Friday, December 31, 2010
No, I didn't vote for Jeff Bagwell for the Hall of Fame. Yes, it's for the reason everybody loves to hate. I don't know for sure that Bagwell took steroids or any other performance-enhancing drugs to help him attain his Hall of Fame-caliber numbers. I don't have evidence, like we do against Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. But I'm suspicious. And this year, that suspicion was enough to make me send back my ballot without the Bagwell box checked. I'd rather withhold the vote based on suspicion than vote the guy in only to find out later that he cheated and I shouldn't have.
I understand the position of those voters (and non-voters, for that matter) who insist it's not fair to take such an action without hard proof. Understand it and actually agree. It's not even slightly fair. But it's the world in which we voters and Bagwell and his fellow Hall candidates now live -- a world of the cheaters' creation. If Bagwell's upset about it, and if he truly is innocent, then he has my apology, but I'd also advise him to seek one from McGwire and Palmeiro and all of his peers and contemporaries who decided they had to cheat and break the law in order to play baseball better.
Filed under: NCAA Basketball
PALO ALTO, Calif. -- There were two minutes and change left in the life of a 90-game winning streak, and the best female player on these shores ducked her head, a move equivalent to waving a white flag. Maya Moore had been erratic all night, an obvious sign something was definitely amiss, but when she missed another jumper from the top of the key and let Chiney Ogwumike sneak by to score an easy, uncontested basket, it was a seismic, karmic shift.
Stanford Cardinal 71, University of Connecticut Huskies 59, and what occurred here Thursday night just might be the best thing to happen to women's basketball since it was decided girls no longer had to play in skirts.
This is not a knock on top-ranked UConn, the marvelous team that rolled off 90 straight across 998 days and nights. That's a phenomenal, bow-down-and-praise-them accomplishment, one that may never be matched. But if it had continued, if the Huskies kept on rolling over teams by 20, 30 points, ponytails barely dripping, there are plenty of lovers and detractors of the sport who wouldn't bother tuning in again until March.
Stanford made the season interesting again. In front of a frothing crowd stuffed as tight as sardines inside Maples Pavilion, the Cardinal led wire to wire, leaning heavily on its size, defensive discipline and a brilliant game plan by a coach who, if she wanted, could convince her team it could fly. Some saw it as taking down the evil empire; more than once I overheard giddy fans saying it was akin to the San Francisco Giants smacking around the New York Yankees. There definitely was this West Coast dominating the East Coast vibe, but it was so much more.
The new Cowboy is Kris Brown, who kicked for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1999-2001 before signing with the expansion Houston Texans in 2002. Brown lasted eight seasons with the Texans before being beaten out by fellow veteran Neil Rackers this summer. Brown, 34, was near-perfect in three games for the San Diego Chargers this season when Nate Kaeding was hurt, nailing all eight of his extra point attempts and going 4-for-4 on field goal tries under 50 yards.
The 23-year-old Buehler, who debuted as a kickoff specialist in 2009, has a .774 field goal percentage (24-of-31), the third-lowest of any of the NFL's 15 highest-scoring kickers. He's also the only one of the top 25 to have missed an extra point (he's missed two). Oddly, Buehler is 4-for-5 on kicks of 50 yards or beyond but is just 4-of-7 from 30 to 39 yards.
"It's been a roller coaster," Buehler said after his gaffe was huge in the 27-26 loss to the Cardinals. "(I've) had some ups lately, down at the beginning of the season and obviously this is rock bottom, almost."
One moment, LeBron James is saying the NBA needs to "shrink" by contracting teams, and the next, he is saying those evil media folks are twisting his words on the subject.
When it comes to LeBron's original comments, which essentially were that he thought the league actually did need to get rid of some teams to improve the overall competition, he was wrong. He was WAY off base. He wasn't within a couple of fast breaks of reality.
That's because he didn't go far enough.
He should have said all four of the major professional sports leagues in North America need to contract. Then he should have peered into the eyes of everybody in the room with the unspoken look of "Yeah, I said it. So what do you want to do about it?"
