Monday

11-30-09: I'm in the Wrong Line of Work

Hello again everybody...

Welcome back from your holiday weekend. I hope everyone had a festive and enjoyable Thanksgiving. Mine was pretty damned good. I got through 6 different Bond films (4 Connery, 1 Moore and 1 Brosnan). And then it turned out that Spike TV was doing it's own marathon on Friday, so I got through 2 more that day!

Between that and gorging myself (in a civilized manner, of course) on whatever food I chose, it was a winner of a weekend, no doubt.

Oh, and one other note, I got to introduce my cousin Maggie to the wonderful game of hockey on Friday. Through my considerable influence (insert heavy dose of sarcasm here), I was able to get her in to see her first Minnesota Wild game as they prevailed over the dastardly Colorado Avalanche. Well, actually the Avs aren't as “dastardly” as they used to be, and the Wild technically have more goons on their club now than Colorado, but I've digressed... The point is, the Wild won a well-played contest, 5-3, defeating a division rival. I'm not sure if Maggie will turn into a full-on puck-head now, but she seemed to have a good time, and it's always a bonus to get to do something fun for a family member.

So that about sums up my weekend. Well, there was some college football in there too, but I'll save that for Wednesday. (I wish I could save it for a year from Wednesday, but I'll take my whipping like a man.) Did I mention the Wild beat the Avs twice over the weekend? At least I've got that going for me.

Someone who didn't have such a good weekend? One Eldrick “Tiger” Woods. Details are still sketchy, but part of that is because he's not talking. And his silence is what's got me talking today...

Let's get to the rant then, shall we?

”A celebrity is a person who works hard all his life to become well known, then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized.”
- Fred Allen (1894 - 1956), American comedian


Sometimes the right quote just falls into your lap, and leads directly to what you want to talk about.

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Tiger, Tiger, Tiger. (sigh)

I assume by now, most of you are familiar with the basics of Tiger's motor-vehicle mishap from the wee hours of Friday morning. If not, take a gander at this Washington Post article and you can catch up on the details.

Of course, that article just lays out the basics. There was a crash, his wife Elin used a golf club purportedly to free him from the wrecked car, Woods sustained facial injuries, and nobody's talking.

What you won't see in that article is the rampant speculation now taking place in various media over what led up to the Friday morning incident.

Last week, the National Enquirer published a story revealing an alleged romantic connection between Woods and New York Club Hostess Rachel Uchitel.

So it's only natural that some would speculate that there might be a connection between said revelation and Woods leaving his home in a hurry at 2:55am on the morning after Thanksgiving. Especially with so many unanswered questions.

How did Tiger receive his injuries if the accident was so minor that the airbags in his Cadillac didn't deploy? Why did Elin need a golf club to smash in windows to get him out of the car? There wasn't an extra remote for the locks? And why was her first reaction to hearing a commotion to grab a golf club? Supposedly she didn't have to go back into the house for it.

If you believe speculation and rumor, there was an argument about the alleged affair, Tiger tried to leave, Elin grabbed a golf club and displayed her displeasure on Tiger's Caddy. Tiger was trying to get away, and in the dark of night backed up too far and hit a fire hydrant. Then, when trying to avoid her a second time, ran into a tree.

There is no direct evidence, but people can connect dots. And when the principals involved aren't talking, then there's nothing else but to connect the dots on our own.

And this is where I believe that A) Tiger's making a mistake. And B) I'm in the wrong line of work.

For some reason, athletes and celebrities keep getting this wrong. And it's my contention that they should hire me on a consulting retainer to be their “voice of reason” when they get themselves into a mess.

Look, I don't know if Tiger had an affair with this woman or not. I don't know if what happened Friday morning had anything to do with that allegation. But there's certainly enough smoke around those particular areas to guess that there might be a flame or two of truth.

But instead of getting out in front of the story, controlling it and being as honest as is legally-sensible, Tiger's going the other way and clamming up.

So far he's canceled three separate appointments with the local gendarmes. And yesterday, he released this vague statement on his website:

”As you all know, I had a single-car accident earlier this week, and sustained some injuries. I have some cuts, bruising and right now I'm pretty sore.

This situation is my fault, and it's obviously embarrassing to my family and me. I'm human and I'm not perfect. I will certainly make sure this doesn't happen again.

This is a private matter and I want to keep it that way. Although I understand there is curiosity, the many false, unfounded and malicious rumors that are currently circulating about my family and me are irresponsible.

The only person responsible for the accident is me. My wife, Elin, acted courageously when she saw I was hurt and in trouble. She was the first person to help me. Any other assertion is absolutely false.

This incident has been stressful and very difficult for Elin, our family and me. I appreciate all the concern and well wishes that we have received. But, I would also ask for some understanding that my family and I deserve some privacy no matter how intrusive some people can be.”


Well I'm glad we got that all cleared up!

What?! Come on Tiger! “My family and I deserve some privacy”?! Really? That's how you're going to handle this?

I'm sorry, but that doesn't fly. When you ask us to watch your tournaments, buy products you sponsor, and help all the poor little children by donating to your foundation, you don't get to drop “my family and I deserve some privacy” when something like this happens.

I'm not saying people have a right to every last intimate detail of Tiger's life. But when there's drama like this, he's got to give more of an explanation than, “my family and I deserve some privacy”.

And what are we to make of the “I'm human and I'm not perfect” paragraph? Is he talking about the car crash? Or is he talking about the purported mistress?

Here's the problem. When he leaves it open to interpretation like that, it's going to be interpreted. And not necessarily in the manner he'd like.

This is where public figures get it wrong all the time. After making their living by craving the spotlight and public attention, they think that when they screw up, they can hide behind vague statements, obfuscate as long as possible and it will all eventually go away.

But it never does. Once people start asking questions about situations like this, they rarely stop until some form of an answer is found.

What Tiger doesn't seem to grasp is that he's far better off having that “answer” come from him, rather than from Ms. Uchitel or one of her friends who saw the pair together, or anyone else.

We've seen it time and time again. In our society, if you stand up in front of cameras and microphones and admit what you did, admit that it was wrong, tell people you're sorry and that you're going to work as hard as you can to repair the damage you've wrought, the public will forgive you.

Have you seen David Letterman's numbers since he admitted having affairs with women on his staff? They haven't dropped an iota. Granted, he was benefited by being the victim of an alleged extortion attempt. But that doesn't change the problematic nature of his actions.

Or let's go back to sports. Andy Pettite gets named in the Mitchell Report as someone who used steroids. He holds a press conference and says yes, he used them. Here's why he used them. He's sorry that he let his fans and teammates down. He doesn't want kids to follow his example. Et cetera, et cetera. And the whole thing blew over in a week.

Where as Roger Clemens gets named in the same report, denies absolutely that he ever used them and there followed months and months of further hints and allegations which have tarnished his reputation far further than the initial allegations ever would have.

And of course, there's the ultimate example. A President of the United States went from, “I did not have sex with that woman” to “Indeed I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate” and "I must put it right, and I am prepared to do whatever it takes to do so". And in so doing has been forgiven to the point of becoming a revered elder amongst Democratic Party circles, and enough of a world figure to be sent off to North Korea to free jailed journalists.

Do you see the pattern here?

I know Tigers got a phalanx of attorneys, publicists and agents, all trying to get in his ear, all sure that they alone know the best way to handle this situation.

Enter: Dan Cook, Tiger's hired “voice of common sense”.

Get out in front of this thing, Tiger.

Go talk to the Orlando police. Tell them what happened. Tell them you'll make restitution for any damage to the city's fire hydrant and your neighbor's tree. Tell them you don't want there to be any charges for any domestic issue that might have occurred between you and your wife.

Then hold a press conference and be honest about whatever relationship there may have been between you and Ms. Uchitel. If it was sexual in nature, say so. Admit that you made a mistake. Admit that you screwed up. Tell people you feel awful for what you've done to your family. Tell your fans that you let them down. Tell them that there's no one to blame but yourself. And that while you can't ever change what you've done, you'll learn from it, grow from it, and do your absolute best to never repeat those same mistakes.

You don't have to reveal the exact details of what happened Friday morning. You've already embarrassed your wife, there's no need to tell tales of a woman crazed with anger and embarrassment wielding a 9-iron in your general direction. Tell the press that you'd like to get everything out there, but because the authorities are involved, your counsel has advised you not to get into specific details of that incident.

If you own up to whatever you're alleged to have done outside the bonds of your marriage, nobody's going to care about specifics of the Friday morning scene anyway.

But the longer you delay, the longer you try to hide whatever happened, the more you drop lines like “my family and I deserve some privacy”, the longer this cloud is going to hang over you and your family. It'll impact your image, your earning power and your reputation with your fans. And not in a positive way.

Get out in front of this thing, Tiger. Or it'll be in front of you every time you tee it up.


That's just my two cents anyway.

Thoughts? Comments? Your feelings? Attach a comment below, or you can always drop me an email at dcook93@yahoo.com.

That's going to do it for today. I'm back on Wednesday with the usual college football tomfoolery.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

11-25-09: 2009 College Football Picks: Week 12 Post Mortem & Week 13 Picks

Hello again everybody...

Thanksgiving break is here!!! Well, it is for me at least. I'm off from work today through Saturday, and couldn't be more happy about it. No, my schedule hasn't reverted back to my preferred form yet, but all indications remain that it will prior to the next batch of Holidays. We'll see.

Either way, tomorrow is a day to stop and give thanks for the things we DO have, not the things we don't.

In that spirit, I'd like to take a moment to tell you all how thankful I am to have you all as regular readers. I've said it before, but writing this blog is something I do mostly for the joy of the creative process. That any of you enjoy reading it enough to come back on even a semi-regular basis is truly icing on that cake, and a blessing for me. So thank you all and have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

As for Friday? Yeah, I've pretty much decided to take the day off from the blog. I know that not having your usual DFTU to tide you through your weekend will be something of a burden. But I have no doubts that you'll be able to soldier through!

Today's a day for college football though. It's time to wade through the weekend that was, and preview the picks for the weekend to come!

Let's get to it!

”Education is the progressive discovery of our own ignorance.”
- Will Durant (1885-1981), American writer, historian, and philosopher.


This quote jumped out at me because I'd just been thinking something similar the other day. It strikes me from time to time, that the older (and supposedly smarter) I get, the more I realize just how little I know about what's going on in the world around me.

And that's why I've decided to build my own underwater lair, just like Karl Stromberg in “The Spy Who Loved Me”. Only I'm not going to try and rebuild the human race. I'm just gonna hang out and watch movies!

I'm kidding of course... mostly. Oh, and did I mention that this year's Thanksgiving Movie Marathon is going to be composed of Bond films? Yes, I know you're shocked. Try to control yourself.

Move on to the college football already? You're right. Here we go...

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2009 College Football Picks: Week 12 Post Mortem

I had a pretty good feeling about this past week's picks headed into the games. Let's see if that translated into picking success!

First, the game I passed on...

Wisconsin -7 at Northwestern: Final Score - Northwestern 33, Wisconsin 31
Yeah. Not so much “back on the bandwagon”. I didn't get to see this game, as I was en route to Eau Claire to watch my friends Scott and Erica get married (congrats to those crazy kids!), but I did listen to a little bit of it on the radio as I drove.

