Alright MLB, show us what you got

I’ve spent a lot of time imploring fans not to buy into the sports terrorism propaganda of the past three months, insisting that the game on the field is what really matters.

Even if you didn’t agree with me, could you really blame me?

Between Clemens versus McNamee, the Mitchell Report and Hank Steinbrenner spouting off gospel that makes him sound like a homeless man in the middle of an acid flashback in Central Park, I just couldn’t listen to any more.

I know it’s important to clean up baseball and I know drug use is rampant, but if it were up to me, we’d never hear another word about it.

It’s not up to me, though. It’s not up to the media and it’s not up to the fans.

It’s up to Major League Baseball to make us forget about the “scandal” in the game.

Not by ignoring it (they already tried that, remember?), but by putting out a product that is so good, so scintillating, so riveting, that we have no choice but to forget about the mind-numbing steroid-babble that infected the offseason.

Will the men out of the field take their game back? Can baseball finally be about baseball again?

It wasn’t long ago we all thought the NBA was facing its own version of Armageddon with the NBA betting Tim Donaghy scandal.

That was only eight months ago, and we haven’t heard the ex-referee’s name since the season started.

We haven’t heard his name because we’ve been too busy hearing LeBron James’, Dwight Howard’s, Tracy McGrady’s and Chris Paul’s. We’ve been too busy following the Celtics, Rockets and Lakers.

Over the course of the regular season, the NBA has given us impressive winning streaks, woeful losers, blockbuster trades, buzzer-beaters, 50-point performances and of course, LeBron and Kobe.

With all that going on, who wants to read or hear about a point-shaving referee?

The NBA made us look and the NBA blogs responded. It made us forget about Donaghy because we couldn’t resist all that sweet, savory, mouth-watering basketball right there in front of us.

Even the mighty NFL has it’s own share of problems this offseason with the likes of Pacman Jones and Mike Vick.

Before the season began, entire episodes of NFL Live were practically dedicated to Mike Vick.

By the time preseason rolled around, it seemed like the NFL football line was more about lawyers, suspensions and crime than it was about big hits, circus catches and Lombardi trophies.

Then Randy Moss started catching touchdowns, Adrian Peterson broke a few long runs, Donovan McNabb got hurt… again, and our focus shifted back to football.

As soon as that first ball was kicked off, the off-field headlines made their way back to their rightful place at bottom of the sports page.

Now it’s baseball’s turn.

The storylines are already in place.

The Red Sox and Yankees, Joe Girardi, the Mets and Phillies, A-Rod, Russell Martin Jr., Prince Fielder, and Ozzie Guillen’s promise to be more profane (Who will he offend next? Tune in to Major League Baseball in April to find out!).

I’m not saying the doping problems in baseball are gone, but they are being dealt with. Enough so that we can turn our focus back to baseball.

If baseball can execute the plays drawn up by the NBA and the NFL (Oh beloved NHL, when will you stop being so squeaky clean?), then the healing process in baseball has truly begun – hopefully without the help of HGH.

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Get your helmet on: It’s football time

Every morning for the past few weeks I’ve woken up to feelings of depression, loss and helplessness.

Why?

Because it’s still February.

Not even a month has gone by since the Super Bowl. The NFL draft is over a month away, training camp is still seven months away and opening kickoff isn’t as much as a gleam in our collective eye.

Sure, I write about other sports, but who am I kidding? Everything I do, this blog included, is merely a faint attempt to pass time until that glorious Thursday night when the NFL reaffirms its grip around America’s neck.

This morning was a little different, though. This morning I woke up to news of new contracts, offer sheets, extensions and GMs willing to listen to trade offers.

Praise the football gods, free agency is upon us.

We haven’t reached our destination as football fans yet, but this will give us the strength to push on until the draft.

Jonathan Vilma has signed with the Saints, Kawika Mitchell headed west on I-90 to Buffalo and Madieu Williams is Minneapolis-bound while Flozell Adams, Derek Anderson and Teddy Bruschi will all stay put.

All this new football news has given my system a bit of a kick-start. I’m done looking back on 18-1, Redskins coaching searches and Brett Favre’s resurgence. I’m ready to look forward to next year (in fact, if I see that David Tyree catch one more time I may throw up).

With that said, here are five things I’m excited to see in the 2008 season.

1) The Seahawks

This coming year is Seattle’s best chance to bring home the hardware. One of the better NFL masterminds of the past 15 years, Mike Holmgren, has one last shot at finishing the job he came to Seattle to do.

