Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 American of the Year: Michael Phelps

Politics, faith, education, service to either country or community. These have been the hallmarks of the previous 8 honorees as this websites 'American of the Year': Pat Tillman (04), Bill O'Reilly (05), Billy Graham (06), Chuck Cassidy (07), George W. Bush (08), Glenn Beck (09), Ron Paul (10) and Seal Team 6 (11) have all distinguished themselves in these arenas.

Critics would say that many of these individuals, at least where politics and culture are involved, can be associated with a conservative slant, and that in at least a couple of those years a more liberal selection would show this website to be both more balanced and fair. I disagree. This website reflects it's creator, and so it will always reflect my own leanings, and thus those choices.

An examination of the year 2012 left America lacking in political leadership, as our main Republican and Democratic parties battled for control of the White House amid some of the most divided conditions in history. With the nation clearly so divided, and with the current leadership so clearly lacking answers to our most pressing problems, there was opportunity to look at the full scope of American achievement.

The Olympics are a major world event, and in the summer of 2012 more than 10,000 of the world's greatest athletes representing 204 nations gathered to compete across 302 events for national pride and individual glory. The United States was represented by a large contingent, and one man stood out above all others. In fact, one man stood out above all Olympians of all-time. That man is our 2012 American of the Year, Michael Phelps.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Innocence Lost at Sandy Hook

The little children of Sandy Hook are angels, as you can see from the picture above. It was taken in May of 2011 at the Great Pootatuck Duck Race, just as thousands of yellow plastic rubber duckies were dumped into the Pootatuck River and began their journey along the waterway.

It is exactly the kind of event that is usually the hallmark of the idyllic village in the town of Newtown, Connecticut that has been home over the years to celebrities like athlete Bruce Jenner, actor Anthony Edwards, and "Hunger Games" author Suzanne Collins.

The thought that any of the cherubic faces above may have been attending kindergarten today inside of Sandy Hook Elementary School is heartbreaking. Today, the light inside twenty of these innocents was snuffed out when unthinkable horror and evil visited the school.

The son of a teacher at the school entered her classroom today and massacred the children she taught. 18 children in all died in their little classroom.

Two others survived initially, were rushed to a nearby hospital, but succumbed to their injuries there.

20 innocent little children who had nothing to do with the shooter, who posed him no threat, who had no knowledge of his existence before today were dead at his demented hands.

Monday, November 12, 2012


It's amazing how little so many know about one of the most important terrorist attacks in recent years. So I'm taking it upon myself here to educate and inform those who have heard something, but don't know the details, in nutshell form.

Benghazi is the 2nd largest city in Libya, and is located along the Mediterranean Sea in northern Africa. Just last year it was the scene of one of the key uprisings in the rebellion against the longtime dictatorial government of Muammar Gaddafi.

Towards the end of his 2nd term, President George W. Bush and his security people made the determination that Africa was under such a large threat from various sources, particularly from al Qaeda and other Islamist terror organizations, that a separate 'Africa Command' for American forces military response on the continent was required.

In 2008, 'AfriCom' was officially activated. However, with the Bush administration leaving office, it would be left to the incoming Obama administration to fully establish the commands effectiveness. To say they dropped the ball would be generous.

A full four years after it's establishment, General Carter Ham was in charge, but AfriCom was still a command "in paper only" with "very few assigned forces", as The Washington Times reported in a comment from a former Bush administration official.

At 9:40pm on the night of September 11th (date sound familiar?), the CIA reports that senior security of the US State Department called the CIA and requested assistance. The CIA states that it was told to wait. Just before 10:00pm, Ham, who was in Washington at the Pentagon, directed a drone to Benghazi to assess the situation visually. By 10:04pm, a CIA team finally responded to the embassy.

It was not for another half hour that the US Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs were notified, despite the fact that it was now obvious that a US  ambassador's life was in jeopardy as the American embassy was under attack.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

2012 Election Only Just Begun

With the announcement last weekend of Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as the Vice-Presidential running mate for Republican Party standard bearer Mitt Romney, the real race towards Election Day 2012 has finally begun.

For American voters, the contrast is stark and the choice is clear: continued big government Democratic Party-led liberalism leaning towards socialism, or Republican Party-led return to traditional American conservative free market principles.

While Americans have lived through a year's worth of Republican debates and primaries while suffering through the Obama economy and public media debates over the basic nature of America's future direction, they have also been largely spared a true bombardment of political ideas and exchanges.

That is all about to change, as the coming weeks and months will bring an ever-increasing bombardment of television, radio, and Internet ads, speeches, and endorsements that will likely have most of us thankful on the morning of November 7th no matter which way the election goes.

In Tampa, Florida from August 27th-30th, the Republican National Convention will take place and will take over the news cycle with speeches and policy outlines. America will receive a final, brief vacation from politics over the Labor Day weekend.

This will be quickly followed by the Democratic National Convention in Richmond, Virginia from September 3rd-6th. The two campaigns will outline their policies, highlight their candidates, and point out their direction for America during these two intense weeks.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Become a Beacon of Light

And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
Genesis 1:3-4

There is plenty of darkness in the world today. Every single day you can turn on a 24-hour news network, open any news website, pickup a newspaper and read about the influence of the darkness in men's souls.

As of yesterday there were 212 homicides committed in the City of Philadelphia alone. That's 17 more than last year at the same time, and last year ended with 18 more than the previous year.

On Sunday, white supremacist Wade Page walked into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin and shot nine people, killing six immediately. Among the three critically wounded was a white Oak Creek police lieutenant, Brian Murphy. One wonders if a white Irish-Catholic who worked every day to keep his community safe and peaceful was an intended target of Page's particular brand of hate. One answers that it really doesn't matter.

