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Old 04-09-2004, 08:27 PM   #1
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Default [Sports Central Newsletter] #111 - Welcome Back, Baseball -- We Missed You

The Sports Central Newsletter
April 2004 - Issue #111

|-- WELCOME --|

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|-- IN THIS ISSUE... --|

- Words From the Editor
- The O-Files: "Booing the Underdog"
- What's New at Sports Central?
- Shots From the Lip: "Welcome Back, Baseball -- We Missed You"



Hello folks,

As we make the transition from winter to the warm summer months ahead, baseball is sure to capture the nation's attention once again. In case you've been under a rock or too fixated with other sports, Mike Round has an outstanding piece that looks at all the big stories leading into the 2004 MLB season. It's all below in "Shots From the Lip."

Additionally, this is the time of the year where underdogs can make big splashes in the sports world. Brad Oremland takes a look at the science behind the underdog. We've certainly had our fair share of underdogs this year -- St. Joseph's run comes to mind, above all. And the Coach and Player of the Year both being from St. Joe's only solidifies the year for the ages this small school from Philly had.

See you in May!

- Marc James
mailto:[email protected]


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|-- THE O-FILES -- |

"Booing the Underdog"

By Brad Oremland

We've all done it. Maybe your team was the favorite that day. Maybe Bob Knight or Jose Canseco or Latrell Sprewell was playing for the little guys. Maybe it was the playoffs and you just wanted to see the best team advance. There are lots of reasons people might oppose the conventional wisdom that you root for the underdog -- a time-honored sports tradition if there ever was one -- but it's happening more often all the time.

One reason is the rise of fantasy sports and the similar phenomenon of office pools. If you have Peyton Manning on your fantasy team, you won't root for Jacksonville to pull off that upset against the Colts. If you had the Duke men in the Final Four, maybe you found yourself rooting against Xavier last weekend. When you have money and/or pride at stake, it becomes tougher to pull for David to beat Goliath.

Another reason is television, and sports media in general. More than ever, we focus on individuals rather than teams. ESPN advertises LeBron James and the Cavaliers against Kevin Garnett's Minnesota Timberwolves. A-Rod and the Yankees. Nomar Garciaparra and the Red Sox. Ray Lewis. Martin Brodeur. Shaq.

So when Warren Sapp's Raiders play the Broncos or Chiefs, maybe you'll find yourself cheering wildly for the favorites. Maybe you dislike Matthew Barnaby or Tie Domi so much that you'll root against the Avs or Leafs in the Stanley Cup playoffs. And it's awfully hard for any self-respecting baseball fan to cheer on Bud Selig's Brewers, who are almost always underdogs.

The hyping of individuals works the other way, too, when the favorites are the ones everybody loves. So you pull for Tim Duncan's Spurs. You want Andy Roddick to beat that unseeded guy you've never heard of. Tom Brady and the Patriots. Mike Krzyzewski. Derek Jeter. Brett Favre.

Other times, we root for the favorite to see history made. Most baseball fans wanted to see Mark McGwire continue to succeed so that he would break the single-season homerun record held by Roger Maris. We root for the team or player we've heard of. Serena Williams. Lance Armstrong. U-Conn women's basketball.

The realization that the age of rooting for the underdog may be coming to end is especially painful at this time of year. March Madness is a time when underdogs can grab the spotlight. I'll use St. Joseph's men's basketball program as an example. St. Joe's improbably rose to the top of the AP poll this year, a clear example of the small school making good.

As someone who has long been an advocate of the idea that so-called "mid-majors" are underrated, I should have been thrilled to see the Hawks get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Heck, I should have wanted them to win the whole thing. So why was I hoping Oklahoma State would beat St. Joe's last week?

For starters, I had Oklahoma State in the Final Four. I didn't enter a pool this year, but my Final Four picks are posted on the Sports Central Message Boards ( Pride and reputation were on the line. Then there's Phil Martelli, the head coach at St. Joseph's. I can't stand the guy. He's arrogant and combative and loves the microphone. I was dying to see him lose.

