Kosmo’s Sports Wrap

February 2, 2010

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With Johnny Goodman still on leave for medical reasons, Kosmo is jumping in with another sports column.  We miss your articles, Johnny – get well sooon.

A Strong Brees

We’re on the cusp of another Super Bowl.  On one side of the field, we’ll have the Indianapolis Colts, led by Peyton Manning.  Manning is the son of Pro Bowl quarterback, the brother of another Pro Bowl quarterback, and he himself is a Pro Bowl quarterback, Super Bowl Champion, NFL MVP, and #1 overall pick in the NFL draft.  From day one, he has been the unquestioned leader of the Colts.

On the other hand, we have Drew Brees of the Saints.  The Saints themselves are a feel-good story – some good fortune for a city that was devastated by hurricane Katrina in 2005.  When Brees was drafted, the San Diego Chargers actually had the #1 pick that would have allowed them to pick up Michael Vick.  They traded that pick to Atlanta for the #5 overall pick (which they used to draft LaDainian Tomlinson) and a third round pick.  Having not gotten Vick at #1, they nabbed Brees in the second round.

Unlike Manning, Brees wasn’t given the keys to the kingdom.  His first few years in the league were up and down (eh, OK, so mostly he sucked), and the Chargers felt the need to draft his replacement in 2004.  They wanted Eli Manning, but he didn’t want to sign with them.  So they drafted Manning and traded him to the New York Giants for Philip Rivers (who had been picked #4 overall) on draft day.  Rivers would have been been giving a strong chance to unsteat Brees for the starter’s job – except that he held out nearly all of training camp.

Brees promptly turned his career around and had his finest season in 2004, throwing 27 touchdowns with just 7 interceptions.  After going to the Saints as a free agent after the 2005 season, Brees had TD totals of 26, 28, 34, and 34.  He has topped 4300 yards all four seasons and cracked the 5000 barrier in 2008.

For his career, Brees now has 202 TDs against 110 interceptions, 30000 career passing yards, and a QB rating of 91.9.  Yes, the QB who was nearly thrown to the curb by the Chargers is now on pace for the Hall of Fame.

No League for Old Men

In a move that wasn’t particularly surprising Cardinals QB Kurt Warner announced his retirement.  Ther ultimate feel good story, Warner arose (like a Phoenix) many times during his career.  First, he clawed his way up from stocking shelves at a Hy Vee grocery store (@ $5.50 per hour) to an NFL job.  Then, after injuries caused him to lose his starting job, he regained a starting job with the Cardinals and led the formerly hapless franchise to its first Super Bowl – and nearly won it. 

All told, Warner went to three Super Bowls – winning one and narrowly losing the other two.  He has the record for most career passing yards Super Bowls (1156) due to the fact that he has the highest, second highest, and third highest passing totals in Super Bowl history.  Consider for a moment how statistically unlikely that is to occur …

Off the field, Warner does everything the right way – from the big things like adopting his children to smaller things like picking up the check for random people every time his family goes out to eat.  You’ll be missed, K-Dub (unless you pull a Favre).  (Read my recent article about Kurt Warner, “High Flying Cardinals”)

When my Minnesota Vikings played Brett Favre’s bizarre waiting game last summer and signed him to be their quarterback, I was fed up.  Not only have I never been a fan of Favre’s, but it seemed to me that Favre delayed his decision simply to avoid summer camp.  There’s a four letter word for that – L-A-Z-Y.

I made the somewhat irrational decision to boycott the Vikings until Favre was n longer with the team.  Lots of people questioned this, especially when the Vikings were perched on the brink of the Super Bowl.  I felt validated when Favre threw away another Super Bowl opportunity with yet another poor decision (flashback to the 2008 NFC Championship game, Brett?).  Hopefully Favre will retire again and stay retired.

Double Standard

Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman recently signed a contract with the Cincinnati Reds (is anyone else struck by the irony of a player fleeing a communist nation and signing with the REDS?  No?  Just me?  OK, thought I’d ask).  The pitcher’s deal will pay him $30.25 million over 6 years.  Although those in the baseball fandom were very much aware of the deal, it didn’t seem to raise the ire of fans like Stephen Strasburg’s 4 year, $15.5 million deal (see articles “Defense of Scott Boras” and “The Righty and the Lefty”).  (Yes, in theory, Strasburg could earn more money over the six year span if he performs well and gets decent arbitration awards for years 5 and 6 – but if they both flop, Chapman could come out $15 million ahead).

Let’s compare the two players.  Strasburg is five months younger than Chapman.  Strasburg is also the more highly ranked prospect.  So, why, then, is it a sign of the apocolyse for him to get $15.5 million while Chapman’s contract didn’t stir such strong emotions.

