Wednesday, April 29, 2009

David Poole Knew Talladega

After a crazy week at Talladega, perhaps we will will extra miss a man who could have helped us sort it all out. Charlotte Observer columnist David Poole, cited on this blog and one of my favorites, passed on. Lars Anderson of Sports Illustrated writes:
The news hit Jimmie Johnson like a sledgehammer to the knees. Johnson was taping a radio spot at the Performance Racing Network in Charlotte Tuesday afternoon when he got word that David Poole, who for my money was the top motorsports writer in the country, died of a heart attack at the age of 50 early this morning.

Indeed, as my friend, writer Ed Hinton, told me this afternoon, Poole was "like the school newspaper for NASCAR." The lead motorsports writer for the Charlotte Observer, Poole was to NASCAR what Peter King and Chris Mortensen are to the NFL. Put simply, he was the most authoritative voice in the sport.
Even a brief look at Real Clear Sports shows that newspaper columnists with national reputation are few on the ground in the cotton south. It is part and parcel of the institutional east and west coast press bias that permeates all types of newspaper coverage. Consequently, the two popular sports of the deep south- NASCAR and college football- tend to be under-covered vis-à-vis the pofessional stick and ball sports that dominate coastal, and to an extent, mid-west coverage.

Poole stood up to that trend, writing extensively about NASCAR and college sports- and without the snotty attitude that always is featured in east coast coverage. And since they are my favorites, he had a fan here at Frank Helps You Think It All Out. Since he was atypical journalist, he was very open to bloggers (he had his own spirited page here) and hosted a popular daily Serius radio show. NASCAR has no major national columnist voice other than David- so it hurts more to lose him because he was great, southern gentleman.

Particularly when you have to wade through such drivel as this by David Whitely with the Orlando Sentintal- talking about Carl Edwards’ terrible wreck at Talladega:
If Edwards' car had been a couple of feet higher, we could have had another 1955 Le Mans. A car flew off the track and killed 80 spectators. It led to a racing ban in Germany, France and Switzerland. The Swiss didn't lift their ban until two years ago.

How does NASCAR minimize that doomsday? Slow the cars? Reconfigure the tracks? Risk losing that Big One excitement? "I don't know how I'd change this racing," Edwards said.

Neither do I...
That’s pretty lame, right. Trash the sport, then “I don’t know”?

David Poole would never write something vapid:
Why did nobody at NASCAR ever say reconfiguring Texas Motor Speedway wasn’t an option when the drivers were complaining about it in 1998? What actually happened was NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. came to Texas on the morning of the track’s second race and took up a spot in the garage area so reporters could come find him. He told them SMI had better fix the track or lose the one Cup date it had, let alone asking for a second.

Let me flatly say two things.

First, if SMI owned Talladega then NASCAR would have forced that company to plow it up and rebuild no later than 1987, when Bobby Allison crashed in almost exactly the same way Edwards did Sunday. There’s no chance NASCAR would have tried as many things to change the cars and the rules to continue racing at Talladega if its sister company didn’t own the joint.

Second, there’s no way anybody – ISC or SMI or anybody – builds a track today and makes it a 2.66-mile trioval with high-banked turns. The track is an anachronism.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Somewhat More Sanguine

My how the accolades roll in!

NFL report card by Paul Domowitch

Eagles: Swung two separate trades that got them a Pro Bowl left tackle (Jason Peters) and a 4-year starting cornerback (Ellis Hobbs). Got one of the draft's top two wide receivers (Jeremy Maclin) in the first round and some much-needed help for Brian Westbrook in the second (LeSean McCoy). All in all, a helluva draft.

Grade: A-plus

More? CBS Says…
Best pick: They had no idea they'd get receiver Jeremy Maclin in the first round. They will love his speed in their offense.
Questionable move: Hard to find any. I mean it.
Second-day gem: Fifth-round pick Cornelius Ingram is a wonderful athlete who will be the new L.J. Smith in their offense.

I’m a little bit more sanguine. Mind you, I am no expert on these players- but I’m a little down on the approach.

For example, I know why Jeremy Maclin slipped out of the first ten picks (on some boards)- and why Pittsburgh running back LeSean McCoy lingered on the board. Because they can’t block.

It tends to be glossed over by these draftniks- who are a little blinded by the numbers and big play capacity of skill players. But coaches aren’t. The NFL is a real competitive league- and guys who can’t hold there own on the edge or in pass protection are a problem.