I've also developed the odd habit of wanting the favorite to win, in general. There are exceptions, of course: the Yankees, Lakers, and Cowboys all come to mind. I always want them to lose, no matter who they're playing or who I picked. But in the playoffs especially, I usually want the best team to advance. I want two great teams to play in the World Series, not two plucky underdogs. I don't want another Super Boxl XX, when the Patriots upset the Dolphins in the AFC Championship and promptly lost by the largest margin in Super Bowl history. And if, say, the Red Wings were the best team during the regular season, I think they deserve to win the Stanley Cup.

Despite their almost-undefeated season, I didn't think the Hawks were as good as Oklahoma St. I didn't think they deserved a top-seed in the tourney. And so I wanted them to lose. I was booing the underdog. And I probably would have done it even if I hadn't made Final Four picks, or had never heard Martelli.

Maybe it's just me, but I think the sports world is changing.


Brad welcomes your feedback on his column: mailto:[email protected]?subject=O-Files
(Copy and paste the address if it isn't clickable.)



A look back at the new articles from the week of 03/29/04 - 04/04/04:


COLUMN: Jester's Quart: NCAA March Madness diary
By Greg Wyshynski

He's watched every game. He's seen every fan. And now, for the first time, he goes on the record with candid thoughts about the NCAA men's basketball tournament and working with dozens of beautiful women every day. He is the floor of a Hooters restaurant, and SC's Greg Wyshynski has his saucy and wild stories.


NHL: A tale of two coaches
By Mike Chen

Ron Wilson and Darryl Sutter are two of the top candidates for Coach of the Year. Both are etched in San Jose Shark history. But the two men have starkly contrasting personalities and styles, and these differences are responsible for present success and past failure.


NFL: Keep the NFL playoffs the same
By Gary Geffen

There have been a lot of rule changes this offseason, some of them more meaningful than others. Some rules remained the same. How will all this work out? That's why they play the games!


MLB: Talkin' baseball '04
By Michael Beshara

With baseball season upon us, SC's Michael Beshara took it upon himself to update the lyrics to the classic tune "Willie, Mickey, and The Duke."


NBA: Expectations surpassed?
By Mike Guenther

Even though Milwaukee and Utah were never labeled as favorites to win the NBA title, they have surprised the entire league this year. SC's Mike Guenther looks at how each team has surpassed all expectations that they had for the season.


By Tony Arnoldine

The Big East champion UConn Huskies have come on strong at the end of the season and in the NCAA tournament, and they have their eyes on the crown, says SC's Tony Arnoldine in his preview of the Final Four.


COLLEGE BASKETBALL: It's all about the action
By Danny Sternfield

The NCAA tournament means lots of action -- both on and off the court. Like the old adage says, it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you "play" the game, explains SC's Danny Sternfield.


MLB: Comeback kids (or maybe not?)
By Eric Poole

With only a short break last fall for the playoffs and World Series, talk about baseball for almost a year has been about everything but the game itself. But since we're fast coming up on Opening Day, it's time to actually talk about baseball as we look at comeback players.


TENNIS: Tennis needs to eliminate the "dull season"
By Mert Ertunga

Has anyone been following what is happening in the world of tennis? If you have, you are a devoted tennis fan. SC's Mert Ertunga looks at what can be done during these few months to attract the average fan.



"Welcome Back, Baseball -- We Missed You"

By Mike Round

Summer is just around the corner and that means the sound of corked bat on ball, the smell of mechanically-recovered meat being boiled in what's said to be water, the sight of grown men weeping when they have to part with $10 for a beer, and more work for hundreds of disgraced pharmacists all over the country. Baseball has its faults and numerous critics, but it's still the best damn way of wasting three hours -- make that four hours and change -- without taking your clothes off. So pull up a chair, grab some snacks and a beer, and settle in for some must-see-TV.


Is there still anyone out there who isn't convinced baseball is THE best sports show in town?

