For the fan in enemy territory

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sympathy for LeBron James

The past few seasons in the NBA have been dominated by one athlete, LeBron James. While Kobe Bryant's Lakers and Kevin Garnett's Celtics have won championships, the league still keeps James as the water cooler topic.

He is the one player in the NBA with the biggest potential and upside. He is coming into his own and will soon be coming into a fortune that will make most athletes look poor. On July 1st, 2010, the NBA biggest player becomes their biggest free agent.

No one will have as much pressure as James on what team to sign with. Already, since his Cleveland Cavaliers have been eliminated from the playoffs just a few weeks ago, he has had many people weigh in on his final destination.

This list of prognosticators includes Barry Cofield and Osi Umenyiora of the New York Giants, Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks, Steve Kerr of the Phoenix Suns and President Obama. Also, every New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets, Cavaliers fan and just about every NBA fan as well, has an opinion.

It is a never seen before media circus over a free agency that starts in less than 40 days. No free agent has ever had this much hype and debate. I, for one feel for him. He has all of his teammates and long time fans, most of which cheered for him as a teenager, begging for him to stay where he is. He also has celebrity friends asking him to come to New Jersey.

He has fellow athletes asking him to consider New York. The leader of the free world, weighs in and requests James to go to his home town Chicago Bulls (as is they didn't have enough championships). He has owners and coaches in his league putting in their two cents on the matter.

He is the ultimate tug of war rope. He must be so torn right now. The entire world is at his feet. He has endorsements, sponsorships, legions of fans and mounds of money, but a decision confronting him that few could make. We all say 'I'd love to have to make that decision....', but the truth is that we really wouldn't want to when you consider everyone's feelings involved.

Someone will look at him as a traitor or selfish. In fact, only a certain number of people, who will be in the minority, will be happy with his choice. Therefore, he is in a lose-lose situation. He picks New York, he loses fans, he picks New Jersey, he loses fans, Cleveland, he loses fans.

Anyway you look at it, he will be a bad guy to someone soon. Unfortunately, he can't make everyone happy. He needs to take his time and weigh every option very carefully. If not, he will be trapped in a bad contract with a team that can't afford to rebuild around him due to his long and massive contract.

New York offers the spotlight like no one else can, along with the media scrutiny. They also may be able to afford him and another big free agent to play with him. New Jersey may in a few years be able to say this as well, after their move to Brooklyn.

Until then, he will be responsible for rebuilding and choosing a team around him to command. That's enticing, but he is only so young. He is now getting into his prime and I'm sure he will not want to waste a few years in rebuilding mode after tasting the NBA finals last year.

The Cavaliers offer him his home, as they have for years now. They represent what he knows and is comfortable with. The problem they may have, that I can see, is that after they spend most of their money on LeBron James, they will have little left to spend on players to go around him.

Unless he does a trade and sign to incorporate other teams, these three so far appear to be his main options. As the next 40 days pass by and we find out more, it will grow even more intriguing for the fans and media. Unfortunately, it will not be for LeBron James.

The 25 greatest New York Giants players Part 1/7 - History and Introduction

The New York Giants have had a rich and glorious history in the National Football League. The Giants are one of the oldest teams in the league, having been one of the original teams in the newly formed NFL.

The American Professional Football Association (APFA) was the first version of the league formed to play professional football. When the APFA changed to the NFL just two years later (1925), they added the Giants as one of the expanded franchises. The Cardinals and Bears are the only two remaining clubs from that original group.

The Giants have won 23 division titles, 4 NFC titles, 7 championships, including 3 in the super bowl era. They also can claim 27 Hall of Fame players with whom they have had some affiliation.

The team has 11 retired numbers, 5 league MVP's, 3 Super Bowl MVP's and countless Pro Bowl appearances by players dawning Giants blue. The only team that can boast as much in every category is the Chicago Bears due to the same reasons as the Giants, age of franchise.

There have been thousands of players that have contributed to the teams 646 franchise wins. So if I were to think that anyone could ever compose a list of the greatest players ever, that is indisputable and complete, would be irresponsible.

With so many contributors and contributions in a history as long and as full as the Giants have had, there would only be two ways to attempt it. One, by a category, or two, by a perception. I will choose the second route.

When I talk about perception, I mean it in one way: if you think of a particular player, do you think of the Giants? I will also consider how these players have not only been perceived in sport, but also how they have prolonged the legacy or reputation that is New York Giants football.

Before I get into my list, allow me to cheat a little. Because there are so many potential players for this list, I will first offer a short list of those who deserve honorable mention. In other words, those who belong on the list, but because of one reason or another, are not there. That list is comprised of 10 athletes.

