Thanks so much, Badgers!

This has been the only time I have actually lived in a city where a university was located that was also playing for a national championship. And this is not the only NCAA men’s basketball tournament that I have enjoyed. I really like college basketball when the tournament starts. But this year, since I live in Madison, there has been a special sense to this NCAA tournament. And I will not lie; I wanted to see the Badgers win it all. But even though they came up just short, these Badgers made this tournament a lot of fun.

I suppose it should have been clear from the moment Nigel Hayes began the first press conference by saying, “Before I answer that question, I would like to say a few words: cattywampus, onomatopoeia and antidisestablishmentarianism,” that this would not be a usual experience of a very good college basketball. And of course, it was followed by words such as prestidigitation and logorrhea. These guys made the tournament fun.

These players made the NCAA tournament less about future NBA careers and big money programs and more about what basketball is at its core, a game. And games are supposed to be fun, aren’t they? But given the big money that is part of the NCAA, the money that makes athletic coaches the top paid state employees in many states, it was really fun to see the fun part of a game return, if even for a brief moment.

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A Catch? Monday Morning Thoughts

From SI’s Peter King:

DENVER — Stop the madness with what is and isn’t a catch, NFL. Please. Enough is enough.

Different plays in both NFL divisional playoff games on Sunday showed exactly how screwed up the NFL rule book is. Both plays also showed, coincidentally, how simple it would be to fix.

Read the full article.

From USA Today’s Mike Foss:

As an emphasis on player safety increases – as it should – the freedom of referees to interject themselves into every play also increases – as it shouldn’t.

Dez Bryant was penalized for trying to make a play. Had he simply corralled the ball, brought it into his body, and didn’t attempt to extend towards the goal line (you know, making that football play everyone says he didn’t), the call would have stood as a completion.

Read the full article.

ESPN’s Kevin Seifert:

There were surely some groans in the NFL office when Bryant momentarily lost control of the ball near the Packers’ goal line with 4 minutes, 42 seconds remaining. The applicable rule — known either as the “process rule” or the “Calvin Johnson rule,” depending on how your team was affected — almost always generates exasperation from players, coaches and fans. Quite simply, what appears to pass the “eye test” of a catch is superseded by a rule designed to provide officials with clarity in determining possession in such cases.

Read the full article.

Thanks for the memories, Jon

Four years. $70 million. That was the end of the Jon Lester era in Boston. Oh, I know he still pitched in Boston after that contract extension offer, but for Jon Lester that offer demonstrated just how little he was valued in Boston. And even the final offer did not speak of Boston’s affection for Lester. Not only did the Cubs offer more money, but the end of the contract they offered showed more respect for Lester.

Now maybe time will tell the Red Sox made a good long term decision. After all, Lester is 31, and a six year deal will make him 37 years old at the end. But is that conjecture sufficient enough to justify low-balling Lester? Do not the accomplishments of Lester in Boston, five World Series wins, including all four in the 2013 World Series against the Cardinals gain some extra consideration?

Players want to be appreciated. In fact, we all do. When you put your heart and soul in something, only to be cast aside if it becomes inconvenient, it is hard to believe that you are valued. It is one thing for Lester to say he would take a “home town discount.” It is quite another to discover that you are really being thrown into the clearance bin. And even though the second offer was in the ballpark, so to speak, it was not enough to make up for the feeling of Lester he was not valued.

And look at what the Red Sox were willing to do. Potentially 5 years, $110 million for Hanley Ramirez, and potentially six years, $112 million. While only 28, Sandoval has a history of injury, and at almost 250 pounds at 5’11”, it is hard to imagine that getting much better at avoiding injury. Ramirez is two years older than Sandoval, and has injury troubles of his own. Not to mention that the Red Sox have quite the collection of third basemen and outfielders. Lester was durable. Lester was Mr. October. How did these big signings of Sandoval and Ramirez sit with Lester, especially if he was already feeling undervalued?

Every baseball player at some level knows the game at the professional level is a business. Jon Lester was free, and in fact, did, take his employ to the largest bidder. But in any business, relationships matter. There are those businesses that develop loyalty in its employees because they are loyal to their employees. This is often described as chemistry on a sports team, and one has to wonder what the effect of this Lester situation will have on the other Red Sox players. Will it impact the desire of another free agent to want to come to Boston?

It is not to say that owners need to be friends with their players, far from it. But there are corporations that demonstrate the affinity for an owner can help. Consider how Southwest employees offered to forgo raises after September 11, 2001 to avoid bankruptcy due to the serious reduction in air travel. There is the loyalty engendered by Costco in its employees. Would Lester have taken the “hometown discount”? Maybe.

