Monday, November 24, 2014

Tributegate - Martin St. Louis' Return To Tampa

The moment of truth is coming this Wednesday for Lightning fans. For the first time since he talked his way out of town last Spring, Marty St. Louis is playing a professional hockey game in Tampa. What will the reaction be? Will he be serenaded with boos every time he touches the puck? Will he be cheered? Will there be boos and a smattering of applause? Or will there be nothing but apathetic silence?

Chances are it will be option three.  While I’m not as emotionally invested in the saga as other fans, the fact remains that St. Louis slid his way out of town while he was captain of a playoff-bound team. The only way he could have made the exit uglier was if he kicked Joe Redner’s dog on the way out of town. It truly was a Hulk Hogan-NWO worthy heel turn.And yes I would give St. Louis $5.00 to grow a blonde handlebar mustache/5 o'clock shadow combination.

That being said he is also on the Mount Rushmore of all-time great Lightning players.  He will always have supporters in the crowd (including myself) where his past accomplishments outweigh his acrimonious exit from the organization. I’ll take a decade of exceptional/border-line hall of fame play in exchange for a forced trade that netted the Lightning a first round pick, a second round pick and a decent player in Ryan Callahan.

Fans will be fans but the more interesting aspect will be how the Lightning as an organization handle his return. If circumstances had been different, an elaborate video package would be produced chronicling his storied past with the team (and most likely fading out with the image of a bearded, scared  St. Louis raising the Stanley Cup). The Rangers produced such a package for Callahan, Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman when they returned to Madison Square Garden for the first time last week.  And the Lightning put together a similar welcome for Vincent Lecavalier last season when he returned wearing the garish orange and white Flyers uniform.

Remember the good times (photo lifted from nhl.com)


However, as of press time for this post, questions still linger on if the Lightning will produce such a video. General Manager Steve Yzerman is pretty much a soulless, team-building robot (that’s a good thing!) so I’m not surprised that he isn’t going to go out of his way to welcome back a player who went out of his way to paint the organization in a negative light while demanding his trade. It is worth noting that the team celebrated the 10th anniversary of their only Stanley Cup victory a few days after St. Louis was traded and his contributions to that historic campaign were noticeably absent in the tribute video they ran during the celebration.

I don’t know Mr. Yzerman personally, but needless to say I think he’s the type of guy who knows how to hold onto a grudge. I kind of wish the Rangers were still banged up with injuries so that the skating dumpster fire that is Mike Kostka was still on their team.  I could totally see Mr. Yzerman having the team produce a 90 second video highlighting Kostka’s 19 game career with Tampa Bay and showing that instead of a tribute to St. Louis.

It wouldn’t shock me if he forbids all mention of St. Louis’ name during the game. Imagine Paul Porter announcing a New York goal, “New York goal scored by 61 Rick Nash. Assist by number 26.  Rick Nash assisted by number 26 at 14:19”. Kind of like the old NHL video games that didn’t have the rights to certain players.

There haven’t been many Lightning players that have demanded to be traded from the team. The closest example might be Brian Bradley, one of the team’s first “stars”.  Rumors of Bradley being “soft” led to some grumbling in the clubhouse about his dedication to the team and rumors that the club wanted to move him. However, he suffered an a serious concussion that would end his career before he was able to be traded.  Since then he has been welcomed back into the family and can often be seen on Lightning broadcasts.

In the overall big picture trading St. Louis was good for the team. There are the actual assets brought back in the trade. Callahan has fit in well enough to sign a long-term deal to stay in Tampa and has produced while skating on the top line with Steven Stamkos.  The draft-pick for 2014 turned into a 1st round pick when the Rangers made the Eastern Conference finals.  Mr. Yzerman then traded that pick to the Islanders for two second picks and selected defensemen Dominik Mason and Jonathan MacLeod. Still waiting to be cashed in is a 1st round pick in a stacked 2015 draft.

It has also opened up ice time for some of the younger players.  Ondrej Palat and MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV (his official name from here on out) in particular have flourished with the playing time afforded by the former captain’s departure.  The Lightning offense hasn’t exactly stalled without the diminutive forward.  St. Louis has 17 points coming into the game on Wednesday.  That would put him fifth on the Lightning behind Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Valterri Filppula and MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV.  It would also put him one point ahead of his trade partner Callahan.

Why yes, I do now own a MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV jersey.


Speaking of Marty St. Louis scoring points. He’s scored a lot of them in his career. Nine-hundred and ninety-eight of them to be exact. Which means there is an outside chance that he could record his 1000th point AGAINST Tampa Bay. Which would only be slightly awkward. Imagine reaching a career milestone while boos rain down on the ice like jerseys at an Oilers game.

I really hope it doesn’t happen.  First and foremost because it would mean that the Rangers have scored at least two goals and no one wants that to happen. Secondly, I think if the fans do boo him for accomplishing such a milestone in a different uniform it would be something that wouldn’t age well.  As we know, time heals all wounds and ninety-nine times out of a hundred fans will forgive a player eventually, no matter how ugly the exit was. Remember that he did score 953 of those points in a Lightning uniform.

A decade from now, when St. Louis is inducted into the Hall of Fame wouldn’t it be nice if the media could play a video clip of him recording his 1000th point and not have to edit out the sound of 19,000 people booing? Respect the accomplishment, if not the man doing it. Kind of like the Yankee fan begrudgingly cheering for Billy Chapel’s perfect game in “For the Love of the Game”.

It would be a little petty for the Lightning as an organization to not show a video. Hilarious, but petty. They should just man up and put a tribute together, potential booing be damned.  Besides it would provide a closure point for all of the animosity. The fans can finally direct all of their discord directly at him and then move on. The healing/welcoming back process can finally begin in earnest.