Jeremy Maclin seems like a clone of Desean Jackson: real speed, stretch the field. But I can’t see how they can both play on first down and subsequent run-oriented short yardage situations if both are, widely acknowledged, minus blockers? Which means Maclin isn’t going to, next year, supplant Kevin Curtis. In a fair forecast for next year, he is going to have the fifth most catches in this offense- behind the two starting wide-outs, the tailback position (Westbrook) and the starting tight end.

Now, the Eagles obviously think they are in a two year window to make a couple of runs at his thing. They needed a day one contributor with their first pick (like trading it for the OT Jason Peters- a definitive "win now" move)- not a potential good player who contributes on the margins through 2010.

On the surface, it was a little different with McCoy- there is a huge role around here for a twelve-fifteen touches per game from an alternate tailback. And the immediate expectations are less for a second round pick. But I look at him and think Ryan Moats- another “running” talent who could not get on the field because he couldn’t block people.

It is a real institutional bias in Philadelphia. Buckhalter stayed here forever because the coaches trusted him to block. Conversely, Ryan showed flashes- but never got a sustained look because he couldn’t be trusted to protect the organization’s franchise resource: Donovan McNabb. He was a third round pick we never saw- and we just drafted a guy in the second round with the exact flaw.

Again, these NFL guys know these players much better than I ever will. Maclin will probably turn out to be just fine- but there were guys still on the board more ready to contribute from this September on a team about now, not next year: say Brandon Pettigrew? And I’ve seen the McCoy prototype fail very recently here. Honestly, I had them at C+ after the first day- but I love the selection of Cornelis Ingram (if healthy, I think he is the best player they drafted- another potential indictment of these selections) and the trade for CB Ellis Hobbs. So, I give’em a “B-”.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Wrong or Stupid?

Well, like clockwork, within one measely day of my categorical statement the Flyers cannot steal a road game with this defense and goaltender, they promptly go into Pittsburgh and shut out the Penguins.

Sure, it would be churlish to point out this is Biron’s first play-off shut-out in twenty starts (a span in which Biron allowed one goal exactly zero times). The Flyers have demonstrated- one game in twenty- they can steal a game with defense and goal-keeping.

Now, I am not uncivil, and I am here to take my medicine. It is a tasty medicine indeed- any night that ends up with Crosby whining to the officials as he takes multiple frustration penalties is a real good one.

I do want to take a moment to shower some love on one Flyer who played his best game since arriving here in October: Andrew Alberts.

In the last three games, I honestly think he’s been the team’s best defenseman- or at least the best outside the top pair of Coburn and Timonen (and yes, Randy Jones was a +2 last night). But last night, Alberts was just determined, even cruel. He is a pretty big guy, tall at least- and with that deadly mix the Penguins have at center (Staal is their third option? That is rough)- he is out there against guys who can play. Lately, he has had a little Kjell Samuelson in him, just leaning on guys and inelegantly depositing them into the wall. He led the team in official hits last night- and while that is an annoying statistic, he has been getting the Penguins second tier wingers into the dashers and punishing them. He was in one those guys who keep pushing guys when they’re down, you know?

On the other hand, something has to done about Briere, who is just killing the team right now. Danny has zero goals in five games, and much like the last two regular seasons, he is a “minus” at even strength. The power play stinks and he’s part of that unit too. Now, last night, he’s added “take a pair of horrid penalties” to his tired repertoire. Somehow he was credited with a “hit”- probably when he took that roughing penalty for boarding a guy on a routine icing.

Briere plays on the third/fourth line- which is a mistake. His game is a skilled one- and he is out there with guys who aren’t looking to make skill plays- setting up fifteen, twenty feet from the net looking for a Briere pass. They’re mucking n the corners and clogging up the net looking for a garbage tally. Briere used to generate space in the offense zone because guys were afraid to move on him aggressively- he was a player designed to punish you through speed and skill for getting out of position. Now, they just run at him, and he has no one to bury the puck if he gives it up. The Flyers’ had an early third period power play, Briere had the puck along the wall at the near circle, looking out— and the Penguins just pressured him, knocked him down, took the puck.