UCF is led by freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey, who has completed 68.4 percent of his passes this year for 13 touchdowns and just six interceptions. The Conference USA freshman of the year is the eighth-highest rated QB in the FBS at 165.3 and is 9-2 as the Knights' starter. Godfrey has been effective in the air and on the ground, combining for 2,588 yards and 22 TDs.
Godfrey's counterpart in the Liberty Bowl is redshirt freshman Aaron Murray, who is having a stellar season in his first year as the Bulldogs' starting QB. He's thrown for 2,851 yards for 24 TDs and just six picks and is the second-highest rated freshman quarterback -- trailing only Godfrey with a rating of 162.7. If Murray can account for one TD in the Liberty Bowl, he'll break former Bulldogs QB D.J. Shockley's school record of 28 total TDs in a single season and match Matthew Stafford's record of 25 passing TDs in a season.
"I was telling the truth then, and I am telling the truth now,'' Palmeiro told SI.com this week. "I don't know what else I can say. I have never taken steroids. For people who think I took steroids intentionally, I'm never going to convince them. But I hope the voters judge my career fairly and don't look at one mistake.''
The mistake in question was that positive test in 2005, Palmeiro's final year as a player. Now, as then, he says the test was caused by a tainted vial of vitamin B-12 given to him by Orioles teammate Miguel Tejada. Palmeiro was suspended 10 games for the positive test, which came mere months after he testified before Congress that he had never used steroids.
"I'm glad it's over," joked Lemieux, referring to the alumni game between his Penguins and the Washington Capitals, which ended in a 5-5 tie.
The Penguins owner certainly didn't mean the Winter Classic weekend itself, which is threatened by forecasts of heavy rains and unseasonably warm temperatures. The main event between Sidney Crosby's Penguins and Alexander Ovechkin's Capitals is scheduled for 1:00 PM ET on Saturday. With so much rain in the forecast, the opening faceoff could be pushed back on Saturday as late as 8:00 PM ET. If New Year's Day is a washout, the game could go head-to-head with the National Football League on Sunday, a scenario no one involved in the Classic wants.
The 22-year-old Chicagoland native earned widespread praise for his performance on Monday, when he gamely bottled up dynamic Tottenham Hotspur winger Gareth Bale. Villa lost, 2-1, but Lichaj was an obvious bright spot in what was just his second English Premier League start.
But when the Villans were on the losing end again Wednesday, this time by a 4-0 count at Manchester City that dropped the club to 5-9-5, manager Gérard Houllier ensured that Lichaj would again be the subject of post-match conversation. He singled out his young defender, saying he had a "nightmare" of a game.
The editorial staff at MLSsoccer.com is looking back over the year with our "Best of 2010" awards, running Dec. 13 through Jan. 2. Each day we'll hand out an award from a variety of categories culled from the storylines of Major League Soccer and the North American soccer scene.
Former New England Revolution and current Fulham star Clint Dempsey ran away with the Export of the Year, recognizing the American who made the biggest waves outside the United States.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers traded Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets this past offseason, the biggest question for the offense was who would replace him as the its big-play threat in the passing game. Holmes, for all of his problems off of the field (two suspensions: one by the team in 2008, one by the NFL in 2010, a now infamous and probably forgotten Twitter meltdown) was an impact player on it. A Super Bowl MVP and an explosive wide receiver capable of turning any pass into a touchdown.
The answer for his replacement was an easy one, coming in the form of second-year wide receiver Mike Wallace. Fresh off a rookie campaign that saw him finish with the highest yards-per-catch average in the NFL, he's emerged as not only the Steelers biggest impact player on offense, but also the best big play wide receiver in the NFL.
Filed under: OregonLaMichael James will skip the 2011 NFL Draft and return to school for his junior season, the University of Oregon announced Thursday.
James is coming off a season in which he finished third in Heisman voting after rushing for 1,682 yards -- only 40 short of Jonathan Stewart's school record. With 3,228 career yards at the school, he's 68 yards behind Derek Loville's mark.
"I came to the University of Oregon to get a quality education as well as to play football, and feel I have yet to complete that goal," James said.
There's been speculation that labor uncertainty and the potential strike in the NFL in 2011 could be influencing college players' decisions about whether to declare professional eligibility or stay in school.