Friday, October 31, 2014

An Open Letter To Joe Maddon

Dear Joe,

Welcome to Chicago! Ever since you opted out of your contract with the Rays, rumors have run rampant that next year would be sitting on the bench in Wrigley come next spring.  Even though it hasn’t been confirmed yet, seeing how Rick Renteria is now looking for employment, it looks like those rumors are actually coming to fruition.

So I figured I’d take this chance to reach out to you, one former Tampa Bay-area resident to another, to let you know a little about your new city. Things are going to be different, way, way different now that you’re coming to the Midwest. For instance, no more “Florida residents are so weird” jokes from the late night comedians. Instead you get, “Chicago politicians are so corrupt” jokes!

You're going to need that hoodie, and a hat, and some gloves, maybe a scarf, too.

Let us get the main issue out of the way first - the weather.  Dont' forget to pack your favorite hoodie. Yeah, winters in Chicago are a bit brutal.  As a matter of fact, as I type this, it is, in fact snowing outside.  The good news is that except for April, possibly a few weeks in May, ok maybe a day or so in June, the weather is pretty sweet during the summer.  Dining al freso at a local farm-to-table restaurant, enjoying a nice glass of wine after a day game victory against the Reds on a perfect July 72 degree night is one of the underappreciated joys of living in this town.  Not something you can really do in the middle of a sweltering St. Pete summer.

Speaking of weather - how about getting a chance to manage 81 games in Wrigley Field?  Kind of an upgrade from “The Pit”, huh?  (I’m kind of bummed your nickname for Tropicana Field never caught on).  Sure the friendly confines are a bit of a mess right now with the first phase of renovations going on, but trust me, watching baseball in one of the true historic fields in the league. You appreciate the fact that it is a true neighborhood park (even if the neighbors get a bit grumpy from time to time).

As far as the neighborhood itself, it is quite different than St. Pete.  While there is no Fergs to enjoy pre-game there are plenty of other options.  I’ve read that before your wife introduced you to the wine world you were a bit of a beer and whiskey guy.  Well welcome to Beer and Whiskey town!  On those nights that Castro boots an easy ground ball and costs you a game skip all of those bro-joints right around Wrigley and join me a couple of blocks south at a couple of true dives.

Just pop into Monsignor Murphey’s and put the first round on my buddy Dan’s tab…I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t even notice. Plus you can get a Flubby special from downstairs.  With Hot Doug’s (RIP) out of business, it’s better to go with the regular Chicago style dog than a gourmet encased meat dog. Just don’t put ketchup on it.  Some guy might lose an election because he made that mistake.

If you are looking for places with a bit of a better wine list we have that covered as well. Personally I’m a fan of the Purple Pig downtown.  Great wine, food is pretty good.  If you’re looking for steak, Del Frisco’s has you covered as well.  I understand they’re saving a very special bottle of wine for that moment you’ve been brought into town for - winning a World Series (no pressure, though). If you’re looking for something more “Chicago” then Gene & Georgetti has that old-school, rat-pack vibe to it.

Kudos to you for not backing out of the Italian restaurant you’re opening in Tampa. Nothing says sound investment like a restaurant! If you need menu ideas you are in luck because every other restaurant that’s opening in this city is an Italian joint.  While I haven’t had a chance to sample them all I can say that we have everything that you could need from family-owned neighborhood joint (Volare) to sports-celebrity-themed (Harry Carry’s) to super fancy (Spiaggia). And don’t forget about Eataly - the downtown temple that worships all things Italian.

We might be losing a Michelin-starred restaurant in L2O, but there is still plenty of fine dining options around.  If you put your name in now, you might get a reservation for Alinea by the time the season starts. Top Chef alums Fabio Viviani and Stephanie Izzard run pretty popular restaurants while Rick Bayless has built an empire of Mexican eateries downtown.

With the restaurant and your ties to the Tampa community I’m not sure if you’re looking to permanently relocate up here (state taxes are a bitch). If you do I hear there is some property available.  Johnny Toews has a sweet bachelor pad he’s looking to unload on the Gold Coast. If you want something a little more historic, a little fixer up that used to house Al Capone is looking for a buyer as well.  You might even be able to talk them down from their asking point.

Hipster Joe Maddon 
I know you like to bike so you might be tempted to buy a place in Wicker Park/ Bucktown and hang out with the rest of those kids.  While the greatest pizza place in the city is there (Piece) I don’t think you’ll like it.  First off - not enough tattoos, second - it looks like your bike has gears.  Not cool, man. Plus there is a 67% chance you’ll be run over by an enraged driver on Milwaukee Ave.

Lakeview wouldn’t be bad for you.  Walking distance to work, close to the lakefront trail and excellent dining options. You like your diners and Broadway has plenty of them. Melrose Diner, Stella’s, The Bagel and Yolk are all in the neighborhood.  All of them are nice places to grab a bite to eat on the way to the park.

But, hey, if you’re in town for a few years, feel free to move around and try a couple of different neighborhoods. The transit system is pretty great (when people aren’t getting attacked by machetes) and despite the occasional delay gets you from one part of the city to another in a quick fashion. I even have an extra Ventra card laying about that you can have (saves you the $5.00 sign up fee!)

As for your actual job, let me warn you, expectations are going to be a bit higher for you. While Chicago sports fans aren’t as insane as New York fans they are a bit more loyal than your typical Florida sports fan. For one thing, they pretty much all grew up here. Luckily there are approximately 164 professional sports teams in this city (165 if you include the MLS) so some of the loyalties are a bit divided.

