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Monday, July 31, 2006

Trade winds simmer down

Now that the 3 p.m. Major League Baseball trade deadline has passed, no player may move on without first clearing waivers.

It may take just as long to correctly explain the waiver rules as it will to figure out who came away winners in this year's round of dealing.

The early results certainly have the Yankees as winners, giving up only four minor leaguers for Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle.

The Reds look like winners early, as they have rebuilt their bullpen.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, well let's just say they ought to come out of Ned Colletti's first trade deadline as GM a lot better than they did after Paul DePodesta's first deadline run in 2004.

DANICA'S TANTRUM TRULY EMBARRASSING

Danica Patrick outdid herself Sunday at Michigan International Speedway. After finishing near the back of the pack -- again -- she got out of her car and started stomping her foot in disgust like a 5-year-old. She then took off her helmet as she was walking down the pit lane and left it there.
All that was missing was the pacifier.
She must have come to her senses and wanted to act like an adult, because she then immediately began dropping F-Bomb after F-Bomb as she quickly made her way to her pit box. The F-Bombs continued before she slumped behind her pit box. Maybe she cried, maybe she was just pouting -- regardless, it was one of the most infantile tantrums the sports world has seen.
The Little League World Series and Cheerleading Camp have nothing on Miss Patrick.
I'm sure Michael Andretti (her owner for next season) and any potential sponsors will be thrilled with Sunday's antics.
The only thing she didn't do was pull someone's hair and gouge their eyes out.
She embarrassed the Indy Racing League, Team Rahal and women athletes in general.

She should have at least exited her car and then punched somebody like Tony Stewart.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The most important man in track...

... is certainly not Justin Gatlin, who for the moment, is penciled in as the reigning Olympic and world champion and co-world record holder in the 100-meter dash.

Those titles _ and the notoriety and money that come with them _ could be snatched away even faster than Gatlin can run should international track officials confirm an earlier positive test for doping. As a previous offender, Gatlin faces a lifetime ban from the sport.

That's big news. The bigger news, though, is that Trevor Graham is involved in this at all.

Of course, most Americans only follow track and field every four years, so Graham is virtually unknown outside of the insular world of track athletes and, um, federal officials.

Graham may indeed play a bigger role in the pro sports doping and the subsequent BALCO scandal than even Barry Bonds, Victor Conte, Marion Jones or a small-timer like Gatlin.

Graham is the one who sent a syringe containing the designer steroid TGH to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and told the agency that Conte was giving the drug to San Francisco-area athletes.

Whatever his intentions, Graham was thrust into the center of the scandal only to quickly disappear once federal officials and media folk started sniffing around Conte's offices and federal indictments ensued. Graham was no Mr. Clean himself: at least five of Graham's athletes had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, including Jones and previous 100 record holder Tim Montgomery.

Graham now appears to have a sixth athlete on the bad side of doping agents: Gatlin.

With Graham's checkered history, it's a wonder that Gatlin ever brought him on as a coach, particularly considering that he once served a two-year ban in international competition for a previous positive drug test.

At a minimum, Gatlin is guilty of gross idiocy. At worst, Gatlin was a cheat, who hired a cheater, then cheated again _ unsuccessfully at that.

Perhaps Gatlin should have heeded the chilling words of his agent Renaldo Nehemiah, who told USA Today this shortly after his client's triumph in the Athens Games: "You're judged by the company you keep."

Sutter's induction bodes well for Smith

For three years now, Castor's Lee Smith has seen his name on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. Each year he has come up short.

Now there may be a little more hope for Smith. With Bruce Sutter's induction on Sunday and Dennis Eckersley's a year ago, it appears closers are finally beginning to get their due when it comes to the Hall.

And in this day of specialized pitchers and fewer complete games it stands that more and more closers will be enshrined in Cooperstown in the coming seasons.

Smith, as the all-time saves leader, stands to benefit from not only this recent trend but also from Trevor Hoffman's pursuit of his saves record.

Saint Reggie signs

So I was just wondering how the folks at Yahoo.com feel after Reggie Bush signed with the Saints after his lengthy TWO-DAY holdout. You may remember it was a Yahoo.com report which suggested Bush would sit out the entire season.

Of course, now in the Information Age, we make knee-jerk reactions to everything. So Bush was ripped by other Web sites for "possibly'' sitting out while New Orleans tries to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

Please. Reggie Bush wasn't sitting anything out. If he was, why was investing time and dollars in different rebuilding projects in New Orleans. Why was he buying a condo in New Orleans.

This "Bush is going to sit out'' mentality reminds me of the same goofballs who were saying Bush should go to the New York Jets because of endorsements instead of the small market Saints. Well, Bush went to the Saints and HE IS STILL GETTING ENDORSEMENTS.

Kudos to Bush, his agent and as much as it pains me to say this, Saints management, for getting the job done.

Is everyone on dope?

To borrow from something Russell Hedges said in the office earlier today, "Is everyone in sports on dope?"

Think about it. Floyd Landis fails a doping test in the Tour de France. Now sprinter Justin Gatlin fails a dope test. Then there's baseball with its burgeoning HGH/steroids problem.

It's enough to make anyone shake there head when trying to figure out who, if anyone, in sports is clean anymore.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Interesting move by the Rangers

The Texas Rangers made the first big splash of baseball's trading season -- landing Milwaukee slugger Carlos Lee for a package of outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix and pitchers Francisco Cordero and Julio Cordero (no relation).

