Sunday, July 29, 2007

Chubby and Chummy

Waking up for work is one of the least favorite parts of most people’s day, right next to traveling to work, and working. Radio serves as the refuge for many to survive the anguish. For all the hoopla about Imus’ April departure leaving WFAN without a viable morning option, I respectively disagree and feel quite the contrary, the I-Man’s departure was a blessing in disguise. In recent years, as his already immense arrogance grew to unchartered heights, or lows, the Imus Morning Show turned more into a grouchy old man bickering about the world, and acting as a forum for select politicians and political activists. Imus, already disliked by many, become that old grandfather figure that nobody liked, with a personality, and mentality, better suited for the Midwest or South, on a non-sports station.

The past few months WFAN trotted in everything but the kitchen sink to buy time, while searching for a replacement, or some believe, waiting for CBS to relent and bring Imus back. While Mike and the Mad Dog are the golden carafe of sports talk, they lost some edge when trying to take on political and non-sports current event topics. It is simply not their forte. The past two weeks Chris Carlin showed how a talk show could entertain, remain sports centric, while still finding time to make light of Hollywood news and tackle political issues, appealing to a multitude of listeners.

I highly doubt the FAN dubs Carlin the new morning man, in fact, sources report Boomer Esiason is on the verge of inking a contract to take the helm, but Carlin clearly has a future in this realm. Carlin’s personality really shines through, which is both good and bad. The Big Guy is genuinely funny and personable, making for good, light-hearted radio, and great sidekick banter. However, he still seems reluctant to insight controversy by taking a hard stance on a tough issue. That’s what made Imus, and Stern, so successful. WFAN needs to decide if they want to continue playing in that genre, or shift gears, going to back their roots, with a sports-oriented morning show, ala ESPN’s Mike and Mike.

It appears WFAN will remain in the general, big name, morning show realm, for now at least, but Carlin would make the perfect host if they go sports. His banter with Ian Eagle created enough laughing to swerve me out of my lane on the Garden State. They took the conversation away from sports, into reality television, movies, and real life, keeping the atmosphere light and fun. For a second I enjoyed the ride to work, until I remembered I still had to work. More importantly, the Continent is knowledgeable in sports, a relative insider for most NY teams having covered the Giants and Rutgers, while making numerous contacts with other teams in the past decade.

In recent years, critics have accused WFAN of becoming bland and uninteresting, monotone radio. Here is the perfect chance to spurn that sentiment. Insert Carlin, mornings, middays, wherever. He needs to be on everyday.

Unhappy Campers

Jets LG Pete Kendall made no secret of his discontent, almost as soon as last season ended. Scheduled to earn $1.7 million this season, the 12-year veteran wants a million dollar raise. Despite threatening to hold out, Kendall attended June workouts and was present at training camp Day One this week. Now, his motivation is to avoid the $14,000 daily fine, and a malcontented veteran player spewing venom to the media looms as a distraction, but Kendall showed up, and the Jets know his position.

Michael Strahan is the other side of the spectrum. Last season ends, roster bonuses paid out in March, the April draft passes, free agency comes and goes, June voluntary workouts finish, with team’s 2007 plans solidified training camp arrives in July. Then, out of the clear blue, the night before training camp opens, after an eternal offseason, your 14-year veteran defensive end, seven-time Pro Bowler, unofficial leader, and public face of the team, leaves a voicemail that he is not coming. What? That is a maneuver 12-year olds, who want to play video games instead, pull in Little League.

Varying reports say Strahan is honestly considering retirement, mulling lucrative broadcast offers, or that he is holding out for a raise. Strahan contract has two seasons remaining at $4 million each. Either way, the active sack leader must have come across this thought, and his decision not to report, before 11PM the night before camp. The Giants deserve better. His only NFL team stuck by him through a messy divorce, rewarded him with lucrative contracts throughout his illustrious career, and went so far as to move budding star Mathias Kiwanuka to OLB to accommodate Strahan’s return to DE after an injury riddled season. The last minute move reeks of unprofessionalism.

If Strahan wants to retire, that is fine, more power to him; he earned that right after 14 tough seasons. Just let the team know ahead of time so they can plan accordingly, maybe not early enough to disrupt the previous season, Tiki are you listening, but before the Giants spend an entire offseason practicing your backup at a new position and after most viable free agents are already scooped up. However, if the no show is contract related, Strahan becomes another greedy malcontent in a league full of them. Last check players receive raises, such as the one Dwight Freeny signed, based on merit and potential. A 34-year-old, coming off a major injury, already earning $4 million, does not fit the bill. I think GM Jerry Reese agrees.