That is not he Briere of 2006 0r 2007, where for all his faults he was a weapon with the man-advantage. Now he lacks the agility to get away from trouble or create it. He isn’t a defensive player or a role player. I don’t know what he can do right now- but it isn’t enough to justify a regular shift. I’d honestly scratch him. He cannot play with the top six forwards and is a negative with a mucking/defensive line. I guess with the shortened bench you can keep him in uniform for the power play- but he isn’t doing much there either. I’m inclined to try someone else: Giroux is only playing fourteen minutes and he is darned skilled?

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Where Are You Luca Sbisa?

Frankly, I wasn’t at all optimistic about the Flyers in their series with the Penguins- picking them to be excused in five. I got a lot of chances to watch them this weekend at the sports book in the Bellagio. They’ve actually played better than I thought- only the first game was one between teams on two different levels. Not that it matters. Carter and Richards would do well to schedule tee times for Friday now.

My whole problem this year with the Flyers is the passivity with which they approach the roster. Despite last year's nifty run through an advantageous draw, their problems were clear: the goalie is a journeyman, merely adequate player and the defense is not a collective you count on. We all know they blew a ton of leads in the tournament last year.

They did nothing to solve either problem. Biron is still in goal. The defense has already failed to protect one of the two third period leads this blog predicted they would choke up. So we can’t complain that the Flyers are looking at the same result- a quick elimination- against the same outfit that inflicted defeat on them last year.

My problem with Biron is not his acts of commission- he isn’t a bad goalie, he makes the stops a pro needs to. It is that he is testament to the Flyers passive approach- their culture of omission. To wit, in this series, Biron has played well enough for the team to win if they can score four, maybe even three goals. But, just as certainly, he just isn’t capable of that “steal a game” effort the Penguins got from Fleury last night: 45 saves on 46 shots. Two games separate these teams right now- and right there is one of them. Pittsburgh’s goalie can win a road game on a night his team scores two goals and takes a rash of penalties. Our goalie can’t.

Worse: the Flyers know this. They absolutely know Biron categorically cannot personally win a game or two here- move a toss up game into the Philadelphia column. For years now, they have suffered passively, unwilling to admit the only route to a Cup Final is a series of advantageous match-ups and luck.

Same thing with the defense. The Flyers have to know the current blue line unit can’t possibly defend leads playing in a typical third period shell. In recent play-off games, they’ve failed again and again and again and again and again (and again here in Game 2). They fail literally more than half the time, including multiple two goal leads, over the past two years.

Nothing changes. They don’t even try. Where are you Luca Sbisa?- the one guy who might, might mind you- have been a real upgrade to the group had be given an oportunity to play all season. It would have been a risk- he would be a rookie in a big spot- but really, what is the risk? They have to know they can’t beat a Pittsburgh-level team playing well (something they’re going to have to face sometime inf our rounds) with the existing infrastructure- so change it. It probably wouldn’t work- but this defense/goalie combo can’t work.

Then add in a coach, John Stevens, who categorically refuses to acknowledge his defense isn’t that strong. Psst… no matter what Keith Jones and Brian Engbloom are saying on television, the top pair of Coburn and Timonen ain’t untouchably superb either. The defense is always being asked to do the thing it fails to do repeatedly- play the defensive shell game with wingers supporting play the neutral zone rather than forechecking.

Coaching is about putting players in position to succeed. And this defense isn’t close to the Devils circa the late 90’s. They need the forecheck at the other end of the ice to be successful- play only nine minutes in their end in the third period versus thirteen. Anyway, that mixture of suspect coaching and equally suspect defensemen equals one blown third period lead- the other game of difference in this series.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Byron Parker Gets To Stay In A Fetching Green

I was knocked over to see the Philadelphia Eagles added a member of the Tulane Green Wave to their roster: safety Byron Parker.

Even with the Eagles obvious need at safety, this is a real stunner. This guy left Tulane 2003 where he was first and foremost basketball player. He was a pretty good defender- and had a moment when he won that silly slam dunk contest held at the Final Four back then. He played a couple of years as a defensive back- really not an impact player- but I guess someone in the CFL took a shine to his athletic ability.

I have no idea if he’ll make the roster; I honestly can’t remember him as a football player at all: basketball yes, football no.

But he’ll get a look. For one thing, it is a position with an outright vacancy. The Eagles let two safeties go: Brain Dawkins and Sean Considine. They did pick up Sean Jones to push for a starter role- but that low cost, last on the depth chart, special teams ace spot is real available. I’m not even sure he’ll face direct competition from a first day defensive back draft pick- as such a player won’t be ticketed to fill a low cost roster spot. A second day safety directly threaten him obviously.

