubs ranked last in OBP and walks, walking 64 fewer times than the 15th ranked Pirates. While players like Juan Pierre did not help those two stats in '06, the approach of the team as a whole was terrible. Perry changed the hitting philosophy completely, and by 2008, the Cubs led the league in both OBP and walks, walking an astounding 636 times last year.

This year is different however, as the injury-riddled Cubs have struggled without their best hitter, third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Teams have also learned to pitch to Geovany Soto and Kosuske Fukudome, and have had their way with the struggles of Soto and Milton Bradley. Players are missing chances to drive pitches, and take what pitchers give them, thus prolonging the abysmal .246 team batting average. But despite their failures so far, the team remains just 3 games out, and the problem is more of Lou Piniella's, than the scapegoat, Gerald Perry.

Piniella told shortstop Ryan Theriot to start turning on pitches, rather than doing what he does best, slap singles through the right side. The result has been detrimental to the club, and Theriot has become Willie Mays Hays. His importance to the team is to get on base, be the pesky baseruner he can be, and make up for Soriano's lack of true leadoff hitter tendencies. Lou on the other hand, can't see the issue, and until Theriot won Sunday afternoon's game with a walkoff single to right, the real Ryan Theriot had been AWOL, replaced by Lou's little slugger. Blame Lou, not Perry.


Photo: The Onion

6.15.2009

Sitting Down with Matt Clapp of Sharapova's Thigh

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This weekend I had the pleasure of interviewing successful blogger, and aspiring sportswriter, Matt Clapp, of the blog Sharapova's Thigh. It was a blast to play pepper with the internet sports fanatic, and even more enjoyable listening to what he had to say about his journey into the blogosphere.

Michael Castillo : Hey Matt, welcome to The Sporting Globe. How's the blogosphere treating you?

Matt Clapp : Thanks a lot Michael. The blogosphere is treating me exceptionally well, much better than I could've anticipated. It's like a giant brotherhood in the sports blogosphere, I've been absolutely amazed.

Michael Castillo : Your blog, Sharapova's Thigh has been around for a while now. How did you start and where did you envision yourself this far into it?

Matt Clapp : My good buddy and roommate at the time, Brad Creque, wanted to do a sports website. He kept saying stuff day after day like, "Matt, I'm serious. We talk sports half of the day. Let's get our own website started...". We actually were trying to get a sports show on public access television in Fort Collins, Colorado, which fell through.

So money was not at all even considered, but just something we enjoyed doing. We each ideally wanted to get into sportswriting or something in the sports world in the future as that's really all either of us know, so we figured we could do something to hopefully speed up that process through experience in the field, and have some fun with it at the same time.

Well I talked with another friend of mine, Natalie Plowman, and she showed me this blog she had. When she showed me her site and informed me it was free to start one of my own, I was shocked. This is how out of the loop I was. I figured to start any sort of site, we'd have to pay up front.

Without knowing how serious we could get with this, Brad and I figured, hey, let's just start a free blog and see where we can go with it. I didn't plan on getting serious with the site, just figured it was a place I could rant a little bit and possibly show off what I always considered to be worthless sports knowledge to my friends. Anyway, we finally got it started in late January 2008, I began to really enjoy it, and here we are now.

Michael Castillo : Did you ever imagine the vast network of bloggers?

Matt Clapp : I'd frequently read Deadspin and Kissing Suzy Kolber for example prior to this, but I had no idea about all of the talented and remarkable blogs out there until I started one of my own and looked for ways to improve it.

I've been influenced greatly by so many sports blogs, as well as received an incredible amount of assistance from many of these people. We wouldn't be anywhere close to where we're at without the help of the people at Hugging Harold Reynolds, NESW Sports, MoonDog Sports, The World Of Isaac, Zoner Sports, Hip 2 Da Game and Gunaxin just to name a few. I've learned so much from all of them.

I really had no idea there were this many talented people out there in the blogging world until I got into it myself.

Michael Castillo: Where did you get the name Sharapova's Thigh?

Matt Clapp : Brad and I didn't really know what exactly we wanted this site to be. I mean we knew it was going to contain sports articles, but we figured to get anybody at all to read it, we'd need something else to the blog.

We're both guys in our 20 somethings, both enjoy the bar life probably a bit more than we should, etc. And we like to think we have a pretty good sense of humor. So we decided to try to get a name that could show what our site was going to be about, and show our personality in it as well. Literally the first name we blurted out... I said, "Sharapova.... we could do something with Sharapova. Guys love her, she's an awesome tennis player. Sharapova's Thigh?"