Chapman wasn’t subject to the draft, and thus had complete control over his future – unlike players in the US and Canada, who are only allowed to negotiate with the team that drafted them.  My good friend Fulton Christoper opined that this is a good reason to implement a worldwide draft.

Hamlin Heating Up the Ice

US luger Erin Hamlin (@ErinHamlin on Twitter), Kosmo’s favorite winter Olympian, racked up the following finishes in the World Cup season (singles events)

  • November 20/21 – Calgary, Canada – 7th
  • November 28/29 – Innsbruck, Austria – 9th
  • December 5/6 – Altenberg, Germany – 5th
  • December 12/13 – Lillehammer, Norway – 3rd
  •  January 2/3 – Königssee, Germany – 5th
  • January 9/10 – Winterberg, Germany – 3rd
  • January 16/17- Oberhof, Germany – 8th
  • January 30/31 – Cesana, Italy – 3rd

That’s good for an overall finish of 4th place in the standings, and Hamlin finished very strong, with  three podium (top 3) finishes in the last 5 events.  You heard it here first – Hamlin is picking up steam and is going to nab the luge gold in Vancouver.  Watch your rear view mirror, Tatjana.

And in an administrative note, we have a new link partner – Aibal.com.  Aibal is another non-niche blog.  Drop by and visit.

High Flying Cardinals

January 19, 2010

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Matt Holliday

Matt Holliday recently finalized his contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.  This definitely solidifies Holliday in the #2 spot on my baseball preference rankings.  I was extremely pleased to see Holliday stay with the Cardinals rather than ending up in Boston or New York (especially New York).

If Holliday puts up strong numbers with the Cardinals, it should tear down a bit of the stigma Coors Field.  While Holliday always put up strong very strong home numbers compared to his road numbers, his home/road splits were not in line with other Rockies hitters – they were much more dramatic.  This would indicate that some other factor was coming into play.  My personal thought is that he simply was more comfortable at home than on the road.  While hitters typically produce an OPS 31 points higher at home that on the road, this varies greatly.  Some hitters thrive at home while others wilt under the pressure of playing in front of the home crowd.  Holliday is a home thriver – as evidenced by his 2009 home/road split of .982/.830.  That’s a monstrous split – and clearly had nothing to do with Coors Field.

Holliday’s contract has an eighth year (at $17 million) that would vest if he finishes in the top 10 in National League MVP voting in 2016 (if it doesn’t vest, it becomes a team option).  While vesting options aren’t unprecedented, they usually vest based on some statistic such as plate appearances (hitters) or innings pitched (pitchers).  In this case, Holliday’s option is in the hands of the Baseball Writers of America, who vote on the awards.  He could have a great year in 2016 and still not crack the top 10.  On the flip side, this is a great deal far the Cardinals.  It’s hard to imagine a situation where Holliday would finish in the top 10 and not be worthy of the $17 million option.

Kurt Warner

The Arizona Cardinals were bounced out of the playoff by the top NFC seed, the New Orleans Saints, on Saturday.  Warner suffered a hard hit while trying to track down a defender who intercepted one of his passes and finished with lackluster numbers (17-26, 205, 0 TD, 1 INT).

After the game, the discussion about a potential retirement began again.  If the Saints game ends up the career finale for Warner, it would be a shame.  The prior week’s game against the Green Bay Packers would have been a more fitting end to a Hall of Fame career.  In that game, Warner completed 29 of 33 passes for 379 yards and 5 TDs without being intercepted.  That performance corresponded to a rating of 154.1.  The NFL’s convoluted rating formula (which takes into account completion percentages, yards per attempt, touchdown percentage and interception percentage) tops out at 158.33, making that performance nearly perfect.

I’m a big fan of Warner’s.  Most fans know his story.  He started for only one season at division 1-AA Northern Iowa, wasn’t drafted by and NFL team, and ended up stocking shelves in a grocery store at one point (for a grand wage of $5.50 per hour).  After lighting up the Arena League and NFL Europe, before getting a chance to be a backup quarterback for the St. Louis Rams.  When started Trent Green went down to an injury during the 1999 pre-season, Warner stepped up and led the Rams to a spectacular season, capped off with a Super Bowl victory.  Two years later, the Rams lost a heartbreaker in another Super Bowl.  Injuries eventually forced Warner out of St. Louis.  He landed with the New York Giants as the tutor for Eli Manning.  He then signed with the hapless Arizona Cardinals – before leading them also to a Super Bowl (alas, another heartbreaking defeat).  Now, at age 38, he seems to be a lock for the Hall of Fame.

Off the field, Warner is a devout Christian and is heavily involved in many charities.

