Monday, July 30, 2012

Brewers Scapegoat Bullpen Coach for Bullpen Failures

From the Brewers' website beat writer, Adam McCalvy:

The Brewers’ struggling bullpen has produced another casualty. Longtime coach Stan Kyles was “relieved of his duties” today, according to the team.

Lee Tunnell will replace Kyles on an interim basis and report to the team on Tuesday. Kyles had been in his current role since 2009 and coached in the Minor Leagues before that.

“It is important that we make every effort to try to improve our bullpen performance,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said in a statement. “While Stan is not solely responsible, I felt that this change was the first step and was necessary. Stan has been a loyal member of the Milwaukee Brewers organization for 11 years. His hard work and dedication has been an integral part of the Brewers’ success and is greatly appreciated. His professionalism, personality and knowledge will be missed.”

Tunnell is  his fourth season with the organization and had been Minor League pitching coordinator. Prior to that role, he spent three seasons with the Reds as interim bullpen coach (2006) and pro scout (2007-08). He also coached in the Rangers organization for nine seasons (1997-2005).

Brewers relievers are 15-26 with a 4.80 ERA this season. The bullpen has recorded the most losses and blown saves (20) in the Major Leagues and ranks 28th in ERA and 29th in opponent batting average (.274).

Yeah, that'll fix it.

Melvin just fired the guy who answers the bullpen phone, then turns around and tells the relief pitcher of choice to start warming up. Maybe the next step is to can the bullpen catcher. After all, he should have that relief pitcher dialed in when the warmup session is over.

Maybe they can fire the guy who opens the bullpen gate so the relief pitcher can run/trot/walk to the mound. Open the door sooner, so the poor guy doesn't have to wait an extra second and get out of rhythm.

Maybe Melvin can fire the head groundskeeper to atone for all the errors being made by infielders. Must be something he's doing wrong.

Stan Kyles didn't sign Francisco Rodriguez for too much money. He didn't trade for the always-erratic Jose Veras. He isn't the one who put Manny Parra on the major-league roster, and he surely isn't the one telling John Axford how to throw the baseball.

But, apparently, Melvin thinks his embarrassment of a bullpen will turn things around, now that he's fired the guy who sits out there and keeps track of absolutely nothing until the manager calls down and asks that a pitcher be warmed up. It's the ultimate scapegoat maneuver, a classic move by a team like the Yankees where the overpaid players can't be fired, but the coaches are seen as interchangeable parts.

Of course, the Brewers aren't the Yankees. If they were, they'd still have Zack Greinke and/or CC Sabathia.

And then, just maybe, the bullpen wouldn't look like such a joke.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Big Ten Football Poll Likely Not Far Off

Tuesday begins Big Ten football Media Days, as the league looks to get on with life following the historic hammer-dropping on Penn State's program Monday, both by the NCAA and B1G.

As we move into the last week of July and get ready for football camps to open, select members of the media put together a preseason Big Ten football poll.

The results? Well, I'll give them to you now, and tell you that they probably are too far separated from reality.


 1. Wisconsin (19)     139
 2. Ohio State (5)     125
 3. Purdue     79
 4. Illinois     72
 5. Penn State     65
 6. Indiana     24


 1. Michigan (16)     134
 2. Michigan State (7)     120
 3. Nebraska (1)     104
 4. Iowa     72
 5. Northwestern     51
 6. Minnesota     24

Title-game winner: Michigan over Wisconsin (11 votes), Michigan State over Wisconsin (7), Wisconsin over Michigan (5), Wisconsin over Nebraska (1).

It's about what I expected, only Nebraska didn't get as many votes in the Legends Division as I thought it would.

Michigan is the sexy pick. Brady Hoke gets a lot of starters and regulars back, including Denard Robinson, who looked more comfortable as the season wore on.

(As an example of this, Robinson's accuracy down the stretch was better than it was earlier in the season. He's still scattershot at times, which drives people nuts, I'm sure. But if he can bring that completion percentage up to 60 or higher -- it was 55 last year -- Michigan should reap the benefits.)

I think the biggest thing to look at between Michigan and Michigan State, besides the fact that their head-to-head game is in Ann Arbor this year, is the stability at quarterback and wide receiver. Michigan State has to replace Kirk Cousins and his top four receivers from last year. No easy task.

Nebraska has 14 starters back, including Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead in the offensive backfield. Not only that, but the Cornhuskers have outstanding senior linebackers in Will Compton and Sean Fisher.

Shockingly, Minnesota was picked last. The Gophers open the Big Ten season at Iowa Sept. 29, in a game that could decide if this team has any prayer of making a bowl in Jerry Kill's second season. I can't wait to see if MarQueis Gray has developed at all as the quarterback, or if Max Shortell -- who played as a true freshman -- has a chance to supplant him. If the team struggles, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Shortell by mid-October. Incoming freshmen Mitch Leidner and Philip Nelson shouldn't be in this mix at all. I'm sure Kill wants to redshirt both if he can.

