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Old 05-05-2003, 08:00 PM   #1
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Default Sports Central Newsletter - #100 - Confessions of an Ex-Draftnik

The Sports Central Newsletter
May 2003 - Issue #100

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

- Words From the Editor
- The O-Files: "A Cruel Farewell"
- What's New at Sports Central?
- Feature Article: "Confessions of an Ex-Draftnik"
- Marquee Matchup (MLB)



Hello folks,

Can you believe it? One hundred issues! Thanks for reading what we have to say, and writing in with your thoughts makes it even more enjoyable, so please do so.

In this month's issue, Brad argues why mentioning Rickey Henderson among the all-time greats is ridiculous. As Brad puts it, "What's left is a player with a good eye who may have been the greatest baserunner of all-time. Hall of Famer? Absolutely. First-ballot? Yes. Best ever? Far from it." If you don't believe it, read on and hear Brad's take.

Last weekend was the NFL's illustrious, some say overhyped, draft. How many of you watched it from beginning to end? If you did, you're a brave soul! With the draft in mind, Mike Round presents to you his "Confessions of an Ex-Draftnik" in this month's featured article, perhaps giving those NFL draft geeks out there someone they can relate to.

See you next month!

Until next time,

- Marc James
mailto:[email protected]


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|-- THE O-FILES--|

"A Cruel Farewell"

By Brad Oremland

Inevitably, great players eventually must stop playing. This is happening all around us today, in every sport, with Michael Jordan being the most obvious example. Worse than most retirements, though, are the slow demises, men forced from the game because they can no longer compete at an elite level, or can't stay healthy, or both. The NFL's Emmitt Smith may be heading down that road, but the best example is baseball great Rickey Henderson, who can't find a major league team interested in his services.

This may sound like a tribute piece, like the one I wrote for Ken Griffey, Jr., last month, but it's a little different. As Henderson limps towards the end of his career, I've been reflecting on his legacy. Henderson holds MLB's all-time records for walks, stolen bases, and runs-scored. He has over 3,000 hits, a Gold Glove (1981), an AL MVP Award (1990), and was voted Most Valuable Player of the ALCS in 1989, when he hit .400 and stole 8 bases with an incredible 1.609 OPS. He's a 10-time all-star and will certainly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. So naturally, I think he's overrated.

Consider Henderson's career numbers: a .279 batting average, .402 on-base percentage, and .419 slugging percentage. For perspective, John Olerud has him beat in each of those categories. Granted, Henderson is ahead of Olerud by 1,267 runs and 1,392 steals (as of May 1), but this obviously isn't Babe Ruth at the plate we're talking about here. Heck, it isn't even John Olerud.

In fact, Henderson's .821 OPS doesn't rank in the top-100 all-time (minimum 5,000 at-bats). Of course, Rickey brought other variables into the game. Usually, that means fielding, and Henderson was a good fielder, but with only one Gold Glove in 24 seasons, he wasn't a great one. Rather, his outstanding intangible was his baserunning -- all those steals (1,403) and runs (2,288).

It's fashionable to refer to stolen bases as an overrated statistic, and to be fair, it probably is, but no one denies the impressiveness of Henderson's accomplishment. What amazes me, though, is when people try to place Rickey in the very highest echelon of baseball's greats. Not just the Hall of Fame, in which he certainly belongs, but those "Greatest All-Time" arguments. Come again?

Say you're putting together an all-time team. Is Henderson a better choice in left field than Barry Bonds (8 Gold Gloves, 1.024 OPS), Stan Musial (24 all-star appearances, three-time NL MVP), Ted Williams (1.115 OPS, 1,839 RBI), and Shoeless Joe Jackson (.356 batting average, 168 triples)?

The real fallacy, though, is the notion that you'd want Rickey to bat leadoff. He probably was the greatest player who spent the majority of his career at the top of the order, but would you rather have Henderson batting first than Ty Cobb or Ed Delahanty? On an all-star team, you wouldn't feel required to put those guys in the middle of the order, and I'm not going to praise Henderson for being too one-dimensional to bat third.


