Seahawks’ QB woes

The NFC West is a mess. But I’m sure you knew that. Since the NFC West went 0-4 last week, the Seahawks are amazingly still in the playoff hunt despite losing badly to Atlanta. The score at the end of the first half was 17-10. Yet Hasselbeck’s poor decision making and multiple turnovers got him benched towards the end of the 3rd quarter for Charlie Whitehurst. Whitehurst played reasonably well, managing to take the team down the field for a touchdown. But by that point it was too late. The Hawks were behind — and stayed behind — by double digits. Once again, too many Matt turnovers resulted in opposing team TDs.

So whither Seahawks? The NFC West is still within reach, and via some math too complicated for me to get into, the 49ers, Rams, and Seahawks are still in the running to host a playoff game. But it will likely be a meaningless home playoff game — I don’t see any of these three teams advancing much past the first round. However, this is football. I could be surprised.

Who do you start at quarterback for the final two games? Despite the turnovers and the broken wrist (which is likely the cause of some of his turnovers), I think Matt Hasselbeck gives the Hawks the best shot at winning their final two games. Quite frankly, some of Whitehurst’s passes had me on the edge of my seat. There’s a reason why it took this guy five years to throw a pass in the NFL. Matt’s got the experience. He’s taken this team to the playoffs multiple times, and he’s taken this team all the way to the Super Bowl. You don’t want to put the weight of this team on the shoulders of a 28-year-old quarterback who is not your quarterback of the future.

Yes, he throws a lot of interceptions. Yes, that end zone fumble just looked ugly. But the entire team has to step up if they even want a shot at the playoffs this year. Everybody has to play hard. The defense has to make some stops. This season is not all Matt’s fault. Pete Carroll deserves some of the blame. So does the front office for not drafting Matt’s successor. (Although granted, this offseason’s QB class is a much better one than last year’s.)

This is a team that’s still rebuilding. And clearly has a lot of rebuilding to do. It needs a more solid offensive line, for starters. It needs a few more big bodies on defense. It needs someone who can take over for Matt next season.

So, who would you start? The guy with the experience or The Beard? My money’s still with Matt. You can always pull him if he’s not doing well.

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Favre’s streak ends

Brett Favre did not start on Monday night, even though he had an extra day to recover from a shoulder injury. His starting streak was the longest among active players in the NFL. It ended at 297.

Love or hate the guy (and Favre usually elicits a strong reaction), this is a pretty incredible feat. Football is a brutal sport. For Favre to start 297 games…he’s a warrior.

Oh, and if you get a chance, Google the Metrodome collapse video. It’s intense!

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And the winner of the Cliff Lee sweepstakes is…

The Phillies. Seriously. I don’t think I saw that one coming.

This gives the Phillies the best rotation in Major League Baseball, barring injuries. Actually, even if one of the pitchers were to get injured, they’d have a great rotation. Lee-Halladay-Hamels-Oswalt-5th starter who I don’t know.

The best line of the article is this one:
“This was a rare instance in which the Yankees’ financial might failed to land them a player they wanted.” HA! Lesson to Yankee fans: don’t insult opposing players’ families and wives. They might get a lucrative offer from the Yanks and turn it down because of your rudeness.

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Rainy Sunday Sports Roundup

It’s pouring outside. It’s raining so hard that I’m actually thinking about wearing my gaiters when I go grocery shopping later today. Or maybe I’ll skip the farmer’s market because it’s so nasty out.

Here are a couple of points for your Rainy Sunday Sports Roundup.

1. The Seahawks are 6-6, with four games left. My prediction is that they finish 9-7 and redeem themselves for that awful loss at St. Louis earlier in the season. The Hawks should easily win the division. It helps that they play in the worst division in football. Should they win the division, they’ll have a home playoff game, but I doubt they’ll go much further than the first round. There are way too many holes in that roster.

