Tuesday, February 26, 2008

MLB Hot-Stober (now in February) - Spring Comes Alive; Santana a Met; Clemens/McNamee Testify Before Congress; More On Mike Wallace

February 26
Misrememberings - It's been awhile since my last update. In the meantime, Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee testified before Congress, clarifying little other than that even this issue can split along party lines, as Republicans fawned over Clemens and vilified McNamee, while Democrats tended to believe McNamee's story, which was again corroborated to some extent by Andy Pettitte's off-camera testimony. Clemens speculated that Pettitte must have "misremembered", a word that has found its way into more casual conversations recently. Ahead of the hearing, McNamee's team showed pictures of supposed physical evidence of Clemens' steroid use--needles, bloozy gauze, etc. Clemens' lawyers of course labeled the "evidence" as manufactured.

On the fields of Florida and Arizona, players have reported for spring training. Fans living in and making the trip to these baseball fantasy lands anxiously await the start of exhibition games to further deflect attention from the PED (performance-enhancing drug) story that has dominated the off-season.

Oye Como Va! One of the biggest hot stove moves occured in February as two-time Cy Young Award winning pitcher Johan Santana moved from the Minnesota Twins to the New York Mets (for a handful of prospects), where he'll immediately become the staff ace, along with being the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history. For his handsome salary, Santana will face the additional burden of erasing the memory of 2007's late-season collapse by the Mets from the minds of both teammates and Mets' fans. The exchange of Tom Glavine (returned to the Braves) for Johan Santana does not bode well for Phillies' fans, whose favorites, as you will remember, nosed out the Mets by one whole game before freezing against the Rockies in the National League Division Series. (photo above by Ann Heisenfelt/AP)

Another talented American League pitcher changed teams shortly before spring training. Young and accomplished but generally unheralded left-handed starter Erik Bedard moved from the Baltimore Orioles (hence his unheraldedness) to the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners gave up five top prospects to add Bedard to the top of their rotation. The M's challenged the Angels for much of the 2007 season, but faded in the last month to finish a semi-distant second.
An Arm (actually a shoulder) and a Leg - Two pitchers who made for intriguing hot stove stories find themselves out of action as the season begins. Red Sox starter Curt Schilling, who resigned with the club at an apparently discounted rate, is recovering from a shoulder injury via rest and rehab, eschewing season-ending surgery. The most optimistic outlook I've seen is that Curt may be ready to pitch by midseason. Already 41, Curt may be ready to start his political career a little earlier than he expected (though the injury shouldn't prevent him from stumping for John McCain, his endorsed choice). Phillies' new closer Brad Lidge limped off the mound while pitching this week. Apparently he reinjured a knee that had given him trouble in Houston. He'll undergo arthroscopic surgery and be out for 3-6 weeks, which could carry into the regular season. Having moved Brett Myers back to the rotation with the acquisition of Lidge, the Phillies will have to decide how to man their bullpen in the event that Lidge misses much of the season.
Oh, That Mike Wallace! - As I was rereading this post, I had the thought that the Phillies had a pitcher named Mike Wallace sometime during my years as a fan. I went on http://www.baseball-reference.com/ to check out my memory. Bingo! Mike Wallace came up with the Phillies in 1973 as a 22-year-old lefty pitcher. He pitched in 20 games, mostly out of the bullpen, to a 1-1 record and 3.78 ERA with 1 save (and a complete game). Early in the 1974 season the Phillies traded him to the Yankees for pitcher Ken Wright (who never appeared in a single game for Philadelphia). Wallace went 6-0 for the '74 Yanks, but the rest of his career (with the Yanks, Cards and Rangers in '75 thru '77) was lackluster. Program Note - This is not the same Mike Wallace who interviewed Roger Clemens on "60 Minutes".

January 15 - Roger and Me - Since the Mitchell report came out, the few trades and free agent signings that have taken place have been obscured by the smoke and clamor surrounding the alleged use of performance enhancing substances by various past and present baseball players. Getting the most attention has been the case of pitcher Roger Clemens, whose 354 lifetime wins and seven Cy Young Awards put him seemingly on course to become the first unanimous Hall of Fame inductee five years after whenever he chooses to actually retire (he's retired three times already, only to come back to active duty with the Astros twice and the Yankees once.)

Clemens has vehemently denied all charges against him, which are primarily based on the testimony of his ex-personal trainer Brian McNamee. McNamee admits to injecting steroids into Clemens' buttocks on several occasions between 1998 and 2001, when Clemens was with the Toronto Blue Jays and then the New York Yankees. Clemens claims that the injections were lidocaine (a pain reliever) and B-12, which is legal. Confounding Clemens' denial is the admission by his teammate and close friend Andy Pettitte that he took an HGH injection from McNamee (McNamee told the Mitchell panel this as well) in an effort to recover from an injury. Inquiring minds want to know why McNamee ostensibly told the truth in Pettitte's case, but lied to ruin the reputation of his long-term client Clemens.

Clemens appeared on "60 Minutes" and argumentatively, if not eloquently, defended himself under questioning by 89-year-old Mike Wallace. Clemens also released a recording of a non-definitive phone conversation between himself and McNamee. McNamee stated that he had no choice but to tell the truth to the Mitchell investigators.

Clemens threatens to escalate his level of risk in the case by testifying to Congress about the situation. Conviction on a charge of perjury for lying in similar testimony just earned Olympic sprinter Marion Jones six months in federal prison. She categorically denied using steroids in testimony to Congress before being found out later.

Congress has also asked for a probe of Astros' SS Miguel Tejada. They are interested in whether Tejada lied during questioning by staffers in the Rafael Palmiero perjury case dating back to 2005. (Palmiero told Congress that he never took anything, then got caught by baseball's enforcement program--he subsequently retired.) Tejada was implicated by the Mitchell Report, contradicting his previous statements that he knew nothing about steroid use by himself or any other players.

There have been a few deals and signings. The Cards and Blue Jays just swapped surgically-repaired third basemen--the Cards getting slugger Troy Glaus (who suffered a ruptured plantar fascia in 2007); the Jays getting Scott Rolen, who has struggled with shoulder problems for the last three years. Rolen has been at odds with Cards' manager Tony LaRussa about his playing time and should benefit from the new surroundings, if his shoulder is up to the task. Likewise, Glaus, a McGwire-like player, could benefit from the supportive fans in St. Louis after a few years of being ignored by dwindling crowds in Toronto. Both players passed physicals before the deal was completed.

The Braves acquired CF Mark Kotsay, who played just 55 game last year in an injury-plagued season with the Oakland A's, for two pitchers. Kotsay has the reputation of being a fine fielder and adequate hitter--he'll hit for a higher average than Andruw Jones, but without as much power.

The Brewers signed CF Mike Cameron, who spent much on the DL with the San Diego Padres. Cameron is a fine CF with some power (he once hit four HRs in a game).

The Yankees seem to have the most interest in acquiring superstar left-handed starter Johan Santana from the Twins.

December 20 - I Wish This Was About Kevin Mitchell (or No One At All) Free agent signings and trades have been relegated to the second page (or even further back in Baton Rouge) by the release of the long-awaited Mitchell report on use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. The investigation, chaired by former U.S. Senator (and Boston Red Sox board member) George Mitchell, named names of both retired and active players, both famous and obscure. Mitchell recommended that Commissioner Selig release the report without names, but for whatever reason Selig decided to "let it all hang out."

Hanging out the furthest is heretofore consensus future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens, likely retired after an injury-plagued part-season with the New York Yankees in 2007. The report accuses Clemens of receiving injections of both steroids and human growth hormone during his first stint with the Yankees in 2000 and 2001. Through his lawyer, Clemens has denied the charges, while in the same statement saying that he would "make the appropriate response at the appropriate time." Up to this time, suspicions regarding use of performance-enhancing drugs have been limited to bulked-up sluggers and one-year wonders, so the inclusion of Clemens extended the cloud beyond offensive players. A few named names have fessed up and apologized, generally to a somewhat lesser offense than what the report accused.

Absent from the report were previously-accused players such as Sammy Sosa and retired slugger Mark McGwire. Both declined to speak with Mitchell's investigators.

Very few of the accusations in the report were based on eyewitness accounts. Even fewer had physical evidence (cancelled checks for payment, etc.) to support them. Most were of the "I heard that . . ." variety.

Commissioner Selig has stated that infractions will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. For active players, this could mean fines or suspensions or both. For retired players, it will mostly mean nothing except for select Hall of Fame candidates, who could find their path to Cooperstown, much more snarled, no matter what action the Commissioner takes. My next candidate for "first-ballot, unanimous Hall of Famer" is Greg Maddux, who could finish his career in third place (behind Cy Young and Walter Johnson) on the all-time wins list. Hang in there, Greg!