Cobb .367 .424 892 .176 .513
Delahanty .346 .409 455 .190 .505
Henderson .279 .402 1,403 .174 .419

AL MVP Award notwithstanding, Rickey never had a really great season, either. He never had 200 hits or 300 total bases -- both attainable benchmarks for a great year. Henderson also never got 75 RBI, a standard that a good hitter should be able to reach at least once in a quarter-century career -- even from the leadoff position -- and his highest combined total of runs and RBI was a modest 218 (1985), one of only two times that total exceeded 200. Bonds, in contrast, has done so 11 times, with a high of 266. Sammy Sosa has broken 300.

Last year, Yankees leadoff man Alfonso Soriano had 209 hits, 381 total bases, 102 RBI, and 230 combined runs and RBI. Henderson, in 24 seasons, never reached any of those totals. Soriano also had 41 steals, only 24 less than Henderson did in his MVP season.

To review, Henderson's averages -- batting, on base, and slugging -- are mediocre. He wasn't a great fielder. He had a few great seasons (1985, 1986, 1990) but no truly exceptional ones -- the kind players build legacies with. It's hard to make a case for him as the greatest left fielder ever, and the "best leadoff hitter" argument doesn't hold up if you allow for other great players to bat first. What's left is a player with a good eye who may have been the greatest baserunner of all-time. Hall of Famer? Absolutely. First-ballot? Yes. Best ever? Far from it.


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



Revisiting the new articles for the period of 04/28/03 - 05/04/03:


COLUMN: Amico Report: Playoffs and more
By Sam Amico

Teams around the NBA are moving on to the second round, and the Utah Jazz are going home after another first-round exit thanks to the Kings. Before we forget about the veteran Jazz and focus on the rest of the playoffs, it's time to give Jazz point guard John Stockton his due. More Stockton and playoff talk in the latest Amico Report.



MLB: Why baseball is still on top
By Lauren Reynolds

Apparently, Major League Baseball has as many lives as 50 Cent, and a similar rap sheet. And for a league that has done nearly everything wrong in the past decade, it has surprisingly strong staying power, says SC's Lauren Reynolds.



TENNIS: A changing of the guard
By Michael Cecilio

This week saw Andre Agassi move past Lleyton Hewitt and return to No. 1. At 33 years of age, he has become the oldest player to ever reach No. 1. What Andre Agassi has achieved now, and throughout his up-and-down career, has been a blessing to the sport of tennis in need of a good, well-rounded ambassador.



NBA: The art of four-peating
By M. Edward Guest

Four championships in a row, it is the bridge between the superb teams and the truly legendary teams. The Lakers have a chance to be the first major-sports team since 1983 to turn the trick, and to continue to chase the dynasty of dynasties: Russell's Celtics of the 1960s, says SC's M. Edward Guest.



COLUMN: CTS: MLS: Guaranteed to put you to sleep
By Ryan Noonan

The start of a new MLS season means only one thing to SC's Ryan Noonan: quality nap time during the afternoon. In this week's Calling The Shots, we take a look at the most popular sport in Europe and we finally figure out why siestas are so common overseas.



NFL: Draft strategies and evaluations
By Kevin Holtsberry

Given the growing obsession NFL fans have with following and analyzing every move in the NFL draft, technical opinions and professional second-guessing abound. Instead of a round-by-round scientific breakdown, SC's Kevin Holtsberry simply offers you the 2003 draft from his perspective.



NBA: Atlantic tries to salvage season
By John DeCosta

The NBA playoffs are historically a time for hope, the potential for winning an NBA title. But for the teams in the severely-outmatched Atlantic Division, this time it is more an opportunity to determine where one stands, with few realistic thoughts of a championship, says SC's John DeCosta.



NFL: Random ramblings, draft edition
By Kevin Beane

Pessimism abounds as SC's Kevin Beane takes his swings at the NFL draft, where he delivers his reviews of the Bengals drafting of Carson Palmer (thumbs down), the Chiefs taking Larry Johnson (thumbs down), and the Buccaneers snapping up Chris Simms (thumbs down). And, yes, he actually liked the 49ers' picks!