The pieces are in place. Matt Hasselbeck has developed into a top-ten quarterback, and somewhere along the way, the Hawks’ went from perennial underachievers to the model of NFC consistency.

They are the only team in the past eight years to make the playoffs after losing the Super Bowl and have been in the postseason five years running. Forgive me if I’m not sold on the Giants as a shoe-in for a repeat, but I think by August the Seahawks (and their sweet neon green gloves) will be the team to beat in the NFC.

2) Jay Cutler

This might make me sound cruel, but the reason I’m so excited for Cutler is because he’s about to crash and burn.

By the end of next season, it should be apparent that the Broncos need to go a different direction under center.
Since the day Mike Shanahan pulled Jake Plummer for “the future”, I’ve been critical of the move. It cost the Broncos the playoffs in 2006 and Cutler made little-to-no progress last year.

The Broncos had some depth issues on their defense, which contributed to their disappointing season, but Cutler isn’t the cure for what ails Denver.

Cutler is another example of what can go wrong when a team puts too much stock into the combine. Backup Patrick Ramsey may never amount to anything in the NFL, but at this point he deserves more of a shot than Cutler does.

3) The Browns

The Browns made the smartest move of this young offseason by keeping Derek Anderson on board. Anderson is a legit NFL quarterback. Unlike Shanahan, I doubt Romeo Crenell will throw away his team’s playoff hopes based on the round he drafted his backup quarterback.

Just because Brady Quinn was selected in the first round, doesn’t mean he’s entitled to a starting job without earning it. Anderson took the starting job and ran with it. He ran all the way to a 10-6 record and the brink of a playoff berth.

Bravo, Cleveland.

I’ll be rooting for the Browns to get over the hump in 2008.

4) Quarterbacks in make-or-break seasons

There are plenty of them this year. I mentioned Cutler, but there are some with a realistic shot of becoming winning quarterbacks.

Jason Campbell may have bought some more time in Washington because he’s learning the West Coast Offense, but this will be his third year as a starter and second as the starter on opening day. Redskins fans get mighty impatient, mighty quickly, too.

It’s also time for Matt Leinart to put up or move on in playoff-starved Arizona, J.P. Lossman could be out as the Bills starter before the end of the preseason if he’s not careful and Alex Smith is running out of rope in San Francisco.

We’ll see if any of these quarterbacks can get up from off the hot seat and take the starting job by the horns.

5) The suprise teams

It’s a little early to predict who they’ll be, but this offseason reeks of unpredictability. There were too many good teams in the AFC last year for all of them to be good again if you’re betting football online.

The Colts, Patriots, Chargers and Jags were all considered powerhouses.

Fans in every one of those cities are sure of their team’s return to the playoffs in 2008, but I know the NFL well enough to know better.

Can the Cheifs, Jets or even the Dophins displace one of them?

The NFC is wide open, but could anyone legitimately see the 49ers, Rams or Falcons making a run for it all?

It should be a wild 2008… if only it weren’t still seven months away.

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The Sundin sets in Toronto

Good for Mats Sundin.

Toronto Maple Leafs fans are waking up to the news this morning that team captain Mats Sundin has opted not to waive his no-trade clause, remaining a Maple Leaf.

As usual, Maple Leafs fans will become distraught. They will call Sundin selfish when really, he just made the classiest move I’ve seen a professional athlete make in a long time.

We all know there’s no pleasing Maple Leafs Nation, but most fans would kill to have the kind of team loyalty that Sundin has shown.

I don’t just mean NHL teams either. Professional sports teams all over the world exist for decades at a time without seeing that type of love from a player.

In a statement made by Sundin he said he wanted to stay in Toronto because “I cannot leave my teammates and join another NHL Club at this time. I have never believed in the concept of a rental player. It is my belief that winning the Stanley Cup is the greatest thing you can achieve in hockey but for me, in order to appreciate it you have to have been part of the entire journey and that means October through June.”

You hear that, Leafs Nation?

Your captain wants to go down with the ship. He’d rather spend the last month of the season at the bottom of the standings with his teammates than fighting for a Stanley Cup.

I sure hope Leafs fans can appreciate the rarity of what they have here. The most beloved athlete (aside from Jamario Moon) in a city that nearly burned itself down in anger over the selfish antics of Vince Carter and Curtis Joseph, just said “I love you, too.”

Has anyone listened to sports talk radio recently?

Sports fans in and out of Toronto litter the airwaves with cliches like “Players play for the name on the back of their jersey, not the front,” or “Back when I was growing up, athletes cared about the game, not about the money.”