2. Things we’ve learned about the Seahawks thus far.
Mike Williams is awesome. Except he’s been hurt a lot. But he’s still awesome.
Leon Washington can return kicks and punts like nobody’s business.
Hasselbeck still has it. I hope he returns next season. Charlie Whitehurst is nowhere near ready to be an NFL starter.
When Russell Okung is actually healthy, the Seahawks have a running game. Too bad this hasn’t been the case for much of the games this season.
The defense started out promising, but has returned to it’s horrifying inability to tackle. You have no idea how many times I’ve yelled “will you please tackle him?!?” at the TV screen.
Earl Thomas is so fast Brett Favre didn’t get a chance to unretire.
Pete Carroll’s return to the NFL has largely been a success. It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of this season plays out.

3. The Mariners were a bust at the winter meetings. An absolute bust. Miguel Olivo and Jack Cust? Please. If you’re looking for a catcher who can hit, it’s not Olivo. He was terrible with the Mariners, and I don’t expect him to be any better now. Cust has more of an upside as a DH, but can’t play the field. The Mariners won’t get any better until they get the Bavasi signings off their payroll. We’re shelling out millions to players who can’t play (like Carlos Silva).

4. Whither Cliff Lee? The Cliff Lee sweepstakes are in full swing, with teams throwing money at the Cy Young winner like it’s going out of style. Lee should choose between offers thrown at him by the Yankees and the Rangers tomorrow. I hope he picks the Rangers. He helped them get to their first World Series. Besides, when the Rangers played the Yankees in the playoffs at Yankee Stadium, Lee’s wife was the target of fan ridicule. She had stuff thrown on her and at her. If I was Lee’s wife, I’d be really pissed if he picked the Yankees. I’d think “really, honey? I know it’s a lot of money, but you’re going to go play for the team whose fans threw crap at me and called me names?” Nuh uh. No way.

5. Brett Favre is old, and may actually miss a game. This throws his starting streak into question. However, the Vikings game against the Giants has been pushed back until tomorrow night, as the Giants are stuck in Kansas City due to bad weather. Could this make a difference? Will the old warrior live to throw again? We’ll see. Personally, I’m tired of Brett Favre. He should have retired (and stayed retired) last year.

6. Huskies have a bowl game. Too bad it’s against Nebraska again. I hope we don’t get killed.

7. BCS title game is a matchup of Auburn and Oregon. I’m rooting for the Ducks because they’re in the Pac-10. Cool that a Pac-10 team got into the title game!

8. The Huskies have a pretty good basketball team. We were ranked #20 as of last week, but a one-point loss to Texas A&M will likely push us out of the top 25. No worries, though. The team has so much talent they’ll rebound (ha!) and find their way into the top 25 again.

9. Dave Niehaus to get a statue at Safeco Field. Fitting that the first statue at Safeco Field will be of our beloved long-time broadcaster, who died of a heart attack on November 10th. I know I’ll be crying like a baby when I turn on the radio to listen to Spring Training in February and realize I won’t hear Dave’s voice. As Rick Rizzs pointed out at the memorial yesterday, Tom Hanks had it wrong. There is crying in baseball.

Stay dry, folks!

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RIP Ron Santo

Most of you have probably already heard this news, but Cubs broadcaster died recently. He was as beloved to Cubs fans as Dave Niehaus was to we Mariner fans. I never got to hear Ron Santo call a game, but it sounds like he cared passionately about the game, just as Dave did.

Anyway, here’s an article I found about him.

I’m a bit saddened tonight. So many of the old-time radio broadcasters have passed away just within this past year. Harry Kalas of the Phillies, Dave, and now Ron Santo. As radio becomes replaced by more and more forms of interactive media, who will emerge to tell baseball stories? Is radio becoming a dying art?

I know I’m going to choke up in February the first time I turn on the radio to listen to Spring Training and realize I’ll never hear Dave call a game again. I’m sure Cubs fans will feel the same thing when they turn on the radio.

