Archive for October, 2009

After a six year hiatus that felt far too long for fans of the Bronx Bombers, the Yankees are headed back to the World Series, and have an opportunity to win their first World Series since 2000 (again, nine years is far too long of a wait).

Love them or hate them, it’s hard to be indifferent towards the New York Yankees. Either you live in New York and/or appreciate their history enough to be a dedicated fan, or your opinions are outside that sphere and you hate them for their high payroll and the success that comes from it. So either way, you’re probably going to watch the World Series intently and have an emotional interest in rooting for one side.

There is another aspect of this series that is objectively true, and any baseball fan has to admit (even a diehard Mets fan such as myself): the Philadelphia Phillies are a model organization, and absolutely built their team in a smart and admirable way.

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Yes, you’ve seen plenty of write-ups in the media about how they’re tough, gritty, and “play hard for 27 outs”. While that is important, I’m even more impressed with how this team has been put together. Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley make up the infield nucleus, and all were drafted and developed by the Phillies (the only team any of these guys have played for). Same goes for Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson and J.A. Happ. Jason Werth and Shane Victorino were “buy low” cases, where the Phillies saw the talent in the player and jumped at the opportunity to obtain him for a very low cost. Even Brad Lidge came over from Houston following some horrible outings, only to be perfect in the 2008 championship season.

Not to say the Yankees don’t have some of these elements too. The beloved Bronx four of Jeter, Rivera, Posada and Pettitte came up through the Yankees organization, and have provided a deep sense of continuity with fans over the last decade plus. And the Yankees have done their fair share of development with Robinson Cano, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, not to mention “buying low” with Nick Swisher.

But you look at this powerhouse team compared to its 2008 counterpart, and what’s the major difference? C.C. Sabathia as the workhorse ace, Mark Teixeira as the switch-hitter with power who also plays fantastic defense, and A.J. Burnett as the #2 starter equipped with strikeout capability. Like it or not Yankees supporters, all sports fans look at these three players as the reason for your success this year, and look next at the $423.5 million price tag that came with them. They probably also look left to Alex Rodriguez at third base and his $275 million contract that could get up to $305 million when all is said and done.

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While sports fans will pout and kick dirt about how the Yankees have “bought” themselves into the World Series, you can’t fault the organization for doing what makes sense. New York is the media and financial capital of the world, and the Yankees wisely use their vast resources to invest heavily in their talent, and put a premium product on the field every year as a result. Contrast this with say, David Glass, a Wal-Mart executive for well over 30 years and former CEO for the mega retailer who also owns the Kansas City Royals. I don’t see him placing strong investments in his team as the Yankees do, and I bet fans from Miami and Minnesota have similar feelings towards their respective ownership groups.

On an intellectual level though, it’s hard to look at how the Phillies were put together and not admire what was done there. Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard came up through the organization and have MVP trophies on their mantle, and it’s only a matter of time until Chase Utley gets one of his own as the best second baseman in the league. They built around that core by obtaining Victorino in a Rule 5 draft, and getting Jason Werth for $850,000 in 2006. Even new staff ace Cliff Lee came over at the deadline only because they had a strong farm system with talent to spare (one that produced last year’s ace, Cole Hamels).

In terms of “bought” players, only Raul Ibanez and Pedro Martinez come to mind, two veterans who compete hard, and can still produce. Combine their salaries for this year together, and it’s a third of what Alex Rodriguez will be paid. That’s not an insult towards the Yankee payroll, but rather an appreciation for the Phillies’ ability to get the most out of the 25 spots on their roster with what they have.

If you are a dedicated baseball fan, this is how you want your team to be run. Unless of course if you’re the Yankees, and have the luxury of spending more cash than anyone to get the best players available. For fans of the other 28 teams though, (many of whom will be watching on Wednesday wishing it was their team playing on the biggest stage), take a good look at the Phillies and note how you build a winner: draft good players, develop them into great players within your system, use your payroll to retain their services and surround them with productive, established players who are significantly undervalued by the rest of the league.

Either that or, you know, spend $423.5 million.

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Oct
26

Yankees Win 40th Pennant!

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It’s been six long years since the New York Yankees competed in the coveted Fall Classic. Not since Aaron Boone’s moon shot off Boston’s Tim Wakefield leading off the bottom of the 11th inning in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS catapulted them into history have the Bronx Bombers played for all the marbles. But stemming from last night’s 5-2 ALCS-clinching win over the visiting Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Yankees are back in the World Series and in search of their 27th championship title. The fast-approaching WS action against the NL Champion Phillies starts Wednesday night at home.