First of all, is there a way we can get Matt Lepay to call every game everywhere?! Good lord, that guy's good. I could listen to him read the phone book and not get bored.

As for the game itself? Wisconsin's had a history of struggling at Evanston, and that's exactly why I passed on this game. I knew something like this would be possible. I don't know what it is about that goofy Wildcat offense that Bucky can't handle. But they struggle with it every year. Being in Madison usually helps them get over the top. Being in Evanston usually doesn't. And this year was no different. Dammit. Oh well, on to Hawaii!


So last week it turned out that I should've picked the games I passed on, and passed on the games I picked. Does that mean that I did better in my picks this week?!

First...

Iowa -10 vs. Minnesota: Final Score - Iowa 12, Minnesota 0

Well my 35-10 prediction didn't work out. But Iowa scored just enough to cover against perhaps the most anemic college football offense I've ever seen.

Minnesota's now gone 8 full quarters without an offensive touchdown. And four of those were against a FCS (the group formerly known as Division I-AA) team!

Gopher fans can whine about losing Eric Decker all they like. If one wide receiver is the difference between you scoring points and not scoring points, then your offense is in a world of hurt.

What Dan Learned: There's still rumblings that Decker could return for Minnesota's bowl game, so I can't say “bet the house against Minny”. But I'm awfully tempted to. As for the Hawkeyes, suddenly the hot rumor is they're going to get bumped out of a BCS bid by Penn State. Really? Didn't Iowa beat the Lions in Happy Valley for chrissakes?! Does anyone really need further indictment of the BCS system? I didn't think so...

1-0 and feeling my oats! (Ever wonder where that phrase came from? Me too, only I'm mildly fearful of learning the answer.)

Next...

Ohio State -12 at Michigan: Final Score - Ohio State 21, Michigan 10

One measly, freaking point away from a push. Seriously... the Buckeyes couldn't mix in a field goal somewhere in there to get me a cover?! Come on!

I caught a little bit of this game before I left town, and as the Hammer predicted, the Wolverines were certainly fired up being at home in a huge rivalry game.

Unfortunately, “fired up” can only take you so far. Michigan was better on defense than they had been in previous weeks, but they were clearly over-matched in terms of talent. And the lack of a cover here was more flukey than anything else.

What Dan Learned: It looks like an Oregon/Ohio State Rose Bowl. Which actually could be a pretty good game. I'd expect the Buckeyes to be close to a touchdown underdog in that game, but if Terrelle Pryor can limit his mistakes, the Buckeyes might actually win a major bowl game for once.

As for the Wolverines? They're still a mess. On the surface, their 5-7 record bests last year's 3-9. So one could be tempted to say they'd improved. The problem is they went 2-6 in the Big Ten last year, and this year they went 1-7. Hardly an improvement. I'm not one to call for a coach's head after only two years, so I hope those rumblings remain just rumblings. But next year is going to be huge for Rich Rodriguez. If Michigan doesn't become bowl eligible at least - and they probably have to do more than that - he could be looking for work sooner than later.

1-1 and praying for something other than another 1-2 week!

Thirdly...

TCU -31.5 at Wyoming: Final Score - TCU 45, Wyoming 10

Yes! The “bet TCU until they fail to cover” bit is officially on!

Didn't see a second of this game, but here's my imaginary recap: TCU scored, then scored again, then scored again, then got a little tired and surrendered a field goal, then made a mistake and gave up a touchdown, then went into the locker room at half time and got yelled at for giving up any points at all, then came out and dropped 21 on the Cowboys in the third quarter to seal the win and the cover.

Sound about right to you? I thought so.

What Dan Learned: I just wish I'd thought of this bit sooner. It might have turned a few 1-2 weeks into 2-1 weeks at least. The bad news is, TCU has only one regular season game left. The good news is it's against 1-10 New Mexico. I haven't looked at the line yet as I'm writing this, but I'm guessing it's got to be 35+ points. And yes, I'll be taking TCU and giving whatever points they ask.

2-1 and with only the Flier Pick remaining, guaranteed a winning week! Yes!!!

Finally...

Stanford -7 vs. California: Final Score - Cal 34, Stanford 28
*- This game was this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week

Serves me right for picking against Michele Tafoya's Golden Bears. Fortunately, she didn't catch that column. I know this because I would've caught holy hell in the studio if she had.

I didn't see a second of this game, so I can't break it down for you. I will say that I had the right theory about Stanford having a “let-down” game. I just had it a week too early. Instead of letting down against the Trojans, they let down against a very average Bear team. Should I have seen that coming? Probably.

What Dan Learned: I think I have a new maxim for next year's preview column - I'm staying the eff away from Stanford. Every time I picked them this year, they lost. Every time I picked against them, they won. Freaking smart kids!


So thanks again to the Flier Pick I finish the week 2-1. That makes me 19-21 and just two more 2-1 weeks away from a .500 finish. Fortunately, there are three more weeks of regular season/conference championship games to pick. Though, the slate does start to dwindle now that most Big Ten teams are done.

Naturally, I won't let this deter me. So without further ado, I give you...

2009 College Football Picks: Week 13

First a game I looked at, but ultimately passed on...

Pittsburgh -1 at West Virginia: I like Pitt to win this game, and when the spread's only one point, then you just pick who you think will win. West Virginia's amassed a decent record this year though, and I think they'll give the Panthers a game. But were it not for Cincinnati being undefeated, Pitt would be getting a lot more publicity over their 1-loss record. I think they're a darned good football team, and I expect them to win this game. I just had four other picks I liked more!

And here they are...

First...

North Carolina -6 at North Carolina State (11am, ESPN): The Tar Heels are 8-3 (4-3 in the ACC). The Wolfpack are 4-7 (1-6 in the ACC).

Lot's of rivalry games this week. This one amongst them. The game itself is purely for pride as the Wolfpack have no shot at a bowl, and the Tar Heels can't get themselves into the ACC Championship Game, even with a win.

But North Carolina can improve their bowl position. And they've been on one heck of a roll lately. They've won four games in a row, including two doozies in the last couple of weeks, beating Miami at home and Boston College on the road. North Carolina is the ACC team no middling-record team wants to face in a bowl game, I assure you.

The Wolfpack have lost six of their last seven, with the only win coming versus a dreadful Maryland club. They can score some points if you're not careful, but not enough to win this game.

I like North Carolina by 10 at least in this game, so I'm happy to have to only give 6.

Next..

TCU -44.5 vs. New Mexico (12pm, on something called The Mountain): The Horned Frogs are 11-0 (7-0 in the Mountain West). The Lobos are 1-10 (1-6 in the Mountain West).

I guessed earlier that the line would be 35+ for this game. Well, it turned out to be very much "+". 44.5 is a ton of points to give, and I was almost tempted to make this my Flier Pick because of it. But that flies in the face of the “pick TCU til they fail to cover” bit, so I can't do it.

The Lobos are coming off their lone win of the year last week against a dreadful Colorado State squad.

TCU beat Colorado State 44-6 earlier in the season. If they can match that effort and add one more touchdown, I cover.

It makes me nervous to do it, but I'll give the 44.5 and stick with the bit!

Thirdly...

Virginia Tech -16 at Virginia (2:30pm, ESPN): The Hokies are 8-3 (5-2 in the ACC). The Cavaliers are 3-8 (2-5 in the ACC).
*- This game is this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week.

It's nice when there's that kind of symmetry in records, don't you think?

If this game were in Blacksburg, I'd be even more confident that the Hokies would walk. But even in Charlottesville, I don't see the Cavs putting up much of a fight.

Virginia's dropped five games in a row, and only one of them could be called “close”. At this point, they're playing out the string and wondering who their next head coach will be once Al Groh gets the heave-ho.

The Hokies have won three straight, the last two in very impressive fashion. Like North Carolina, a win for Tech still won't get them into the ACC Championship. But I doubt they'll need that motivation to dominate their in-state rival.

If Tech gets a couple of scores early, Virginia folds and the rout will be on. I'll give the 16 and hope it plays out that way.

Finally...

Georgia Tech -7.5 vs. Georgia (7pm, ESPN Gameplan): The Yellowjackets are 10-1 (7-1 in the ACC). The Bulldogs are 6-5 (4-4 in the SEC).

If Georgia needed this game to get to a bowl, I'd give them a better chance. Georgia Tech has already locked up their spot in the ACC Championship game, so there's certainly a chance for a let-down here.

Except it's a rivalry game. And Tech hasn't lost since September. And I think Paul Johnson is way too good a coach to let his kids look past this game towards Clemson and a shot at a BCS berth.

Throw in the facts that Tech's at home, and Georgia's been a disappointment all year, and I don't think 7.5 is too much to give.

The Yellowjackets have their triple-option rolling. They haven't scored less than 30 since the middle of October. I like them to roll here by a couple of touchdowns easily.


So there you have them. Four picks to get you through your holiday weekend. As always, feel free to bet heavily against me. You'll probably come out ahead!

That's going to wrap things up for today. Again, I wish you all a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

I'll be back on Monday with more of the usual Sports Take wonderment.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

11-23-09: 2009 Baseball Awards Recap

Hello again everybody...

Back to the grind again! Only it's not much of a grind this week, is it? Yes, Thanksgiving week is upon us, and for me, like many of you, it's a short one. Mine's a bit skewed this year (Wednesday to Saturday, rather than Thursday to Sunday), but even my goofy schedule looks like it's going to be corrected in the near future. So what's not to be thankful for?!

I still haven't decided what I'm going to do column-wise this week. Right now I'm leaning towards taking Friday off. I know, I know, going without your weekly dosage of DFTU would be painful, but I'm sure you'll have enough to distract you from missing it too badly.

And who knows? The spirit may move me and I might crank one out anyway. But I wouldn't count on it.

Today though, I've got plenty for you. The AL MVP was just announced, which leaves the NL MVP as the only award not yet handed out. Since we all know who that's going to be (*cough* Pujols *cough*), I'll take time to remind you who I'd have voted for, who won, and what it all means.

Let's talk hardware!

”A boy can learn a lot from a dog: obedience, loyalty, and the importance of turning around three times before lying down.”
- Robert Benchley (1885 - 1949), American humorist best known for his work as a newspaper columnist and film actor.


This quote isn't really related to anything in the column, I just laughed when I read it. So I thought I'd pass it along.

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2009 Baseball Rewards in Review

Over the past week the Baseball Writers Association of America has been handing out its annual awards. I gave you my predictions in this column.

Today I compare my (fake) ballot to the actual results and break down the differences and similarities for you.

Sounds fun? I thought so...

AL Rookie of the Year: Andrew Bailey, Relief Pitcher, Oakland A's
Dan's Vote: Rick Porcello, Starting Pitcher, Detroit Tigers

Rookie of the Year was the category I had the least confidence in going into the awards and it turned out that I whiffed on both. That's understandable given that these awards go to guys who, by definition, don't have much of an established track record. But missing is still missing.

Bailey went 6-3 with a 1.29 ERA and 26 saves. Solid numbers for any player and being a rookie only makes them more impressive.

I'd try to come up with a legit excuse as to why Bailey wasn't even a Honorable Mention in my column, but the truth is I just flat whiffed on him. My pick Rick Porcello finished third in the voting behind Bailer and another player I should've been smart enough to mention, Texas SS Elvis Andrus. Sorry Elvis, my bad.