Page and others such as Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who murdered 13 people in their 1999 rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado, and Troy West, who mercilessly beat a black female military veteran in front of her 7-year old daughter outside a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Georgia in 2009 are all examples that the white community needs to take to heart.

Shootings, stabbings, and other attacks in this country and around the world do not have as their common denominator the race, sex, ethnic background, or religious belief of the attackers. What they do have in common is darkness and hate. At some point in the attackers lives, they chose to embrace the darkness over the light, and as with many who make such a choice, found their lives spiraling out of control.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Disagreement Does Not Equal Hate

Traditional, Conservative, and Christian, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee used his popularity in those circles and publicly called for Americans who support traditional marriage to get out to their local Chick-fil-A restaurant this past Wednesday.

On his Facebook page, Huckabee posted the following statement: "Let's affirm a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse."

This led to an uprising of support among those, such as myself and my wife, who agree with Huckabee's position on marriage as intended by God to be between one man and one woman. We ate dinner on Wednesday late afternoon at the Chick-fil-a restaurant at 2301 E. Butler Street, just off Aramingo Avenue in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The place was packed, and had to bring extra help on to serve all those who, like us, heeded Huckabee's call and came out in support.

The controversy began when leaders within the LGBT community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) had discovered that Chick-fil-a takes public stances on behalf of, and supports charitable organizations that benefit, traditional marriage as biblically defined. As the company's President, Dan Cathy, said when confronted on the issues this week: "Guilty as charged!"

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Post-Trade Phillies Ain't Done Yet

At the 2012 MLB trade deadline on Tuesday, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro made a handful of decisions that signal two things: first, the Fightin' Phils lineup needed to change and, second, the team was not at all interested in a complete rebuild from scratch. The GM did two things, didn't do a couple others, and effectively put a couple others on the back burner with the chance that something could still be done there.
The first thing that Amaro did was to deal away long time centerfielder Shane Victorino to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for effective right-handed relief pitcher Josh Lindblom and high-ceiling righty pitching prospect Ethan Martin.

Next, Amaro decided to deal away rightfielder Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for a package that included rightfielder Nate Schierholtz, top catching prospect Tommy Joseph, and young pitching prospect Seth Rosin.

Decisions that Amaro apparently made involving not dealing away players included pitcher Cliff Lee and shortstop Jimmy Rollins. A number of teams inquired on the availability of Lee, but were apparently rebuffed from the start, or given such a high list of demands from Amaro that talks went nowhere in a hurry. 

The Oakland A's, fishing around for a shortstop, apparently checked in on their hometown boy JRoll, but again were either immediately rebuffed or unwilling to meet a high Phillies price.

Monday, April 2, 2012

MLB 2012: Philadelphia Phillies

Will 2012 be the final season that the Hawaiian is flyin' in a Phillies uniform?

I've quoted Simon & Garfunkel before when this type of topic comes up, and it is appearing more and more appropriate these days with my beloved Fightin' Phils: "The ending always comes to pass: endings always come too fast. They come too fast, but they pass to slow." The Mayans are not going to be correct in predicting that 2012 is the end of the world, but maybe what they were really talking about was the end of the Philadelphia Phillies dynasty.

As I stated in my previous post on the 2012 National League preview and predictions, for the last four MLB seasons the road to the World Series has gone directly through Philadelphia. Following on the heels of the first division crown for this bunch back in 2007, when Jimmy Rollins backed up his "We're the team to beat" words with an MVP season, the Phils won the World Series in 2008. They got back and lost in the following season. The teams that won the last two titles in 2010 and 2011, the Giants and Cardinals, both had to beat the Phillies to get there.

Though that post-season record seems to show slippage, the regular season has been just the opposite. In 2006, with Ryan Howard winning the NL MVP, the Phillies won 85 games. For each of the last six seasons, their win total has gone up each season: 89 wins in '07, 92 in '08, 93 in '09, 97 in '10, and finally to a franchise-record 102 wins last year in 2011. In this century, they have suffered just one losing season, and barely that with an 80-81 finish back in 2002. They have finished 1st or 2nd in the NL East standings in every season since and including 2004, and have won 5 straight division crowns.

I have been a Phillies fan now for over 40 years, stretching back to the very first season of play at Veteran's Stadium in 1971 when I was just 9 years old. I have been a fan through Jim Bunning, Woody Fryman, Willie Montanez, Frank Lucchesi, Dave Cash, Jay Johnstone, Dick Ruthven, Ron Reed, Lonnie Smith, Bo Diaz, John Felske, Kevin Gross, Chris James, Danny Jackson, Ken Howell, Rico Brogna, Paul Byrd, Jason Michaels and J.A. Happ.

Many of you have been along for that ride. It has included 19 losing seasons. Particularly bad was the long stretch from 1984 through 2000, when the club and we fans suffered 15 of 17 losing seasons. The 1993 season of Kruk, Dykstra, Daulton, Mitch, Fregosi, and their magical run to the World Series where they finally lost to a Hall of Fame and All-Star laden Blue Jays team was a joyful oasis in a searing desert of futility.

But now a generation of Phillies fans has grown up thinking that winning is the Phillies tradition. Pretty much anyone who is in their mid-20's or younger simply cannot remember the futile Veteran's Stadium days. It's all been about winning and contending, most of that for the past 8 seasons in the baseball heaven that is our beautiful Citizens Bank Park. And for most of that time it has included the same core group of players, particularly JRoll, Chase, Cole, Chooch, the Flyin' Hawaiian and Ryan Howard.