Sundin’s decision was hardly about money, but at 37, he may have just passed up his last opportunity at a Cup.

Obviously, from a business vantage point, big Mats may have cost his team a good draft pick or some skilled young players, but take a good long look at the Leafs roster and payroll.

That rebuilding process is a long way from being done. So why not keep around the franchise’s all-time leading scorer for a few more games?

I’ve also heard some Leafs fans batting around the notion that the team should take the “C” away from Sundin for not acting in the best interest of the organization.

Really?

Leafs fans and the Toronto media alike love to speak before thinking, but this one may take the cake. I know its not the popular opinion amongst the Buds faithful, but the idea is out there. I’ve read about it enough to make me feel sorry for Leafs Nation.

Even as a Washington Redskins fan, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered that level of fan ignorance.

Instead of taking away the captaincy, Paul Maurice ought to give Sundin another “C” to put on his other shoulder, and maybe an “A” that will fit in between the 1 and 3 on his back.

Never has a captain been more of a captain than Mats Sundin was Sunday evening.

I’ve been lucky enough to have players like Cal Ripken, Olie Kolzig and Darrell Green play for the teams I love, and class doesn’t come any classier than those three guys, but I’d still consider myself lucky to have a player as honorable as Mats Sundin play in my city.

If Leafs fans can’t recognize than, then shame on them.

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The Mavs finally got Kidd – so what now?

All you Mavericks fans who spent the past week cursing Devean George should be doing something else now: Thanking him.

Whether his motives were selfish or not, George singlehandedly saved the Mavs’ season by blocking the trade that would have sent him – along with Jerry Stackhouse, Devin Harris and DeSagana Diop to the Nets for Jason Kidd.

The feeling around the league today is that Dallas may have put the final piece in their championship puzzle.

I still don’t believe that, but had the original trade gone through, the Mavericks wouldn’t have seen the second round of the playoffs… again.

Can you believe that Mark Cuban offered up so much to begin with?

The four Mavericks that would have been traded without George’s heroic / self-serving invoking of his no-trade clause accounted for over 88 minutes a game.

As great as Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry are, one of Dallas’ strengths over the past few years has been its depth.

Giving away three bench players – two of whom were solid contibuters – and a starter for a 35-year-old point guard would have lost Cuban some big-time brownie points with the folks in Dallas.

Alas, that point is moot, because all the Nets really wanted in the first place was Devin Harris. So much so, that they were willing to accept a retired player and pay him a couple million, just to get the deal done.

Talk about the right place at the right time. While Mavericks fans should be thanking Devean George, Keith Van Horn ought to send a diamond-studded Rolex his way.

Next year, when we’re arguing over which team got the better deal in the Jason Kidd trade, just remember Keith Van Horn got the best deal.

So, the Mavs were able to hold onto George and Stackhouse.  One still has to wonder: Was this a smart move for Dallas?

Probably not.

First the obvious: the Mavs’ were two minutes from a 3-0 NBA Finals lead with Devin Harris leading the charge two seasons ago. Do they even need Jason Kidd?

Look, Kidd is obviously a top-five – possibly top-three – NBA point guard, but with all those other weapons, Dallas doesn’t need a top-five point guard.

It seems to me that the team that opted not to re-sign Steve Nash four years ago, wouldn’t need to give up two of its next three first-round picks and a 24-year-old stud for what is nothing more than a slight upgrade at point guard.

But wait, there’s more!

Diop’s departure leaves Dallas with just one true center in Erick Dampier.

With Nowitzki in the front-court, center is not a pivotal position on that team. Dampier’s five points and seven rebounds a game are fine.

What isn’t fine however, is Dampier’s 22 minutes a game. Without Diop, those remaining 26 become a liability.

What is Avery Johnson planning to do in the playoffs, when Dampier needs a rest, or gets in foul trouble?

It looks to me as if Cuban was so enamored with Jason Kidd that he would have given up anyone aside from Novitzki to get him.

Take it from a Redskins fan, it’s always a very dangerous thing when an owner’s sights are firmly set on acquiring one player.

Of course, just like every trade, only time will tell, and it might work out for both teams in the end.

But, it most certainly wasn’t broke in Dallas, so why try to fix it?

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Will the real baseball fans please stand up?

Am I the only one who doesn’t care about the Roger Clemens hearing?

Okay, dumb question.

I’m most definitely the only one.