NL Rookie of the Year: Chris Coghlan, Outfielder, Florida Marlins
Dan's Vote: J.A. Happ, Starting Pitcher, Philadelphia Phillies

I was at least closer on this one than I was on the AL. I at least had Coghlan on my ballot, though he was the second honorable mention. My pick, Happ, finished second in the balloting only 10 points behind Coghlan.

The Marlins rookie hit .321 with 9 home runs and 47 RBI. Moreover, he led the NL in hits in the second half of the season. Add those together, and you get yourself a trophy.

I can't argue too loudly with this pick, though I really did think that Happ deserved the award. When a rookie nails down the 3rd starter role on a defending champion squad early in the season and perform solidly throughout the season, that's impressive.

Unfortunately, only one player can win the award. So Coghlan's the guy.

So did I get any of these right? Yes, but you'll have have to wait for one more award...

AL Manager of the Year: Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles Angels
Dan's Vote: Ron Gardenhire, Minnesota Twins

I'm declaring that I get a half-point on this one. While I voted for Gardenhire - who finished second in the balloting - I told you that Scioscia was going to win it.

I have a ton of respect for Scioscia in general. And certainly the job he did pulling a team together after the tragic loss of Nick Adenhart this year was deserving of consideration.

But as I argued initially, I thought Gardenhire had more hurdles to clear given the injuries he had to contend with, a complete lack of reliable starting pitching for much of the year, and I think you could argue that most people (not me) didn't expect the Twins to do what they did. The Angels? They were supposed to win.

This was Gardenhire's third second-place finish. And of the three, this is the one I'm least upset by. The previous two times, he got screwed over in favor of guys who went on to get fired within two years of winning the award. That won't be the case this time. So it's hard for me to work up a lot of ire.

But Gardy deserves to win one, and soon.

NL Manager of the Year: Jim Tracy, Colorado Rockies
Dan's Vote: Jim Tracy, Colorado Rockies

This one was a no-brainer. I said it in my original column, but when you take over a team that's 10-games under .500, and guide them to a finishing record of 22 games over .500, you win Manager of the Year. Hands down. No argument. Done.

Tracy finished with 29 of the 32 first place votes. That's about as dominant as you can get.

Tony LaRussa of the Cardinals and Joe Torre of the Dodgers finished second and third respectively. Were those my two honorable mentions in that exact order? You know they were!

Back-patting, fin.


AL Cy Young: Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals
Dan's Vote: Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals

I was more happy to be right about this one than any other award. And not just because it's nice to see a guy on a crappy team overcome said crappiness and win a major award.

Greinke just about lost his career a few years back due to a severe bout of depression and social anxiety disorder. I admire anybody who can overcome those things and admit their problems publicly.

It's been a tough road for Zack, so it's nice to see an underdog win a big award like this.

Felix Hernandez of the Mariners finished second with Justin Verlander of the Tigers finishing a distant third.


NL Cy Young: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
Dan's Vote: Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals

I said in my initial column that this was a close call for me between Carpenter and Lincecum, and the voting bore that out. Lincecum finished only 6 points ahead of Carpenter. By comparison, Hernandez finished 54 points behind Greinke in the AL.

In an odd quirk of the voting, it was the Cardinals' Adam Wainright who actually got the most first place votes (12 to Lincecum's 11 - Carpenter got 9).

There was some drama surrounding one voter leaving Carpenter off their ballot and another dissing Wainright. I can't really get too worked up over either one. It was a tough race in the NL and Lincecum's as deserving as anyone.


AL MVP: Joe Mauer, Catcher, Minnesota Twins
Dan's Vote: Joe Mauer

This award was just announced today. Not much of a surprise. Once the Twins clinched their playoff spot, the MVP was Mauer's.

His numbers (.365, 28, 96) pretty much speak for themselves. But if you do that without getting your club into the post-season, you can't be guaranteed the recognition that you might deserve.

The final tally shows Mauer getting 27 of a possible 28 first place votes. Strangely, though he finished 4th in the balloting, the other first place vote went to Detroit's Miguel Cabrerra. Huh. I couldn't have called that.

The Yankees' Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter finished second and third in the balloting respectively.

Now if the Twins would just get him signed to an extension, it would be a truly happy off-season for all involved!


NL MVP: Coming tomorrow...
Dan's Vote: Albert Pujols, Infielder, St. Louis Cardinals

So why didn't I wait until Wednesday to do this column? Because I already have a column for Wednesday and every baseball fan on the planet knows who's going to win the NL MVP.

Pujols had yet another outstanding year full of eye-popping numbers - .327, 47 home runs, 135 RBI. Clearly he's deserving of the award.

I can see Prince Fielder getting a first-place vote or two, but I expect Pujols to win by a longshot.



Think that's all for baseball in 2009? Remember, we've got Winter Meetings heading our way in a couple of weeks. There's sure to be a big free agent signing or trade or two involved in those. Stay tuned!


That's going to do it for today. I'll be back on Wednesday with more college football nonsense. Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

11-20-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

We've made it through another week. Something to be proud of I'd say. Can you believe Thanksgiving's next week already? What in the world happened to November? I guess it felt so much like October here in Minnesota, that I blinked and missed it.

No worries. I haven't missed what's been happening to my favorite teams over the last week And after all, that's what my Friday column is all about, right?!

Let's get on with it... there's a weekend upon us!

”All progress is based upon a universal innate desire on the part of every organism to live beyond its income.”
- Samuel Butler (1835 - 1902), iconoclastic Victorian author who published a variety of works


This one struck me, not because I've gone beyond my means, but because I did decide to splurge on a little piece of technology the other day. Yes, I do love my gadgets, but until now I hadn't really gone all out on a phone. But Wednesday, I upgraded to the Droid from Verizon. Not just because of my Star Wars geekiness (though don't think that didn't play some role). But because I wanted a smart phone and relatively speaking, this one's a freaking genius!

My cousin Lisa will be desperately disappointed that I didn't get an iPhone. But ultimately I decided I wanted to stay with Verizon instead of switching to AT&T. And that meant going with the Droid. So I'll give this a run for a couple of years and see if the fine folks at Apple decide to widen their service provider list a bit come 2011.

But you didn't come here to read about a phone...

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That's right. It's Friday. And that means it's time... once again... for everybody's favorite segment:

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 8-2 overall and 5-2 in the Big Ten which puts them in a 3-way tie for second place in the conference.

Sure, second place sounds good, but the conference title has already been clinched by the the Ohio State Buckeyes. Even if OSU were to be upset by Michigan this weekend, they hold head-to-head tie-breakers with each of the three teams in second. Rather anti-climactic, don't you think?

As far as Wisconsin's concerned, they could still qualify second for Big Ten bowl consideration if they win and Iowa and Penn State both lose. But Iowa's at home versus Minnesota, and as I indicated on Wednesday, that one's all but in the Hawkeyes' pocket. Penn State is on the road at Michigan State. That's more of a contest, but still one the Lions should win.

So if everything goes to form, Wisconsin's looking at an invite to either the Outback Bowl or the Champs Sports Bowl. There's an outside shot at the Capital One Bowl, but like I said, they'd need a lot of help there. They played in the Champs Sports Bowl last year, so the Outback Bowl would be a more likely destination (Bowls don't generally like to invite teams two years in a row... it usually decreases attendance).

Any way you slice it, so long as the Badgers do their job and beat Northwestern, they'll be heading to Florida come January.

As for beating Northwestern, that's easier said than done. Especially in Evanston. The Wildcats are 4-2 at home this year. And coach Pat Fitzgerald has put to rest any notion of referring to them as the “Mildcats”.

Their offense can be slowed - they haven't scored more than 30 points since September - but still has a history of giving the Badger defense fits. Wisconsin has done a better job this year defending against offenses that pride themselves on speed and athleticism, but it's still not their strong suit.

What I worry more about is Wisconsin turning the ball over against Northwestern's opportunistic defense. Wisconsin's done a much better job of protecting the ball over the last couple of weeks, but I still don't trust them entirely.

Still, I've got to give credit where it's due, and credit for last week's 45-24 win over Michigan goes to Big Ten Player of the Week: Badger QB Scott Tolzien. Tolzien completed 16 of his 24 pass attempts for 240 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Don't read too far into those numbers. Wisconsin's offense was still predicated on their 229 yards rushing. But Tolzien certainly stepped up his play against a beleaguered Michigan defense.

I expected them to beat Michigan. I just didn't expect them to be quite so dominant doing it. It gives me hope for the last three games of the year (@Northwestern, @Hawaii, and the bowl game). But I count on nothing.

This week's game against the Wildcats kicks off at 2:30pm central time. You can catch it on the Big Ten Network.


Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 7-12-2, which gives them 16 points and places them last in both the Northwest Division and the Western Conference.

I went to the game Wednesday night and witnessed a 3-2 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes.

*sigh*

I don't know how many different ways I can say, “this season's going to be a struggle”. But that's just the reality of what Wild fans are facing.

For some reason this team just isn't executing what coach Todd Richards and GM Chuck Fletcher are trying to do. I wish I could tell you why, but it's a mystery to just about everybody.

It's not entirely a lack of skill, though there's no question that they'll have to bring in more talent to make this system run at an optimum level. What's most disappointing is the lapses in effort.

Coach Richards said it best Wednesday night in his post-game presser. It's not that Phoenix is a more talented team, they just worked harder and gave better effort.

When you're a struggling hockey team, you have to focus on the things you can control. In sports, that often boils down to attitude and effort. Right now I don't know that anybody's sure about the players' attitude. And as for their effort? Clearly that's sporadic at best.

I don't know what to tell you Wild fans. Something's got to give. Either the boys are going to start giving a more consistent effort, or there are going to be some wholesale changes come trade deadline time.

I don't want to get too bogged down in the latter line of thinking just yet. But it's certainly a potential reality that has to be considered.

The Wild try to get back on track tonight as they host the New York Islanders. Then it's a 4-day break before the Colorado Avalanche come to town next Wednesday.


That's going to wrap things up for this week. Hope your weekend's an restful and entertaining one.

I'll be back on Monday - most likely with a recap of the end of the year Major League Baseball awards. Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

11-18-09: 2009 College Football Picks: Week 11 Post Mortem & Week 12 Picks

Hello again everybody...

It's mid-week time again. I'm headed to the Wild/Coyotes tilt at the X tonight, so not a lot of time to dawdle.

College football is headed down the home stretch, and for some reason college basketball has decided to start up. Is it just me, or does it seem entirely too early for that to be happening?

Either way, I only have time to cover one, so football it is!

Let's do this!

”If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what is the significance of a clean desk?”
- Laurence J. Peter (1919 - 1988), educator and “heirarchiologist”


If he's right and a cluttered desk equals an active mind, then I must have the most active mind in the history of modern America!

Or something like that...

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First up, it's a glance at the weekend that was in college football. At this point, you can pretty much guess how my picks went... ugh.

2009 College Football Picks: Week 11 Post-Mortem

Before the actual, fake picks, it's time for the fake, fake picks. Still with me? Good.