Brad looked at me and said, "What? What the (expletive)?", and we each couldn't stop laughing for about 15 minutes straight. I was telling him, we can't actually call the site this can we? What does it even mean? To this day neither of us even know, it's just a stupid idea that I yelled out for no reason. We decided to go with it though.

Even though a lot of people love the name, I regret it a little bit. I feel it sort of takes away from our credibility and it's difficult for some people to take us seriously when we're trying to be. It's also embarrassing to explain to elders and females.


Michael Castillo : While I love the name, I don't think it takes from your creditability, because your sports material is spot on. So far, what aspect of sports writing as made the most impact on your blog? Is there a specific story or concept that allows you to shine when you post about sports?

Matt Clapp : To the first part, thanks. That's nice to hear. And to the second, baseball for us without question. Pretty much every writer on the site knows a lot about baseball, and we've tried to show that off a little bit with our "Where They Stand", "Around The Bigs", "Random Retro Baseball Player", and most recently, "Fiscal Responsibility" pieces.

I feel we can cover about anything in regards to baseball, basketball, and football, but as a whole we definitely do the best with our baseball coverage.

Michael Castillo : With the mixture of your sports and entertainment content, what steps have you gone toward to keep the sports theme ever-present in your own blogosphere?


Matt Clapp : Great question. It's definitely a struggle. There's all sorts of things we've done, or tried to do at least. Social networking has been huge for us in doing that. We've been very active on on sites such as Ballhype, Yardbarker, Sportsviews, and Rootzoo to get our sports posts out there and build relationships with other sports bloggers out there.

I also can't emphasize enough how important Twitter has been in that regard. A lot of people complain about how they only get a few hits maybe for something they post on Twitter, to me that's not what it's about.


Michael Castillo : How has Twitter revolutionized your blogging experience?

Matt Clapp : Well it's been an easy way to show that I'm a huge sports fan, and I've been able to interact with hundreds of other sports bloggers in the process. I feel I've made a lot of friends doing that, and definitely gained some legitimate fans which is important to me.

The traffic's great and all obviously, but to me it's important to get some people that really appreciate what we're doing, and actually reading the sports posts we spend hours writing. I think it also helps our reputation quite a bit.

Michael Castillo : Where do you go from here? A year and a half into blogging, what is left to do? Any new things on the horizion we can look forward to?

Matt Clapp : If I had a clear answer for that, I'd feel -much- better about things. There's a ton left to do though. One major positive that I like about our site, is that I feel we can cover about any topic out there. Additionally, I think you're going to see the site mature a little bit, or so that's my plan.

If you go back and look in the archives of our first few months of the blog, you'll notice a lot more immaturity, much more foul language, and pretty much a blog that was suitable for only people ages 18+. We're not going to lose the babes or anything, it's a part of the site's identity whether I really like that or not anymore. However, I do think it's going to be a much more professional site with quality sports analysis that will allow more people to feel comfortable visiting the site.

One thing I'm really excited about is a new website I've started with another Sharapova's Thigh writer, Justin Agla, called "The Friendly Blogfines". We're each diehard Cubs fans, like I know you are. Justin and discussed doing a site for awhile, and finally went through with it in the last few weeks.
On Sharapova's Thigh, I like to keep it a general sports blog without any specific team affiliations since we have double-digit contributors, and it might confuse some readers.

We wanted to have a place to write about our beloved Cubs, and with a different tone than you'd usually see us write on Sharapova's Thigh. We report and analyze Cubs news, do live game blogs, etc. We're not very biased and just like talking baseball, so we encourage fans of all teams to check it out. You won't see any bikinis or much bad language over there either. So yeah, if people can't take our writing seriously on the Thigh, hopefully they can here at least. It's us writing about what we are truly passionate about over anything else, and in a professional manner.


Michael Castillo : It's been a pleasure having you here at The Sporting Globe with an Original Interview. Thank you, Matt.

Matt Clapp : Thanks so much for having me, Michael. I'm a huge fan of The Globe. I think you guys have superb sports analysis and can go far, so keep at it.

LA and Boston: Championship Cities of the Decade

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With just one crown left of the traditional "big four" sports, the 2009 World Series, left to be won in the decade, the time has come to debate which city dominated the sports world this decade.