 If you can keep the Cubs competitive from May to September you should be fine.  After that attention starts to drift to the Bears, Bulls and Blackhawks. The press is a bit more jaded than what you’re used to dealing with down south, but what would you expect if you had to cover a team that hasn’t won since Roosevelt was in office? And if you do struggle, at least the White Sox fans will like you more than whoever is coaching their team.

Your are coming into a pretty good situation. There is some considerable young talent on the team. Although it might be a bit odd for you to have young offensive talent as opposed to young pitching talent.  Pitching is a bit thin in the prospect department, but guest what - you have an ownership group that can actually spend money on high end free agents.  No more dumpster diving for players like James Loney and Roberto Hernandez!

See, they weren't always at odds with each other!


Remember how much fun you had with BJ Upton and his occasional “lack of hustle” and “mental breakdowns”? Luckily for you Starlin Castro is still a Cub.  You’ll get to bench him at least once or twice this season for not running out a ground ball or forgetting how many outs there are in an inning.  That way you can earn some street cred with the press while still being a friend to the players.

Of course, there is the outside chance that Castro is moved to some other team this off-season to help out with the pitching situation.  If that happens, Javy Baez can step in. Don’t be worried about his strike-outs.  The kid hits wherever he goes. He’ll figure it out.  Jorge Soler has the best bat speed I’ve seen since a kid named Sheffield.  Not a bid duo to build a playoff team around - and we haven’t even mentioned Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo yet.

You’ve already done what a lot of people didn’t think was possible - take a team that was a laughing stock because they had never won anything in the Tampa Bay Rays and make them respectable. Now you get to take a team that is a laughingstock because they are the Cubs and hopefully make them respectable as well.  Good luck with that.

See you at the Convention in January.

Good Luck,

Justin G.

P.S. It’s tradition that when you move to Chicago you crash on someone’s couch for 3-6 months.  If you need a couch to crash on, just hit me up.

P.P.S - If you could hook me up with tickets for the Foo Fighters when they play Wrigley this summer, that would be great!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My 3 Cents On Ray Rice and the NFL

“We are in an era in which being well-rounded is perhaps more important than ever before, and nobody in the NFL is more versatile and efficient than Baltimore’s starting running back. I believe that Ray Rice will be recognized as the clear-cut best running back in football by the end of the season, primarily because he is already the best running back in football.”

Bill Barnwell wrote those words just over two years ago. Since we have the advantage of perfect hindsight, we can chuckle at our how wildly things have changed since then. One of the curses of recording your thoughts and opinions for a living is that they are always there to haunt you, but when Barnwell wrote this post it wasn’t an outrageous claim.

Adrian Peterson was rehabbing a torn knee (little did we know about his superhuman ability to recover from career-ending injuries) and Rice was coming off of a year when he accumulated over 2,000 yards from scrimmage for the second time in four seasons. He had the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and a quarterback who was more than willing to dump passes off . And he was only 25 years old.

Fast forward to present day and Rice is little more than a pariah in the league. Instead of being remembered for  “4th and Forever” his name is synonymous with something much, much more negative. No one in this story comes off well. Rice for his actions, the NFL and the Ravens for their reactions all share blame in this mess.

With great reason, of course.  Ray Rice deserved to be suspended, not for two games, but for at least six. Did he deserve to be run out of football indefinitely?  No.  Josh Brent killed a teammate in an alcohol-related car crash and was suspended from the league for 10 games. Donte Stallworth pled guilty to DUI-manslaughter and was suspended for one season. Officially, although he is responsible for half of the murders in the state of Florida, Aaron Hernandez is not suspended from the NFL.  Any team wanting to sign the former Patriot would have to make quite a compelling case to get approval from Roger Goddell.

So why did the hammer come down on Rice, a player with no legal trouble in the past and a rather extensive history of community service?  I would venture that we are seeing the power of video.  The only difference between Rice’s case and all of the other domestic violence cases is that his actions are readily available for all to see.

There was never any doubt at what had happened. It was always accepted that Ray Rice knocked out his fiancée in an elevator and then dragged her unconscious body out. Nothing changed once the full video came out. However, before the video - two games, after the video - indefinite suspension.

It doesn’t matter if Goddell or his lackeys saw the video of the actual punch. They are reasonably intelligent men (at least we think they are). I’m pretty sure that they figured out what happened even before meeting with Rice and his now-wife. It doesn’t even matter if Ray Rice lied to them about the exact events that happened in the elevator.  He admitted he hit her, screw the build up to what led to the left hook. Jay-Z proved that you can be in an elevator with a violent female and not resort to knocking her out.

There is no doubt that the NFL first erred in going to light on Rice’s suspension. If they had come down with an 6 or 8 game suspension, much of the trouble that they are going through right now would have been avoided. If that had been the official suspension, there is a good chance that Ray Rice would still be a member of the Ravens, and Goddell wouldn’t be worrying about his future employment and concussions would be back to being the number one reason to feel guilty about being a fan of the NFL.

They didn’t help their situation by allowing Greg Hardy to play in week one. The same Greg Hardy who was found guilty of two counts of domestic violence this summer.  Hardy is currently appealing the ruling (something Rice isn’t doing) and has been moved to the NFL exempt list (a kind of purgatory where a player isn’t allowed to play, but is still able to cash his paycheck) while the team does its “due diligence” on the matter.

If there was no video of Rice hitting his domestic partner would he be in the same boat as Hardy?  We are a visual culture. Reading or hearing about events is never going to impact us like seeing them. For whatever reason actually seeing something leaves such little doubt. It’s just human nature.  It goes back to the Bible (if you’re one for religion). Did Thomas believe the other disciples that Jesus had popped out of the cave after a couple of days? Nope, he had to see him for himself, not only that, he had to see the nail wounds as well before he would believe their story. Pictures or get the f*ck out, I guess.


