Sports Outside the Beltway

Basso, Ullrich out of Tour de France

Anyone who knows anything about bicycle racing other than Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France knows that Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso are main favorites to win the famous race now that Armstrong is no longer racing. Well, they WERE the favorites:

Pre-race favourites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso are out of the Tour de France after both were named in an anti-doping investigation in Spain.
Ullrich, team-mate Oscar Sevilla and team manager Rudy Pevenage have all been suspended by the T-Mobile team.

Basso, who rides for the CSC team, was excluded by organisers of the Tour, which starts in Strasbourg on Saturday.

This dramatically changes the race, which starts tomorrow. I don’t think we really have any solid idea who is going to win, since the common wisdom held that “either Basso or Ullrich” would win. Not only has Armstrong been dominating, but Basso and Ullrich have also consistently been in second and third place throughout Armstrong’s run.

In related news, Armstrong wins a preliminary injunction for libel.

I find it incredibly ironic that they have been unable to prove Armstrong’s guilt for years, but have now found all his rivals were doping. However, as long as they can’t put solid proof behind it, I’m inclined to beliee Armstrong.

ESPN is reporting that another big name, Francisco Mancebo, was also dropped from the race. This means that three of the top four finishers from last year’s tour are out on allegations of doping. Since Armstrong is retired, this means that the ENTIRE TOP FOUR from 2005 is not in this race. Whether they are guilty or not remains to be seen, but this is a truly significant development in either case. This year’s winner will probably be someone who few people have even heard of.


Via ESPN: Alexander Vinokourov, who finished fifth last year, wasn’t implicated, but lost his ride when the rest of his team was.

Ironically, this may pave the way for an all American sweep of the top three in the race.

And the repercussions are mighty. With Vinokourov, Mancebo, Ullrich, and Basso out of the Tour and possibly completely out of the sport, the biggest favorites, or the best doped athletes as the case may be, have unceremoniously exited stage left and the yellow jersey is again up for grabs. This leaves the race wide open for the handful of pre-race favorites remaining in the race not caught up in the scandal — Americans George Hincapie (Discovery), Floyd Landis (Phonak), and Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner).

Having an American finish at the top of the Tour de France again would probaby drive the some in the world absolutely beserk. There are many out there who were looking forward to Lance leaving so that they could take back the event they saw as “theirs”. This scandal diminishes the chances that will happen. Looks like they will just have to take solace that we still aren’t anywhere near the World Cup.

Another tidbit from the Fox Sports article: they mention the fact that unlike American sports, the Europeans take steroids seriously. They were unafraid to take out the top four (based on last year’s Tour de France finish) athletes in order to clean out their sport, something that few, if any, organized sports would do (the NCAA might do something on this scale, but none of the professional leagues have the guts to pull the trigger). Not only that, but they did it the night before the race.

Of course, there is a chance that this is a witchhunt, and that these racers are innocent and were taken out too early, before anything was proven. Time will tell us whether the cycling authority should be praised for its proactive anti-drug stance, or if they should be scorned for jumping to conclusions. Lance Armstrong would seem to benefit from these actions, though. If the authorities are so willing to jump on racers when they have proof, it would seem to follow that they never had this proof with Armstrong.


Jason Witten NFL’s Most Productive Tight End

K.C. Joyner (no relation), who dubs himself “The Football Scientist,” says Dallas’ Jason Witten was the NFL’s most productive tight end in 2005.

Dallas Cowboys TE Jason Witten Photo

Who is the best receiving tight end in the NFL? The prevailing wisdom is that either Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez deserves the distinction, but the metrics I compiled from the 2005 season for Scientific Football 2006 (available for preorder at tell a different story.

I use three metrics to measure the pass-catching ability of a tight end (40 receptions to qualify). The first two are TYPCA (total yards per catchable attempt) and success percentage. The third metric is derived by multiplying TYPCA by the success percentage. This last metric combination provides the best overall balance between production and consistency and is the metric I used to identify the best receiving tight end.

For much of the 2005 season, Gates would have been the easy answer to this question. Through the first 11 weeks of the season, Gates averaged 9.3 TYPCA and posted a 74 percent success rate, which translated to a league-leading number.

However, Gates’ numbers took a nosedive after he injured his leg in Week 11 against Buffalo. In the final six weeks of the season, he averaged only 4.5 TYPCA and had a 48.1 percent success rate. The drop in production caused Gates to drop to third in the league in TYPCA, 11th in success percentage and seventh in the combined metric.

