Rob Ninkovic Retired

I heard the news yesterday that Rib Ninkovic retired, and I’m sad to see him go.

He was an excellent pass rusher and edge defender. Though he had trouble starting for the Dolphins and Saints, Bill Belichick knows how to maximize a player’s impact, and Ninkovic ended up being a major piece of two super bowl runs.

I think his best feature as a player was that he had a “nose for the ball”. He knew how to get to the quarterback, and seemed to be in the right place to cause or pick up fumbles. In the last decade, he’s the only player in the NFL to have 45+ sacks AND 14+ fumble recoveries. He was also noted for being able to guide opposing linemen in ways that gave him and teammates access to ball carriers and quarterbacks.

Ninkovic was a great Patriot: quiet, humble, and diligent. He embodied the “do your job” mentality well. Someday he may be in the Patriots Hall of Fame, along with his numerical predecessor Mike Vrabel. The Patriots will have a hard time making up for the impact he had on their defensive success. 

Bud Selig Is In The Hall Of Fame

That’s right. Former commissioner Bud Selig was inaugurated to the Hall of Fame this weekend. Cooperstown now enshrines the zombie-looking steroid enabler who singlehandedly almost killed baseball. 

Selig’s career as owner of the Brewers would have been a solid contribution to the MLB. He bought the bankrupt Seattle Pilots and moved them to Milwaukee, winning the 1982 World Series. But then he became commissioner in 1992 (technically just acting commissioner before it became official in 1998), and instituted some positive changes to the MLB like the wild card playoff games. But he also failed to prevent the 1994 union strike that actually canceled the World Series, the only time that happened since 1994. Later on he became embattled with legal issues and had to settle different cases with Montreal and Minnesota. He also instituted the dumbest idea ever for the all star game: making it count for home field advantage for the winning league. He’s shown the proclivity towards unfair treatment in favor of the Brewers for his whole tenure. screwing the Astros and Twins out of home games and market shares. 

But the real issue with this old fart is the steroid era. He oversaw the use of performance enhancing drugs that cheapened an entire era of the sport and invalidated the accomolishments of some of the best hitters in the sport’s history. He failed to stop the issue, and in fact made it worse when he testified that he didn’t know anything about as far back as 1998 it in 2005. Then in 2006, he claimed that he was instrumental in implementing PED testing in 1994. Sounds like fake news to me. He also allowed the Mitchell report to be leaked, which ruined the reputation of dozens of players in a supposedly-secret test, even though several players didn’t even test positive. 
Selig is essentially the enabler and leader if the steroid era of baseball. Players linked to steroids have almost unanimously been denied entry into the Hall of Fame, though some of them have received increased support. If Selig is allowed into the Hall, then the players who participated in the scandal that he actively ignored and completely failed to stop or minimize should not be barred from entry. 

David Price’s Behavior Is Unacceptably Unprofessional

Forgetting the media beef with David Price for the last, oh, year or so, Price’s latest instance of unprofessional behavior crossed a new line. 

Dennis Eckersley did not say or do anything out of line. His job is to call the games, and to analyze stats and observations as they come during the game. His reaction to a bad outing by Eduardo Rodriguez (“yuck”) was nowhere near an overreaction or an unfair statement. His calling of Red Sox games has been excellent in Jerry Remy’s absence during his most recent cancer treatments (thoughts and prayers to Jerry). Moreover, he did nothing to draw the ire of Price.

Price went full Regina George, calling out Eckersley in front of the whole team, staff, and media contingent on the team plane, shouting expletives and harassing him. Worse, several other teammates stood around and applauded. Its one thing to ignore it or not say anything when a veteran does something dumb, but to applaud? That’s completely wrong.

Who do we blame for this? Price, certainly, for acting like a 14 year old who just got killed in Call Of Duty. The players who applauded, whoever they are, deserve some as well. But what about the team leadership? Players like Dustin Pedroia, the longest tenured guy now that Ortiz is gone, has to step up. He wasn’t afraid to yell at Ortiz when he took out his rage on the Baltimore dugout phone. John Farrell perhaps deserves a lot more blame than people will probably say he does. As manager he has to manage the egos of his players better. 

It would be a lot less of a bad look if Eck was just some analyst or journalist, a stat nerd who had never worn a glove. But he was a hall of fame pitcher, a tremendous talent, and an award-winning pitcher. As a starter and a closer he had a great deal of success in the MLB, including some great playoff performances (which Price is yet to have). As an analyst, he’s known as a guy who speaks his mind freely, but doesn’t say anything particularly unfair when it comes to criticizing players. Certainly nothing to warrant such an attack.

Regardless of who’s to blame, and how much blame each deserves, an outburst like that is completely uncalled for. I sincerely hope Price and team representatives apologize to Eckersley.