I have a few more reasons to like Kurt Warner.  First of all, I have met the man, and he definitely appears to be the genuine article.  My wife is a Rams fan, and we attended a few training camps.  Warner would sit at a table for hours signing autographs and posing for pictures.  Very cool.

Second, Warner is a native Iowan, and we stick together.  He’s on my Mt. Rushmore.

Finally, Warner led me to a title in the first fantasy football league title in 1999.  In the first game of that season, one of my quarterbacks got hurt.  On a lark, I picked up Warner.  I grew up about 50 miles from the campus of Northern Iowa, so I was familiar with him.  When Warner exploded into a flurry of mind-blowing statistics, I went along for the ride.

Mental Potpourri

June 17, 2009

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I have a bunch of topics that I want to discuss today, but none of them really warrants an entire article, so I’ll bounce around a bit.  The segues are going to be rough, so hang on for the ride.

First of all, Kosmo is growing a goatee!  Why?  Not because I think it looks cool.  Not because I need facial hair for an upcoming 80’s party (like a certain Casual Observer reader).  Nah, I’m just a bit lazy and really hate to shave, especially the goatee zone.  We’ll see how long this lasts.

Baker at ManVsDebt (a personal finance blog) talks about his ongoing trip to Australia.  The plan is for the Baker family to set down some Australian roots for a while.  His article talks about the flight to Australia and the first few days in the country.  It’s a good read.

Two time NFL MVP and genuinely good guy Kurt Warner is back in his home town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, this week, working with Habitat for Humanity to build homes for those who were displaced by last year’s flooding.  Cedar Rapids (where I work) and Iowa City (where I live) were devastated by flooding last June, and much work still needs to be done in the recovery effort.  Warner and fellow local god Zach Johnson (2007 Masters  champion) routinely make trips back home to do good things, as do many other athletes and entertainers (ok, we basically just have Ashton Kutcher) from the state.

My beloved Colorado Rockies have climbed into wild card contention with an 11 game winning streak (which, alas, ended on Tuesday).  The firing of former manager Clint Hurdle and the promotion of Jim Tracy to interim manager seems to have marked a turning point in the season.  Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki seems to have shaken off the cobwebs with a strong June.  His 2009 OPS is in line with his career mark – he is hitting for a lower average this year, but is compensating with more walks.

Many Rockies draft picks have signed contracts and will be reporting to the minor league affiliate in Casper, Wyoming before long.  The Casper team was formerly known as a the Casper Rockies.  On October 31, 2007, they changed their team name.  They are now known as … the Casper Ghosts.  The equipment manager was quite happy with the change.  Whenever the team gets a new player, the equipment manager just grabs a new sheets, cuts a couple of eye holes, and the uniform is finished!  (Yes, I’m joking about that part – but the Casper team REALLY is called the ghosts!)

Bryce Harper is in line to become the youngest draft pick in baseball history.  The 16 year old catcher (who also pitches and plays a few other positions) will take his GED and enroll in a junior college for the 2009-2010 academic year.  Harper has been a man among boys when playing high school competition, and will most likely be the #1 overall pick in 2010.  The Washington Nationals are by far the worst team in baseball and are in line to hold the #1 pick.  They could conceivably get Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper in consecutive drafts.

On Mother’s Day 2004, the Oakland A’s had a 5K run to fight breast cancer, free mammograms for women, and a free hat to the first 7500 female customers.  A male lawyer from San Diego decided that this was discrimination and decided to sue.  Incredibly, a $500,000 settlement has been reached – half going to the lawyers and half going to the victims of the travesty.  For decades, baseball teams have tailored certain giveaways to males, females, adults, or kids.  The giveaways are not part of the price of the ticket (and in fact often feature advertising from a sponsor).  If these sorts of lawsuits become commonplace, expect teams to take the easy route and simply halt the giveaways entirely.  (Thanks to Rick Reilly of ESPN for the heads-up on this)

Cheese is the latest victim of shrinking portion sizes.  I noticed that Kraft has been changing the design on their packaging.  On Saturday, I noticed that their 8 ounce blocks of cheese were fatter and shorter than the previous iteration.  And the “8 ounce” block now contains just 7 ounces.  Be wary, beer drinkers – the “5 pack” is just around the corner.

I’ve never been a huge fan of red “licorice”, preferring instead to indulge in true (black) licorice.  However, my interest has been piqued by Fire Twizzlers.  Red, yes, but with the extra zing that comes with the flavor of fire.  I’m a fan of fire – I gulp atomic fireballs and love fire Jolly Ranchers.  By the way, if you’re ever looking for cheap thrills, toss a few fire ranchers into a bowl of cherry or strawberry ones and watch for the reactions of your victims.  Ah, good clean fun.