Cincinnati -9 vs. West Virginia: Final Score - Cincinnati 24, West Virginia 21
So Facebook has this application called “Vinny's Sportsbook”. It allows Facebook users to participate in recreational gaming without using any actual money. Sure, it's pointless after a fashion, but for those like me that are obsessed with the idea, but not with the actual cost, it's fun. I bring this up because though I advocated passing on this game in my column, I went ahead and took Cincy on that app. The lesson? Do as I say, not as I do. Cincy actually had the spread covered with less than five minutes to play, but the Mountaineers got what we like to call a “garbage cover” with a last minute touchdown. Good pass by me... sort of.

Wisconsin -9.5 vs. Michigan: Final Score - Wisconsin 45, Michigan 24
Not such a good pass. I expected Wisconsin to win, but not by 21. Fortunately, it wasn't a complete missed opportunity as I won a bottle of pop from noted Wolverine fan, the Hammer. The rest of my analysis will head your way in the DFTU on Friday.

Stanford +10.5 at USC: Final Score - Stanford 55, USC 21
Dammit... I knew I should've taken Stanford here. I'm not saying I saw them dropping the double-nickel on the Trojans, but part of me thought they had a chance and I didn't trust it. Shoot. I heard a pundit complaining about Stanford going for two when it was 48-21... Really? We're feeling sorry for Pete Carrol now? Look, sportsmanship issues aside, you only get so many chances to stick it to the mighty SC. I don't have a problem with it. I just hope coach Harbaugh understands that though Carroll was forgiving in his post-game presser, he's not going to forget. Ever.

TCU -19.5 vs. Utah: Final Score - TCU 55, Utah 28
Wow. New theory: we're riding TCU until they fail to cover. I really thought this was going to be the one, but obviously I was way wrong. I know Utah isn't the same team they were last year, but still. Wow.

3 bad passes by me... that can't bode well for my real, fake picks, right? Oof...

First...

Georgia Tech -12.5 at Duke: Final Score - Georgia Tech 49, Duke 10

Nice!

I start out on a good note anyway. Poor, poor Duke. As good as they are at basketball, they suck something awful at football. You would think with their resources they'd be able to string together a competitive program once in a while! But nope, they're awful, and that's about all there is to it.

What Dan Learned: The Yellowjackets are now 10-1. That still seems surprising to me. Georgia Tech may be another team I have to ride the rest of the way. Did I mention I love the triple-option? Yup. I really do.

1-0 and defying the odds!

Next...

Ohio State -17 vs. Iowa: Final Score - Ohio State 27, Iowa 24

So let's get this straight. Iowa's offense was dead in the water against Northwestern, but can run up 24 against OSU. And OSU's offense can dominate a Penn State defense, but can't sustain drives against Iowa?!

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2009 Big Ten! Ugh.

What Dan Learned: Forget the game. Did anybody else get a good look at Iowa freshman QB James Vandenberg's mom? How can she be old enough to have an 18-year-old kid? And is it wrong for me to be attracted to the mother of a college freshman? Am I really that old? These are the things that currently vex me...

1-1 and still alive... still convinced I can get this done!

Thirdly...

Mississippi St. +12.5 vs. Alabama: Final Score - Alabama 31, Mississippi State 3
*- This was this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week

I don't care that I lost, I still say this was a good pick. Alabama's offense hadn't been rolling up until this game, and Mississippi State was in prime pouncing position.

That being said... wow, what a Crimson Tide defense! That's it, I'm back on the 'Bama bandwagon. I think they're better than Florida. This year, it's payback time in the SEC Championship Game.

At least that's how I feel this week.

What Dan Learned: Even when a pick feels SO right, it can turn out SO wrong. That's just part of the bit I guess.

1-1... thanks again Flier Pick!

Finally...

Pittsburgh -7 vs. Notre Dame: Final Score - Pitt 27, Notre Dame 22

Another game I had comfortably covered until a furious, late-game comeback by the Irish. Those wouldn't sting so much if they'd come back and actually won. Instead, they still lost, and couldn't give me a win. Dammit.

On the plus-side, the Charlie Weiss speculation gave me a solid column on Monday. So it wasn't all bad.

What Dan Learned: Picking college football can be a cruel, cruel exercise sometimes. I thought I'd been doing poorly because I hadn't been doing enough research into my picks. So I really hunkered down and tried to work out my logic when it came to picking this week's games.

The result? Yet another 1-2 week. Seriously?! Is this getting dull to you people yet? I hope enough of you caught on early in the year and started playing opposite my picks. I had a decent start, but the last 4 or 5 weeks have been truly painful.

Or maybe you could just enjoy my suffering? Admit it, there's a few of you who are smirking right now. You know who you are! And I don't blame you a bit. I'd be doing the same thing.

So another 1-2 week brings me to 17-20 (.459) on the season. The season's not beyond saving, but I'm going to have to get on one helluva hot streak.

No time like the present, right? Let's move on to...

2009 College Football Picks: Week 12

I've combed carefully through the spreads, and I'm feeling pretty good about this week's slate... which probably means you should run screaming in the opposite direction. But I'm not giving up. I'm picking until I run out of games to pick!

Of course there was one game I looked at and ultimately decide to pass on...

Wisconsin -7 at Northwestern (2:30pm, Big Ten Network): Here's how my thought process went on this game - “Okay, it's time for me to get back on the Bucky Bandwagon... I'm back baby! Wait, Wisconsin has struggled at Northwestern in the past. That goofy offense always give their defense trouble... and Northwestern did beat Iowa... who beat Wisconsin... Maybe I'm not back after all.”

If this game was in Madison, I give the 7 in a heartbeat. On the road? Maybe this is just a 3-point win for Wisconsin...

But that's it for the fake, fake picks, it's time for the real ones!

First...

Iowa -10 vs. Minnesota (11am, ESPN): The Hawkeyes are 9-2 (5-2 in the Big Ten). The Gophers are 6-5 (3-4 in the Big Ten).

I know the bit is that I bet on Minnesota and they lose, I bet against them and they win. But I'm just that confident that they're going to get worked in this game.

The Gopher offense has been dreadful of late, and Iowa's defense is solid, especially at home.

Sure, Iowa's quarterback is green, but he looked pretty good against an Ohio State defense which will be much tougher than the Gopher defense.

But let's get to the important part. What's the over/under on the number of times ESPN cuts to Iowa QB James Vandenburgs mom? 8? 9? Let's call it an even 10 and hope for the over!

What? Focus on the damned game? Fine. I'm laying the ten and looking for Iowa to win something on the order of 35-10.

Next...

Ohio State -12 at Michigan (11am, ABC): The Buckeyes are 9-2 (6-1 in the Big Ten). The Wolverines are 5-6 (1-6 in the Big Ten).

I know this is a rivalry game. I know that the Buckeyes are on the road. I don't care. Michigan's just awful this year, and OSU is going to kill them.

Sorry Hammer, but you know it's true.

Michigan will be geeked up, and they may even score enough points to make it interesting. But their defense can't stop me and 10 of my relatives. Especially if my brother the football coach draws us up some trick plays!

I figure this one to be 42-17 OSU, easy. So I'll give the 12 without much reservation.

Third...

TCU -31.5 at Wyoming (1pm, no local TV): The Horned Frogs are 10-0 (6-0 in the Mountain West). The Cowboys are 5-5 (3-3 in the Mountain West).

*- 31.5 are a ton of points to give, that's true. But I said it earlier, we're riding the TCU train til they let us down

Trust me, it's not going to be in this game. (How's that for putting the whammy on them?!)

Finally...

Stanford -7 vs. Cal (6:30pm, Versus): The Cardinal are 7-3 (6-2 in the Pac 10). The Bears are 7-3 (4-3 in the Pac 10).
*- This game is this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week

I missed the Stanford train two weeks in a row. I'm not missing it a third time.

There's no way Stanford beats Oregon and USC and they drops the ball against Cal, is there?!

Is there?!

Come on Coach Harbaugh! I'm with you finally. Help a guy out!!!


So there are your picks for this week. (I know it seems rushed, but I'm trying to bang this column out before the hockey game starts. Give me a break!)

Any questions, comments, queries, quibbles or complaints are more than welcome. And after how I've been doing this year, probably very much deserved!

That's going to wrap it up for today. I'll be back on Friday with the usual end of the week goodness.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

11-16-09: Sports Take Mailbag

Hello again everybody...

Welcome to another new week. And it's a busy one for yours truly. Sure there's the usual work nonsense. But I've got a hockey game to attend Wednesday night, a CD release party to attend on Thursday night, and a friend's wedding to attend on Saturday. That is, as they say, a full dance card... Okay, okay, I don't dance, but it's an expression people! You've got to work with me a little bit!

As the title of today's column implies, the Mailbag returneth. Interestingly enough, I was planning on bringing it back in “mock” form anyway, but then a loyal reader went and sent me an email yesterday that set up the column rather perfectly.

Remember, if you have a sports question that's been nagging at you, or if something occurs to you that you think would set me up for a rant (granted, that's not difficult to do), feel free to send me an email at: dcook93@yahoo.com and I'll do my best to include it in a future column!

So let's open up the bag and get to the answering!

”The will to be stupid is a powerful force, but there are always alternatives.”
- Lois McMaster Bujold (1949 - ), American author of science fiction and fantasy works.


Do I really have to elaborate on this one? As is so often the case, the best quotes stand on their own.

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The Sports Take Mailbag

Today's Mailbag question comes to us from Josh in Maple Grove...

Charlie Weiss is obviously on the hot seat at Notre Dame. Should he be? In my mind, the more interesting question is: are there any consequences for the person responsible for signing Weis to a ten-year contract extension midway through his first season as a coach (causing the school to owe the coach $18 million if they fire him after this season)?

Great questions, Josh!

First question first... “should he be”?

In my opinion, yes, he should be. Weiss is 35-24 with two games remaining in his 5th season at the helm of the Irish. Former Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie was fired after amassing a 35-25 record in his 5 years. So if Notre Dame wishes to be consistent, it's clear that Weiss's job status should be in questions.

But we can broaden it out from there. During their game with Pittsburgh on Saturday night, I saw an interesting statistic. Pittsburgh head coach Dave Wannstedt is 34-24 with two games remaining in his 5th year leading the Panthers. Yet even though his record is nearly identical to Weiss's, there aren't any calls for his head.

Part of that is that Weiss was successful early, but has struggled of late, while Wannstedt struggled early, but has improved greatly (including this year's 9-1 mark) of late. And part of that is that expectations are just flat higher at Notre Dame than they are at Pittsburgh.

At first blush, that may not seem fair, but when you're a school with your own network deal, and you have the wherewithal to sign a coach to a 10-year contract, I think you're allowed to have higher standards for success. And it's clear that Weiss isn't meeting those standards.

But that doesn't mean he's going to be fired. And that brings us to the second part of Josh's question, “are there consequences for the person who is responsible for signing Weiss to [that contract]”?

I wish there was an easy answer to that, but the truth is, “yes and no”.

Football coaches are technically hired and extended by athletic directors. But the truth is, when it comes to offering 10-year extensions and paying buy-outs, University Presidents generally have the final say. That's because University Presidents are in charge of the money. They do the bulk of the fund-raising, and they decide who gets what money.

That situation sets AD's up to be fall guys. If Weiss has to go, then the Notre Dame Athletic Director may be right behind him. Sure it was the President who ultimately had to give the okey-doke to the extension, but the President will say that it was with the AD's recommendation that he gave said okey-doke, and therefore, the failure of Weiss is a failure of the Athletic Director's as well.

