Thursday, June 7, 2007

"So Fit, It's Scary"

July is quickly approaching kids, and you know what that means.... FOOTBALL SEASON!!!...

The quote that serves as the title for this post is a quote by Ray Lewis to describe himself after tweaking his offseason workout regimen. In order to lose what little body fat he still had left, Ray added kickboxing, wrestling, and swimming to his routine (I'd hate to have been the guy who had to wrestle Ray Lewis). As a result, Lewis is as lean and as fit as he has ever been in his 11 year playing career. To reiterate, a man who twice won defensive MVP, a Super Bowl MVP, and an 8 time Pro Bowler is in the best shape of his life. That, my friends, might be the definition of scary.

Unfortunately, the world we live in is corrupt, and people can no longer accept accomplishments as just the result of hard work and a passion for your job. I blame this corruption on the over-exposure of obvious cheaters like Barry Bonds. The issue is that posted the story about Ray losing weight and getting fit on it's website. The problem with is that it treats every article like a blog, and allows fans/ haters to post comments to the article, regardless of who wrote it (it was an Associated Press article, for the record). After reading that Ray is now more fit than ever, many of those haters started accusing him of using steroids.

Let me start out by saying that anybody accusing Ray Lewis of substance abuse is stupid and should really be deported. Accusing Ray Lewis of using steroids is like accusing me of working too hard at work (I'm sitting in my cubicle writing a blog post). Ray Lewis is the definition of hard work. He gets to work early, he stays late, and he barely stops during the day. He breaks down tape, practices plays, studies his playbook, breaks down more tape, practices some more, and adds fuel to his considerable fire that he will ultimately unleash on some unsuspecting punk on Sunday. Ray Lewis is a self- made man, who grew up without a father, and helped to raise his siblings just to help his mother out. Everything Ray Lewis has today is a result of the hard work and dedication he has shown throughout his life. He even went back to school during his playing career to finish his degree.

To accuse Ray Lewis of substance abuse just because he got leaner also shows a misunderstanding of what steroids actually do. The last time I checked, steroids build unhealthy amounts of muscle mass. Barry Bonds looked just a little bit bigger than me 10 years ago. Today, at the ripe old age of 42, he looks like the Hulk, and his head is bigger than most watermelons. Ray Lewis, conversely, got leaner, which means smaller. To those accusing him of using, let me restate that: He got smaller. His muscle mass did not grow, and his body fat went down. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it's very possible that the kickboxing, wrestling, and swimming could have contributed to the slimming of his body.

The haters of Ray Lewis need to unite against him for one simple reason: If they unite, there's a slim, slim, slim chance they may be able to stop him. A leaner Ray Lewis will be able to run faster, but it's still Ray Lewis, so when he hits you, there's a 30% you will die. From what I could tell, most of the haters came from two distinct and unsurprising groups: AFC North rivals (which I respect, since you have to hate your rivals), and AFC contenders. To the North rivals, I say good luck, because the Ravens are even hungrier than they were last year, and Ray is just the tip of the iceberg.

To the AFC Contenders (Colts, Pats, Chargers), I say you're all cowards. If you are all as good as you think you are, why does it matter if Ray Lewis has reached all new levels of scary? If the Colts offense "can't be stopped" (0 TDs last year against the Ravens), or the Chargers are the "most balanced team in football" (lost to the Ravens), or the Pats made the "best off season moves" (enjoy your headcase WR), then why are the Ravens even on the radar? The answer is the others are scared. They've always been scared of us, because they know defense wins championships. Now the face of that defense is in such good shape, even he thinks it's scary.

The NFL is in for a big shock this year. Ray Lewis is back, and when he gets loose and starts running roughshod all over the opposing offense, it's not going to be a pretty sight, especially for all you haters out there.


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Broken Record

It seems as though whenever I start praising the Orioles during a hot streak, the wheels fall off the wagon. It happened again this past week...