In the Leaders Division, it's much more cut and dried. Wisconsin is an easy favorite, with postseason-ineligible Ohio State also looking dangerous. Illinois could be a threat if Tim Beckman can get quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase to be more consistent. Outside of that, the division is pretty mediocre.

It'll be interesting to see if anyone in the Leaders Division can pick up the slack among those bottom four teams. I think Illinois is the best of the bunch, but Purdue could surprise, and Penn State's troubles could be Indiana's ticket out of the cellar.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Penn State Sanctioned, JoePa Statue Gone, But It's Not Enough

That's what I keep thinking. It's not enough. It will never be enough.

What Jerry Sandusky did to those kids defies any kind of words that I can deliver. And nothing Penn State can do will ever serve as a make-good. You can't retroactively change what happened, or magically heal the human beings affected by Sandusky's inhumane behavior.

However, it's equally unreasonable to expect that nothing be done. Life should not be allowed to go on as normal at that university.

And it won't.

Monday morning, the NCAA announced historic sanctions against the university. Here are the details:

The NCAA has hit Penn State with a $60 million sanction, a four-year football postseason ban and a vacation of all wins dating to 1998, the organization announced Monday morning in a news release.

"These funds must be paid into an endowment for external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims and may not be used to fund such programs at the university," the statement said.

The career record of former head football coach Joe Paterno will reflect these vacated records," the statement continued.

Penn State must also reduce 10 initial and 20 total scholarships each year for a four-year period, the release said.

Like I said, it's not enough. It's also not enough that legendary coach Joe Paterno's statue outside Beaver Stadium was taken down on Sunday.

"I now believe that, contrary to is original intention, Coach Paterno's statue has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing in our university and beyond," (school president Rodney) Erickson said in his 592-word statement. "For that reason, I have decided that it is in the best interest of our university and public safety to remove the statue and store it in a secure location."

It's not the right decision. It's the only decision.

There is a healing process that the university needs to go through here. It was rocked to its core by this scandal, which didn't even last the length of a pregnancy. The Sandusky investigation results were released on a lazy Saturday last November. From that point, everything seems to have been practically in fast-forward. Paterno was removed as football coach, the university decided to hire an outside guy -- New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien -- to lead the program, Paterno died, Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts related to abusing children, and former FBI director Louis Freeh destroyed any remnants of Paterno's legacy in his report on the scandal, released not even two weeks ago.

Paterno was aware of at least some of Sandusky's behavior; certainly, the former coach knew enough that he had to think someone should stop Sandusky. Instead, he seemed more interested in protecting the minions that "ran" the university, and protecting reputations that didn't need or deserve protecting. He was an active participant in the attempted cover-up, and frankly, based on Freeh's report, Paterno should have been facing federal charges along with former school officials Tim Curley and Graham Spanier, who are facing charges.

These punishments by the NCAA don't solve any of this. Nothing will. The organization felt it had no choice. But more than that, NCAA president Mark Emmert felt a need to protect his phony-baloney job with this action. It's an action he should have taken with rogue schools years ago, but chose to follow the NCAA's horrific processes.

Matt Hayes of The Sporting News believes the NCAA has shown its hypocritical side in all of this.

Excuse me if I can't get excited about an organization that saw Ohio State players accept cash in envelopes after coach Jim Tressel's lies and illegal benefits for players were exposed, but said lack of institutional control wasn't an issue.

If I can't get excited about an organization that knew Cecil Newton was shopping his son, Cam, to Mississippi State — yet let him continue to play at Auburn (and eventually win a national championship) — because it had no rule prohibiting parents from shopping their offspring to the highest bidder.

If I can't get excited about an organization that knows street agent Willie Lyles was paid $25,000 by Oregon for useless recruiting information; that knows Lyles was the "mentor" for five-star recruit Lache Seastrunk; that knows Oregon coach Chip Kelly lied when asked by a newspaper if he knew Lyles (Kelly later said, we call him 'Will'); that knows Kelly told Lyles he needed more recruiting information from Lyles after the fact, yet we're more than a year into the Oregon investigation with no end in sight.

If I can't get excited about an organization that looked at quite possibly the worst case of NCAA infractions in the history of the sport at North Carolina — in its depth and breadth of clear, indisputable illegal benefits and academic fraud issues — and decided it wasn't as destructive as a Southern Cal assistant coach who the NCAA claimed "knew or should have known" Reggie Bush was getting illegal benefits.

