The Thursday 13: Celebrating Winter with Glavine and MLB Predictions
The Thursday 13—a rundown of the sports' headlines that moved one writer's needle this week in the world of sports.
1) It may be the week of the Winter Olympics and Valentine's Day, but what's more fun than talking baseball when it's frosty out? Especially when the fifth best pitcher of his generation announces his retirement from the game?
Tom Glavine accepted a position in the Braves front office today, ending his brilliant major league career. Glavine will join Randy Johnson in the hall of fame in five years as first ballot selections, one year after Galvine's long-time teammate Greg Maddux breezes in on his first try.
With Roger Clemens calling it quits after the 2007 season (and promptly going off the reservation), four of the top five pitchers of the last 20 years have called it quits. Only Pedro Martinez still clings to vain hopes of renewed glory.
Glavine will likely be remembered as the second member of the vaunted Braves rotation that led Atlanta to 13 straight division titles in the '90s and '00s, behind Maddux and in front of John Smoltz and, for a time, Steve Avery.
While I won't argue that Glavine was equal to Maddux, I will remind the unfortunate souls that come across this column that Glavine was as big a winner as Maddux ever was, tallying five 20-win seasons and taking 305 career decisions into retirement. Maddux only won 20 games once, as insanely talented as he was.
2) As long as we're talking baseball, now is as good a time as ever for some early predictions . I'll probably want to update these on the eve of the regular season, but with most of the player movements accounted for, I think I have a pretty good idea of which teams look like contenders.
The American League looks like business as usual, as far as I can see. The Yankees and Red Sox will both make the postseason, joined by Minnesota (quietly assembling one of the greatest lineups in baseball) and Los Angeles by way of Anaheim. As much hype as Seattle made by adding Cliff Lee to Felix Hernandez, I think the rest of the rotation and most of the batting order is still inferior to what the Angels have.
The senior circuit is a little bit more open this season, at least outside of the East, where Philly will defend their division crown easily. I have the Brewers taking the Central based on more health and luck than they had last season, and I have L.A. and Colorado making the playoffs in some order. The West and Central look to be very tight, though.
3) I've even been getting fantasy baseball invites in recent weeks. Not only is it way too early to be thinking about fantasy baseball, but I've sort of been looking to get out of the fantasy game for the past few seasons. I haven't enjoyed an NFL game in years, and fantasy baseball really interferes with my rooting interests sometimes. I can't say no to people though.
My brother thinks he's found a reasonable way to excuse himself from fantasy sports, though. He names all of his teams the Otara Millionaires, after the hilariously inept '90s band OMC (Otara Millionaires Club). Well, the frontman of the group, Pauly Fuemana, died a couple of weeks ago and now my brother is bowing out of all fantasy leagues "out of respect."
Now if only Chris Baron of the Spin Doctors would just go ahead and die I could finally get out of this nasty fantasy business.
4) Might as well give you my take on the Super Bowl , as long as it's still a hot news item.
I watched the big game with about a dozen people, most of whom were rooting for the Saints for various reasons, and after all was said and done and New Orleans was victorious, nobody in the room had a smile on their face or anything at all to say about the game. Simply put, it was dull. Maybe if Peyton Manning hadn't thrown that pick-six, the game might have been close and interesting. As it played out, we have a dull first half, followed by an uncompetitive second half, and the whole thing was pretty weak.
5) Manning's legacy has been questioned a lot this week. The Colts lost, partially because of uncharacteristic mistakes by Manning, and he failed to collect ring number two.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote that Peyton was safely among the game's all-time performers, no matter what happened in Super Bowl EXELIVEE, and I stand by that. He's still got one ring, all the numbers in the world, a reputation for unparalleled preparation and intellect, and plenty of chances left. Getting to the Super Bowl means winning playoff games, and I don't think anyone should ever be slighted for only winning some playoff games.
In fact, I think the worst thing that happened to Manning was Drew Brees joining the list of elite quarterbacks. You have to include him now that he adds a title to some prodigious numbers. As the elite QB club becomes less exclusive, its members look less special. Now the list is Brady, Manning, Brees, and most would include Roethlisberger.