Fair? Again, probably not. But welcome to the world of big-time college athletics. You don't like it? There are other jobs out there. We wish you well in your future endeavors.

But there's a wrinkle. As Josh mentioned, Weiss will be owed something in the neighborhood of $18 million if he's bought out of his deal after this season. That's not an insignificant chunk of change, even for a university with the bank account of Notre Dame.

In a situation like that, what often determines a coach's firing is whether can come up with the money to pay off that $18 million or not. Seems crazy, doesn't it? The university wants to fire a coach, the fans want to fire a coach, but because the university wrote a ridiculous contract, the fans have to fund the firing. And even crazier, they often do. There are enough rich alums who are willing to write checks that buy-outs are usually funded in exactly that fashion.

That being said... $18 million payoffs? Those don't come around every day. I know the Irish have deep pockets. But I don't know if they can come up with that kind of cheese or not.

My prediction? They'll wait til after Notre Dame's bowl game to make a decision. If the Irish win, and there's enough positive vibe around the program that they can put off his termination for a year, they'll do that. If for no other reason than to reduce the price of his buy-out. If they lose the bowl game, given how this season looks to be winding down? Then I'm not sure they'll have much choice. They'll beg, borrow and steal to try and pay him to go away.

And if I was their Athletic Director, I'd be making sure my resume was up to date!

Our second question today comes from Mary in Plymouth:

So there was a letter to the editor in Sunday's paper...

Since the Vikings have no chance of getting state money for a new stadium, here's my solution: Let's build a state-run sports book in downtown Minneapolis. The profits would be split between paying off the Vikings stadium and funding high school and youth sports to slow the out-of-control activity fees. It would let sports fans essentially pay for a sports stadium, add another attraction to downtown Minneapolis and allow the Indian tribes to maintain their monopoly on slot machines and five-deck blackjack.
TIM BUSSE, BLOOMINGTON

There has been discussion about adding state slots or some such to assist with our deplorable revenue gap and budget deficit. With education in as much trouble as anything else (and the stadium not as likely to fly in this climate), we certainly need creative ideas. This one struck me as something you might like to comment on, especially given your history of events you would bet on, given wherewithal and legality.

What think you?


First, mea culpa: Mary sent in this question ages ago. But with the Vikings in the midst of a 8-1 season, it seemed like an opportune time to answer it.

Unfortunately, the Federal Government has set up laws that would preclude Minnesota from opening up a sports book. So sports betting can't be the answer.

Slots, on the other hand, are very much available to the state as a revenue source. And personally, I couldn't be more in favor of the idea.

People don't like to pay taxes. And they certainly don't like voluntarily raising their taxes, no matter the logic behind them. That's not a universal truth, but it's more true than not. Except when it comes to gambling. I can point to the Minnesota State Lottery and a host of other gambling initiatives in other states to prove that people will tax the bejeezus out of themselves if they're a direct, immediate and tangible benefit to themselves.

So why on earth wouldn't we take advantage of that revenue stream? We've all heard the arguments that gambling as revenue is regressive. And while it's true that unlike most taxes, it's not based on your ability to pay as much as your willingness to pay, it's that very willingness that counterbalances the regressive nature of the tax. It's voluntary. Nobody has a gun to their head making them gamble. I'm aware there are addicts in this world, and I certainly don't belittle how serious their problems are.

But they are a minority. And with the advent of internet gaming, if a gambling addict wants to find a way to wager their money, they will. That shouldn't prevent the rest of us who don't have gambling problems from enjoying some recreational gaming at our leisure.

Any unbiased study of gambling revenues will show you that it's one of the most consistent revenue sources available to be taxed. And yet, for the most part, it goes un-tapped.

Considering the budgetary difficulties Minnesota has, as well as the lack of an obvious funding source for a new Vikings facility, slots at Canterbury Park and Running Aces Harness Park are something the government ought to consider.

So says I.

That's your mailbag for today. Remember, no question is too small, no issue too inconsequential that I can't manage to squeeze a rant out of it! Send yours to: dcook93@yahoo.com today!

I'm back on Wednesday with more of the college football dreck you've come to know and love.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday

11-13-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

Welcome to another Friday. Some weeks end, some begin, but I won't belabor the differences in work schedules.

Nope, Friday is a day to enjoy, whatever your work schedule.

Even if it is Friday the 13th!!!

(Cue the spooky music... I said CUE THE SPOOKY MUSIC!!! Good help is so hard to find these days.)

Unlucky coincidences of date and day of the week aside, Friday means your usual heaping helping of DFTU. And as I promised on Wednesday, you get a little extra helping of goodness this week!

So let's get to the gettin'!

”A man is not idle because he's absorbed in thought. There is a visible labor and there is an invisible labor.”
- Victor Hugo (1802 - 1885), French poet, playwright, novelist, essayist, visual artist, statesman, human rights activist and exponent of the Romantic movement in France.


So all the time I spend contemplating things whilst sprawled on my couch is actually labor?! And some of you thought me lazy... ha!

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Though Mr. Hugo might think it laborious, it gives me great pleasure to bring you... once again... everybody's favorite segment...

Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 7-2, and their 4-2 record in the Big Ten has them in a tie for 3rd place in the conference. Nationally, they're rated (*) 20th by the BCS.

(*- The BCS doesn't produce “rankings”, it produces “ratings”. Yet another annoying part of a prodigiously flawed system.)

Last Saturday, Wisconsin defeated Indiana 31-28. The game wasn't exactly as close as that score would seem to indicate, since the Badgers held a 31-21 lead with time running out when Indiana got a garbage TD to cut it to three.

The game was a classic, grind-it-out road victory for the Badgers. The running game was strong. Wisconsin amassed 294 yards on the ground with John Clay accounting for 134 of them. Unfortunately, he was forced to leave the game with a concussion and his status for this week's game is uncertain. But freshman Montee Ball, who's seemingly passed Zach Brown on the depth chart, picked up the slack and toted the rock to the tune of 115 yards on the ground for the Badgers. It would seem Bucky has a competent back-up should Clay not be available Saturday.

Wisconsin's lone turnover came via the ground game again, however. Fortunately it wasn't as costly as some they've made in the past. I suppose I can't ask them to be perfect in that regard. But when your club's turned the ball over 5 and 6 times in previous games, any lax in ball-security makes you nervous.

The passing game was solid, if not spectacular. QB Scott Tolzien went 11-20 for 194 yards, 1 TD and no interceptions. That last stat being the key one. Tolzien's not going to win you games, but so long as he doesn't lose them outright, the Badgers have a shot.

Defensively, the Badgers were good, but not great. 28 points is a lot to give up to an opponent, but as I indicated earlier, 7 of them came with the game all but decided. Still, they'll have to step up their efforts to deal with Michigan's dual quarterback attack come Saturday.

Speaking of the Wolverines, here come the Maize and Blue to visit Camp Randall on Saturday. Michigan comes in with a 5-5 record, but they're only 1-5 in the Big Ten. After a promising start that included a last-second win over Notre Dame, Michigan has lost their last three in a row, two of them coming at the Big House.

Their offense can still put points on the board. Witness the 36 they put up against Purdue, the 28 they scored at Iowa, or the 36 they tallied against last week's Badger-opponent, Indiana.

But the Michigan defense has been downright dreadful. In those three successive losses, opponents haven't scored less than 35. In fact, in their last seven games, opposing offenses have scored less than 30 points only twice and one of those was Delaware State - not exactly Big Ten caliber.

Translation? This game is very winnable for Wisconsin, so long as they contain the Wolverine offense and win the turnover battle. Neither of those are a given obviously. But with the recent history of the two clubs, Wisconsin is a decided favorite (by 8.5 points at last check).

Kickoff is at 11am on Saturday. The game is on the Big Ten Network. Check your local listings.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 7-10-1, which is good for 15 points and last place in the Northwest Division.

I nearly wrote this column before last night's game, and part of me wishes I had. I could be a lot more positive about things if I hadn't waited until after the Tampa game.

Going in to last nights game, the Wild had won 4 of their last 5 and seemed to be putting things together. That remained the case as the Wild jumped out to a 3-1 lead over the Lightning in Tampa.

But then a funny thing happened. The Bolts scored a power-play goal to get it to 3-2. And then late in the period after the Wild nearly scored what would have been a back-breaking goal, defenseman Marek Zidlicky took an awful penalty with less than two minutes remaining. That allowed Tampa to pull their goalie for a 6-on-4 advantage which led to the game-tying goal with less than 20 seconds left.

We've seen it so many times in sports it almost seems cliché: the team that ties it up late, wins it in overtime. In last night's case, it was in a shootout, but that's really the same thing in the NHL these days.

So what should've been the Wild's 5th win in their last 6 games and a three-game winning streak, turned into an overtime loss in about 10 minutes. Talk about your buzz-kills.

If I want to remain positive about this team's progress, I guess I have to chalk that one up to growing pains. While the Wild had seemingly figure out how to stay aggressive for a full 60 minutes, they regressed in that regard last night. It was evident in the third period that they were hanging back a little bit, playing “not to lose” instead of to win.

Credit has to go to Tampa goalie Antero Niittymaki, who stopped 28 of the 31 shots the Wild directed his way, and added two more stops to help his team win in the shootout. While his teammates didn't give him much help, Niittymaki made several spectacular saves to keep his team within striking distance.

Lost in the disappointment of the loss was a highlight reel goal by the grizzled veteran Owen Nolan. It was an eye-popping effort. So much so, that I decided to include the video in the blog for your convenience:



Amazing stuff.

So the Wild are 1-1 on this East coast swing. Another win ensures a .500-trip. And both games remaining are quite winnable. In fact, the next week sets up for the Wild to do very well if they keep their effort up for 60 minutes a night.

Tonight they're in D.C. to play the Caps and superstar Alex Ovechkin. Seriously, if you haven't seen this guy play, make sure and catch this game. He's incredible. Then the Wild head to Carolina for a game with the Hurricanes on Sunday afternoon. After that, Minnesota returns to the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center for games with Phoenix on Wednesday (I'll be in attendance) and the Islanders on Friday (I'll be working).


Finally today, I have an extra-special section of the DFTU to share with you. Several of you have emailed asking my opinions related to them, so I give you the...

Minnesota Twins: It's the off-season. There's no record to report.

But that doesn't mean there isn't plenty to talk about.

First of all, “GoGo... we hardly knew you.” That's right, fan-favorite (though sometimes as a punching bag) Carlos Gomez has been traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for shortstop J.J. Hardy.

My analysis? This is a pretty good deal for the Twins, and a potentially good deal for the Brewers. The Twins pick up Hardy who is a career .262 hitter and owns an All-Star appearance from 2007. Admittedly, Hardy wasn't very good last year, hitting only .229 in 400+ AB's. But he committed only 8 errors in over 470 chances last year and is considered a plus-defender.

The Twins hope he plugs into the #2 spot in their line-up to replace Orlando Cabrerra who'll be allowed to depart as a free-agent. Plus, Hardy is close with Joe Mauer, and it's hoped that putting J.J. in the same clubhouse as his supremely talented buddy will help bring his offense around.