No guarantees, particularly for a guy who doesn’t even have a jersey number on the site. But he is a four year pro with some success up north targeted for a secondary role he could do- he is as good a longshot for a roster spot as anyone.

On a personal note, Frank Helps You Think It All Out is going on a short hiatus- just one week- as I am going off the grid starting tomorrow. I will be back in time to rail on John Stevens and the Fyers.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Rest Easy Harry

You were the best. Godspeed.


Promptly Excused In Five

After the Flyers’ dropped a depressing game to end their regular season on the most blah note possible, I browsed through this post from last year and was struck how the Flyers really failed to address any of their deficiencies from last year. They are still a very good offense, predicated on depth of scoring, coupled with an inability to skate sixty minutes of NHL quality defensemen and a less than mediocre goaltender.

These were their exact flaws last year- and facing the same team as last year: Pittsburgh, albeit earlier in the tournament. Consequently, I expect the Flyers to again be excused promptly in about five games.

Until they ran into Pittsburgh, last years’ draw was fortuitous- a team they could push around (Washington) and a team that imploded in goal (Montreal). But this is a terrible draw for them. While not by much, Pittsburgh is better in goal. The Penguins actually get offense from the blue line. And they have good scoring depth upfront: Jordan Staal is the thrid best center?! And of course, two of the three best players in the world: Crosby and Malkin- while Richards, the Flyers’ captain, looks tired or hurt. The Penguins have lost three times in regulation in their last 25 efforts- very hard to imagine them losing four times in seven tries to Biron.

Am I the only one who has had it with coach John Stevens? This blog, and the preceding ‘zine, has been in existence since 2002. During that span, I have never called for the head of a single Philadelphia or Tulane coach. But I’m about the aforementioned five games from changing that stance.

The Flyers finished a mere four points ahead of both Montreal and New York- a pair of clubs mocked all season for soft play, poor play and featured coaches that were terminated. So excuse me for wondering if the Flyers might need to make a move behind the bench too.

I mean, they had poor play (their horrendous start). They had soft play (say, the last three games).

I realize it is a long season- and I’m not arguing for a true pedal to the medal approach in November. But in a capped League, five points is the difference between a scary road series with Pittsburgh or home ice versus a shaky Montreal-style outfit. And, unlike say the Phillies or Eagles, the Flyers have stretches where they don’t play well or tough. A big part of coaching in a capped League is generating the “play every night” mentality- and Stevens failed at that categorically this season.

My problem with him started in last year's play-offs. He fundamentally doesn’t coach a game to his rosters’ strength. The Flyers can’t be a team that sits on leads- the defense and the goalie aren’t consistent enough to corral and pitch the puck out for twenty minutes up one goal. Yet he tries to coach a “normal” game, rather than try to win 5-4 every night. How on earth are the Flyers’ going to protect leads against Pittsburgh? It is impossible with this crew. Look at last year, they blew umpteen two goal leads in the play-offs. So coach to try and score the fourth, fifth, sixth goal.

He won’t. The Flyers will be out in five games- including blowing two third period leads.


Thursday, April 09, 2009

We Are Amused

Thomas Boswell raises the roof today in the Washington Post. The Washington Nationals team president did a very public kowtow to the fans of Philadelphia- and Boswell characterized it as such:
Here's what you can't say if you're the president of a Washington pro sports franchise: Please, pretty please, Philadelphia fans, come to D.C. on Opening Day because we can't sell out our almost new ballpark in Year Two. We've got Phillies hats in our gift shop. We promise to be nice (even if you boo the Nats).
Boswell is a bit hard on the Nats. If the local fans don't support the team, someone has to. And I know I love going to games in Washington. There is a home field vibe, you can get a decent ticket cheap, and most evenings move down briskly into the acres of open seats in the lower deck. And the Nationals stink- so there is a good chance the Phillies are going to wallop them no matter what the match-up on the hill.

Baseball in DC was a mistake- it simply isn’t a baseball town. The few fans generated from the crib gravitates toward the Orioles. The way pro-sports works now- expensive tickets, night games- makes it hard to grow a fan base from scratch with young people. And there was little baseball culture to begin with- the local minor league teams never did great guns.

