Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Bowl XLIV Prediction

After 2 weeks of alternate sports programming, the Pro Bowl, photos of Brett Favre's ankles that were released by his agent Buss Cook for some unselfish reason (sarcasm alert), speculation about who Archie would root for, discussion of Tim Tebow's wisdom or lack thereof to discuss a hot button political and constitutional issue in front of undoubtedly the largest existing television audience, the advent of Ochocinco News Network (a surefire competitor to Fox News and CNN), rumors about a possible Reggie Bush and Kim Kardashian matrimony, the feelgood story of Pierre Garcon and what he means to Haiti, my and Matt's fellow BC alum Jamie Silva being awarded the award for best hair in Super Bowl history, endless talk about a Syracuse alum's ankle, and even more endless fellating of Eli's big brother, Super Bowl Sunday is finally upon us.

For those of you who enjoy online football betting but aren't content to bet on the game itself, our sponsors at Bodog are offering some fun prop bets. You can wager on the length of Carrie Underwood's national anthem, the number of windmill moves Pete Townshend will do on his guitar, whether or not he will smash said guitar and what it will hit, what color Gatorade will be dumped on the winning coach and who the MVP will thank in their speech.

Before you settle down with friends and family to imbibe one of the many beers that will make your Monday morning at work a living hell or chow down one of the billion chicken wings that Americans are projected to eat, you may want to read my final prediction for the 2010 NFL Playoffs. Or you may not want to. I am currently 5-5, hopefully I end up at .545 and not .455.

New Orleans Saints at Indianapolis Colts, Sun Life Stadium, Miami, FL, Sunday February 10 @ 6:25, CBS:

How the Colts Got Here: The #1-seeded Colts, led by the only four-time MVP in the history of the NFL, Peyton Manning, started off 14-0 before rookie head coach Jim Caldwell and GM Bill Polian decided to call off the dogs and rest their star players for the Playoffs at the expense of momentum. Interestingly, their first loss came against the Jets, allowing them to get into the playoffs and subsequently lose against the Colts in the AFC Championship game.

While the Colts did not lose any players to injury in the final weeks of the regular season, their star defensive end, Syracuse alum Dwight Freeney suffered a third degree ankle sprain (which is the equivalent of a torn ligament) in the AFC Championship and the team with all the momentum in the world, the San Diego Chargers, lost to the Jets in the AFC Divisional Round. In their wins against the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round and the Jets, the Colts looked anything but rusty. The Colts are here despite ranking last in the NFL in rushing during the regular season and 24th in the league against the run.

How the Saints Got Here: Like the Colts in the AFC, the Saints are the top seeded team in the NFC. Like the Colts, the Saints started 13-0. However, they lost their first game to Dallas in Week 14 after the Cowboys played a bend, but not break defense that avoided giving up the big play that has fueled the Saints attack all year. Like the Colts, the Saints were led by QB Drew Brees, who threw for 4,388 yards with 34 TD, an NFL-leading 109.6 QB rating and an insane 70.6% completion percentage Brees' stellar efforts led him to become only the second quarterback in NFL history with four consecutive 4,000 yard campaigns.

Manning is the other QB, having thrown for over 4,000 yards for six consecutive seasons from 1999-2004 and has done so for four straight campaigns from 2006-09. Unlike the Colts, the Saints ground game led by Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush ranked 6th in the NFL. Pretty balanced. However, their defense ranked 25th overall, including 26th against the pass. So far in the playoffs, the Saints have defeated the Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings, both of whom are pass happy like the Colts. Now they are in their first ever Super Bowl, setting the table for a crazy February in Nawlins.

How the Colts Can Win: Their Tampa II scheme is able to stop the big play from Brees, Freeney is able to push off from the line effectively so that Jeremy Shockey or Dave Thomas have to stay on the line to block, and Peyton is able to avoid putting the ball in Darren Sharper's hands.

How the Saints Can Win: Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas are able to provide effective relief on the ground for Brees, blitz like they did against Arizona and Minnesota to force Manning into throwing INTs.