I wish that the Commissioner had taken Mitchell's advice and kept the names secret. He could have used the number of infractions (although even this represented less than 2% of players on major league rosters during the period in question) as justification for a tough, new policy and enforcement program. He could have drafted a generic statement for the record book, kept all records intact (though as yet there's no talk by anyone official about taking down any records--even though Curt Schilling has called for Clemens to relinquish his post-2000 Cy Young Awards if he can't prove himself innocent) and moved on, leaving Hall of Fame voters to decide on what level of punishment they wanted to mete out against various suspects. Perhaps that's how it will play out, except for names being named.

Back from the frying pan to the hot stove, a couple of big deals were done including big names and lots of players. Foremost were deals to continue the Latinization of the Houston Astros, who acquired SS Miguel Tejada from Baltimore and Closer Jose Valverde from Arizona in separate deals. For Tejada, the Astros gave up OF Luke Scott and several pitching prospects, a couple of which had pitched in the majors. Given the ragged state of Astros pitching behind ace Roy Oswalt, this move was something of a surprise. Surprising from the Diamondbacks' perspective was the decision to move Valverde, who was essentially unhittable last year and a big reason for the D-Backs surprising NL West crown (despite being nearly outscored for the season). After trading their last two closers (Brad Lidge and Dan Wheeler), the Astros needed to find another. The Tejada deal, however, seems like a seat-filler rather than a pennant-winner. OF Carlos Lee, acquired from the Brewers in the 2006 offseason, did what he was hired to do (drive in runs), but more importantly perhaps, developed a dedicated following of fans in the increasingly Hispanic Houston community. The voluble Tejada, who at his best enjoyed a Sosa-like love affair with the fans, could expand this market, although depressingly for the Astros, Tejada was named in the Mitchell report. It's probably just a coincidence that Valverde is also Hispanic.

I'm afraid that the Astros may be assembling a reprise of that Tampa Bay Devil Ray team that featured Vinnie Castillo and some other aging sluggers. The idea was to hit long balls and draw fans, but the team was old and terrible and was broken up by the end of the season.

The Astros lost a bat when IF reserve Mike Lamb signed a two-year contract with the Minnesota Twins. Lamb is a professional hitter with a quick bat who can play both first and third. He'll surely get some DH at-bats with the Twins as well.

The Diamondbacks did get ace right-hand starter Dan Haren from the penurious Oakland A's. Haren, who led the AL in ERA for much of 2007, will add to an already tough Arizona starting staff, led by Brandon Webb, who finished first and second for the last two NL Cy Young Awards.

Surely there are hot stove stories that don't involve performance-enhancing drugs or the Astros, but I've written enough in here for today. Adios!

I'm back! I thought of another important story--having traded OF Michael Bourn to the Astros, the Phillies still won't be re-signing CF Aaron Rowand. Rowand signed a lucrative multi-year (5 years and $60 mil, I think) deal with the San Francisco Giants. The Phillies will miss Rowand's competitive presence, but should be well-covered in CF by continually-improving Shane Victorino. Jayson Werth can play RF. The deal does mean that the Phils will probably hold onto Pat "The Bat" Burrell for another year. Pat's good second half emboldened the team to keep him around.

New/old Brave Tom Glavine early in his first stint with the Atlanta Braves. He's coming back for his 17th season with the club and 23rd overall in 2008.

December 5 - Fish Turn Into Tigers - Holidays, college football and a brief sick spell kept me away from this post for awhile, but a lot has been going on, particularly since the MLB Annual Meeting started in Nashville this week.

The blockbuster deal saw the Florida Marlins once again slash their payroll by trading their two top-salaried players, 3B Miguel Cabrera and P Dontrelle Willis, to the Detroit Tigers for six players, only two of which are expected to make the majors next year. The centerpiece of the Marlins' offering was young LHP Andrew Miller. I read that the deal leaves the Marlins with a roster on which the highest salary is $1.3 million.

Today the Los Angeles Dodgers announced the signing of CF Andruw (correct Dutch-based spelling--he's from Curacao, a former Dutch colony) Jones, who concluded a 12-year run with the Atlanta Braves. A 10-time Gold Glove winner, Jones suffered through his worst offensive season since his rookie year, batting just .222 with 26 HRs. As recently as 2005, Andruw hit 51 HRs and was second in NL MVP voting. The Dodgers will pay Jones in excess of $36 million for two years of service. They certainly need more offense from their centerfielder, having used outmaking speedster Juan Pierre last year, but Jones, coming off a bad year and moving to a pitcher's ballpark, could far underperform his top-10 annual salary in 2008. The signing is the first major move by the Dodgers since they signed Joe Torre as their new manager.

Earlier the LAAA's (that Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) made news by signing Twins OF Torii Hunter to a 5-year deal for about $90 million. This deal was interesting in that the team signed similar player Gary Matthews, Jr. to a similar, but less expensive, contract last winter. I guess they were hoping that Matthews would develop into a Hunter-like player, but he didn't--missing Hunter's 2007 marks by 35 BA points and 10 HRs, among other offensive stats. As a Ranger, Matthews made one of the greatest catches of all time, but for on a career basis, Hunter is the much better fielder, almost the AL version of Andruw Jones.

The most touching deal of the offseason takes LHP Tom Glavine back to the Atlanta Braves for what may be his last season. Career 303-game winner and two-time Cy Young Award winner Glavine was a mainstay of the Braves' starting pitching staff for 15 years before moving to the Mets in 2003. He started 32 postseason games for the Braves including a memorable 1-hit shutout of the slugging Cleveland Indians to clinch the 1995 World Series and a 4-hit, 1-run defeat of the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1992 World Series.

Another interesting deal was Kaz Matsui's move from the Colorado Rockies to the Houston Astros. A washout in New York after coming over from Japan, Matsui seemed to have found homes at second base and the top of the order with the NL champion Rockies. The Rockies seem like a much better bet to get to the 2008 postseason than the almost Killer-B-less Astros.

In other deals of minor note, I don't see many. OF Jose Guillen signed a 3-year, $36 million contract with the KC Royals. Oh by the way, he's suspended for the first 15-days of the 2008 season for HGH usage in 2005. Welcome aboard to Jose, now going to his ninth team. Guillen's best year was 2003, when he hit .337 with a 1014 OPS in a split-stint with the Cincinnati Reds and Oakland A's.

Oh yeah, A-Rod. He crossed up prognosticators and fans in several cities by negotiating his own extension with Yankees. The deal, estimated at 10-years and $275 million, was far short of the $350 million "qualifying offer" that agent Scott Boras said would be required for the Yankees to even talk to Rodriguez, and included a provision in which he compensates the team for the $21 million they lost from the Texas Rangers when A-Rod took the free agent out in his previous contract.

Jimmy Rollins Edges Matt Holliday for NL MVP Award

Do-it-all Phillies' shortstop Jimmy Rollins claimed the 2007 NL MVP Award today in a close vote over Rockies' outfielder Matt Holliday.

November 20 - Perhaps boosted by a spring training statement calling the Phillies "the team to beat in the NL East", but certainly supported by his outstanding play throughout the Phillies 2007 division-winning season, Jimmy Rollins claimed the Most Valuable Player Award today in very close vote. Runnerup by just 17 points was Colorado left fielder Matt Holliday. NL home run leader Prince Fielder from the Milwaukee Brewers finished third. The Mets' third baseman David Wright finished fourth, hurt by his team's late-season collapse. Fifth thru seventh went to Ryan Howard, Chipper Jones and Cy Young winner Jake Peavy. Surprisingly absent from the top vote-getters was Marlins' shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who wowed the league with his combination of speed and power. Team standing isn't supposed to influence voting, but the Marlins' last-place finish clearly hurt Ramirez.

Rollins is the first shortstop to take the award since Barry Larkin in 1995. He and teammate Ryan Howard have now claimed two straight MVP awards for the Phillies.

Both Rollins and Holliday surged to the top of voters' lists in last month of the season--Rollins when teammate and then-MVP favorite Chase Utley went on the disabled list for a month, and Holliday when both he and his teammates streaked to the NL wild card spot. With a month to go in the season, Rollins probably would have ranked third to Fielder and Wright; Holliday, a hard-hitting but unknown outfielder from the anonymous Rockies, would have ranked even lower. Despite a hot start and solid play throughout the season, Rollins was bypassed for the NL All-Star team in favor of the Mets' Jose Reyes and the Brewers' J.J. Hardy, neither of which finished in the top 10 in MVP voting. Rollins beat out two Rockies for major post-season awards--edging Troy Tulowitzki for the Gold Glove at shortstop (though the stats might have said otherwise) and Holliday for MVP (stats can be worked either way in this debate--Rollins outstanding offensive season (88 extra base hits, a league-leading 139 runs, 94 RBIs while hitting mostly leadoff, 41 steals in 47 attempts while playing all 162 games) combined with sterling play of the toughest offensive position was just enough to nose out the hard-hitting and hustling Rockies' outfielder who had fabulous stats of his own (league-leading .340 average and 137 RBIs, 36 homers, 120 runs scored and 92 extra base hits).