Exhibit A -- the 2003 postseason. Seven extra-innings games, 12 games decided by one run, 11 by two runs, 10 games in which the winning run was scored in the final at-bat and three decided by extra-inning homeruns. Throw into the mix Steve Bartman, the Yankees/Red Sox saga, Pudge (Rodriguez)'s heroics at the plate, Ramon Hernandez's squeeze bunt to win a game, and Don Zimmer squaring up to Pedro Martinez, and you have drama with a capital "D."

Exhibit B -- the players. One thing that gets lost in all the garbage talked about salaries, payroll imbalance, and steroids is that this era is a golden one for talent. We are privileged to be witnessing some great players do some truly remarkable things, regardless of how much they are earning to do so. The New York Yankees alone have three absolute shoe-ins for Cooperstown on their roster (A-Rod, Jeter, and Mariano Rivera) and a bunch of players that still could make it with a break or a ring or two on their fingers (Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina, Gary Sheffield, Jorge Posada, and Bernie Williams). Take a quick skim through the major league rosters -- I guarantee that you'll find up to two dozen players with a legitimate shot at the Hall.

Exhibit C -- the divisional structure and postseason entry. Baseball is the only sport in this country that has kept the integrity of its regular season. Sure, you can win a World Series without winning your division, as the Marlins have proved, twice, and the Angels, once, but it's still a major feat to just make October in baseball. Try saying that about hockey, basketball, or football, sports whose regular seasons were rendered meaningless years ago.

So where does the power lie this summer? Obviously, the AL East has made the most offseason headlines, first in Boston with Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke solidifying an already stellar pitching staff. Just as the Red Sox thought they had the upperhand on Steinbrenners' behemoth, the Yankees unveil the best player in the game as their starting third baseman, even though he's an all-star shortstop. Once Boston and New York had stopped playing "anything you can do, I can do better" and the dust settled, neither team looked invincible, despite the bloated payrolls.

In Boston's case, there are two questions. Health, in particular Pedro and Schilling, and hitting -- can last season's 961 runs and .491 team slugging percentage be even approached, let alone replicated? Boston looks better than last year, and last year, they were darn good.

Pedro pitched 186 innings last year in winning the AL era title and if he can get to 200 this year, the Sox are in good shape. Schilling had a stop-start year, pitching only 168 innings due to a broken hand. If he's fully recovered, he's a horse who can carry a team. Add Derek Lowe, a strong 'pen, and Keith Foulke, who is just about the most underrated closer around, and you have a potential AL Championship team, even if last year's hitting drops off a touch.

New York is a different kettle of fish. I have no idea what the Yankee braintrust is trying to do. They've emptied the farm system, brought in a series of players with dubious attitudes and long rap sheets, and traded away a coachable second baseman with speed, longball strength, and a huge upside. In return, they got the best player in the game. On the face of it, the last one is a good move, except the guy comes at $25 million a year (though the Rangers are chipping in on that) and your franchise player and talisman plays the same position. So best player moves position, despite the fact that he's better than your starting shortstop at that position and hasn't played third since second grade. Sounds like a quarterback controversy in the making.

I look back fondly to the Yanks of the late '90s. Okay, man for man, this team has more pure talent. But who would you want at the plate when you're looking for a base hit to tie or win the game in the postseason -- Paul O'Neill or Gary Sheffield? Jason Giambi or Tino Martinez? Who would you prefer in your clubhouse when things aren't going so well and you want leaders to step up -- Kenny Lofton or Scott Brosius? David Cone or Kevin Brown?

I hate the make up of this Yankee team. The leaders are so few and far between. Jeter's still there, sure, but he has so little back up in the locker room. If A-Rod can put his ego aside, which I'm sure he will, he will be a big help in keeping potential grouches like Sheffield, Brown, and Lofton from distracting the club. If it all implodes, it could get really ugly. This team is stuck with some horrible contracts, a first baseman who can't play first base and is almost crippled, two injury-plagued starting pitchers, no second baseman of note, an outfielder who can't throw, and a manager who's at loggerheads with the owner. If this team even makes the World Series, I'll be surprised.

