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Angelos / Alomar and the Business of Baseball

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Angelos / Alomar and the Business of Baseball

Posted on 25 July 2011 by Thyrl Nelson

Friday was a great day on the Mobtown Sports Beat, if I am allowed to say so myself. And before I go any further, big thanks to Glenn Clark, Ryan Chell, Ryan Baumohl and the rest of the WNST production team for putting together one heck of a trip down memory lane. It’s been an eventful first year on the Mobtown Sports Beat, and while I marvel at the efforts of the production staff each and every day, they should be especially proud of their quick reactions to Gary Williams’ retirement and to John Mackey’s passing, and of their tribute to Roberto Alomar, Pat Gillick and the 1996-1997 Orioles on Friday. (Highlights are in the audio vault, and I’d encourage all to check them out.)

While celebrating the Orioles most recent stint as a legitimate contender, it was difficult not to contrast the feelings that surrounded that team with those of the present state of Oriole fandom. That however was the intention on Friday, and for the most part I think we did okay with it.

 

Although I was always appreciative of Alomar’s skills, I was amazed on Friday to hear the number of players, coaches and front office personnel that gave deference to Alomar not only as the best 2nd baseman they had ever seen, but as the best baseball player they had ever seen…period.

 

Strolling down memory lane however brings with it the inevitable realization that those days are long past, and that the likelihood of their return seems further away than ever. And as we’ve attempted at length to quantify how fast and how far the state of Orioles baseball has devolved, and surmise the reasons why, there’s an Alomar angle at least worth investigating.

 

There’s no denying that for at least one glimmer in time, in the reign of Peter Angelos, the Orioles were a team that was built and rebuilt to win, and appeared on the fast track to recapturing the “Oriole Way”. There’s also no denying that somewhere along the way all of that changed completely.

 

What’s debatable are when, why and how exactly things fell apart. There are truly a myriad of contributing factors to the downward spiral that has been the last 13 years of Orioles baseball, and an equal number of theories as to which are the real reasons. My conspiracy-minded viewpoints are fairly well documented by now, but in a nutshell here’s what I think.

 

In the early years of Angelos, he was a fan and ran the team as such. He spent money, showed face and chirped with pride at restoring the proud Baltimore tradition. Angelos and the Orioles may have ushered in an era of ballpark economics using the windfall that was Camden Yards to spend the team into contention. While OPACY was a nice gift to the O’s from the city, Angelos’ purchase price already had the new park factored in. The O’s has a sweetheart deal, and operated as such, until the Ravens came to town and showed the O’s what a sweetheart deal really was.

 

Baltimore essentially had to bend over backward to accommodate the cash strapped Browns and lure them to Baltimore. While most saw this as a necessary evil, and worth the price to return football to Baltimore, surely Angelos and the O’s saw it as inequity.

 

Here’s where the theory gets a little hairy, as the next part of the devolution of Orioles baseball (in my conspiracy laden opinion) was the eminent relocation of the Expos. As the saga of the Expos unwound in Montreal, it became clear that relocation was in order. What also became clear was that unlike the NFL, for which cities have routinely clamored and cut one another’s throats, MLB didn’t seem to have a lot of markets interested and economically stable enough to support a baseball team. Although MLB drug their feet for 3 long years before deciding on DC, it seemed apparent pretty early on that DC was going to be the only good choice.

 

A good choice that is, for everyone except Angelos and the Orioles. Already over their heads financially in the toughest division in sports, surely the O’s couldn’t sustain the halving of their market. Surely the fans wouldn’t stand for it.

 

While the fans didn’t exactly stand for it, they didn’t much stand against it either. The state of Maryland started thinking about ways to build the DC stadium in MD and bring in some additional revenue for themselves. The network partners at CSN saw dollar signs too and the chance at having another team to add to their lineup.

 

Angelos, left to fight the battle himself seemed to quickly surmise that logic dictated a team in DC would be disastrous for the O’s, but also seemed to concede that making that case to MLB would be tough while drawing 48,000 fans per night. This, in my opinion, brought about the summary destruction of the O’s.

 

While the conspiracy seems a bit over the top, and while there are surely loose ends to be tied up therein, the effort at anti-marketing by the team from 1999 on seems impossible to ignore. Season ticket holders, used to getting near weekly correspondence from the club saw it dissipate and eventually all but go away. The ballpark experience, across the board seemed less than in previous years with overbearing ushers and a catering to out of town fans. I may have the what’s and why’s wrong entirely, but here’s no denying the O’s tried to chase the fans away… and they succeeded at it too.

 

As this theory took shape in my head, it became therapeutic to some degree, as there was always the underlying memory that Angelos was a fan of the team and used to operate them as such. I expected that after the Expos’ business was settled, for better or for worse, the O’s would get back to trying to compete. Yet here we are, now years removed from the Expos’ relocation and the settlement with CSN, and as it relates to the deal the O’s negotiated with MLB, surely things worked out for the O’s about as well as could have been expected (outside of not having a team in DC at all) financially, and yet the O’s have made little or no effort at winning back the fans, or winning at all for that matter.

 

Somewhere along the way it would seem that whatever his original intentions may have been, Peter Angelos learned that baseball is simply a business and one that has become quite profitable for a team that has found its niche being routinely sacrificed to teams with real designs on winning ballgames. The O’s are cleaning up while playing the role of the Washington Generals of the AL East.

 

So back to the Alomar tie in: Fans will be fans, their whimsies change as the team’s fortunes change, and that’s to be expected. Likewise businessmen are businessmen, and that politicians and network executives saw ways to make money if not at the Orioles’ expense, at least despite them again should not be surprising. Ballplayers though are another matter altogether, and while Angelos was clearly a fan of the Orioles and ran the team in that way, he was also it seemed a fan of ballplayers. Maybe it was the ballplayers reminding Angelos that baseball was a business more than anything else that drove the point home for him once and for all.

 

While Angelos was a fan of his ballplayers and seemed to take care of them accordingly, it’s arguable that he never felt that fandom reciprocated or that respect appreciated. There were those who surmised that after Angelos’ infamous decision not to field a strike team to begin the 1995 season would make him a hero of sorts with players across baseball and that they’d think fondly of the O’s when contemplating free agent decisions. That never seemed to materialize, or to last.

 

When David Wells left the O’s to become a member of the rival Yankees it had to sting a bit, but Wells, a baseball historian and notable Babe Ruth fan came by his decision easily and honestly. With Alomar however, things seemed different.

 

There was no doubt that Angelos was fond of Alomar, even protective of him, possibly to the detriment of the team. While many felt the lingering aftermath of spit-gate cost the Orioles calls and games for years to come, it could be argued that Angelos proclamation in backing up Alomar and offering to pay him through his MLB mandated suspension may have made the bigger and more lasting ripples for the team moving forward. Angelos went to bat again for Alomar at the end of the 1997 season firing manager Davey Johnson over a disagreement over an Alomar fine. Yet long before Alomar reached free agency at the end of 1998, in fact long before the Johnson firing in 1997, it seemed all but a foregone conclusion that Alomar would be off to join his brother in Cleveland at his first chance to do so. For all of the goodwill that Angelos had shown Alomar during his 3-year tenure in Baltimore, Alomar it seemed always had one eye on the door, and defected to the rival Indians on top of it.

