Michael Vick’s Last Chance

Michael Vick is once again at a crossroads in his career.

The unexpected rise of Nick Foles has deemed the former-No. 1 overall pick and soon-to-be 34 year old expendable by the Philadelphia Eagles. But thankfully for Vick this latest dip into the free agency pool only pertains to his contributions on the football field.

During the Bad Newz Kennels scandal I wrote about Vick and the Possible Unprecedented Fall of an American Athlete. Since then Mike served time in federal prison (mostly for charges related to illegal gambling) and has seemingly made amends for his awful mistakes. From speaking to schoolchildren about the dangers of dog fighting to lobbying Congress for stricter animal protection laws Vick has demonstrated a great deal of remorse for his crimes. His newfound maturity also helped him develop into a respected veteran and leader in the Eagles locker room. “Respected” and “leader” are two adjectives that would not describe Vick during his tumultuous tenure with the Falcons.

While all but the most ardent animal lovers have moved on from Vick’s personal transgressions many sports fans continue to be frustrated by his lack of football success. Under Andy Reid’s guidance Vick enjoyed a resurgence in 2010, completing 62% of his passes for over 3,000 yards and 21 touchdowns. Since then his CMP% and TD totals has dipped as injuries and ineffectiveness took their toll. 2013 was supposed to be a banner year for Mike as Chip Kelly’s innovative, high-octane offense was supposed to be perfectly suited for a dual-threat QB. Instead it was the lanky pocket passer Foles who emerged as an elite playmaker, throwing for a ridiculous 27-2 TD-to-INT ratio in only ten starts.

Now that Vick is clearly on the outs in Philly… where does he wind up? On MMQB Peter King opined about the usual QB-starved suspects (NY Jets, Oakland and Minnesota) along with a sleeper team in San Francisco. King wrote his article prior to the 49ers trading for Blaine Gabbert so the odds of SF also signing Vick just went from slim to none. Regardless Mike Florio at PFT reports Vick is willing to wait for the right time to sign, possibly even after the NFL Draft.

There’s no doubt that Vick will carefully choose what will likely be his last NFL team. While it’s impossible for Vick to live up to the hype that devoured him coming out of Virginia Tech there is still reason to believe his arm, legs and mind can successfully lead an NFL franchise.

Following Renovation Dodger Stadium Poised to Become Top-30 MLB Ballpark

The Los Angeles Times reports the Dodgers will continue sprucing up Chavez Ravine during this offseason. The team plans to finish building a new visitor’s clubhouse, expanding stadium entrances, adding two new concession stands and sprucing up the area with additional trees, all by Opening Day. Along with the beautiful big screens, new scoreboards and renovated bathrooms that have already been installed the venerable ballpark has undergone a significant Hollywood makeover over the past two years — not unlike the team on the field.

But frankly, like most Tinseltown transformations, the changes inside and around the ballpark have been mainly cosmetic. Until major problems are properly addressed Dodger Stadium will continue to lag behind other state-of-the-art facilities that offer a better fan experience.

So in what areas does Dodger Stadium remain lacking? Let’s circle back to one of the improvements being planned: concessions. When Carl’s Jr. is one of the most attractive dining options at your place you know your food sucks. Aside from your typical stadium fare (hot dogs, popcorn, nachos) Dodger Stadium has been severely lacking in the culinary department. When I visited San Francisco last summer I got a chance to visit AT&T Park, where the Giants’ scrumptious offerings include premium items such as brisket, sausages, crab, wine and chocolates.

Occasionally the Dodgers will sell a specialty item based on their opponent for the night, such as a Chicago-style hot dog when the Cubs are in town. Unfortunately at a busy game it can take multiple innings to get in an order. Considering Dodgers fans led the Majors in fan attendance last season both the quality and quantity of choices need to improve. While a Tommy Lasorda-inspired Italian restaurant as well as a barbecue stand would improve the concessions situation it’s very disappointing that a franchise with such a large and diverse fanbase doesn’t branch out with more thoughtful cuisine.

Perhaps it’s a positive there isn’t more to eat and drink at Dodger Stadium because the bathroom situation is deplorable. When the team initially renovated the mens’ restrooms it removed the urinal troughs and installed individual stalls. For sanitary and privacy reasons that was a wise move but as a consequence there is now much less real estate for guys to relieve themselves. As a result the queue to take a leak often balloons to over a hundred people during breaks between innings or after the game. Personally I prefer the old grimy bathrooms; at least you could get in and out to finish your business in a reasonable timer. It’s not enough that the bathrooms look nice… there has to more of them.

If somehow you managed to snag a decent bite and hit the head throughout the course of a ballgame… good luck escaping the concrete jungle that is the Dodger Stadium parking lot. Following every game a few dozen attendants fruitlessly attempt to usher thousands of people and cars squeezing through a few, poorly-lit corridors. It’s always a mess trying to get out of Chavez Ravine and I personally know someone who had his foot run after a game in all the disarray. Much like the congestion problems plaguing the city as a whole, Dodgers Stadium seems content on doing as little as possible to fix to traffic problem.