But after all that winning and all that contending, storm clouds are beginning to gather around this team. Some pundits have chose to ignore them altogether, or predict that the Phillies will overcome the injuries and changes of personnel with superior pitching. Others are running around like Chicken Little screaming that "the sky is falling" on this group of players. There is much talk around this core group that their "window of opportunity" is closing fast.

Well, I've been a "glass half full" kind of guy my entire life. In those 2012 NL predictions, I said that the Phillies will win their 6th straight NL East Division crown, their 3rd NL Pennant in the last 5 years, and advance to the World Series again before losing there to the Texas Rangers. Since I made those predictions public, I will stand by them. But in order to get there, this particular Phillies team will need to overcome more challenges than any before them in this recent winning era.

Let's begin with the obvious: Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are gone, and they aren't coming back any time soon. 

It has to at least be considered that Chase will never, ever return. Not the Chase Utley that we all have grown to know and love. For five years, from the 2005-2009 seasons, Utley was the best 2nd baseman in the game. He received league MVP votes every one of those seasons. He was an NL All-Star from 2006-2010. He won the Silver Slugger as the best offensive 2nd baseman four straight seasons from 2006-2009. But Chase turned 33 years old back in December. He has been playing with a variety of injuries for a couple of years. Now his knees are nearly shot, with virtually no cartilage. He is out indefinitely to begin the 2012 season.

Ryan Howard was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2005. He won the MVP in 2006, and has finished in the top five in that voting 3 other times since, receiving league MVP votes in each of the past six seasons. He is a 3-time NL All-Star who has bashed more than 30 homeruns and driven in more than 100 runs in six straight seasons. All of those numbers and honors are likely to end in 2012. Howard suffered severe tendon damage on the final at-bat of the 2011 playoffs, and his recovery will take another couple of months. Many athletes have taken a year or more to fully return from this type of injury. It is likely that even if he comes back in May or June, that he won't be the same, at least not this season.

There are a number of other dark clouds hovering over this club besides the Utley and Howard major losses. Placido Polanco, the 3rd baseman, is now 37-years old. He has won a Gold Glove award in 2 of the last 3, and in 3 of the last 5 seasons. But he is battling age and his own injuries now. Two other cornerstones, Shane "The Flyin' Hawaiian" Victorino (pictured above) and Cole Hamels will be free agents after this season if not signed to contract extensions that, at least at the moment, do not appear imminent. The longer their possible free agency lingers, the more it will play up in the press, especially if the club struggles.

So there are many more challenges facing affable manager Charlie Manuel's club than usual. However, there is a reason that I and other pundits have picked them to overcome these challenges. The fact remains that there is still a bunch of talent here that, though likely not capable given their loss of personnel and the improvement of their divisional rivals, to reach the 100-win mark again, still should make them the favorites in the NL East and a strong contender for another National League Pennant and World Series trip.

Let's start with what everyone knows, the Phillies will run out a starting pitcher every single game that will be as good as or better than what their opponent puts on the mound. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels are 3 of the top 10 starting pitchers in baseball. Joe Blanton, Vance Worley, and Kyle Kendrick give the club solid, professional depth on the nights that the "Big Three" aren't toeing the mound. This depth also give GM Ruben Amaro some potential depth from which to deal, should Blanton or Kendrick need to be moved for position player help.

Out in the field, the left side of the infield is better defensively than any other in all of baseball when Polanco is at 3rd and JRoll at shortstop. Polanco does not provide much offensive production these days, but he is a solid, professional hitter. Jimmy Rollins remains the team catalyst, and the club will need a big year out of their newly signed leader both on and off the field. Until Howard and Utley return, the right side of the infield is where there will be a real challenge, one that could sink this club or elevate it to another big year.

At first base we are likely to see a combination of playing time based on matchups, all depending on which starting pitcher the opposition is throwing in that particular game. Time here will be shared by aging future Hall of Famer Jim Thome, a beloved fan favorite who was brought back to be a big lefty power bat off the bench, but whose roll may be expanded now. It will also be shared by Ty Wigginton, a jack-of-all-trades type journeyman who has pop in his bat, and who can also play 2nd, 3rd and the outfield. He likely will get time all over the diamond for this year's Phillies. Finally, John Mayberry Jr. will also see time at 1st base, possibly the most time, especially if he can be productive with the bat.

In the outfield, 2 of the 3 spots are manned by All-Star caliber players in centerfielder Victorino and emerging fan favorite Hunter Pence in right. Pence, the "Philadelphia Magazine" coverboy, is in his prime and should break out for his first 30-homer, 100-rbi season, and the Phils will need every bit of that. Victorino is 31-years old, and will be playing for what he hopes will be a big free agent contract, either here or elsewhere, and should be particularly motivated. Leftfield was supposed to be Mayberry's spot to lose, and he will see time there. But with him also needed at 1st base, the Phils will turn to a pair of newcomers in powerful veteran Layne Nix and speedy veteran Juan Pierre as well.

The loss of Utley and Howard has another residual effect, that of depleting the bench, because players expected to give the club depth will have to actually start more often. One guy who probably wouldn't even be here will be a starter, at least in the beginning. That player is the presumed shortstop-of-the-future, Freddy Galvis, who will be given the first shot at playing 2nd base regularly as the season opens. The club is hoping that Galvis, an outstanding defensive shortstop, can at least handle the position with the glove. Any offense that he gives them will be a bonus. Finally, there is Carlos Ruiz. Beloved fan favorite "Chooch" runs the pitching staff and is a true field general, as well as a clutch bat.

