Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sidney Crosby. What We Saw. What We Missed.

Familiarity is awe's nemesis.

We see something often enough, it loses its magic. When we can no longer be shocked, awe gets locked back in the safe and on we move in search of something else that might line up the tumblers and open the vault once again.

On December 28, the day I wrote this story, we had become all too familiar with the story of Sidney Crosby.

At 14 he was already a nationally known figure across Canada. At 16 he represented his country in the World Juniors. At 17 he was the first pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

There was nothing new here.

In his first year he was the youngest player in NHL history to score 100 points. The next, at 19, he became the youngest to win the Art Ross Trophy and the first teenager since Wayne Gretzky to lead the league in scoring.

You knew how it went.

At the end of that second season he was named team captain, after turning it down mid-season, again the youngest in league history. He won the Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP) and Lester B. Pearson Award (players' MVP) and became the youngest ever named NHL First Team All-Star.

The accomplishments were so many, they started to blur.

The third year brought his only significant injury, but also his first Stanley Cup Final and a tie for the playoff scoring lead. The next, he became the youngest captain to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup.

We had even started to gloss over some of it.

In his fifth he won the Rocket Richard Trophy, leading the league in goals scored for the first time. He won the Mark Messier Leadership Award for setting a positive example on and off the ice. During a break in the season he was chosen to be a member of the Canadian Olympic team, an alternate captain. In the second game he scored the game winning goal in a shootout. In the gold medal game he again netted the game winner. Against the United States. In overtime.

This is his sixth season.

He has a 22 game scoring streak, tied for the longest since the end of the lockout. He's on pace to score more than 60 goals. His team sits second in the league in points. If they named an MVP at the half way point in the season, the vote would be unanimous.

That's the story.

It's one with which we have become familiar, but it doesn't paint a picture.

Sidney Crosby is in the details.

We know the foundation for the numbers and awards is his legendary work ethic. There is always room for improvement in his game. Each off-season he focuses on a particular facet. One summer, skating--now few are better. Another, faceoffs--has become one of the best. Last year, scoring goals--led the league. This off-season, unpredictability--first in goals, second in assists.

His career arc spans a handful more than 400 regular season games. I've seen most of them. I've seen his game and personality develop. From entering the league and earning a well-deserved reputation as a whiner and, less-deserved, a diver to skating through a season where he has pushed himself to the top of the heap, unquestionably the best player in hockey, playing the best hockey of his life.

I've seen the blind passes, the unbelievable hands, the amazing goals and even the calculated fights. But these last 25 games have been different. This video shows his natural hat trick against Atlanta. As I wrote here, the goals showed off Sid's amazing arsenal, including the best tip you may ever see:

This assist against New Jersey, after receiving a hard pass in his skates, is ridiculously good:

But, it's more than skill. Earlier in the week, from NHL.com Crosby, among the league leaders in faceoff percentage, took advantage of the fact that Vernon Fiddler was kicked out of the right faceoff circle in the Phoenix zone for dropping his stick too early. Crosby duped the less-experienced Lauri Korpikoski, slid the puck forward, lunged and immediately fed a wide-open Malkin...

who buried it.

With familiarity, awe gets discarded.

There are other awards, there is a biography. That he's 23, bears repeating. But, don't ever get used to the level of hockey that Sidney Crosby is playing because you just never know how long it will last.

I was planning to publish this a few days after the Winter Classic. I was waiting to see if Crosby's scoring streak reached 30. It didn't. And then he didn't play again.

Hopefully Sidney Crosby comes back this fall and we see this all again. Again we get to be in awe of his talent. Maybe his missing the second half of the season will make us appreciate him even more, knowing a bad hit could end his career. I sure hope that never happens. I feel like we missed a lot of magic these past five months. I want to be awed again.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Waiting for Dejan Kovacevic's Retraction or Apology on Tony Sanchez and Twittergate

(Some of the links for this entry require a PG+ subscription. My apologies. This was originally published on my Extra Innings blog yesterday.)

This topic has been blown completely out of proportion and I think the Pittsburgh media missed the mark in a big way. Tony Sanchez said a bunch of things he shouldn't have on Twitter. He ripped the umps after a game and essentially accused them of cheating. He ripped the city of Altoona (where he plays) a few times or at least that's how it came off regardless of his intentions. It is certainly how I read those tweets.