Roger Clemens was the top story on Around the Horn, PTI and Sportscenter on Tuesday. It is currently the main story on ESPN.com and USAToday.com. Not USAToday.com’s sports page, but the top story on USAToday.com. Now Sportscenter is running a “Roger Clemens congressional hearing special” at 9:30 Wednesday morning.

Allow me to ask another dumb question: Why?

I don’t care anymore. I don’t give a flying Saltalamacchia, and neither should anyone. Why do we keep allowing sports terrorism to take the focus off of what we really care about: The game?

I can’t tell you how many people in the past week have asked me if I believe Brian McNamee or Clemens.

Who do I believe? I’m not pathetic enough to even form an opinion on the matter.

I don’t care about the old gauze pads, I don’t care what Jose Canseco says, I don’t care why Andy Pettite won’t be there and I really don’t care what John Rocker says.

Instead, I care about my favorite team trading it’s best pitcher last week. I care about Torri Hunter making the Angels very dangerous. I care about spring training.

Apparently, I’m in the minority here, but I still prefer the game of baseball over a bunch of old, rich, cranky bureaucrats and lawyers sitting around arguing about who has the bigger Louisville Slugger.

Don’t try to tell me this is about cleaning up baseball, either. It’s not. This is about Clemens wanting to clear his name, which is fine, but it doesn’t need to be shoved down our throats.

Chad Johnson wants a trade, the best team in the NHL has lost four in a row, the NBA’s Western Conference is loaded with contenders and Stan Van Gundy just threw his best player under the bus.

With all that going on, what do I care about some washed-up pitcher fielding questions from a group of congressmen who, quite frankly, have much more important things to do with their time?

Granted, this is a little different than the other doping proceedings of the past year because Clemens is facilitating all of this himself. He wants people to believe him and he has every right to do what he deems necessary.

In the end, though, it’s still irrelevant.

Let’s suppose for a moment that McNamee takes the stand and admits he lied about everything he ever said about Clemens and everything he told George Mitchell.

Then what? What are the consequences? Will players stop using drugs next season? Will fans be more assured that their favorite players are clean? Will the “steroids era” come to an end? No.

No matter what transpires tomorrow in Washington D.C., nothing will change.

If congress truly wants to clean up professional sports, it would be looking inside the game to do so.

Unfortunately, congress has no desire to clean up sports. It wants to embarrass people and point fingers.

Me, I’m going to remain a sports fan. I’m not watching as much as one frame of Sportscenter Wednesday morning, and shame on anyone who does, because that’s exactly what sports terrorists want.

Combine the Clemens hearing with Roger Goodell’s meeting with Arlen Specter, and tomorrow is practically Mardi Gras for sports terrorists.

I just have one question: Does anyone know where I can get some sports news?

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Suns try to keep up by slowing down

Allow me to play devil’s advocate here for a second.

I’m with the rest of the majority in that several times over the past two days, I’ve wondered out loud, “What in the name of Dan Majerle are the Suns thinking?”

To me, trading away a versatile offensive threat in Shawn Marion to get a 35-year-old, banged-up center with a contract the size of Yao Ming, doesn’t make any sense.

Maybe – just maybe – by trading for Shaquille O’neal, Suns GM Steve Kerr has broken that glass ceiling that’s kept his team from the NBA Finals so many times in years past.

Look, I don’t need to go on about how Shaq can’t run and gun up and down the court with Steve Nash and the Suns, but is that what he is really being brought in to do?

Is anyone else reminded of the Sacramento Kings of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when they look at the Suns?

Not in terms of the style of game they play, but in terms of years of regular season dominance and early playoff success resulting in bupkis come June.

Every year, a lot of people both in and out of Sacramento thought it was the Kings’ year.

Well, once again, the Suns have the best record in the NBA and once again they are the highest-scoring team in the NBA. Once again, everything looks peachy keen in the desert right before all-star break.

It must have been in the back of Kerr’s mind, that once the playoffs start, and things start to slow down, and the Spurs start to grind away at their opponents, that the Suns are just not tough enough, defensive enough and efficient enough out of a half-court offense.

Enter: The Diesel.

I’ve heard people speculate that Suns coach Mike D’Antoni will move the undersized Amare Stoudemire to power forward, and let O’neal run the paint.

Well, I’m not buying that, but I would buy this:

The Suns acquired Shaq to come off the bench in the playoffs.

There comes a time in a playoff series, when a team needs something besides points.