As for the Brewers, they have the enigmatic, though far less-costly Gomez to deal with now. There's no question of Gomez's speed and defensive abilities. When he's able to get on base, he creates all kinds of havoc for opposing teams. It's the “getting on base” part he struggles with. His on-base percentage last year was a minuscule .287 thanks in no small part to the 22 walks he took in nearly 350 plate appearances. Gomez is a project at the plate to say the least. His strike-zone discipline is poor, and more often than not it looks like he's guessing what pitch is coming, rather than adjusting to how he's being pitched.

The plus for Milwaukee is that he comes cheap. And with Mike Cameron's salary coming off the books, as well as Hardy's contract being absorbed by the Twins, the Brewers now have a decent chunk of change to use in pursuit of a starting pitcher - probably their biggest need.

So all things considered, the trade looks to benefit both clubs. Minnesota probably got the better player, but Milwaukee got a player with potential and freed up some money they can use to fill other holes.

The second Twins-related subject to discuss is Joe Mauer's contract status. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported just the other day that the Twins have opened contract negotiations with the MVP-to-be. (That award will be announced on the 23rd, and I'll be shocked if Mauer's name's not on it.)

There exists plenty of speculation as to what the length and breadth of the contract will be, none of which is truly informed, so I won't bore you with it. (Instead, I'll refer you to this column where I've discussed such matters in the past.)

What's really important is that both sides keep those kinds of negotiations out of the media. Even as a member of said group (if tangentially so), I recognize the power of the media to blow things out of proportion. The best way for both the Twins and Mauer to get the right deal done is to do it behind closed doors. Once the ink is dry on the contract, they can talk all they like. But until then, the less I hear the better.

I've said it before, but I can't stress enough how important it is to have a deal done prior to Spring Training. A colleague asked me the other day, at what date would I start getting nervous about the chances of Mauer signing an extension? My response was: the winter meetings.

Baseball's executives are scheduled to meet in Indianapolis from December 7th through the 10th. These meetings are often where the biggest deals get done and/or announced. If the Twins think they're not going to be able to sign Mauer to an extension, then these meetings offer the best opportunity they'll have to trade him.

And no, I can't believe I just typed “trade him” and “Mauer” in the same sentence either. But that's truly the reality here. If the Twins can't get an extension done, and they don't trade Mauer, then the 2010 season will be marred by questions about his future. As the Twins hope to celebrate opening a new ballpark, the attention of the fans and media will all be on Joe's status. That's bad on so many levels, I shudder to consider them all.

So obviously, my greatest hope is that a deal gets done sooner than later, and we can put all this speculation to rest. The Twins have already gone out and made a move to improve their ball club, bringing in one of Joe's friends to play shortstop. That certainly helps them make the case that they're trying to build a championship-caliber team, something that Mauer has indicated he'll be looking for in making his decision.

Until that announcement comes, I'm hoping we don't hear much more.


That's about all I've got for today ladies and gents. Hope you enjoyed the extra-serving of DFTU!

I'll be back on Monday with more of the usual nonsense. Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

11-11-09: 2009 College Football Picks: Week 10 Post-Mortem & Week 11 Picks

Hello again everybody...

Mid-week time once again, and while I don't want to put the cart before the horse, it appears there's at least an possibility of me resuming a normal working schedule. I don't want to say too much about it, since there are a lot of pieces that have to fall into place (not all of them pleasant) before that can happen. But I'm hopeful, and that's not something I've been able to say about my job in recent weeks. Suffice to say that when I know something definite, I'll be sure to pass it along to you, my dear readers.

In the interim, I'll be enjoying time away from the office today and tomorrow. And it looks like we're in for more of the same lovely weather we've had lately here in Minnesota. What, exactly, should this be called? It's too late and too cool to really be an “Indian Summer” (a quick Google search seems to indicate that the term doesn't hold any racially insensitive underpinnings... if anyone knows differently, please let me know). So what is this then? An “Indian Fall” perhaps? I'm not sure. Whatever it is, I'm enjoying it.

I'm trying to enjoy the college football season as well. Though, as I've mentioned previously, this season hasn't reached out and grabbed my attention the way other seasons have. Still, what am I going to do? Watch the NBA?! Come on now... it's not that bad!

One last thing before we get down to business. Happy Veterans Day to all that serve our country, and most especially to those who've made the ultimate sacrifice. None of our dithering about subjects as trifling as sports would be possible without their service. Thank you all!

I've got previous picks to break down and new picks to make, so let's get to it!

”Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.”
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 - 1930), Scottish physician and writer


Bet you didn't know he was a doctor too, did you? Okay, maybe you did, but I sure didn't before checking his profession.

I bring up this quote for two reasons. First, I couldn't be more excited to see Robert Downey, Jr.'s turn as the famed detective in the eponymously titled film headed our way Christmas Day. And in a way, the quote could refer to Downey directly. Any fan of acting can immediately recognize his immense talent when watching him perform. And while it conjures questions about the time lost to his battles with addiction, I wonder if those battles haven't in some way... informed... educated... enhanced... I'm struggling to find the right verb here... his talent. I guess I wonder if we'd be enjoying his renaissance quite as much if he hadn't gone through those dark times?

Secondly, obviously you all are talented individuals, because you've recognized the genius inherent in The Sports Take and have chosen to be regular readers.

Okay, I almost got through typing that with a straight face. It was close. I almost pulled it off. But hopefully, by now, you know me - or my writing style - well enough to recognize my faux-boastful/self-deprecating sense of humor!

In all seriousness, it's nothing short of shocking to me that in little over a one-and-a-half years, people have enjoyed my writing enough to hit the site over 5100 times. I wish I had better words to express it, but I honestly couldn't be more grateful. That anyone else gets enjoyment out of something I'm so fond of creating, and that some of you enjoy it to the point that you regularly write and point out what you like or think could be better, never ceases to amaze me. Thank you, thank you, a thousand times, thank you!

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2009 College Football Picks: Week 10 Post-Mortem

First up, the games I let pass me by...

Minnesota -6.5 vs. Illinois: Final Score - Illinois 35, Minnesota 32
And all is right with the world. I said in the picks column that I thought the Illini had a chance at an upset here, and that turned out to be the case. Obviously I can't pat my back too hard, since I didn't actually make the pick. It's enough for me to know that Minnesota blew yet another exceedingly winnable game. Incidentally, if the Gophers don't get it together this week and beat South Dakota State in what should be a “body bag” game, they're at risk of not gaining bowl eligibility. Their last chance would be at Iowa, and Minnesota's record at Kinnick Stadium is less than impressive. And don't assume that SDSU will be a push-over for the Gophers. Remember all the troubles that Minnesota had with North Dakota State? A lot of those SDSU kids are Minnesota-natives, and for them, this is their Super Bowl. It'll be an interesting game on a lot of levels.

Wisconsin -10.5 at Indiana: Final Score - Wisconsin 31, Indiana 28
Trap successfully avoided! I don't want to step on Friday's DFTU column too much, so I won't go into great detail here. But the game unfolded about how I figured. Indiana's right on the cusp of being a decent football team. But they make too many costly errors to win consistently. Wisconsin didn't play their cleanest game of the year, but they did what they had to do to win. And when you're on the road in the Big Ten, sometimes that has to be enough. Especially with the Maize and Blue monster on the horizon. But more on that Friday...

So I successfully dodged a couple of bullets... but how did I do in the games I actually picked? Let's find out!

First...

Boise State -21.5 at Louisiana Tech: Final Score - Boise St. 45, Louisiana Tech 35
*- This game was this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week

I knew I was screwed on this one as I watched Sportscenter Friday morning and saw Pat Forde talk about how the Broncos traditionally struggle on the road against Tech.

“Traditionally struggle” are not words you want to hear associated with a team that you're laying 21.5 points with. That's not good, not good at all.

As it turned out, I thought I had a shot when Boise took a 27-7 halftime lead. 28 points from Tech in the second half shot that hope all to hell, however.

What Dan Learned: No cover for the Broncos. No Flier Pick goodness for me.

0-0 and hoping this wasn't indicative of how my “lesser undefeateds” theory is going to go.

Next...

Iowa -16.5 vs. Northwestern: Final Score - Northwestern 17, Iowa 10

Instead of “What Dan Learned”, I should really have sections here that are titled, “When Dan Knew His Pick Was Screwed”.

In this game, it was right about when Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi came up lame with an apparent ankle injury. Stanzi's not going to win many awards for his quarterbacking, but he's at least been in there and knows how the offense is supposed to work. When you go from him to a red-shirt freshman who is seriously lacking in game reps, the odds of covering a 16.5-point spread decrease dramatically.

So why not put the icing on this craptastic cake by having the dog win outright on me?

What Dan Learned: The “lesser undefeateds” theory isn't dead, but it's on life support. And not just regular life support. I'm talking 6-million Dollar Man-style life support. What? That reference is more dated than William Shatner's hairpiece? Yeah, you're probably right. Let me try this... And not just regular life support. I'm talking “Tony Stark hooked up to a car battery"-style life support. Better? You're absolutely right.

0-1 and starting to wonder if I'm going to backslide again...

Thirdly...

TCU -24.5 at San Diego State: Final Score - TCU 55, SDSU 12

Vindication!

Okay, maybe this doesn't vindicate my theory in and of itself. But at least I know I'm not going 0-fer this week. At this point in the season, that's not insignificant.

I'd love to tell you something about this game, but I honestly didn't see a second of it.

So I'll say this... I don't harbor any delusions about TCU actually getting a shot at the title if they run the table (and that will be tested greatly this weekend as they face Utah). But they've looked about as dominant as you could ask a team in a conference that's not one of the Big 6 to look.

Wouldn't it be great if there was some system by which we could see teams like TCU, or Utah last year, or Boise State in years past, take on the big boys and see if over the course of 3 or 4 games they could hang with the traditional powerhouses? Oh, if only there were some magical construct by which that could be accomplished!

What? They do it in every other sport known to mankind?! Surely this must be some form of devilry! My poor brain is befuddled by the complexity!

(Snarky rant, fin.)

What Dan Learned: Extending the previous metaphor further than I really should... this would be the part where Tony builds the mini-Arc Reactor and replaces Yinsen's crude electromagnet/car battery set-up with the uber-techy beginnings of what would become the metaphorical heart of Iron Man. (Yes, I just got done watching the movie for the upteenth time.)

1-1 and hoping to ride this theory to yet another 2-1 week!

Finally...

Cincinnati -16.5 vs. Connecticut: Final Score - Cincinnati 47, Connecticut 45

Could I get screwed by a second half again? Yes, yes I could.

Cincy jumped out to a 30-10 halftime, which naturally induced me to believe I had achieved another solid cover a'la TCU/SDSU... alas, I was mistaken.

UConn tallied an eye-popping 35 points in the second half to deny me my cover and finally put a stake in the heart of my “lesser undefeateds” theory.

I'd curse them for it, but after the month they've had? I'll leave the Huskies be, thank you.

What Dan Learned: This isn't right?! Iron Man doesn't die at the end?! Okay, so I've stretched that metaphor further than Jerry Jones' facelift. Not pretty. Not pretty at all.

1-2 and disappointed again.

That sinks me even further below the .500-mark and virtually kills any chance I had of bettering last year's record. I'm now 16-18 (.471). Now I'm just trying to avoid having my worst year yet! Can I do it? You just gotta believe folks!