 

Raphael Palmeiro may have proven an example of this too. The O’s sort of fell into Palmeiro’s services for the 1994 season when the Rangers elected to sign Will Clark without negotiating with Palmeiro, the incumbent at first base. Upon signing with the O’s Palmeiro had a few choice words for his former employers in Texas, citing no love lost. Still, after one of the most successful free agent campaigns in history, Palmeiro returned to Texas and the Rangers who spurned him 5 seasons earlier without reservation.

 

Palmeiro it seems, never quite understood how Baltimore could pack in 48,000 fans per night yet never come up with enough votes to get him starts in the All-Star games, and quite simply went for the cash grab and return to familiar surroundings.

 

So by the end of 1998, for his efforts at being a player’s owner and a fan’s owner, Angelos had an overpaid and overmatched team in a top heavy division to which the fans couldn’t relate, a new neighbor at the Camden Yards complex with a much better financial deal than his own, an eminent baseball neighbor poised to split his market in half, and all of the salvageable talent still on the team defecting for greener pastures, bigger paydays and changes of scenery. And we wonder where the fan that used to own the team has gone?

 

As baseball opens its hallowed halls and celebrates Roberto Alomar while eschewing an otherwise deserving Palmeiro based on steroid allegations, so closes the last chapter of competitive baseball in Baltimore to date. And while both left their indelible marks on that last glorious chapter in innumerable positive ways, each may also have contributed in their own ways to its demise as well. And baseball in Baltimore is business…as usual.

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When all else fails, lean on me for some great Friday Mud

Posted on 06 May 2011 by Drew Forrester

We call these “the dog days” in the world of sports talk radio.

The NFL draft has come and gone.  And this year, with no mini-camps on the horizon, the football-discussion landscape is extremely bare.

The Caps have made their predictable early exit from the NHL post-season.

The NBA playoffs are still ongoing but only 81 people in Baltimore know it and even fewer want to talk about it.

That leaves us with…the Orioles.

And that’s it.

But you know what?  I’m OK with that, because I still contend this is a .500 baseball team and they’ll continue to hover around that mark for most of the summer.  (I know, I know…”Drew, what good is a .500 baseball team?  That’s not going to take them anywhere.”)  I think .500 baseball will still give us plenty to talk and write about over the next few months while we sift through the wreckage that is the NFL lockout.  They’ll have a 7-game winning streak in there.  They’ll be within 7 games of a wild card spot in August.  They’ll always be on the edge of being out of it, but just close enough that people like me who are believers will say, “If they just sweep this series in xxxxx, they’re right back in it.”

I’ll say what I’ve said since late January about the Orioles.  If they stay healthy (and there are definitely signs – like J.J. Hardy – that “injury free” probably won’t happen) this team is FULLY capable of playing .500 or better baseball in 2011.  If the hitters hit, they have a chance to win every night.  I know they WON’T win every night…I get that, but the way they pitch, they’ll have a have a chance every night as long as those bats produce.

And next off-season, when they really ARE a player or two away (read:  a bat or two) from maybe being really good, Andy and Peter will co-sign on $200 million for Fielder or Pujols.

OK, I’m officially nuts.  That’s something an editor at Orioles Hangout would write.

Let’s just get to .500 first, then we’ll spend $200 million.

Speaking of $200 million, that’s about what I think I could fetch for Friday Mud if I could somehow start an IPO and put this up for stock sale.  I just don’t have a good venture capital guy – or gal – to lead the charge.

So here it is again, free of charge.  Consider yourself VERY fortunate that I’m not more of a go-getter or you’d be swiping your credit card right now.

———————————————————————————–

>  I’m thinking somewhere “up there”, the sports gods are giving the city of Cleveland a treat. The Browns have been horrible for much of the last decade, LeBron snubbed them for South Beach and the Indians, of course, haven’t been the same since they choked away a 3-1 ALCS championship series lead in 2007.  So now, the gods have sprung the Tribe out to a 20-8 record and folks in the land-of-Cleve are suddenly excited about baseball again.  It’s all good right?  Cleveland deserves this, correct?  NO WAY.  Cleveland deserves no good fortune until the greatest travesty in that city is corrected…immediately.  If these guys RIGHT HERE don’t make the Hall of Fame, may the Indians lose 20 straight at the end of the season to blow a 15.5 game September lead.

>  OK, so we all know Roy Halladay is the best pitcher in baseball right now, right?  I can’t imagine anyone would argue that point.  So let’s argue about something.  Who’s the best “young” pitcher in the game?  And by “young”, I’m talking about 24 and under.  Who is it?  I know who it is.  For sure.  It’s THIS DUDE.  When he signs with the Yankees in a few years, he’ll win multiple Cy Young awards.  Watch and see.  (And before you check…Felix Hernandez is 25.  Gotcha.)

>  I don’t know about you, but I’m done with the lockout.  Enough with it already.  I’m starting to wonder if maybe both sides aren’t craving the media coverage they’re getting from all of this.  In a sad, twisted way, they’re both trying to win the fight by baiting the public to bite the hook thrown out by the press.  I’m sick of hearing about it, reading about it and wondering which side is really telling the truth.  Answer to that:  probably neither side is actually telling the truth.  A few weeks ago here in Friday Mud, I said perhaps Judge Judy should rule on the case.  She’d get it right.  Upon further review, I know someone else that is FULLY capable of taking this thing over and presiding over whatever mediation is needed to get the owners and players back on the same page.  THIS MAN would fix those ego-maniacs on both sides.  You can make book on that.

>  It seems like every week or so, I publish a mean-spirited comment about the Philadelphia Flyers.  A few of you who are ardent fans of both the Flyers and Friday Mud have reached out to me and asked that I “take it easy” on the boys in orange. One person even went as far as to call me “callous” in the way I poke fun at the Flyers.  I certainly don’t want to come across as callous.  So…I’ll do it.  I’ll offer a kind message to all of you who are fans of the Flyers.  It’s not easy for me to do, mind you, but if you’re a diehard fan of the Flyers, go ahead and CLICK HERE for your special thought.**

>  Did you notice Roger Goodell hugged all of the NFL first-round draft picks last Thursday?  And they weren’t quick “good to see you dawg” hugs.  They were real hugs.  They were “love you, dude” hugs.  Ahhh, but maybe there was more to it.  Our WNST staff photographer was in New York for the draft and happened to position himself on the far LEFT of the stage, where he caught the Commissioner giving the hug and then casually, discreetly slipping something into the left jacket pocket of all the draft picks.  One of them removed his sport coat to sign some autographs and the photographer grabbed the item out of his jacket pocket and took a quick photo of it.  OK, the hug thing makes sense now.  After all, THIS ITEM that Goodell slipped to his new employees is certainly vital in today’s NFL.

>  THIS RIGHT HERE is what’s important.  Learn the words.

>  Another spring in Baltimore/Washington, another playoff dismissal of the Capitals.  This time, the Tampa Bay Lightning polished off our ice-heroes in four games.  And now, naturally, people are calling for the head of Bruce Boudreau or demanding that Alex Semin be sent packing.  I’m getting lots of calls and e-mails about the Caps…”What do they need, Drew?  Please tell me.  What does my team need?”  HERE is the simple answer to that question.

>  I don’t care who you are, THIS STUFF never gets old.  It’s timeless.  The whole family gets in the act.  They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

>  Mark Reynolds of the Orioles keeps a unique calendar on the inside of his locker, both home and away.  Some guys put pictures of their wife or kids up…some just pick a hot girl from a magazine and pin her up…others put a quote from the Bible up.  Our staff photographer snuck in and grabbed A QUICK PHOTO of what Reynolds puts up as a way to keep track of what’s going on in his life.  I hope he has 10 more blank pages for the rest of the season.