6) The Super Bowl Ratings were the greatest of all time, as expected, and with the Pro Bowl scoring higher than it has in a long time, the NFL is looking better than ever. Too bad both games bored me to tears.
7) College football appears to be gearing up for another conference realignment period. Rumors are flying about the PAC-10, Big XII, and the Big Ten was already making noise about expansion last month.
If the PAC-10 is genuinely thinking of expanding, here are a few ideas:
Boise State. This would be an obvious candidate. It works geographically and nobody is hotter these days than the Broncos. There may still be some concern about the size of the program and its fanbase, but it's growing all the time.
Utah. The Utes have been right up there with Boise as far as on-the-field success is measured, and they boast a bigger fanbase and better non-football sports. But as long as you're moving into Utah, why not take BYU.
BYU. The big money program of the Mountain West. On the field success, traveling fanbase, money, big stadium, history—the Cougars have it all. But there has been some question about the PAC-10 accepting a particularly religious institution into its little club. I would hope that kind of discrimination wouldn't affect negotiations, but you never know.
There's been some talk about Colorado, but I think that's a terrible idea. Not only is the program in a bad way right now, it doesn't make sense geographically. You might as well take Hawaii if you're going to take Colorado. At least they've been to a big bowl game recently.
8) There's another kind of expansion in the news, this time in basketball. Reports over the last few months are that the NCAA is genuinely considering an expansion from 65 to 96 teams in the big dance. Why?
Well, more games means more money for everyone concerned. Coaches would love it because 31 more coaches could boast about tourney appearances every year. Mid-majors would be promised a greater number of entries, but I'm willing to bet the ratio would still be pretty much the same, with power conference schools getting most of the extra bids.
Anybody want to see all 16 Big East schools in the tourny? Please God, don't make me listen to Dick Vitale whine about who really should have been the 95th and 96th entries in the field. Joe Lunardi's bracketology would be longer than most Russian novels.
9) With Ed O'Bannon's federal lawsuit going forward, the NCAA has no choice but to rethink the way it merchandises college athletics.
O'Bannon's suit challenges the NCAA's right to make money off the accomplishments and likenesses of former college athletes, such as in video games, television highlights, jersey sales, etc.
Almost immediately the NCAA released word that they're reconsidering their NCAA Basketball agreement with video game-maker EA Sports. Wow, way to go after the franchise that nobody actually cares about instead of the football game that sells like crazy. This is like USC punishing its own basketball team with hopes that their football team will be spared. It's actually almost exactly like that.
I have no idea to what extent former college athletes should be compensated, but that's such a weak move for the NCAA to make, and I hope this lawsuit goes all the way up the ladder as a result.
10) It looks like Danica Patrick is going to race in the Nationwide event at Daytona this weekend. Good for her, but somebody tell me when she's actually in the big leagues.
So if the Daytona 500 is like the Super Bowl of NASCAR, the Nationwide event is like the Arena Bowl of NASCAR...right? I mean, it certainly isn't as big as the BCS Championship. Maybe it's the Grey Cup of NASCAR...
11) Super Bowl weekend is fine and everything, but is the weekend after actually a better sports weekend?
No. Here's why.
Despite the beginning of the Winter Olympics, Daytona 500, NBA All-Star Weekend, and a full slate of college hoops, there's also Valentine's Day. I don't know many girls who think sitting in front of the flat screen and flipping between major sporting events is a particularly romantic Valentine's Day experience. My fiancee certainly doesn't.
If you have a girl, you'll have to settle for checking ESPN.com the next morning, thus killing this weekend as a sports phenomenon.
12) It's just as well that I miss the first weekend of the Olympics. It seems as though the only winter athlete whose name I can remember, Lindsey Vonn , may have to sit out some events with a badly bruised shin. She managed a practice run today, so she'll at least try to give it a go, but her status is still unclear.
We can all be glad that her shin didn't keep her out of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit spread. That really would have been a blow to our patriotic spirit.
13) This weekend may be big, sports wise, but it's been a slow week. I can only think to close this with a respectful "bon voyage" to the Washington Capitals 14-game winning streak . In a game with as much parity as hockey, this was a huge deal.
Alex Ovechkin and company look like the real deal this year, but now it's time to transition to Olympic Hockey.
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