Oregon will play in the BCS championship game against Auburn on Jan. 10.
The 22-year-old had just capped off a successful rookie year with the Hoops, scoring two goals in 19 league appearances for the MLS Cup finalists, and he had every intention of relaxing over the break before returning to Texas in January.
And then his plans changed.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Tampa Bay is "very interested" in free agent lefty Brian Fuentes, the St. Petersburg Times reports. The 35-year-old would step in as the Rays' closer, replacing the departed Rafael Soriano.
It's a bit surprising to see the Rays seriously involved with a reliever who likely will demand a hefty contract (albeit not as hefty as the one Soriano has yet to secure) given their financial limitations. Then again, they already have shaved tens of millions from their payroll compared to 2010 with Soriano, Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Dan Wheeler, Jason Bartlett, Joaquin Benoit, Randy Choate and Dioner Navarro off the books.
The assets of Richard Petty Motorsports have been sold from George Gillett Jr. to an investment group that consists of Petty, Medallion Financial Corp. and DGP Investments.
"Today is a great day for me, my family, our fans and our wonderful sponsors," Petty said in a statement that listed 10 partners that "have supported me through thick and thin and I thank them from the bottom of my heart."
RPM will field cars for AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose in 2011.
The transfer of assets has been in the works for several weeks because of Gillett's ongoing financial problems. Debt-laden English soccer club Liverpool recently was sold despite the objection of Gillett and business partner Tom Hicks. And a U.S. hedge fund is suing Gillett over what the firm says is more than $117 million in debt he racked up investing in Liverpool.
STORRS, Conn. -- Randy Edsall never would have confessed this 12 years ago. He certainly would have been hesitant to admit it in 2002, the year Connecticut officially ushered in a new era of big-time football as a Division I-A (now FBS) school.
But standing in the lobby of UConn's state-of-the-art Burton Family Football Complex last week, just days before his team departed for Glendale, Ariz., and Saturday's Fiesta Bowl meeting with Oklahoma, it seemed safe for Edsall to share his most honest memory from Dec. 21, 1998. That's the day he was introduced as head coach at UConn - a day he will never forget.
"I was interviewed in Atlanta and I took the job sight unseen," Edsall said. "When I got here, I said to my wife ... I said, 'What? What did I do?' The press conference was at (UConn's basketball arena) Gampel Pavilion and I remember looking out and saying, 'This is (Memorial Stadium), where we're going to play.' You just wonder.
"You have goals and you have aspirations and dreams that you want to accomplish. But when you take a look, it's hard to see 12 years down the road. It's hard to see past all those things."
On the day of that press conference, UConn's facilities might have been the worst in all of college football. High schools had more modern complexes.
All this week, the FanHouse staff will look back at the most significant baseball storylines of 2010.
The San Francisco Giants gave as much as they got, and gave some more, and got some more, and on and on it went until the wonderfully reciprocal thing among ballclub and fans and the baseball gods mushroomed into the sport's best story of 2010.
The team's wild journey ultimately brought San Francisco its first World Series trophy, which inspired other journeys from everyday folks. Giants fans euphoric over the end of a decades-long World Series drought traveled from both near and far to the sun-washed city. Converging from as far as other states and Southern California, some Giants fans, making like Sal Paradise in "On The Road," had driven all day and all night. A Giants victory parade beckoned. Upon arrival, grownups cried and spoke in disbelief.
It was all pretty ridiculous, and somehow organic and authentic in these overly packaged times. And the confetti and sappy talk on that November day, well, one would've thought it was a presidential inauguration.
"This day is a blessed reminder of a dream fulfilled for all of us," Giants president Larry Baer said after tens of thousands of fans crowded into the city.
Rory McIlroy had one victory, and five top 10s -- two of them, however, runner-up finishes in majors.
Fowler finished 32nd on the PGA Tour money list. McIlroy 36th. Both played in the Ryder Cup -- Fowler for the U.S. and Northern Ireland's McIlroy for Europe.
And on Saturday Fowler was named PGA Tour Rookie of the Year.
You have a problem with that?
A number of people do. Among them world No. 1 Lee Westwood who went off on Twitter. We cleaned up the abbreviations to make it more readable, but even if not, Westwood's message was clear.