What happened at Penn State is the single greatest tragedy in sports history. Whatever penalties the university receives from the NCAA — whether or not the sport's governing body and Penn State agreed on them — isn't the point. If it were up to me, I'd shut down the program for the exact number of years the university hid the child abuse. 

This isn't a bad take at all.


We have to step away from the raw emotions of a horrific moment in college football, and look at the bigger picture. You can't make a quick decision on one case because it's unthinkable in its impact and destruction on so many lives, and then drag your feet on others (Southern Cal, North Carolina, Oregon, Ohio State, Miami of Florida) that cut to the very core of amateur athletics.

You can't claim lack of subpoena power in exposing issues at rogue schools, and then use the Freeh Report as the framework of your sanctions against Penn State — the same Freeh Commission that also had no subpoena power. 

Hayes is right in what he is saying. The NCAA is an athletics institution, yet it has miserably failed to properly govern athletics.

Maybe this will spur some action in that regard. But virtually everything with the NCAA is a process, so don't bet on it.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

UMD Hockey Mock Depth Chart 2012-13

It's July, but UMD released its expected 2012-13 men's hockey roster this week. It comes complete with numbers and everything!

Since I'm 1) a nerd, and 2) starving to talk hockey in the middle of summer, it prompted me to start thinking. I got the clipboard and a sheet of scratch paper, and started trying to put a lineup together.

Obviously, it's all preliminary. As far as I know, none of it is remotely close to being official. But it should be enough to get you at least thinking about the upcoming Bulldog season. I have a few thoughts, which I'll throw on the end of this post, so keep reading for that, I suppose.

Before October rolls around, this will probably change eight times, but it's fun to look at for now.

With apologies to Michael Russo, from whom I've stolen this idea for "hockey blog content in the summer," here is a quick look at how UMD lines everything up for 2012-13.

Forward lines
Mike Seidel - Caleb Herbert - Justin Crandall
Austin Farley - Tony Camaranesi - Joe Basaraba
Keegan Flaherty - Jake Hendrickson - Adam Krause
Cody Danberg - Max Tardy - Austyn Young
Dan DeLisle - Cal Decowski - Charlie Sampair

Defensive pairings
Wade Bergman - Chris Casto
Drew Olson - Andy Welinski
Derik Johnson - Luke McManus
Tim Smith - Willie Corrin

Aaron Crandall - Alex Fons - Matt McNeely

Goalies are listed alphabetically, which is a total copout, but I just don't have a feel for how this is going to play out. Instead of wasting more time, I figured I'd just take the copout.

There are probably a few hits on the forward line combinations, and likely a lot of misses. I love Herbert and Crandall together, and I think Seidel is a good fit there.

The negative to Farley and Camaranesi on the same line is both are quite small, but I do remember Jack and Mike Connolly playing together. It's not about size, as much as it is strength, smarts, and mindset. Everything I've heard about Farley makes me envision a guy who will play bigger than his frame suggests. With his size, Basaraba makes a good compliment, especially if he can continue improving and put up better offensive numbers.

We've seen a lot of Flaherty and Hendrickson together, and we saw Krause work with Hendrickson for a while last year, too. No reason this group can't serve as UMD's third line, and no reason this group would be any less effective than Flaherty, Hendrickson, and David Grun were last year (that's a high bar, by the way, as there were games where that line was UMD's best).

I need to see Young play -- he's about the only newcomer I haven't seen play either live or on "tape" -- before I'll be able to really place him. I've heard a lot of good things about his prospects, though. Sampair is a late addition who has some speed and scored a lot of goals in high school. Decowski is another smaller center who has good instincts and puck-moving skills. He could force his way into the lineup, even if it isn't in the middle. I'd love nothing more than for DeLisle to shake off a rough junior season and go out strong. If he can play with more confidence and use his body effectively, he's a great fit on this roster. If not, he quickly becomes part of the closest thing you'll see in college hockey to the black aces (also known as the fifth line in some circles).

As you can see, UMD has a lot of capable centers. Sampair is listed as one on the roster, and that gives UMD six guys on the roster who can play in the middle. It's a good problem to have, especially considering the top two centers from last year -- Jack Connolly and Travis Oleksuk -- exhausted their eligibility.

On defense, there are eight guys capable of playing at this level. I think the top four are virtually interchangeable, with the other likely pairings (I believe) Bergman with Welinski and Casto with Olson. Welinski could make a real impact as a freshman, the way Casto did last year and Justin Faulk in the championship season.

McManus had himself a couple strong games in the NCAA Tournament, probably earning more playing time this season. Johnson and Smith will battle for ice all season, and I think Corrin is definitely in the mix.

As for the outlook, the biggest question going into the fall will be:

Where the hell will all the goals come from?

Yeah, I've already heard it. Ready to hear it a lot between now and the season opener.

There are a couple thoughts I have on this.