The Orioles managed to string together a six game win streak, and everything was going swimmingly. The hitters were hitting, the offense was balanced, pitchers were getting wins and throwing strikes, the manager let them pitch, and the team clawed it's way back to .500. Then the hitters stopped hitting, the offense was way unbalanced, the pitchers are getting No Decisions and allowing a lot of hits, the manager is pulling them too early, and we've gone back to our comfort zone of five games below .500. It all sounds too familiar. It has happened before, at least once this season, and probably many more times in the coming years. What I don't understand, however, is why?

Why do we (the fans) have to constantly suffer through the inconsistency of this team? Why can't they just win 2 games, lose 1, win 2, lose 1, and finish with a .667 winning percentage (unrealistic even for a good team, I know)? Why is it that every time we finally look legitimate because we're doing things differently, we revert back to the way we were doing them when we sucked and start losing again?

I know what you're thinking: Kurt, you've said all this before, can't you find something new to write about? The answer is no, I can't find something new, because the team is the same old sorry excuse for a baseball team that it has been for 10 years. Every time we look like we might finally be coming out of it (most recently 2005), spiralling back down we go. We've tried everything, literally everything, to try to stop it, short of actually winning games. We tried loading the roster with veterans, and we lost. We released all the veterans, went with all young blood, and we lost. We tried buying a winning team (highest payroll in baseball in 1998) and we lost. We tried using bargain players (Marty Cordova, David Segui), and we lost. We tried hiring a manager from a winning organization (Lee Mazzilli) and we lost. We promoted a manager from within our crappy organization, and we lost. We've replaced GM's, rosters, staffs, waterboys, and hot dog vendors, and sadly nothing has made us win. And why?

Because the Orioles don't listen. To anybody. Period. The Orioles are a rather delusional bunch, and for some reason do not realize the severity of their awful situation. Case in point, Rick Dempsey. The Demper, when he's not "domestically violating" Jay Gibbons, serves as an analyst for O's Xtra. No matter how bad the loss was, or how heartbreaking, or how demoralizing, Dempsey will undoubtedly sugar coat the loss by spouting off the usual Oriole corporate lines: "It's still early"; "They played hard"; "They were undermanned"; "They were overmatched"; "The coaches made the right calls". News flash Rick: It's not that early (All-Star Game, dead ahead), they don't play hard, they have as much talent as you can ask for, the other teams aren't that much better, and the coaches suck (see previous posts for proof of all of the above).

Dempsey is just the tip of the iceberg, however, because he's not even within the organization. The real meat of the organization, like Mike Flanagan, Jim Duquette, and Peter Angelos, are the ones paying Dempsey to sugar coat everything in an attempt to deceive the fans. News Flash for you three clowns: We're not stupid. We've seen the chaos that has become the Orioles. Furthermore, we've tried to prove to you that we aren't stupid, and that we want the team to be a winner, and that you can't sugar coat things from us forever, but you don't listen. Newspaper columnists, radio hosts, TV sportscasters, even casual bloggers have all seemingly come up with more answers than the team. The team is trying to stay the course, ride it out, let it heal itself, but this isn't something that can heal itself. The Orioles need to start paying attention.

It's not just the local fans that get ignored, either. The Orioles also seem to ignore the trends that go on in Major League Baseball. While other teams are cultivating young talent across the board, or tapping foreign markets for players (Milwaukee, Seattle, Anaheim, Boston), the Orioles sign the recycled cast offs from contending teams (Aubrey Huff, Danys Baez). There is clearly a reason why baseball players become unemployed, and it is that they aren't any good. Baseball has no salary cap, so if a player is worth keeping, you can keep him. Instead, the Orioles trade away the young talent they've invested their time and money in, like John Maine or Gary Matthews, resign free agents that have little talent to begin with, like Jay Gibbons, and make no major plays for the foreign superstars that have become en vogue lately in MLB.