I honestly was surprised that someone didn't discuss this with him sooner, but yesterday he signed off Twitter permanently. The media immediately jumped to the conclusion that the Pirates forced Sanchez to shutter his account and subsequently killed the organization. Dejan Kovacevic wrote that Sanchez, "...did this under orders from baseball operations." He continued, "That's yet another sign how thin-skinned this management team is." John Perrotto tweeted, "Memo to #Pirates catching prospect Tony Sanchez: Free speech is permissible in this country, don't be strong-armed by a paranoid employer."

(In response to Perrotto's tweet a commentator at the excellent Pirates blog BucsDugout wrote the following:
A journalist of all people should know that free speech as protected by the First Amendment means that the government isn’t allowed to regulate your speech. It doesn’t mean that your employer can’t fire your ass for saying something they dislike; there’s ample court precedent that your employer can discipline you up to and including firing you for pretty much any reason, including things you say off the job, if you don’t have a contract that says they can’t.
Rather than coming of as a protector of free speech, Perrotto comes off as uninformed. These journalists don't have any concern for Sanchez, they only have their own selfish interests in mind and want to have easy access to Sanchez and his comments through Twitter.)

While Kovacevic acknowledges Sanchez's "dumb" tweets, he doesn't seem to recognize, or at least doesn't state in print, the negative implications those tweets have for the player or team, particularly after it was widely reported that the Eastern League was looking into the situation and considering suspending Sanchez. I just can't fathom how this isn't blindingly obvious.

Dejan updated his blog last evening to state that the Pirates' Kyle Stark, Director of Player Development, emailed him to say, "The organization has not told any player they cannot use Twitter." Kovacevic added, "That was the whole statement," seemingly suggesting he deserved a longer explanation.

He got one today from Pirates President Frank Coonelly who shared his thoughts with Kovacevic. The opening line of Coonelly's statement to DK reads, "The Pirates did not force Tony to shut down his Twitter account." He goes on to discuss Sanchez's obligation to be professional, the Eastern League and MLB contact with the team and their concerns and how tweets can be misinterpreted. In discussing social media Coonelly reiterates "...we have not banned players from doing so."

This all seems pretty clear to me. The Pirates organization as a whole has a job to help the young men under contract to the organization develop into the best baseball players they can possibly be. In an attempt to further educate and develop Tony Sanchez, someone from the organization had a conversation with him about his Twitter account. It is a conversation that I, as his agent or father, would have had weeks ago. After the conversation, Sanchez decided to close the account.

After printing Coonelly's response, Kovacevic writes, "We can debate all day the semantics as to whether or not the Pirates indirectly told Sanchez to stop tweeting..." We can. The Pirates definitely wanted to get a point across. What we can't debate is whether Kovacevic owes the organization an apology or at least needs to retract his initial statement that, "He did this under orders from baseball operations." Kyle Stark and Frank Coonelly have both responded that the team did not order him to close his account. Kovacevic said they did. He should either correct himself or he is inherently saying the Pirates are lying to him. Let's see what he does.

UPDATE: Not surprisingly, Kovacevic is not going to apologize or retract his statement. To quote another commentor from Bucs Dugout
Have we really reached the point where management telling an employee to be professional is considered thin-skinned and oppressive? I mean, what Sanchez said about those umpires WAS unprofessional, by just about any imaginable standard.
I don't know if it's his ego, his clear dislike of the Pirates' front office or both, but Kovacevic is wrong here. He's hiding behind semantics and missing the larger point. I expected better.

The Terrible Podcast - Episode 57 (5/18) Dancing with the Lockout, Twitter, Fake Trade Episode

In Episode 57 of The Terrible Podcast Dave and I open up by discussing the current labor situation. While this isn't the most entertaining topic, we try to give you a short recap of where things stand now and what dates are important in the immediate future.

Turning to on-th-field issues, we discuss the undrafted free agents and how the teams around the league will have much more time to review film and decide which guys to sign once the lockout is lifted. Is this good (more money) or bad (much harder to make the team)?