That twenty year process by which- say the Mets- grew a fan base isn’t available to DC: an existing baseball culture, cheap tickets, day games. And the parts that are replicable- an early quality product- are already gone forever in DC. In the end, you need help to fill the building- and as any Tulane fan will tell you, it is a depressing way to go about things.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Someone Has To Be Kevin Gross

Do you ever get the feeling that Brett Myers is the Kevin Gross of this generation?

Like Gross, Myers has a plethora of major league pitches- but somehow the sum is less than the whole. Consequently, he is sort of sentenced to kick around .500- with some upside as an innings eater when healthy.

Most starting pitchers seem to sort into two categories- guys who pitch off a superior pitch (Hamels and the change-up, Kendrick and the sinker) or guys who try to mix and match three/four quality pitches. Myers is the latter obviously- which leads me to the two problems with Brett Myers.

First, it makes me crazy when people say he should throw his fastball more. I don’t get it. He isn’t a power pitcher- his fastball features okay velocity, very little movement and does little to set up his average change. He has to spot it- because it is real hittable. Who doesn’t cringe when Myers has to challenge a good hitter? He should throw the fastball less- and really mix pitches.

Saying a guy should "mix pitches" more is easy of course. But Myers is a decent strike-out pitcher- but he fans guys by throwing the fastball in non-fastball situations and throwing quality off-speed stuff. Like a lot of strike-out pitchers, he’s going to walk guys because of deep counts. Fine- but since we’re okay with him walking a few extra guys- then fewer fastballs please- because he has real problems throwing the fastball in hitter’s counts.

Second, again, he does strike people out. But most plus big league starters have that “bury you” pitch. They get ahead in the count and you’re fishing after that slider away or chasing high heat. Myers doesn’t have that drop dead pitch that he can throw off the plate, somewhere un-hittable, when he’s ahead in the count.

I don’t know how you fix that problem- moving him up from 7Ks per nine innings- to an elite level. I guess that is why he is a .500 pitcher.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Tulane 8, LSU 7

More than a little ornery juice flowing from the Tulane community this morning- as the Tulane Green Wave began an attempt to right their season by defeating #2 LSU last night by an 8-7 mark.

Look, it never gets boring to take the Tigers down a peg- particularly when you get outstanding and fair points from one “Wavefan” on yogwf. These are his rules:
Always remember the "Tigah Code" for this series:
Winning in this series means more to Tulane than to LSU, even if it doesn't.
We pitch our "weekend starters," even when we don't.
They pitch the end of their bench; if it looks like they have their ace closer in, well, they just don't.
And above all else, it is a meaningless midweek game, unless LSU wins, in which case it establishes who has the better team.
Honestly, I don’t think Tulane needs to apologize for “trying harder” to win this game than LSU. We play in a weaker League, get fewer season changing games. LSU has every other conceivable program advantage. Does anyone believe that the college baseball environment isn’t hugely slanted toward the Tigers?

So, it behooves Tulane both to take the small advantages and to get the big wins when they are available. If that means jumbling the rotation a little- so be it. I plan to never get in the habit for apologizing for victories over the big state monster to the north.

Anyway, good win for Tulane and the program.

(Photo credit: I stole the photo from nola)


Wednesday, April 01, 2009


Frank Helps You Think It All Out cherishes its champions of the racetrack. Thus, we would be remiss not to note the passing of Alysheba- winner of the 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Alysheba was 25.

As the two big wins above attest, Alysheba was obviously talented as a three old. I mean, look at this roster of three year olds he whipped that day: Bet Twice, Cryptoclearnace, Gulch. But it was his return to the track at four to take on all comers that cemented him as one the sports’ true champions. He battled the great Ferdinand- another Kentucky Derby winner (thus bringing juice you would never see today when horses are retired instantly)- repeatedly, establishing two all-time greats as charasmatic rivals. He roamed the east coast- taking on all who dared- crowning his career by winning the Breeders' Cup Classic over Seeking the Gold, Waquoit and Forty Niner.

He made a whopping 26 starts, winning eleven- and those eleven were mostly of the right sort: Triple Crown, Breeders Cup, the Big ‘cap. Had he won the Belmont, he’d be an immortal- but he’ll have to settle for the Racing Hall of Fame.

Here is his 1987 Kentucky Derby win- rising from near his knees and rallying to win.

And the 1988 Breeders Cup Classic: