Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Miles the Monster

Now with only four days til Dover, I feel I am beginning to lose control.

According to the website, Dover International Speedway has been "working diligently in a secret underground laboratory beneath the track to put the finishing touches on its all-new monster action figure." The new movable action figure, on sale for just $ 10, will be available this June 3-5, 2005 only at Dover International Speedway. And it can be purchased at official Dover International Speedway souvenir trailers on the property. NASCAR is so good to us.

Nicknamed “Miles the Monster,” the 8-inch tall action figure can hold a 1:64 scale car in its hand. It can also be signed, and is perfect for collecting autographs at the track. It appears Miles has taken an instant dislike to the treacherous Jeff Gordon. Shake him up Miles!

“We’ve captured the ultimate essence of the Monster Mile in our new action figure,” said Jerry Miraglia, executive vice president of Dover Motorsports, Inc. “We wanted to create a figure that embodied the strength and toughness of our track. The new Action Performance figure will give our fans something they can take home to remind them of their experience at the Monster Mile.”

Monday, May 30, 2005

NCAA Outrage

The New Orleans Regional is out. And I am completely disgusted with the NCAA:

(1) #1 Tulane v. (4) Southern
(3) ULL v. (2) Alabama

The winner of this region gets the winner of the Baton Rouge Regional- which features, of course, LSU.

This is what the Wave busted its hump all year for? The tournament’s overall top seed gets rewarded with this draw? Honestly, how many games would Tulane have to win to not draw LSU before the World Series? Would one million do? If the moon plunged into the sun- would we then get to play a team other than an arch-rival.

If, as the #1 national seed, you are supposed to draw the "easiest path" to Omaha- well, I guarantee that path ought not include having to play the Tigers. Yes, I know on paper LSU looks like one of the weaker #1 seeds in the draw- but we all know, both Wave and Tiger fans, that is a hard series for both clubs- should they both advance. The top seed ought not to have to navigate an emotional, tough series with its blood rival at a semi-neutral site to advance. Period.

Genuinely, I would love to know the last number one overall seed in this tournament had to play its projected Super Regional opponent at a site guaranteed to draw many fans from both sides. I mean, I suppose Tulane can be forced to play at Zephyr as opposed to Turchin- or play LSU before Omaha- but both? That simply is not right.

Plus, our immediate draw is deceptively difficult. I guarantee Southern is not the 64th-best team in this tournament. Would it have killed them to send Harvard here, for instance, as opposed to Fullerton? Screw the RPI. I promise, if Southern played Harvard ten times, they’d win seven more often than not.

Then ULL too- and Alabama? ULL has bounced around the Top 25 all year long- and the Tide is a quality team from the nation’s best league. This is supposed to be the weakest grouping- and yet it is positively scary. I know this is a “regional” set up- and the southern regions are always going to be "strong" versus the rest of the country- but come on. I guarantee had Ole Miss been the top seed, they would not be looking at this sort of draw.

I swear to heaven, I was delighted Sunday when I heard LSU was getting to host a regional. I promise you that selection committee would have sent that LSU team to Turchin right quick as a #2 for the Regional- if they could have gotten away with it.

I also think it stinks that this tournament has been arranged so that only one Louisiana team has a chance to make it to Omaha. Poor Southern. Win their league. Embarrass LSU in their house. And their reward is a date with the #1 team in the country. Ouch. Unreal. If I were a Jaguar fan, I’d be blogging how many games we had to win to avoid an early date with Tulane?

At least no one can complain the Wave does not deserve it if they make it to Omaha.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Frank the Lion

Below is the result of my tournament game versus T. Titov- a master level player from Russia. Titov is undoubtedly a soulless automaton- and since he was clearly over 40, probably educated by the Soviet system. I am representing the Chessperadoes of Manhattan on Board Four. As a master level player, Titov is also better than me- a lot better. He even gets up a piece. But much like, oh say Cyrano de Bergerac, or Herbie the LoveBug, I don’t give up.

White: Titov 2105
Black: McGrath 1503
Date: May 23, 2005

Non-standard opening

1. e2-e4 e7-e5
2. d1-h5 b8-c6
3. f1-c4 d8-e7
4. d2-d3 d7-d6
5. c1-g5 g8-f6
6. g5xf6 g7xf6
7. c2-c3 c8-e6
8. c4-b5 a7-a6
9. b5xc6+ b7xc6
10. h5-d1 a8-b8
11. d1-a4 .....