Anyway, RIP Ron. Wish you’d been inducted during your lifetime. Hope you’re hanging out with Dave, calling a game at the Field of Dreams.

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Dave Niehaus

Dave Niehaus died about a month ago. I wrote about it on my other blog, but not here. I can’t get to sleep, so I figured I’d finally update this one. I know I’ve been MIA as of late — it’s hard keeping up on sports news when one is a graduate student. I’ll try to revive this blog over the holidays.

Here is the post from the other blog:

I felt like a kid on Christmas morning when the Mariners said I could interview Dave Niehaus for my bachelor’s thesis in 2004. I’d been listening to the Mariners for my whole life, and Dave was my childhood hero. I couldn’t (and still can’t) listen to baseball without thinking of Dave’s voice. I see baseball through Dave’s eyes — when he describes the blue of the sky, and the cut of the grass, I could see and smell the field.

So it was with my heart pounding in my chest that I dialed Dave’s home phone number.

“Hello?” his wife picked up.

“Hi, is Dave Niehaus there please?” I asked politely. She went to get him. I had to remind him who I was and why I was calling, but once I did so, he made me feel right at home.

“Oh hi, Anna, how are you?” he asked in his deep baritone. Like I was an old friend. He switched phones because the one he was on was gonna run out of batteries. And then we started talking about Whitman, Walla Walla, and what I was doing. I think he could sense that I was nervous talking to him. But he put me right at ease, chit-chatting about Walla Walla, my hometown of Seattle, and what I was majoring in.

And then the magic began. For 45 minutes, I asked Dave questions, and listened to him reminisce about the bad old years, the exciting years of the ’90s, and where the team was going to go next. I scribbled notes and listened with my ear pressed up against the phone.

Dave started to get excited when he talked about the 1995 season. “It was about, you know, August of that particular year when, I think the Mariners were thirteen games behind the Angels, and funny things began to happen. And not only did they catch the Angels, the Angels caught them at the end. If you might recall, we were in Texas, and had clenched a tie for the division championship with two games to go, and then Texas beat us the last two games, and the Angels swept all four games down in Anaheim against Oakland. And tied, and then they came up here and then we beat them.
And then went to New York, and af – ironically, I’ll never forget this, because the first day we were in New York, uh, to play the Yankees in the playoffs, it was the day that the OJ Simpson verdict came down. And, uh, and then lost the first two games and that – certainly the second game, that bitter thirteen, fourteen-inning, fifteen-inning game. I think it was thirteen innings, where Jimmy Leyrich hit a home run into the, into – raindrops into the seats in right field, and we’re coming back down two to nothing, and you knew the season was over. And, well, as you know what happened, it wasn’t over. We won all three games, culminated by Edgar Martinez’ double down the left field line with Joey Cora scoring and then Junior scoring from first base.
And – and I think it was from August of that year that the town became absolutely rabid, fanatical.”

I could see Cora scoring. I could see Edgar’s double down the left field line. I could see Junior scoring from first base. That’s how powerful Niehaus was. Through his voice, you saw the game.

Dave was adamant that the 2001 Mariners had had more wins than the 1906 Cubs, and that their accomplishment was greater than that of the Cubs. “. Ironically, the hundred and sixteen wins were the most in baseball history. Uh, people say that no, the 1906 Chicago Cubs also won a hundred and sixteen games. They, they won a hundred and fifteen. They had one game given to them. It was forfeited to them, when John McGraw would not play, the Cubs wouldn’t put his team, the New York Giants on the field because he didn’t like the umpiring crew, and he said if this particular umpire is gonna umpire behind home plate he wouldn’t put his team on the field. And the umpire says “okay then, see ya later.” And they forfeited that game to the Chicago Cubs. So the Cubs actually on the field only won a hundred and fifteen games, the Mariners won a hundred and sixteen. But of course, you know, there are all kinds of nuances to that, too. The Cubs only played a hundred and fifty-four games, the Mariners played a hundred and sixty-two, so.”