"Sorry 140 letters is not going to be enough for this rant!" he ranted. "Just seen Rickie Fowler has been given rookie of the year! Yes he's had a good year but Rory McIlroy third in two majors and an absolute demolition of the field at Quail Hollow! Oh yes and on the winning Ryder cup team! Please! Is this yet another case of protectionism by the PGA Tour or are they so desperate to win something! Wouldn't have something to do with Rory not joining the tour next year?"
But amid those myriad storylines, and out of the rubble that the Vikings' highly anticipated 2010 season quickly became under Favre and former coach Brad Childress, rose a new one -- a story that could put a very happy ending on a lost football season in Minnesota. It's entirely possible that the victory over the Eagles helped secure the full-time (i.e., non-interim) Vikings head coach job for Leslie Frazier, who's said he wants it but is too smart to make himself the focus of the Vikings' story right now.
After Tuesday's play in the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championships, it's time to get a look at how hockey's international governing body hands out supplementary discipline.
During Canada's 7-2 win over the Czech Republic, forward Zack Kassian was ejected for what the game officials termed a hit to the head of Czech defenseman Petr Senkerik.
Kassian was given a major penalty for contact to the head and a game misconduct that carries with it -- per IIHF rules -- an automatic one-game suspension. The IIHF then reviews the play and decides if further discipline is warranted.
From 1974 to 2006, the Steelers boasted Mike Webster (nine Pro Bowls), Dermontti Dawson (seven Pro Bowls) and Jeff Hartings (two Pro Bowls) in the middle of their offensive line. So during a 32-year stretch, the Steelers had a Pro Bowl center in 18 different years. The Steelers had struggled at center ever since Hartings retired, so Pouncey's solid play gathered plenty of notice.
But he shouldn't be in the Pro Bowl. And he's not the only lineman who's honor seems a little puzzling.
In logging every sack that has taken place in the NFL this year, I've gotten to watch a lot of line play. I also log each and every snap each Steelers lineman has played all season (over at the Steelers Lounge). And whenever I'm watching a game, I'm trying to focus on line play. Pouncey was quite good for a rookie center, but it's hard to say he's the second-best center in the AFC (the Jets' Nick Mangold was rightfully picked after standing out as the best member of a very solid Jets' line). Down the road, he may end up as the AFC's best. And already Pouncey is the Steelers' best offensive lineman, but like most rookies, he has had some issues. While he's excellent at going downfield to block linebackers, he has struggled at times to pick up looping blitzers (which explains why he's given up 4.5 sacks this season) and some of the stronger defensive tackles (like Kyle Williams and Haloti Ngata) have managed to give him problems by overpowering him.
Philadelphia ranks just 22nd in the league in offensive efficiency and 23rd in the league in points per game, averaging just 95.6 per contest. But the Sixers put up 123 on the Suns by shooting a gaudy 54.9 percent from the field and getting to the free-throw line 35 times to Phoenix's 17.
There were plenty of questionable calls that didn't go the Suns' way, including an out-of-bounds call late in the fourth quarter that went to the Sixers -- one that Steve Nash was certain should have gone in his team's favor. For a few brief moments, Nash completely lost it, picking up a technical foul for demonstratively arguing with the official who made the call. Nash continued to protest after he was whistled for the technical, and seemed as though he was trying to get the second one called so he could take an early shower.
Two sources sitting close enough to hear Nash's comments independently confirmed the statement he made to Alvin Gentry but was clearly directed at the official: "I'm going to f*****g punch one of these motherf*****s in the face."
Beating the buzzer with a desperate heave from 50 feet away, Tyreke Evans finally gave the tortured fans at Arco Arena reason to celebrate. The 100-98 win over the Memphis Grizzlies snapped the Kings' eight-game losing streak, and marked just the second win in the last 18 games.
Had Evans missed the last-second prayer, Wednesday's game, a meaningless affair between two last-place teams, would have been quickly forgotten. But by making the shot, Evans provided perhaps the most incredible ending to a game this year -- no matter what the sport.
Gabbert completed 41 of his 57 pass attempts for a Missouri bowl record 434 yards and a touchdown, but the one pass he threw with his team driving while holding a 24-20 lead with less than six minutes to go in the game was intercepted and returned 72 yards by Micah Hyde for the go-ahead, game-winning score.
Missouri did get one final chance to come back, and managed to put together a 10-play, 38-yard drive to move the ball down to the Iowa 43. But a 10-yard pass to T.J. Moe that was originally ruled a completion, and would have kept the drive alive, was overturned by the replay booth, and Iowa's offense was able to move the ball 54 yards while running out the game's final two minutes and fifteen seconds.
He is flinging his visor after winning the Masters. He is posing with one of his best friends, Dow Finsterwald, and his longtime rival, Jack Nicklaus. In one picture, he is wearing a Chinese hat during his first trip to China to design a golf course.
Unmistakable in nearly every photograph is a smile.
In his design company office one day in December, he was asked why he was always seemed happy.
"I loved what I was doing," he said. "I got to play a great game. I have a great life, a great family, all the things you could want. I love the feeling of getting out of bed each morning."
Golf featured its share of unpleasant moments this year -- Tiger Woods, leaning back against his locker at Sawgrass with his eyes closed after pulling out of The Players Championship, perhaps the low point on the golf course in a year filled with them; Dustin Johnson, erasing his scorecard to change a 5 to a 7 after being told he was in a bunker on the last hole of the PGA Championship; Paul Casey, facing reporters who wanted answers he didn't have as to why he was left off the Ryder Cup team.
The photos of Palmer are a reminder that it's a great game, and a great life. As always, there were plenty of poignant moments from a year on the PGA Tour that go beyond birdies and bogeys and bunkers:
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Filed under: NuggetsThe Denver Nuggets announced Tuesday night that star forward Carmelo Anthony will return to the team Thursday after leaving to grieve the death of his sister.
Anthony already has missed four games following the Dec. 21 death of sister, Michelle Anthony, due to a pre-existing medical condition. He won't be with the team Wednesday at Minnesota, meaning he will have missed five games.
Anthony's first game back is expected to be Saturday at home against Sacramento.
Michelle Anthony's funeral was Monday in Baltimore. In a statement released by the team, Anthony said he appreciates the outpouring of support since her death.
"This was not a Dale Earnhardt ... this was not a move that we made -- this major a move -- because of Dale or his situation," Hendrick said Wednesday in a teleconference. "I'm excited about making all four teams better. We need to be better across the board. It was a move to make all four better."
It's hard to think that a racing juggernaut like Hendrick Motorsports, with five straight Sprint Cup championships in the history books and gunning for six in a row next year, might be going downhill.
But Hendrick said as much Wednesday in describing why he shuffled the drivers and crew chiefs among three of his teams and switched driver partners in the twin pairing arrangement he has for the four teams at the organization's sprawling Concord, N.C. complex.
"I think we just kind of got complacent and other teams were getting stronger and stronger, and we were just not where we needed to be," Hendrick said. "We just were off this year. The 48 was off. And we needed to make a lot of things better.
Greinke is now being represented by Jeff Berry and Casey Close of CAA, a major league source told FanHouse. He had been represented by SFX.
The timing of the switch is interesting, as Greinke could finally get his wish for a trade out of Kansas City this winter. He was described by one person recently as being "fed up" with the Royals after enduring one losing season after another since his major league debut in 2004. He expressed that frustration publicly last season, saying he doubted the Royals' rebuilding plans would come to fruition before his contract expires at the end of the 2012 season.
Gee, a 6-foot-6 small forward out of the University of Alabama, has played well everywhere he's been in his brief professional career but always seems to be a casualty of the "numbers game."
As a rookie with the NBA D-League's Austin Toros last season, Gee averaged 21.0 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals on his way to earning the D-League's Rookie of the Year award. When he wasn't standing out in the D-League, Gee was earning call-ups to the Washington Wizards and San Antonio Spurs.
Gee played 11 games with the Wizards, starting two, and put up solid per-36 numbers with 16.0 points and 6.5 rebounds. But when his two 10-day contracts expired and the Wizards faced the decision to either sign Gee for the rest of the season or allow him to become a free agent, they chose the latter. Even though the Spurs had no immediate need for Gee on their active roster, they signed him for the remainder of the season and immediately assigned him to their D-League affiliate, the Austin Toros, so they could monitor his development.