It’s a sad fact that domestic violence doesn’t occur only among football players. Everyday someone is getting arrested for incidents similar to what the Rices went through. And the truth is, most of the convicted receive similar punishments. If a plumber hits his wife during an argument, chances are he doesn’t lose his job.

It’s easy to blame the violence on the “culture of the NFL” but it happens in all sports, in all walks of life. Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, Chris Brown and Sean Penn have all seen their names in the paper because of domestic violence issues and as far as I know none of them have played a down of football.

I asked a Human Resource professional, “If an employee [of your company] is convicted of a crime..say domestic violence…does that give you the grounds to terminate them?”

Their response, “Not necessarily….If {they} are charged - not work - related. I can’t do anything. However, time you will serve or if the charge directly relates to your job then we can part ways as we can’t keep your job while you are in jail or put the {business} in jeopardy”

They did follow up with an important side note - “We are not a company that uses our associates as the face of the company.”


There in lies the crux of the problem for the Ravens and the NFL.  Ray Rice is considered a “face” of the NFL. He is in their advertisements, their video games, their endorsed movies (a photo of Ray Rice appears during the end credits of “Draft Day”) so for him to be embroiled in a high-profile does put the NFL in jeopardy.

Any team that employs Ray Rice (and I think someone will sign him next year) is going to take a hell of a chance. Not only in incurring the wrath of the public, but also in signing a 28-year-old running back with declining numbers.

It‘s interesting that an organization that has stood behind players with nefarious actions in the past would be so quick to cut their number one running back. Could the Ravens be callously using this an opportunity to jettison a large financial commitment? Sure they take a huge cap hit next season, but they do so without any fan backlash at all.

Since Barnwell wrote his article, not only has Rice not been the best running back in the league, he’s barely been average. While he should be in the prime of his career, several seasons to go before that magic age of 32 when running backs fall off the table, he has racked up a tremendous amount of use in the NFL. While being a multi-use back is great for offenses and fantasy football (PPR for life!) all of those extra tackles do add a lot of wear and tear to an athlete.

The initial reaction by the league and the Minnesota Vikings to Adrian Peterson’s child disciplining techniques shows that the league is amazingly tone deaf when it comes to these types of issues. Here you are in the middle of getting raked over the coals for a player committing violence upon a member of their family and a similar situation arises and the response is…. “Eh, maybe we’ll suspend him.”

Since he hasn’t been tried in court yet, but has admitted to the discipline placing him on the exempt list actually makes since (sure it took them awhile to get there, but at least they got it right).  And for the record the “We do things different in the South” defense is a load of horse shit. As is the “That’s the way I was raised” defense. If my dad beat the shit out of me growing up (which he didn’t) it wouldn’t give me the right to continue the cycle.

Of course I can see why the Vikings might want to go a little lenient on Peterson. If I was the owner of a team that had Christian Ponder as my starting quarterback I would do everything I could to keep my superstar running back on the field.

In the end, I have no problems with watching NFL games on Sunday (other than getting time off of work to do it). I long ago made peace with the fact that athletes aren’t role models or heroes. You can’t really follow boxing without having to accept that people are assholes. I have to chuckle every time I hear someone talk about a player doing things “the right way”. All that does is set them up for a future disappointment. I’m sure Russell Wilson is a great guy, but does he need Peter King writing about Wilson needing to be “front and center” for the public to regain its trust in the league.

Ray Rice’s name will slide to the back pages soon enough. Just like Michael Vick, Ritchie Incognito and Lance Armstrong’s names did. It’s just another part of human nature to for us to let time dim the outrage. Its extremely possible that he finds away to bring some good out of this. More recently on Grantland, Bill Simmons wrote a poignant column about how it feels to be a parent of child in pain and how he couldn’t understand how someone would want to cause that.  In the passage he lays out a scenario for Peterson that would work just as well for Rice:

“Eventually someone will convince Peterson that he needs therapy, and that he will become an advocate for child abuse. Peterson will follow that person’s instructions for one of two reasons: He wants to save his football career or he understands that he failed as a parent and a human being….One or both of those reasons will be genuine”

Replace Peterson with Rice and replace child abuse for domestic abuse and that sums up the future for Ray Rice.










Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My NSCC Haul!

OK. So I didn't actually go to the National Sports Collectors Convention. It was in Cleveland. I've been to Cleveland twice and I think I've hit about all I need to see (except for the “Christmas Story house”. Besides, next year's NSCC is back here in Chicago and if I put in my request for days off now, I should be able to go (unless I'm paddling a kayak through some remote waterway like I was the last time it was in the Windy City).

However, I was so jealous of everyone posting their loot from the NSCC that I went online and bought some cards. A healthy PayPal account and a couple of hours to spare led me to pick up 17 new cards from COMC.com. For roughly the price of a blaster I added 17 cards to my shoeboxes. Here, presented with commentary are those 17 newest cards.


2011 Topps Finest Refractor Rookie Autographs Zach Britton



It's an Oriole. It's shiny. It has an on-card autograph. Winner Winner Winner. Britton has taken over as the closer for the first place O's and not doing a bad job of it. Say what you will about the O's front office, but they saved themselves some money by letting Jim Johnson ($10 million) walk and finding a way out of the Grant Balfour ($4 million) contract.

Instead they installed former starting rotation savior Britton in the closer role and he's thrived. He's converted 24 saves while striking out 51 batters in 58 2/3 innings. All for the low, low sum of $522,000. Which once again proves that teams that spend more than $4 million on a closer are insane.

2008 Topps Sterling Eddie Murray



One for the personal collection. For some reason I never know what to make of these Sterling cards. I like the fact that they frame the action, but the serial numbering seems excessive. Is there any reason to only make 250 of these cards? Other than artificially driving up the value of course.