Let’s Not Get Carried Away

Sports fans tend to overreact, and nowhere is this more drastic than in Boston (besides maybe Dallas, but that’s only sometimes with football). One win for the Sox means the world series is ours. One win for the Celtics means the era of Bill Russell is inevitable. But one loss for the Patriots means that Brady is done, one loss for the Bruins means they’re eliminated from the playoffs, and one loss for the Sox means that it’s time to fire everyone, trade the farm, and rebuild.

The Sox lost to the Angels last night, in a kind of ugly game. The million dollar man David Price had a sub par game (despite that he’s been pretty good, excellent even, after coming back from injury), the offense struggled after taking an early lead, and the same reaction comes: the team needs to be completely revamped. The pitchers suck, the bullpen is untrustworthy, and they need to trade 40% of their farm system and roster for power hitting. 

But this is a classic Boston overreaction. As much as I love watching sports and enjoying the discussions involved, and the inevitable bickering between analysts and callers to the radio, it’s annoying that so many people act like the team needs an overhaul every time someone grounds out. This team is actually a much bigger contender than people give them credit for. Chris Sale is having a Pedro-esque season, Pomeranz is pitching far better than I thought he could, Price is recovering from elbow injury and performing well, and the fill in fifth starters have been decent as well. Even Porcello, who has been underwhelming at times after a Cu Young season, has had some fantastic outings ruined by offensive struggles. The bullpen have been good as well, especially all star Craig Kimbrel. The offense is not nearly as bad as people think- most of the fielders have solid hitting averages, and the outfield especially has provided excellent defense.

There is room for improvement. Power hitting is certainly an issue, as they’ve had troubles generating runs. Their home run totals are astonishingly bad, but improving. A power bat would be great to have, but giving up too much for it would be a mistake. Another bullpen arm would be a great benefit, but I don’t trust Dombrowski to give a reasonable deal after the Thornberg deal (in which he incidentally gave up someone who has 22 homers so far). Adding a regular third baseman is, I think, their biggest need, but again I think it’s best not to overpay and to work with Lin, Holt, and Rutledge for the time being. 

The biggest issue, I think, is that the team has nobody to take charge and rally everyone. Ortiz filled that role when he was here. Right now, they have nobody with that kind of personality. Ramirez only tries half the time, Pedroia tends to lead quietly (which can work when there’s another dominant personality like Ortiz), and Bette, Bogaerts, and the other young players aren’t experienced enough to really take charge yet. Added with a somewhat lackluster manager, it may be a good idea to find a veteran player who wants a ring and would be a leader in the clubhouse, if one could be found for a decent price. 

We overreact way too much to our sports teams. Especially with the Sox, it’s best to be patient and let the season play out without demanding the team completely rework itself. The core of the team is still developing in skill, and if they can keep that together, maintain the pitching staff, and trim some of the fat (like they did last week!) the team could have something really special.

GOAT QB Arguments Suck

It’s a staple of NFL seasons to discuss which quarterback is the greatest of all time, almost always inserting current players into the discussion way too early (I.e. Aaron Rodgers) for the sake of argument. And in almost every case, the list is fairly short: Brady, Manning, Montana, Elway, Unitas (if you want to go back wicked far), Brees, Marino, and now Rodgers are always at the top of the list, unless you ask Tony Dungy. 

The arguments are different for everyone. Statistical nerds favor guys like Manning and Brees and Marino. Brady and Montana are selected for their postseason legend. Elway and Unitas are less common arguments, but typically thrown in by old timers. Rodgers is unique, since he’s relatively new to the scene compared with the above mentioned players, and is usually considered the most “purely talented” and athletic of the bunch. 

But for each one, there are arguments against them. Rodgers is said to he too new, or lacking in the postseason success outside of his 2010 performance. Manning is a classic choker, a nine-time one and done playoff performer. Marino never won the Big Game, Brees throws too many picks and misses the playoffs too much, Elway only won super bowls because of Terrell Davis. Montana was statistically not that great, but knew how to dial it up for yhe postseason. 

The argument with Brady, in my experience, is always related to his coach. He has great numbers, even for today, with often mediocre receivers. He doesn’t have a history of choking or blowing big games. He even won his fifth super bowl and fourth super bowl MVP. But for some reason, he is the only one who has his hall of fame coach held against him.

Yes, Bill Belichick is spectacular. Even without Brady he’s gone 19-19, though he hadn’t made the playoffs in the two Brady-free seasons with New England. (People conveniently forget the 5-11 2000 season, Bledsoe’s last as a starter in NE) But without Brady it’s likely that he wouldn’t ever have won. super bowl with The Patriots. I love Drew Bledsoe, but he had injury issues and didn’t play great in big games: Brady, on the other hand, has had two of the greatest super bowl performances ever, at the ages of 37 and 39. Remember Manning at 39? He sucked.