This is the second big move under the direction of 28-year-old general manager John Daniels and it is the first one to include a big-name offensive player.

The Rangers' offense, usually the team's calling card, hasn't been up to its usual standards this season. So grabbing Lee was a smart move in that sense. However, Texas still could use a solid pitcher or two.

Couple that with the fact Lee will be a free agent in two months (2 1/2 if Texas reaches the playoffs) and it makes the move, at first, look like a bit of a stretch. Now, if the Rangers are able to re-sign Lee, it becomes a great move by a rookie GM.

But after owner Tom Hicks' decision to give one player a massive contract in 2000 (Alex Rodriguez), it's hard to see Lee staying in Texas, especially after he turned down a 4-year, $48 million offer from Milwaukee before being dealt.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Never go against the family

If the Corleone family is need of a new godfather, they can turn to NFL commish Paul Tagliabue.

The NFL is prepared to launch a $100 million ad blitz to force cable TV operators to carry the league's own NFL Network. The network will begin carrying regular-season games this season, but it's not available on some cable providers like Time Warner Cable.

The goal is the NFL will plant the bug into cable customers who'll either switch to satellite TV or pressure Time Warner Cable.

The NFL Network is carried on satellite operators like DirecTV and Dish Network and at least 75 cable operators like Comcast. The league is hoping the ad campaign can push its way into Time Warner homes.

Sheesh. Why doesn't Tagliabue send Luca Brasi over to Time Warner? I haven't seen this kind of muscle since Joe Pesci put that guy's head in a vice in "Casino."

Time for Lidge to go

It's time for Houston manager Phil Garner and GM Tim Purpura to do something other than just demote Brad Lidge from the closer's role.

Just TRADE HIM already. It's obvious Lidge needs a change of scenery. After failing to get out of the ninth inning -- again -- on Thursday against Cincinnati, Lidge saw his ERA rise to 5.74. He's 0-3 and has blown a handful of saves and nearly blown several more.

The Astros need a bat. Scratch that, they need several bats. One way to start accumulating those is to deal Lidge, who every now and then looks capable of turning it around and once again becoming a dominant closer.

This is a deal that is way past due. Lidge has had time to recover from his disastrous 2005 postseason and it's apparent he either will not -- or cannot -- do that in Houston.

Bicknell gets no respect..I tell ya, no respect!

CoachRatings.com has a novel concept when it comes to grading college coaches - it asks players.

The Web site bills itself as a service to high school recruits who have a difficult time deciding between schools, so it contacts college players through their former high school coaches. The players receive a survey to evaluate their current college coach.

Of the 50 or so college coaches evaluated on the Web site, Louisiana Tech's Jack Bicknell has the lowest ranking among current coaches with a 5.4 ranking on a scale of 1 to 10. LSU's Les Miles has a 4.4 ranking so far, but he doesn't have the minimum amount of votes needed just yet.

The Web site says 11 players have returned surveys on Bicknell. His lowest rating was a 2.5 (on a scale of 1 to 5) on the "Coach fulfilled the promises made during recruitment," question.

Under "The best phrase describing coach is:" 27 percent said father figure and 27 percent said corrupt! 18 percent view him as a father figure.

Who's got the highest rankings? No. 1 Iowa's Kirk Ferentz. Tied for No. 2 are Texas' Mack Brown and Ohio State's Jim Tressel.

Tech disses Shreveport

Apprarently someone affiliated with Louisiana Tech wanted to keep the Fresno-Tech football game in Ruston so badly that they anted up enough money to replace the lights in Joe Aillet Stadium. Ruston's gain is Shreveport's loss.

With the game scheduled on the Friday night following Thanksgiving and while the Louisiana prep playoffs are still going on, the game would have attracted a dismal crowd to Independence Stadium. Unless the contest has WAC title or bowl implications, or unless Fresno comes in ranked, the crowd will be pitiful in Ruston also. The Tech faithful aren't too faithful for meaningless late season games, played while hunting season is underway.

Unless one of the above three scenarios comes into play, expect an attendance of no more than 12,000. This should also make the short sighted internet whiners, many of whom don't think any Tech game should be played in Shreveport, happy.

Busted!

There are plenty of people throwing accusations around at athletes who "appear" to be using performance-enhancing substances to improve themselves in competition. Some of these, including seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, can at least say they haven't failed a test.
His successor and former teammate, Floyd Landis, apparently had elevated testosterone levels in a recent test. If the numbers were outside a particular range, that would be a failed test. I don't know the actual levels, but a failed test would give new amunition to the French about American riders and create more questions about Armstrong.
After all, it could be argued Landis learned at Armstrong's hip how to win races.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

John Fourcade to Tech?

Louisiana Tech coach Jack Bicknell is looking for a new assistant coach. Battle Wings coach John Fourcade is at least available from September through December for a coaching gig. It would seem that that's a marriage made in Heaven.

The hiring would give Bicknell a chance to look more carefully at a permanent assistant coach instead of rushing into something quickly. Fourcade's name would get him in a lot of doors on recruiting trails in south Louisiana and in Mississippi. Although an offensive player with Ole Miss and with the Saints, Fourcade is capable of coaching linebackers. He's also fiery enough to get Tech's backers playing over their heads.