Today's story in the free-agent market is that the Yankees will once again take the field with their three mainstays in 2008--Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera--after Rivera agreed to a three-year, $45 million contract with the team. The contract makes Rivera the highest-paid relief pitcher in the history of baseball.

Alex Rodriguez Not-Quite-Unanimous Winner in AL MVP Vote

Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez displays the home run swing that carried him to the 2007 American League MVP Award.

To the surprise of no one, except perhaps the two sportswriters from Detroit who voted for hometown hero Magglio Ordonez, Alex Rodriguez won the American League MVP Award today. A-Rod pulled 28 of 30 first-place votes a landslide win that certainly could have been unanimous given his astounding statistics--league-leading totals of 54 homers, 155 RBIs, 143 runs scored, and 376 total bases; league-leading slugging and OPS numbers at .645 and 1.067 respectively; augmented by 95 walks and 24 stolen bases.

Ordonez's totals and percentages in the same categories were 28, 139, 117, 354, .595, 1.029, 79 and 4. Ordonez did beat A-Rod in batting average .363 to .314; OBP .434 to .422; hits 216-183; doubles 54-32; and the negative stat of GIDP 21-15. Going back to A-Rod, he was hit by 21 pitches compared to 2 for MO--an extra nineteen times on base.

It's not supposed to matter, but A-Rod's team won more games (94-88) and made the post-season, while the Tigers faded after a hot first half. Maybe the Detroit guys just thought that he had enough MVP trophies already and somebody else should get a turn. They could have found a better year to act on such a thought.

A much closer vote will determine the NL MVP Award winner, to be announced tomorrow.

On the free agent and trade fronts, Tom Glavine signed with the Braves for a year at $8 million. The Angels somewhat surprisingly traded shortstop Orlando Cabrera to the White Sox for starting pitcher Jon Garland. Cabrera replaced Nomar Garciaparra at shortstop on the 2004 World Series-winning Boston Red Sox. He's played well at every stop, claiming a Gold Glove this year while hitting .301 and scoring 101 runs and driving in 86 for the Angels. The Pale Hose will be Cabrera's fourth team in four years.

Leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts made San Diego Padres' ace Jake Peavy a unanimous choice for the National League Cy Young Award. Arizona righthander Brandon Webb, winner of the 2006 Cy Young, got all but one second place vote. The Dodgers' Brad Penny finished third.

There was big news on the free agent front as Alex Rodriguez bypassed his agent to renew negotiations with the Yankees. His statement talked about how comfortable he and his wife were in New York, but speculation is that A-Rod couldn't find a deal approaching their $350 million "demand" of the Yankees. The Yankees are looking for Rodriguez to sacrifice enough money to cover the $21 million payment they won't get from the Rangers because he became a free agent.

The free agent market may have gotten one player shorter today as a federal grand jury indicted Barry Bonds for perjury for his testimony regarding his knowledge of purported steroid use. The initial hearing in the case is set for December 7. No matter how much Bonds could contribute as a DH, it's unlikely that any team will sign him as long as he's not cleared of the charge before the start of the 2008 season.

In a vote that was clearly taken before the postseason, Cleveland Indians' left-handed ace CC Sabathia won the American League Cy Young Award. Sabathia got 19 first-place votes to just 7 for runnerup Josh Beckett. Looking at regular season stats, Sabathia's win could be clearly justified. Both pitchers had an ERA of about 3.20. Beckett won 20 games; Sabathia won 19. But Sabathia pitched 40 more innings (241 to 201), the equivalent of 5 or 6 extra starts.

For leading the Cleveland Indians to a Central Division championship, Eric Wedge easily won the American League Manager of the Year Award. He drew 19 of 28 first place votes. The Angels' Mike Scioscia and Yankees' Joe Torre split most of the remaining votes.

In the National League, Arizona skipper Bob Melvin won a surprisingly lopsided Manager of the Year vote. Preseason also-rans who barely outscored their opponents, the Diamondbacks won the NL West under Melvin's steady leadership. He also drew 19 first-place votes. The Phillies' Charlie Manuel finished a distant second with 7 first-place votes. Clint Hurdle of the Rockies was third.

Red Sox first year first baseman claimed his first Gold Glove after an errorless season at the position. (Thanks to apdonavan for the photo.)

Three weeks have passed since the Red Sox swept the Rockies in the World Series. Awards for the 2007 season dominate baseball news this week. Both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winners and Rookies of the Year were announced. A couple of trades completed at the general managers' meeting also gave us a hint at how things will change for the 2008 season. And of course, there's the ongoing story of Alex Rodriguez's next baseball address.

I'll start with the awards so I don't end up reporting these all from behind the story.

The Gold Gloves honored some perennial winners and a few newcomers. Starting with the All-Star and World Series winning American League, the winners were 1B - Kevin Youkilis, Boston; 2B - Placido Polanco, Detroit; SS - Orlando Cabrera, California; 3B - Adrian Beltre, Seattle; C - Ivan Rodriguez, Detroit; OF - Torri Hunter, Minnesota, Grady Sizemore, Cleveland, Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle; P - Johan Santana. Remarkably, Youkilis won the award for his errorless play at first base in his first season there. Polanco also played an errorless season to win his first Gold Glove. Rodriguez won his 13th Gold Glove. There may be better fielding catchers in the American League, but "Pudge" will probably have to retire to break his streak of awards. Ichiro, a perennial winner for his play in right field, moved to center and still kept his streak alive. Hunter's award was also his seventh. Beltre was a surprise winner over better-hitting candidates like Alex Rodriguez and Mike Lowell.

In the National League, the top story was pitcher Greg Maddux's record-setting 17th Gold Glove. He shared the record at 16 with legendary third baseman Brooks Robinson and pitcher Jim Kaat. Close behind was a team snub of the Colorado Rockies, who led by rookie SS Troy Tulowitzki, set a major league record for fielding percentage. Other winners by position were 1B Derrek Lee of the Cubs; 2B Orlando Hudson of the Diamondbacks; SS Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies; 3B David Wright of the Mets; C Russell Martin of the Dodgers; OF - Carlos Beltran of the Mets; Andrew Jones of the Braves and Jeff Francouer of the Braves and Aaron Rowand of the Phillies. Francouer and Rowand tied for the third NL outfield spot.

Lee is a repeat winner. He sets the standard for first basemen. Hudson, Rollins, Wright and Martin are all first-time winners in the infield. Smooth-fielding Rockies like SS Troy Tulowitzki and 1B Todd Helton missed out in the infield voting. The Rockies late season rush may have come too late to gain the attention of the voters. Jones won his tenth Gold Glove in his last of 12 seasons with the Braves; Beltran is also a repeater. Strong-armed Francouer and fearless Rowand tied for their first each award.

The Silver Slugger lineup for the top offensive player at each position features a number of double-winners, players who can display Gold Glove and Silver Slugger trophies side-by-side on their mantles. On this list are American Leaguers Placido Polanco and Ichiro Suzuki and National Leaguers David Wright, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Beltran and Russell Martin. Not surprisingly, Alex Rodriguez took the AL award for 3B, his 9th overall Silver Bat. Other AL winners were 1B Carlos Pena of Tampa Bay; SS Derek Jeter and C Jorge Posada of the Yankees; OFs Magglio Ordonez of Detroit and Vladimir Guerrero of the Angels; and DH David Ortiz of Boston. Other NL winners were 1B Prince Fielder of the Brewers, Phillies 2B Chase Utley, OFs Matt Holliday of the Rockies and Carlos Lee of the Astros; and slugging pitcher Micah Owings of the Diamondbacks, probably the second easiest choice next to Rodriguez for AL third base.

Rookies of the Year were Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia and Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Ryan Braun. The short guy with the big swing and big heart, Pedroia started slow but finished strong in both the regular season and World Series. He won the award easily over Devil Ray outfielder Delmon Young. Braun played the almost first two months of the season in AAA, but bombed NL pitchers for a .324 average with 34 HRs and 97 RBIs and a league-leading .634 slugging percentage. Braun won the award by a blade-close 2 points over Rockies' shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

Pedroia was an easy choice in the AL. I would have voted for Tulowitzki, the superior defensive player at a tougher position, in the NL.

As for the outstanding awards, my MVP choices are Alex Rodriguez and Jimmy Rollins. My predictions are Rodriguez and Rockies' OF Matt Holliday. Jake Peavy is both my pick and prediction for NL Cy Young. I know you're not supposed to factor postseason performance, but like testimony the judge orders you to ignore, Josh Beckett's dominating postseason run is hard to forget (unless the voting deadline came before Game One of the ALDS). I'd vote for him and predict that voters will do likewise, in another blade-close vote, over the Indians' CC Sabathia.