Dave Niehaus died yesterday. He had a heart attack on his back porch. He was surrounded by family when he died, as it should be. The Northwest lost a legend. I cried for hours. And, not knowing just what I should do, I drove down to Safeco Field with a candle and a note for his family. I had to tell them what Dave meant to me. I wasn’t alone. Four other people were down there with the same thought. We left flowers and candles at the Home Plate entrance. KIRO 710 announced that a “spontaneous candlelight vigil” was going on at the stadium. All throughout the night and into today, fans of Dave Niehaus have been making the pilgrimage to Safeco Field, leaving their remembrances. The entire Northwest is grieving. It feels like we lost our grandfather, the one who told us stories about Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, and Jay Buhner. The one who could make a summer night come alive with magic and wonder. The one we listened to no matter what the score was. If the Mariners were down by 10 runs, I’d listen to Dave call for more. I learned to love baseball because of Dave Niehaus.

For me, some of the most poignant things Dave told me were about his role as a broadcaster. He knew that he’d become part of people’s families and people’s lives. And I think it humbled him. He said, “Baseball announcers like myself become ingrained in people’s families, because you come into their homes, if you’re a baseball fan, almost every day. And you become a part of their family.”

And that’s it. That’s why it’s so hard to lose him. He became a part of many people’s families.

Summer’s not going to feel the same without him. He said, “People start to listen, listening to me – or when baseball season comes around, let’s put it this way, it’s a portent of good things to come. Because the winter is over, Spring has started, the trees start to bloom, it’s, you know, it’s a – vacations are around the corner, beaches, hiking, trips, everything.”

When I heard Dave’s voice on the radio every February, I knew that spring was right around the corner. I knew that soon we’d be having beautiful long summer Seattle days and warm nights. I knew that it was almost hiking season. It’s just not going to feel like summer without Dave.

Before I hung up the phone, Dave Niehaus asked if I would send him a copy of my bachelor’s thesis when I was done. I couldn’t believe it. My childhood hero was asking me to send me what I’d written. “Well Anna, it’s uh – good luck to you. And, uh, if you get a chance, when you write this, let me, let me read it,” he said. So I bound a copy and sent it to him at Safeco Field. I don’t know if he read it, but I like to think he did. I hope he liked it.

I treasure that phone conversation I had with Hall of Famer Dave Niehaus. It just epitomizes who he was. He was one of the nicest men in sports, a real class act, who would talk to anybody. Even during the down years — and we Mariners fans have been in the midst of almost a decade of them — we still listened to Dave.

According to broadcaster Shannon Drayer, Dave believed that Hall of Fame ghosts came out at night and played baseball at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown. On her blog, she related this anecdote.

“I thought that after they turned the lights off that they must sneak out of there and head over to Doubleday Field,” he said, “almost like a Field of Dreams, only everyone is a Hall of Famer and you have got the ideal pitching matchup against the greatest ball players of all time. The old Negro Leagues stars were there and it is one happy family. Why not bring them all back and play the Oscar Charlestons? Yeah, you’re darn right. There are ghosts there.”

I like to imagine Dave Niehaus among the ghosts of Cooperstown. He’s meeting Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. He’s talking with Harry Caray, his own childhood hero. And he gets in the radio booth as Cy Young throws a fastball to Babe Ruth with three men on, and it’s

“Babe Ruth points the bat out to left field, and it’s swung on and BELTED! Deep to left field! Ted Williams goes to the track, to the wall! This baby is gonna…FLY AWAY! GET OUT THE RYE BREAD AND THE MUSTARD GRANDMA, IT’S GRAND SALAMI TIME!!!”

Rest in peace, Dave Niehaus. It’s not going to feel like summer around here without you.

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“Don Wakamatsu Is Our Manager.” Right.

Big, predictable news out of the Mariners today. The organization fired coach Don Wakamatsu, along with a few other coaches.

I think this was a terrible call on the Mariners’ part. It’s not all Wak’s fault that the team is doing so poorly this season. In fact, I argue that it’s really the front office that got Wak into the situation he was in. True, the front office could not have predicted that Figgins and others would have horrible years. But let’s look at some of the major incidents of this year before assigning all the blame on Wakamatsu.

1. Front Office passes on Branyan. Team decides to rely on aging veterans (Sweeney and Griffey) and Milton Bradley for power.
This, to me, was the #1 problem with this year’s Mariners. True, Sweeney did well enough in Spring Training to earn a spot on the team. But Griffey only hit one home run. Which ended up being his final home run. (I happened to be there for that — big moment.) And Milton Bradley brought a powder keg of issues to this year’s team. Neither Sweeney nor Griffey could stay healthy long enough to make an impact, and Griffey’s slump was so bad that Wak couldn’t play him and expect to win games. There’s nothing sadder than a veteran who keeps playing longer than he should have. In my opinion, Junior should have retired on a high note, at the end of last year. Wak had to manage a no-win situation regarding Griffey, ’95 nostalgia, and the Mariners.

2. Milton Bradley blows up and leaves the team to get counseling.
I thought Wakamatsu handled this situation very well. Clearly Bradley needed to get his head on straight. But he’s not hitting at all.

3. Two catchers, neither of whom can actually catch. Or hit.
This turns the #9 spot into a black hole. We started telling RoJo to keep his bat on his shoulder so he could at least get on base.

#4 Starting rotation (save Rowland-Smith) pretty solid. But bullpen keeps blowing games.
Didn’t USS Mariner call it last year? Aardsma got lucky. Plain and simple. He has no pitches other than a fastball, and just throws as hard as he can when he gets in trouble. This is why he keeps getting lit up this year.

#5 Junior suddenly calls it quits mid-season.
OK. I’m a big Mariners fan, so I love the guy. But this put Wak in a bad spot. He couldn’t play Junior because Junior, well, couldn’t play. So he sat Junior. And Junior wasn’t happy with it, stopped talking to Wak, and abruptly retired. Wak is now “the guy who ran Junior out of town.” See the great USS Mariner post for more on this. Wak lost the respect of the clubhouse after this, and took the fall for something he really shouldn’t have.

#6 Chone Figgins blows up
Wak thought Figgins was dogging it on a play and pulled him from a game. Figgy didn’t like this, and threw punches. At the manager. You never, ever throw punches at the manager. Branyan got involved and calmed everybody down. And what did the Front Office do? It refused to comment until days later, when Jack Z publicly said “Don Wakamatsu is our manager.” But Figgins never really talked to the media about this. He never apologized publicly. The club tried to keep it all inside — giving the impression (despite Jack Z’s words) that it really wasn’t supporting Wak.

You can place most of these problems squarely on the front office. Here’s the main thing about the Mariners — they don’t have good baseball people where it counts. They’ve got the payroll to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox, but don’t go out and sign the players to do so. It’s disappointing and frustrating to fans. We’ve been “rebuilding” for far too many seasons. This is worse than a “bad year.” The culture of the franchise accepts losing. And where do you get the culture to change? It has to start at the top.

There will be no continuity or stability in this franchise until they can keep a manager longer than a season and a half. Since Piniella, the Mariners have gone through at least five managers. And it has to stop. They need to get somebody in there who can turn it around, and whom they can stick with through the down years. The Ms stuck with Piniella when the team was bad. Why wouldn’t they stick with Wak?

Wak will manage somewhere else. I wish him luck and success. He’s a good manager. It’s just that the Mariners are toxic.

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George Steinbrenner

George Steinbrenner, the man responsible for making the Yankees the most vilified team in baseball, died of a heart attack on Saturday. He was 80 years old. In my friend Loren’s words, “the manner of his death disproved a theory I had,” that Steinbrenner was, in fact, heartless. More than any other person, Steinbrenner changed the way teams run their organizations. Say what you will about the man, but when you’re throwing that kind of money around, of course you’re going to buy championships.

I’m not trying to speak ill of the dead here — I’m sure Steinbrenner’s family, as well as Yankee fans and players, are truly grieving. But the fact of the matter is that Steinbrenner changed the face of baseball forever. And he changed it for the worse. Because of all the big money flying around at free agents, small market clubs like Kansas City can’t compete. And what’s the use of having a salary cap in baseball if all the Yankees will do is break it and pay a penalty every year?

But Steinbrenner became part of our public life, too. He was famously George’s boss on Seinfeld. What die-hard Mariners fan can forget this Seinfeld moment? “What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for? He had 30 home runs, and over 100 RBIs last year. He’s got a rocket for an arm. You don’t know what the hell you’re doin!”

My own feelings about George Steinbrenner and his effect on baseball can best be described by Peter Sagal’s rant on “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.” “Nobody, but nobody more than Steinbrenner did more for our national pastime. And by that, I mean, hating the New York Yankees.” (applause) “Without Steinbrenner, Yankee-hating would have become empty, pointless, an antique sport like harness racing or lawn tennis. But with Steinbrenner making the Yankees the most obnoxious, tyrannical, bloated, purely evil sports franchise since the disbanding of the Tampa Bay Devil Nazis, Yankee-hating was revived. And whole new generations of fans have grown up to scream obscenities at the sight of a pinstripe. He may be gone, but I know I’ll have Steinbrenner to thank when my little daughters look up at me someday and say ‘Papa, are the Yankees Satan’s baseball team?’ And I will say ‘yes, sweetheart, why yes. They are.’ Thank you, George.”

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Sweet Lou retiring

After 18 years playing in the majors and 22 years as a manager, “Sweet” Lou Piniella announced that he will be retiring after this season. Lou was the only Mariners manager to lead the team to the playoffs, which he did in 1995, 1997, 2000, and 2001. I would argue that Lou was the best manager the club ever had.

What I’ve always appreciated and loved about Lou is his commitment to winning. Lou Piniella does not like to lose. And he’s not afraid to give umpires a piece of his mind, which he did while in Seattle on many a colorful occasion. I don’t know which Lou tantrum was better — the one where he kicked his hat around the bases, or the one where he threw home plate.

It was Sweet Lou, more than any player, who saved baseball in Seattle. To the Mariners, Lou brought the expectation of winning. From 1977-1994, the club never had a winning season. 1993 was the first time the Mariners played over-.500 ball. In 1995, the stakes were high. The club could have left Seattle without a new stadium. But under the guidance of Lou Piniella, the Mariners game from 12 games back to tie the Angels, beat them in a one-game playoff, and go on to the American League Divisional Series. Seattle became baseball mad. And Lou stewarded that team.

I’m sure Lou’s going to hang around baseball in some capacity. I would expect to see him as a club consultant, or possibly as an ESPN commentator during the playoffs. We wish you success, Sweet Lou.

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Welcome Blaise Nkufo! Now start scoring some goals…

Blaise Nkufo, striker from the Swiss national team, is here! And boy, did he look good in rave green at Sunday’s friendly. The 6’2″ 35-year-old forward had some great touches. With he and Montero up front, the Sounders could finally have the goal-scoring tag-team we’ve been sorely missing. It’s too bad Boss got a red card in the first half – Montero came out right after, and the Sounders had to shift to a more defensive game.

I read an article yesterday that said that the Sounders have to get 24 points in the final 13 games to make the playoffs. So they need to win at least 8 games, or win 6-7 and tie the rest. Tall order. I hope they can do it.

In other soccer news, it sounds like Freddie Ljungberg may be on his way out of Seattle. Lame. He, Nkufo, and Montero on the same pitch would have been amazing.

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