>  I googled the phrase:  ”Three things you’ll never see in Danny Briere’s life” and oddly enough, here’s what came up:  THIS, AND THEN THIS, and FINALLY THIS.##

>  Anyone out there who says “they don’t make real music anymore” obviously hasn’t heard this band or THIS SONG.

The Shoot Section (where I speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth)

In last Friday’s edition of Friday Mud, I made a point of referencing a recent ratings drop by one of our competitors and made light of a fictitious “bumper sticker” that I thought would be appropriate to put on cars in their parking lot.  ”Tom” took a moment to contact me with a rather scathing email about how he doesn’t like the fact that I took a shot at “the good people” (as he called them) at that other station who are just trying to earn a living like we, at WNST, are trying to do.  I know a lot of people in Baltimore sports radio.  Some of them I like, actually.  In fact, there are people who compete against me and WNST that I would go as far as to consider “friends”.  But that doesn’t mean I’m going to take it easy on them when we’re competing, because I’m not.  They certainly haven’t “taken it easy” on me when they’ve been competing with us.  It all reminds me of THIS SCENE from Training Day (warning: contains a few objectionable words…OK, more than a few.).  In other words, what we do, the competing we do:  ”this s**t’s chess, it ain’t checkers.”  Truth?  Our competitors would love to see WNST go out of business.  That’s the way it goes.  I’m cool with it.  So when our competitors slide in the ratings, it deserves a mention.  Lord knows they’re not going to mention it themselves. And I know for sure all of our competitors have spent lots of time on the street reminding folks that “no one listens to WNST”.  It’s all good.  We’re just competing.  And it’s fun.  At least it is to me.


** – that’s about as nice as I can be to Flyers fans.  Nothing personal…

## – that image of the female is what you see when you google the words “pictures of pretty women”.  I’m merely saying Briere wouldn’t have a pretty woman surrounding him.  I’m not at all saying Briere doesn’t like women or wouldn’t have a woman around him at some point in his life.  In fact, I did a google search of “Danny Briere’s high school prom date” and this RIGHT HERE is what came up.  Whatever that means…

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50 words or less …. celebrating Cinco De Mayo with Peter King

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50 words or less …. celebrating Cinco De Mayo with Peter King

Posted on 05 May 2011 by Rex Snider

Well, it’s Thursday …. but not just another Thursday. Today is Cinco De Mayo !!!! And for those of us who look for a quick, convenient excuse to celebrate a sunset with some cocktails, it’s a GRAND EVENT.

The birds will be looking to win the series, in Kansas City, before heading home to entertain the Tampa Bay Rays for the weekend. Can they win 3 straight series? I like the chances …..
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Stealth Starter
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While he’s taking a back seat to the hype and dominance of Zach Britton, Orioles starter Jake Arrieta has been building a pretty formidable early season resume’, as well. With exception to his April 9th start against Texas, Arrieta has not surrendered more than 3 earned runs in any contest.

The loss against the Rangers is starting to resemble a real aberration, as Arrieta has been quite consistent over the first six weeks of the season. And, the reduced overall ERA in each successive appearance is a GREAT sign.
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38 Years Ago …..
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Rewind your clock to May 5, 1973 …. it will be remembered as the day a horse named SECRETARIAT took Churchill Downs by storm. In capturing the 99th running of the Kentucky Derby, Secretariat set a new record of 1:59, which still stands today.

The amazing feat? He ran faster in each successive quarter-mile of the race. The greatest ever? No doubt about it …..
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A Great Guest
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On today’s edition of the AFTERNOON DRIVE, we will be chatting with Peter King of Sports Illustrated and NBC’s Sunday Night Football. Peter is always at the forefront of NFL scoop and breaking information.

I follow him on Twitter (SI_PeterKing) for multiple updates, daily, on football. Peter will join us at 2:30pm – if you have a question for him, just email me (rex@wnst.net)

Also on today’s show, we will chat with experts covering the Steelers, Bengals and Browns, to see how the competition fared in last week’s draft.
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End Of The Line ???
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Many of us recall the Detroit Tigers amazing turnaround and World Series appearance during the 2006 season, right? One of the key figures to that team was the 21 year old fireballing reliever, Joel Zumaya.

To say he was “LIGHTS OUT” was an understatement, as Zumaya compiled a 1.94 ERA and 97 strikeouts in just 83 innings pitched. However, he has fought injuries in each season following that rookie debut.

And, he has been shut down again – for the remainder of 2011. At 26, Zumaya is at a crossroads and may very well be done. This certainly serves as a sad testament to the fragile nature of a pitcher’s career.
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The Fallout (BONUS 100+ words)
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When I wrote yesterday’s critical blog regarding Rashard Mendenhall’s tweets on the death of Osama bin Laden, I had a hunch his ramblings might cause some residual news. And, indeed it has …..

Mendenhall’s teammate, Ryan Clark, did an interview and attempted to defend his friend. Clark panned “social media is destroying the world”, as a means of trying to minimize the forthcoming damage. Yes …. Clark also tweeted these very feelings.

Did it help? Uh …. NO.

For his part, Rashard Mendenhall also made an effort to clarify his stance. But, the damage might already be done. Champion Athletics, Mendenhall’s only corporate sponsor is already distancing itself, as they issued the following statement:

“Our focus today is making sure that we communicate that Rashard Mendenhall’s personal opinions were not made on our behalf and do not reflect our view.,”

While Champion’s spokesman, Matt Hall, said it’s “premature” to discuss the future with Mendenhall, this incident will likely serve as an example of how mere words can be costly. Stay tuned …..
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Cerveza, Cerveza, Cerveza
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Today is May 5th, which means we’re celebrating Cinco De Mayo. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking …. it’s Mexico’s Independence Day !!!!

Wrong …..

Here’s the definition of the Cinco De Mayo celebration, according to Wikipedia:

Cinco De Mayo is observed in the United States as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride …. the date is perhaps best recognized in the United States as a date to celebrate the culture and experiences of Americans of Mexican ancestry, much as St. Patrick’s Day, Oktoberfest.

Well, that’s good enough for me …. I’ll have an ice cold Corona !!!!

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Former Ravens kicker and NFL player rep Matt Stover on current lockout: “I really feel strongly that they are going to have football this year”

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Former Ravens kicker and NFL player rep Matt Stover on current lockout: “I really feel strongly that they are going to have football this year”

Posted on 17 March 2011 by Ryan Chell

Longtime Ravens kicker Matt Stover recently made his official retirement known on “The Morning Reaction” with Drew Forrester on Tuesday, and while it may not come as a surprise to those who follow the NFL-having seen Matt Stover kick numerous field goals for a team with a Baltimore-tie for 18 seasons.

Matt Stover

Still, Stover, 43, may have had some usefulness to a team this year not soley for his kicking prowess, but for his time served as a player representative defending his fellow players in labor talks with the NFL owners.

And despite age catching up to the eighth most accurate kicker in NFL history and fourth-highest scorer, Stover has still been keeping up with the labor issues facing today’s game especially given Friday’s lockout by the owners and decertification.

And he’s been through it before, he told “The Morning Reaction” host.

“Well I was a player rep for 18 years and two of those years were back in 1992 and 1993 when we were negotiating the new collective bargaining agreement under decertification,” Stover told Forrester,  “so I know exactly whats going on right now and what should be happening.