One other possibility, maybe he simply wants to skip training camp. It is funny how many veteran players, with job security, suddenly come up with minor injuries, or contract problems, when training camp opens. Two-a-days, 100 degree heat, drills, running, repetition, not exactly appealing to the 30 and over crowd. Though doubtful, it is the best scenario for the Giants.

The Giant mantra for 2007 was all busy, no distractions, no talking. Two days into training camp, one media blow up, Reese publicly calling out former LT Luke Pettigout, and one mega hold out. So much for avoiding distractions. As shocking as it sounds, reports are the retirement talk is serious. For sake of Strahan’s public perception, I hope it is. No matter the reason, Strahan is missing, and the Giants are scrambling.

Back at Hofstra, the Jets, given a chance to prepare for the Kendall situation, “unknowingly” assigned the 34-year-old to the rookie dorm. A move in the Bellichek mold. Season one was a magic carpet ride for Mangini, season two is full of expectations. Starting training camp with controversy is not recommended, in addition to the first rookie holdout in almost a decade. The Jets need to address the Kendall situation immediately. One option is to meet his contract demands, unlikely. Another unlikely option is releasing Kendall, leaving him available to every team, including division rivals. The likely options are coming to a mutual agreement to play, or orchestrating a trade, or relegating him to the bench behind Adrien Clarke.

About that rookie hold out. CB Darrelle Revis, the 14th pick in Aprils draft, which the Jets were lauded for, wants a five year contract, while the Jets are offering six, the maximum for a Top 15 pick. I think Revis wins this battle. Other top picks have already inked 5-year deals, while it means Revis hits free agency a year early, the Jets need him now and cannot worry too much about the effects on the 2012 roster. Training camp is more important for NFL rookies than in any other sport, due to the complex systems, and steep learning curve. Unlike baseball, or basketball, players do not just step onto the field and play. It best serves the Jets to get Revis into camp ASAP.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Nets Act Swiftly, Smartly

Last season’s diamond in the rough, center Mikki Moore, who rose from oblivion to ably fill in for Nenad Kristic, decided to head to greener pastures, and more green, signing with Sacramento on Friday. Less than a day later, the Nets reached an agreement with 6’11”, 260-pound center Jamaal Magloire to fill the vacancy.

The sequence of moves became inevitable after Moore declined the Nets 3 year, $11 million offer, which New Jersey subsequently pulled off the table. At 32-years old, looking to capitalize on his breakout season, where he averaged 9.8 ppg and 5.1 rpg, Moore went to the highest bidder. A career journeyman, Moore made the right personal decision, cashing in on what is likely his only big free agent opportunity, receiving 3 years, $18 million from the Kings.

While Moore, who led the NBA in FG shooting percentage, played an enormous role in holding the Nets together as injuries ravaged the roster, the Nets made a sound financial decision letting him walk. Moore is scrappy, plays hard, quickly became a fan favorite, but reached and exceeded his ceiling last year. Unlikely to replicate last season’s performance, and expected to head back to the bench with Kristic’s return, committing $18 million to Mikki Moore would be hasty.

Magloire comes to New Jersey with a one-year, $4 million contract, after underperforming in Portland the past two seasons. Prior to Portland, Magloire averaged close to a double-double for three consecutive seasons in New Orleans, including 13.6 ppg and 10.3 rpg during his 2003-04 All-Star season. This is a great value signing low risk at one season and a modest salary, but high reward, if Magloire can find his old self and present a formidable presence in the middle, something the Nets have sorely lacked for years.
The Nets have suffered with Jason Collins in the middle, a non-existent offense player, with limited rebounding skills. I expect Coach Lawrence Frank to immediately insert Magloire, a skilled offensive post player, with double-digit rebounding ability, into the starting lineup. He provides a nice complement to Kristic’s mid-range, finesse post game, also providing an inside threat taking some defensive pressure off Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson.

The environment is perfect for Magloire, but he needs to avoid the attitude problems that have surfaced in the past, understand his role, and play hard. With Kidd, Carter, Jefferson, and Kristic the primary offensive targets, the Nets need Magloire to focus on defense and rebounding, while acting as an alternate option in the offense, a concept he has struggled with in the past. If Magloire can remain patient, rest assured Jason Kidd will open up scoring opportunities.