For starters, I think you're going to see big seasons from Herbert, Seidel, and Crandall, no matter if they play together or not. Basaraba could also be a candidate for a breakout year. I thought Herbert hit a wall a little bit late in the season, but he had the tying goal in the Maine game (as strange as it was), and I never thought he was playing "poorly," only that he didn't look as explosive as he had previously.

Guys like Casto, Welinski, and Bergman are more than capable of contributing to the offense from the blue line.

Generally, I feel this freshman class is loaded with potential. Camaranesi is highly skilled, as is Decowski, and Farley brings a scintillating combination of skill and snarl. Throw Young in the mix, and you have four forwards who have the ability to really affect this team's offense, and they will all be pushing for playing time throughout the winter.

Will this team score as many goals as the last two? Probably not, but the dropoff is not likely to be as dreadful as a lot of outsiders are assuming.

As for special teams, I think you'll see Welinski man a point on the top power play unit (if not at the outset, then eventually), and Casto is in the mix there, too. McManus got power play time last season, and Bergman has seen a lot of it in his career, too. This is where it'll be interesting to see how much the freshmen can push early in the season. There aren't a lot of power play mainstays returning, so roles aren't necessarily defined right now.

The penalty kill starts with Hendrickson and probably Flaherty, but Krause, Crandall, and Young should play, too.

Thoughts, Bulldog Nation?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Brewers Season Falls Under Axe

It's not been a good season for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Things got worse Monday night.

The Brewers have actually done a pretty admirable job of fighting off injuries -- Alex Gonzalez, Mat Gamel, Shaun Marcum headlining -- and underperforming players -- hello to Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, Randy Wolf, John Axford, and probably Francisco Rodriguez here -- to stay at least somewhat alive in the National League Central.

In fact, the Brewers were in position Monday to get within three games of .500 for the first time since they were 15-18 on May 12. Locked in a pitcher's duel with the Cardinals, Brewers starter Mike Fiers -- a hell of a find so far -- held St. Louis off the board for seven innings, permitting just four hits. A Corey Hart home run gave Milwaukee the lead going into the eighth, and Ryan Braun added to the lead with an RBI double in the eighth.

Handed a 2-0 lead, though, Axford struggled, blew the lead, and may have delivered the dagger to the Brewers' hopes.

After an unbelievable 2011 season, Axford hasn't been the same this year. Monday was a microcosm of his season to this point.

He couldn't locate any of his pitches, including his lethal curveball that was such a key to his run last year. His fastball was hitting at 97 on the gun, but it was all over the place. He looks like a pitcher missing his confidence, and at this point, it's hard to blame him.

Naturally, however, the prideful Canadian wasn't about to admit it.

Asked whether he was confident he'd remain the Brewers' ninth-inning option, Axford said, "That's up to the manager. Am I confident that I'll go out and get the job done? Yes. Hopefully, I will get that opportunity again."

Axford has held that role since he took over for a struggling Trevor Hoffman in 2010, and he parlayed that learning experience into the best season by a closer in Brewers history; only two blown saves in 48 chances in 2011. This season, Axford already has five blown saves in 21 chances.

Last year he walked 25 batters in 73 2/3 innings. This year, Axford has walked 21 batters in 37 innings. 

He also found room to call out the upset Miller Park patrons, people sick of seeing him unable to control any of his pitches.

Brewers fans, many of whom wear T-shirts to Miller Park depicting Axford's famous mustache, voiced their displeasure with boos.

"I'm in the position where it's kind of, 'What have you done for me lately?' " Axford said. "Fans are going to feel the way they feel. We're in a race right here, we're trying to win some ballgames and we're not winning right now. ... If I'm not doing the job, they can say whatever they want." 

Naturally, he had to throw in the "What have you done for me lately?" shot. It's about as tired as watching Axford throw first-pitch ball after first-pitch ball (six hitters faced Monday, zero first-pitch strikes).

No matter how good his stuff is, Axford isn't good enough to constantly get behind hitters and have any success.

The Brewers say they will evaluate the closer situation. There is no evaluating to do. Axford has blown five of 21 save chances, and he has run out of chances. It's time for Ron Roenicke to stop sticking with his guy and make the right move.

No, Francisco Rodriguez hasn't been lights out this season. But after a terrible start to the season, he's shown better control lately, and his numbers have pretty consistently improved. He also has nearly 300 career saves, and he has been a good soldier for the last year as a setup man.

If nothing else, K-Rod has earned at least a short-term opportunity to close games, while Axford works his tail off to figure out why he's lost control of all his pitches.