But when the low-ball offer was made, Lester had no demonstration of loyalty. He knew Theo as well as the Red Sox leadership. So, without the sense of being valued, the better offer of the Cubs made all of the difference. To be sure, Lester liked Boston, and the Red Sox teammates. But at the end of the day, he need to know that he mattered.

Certainly to Red Sox fans, Jon Lester mattered. Even though it did seem unlikely he would return to Boston, I think we were all hoping he would. He was an integral part of Boston baseball over the last eight years, and his performance in Boston, especially in the 2013 World Series. Maybe 2013 made the Red Sox complacent. It was not supposed to be a World Series year for Boston. It followed the epic collapse of 2012, which probably made it just that much sweeter. But 2014 showed there were serious problems with the Red Sox. There is still the need for significant upgrades in pitching. The irony is that chasing Max Scherzer may in fact cost even more than signing Lester would have cost them.

Whether it was his successful battle against cancer, those tremendous Fenway performances we all loved, and the phenomenal World Series performances. And Jon Lester was a nice guy, attentive to his responsibility as a role model to Boston. He sold his Boston house when he was traded. We should have seen then his days in Boston were numbered. But we will always have the great memories that Jon Lester provided. And for those we are very grateful.

 

Major League Baseball

Latest MLB Trade Rumors

MLB Trade Rumors from around the sports world:

@Gordon Edes: I’m having a tough time believing this, but I’m told Red Sox plan to make huge effort to re-sign Lester

@Jon Morosi: Willy Adames is no mere throw-in to this trade. I spoke with rival execs in recent weeks who said Adames was the Tigers’ No. 1 prospect.

@Ken Rosenthal: It is NOT just Smyly, Franklin going to #Rays. Class A shortstop Willy Adames also in deal. He is 18 years old, highly regarded.

MLB Trade Rumors: Braves acquire James Russell, Emilio Bonafacio from Cubs

MLB Trade Rumors: Marlins acquire Jarred Cosart, Enrique Hernandez for Colin Morin, Jake Marisnick and compensation pick

@Ken Rosenthal: Source: #Rays also get minor-league SS Willy Adames from #Tigers in Price trade.

@Jerry Crasnick: Hearing Jake Marisnick is in the Cosart deal. #marlins #astros

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Major League Baseball

Is Jake Peavy the only move Sox will make?

Now that we know Jake Peavy is off to the San Francisco Giants, as we enter the last few days before the trading deadline, I ask, is Peavy the only move the Red Sox will make?  It has become painfully obvious this season will not turn out the way we all hoped.  No World Series win.  No American League Title.  No playoff appearance.  The Red Sox are simply not very good this year, and the sooner they work to build for a better 2015 the better.  There.  I said it.

With that in mind, what other moves might the Sox make?  Here’s my unscientific observations about who should and should not be moving from the Sox roster at the trade deadline.

Moving

Will Middlebrooks.  It is time to admit that Middlebrooks is not really going to find a place in the Red Sox roster.  While he shows promise in Pawtucket, it does not seem to easily translate to Fenway.  Moreover, there is a plethora of talent on the left side of the infield.  Time to move him and see what they can get.

Craig Breslow.  Last year, Breslow was awesome.  Not so this year.  At 33, this could be a good time to move him.  While his stats have not been impressive (walks have been a big problem), he is a left handed pitcher who could be in demand.

Andrew Miller.  He is on this list not so much because he should be traded, but as a free agent after this season, now is the time to get something should he sign elsewhere.

Jon Lester.  It may seem odd that he would be on the “moving” list, but the Sox have so bungled his contract negotiations, it is now quite possible he will not re-sign with the Red Sox next year.  Plus, there are the recent statements he made about re-signing with the Red Sox even if he is traded.

Johnny Gomes.  Like Miller and Lester, Gomes is a free agent at the end of the season.  He has not been able to duplicate last year’s performance, and there is interest in him from the Kansas City Royals.

Staying.

Xander Bogaerts.  This has been a tough year for Bogaerts.  But he is 21.  And there is the whole moving from shortstop to accommodate Stephen Drew. He is 21.  And it is not all that unusual that the “sophomore” season is a struggle.  The league knows him now.  He is 21.  Every scout that looks at him says he is the real deal, and we agree.  Did I mention he is 21?

Felix Dubront.  It is no secret that Dubront is unhappy being moved out of the starting rotation and into the bullpen.  But the Red Sox control him long term, and the move might make him step it up a bit.

 

Can LeBron James go home again?

Thomas Wolfe wrote a famous novel by the title You Can’t Go Home Again.  Supposedly, it comes from a conversation he had with another writer, Ella Winter, who asked Wolfe, “Don’t you know you can’t go home again?”  By now, it is unlikely you have not heard the news that LeBron James, an NBA free agent, is going to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers, making the announcement in a letter to Sports Illustrated.