If things didn't work out on a permanent basis, Fourcade could rejoin the Battle Wings in December and Bicknell could name a replacement.

Just a thought.

Waiting for an apology

If you listened to at least one local sports broadcaster shortly after the Tech Summer Social in Shreveport, you'd have thought that the Louisiana Tech versus Fresno State football game was definitely going to be played in Shreveport's Independence Stadium. The sportscaster, quoting an unnamed source, said the game would be played here.

However, Tech Athletic Director Jim Oakes said at the time, and maintained up until this week, that negotiations to move the game from Ruston to Shreveport were ongoing. Tech officially announced today that the game will be played in Joe Aillet Stadium due to new lights being installed before the game.

If you can't get someone to put their name behind an announcement, you're doing little more than spreading gossip and you're putting your own neck on the line. Here's betting that there's no public apology forthcoming from the sportscaster for announcing erroneous information.

World over; film at 11

On the AOL main page, the following headline invites a click: Is Toddler the next Tiger Woods?

Pardon me? Toddler?

If it weren't enough when Sports Illustrated devoted a page of its college basketball preview to the best 7th-grader, 8th-grader, etc., in the nation, now we are promoting toddlers. The parents who would allow this have questionnable judgement. The outlet that would sell it this way has bad judgement.

Say goodnight, Gracie. We're outta here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Heisman Hype

You know college football is just around the corner when the Heisman Trophy materials start coming in the mail.

As a Heisman voter, I get more than my share of this junk. Last year, Memphis sent out a die-cast car with DeAngelo Williams' number on it. I guess that was to lock up the NASCAR vote. Marshall University sent a Byron Leftwich bobblehead a few years back. Funny, neither one of those guys got my vote.

So with that as background, I wasn't too surprised to see a small package from the University of Louisville in the mail Tuesday. It is, after all, that time of the year.

But what was shocking was the notepad with not one, but two, Heisman Trophy candidates on the cover.

I'm sure Brian Brohm is a fine quarterback. But Brady Quinn has about three legs up on Brohm just because he plays at Notre Dame. And I'm sure Michael Bush is a fine running back, but the Adrian Peterson fellow at Oklahoma is about two legs up on Bush.

I don't mind Louisville sending it out. JUST PICK A CANDIDATE. If Louisville has two Heisman Trophy candidates and a coach making millions, this team SHOULDN'T LOSE A GAME this year.

Seriously, not even Texas had two Heisman Trophy candidates last year. USC was the only team in the country with two.

Come on Louisville, don't insult our intelligence.

What happened to AAU in Shreveport-Bossier City?

I remember when AAU girls basketball used to be big in the Shreveport-Bossier City area with teams comprised of area players consistently contending for national championships.
I realize that some local girls -- Airline's Emily Carter and Loyola's Chassity Brown come to mind -- have played on strong AAU teams recently, but it doesn't look like there is as much AAU presence here as in the past. With the strength of girls basketball in the area, it seems like a strong team from here could be put together if anybody had the want-to.
National tournaments for 15- and 16-year-olds were also held here. I remember a photo we had in The Times of two Olympic coaches, Pat Summit and Kay Yow, sitting side by side watching a game in a local gym. The tournaments attracted hundreds of people, including parents and coaches, who spent their money here.
This week Lafayette and Monroe are reaping the benefits of national tournaments. Putting on these tournaments takes a massive effort and dozens of volunteers. But they are well worth it. Some of them are played at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., site of the AAU's national office, so there's only a limited selection. But that doesn't mean Shreveport-Bossier City shouldn't try to bid for these events. Maybe officials have and just haven't had any luck.
If so, they should keep trying.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Finding a home for Walker

Late Friday night, ESPN's Baseball Tonight mentioned a handful of hitters who could be on the move before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. One player who was mentioned was Airline High alum Todd Walker.

ESPN listed his post-trade deadline destination as Detroit. It's funny but it seems the Baseball Tonight crew watched the broadcast of the game between the Tigers and the White Sox on Wednesday night. Several times during that game, the broadcast crew repeated the Tigers' need for a professional left-handed hitter who will actually take a pitch.

That is Walker in a nutshell. If you want 20 home runs, he's not your guy. But in a stadium like Comerica Park, doubles hitters and fundamentally sound players are rewarded. From an offensive standpoint, Walker's game would play well in the Motor City.

Tech commits double steal

Add one more gem for Louisiana Tech's high school recruiting this year. Along with Dennis Morris, the signing of Kamelia Stroy to a track scholarship gives the school the two steals of the year from this part of the state. In four years, we may be able to look back and say they were the steals of the state.
Stroy tore up girls track in Louisiana this year, and now she is taking her show nationwide.
At the USA Track and Field Region 6 meet in Nashville earlier this month, she won two events, the 200 and 400 meters. Her 400-meter time of 53.95 was the first in Louisiana under 54 seconds by a prepster, and it won the event by two seconds.
Think about how long a two-second win is in track. Count one-thousand one, one-thousand two. That's how much time elapsed before the second-place finisher crossed the finish line. That's ONCE around the track against some of the best high school girls in the South. It takes quite a bit of speed to create that much of a lead in just one lap.
If she continues to progress, Stroy will contend for NCAA honors for Tech before she graduates. Her best 400 would not have qualified for this year's NCAA final, but it would have beaten seven of the 28 runners in the prelims at the national meet.
And she isn't even a college freshman yet. Stroy will compete at the national meet in Baltimore, Md., this week.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Ryder Cup rant

I'll be the first person to admit that I'm not Mr. Golf. However, even someone like myself can plainly see an injustice in the way Ryder Cup points are awarded.