There have been 38 championships, here's how it all breaks down:

  1. Los Angeles-Anaheim 6 (Lakers 4, Angels 1, Ducks 1)
  2. Boston 6 (Patriots 3, Red Sox 2, Celtics 1)
  3. New York- New Jersey 4 (Devils 2, Yankees 1, Giants 1)
  4. San Antonio 3 (Spurs)
  5. Detroit 3 (Red Wings 2, Pistoms 1)
  6. Pittsburgh 3 (Steelers 2, Penguins 1)
  7. Miami 2 (Marlins, Heat)
  8. St. Louis 2 (Rams, Cardinals)
  9. Tampa Bay 2 (Buccaneers, Lightning)
  10. Arizona 1 (Diamondbacks)
  11. Baltimore 1 (Ravens)
  12. Charlotte-Raleigh 1 (Hurricanes)
  13. Chicago 1 (White Sox)
  14. Denver 1 (Avalanche)
  15. Indianapolis 1 (Colts)
  16. Philadelphia 1 (Phillies)

At the top, Boston and LA, just like old times. As seen in the 2008 NBA Finals, the Lakers and Celtics are back on top of the world restoring not only the greatest rivalry in basketball, but one of the biggest amongst America's cities. Bean Town, Hollywood, and New York have always butted heads a the trio of Sports havens, so it is fitting that those three metro areas can pride themselves with a ridiculous 16 titles in the decade.

With Boston having the Patriots, it makes you wonder what it would be like if Los Angeles had an NFL team. Would they eclipse Boston with yet another? While that is a question that will never be answered, we can look towards college football as an equalizer. Since Boston has the Pats, if we count USC as a franchise --some of you may argue that they get paid more than the Detroit Loins-- then you can bring the Los Angeles total up to 8.

Should this count? That's up for debate, but it certainly makes things interesting as Los Angeles avoided getting shut out this decade like they did in the '90s.

As for cities and metros that have been shut out, lets look at the Bay Area and Atlanta. San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland have a combined six pro franchises, yet they struggled mightily, with only one team making a championship appearance, the 2002 San Francisco Giants. Atlanta on the other hand, hasn't even gotten that far.

Looking into the next decade, Pittsburgh looks like the new Boston. With Crosby winning his first Cup, and Big Ben wrapping up his second, the trend looks pretty for the Steel City. Too bad the Pirates can't be relegated to the Pacific Coast League to beef up their trophy cabinet.


Photo: Bodoglife.com

6.07.2009

What is it about College Baseball?

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Crisp, flat bills. High, striped socks. A springtime spectrum of colorful bats, and youthful public address announcers. That's what I think about when college baseball comes to mind.

From my days watching games at Dedeaux Field in the 90s, to currently watching the NCAA tournament on the ESPN family of networks, I've devised many questions and formed many mental notes about the game. Surely, it is America's pastime, but slightly different from your grandma's Mickey Mantle days.

1. Why do all college baseball players look alike?
Whether it's Hofstra, Nebraska, or Fullerton, for some reason every college ballplayer looks like a mirror image of the rest. Their dusty, and tattered pants hang at the knee, and their faces are covered in eye black like ancient native warriors.

Why is this? Few players in the major leagues are dressed in such a way, and yet college nearly parallels the lower rungs of minor ball.

2. Why do big colleges rule in the East, but smaller funded schools reign supreme in the West?
Miami, Florida State, Texas and LSU all are big time programs in every sport they field. UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton, and Long Beach State however, are full of Orange County kids that all want to stay home for college. They lack the 80,000 seat football stadium, and the big time hoops matchup on Tuesday nights, but these are the schools that put out the Evan Longorias of the world. How? Why?

Why is it that USC, UCLA, and Cal Berkeley are not loaded with the crop of talent that they are in every other sport? What makes the smaller schools more attractive to the typical high school kid? And why are the big name coaches going to these schools?

USC legend Mike Gillespie left the school to go coach at UC Irvine, a baseball program that is still in its infancy, and he's been a big part of their rise to prominence. What makes the Anteaters more appealing than USC? I don't get it.

3. Why is it that teams score so many runs?
In a regional game last week, Florida State pulled a Gator move on Ohio State, beating the nutty Bucks 37-6. It was 31-0 in the fifth inning, and they still kept hitting home run after home run. Yes, they use metal bats, and what have you, but does that really explain for 37 runs?