Stover said that decertification and putting the decision into the hands of the courts of where the NFL’s money is going  was the only way to fix the issue.

“It’s unfortunate the players had to go this direction with it but in order to get the owners to negotiate fairly it’s the only way,” Stover admitted.

He knows this firsthand having dealt with owners and NFL leadership in labor contracts. Stover has been a player rep every year he has been in the league for every franchise he suited up and kicked for in games.

Matt Stover

And while he will not be playing football in 2011 as he closes the book on his NFL career  to take care of his family and his relationship with God, Stover feels like he will be watching NFL games come September.

“I really feel strongly that they are going to have football this year,” he said. “I feel that the decertification-with the injunction that the NFL has on it-will not hold. I believe that they will be a group of decertified employees, and that there cannot be a lockout and I believe there will be footbal in 2011.”

But, Stover still admits that he doesn’t want to see the owners take advantage of the players for yet another set of years, and ultimately given his position now as a retired NFL player, he definitely wants to make sure he, his family, and his fellow retirees are also taken for down the road when it comes to benefits and health care.

“I always think there is room in the collective bargaining agreement to negotiate for better benefits for retired players,” Stover said. “I really do.”

But, Stover did say that the system right now is being exploited not only by the owners, but greedy players as well who may not have served the time or have been through the abuse of a 20-year career like veterans in Matt Stover.

Whoever eventually handles that department is going to have to sometimes be brash with their decisions on how much money goes to one NFL player, says Stover.

In essence, the system needs fixing.

“In every negotiation since 1993, 1998, 2006, we always went back and helped players,” Stover replied. “We were always fair…I was on the benefit committee when we were trying to help these guys out and it became such an extensive way to go about it, and some of these guys you may realize too only played three or four years and they want to be made whole on there pension plan.”

Stover said in any business you need a long-standing tenure with a place of employment to earn benefits, and he thinks the NFL should hold similar standards.

“In reality when you look at the course of any employement it takes people 20 to 25 years to get any kind of pension and it’s just one of those systems that so many people may qualify for that we have to be very careful for how we fund the pension plan or it will be broke in no time…it’s underfunded as we speak in the NFL.”

And even as a retired player, he still has his ex-teammates in Baltimore and Indianapolis-where he almost got another Super Bowl ring-in mind.

Stover spent 13 seasons in a Ravens uniform and came over from the Browns when Art Modell moved the team to Baltimore.

He made his only Pro Bowl appearance in 2000 during the Ravens Super Bowl run, and ultimately was the driving force behind the Baltimore offense that went five games without scoring an offensive touchdown yet won two of those games thanks to Stover’s leg.

But, Stover doesn’t want any of the limelight. That’s not his style. Never was. It was the same way when he was ushered out of Baltimore by the new coaching staff under a new regime.

“I have been very quiet, and the reason for that is that last year I wanted just to step away. I didn’t want to be any attention drawn on me by the Ravens and  to have them not worry about me again.”

And he couldn’t be happier for a guy in Pro-Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff, who brought stability to a position that the Ravens took advantage of for years in Stover when it came to consistency.

“What it really comes down to for Billy is a couple of things,” Stover said of his replacement. “He had the passion, and he had the heart to do it.  He wanted to be the best and he just resolved himself to do it.”

And Stover’s departure and professionalism about it allowed him to do so.

“I love my guys on the team. I love the organization, I just felt like It was good to go rogue, good to go solo, to be silent,” Stover said.

And while Stover may want to fade into anonymity, it’s not going to happen. Eventually, Stover will make it into the Ravens Ring of Honor, and who knows…he could have the numbers for a Canton calling.

Stover was honored by the attribution.

“Just to be considered by you and the public to be thought of as a Hall of Famer is gratifying to me  knowing that I had an effect on a team,” Stover said.  “I was able to do my job well, and that’s really what it’s all about.”

“If the Hall of Fame came around would I be happy; absolutely, the goal to get [there] isn’t one of my goals, but it is something that could happen. If you look at my numbers there has not been a kicker out there who has been able to do what I do with the statistics and the environment I kicked in.  But at the same point and time it comes down to the effect I had on my team.”

Either way, Stover is happy with his career and still hopes to make the NFL better even from an outside persepctive regardless if he is invited back full circle in any form.

“If that never happens I have no regrets, none what so ever.”

WNST thanks Matt Stover for joining us to talk NFL labor! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

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Former Ravens players and current NFLPA reps: “When an agreement is finally reached, it will be forgotten and we can focus on football”

Posted on 09 March 2011 by Ryan Chell

The Ravens have always been able to grab guys in the draft and free agency to best suit their needs for that upcoming season.

For years, guys like Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta, and Phil Savage have reached out to relative unknowns and made them into super stars on the football field.

But what you may not realize is that the Ravens have also been adept at having smart players on their team, and many of them are out representing the players union in the latest labor talks as player reps defending their fellow constituents’ rights-even if their time in a Ravens uniform has long since passed.

The Ravens’ player reps are Chris Carr, Matt Birk, and Derrick Mason, and joining those three are corner back Domonique Foxworth on the Executive Committee of the NFL Players Association.

Several former Ravens also litter the other 30 teams as fellow player reps. Joining Birk are former Ravens offensive tackle Tony Pashos(now a Cleveland Brown) and former center Casey Rabach-now a center for the Washington Redskins.

The three of them joined “The Afternoon Drive” last week to update Ravens fans on how the talks are progressing and what they’ve learned from the mediation and chats going on with the owners in the hopes of preventing a work stoppage due to labor unrest.

After grinding it out on the football field the last six months, these NFL player reps find themselves fighting in a new arena trying to best represent their fellow players in labor talks with the league’s owners.

It is their desperate hope that they not only can play football next year and not get locked out by the 32 NFL owners, but to also make sure that they get a fair shake of the NFL revenue for player salaries and post-career benefits.

Some fans out there following all this may see billionaire owners and millionaire players arguing over a big pot of money, but Pashos said that it’s not like that at all.

“There are only ten millionaires in a locker room,” Pashos said. “But there are 53 guys on a roster. There are guys who have been cut by different teams, so that’s not accurate.”

“But, it’s not a good fight,” Pashos continued, “as it represents greed to the fans. It’s coming off wrong to a lot of good people.”

The two sides have had two-plus years to get their issues straight with each other, and with the owners backing out of the collective bargaining agreement as they had the clause to do so, both sides have been hard at work over the last two weeks in attempting to draw up or renew it so that would benefit both sides.

There was definitely a lot of question marks and doubt thrown out there last week when it came to what was going to come down.

“The deadline was thrown out there,” Birk said, the Ravens center. “We knew the lockout was coming. I’m not sure what’s going to happen.”

All in all though, every player rep WNST talked to-former or current Raven-felt like there wasn’t a ton of pressure on them to get a deal done.

At least right now. Now, it’s about getting the money situation straightened out now when actual regular season games aren’t at stake.

“With a lockout in March, I’m not sure if that’s a big deal because nothing happens in March,” Birk said.

Rabach-who was drafted in the third round by the Ravens in the 2001 NFL Draft out of Wisconsin and played in Baltimore until 2005 when he joined Washington via free agency-agreed that right now the focus should be on using this time to get the discussion going on how best to fix the problems between the owners and the players.

“There’s not a ton of pressure right now,” Rabach said. “We were really happy with the deal we had last time. We didn’t pull out of the deal. But I do not want to send the players back to 1992 with a bad one.”