My Manager of the Year vote goes to the Phillies' Charlie Manuel in the NL, but I think that either Bob Melvin of the Diamondbacks or Clint Hurdle of the Rockies is more likely to win a close three-way vote. In the AL, I like Indians' manager Eric Wedge. Joe Torre and Terry Francona will also get some votes. I admire what Torre did with a makeshift pitching staff, but it's hard to vote for a guy with a $300 million payroll.

The Phillies made the most significant deal so far, trading OF Michael Bourn and P Geoff Geary to the Astros for RP Brad Lidge and IF Eric Bruntlett. Trading Bourn indicates that the Phils will make a big play for free agent CF Aaron Rowand. Getting Lidge to be their closer allows the Phils to move Brett Myers back into the starting rotation, where he'll take the #2 spot behind ace Cole Hamels. Bourn will get every chance to lead off and play center for the Astros. Geary, whom the Phillies will miss, will add depth to the Astros bullpen, but not replace Lidge as closer. As evidenced by great strikeout stats, Lidge has closer stuff, but he's struggled with home runs since Albert Pujols's titanic late inning homer in the 2005 NLCS. If he starts slowly, Lidge could incur the wrath of Philadelphia's notoriously tough fans.

In a lesser deal, the Cubs traded OF Jacque Jones to the Tigers for reserve IF Omar Infante. I don't know enough to care, but I thought that Jones was a pretty decent hitter. He didn't work out as well as the Cubs hoped when he came over from the Twins.

The Phillies also made an important free agent signing, wrapping up their own lefty RP J.C. Romero for three years at $4 million per season. Romero washed out with the Red Sox, but filled a niche well in the Phillies bullpen. He'll continue to pitch seventh innings and face critical lefthanders. His emergence also allowed the Phillies to move Geary in the deal to get Lidge.

The Yankees re-signed their veteran catcher Jorge Posada for four years at about $13 million per season. In a bit of a surprise, Curt Schilling re-signed with the Red Sox for "just" $8 million (down from $13 million in 2007) with some additional incentives. Greg Maddux re-signed with the Padres. I didn't see a dollar figure. With 347 career wins, Maddux could move as high as 5th on the all-time wins list with a great season. Assuming Roger Clemens retires, Maddux should at least move up a place or two. With 27 wins in the next two seasons, Maddux could finish his career in third place, behind only Cy Young and Walter Johnson.

It's hard to know what's going on with A-Rod. The most electrons point to a west coast address--possibly the Dodgers now that Joe Torre is their manager (oh yeah, that was another big story--Torre signed for four years with the Dodgers after refusing the Yankees one-year incentive-laden offer). Despite the Yankees avowed refusal to negotiate once Rodriguez announced his free agency, rumors swirl that they are preparing a new offer. Reportedly, A-Rod and agent Scott Boras were looking for $350 million over 10 years from the Yankees in exchange for bypassing the free agent market. Among online fans, Rodriguez is clearly viewed as being in it for the money rather than to win a World Series ring. I'm not sure how having a guy who can fit 50 homers and drive in 150 runs in the lineup hurts any teams chance to get to the World Series.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

North American Scrabble Tour - Baton Rouge Qualifier

Here's my diary from today's North American Scrabble Tour Qualifying Tournament in Baton Rouge.

Intro - On the way home from a trip to Houston I caught a cold that put me out of action on Thursday and at about half-speed on Friday. I felt better this morning and happily drove the five or so miles to the Jefferson United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge, host to the tournament. To my knowledge, this tournament is sponsored and run by tournament Scrabble players and not by the National Scrabble Association. It consists of a set of open tournaments held all across the US and Canada. A set number of players from each regional tournament qualify for the finals in Minneapolis in June. Eighteen players signed up for the Baton Rouge qualifier, coming from across Louisiana and at least one from Mississippi. To make the open tournament more competitive for weaker players, the format supposedly called for games against players of like strength in the early rounds. I didn't much evidence of this. As the fourth-ranked player I was matched against number 16 in the second game. But enough about the set-up. The games were much more interesting.

Game One was with Jonathan from Mississippi, about two hours from Baton Rouge. Being rated about 500 points higher, I decided to test his vocabulary (and mine) on the first turn. I confidently (I hoped) played ODALINE* for 68 points. I didn't know if it was good, but it was close to OPALINE, which is good, and I thought might confuse Jonathan. He let it stand without hesitation. Four turns later I had to exchange all seven tiles, allowing him to pull within 16 points. But my new tiles made eGOTIST to stretch the lead back to 85. From that point I was able to keep the board bottled up and score enough to hold a 70-100 point lead. He went out to shorten the final margin to 65: 369-304. 1-0, +65

Game Two was with Alice, the lowest rated player in tourney (there were two newcomers who were seeded lower). I got off to a fast start with ZEINS for 48, and opened a 248-76 lead with TALLIES for 80. Later I played KI to set up my blank as a S for a possible bingo hooked to SKI. It turned out to be CRONIEs. At the end she got stuck with the Q and I was able to play my tiles one-by-one to maximize my score. Final, 525-235. The 525 earned me the $10 high game prize. 2-0, + 355 moved me into first place after two games.

Game Three was with David, formerly of New Orleans, but now relocated. Apparently he was back in town on other business. Rated about 1000, he'd just upset the 3rd ranked player in the tourney and said he was "telling everyone." Our game started slowly, but while he was fishing for a bingo, I made one - IRIdIUMS - love those three "I" bingos. On my next play I debated how to play the Q––in QANAT or in QUANT or QUAD. The latter made more points, but were riskier. David made my choice easy by setting up a QI to go along with QUAD. I made both words for 67 points. The rest of the game was much like Game One––I tried to close the board while making decent scores. Final score 390-288. Overall 3-0, +457 and still in first place.

Third-seeded Bill from New Orleans was my next foe in Game Four. We seem to play in every tourney in Louisiana. I've won my share so I wasn't intimidated at all. Perhaps I was still light-headed from all the success, as I butchered my first play––low scoring OLIO, placing it such that the vowels lined up under the double word score spaces. He punished my mistake, but not too badly with 59 points on the next two turns. I held FABNNN and something else and opted too quickly for FAB to the TWS for 28 when FAB HOYA and OF were available for 39 points––a play I saw about 2 seconds after announcing 28 points. Things got better after that––all my big mistakes were out of my system, and the Scrabble gods chose not to punish me. He played RIOJA for 30; I played POX underneath for 55. He got YEH for 51; I got MAN (where I should have played FAB) for 31. The scoring continued hot with MAZES for 50 for him and TANNED to the TWS for 39 for me. When the dust settled, I trailed by 8, 190-182––not bad for such a dumb start. A couple of turns later I held STUDENT with no place to play it. I settled for VET for 17 and thought, with TUNDS, I just need RA for TUNDRAS. It was kind of day when dreams come true as I drew RA and played TUNDRAS for 75 behind his CUIF for 9. He came right back with QADI for 72 to retake the lead. I drew one blank after TUNDRAS, but IRIGIL to go with it. I choses LIRI for 10 to get rid of as many I's as possible. My reward was the second blank. I considered SPRIGGIER (a nine––and it's good!), but didn't believe enough. I settled for PIG for 22, holding my two blanks and getting rid of one G. On my next play I could have gone out with CADGerS, but again, I didn't believe enough. I chose AGe for 28 under his WO for 20. At that point his CUREE wasn't going out to beat me. He settled for RUCK for 16. I went out with SaD and took the game 397-387. Not the best spread I could have accomplished, but I was proud to have made sure of the win. 4-0, +467, but slipping to second place.

The organizers examined the standings to make the next pairings. In Game Five, I got the only other undefeated player, Keith, also from New Orleans, also the top-rated player in the tourney. My lifetime record against Keith is about 1 and quite a few. I wasn't cocky, but things seemed to be going my way, so I figured, why not? Things started promisingly as Keith's first three plays of OE, OE and KORE totalled just 23 points. I wasn't much better, but I did get SHEIK for 50 to open a 66-23 lead, which grew to 97-23 with WATT for 31. Keith's next four plays were EXILER for 42, QUINOAS for 80, BIGLY for 38, and REGREEt for 69. I held the last play, but wisely let it go. When he played BIGLY, I held VACUUMS on my rack and had a home for all but the S. BIGLY put an end to that. I retreated to VUM for 24 and the C-wordS for 28. I trailed 272-200 and knew I needed a bingo to get back in it. Holding a blank, I tried to create an opening with AIR for 6. This worked out reasonably well. Keith blocked the bingo lane, but I drew ZA and played ZA AI for 46, making a hook for RAI in the process. A drawn V helped not at all; I dumped it in VID for 13, and drew tiles to make RoUNDEL. Keith figured something was up. He blocked my line with MAC for 20 before I even had RoUNDEL. Desperation set in. I tried RAI, RoUNDEL, EMID and LAG around his block. I didn't think that EMID was good, but I couldn't have forgiven myself if I "misremembered" about the word and didn't make the play. He challenged it off and played AH for 35. I created another lane with ED and DAH and waited for him to block it. Surprisingly, he didn't on his next two plays, figuring he had enough to win even if I bingoed, which I was unlikely to do. I surprised him with UNBRIdLE for 80, closing the final score to 412-383 his favor, but giving me something to feel good about. Overall, 4-1, +438.