MLB: Power on and off the field
By Justin Termine

Carlos Delgado hits homeruns. He drives in men. And he does plenty of other things that fill-up a stat sheet. But he also does something that doesn't show up in the morning box score: he leads, says SC's Justin Termine.




"Confessions of an Ex-Draftnik"

By Mike Round

Another NFL draft has come and gone, accompanied by the usual ballyhoo, both before and after. The Bengals chose first (again) and we all know, without the help of Mel Kiper, Jr., that this means Carson Palmer is destined to become the next Dan McGwire rather than Dan Marino. We know this because, sadly, the NFL draft turns us ordinary, sane, well-adjusted sports fans into sad, pathetic geeks, who spend the weeks before and after the draft weekend uttering embarrassing cliches like "that's a reach," "has a tremendous upside," "a sleeper," and "overachieving gym-rat." I speak from experience and I need to confess my sin.

I was already a fan of pro football when I first came to the United States in the late-'80s. Immediately, I realized you could watch football on Saturdays, too, through fall and winter. I was hooked, especially once I connected Saturday football to the pros via the NFL draft. Tennessee at Alabama wasn't just about SEC bragging rights anymore -- I had one eye on April and Madison Square Garden.

I purchased my first college football notebook in 1990. Blue, size A5, roughly 200 pages of narrow feint -- perfect for the job. There was no turning back -- I was on my way to being a draftnik, maybe even a guru one day. From now on, football on Saturdays was a serious business. No more beer, for starters. I had to watch with a clear head. No more pizza, in case I got sauce on my Farndale Series A5 notebook and inadvertently obscured a player assessment. Snacks had to be sauce-free and easy-to-eat in between plays.

The first game I watched as an aspiring draft guru was the 1990 Pigskin Classic from Los Angeles, with Tennessee facing Colorado. I know this because I recently found two of my old notebooks whilst looking for some trivial piece of documentation such as my passport. The entry for the Pigskin Classic takes up nearly four pages of copious notes, yet, apart from the header, completely fails to notice that the game finished 31-31. It must have been a great game, yet I was unconcerned by such nonsense.

My notes included reference to Colorado's OLB Alfred Williams and his speed and Tennessee's "book-end" (I'd already resorted to draftnik clichés) tackles Antone Davis and Charles McRae having first-round potential. I made special note to further evaluate Vols widemen Alvin Harper and Carl Pickens. Quite an impressive debut, looking back 13 years.

After a couple of weeks, I realized I couldn't watch enough games on just a Saturday, so I took to taping games to watch at a later date, or even getting friends to tape games if all my VCRs were busy. Despite living in New Jersey, I somehow managed to see Houston beat Baylor on October 6th (my notebook doesn't remind me how). I noted David Klingler has pro-size, flashy stats, and a big arm, but lacked touch, even against a poor Baylor team. I'm beginning to think I actually knew what I was talking about.

By some miracle, I saw Baylor four times that year, which is more than most of the Baylor alumni did. My November 10th entry for Baylor's 34-3 victory over Arkansas was only one-page long, though. I was either tiring of Baylor or it had been a long season and I was wilting.

Of course, like all good draftniks, I had my mock first-round selections at the end of my notebook, as well as my All-Americans, which every good draftnik knows isn't necessarily the same list. The best two players I'd seen all year, Raghib Ismail and Chris Zorich, both of Notre Dame, had reasonable pro careers, without ever setting the world on fire.

My 1991 notebook contained even more in-depth analysis. I'd obviously spent the summer refining my technique. From the sheer detail of the entries, I'm guessing I didn't work that year, or form any meaningful relationships with women. I indexed the games at the front of the book, which was now a much thicker version of the Farndale Series, and the players at the back.

Mysteriously, Baylor was featured heavily again with their games against Rice, TCU, and SMU all covered in glorious detail. Apparently, I was mightily impressed with DT Santana Dotson, though probably through sheer familiarity, as I'd seen more of his games by now than his parents had. By 1991, David Klingler had a "rifle" arm to go with his size, though I noted he'd need "seasoning" to make it as a pro. Move over, Mel, there's a new kid on the block that can match you cliché for cliché.