One casualty of the signing is Hassan Adams, cut by the Nets. The second-year second-round draft pick had a non-guaranteed $687,000 contract for the upcoming season. Unable to find takes for Bernard Robinson or Milie Illic, the Nets cut ties with Adams to get under $67.8 million salary cap, evading the luxury tax for now. Adams, coming off a solid summer league, should catch on somewhere quickly. A potential defense-stopper in the making, the Nets pay the price for committing to Illic and Robinson, both mistakes thus far.

On another note, reports surfaced that Rod Thorn rejected a trade for Pacers center Jermaine O’Neal on draft night. The blockbuster deal would have sent Jefferson, Kristic, and Collins to Indiana for O’Neal. Any such deal now appears unlikely, with New Jersey signing Magloire. At that price, the Nets are better served with their current team, rather than dismantling the starting lineup for one player, with injury problems.

A week after the official free agent signing period, the Nets are arguably the most improved team in the Eastern Conference, without any blockbuster moves. The return of Carter, a legitimate center, drafting a potential impact big-man, and a healthy Nenad Kristic, put New Jersey firmly amongst the favorites in the East. Then again, does that say much?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Tough Day for the Doggie; Patrick Out

For all his hard work, and double shifts for the post-Imus WFAN, the station threw “Mad Dog” a bone, sending him to the All-Star game this week. Doggie’s beloved Giants are hosting. As usual the WFAN brand lured in top notch guests, starting with Giants owner Peter McGowan off the top, right through A-Rod, Beltran, Wagner, and the recently controversial Jose Reyes.

Russo, typically a good interviewer, not afraid to ask the tough question, did a great job with McGowan, but totally dropped the ball with Reyes. The day started with a bang, questioning McGowan about Bonds, leading the Giant owner to admit he was disappointed Barry was missing the home run contest, felt he should be there, that Giant personnel did speak to him about participating, and even Willie Mays tried to convince his godson to no avail. Great quotes, chock full of news.

Then came the Reyes interview, a perfect example of poor preparation. Russo recapped the ballyhooed grounder Reyes loafed to first base on, leading to his benching on Friday night. Then Dog started asking about how it felt sitting out Saturday’s game as punishment. Only problem, Reyes played. After straightening out the problem, and apologizing to Reyes, who could only laugh at this point, Russo used the long flight to San Fran excuse for not knowing. Next, he let totally let Reyes off the hook about Wagner’s comments. Dog phrased the question in a manner that Reyes easily sidetracked; asking if he heard what Wagner said, Reyes replying no, end of discussion.

First off, long flight or not, Russo is paid, and paid well, to intelligently speak about New York sports. Was he in a time capsule, or the same flight that millions of Americans make all the time? Pick up any New York Sunday paper this past week, these stories are plastered all over the place. No excuses, Doggie, not on your “vacation” week. If you have time for Wimbledon, make time for the Mets and Yankees.

…After 18 years at ESPN, Dan Patrick is leaving the station in mid-August. Rumors first surfaced over a week ago, only intensifying as Patrick took an unplanned extended vacation through the entire Fourth of July week. Outside of Chris Berman, Patrick defines ESPN. He helped make Sportscenter a household name, and anchored ESPN Radio during its rise to prominence. All while remaining somewhat grounded, and thankfully, much less dramatic and commercialized, than the Chris Berman’s and Stu Scott’s of the world.

Sometimes longevity breeds complacency. Patrick made no announcement about his next destination, but I feel a change may help invigorate his journalism. The radio show has been less than exhilarating the past year or so, and covering the NBA Finals, well, was there really anything to cover this year. The rumor mill mentions Patrick stepping into Imus’ old role, replacing Bob Barker on the Price is Right, or heading to The Sporting News Radio to work with his brother. Switching to Westwood One, a direct ESPN Radio competitor, to replace Imus, going head to head with Mike and Mike, would provide great theater. For now, we wait for the next big announcement.