We move on to the Jim Wexell tweet that Daniel Snyder had said the Steelers and Redskins had a draft day trade in place, presumably to take Mike Pouncey, but it fell through because "the player" was no longer available (Pouncey went #15 and the Skins had a pick at #16). Turns out Snyder never said that and it wasn't true. How responsible is Wexell and what should he do about it? We chime in.

But what if the trade was made available today? Would you trade Cameron Heyward and Marcus Gilbert for Mike Pouncey? We discuss and you can too. Call our new hotline at (814) 429-YINZ (9469). We want to hear your thoughts on that and anything else you want to tell us.

We close with our weekly Dancing with the Starts recap. Of course.

Thanks for listening and call the new hotline (814) 429-YINZ!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Winning...from Start to Finish: Awesome Video from Around the Net

*I love trick plays. The hidden ball trick is the meat and potatoes of trick plays and still catches a couple major leaguers each season. The Grand Illusion, which the University of Miami pulled off in the 1982 College World Series, is my all-time favorite because there were so many people involved and I actually saw it live on television. The guys in the dugout all jumped to the rail and looked down the first base line, yelling to their teammates to get a ball that had never been thrown. I couldn't find the video, but if you can, let me know.

I bring this up because the University of Maryland pulled off the best lacrosse hidden ball trick ever over the weekend. If you haven't seen it, well, you'll probably have to watch it at least twice to figure out what happened. This video gives you slo-motion from a different camera angle. Awesome. Of course Maryland went on to smoke UNC. Pull off plays like that and you win. Guaranteed.

*Speaking of awesome, here is a lacrosse-like goal scored at this year's World Hockey Championships. 19-year-old Mikael Granlund scored in the semifinal against Russia to give Finland a 1-0 lead in a game the would eventually win 3-0. I guess the only downside for Mikael is knowing at 19 that he has already achieved the thing that he will be remembered for for the rest of his life. But this guy did it first. In 1996.

*In the awesome defensive plays category Roger Bernadina makes the catch of the year.

*If you have to deal with a rain delay, you probably want these two teams to be on the field. Human jousting? Comedy.

*Make enough great plays and you might end up winning a championship. The soccer team AC Milan did just that winning Serie A in Italy. As the story says "the celebration started out with a massive parade through the streets of Milan. Then led to their stadium, as they still had a game to play (they won 4-1)." The piece de resistance came next. Kevin Prince Boateng, one of the team's players, did his Michael Jackson moonwalk impersonation to Billie Jean. This video is just too good. The crowd and the players are going nuts. As my man says, "The bar has now been raised." This (Madsen dancing and Shaq rapping) and this (William Gay in a red Yankees hat after finding Santonio's stash) no longer rate.

*After all the great plays and championship presentations, you probably want to hang out and celebrate with the guys who rang up this bill at Tryst in Las Vegas. Solid.

*And finally, if you drank all that booze, you'd probably think this was real.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Terrible Podcast - Episode 56 (5/11) Alan, FWP, Troy, Ike and Top Lists Episode

In Episode 56 of The Terrible Podcast Dave and I bring you 35 minutes of joy and light. Okay, we bring you 35 minutes of off-season football talk. We open with a short update on the labor situation and note that Art Rooney is going to take part in the negotiations that are taking place in Minneapolis this coming Monday. After that we get into what is probably the most interesting news of the week, the retirement of Alan Faneca. We discuss the following: Good or bad decision for the Steelers to let Faneca walk when they did, best Steelers guard or lineman ever and certain Hall of Famer? Lots to discuss in each case. We have our answers what do you think?

After that we discuss the news around Willie Parker (would the Steelers take him back?), Troy Polamalu (where's he working out?) and Ike Taylor (how much dough does he want?). Oh, and Dave gives our weekly update on Hines on Dancing with the Stars.

We close by reviewing two more list released by ESPN.com. These always get Dave riled up and again he doesn't disappoint. First it's the Top 10 owners list. The Rooneys were number 1, but still Dave isn't happy. The Top 100 list, which is only partially released, has four Steelers. Listen to Dave rant. Great stuff.

Thanks for listening!

The Terrible Podcast - Steelers Podcast

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Some Answers & A Look Around the Web

Yesterday I posted a pop sports quiz. I've reposted the questions below with some commentary. The answers are at the bottom.