Here’s a tip to squeeze a bit more light out of a light fixture.  Replace the bulbs with a compact flourescent bulb.  For example, a 13 watt compact flourescent bulb has the same amount of lumens (i.e. light) as a 60 watt incandescent (it will probably say “use in place of 60 watt bulb” – but if you look closely, the package will show the true wattage).  If you pop in a 20 watt CF bulb, you’ll see a nice improvement in the amount of light you get – while still using less energy and producing less heat than the 60w incandescent.  Do you have a fixture that indicates that you can only use a bulb of X wattage?  Well, according to knowledgeable people I have spoekn with, this refers to the true wattage.  If it has a 60 watt limit, you could use a 60 watt CF bulb (which could put out a ton of light) – you wouldn’t be limited to the 13 watt.  Note that you might want to double check this before going hog wild – I’m definitely not a certified lighting expert!

Sports wrapup

March 6, 2009

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World baseball classic
The WBC got underway on Thursday, as Japan beat China 4-0. Japan starting pitcher Yu Darvish set the pace early, allowing no runs and walking just one batter. The five relievers each allowed exactly one hit and did not walk anyone. Third baseman Shuichi Murata provided offense with a two run homer.

Darvish is a candidate to be the breakout star during this WBC. Many die hard fans already know him, but the WBC will allow him to reach a wider fan base. The 22 year old Darvish is the son of an Iranian father and Japanese mother who met while attending college in Florida. They settled in Japan, were Yu was born.

Yu had a very successful high school career. Several major league teams were interested in him, but he stayed in Japan and was drafted by the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters (note: Hokkaido is the name of the island, Nippon Ham is the name of the sponsor, Fighters is the team name).

Yu has had great success for the Fighters:
2005 (age 19): 5-5, 3.53 ERA
2006 (age 20): 12-5, 2.89
2007 (age 21): 15-5, 1.82
2008 (age 22): 16-4, 1.88

Yu has also increased his strikeout rate while decreasing his walk rate. The net result is a strikeout : walk ratio of more than 4:1 over the last two seasons.

Of course, it must be noted that many baseball people consider the Japanese leagues to be on par with an AAA league in the US, a step below the major leagues. However, if a 22 year old player was putting up these numbers for an AAA team, the team would be very happy, as these would be great numbers and would suggest that the player would have a successful major league career.

Darvish has stated that he has no intention of signing with a US team any time in the near future and that he would like to win 200 games in Japan. This is a bit disappointing to me, as I would like to chance to see Yu pitch on a regular basis (preferably for my team).

Korea and Taipei face off at 3:30 AM Central time on Friday. This is too late of a start time to meet the TCO’s publishing deadline. The Asian teams are starting a couple days early because of travel considerations (they play the first round in Tokyo; all other pools play in North America)

Baseball injury watch
Alex Rogriguez has a torn labrum in his hip. He may face a surgery that would require four months of rehabilitation. Keep on eye on this story before grabbing A-Rod high in your fantasy draft.

Boating accident
In sad news, two NFL players (Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith) and two other men (Will Bleakley and Nick Schuyler) were on a fishing trip in Florida when the weather turned bad and their boat overturned. Schuyler was rescued. The other three have not been found, and hope is fading.

Matt Cassell trade
Former Patriots quarterback Matt Cassell and linebacker Mike Vrabel were traded to the Kansas City Chiefs for pick #34 in the NFL draft. Even with the high value teams place on draft picks, I think this is a great deal for the Chiefs. It is true that Cassell had a lot of weapons at his disposal in New England, but you still have to make effective use of those weapons.

Manny Ramirez ended months of posturing by finally signing a contract with the Dodgers. Manny will make $25 million in 2009, with a player option of $20M in 2010. $25M of the money is deferred over the span of five years. I’m not a big fan of the player option. In theory, this would allow Manny to hit .200 with 5 HR, and then exercise his option and make $20M in 2010 – but if he hit .370 with 50 HRs, he could opt out and perhaps sign with the Yankees for $30M. If you wanted Manny for two years, make it a regular two year contract.

Kurt Warner
In negotiations that were considerably better (although Warner did allow the 49ers to woo him) Kurt Warner signed a deal with the Cardinals – two years with a total compensation of $23M. Warner will give back $2M if the Cardinals are able to renegotiate the contract of WF Anquan Boldin. I’m a big fan of Warner (although my wife is even more of a fan) and I’m hoping he lights up the skies again next year. Maybe he can seal the deal and win a Super Bowl for the Cardinals (how strange does that sound) and punch his ticket to Canton.

TCO weekend
The Soap Boxers will bring you some light reading this weekend.

Saturday: Some good time wasters on the internet
Sunday: The importance of a good fantasy team name