I chose athletes only and not coaches or owners, for one reason. There are simply too many people involved if I were to add those roles to the lists. The names that come to mind are Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry. Bill Parcells and Bill Belicick. The Mara family and all the general managers would then be subject to this listing.

Who could put Vince Lombardi on a list? Wellington Mara? I can't. It has to be players. When a person thinks of a sports team, they almost always immediately think of a player. That is the concept behind this series.

It will be broken into seven parts. Part one, has been a brief, but important glimpse into the history of the franchise. Part two, will name those 10 players of the honorable mentioned list. Finally, parts three through seven will break down the list five players at a time.

For a team that has had so many wonderful characters and moments to hold dear and treasure, the New York Giants deserve to have a list done right. From their inception, they have thrilled fans and continue to do so. It doesn't matter how old you are or how long you've been a fan, the Giants have offered you a moment to remember.

Whether it be the sneaker game in 1934 or the road warriors playoff run of 2007, they have warmed our hearts and our memories with triumph. This is just a small way of thanking them, though I could not truly do them justice. In the next part of this series, I will examine 10 players that are worthy of note in franchise history. I hope you will join me.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Subway Series has lost its' luster

This weekend, the New York area will once again be enthralled with a yearly spectacle. That spectacle is the Subway Series. That is the name given to the series of games between the now defending champion New York Yankees and the lovable amazin's, the New York Mets.

This modern day version of the series first started in 1997. The first two years were just a three game series per season. After that, the 1999 season saw the birth of what we now know as the yearly proceedings, a pair of three game series with each team hosting it once.

From its' beginnings in '97, the Yankees have won 42 out of 72 games. The Mets have only won the majority of games in the season series twice (2004, 2008) in the thirteen seasons it has been played. The Yankees have swept the season series once (2003) and five of the six games once (last season) as well.

Every other season not mentioned, has resulted in the Yankees dominating the majority of the season series four games out of six. The Yankees have, for the most part, been the dominant team in the rivalry and the Mets have usually shown themselves inferior.

The rivalry reached its' pinnacle in the 2000 World Series where the Yankees won another title. One moment in the rivalry was the Roger Clemens bat throwing incident. Clemens threw a broken shard of a baseball bat at the Mets star, Mike Piazza. The benches erupted in shoving and pushing.

In usual Mets fashion, they did not respond well to it and essentially allowed it to be a distraction to them. The Mets have rarely ever proven themselves of being capable of holding their own against the Yankees and this year has proven to be no different. The Mets have struggled mightily and the Yankees have soared.

These teams are polar opposites of one another and it may be an embarrassing series for the Mets. It may also be a series that causes shakeups for the Mets. The series has not been interesting for several years and it seems to be one lost series after another for the Mets.

The Yankees seem to circle this series every year as the games that they can take off and still coast to victory. After all, the Mets will usually find a way to beat themselves (see Luis Castillo-massive 2009 errors). As lopsided as these games have become, it seems that the interest in them is just as lopsided.

To the Yankees fan, it is a series of confidence and assurance. To the Mets fan, this series is six games that they sit on the edge of their seats and cover their eyes. Yankees fans embrace it, while Mets fans would rather see other divisional teams play the Yankees more than once a year.

Many Mets fans claim it to be unfair that they must play each other six times, while other divisional team get easier interleague rivalries. The Phillies get the Blue Jays, while the Nationals get the Orioles. The Mets get the Yankees. It is unfair. It is also not as even of a schedule as Major League Baseball would like to admit.

The Mets are not ready for this series and will not do well in it. After this weekend is over, the Yankees will continue to be the toast of the city and the Mets will still be the Mets. One is the team you love to hate and the other is the team you hate to love. Take your pick, either way, it is the only time during the season where you're guaranteed that New York will win.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Will the Mets leader please stand up? Part 3

In the last part of the series on leadership in the New York Mets club house, we will look at several player options. Those options include Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, Jeff Francoeur, Rod Barajas, Ike Davis and Jose Reyes. We have reviewed Johan Santana, David Wright and Francisco Rodriguez.

Now, moving on, let's further examine the rest of that list, starting with Carlos Beltran. Beltran was brought in to be the playoff-tested veteran. He was supposed to bring experience and leadership to a young core to push them over the top. He has brought the experience, but he never has brought that leadership the team sought.

Too often, his mouth has written checks that his abilities couldn't cash. That has gotten his reputation into poor standing in both the league and the club house. Then, his health became an overwhelming issue. It still is. A leader, as previously stated, must be both on the field and produce.