The loss dropped me to third and in King-of-the-Hill Game Six, I was matched with fourth-place Peggy from nearby Zachary, whom I've played at the local club. An improving player with an 1100+ rating, she's still looking for her first win against me. The winner of this game would finish in the top three and qualify for Minnesota. She got the first good play, LOGGERS for 63 and a 99-54 lead. I took the lead back with the combination of OYEZ for 52 and JItTERS for 67. Two turns later my tiles were great - SARDINE, but there was no home for any of the many bingos. I tried to create a hook with DAL, playing just the D. I drew an unhelpful U, which I dumped with the N in JUN. After that play, Peggy got her second bingo with AGITaTe and took a 28-point lead. M and K wouldn't help me make a bingo, but they were good for MAKE for 57, alongside AGITATE to the TWS. She came right back with QUAG for 34 to retake the lead, this time by a slim five. ES alongside QUAG got 26 and the lead for me. She closed to within 3 with NIB. My next play was WIT, hooking to aN to make aNI. She got confused about the the blank letter and challenged. Of course, the word was good. I played RIPE for 22 and went out with WEEDS for 10 to wrap up a thrilling 433-393 win. Final record: 5-1, +478, good enough for second place, $70 and a spot on the Baton Rouge team in Minnesota, if I want to make the trip. There was talk of a three-man road trip. Yikes!

In any event, I vote for more Saturday one-day tournaments in Baton Rouge!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Winter Book Reviews

Winter is usually a good time for reading, but for whatever reason I haven't gotten through too many books since the beginning of the year. Here are reviews of five books I've finished since January 1.

I just started two biographical books, Walter Isaacson's "Einstein" and "Dear Theo", a compilation of letters from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Death in Suburbia

With "Suicides" (implying more than one) in the title, talented author Jeffrey Eugenides' debut The Virgin Suicides promises to be somewhat depressing, and it delivers. Plot becomes unimportant as the only mystery is just how many of the five daughters in a suburban Michigan family of the 1970s will kill themselves and how. Suicide number one by the youngest happens in somewhat spectacular fashion. The rest of the novel is given over to a third person description of how the family handles the tragedy as told by someone (an unnamed neighborhood teenage boy) who can only infer much of the action through closed drapes, rarely opened doors, and a collection of objects that is eerily archaeological--artifacts of a culture that has died right before his eyes.

All of this can be a bit confusing and a lot depressing to the reader, but I expect that such a reaction is exactly Eugenides' point--sharing the outsiders' view of what has to be an intensely personal tragedy for any family. Then again, perhaps the suicides and parallel ongoing extinction of elm trees by Dutch Elm disease are metaphors for the death of the American suburban soul.

For me, The Virgin Suicides was better in the analysis (four stars) than in the reading (three stars), during which it reminded me greatly of another depressing, but well-written tale of suburban life, Rick Moody's The Ice Storm: A Novel. I'll round up to four stars. Readers would be better served to start with Eugenides' amazing 2002 offering Middlesex: A Novel (Oprah's Book Club), a definite five-star book all the way.

The Unvanquished by William Faulkner

Approachable Faulkner

A local English professor's answer to a radio call-in question, "What's a good place to start reading Faulkner?" sent me looking for The Unvanquished. This short novel of the Civil War and Reconstruction was created out of a series of magazine stories written by Faulkner in the 1930s, with one previously unpublished story added. Faulkner maintains his famous stream-of-consciousness style, but manages to remain approachable, perhaps because his narrator is a young boy, around whom (and his slave/friend) the stories revolve. The narrative is a little disjointed on a chapter-to-chapter basis, as each was written to stand alone. Apparently Faulkner didn't add much to enhance continuity in the novel format.

Like Cold Mountain, the story focuses on the homefront during the Civil War. Rather than spouses, children and older people are the lead characters. Their ingenuity during the hard times of war is impressive, as is the general chaos surround organizing a war effort. The book's last chapter "An Odor of Verbena" focuses on the Reconstruction period. Our current politics can't compete with this era for danger and intrigue, depicted at the local level in this story.

Some of my forays into Faulkner have foundered on his infamously difficult style--dense language, paragraph-long sentences and chapter-long paragraphs. The Unvanquished lowers this hurdle while retaining the sense that you are inside the character's minds while they deal with the challenge and tragedy that is the Civil War.

Recommended for all adult readers and even teenage readers with an interest in literary fiction or the Civil War.

Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind by Gary Marcus

Evolutionary Developments

In Kluge, author Gary Marcus takes on the evolution of the human brain, a potential subject for a difficult 10-page article in Scientific American, and presents it in a well-organized and readily understandable 200-page book. In chapters on memory, language, belief, and other aspects (including even mental illness) of human brain function, Marcus shows how lower, reactive brain functions, carried forward from man's earliest non-mammalian ancestors, both complement and compete with higher, analytical functions, and how each may have travelled the evolutionary path. Fascinating also is the idea that evolution is not an long-term optimizing process, as it can only add to what's developed already, when sometimes the best answer in hindsight might be to start anew (the non-brain example of the esophagus being used both for breathing and ingestion illustrates this concept well--choking wouldn't be a risk if we had separate paths for each). Marcus spices the text with descriptions of various modern psychological experiments that demonstrate aspects of the kluge (an inelegant solution to a problem) that is the modern human mind. Highly recommended to readers with even a casual interest in the field, including teenagers. Another book coming at the subject from a religious perspective is Michael Dowd's Thank God for Evolution!: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World, which I'm still reading and will review later.

Note: As an Amazon Vine reviewer, I read a pre-publication copy of this book, which will be generally available on April 16, 2008

An Unpardonable Crime by Andrew Taylor

Great Story But Someone's Missing

Andrew Taylor's 2004 publication, An Unpardonable Crime, is billed as a period thriller suggested by the years Edgar Allan Poe spent in England as a orphaned child. As a period thriller, it works beautifully. Like a 21st century Dickens, Taylor takes the reader deep inside 19th century London (a place where I've spent a good deal of fictional time lately, having just seen "Sweeney Todd" at the movies)--to the landed gentry, public squalor and many places in between. The thrill ride has the requisite number of twists and turns--the villains are dastardly, the settings foreboding, the murder circumstances murky and the hero determined, albeit a little at odds finding his place within society, having been rescued from an asylum by his now dead aunt/benefactor.

The book was a quick and fascinating read that I finished in less than two days. Ultimately, what it wasn't, however, was very intimately involved in the life of young Poe, who appears as essentially an extra character. Perhaps his exposure to macabre events like those depicted in this the book shaped his literary sensibilities. Certainly his years in Europe helped him write convincing fiction with European settings. But we didn't need this novel to know that. I came to this book on the recommendation of a Poe scholar, for which I thank him. Still, An Unpardonable Crime enhanced my understanding of the life and mind of Edgar Allan Poe very little.

I recommend the book to lovers of both mysteries and 19th century period fiction about Great Britain (5 stars). As a story I liked it even better than the similar The Dante Club: A Novel by Matthew Pearl. However, I warn Poe fans that they may not get much about the anticipated connection between Poe's life and this story (minus one star). Total--four stars.

Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

Self-Taught Copper

Having enjoyed Going Postal, my first Terry Pratchett, I jumped on Night Watch with a Christmas gift certificate and started reading it right away. Somewhat inexplicably, the book took me nearly a month to finish. Pratchett parodies modern societal infrastructure in his books (communications in Going Postal; law enforcement in Night Watch). Perhaps I'm just not clued in enough to police work to get all the jokes.

The story blends elements of The Time Machine (as protagonist Sam Vimes is accidentally thrown about 30 years into then past), Les Misérables (Signet Classics) (a citizens' revolt involving heavy use of barricades makes up much of the action) and The Streets of San Francisco - Season 1, Vol. 2, but with a time-twist as the veteran Vimes (the Karl Malden character) trains a young Vimes (the Michael Douglas character) thirty years in the past. I expect that there's a British TV version of this old cop/young cop story (without the time-shifting, of course).