The Brewers might not be able to salvage anything from this season, but they should at least pretend to try, and keeping Axford as the closer isn't an example of that.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Random Rabble: July 16

Former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand penned this week's Monday Morning Quarterback at, filling in for the incomparable Peter King. LeGrand, who suffered a serious spinal cord injury on a kickoff play in 2010, was signed as a free agent by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this spring. The Bucs are now coached by LeGrand's college coach, Greg Schiano. LeGrand insists he will walk again, and also addresses the issue of player safety on kickoffs. NFL people have at least discussed the idea of removing kickoffs from the sport.

Take it from someone who has gotten injured on a kickoff: I think kickoffs in the NFL should return to the way they used to be, because lots of football players can make a career out of playing on special teams, and the new system takes some of the thrill and excitement of the game out.

Couldn't agree with LeGrand more. Generally, you'd expect someone like LeGrand -- whose life was forever altered by a chance happening on an admittedly dangerous football play -- to at least be on the fence. Instead, LeGrand acknowledges that what happened to him is not something that happens with any kind of regularity.

He's right. A lot of players can make a career out of special teams, and removing kickoff plays from the game would certainly take some excitement away.

Former UMD star Tim Stapleton signed a deal with Dinamo Minsk of the Kontinental Hockey League last week. Stapleton talked to the Winnipeg Free Press about his decision.

"It wasn't an easy decision. I even woke up today thinking, 'Man, what did I do?' But it's just something that made sense, especially turning 30 (next week). I've got to look out for life after hockey."

Stapleton posted career highs in goals (11) and points (27) and managed to score three game-winners while working predominantly on the Jets' fourth line.

But with a handful of players/prospects in the system ready to grab his spot, this popular and respected teammate was not atop the priority list of an organization that stressed size as one of its key off-season needs.

"It's too bad. I did everything I possibly could because I wanted to come back but I think their main focus was they wanted to get bigger," said Stapleton.

"I've been dealing with this situation (all) my career as far as getting into the NHL. And then when I get in I'm still dealing with it. I sat down with a lot of people, including my family, and we weighed the pros and cons. I had to look at what is in front of me and all I had was Russia.

"I guess now I get to become a fan now and I'll definitely be following the team and all the guys."

Stapleton did indeed have a good season for Winnipeg, but the lack of interest in an undersized forward pushing 30 is not awfully surprising. I figured a lot of guys would be in the same boat, faced with deciding between an offer to play overseas and the prospect of waiting for the CBA negotiations to play out before getting any serious NHL offers.

I don't know what he's making with Minsk, but it's probably more than he'd make on an NHL deal. With Minsk, Stapleton also has the security of knowing there will be a season, something we can't say in the NHL right now.

Speaking of the ongoing NHL CBA negotiations, if the reports from Friday are at all accurate, we'll be here for a while.

According to RDS Insider Renaud Lavoie's Twitter account, the NHL made its initial proposal for a new collective bargaining agreement to the NHLPA in Toronto today:

NHL proposal to players: 1-reduce players hockey related revenues to 46% from 57 %. 2-10 seasons in NHL before being UFA.

3-contracts limites to 5 years 4-no more salary arbitration. 5- entry-level contract 5 years instead of 3.

To Clarify the initial proposal:

1. Right now it's 57-43 in favor of the players. Owners want it to be 54-46 in favor of the owners

2. In the last CBA negotiations during the 2004-05 season elimination, the NHL agreed to accelerating unrestricted free agency from 10 years to age 27 (or 7 years).

3. There are currently no contract limits, which Wild fans learned last week when Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were given 13-year deals by Minnesota.

4. There's currently player elected and club elected arbitration

5. Is self-explanatory above.


I tweeted Saturday that the owners should be ashamed of this offer. It's ridiculous. It sends an awfully poor message about where things stand, as well as the chances of the league starting its next season on time.

It's also another sign that ownership wants the players to help save them from themselves. Of course, as we learned in the NBA -- where nearly a third of the season was lost so teams could throw eight-figure salaries at guys like Jeremy Lin -- nothing can save the owners from themselves. They will always find a way to overspend and stretch their resources way too thin.

The only benefit to the players taking this one-sided deal would be getting to watch the owners find a way to keep overspending.

You'll also note in the report that owners want entry-level deals stretched to five years instead of three. Call me crazy, but does anyone else think this would only add to the number of players looking to get away from the teams that drafted them, like Justin Schultz did? You can swallow a three-year commitment to a team you might not want to play for, but five is a ton.

I can see the owners' side on this, because there is a lot of money and time and effort put into the draft, and allowing only three years on the maximum entry-level deal means teams have to spend even more money.

It's totally just a thought, but I'm curious if it is something that could play out. Of course, the CBA negotiation also presents a chance to get rid of the rule that allows drafted players to become free agents, even if the team that drafted the player wants to sign him. If that happens, it doesn't matter what happens to entry-level deals.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Jeff Dubay Opens a Vein

Back in 2008, KFAN's radio lineup -- a lineup syndicated then and now on stations around the state, including Duluth -- was shaken up by the arrest of midday personality Jeff Dubay. With drug charges looming, the station eventually fired Dubay, and he hasn't really been heard from publicly since.

