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Old 04-07-2003, 05:34 PM   #1
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Default Sports Central Newsletter - #99 - April 2003 - A Fallen Star

The Sports Central Newsletter
April 2003 - Issue #99

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

- Words From the Editor
- The O-Files: "Appreciation of a Fallen Star"
- What's New at Sports Central?
- Feature Article: "Give Baseball a Chance in 2003"
- Marquee Matchups (NBA: Mavericks vs. Lakers)



Hello folks,

Thought we had disappeared, huh? Wrong -- we've modified our newsletter publishing schedule from biweekly to monthly. You'll still receive your feature-packed newsletter on the first Sunday of every month, however.

Our newsletter feature-writer, Mike Round, has returned from a couple months leave of absence in this month's April issue to bring you his 2003 baseball preview. Despite all the bad press the game has been given in recent years, he says, it still deserves a chance in 2003. Read on to find out why and who will be 2003's Angels.

Keeping with the baseball format, Brad looks at the fall of a superstar: the story of Ken Griffey, Jr. You have to be pulling for Junior with all his bad luck since the calendar turned to 2000, especially with his latest injury, a dislocated shoulder suffered on Saturday. That's always tough to see.

Finally, switching to the Association, the Mavs get their final shot at proving to the Lakers they're for real this week. Our columnist Steve Goldstein breaks down the key Western battle in this issue's Marquee Matchup. Hope you enjoy it and see you in May!

Until next time,

- Marc James
mailto:[email protected]


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|-- THE O-FILES--|

"Appreciation of a Fallen Star"

By Brad Oremland

It is ridiculous to claim that Ken Griffey, Jr. was the best baseball player of the 1990s. First, give me Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux, then I'll take Griffey. He was incredibly overhyped -- an amazing statement given how much genuine talent Junior displayed at bat and in the field. He expected to be adored when he went to work for the Reds, and instead, he has been booed.

At the least, and very reasonably, Griffey expected that when he left Seattle for Cincinnati, he would continue to play at a very high level. Even that has eluded him; over the last two seasons, it has been an accomplishment for Junior to play at any level.

This Saturday, Griffey dislocated his shoulder diving for a catch in the field. Although x-rays did not indicate anything broken, Reds manager Bob Boone told the media, "He's definitely out for a significant amount of time." That means that for the fourth time in four seasons, Griffey will miss time on the injured list. He played in only 70 games last season, and his prospects for ever again playing a full schedule are slim, at best.

Many writers predicted that 2003 would be a comeback year for Ken Griffey, Jr. He would finally stay healthy. He would lead the NL in homeruns. He might not be the old Griffey, but he would be great again.

I thought that was unlikely, but I also must admit that this could happen partially because I have never liked Ken Griffey, Jr. I thought he was overrated and whiny when he was in Seattle. Then he refused to re-sign with the Mariners and I thought he was classless, even if he was returning to his hometown Reds.

When he had a down season in Cincinnati, I was thrilled. I felt Griffey had a karmic debt to repay to the Mariners, and .271 with "only" 40 homers was just what the doctor ordered. It shames me to admit that I even took some pleasure in the news of his first major injury, and the lack of production that followed.

With time and perspective, I have mellowed. Junior is a fallen star. He hasn't played in 150 games since he left Seattle after the 1999 season, and he won't this year, either. He hasn't hit .300 since 1997, or had an on-base percentage of .400 since 1994. In fact, since Griffey left the Mariners, he hasn't done any of the things he used to do regularly. Things like:

* Get 150 hits
* Hit more than 40 homers
* Drive in 120 runs
* Steal 10 bases
* Slug .600
* Win a Gold Glove

Griffey met five of those six criteria year in 1993 and 1999, and every one of them from 1996-98. To put that in perspective, NO ONE did all six of those things last season (Texas Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez fell short by one steal).

The man once expected to break Hank Aaron's career homerun record continues to languish at 469. It would still be a surprise if he never makes it to 500, as Sammy Sosa recently did, but the possibility cannot be ruled out.