Still, it doesn't work out as wackily as it sounds. Slowing down the fun, Pratchett devotes many pages to the drudgery of night policing (the "night watch" of the title) and to the inner workings of a precinct house. Sectioning the book into more chapters might have also helped the story flow better. I will say that the ending came together well, if a little on the sentimental side. Though I didn't enjoy Night Watch (3 stars) as much as Going Postal (4 stars), I still plan to read more Pratchett. I'm told that some of the earliest books in the Discworld series have more of the jocularity that charmed me in "Postal".

Monday, February 4, 2008

Super Hugs and More - "Los Gigantes" Win Super Bowl XLII

Here's a shot of David Tyree's miraculous catch on the Giants' Super Bowl-winning drive. (Thanks to http://dougbakersnflblog.blogspot.com) for posting this photo)

Los Gigantes' QB and game MVP Eli Manning sips a celebratory Gatorade as his team wraps up an amazing 17-14 win over the previously undefeated New England Patriots (photo by dadlak from big screen TV at the Lifestyles Hacienda VIP Super Bowl Party in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic)

February 3 - Vamonos, Los Gigantes! - Welcome to my first-ever Super Bowl report from the Dominican Republic. The words "Super Bowl Party" have a much different meaning in the DR than in the US, where the football game is actually of some interest. Even though the party at VIP Beach here at the Lifestyles Hacienda in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic was filled with tourists from the US, Canada, and Europe, less than 20% of the people there seemed to have any interest in the game. It was a good thing too, as FOX Sports Espanol lost their feed just as the game started. They subbed soccer highlights for awhile and then went dark. About halfway through the first quarter the picture reappeared on the big screenTVs spread across the venue. There wasn´t much hostility expressed when the TVs went dark, or rejoicing when coverage resumed.

The "party" side of Super Bowl Party held off until halftime, but broke loose in full force then. As the TV showed 50-something Tom Petty rocking his way through ´70s classics (I would have loved to hear "American Girl"), Fernando (dressed in a NYG capand Manning #10 jersey for part of the show) and his salsa band filled the hall with salsa, reggae, "Shout" and "YMCA". The show carried over well into the second half, interference that was unnoticed at first given that the screens once again went dark--this time a Lifestyles Hacienda problem. This time we missed only about four minutes of play. With such a low scoring game (7-3 Patriots after three quarters) we didn´t miss much action, and no scoring. For the rest of the third quarter and into the fourth the music raged on, interrupted only by a massive fireworks display. A Dominican drummer, renown on three continents, followed Fernando. By then we´d moved away from the stage to a covered area (oh yeah, rain threatened our outdoor seating on and off through the evening). Finally the drummer took a break, one that mercifully extended through the end of the game--once again we could benefit fully from the Spanish-language commentary.

You know all about the fourth quarter and the outcome of the game, but I´ll describe my highlights anyway. We rooted fearlessly for "Los Gigantes"(quarterbacked by Eli Manning, a New Orleans boy coached in high school by my daughter´s current high school principal), even with the next table full of Patriots´fans. I was worried that the Giants fantastic defensive effort might go to waste, and slumped when Randy Moss caught the TD pass to put the Pats back on top late in the game. Still, I knew that Los Gigantes had both time and timeouts for a comeback. The 4th down play on which Manning avoided being sacked by three Patriot defenders and heaved the ball 35 yards downfield to reserve receiver David Tyree (I didn´t know his first name until I watched ESPN´s English-language highlights this morning.) who made perhaps the best football catch I´ve ever seen, at least in such a do-or-die situation, gave me for the first time a strong feeling that Los Gigantes would prevail. Manning´s rainbow pass to mouthy Plaxico Burress looked like a golden parachute in the air. I just knew that it would land safely in the arms of an open receiver. Still, 35 seconds, three NE timeouts and the great Tom Brady stood between Los Gigantes and victory. A second-down sack turned the situation desperate for the Pats, and even then they almost pulled it out. Brady´s 67-yard bombwas barely tipped off Moss´s fingers. A final fourth down heave wasn´t close and Los Gigantes had their win, even though they had to clear the celebration off the field and run one more "kneel down" play to run off the last 0:01 and close the deal.

Eli was a deserving MVP, but by any analysis it was a true team victory. The defense held the vaunted Pats' offense to 14 points, even fewer than Burress´s 17-point prediction that irked Brady. A relentless pass rush was the key factor, though the run defense held Pats' RB Lawrence Maroney to just 36 yards on 14 carries, well below the 120 yard games he produced in the Pats' previous playoff wins. On offense, top supporters were Tyree of course, with a TD reception (his first of the season) and the acrobatic fourth down catch, Amari Toomer, who demonstrated the most dependable hands and feet, Burress, who ran the game-winning pattern, RBs Ahmad Bradshaw, for timely running, and Brandon Jacobs, for a critical fourth-down plunge. The offensive line kept the Pats' DL and linebackers away from Manning, as did Bradshaw and Jacobs, who picked up several blitzers along the way.

We didn´t linger for the Spanish post-game analysis or renewal of the party. By midnight everyone was in bed and asleep. Vamonos, los Gigantes!!

February 1 - With less than 48 hours to go until the big game, we leave the US tomorrow at 6 a.m. for vacation in the Dominican Republic. I'm sure that the resort will have a TV tuned to FOX's coverage of the game. I'm not so sure about Internet access to be able to blog the game back to you (or to provide any more pregame or timely postgame analysis). Be strong. Rejoice with me if I can get connected. Hang in there until I get back on February 10.

Ominously or propitiously, I discovered a new website today--WikiAnswers. I've already answered about 20 questions--mostly about the Super Bowl and the Phillies. I already blog, Photoblog, Panaramio/Google Earth, Scrabble, and Amazon online. Do I need another outlet? Why not?

January 31 - Numbers Game (Super Bowl Quarterback Numbers) - One of my readers was searching for a list of all the Super Bowl QBs who wore #12. I'm sure this inquiry was inspired by Tom Brady's uniform number. Nowhere on the Internet could I find a list of Super Bowl QBs with uniform numbers. I decided to create one. The winning QB appears first. "12s" (by far the most often occurring number) are bolded. More observations follow.

I - Bart Starr 15; Len Dawson 16

II - Starr 15; Daryl Lamonica 3

III - Joe Namath 12; Earl Morrell 15

IV - Dawson 16; Joe Kapp 11

V- Johnny Unitas 19; Craig Morton 14

VI - Roger Staubach 12; Bob Griese 12

VII - Griese 12; Billy Kilmer 17

VIII - Griese 12; Fran Tarkenton 10

IX - Terry Bradshaw 12; Tarkenton 10

X- Bradshaw 12; Staubach 12

XI - Ken Stabler 12; Tarkenton 10

XII - Staubach 12; Morton 7

XIII - Bradshaw 12; Staubach 12

XIV - Bradshaw 12; Vince Ferragamo 15

XV - Jim Plunkett 16; Ron Jaworski 7

XVI - Joe Montana 16; Ken Anderson 14

XVII - Joe Theismann 7; David Woodley 16

XVIII - Plunkett 16; Theismann 7

XIX - Montana 16; Dan Marino 13

XX - Jim McMahon 9; Tony Eason 11

XXI - Phil Simms 11; John Elway 7

XXII - Doug Williams 17; Elway 7

XXIII - Montana 16; Boomer Esiason 7

XXIV - Montana 16; Elway 7

XXV - Jeff Hostetler 15; Jim Kelly 12

XXVI - Mark Rypien 11; Kelly 12

XXVII - Troy Aikman 8; Kelly 12

XXVIII - Aikman 8; Kelly 12

XXIX - Steve Young 8; Stan Humphries 12

XXX - Aikman 8; Neil O'Donnell 14

XXXI - Brett Favre 4; Drew Bledsoe 11

XXXII - Elway 7; Favre 4

XXXIII - Elway 7; Chris Chandler 12

XXXIV - Kurt Warner 13; Steve McNair 9

XXXV - Trent Dilfer 8; Kerry Collins 5

XXXVI - Tom Brady 12; Warner 13

XXXVII - Brad Johnson 14; Rich Gannon 12

XXXVIII - Brady 12; Jake Delhomme 17

XXXIX - Brady 12; Donovan McNabb 5

XL - Ben Rothlisberger 7; Matt Hasselbeck 8

XLI - Peyton Manning 18; Rex Grossman 8

A total of 53 quarterbacks populated the 82 available starting spots in the first 41 Super Bowls. With 10 players and 22 starts, #12 is by far the most popular number. Between Super Bowl VI and XIV, every game was won by a QB wearing #12. In three of these games, #12 was a sure thing as both starting QBs wore that number. Early wins by #12s included Joe Namath's predicted upset of the Colts in III, four wins by the Steelers and Terry Bradshaw, 2-1 Super Bowl records by both Bob Griese and Roger Staubach, and a lone win by Tuscaloosa's other #12, Ken Stabler. After Bradshaw's fourth win in XIV, #12 didn't win again for 22 years when in XXXVI, young Tom Brady led the New England Patriots to an upset win over the St. Louis Rams. In between, #12s suffered six losses--four in consecutive years by the Buffalo Bills and Jim Kelly and one each in blowout fashion by San Diego's Stan Humphries and Atlanta's Chris Chandler. With three wins in the last six Super Bowls, Brady has turned things around for #12, interrupted only by another dismal performance by the Raiders' Rich Gannon in XXXVII. The overall record for #12 - 12 wins and 10 losses in 22 appearances by ten quarterbacks.