Last season I attended a dozen or so Dodgers games. They were fun for the most part. The team played very well, the giveaways were great and the place was packed even on weeknights. Despite that, I will probably go a lot less in 2014 because my and friend I decided the crappy food, bathroom queues and hours wasted in the parking lot just aren’t worth it. The Dodgers certainly won’t miss us; they were the most popular team in baseball last season and another pair of Angelenos will certainly come along and scoop up my seats. And that’s the real shame because the fans deserve a more enriched and safer environment.

The Despicable Seattle Mariners

By now many baseball fans have managed to digest Geoff Baker’s thorough exposé on the Seattle Mariners highlighting the incompetence/arrogance of GM Jack Zduriencik as well as long-time M’s officials Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong. But just as the unsettling developments began to sink in, the M’s officially signed Robinson Cano, their quarter-billion-dollar Christmas present. While everyone else has moved onto Hot Stove season Mariners fans are still left to pick up the pieces and continue rooting for a franchise that manages to be both awful on the field as well as mean-spirited behind-the-scenes.

There had been a steady stream of whispers in recent times about how dysfunctional the team has been. Lincoln & Armstrong have been punching bags for years and rightfully so. But Jack Z was different. At least he was supposed to be. Coming from Milwaukee with a background blending traditional scouting with advanced analytics Zduriencik, along with assistants Tony Blengino and special assistant Tom Tango, was supposed to revitalize the M’s following the disastrous Bill Bavasi era.

Alas,  the marriage was doomed from the beginning as Jack’s reputation was built on a pile of lies. Literally.

Sources question Zduriencik’s credentials to properly build a roster, saying he sold Lincoln and Armstrong on hiring him five years ago with a job application package prepared not by him, but by recently dismissed Mariners special assistant Tony Blengino.

“Jack portrayed himself as a scouting/stats hybrid because that’s what he needed to get the job,” Blengino said. “But Jack never has understood one iota about statistical analysis. To this day, he evaluates hitters by homers, RBI and batting average and pitchers by wins and ERA. Statistical analysis was foreign to him. But he knew he needed it to get in the door.”

Blengino was eventually marginalized and embarrassed by the team. Since then he’s found an outlet where his scouting and statistical acumen are appreciated at sabermetrics site Fangraphs. Here’s a recent podcast with him and Carson Cistulli. Listen to the part where Blengino discusses perspective. I believe that helps explains his motivations for now revealing his tumultuous tenure in the Northwest. Also it’s interesting to hear Tony mention Miguel Olivo as a hitter whose high K% and low BB% makes it impossible for him to succeed at the dish. Of course Jack Z brought in Olivo as the starting catcher for the 2011 and 2012 seasons. That explains Olivo. And trading for Michael Morse. And signing Raul Ibanez along with a host of other bad moves.

But the M’s have suffered through a cavalcade of shitty general managers, so what makes Jack Z a cut below Bill Bavasi or Woody Woodward?

[Zduriencik] began operating much like the Wizard of Oz, wielding his power from behind a curtain,” Blengino said. “Intimidating, manipulating, and pitting people against one another. Berating them for no particular reason. He set out to eliminate any type of disagreement, accumulating yes-men who meekly go along with his program.”

This is the excerpt from Baker’s piece that’s most troubling. Operating under the guise of smoke & mirrors  explains the mediocrity. I can live with that. I’ve been rooting for this incompetent organization for the most of two decades. But I will not tolerate a team that lacks decency. Allegations made by Wedge, Blengino and insinuated by others accuse Jack Z not just of being a liar (we already knew that) but as a man who lacks a shred of kindness or even a basic sense of loyalty :

Another original Zduriencik front-office member, former professional scouting director Carmen Fusco, was fired in September 2010 after the Josh Lueke controversy. Zduriencik claimed he hadn’t known that Lueke, one of four players acquired from Texas in that summer’s blockbuster trade of pitcher Cliff Lee, had previously pleaded no contest to a charge of false imprisonment with violence in a rape case.

Fusco had seen a pre-trade report by Mariners scout Frank Mattox in the team’s central database and “he clearly had in his reports that Lueke had trouble with the law.”

Fusco said he told the team’s human resources department he’d been scapegoated and later received a terse call from Zduriencik, asking what he was doing. Though they’d been friends since schoolboy days in Pennsylvania, they haven’t spoken since.

The past several years in Seattle have played out with a Shakespearean zeal for ruthless ambition and blind arrogance. And we all know how Shakespeare plays tend to end.

The current administration will certainly have their comeuppance one day. Greater empires have fallen for less. Chuck Armstrong is already on the way out in January but there’s no telling how long Lincoln and Z will meddle with the M’s. Until their fates are resolved the ballclub’s future, like most days in Seattle, appears cloudy despite their employees, fans and players deserving better.

Quick Thought on the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito Story

Many words have already been written and spoken about the alleged bizarre bullying case between Miami Dolphins teammates since the story broke a couple weeks ago. Part of the reason this narrative exploded onto national headlines was the notion this incident encapsulated many important issues in America: workplace environment, bullying and racism among them.

Frankly I think that’s a lazy correlation. Do people not realize that the NFL itself is tantamount to intentional, glorified and violent combat? It’s where gladiators gather on the holiest day of the week to smack and gouge their colleagues to the fanfare of thousands and record TV ratings. Grooming these individuals to earn a living as savages prevents many of them from fully adjusting to a “normal” life outside the gridiron. Among the more grisly details of off-the-field behavior gone wrong: Michael Irvin once jammed a pair of scissors into a teammate’s neck. Ray Lewis’ white tuxedo is still missing. The unrest in Pittsburgh over Ben Roethlisberger has everything to do with his poor play and not his sketchy history with women. And let’s not minimize the rampant drug and alcohol abuse amongst NFL players. Yet Incognito remains a convenient piñata for pndits.

Granted the use of the N-word, threatening calls and excessive hazing are not acceptable. Richie Incognito’s immediate NFL career has suffered as a result and his future remains cloudy. Yet I can’t help shake the feeling that Richie is excessively railroaded for being a shitty person. And then there’s Jonathan Martin’s role in all this. What was his role? It would nice to get specific details from the man himself rather than statements from his lawyer. Regardless of the investigation’s outcome Martin will also struggle to find a spot on a NFL roster as many teams will decide the media distractions supersede any potential usefulness.

Instead of discussing this story I wish there was more conversation directed toward the NFL for attempting to shove more Thursday night games into an inevitable 18-game schedule. Here’s an example where not one man but an entire league has mentally disabled, physically crippled and emotionally damaged other players.

The Rise of USC Basketball

It isn’t a stretch to suggest the Andy Enfield era has already been one of the brightest times in the history of USC Basketball — and Dunk City hasn’t even officially started in Los Angeles. Then again, aside from Sam Barry’s tenure there hasn’t been much about Trojan basketball to celebrate and hasn’t been in national discussion for over fifty years.

Sure, Tim Floyd brought exciting times and a Pac-10 Championship as recently as 2010 but controversy and, eventually, sanctions soon followed. And let’s not even bring up Henry Bibby and Kevin O’Neill.

At the time of his hire many considered Enfield as a sort of Flavor of the Month: the Florida Gulf Coast coach who caught lightning-in-a-bottle with an uptempo attack while leading the lowly 15-seed Eagles to historic upsets over 2 Georgetown and 7 San Diego State. His underdog, explosive style of play along with a beautiful model wife instantly thrust Andy’s professional and personal lives into the national conversation.

But it’s not as though Enfield is unqualified for the SC gig. Far from it. Andy has years of experience as a NBA consultant and is considered one of the best free-throw shooting instructors in the business. Also he’s familiar with signing local recruits such as SoCal native Michael Snaer, whom Enfield signed while an assistant at Florida State.

When USC convinced Enfield to move 3,000 miles across the country it was a considered a major coup for the Trojans. In fact they were, for once, the toast of the college basketball town. While USC snagged an exciting leader its crosstown rivals were in sputtering in Crisis Mode after mercifully ending the frustrating tenure of Ben Howland. In a puzzling decision UCLA chose Steve Alford, one of the few men in college basketball who’s probably more of a prick than Howland, to fulfill the legacy of the Wooden Way.

It didn’t help the Bruins that Alford joined UCLA shortly after reneging on a massive extension with New Mexico, and following his introduction at UCLA Alford admitted to mishandling rape accusations levied against one of his players at Iowa. Despite pleading guilty to assault causing injury in a sexual assault Pierre Pierce was allowed to redshirt and remain with the Hawkeye program. Subsequently Pierre would plead guilty to third-degree burglary, assault with intent to commit sexual abuse, false imprisonment and fourth-degree criminal mischief in an unrelated case.

Meanwhile it’s been roses for Enfield & Co. Hardly a day goes by when there isn’t a Twitter update detailing how Enfield and assistant coach Tony Bland have been relentlessly appearing at different venues on the recruiting trail. Just last week that tenacity paid off as SC secured a verbal commitment from PG Jordan McLaughlin. The top-50 recruit chose the Trojans over UCLA, Kansas and Indiana. Also on Monday morning Stanley Johnson, the most prized recruit in the LA area, eliminated UCLA from his five choices, which still includes USC.

The current roster isn’t constructed to be a consistent winner this year but it will  have more freedom on offense, which received a boost when interim coach Bob Cantu took over O’Neill but Dunk City is on another level. With Coach Enfield leading the way it seems almost inevitable the beautiful arena Galen Center will soon be hosting some very exciting basketball.