Prediction: Most of the public is rooting for the Saints due to the Hurricane Katrina aspect, but most, including oddsmakers, think that Peyton will get his second ring as the Colts prevail in a shootout. I am not sure who I am rooting for, and I am not sure who will win. Regardless, I think this will be a great game. Brees throws for over 300 yards along with 3 TDs with 1 INT while the Pierre Thomas/Reggie Bush combo run for 200 yards and score another TD. Manning bests Brees with 300 yards and 4 TDs, but throws 2 INTs, providing Nawlins with an extra possession that turns out to be the kingmaker. Saints kicker Garrett Hartley follows his game winning field goal in overtime against the Vikings with a field goal in the last minute.

New Orleans Saints: 34
Indianapolis Colts: 31
MVP: Drew Brees.

Enjoy the game!

10 Days Until Spring Training: Phil Rizzuto

The 1956 celebration of Old Timer's Day took place on August 25th. At that point, Phil Rizzuto was already a bit of an old timer himself, nearly 40 years old having spent 13 seasons with the Yankees and served 3 years in the Navy during World War II. Scooter had lost his position as everyday shortstop for the Yanks to Jerry Coleman and Willie Miranda starting back in 1954 and had struggled in the plate appearances he was given in '56, hitting only .231/.310/.231. It was clear that his career was nearing its end, but the way that it came to a close blindsided Rizzuto.

Before the game against the White Sox that day, Casey Stengel called Phil into his office. The Yankees had just acquired Enos Slaughter from the Kansas City Athletics off of waivers and Stengel began discussing ways in which he could fit him on the 25 man roster. He had Rizzuto read down the roster and suggest players that could be moved to make way for Slaughter. Scooter would read off a name and Stengel would reject the idea. He kept looking over the roster until it was clear that Stengel was trying to get him to chose his own name. Naturally, Rizzuto was less than pleased with the way the Yankees had gone about this.

Stengel and general manager George Weiss assured Rizzuto that he would be added to the World Series roster as a back up for Gil McDougald should the Yankees make it that far. But adding to the fire, Weiss and Stengel reneged on their offer, eventually choosing Billy Hunter instead. Scooter felt betrayed and that broken promise very nearly ended Rizzuto's relationship with the Yankees. Fortunately for generations of fans of the Bombers, Rizzuto was the bigger man, forgave the team and went on to become one of the most recognizable ambassadors of the franchise for the next 50 years.

Rizzuto's Yankee career began almost twenty years before the infamous Old Timer's Day event and it might not have begun at all if it weren't for Casey Stengel. A Brooklyn native, Rizzuto explained that he grew up rooting for the Dodgers because it was easier to sneak into Ebbets Field than Yankee Stadium. Fresh out of high school, Rizzuto showed up at Ebbets Field to fulfill his childhood dream and try out for the team. The Old Perfessor was managing the Dodgers at the time, took a quick glance and Scooter's 5'6" frame and famously told him to "go get his shinebox" because that was the only way he was going to make a living.

Although dejected by the dismissal, Rizzuto didn't give up. Shortly thereafter, the Yankees invited him to a one week tryout camp. Even at that early age, Scooter was already and adept fielder, bunter and base stealer. Those skills, along with a home run that he hit during one of the scrimmages netted him a deal with the team.

Rizzuto spent the next four years in the minor leagues, jumping from D to B to AA-ball and maintaining an average over .300 wherever he went. During his 1940 season in Kansas City, he hit .347 and was named Sporting News minor league player of the year. He made his major league debut on April 14th, 1941.

As a 24 year old rookie, Scooter started 128 games a shortstop, hit .307 and finished 20th in the MVP voting. The Yankees went on to win the World Series against the Dodgers that year, although Rizzuto only manged 2 hits in 21 plate appearances. He was named to the All-Star team the following year and the Yankees made it back to the World Series but lost to the Cardinals.

In 1943, he was drafted into the Navy. Scooter never saw active duty and instead played on the Navy baseball team alongside Dodger's shortstop Pee Wee Reese, Dom DiMaggio, Don Padgett and Benny McCoy. He served for three years, missing the '43, '44 and '45 MLB seasons.

When he returned to the Yankees, it took Rizzuto a few years to regain his form as a hitter. He struggled through three below average seasons before Casey Stengel took over the reigns as manager. In 1949, Stengel moved Rizzuto from the bottom of the line up to the top, which coincided with a bump in his performance and a second place in the MVP vote behind Ted Williams. More importantly though, the Yankees won their first of 5 consecutive World Series, this one again over Rizzuto's childhood team, the Dodgers.