After 11. d1-a4, the initial development phase is over. Titov only has one white piece, the Queen on a4, truly developed. His exchanged his bishops for my knights to open the files on either side of my position, while protecting his king side pawns for later castling. In return, I am ahead in development, rooks well positioned to hurt him and Black possesses a strong pawn center- but my defense is a little shaky with the King trapped in the center. I have the better of the development; he has the better position.

11. ­­---- d6-d5
12. a4xc6+ e6-d7
13. c6xc7 b8xb2
14. b1-d2 f8-h6
15. g1-f3 d5xe4
16. d3xe4 f6-f5
17. o-o h8-g8
18. a1-b1 b2xb1
19. f1xb1 .....

I am in some trouble after this rook exchange. White obviously threatens b1-b8, and endless resulting pinned Black pieces for one thing. Worse, Black King is exposed to all sorts of pressure from the Queen side that I can no longer castle away from. Meanwhile, White King is safe behind a wall of pawns. Black King must move aggressively out of immediate danger- and I then choose to exchange some pieces to quiet down the endless “noise” in the defense.

19. --- e8-f8
20. b1-b8+ f8-g7
21. b8xg8+ g7xg8
22. e4xf5 h6xd2
23. f3xd2 g8-f8
24. d2-e4 e7-a3
25. h2-h3 a3-c1+
26. g1-h2 d7xf5
27. c7-c5+ f8-g7 ??

I think I make a mistake at f8-g7? Perhaps the loss of my remaining bishop is inevitable, and maybe that was true at an earlier point- but this move doesn’t help matters any. White now has a variety of options to force the Black King to move- while positioning the White Queen to make the capture.

28. c5xe5+ f7-f6
29. e5xf6+ g7-g8

The deed is done- now Black is down a piece and multiple pawns entering the end game. Looks hopeless, but checkmate with a Knight is difficult even for a master player. So Black plays on! And watch! Black’s aggressive 30. --- c1-h6 gives me one last hope to survive.

30. f6xf5 c1-h6!

I am positive Titov did not see c1-h6!
Black’s Queen returns to the near fight, but this is no defensive move. It means attack- that McGrath is still swinging. I am playing for my country, in a way, after all.

31. e4-f6+ g8-g7
32. f6-e8+ g7-g8
33. f5-d5+ g8-f8
34. d5-d8 ?

Mistake! At first blush this looks like the winning move- threatening the discovered check when the Knight moves off e8. But the power of c1-h6 now comes to hand- and salvages this “lost game” for Black.

34. --- h6-f4+
35. h2-g1 f4-c1+
36. g1-h2 c1-f4+
37. g2-g3 f4xf2+ !

Game saved! While Black Queen cannot mate, White King cannot escape h1, h2.

38. h2-h1 f2-f1+
39. h1-h2 f1-f2+
40. h2-h1 f2-f1+
41. h1-h2 f1-f2+

Drawn by repetition of position. A fighting heart saves half a point against a Russian master player.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Leaving on a Jet Plane

The Sixers relieved head coach Jim O'Brien of his duties yesterday- bringing to an end one of the more odd tenures in Philadelphia coaching.

I find most of the analysis in the papers a little overwrought. As for the official editorial position of “Frank Helps You Think It All Out”, we are decidedly neutral here. O’Brien did okay, right? He won 43 games- up from 33 the year before. How much more "improvement" was realistic for this bunch? More than the ten victories O'Brien achieved? Their play-off series loss to Detroit was credible- a late free throw miss by Green away from squaring the series at 2-2. Folks might complain about how long it took Webber to get integrated- but you integrate a guy playing on one leg. Plus, once the team did sort of figure things out, the Sixers finished as strong as anyone in the East short of the two elite organizations over the last twenty games. He reached Iverson at some level- as AI had his best ever season. So I refuse to say there is no downside of getting rid of a coach who I guarantee will be on a lot of short-lists next year.

The bottom line is that O’Brien did not enjoy the total confidence of the GM or the owner. And as long as that was true, other secondary issues and facts became shaded accordingly. The $8 million they owe the coach no longer mattered. The Sixers are awash in cash- and as long as Webber and Iverson are here, there are no free-agents that can contribute that are signable ere. The players tolerated O’Brien- particularly Dalembert and Webber- so no viable protection was coming from that quarter. Plus, didn’t coach have a lot of rocky relationships with ownership, players and media for a guy in town just 13 months? The point is- there was no great need to keep or remove this guy. You can justify and handle either decision.