2012 Topps Heritage Dee Gordon



I have a deal with myself. Anytime I buy cards on COMC I have to knock at least one card off of my “Wanted” list. I'm pretty sure that I had this Gordon card at one point and then traded it away because I am bad at keeping track of things. Oh well.

2010 Bowman Platinum Jake Arrieta



I've been in Wrigley for two of Arrieta's starts this year. Both times he's taken a no-hitter past the 5th inning. I've never been to a professional game where a no-hitter has been pitched. Much like knocking down a hole-in-one,I would like to attend a no-hitter before I die. I should put together a sports-related bucket lists of things I'd like to see that are out of my control. I'd also like to catch a foul ball, just once. My niece is five and she already has a foul ball. Life isn't fair.

2012 Topps Heritage Aroldis Chapman



He throws really, really hard. I like the fact that there is someone who just brings the heat. I also like the fact that he doesn't have any wins this year. If you're a closer you should either get the save or the loss. When I see a closer that has 5 or 6 wins I think, “He's probably blown a lot of leads only to get bailed out by his offense in the bottom of the inning.” That's not cool. Don't be a wins poacher.

2013 Bowman Dylan Bundy



The price was right for a rookie card of the O's best prospect. I'm glad that they made it through the deadline without parting with any of the big three young pitchers in the organization. While the pressure to make a big deal to WIN NOW there is something to be said for holding on to your prospects. Especially pitching prospects since projecting their success is pretty much a crap shoot. Bundy is working his way back from Tommy John surgery and it isn't unreasonable to think he might make it back to the majors in time to help the O's in September.

2012 Topps Chrome Wei-Yen Chen



If I was to tell you Chen is 12-4 this year would you believe me? No, you would probably go look it up and say, “huh – how about that”. On a staff without a true ace Chen is at least the most consistent of the starters. He goes out there every start and gives the O's about 6 innings of solid work. He doesn't dazzle nor does he get knocked around. He's only had one start where he's gone less than 5 innings (June 28th against the Rays) and has only one start where he's gone eight innings.

2013 Topps Manufactured Rookie Card Patch Eddie Murray



Card number two for the personal collection. Normally I'm not a fan of the manufactured patch card, but at least it's not a fake jersey letter. I kind of like the reprint of the rookie card on a cloth background. I also like any card that says “Congratulations” on the back. Thanks for the inspiration Topps!

2008 Razor Signature Series Bobby Bundy



And Justin G. goes WAY off the board for this pickup. Honestly, at this point I was just looking for an on-card autograph at a reasonable price. The older of the Bundy brothers, Bobby is also working his way back from elbow surgery. After showing some success in the A level, Bundy has struggled a bit over the last few years. If he can work his way back from the elbow issue, maybe he can find a spot in the organization as bullpen arm.

2009 Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects Chris Tillman



I guess Tillman is the “ace” of the staff. Or at least the number one starter. Well, he was the opening day starter. It's kind of weird to think that he is only 26 years old. Oriole fans have been on the phenom/bust/phenom/bust roller coaster with him for what seems like a decade.

He has nine wins on the year which is boosted slightly by the 4.76 average in run support he gets during his starts. Come stretch run/playoff time he's going to have to turn it up a notch as he won't be seeing that type of support against quality teams.

2014 Bowman Blue Kevin Gausman
2014 Topps Kevin Gausman
2013 Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects Blue Refractor Kevin Gausman
2013 Topps Finest Refractor Kevin Gausman






Yeah, I kind of went on a Gausman run there didn't I? When I went back to Baltimore this summer for a wedding (Congrats Little Cuz!) it was in the midst of the Jeff Samardzija trade talks. It kind of surprised me that the popular consensus in the Charm City was that if the O's were going to pull off the trade it would be better to ship Dylan Bundy to Chicago instead of Gausman. Now granted some of that could have been due to the “what have you done for me lately” syndrome. With Bundy on the shelf and Gausman contributing it would be easy to forget that Bundy is the top-rated prospect.

Luckily, Oakland went all in for the Shark and O's fans can look forward to a future rotation with both Gausman and Bundy starting. It'll be interesting to see how much Gausman pitches down the stretch. He has been bounced back and forth between Norfolk and Baltimore quite a bit (12 starts in the majors and 11 in AAA) and is at about 112 innings pitched between the two. In 2013 he threw about 129 innings.

In spring training it looked like he would have an innings cap around170 innings, but since his last call up it seems like Buck Sholwalter might be removing that limit. I could see him moving to the bullpen once Miguel Gonzalez is recalled from the minors. Granted, I would rather see Ubaldo Jimenez sitting out beyond center field eating sunflower seeds, but you don't pay someone $11 million to pitch in blowouts.

2000 Skybox Matt Riley



Speaking about blowouts. Hey it's former prospect Matt Riley! I bought this card more because of the photo than of the player (Motion Blur-Jo!). The former 3rd round pick was a hard-throwing, left-handed prospect during the lean years for the Orioles at the turn of the century. He lasted parts of three seasons before injuries and a lack of discipline derailed his chances of being the next Brad Pennington.

He was shipped to Texas for the legend that was Ramon Nivar (one career RBI for the O's) and then quietly faded away. Not before I stocked up on a few of his rookie cards, though.

2008 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects Jake Arrieta



Another early card of the Cubs current ace. Arrieta was the opening day starter for the O's in 2012. By 2013 he was on the Cubs. The 2013 opening day starter for the O's was Jason Hammel. By 2014 he was on the Cubs. The 2014 opening day starter for the O's was Chris Tillman. Will he keep the streak going?

2013 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects Chrome Draft Picks Hunter Harvey



The last card in the bunch has the longest set name in the history of baseball cards. Also, in keeping with the Justin G. curse the day I selected this card, Harvey was shut down for the season with an elbow injury.