In reading LeBron’s letter, there did appear to be a deep sense of attachment to his home of Akron, and to northeastern Ohio.  It is a letter that spells out his case for leaving Cleveland, and his reasons for coming back.  The letter acknowledges the vitriol and anger present in Cleveland at his leaving.  It references the letter by owner Dan Gilbert, and his appreciation for the Miami Heat.

But can LeBron James go home again?  I must confess at the outset I do not know many Cleveland Cavaliers fans.  Okay, I know two, maybe three.  (I am not sure whether the third person I know from Cleveland is actually a Cavaliers fan.)  After LeBron’s departure four years ago, with a tremendously hyped build up to an hour long ESPN show to announce he was going to South Beach, there was tremendous and understandable anger.

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Red Sox Notes

A look around at things being said about the Red Sox for the week of July 14, 2014.

‘Nervous’ Koji fans one in All-Star Game debut

MINNEAPOLIS — Even for a man who closed out last year’s World Series with a strikeout, the spectacle of the All-Star Game seemed daunting.

So Koji Uehara made it easy for manager John Farrell. The righty told Farrell he didn’t want the ball in the ninth inning.

“I asked the manager not to be in that kind of situation,” Uehara said.

Farrell, managing his first All-Star Game as a reward for the Red Sox making it to the World Series last year, played to the home crowd and handed the save opportunity to Twins closer Glen Perkins. The righty converted with a 1-2-3 ninth to finish off a 5-3 victory for the American League. Read more . . .

Extra Bases: Grading the Red Sox: All Star Break Edition

It’s the All-Star break, which means that while we all take these blissful few days of respite from the flaming trainwreck that is the Red Sox’ 2014 season, we still have to hand our first half grades. Now let’s get it over with so we can go back to not wringing hands over this mess until the proceedings resume Friday night at Fenway.  Read more . . .

At Midseason, Werner and Red Sox Have Backed Themselves Into a Corner

The real truth, of course, is that the Red Sox overplayed their hand from the very beginning. In the wake of their inspiring 2013 World Series win, the Red Sox put a little too much emphasis on the future and not enough on the present. They saw the opening for another bridge year and they happily took it.

And you know who pays the toll?

You.  Read more . . .

An Obligatory Giancarlo Stanton-to-the-Red Sox Column, Because it’s Been Far Too Long

Wait, what? Is it true that Giancarlo Stanton didn’t hit a single home run in his final go-round in the Home Run Derby last night?

It is? Well, see now? Do you get it? Haven’t I been telling you all along he’d fit perfectly in this Red Sox lineup? These jokers don’t hit any home runs either.  Read more . . .

Pondering futures of Lester, Uehara

All-Star inspired musings about Jon Lester and Koji Uehara, while anticipating that the engagement of Will Middlebrooks to Jenny Dell may soon be dwarfed by the renewal of vows between the Red Sox and Lester.  Read more . . .

 

Wrigley’s 100th Birthday

I do not understand Cubs fans.  For most of their history, they have not really been that competitive.  They have not been in the World Series since 1945, and they have not won since 1908.  Even the other Chicago team won a World Series in 2005.  (Though it seems like the fact that every player had a career year did not hurt.)

When the Red Sox were not competitive, (think 1960s), Boston fans did not go to the game.  Why?  Because they did not see the team even trying to get better.  Smart.  The Sox have been competitive since.

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Watching the Bruins

The first game in the series was scary.  The Bruins did not play at all like the team that won the President’s trophy.  In fact, just the opposite.  They allowed the Red Wings to play their style of game.  And the Bruins lost.

So it has been refreshing to see the B’s play better in the last couple of games.  They are looking more physical, they are dictating play more, and they are getting great goaltending from Tuukka Rask.  So it is hard to wait for Game 4.

Some Red Sox Challenges

It certainly has not started out for the Red Sox the way fans have hoped.  What is to be made of this challenging start.  Below there are some observations to this point in the year.

Pitching.  This season has started off as the tale of two sets of pitchers.  The starting pitching has been quite shaky.  There have been some very good performances, but there have also been some very disappointing performances.  In general, the Red Sox have started too many games, especially of late, by getting into big holes as far as the score.

  • The Red Sox spotted Texas 8 runs on April 8.
  • The Red Sox gave Baltimore 4 runs on April 18.
  • The Red Sox trailed Baltimore by 5 runs on Sunday, April 19, though they did eventually win the game.
  • The Red Sox trailed Baltimore by 6 runs on Monday April 20.
  • And last night, the Red Sox trailed the Yankees by 4 runs, and lost 9-3.

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