The bullpen has suffered through it's own share of injuries in the pre-season, with both Jose Contreras and Michael Stutes likely beginning the year on the DL. Antonio Bastardo has struggled some, and is facing a strong challenge as the primarly lefty out of the pen from young Joe Savery. Jake Diekman had an outstanding spring, but was sent to the minors for some more seasoning. He could be up early in the year to help. Chad Qualls and David Herndon are likely to see a lot of early innings if a righty is needed. 

The one place where there are no questions is the end of the game, where one of the best closers in the business, Jonathan Papelbon, will now finish things off. The longtime Red Sox pitcher was signed by the Phillies as their big free agent acquisition this off-season, and he should prove to be a big fan favorite for the fans who love flame-throwers with a passion for the game. 

In the 2012 season, especially in the first couple of months, there will be many low-scoring Phillies games. The formula will go something like this: Halladay, Lee or Hamels goes 7+ strong innings, a reliever or two holds down the fort for an inning or two, and Papelbon closes it out a Phillies victory. The offense will have been provided by Pence, Victorino and Rollins, with an occasional big homerun or steal from a Thome or a Mayberry or a Pierre.

This will not be at all easy. The Braves have a lot of talent. The Marlins have a new identity, enthusiasm, and also are talented. The Nationals are building something special. Any one of these teams could put it all together and, combined with Phillies struggles due to injuries, dethrone the champs. Put all together, and the competition will bring the Fightin's closer back to the overall pack in the standings. But in the end, pitching, defense, and experience win out. And if it all goes right, Howard and Utley get healthy enough for one more strong post-season run together.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

MLB 2012: National League

Pitching usually tells the tale for a baseball team, but this may be too much for even the best pitching to overcome

For the past five seasons, the Philadelphia Phillies have won the National League's Eastern Division crown. For the past four they have increased their regular season victory total every single year, culminating in a franchise-record 102 wins in 2011. They won the World Series in 2008. They lost the World Series to the Yankees in 2009. They lost the NL Championship in an upset to a Giants team that went on to win the World Series in 2010. They barely lost in an upset in the Divisional Round to a Cardinals team that went on to win the World Series in 2011. The bottom line in Major League Baseball has been that for the past five seasons the road to a world championship has had to go through Philadelphia. Can that possibly continue despite what appear to be devastating losses?

I am going to hesitate, take a deep breath, acknowledge some serious red flags, and pick my beloved hometown Philadelphia Phillies to win their 6th consecutive Eastern Division crown in 2012. I am hesitating and taking a deep breath only because of the two players pictured above, and their likely absence from the Fightin's lineup for what appears to be a significant portion of the upcoming season. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley first took the field together at Citizens Bank Park in 2004, and since the following year of 2005 have been regulars in the lineup. For 7 seasons the fans have come out and watched these two play on the right side of the infield. A serious tendon injury suffered by Howard on the final at-bat of the 2011 playoffs is combining with Utley's rapidly deteriorating knees to put that streak in jeopardy.

With Howard likely out until at least mid-May and possibly into June, and with no timetable at all on Utley, that right-side infield is likely to be manned by a combination of the enigmatic John Mayberry Jr and beloved future Hall of Famer Jim Thome at 1st base and the shortstop-of-the-future Freddy Galvis at 2nd base. Prescient jack-of-all-trades pickup Ty Wigginton is also likely to see time at both spots, as well as sometimes spelling aging and injury-prone 3rd baseman Placido Polanco. Jimmy Rollins was re-signed in the off-season, and not only his veteran leadership but also his offensive production will be needed more than ever. The outfield features a pair of all-star caliber talents in Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino, and the clutch bat and dependable catching of fan favorite Carlos Ruiz is always a plus for this team.

But it is on the mound where the Phillies remain the dominant team in the division, and one of the best in baseball. Specifically because of the first three starting pitchers: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels. Every time those three take the mound, the Phillies will be tough to beat. They also have returning Joe Blanton, last year's rookie sensation Vance Worley, and improving righty Kyle Kendrick giving the club enviable depth. In the bullpen, longtime Red Sox all-star closer Jonathan Papelbon was brought in, and he should prove a fan favorite. He is supported by a solid mix of veterans and youth including Jose Contreras, Chad Qualls, Antonio Bastardo, and Michael Stutes.

It will not just be the injuries to Howard and Utley that make repeating tougher on the Phillies. The old Satchel Paige adage of "Don't look back, something may be gaining on you" applies here in the form of improving divisional competition from the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, and the new-name, new-look Miami Marlins. The New York Mets are still around, and appear to be resolving a financial mess that has virtually buried the franchise in the division basement, but they are no threat for now.

The Braves have the deepest young pitching in the game today with talented arms such as Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Craig Kimbrell, Jonny Venters, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran, and more. They have strong veterans in Brian McCann, Michael Bourn, Dan Uggla, Martin Prado, and beginning in May a final season from future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones. The key for Atlanta will be the performance of a pair of young bats: outfielder Jayson Heyward and 1st baseman Freddie Freeman. If these young bats and the young guys on the mound all come together at once, this team could dethrone the Phillies.

Both Washington and Florida have things to like. The Nats have phenom pitcher Stephen Strasburg back and healthy, and he will lead a vastly improved rotation that includes Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Edwin Jackson. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is an all-star and franchise cornerstone, and the club has two of the best hitting prospects in the game in outfielder Bryce Harper and infielder Anthony Rendon getting ready. They desperately need Jayson Werth to be a 25-25 player if they want to contend sooner rather than later. The Marlins move into a new ballpark, embrace the Miami identity, and have some stars in Hanley Ramirez, Giancarlo "don't call me Mike" Stanton, and free agent stud shortstop Jose Reyes. If ace Josh Johnson can stay healthy at the front of the rotation, the Fish should hang around well into the summer.