Not surprisingly, the second most successful QB number has been 16, worn by Joe Montana in four wins and by Jim Plunkett in two other wins. Len Dawson got the other win for #16 in Super Bowl IV. The overall record for #16 is 7-2 in nine appearances by four QBs.

At 4-7, with two more appearances than #16, but three fewer wins is #7, most famously worn in five games by the Denver Broncos' John Elway. He was 2-3. The other #7s--Craig Morton, Ron Jaworski, Joe Theismann, Boomer Esiason and Ben Rothlisberger combined to go 2-4.

Every number between 3 and 19 is represented, except for 6, which I'm having trouble finding any NFL quarterback who wore. (Bubby Brister and Marc Wilson wore #6. Warren Moon was the most accomplished #1. Aaron Brooks leads a weak and short list of #2's.)

Troy Aikman's three wins lead #8 to a 5-2 record. Steve Young and Dilfer authored the other wins. Losing 8's were Matt Hasselback and Rex Grossman in the last two Super Bowls.

Numbers 18 and 19 have just one representative each, but what a pair--Peyton Manning and Johnny Unitas.

V had the highest combined number (Unitas 19 plus Morton 14 = 33). XXXII had the lowest (Elway 7 plus Favre 4 = 11).

Eli Manning has some tough history to overcome. His #10 is 0-3 with all three losses suffered by Fran Tarkenton as QB of the Vikings. Tarkenton also quarterbacked the Giants. I'll stop here before this item turns into a harbinger of a Giants' loss.

Here's hoping that Giants' WR Plaxico Burress puts his game hands to work in support of his pregame mouth in Super Bowl "The Answer" XLII (photo by Sabo/NY Daily News)

January 31 - More, Part 7 - If Oral Inflammation Occurs, Please Discontinue Use of Plaxico

I'm having trouble coming up with today's omen that the Giants will upset the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII ("The Answer"). In fact, things would look and sound better if Giants' WR Plaxico Burress had his tongue embedded in Lucite before remarking that 1) the Giants' receivers were better than the Pats' receivers, and 2) that the Giants would win the game 23-17. In response , Pats' QB Tom Brady was puzzled that Burress predicted only 17 points for the high-scoring (almost 37 points per game in the regular season) Patriots' offense. I don't remember how the Baltimore Colts of 1969 reacted to Jets' QB Joe Namath's guarantee of victory, but certainly it was not by embarassing the 17-point underdogs on the field on Super Sunday. Maybe the combination of another New York loudmouth and a big favorite is an omen of a similar result?

January 30 - More, Part 6 - Hubris, Anyone?

Fox Sports reports that government officials are concerned about a Patriots victory parade on Tuesday interfering with voting in the Super Tuesday presidential primaries. The mayor of Boston claims that Tuesday is the only possible date for a parade. The Massachusetts Secretary of State warns that "the election must take precedence." Such forward-looking hubris just has to improve the Giants' chances for an upset, although I doubt that Bill Belechick is too concerned about this issue, unless his players read the report.

January 29 - More, Part 5 - The Power of Plaxico

I mentioned earlier how the unusual name of Giants' WR Plaxico Burress sounded like a pharmaceutical company, or Plaxico like a drug itself (perhaps for a yet-to-be-discovered ailment called FFS (fumbling finger syndrome)). Well, if Burress' mother wanted to give her son a unique name, she succeeded. I googled "Plaxico". Every reference but one was for either Plaxico Burress or jazz artist Lonnie Plaxico, with the Giants' wide receiver getting the large majority of the hits. The one outlier was for the German company Grafico Plaxico, which features "custom Lucite embedments", including Gifts from the Holy Land. This special item consists of a tiny vial of "Holy Water from the River Jordan" encased in a block of Lucite. That's gotta be a good sign for the Giants--their player's name in synch with water from the Holy Land.

January 28 - More, Part 4 - Desert Air, Giant Dreams?

Hoping that Dr. Z's prediction and Brady's ankle are enough, but still searching for other harbingers of a Giants' win in Super Bowl XLII (I'm not sure if this helps, but (CAUTION: SPOILER FOLLOWS) "42" was the ultimate answer to the question of the universe in Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy".), I thought of the unexpected outcomes of the last two "big games" played in University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ. The homestanding Arizona Cardinals haven't been able to generate much magic in their new space-age home, but in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, little Boise State upset mighty Oklahoma 47-45 on a series of late-game trick plays in one of the best college bowl games ever played. In this year's Fiesta Bowl, West Virginia, stung both by a last-game loss to Pitt that kept them out of the BCS National Championship Game (the "Uberbowl") and the subsequent departure of their long-term head coach Rich Rodriguez for the University of Michigan top job, entered the game as a 10-point underdog and left with a dominating 48-28 victory that was one of the best performances of the 2007-8 college bowl season. Maybe there's something about that desert air that brings good luck to heavy underdogs. Let's hope so.

January 26 - More, Part 3 - All Brady All the Time

ESPN showed a certain level of desperation this week with a segment playing off Tom Brady's last name and the old TV series The Brady Bunch. One of the episodes included a scene where a thrown football hits big sister Marcia in the face. The big mystery was "who threw the pass." They interviewed the adults who played the Bradys as children. ESPN football analyst Sean Salisbury analyzed. Fortunately for me, I watched this segment on a TV with the sound off in a restaurant, but I thought chillingly, "if this is a first week pre-game segment, what will they be showing next week?"

In fact, Tom Brady has been the big story this week. He appeared Monday wearing an orthopedic boot. The boot was gone on Tuesday, but it seems (no one from the Patriots will say for sure) that Brady hasn't practiced all week (maybe not a huge story since the Patriots had Monday thru Wednesday off). The report (or maybe conjecture) is that Brady has a mild high ankle sprain, but will be ready for the game. (If he played in Denver would it be a "mile high ankle sprain"?)

Louisiana-Connected Side Note - The son of Indian-born parents, Louisiana's new governor Bobby Jindal was born as Piyush Jindal, but as a child nicknamed himself "Bobby" after Bobby Brady from The Brady Bunch. He kept the name as an adult. The change has served him well in his political career.

January 25 - More, Part 2 - Louisiana Connections

Three more players on the Patriots roster are from Louisiana, via hometown, LSU or both. At least two get regular playing time - DL Jarvis Green, a 6th year lineman from Thibodaux, LA and CB Randall Gay, a 4th year defensive back from Baton Rouge. Gay intercepted three passes this year and made 36 tackles. Both played college ball at LSU under Nick Saban. Third year linebacker Eric Alexander from LSU is also on the Patriots' roster, but got limited playing time this year (only four tackles). RB Kevin Faulk from LSU and Lafayette, LA is in his 9th year with the Patriots. Used mostly as a third down back, in his career Faulk has rushed for more than 2,600 yards and caught 323 passes, scoring 11 touchdowns each way. Faulk was former LSU coach Gerry DiNardo's first high-profile recruit.

January 24 - Hug Update

A Google Images search of "football hugs" returned 98,600 hits (61,900 for "Super Bowl hugs"). Surprisingly, a Yahoo Images search of "football hugs" found only 360 (and just 43 for "Super Bowl hugs"). The Google search doesn't stop at Super Bowl hugs. It picks up all "Super Bowl" images, of which there are of course a lot.

For the moms in the audience, here's Colts' OL Ryan Diem getting hugged by his family at Super Bowl XLI last year. Diem looks too friendly to be an offensive lineman, but at 6'6" and 320 lb, he's made for the part.

It's not a Super Hug, but for Tiger fans I include this hug between coach Les Miles and DT Glenn Dorsey happened at this year's Tulane-LSU game rather than a Super Bowl. Maybe Dorsey will play in a Super Bowl soon (or maybe not if he gets drafted by the Dolphins).

Gay readers apparently enjoy this shot of Colts backup QB Jeff Shogi hugging kicker Adam Vinatieri during Super Bowl XLI media day. (from outsports.com)

Winning Colts coach Tony Dungy give losing Bears coach Lovey Smith a consolation hug after Super Bowl XLI

Dungy gives Colts QB Peyton Manning the hug he waited his whole professional career to receive.