…Jones and Carlin, it has a nice ring to it. Vacations and scheduling quirks, allowed Chris Carlin and Kim Jones to slide into the mid-day shift at WFAN the past week. The combo, which paired up previously on a few special occasions, such as preceding Met-Yankee Sunday night games, is dripping with chemistry. The two both exhibit wit and engage in playful banter, while still focusing on sports. Jones and Carlin are well-rounded analysts, with extensive baseball and football backgrounds, providing solid insight and coverage, unless you want to talk hockey. I feel this duo is much stronger than Beningno and Roberts, plays to the audience better, and would register solid ratings. Will we get a chance to find out? Unlikely, given Jones Yankee responsibilities, and Carlin’s gigs covering Rutgers football, and the NY Giants. But, never say never, especially at the unstable, post-Imus FAN.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Intrigue Beyond the Clouds

For ten days it seemed like every match took two or more days to complete, not exactly the best way to hold fan interest. Put aside debates about installing roofs, or playing on the middle Sunday, three intriguing stories are brewing as the fortnight reaches its pinnacle.

On the men’s side of the draw, the two favorites are on a collision course for yet another Grand Slam finals match up, but the intrigue stems from the extremely diverse paths through the tournament. Roger Federer, who shockingly lost a set in today’s quarterfinal triumphant, timed the weather well, advanced to the quarters thanks to an injury withdrawal, and had almost a week of rest between matches. Meanwhile, mother nature, and an unsuspecting opponent, wreaked havoc with Rafael Nadal, pushing his third round match to five sets over the course of four days thanks to rain. Nadal followed the five set victory, with another dramatic five setter that saw him comeback from two sets down. Think wear and tear would slow him down think again. On the fifth consecutive day Nadal seemed to gain strength, winning in straight sets to advance to the semis.

With American Andy Roddick falling in disappointing fashion, a recurring theme in Grand Slam tournaments, another finals appearance seems inevitable for the modern day grass court king Federer. Nadal still has work to do, with No. 4 Novak Djokovic waiting in the semi’s, but he is one step away from setting up a dramatic rematch. Sunday would mark the seventh straight day for Nadal, some sort of record I am sure. A second straight Winbledon final would solidify the burgeoning rivalry. A Nadal win, in the tournament Federer owns, similar to Nadal in Paris, takes it to the next level.

The woman dealt with the same weather issues, but none endured the suffering of Nadal. Following the footsteps of her sister’s Australian Open run, standing in the finals is three-time champ Venus Williams. The 31st seed entered the tournament after battling numerous injuries the past few years, essentially falling off the map of women’s tennis. We all know the talent of the Williams sisters, and 31st seed or not, Venus is a threat to win any given day if she plays her best. The Cinderella script is all but finished, as top seeded Justine Henin fell to Marion Bartoli today, meaning Williams will be the favorite to win, despite the low ranking. A fourth Wimbledon trophy would put her in elite territory, not to mention the unbelievable comeback story.

Finally, Breakfast at Wimbledon is the number tennis event. The time of day, the tradition and properness of the All-England Club, the legendary match-ups between the grass court greats, and best of all, Bud Collins behind the mic. Sunday marks Collins last Wimbledon. Debate still lingers on if NBC is firing him, or if it is mutual, but needless to say Collins is a tennis institution. The indistinguishable voice, the grandfatherly bow-tie, and an encyclopedia of modern day tennis history. Bud Collins is to Wimbledon what Vin Scully is to baseball, Keith Jackson to college football, and Pat Summerall was to pro football. Though not nearly as popular in the states as the major sports, Wimbledon is a great event, and the live coverage of the championships just makes sense. Bud Collins helped make it an NBC institution. He will be missed and deserves a great send off.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

20 Years Strong

Like many others in the New York area, I grew up with WFAN. Whether you listened to the overnight while working the late shift, lived and died with Mike and the Dog during the afternoon commute, or like myself, tuned in during every free minute, the FAN holds a special place in New York sports. This past weekend they celebrated twenty years on the air, bringing back many old faces, replaying classic moments, and telling great stories about the old days. As they have for twenty years, WFAN did it right.

Love her or hate her, Suzyn Waldman is a female pioneer in sports broadcasting. Waldman has covered the Yankees in one way, shape, or form, almost as long as I have followed baseball. I loved her as the radio beat reporter, she drove me nuts in the TV booth, was as good as anyone doing clubhouse reports on TV, and now brings sanity to the radio broadcasts alongside John Sterling. Basically, my memories of the Yankee dynasty will include Suzyn Waldman. For an hour Saturday morning, Waldman reminded us of her numerous journalistic accomplishments. She played classic Steinbrenner interviews dating back to his suspension, spoke about covering Rickey Henderson and Don Mattingly, told great stories, and relived the night she helped reunite Yogi Berra and George Steinbrenner. But the two segments that resonated most were her report from Candlestick Park minutes after the devastating earthquake before Game 3 of the World Series in 1989, and a Rick Pitino interview followed by stories about covering the Knicks in the late ‘80’s. Besides great coverage, these two events show both Waldman’s versatility, few remember her as a beat reporter for basketball and radio host covering all sports topics, and an ability to cover a big news story.