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Last night’s pennant-clincher in the Bronx started off in partly cloudy, 58-degree weather, mild temps for the Empire State this time of year. Starting pitchers Andy Pettitte (Yanks) and Joe Saunders (Halos) locked into a great pitcher’s duel through three innings. But the wheels started to come off for Saunders in the fourth, as the Yankees – trailing 1-0 at that point – proceeded to load the bases and tallied three runs before the bleeding stopped. Johnny Damon’s two-run single and a bases-loaded walk to A-Rod proved to be the exit plan for Saunders, who had thrown 83 pitches to that point.

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The game was a great battle throughout as both teams gathered nine hits, but it was the timely hitting by the Yankees, coupled with botched fielding and running by the Angels, that spelled the outcome. Uncharacteristic fielding errors by Anaheim at the most crucial junctures helped the Angels find their golf bags two weeks early. Boneheaded base running by veteran batsman Vladimir Guerrero in the second inning started Anaheim’s demise. After singling off Pettitte to start the inning – the Angels’ first hit – Guerrero watched as Yankee right-fielder Nick Swisher sprinted in to snag Kendry Morales’ sinking liner. The problem was Guerrero was watching this from about 20 feet off first base. He was drifting too far off first and was quickly doubled-up by Swisher’s rocket throw back to first baseman Mark Texeira. This can start to deflate a team, you know?

But it was two unbelievable errors in the bottom half of the eighth that did in the Halos. After scoring a run in the top half of the inning off Yankees closer Mariano Rivera to bring them within a run, the Halos – along with the 50,000 fans at Yankee Stadium – could sense a slight momentum shift. The Angels would face Rivera in the top of the ninth with Howie Kendrick, Juan Rivera and pinch-hitter Gary Matthews. But there was something they needed to do first; keep the score close by getting the Yankees out in the bottom half of the eighth.

After just-arrived setup man Ervin Santana promptly walked Robinson Cano on four straight pitches to start the eighth, Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia yanked him and went to starter Scott Kazmir to keep the score close. Knowing that the Yankees would try to sacrifice Cano over to second, everybody was playing in, looking for the bunt. Swisher promptly obliged and Angels’ first baseman Kendry Morales fielded the bunt cleanly before firing the ball back up the first base line to second baseman Kendrick, who was covering first. Kendrick must have taken his eye off the ball as it gleaned off his glove, leaving both Cano and Swisher safe at second and first. Two men out, still no outs. Surely the Yanks would try the same ploy to advance the runners. And sure enough, they did.

With everybody in the stadium waiting for the bunt up the first base line, Melky Cabrera promptly delivered. Kazmir fielded the ball cleanly but immediately shot-putted an air ball to Kendrick, who was once again covering first on the play. The ball sailed over Kendrick’s outstretched arm, while Cano hustled home with the Yankees’ fourth run. After Derek Jeter grounded back to the pitcher for out No. 1, Damon came up and earned a walk to load the bases. Texeira then delivered a long fly ball to right-center which scored Brett Gardner (pinch-running for Swisher) with another important insurance run. Jered Weaver came in to relieve Kazmir and, after walking A-Rod, got Jorge Posada swinging to end the inning.

But the damage was done. Those two errors cost the Angels in a big way. They came back out in the top of the ninth, only this time the score was 5-2, not 3-2. One swing of the bat would not send this game into extras. The damage was done. The Angels knew it and went down in order in the ninth. Matthews ended the game appropriately enough by flailing at a high fastball.

The Angels’ mission of destiny – riding on the momentum of their season-long tribute to fallen teammate Nick Adenhart – was over. As for the Yankees, things are just starting to heat up. Let’s see if A-Rod can keep his postseason average above .300 against the Phillies.

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This scribe has the Yanks winning their 27th title in six games against Philadelphia. In 1950, the last time these two clubs faced one another in the Fall Classic, the Yanks swept the Phillies. It won’t be that lopsided this time around, but the Yanks will prevail. Just wait and see.

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Oct
26

Undefeated, But for How Long?

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After seven weeks of what has already been an exciting NFL season, three undefeated teams remain: the Indianapolis Colts, the New Orleans Saints, and the Denver Broncos. The Saints expected these results when they first acquired Drew Brees. The Broncos, however, didn’t expect these results for at least a season. The Colts have been there and done that several times throughout the Peyton Manning era. In any event, the fact is that these teams have accomplished their goals up to this point, even though they’ve done it in different ways.

The 6-0 Saints boast the most efficient offense in the NFL, and it all starts with Drew Brees’ arm. He is third in passer rating, fourth in touchdowns, and seventh in passing yards. As a team, the Saints are fourth in total offense and lead the NFL in offense by almost 10 points per game. Without a doubt, Brees is having an MVP season, and this is exactly what the Saints envisioned when they acquired him in 2006. There have been very few shortcomings on offense ever since the quarterback arrived. And unlike past Saints teams, this 2009 version has added an aggressive defense to match their acclaimed offense. The Saints went from being ranked 23rd overall in total defense in 2008 to eighth this year.  With a defense that can equally hold its own on the football field, the Saints are definitely a team that is headed in the right direction.