Case in point, Sunday's British Open and B.C. Open.

Chris DiMarco finishes second at the British Open, two shots back of Tiger Woods. For finishing second to the No. 1 player in the world, DiMarco earned 360 points.

Across the pond, John ("I'm no relation to Tree") Rollins wins the B.C. Open by one stroke over Bob May. For beating what amounts to a glorified Hooters field, Rollins earns 375 Ryder Cup points.

Are you kidding me? Finishing second in a major isn't as good as winning some Podunk PGA Tour event?

Please. You can't tell me that finishing in the top 10 at the British Open isn't harder than winning the B.C. Open. I just won't buy that.

Yes, I realize the points are already weighted toward the majors. But they should give even more weight to the majors considering the difficulty of those events.

Chris DiMarco got screwed on this one.

DiMarco Proves His Worth Again

Chris DiMarco takes a lot of heat for not winning on the PGA Tour. But no one can judge his competitive fire. His second-place effort at the British Open makes him a lock for the United States Ryder Cup team.

Thankfully.

I'm not sure there is a golfer sans Tiger Woods I'd rather see hovering over a 10-footer to win the Cup.

It's on to Ireland for DiMarco, and the U.S. team is better for it.

What Else Can Be Said

Sunday provided one of the most emotional major championships in history, and one of the best final-round performances by a winner.

Tiger Woods was spectacular. He missed one fairway Sunday and led the field in that category all week. His game is on, there is no doubt.

Woods proved again that he his human, but only after sinking the final putt at Royal Liverpool. The outpouring of emotion had to tear at everyone's heart strings.

I once wrote a column on how the bond between father (or mother) and son in golf is unlike any other. Watching Sunday's telecast was tough. Woods' victory comes two months after the loss of his dad Earl Woods and Chris DiMarco finished second, less than a month after suddenly losing his mother.

There were countless emotional moments:

DiMarco's bomb on the 14th hole made you wonder if his late mother, Norma, was really going to guide him to his first major championship.

DiMarco's father in tears as his son was accepting the second-place award.

Woods breakdown behind the 18th green.

Woods' speech about his father.

"I realized that my dad's never going to see this again. I love my dad and I miss him very much.
I'm sure (my mom) is bawling."

Sunday was another example of how sports is the best reality show going. The competition, the emotion and the drama are unlike any other.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Sunday's Forecast: Fireworks

Tiger Woods still leads the British Open by one stroke, the same margin he held entering today's third round, but boy did he cause himself trouble.

What was basically a two-man race is now open to at least 15.

Woods shot 1 under today on a day when everyone else went way low. Just like last year, Tiger had a chance to put the Open away with a good third round. Instead he allowed Sunday to entail some drama. Will Woods recover to finish off the field Sunday, like he did at St. Andrews last year?

The initial signs of vulnerability appeared as Woods missed several short putts -- at least two inside 4 feet.

Woods has never lost a major championship when leading after 36 OR 54 holes. He has his work cut out for him tomorrow. He will not be able to coast. He will likely be forced to shoot something in the 60s, likely the mid-60s.

Friday, July 21, 2006

As Predicted Right Here ....

Friday's second round set up perfectly for Tiger Woods to take a hold of the British Open. And how! Tiger's 7-under 65 helped put some serious distance between himself and most of the field. Chris DiMarco and Ernie Els are in contention, but the jam-packed leaderboard is no longer crowded -- at least for the lead.

Tiger's hole-out from more than 200 yards on No. 14 will be replayed forever and his touch around Royal Liverpool's tricky greens has the world's best golfer in position to capture major No. 11.

Woods has never lost a major when leading at the halfway mark.

Els will play with Tiger on Saturday. The only problem I see with Woods' position is his late tee time. If the weather picks up in the afternoon along the Irish Sea, the leaders could play a completely different golf course than guys that are at 4 or 5 under. Woods shot 81 when hurricane-like conditions attacked Muirfield in 2002.

With winds gusting to 30 m.p.h. and rain blowing sideways in the cold (low 50s Fahrenheit), many of the players wore sweaters and wool caps under their rain gear and hats. Woods went from two behind Els to 11 behind the eventual champion after shooting his 10-over-par 81. Colin Montgomerie followed his second-round 64 with a third-round 84.

As far as Phil Mickelson (-4, eight back) goes, it's become clear his ridiculous focus on majors may be putting too much pressure on him. He prepares for these for months in advance now. Obviously, when you've gotten a taste of victory in a major (Mickelson has three) it's natural to become obsessed with more. But the obsession may have gotten out of hand. He was all over the lot today and was lucky to come out with a 1-under round.

Go back to the free-wheeling Phil, Phil.

United States: Ryder Cup Underdogs

The table have turned in the battle for the Ryder Cup. Europe now boasts the best team on paper -- certainly the deeper of the two squads.

Only five would-be American Ryder Cuppers made the cut at Royal Liverpool compared to six for the Euros. As expected, the United States' elite (Tiger, Phil and Furyk) are faring well, but the bottom end of the list isn't doing so well.