So let's get after it with this week's picks!


2009 College Football Picks: Week 11

First up, some games I looked at but ultimately decided to pass on...

Cincinnati -9 vs. West Virginia (Friday, 7pm): I was tempted to go with the Bearcats at home in prime time. But after they let me down versus Connecticut, I just couldn't do it. The “lesser undefeateds” bit is dead. Long live... um... some other theory!

Wisconsin -9.5 vs. Michigan (11am): I want to jump back on the Bucky Bandwagon. I really do. But they couldn't cover against Indiana (granted, that was on the road, and this game's at home), and I don't care how lousy Michigan has looked of late, they're still Michigan. Again, I like Wisconsin to win here, but I'm just not sure I can give the 9.5.

Stanford +10.5 at USC (2:30pm): Stanford's coming off a big win over Oregon. USC already has two losses and needs help to end up in the Rose Bowl. This sort of sets up for another Cardinal upset. But I think it's a trap. I think the let-down after the Oregon win is inevitable, especially on the road. Plus USC is kind of due for one of those games where they jump up and say, “Hey, we're still USC dammit!” I'm tempted, but I'll pass.

TCU -19.5 vs. Utah (7:30pm): The Horned Frogs have been good to me the past couple of weeks. But as with any team that's blowing people away, eventually they'll run into a line that's too big for the opponent. And I think this might be the one. Utah's no slouch. And even though the game's at TCU, I have a difficult time laying 19.5 to the Utes. That being said, I can't bet against TCU at this point. So again, I pass.

Lots of passes today. Will I regret them? We'll find out next week! For now, it's time to get on to the real (fake) pickin'!

As always, were I to have the wherewithal to make a worthwhile wager, these are the games I'd be betting on:

First...

Georgia Tech -12.5 at Duke (11am): The Yellow Jackets are 9-1 (6-1 in the ACC). The Blue Devils are 5-4 (3-2 in the ACC).

Had anybody else missed the fact that Tech had run its record to 9-1? I sure had. They've beaten Clemson. They've beaten Florida State. They've beaten Virginia Tech. Sure the Seminoles are schizophrenic this year, but those aren't minor wins!

As a football school, Duke makes a really good basketball school. With 5 wins, I'd compare them to Indiana in a lot of ways. They have just enough talent to be dangerous, but not enough to win consistently.

So why do I like the Jackets on the road here? Simple. The Triple-Option. Yes, my favorite offense in college football, when executed properly against an inferior opponent chews up clock like crazy. I see Tech getting out to a two-touchdown lead early and grinding Duke down over the course of 60 minutes.

I'll give the 12.5 and pull for a 1-loss team this week!

Next...

Ohio State -17 vs. Iowa (2:30pm): The Buckeyes are 8-2 (5-1 in the Big Ten). The Hawkeyes are 9-1 (5-1 in the Big Ten).

I know what you're thinking. Iowa screwed me last week, so this week I'm revenge-betting against them.

I'm man enough to admit that perhaps there's a small element of that in this pick. But it's far from the only reason.

Iowa's season, in many ways, went up in smoke last week when their quarterback got hurt. Ricky Stanzi's already been declared out for this game in Columbus, so it's freshman James Vandeburg at the helm for the Hawks come Saturday.

Undefeated season, dead. On the road at perhaps the toughest road-venue in the Big Ten. Freshman quarterback at the helm. I trust I don't have to do the rest of the math for you?

The only hesitation I had in making this pick comes from the chance that the Buckeyes might be looking past this game a touch to the Michigan game next week. But considering the quality of their coach, and the knowledge that beating Iowa allows them to control their own destiny for a Rose Bowl berth, I think they'll be plenty focused on the Hawkeyes.

17 is a lot to give. But after the whipping Ohio State gave Penn State last week, I think they can do it. Sorry, Hammer. I like the Buckeyes this week.

Thirdly...

Mississippi State +12.5 vs. Alabama (6pm): The Bulldogs are 4-5 (2-3 in the SEC). The Crimson Tide are 9-0 (6-0 in the SEC).
*- This game is this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week

Really? I'm going to bet against an undefeated team who's in line for a National Championship spot?

Sort of.

I fully expect Alabama to win this game (though if they were going to have a late-season trip-up game, this would be it). But I think it's going to be a lot closer than 12.5 points.

Bama's offense hasn't scored more than 30 in a game since October 3rd when they were at Kentucky. Mississippi State's defense hasn't given up more than 30 since October 10th versus a high-octane Houston offense.

Believe it or not, the Bulldogs have actually won two out of the last three match-ups in this series, including the last time the game was played in Starkville in 2007, when they beat Alabama 17-12. Plus Mississippi State has had two weeks to prepare for this game.

Again, I'm not saying the Bulldogs will win. But I think they'll keep it close. And if the odds-makers are going to give me 12.5 when those conditions apply. I'll take it and thank them very much.

Finally...

Pittsburgh -7 vs. Notre Dame (7pm): The Panthers are 8-1 (5-0 in the Big East). The Fighting Irish are 6-3 (and too snooty to reside in a conference).

The entire key to this game is how Notre Dame responds to last week's crushing loss to Navy.

On the one hand, they could fold like a cheap suit. On the other, they could get really fired up and run off a big performance against a quality rival.

Me? I'm going with the former. I haven't seen anything from this team to make me believe that they're going to do anything other than pack it in and wait for the announcement of who their next head coach will be. Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate, and Michael Floyd are all eying careers in the NFL, and I don't think they're going to lay it all out for this bunch of stiffs.

That may sound a little harsh, but sometimes in cases like this, that's exactly what happens.

And don't sleep on Pittsburgh. They're no slouch. They also own a 13-point victory over the Navy team that just got done beating the Irish in South Bend.

I think Notre Dame comes out flat here, and Pittsburgh puts the nail in the coffin of Coach Weiss's career with the Irish. I'll give the 7 and hope my dad isn't too annoyed that I'm going against his favorite college football team!

So there you have them. Four more picks for your perusal. Thoughts are always welcomed, either via the comment button below, or via email. Whatever's easiest for you!

That's going to (finally) put a bow on today's column. I'll be back on Friday with some Updating, including a special re-appearance of a team I thought I'd put to bed for 2009. Who is it? Tune in Friday and find out!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

11-9-09: 2009 MLB Season in Review

Hello again everybody...

Welcome to another week. Part of me wants to say that it was a boring weekend in sports. After all, there wasn't any baseball for the first time since early March. But it's hard to find a lot of truth in that feeling since there were some upsets in college football, and the Wild beat Those Stinkin' Stars.

(I came up with that phrase after the game Saturday night and threw it up on my Facebook page. Given the positive response, the hockey team that resides in Dallas will hereafter be known as, “Those Stinkin' Stars”. Thank you.)

I can't help how I feel however, so what felt like a dull weekend provided me with an opportunity to summarize all that was in the 2009 season of Major League Baseball.

For the final time in 2009, let's play ball!

”All human situations have their inconveniences. We feel those of the present but neither see nor feel those of the future; and hence we often make troublesome changes without amendment, and frequently for the worse.”
- Benjamin Franklin (1707-1790), author and printer, satirist, political theorist, politician, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, soldier, and diplomat.


I think this is a really smart way of saying that actions we make today will have unforeseen consequences in the future. That doesn't mean we shouldn't take action. It just means we should be deliberate and thoughtful before making major decisions.

Is it possible to have a man-crush on a historical figure? Yeah, I should probably just leave that one alone...

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Instead, it's time to put my annual bow on the baseball season... Another Game 163... A 27th Yankee title... and my best Phoenix trip ever?

Here's the review...

And we start in...

March: I flew to Phoenix this year hoping beyond all hope that no one I know would become gravely ill. My previous two March trips to the Valley of the Sun had been rough in that regard.

But I'm happy to report that there were no hospital trips, no unexpectedly cutting the trip short, and everyone I know came through the trip healthy.

I'm even happier to report that it was probably the most fun I've ever had on a Phoenix trip. Not that I hadn't had fun in the past, but we saw more baseball on this trip than any other. Over the course of the 7 days I was there, we saw 6 games, including a double-header on the Tuesday that I was there.

Now for a baseball-geek like me, that scratches me right where I itch. But what surprised me was how much fun my folks had. Yes, they both enjoy their baseball, but when it started getting to 4, 5 and 6 games on the trip, I began to fear they'd burn out. I give them a ton of credit though, they soldiered through and seemed to have nearly as much fun as I did.

As I was thoroughly enjoying life in the Cactus League, things in the Grapefruit League weren't nearly so enjoyable for one Alex Rodriguez. Still without a World Series ring, Rodriguez now had to deal with a forthcoming book that outed his steroid use. As usual, Alex tried to do the right thing, only to manage to do it the wrong way.

Any PR expert will tell you that in the case of a scandal, the best method of dealing with it is to get in front of it and try to control the story as best you can. So Alex held a press conference and admitted having used PED's. Which would've been great if he'd taken full responsibility for his actions. Instead he came out with a story about a cousin, strange substances purchased in the Dominican and no real admission that he knew what he was taking. Disappointing, but not surprising.

March, of course, led to...

April: And it wasn't a terribly good April for my favorite teams. Actually it wasn't good for baseball at all.

The Twins found themselves without the services of their All-Star Catcher, Joe Mauer for the entire month. Shortly after that little nugget of news became public, we found out that Minnesota's #1 starter, Scott Baker was also dinged up. Not good news for a team that wasn't deep at those two positions to begin with. Somehow the Twins managed to fight their way to an 11-11 record in the first month of the season. Not great. But they were still in the race.

But if April was tough for the Twins, it was downright awful for the Diamondbacks. Brandon Webb turned out to have a bum shoulder which would go on to cost him the entire 2009 campaign. And while Dan Haren started the season amazingly strong, the rest of the staff was woeful. And the offense wasn't much better. I'm not sure too many people thought Arizona was a threat to win the division, but I doubt they expected a start this poor. The Diamondbacks went 9-13 in April.

All of that, of course, paled in comparison to what the Angels went through in April. On April 8th, Nick Adenhart made his 4th career big league start - a game the Angels won. As he celebrated with friends and family that night, he was killed in an accident with a drunk driver. The human tragedy of it naturally trumps any impact his loss had on sports. But the Angels still had to deal with it on that level. They had to come to terms with his loss, mourn his passing, and try to focus on baseball games all at the same time. Here I am writing a recap in November, and I'm still not really sure how they managed it. Credit has to go to the organization as well as the Adenhart family for helping each other, as well as baseball fans everywhere, deal with such a senseless loss.

After a bummer of an April came...

May: And May featured the first managerial firing of the season, as well as more steroid talk.

After an awful start, the Diamondbacks became the first team to fire their manager in the 2009 season, sending Bob Melvin packing in favor of A.J. Hinch... who'd never managed... at any level. Oof. I wrote at the time that pulling the trigger on a manager is a tough move that early in the season because if it doesn't work, you pretty much doom the team to a lousy year. I hate to say it, but it turned out to be pretty prophetic. The Diamondbacks went 13-16 in May, which was a few points higher than their April percentage, but certainly wasn't indicative of a turnaround.