Co-host of the popular "PA and Dubay" show on The Fan, Jeff had become a household name among college hockey fans in the area because of his willingness to talk up college hockey on such a large platform.

Yeah, he was a Gopher fan through and through, but Dubay also had an appreciation for the game, and his support of the sport was appreciated, even if you didn't like the overall pro-Gopher message sometimes.

When he left the station, it became difficult to get the same level of college hockey coverage, though Dubay's co-host, Paul Allen, has continued to try. PA has a weekly college hockey segment during the season, sometimes expanding beyond that segment to talk about big games and series. Before the NCAA Tournament, he cold-called me while I was sitting at my desk, and he also interviewed UMD coach Scott Sandelin and North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol, along with Gophers coach Don Lucia, who was a regular.

But none of it was quite the same without Dubay's passion for the sport, something that can't be fabricated or duplicated.

Wednesday, word got out that Dubay was scheduled to appear on WCCO in Minneapolis with former Fan personality Chad Hartman. What followed was a very candid conversation about where Dubay lost his way, and how hard he worked to get himself clean.

“When somebody brought this out and set it on the table, I’d never seen this before,” Dubay said. “It’s these chunky, little white things. I thought, ‘What the heck is it?’ The guy said, ‘It’s rock.’ I still didn’t know what it was. I still didn’t know it was crack cocaine.

" ... You took the drug and then the drug took you,” he said. “And that’s all it took. I was done for the next two years.”

Dubay said it all started with a messy divorce, something he said amounted to a personal tragedy he wasn't prepared to handle.

He talked about the recovery process, including an attempt to get clean before he was arrested in 2008. Dubay said he was never high on the air, but did call in sick a couple times when he wasn't in a condition to work, and he also said Allen tried to get him help before it was too late.

Dubay said what's been said before about recovery. You can't get better until you're ready to. Dubay admits that before his arrest, he knew he was in a bad way, but he clearly wasn't ready to get help. He said he eventually got clean without the aid of treatment, basically locking himself in his room, because "there were no drug dealers in the closet."

Hear the interview here.

Dubay also talks about going to a friend and asking for help, but getting "No" for an answer. From there, he confided in Allen, but treatment wasn't successful.

It's a candid and sometimes emotional conversation, one that reminds of the dangers of drug use. Like Dubay notes, there's a reason people use, but there's also a reason people struggle to stop using once they start. He learned some harsh lessons along the way.

Asked by Hartman if he'll ever use again, Dubay said there was no way.

From afar, I can only root hard for the guy. I never met Jeff, but anyone who enjoyed the show he and PA were able to do, or anyone who just doesn't like to see someone completely consumed by the evils of drugs, would be firmly in Dubay's corner on this one.

I'll also offer this bit of unsolicited advice to all of you: If any of your friends ever confide in you that they are struggling with drugs or alcohol, please don't turn them away. Help them get the help they need.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

All-Star Game's Loss of Relevance

Tuesday night was baseball's All-Star Game. The 83rd edition of the midsummer classic was a thrashing, with the National League coasting to an 8-0 win. It was 5-0 by the middle of the first inning.

So, yeah, I can't imagine these ratings will be good.

It would be part of a trend. The 1988 game scored a 20 rating for ABC, but FOX hasn't seen a number in double digits since 2001. Last year's 6.9 rating/12 share was the lowest rating ever for the game. With this year's game being a total blowout from the start, it's not a stretch to suggest the number will be worse this time around.

Why has this happened?

There are easy targets. For starters, there's interleague play, which has allowed fans to see more players they wouldn't normally get to see. However, I don't think it's a huge problem. Interleague play started in 1997, and the All-Star Game was already suffering from a ratings downturn.

Using the same Baseball Almanac source already linked, you can see the number go from a 17.4 on CBS in 1991 to a 14.9 the next year. 1993 was a 15.6, followed by a 15.7, 13.9, and a 13.2. 1997 saw another drop, to 11.8, but that was the first year of the game being on FOX, a network not as widely available then as it is now. The number jumped for the next two years, peaking at a 13.3 in 1998, before falling back below the 1997 number and eventually into single digits.

People blame the players for not showing enough willingness to play the game. I don't buy it. If you look at the NFL Pro Bowl, there is more roster turnover than any other all-star game in any sport. There is usually more turnover in hockey than baseball, too. Baseball is in a different spot because of the every-day nature of the season and the number of games in a season, but its players generally seem to understand the need to be at the All-Star Game and be visible.