A look at how current Ryder Cuppers are faring at the British Open:
(based on up-to-date point standings)

United States
1. Tiger Woods 1st (-12)
2. Phil Mickelson 22nd (-4)
3. Jim Furyk 9th (-5)
4. Chad Campbell 57th (-1)
5. David Toms DNS (back injury)
6. J.J. Henry 91st (missed cut at +2)
7. Zach Johnson 91st (missed cut at +2)
8. Brett Wetterich 91st (missed cut at +2)
9. Vaughn Taylor 57th (-1)
10. Lucas Glover 84rd (missed cut at even par)

Hopefuls
11. Davis Love III 106th (missed cut at +3)
12. Fred Couples 91st (missed cut at +2)
Taylor is the only playing from 6-18 in the U.S. Standings to make the cut this week. Ouch.

Europe
David Howell 133rd (missed cut at +6)
Colin Montgomerie 116th (missed cut at +4)
Jose Maria Olazabal 37th (-3)
Henrik Stenson 57th (-1)
Luke Donald 48th (-2)
Paul Casey 48th (-2)
Padraig Harrington 124th (missed cut at +5)
Paul McGinley 72nd (missed cut at even par)
Sergio Garcia 9th (-5)
Paul Broadhurst 48th (-2)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Let the fleecing season begin

Apparently the Atlanta Braves' lineup wasn't the only ones who found a way to bust a slump over the All-Star break.

John Scheurholz seems to have regained his touch after a horrible first-round pick in 2004 (Joey Devine) and a bungled trade for a closer (Dan Kolb) earlier that year.

By getting Bob Wickman from Cleveland for a Single-A catcher, Schuerholz solved his team's greatest flaw while dealing from a position of strength. The Braves likely won't win their 15th straight division title but if Wickman pitches well enough, Atlanta is looking like a true wild-card contender.

If not, well the Braves were pretty much dead in the water after June anyway.

U.S. Golf Needs Depth

If you didn't believe the recent results in the Ryder Cup, take a look at the world rankings and the leaderboard at the British Open to see how the Americans have been engulfed at the top of the golf world.

Tiger Woods is the lone American in the top six at Royal Liverpool. There are just four red, white and blue representatives in the top 19 (Woods, Jim Furyk, Ben Crane and Tom Lehman).
Clearly, golfers from all over the world are finding success in men's golf.

A look at the World Rankings:
Members in top 20
  • Europe 8 (Garcia, Howell, Donald, Montgomerie, Olazabal, Stenson, Harrington, Clarke)
  • USA 5 (Woods, Mickelson, Furyk, Toms, Cambell)
  • South Africa 4 (Goosen, Els, Immelman, Clark)
  • Austraila 2 (Scott, Ogilvy)
    Australia's Stuart Appleby and Nick O'Hern rank 21 and 22.
The Americans have the top-notch superstars, but need several golfers to step up for some depth if the Ryder Cup will even be competitive.

British Open Round 1

What a finish for Tiger.

Tiger Woods didn't struggle Thursday, but at the same time, he wasn't on his game. Nevertheless Woods eagled the 18th hole at Royal Liverpool to get within one of Graeme McDowell's lead after one round at the British Open.

Tiger shot one of the best rounds in the second half of the tee block and that may setup well for Friday, when Woods tees off early (2:58 a.m. Central time, 8:58 in Hoylake).

Phil Mickelson on the other hand, while shooting a solid 69 (3 under), will tee off later Friday afternoon (8:31 a.m. Central, 2:31 local). The winds should howl Friday and the course, soaked early Thursday, will be extremely firm and fast in the afternoon, assuming there are no more rains.

Tiger Woods is in the driver's seat right now. With a low round Friday morning, he could start to eliminate some of the contenders. There are more than 30 golfers within three shots of the lead.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Wie's Rep Takes Another Hit

(I've been out of the office since last week, but had to get this in)

Heat exhaustion in 88-degree weather with relatively normal humidity? Umm, OK, that won't give the cynics fuel to add to the battle of the sexes war. Michelle Wie's star is beginning to fade, and again, it's her "team's" fault. Wie has yet to win. But she's up against some stiff competition.

Now that she's turned pro, there are no more chances for her to play against her age. She's stuck and until she wins something, anything, she will be criticized. And quitting against the men when you're a zillion over because of heat is a joke. I heard a funny line ... maybe it was the extra 1,000 yards she walked.

Stuff like that will continue to be said until ... OK, last time .... she WINS!

Best play-by-play voices

So I'm listening to XM radio's "Home Plate'' this morning and they play the home run call from Tuesday's game on the Yankees' radio network. It's John Sterling, so you know it has to be bad. To make matters worse, Melky Cabrera has hit the home run, so now you've got Sterling with, "The Melk Man delivers.''

Barf.

Now Mark Patrick, who has no dog in the hunt as we like to say down South, is on "MLB This Morning'' and, quite accurately, calls it the most contrivered walk-off home run call he's ever heard.

Which got me to thinking, who are the best -- and the worst -- of the play-by-play voices.

In MLB, you've got to go with Vin Scully of the Dodgers at No. 1. There' s no one even close on the good side. Jon Miller of the Giants is enjoyable to listen to and the Phillies' Harry Kalas certainly has a distinctive voice.