1.) Monday Tiger Woods dropped to #8 in the World Golf Rankings. When was the last time he was ranked so low?

The top of the world rankings is currently populated with players from the birthplace of golf. Scotland itself isn't represented until Martin Laird checks in at #21, but five of the top seven players are from the British Isles region, with England represented by Lee Westwood #1, Luke Donald #3 and Paul Casey #7 and Northern Ireland with Graeme McDowell #5 and Rory McIlroy #6. Phil Mickelson is the lone American in the top seven, currently #4. Here is the complete list.

2.) Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby despite going off as a 20-1 long shot. Which other athlete won this past weekend despite facing much greater odds?

The Dallas Mavericks were only a 3.5-1 underdog to the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers although you would have gotten much better than 20-1 if you had predicted a sweep. Shane Mosley (see below) was an 8-1 dog. The surprise answer came in at 500-1.

3.) Manny Pacquaio defeated Shane Mosley this weekend in a PPV bout in Las Vegas. How many packages were sold?

Pacquiao is the biggest draw in the sport and Mosley still has some drawing power, but the pay-per-view package was raised from the typical $45-50 to $75 for this card. The pay-per-view record is 2.7 million for Oscar de la Hoya-Floyd Mayweather in 2007. This won't be remotely close. Juan Manuel Marquez appears to be next for Manny, but no guarantees. Floyd is the only guy out there who looks like a legitimate opponent and at the moment he is busy trying to keep himself out of jail.

4.) Justin Verlander of the Tigers threw the second no-hitter of the year and second of his career over the weekend. Who are the other two active pitchers with two career no-hitters?

A look around:

*I was recently asked what MLS salaries looked like. Here is a comprehensive list. Salaries rose 12% this year to an average of $154, 852. The average is heavily skewed by a few huge contracts. David Beckham, in the final year of a five-year deal with the Los Angeles Galaxy, is the league's highest paid player at $6.5 million. The New York Red Bulls Thierry Henry is second at $5.6 million, followed by teammate Rafael Marquez at $4.6 million. Landon Donovan, the highest-paid American, is fourth at $2.3 million.

One of my first blog posts ever was in response to the Galaxy's announced five-year, $250 million contract. Hyperbole anyone? Beckham probably made about $30 million over the life of the deal.

*This is a relatively new site that looks at all the calls that are missed in NBA games. This article provides an excellent recap of the issues.

*If you missed this, it's an excellent two-part article about an athlete having a huge turnaround. Worth the time.

*As we learn more about concussions, steps are being taken to protect athletes. If NFL players are too dumb to wear them, then mandate safer helmets.

1.) Tiger turned pro in August 1996. By June 15, 1997, after only 42 weeks as a professional, he reached the world #1 ranking. He hasn't been as low as his current #8 ranking since that time.      

2.) Regan Smith, a 500-1 longshot, won the first NASCAR race of his career in his 105th start, taking the Southern 500 at Darlington.

3.) Will post when the numbers are released.            

4.) Mark Buehrle threw his first no-hitter April 18, 2007 against the Texas Rangers and his second July 29, 2009 against the Tampa Rays. That one happened to be the eighteenth perfect game in major league history. He was one walk to Sammy Sosa away from being the only pitcher in history to throw two perfect games.

Last year Roy Halladay threw two no-hitters. The first was another perfect game, the 20th in MLB history. He beat the Florida Marlins on May 29, 2010. Five months later on October 6, he beat the Cincinnati Reds in the first post-season start of his career. It was only the second no-hitter ever in the playoffs.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Pop Sports Quiz and Some Picks

Some interesting things going on around the world of sports this week. Here are some questions to ponder from the "lesser" sports. Are horse racing and boxing on their way to oblivion and is Tiger going to join them?

1.) Tiger Woods dropped to #8 in the world golf rankings. Care to guess when he was last ranked that low?

2.) Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby after going off at 20-1. Which athlete that won this week went off at much bigger odds? Thoughts on television ratings this year versus twenty years ago?

3.) Manny Pacquiao beat Sugar Shane Mosley rather handily, as expected. Guess how many pay-per-view packages were sold? The all-time record was how many? And who is Pacquiao going to fight next? It ain't going to be Mayweather and there really isn't anyone else out there. Too bad for boxing fans, Pacquiao is a boxing genius.