There are two huge problems, in my view. They are issues the sport is not going to overcome. Instead, baseball has to figure out the best way to deal with them and generate interest in the mid-summer classic once again.

(Or, it could continue to let it flounder in the ratings and become a bit of a laughingstock in that regard.)

For starters, the lure of seeing the game's big stars is gone. On practically a nightly basis, the game's big names are available on television. ESPN carries games. MLB Network carries games. Local regional sports channels have games. If you have DirecTV or a good internet connection, you can purchase the right to watch any game you want, most in HD. If you're a dedicated baseball fan, you likely have access to one or more of these things.

Want to see Stephen Strasburg pitch? Well, there's a good chance you'll have the opportunity eventually. That sweet swing of Prince Fielder? He's on television at least once every couple weeks, even if you don't live anywhere near Detroit or an AL market.

You don't have to wait for the All-Star Game to see the out-of-market stars anymore. They're on TV all the time.

The other issue is just that.

They're on TV all the time, because every game is televised.

FOX gets low ratings for its Saturday Game of the Week because the Game of the Week isn't what it used to be. The Game of the Week -- even when I was growing up -- was the only time during the week that baseball was on television. Yeah, playoff games were on TV, and so was the All-Star Game. Other than that, it was almost exclusively Saturday games for us.

Now, every game is on. There is no motivation to watch a game that doesn't count when you can watch dozens that do every week.

And, no, putting home-field advantage for the World Series on the line hasn't helped. You can blame FOX for the fact it still happens, and that FOX hasn't looked at it and thought it was a really stupid way to decide such a thing is just illogical to me.

It isn't helping make the game better. It isn't helping ratings. It isn't helping interest.

Getting rid of it won't fix anything, but they should get rid of it anyway. Just for the sake of common sense.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Packers Have Skill Position Logjam

One of the things I really enjoy about the summer is the immense amount of information and speculation out there ahead of football season.

With hockey on hiatus, I actually have time to consume a ton of the available information.

The Packers stunk defensively last season.

Such is probably an understatement, since Green Bay had the worst defense in the NFL, despite a 15-1 regular season.

The Giants exposed that already-exposed weakness in the playoffs, running over, under, around, and through the Packers at Lambeau Field.

(Note: The Giants have more playoff wins at Lambeau Field (two) than the Packers do (one) in the time since Mike McCarthy took over as head coach in Green Bay.)

While there will be a ton of talk about the work being done to improve the defense during training camp, the Packers have an embarrassment of riches on the other side of the ball.

In fact, it stands to reason the Packers could keep seven wide receivers on the main roster once training camp finishes up. Yes, I said seven receivers.

To do so, other positions may have to sacrifice their depth. There is a piece by Zach Kruse on the excellent Cheesehead TV site discussing the decision McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson will have to make once camp breaks.

There are five locks at receiver already. Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson have Pro Bowl ability. Randall Cobb had a very good rookie season, and certainly deserves more playing time in his sophomore season. James Jones is a well-established player who -- I thought -- was more reliable last season than he had been previously. Veteran Donald Driver brings his mirror ball trophy back to Wisconsin, and a restructured contract virtually guarantees his presence on the final roster.

As Kruse points out, there are two players from last year's practice squad who will each get a long look this summer. Diondre Borel was a quarterback at Utah State, but he has developed into a strong candidate to make the Packers as a receiver.

The other guy to watch is Tori Gurley. He's bigger than Borel, and he's a more polished receiver. Both players turned down chances to leave the Packers while on the practice squad last year, and one has to assume their loyalty is going to pay off, probably sooner rather than later.

But as Kruse says, numbers at other positions have to be sacrificed to keep these two. The Packers kept five receivers -- the five aforementioned incumbents -- last season. To add two more -- duh -- means two other players have to go. Kruse does a good job going over the list, and the first obvious cut is at tight end, where the Packers kept five last season.

Andrew Quarless blew his knee out covering a kickoff in the regular season game against the Giants last season -- a play that, by the way, never should have happened* -- and could miss the entire 2012 season. Best case, he starts the season on the PUP list, and that opens up a spot on the roster for at least the first six weeks.

(* - Sorry. I'm still bitter that Quarless blew out his knee on a play where the Giants kick returner signaled for a fair catch and then starting running. When I hear about the NFL locking out its officials and going with replacements, plays like this make me wonder how bad it could be. Is a basic understanding of the rules too much to ask?)

The other option would probably be on defense, but it's hard to justify an additional cut on a side of the ball where competition for playing time and spots needs to be at its highest. With how bad this unit was last season, the team can't afford to have anyone resting and assuming anything.