On the bad side, Sterling is about as bad as it gets. Milo Hamilton has seen better days with the Astros. Ron Santo, has his moments, but he's no Harry Caray.

In the college game, there are some distinctive voices around the South - Georgia's Larry Munson and Mississippi State's Jack Cristil are as distinctive as they come. He doesn't have the largest audience but Louisiana Tech's Dave Nitz is as solid as you'll see.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Motor City kitties

Good to see my hometown Detroit Tigers come through with a great showing against the Chicago White Sox in their three-game opener Tuesday.

If Detroit wants to be taken seriously as a contender and not one of the little brothers in the playoff race, they got to start beating some of the big boys - like the White Sox, Boston and the Yankees.

Instead, they get smoked, yet again, by the ChiSox 7-1. Give props to Detroit manager Jim Leyland for the incredible turnaround, but the Tigers have dropped to 3-11 against the AL's top three.

Some NFL owners never change

In researching a story for our "What If" series recently, I found myself in The Times library looking at newspapers from decades ago on microfilm. I believe I was probably reading about Louisiana Tech's 1985 NCAA tournament loss to Oklahoma when a headline caught my eye.

It was a story about how New Orleans' mayor was trying to talk Tom Benson into keeping the Saints in the city.

That guy has been milking us for decades.

In a related story, the Seattle Supersonics basketball team has been sold to an ownership group from Oklahoma City. With the NBA Hornets drawing well in OKC since Hurricane Katrina, there have been mumblings about the team moving there. Hopefully, the state won't shell out any money now that another city is apparently in line to be robbed of its NBA team.

Monday, July 17, 2006

World Cup frenzy

I know each of you can feel it in the air. The World Cup is reaching its peak and will soon crown another world champion.

Italy? No, this is the World Cup of Softball you may have noticed on ESPN while flipping past the channel. Feel the excitement!

U-S-A!...U-S-A!...U-S-A!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Going back in time

Two years ago, I was given the chance to do a story on the Major League Baseball draft of 1994 focusing on local stars Todd Walker and Josh Booty and how their careers played out since then.

Part of that story included researching all 28 first-round picks from that draft. Remember Booty went No. 5 to Florida and Walker at No. 8 to Minnesota. On that list at No. 24 is Brian Buchanan.

Why do I bring his name up? Because Buchanan is still playing professional baseball -- and this weekend brought him to Shreveport.

Buchanan is now playing for the St. Paul Saints and trying to earn one more shot at the big leagues along the same lines as former Saints Jack Morris and Darryl Strawberry.

Buchanan never amounted to much in the majors, hitting 32 home runs in stints with Minnesota, San Diego and the New York Mets. Then again, neither did much of the first rounders in 1994.

Of the 28 players picked in the first round that year, only Walker, Jaret Wright (10), Nomar Garciaparra (12), Paul Konerko (13), Jason Varitek (14), Ramon Castro (16) and Scott Elarton (25) currently are in the big leagues.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Great summer for local golf

Cody Santone's victory in the Louisiana Golf Association Junior Amateur Championships gives Shreveport-Bossier City a sweep of the state's individual titles.

Shreveport's Jason Kuperman won the men's State Amateur title in June. Santone is a Bossier City resident who will be a junior at Parkway this fall. Last May, he helped Parkway win a second straight Class 4A state title.

The sweep speaks a lot for local golf, which has traditionally been strong. Hey, even former Shreveport Pirates quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver is getting into the act. After Friday's first round, the Shreveport resident was leading a celebrity event at Lake Tahoe.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Football in the air?

OK, so Saturday is July 15. The temperature is going to be 100 degrees. So it's hard to think about football, or is it?

On Sunday, KMSS will broadcast "Aaron's Football Saturdays in the South'' with a feature on LSU's Saturday night. Times contributor and CBS Sports' Tim Brando will host that show.

Then, amazingly enough, NFL training camps are just a couple of weeks away. The SEC Media Days are the final week in July.

Can't come soon enough for the folks here in Shreveport. Not with a Saints-Cowboys preseason game in town next month. Not with college and prep football starting.

It's enough to make a 100-degree day not feel so bad.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Now it's Hicks' turn

OK, Tom Hicks, you're on the hot seat now.

Your fellow Texas baseball owner, Houston's Drayton McLane, made a bit of a splash in the trade market, picking up Aubrey Huff, who delivered what amounted to a game-winning three-run home run in his Astros debut. Yes, it's a long way until October but Huff made quite a first impression Thursday night.

Now it's time for Hicks to put up a show of faith for his fans -- you know the ones who think there are other things than the Cowboys to watch in the Metroplex.

His team could use another credible starting pitcher and if it means moving fan favorite and occasional slugger Kevin Mench then do it. Heck, McLane just demoted the starting right fielder from a World Series team to TRIPLE-A. THE MINORS.

So Tom Hicks it's up to you. Make a move and try to earn a playoff berth for the first time since 1999 or continue to watch your team's status in the Metroplex drift somewhere down below the proverbial Mendoza line.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Kudos to Mike McConathy

Northwestern St. head coach Mike McConathy is putting the finishing touches on his team's '06-'07 schedule and it's going to be a doozy. The Demons have Louisville, Oklahoma State, Northwestern (Big Ten), DePaul, Utah State, Hawaii, the Marquette Tournament and another Bracket Buster game next year.