The Saints had sort of a close call this past Sunday when they traveled to Miami to take on the Dolphins. They uncharacteristically fell to a 21-point deficit, the biggest they have faced all season. Yet, the Saints proved that they could win another way. We’ve seen the many different ways this team was capable of winning in the past: it’s no secret that they can do it with offense, as they did in the first game of the season when Brees torched the Detroit Lions for six touchdowns. We have seen them win with defense, as they did against the New York Giants where they forced them into two crucial turnovers. This past week, we saw that the Saints have the ability to fall behind, and depend on the arm of their clutch Pro Bowl quarterback to win the game for them . . . even when he doesn’t live up to expectations to start a game. The NFL’s leading passer inked his worst game of the season to date, throwing three interceptions, losing a fumble, and taking five sacks. However, Brees performed when it mattered, leading his team to touchdown drives of 82, 79, and 60 on successive possessions in the second half. The Saints outscored the Dolphins 22-0 in the 4th quarter to capture their sixth straight victory of the season. Looking ahead at their schedule, their next significant game comes Week 12 against the New England Patriots. Yes, we have to wait four more weeks in order to tell if this Saints team is for real.

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If you have been reading my other posts, then you know that the Broncos are well-chronicled on our website. Why? Because they are, by far, the biggest surprise of the year. Nobody expected them to be undefeated this far into the season. But the real test for the Broncos is yet to come. They still have two games remaining against the horrid Kansas City Chiefs, and one game against the Oakland Raiders. Would anyone kill me if I already penciled in three more victories for them? I doubt it. However, the rest of their non-divisional games are against some of the best teams in the NFL, who are also fighting for playoff positioning. The Broncos have a daunting schedule going forward, starting next week with the Baltimore Ravens. After the Ravens, they still have to face the Pittsburgh Steelers, Giants, Indianapolis Colts, and Philadelphia Eagles. We will see what the Broncos are made of after their next two games.

The Colts are the third and final undefeated team in the NFL. To be honest, I completely expected this from a veteran team. Many would argue they have the best quarterback in the league in Peyton Manning. Before the season started, I predicted the Colts would start off 8-0. I didn’t even consider that to be going out on a limb, especially once you looked at their first eight games on the schedule. Their first true test will be against the Patriots in Week 10. Circle this one on your calendar because it will be a game for the ages; that is, if the Colts remain focused on a week-by-week basis, and don’t overlook any teams in-between (such as their division rival Houston Texans in Week 9).

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Completing a set of trading cards can be difficult sometimes, but the satisfaction one feels when it’s complete is pretty special. We wanted to make it achievable once again for one of Upper Deck’s most famous baseball sets: “Legendary Cuts Signature Cuts.” These cards feature an authenticated cut signature of a deceased baseball legend. In previous years, with so many 1-of-1 and extremely limited versions of the cards, it was impossible to put an entire set together. In 2009, we decided we would make each cards limited to at least five copies so it would be possible for a devoted SP Legendary Cuts fan to put the entire “Legendary Cuts Signature Cuts” set together.

We wanted to spice things up a bit by providing an amazing bonus for the first collector to finish the 300-plus card set. We brainstormed about what we could create and working off the theme of legendary cut signatures, the “Legendary Pioneers” card was born. It’s one thing to talk about it, but it’s quite another to see the completed card when it arrived at Upper Deck Headquarters earlier this week.

What makes the “Legendary Pioneers” card so unique, you ask? Well just take a look at the front. You start out with an authentic signature from Abner Doubleday, the Union general during the Civil War, who is credited as being the founder of baseball. Then you have an authentic signature of Knute Rockne, one of the greatest college football coaches of all time who came up with a little something known as the forward pass. Tom Brady thanks you for that one Knute. You can also see the card is limited to just one copy.

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Then – let me see if I can keep my hand from shaking too badly – you flip it over to discover another set of authentic cut signatures. On the top you have a signature from Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. They say he also introduced the first football helmet. And beneath him we have an autograph of Lord Stanley or as he’s known in the states, “the guy they named the Stanley Cup after.”

Chris Card 002

Much like any passionate sports fan, I tend to geek out a little when I see a card like this. It’s just amazing. I feel like getting the chance to hold it is an amazing privilege, but I also need to tell you that it actually gives me a minor panic attack. I cannot even imagine what this is worth in the open market. In talking to Beckett’s pricing analysts, they have no earthly idea either because quite frankly, there has never been a card like this ever produced.