He has not been both at the same time for a few years. The franchise is still desperately holding on to hope that he will magically heal and become the leader they envisioned him to be. He is only getting older and slower. It most likely will not happen.

Another player recently brought in for such a role, was Jason Bay. Bay is far too quiet for this role and far too new to the team and city to take on such a position. He is still relearning the National League and his own ballpark.

He has yet to truly produce in New York and so he had his own struggles to be concerned with before he can convince anyone that he can help them with their struggles. Even if he didn't have these productivity issues, he is not the fiery type that is needed to be the unquestioned leader.

The next one is fiery however. Jeff Francoeur is the epitome of fire and passion. He is the man a teammate wants in the trenches along side of them. But he is also, too emotional and too passionate to be the sole leader.

He can help be an enforcer, but not the main leader. He as the emotion and the mouth to be a leader, but he often loses his grip on that emotion. A leader must have control of himself before he can take control of a team.

Rod Barajas has been well underrated and unnoticed in the offseason hoopla that surrounded the Mets' need for a catcher. In the talk of the team signing every available player over 35 to fit the mold and the pursuit of Benjie Molina, Barajas was lost in the shuffle. He was signed as a last desperation move.

It was a stroke of luck on the part of Mets GM Omar Minaya. Skill had nothing to do with this acquisition. Minaya was simply desperate after he was embarrassed that Molina shunned him publicly by taking a hometown discount in San Francisco.

This lucky move has paid dividends already for the Mets. Barajas has had multiple big hits and moments of productivity. He has performed well above expectation, but while he is the present, he is not the future. That distinction goes to Josh Thole.

Thole is widely regarded as the next great hitting catcher and is expected to take that role for many years to come. Barajas, though productive, is just a bridge to the future. Therefore, he can not be a long-term leader. Thole will need a few years to grow into the role, if he develops the brashness and the production, he could fit the bill. Time will tell, but for now he needs seasoning.

We continue, to Ike Davis. Davis has been the young gun. The player that everyone adores. He is the real deal. So much in fact, that he pushed the opening day first baseman to the bench or the minors. The first baseman I speak of is last year's golden boy, Daniel Murphy.

Davis is so good, that Murphy conceded and admitted that Davis belongs as the starter. Davis has shown the heart and hustle as the newest face of the franchise and has captured the collective hearts of the fans.

The problem with Davis, however, is that he lacks the experience to be the leader at this time. He may be able to in the future, but for now, he must show that he can respond to the adjustments that the rest of the league will inevitably make against him. He is a welcomed addition to both the lineup and the club house, but as of now, not a leader.

Finally, we come to Jose Reyes. Reyes is a very important component to the Mets franchise. I have him last on this list for a purpose. He is one of the first names that come to mind when thinking of a leader for the team, however, he is the greatest example of the biggest problem with this team. Identity.

Leadership is only forged after identity is established. When a player has an identity, they have confidence and confidence brings leadership. Reyes has had a headline filled off season that continued into the first few weeks of the regular season as well. He has yet to truly find his role on the team.

Is he a leadoff hitter or a number three hitter? This is an important question to ask. Essentially it is a question of whether or not he is the table setter or the meat of the lineup? Is he better to the team at starting rallies or continuing them?

We all know what Reyes is capable of doing on the field. The problem is that Mets manager Jerry Manuel knows this too and is still undecided on how to properly utilize him after almost a year of having him as a weapon at his disposal.

That indecision has hurt Reyes and his production. Therefore, it has hurt his role on the team. If a player is not only undecided on his role to the team, but is uncomfortable as well, it is impossible to expect him to lead. How can he lead with so many other issues? Reyes cannot lead until he is settled and comfortable with one role, whatever that role may be.

So, therefore, he can't be the leader because Manuel is holding him back from being it. He certainly has the ego, the energy experience and the mouth to be the leader. But until he is assigned a role and is allowed to stay in it to allow himself to get comfortable, he cannot be a leader. He will just be a follower.

Here lies the essential problem with the Mets. They have too many potential chiefs but no one capable or willing to stand out to lead the tribe. All of them are followers that aspire to lead to an extent. That's not leadership, that's called aspirations.

No team has ever won based on aspirations. Teams need bonafied leaders in the trenches with them. Then the rest will follow suit and fall in line. That is what history has proven. Going back to my very first example of leadership, George Washington.

Washington, like so many others, took control of the confused and directionless troops around him. Only when there was unity and true leadership on the field of battle, did victory emerge as a byproduct.