Last week’s deadline to bargain for a new CBA was expected to come without a new deal in place, but not before two delays-one for 24 hours and another for a week-were enacted.

“That could be a good thing,” former Ravens right tackle Tony Pashos said, who spent 2003-2006 in a Baltimore uniform. “If they need it, let’s do it and get it over with. It’s a dark cloud hanging over the cities and the league.”

Rabach agreed that was the best thing that could have happened because it continued to keep the players and owners in the mediation room and kept the work “Lockout” out of the discussion for one more week.

“Anytime you can keep the negotiations going, it’s better for everyone,” Rabach said. “Hopefully we can get something done and play football.”

Now,  this Thursday is the target date for the players union to decide whether to decertify, effectively sending the debate between the money shared by owners and players into court on the grounds of violating anti-trust laws.

That would begin the long process of fighting and “gnashing of teeth” from players and owners and probably would go towards there not being football in 2011 and in the future.

The official end to the 2010 CBA is this Friday.

But the players and these particular reps representing them really are trying to keep a positive mindset in all of this turmoil. They are planning on being in training camp at the end of July, and working with their owners to put a good product on the field at the beginning of September.

“I plan to prepare for August,” Rabach said. “I’m back in the weight room and have been for the last three weeks. You just worry that everyone isn’t doing the same, and you make sure that everyone is staying fit and is on the same page.”

Pashos meanwhile hasn’t yet had an opportunity to meet with his new coaching staff, including his new head coach in Pat Shurmur, who was recently hired to replace Eric Mangini.

That might makes things difficult for the Browns to gel properly should off-season workouts be missed.

“From the Browns perspective, I want to pick up the phone, meet with the coaches, and learn the game plan. I hope the football doesn’t suffer.”

Birk agreed. He’s ready to put all this behind him and play football.

And this is coming from a Harvard guy!

“If I had my choice, this wouldn’t happen either,” Birk said. “But because this is the NFL, it dominates the news daily. I get sick of hearing it too. But when an agreement is finally reached, it will be forgotten and we can focus on football.”

But the timeframe in that might be the biggest question.

“We’re gonna play this game,” Pashos said. “It’s a guess now trying to figure out when.”

WNST thanks the three NFL player reps for joining WNST last week! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

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Blog & Tackle: SI’s look at Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith

Posted on 20 February 2011 by Chris Pika

As the deadline for the expiration of the CBA between the NFL and the NFLPA gets closer, Sports Illustrated took a look at the two people who are at the head of the negotiations, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith.

The league and NFLPA are in uncharted waters with Goodell and Smith at the helms for this negotiation. At some point an agreement will be reached. The how and the how long are the unknowns. So, it is appropriate to pull back the curtain on the two men who are the faces and driving forces for their respective sides.

SI and SI.com’s Peter King wrote the personality piece on Goodell, “The Man of the Hour” for the Feb. 7 edition, and some parts are worth noting as the two sides try to reach an agreement.

First is on his relationship with his employers, the 32 NFL owners.

Goodell will have trusted lawyers and owners by his side during the negotiations, but make no mistake: This will be a deal the commissioner drives, in meetings both with the NFL Players Association and its head, DeMaurice Smith, and with leaders of the 32 franchises. One ownership source says Goodell’s level of trust among the owners is so high that if he recommends an agreement that passes muster with the players, it will easily get the three-quarters vote (24 of 32 teams) necessary for passage.

One thing Goodell has proven in private is that he will staunchly defend the “shield” as he calls it. Michael Vick ran afoul of it with his dogfighting activities, and learned first-hand.

But the commissioner has a cold and confrontational side that serves him well in staring down miscreants and business adversaries alike. “The way Roger talked to me when I was still hiding from what I’d done was such a slap in the face,” says Michael Vick. “Like, ‘Don’t you lie to me!” With stronger language than that. It was rough.”

Goodell was also key in the negotiations with the city of Cleveland to get a new stadium and an expansion franchise in 1996 that would take over the old Browns colors and records after the original Browns franchise moved to Baltimore to become the Ravens.

“There would not have been a deal without Roger,” says Cleveland’s chief negotiator Fred Nance. “No way. He came into a city under siege and was hard-nosed and stubborn. But he was sensitive to figuring out what we had to have to make a deal, and how much he could compromise knowing he had the owners to answer to whatever he did.”

Goodell and Chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics Dick Ebersol are good friends, and the league and network are business partners, but this exchange shows where Goodell draws the line, and what the negotiations between the league and the players’ association might be like.

Now, fast-forward to the 2009 negotiations between the NFL and NBC over extending the network’s broadcast contract for 2012 and ’13. The NFL, according to Ebersol, insisted on a rights fee of $600 million a year, though NBC wasn’t getting a Super Bowl in either of those seasons. Ebersol and Goodell had a few back-and-forth discussions, and Goodell finally said the NFL wouldn’t take a dime less than $600 million.

“There was a coldness and a ‘that’s it’ tone in Roger’s voice that was chilling,” says Ebersol. “At his heart Roger can be a cold son of a bitch. I think the people on the other side of the negotiating table are going to hear that in the coming months. He’s going to show mettle, and he’s going to do what he thinks is best for the National Football League. It’s what he’s always done.”

On the other side of the table is Smith, who was profiled by SI’s Jim Trotter in “The Fighter” for the Feb. 21 issue.

When Smith took over the reins of the NFLPA, he was replacing a legendary and dominant figure in Gene Upshaw, who passed away in 2008. Smith had plenty of Upshaw’s observations and notes to work from as he prepares to negotiate with the NFL.

Smith reaches into his papers and pulls out a program from a 1991 union meeting. Former executive director Gene Upshaw, preparing to speak to player reps, wrote some introductory remarks in cursive on the back of the program. Smith begins reading to himself, then stops halfway through and recites: The owners will always take short-term loss for long-term gain.

Upshaw governed the NFLPA as a lone figure, but Smith’s style is more inclusive, trying to give the players a larger voice in the direction the PA will take in the coming weeks.

Smith doesn’t believe in secrecy. Before his election he told players he wanted them to take more control of their careers and their futures, and that if they were unwilling to educate themselves and be more involved in the process, he wasn’t the man to lead them. The other candidates included Troy Vincent and Trace Armstrong, two former players who’d served as union presidents, and a prominent lawyer, David Cornwell, who once worked in the league office. Smith was elected by a vote of 32-0.

His negotiating style is framed by a current player representative.

As much as Smith relishes a fight, he also knows he’ll have to make concessions to strike a deal. He has presented the league with a proposal for a rookie wage scale and made a counteroffer regarding the league’s proposal to reduce the players’ share of revenues. “De is a very intense guy, but he’s also a realist,” says All-Pro center Jeff Saturday, the Colts’ player-representative. “He’s not just a hype man. He’s telling you there are going to be things we’re going to have to compromise on, and here’s why. You have to be up front and honest. Not everything is going to go the players’ way. He’s done a good job of balancing that, so the guys understand that we’re in this to get this thing finished and to get a new agreement in place.”

Where the NFLPA has been effective is that unlike Upshaw, Smith isn’t afraid to prod the NFL’s power players. Earlier in Trotter’s story, Smith references the term “3-D chess” to describe the intricate game between the owners and players. Here is an example of one “chess” move.

One of the ways Smith tries to determine the power players in the league is by “poking the elephant” to see the reaction he’ll get. He has filed multiple legal challenges, including a complaint that the NFL left money on the table in its TV contract extensions in exchange for guarantees that the owners would be paid in 2011. (The special master in the case ruled that the league would have to compensate the players but did not nullify the agreements; the NFLPA is appealing that decision.) Smith has also charged the owners with colluding to limit player movement and earnings during the 2010 free-agency period. (That complaint is pending.)

And another “elephant-poking” move on Smith’s board:

Consider the collusion case. When the union leaked word that it would be filing suit, Smith received a call from Goodell urging him not to go forward. At that point Smith asked if the owners would make certain concessions during the lockout if he dropped the claim. Goodell asked for 30 days to consult the owners. Eventually he came back and said there would be no concessions. Those close to Smith say the endgame was not necessarily to get the concessions but to determine whether Goodell had the influence to get the owners to budge.

In both articles there are stories about Goodell’s and Smith’s upbringings, and how particular incidents in their lives shaped how they see the world today. The two men are not dissimilar in makeup, but both will have to work hard to find common ground.

They don’t have the close personal relationship at this point that their predecessors, Upshaw and Tagliabue, had. But both seem to have the strength to shut out the rhetoric that each side has to spew in labor negotiations, find a way to get things their side needs, and most importantly, allow the other side to save face when the deal is done.

For up-to-date Tweets on the NFL and the Ravens, please follow me on Twitter (@BlogAndTackle). For more national NFL stories, please visit my personal site at BlogAndTackle.net.

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Rating the Ravens after Baltimore’s 20-10 victory over Browns

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Rating the Ravens after Baltimore’s 20-10 victory over Browns

Posted on 27 December 2010 by Ryan Chell

What a boring game on Sunday between the Ravens and the Cleveland Browns. I know my boss, Glenn Clark, said that he forgot most of details of Sunday’s game an hour after the fourth quarter ended on the way back to Baltimore. But nevertheless, the Ravens won 20-10 and guaranteed themselves a playoff spot for the third straight year-the first time the team has achieved that feat in franchise history.

Rex and I sat down on “The Afternoon Drive” Monday on the “Purple Post-Game Show” to rate the Ravens, and in honor of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner announcing his engagement to 24-year old Playboy Playmate Crystal Harris, we decided to “Rate the Ravens” this week based on Playmates, with five being the highest and one being the lowest. Because more is better right?

Crystal Harris

Quarterbacks

Joe Flacco

Joe Flacco only completed 12-of-19 passes for only 102 yards, and had two touchdown passes-one to Derrick Mason and the other to T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the back of the end zone. The passing yards may not be outstanding, but Flacco did enough to win and played relatively mistake-free. He did throw a floater that Browns cornerback Joe Haden picked off, but Haden has been playing at a very high level this year. Flacco also made several plays with his feet to make a play despite something not being open downfield.

Ryan’s Rating: 3.5/5

Rex’s Rating:3

Running backs

Ray Rice

It was hard for Ray Rice to one-up his performance from last week against the Saints where he topped 200 yards of total offense, but the Ravens showed Sunday that they were determined still to manage the clock by still having a good dose of Ray Rice on the ground. Rice finished with 92 yards on 25 carries, but he never broke the huge run that sparked a Ravens scoring drive. Fullback Le’Ron McClain also carried the ball twice for 19 yards and Willis McGahee also provided solid supplementary support. No touchdowns for any of them though, and I think the injury to tight end Dennis Pitta early on in Sunday’s game stopped the Ravens from running their favorite formation to run out of-the two tight-end set.

Ryan’s Ratings: 3.5

Rex’s Rating: 3

Wide Receivers

T.J. Houshmandzadeh

The stats weren’t mind-blowing here, much like Flacco, but Derrick Mason continued his track record of making plays against the Cleveland Browns by grabbing a touchdown in front of Cleveland’s Sheldon Brown. After the Browns failed to convert on an onside-kick to open the second half, the Ravens had the benefit of a short field and made the most of the opportunity, as Flacco found Mason for the final score of the game, 20-10. Mason finished with 4 catches for 40 yards, and Houshmadzadeh’s score was also just as impressive. Dissapointing still is the loss of TE Todd Heap and the play of his replacement, Ed Dickson, who had no catches for 0 yards and just one target on Sunday.

Ryan’s Rating: 3/5

Rex’s Rating:2.5

Offensive Line

Flacco was only sacked once by the Browns, and that came on a corner blitz by Joe Haden. On several occasions, Flacco had several seconds to make a throw and either did or escaped out of the pocket and made a play with his legs (3 rushes, 16 yards). The holes were there in the running lanes for the backs to make; it was just on the part of Ray Rice or Willis McGahee to make a cut and they could have made a bigger play. But there is a silver lining in all of this…no penalties for Michael Oher!

Ryan’s Rating:3/5

Rex’s Rating:3/5

Defensive Line:

Cory Redding

The Ravens didn’t sack Colt McCoy once but rushed him on several occasions from the likes of Cory Redding, Haloti Ngata, and Terrell Suggs. Those pressures led to the three McCoy interceptions, and the biggest stop of the day by this unit was holding running back Peyton Hillis to just 35 yards on 12 carries(2.9 YPC). Overall, as a team the Browns only averaged 3.9 yards per carry as a team, and the trio of Redding, Ngata, and Gregg combined for eight solo tackles.

Ryan’s Rating: 4/5

Rex’s Rating:3.5/5

Linebackers

Peyton Hillis and Terrell Suggs

Ray Lewis said in the week leading up to Sunday’s game against the Browns that “even a blind cat finds a meal”. I always thought the quote was “even a blind squirrel finds a nut eventually”, but who’s going to tell Ray Lewis that? Certainly not me. Hillis of course had his breakthrough game against the Ravens in their previous matchup, gaining 144 yards on just 22 carries. Well, we thought Ray was opening his mouth a bit too early but Ray and the unit put their money where their mouth was and stopped Hillis, holding him to 35 yards and got physical with him.

They also did a good job of controlling the intermediate to short passing game that McCoy is great at. Jameel McClain led all Ravens with seven tackles, and Dannell Ellerbe and Jarret Johnson both were forces on the inside and outside of the Browns offensive line.

Ryan’s Rating:4/5

Rex’s Rating:3.5

Secondary:

Ed Reed

By far, the best Ravens unit of the day. The Ravens picked off Colt McCoy three times on Sunday-two coming from safety Ed Reed. McCoy appeared to be throwing the ball to a spot instead of leading the receiver, and Reed appeared to position himself in just the right spot. McCoy admitted afterwards that he being a rookie failed to realize that he should always know where a ball-hawking safety like Ed Reed should have been at all times. Lardarius Webb on his first quarter interception on the seventh-play of the game appeared to be the receiver instead of Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi.

And despite the touchdown allowed by Chris Carr on the trick play from Massaquoi to Brian Robiskie, Carr bounced back with a play later in the second quarter when he forced Massaquoi to fumble on the ball after catching a ball on a curl route. The ball bounced to the turf and took a Raven roll inbounds into the arms of Jameel McClain.

Ryan’s Rating:4.5/5

Rex’s Rating:3.5/5

Special Teams:

Nothing special here. The coverage team did do a great job containing return man Josh Cribbs, and while Billy Cundiff did connect on field goals of 27 and 40 yards with the wind blowing; he only had one touchback out of five attempts. Sam Koch averaged 45.7 yards per punt on three attempts and had one downed inside the Cleveland 20. The loss of David Reed was evident on kick returns as Jalen Parmele did just enough to move the ball up the field.

Ryan’s Rating: 4/5

Rex’s Rating: 3/5

Disagree with Rex and I? Agree with us? Call in 410-481-1570 on Monday or Tuesday and tell us your opinion! And follow us on Twitter and Facebook!

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The “BREAKOUT Athletes” of 2010 …..

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The “BREAKOUT Athletes” of 2010 …..

Posted on 23 December 2010 by Rex Snider

While I enjoy compiling these annual lists and rankings of performers, I also sense a bit of relief when making the transition from the BAD lists, to the GOOD lists. Fortunately for me, today marks the beginning of the positively-spirited rankings …..

We will begin with the BREAKOUT ATHLETES of 2010. Admittedly, this was a tough group to determine, as I was forced to eliminate names such as Danny Woodhead, Maurkice Pouncey, Jason Heyward, Jacoby Ford, Brandon Jennings and Rory McIlroy.

In developing this list, I employed some distinguishable criteria:

A) Athletes must be professional; no college or amateurs

B) BREAKOUT = reaching a lofty status never realized in prior seasons. For example, I would say Joey Votto is not a BREAKOUT athlete, because his 2009 statistics were similar to the 2010 numbers.

So, without further delay, here is my list of the BREAKOUT ATHLETES of 2010 …..
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10) Ryan Fitzpatrick – I will be the first to admit this guy was nowhere near the radar on my prospective quarterbacks for the 2010 Fantasy Football rankings. But, Fitzpatrick emerged as a legitimate NFL arm, this season.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 18: Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the Buffalo Bills stands on the sidelines during the game against the New York Jets on October 18, 2009 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Bills defeated the Jets 16-13 in overtime. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

The “Amish Rifleman” has delivered 23 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions, for nearly 3000 yards, in his first full season in a starting role. Fitzpatrick is one of those players who inspires the journeymen, as he’s finally realizing success and opportunity in his 6th NFL season.

I realize the Bills have a bad record, but they’ve played much better than the overall record reveals, and Fitzpatrick has undoubtedly been the driving force behind a team that hasn’t quit.
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9) Stephen Curry – this former NCAA single season scoring leader emerged onto the NBA scene during the 2009-2010 season and paid immediate dividends on the Golden State Warriors investment of the 7th overall pick, in the ’09 Draft.

Jan. 03, 2010: Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry during an NBA game between the Golden State Warriors and the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX Dallas defeated Golden State 110-101.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Curry is quickly becoming one of the NBA’s youngest stars. He finished 2nd in “Rookie Of The Year” voting, while averaging 17.5 points per game in the ’09/10 season. And, he’s capitalizing on his early success by averaging 20.5 points per game, in the early stages of this ’10/11 season.

His younger brother, Seth, plays for the Duke Blue Devils, which means he’s already disliked by Terps fans.
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#8) Jose Bautista – I could’ve nabbed Bautista from the waiver wire many times during the 2010 Fantasy Baseball season. But, as the games slipped by and the homeruns mounted, I simply reasoned this “hot streak” would eventually come to an end.

Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista stretches before play against the Colorado Rockies during an interleague game at Coors Field on June 13, 2010 in Denver.     UPI/Gary C. Caskey Photo via Newscom

Well, it didn’t. Jose Bautista finished off his 2010 season with 54 homers, 35 doubles and 124 RBI. These gaudy numbers easily dwarfed any prior season statistics for the Blue Jays slugger. Can he do it, again, in 2011? We shall see …..

I’m betting NO …. but, he’s proven me wrong before !!!!
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7) Neftali Feliz – along with Elvis Andrus, Feliz has helped Rangers fans to forget about a guy named Mark Teixeira. Both players arrived in exchange for the former Texas slugger, in 2007.

July 23, 2010 - Arlington, TEXAS, UNITED STATES - epa02259290 Texas Rangers closing pitcher Neftali Feliz against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the ninth inning at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington in Arlington, Texas, USA, 23 July 2010.

At 22, Feliz used the 2010 campaign to firmly establish himself as a premier closer, in Major League Baseball. The heralded rookie saved 40 games, while striking out 71 and walking 18, in just 69 innings.

I’ve got a distinct feeling we might be witnessing the next version of Mariano Rivera …..
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6) Peyton Hillis – I can imagine Ravens fans will remember Hillis’ breakout game for a long time, huh? In the 2010 home opener, Ray Lewis and company witnessed a bulldozing Hillis as he rushed for 144 yards with a perceived ease.

CLEVELAND - NOVEMBER 07: Running back Peyton Hillis  of the Cleveland Browns celebrates their victory over the New England Patriots at Cleveland Browns Stadium on November 7, 2010 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Was it an aberration? Nah …. Hillis has seized his opportunity as Cleveland’s premier running back, while rushing for 1100 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first full season as a starter.

It’s hard to believe the Broncos traded him for Brady Quinn – which is probably just another factor leading to Josh McDaniels’ firing, in Denver.

Top 5 – Next Page

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Blog & Tackle: NFL one-liners through Week 13

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Blog & Tackle: NFL one-liners through Week 13

Posted on 09 December 2010 by Chris Pika

The 2010 NFL season has reached the three-quarter mark, and like any good game on Sundays, it’s usually the fourth quarter that decides success or failure.

It’s a chance to take stock of each conference after 13 weeks and 12 games with one-liners on each of the teams. Below are some stats, observations and conjecture as we look ahead to the final four weeks.

First, here is a look at the AFC by divisions. Records are through Week 13:

AFC East

New England Patriots (10-2): Patriots have won last four, including huge win over the Jets to solidfy their claim as AFC’s best team behind conference-best (+110) scoring differential; road to AFC title will go through Gillette Stadium and coach Bill Belichick.

New York Jets (9-3): Despite 3-1 stretch, Jets went from potentially being in line to host AFC title game to very vulnerable after shredding of New York’s vaunted D by the Patriots.

Miami Dolphins (6-6): Dolphins continue to confound with 5-1 road mark, but 1-5 home record — that will be main reason they will not make playoffs as well as offensive woes (-23 point differential).

Buffalo Bills (2-10): Bills finally saw results after 0-8 start with two straight victories, but close loss to Steelers and blowout defeat to Vikings has slowed Buffalo’s progress.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3): Steelers have grabbed choke-hold of AFC North after winning the war in Baltimore last week behind QB Ben Roethlisberger and stout defense; now Pittsburgh could host AFC Divisional Playoff at always-tough Heinz Field.

Baltimore Ravens (8-4): Only home loss of season so far to Steelers was costly as Ravens may have three straight playoff games on the road instead of one or two home games; predicted high-production offense has gone cold at bad times.

Cleveland Browns (5-7): Cleveland continues to be a “tough out” thanks to solid running game behind RB Peyton Hillis; if they get QB (and maybe head coach) situation settled in offseason, could be 2011 team to watch in AFC.

Cincinnati Bengals (2-10): The wheels have completely come off the cart for one of the preseason favorites to win the division — nine-game losing streak may spell the end of the Marvin Lewis era in Cincinnati.

AFC South

Jacksonville Jaguars (7-5): Jaguars, after 3-1 stretch, find themselves on top in the division, despite worst point differential among all division leaders (-43) — only question is can they hold off slumping Colts?

Indianapolis Colts (6-6): Colts’ injuries have finally taken a toll; forget Peyton Manning for a moment, being in position of having to pass so much has allowed opponents to tee off in crucial situations — but Indy can still catch Jaguars for division title.

Houston Texans (5-7): Lack of strong starts have doomed Texans, 1-5 in their last six games — last chance for Houston (and maybe coach Gary Kubiak’s job) comes with Monday night visit by Ravens in Week 14.

Tennessee Titans (5-7): When you didn’t think anybody else could surpass Minnesota as NFL’s best soap opera, here comes the Titans; normally unflappable coach Jeff Fisher has had to deal with Vince Young, Randy Moss and owner Bud Adams in recent weeks.

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs (8-4): Chiefs seem to have control of the division after a three-game win streak and perfect 6-0 home mark; can they hold off the Raiders and Chargers over the final four weeks?

Oakland Raiders (6-6): Progress has been slowed by 3-2 mark in last five games, but 4-0 division record could be factor if they get help before Week 17 showdown at traditional rival Chiefs.

San Diego Chargers (6-6): Amazing how one loss changes things after blowout defeat by Raiders last week that stopped four-game win streak; season on the line vs. Chiefs this week.

Denver Broncos (3-9): A three-game losing streak coupled with Spygate-like scandal in London finally cost Josh McDaniels his coaching job; Eric Studesville gets his audition but the supporting cast is not there.

And now for the NFC by divisions:

NFC East

ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 11: Quarterback Matt Ryan  of the Atlanta Falcons converses with quarterback Joe Flacco  of the Baltimore Ravens after the Falcons 26-21 win at Georgia Dome on November 11, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Philadelphia Eagles (8-4): The Eagles are tied for the division lead, but arguably have the NFC East’s toughest schedule left with two games vs. Dallas and one each against the Giants and Vikings — for what was originally expected to be a transition year, a lot is still on the table.

New York Giants (8-4): Giants are playing as well as any team in NFC right now, but head coach Tom Coughlin’s team must navigate Minnesota, Philadelphia and Green Bay the next three weeks to stay in the division and Wild Card mix.

Washington Redskins (5-7): The Redskins season has become a trainwreck as head coach Mike Shanahan has had to deal with several distractions, including DT Albert Haynesworth’s suspension for conduct detrimental; the Skins defense should be suspended as well, allowing the fifth-most points in the NFC.

Dallas Cowboys (4-8): The Cowboys have gotten off the deck to become a team no one wants to face down the stretch; Dallas could play spoiler in the NFC East and help Jason Garrett remove the interim coaching tag.

NFC North

Chicago Bears (9-3): The Bears have won five straight to hold the division lead by one game thanks to resurgent play by QB Jay Cutler and LB Brian Urlacher; Chicago has murderous final four weeks capped by Week 17 visit to Packers.

Green Bay Packers (8-4): Despite injuries, Packers are firmly in the playoff mix, but key Week 12 loss at Atlanta looms large as well as final three games against New England, Giants and Chicago — win those and Green Bay will have earned its postseason ticket.

Minnesota Vikings (5-7): A change in head coach to well-respected assistant Leslie Frazier has helped the mood in Minnesota, but the final four weeks will be all about Brett Favre’s literal limp to the finish of his career (I think).

Detroit Lions (2-10): Some of the strides made early in the season by the Lions have been erased by the current five-game losing streak; coach Jim Schwartz is still looking for consistent winning formula.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons (10-2): The hottest team in the NFC with six straight wins, the Falcons may do something no Atlanta NFL team ever has — host the NFC Championship Game in January; but they have to get through Week 16 Monday Night game vs. Saints.

New Orleans Saints (9-3): The defending Super Bowl champions are playing like it for first time all season with a current five-game win streak as the Saints try to go stride-for-stride with the Falcons; back-to-back road contests at Baltimore and Atlanta in Weeks 15-16 are New Orleans’ key games.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5): The air has finally come out of the Buccaneers’ balloon with two straight losses, but Tampa Bay is just one game out of a Wild Card spot with favorable matchups in the next three weeks before Week 17 at Saints.

Carolina Panthers (1-11): The Panthers just want the season to be over, and the housecleaning will begin soon after starting with head coach John Fox; Panthers are a NFC-worst minus-153 in point differential.

NFC West

St. Louis Rams (6-6): The Rams have quietly put themselves in position to make the playoffs out of a weak NFC West, but don’t mistake St. Louis as a weak team — QB Sam Bradford is one of the league’s feel-good stories of 2010, and division could come down to Week 17 tilt at Seattle.

Seattle Seahawks (6-6): The Seahawks are in position to capture the NFC West, but head coach Pete Carroll’s squad still has worst point differential among NFC teams with a winning record (-49); Week 17 vs. St. Louis could be the decider.

San Francisco 49ers (4-8): San Francisco not officially dead in NFC West race, but last gasp could come this Sunday vs. Seattle; if they win, they still have games vs. St. Louis and Arizona — teams they have already beaten in 2010.

Arizona Cardinals (3-9): Cardinals have gone south for the winter as they have lost seven straight and hold NFC’s second-worst point difference (-138), but have three winnable games in final four weeks.

For up-to-date Tweets on the NFL and the Ravens, please follow me on Twitter (@BlogAndTackle). For more national NFL stories, please visit my personal site at BlogAndTackle.net.

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The reality of Trent Dilfer’s career …..

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The reality of Trent Dilfer’s career …..

Posted on 01 November 2010 by Rex Snider

Well, we’re coming down the homestretch of a week without Ravens football. With the team returning to practice today, my life is starting to feel normal, again.

Meanwhile, Baltimore’s football lovers have been pacifying their cravings by speculating about the impending future, as well as walking down memory lane.

Today, I will address the latter.

After all, we kinda look into the past in our everlasting effort to predict the future, right?

Last weekend, the Baltimore Ravens organization honored the 2000 Super Bowl Champions. Along with a pretty touching halftime ceremony, fans were treated to an array of tributes on the jumbotron and some pretty cool commemorative t-shirts.

** WNST.net provided a plethora of interviews with members of that memorable squad, to include Rod Woodson, Peter Boulware, Priest Holmes, Matt Stover, Michael McCrary, Jamal Lewis, Jamie Sharper, Brandon Stokley, Duane Starks and numerous others. You can find each interview, in its entirety, in the Buy A Toyota.com Audio Vault (RIGHT HERE)

In addition to the publicly recognized festivities, the Ravens also hosted a party for the former players, last Saturday evening. Obviously, I was not at the event and cannot responsibility speculate on the happenings of the affair. However, numerous accounts of an altercation between Trent Dilfer and Ozzie Newsome have spread throughout the local and national sports media landscape.

Trent Dilfer has addressed the encounter, and he termed it “nothing confrontational or juicy.” However, the story’s source suggested “Trent was pissed” regarding his departure from the team. You can find the article outlining the incident (HERE).

Once again, I was not at the party and I have no firsthand knowledge of anything regarding the event. Thus, I will not devote any further insight into it.

That said, I am going to devote some energy to chronicling the career of Trent Dilfer, which includes his brief time with the Ravens. It’s a career many quarterbacks would love to fulfill; he’s got a Super Bowl ring and a Pro Bowl appearance to his credit. These are pretty special distinctions.

28 Jan 2001:   Quarterback Trent Dilfer of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates after defeating the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  The Ravens won the game 34-7. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr/ALLSPORT

I’m also fully aware of Trent’s reputation with Baltimore’s football fans. He’s a beloved guy, who garners a great deal of sympathy and storied support from a large sect of Ravens loyalists. You love the guy and your affection is easy to understand.

He was the quarterback of the only team to win a Super Bowl for this city, in nearly 40 years ….

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