I have to admit I spent a few happy hours leafing through my old college notebooks, with long-forgotten names like Shaun Moore (Virginia QB) and Tommy Thigpen (North Carolina linebacker) bringing back great memories of fall Saturdays eating cornflakes without milk and worrying whether my friend had managed to tape the Southwest Conference game on Raycom.

Obviously, I wasn't an expert football talent scout, despite my penchant for detailing heights, weights, and characteristics of most of the class of 1990 and 1991. But my predictions were neither better nor worse than the so-called gurus who have the advantage of being able to buttonhole NFL personnel folk. My prediction that Henry Jones (Illinois) would be a quality CB in the pros was spot on, just as my confident call that Duke QB Dave Brown was destined for a great pro career was way off-base.

I'm glad I gave up my draft guru ambitions. I can enjoy Saturday football again and eat sloppy food while I do it. There's only one thing left to say -- the Packers reached for Nick Barnett and look out for sleeper NT Ethan Kelley, an overachieving gym-rat from Baylor with a huge upside.


Mike welcomes your feedback on his column: mailto:[email protected]?subject=Feature_Article


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New York Yankees (22-6) at Seattle (17-11)

Wednesday, May 7th, 10:05 EST; Safeco Field; Seattle, WA

The Yankees and Mariners continue what seemed to be an unlikely rivalry when it began during the 1995 playoffs. And even without Lou Piniella at the helm, Seattle looks like it's staying on track with manager Bob Melvin. As the rotations work out, Wednesday night's game promises a battle between young, but established starting pitchers Freddy Garcia and Jeff Weaver.

As expected, the Yankees have been a powerhouse in the early going. Even though Derek Jeter has been out of the lineup with a shoulder injury, the team hasn't missed a beat offensively -- easily living up to the Bronx Bombers moniker. The Yankees have also seen first baseman Jason Giambi struggle to stay above the Mendoza line. But Alfonso Soriano has become the most exciting player in baseball, and arguably one of its five-best. Bernie Williams continues to hit for a high average and drive in runs from the cleanup spot. And rightfielder Raul Mondesi has hit over .300. That, along with his defense, has made him one of New York's early-season MVPs.

No discussion of the Yankees would be complete, though, without mention of the pitching staff. The bullpen, hurt by injuries to Mariano Rivera and Steve Karsay, hasn't been tested early because the starting rotation has been so dominant. Undefeated Mike Mussina has probably been the best pitcher in either league so far, while Roger Clemens, David Wells, and Jeff Weaver have been strong. Lefty Andy Pettitte hasn't been brilliant, but he hasn't needed to be. Now with Rivera back, the Yankees' bullpen is almost as good as its rotation.

On the Mariners' side, the team continues to rely on pitching, defense, and small ball -- which sounds a lot like a National League team. That makes sense, since Melvin worked as bench coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks for the past two seasons. Seattle is a terrific hit-and-run team, with only outfielder Mike Cameron a major threat to strike out. Though his average has been under .300, Ichiro Suzuki is a challenge for any defense, with his array of bunts and check-swings. The middle of the order is not as powerful as most American League squads, but Bret Boone, Edgar Martinez, and John Olerud are all proven RBI men.

The pitching depth the Mariners have leaned on for several seasons isn't as obvious in 2003. Closer Kaz Sasaki has been injured off and on, while the team's minor league pitchers aren't as promising. However, Freddy Garcia looks to be hitting his stride, Jamie Moyer remains consistent, and Gil Meche still has an electric arm. Seattle is in baseball's toughest division, but its style of play will continue to frustrate and overcome most opponents.

Game Breakdown:

Offense: Yankees
Defense: Mariners
Pitching: Yankees
Intangibles: Yankees

Prediction: Yankees 5, Mariners 4


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(Thanks for reading! Next issue is set to come out on 06/01/03.)

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