McConathy deserves some credit for sticking to his guns. This year's Demons team will look a lot different than last year's club which upset Iowa. It won't have the level of experience as last year's Demons. He will have some young players on the floor, but he still schedules some quality match-ups, hoping and believing that it plays dividends down the road like the '05-'06 team.

He firmly believes if his team didn't have the tough non-conference opponents, it wouldn't have beaten Iowa. Let's see if playing at Louisville helps the Demons during the Southland Conference.

Huff should help Houston in a hurry

Things haven’t exactly gone according to plan for the Houston Astros recently. They’ve lost four of their last five games, including three straight before the All-Star break to the National League Central Division-leading St. Louis Cardinals.

The Astros should be applauded, however, for today’s trade in which they acquired outfielder Aubrey Huff and $1.625 million in cash from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for two minor leaguers .

The 29-year-old Huff, who’s averaged 26 homers and 91 RBI in five years with the Devil Rays, brings sorely needed pop to the middle of the Astros’ anemic lineup. Only two of the Major League’s 30 teams have a lower batting average than the Astros’ .256. And they’re No.23 in runs scored (408).

Huff, who bats left-handed, brings a hot bat to the Astros. He batted .359 with three homers and 13 RBI last month. In 63 games this season he’s batting .283 with eight homers and 28 RBI.
Said Astros general manager Tim Purpura: “He’s a run producer, he’s a power guy, he’s a very proficient hitter.”

He also plays third base.

That’s right, Morgan.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Shreveport-Bossier's stars shine bright

So the American League still hasn't lost an All-Star Game since 1996.

Sure the AL didn't win in its normally dominating fashion, grabbing a 3-2 win on a two-run triple by Texas' Michael Young in the ninth inning, but part of the reason the Junior Circuit was in position to grab the win was the play of Shreveport-Bossier's two All-Star reps.

Shreveport native Vernon Wells made the game's first big defensive play when he gunned down Alfonso Soriano with a picture-perfect throw to the plate. Sure Pudge Rodriguez's block came out of a Catching 101 book, but Wells' throw beat the speedy Soriano by a wide margin anyway.

Then in the 8th inning with the AL down a run, Airline High product B.J. Ryan came in and worked a perfect inning, setting the stage for Young's dramatic hit off Trevor Hoffman. For his work, Ryan notched the win.

All in all, the two Toronto Blue Jays with Pelican State ties did more than their share to give the AL it's ninth win in the last 10 Midsummer Classics. The lone non-win in that streak? The infamous 2002 tie. Thanks, Torii Hunter.

MLB All-Star Game still tops

Major League Baseball will play its annual All-Star game tonight. As such events go, this one is tops.

You have to be a serious helmet head to watch the NFL's Pro Bowl, where the goal is not to win but to avoid getting hurt.

The NBA All-Star Game has great moments of athleticism. But the only defense played in this game is if two or more Pistons or Spurs gather together. Otherwise, whoever has the ball has a free trip to the basket.

The NHL All-Star Game, please, there is less defense there than the NBA game.

But baseball is different. You can't just ignore defense in baseball. You have to play other phases of the game.

As someone who has covered a baseball All-Star Game, I can tell you that while it is an exhibition, it is hard not to play with a degree of intensity.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Future is bright in MLB

With three rookies on the All-Star Game rosters, this year's All-Star Week is shaping up to be a celebration of youth.

Chances are Jonathan Papelbon and Dan Uggla won't figure into the end result Tuesday night at PNC Park. However, Francisco Liriano could continue what has been a youthful buzz emanating from All-Star events.

Obviously, the All-Star Futures Game is all about promoting the game's young talent, but Monday's Home Run Derby finals featured two players who should be All-Star mainstays for years in New York Mets third baseman David Wright and Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard.

So as big names like Barry Bonds, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens get set to ride off into the twilight of their careers it seems the game is in good hands with its young stars.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

How to fix a bad back

David Toms pulled out of the British Open thanks to a bad back. He pulled out of the U.S. Open for the same reason.

Seems to me a guy who can afford a multi-million dollar home in south Shreveport has the means to fix his nagging back or at least find a decent chiropractor in this town. Just flip on the TV at 3 a.m. and there are plenty of chiropractors ads to choose from...chiropractors and lawyers. That's all that's on.

How about some acupuncture? What about yoga or pilates? There are a lot of golfers on the Tour who perform yoga and pilates. It might be time for Toms to shell out the $20 for a yoga mat.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Garner, Guillen make wise choices

In filling injury-made holes in their All-Star rosters, managers Phil Garner and Ozzie Guillen chose wisely.

Garner selected his ace Roy Oswalt to replace Pedro Martinez while Guillen took his former White Sox outfielder and current Detroit Tiger Magglio Ordonez after Manny Ramirez decided his knee was too sore to play.

Oswalt has won only six games and you can make an argument for either Milwaukee's Chris Capuano or San Diego's Chris Young being more deserving. But Garner wouldn't be managing the NL stars if not for Oswalt's otherworldly NLCS performance against St. Louis last season (2 wins, 1.29 ERA, including the Game 6 clincher).