Accordingly, this situation is more a vote of confidence in Mo Cheeks- the greatest unconsummated love affair in Philadelphia over the past few years. Two seasons ago, GM King evidently tried three times to obtain permission from the Blazers to speak with him. He was denied each time. Had Cheeks, the guy the Sixers organization really wants on the bench, not been available, O’Brien probably would have returned. In short, don't overanalyze. A lot of this is simply the Sixers moving aggressively to put the guy they really wanted on the bench.

Lastly, even if O’Brien did a good enough job to justify his retention, I think any rational person would have to at least consider a change. The Sixers have to look at this current core of players as having a two year window- I certainly cannot see Webber contributing past that point. Maybe O’Brien performance, a smattering of games over break-even and a admittedly gutsy first round performance, is all these guys can do? Perhaps. But 43 wins is not enough in Philadelphia- or better, maybe you owe it to your organization and fans to see if someone else can do better.

Ultimately, I think that is the story here. The status quo is simply not good enough to justify not trying someone else. The Sixers felt that O’Brien did more than okay, but that last season was the most he could get out of the current collection of basketball assets. They modestly hope Cheeks can do more.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Preakness Stakes

The Derby was a particular disappointment.

The official selection here clearly was the best horse in the race. Now, Afleet Alex rolls into Baltimore as the hands down favorite. Yes, the admittedly gutty Giacomo, benefiting from a hot pace he will never see again even he runs on the sun, was able to make up a whopping eighteen lengths and prevail at 50-1 in Louisville. His Beyer was only 100- and that ain’t going to be enough to get in done at the Arkansas Derby, let alone the Preakness. It was a fluke; Giacomo will get beat, and beat handily, tomorrow.

I am pretty convinced that two of the top three selections, Giacomo and Afleet Alex, really have no substantial chance to win here. Again, Giacomo just lucked into a ridiculous pace- and stole the Derby with an effort that most times wouldn’t win a minor Triple Crown prep race. Afleet Alex is the best horse among the three year olds right now- but the Derby proved he ain’t that good. His post is troublesome- a great horse could overcome it, but Afleet Alex just is not a truly superior animal.

This frees one up to look for a score- and I like High Fly (9-2) and Greeley’s Galaxy (15-1). High Fly was in the mix in Kentucky- but ran out of gas, very late, as a victim of the hot pace. The shorter distance, the solid post- these all help- and one of the greatest human beings ever, Jerry Bailey, is up. If High Fly improves even a little off either his Florida Derby win or Derby effort, then he’ll be a real handful here.

Greeley’s Galaxy is a bit more subtle pick. He was a long shot in the Derby (21-1) and ran like it- finishing 11th. But the race he ran previously, in the Illinois Derby, is just the sort of effort that wins here: get up top, relax and just run. He got bobbled early in Louisville- and never got untracked- and still ran credibly. I can see him being around the front too. And at 15-1, the right $2 exacta will pay.

Some other horses I like in no particular order: Afleet Alex (of course) and Scrappy T (big number at Aqueduct).

So I am taking High Fly over Greeley’s Galaxy, Afleet Alex and Scrappy T. I am also going to put some small bets on Greeley's Galaxy over the same three- confident they’ll pay boxcar like numbers if they come in.

High Fly romps home in the Florida Derby

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Tigers Surrender

I must admit I was genuinely surprised to see LSU agree to this home-and-home deal. I am not as crazy happy as most folks- put me square in the "I am okay with it" camp. I simply don’t think this series is important to Tulane anymore- or at least as it was in the 50’s- when it was part and parcel of being a program with national ambitions. The two schools don’t compete for the same style recruits anymore- so the idea that the head-to-head result swings any recruiting battles in nonsense. I don’t think Tulane can beat them- and I rather see us schedule games the kids can win. If we can play Navy home and home get 35,000 at Gormley, is it really worth playing LSU for 45,000? Does Tulane really get that much more out of playing them anymore?

Still, people are excited. And there are definite pluses. The upside for Tulane in this deal is obvious. The Louisiana State football community can rant and pout and point to their fees & guarantees- but it is all nonsense and smoke-screen. Even with fees and guarantees, Pitt doesn’t get home and home with Penn State. Leaving the Big East, Boston College won’t get recipricocity from Notre Dame any more. Rice get home and home with Texas? The superfluous tickets mean zero. Tulane wasn’t going to sell them for Rice anyway and LSU could sell more at their own building. No, if you think playing LSU is important to our program, this is a good deal for the Wave.

Regardless, AD Rick deserves a lot of credit. For those of you who think Tulane football is run sans intelligence rather than by grown ups, he has now demonstrably done two very smart things- particularly in light of our disastrous negotiating position with LSU in the past.