It is with all that, and this latest injury, in mind, that I have settled down to write an appreciation of Ken Griffey, Jr.'s career. Is it a bit premature? Perhaps, but I don't think Griffey has a future with the Reds. They tried to trade him to San Diego this offseason, but where Junior really needs to go is the American League. Griffey could immediately become the best designated hitter in MLB. I don't think his pride would let him do that, but there's not much pride to be had sitting on the bench wearing a cast, either. No one can tell Griffey when to retire, but if the mounting injury count is any indication, the man will have to take a hint sooner or later.

That said, Junior is remarkable not only for the great things he has accomplished, but for how quickly he accomplished them. Rodriguez recently became the fastest player to reach 300 career homeruns, but Griffey holds the marks at 350, 400, and 450.

Junior has all the numbers, all the things you can quantify. That includes an AL MVP Award, 10 Gold Gloves, and seven Silver Sluggers. It means a .562 lifetime slugging percentage, better than Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays or Frank Robinson. His .379 on-base percentage tops Pete Rose and Hank Aaron. 2,599 runs scored or driven in, better than peers Mark McGwire and Tony Gwynn. Junior even has 176 steals, more than Goose Goslin and almost 15 times as many as McGwire.

Those are things you can quantify. But unless you're very young, you can probably also remember why Griffey got all those awards and how he put up those numbers. Those ten Gold Gloves -- all in the 90's -- were earned by a man graced with good speed and exceptional baseball instincts. Today we talk about the Sports Center fielding of Andruw Jones, but Griffey made those kinds of plays in center field for a decade. On offense, he had speed and accuracy (.295 career batting average and 10 seasons of double-digit steals). That would be enough for most players, but Griffey also had power. That power allowed Junior to do things only one player in a generation is capable of.

He joins Aaron, Harmon Killebrew, and Babe Ruth as the only players ever to hit 40 HR in seven seasons. Griffey, Ruth, and Lou Gehrig are the only players ever to drive in 140 runs in three-straight seasons. Griffey, Rodriguez, and Mays are the only players to win a Gold Glove in the same season they hit 50 homeruns.

I can understand why some people are tempted to imagine Ken Griffey returning to the form he showed in the 1990s. With the diluted pitching talent in the league today, 600 homeruns would be a very reasonable goal for a healthy Griffey, even if Aaron is out of reach. 50 homeruns and a .280 average for the next two or three years wouldn't be out of the question. And interleague play is perfect for guys like Griffey who have spent significant time in both leagues.

But the smart money says it isn't going to happen. This shoulder injury is the latest but almost certainly not the last entry in Griffey's injury file. He won't give up -- that isn't his style -- but Ken Griffey's days as an elite player in the major leagues are over.

So even if you don't like him, take a moment to appreciate what Griffey did for baseball in the last decade, all the things he accomplished -- many of them before he turned 30 -- and how much he loves the game of baseball. If more people -- Albert Belle comes to mind -- combined passion and talent the way Griffey did, baseball would be better for it. Whether it's over or not, here's a small salute to Ken Griffey, Jr.


Brad welcomes your feedback on his column: mailto:[email protected]?subject=O-Files



Revisiting the new articles for the period of 03/31/03 - 04/06/03:


NBA: NBA-style Oscars
By Danny Sternfield

The NBA does not have Academy Awards, however, many of its players live and are treated like movie stars. The following is a list of NBA Oscar winners and will probably not entertain you as much as Halle Berry. You'll find the list similar in style, but very different in substance.



COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Memorable in its own way
By Alan Rubenstein

Looking back upon the 2002-03 season, many will remember Arizona and Kentucky's dominance and the scandals at Georgia, St. Bonaventure, and Fresno State. Arizona and Kentucky combined to hold the top spot for most of the season on their way to the NCAA tournament. Indeed, there were many memorable moments.



MLB: The show must go on for Yanks
By Tony Arnoldine

The loss of Derek Jeter was a devastating blow to the Yankees. Now one of the most discussed topics in baseball is how the Yankees will fare without their unofficial captain. But even though he was a leader and force on the field, the Yankees will do just fine without him, SC's Tony Arnoldine writes.