While that many runs are not commonplace, seeing a team reach the 10 or even 15 run plateau is nearly routine. LSU used to pride itself on "Guerrilla Ball," a style of play that based a team's offense almost solely on the long ball. Is pitching really that bad, that swinging for the fences can win you games? Too bad LSU couldn't offer a scholarship to Alfonso Soriano.

4. Why can't professionals care about the game as much as college players?
For all nine innings (or 26 innings if you root for Texas or Boston College), college players wrap around the perimeter of the dugout, a la managers in spring training, as the fence is just a suggestion. They spit seeds like the pros, but they have more passion than Papelbon and Valverde combined.

Gone are the days of sitting on tubs of seeds and balls, college players stand nearly all game long and clap and cheer like their life depends on it. (Soriano, A-Rod, Manny and company, please take note).

5. Lastly, who gave press credentials to Phil Nevin?
Phil Nevin, known for his no-trade clause, several injury rehabs, and the ability to hit a ball a mile, somehow has landed himself on ESPNU. I've been stuck twice with the man, and I must say that I'm baffled at his appointment as an analyst.

Not only is his bias towards Cal State Fullerton worse than Peter Gammons and the Red Sox, but his voice irritates my ears of its awkward timbre, while his expertise is rather minimal. Please, let me enjoy the Super Regionals without Phil Nevin. Please.


What is it about College Baseball that is so maddening? This game is crazy, odd, and yet awesome at the same time. Too bad it's only out-shining the Stanley Cup Finals. Kobe Bryant, Randy Johnson and Roger Federer have taken the spotlight from baseball that is still played with fire and determination.


Photo: Comcast

6.03.2009

Bryce Harper: The Next Ken Griffey Jr? Not Quite

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The newest edition of Sports Illustrated arrived in mailboxes across the country today, and I could not be more excited to read Tom Verducci's take on the hyped up Bryce Harper. Harper, the 16-year-old baseball phenom has been said to attract scouts in almost a fantasy-like manner.

According to Verducci's article, Harper tops out at 96 on the gun when he pitches, and has clubbed tape-measure home runs down city blocks in high school games. Given the credibility and baseball mind that Verducci has under his belt, I went into the article with hope. Not the hope that I envision my favorite team sandbagging to draft him, but the hope that maybe, just maybe he will be the face that baseball needs.

Not since Ken Griffey Jr., whom Verducci compares Harper to, has baseball had that "LeBron James" type of player. Sure, David Wright and Evan Longoria have proven to be marketable youngsters that have come up quickly, but Junior is in the Tiger and Jordan category of divine skill, and worshippablity. Given the dark cloud that Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez have put on the game of late, baseball could sure use a hero. Hero as in a clean Josh Hamilton(the Josh we love, but minus the troubled past, and younger).

So here you go America, he's Bryce Harper. He's got everything, right? A quick swing, laser arm, and good looks will get you far in this country. And believe me, I was getting as aroused as scouts must get when they see, as I read. I loved the tenacity that he plays with, the determination and hustle.

Then, the Messiah spoke.

"I love showing up the older guys."

"I love how people talk crap," Harper says. "I hear it all the time. Overrated. You suck. I'll just do something to shut them up, like, I'll show you. It's like in regular pregame work. I like to show off my arm. Just so it's like, There you go."


My thoughts and admiration for the next Mickey Mantle went down the drain. Yes, I know he's a 16-year-old punk that has yet to be stopped, and yet to learn how it is to hear the word, "no", but his cockiness sickens me.

His mouth roars pretty loud for a guy that has probably never faced a pitcher that can hit 96, nor a base runner with the speed of Jose Reyes or Felix Pie for that matter. I know he's confident, but he talks a big game for high schooler.

Verducci wrote of his anger, tongue-in-cheek or not, when a television program said that pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg as the next LeBron James.

"What??" Harper exclaimed with playful exasperation. "Hey, they stole that from me!"

Joking or not, that arrogance makes me want to puke. This game needs more Derrek Lees, Sean Caseys, and Griffeys, not Milton Bradleys and Prince Fielders.

Junior got to where he is, "the greatest player of our generation", through not only the most beautiful swing we've ever seen, a knack for hitting home runs, and a great arm and glove, but a humble approach that was based on his respect for the game, deriving through his mentor, his father. He could flip his hat backwards, strut to first on a home run, and yet not be cocky. That's what we need. That's what Selig needs.

I really hope that Bryce Harper can grow up in the couple of pre-MLB years that he has, because I don't want to dub the next legend as a douchebag too soon.


Photo: Baseball Analysts
 

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