In 1950, Scooter finally put it all together, hitting .324/.418/.439 and winning the AL MVP. It was especially sweet with Stengel as manager - the most emphatic way possible that Rizzuto could have proved his offhanded dismissal of him at Ebbets Field years before was wrong.

After his MVP campaign, Rizzuto played two more years as the Yankees' full time shortstop before eventually becoming a part time player. While he was never a force offensively, he was better than most shortstops of his time. His career OPS+ was 93, but the a big reason that the Yankees were able to have the success that they did during Rizzuto's time in Pinstripes was that he offered roughly league average production from a premium defensive position. And Scooter's defense was well renowned. His former teammate Vic Raschi once said, "My best pitch is anything the batter grounds, lines or pops in the direction of Rizzuto."

After his unceremonious dismissal from from the Yanks in 1956, Rizzuto considered severing ties with the team. He felt spurned but eventually set his pride aside and joined the organization as a broadcaster the following year.

He was added to a booth with veterans Mel Allen and Red Barber and didn't initially fit in very well. Rizzuto felt that the two resented him for his inexperience. It would be precisely that lack of finish that endeared him to Yankees fans over his 40 year career in the booth.

While Rizzuto was known for his ability to play baseball the right way and lauded for his alertness in the field, his broadcasting style was much of the opposite. He was prone to miss things that happened during the game and interjected the broadcast with moments of personal levity and downright goofiness, such as "Bouncer to third, they'll never get him! No, why don't I just shut up!". He would openly advertise the fact that he was leaving the game early to beat the traffic over the George Washington Bridge and take time to wish friends and family a happy birthday over the air.

Rizzuto's success as a player earned him great respect throughout baseball but his trademark broadcasting style endeared him to generations of Yankees fans in a way his on-the-field play never could have. By narrating tens of thousands of games to people in driving in the cars or sitting in their living rooms, he became a familiar part of their lives. By sharing intimate details about his likes (golf, canolis) and dislikes (spiders, traffic, lightning) he was more than just a disembodied voice coming through the radio and eventually the television set.

The Yankees retired his number and dedicated a plaque in Monument Park to him on August 4th, 1985. He was passed on for the Hall of Fame repeatedly by both the writers (15 times) and the Veteran's committee (11 times) but eventually gained entrance in 1994 partially because of a persuasive speech given by Ted Williams. During it, Williams said that if the Red Sox had Rizzuto, they might have been the ones who won those pennants in the 40's and 50's.

By all accounts, Rizzuto was one of the kindest and friendliest personalities in all of baseball. When he passed away in 2007 at 89 years old after a few years of declining health, the Yankee community lost one of its pillars. He was the oldest living Hall of Famer at the time of his death.

Yogi Berra used to visit Scooter in the nursing home where he lived on a regular basis during the final years of his life. As a tribute to his best friend, he appeared briefly in the broadcast booth that night. It was difficult for Yogi as he was choked up for most of the appearance, but he went through with it as a way to honor all the years that Scooter spent in the booth. Earlier that day, Yogi talked about his lifelong pal during a lengthy media session in the Yankees dugout with Joe Torre at his side:

10 Days Until Spring Training: Chris Chambliss

Yankee history has more than its share of historic and memorable home runs: Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter, and Scott Brosius in the 2001 World Series, Bucky Dent in '78, Reggie's three bombs in Game Six in '77, Roger Maris' 61st in '61, Mantle's shot off the facade, Gehrig's four in one game in '32, the Babe's disputed called shot in the World Series that same year. But perhaps no home run in Yankee history was more momentous than the one hit by Chris Chambliss on October 14, 1976.

Chambliss was selected out of UCLA by the Cleveland Indians with the first overall pick in the 1970 draft. Placed immediately into AAA, Chambliss made his Major League debut in late May 1971 and went on to win the AL Rookie of the Year. Chambliss posted good, but not great, numbers through his first three seasons. Then, less than a month into the 1974 season, he was traded to the Yankees in a blockbuster deal.

The Yankees shipped pitchers Fritz Peterson, Steve Kline, Tom Buskey, and Fred Beene to the Indians for Chambliss and pitcher Dick Tidrow. The trade was initially heavily criticized. Not only had the Yankees traded away nearly half their pitching staff, it was yet another trade with Cleveland. The Yankees were in their second year of ownership under Cleveland native George Steinbrenner, and general manager Gabe Paul formerly held the same post with the Indians. The Chambliss deal was the fourth trade the Yankees and Indians made since the end of the 1972 season.