Just like last season, Gee has bounced between San Antonio and Washington. After opening the season with the Spurs, he appeared in just five games before being released. After clearing waivers, he signed with the Wizards and played in 11 more games, including five starts, but was released on Dec. 20 when the team opted to re-sign point guard Lester Hudson following the Gilbert Arenas trade.
As has been typical with Gee, he's landed on his feet, outshining the other five players in Cleveland on Monday night to earn a contract with his third NBA team in as many months.
Hopefully, for Gee, the third time's the charm.
Joseph Conway, who represented Sterger during her claims of sexual harassment by Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, blasted the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell in a statement Wednesday after the league announced its three-month investigation found no violation of the Code of Conduct policy in the relationship between Favre and the former New York Jets employee two years ago.
"My client and I are extremely disappointed, but not surprised, at today's NFL announcement that Brett Favre did not violate the NFL 'workplace conduct' policy," Conway wrote in an e-mail sent to FanHouse and other media outlets. "While I am not privy to how Mr. Goodell reached such a finding, we strongly disagree with his conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to support a violation of the policy."
Filed under: Minor LeaguesRay Navarrete hasn't stopped chasing his dream. Make that dreams.
Navarrete, a unique and stylish two-way talent, wants to hit for average in the major leagues and design clothes in the fashion industry. That's right. He has a glove in one hand and a sketchbook in the other.
Navarrete, 32, is a 10-year veteran of professional baseball at the minor league and independent league levels. He reached Triple-A with the New York Mets in 2006, has played every position, including pitcher, and was the 2009 Atlantic League Most Valuable Player with the Long Island Ducks.
That's just half of it.
Navarrete is also co-founder of a fledgling clothing line called "Digmi." It began six years ago as a description in style but has since evolved into a philosophy. It's best explained by Navarrete as the ability to make the world notice you for your unique style and passionate pursuit of living life through your dreams.
Filed under: PGAThe PGA Tour's Q-School has always been a test of nerves, physical conditioning, and mental fortitude. It's intended to test the mettle of young players and make them earn their way onto the top tour in golf. Veteran Billy Mayfair proved last week that experience trumps energy level, as he claimed medalist honors from the 166-man field.
Mayfair and eight other players over the age of 30 were among the 29 qualifiers that earned a tour card for 2011. Some other numbers of note about your newest Tour members include seven international players, only eight players without a PGA Tour start in their career, and 18 of the 29 will officially be rookies in 2011.
Now that you know the make-up of the 29 qualifiers, let's take a look at who is most likely to make an impact in 2011:
(Editor's Note: Because many of the qualifiers are untested on the big Tour, we're not going to attempt to rank them. Alphabetical order for your enjoyment.)
"For our team, to finish like this and to be on the upswing that we are, this is as good as it gets," Edwards said after winning Sunday at Homestead, his second in a row.
Of course, Edwards was overshadowed by an incredibly dramatic championship fight that he watched from the outside looking in Sunday, largely in his rear-view mirror.
Jimmie Johnson overcame Denny Hamlin and held off Kevin Harvick to win the 2010 title, and proceeded to spin through a burnout as Edwards celebrated with his traditional backflip.
"I tell you, it's a lot more frustrating to not be in victory lane and watching somebody out there doing their donuts and all that stuff," Edwards said.
The "perfect storm" walks into the room, smiles politely and talks quietly about how long his hair has gotten.
He's going to have it cut and donate it to a charity that makes wigs for cancer patients, he explains. He did it as a tribute to a couple of family members who have battled cancer and it's just about time to cut it. He's got to find a place to get it done.
But not until after the Stanford Cardinal play in the Orange Bowl.
Stanford's Owen Marecic is humble, he's shy and he doesn't give off the vibe of a guy who has just spent the last five months providing the country an epic display of toughness and grit.
The senior started 12 games at fullback. He started 12 games at linebacker. He is the only player in Football Bowl Subdivision to start on both sides of the ball this season. He's averaged 110 snaps a game at two of the most physically and mentally demanding positions on the field.