One final trend that the Orioles tend to ignore is the trend that correlates winning and revenue. Peter Angelos is famous for two things: suing Bethlehem Steel for workers getting asbestos, and bitching that the Orioles don't make any money for him. What he doesn't realize is that it is infinitely more expensive to lose than it is to win. Sure, to lose all you need is a low payroll and a washed up coach, while winning requires hiring good scouts, tracking trends, an investing time in players. But the payoff is enormous for winning. Winning puts fans in the stands at an average of $25 a ticket. Twenty-five dollars a ticket times the 48,000 seats the stadium holds comes out to $1.2 milllllllllion dollars in just tickets sales. Think about the hot dogs, popcorn, soda, beer, and Boog's Bar-b-que those 48,000 people will consume, plus the hats, jerseys, pennants, foam fingers, and programs they'll buy, and you can almost pay the entire team with that money for an entire season. But in order to reap those benefits, Peter, you have to put in the time to make the team a winner. Everybody knows the Orioles' favorite series are the ones against New York and Boston, because those series fill the seats, albeit with the wrong people. Peter, imagine getting that every night, with those people wearing orange and black. If you win, we will come.

One day, maybe the team will listen. It's not like the fans haven't tried. Last season, "Nasty" Nestor Aparicio of WNST organized a fan walkout during a game. The players noticed, but knew there was nothing they could do about it. The target of the walkout was Mr. Angelos, who simply scoffed and patronized the fans who participated. He said, "They don't know how hard it is to run a team. They don't know anything". We may not, but it seems like you're in the same boat, Pete. The least you can do is give the fans a bone and maybe start to listen to some of our ideas. Listen to the people who pay to sit in the seats amongst all the Yankee and Red Sox fans, and quietly cheer for a team we wish would return to prominence. My readers, I apologize for sounding like a broken record.


Cool Note: In order to reach a wider audience, the Long Beach Armada minor league baseball team took the Anaheim Angels' approach to naming the team. The new official name of the team is the Long Beach Armada of Los Angeles of California of the United States of North America Including Barrow, Alaska. Read all about it here.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Ray of Hope?

It really hurts to do this one...

Chris Ray, I know you are reading this, so listen to me carefully: If you keep blowing saves, I will no longer champion your cause. End of story. If you are being paid the big bucks to pitch, you better pitch like you mean it.

For anyone who turned off yesterday's O's- Angels game before the ninth inning, thinking, "They got it", you should've stuck around. Then you could be sharing the same disbelief and pain that every other O's fan has. It seemed like something I've seen before. Jeremy Guthrie pitched like a master, throws an eight inning, 3 hitter, and leaves with a lead. Ray comes in, and two batters later, the Angels are jumping around and dancing on the plate. To quote Yogi, it was De ja vu all over again, because it wasn't over until it was over.

First, some good things about yesterday: Guthrie, of course. The man can flat out pitch. He's currently 4th in the AL in ERA. That's not too shabby for a rookie (he's technically a rookie because he did not appear in enough games during his Indians stint to qualify as a veteran). Every time he pitches, the Orioles know they're going to get 8 strong innings, and then Guthrie will receive a No Decision when the bullpen blows the game. Another positive from yesterday was a Mr. Melvin Mora. The Original Big Papi (come on, he has 6 kids) blasted a homerun that would have served as the game winner if it wasn't for Ray. He continues to be one of the most consistent players on the team, delivering day in and day out. He also showed some spark yesterday by giving the water cooler a good kick when he left the field after the ninth inning debacle. Thank god another Oriole has reached the breaking point. Now Mora and Jay Payton can start inspiring the rest of the team. Other positives included Brian Roberts continuing his latest hot streak (he's the early leader for Orioles' MVP) and Nick Markakis again delivering a big hit (a close second for OMVP).

Then the wheels fell off the wagon yet again. It would seem like it would be too much of a stretch to ask Major League Baseball to shorten the length of a game to eight innings, wouldn't it? That being the case, we have to do something to find a way to win games in the last inning. One solution would have been to LEAVE GUTHRIE IN! How many times have we said that this year? The poor guy pitches a masterpiece, a one hitter through 7, a three hitter through 8, and we yank him, even though he only had 88 pitches under his belt. Three weeks ago, during the Beatdown in Boston, Guthrie was yanked after 102 pitches to "save his arm". From what? A win? And what was today's excuse, Sammy? He only had 88 pitches. He already went 8 innings. That's 11 pitches per inning. He would have finished with 99 (in theory), which is even one pitch short of that mystical 100 pitch plateau that Perlozzo and Mazzone keep to like it's religious doctrine. He should be leading the league in complete games right now, and have at minimum two more wins. Instead, he can only be found when you look at the American League ERA stats. What's more is that everybody except the management knows that Guthrie could have finished it. Even casual baseball fans like the Mix 106.5 Morning Show knew he should've been left in. Said the DJ's, "If you're going to try and save his arm, pull him in the sixth, not the eighth. His arm is gone anyway by the eighth, at least let him try to finish it, and possibly win the game, or lose it on his terms." If I were Guthrie, I'd be ready to kick a little @$$.