NFL: Free agency: Trash and treasure
By Eric Poole

From now on, the NFL should hold free agency in a church basement beneath a big sign that reads, "Trash or Treasure Sale." NFL free agent season is starting to resemble one of those church flea markets where elderly women in plastic rain scarves rummage through cardboard boxes full of stuff that somebody else didn't want, in the hopes of finding something valuable.



COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Busted brackets, Final Four set
By Mason Williams

Week two of March Madness came to a close, the Final Four have all confirmed their reservations in New Orleans, surprises abound, giants lay slain, and thousands and thousands of distraught fans have torn up their brackets. The weekend began with eight teams vying for four spots, but by Sunday afternoon, only four remain.



MLB: Red Sox geared up to win pennant
By Eric Maus

A solid returning core, key additions, and a deep bullpen give Nomar Garciaparra and company something to smile about as Opening Day 2003 has arrived. This is the year the Red Sox finally overtake the Yankees and win the pennant, says SC's Eric Maus.



NBA: And this year's runner-up is...
By Rich Levine

With the NBA playoffs set to begin in a couple of weeks, let's take a look at the very close, yet very mediocre Eastern Conference and get an early glimpse of who will emerge as this year's eventual Western Conference whipping boy in the NBA Finals.




"Give Baseball a Chance in 2003"

By Mike Round

Baseball will never capture the nation's imagination as it did in the glory years of Joltin' Joe, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, et al. Baseball is a cerebral game, often played at a snails pace by men wearing what, to many, must look like PJs. In the modern age of instant gratification, computer-aided wizardry, and stylized violence, baseball is seen by many, especially the young, as the sporting equivalent of the eight-track car stereo -- a relic of a time gone by.

But scratch beneath the surface of this seemingly troubled game, and you'll find that baseball is in the prime of its life. After two consecutive incredible World Series finishes, 2003 promises more of the same.

Coming into the 2002 baseball season, the know-it-all, NFL-obsessed sporting press had all but written off baseball as a viable sport. Too many poor players earning too much money; too many franchises; the Yankees are too dominant; no competitive balance -- small market teams don't stand a chance. We heard it over and over and, sadly, most of us believed it.

The game lost its confidence and even began shooting itself in the foot, with Bud Selig the primary culprit. Nonsensical ideas to cut franchises, lurching from PR disaster to PR disaster, culminating in the ludicrous All-Star Game fiasco and the last-second aversion of another labor dispute almost brought this glorious game to its knees.

But, from late-summer to late-October, the game gripped us and showed that in its purist form baseball is every bit a match for the NFL. Riveting divisional and wildcard races, especially out West, took us into the playoffs. Of course, as the experts had told us, the Yankees would steamroller all before them. Except they fell at the first hurdle to a bunch of no-name Angels. The other two teams in the ALDS were those high-spending aristocrats from Oakland and Minnesota, ironically two teams on President Selig's hit list.

We all remember what came next. An epic World Series between two teams nowhere near the top of baseball's spending league. Possibly even more significantly, Oakland GM Billy Beane, faced with an offer he couldn't refuse from free-spending Boston, opted to stay with the cash-strapped A's. If nothing else does, that one act by the most sought-after GM in the game tells us that in baseball David still has a chance against Goliath.

So what can we expect to see in 2003? The AL West will again be the game's tightest division, with only Mike Scioscia of the divisions managers keeping his job in the offseason. Figure in an improved showing from the Texas Rangers this year, under the bootcamp regime of the Bill Parcells of baseball, Buck Showalter. The AL East will still be a Yankee/Red Sox thing, though seeing Lou Pinella losing in Tampa will be interesting. The Central should be a Twins walk in the park.

In the National League, the NL champion Giants cleaned house. Out went Dusty Baker, Jeff Kent, Russ Ortiz, Kenny Lofton, David Bell, Reggie Sanders, and Livan Hernandez. The replacements seem to be a drop off, so the Dodgers, if they can keep the rotation out of the sick bay, and the ever-aging Diamondbacks, are favored in the West.