Despite the initial reactions, the Yankees got a steal of a deal. Beene and Kline were essentially finished by the end of the '74 season, and the remainder of Buskey's and Peterson's careers were unspectacular. But in Chambliss and Tidrow the Yankees had two key pieces to three pennant winning and two World Series winning ball clubs for the remainder of the decade.

When Chambliss stepped to the plate to lead off the ninth inning of the tied fifth and final game of the 1976 ALCS, he was coming off his best season to date, and perhaps the best of his entire career. He batted .293/.323/.441 (123 OPS+) with 17 HR and a career high 96 RBI, that would earn him a fifth place finish in the MVP balloting. Facing Royals relief ace Mark Littell, Chambliss launched the first pitch over the fence in right center field, giving the Yankees their first pennant in twelve years.

By the time he reached second base the field was mobbed with celebrating fans, and the bag had already been swiped. Chambliss was forced to tag it with his hand as the thief fled the scene. By the time he reached third he had removed his batting helmet so that the revelers couldn't steal it off his head. By the time he reached home plate the throng was so thick that no one could really tell if touched the plate. Later, after the commotion died down, Yankee manager Billy Martin ensured that Chambliss returned to the field with an umpire to tag the plate. By then the plate too had been stolen, leaving Chambliss to step on a hole in the ground.

Chambliss remained the Yankee first baseman through 1979, picking up two World Series rings and Gold Glove. Following the 1979 season, with the team in need of a catcher after the death of Thurman Munson, Chambliss was traded to Toronto as part of a six player deal that saw Rick Cerone come to the Bronx as the new Yankee catcher. Cerone inherited Chambliss' number ten, and finished seventh in the 1980 MVP voting. Cerone never came close to duplicating the success of his 1980 season, but he remained with the club through the 1984 season and was the last player to wear number 10 before it was retired in honor of Phil Rizzuto in 1985.

As for Chambliss, he never played a game for Toronto as they flipped him to Atlanta a month after the trade with the Yankees. He would spend the final seven seasons of his career with the Braves, playing three of them under manager Joe Torre. Chambliss retired after the 1986 season, spent 1987 as a minor league hitting instructor for the Yankees and joined the Major League staff as hitting coach for 1988. He briefly came out of retirement in early May, striking out in a lone pinch hitting appearance for the last plate appearance of his career.

Chambliss left the Yankees following that season, managing in the minors for the Tigers and Braves, but later resurfaced as Torre's hitting coach with the Cardinals in the early nineties. When Torre took the Yankees job prior to the 1996 season, he brought Chambliss along with him. Chambliss served as the Yankees' hitting coach through 2000, picking up four more World Series rings in the process. His son Russ played in the Yankees' minor leeague system during that time. Chris spent last year as the manager of the White Sox AAA affiliate.


For a look at another notable Yankee number ten, check out this post on Tony Kubek from when he was honored with the Ford Frick Award during Hall of Fame weekend last summer.

Padres' Coleman To Work Limited Schedule

A special Super Bowl Sunday good morning to you Fackers. Today is clearly a day for pigskin, but I'm grateful to know that we're a day closer to pitchers and catchers.

As we continue through our countdown to Spring Training, we're understandably in history mode here as we go back and brush up on some of the old time Yankees we've been profiling. Our countdown doesn't extend all the way back to number 42, so former World Series MVP Jerry Coleman doesn't get his own post, but he did make a cameo in name and in picture in Friday's Gil McDougald post.

Following his playing career, Coleman joined the Yankee broadcast team, working both TV and radio from 1963 through 1969. After spending two years calling games for the Angels, Coleman joined the San Diego Padres booth in 1972. He's been there ever since, save for spending 1980 as their manager.

Sadly, it was announced Thursday that Coleman would work an extremely limited schedule of just twenty to thirty home games this year (h/t BBTF). At 85 years old, I suppose it's only natural that Coleman's workload be reduced, but the Padres had no problem signing the spry 75 year old Dick Enberg to a multi-year deal this off-season, one that will see him call up to 120 games per year.

If Coleman's still up for working a full schedule, I'll pay his moving expenses to come back to New York. There's a couple folks in the Yankees Lowes Broadcast Booth whom I would love for him to replace.