Seventeen cards at an average of $1.44 per card. The most expensive card was the Britton and the least expensive was the Dylan Bundy Bowman. The card I feel like I overpaid the most for was the Matt Riley. The card that looks better in person than online was the Britton. The best value I thin was the Gausman Finest refractor.






Friday, July 25, 2014

Opposite Ends of the Hype Line - Gennedy Golovkin and Mike Lee Both Fight This Weekend

It's a pretty good boxing weekend for one that doesn't include anyone named Mayweather or Pacquiao. Well, good enough for me to shake the dust of the keyboard and bang out some words about it. First up on Friday night, ESPN returns to the Windy City and features quasi-local boy Mike Lee. Sadly I do not have tickets or a press pass to attend. Then on Saturday, Gennedy Golovkin headlines a HBO Pay-Per-View in Madison Square Garden where he looks to add another victim to his hit list.

We'll begin with Golovkin, because he is the most interesting fighter on the list. Born in Kazakhstan, lives in Germany but training in Big Bear, California Golovkin has ascended rapidly up the “must watch” fighters list over the last two years. During that time (which coincided with his United States debut – a blistering TKO victory over Gregorz Proksa) he has gained a reputation, spearheaded by HBO Boxing, as the “Most Dangerous Man” in boxing.

It's easy to like a fighter who finishes off his opponents and Golovkin's string of 16 straight knockouts makes him as easy to like as apple pie on Thanksgiving. He can hit with both hands, throws power punches at will, has the agility and balance that rarely leaves him off balance all while commanding the ring like it's his personal dance space.

He's drawn a lot of comparisons to a young Mike Tyson (maybe we should call him Kazakh Dynamite much like Tyson was Kid Dynamite) for his power and the way opponents are starting to shy away from him. Of course, no one is flat out admitting that they won't fight him, but no one of note seems to be in a hurry to sign the dotted line for a fight.

Not only does he dole out his fair share of punishment, but he's not going to be confused with Winky Wright anytime soon when it comes to defense. He gets hit from time to time, enough so that you begin to wonder if this might be the time he pays the price for keeping his hands down.

I can imagine his opponents thinking, “Hey I just rocked him with a straight right. I can do this” right before they wake up staring at the bright lights and a mustachioed man in a blue shirt waving his arms over his head.

Maybe it's his love of cardigans or huge smile whenever he's being interviewed, but no one scheduled to face him is ever thinks that they're going to fall victim to his fistic bombarment. Granted no one on the professional level is ever going to admit that they're scared of getting hit by their opponent, but some of his victims have been extremely boastful prior to stepping in the ring.

Gabriel Rosado: “I'm gonna smash him”



Curtis Stevens: “I'm coming there ready. I'm not scared, obviously, because I asked for the fight.”



Osumanu Adama: “The difference with me is that I'm not scared of Golovkin”



The point being, you might not fear him going into the fight, but chances are your thoughts will change once your back is on the canvas and the overhead lights are swimming in your eyes.

For boxing fans, enjoy Golovkin for where he is at now in his career. He is getting popular, but he is not at the over-saturation point yet. Sure, there are folks on the internet who say he's overrated, but that's the cynical internet where God himself could come down, heal the sick and lame, end warfare and someone would write, “Ehhh. That's nothing, Buddha would mop the floor with that guy.

Nor has Golovkin risen to the point where he's become the pick and choose, fight two times a year superstar boxer. Remember how much fun it was to look forward to Manny Pacquiao's fights when he was laying waste to his opponents? When he was ripping up De La Hoya and Rickey Hatton? Those were fun days, before the “When Will He Fight Mayweather” talk really escalated or he got mired down by Timothy Bradley.

That's were we're at with Golovkin. His future fights aren't more important than his present fights. Who care's if he'll fight Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. or Saul Alvarez. All we want him to do is bust up Daniel Geale like a birthday pinata.

I agree that he hasn't fought the best fighters yet, but in this business you still have to work your way up the ladder. He's beating, straight up stole-his-money beating, everyone that enters the ring with him. So enjoy that now. Because it's going to change. It always changes.

I don't know much about his opponent, Daniel Geale. He was born in Tasmania (awesome) and lives in Australia (still awesome) and held both the IBF and WBA super-middleweight titles. His two losses were split decisions that were somewhat controversial and he's beat Felix Strum on points in Germany. Which is like beating Floyd Mayweather on points in Las Vegas. It just doesn't happen.

He seems like a nice fighter. Fairly competent on defense as he has never been knocked out and hasn't been down in a round since 2008. Of course, looking at his list of opponents, none of them has had the power of Golovkin. He is the requisite feel-good underdog. Unlike most fighters, he doesn't seclude himself in a remote fortress when he trains for fights, rather he stays at home with his family. He has even dedicated this fight to his mother who is battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma. And against almost anyone other than Golovkin I would be rooting for him.

Like those who stumbled to the mat before him, Geale isn't afraid of Golovkin. Of course, he can't allow himself to be. Or else the fight is already lost. Geale has to believe that he is different than everyone else who has fought Golovkin. That his defense is tighter. That if gets inside he can do serious damage where others have just annoyed the happy go lucky Kazakh.

Does he have a chance to win? Sure, I'm sure his trainer has developed a plan for him. Maybe not a knockout plan, but a “keep it close on the cards an squeak out a win” plan. Of course, even the best laid plans tend to go awry once a thudding left hook lands on your liver. That's when we'll see what Geale is really made of.



I've never had much good to say about Mike Lee. If I'd listened to my mother then I would never have anything to say about him. I'm sure Mike Lee is a good guy, I'm sure he works with charities and is nice to his mother. For some reason he just rubs me the wrong way – much like Lukas when he played for Liverpool.

Maybe I'm finding out that I have a bias against fighters who've graduated college. Especially fighters who went to Notre Dame. Or the fact that despite being from the area he's only fought in Chicago once (his pro debut). It's probably the Subway deal. You know the one. There are actual recognizable athletes saying how much they like Subway sandwiches and then there is the guy with boxing gloves around his neck.

Imagine if Subway had, instead of Ryan Howard, chosen Jesse Biddle to pimp their Sweet Onion Teriyaki subs. Sure, Biddle might be a star at one point, but right now he's just some face in the crowd. Boxing deserves more than that for one of the few commercials that has a national spotlight.

Despite my dislike of the fighter he is setting himself up for a nice little comeback story. The golden (domer) kid who has a nice contract with Top Rank boxing and a little money coming in from endorsements without really having accomplished in the ring was kind of riding the top of the wave.

Then it came crashing down. A couple of bulging disks in his back and some jaw issues sidelined him for almost two years. His contract with Top Rank expired and wasn't renewed. He left his Texas-based trainer, Ronnie Shields, and signed up with former heavyweight contender Chris Byrd. He TKO'd undefeated Peter Lewison in April and will look to do the same on Friday to Paul Gonsalves.

Those two fighters have a combined record of 13 and 3. In the previous 11 fights his opponents were 39 and 51. So he is stepping up his competition. Hopefully he steps up his work rate as well. He needs to be working regularly to make up for the missing years and for a relatively empty amateur career as well. If he does, then maybe he replaces Mike Jimenez at the top of my Best Chicago Fighters list.



Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Yzerman Fills in the Missing Pieces

When I go grocery shopping I wander the aisles putting things in my basket until I have what I need. Often I have to double back to pick up things I forgot to get the first time around.  When my wife goes shopping she has a list. She hits everything on that list in order with no wasted time looking at ice cream and wondering when they stopped making Pudding Pops. When it comes to free agency I'm like the Washington Capitals grabbing overpriced items at the checkout line.  Steve Yzerman is my wife.

It makes me smile to think that he woke up a couple of days ago, grabbed a pen and his “Things to Do” stationary and went to town.  He probably had himself a nice little Saturday.  After yesterday’s frenzy it probably looked a little something like this:

Big Steve’s To Do List

Draft a talented but troubled teenager - Anthony DeAngelo - check
Pick up a defenseman on the cheap - Jason Garrison - check
Clear up some cap space - Teddy Purell, BJ Crombeen, Nate Thompson - check
Chuckle at the thought of beat writers and bloggers not getting enough sleep - check
Drink one Heineken (Because Kid Rock rhymed it with my name in a song) - check
Wait for desperate GM’s to throw crazy money around in the first few hours of free ageny - check
Sign solid defenseman to a reasonable contract - Anton Stralman - check
Call Ecklund on a burner cell phone and say that “sources” tell me Yzerman is offing $49 million to Matt Niskanen - check
Chuckle - check
Replace rugged 4th line center that I traded the other day - Brian Boyle - check
Sign veteran back up goalie in case #1 goalie gets hurt a week before the playoffs (again) - Evgeni Nabokov - check
Throw a bone to Syracuse after raiding their team last season - Mike Blunden Mike Angelidis - check
Figure out a way to turn all my 2015 picks into Connor McDavid - pending

This is the upside of having a cold, calculating general manager running the organization.  He eschews the drama and gets things done.  Sure you have to deal with him passionately trading away or buying out fan favorites, but it’s worth it when he pulls off days like July 1st.

Once he started clearing space with his pre-July 1 trades, speculation that the Lightning would be major players in free agency started to mount.  Odd, since historically Mr. Yzerman didn’t dip too much into the market.  In the past he tended to target one or two players that weren’t among the top targets and then go about his day.

We hear about teams having multi-year plans all the time.  Every time a new general manager or coach takes over a struggling team we hear about a new “three year” or “five year” plan.  Most of the times those plans fizzle or the GM or coach gets axed before seeing it to fruition.  Mr. Yzerman has managed to actually build it as he wants to.

He came into a mess of an organization and immediately started stockpiling assets whether they were draft picks or young players.  The surprising run to the Eastern Conference Finals in his first year masked some deficiencies, most notably depth in the defense and goaltending. When Dewayne Roloson reverted back to a 98-year-old goalie the next season, the team struggled.

However, Mr. Yzerman didn’t waiver. Digging into his vault of draft picks and young forwards he brought in a couple of young goaltenders with promise.  While Anders Lindback didn’t pan out, he looks like he has a future all-star in Ben Bishop.  Meanwhile he kept getting rid of salary while not over committing to long term deals with veterans.

Last season, saw the influx of young prospects into the lineup.  They played well, enjoyed some good luck along the way and found themselves in the playoffs.  Montreal managed to expose some of the weaknesses that lingered on defense and in net, but the core of the future was established.  Now, Mr. Yzerman just had to add the missing pieces.

With a ton of cap space and the important parts of the team already under contract  (top six forwards, goaltender and top defense pairing) he could pick and choose what he needed this year to not only get back to the playoffs, but also be a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference.

Anton Stralman is the biggest piece of the puzzle that Mr, Yzerman acquired. He is the veteran (394 NHL games) steady presence that the team lacked last season. According to the scouting reports he won’t rack up the points, but he is good at getting the puck out of the zone. One thing that I’ve read over and over is that he is a “darling of the fancy-stats crowd”.  Which, to me, boils down to - he does great things in terms of puck possession. The basic tenant from the #fancystats crowd is that good things happen when you have possession of the puck.