First, Rick created a non-negotiable line on scheduling with LSU and stuck to it. He agreed to play now and then, on terms certainly advantageous to the Tigers, but refused a long term commitment without a one-for-one. Second, he built a pretty successful out of conference game scheduling strategy. I was at the last two LSU games in the Dome- both had announced crowds around 35,000- and I guarantee you that count was high. I doubt either game cracked 30K. If they did, it was not by much. But Rick has repeatedly demonstrated he can beat or come close to that that kind of number- both with a shrewd “local” opponent promotion and a game here and there in the Park. So when LSU came calling, they knew Rick had proven a baseline competency of putting 35,000 people in the seats for out of conference games with opponents visiting either every year or every other year. Unless the Tigers were willing to match that, by coming to New Orleans regularly and giving the Wave a chance to sell 35,000 tickets, they could excuse themselves and call North Texas or Appalachian State*. It is not a crazy amount of leverage- but it is more than we had in 1994- and it apparently was enough to get the Tigers here every other year.

Again, I was never all that crazy about restoring this game. The LSU series really only has value to our program if we get the Tigers to New Orleans. Since the Tigers are, I am pretty happy with it. Ultimately, home games build programs, market season tickets and give exposure. Playing road games for money does not. Television and home games are the two foundations for growing programs- get on TV and fill the stands.

The LSU side of this deal is the more intriguing- why they would agree to give Tulane these games- rather than take their traditional approach of reaching out for ten straight home games alternating with Troy and Arkansas State? I think if you took Skip out for some whiskey, got him deep into his cups, he would tell you two things:

First, not all college kids can play thirteen games at the SEC level. LSU enters each year with a commitment to play nine BCS-level schools (eight in the SEC and a probable bowl). So while playing Arkansas State achieves the “just win baby without effort” goal, Tulane brings some buzz without really being a threat. Second, four uninteresting out of conference games are a bit much for the home folks to swallow year after year. So the Tigers push one out every other year, play it semi-local in a location that has fluoride and has whipped rickets, and ensure they possess enough of the responsibility for the gate that the event is only a minor loss in terms of opportunity cost.

* oops, it appears they do that already.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

New Blog on the Roll

I put a new blog on the roll this morning. It is ostensibly Darth Vader's dairy. You kinda have to read it- as opposed to graze it- but parts are really funny: the endless meetings required to run the galaxy, foolish subordinates, etc. I don't know. It made me laugh.


A sample:

Light lunch. Meeting a fan. Brisk, cool audience with the Emperor of the Galaxy.

The day began with a tedious set of inter-departmental meetings debriefing the operational tests we have conducted on this battle-station's systems over the past few days. Moff Jerjerrod was extremely pleased with himself, and took up an entire hour with a self-indulgent, morale-boosting lake of verbal diarrhea about surpassing our own benchmarks by honing our core competencies, or some such similar malarkey. "The operational efficiencies of this Death Star will serve as a template for all Death Stars to come!" he preened to scattered applause.

I had such a headache.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Honestly, My Phelgm Shows The Derby Winner

Okay, I love the horses- live class, bet class. But the Kentucky Derby has been my nemesis for a long time. The list of losers is depressing. Mr. Frisky? What was I thinking? I honestly cannot remember my last Derby winning horse. Missing at 10-1 with Medaglia D’oro still haunts me- and broke my heart into a thousand pieces.

But I do remember last year’s Triple Crown closing score, as my 2004 Belmont Stakes selections capered home first and second. This fortunate finish completed an exacta at a whopping 70 to 1, plunging Dad into a month of unremitting sourness (Dad loved Smarty Jones), wiped out a year of losing- and then some. That gets me some benefit of the doubt. We proceed boldly. One disclaimer: I have been hot lately. And I ain’t talking about just girls. For example, I scored at a cool 4-1 on the elevation of Benedict XVI.

Every year the Kentucky Derby field has distinct feeling to it: a weak field, a strong one, lots of unknowns, etc. This year’s representation is no different. It feels like a segregated field. First, a small bundle of horses with a good chance to win: Afleet Alex, Brandini, Bellamy Road, Greeley’s Galaxy- maybe High Limit too. And then the rest, a collective that I think would shock most fans if one of them got up and got it done.

The first leg of the Triple Crown is always a crowded mess. Most races in America are run with half the number that will start the tenth at Churchill in Louisville tomorrow. Most thoroughbred racing is a test of speed and pace and stamina. The Derby is almost always an exercise in traffic navigation. Watching replays afterwards, it seems the winner not only ran fast- but also did not get blocked, get forced ridiculously wide or trapped along the rail for a few furlongs.