4.) The Lakers got swept by Dallas, but the other three series have been really good. I like Chicago, Miami and Memphis in a bit of an upset. And by the way, I had Dallas. Really.

5.) The Caps have to fire Bruce Boudreau after getting rolled by the Lightning 4-0, but I don't expect the Flyers to do the same to Peter Laviolette. But, you would think 30+ years of failure would cause them to consider addressing the goaltending position for a change. I like the Lightning against the Bruins and expect the San Jose Sharks to come out of the west.

6.) Justin Verlander of the Tigers threw the second no-hitter of the season and the second of his career over the weekend against the Toronto Blue Jays. How many current major league pitchers have more than one no-hitter to their credit?

7.) The Pirates are .500 this late in the season for the first time since June 11, 2005 when they were 30-30. That year they nosedived to 65-97. We'll see what happens now. Baby steps.

Answers tomorrow along with a bunch of links. A lot of new Pirates posts and audio up on my Extra Innings blog.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Daily Numbers 5/6: Exceeding Last Year, Pirates Stadium Wins

Last year the Pirates had a winning record in exactly two major league stadiums. PNC Park was not one of them, but they were a respectable 40-41 at home. The Pirates had a winning record in Chicago's Wrigley Field where they were 5-4 and in Denver's Coors Field where they were 2-1. They had a losing record in the other 17 stadiums in which they played.

This year's dramatic turnaround on the road (11-8 vs. 17-64 last year) has already changed that. The Pirates won't return to Colorado or San Diego again this year, so their recent series wins means they have already posted winning records in two stadiums this year. They also have winning records in Wrigley (2-1, 6 games left), St Louis' Busch Stadium (2-1, 3 games left) and Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark (3-1, 2 games left). With one win in Cincinnati later this month the Pirates will have already surpassed another of last year's dubious numbers.

Tonight the Pirates look to improve upon their 4-8 home record as they open a three-game homestand against the Houston Astros who are tied for the worst record in the National League at 12-19.

(This was originally posted on the Pirates Extra Innings blog, you can follow all Pirates info here.)

The Terrible Podcast - Episode 55 (5/5) Mendengate, Social Media & Linebackers Episode

In the latest episode of The Terrible Podcast Dave and I get into the topics of the day. Unfortunately with the draft behind us and the lockout still in effect the biggest topic this week was the thoughts of Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall on the death of Osama bin Laden. We have a long discussion about Mendenhall's tweets and subsequent apology and whether they are newsworthy. No doubt the certainly generated a lot of media coverage. We talk about what the Steelers have done thus far and what they might do going forward. Is a trade a possibility? We also discuss Ryan Clark who jumped in and added his opinion that social media is ruining the world.

Later in the show we talk some football, focusing on the Steelers fifth round pick Chris Carter. Listen in and hear what we think of this soon-to-be-converted-to-linebacker with the same name as a soon-to-be Hall of Fame receiver. We discuss the Steelers linebacker position in depth and how things may break with the guys currently on the roster.

Dave and I generally agree on most things and almost all things concerning Steelers football. Not in this podcast. Let us know what you think.

We had some difficulty with the audio at times on this one. Sorry, we'll get it sorted out. Thanks for listening!

The Terrible Podcast - Steelers Podcast

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Monday, May 2, 2011

The Terrible Podcast - Episode 53, A Recap of the NFL Draft

In Episode 53 Dave and I start by recapping Day 3 of the 2011 NFL Draft. We take a look at the Steeelrs' four picks and come to the conclusion that two are locks to make the team and two will have to be impressive in camp to secure a roster spot. You might be surprised where we put each player. Stepping back we look at the draft as a whole and discuss picking for need vs. taking the best athlete available. The Steelers definitely filled needs.

We take a look around the AFC North to see what the Steelers' main rivals did and come to the conclusion that the division as a whole hit a home run this year. Every team did well and should see an influx of talent that will have a long-term impact.

We conclude by looking back at the 2010 draft and analyzing each player's performance last year and what we expect this year. The second year is generally where players make the biggest leap and we tell you who has, who will and who better step up if they want to keep wearing the black and gold.

We enjoyed it, hope you do to. Thanks for listening!

The Terrible Podcast - Steelers Podcast

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