January 22 - More, Part I - Connections

The Pats opened as 13.5 to 14 point favorites. Which Super Bowl teams have been favored by the same or more points? How did they do? I know one answer--the Baltimore Colts were big favorites over the AFL New York Jets in Super Bowl III. Jets' QB Joe Namath guaranteed victory and delivered the history-making upset--a win that probably set in motion the process that would merge the NFL and AFL.

Answers - Green Bay was favored by 17 over Kansas City in Super Bowl I, a game they won by 35-10. In Super Bowl III the Colts were also a 17-point favorite over the Jets, but they lost the game. San Francisco was a recordsetting 18-point favorite over San Diego in Super Bowl XXIX. They rewarded their backers with a 49-26 win. Brett Favre-led Green Bay was a 14-point favorite against New England in Super Bowl XXXI. At 35-21 Packers, the game was a push. The supposedly invincible St. Louis Rams were 14-point favorites over the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI. The Patriots pulled off a 20-17 upset. Overall, favorites are 21-17 with 3 pushes. Super Bowl XXII produced the winner by the largest net margin, as the 3-point underdog Washington Redskins, led by Louisiana's Doug Williams, obliterated the Denver Broncos 42-10. In their Super Bowl run of the 2000s, the Patriots have won three of three (vs. St. Louis, Carolina and Philadelphia), but not covered the spread as a favorite.

The line on Super Bowl XLII has been bet down to about 12 points, perhaps because of the Giants' strong playoff play, and perhaps because of Tom Brady's appearances wearing an orthopedic boot. Or perhaps it's because Sports Illustrated's respected football writer Paul Zimmerman picked the Giants to win outright in this recent column.

Super Bowl XLII is a rematch of the last game of the regular season between the Pats and Giants in New York. The Giants played bravely, but lost 38-35. With the win, the Patriots completed an unprecented 16-0 regular season, only the second perfect regular season in NFL history (the 1972 Miami Dolphins had the other at 14-0; ironically the Dolphins finished with the NFL's worst record at 1-15 this year). Can the Giants muster the same kind of effort and pull off the win this time?

The Pats/Giants regular season finale was televised on three networks--NBC, CBS and the NFL Network. It was initially set for only the NFL Network, but because of the game's historical impact and the fact that NFL Network is carried by less than half of cable TV companies, the NFL allowed a triple cast of the game on the other networks. The result was a record-setting regular season audience for a Saturday NFL game (I watched it back-and-forth with a now forgotten college bowl game during my "Bowling for Dollars" phase).

New England vs. New York (although they play in New Jersey) is yet another Boston vs. New York game--a matchup we saw too often during the baseball season. Given that the teams don't play often, there's not much of a rivalry between the fans. The Giants have much stronger rivalries with the Eagles and Redskins, while the Patriots have battled the Bills, Jets and Dolphins for years in the AFC East.

Manning and Brady got most of the attention in the championship game wins, but great performances were turned in by less celebrated players--11 catches for 154 yards by Giants' receiver Plaxico Burress (whose whole name works well as a pharmaceutical company; by itself Plaxico would have to cure something); 9 catches, many of the circus variety by Patriots' running back Kevin Faulk; 120+ yards rushing by other Patriots' RB Lawrence Maroney (his fourth 100 yard game in the last five); a comeback-ending interception by Patriots' DB Asante Samuel; and tough overtime running by Giants' rookie RB Ahmad Bradshaw, a 7th round draft pick, who played only a few games in the regular season.

Gathered around the goat pen, but staying outside were Tynes, of course, whose game-winning kick atoned for two previous misses in the minds of some, Giants DB Corey Webster, who atoned for getting burned by Donald Driver's 90-yard TD catch by picking off Favre's errant pass on the second play of overtime, and DB R.W. McQuarters who fumbled while returning an interception--a fumble that popped right into the waiting arms of Packers' lineman Steve Tauscher.

A probably incomplete list of Super Bowl people with Louisiana connections includes Faulk, who starred on Gerry DiNardo's teams at LSU in the late 1990s, Giants RB Brandon Jacobs, a high school star in Napoleonville, LA before going onto Southern Illinois University and the NFL, Webster, a former LSU cornerback, Giants' QB Eli Manning, who grew up and played high school ball at Newman in New Orleans, and FOX analyst Terry Bradshaw, a Louisiana native who starred at Louisiana Tech before going on to a Hall of Fame NFL career (four Super Bowl rings) and popularity as a football analyst and TV personality.

New England scored a record 589 points and gave up only 274 in the regular season--a difference of 315, another record, and an average victory margin of more than 19 points. The Giants scored 373 and gave up 351, a difference of 22, or just over one point per game. This comparison has a lot to do with the two-touchdown point spread. A comparison of playoff games is a little less daunting for the Giants. The Pats have scored 52 and given up 32 in two playoff games, an average margin of 10 points. The Giants have scored 68 and given up 51 in three playoff games for an average margin of almost six points. Advantage Patriots, but not as dramatically.

Foxsports.com fans think a lot more of the Patriots, ranking them #2 (#2?) and the Giants #26. I have no idea how these rankings are determined, but it doesn't say much for the voters.

Lastly for today, I'll share some personal background on my relationship with these two teams. Growing up in central New York state, I was a Giants' fan for most of my youth, rooting for Y.A. Tittle (who looks about 65, but was actually in his late 30s when this picture was taken), Joe Morrison, Sam Huff and Del Shofner, among others. The Giants rewarded me with three consecutive NFL Championship Game losses from 1961 to 1963 (Packers 37-0 (ouch!), Packers 16-7, Bears 14-10). The other choice in Syracuse was to root for the Cleveland Browns and RB Jimmy Brown, who starred at Syracuse University in the '50s. When that Giants' team broke up, we cheered for the generally inept efforts of the Fran Tarkenton-led Giants, after he came over from the Vikings. This team bottomed out in a history-making 72-41 loss to the Washington Redskins sometime in the late '60s. When my family moved to the Philadelphia area, I gravitated easily from being a Giants fan to following the Iggles, as they're known in the Delaware Valley (and who were equally inept until Dick Vermeil came along to coach). My other weaker connection to the Giants comes from days working in South Carolina where I worked and played softball with a guy who was Harry Carson's roommate in college. I rooted for Parcell's Giants when they beat Denver 39-20 in the Super Bowl played in San Diego.

My connection to the Patriots is almost nil. I rooted for them as a heavy underdog when they got annihilated by the dancing Bears in 1986. I rooted hard against them when the Brady-led team played Donovan McNabb and the Eagles a couple years ago. I don't remember getting too worked up in either direction about their other Super Bowls. This year, I'm going loud and strong for the Giants--getting back to my roots and cheering for Louisiana's Eli.

January 20 - Super Hug

Will somebody please hug this man? Giants placekicker Lawrence Tynes looks for someone to hug after kicking a 37-yard field goal to send his team into Super Bowl XLII. (David Phillips/AP)

Watch Tynes' Game-Winning Kick and Holder Feagles and QB Manning's Celebratory Hug

My mother complained about all the death posts (Notable and Traffic), so I'll start a Super Bowl post and try to find some unused angle to the most analyzed sports event in America. How about hugs?

Once again, two weeks of buildup await after the New England Patriots 21-12 win over the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Championship Game and the New York Giants 23-20 overtime win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.

The Patriots win was a case of touchdowns beating field goals, as the Pats scored three TDs while the Chargers, playing with surgically-repaired QB Phillip Rivers and without injured tailback LaDanian Tomlinson, managed an inadequate four field goals. League MVP Tom Brady of the Patriots had a relatively poor game, throwing three interceptions, but the Chargers didn't have the offensive firepower to take advantage.

In frigid Green Bay (wind chill -24 F by the end), the Giants and Packers played a surprisingly competent game, decided in overtime when Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes made a 47-yard field goal, after missing two late game attempts, including a 37-yarder at the end of regulation time. We watched the replay several times trying to figure out who hugged Tynes after his game-winning kick. Giants' QB Eli Manning raced onto the field to hug holder Jeff Feagles. I'm pretty sure that Giants' coach Tom Coughlin couldn't bring himself to hug Tynes after yelling at him after the first miss and shunning him after the second.

Sympathy hugs were in order on the Green Bay sideline, especially for future Hall of Fame QB Brett Favre, for whom the NFC Championship Game was expected to be a step on the road to a possible last-hurrah in Super Bowl XLII. Favre threw two touchdown passes during regulation, including a 90-yard strike to WR Donald Driver that was the longest TD pass in Packer playoff history, but on the second play of overtime threw a critical interception that led to the Giants' game-winning field goal. Once again, Favre has to decide whether to return for another season, one that would be his 18th in the NFL.