So who will win in the AL? Over in California, the Anaheim Angels have quietly had a very impressive offseason. Injuries and loss of form ruined last year, but this isn't a team that panics. The core of their 2002 Championship team is still intact, strengthened with the addition of starters Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar and do-it-all outfielder Vladimir Guerrero. Mike Scioscia knows how to pace his team to peak in October, but still do enough to get out of a tough AL West. This is a team that hits well, has strong starting pitching and the best 'pen in the AL. Look for Anaheim to beat Boston in the ALCS, barring crippling injuries.

Over in the NL, the offseason was a touch less dramatic. Perennial powerhouse Atlanta shed payroll, as well as RBIs, wins, and base hits in the form of Javy Lopez, Greg Maddux, and Gary Sheffield. The team's major acquisition was J.D. Drew, or to give him his full name, J.D. Drew-Disabled-List. Many are predicting a severe drop off in performance in Atlanta, but I don't buy into it. This is a love-'em-or-hate-'em franchise, but nobody can accuse John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox of not knowing what they are doing. This is still a contending team, especially in the regular season.

The returning champions look decidedly weaker, notably at the plate. No Pudge, no Derrek Lee, and not a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. The rotation is still intact, bar A.J. Burnett, who might be ready by the all-star break or may never play again. No Braden Looper or Ugueth Urbina out of the pen. It all adds up to disappointment in South Florida.

The Phillies are a talked-up team and the have upgraded since a promising 2003. A new ballpark, a strong-looking rotation, and rocket-armed closer Billy Wagner grabs the attention, but the problem with this club is hitting. They have guys who can hit for the fences, but little idea of situational hitting. Too few get on-base and when they do, they're not moved round by smart hitting. Larry Bowa needs to get this through to his team instead of starting pointless feuds.

The NL West looks a tight race. Arizona lost Schilling, but added Richie Sexson. The Baby Backs will be Toddler Backs this year and much is expected. Brandon Webb had better stats than Dontrelle Willis last year, but didn't win NL Rookie of the Year because he got no run support. That will change with Sexson taking the heat off Luis Gonzalez at the plate. After Webb and the Big Unit, the pitching is threadbare.

The Dodgers have pitching, but no hitting and the Giants have solid enough pitching and the Barry Bonds sideshow. The real interest in this division is in San Diego, where the Padres actually have a decent lineup to go with their shiny new ballpark. If Phil Nevin can stay healthy, they could have power in the middle of the order, with Brian Giles, Nevin, and Ryan Klesko. Add in some decent arms in Jake Peavy, Brian Lawrence, Adam Eaton, and veterans Sterling Hitchcock and David Wells and you have a contender with one big proviso -- if they stay healthy. This team could collapse with one or two key injuries.

The strength of the NL is in Chicago. After an oh-so-near year in 2003, everything is in place for the Cubs to take the next step this year. The best 1-2 punch in the league in Mark Prior and Kerry Wood on the mound, two solid guys at 3 and 4 in Matt Clement and Carlos Zambrano, and a strong 'pen means this team won't have to score many runs to win. If they do need runs, they have the men to score them. A healthy Corey Patterson will be a major addition and there's power in Derek Lee, Sammy Sosa, and Aramis Ramirez. Look for the Cubs to stroll to a NL Central title over the Houston Yankee ... I mean Astros, and beat Atlanta in the NLCS.

So that leaves Anaheim facing Chicago in late October. So it's not the sentimental Cubs -- Red Sox battle that the neutral craved last year and every year since the Wilson Administration. For my money, Chicago would win that matchup -- over enthusiastic fans not withstanding. Enjoy it, either way -- it's going to be fun.


Mike welcomes your feedback on his column: mailto:[email protected]?subject=SFTL
(Copy and paste the address if it isn't clickable.)


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