There comes a time when a team has to wear down it’s opponents by overpowering them. Over the course of six or seven games, Tim Duncan will wither Stoudemire down to nothing. Bruce Bowen will make it impossible to find open shots, and the Spurs will ultimately come out looking tougher and stronger than their opponents.

O’neal can remedy a lot that for the Suns. When it’s time to use up the shot clock, and play a little defense (I know, what a scary thought for the Suns), Shaq is the man.

Without Shaq, the Lakers’ revamped frontcourt would stomp all over the Suns in the playoffs. They still might, but at least Phoenix now has someone to make Andrew Bynum and Pao Gasol fight for their points.

Of course, in all this I’m disregarding the fact that the Suns just sent one of the most dynamic players in the game three time zones away.

Marion is one of the few guys on the Suns who can slow it down if need be. He can get open looks even in a slow-paced game, he can rebound, and his size makes him very tough to check for a whole game – let alone a whole series.

The Suns are going to miss him, and there is no way around that.

However, Marion did this to himself. He’s been asking for a trade since the summer, for absolutely no reason.

Oh, I know he gave a reason, but asking to be dealt because you’re jealous of the attention that Nash and Stoudemire receive is not actually a reason.

Marion says he’s pleased with the trade.

Yeah, I buy that almost as much as Terrell Owens’ fake tears.

Hey, what player in their right mind wouldn’t want to trade 34 wins for 39 losses, right?

If he is that much happier being the second option on the worst team in the league, than he is as the third option on the best, than his priorities are well out of whack (and he may want to talk to someone about his insecurities).

But, the bottom line is, we’re going to see a different Suns team this year in the playoffs.

Will it be a better Suns team?

I don’t think so, but I’m trying to give Kerr the benefit of the doubt. He could see that turning the NBA playoffs into a track meet and launching threes just wasn’t working.

It was time to take a gamble, and we’ll have to wait and see if it was the right one.

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Don’t buy what Specter is selling

The sports terrorists are at it again.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R – Pa.) is way out of his element with his recent comments about the NFL’s handling of the Patriots video taping fiasco.

Specter has come out and said some outrageous things over the past 24 hours, so let’s all have a laugh at his expense, shall we?

“What if there was something on the tapes we might want to be subpoenaed, for example?”

Subpoenaed? They’re tapes of defensive coordinators relaying hand signals to a middle linebacker. Does he think there may be some footage after the game of Bill Belichick sneaking illegal immigrants across the border, or Tom Brady selling drugs to kids?

The old man wasn’t done, either:

“You can’t destroy it. That would be obstruction of justice.”

Doesn’t there have to be an investigation to obstruct, or at least a crime that’s being covered up? No legal action is being taken here, so how can one “obstruct justice?”

The tapes were already in the hands of the proper authorities — Roger Goodell and NFL officials.

“It starts with the commissioner. He had the tapes, and he made the decision as to what the punishment could be. He made the decision to destroy them.”

Right. Is there a problem with any of that? Sounds like pretty standard procedure to me.

Should Goodell have called Specter before levying the punishment to make sure it was okay with him? Maybe I’m missing something here, but I was under this zany impression that making decisions was part of the NFL commissioner’s job. Silly me, I suppose.

Specter is way out on a limb here. Just because he didn’t think the Patriots’ penalty was harsh enough doesn’t give him the right to open a full-fledged investigation of Goodell.

If it’s the antitrust exemption that’s cooking Specter’s grits, then he should have come right out and said it, instead of embarrassing himself the way he did.

If I lived in Pennsylvania, I would be furious that an elected official who is supposed to be representing me is wasting everyone’s time with this nonsense.

I’m not sure what Specter’s problem is. Maybe he’s attention starved, maybe he’s a bitter Eagles fan who’s upset his team isn’t playing in the Super Bowl, maybe he’s gone senile or maybe he’s just another sports terrorist that wants to do a little rabble-rousing in hopes of making the NFL look bad.

Whatever his beef is, I’ll tell you this: I won’t let him ruin the best Sunday of the NFL season for me.

It even makes me a little sick that I’m writing about this in the first place, but I won’t let the sports terrorists win.

There is a team attempting to go undefeated and win its fourth Super Bowl in seven years, and another team with a fearless defense and a big fat chip on its shoulder standing in the way.

Right there is your real story. That is something worth writing about and talking about on television and radio. That is what Goodell should be discussing in his State of the League address.

As for Specter, someone — and I don’t know who — needs to sit him down, look him dead in the eye and say, ”It’s none of your business.”

Enjoy the Super Bowl, everyone.

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