The next few hours brought back the likes of Bill Mazer, Ian Eagle, Spencer Ross, and Russ Salzberg. Mazer is barely audible, but I can listen to anyone that watched Babe Ruth played and covered sports for close to fifty years speak for an hour. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the youthful Eagle, who worked at the station right out of Syracuse, returned with great behind the scenes stories from the days when WFAN was initially making its mark as a media powerhouse. Eagle teamed with Dave Jennings for Jet games in the 1990’s, the Rich Kotite era most Jet fans try to block out, and the two shared a few memorable moments about traveling together and covering the team. “The Bird” possesses an uncanny, yet unassuming, sense of humor, almost a laugh a minute.

Night owls rejoiced with Steve Somers and Joe Benigno, the overnight stalwarts for many years, returning to late nights with a live broadcast from Little Italy. What better way to celebrate. Again, the FAN did it right, the overnight listeners and callers are by far the most dedicated legion of fans. Providing the opportunity for these loyal listeners to personally come out and join the festivities was a great touch.

Another great reunion segment came Sunday, with Eddie Coleman and Dave Sims preceding the Met game. Just listening to the jingle, “You’re listening to Eddie C. and the Soul Man,” brought upon wholehearted laughter. Few remember this tandem preceded Mike and the Mad Dog, and had history played out differently may have had a crack at the big role. More amazing are dedicated show callers from 15, 20 years ago dialing in with specific stories that both the hosts and callers remember like yesterday.

Of course, Mike and the Mad Dog, who made the station what it is today, along with Imus, as much as I hate to admit that, unveiled the Top 20 moments of the last 20 years. Proving the clout of the station, they dug up a key entity from each event to interview after replaying the moment. Even though I admittedly am not a diehard hockey fan, I still get goose bumps listening to the Rangers receive the Cup in 1994, the clear number one choice.

A great weekend to celebrate a great station. WFAN means more to NY sports than anyone realizes, they have been there for us, the fans, for over twenty years. Here’s to another twenty.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Show Up and Play

What gives a rookie player the right to tell a team that is ready and willing to pay him millions of dollars, that I will not play. Yi Jianlian has never set foot on a basketball court in this country, yet he knows that the Bucks are not the right team for him. That is ludicrous. I bet he cannot even name five players on the roster, or five players on the roster of one of the teams he would play for.

This is more about marketing, money, and power. Yi's agent, the Chinese government, which I feel plays a big role in this regardless of what we hear, and the NBA for that matter, all want Yi in a big metropolitan area with a heavy Asian population. Think Matsui in NY, Ichiro in Seattle, Dice-K in Boston. Unfortunately, the rules are the rules. Greg Oden was being picked first, regardless if the ping pong ball landed on Memphis, Portland, or Boston. Rookies go where they are picked. If Yi was a better player, maybe Boston would have selected him fifth.

The trade request, or mandate, is not without precendent, yielding both superstars and super busts. John Elway refused to go Baltimore, saw his wish granted, then proceeded to stick it to the Colts becoming one of the best players ever. On the other hand, Hideki Irabu had to be a Yankee, no choice in the matter. Ask Steinbrenner now how he feels about trading for the fat toad. In my book, Yi has less leg to stand on. Unproven at the professional level and collegiate level, the demand will not be exceedingly high, based on what the Bucks should request in return for a sixth pick.

My only hope is that the Bucks hold their ground and the league stays out of the matter. Milwaukee has the leverage since Yi must play for them, or go back to China. The best Yi can do is hold out, passing up the chance to play in the NBA, become a multi-millionaire, and escape China. The Bucks are not obligated to trade him, and unlike baseball, where a player can re-enter the draft a year later, they will continue to retain his rights.

Losing a first round lottery pick is tough to swallow, but having an inexperienced rookie threaten a team is unacceptable. Yi should shut up and play, then take the pick of the litter three years from now. Maybe Milwaukee is not as bas as it sounds. Hey, that Kareem guy did pretty good for himself.