In the Central Division, the Saint Louis Cardinals won the World Series for an NL-record 11th time, but then lost perhaps the greatest hitter in the modern era when Albert Pujols left via free agency. They also have last year's post-season pitching hero and savior, Chris Carpenter, struggling with injuries in the spring. But the Cards may still be the team to beat here. A lineup featuring Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman, David Freese, and Yadier Molina should remain productive. Adam Wainwright returns from injury to front the rotation. If Carpenter is healthy most of the year, they have the edge, but if not, the door is wide open.

Kicking in that door may be the team that won the division in 2010, the Cincinnati Reds. With a returning lineup that includes MVP-caliber 1st baseman Joey Votto, an emerging all-star in Jay Bruce, and talented 2nd baseman Brandon Phillips, the Reds simply have to prove that they have the pitching talent and depth to return to the top. Or the division could be won by the team that won it a year ago, the Milwaukee Brewers. Despite losing Prince Fielder, the Brewers retain MVP-caliber outfielder Ryan Braun, all-star caliber 2nd baseman Rickie Weeks, and an underrated pitching staff led by Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke in the rotation and by Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford in the pen. The Pirates, Cubs, and Astros are likely to pull up the rear in that order. It will be a basement goodbye for Houston in their final season before slinking off to the American League.

An extremely interesting season may be developing out in the West Division where the returning titlist Arizona Diamondbacks may face a stiff challenge from an improved San Francisco Giants squad. The DBacks won a somewhat surprising division crown a year ago and have an emerging MVP-caliber talent in Justin Upton leading the way in the lineup. Leftfielder Jason Kubel was an excellent pickup, catcher Miguel Montero is a possible all-star, 2nd baseman Aaron Hill appears legit, and young 1st baseman Paul Goldschmidt has serious power. I am just simply not sold on this lineup yet, and need to see more. But manager Kirk Gibson has a solid rotation led by Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, and has super prospect arm Trevor Bauer almost ready in the minors.

I hate picking against the team that joyfully lept into their pool to celebrate the division crown a year ago, but I think the Giants can win it back. When you run out a rotation of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner and return a true MVP-caliber player like Buster Posey to the lineup, you have to be considered a favorite. Add in a strong bullpen led by the bearded one, Brian Wilson, and a solid hitting lineup with Aubrey Huff, Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, and the 'Panda', Pablo Sandoval, I like the Giants chances. The Dodgers, Rockies, and Padres should again finish in that order, but the situation in Los Angeles looks like it is about to change for the better, and possibly quicker than anyone may realize.

The news emerged in the last couple of days that the Dodgers long-running ownership mess has finally been resolved. The new group is led by Stan Kasten on the baseball end, and by Magic Johnson on the publicity and recruiting side, and will take over formally in May. With the full financial backing of their Guggenheim group partners, I would expect the Los Angeles Dodgers to quickly return to contending status, perhaps as soon as this summer. Neither the Diamondbacks or Giants are so good that if LA stays in contention behind Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Dee Gordon, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, and a strong, young bullpen it is not beyond the realm of possibility the new owners could open the pocketbooks to pursue talent via trade to push them past the others.

For now, I'm going to make the call that the division winners will be the Phillies, the Cardinals, and the Giants. The two Wildcard spots will go to the Braves and the Diamondbacks. For most of the summer, and maybe to the wire, someone from among the Marlins, Nationals, Brewers and Dodgers should be right there contending as well. I am going to be the ultimate homer and predict that Howard finally returns, gets into shape by July, and bashes. Utley manages the injury enough to be ready for the stretch run and post-season. Until then the offense is kept afloat by JRoll, Pence, the Flyin' Hawaiian, and Thome. The pitching is stellar, and Hamels is signed to a longterm extension. In the end, the Phillies return to the World Series. Unfortunately, Josh Hamilton bashes them into submission, and Texas takes home their first-ever championship.

Friday, March 30, 2012

MLB 2012: American League

The married man laying on this bar about to have the whipped cream and his body devoured, and his ability to overcome the problems involved on the night pictured, is the key to the entire 2012 American League season

My predictions for the American League a year ago proved to be a bit of a mixed bag. I had the Red Sox, White Sox, and Rangers as division winners, and called the Wildcard race a battle between the Yanks, Angels and Twins. I called the Tigers my "dark horse contender" club. Boston was the best team in baseball for 5 months, but we all know what happened in September. The Chisox never got untracked, beaten to the Central crown by those darkhorse Tigers. Thank you, Texas, for making my western pick the right one. For the Wildcard, I thought the Rays had lost too much talent, only to learn to never count out a club with Joe Maddon at the helm and tons of strong, young pitching.

So let's get to my 2012 predictions in the junior circuit where the two biggest bats available in the off-season, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, moved from the N.L. to the A.L., further widening the gap between the overall offense available in the two leagues. But the fact is that with or without the DH, and no matter how many big bats you have in your lineup, it will almost always be pitching that gets you through a long 6-month season of ups and downs, and through a multi-round playoff format. With all the slugging lineups, I believe the teams in the A.L. who can stay healthiest and most effective on the mound will rise to the top.

The power in the league has generally been in the East Division, with the Yankees and Red Sox usually as the favorites, and with the Rays emerging over the last four years to become regular contenders as well. It should be no surprise that I am picking those three at the top of the division once again. But none of the three is now the best team in the league. The top teams from the other two divisions: Texas and the LA Angels in the west and Detroit in the central, will be even stronger contenders for the American League pennant.

I'm going to believe in one more solid enough season from the Yankees' veterans that the franchise will bring home the eastern crown before they simply get too old. Derek Jeter is now 37-years old, Alex Rodriguez is now 36, while C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson are all 31. Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in the history of the game, is now the same age as his uniform number of 42. It says here that all of these big names will be contributing players, and the real star will be 2nd baseman Robinson Cano, who should emerge as a full-fledged MVP candidate.

Sabathia is certainly not over-the-hill, and given health should again be a Cy Young contender. The Yanks acquired Hiroki Kuroda via free agency, and 23-year old phenom Michael Pineda from the Mariners via trade. They join Phil Hughes and Hector Noesi in a talented rotation, and veteran Freddy Garcia is still around should anyone falter. Rivera will give it one last shot with a tremendous supporting bullpen cast that includes David Robertson and Rafael Soriano. The Yanks appear to have enough to win the division.

Change came in Boston, with Bobby Valentine replacing 2-time World Series-winning manager Terry Francona. The perception was that the Red Sox needed more discipline and toughness after their September collapse. What the club really needs is health, and a little more pitching. But they have enough overall talent in a lineup that includes legit MVP candidates Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia and big time leadership in Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz. The key may be a return to health and production from left fielder Carl Crawford, last season's big free agent signing bust.

On the mound, the Bosox combo of Jon Lester and Josh Beckett is as good as any, and young Clay Buchholz is a major breakout all-star candidate. But what will they get from the rest of the rotation? How will the Daniel Bard experiment work out? No one inside or outside that organization can answer those questions right now. The bullpen is good even without Bard's tremendous setup work. Newly acquired closer Andrew Bailey has Mark Melancon, Alfredo Aceves and more to support him. If Boston gets the right answers on the mound and from the bat of Crawford, they may overtake the Yanks.

So why am I once again picking the Rays to fall short of the two divisional big spenders? Consistent prejudice against their small market, just-win-baby approach, in all likelihood. There is much to like in Tampa, starting with possibly the best manager in the game today in Joe Maddon. The lineup has Evan Longoria, an MVP candidate, at the hot corner, and an emerging all-star caliber outfielder in Desmond Jennings. It will be up to Maddon to mix and match the rest of the lineup that includes versatile players such as Sean Rodriguez, Matt Joyce and Ben Zobrist enough to stay with Boston and New York.

On the mound, the Rays can pitch with anyone in baseball, and they are young. 'Big Game' James Shields had an all-star year last season, and David Price, my Cy Young pick a year ago, is a contender for that award again this time around. They are joined by last year's big rookie, Jeremy Hellickson, and this year's Rookie of the Year contender, Matt Moore in a rotation where Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis, two arms that could start for most any team in the Majors, have a hard time finding a place. Kyle Farnsworth harnessed his potential and stayed healthy, finally becoming a legit closer, and his bullpen mates are deep and talented. If Maddon pushes the right lineup buttons, the Rays are right there again.

The Toronto Blue Jays have some interesting talent with all-star slugger Jose Bautista, future 3rd base star Brett Lawrie, talented catcher J.P. Arencibia, and enigmatic center fielder Colby Rasmus. On the mound they have a pair of strong arms leading the rotation in Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, and they stole closer Sergio Santos from the White Sox. But manager John Farrell's team is simply in the wrong division, and does not have enough depth or talent yet to challenge the first three. The Baltimore Orioles have even more holes, though Matt Wieters may prove to be the best catcher in the game this season, and it looks like another long summer for Buck Showalter and the fans down in Camden Yards.

In the Central Division, manager Jim Leyland guided the Detroit Tigers back to the top led by MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander. While Verlander's season of winning the pitching Triple Crown of Wins, ERA, and Strikeouts was phenomenal, strong supporting work was turned in by Max Scherzer, trade deadline revelation Doug Fister, and 22-year old Rick Porcello. The team remained aggressive after the potentially devastating loss of Victor Martinez, and perhaps even got better, by spending big bucks to bring Prince Fielder home to the Motor City. He and Miguel Cabrera give the Tigers a pair of MVP candidates, two of the most dangerous bats in the game today.

The supporting cast in Detroit is an interesting mix of emerging players such as Alex Avila, Ryan Raburn, and Brennan Boesch and the occasionally frustrating underachieving talents of outfielders Delmon Young and Austin Jackson. The bullpen features one of the top closers in the game today in Jose Valverde, and some of the best late inning matchup guys around in Octavio Dotel, Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke, and young Daniel Schlereth. There does not appear to be another team in this division capable of challenge the Tigers - yet.

The word "yet" was highlighted above because there is one other very interesting team in this division. It has been a quarter of a century since George Brett led the Royals to the franchise' lone World Series title, and they have not been back to the post-season since. But Kansas City has quietly been amassing one of the best young farm systems in the game over the last few years, and those players will be emerging soon. Already here are Eric Hosmer, who will blossom into one of the best hitters in the game, and Mike Moustakas, who should become a legit slugging sensation. When the pitching catches up over the next couple of seasons, the Royals will again emerge as true contenders.

For now, Kansas City will have to be happy to battle for 2nd place behind the Motown behemoths. It says here that they can do it, beating out Cleveland, Minnesota, and the White Sox. Yup, I am predicting Chicago for the division basement just a year after picking them to win it. The Tribe is an interesting club that could make some noise if they can stay healthy and a couple of players overachieve. The Twins and the 'M&M' boys, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, may never return to their division-winning glory years. I think the fans in the Twin Cities should be happy to just get those two players healthy and productive at some point in 2012, and look to the future. Chicago still has some talent, and if it all works out they could finish as high as 2nd. But it rarely all works out.