Thompson's reputation is to keep the best players available to him. He doesn't like setting caps -- he took some heat for keeping two quarterbacks more than once, and he did keep five tight ends last season, which was a bit out of the ordinary -- and he will keep the players he feels have earned spots on the roster. There's no reason to think that he will keep seven receivers because he thinks he has to show Gurley and Borel some loyalty. He may only keep one of the two, depending on their performance during camp.

But I'm certain that he will not keep five receivers because he doesn't think his team can have more than that. If seven deserve it, Thompson will keep them.

(Can't rule out a trade, either. Especially if it involves Jones, who I think is the best candidate to be moved. That would open up a spot.)

Since the Packers were 15-1 last season and had a well-oiled offensive machine for most of the season, you'd assume there aren't a lot of interesting talkers going into camp. But there are, with the receiver logjam joined by the running back situation and the entire defense.

McCarthy doesn't get a lot of full-contact workouts, but they should be interesting when they happen. How many tackling fundamentals can be crammed into that limited time?

But I'll also be watching the receivers. Gurley and Borel are intriguing talents. Can they force their way on the team somehow? We'll see.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Zach Parise, Ryan Suter Change Wild Culture Just By Signing

What an amazing Fourth of July, eh?

For the first time since its run to the Western Conference Final in 2003, the Minnesota Wild are on the map.

I columnized the bit for SBNation yesterday. Here that is.

Michael Russo of the Star Tribune was on top of this story throughout. Here is his main story for the Thursday paper.

Strib columnist Jim Souhan talked to Wild owner Craig Leipold, who is pretty happy.

Season tickets and Parise/Suter jerseys are on sale now!

Among the other reactions: Jack Jablonski is happy, and the Wild are no longer 200:1 to win the Stanley Cup.

As you can see, there is a lot of hockey being talked about for it being July 5. That alone should be considered a victory for this once-downtrodden franchise, one that couldn't buy a break for years.

Since its inception, the Wild have really only had one bona fide star, and Marian Gaborik never became the consistent superstar the team needed to build around. He was never the face of the franchise off the ice.

In one fell swoop on a national holiday, the Wild brought in two players who can be both of those things. Parise is from Minneapolis, while Suter has Midwestern roots (from Wisconsin, and his wife is from Bloomington; Suter's father, Bob, played on the 1980 Miracle on Ice team, uncle Gary was an NHL regular for years, and father-in-law Stan Palmer was a four-year defenseman for UMD). They wanted to play in Minnesota, turning down more money elsewhere so they could be teammates and play in the place of their choice.

These are two guys of high character, both on and off the ice, and the Wild will experience an immediate benefit. Once the season starts (hopefully October!), the team will see a difference on the ice.

Parise is an upgrade to the Wild's top line with Mikko Koivu, whether he has Dany Heatley or Devin Setoguchi at right wing. He also makes the Wild's power play better, with his scoring touch and willingness to go in the dirty areas.

Suter gives Minnesota a true PP1 point man. They can stick Pierre-Marc Bouchard out there as a fourth forward to work the half-wall, knowing that Suter can control things up high. It's a huge addition, possibly more significant than Parise, because Suter adds to a position that was not strong or deep, and he's a perfect fit for Mike Yeo's system.

Hopefully, July 4 isn't remembered as the day Leipold overspent for average players. Instead, we want it to be the day the Wild finally gained footing as a legitimate NHL franchise.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Former UMD Players Cash In

A number of former UMD players signed new pro contracts over the weekend, as NHL free agency opened on Sunday.

One -- defenseman Jason Garrison (2005-2008) -- really cashed in on the league's annual spending spree. Garrison inked a six-year deal with the Vancouver Canucks, one that will pay him $27.6 million.

Garrison spoke with me Monday from Chicago about his new beginning.

He joins another former UMD star, Mason Raymond, on the Vancouver roster. Raymond struggled last season after suffering a serious back injury during Game 6 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, but is expected back on a one-year deal at this point.

Elsewhere, another Garrison teammate at UMD, Matt Niskanen, signed for two more years in Pittsburgh. The 25-year-old Niskanen will make $4.6 million over two seasons, a bargain if he keeps improving like he did in his year-and-a-half in Pittsburgh.

Niskanen's confidence looked shot at times in Dallas. His trade to Pittsburgh appeared to come at a perfect time, as it put him in a different system where he could flourish. The Penguins' style, which is more about puck-moving and skating, seems a much better fit for the former Virginia/MIB Blue Devil.

Another defenseman -- Evan Oberg -- signed a one-year, two-way deal with Tampa Bay. Oberg played three games in the NHL last season, but was a regular for a Norfolk Admirals team that won the Calder Cup title and finished the year winning 45 of its last 48 games.

Forward Tim Stapleton, one of the top scorers in UMD history, is a free agent as of Sunday. He spent last season with the Winnipeg Jets after making the move with the franchise from Atlanta.