Szwaja's Sports Blog

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Dear Dontrelle Willis, CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez, Juan Pierre and others,

I have a beef with all of you. Listen, guys, this is professional baseball, not a 50-Cent video. Bend the brims on your hats as much or as little as you want, but, please, please wear them as they're meant to be worn.

The MLB logo on the back of your hat should be centered on your neck. (Side note: I've always wondered, the MLB logo, is that guy right or left handed? It can really go either way.) And the center of the brim should line up pretty much between your eyes, not cocked to one side. Like I said, I'm not asking you to wear your hat as well as, say, Todd Walker or Nomar wear theirs. The word "uniform" is the root of the word, "uniformity." Everyone on a team is supposed to look relatively the same.

When you guys thug it out by cocking your caps to one side, you don't look like baseball players. Baseball is a sport rich in tradition and precedent, and you guys think wearing your hat on the mound is the same as wearing your hat behind the wheel of your Escalades. It's not. You're not out there to make a fashion statement. You're out there to get guys out.

Wearing baseball hats has become trendy, thanks largely in part to Mr. 50-Cent. Never has it been so cool to wear a camouflaged San Diego Padres hat. Well, it's not cool to mimic 50 on the mound. If you guys think you look cool on the mound, you're wrong. You all look like clowns. CC, I could harp on you for your pants -- I didn't know they made boot-cut, loose-fit baseball pants -- but maybe I'll save that argument for later.

I can't imagine what's to come if you gentlemen continue your nasty trend-setting ways. I can see it now, all of you soon sporting skeleton caps under your hats with the New Era sticker still affixed to the top of the brim, which coincidently isn't bent one centimeter. If this keeps up, everyone will be doing it, including those poor kids who play in the Little League World Series. The thought of it makes me cringe. The next generation of baseball fans might never know what a real baseball player is supposed to look like. Soon, baseball players and guys in Jay-Z's posse will become interchangeable. We can't have that.

So, please, respect the game, turn your hats three inches back the other way so they're centered, and we can all get on with watching baseball peacefully again. Thank you.


Mike Szwaja
Baseball Traditionalist

P.S. - Felix, Brian Anderson owns you.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Sorry it's been so long. I have no excuse other than I've been lazy. It's been way too long. I've had so much I've wanted to put in here, but for one reason or another I've been terrible keeping this thing up. Expect a flurry of activity over the next week.

For the newest blog, I have a serious beef with ESPN. Let me start by saying that I love baseball as much as the next guy. I take pride in its status as our national pastime. I love the smell of sausage and sauerkraut at The Cell. I love sitting under the upper deck behind home plate at Wrigley. I love the 6-4-3 double play. I love watching Aaron Rowand run down balls in center field at Yankee Stadium -- balls nobody else would get to. Being a serious fan of head wear, I love the fact that baseball is the only major sport that requires players to wear caps.

Here's what I don't love: putting enormous amounts of pressure on 12 year olds who happen to be above average ballplayers for their age. ESPN broadcasting the Little League World Series, thus glorifying the deeds of kids, doesn't sit right with this baseball fan. This pitcher for the California team this year, I won't use his name because I don't support making him into a semi-celebrity, this kid's going to be the next Danny Almonte isn't he? If you don't remember Almonte, all you need to know is that he dominated for the New York team a few years ago as a pitcher. Problem was he was 14, two years older than the maximum age for LLWS players. Anyway, SportsCenter ran a special on Almonte the other day. He's now a senior in high school, and at one point the reporter said, "In an interview with Almonte's high school coach, I was told that Almonte would be a late round draft pick at best." That doesn't sound that bad here in print, but if you heard it, the tone in the reporter's voice made it sound like that was a bad thing. It was almost as if the reporter wanted to tell his audience that Almonte is now a prized prospect. All I could do was cringe.

Here's what we're missing: Danny Almonte is still going to be a MLB draft pick. I know there are like 248 rounds in the MLB Draft, but that's an impressive feat none the less. So, back to the pitcher on the California team this year. He's thrown something like 3 perfect games in this year's LLWS. Okay, great. Good for him. That's impressive. He's still 12, though. We can't make too big a deal out of it, because if we do, then we're setting the kid up to fail. We're throwing too much, too soon his way.

People, notably the people at ESPN, make these kids into semi-celebrities. They put them on highlight reels, make them part of top-10 plays lists and, perhaps most troubling, force us to invest serious interest in his development as a baseball player. Admit it, if you've followed the LLWS this year at all you've wondered if this kid will ever make it big. That's a problem.

There will always be the proponents, parents and friends who think it's great to see their kids on the ESPN2 Bottom Line or in the SportsCenter Top 10. That's all great. But I wonder what those same parents and friends will think six years from now when they see a SportCenter special on their former LLWS hero, which details his struggles to develop into a five-star big-league prospect. "He'll be lucky to be a late round draft pick." Let them play the games, televise them if you wish, just don't make these kids into national heroes. The way I see it, we're abusing a great tradition, our recrational gift to the world, our national pastime.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The scene: Kyle Orton, thanks in large part to that rocket launcher attached to the right side of his body, leads the Chicago Bears to a comeback victory over the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football. After the game, Orton and speedy and strong receiver Mark Bradley flank Michelle Tafoya for an interview. Tafoya seems amazed by their respective performances, while Orton and Bradley grin between their answers as if they own Chicago. And after their efforts on this Monday night, they might as well own Chicago. Bears fans haven't seen an offense like that in a long time. The visions of John Shoop and Terry Shea (and even Gary Crowton) have stopped dancing in their heads, and Bears fans now rejoice at the sight of Ron Turner's offense.

So, I left a few things out. Yes, it was in fact Monday Night Football, but the game didn't count. Yes, Shoop, Shea and Crowton are long gone, and yes, Turner's offense actually looked like an NFL offense. But it was only one game into Turner's second go around as an NFL offensive coordinator. Yes, Orton led the Bears to victory, but he did it against third string defenders, some of whom didn't have "the motor needed to play in the NFL," said John Madden. And ohh yeah, Orton is third on the depth chart behind Rex Grossman and Chad "Hut, Hut" Hutchinson. Yes, Bradley had five catches for 131 yards, he stiff-armed corners like he was Jerry Rice going down the sideline and he looked like he belonged, but he's still a project player who only had 23 receptions during his college career at Oklahoma.

Still, despite all this, Monday night's preseason week one performance had to be refreshing for Bears fans. If nothing else, it proved that there is hope. For me, call me crazy, it was something more. In Orton, I saw the makings of a future pro starter. I know as well as anyone else seeing a quarterback throw a football on TV is completely different from seeing it in person, but Orton's ball appeared to be strong, tight and accurate to this TV viewer. The interception was a mistake, a rookie mistake. The play wasn't there, and Orton tried to be a hero instead of rolling out of the pocket and finding a fan in the third row. As a student at the University of Illinois, I saw Orton play at Purdue for three years. And as a Bears fan, I saw him play for one game. Still, I'll say this: by 2007, Orton will be the regular starter.

Let that settle in...

Okay, now let me say this. I like Grossman a lot. I remember sitting in Bourbonnais last year in awe of his arm strength. I think he's smart and has that cocky attitude good quarterbacks need --- but not over-the-top cocky a la Cade McNown. Still, he's small. Really small. Not many quarterbacks his size have staying power. I can't think of one in the NFL right now actually. JP Lossman isn't huge, but what has he done? Same goes for Patrick Ramsey. And we have to be concerned about Grossman's health. Granted, both his injuries have been of the freak variety. He tore some ligaments in his thumb when he hit a helmet with his hand, and then there was the ACL. The thumb injury, how much did that have to do with his lack of height? As someone who has torn his ACL, I know sometimes it doesn't take much for it to happen, but I also remember my doctor telling me I "have weird knees." Who knows? Maybe Grossman has "weird knees."

Back to Orton, he's every bit of the 6'4'' he is listed at, and the ball leaves his hand without much wasted motion. And he's tough. He played practically his entire senior season at Purdue while injured. Had he been healthy, Orton would have been the second quarterback taken in the draft. Maybe Bears fans should be thankful he wasn't healthy. He could be waiting in the wings of Lambeau behind Brett Favre right now.

As for Bradley, his Hall of Fame game performance was nice, but I keep going back to his college career ... or lack there of. I'm not going to be sold on Bradley until he consistently proves himself. I'm talking about half a season or more, because the way I see it now, Bradley's going to give you a nice play here and there, maybe even a nice game or two, but will disappear for weeks at a time. Still, it's hard to ignore what he did against the Dolphins. Real game or not, Bradley looked like he had "it." For the love of Bears fans, I hope he proves me wrong right away and plays like a second round sleeper in an Anquan Boldin kind of way. What a compliment to Mushin Muhammad that would be.

Yet, with all the doubts still looming over the Bears, it's not hard to imagine Orton and Bradley doing a Michelle Tafoya "what a game, guys!" interview on a cold November night after a Monday Night Football game with serious playoff implications, is it?