With Stralman and Garrison in the fold the Lightning shouldn’t be booking flights out of  Syracuse to patch holes in the blue line during the season. Andrej Sustr will probably spend most of the season in New York where he will get to develop his professional game.  Radko Gudas and Mark Barberio will see their minutes reduced, which isn’t a bad thing for players in their second NHL season.

With seven healthy defensemen under contract (and Sustr soon to be re-signed) Mr. Yzerman also has the flexibility to cut someone loose.  The number one contender to be moved would be Eric Brewer. A team looking to add some depth in defense might be willing to take on his cap hit in exchange for a draft pick or two.  With Stralman eating up his minutes Brewer’s place in the line up is a little shaky.

Evgeni Nabokov is not the player he was five years ago, he’s also not commanding as much money as he was five years ago.  He is someone, however, that should be able to play 20 games a year (or more if needed) and not completely disgrace himself.  The Lightning were burned badly by not having someone ready to step in to back up Bishop last year. Nabokov fills that role without affecting the future prospects they have in the pipeline (and yes I’m avoiding looking up how to spell their names).

Brian Boyle is a nice signing.  He adds some size, but seems to do the same things that Nate Thompson did - win faceoffs and forecheck.  I would have liked to see Dominic Moore come back to the team to fill the role, but the Rangers had to re-sign at least one of their free agents.

The overall theme of the Lightning’s actions off-season revolve around goal prevention.  They didn’t add a lot of offense, in fact they sacrificed some in letting BJ Crombeen Teddy Purcell go.  I’m sure they are planning on Purcell’s production being replaced by having a full season of Steven Stamkos in the line up as well as adding Jonathan Drouin to the team.

It’s pure folly to judge how a team did in free agency before anyone has laced up the skates. However, if you’re a fan of the Lightning you should be encouraged on the moves that they made. None of the other teams in their division really strengthened their teams on the first day of free agency.  Granted Boston didn’t really need to add too much, but Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Detroit mostly held serve.  Buffalo and Florida made a lot of noise, but nothing that would make them a serious contender next season.

There is going to be some pressure on the Lightning to succeed for the first time in a couple of seasons.  Simply making the playoffs isn’t the goal any longer, now they are expected to go deep into the post season.  At first blush the team Mr. Yzerman has assembled is built to do just that.


Monday, June 30, 2014

Steve Yzerman Opens Up For Free Agency Frenzy

With just a couple of phone calls General Manager Steve Yzerman managed to wash away the one solid trade Brian Lawton made for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Catching the league (and fans) unawares, Mr. Yzerman traded pass-happy forward Teddy Purcell to the Edmonton Oilers for Sam Gagner. He then flipped Gagner to the Arizona Coyotes (that's gonna take awhile to feel right) along with BJ Crombeen for a 6th round pick in 2015. For dessert he then traded everyone's favorite Alaskan Nate Thompson to the Anaheim Ducks for two more draft picks in 2015 (4th and 7th round).

The rapid succession of moves made clear a few things:

A: Steve Yzerman cares not for your deadlines or your sleep.
B. The Lightning scouting department will be working overtime this season.
C. Mr. Yzerman cleared over $6 million in cap space and the team is poised to be a big player once the July 1st Free Agent debacle begins.
D. Or not.

Lets not kid ourselves. This year's free agent market isn't exactly overflowing with sexy names. I don't see Mr. Yzerman clearing cap room to bring in Jarome Iginla or Martin Havlat. And Paul Stastny, while the marquee name on the list, doesn't exactly address a need for the team right now. That's not saying the general manager won't sign someone (after all he didn't tip his hand with the Valterri Filppula signing last year), it's not likely that all of the cap room will be spent on July 1st.

I also don't foresee any 2004 Stanley Cup reunion tours in the near future. Brad Richards, Dan Boyle, Nik Khabibulin, and Corey Sarich are all free agents while Philly is supposedly shopping Vincent Lecavalier. As big of a fan of nostalgia as I am, I don't see any of those players skating in Tampa anytime soon.

Most likely the team with use the space to fill in depth on the bottom two lines. So I wouldn't be surprised to see them sign a player along the lines of Dominic Moore or Marcel Goc. Heck, Steve Downie is out there and affordable. If we're talking reunions why not bring back The Little Ball of Fury?


Luckily free agency isn't the only route open. The Lightning have cap room and extra draft picks to deal. That makes them very enticing trade partners for some teams that might find themselves hamstrung by a $69 million salary cap. For instance. with only about $700,000 in wiggle room and his two stars contemplating $10 million a year contracts perhaps Stan Bowman might be willing to listen on an offer for Nick Hjalmarsson and his $4.1 million cap hit.

The Flyers gave Andrew McDonald lots and lots of money this off-season. As of yet they haven't been able to trade him to Columbus quite yet (as they do with most of their other failed investments) so they're feeling the cap squeeze. Would Luke Schenn make the Lightning better on the blue-line? I doubt it would make it worse.

Of course, all talks of trades are based on various players waiving their no-trade clauses, but if you're a player being shopped wouldn't Tampa be an intriguing destination? Never mind the “no state income tax” hoopla. I'm talking about joining a team that is legitimately poised to be a serious contender for the next few years. Already there have been a few “hey the Lightning are going to be really, really good” stories pop up among the national media, confirming what we've already realized. When compared to other organizations Tampa is becoming a desired destination.

Let's not forget one lingering, dirty background detail. There is a certain former member of the Sarnia Sting who is going to need a new contract soon.  It ain't gonna come cheap. Especially once Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane set the new bars for supremely talented goal scorers.

Monday night's Trade-a-palooza was just the opening salvo in what will probably be Mr. Yzerman's busiest off-season. It's also one of his most important as he looks to add the missing elements that can build on last season's success without destroying the foundation that has took him a few years to build.