The Twins had Joe Mauer return in May, and oh what a return it was. I attended his return game against the Royals in early May with some old high school chums. In classic “Dan Cook”-style, I regaled them with a rant about how Justin Morneau was really the heart and soul of the Twins, and that Mauer got all the attention only because he was from St. Paul, and what had he really done anyway, yadda, yadda, yadda. I finished that by saying, “now watch, he'll hit a home run in his first at-bat”. About 1.008 seconds after making that statement, Mauer parked one in the left-field seats. And the MVP campaign was on. Mauer ended up batting .414 in May, with 11 home runs and 32 RBI. It was an astounding month for an incredible player, and I couldn't have been more wrong. Unfortunately, the Twins weren't able to translate Mauer's success into a winning record as they went 14-16 in the month.

May also saw more steroid nonsense. After it seemed that all the PED-related crap from A-Rod had finally died down, one of my other favorite players (insert sarcasm here) Manny Ramirez was suspended 50 games for violating the league's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Policy.

Manny's crack staff of savvy advisers counseled him to claim that the Human Chorionic Gonadotropin for which he'd tested positive was for a “personal medical issue”. And while it's true that HCG is sometimes prescribed as a treatment for erectile dysfunction, it's also clearly listed on baseball's “banned substances” list because of it's use as a testosterone-booster for athletes coming off of a steroid cycle.

Needless to say, nobody was buying Manny's explanation. Fortunately for the Dodgers they'd built such an enormous lead that even without their top slugger, they managed to maintain their stranglehold on the NL West.

An ugly May gave way to...

June: It was a better month for one of my favorite teams, and a worse one for the other... plus a managerial change finally started to work.

The Twins had a better month in June going 15-12. Joe Mauer continued his torrid hitting and it looked like the pitching was finally going to come around. 3 games over .500 wasn't reason to throw a party, but considering how much worse it could have been, I was pretty happy.

“How much worse it could have been” came in the form of the Diamondbacks month of June, where they went 9-17. That's a .346 winning percentage. Ugh. Apparently the change to A.J. Hinch wasn't going to save the season. I wrote in a DFTU that the only thing remarkable about the switch so far, was the complete lack of a reaction from the Arizona players. When management pulls the trigger on a manager, you're hoping to fire up the squad. Unfortunately, not only did the move not fire up the boys, it seemed to cause a good number of them to pack it in. Not good when it's only June.

So which managerial change DID work? The Colorado Rockies. Colorado management fired Clint Hurdle on May 29th, and bench coach Jim Tracy took over. In the Rockies' case, the move clearly fired up the team, as evidenced by their red-hot 21-7 record in June. For a while I thought that the D-backs would be competing with the Rockies for the cellar of the NL West. Instead, the Rockies decided to compete with the Dodgers for the division title. What a concept?!

June, of course, leads us to...

July: My birthday month! Oh, and there's that All-Star game that comes each July as well... and the 2009 version of the 7th month contained a little bit of perfection.

The Twins were in water-treading mode as they went 12-12 during the month. But they managed to put three players on the All-Star squad. Joe Mauer continued his ridiculous pace and was voted on to the club. Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan were added to the squad as reserves.

The Diamondbacks actually managed to make a little noise in July. Their 14-12 record earned them their highest monthly winning percentage of the season. Sure, it turned out to be a tease. But at least they gave fans a reason to stay interested. As expected, Dan Haren made the National League All-Star squad. In what was an otherwise dismal season, Haren had an outstanding year. What was surprising is that Arizona got a second representative in the form of Justin Upton. Upton had a nice first half, but if Arizona was going to get a second rep, I'd have thought it would have been Mark Reynolds who had a career year. Shows what I know!

As for the All-Star game itself? The American League won 4-3... this is a recording. Ever since the All-Star game was changed to decide home field advantage in the World Series (don't get me started) the American League has won each year. I'm not one of these people who call the NL “quadruple-A baseball”, but there's also no question in my mind as to which league is better.

The Mid-Summer Classic wasn't the highlight of the month, however. That came on July 23rd as the White Sox's Mark Buehrle set down 27 Tampa Bay Rays in order. No hits, no runs and no errors. A perfect game. He's only the 16th pitcher to accomplish the feat since the turn of the 20th century. Naturally, I wouldn't have rooted for a division rival to pull that off (though if the Sox color had been different, I'd have been far more annoyed), but as a fan of the game, I'm thrilled to bear witness to history, no matter the uniform. Okay, most uniforms.

Okay fine... I hate the Red Sox and would've been pissed if it was Josh Beckett doing it instead. Any other team, I'm good with.

The perfection of July gave way to...

August: August meant the end of the non-waiver trade season (though there were still significant moves to come) as well as a trip to a Twins game with three of my matriarchal elders?! Oh my...

The Twins went 14-14 in August, their second straight .500 month. At this point, I openly wondered if this wasn't what the Twins were: a .500 team. They'd show signs of getting on a run, and immediately give back all their gains with a losing streak. It was frustrating to watch. But at least they stayed close enough to have a shot. And while they didn't address pitching at the trade deadline - their deadline acquisition took the form of SS Orlando Cabrera - they did later in the month by picking up Carl Pavano in a waiver deal with Cleveland. Both of those deals would turn out to be important down the stretch.

The Diamondbacks followed up their positive July with a nearly-as-positive August. Their 15-14 record got them out of the cellar and gave the fans hope that maybe things were back on track. At this point, the Wild Card was well out of reach, but at least they could have a positive finish. At least that's what I felt at the time. Turned out, not so much...

For me? The most remarkable part of August was a trip I took to a Twins/Cleveland tilt with my mom and two of her sisters. The game itself was something of a dog, but the experience was entertaining to say the least. Don't remember reading that column? You can find it right here. You'll laugh, you'll cry... you'll promise yourself to never get involved in a game of “moundball”. I promise!

An interesting August led us to...

September: The final full-month of the season. The stretch-drives were in full-effect. Do-or-die time was at hand. Could I find a few more lame cliches? I'll just take 'em one at a time and see what happens!

The Twins began the month a full 5 games in back of the Tigers. That's a lot of ground to make up down the stretch, but it's not impossible. By the end of the month? Things were looking dire. They were in the midst of a 4-game series in Detroit having split the first two which left them two games behind the Tigers. Their 16-11 record gave them their best month of the year. Why not save the best for last, right?

To say that the Diamondbacks regressed in the month of August is like saying my hairline has regressed over the last 10 years. It's an understatement to say the least. Their 8-18 record put to rest any hopes that they'd finish in the top 3 of the division, and fairly well mired them in the cellar. At this point, players were playing to not get hurt. Wins were luxuries. Future earning potential became the most important thing. Sad, but such is the nature of professional sports.

(Ed.'s Note: Cheap Plug Warning.... Cheap Plug Warning...)

September also saw me take a trip that I'd been planning for years. It had absolutely nothing to do with sports, but I blogged about it anyway. If you didn't get a chance to read about it, here's another chance. Check out ”The Gettysburg Files”. I made it as interesting for the non-history-geek as I could!

A nail-biting September gave way to...

October: The 162-game season comes to a close... or does it? The playoffs begin. Brett Favre was leading the undefeated Vikings in to battle?! What insane alternate-universe was this?!

The Twins began October 2 games behind the Tigers. At the end of their 162-game schedule, the two clubs had finished with identical 86-76 records. Kudos to those of you who wondered if 85 wins would be enough to win the division. You were darned close. As it turned out, it took 87. And that 87th win came in the form of Game 163. The only thing that's more intense than a Game 163 is Game 7 of the World Series. Nothing else has the same sense of finality. Not even the Division Series or League Championship Series. If you win Game 163, it validates your entire season, no matter the ups and downs. If you lose, then you spend the rest of the fall and winter combing through your schedule trying to figure out where you could've picked up that one extra win that would've given you a playoff berth.

Not only weren't 162 games enough to decide the season, but 9 innings in Game 163 weren't enough either. The Twins and the Tigers battled in a classic contest before the Twins finally won it in the bottom of the 12th off of an Alexi Casilla single. If you'd told me even a month before that Alexi Casilla would provide the Division Championship-clinching RBI, I'd have offered you a trip to your local psychiatric ward. But that's the brilliance of baseball - the unlikely provides the greatest drama.

Unfortunately for the Twins, Game 163 would be their last win of the season. After having gone 0-7 against the Yankees in the regular season, the Twins fared no better in the post-season. They were summarily swept out of the playoffs 3 games to none. Included in that broom-job was a soul-crushing Game 2 loss where the Twins had a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth with their All-Star closer on the mound trying to seal the win. Needless to say, he was unsuccessful, and the Twins went on to lose Game 2 before bowing out in Game 3.

It was a disappointing denouement after the climax of Game 163. But given the ride the boys took me on, I'm loathe to complain. Given where they had to come from, I'll gladly enjoy the Division Championship banner and look forward to 2010.

The Diamondbacks went 2-2 in their last four games and gladly put an end to a disastrous 2009 campaign. Whatever optimism I have going into 2010 as pertains to the Twins, I have equally as many questions about the Snakes.

Baseball's final eight came down to: Boston (whom I hate)Los Angeles, Minnesota, and New York in the American League; Colorado, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and St. Louis in the National League.

The Angels handled the Red Sox and the Yankees swept the Twins. Philadelphia had no trouble with Colorado, while the Dodgers had surprisingly little trouble with the Cardinals.

In the LCS's, the Angels made a little noise against the Yankees, but eventually succumbed. Philadelphia continued their NL dominance sending the Dodgers packing.

That brought us to...

The World Series and November: The Fall Classic. My only hope was for a competitive series.

And after Game 1, I thought that's what we'd get. Philly's Cliff Lee pitched a gem, and the Phillies began the series with a win. The Yankees answered back in Game 2 behind a surprisingly good outing for the notoriously volatile A.J. Burnett... and the series was on!

Or was it...

Back to Philly we went for Games 3, 4 and 5. Andy Pettite did the job for the Yanks in Game 3. And then a curious thing happened. Philly manager Charlie Manuel decided to go with Joe Blanton in Game 4 over his Ace, Cliff Lee. This not only gave the Yankees a pitching advantage, but also meant that Lee wouldn't be the starter in a potential Game 7. It was a gamble on Manuel's part, and unfortunately for Phillies fans, he lost. The Bombers took game 4 and grabbed a commanding 3-1 lead in the Series.

Philly refused to bow out on their home field by winning Game 5, but a 27th Championship for New York seemed all but assured as the Series went back to the Bronx. And Game 6 proved to be the clincher. Pettite again stood strong for New York as he out-dueled Pedro Martinez to win the Series-clincher for the third time in his career.

So after a long, dramatic season, we had a champion. Sure, it was a champ that annoyed better than 75% of baseball fans, but as I keep saying, you can't be David if you don't have Goliath.

The Yanks are the champs.

And that was your 2009 Major League Baseball Season in Review!

Baseball provided the impetus for The Sports Take, and continues to provide the bulk of the content.

I hope you enjoyed 2009 as much as I did. I can't wait for April of 2010. Another trip to the Cactus League, opening a new ballpark here in Minnesota, the raising of another Division Championship banner, and hopefully a rejuvenation of my other favorite team. There's a lot to look forward to. It can't get here soon enough!

That's going to do it for today. I know it was a little longer than usual, but a baseball season is no easy thing to recap!

I'll be back on Wednesday with all the usual college football inanity. Until then, thanks for reading!