It was only under true leadership that this group of colonies prospered into a nation. It will only be due to unity from true leadership that this slightly above average team of followers that we call the New York Mets will prosper into a contender and a champion.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Will the Mets leader please stand up? Part 2

In the second part of our look at the deeper issue facing the Mets, leadership, we will look at the potential leaders on the current roster. As previously mentioned, neither the Carlos Delgado's or Pedro Martinez's of the organization in the past few years has been a true leader or have been able to get others to follow for one reason or another.

However, there are a few players on the current roster who will need to try in order to right this sinking ship that we call the New York Mets. Those players are Johan Santana, David Wright, Francisco Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, Jeff Francoeur, Rod Barajas, Ike Davis and Jose Reyes. None of these players are the current leader of this team. They have all led in a particular moment or game, but not for any stretch of time longer than that.

First is Johan Santana. Let me say this before getting into Johan, personally, I like Santana. With that said, he was brought in to put the team over the hump and to carry them on his back at times. He is the supposed to be the team ace. The unwritten definition of an ace is two-fold. They are supposed to bring a reputation and an attitude with them.

They are supposed to stop losing streaks and start winning streaks. They are supposed to be relied on for consistency and dominance, whether at home or in hostile road environments. In the few years that Santana has been here, he has seldom done any of this.

He hasn't lived up to the reputation or the contract of an ace. Injuries have been the frequent excuse, and with good reason. But there comes a point in time when a team must recognize the contributions, or lack thereof, from it's key contributors.

He has one of the lowest run support averages over the last few seasons. That is certainly a factor, but an ace is expected to have a handful of bad outings where his team will have to score several runs as opposed to just a few. The problem in his case, is that too often, he has forced the offense to score more than a few.

That pressure on an inconsistent offense is suicide for a team's success. His boasting and selfish mentality has alienated him to a degree as of late. His lack of production and consistency has dug the hole even deeper. Sooner or later, the impatient fan base that worships and defends his every action, will grow tired of defending stat lines like he posted up in Philadelphia.

They will turn on him if he continues at that pace. He needs to get himself together before he can try to get his team together. I can only speculate that there has been an issue with him so far this season overall. Whether that issue is physical or mechanical, he did right it in his last outing, but his overall consistency has not been there for a team that desperately needs it.

He has not been the pitcher that Mets GM Omar Minaya envisioned him to be when Minaya traded for him from Minnesota. When he makes claims, such as he is the "best pitcher in the NL East", in response to the rival Phillies trading for league ace Roy Halladay, then pitches the way he has, it makes him and the team look foolish. If he were to truly be a leader, he must stop talking until his consistency can back up his boasts.

Next on my list, is David Wright. Personally, I like him too and think he is the best candidate for the role, however, there are issues. He does not routinely show emotion or speak out enough to be the leader of this team. There are three things that are true about him.

First, he shows up everyday and works his tail off to be successful and to maintain success. That example is more than enough to speak volumes for him. But it is not enough to speak loudly enough to gain the collective attentions of those in the locker room to respond to his direction. Some may follow his example, but not his lead.

Second, he always confronts the media and is the face of the franchise. Through good or bad games, he is the last to leave because he is facing the media storm that is New York. He addresses them with grace and character, but again, that example is not enough to be a leader.

Third, he hows little emotion. The other day, he argued with the home plate umpire, and it seemed out of his character due to the rarity of his outbursts. If he showed a little more emotion and addressed members of the team that are at fault a little more, he would be the leader. As it stands, he is not.

Perhaps, this maturity that he is showing as not just the face of the franchise, but the source of its fire as well, will be enough to catapult him into that role. Emotion can be good if not overused. It is a thin rope to balance. Should he learn to do so, he will be the Mets leader for the next decade.

The rest of the names on my list are interesting, but not probable, with one exception. Jose Reyes. I will get into him last, for now, let's move down the list. Next, is K-Rod, Francisco Rodriguez. K-Rod is the closer. No team has ever had a closer as its' leader. From Trevor Hoffman and John Franco to Lee Smith and Dennis Eckersly, other players have filled that void for one good reason.

A closer's role is too infrequent. They can be leaders in a core group of players, but not the essential figure. They just aren't on the field enough. K-Rod has the heart and the mouth but not the man hours required to truly take the attention of the clubhouse.

In the final part of this article series, I will examine the rest of the list that includes such names as Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, Ike Davis and Jose Reyes among others. As we continue to look for a leader for this ragtag group of misfits that we root for and gladly call, the Metropolitans.