In the NL East, the Braves did a Giants and cleaned house, except they wisely kept their manager in place. Tom Glavine, Kevin Millwood, and Damian Moss are gone from the rotation, to be replaced by Russ Ortiz, Mike Hampton, and Paul Byrd. Ortiz walks too many batters through a loss of concentration, Hampton is a reclamation project, and Byrd throws as fast as my 3-year-old daughter. All that's left of baseball's best bullpen are John Smoltz and Darren Holmes, combined age 178. For the first time since the Nixon Administration, the Braves won't win the NL East. The Phillies are better with Jim Thome and Kevin Millwood added and the Mets can't be as bad as last year, but watch for the Montreal Expos to win this division.

The Expos have potentially a great rotation, featuring Javier Vazquez, Tony Armas, Jr., and Tomo Ohka, three great young arms and one of the game's smartest managers in Frank Robinson. Vladimir Guerrero is a gem with bat and glove and Jose Vidro one of the game's most-underrated second basemen. In a weak division, the Expos, even allowing for the home game stand in Puerto Rico and a wafer-thin bullpen, have a shot.

The NL Central figures to be a three-way fight between the Cubs, Cardinals, and Astros. Houston thinks that Jeff Kent for Craig Biggio at second base will lift them above the Cardinals. They might be right, but I prefer to think that the Houston rotation, featuring Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller and a bullpen that can call on Octavio Dotel, Billy Wagner, and Ricky Stone is more than a match for what the Cards can offer.

The addition of Jeff Kent in Houston could be the final piece of the jigsaw. Lance Berkman will see more pitches and he and Jeff Bagwell can relax more, knowing Kent is there to pick up any slack.

As is traditional in April, I shall weigh-in with my 2003 predictions:

National League

Divisional winners -- Montreal, Houston, and Los Angeles
Wildcard: St. Louis

American League

Divisional winners -- New York, Oakland, and Minnesota
Wildcard: Anaheim

NLCS -- Houston over St. Louis
ALCS -- Oakland over Minnesota

Houston will beat Oakland in six in the World Series. Either way, sit back and enjoy it. It's a better game than you've been told.


We welcome your feedback on this column: mailto:[email protected]?subject=Feature_Article


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--> National Basketball Association

By Steve Goldstein

Dallas Mavericks (56-19) at Los Angeles Lakers (44-31)
Monday, April 7, 10:30 EST; Staples Center; Los Angeles, CA; TV: FSN

The Dallas Mavericks get another chance to prove to themselves and the rest of the NBA that they can actually defeat the Lakers. Last Thursday, the Mavericks had the Lakers in Dallas and blew chances to take control of the game, eventually falling to Los Angeles, 100-89. The loss called up the same doubts about Dallas: lack of defense and lack of inside threats offensively or defensively.

Michael Finley has missed Dallas' past eight games, magnifying the team's weak defense and questionable toughness. The Mavericks haven't missed a beat offensively with Nick Van Exel picking up Finley's slack there, but Finley is clearly Dallas' hardest-working player. And sometimes that rubs off on his teammates. Van Exel, Dirk Nowitzki, and Steve Nash combined for 66 points in the recent loss to the Lakers. But, again, Dallas couldn't put L.A. away and couldn't stop Shaquille O'Neal or Kobe Bryant -- but, really, who can?

From a standpoint of talent depth, Dallas has the advantage -- especially with a healthy Finley. He, Nowitzki, and Nash are all-stars. Van Exel is not far below that level, and Raef Lafrentz has a strong offensive repertoire. Again, though, it comes down to defense and toughness. Defense is more about commitment than offense is. It's more difficult to stay interested in stopping the other team. After all, once they score, "we" get the ball back. That's how Dallas has played too often this year, despite having the league's best record.

The Lakers continue to be too inconsistent to be considered championship favorites, despite their three-consecutive titles. But the Lakers do have Shaq, Kobe, experience, and toughness. That'll be enough to give Dallas, the Sacramento Kings, and the San Antonio Spurs a lot of sleepless nights in the playoffs. But for the Lakers to return to championship form, they'll need Robert Horry and Derek Fisher to make their three-pointers, and someone will have to take pressure off of Shaq on the defensive glass.

--> Game Breakdown

Offense -- Dallas
Defense -- Los Angeles
Coaching -- Even
Intangibles -- Los Angeles

Prediction: Lakers 97, Mavericks 89


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(Thanks for reading! Next issue is set to come out on 05/04/03.)

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