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At the National Sports Collectors Convention this summer, I had more than a few collectors ask me about this promotion. Each had a different strategy and many of the cards were snatched up throughout that weekend, a trend that has continued online and at other popular hobby shows since. To be honest, we’re not sure if anyone will complete the set, but we know many are working towards it and it will be very exciting to see who takes home this card.

Time is running out on the promotion so if you are going for it, you better snatch up any of the last cut signatures you need. If no collector completes the set, whoever is farthest along by December 15 will receive this truly amazing card. Will it be you? If you think so, here’s what you do:

1.    Contact me by calling (760) 603-7548 or chris_carlin@upperdeck.com once you have completed the set.
a.    Contact me by December 1, 2009 if you think you may be one of the collectors farthest along with the set.
2.    Directions will then be given to submit the set for validation.
3.    Upper Deck will award “The Legendary Pioneers” card featuring authentic signatures of Doubleday, Naismith, Rockne and Lord Stanley to the first collector who completes the set and contacts Upper Deck for validation or the collector who is farthest along in completing the set following validation.

I hope whoever wins it gives it a good home. In the meantime, I’m putting it back in it’s case for safekeeping.

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Can anyone tell me why the 2-2 San Diego Chargers were favored by three points to defeat the undefeated 6-0 Denver Broncos? It seems like every year, the Chargers are handed several unwarranted accolades before the season starts. For the last five years, it’s become standard to see NFL analysts picking the Chargers as their Super Bowl favorites.

Well, in the last five years, I can’t remember the Chargers overcoming either of their on-field archrivals: the Pittsburgh Steelers or the New England Patriots. Since they haven’t beaten either of those teams, I can’t understand why we continue to praise them. It’s about time that we start watching and analyzing the game of football from an unbiased point of view and stop attempting to rename chickens as ducks every year.

If you were able to see through the hype this time around, you knew the Chargers came into this year looking just as vulnerable as they did last season. Let’s not forget they needed a four game winning streak (vs. the Raiders, Chiefs, Bucs, and Broncos) and a Broncos three game collapse in order to make the playoffs last year. Nevertheless, they looked no different Monday night when the Broncos avenged last year’s game that essentially eliminated them from playoff contention. Denver rushed for over 100 yards, and quarterback Kyle Orton went toe-for-toe with the much-hyped Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers. Orton ended the day with 229 passing yards, two touchdowns, and a 115.4 quarterback rating.

Both the offense and defense performed as expected for the Broncos. What was extremely surprising was the special teams play in this game, which featured a total of three returns for touchdowns, one by the Chargers and two by the Broncos. The Chargers pride themselves on having a sound special team, especially since they send at least two players to the Pro Bowl every year. Well, Eddie Royal had little respect for what the Chargers’ special teams had accomplished in the past, torching them for a 93-yard kickoff return and a 71-yard punt return. Royal became the first player in Broncos history to return a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in the same game, leading undefeated Denver to a wild 34-23 win over the San Diego Chargers.

The only bright spot that head Coach Norv Turner can build on is the fact that LaDanian Tomlinson looked healthier than he has at any point in the last two years. He was running with an attitude, which is a welcome change after seeing him spend many games being ineffective, if not sitting on the bench. For at least one night, his trademark cuts, quickness, and elusiveness seemed to be back. If he can get going, then maybe the Chargers’ season isn’t a forgone conclusion quite yet. And let’s not forget about Darren Sproles reinforcing what we already know: he is an electrifying player when used the right way.

Looking ahead to next Monday night, the Philadelphia Eagles are taking on the Washington Redskins. This is an intriguing game because both of these teams have glaring issues that need to be resolved. Redskins head Coach Jim Zorn was stripped of his play-calling duties this past week after scoring only two field goals and losing to the winless Kansas City Chiefs. It seems like management is giving him subtle signs that unless he gets this team turned around quickly, he could be on his way out.

The Eagles compounded their division problems by losing to the Oakland Raiders. Truly an embarrassing loss for head Coach Andy Reid, and incumbent starter Donovan McNabb. This is the same Raider team that was eaten alive by Eli Manning and the New York Giants. In fact, I recall Manning ending the first half with 173 passing yards, two touchdowns, and a perfect quarterback rating (backup quarterback David Carr ended up finishing the game with over 100 yards and a touchdown). The blunder by the Redskins against the Chiefs is somewhat acceptable, because the Redskins have looked horrid all year. The Eagles on the other hand, have disappointed many by losing a game they should have won convincingly.

On the bright side, both teams have a chance to redeem themselves come Monday. I’d put my money on the Eagles, since their issue was more about underestimating the competition and failing to prepare properly for a west coast game, rather than lack of talent and coaching. The Redskins, however, have a lot more pressing issues to deal with, starting with their head coach and ending with their quarterback.

Get ready for another exciting Sunday, followed by a much-anticipated division rivalry on Monday Night Football!

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