Out in the Western Division is where the two best teams in the league will battle things out. Between them the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels have won 7 of the last 8 division titles, and that dominance will continue before the entire division gets some new company in 2013. Next year, the Houston Astros will move from the N.L. Central into the A.L. West, making it a 5-team division for the first time ever, and evening out the overall number of teams in each league. But this is 2012, and I am going to pick the Rangers to hang on, barely, for their 3rd straight division title.

The key for Texas will be Josh Hamilton and a pair of new members to the starting rotation. Hamilton had a relapse with substance abuse issues, this time apparently alcohol-related, back in the off-season. His drunken January night of debauchery, pictured above, is something especially troubling considering his past drug and alcohol problems and the fact that his faith and his relationship with his wife were major factors in his overcoming those issues and staying clean the last few seasons. They allowed him to finally emerge from the pit of despair to the heights of the game, and of life.

Hamilton is, in my opinion, the single biggest key player in the entire league. He must be 100% healthy, clean, and focused in what is his free agent season. If he is, the Rangers will be the beneficiaries of a big salary-drive season for the MVP-caliber talent. With a lineup that also includes stalwarts Nelson Cruz, Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, David Murphy, Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre, not even the Angels can swing bats like the Rangers. In fact, no other team in baseball can.

Of course, as I mentioned at the top of this article, division titles are usually won with arms, and Texas has those as well. Mentored by a new attitude instilled by legendary team owner Nolan Ryan, the Rangers got strong efforts last year from Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, and Alexi Ogando. Now added to that group they have converted closer Neftali Feliz and star Japanese import Yu Darvish. Both Feliz and Darvish have top-of-the-rotation stuff. How quickly Feliz adopts to his new role, and Darvish to his new country, may tell the tale of the division as much as Hamilton's head and body. Another key will be how newly signed closer Joe Nathan holds up. They need him to be healthy as well.

The Angels went out and scored the biggest free agent coup this off-season, possibly the biggest in the history of the sport, when they lured all-time great 1st baseman Albert Pujols away from world champion Saint Louis. Pujols joins an offense that includes veteran outfielders Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells, emerging star Howie Kendrick, and returning DH Kendry Morales, who looks fully recovered from a horrible leg injury that kept him out all last season. Add in young centerfielder Peter Bourjos and a new catcher in Chris Iannetta, and the lineup is so strong that it cannot find a place for one of the game's best prospects in outfielder Mike Trout. A key may be exactly what this club can get out of the left side of it's infield, shortstop Erick Aybar and the 3rd base combo of Mark Trumbo and Alberto Callaspo.

On the mound, Los Angeles may have the deepest starting four rotation in the game with Cy Young contenders Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, and C.J. Wilson in front of Ervin Santana. Youngsters Jerome Williams and Garrett Richards have talent and battle for the #5 slot. The bullpen features a kid closer in Jordan Walden, but it says here that this may be an Achilles heel. The Angels owner Artie Moreno has deep pockets and a strong desire to win, so he may open the pocketbook if need be to improve the depth here as the season goes along.

The Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics just cannot match up over the long haul with the two front-running big spenders. The Mariners will be trying to get another strong season from future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki, will enjoy the days when ace Felix Hernandez takes the hill as a Cy Young contender, and will thrill to a pair of legitimate young hitters in Jesus Montero and Dustin Ackley. It should be enough to finish ahead of the A's, who dismantled in hopes of moving and contending again in a few years. Oakland did sign Cuban athletic internet phenom Yoenis Cespedes, but was it to build around him or to trade him at mid-season?

So the call here for 2012 is for the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, and Texas Rangers to win their respective divisions, with the Tigers doing it fairly easily. There are now a pair of Wildcard berths up for grabs, and they should go to someone from among the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels, or Tampa Bay Rays. I see no other team in the league capable of reaching the post-season. If anyone except these 6 clubs reaches the post-season, it will be an amazing feat to me. But that is why they play the games. Doesn't some club seem to contend from out of nowhere every year? If there is such a club this time around, it could be those Toronto Blue Jays.

I will go with Robinson Cano as the American League Most Valuable Player, and will pick Justin Verlander to take home his 2nd straight A.L. Cy Young Award. For the Rookie of the Year, all the experts are going with impressive lefty Matt Moore of the Rays. I should too, but I won't. I watched Cespedes double and homer in his first two games. I'll drink the YouTube fed Kool Aid, and go with Yoenis Cespedes of the A's as the top newcomer. The best manager in the A.L. is Maddon, and if somehow the Rays make the post-season, I will call him the Manager of the Year. At the end, I'll call it the Tigers and the Rangers battling for the A.L. pennant, and send Texas back for a 3rd straight trip to the Fall Classic, where they finally give their fans the franchise' first title.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Andy Reid Era

Another NFL season has now finally come to an end with my hometown Philadelphia Eagles failing to win the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. That's 0-46 if you're counting at home.

To listen to some fans around these parts, you would think that Andy Reid has been the head coach for all of them, that he is to blame for the team never having won the Big One.

Let's get a little perspective.

The Philadelphia Eagles regular season record in the 'Andy Reid Era' is now 126-81-1. He has guided the team to 9 playoff appearances in 13 seasons, with an overall 10-9 record in the post-season. He has guided the Eagles to 7 NFC East titles, and 9 times under his watch the Eagles have been ranked either #1 or #2 in the NFC at season's end. He led the team to the 2004 NFC Championship, it's lone Super Bowl appearance during his tenure.