Guillen picked Ordonez despite a feud between the two in which Guillen called Ordonez a "Venezuelan piece of ----." Ever the diplomat, Guillen said "it's nice to have another Venezuelan on the team." The feud, by the way, is now settled.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Dispatch from the road

Since I'm out of the office on vacation, I do what most sports fans do -- look for a ballgame. And, being in Jackson, Miss., at the time, I decided to take the kid out to the ballgame of the Mississippi Braves.

The game was eventually rained out -- just my luck. But it did give me a chance to see the 1-year-old Trustmark Park and make my comparisons to Shreveport's Fair Grounds Field.

Trustmark Park is what minor league ballparks have become - miniature major league parks. During the rain delay you had the DiamondVision scoreboard showing the Braves-Cardinals game from Atlanta. Not happening at Fair Grounds Field.

There were not one but two team stores to take your money. You couldn't walk without running into a concession stand or restaurant. (By the way, the restaurants are open even when the team is out of town).

There is an outfield berm and plenty of fence signage.

This isn't a knock on the Shreveport Sports. They're doing the best they can with what they've got.

This is just to show how times have changed. Shreveport and Jackson were bitter rivals in the Texas Leauge. Jackson fell out of the Texas League first with Shreveport close behind. Jackson has recovered nicely. We can only hope and dream the same would happen for Shreveport one day.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Italy-Germany game one for the ages

I didn't think it was possible, but I was actually enthralled by a soccer game - over the radio.

I flipped on my XM to get a scoring update on to the Italy-Germany semifinal World Cup game. The game was in extra time and the announcing crew screamed with each shot.

The intensity that built was palpable. It was amazing. It was like listening to an overtime NHL playoff game as each shot sailed wide.

Italy pressed and pressed, making pivotal substitutions to keep Germany on the defensive.

The Azzurri's late two goals sent the XM play-by-play man into pandemonium. It was just what soccer could use in the U.S. - a lively, exciting game. It's just too bad the U.S. team couldn't provide it and probably never will.

France, Italy a good World Cup final matchup

OK, so it's not Germany vs. Brazil, but the World Cup finals matchup of France against Italy should be a good one.

France, whom many thought was washed up, has come out of nowhere since their impressive defeat of Brazil in the quarterfinals. They have a lot of momentum and are playing like they want their veteran star, Zinedine Zidane, to finish his international career with another world title.

Italy has overcome distractions ranging from the match-fixing scandal back home to an apparent suicide attempt by Juventus' team manager. Italy has been playing top-notch soccer since the beginning of the tournament and will be more than up to the task against Les Bleus.

Even if you're not a fan of soccer, this game is worth watching (Sunday, 12:30 p.m. on ABC).

Monday, July 03, 2006

Interesting final vote selections

Think the All-Star voting is complete? Not yet.

The five American League and five National League Final Vote candidates have been named.

In the AL, there is Cleveland slugger Travis Hafner, Minnesota rookie pitching sensation Francisco Liriano, Detroit rookie fireballer Justin Verlander, Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski and Baltimore catcher Ramon Hernandez.

The NL side features Milwaukee left-hander Chris Capuano, Philadelphia outfielder Bobby Abreu, San Diego pitcher Chris Young, New York pitcher Billy Wagner and Los Angeles first baseman Nomar Garciaparra.

To me, the picks are Hafner and Garciaparra.

Hafner has put up numbers that are comparable to David Ortiz and Jim Thome, both of whom are on the AL squad already. Not to mention he'd bring the best nickname in the game to the team.

In the NL, all Garciaparra is doing is leading the league in hitting and driving in clutch run after clutch run. Come on, if Freddy Sanchez deserves to be on the squad, doesn't Nomar? That being said, it's hard to count out Young and Capuano, two pitchers who have been the difference between where their teams are and absolute rock bottom.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Cry me a river

There is much gnashing of teeth in the national baseball media over the prospect of 10 of 16 Major League Baseball All-Star Game starters coming from Boston and New York.

Cry me a river.

In case you weren't paying attention, the Red Sox, Yankees and Mets, have three of the five best records in MLB. This isn't like the '62 Mets putting eight guys on the All-Star team. These are three teams that likely will be playing in October.

Then, we have to hear about how Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer is being so woefully wronged by the All-Star voters because Mauer went into the weekend hitting .392 and won't be voted into the game by the fans.

How sad.

But how about mentioning the fact that Mauer's percentage of runners thrown out is LOWER than his batting average. Oh, but we don't want the facts to get in the way of our story.

Look, every year someone is going to make the All-Star team that doesn't deserve it. Someone is going to be left off that does deserve to make the team. It's called L-I-F-E.

This is just like the BCS in college football. There's always controversy. There's always somebody talking about the game.

But before making wild claims, think about what the claim really is about.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Mainieri in for amazing honeymoon

Reading about Paul Mainieri's introductory news conference, I suspect he's about to become one of the most beloved coaches LSU has had in a long time. His past with LSU and that part of the state is a big bonus, but it's his wife's talk about favorite places to eat, favorite spots in New Orleans, along with her time as a Tigers cheerleader, that will really make LSU fans feel comfortable with the family. The fact that the couple took a mini-vacation in New Orleans just to give back to the city, before the job was open, is a huge bonus.

If the guy can produce a winner and take the Tigers back to the College World Series, he can coach there forever. If he can win a national title or two, he may be a strong candidate for governor and will never have to buy his own lunch again.