So I by and large eschew the favorite- and this year will be no different. True, Bellamy Road is clearly untouchable on paper- he ought to win by a dozen lengths if the Beyer Figures- the way, the truth and the light to horse players- are to be believed. And even if he does get a rough trip, the field only has a few horses that can realistically take advantage. The only reason he is 5-2, as opposed to 3-5, is due to the chaos factor that has to be introduced and considered in all Derby outings. So while I like him- and he could definitely romp- at that relatively short price, he does not merit a strong play.

Now, I went to my only Derby two years ago. I left with two overriding impressions. The first is that nothing beats, for sheer spectacle, a date with a fantastic hat. Two, you cannot overestimate the value in this big spot of wagering for value. This is not the hard-core Tuesday afternoon crowd at the PHA- but rather a large, relatively untutored crowd betting drunk with both hands. This creates underlays on horses just behind the favorite in ability.

Consequently, I like Afleet Alex. If Bellamy Road bounces at all from his ridiculous stroll in the Wood, loses a not unreasonable ten or so Beyer points, Afleet Alex’s numbers suggest he’ll be right there. While he was awful in the Rebel, he apparently had a lung infection. Listen careful to this part: As someone who is still battling bronchitis, now for three weeks, lung problems are no joke. I just produce phlegm, sit in the shower to loosen said mucous, and have zero energy. Still, one month later, chock full of powerful equine drugs, Afleet Alex crushed an Arkansas Derby field- rallying from four-wide- which suggests the traffic here will not faze him. The chart says he “exploded”. As long as that is not referring to his phlegm, he has got a good shot.

Afleet Alex is no mortal lock by any means. But at 9-2 to win, you could take a flyer here and have an honest run. I will bet 50% off my roll, fattened by the big rally in "CHDN", on him to win outright. But we also need to drive some value into this selection. I believe the best way to do this is use the cattle call on-track nature of this event to Frank’s advantage.

So I am going to play a few exactas as well- continuing to take a stand against Bellamy Road. Again, not because I do not like him, but in search of a price. Let’s put a few small exactas out there: Afleet Alex on top of Greeley’s Galaxy, High Fly, Noble Causeway and Coin Silver. A fun $10 bet might be to play $1 exactas boxing the five horses above- up & down.

Angle players: As you all know, along with dosage and other strategies, one of the Derby’s most potent betting signals is my father’s selection. It has not been made public yet- but will be posted as soon as I get confirmation as to which Dad thinks will “win”.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Back on Top

It is hard to fuss too much when Tulane holds the top spot in three of the four national college baseball polls. But more often than not, success leads to obsessiveness- and I am obsessing over the under-used Billy Mohl and the over-used Micah Owings.

I am increasingly convinced Tulane is simply asking too much from Owings. First, he was clearly pressing early in the season. He's never looked comfortable and confident for a long stretch. It is like playing baseball is a chore right now- rather than fun. And I wonder if that is because he's asked to do everything- or at least an awful lot- every week, every game.

It makes it so hard for Owings to have a great week- build that confidence. Over four games, each and every week, Tulane asks this guy to collect a pair of hits each game, provide power, plus pitch seven plus very good innings as a weekend starter. It is almost impossible to do that four times each week. At that standard, Owings is almost always going to have a semi-disappointing game every four times out. Which I think is a big part of why it always looks like he's pressing- because Tulane is almost asking him to press: perform, perform, perform.

Maybe it is the best he can do. But the one approach that Tulane has categorically not tried is to ask him to do a little less- and see if that spurs his game some more. Sometimes I just look at him and I think no one in America would be better served with a day off, or a week of just DH-ing, or dropped a few spots in the order (at least when he is pitching), or to pitch him mid-week a few times.

Now, C-USA Pitcher of the Week Billy Mohl has to be wondering who he has to kill to get a sustained chance this year. I have been screaming for more Mohl since the second week of the season. Every time he pitches, he gets nine outs- if not most of a no-hitter.

Tulane is littered with solid, but definitely not "elite" Division I starting pitching- a box I imagine Mohl would probably fall into as well- so I am not so eager to see them move him from the 'pen. Just pitch him more.

This season has ruthlessly taught that if your rotation is littered with non-elite arms, then at least one game a weekend, Tulane needs lots of relief pitching. Mohl has undoubtedly provided bunches of quality relief pitching for a team who cries out for it at times. I am content to leave him where he is. But you gotta think, in big tournament spots, every starter will have a short leash.