Belichick has transformed the Patriots into a machine. But he’s not the sole reason for Brady’s success. His offensive roster moves have actually probably hindered New England, especially in the mid 2000s. If Deion Branch was on the team in 2006, Brady would have had 4 super bowl wins in 6 years. 

Beyond that, nobody ever says anything about Montana’s hall of fame coach and star-packed defense and offense. Nobody mentions Don Shula leading Marino, or Manning having a spectacular receiving core and a solid defense, along with a hall of fame coach in Tony Dungy. Nobody else in the discussion has their coach considered when their stats and talents are stacked up. Only Brady is punished for having a good coach, something that every single player in that list had. If people want to hold that against Brady, do it consistently. Hold it against Montana and Manning. Either that or don’t bother using what little ammo you have left to criticize Brady and pretend that he hasn’t warnwd four super bowl MVPs, with the potential for more at the age of 40.

19 and 0

The Patriots are, unsurprisingly, the early favorites to win the 52nd Super Bowl. Brady is playing just as well as ever, their offense got just a bit more dangerous, Gronk will hopefully be healthy, the defense added talent, and the coaching staff is somehow the same after rumors of both coordinators possibly being poached. Not to mention, they won the last one after steamrolling the AFC. The only real competition this year will be if Kansas City and Oakland manage to stay healthy and one of them wins more games than New England. 

They’re so good that people have already been talking about them going 19-0. Of course, they already almost did that once (a memory that I still repress), and players obligatorily deny that they’re thinking about it. Most of the players don’t want the added pressure hanging over their heads, and why should they? 

Here’s my take on 19-0: I want the Patriots to win every game. Every fan of every team wants that. I go into every individual game  wanting them to kick the other team’s ass. And fortunately for me, they usually do. But I don’t want them distracted by the record of going 19-0. It invariably does become another source of pressure and distraction. Of course I want it to happen. If it does, I will celebrate like every other Pats fan. I won’t be disappointed if they lose a game or two (I will that night, and maybe a day or two after, but I won’t care at the end of the season). Just win the Super Bowl, and just about every reasonable Patriots fan will be happy.

My Thoughts on Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce signed a contract allowing him to retire as a Celtic, which makes a lot of sense given that he played 15 seasons in Boston and won his only championship here. He was exceptionally talented, performing well enough to carry the Celtics routinely into the playoffs even without the big-name talent that arrived in 2007. Fans all over the region have applauded the move, lauding his career accomplishments and everything he brought to our beloved franchise.

As a Celtics fan I always liked Pierce. Though he had a flair for the dramatic, he was a great team player and a well-deserved fan favorite. He stuck through a somewhat ugly rebuilding process while the team accumulated assets to get Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. He lead a great postseason run to the championship in 2008, and almost did it again in 2010. Though the Miami Heat super team cut his championship hopes short, he was willing to stick with the team after Allen left, and even accepted the trade to Brooklyn that gave Danny Ainge the tools to rebuild after the Big Three era.

So I, like many other fans, was Happy to see Pierce return to Celtic green. I fully expect and hope that his number is up on the rafters of the Garden within the next year or two.

Paul-Pierce-Celtics

However, I differ from some (possibly many, I’ve seen a few dozen say it already) in the idea that Pierce was an untradeable player.  They say that he was so great, to trade him was an insult to him and to the fanbase.

I don’t have an issue with the idea of an untradeable player. In fact, I think that there are certain players who have such an impact that they should be considered not for sale. But such a player would have to be an unquestionably era-defining superstar beyond the team they play for. The first player who comes to mind is Tom Brady, who brought five championships, arguably two lucky plays away from seven, to a franchise that used to be mediocre to pathetic. His dominance of the league was unparalleled and is still continuing despite being 40 years old. Another is Ted Williams, who would be universally considered the greatest hitter if not player of all time had he not sacrificed six whole seasons to fight in the Air Force.  For the Celtics, I only consider two players to have that label: Larry Bird, one of the two players who practically owned the league for a whole decade, and Bill Russell, perhaps the greatest champion in all of American professional sports. Paul Pierce was a great player, a tremendous talent, but he did not have that level of league wide dominance and recognition. He was never the best in the game, though he did hand the best at the time his only finals loss (Kobe). And the haul that the Celtics got was inarguably lopsided, perhaps the biggest steal since the Celtics got Bill Russell more than 6 decades ago.

That I’d not meant to detract from Pierce in any way. He’s a Celtics legend, one of the best to wear the green. He’s no doubt a hall of famer and was one of the best players of the last 20 or so years. I just think we shouldn’t exaggerate his impact on the sport as a whole.