The latest managing gaff wasn't even the worst part, however. Many would argue that going to the closer in the bottom of the ninth whilst clinging to a one run lead is the right thing to do. That is the right thing to in the textbook, but the Orioles are far from a textbook case. Perlozzo should know his team well enough by now to know that treating the Orioles like a textbook scenario can only lead to heartbreak. And it did. Bringing in Ray looked great on paper, and may have stemmed some of the heat from Perlozzo. By bringing in Ray, Perlozzo can again take no responsibility for the loss, which he promptly did. Quoth the oil painting, "We just needed three outs. We played our hearts out until that point. Our closer is supposed to come in and get you three outs. And it didn't happen... If your closer and your eighth-inning guy can't get anybody out, where do you go?" I'll tell you, Sammy: go to someone else. Redefine the roles. Don't worry about one guy racking up saves and another having the lowest ERA. Let the pitcher who is hot (Jamie Walker, Chad Bradford, John Parrish) have a crack at it.

So now we're left with Ray. What do we do with Chris Ray. Last year, he looked like he would be an Oriole forever through the first 4 months of the season. He was a Superman, a man who only knew one thing, and it was how to get those three hard outs. He was invincible. No batter could touch him. As a rookie, in late April, in Yankee Stadium, clinging to a 1 run lead with two outs, he struck out Hideki Matsui with runners on to preserve an Oriole win. He was a Yankee killer, a world beater, and nobody was going to stop him. He was destined for Copperstown. I even let Kim pose with him for a picture during Oriole Photo Day (OK, I was awestruck and let her pose with anybody, including Jon Halama). But then something changed.

I was actually present at Camden Yards during the fateful night that might have been the beginning of the end for Chris Ray. It was a typical warm evening. It was floppy hat night. Everybody was happy. The Orioles went into the ninth with a three run lead. It was Ray time. Marilyn Manson's "Sweet Dreams" blared over the speakers, and in came The Man. I was ready to stand up and take my floppy hat on home. Then a batter got on base. No biggy. Then another. We're OK. Then a third. He's fine, it's Chris Ray. Suddenly, there was a crack of the bat, and the left fielder just didn't have enough space. The ball sailed over the wall. It was what would prove to be a game winning Grand Slam, and the Yard was silent. I wanted to vomit.

I figured that was an isolated incident, and still championed Chris Ray's cause. Then A-Roid did the same damn thing. And it has happened to him four times this year, just not necessarily with a homerun. He has only had 16 save opportunities, and he has blown four of them. That's unacceptable. Think about it: 4/16 is 25%. If he has 32 opportunities (he had 35 last year), that's 8 blown saves. Eight additional losses, which would account for roughly 5% of the O's total games this year. So in theory, at the outset of the year, we would have to say we would like to finish with a .505 win percentage in order to compensate for Chris Ray. This is a team that struggles to make it to .500, and can't stay there when it does. Asking for .505 to account for the closer is just not feasible.

So with that, I bid adieu to my blind faith in Chris Ray. O's fans everywhere have been burned entirely too many times to be naive enough to keep going back to him. The problem then becomes who to use as the closer. On paper, the role would go to Danys Baez, the "set-up man" (I hate that term). The problem is, Baez is worse than Ray. I am now firmly of the camp that we should have a closer by committee, and just let whoever has the hot hand do the closing. Unfortunately, what makes sense and what Sam Perlozzo does are usually two different things.