I began watching the Eagles around 1971-72 when Veteran's Stadium opened with Eddie Khayat at the helm. Watched through the regimes of Mike McCormack, Dick Vermiel, Marion Campbell, Buddy Ryan, Rich Kotite, and Ray Rhodes.

During that time: 204-216-6, 10 playoff appearances, 1 Super Bowl appearance over 28 seasons.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

It's Hard to Dance With a Devil On Your Back

Florence Welch awoke one morning after a particularly long, hard night of partying and drinking way too much. This particular morning-after found her body exhausted, her mind a scramble, and her soul depressed.

She wasn't particularly happy about what she could remember about that previous night. At the time she thought she was having a good time, but she didn't think about the consequences.

That is always going to be a problem, not realizing the fullness of the price that you are going to have to pay for the mistakes that you are willfully making right now in your life.

Florence Welch is a singer and a songwriter, and so the outlet that she chose to help her express and overcome her feelings that morning was to pen a song called "Shake It Out", one that she had her band, 'Florence and the Machine', set to music and video.

The bible tells us that Satan was an angel in God's heavenly army. The single most beautiful and magnificent angel, he was known as Lucifer, the angel of light. There was something about him that stood out, and it was noticed by other angels as well. His ego grew so large that he eventually believed that he could take God's place, and so he rebelled against God.

Of course, he could not win, but you could not tell him that. In the end he was banished from heaven for eternity, along with a third of the angels. They had chosen to follow Satan in his folly.

Cast down to earth, they looked about at God's creation knowing how important this world was to the Almighty. In particular, Satan saw the man and woman who were particularly beloved by God.

Adam and Eve had been created in God's own image, and they dwelt in a garden paradise without a care. They had no idea of the danger that was now approaching. They didn't even know of the concept of danger or fear. How could they possibly have been prepared for the devil?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Baseball America's Prospect Handbook

Today in my mailbox the yellow package arrived from the folks at Baseball America. Contained inside was their annual Prospect Handbook product, the Bible for following baseball prospects.

Published annually, the Prospect Handbook contains the Top 30 prospects for each organization in Major League Baseball as evaluated by the staff of Baseball America.

The book contains a full page spread on the #1 prospect in each organization, shows a thumbnail photo of each of the top 10 prospects, with a bio and brief scouting report on every one of the 30 listed.

A new feature with the 2012 edition is the inclusion of both a scouting numerical "grade" and a "risk factor" for each evaluated prospect.

The scouting grade will reflect the state of the player's current physical skills. The risk factor will show whether that player is more likely at this stage of his career to maximize those skills and to reach his potential.

The scouting grade is based on the traditional baseball 20-80 'OFP' (Overall Future Potential) formula in which players are rated on their power, hitting ability, arm, base running/speed, and fielding ability.

The highest ranked players, those in the 75-80 range of the scale, are impact talents that can change the face of an organization. Most prospects will fall into the 50-55 range. You will rarely see players at a 30-35 or lower level make it into the book.

The risk factor was developed by the folks at Baseball America, and includes ratings of "Safe", "Low", "Medium", "High" and "Extreme" that will reflect their opinion as to how likely it is that a player with a certain skill set is to maximize his potential and translate those skills to the big league level.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Rallying 'Round Romney

I've been a fan of Newt Gingrich for a long time. At the same time that Gingrich was leading the Republicans to victory in the 1994 congressional elections with his "Contract With America", I was making my own shift from lifelong liberal Democrat to social conservative Republican.

Gingrich is a brilliant man, a superb debater, and perhaps the single most informed individual in the entire Party on the entire range of issues.

His performances in the early candidate debates were outstanding. So it was with hope that I began to support his candidacy for the Presidency last year, and with excitement that I watched him bolt to the polling lead a month or so ago.

But as the weeks pass, the first states begin to cast their primary and caucus ballots, and the candidates are exposed to one another in more focused debates and to the press and public at campaign stops that now matter more than ever, Mitt Romney has taken a commanding lead.

The former Massachusetts Governor became the first Republican in modern primary history to capture both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.

Romney's doubleheader sweep in the Heartland and in New England show that he has a wide range of appeal. That has always been one of Mitt Romney's strengths.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Low Times for Catholic Highs

(Originally published here on 10.10.09)

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced the other day that two of its long time iconic high schools, North Catholic and Cardinal Dougherty, would be closing at the end of the current school year.

The reaction from students and their families at the two schools, which were each once the largest Catholic high schools for boys by attendance in the world, as well as from alumni of the two schools, came swift and strong.

Many of the students had dreamed of graduating from North and Dougherty, some of these students as 'legacies' who were the sons and grandsons of alumni. The loss of the schools would break family traditions going back for generations. There would also be issues for the students such as new travel arrangements to new schools and trying to fit in socially in a new environment.

For alumni the issues included the loss of tradition and a perceived elimination of a large slice of their own teenage memories. These former students and graduates had walked the 'hallowed halls' at North and Dougherty, competed for the sports teams, participated in the clubs, attended the religious services, and got their groove on at the dances and proms.

When North Catholic opened in 1926 it enrolled approximately 450 students. By the post-World War II years the school enrollment had swelled to more than 4,000 young men. By 1953 the enrollment was over 4,700 students, and North Catholic was recognized as the largest Catholic high school for boys in the entire world. It was all downhill from there as far as attendance figures.

By the late-1970's with the school celebrating its 50th anniversary, total attendance fell to about 2,700 students, and then dropped below the 2,000 mark by the early 1980's. Though there are now approximately 40,000 alumni of North Catholic high school, the actual 2008 attendance had plummeted to 750 total students.