Gonzalez was forced to block more often last year because of the Chiefs’ offensive line injuries, but he was still a vertical passing threat. He ranked first among tight ends in medium pass attempts and fourth in deep pass attempts. He also ranked first in defensive penalty yards drawn and had the second-lowest dropped pass percentage among tight ends. Despite all these excellent numbers, Gonzalez still ranked only fifth among tight ends in TYPCA and sixth in the combination metric.

Jeremy Shockey is another name that might come to mind. Shockey did rank third among tight ends in catchable attempts, fourth in successful plays and second in total yards. Unfortunately, he posted a 61 percent success rate, next to last among qualifying tight ends. He does well when he catches a pass, but having inaccurate Eli Manning as your quarterback almost assures your success percentage will be low.

The emerging Chris Cooley frequently is used as an H-back, meaning he lines up in the backfield or as a wingback on the line of scrimmage. This might seem to be a handicap, but the Redskins use this positional flexibility to help get Cooley open, as evidenced by his ranking fourth in success percentage. He wasn’t just a check-down target, either, as his 8.3 TYPCA was the fourth best in the league.

The big surprise in these rankings was Jerramy Stevens. Stevens is Seattle’s very talented, but maddeningly inconsistent tight end. Most analysts, myself included, tend to focus on the many plays Stevens takes off in a game. However, the metrics show Stevens is one of the best tight ends in the NFL.

Stevens ranked first among tight ends with an 8.9 TYPCA. He tied for second in medium pass success percentage and was third in medium pass TYPCA. His overall success percentage was buoyed in part by the fact that he was thrown only two deep passes all year long, but he did catch both. His combined metric number of 6.5 yards was the second best among tight ends.

The best receiving tight end in the NFL in 2005 was Jason Witten. The offensive line injuries in Dallas didn’t stop him from ranking second in the total TYPCA category and fifth in success percentage. He also had the lowest overall dropped pass percentage of any tight end.

Witten didn’t rack up these numbers strictly on short passes. Witten was excellent at medium passes, ranking second in medium TYPCA and second in medium success percentage. He wasn’t the best deep threat, but managed to rank fifth in deep success percentage.

I expect Gates to bounce back from his injuries to reclaim the throne as the best pass-catching tight end in 2006, but until then, he’ll have to take a backseat to Witten.

Here are the top five in each category:

Yards Per Attempt
1. Jerramy Stevens — 8.9
2. Jason Witten — 8.7
3. Antonio Gates — 8.4
4. Chris Cooley — 8.3
5. Tony Gonzalez — 8.2

Success %
1. Jermaine Wiggins — 80.5%
2. Alex Smith — 77.8%
3. Erron Kinney — 77.8%
4. Chris Cooley — 77.2%
5. Jason Witten — 77.0%

Success % x Yards Per Attempt
1. Jason Witten — 6.7
2. Jerramy Stevens — 6.5
3. Chris Cooley — 6.4
4. Todd Heap — 5.9
5. Erron Kinney — 5.8

Most of us thought last year was actually a bit of a down year for Witten. But I’m not going to argue with science.


Evander Holyfield Making Another Comeback at 43

Evander Holyfield, one of the most charismatic heavyweight champions of the modern era, is making yet another comeback.

The “Real Deal” is returning. Former four-time heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, 43, is coming back from a 21-month layoff to face journeyman Jeremy Bates in a 10-round bout Aug. 19 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. “I’m very excited about it,” Holyfield told on Wednesday. “Being able to finish what I’ve started means a lot. I was sidetracked lately, but I am getting back on the path.” A news conference to announce the fight is scheduled for Thursday afternoon at the American Airlines Center, event organizer Lester Bedford said.

Holyfield (38-8-2, 25 KOs) has lost three in a row and is 2-5-1 in his last eight fights. He hasn’t fought since dropping a lopsided unanimous decision to Larry Donald on Nov. 13, 2004, in New York. After the Donald fight, Holyfield was indefinitely suspended by the New York commission for “poor performance,” meaning he couldn’t fight anywhere in the United States until the suspension was lifted. However, Holyfield protested and, after passing a series of medical tests more than a year ago, New York boxing officials changed his suspension from a medical one to an administrative one, which allowed him to seek licenses elsewhere. Last week, Holyfield was granted one in Texas.

“I still want to be the undisputed heavyweight champ of the world,” Holyfield said, repeating the mantra he has preached for the past several years. “There is no reason to fight if that was not my goal. Everything I have ever done was with that goal in mind. If my goal wasn’t to be the undisputed heavyweight champ of the world then there would be no reason to get back in it.”



Pirates Reach Historic Lows

Pittsburgh Pirates put together worst losing streak in over 100 years.

While the Kansas City Royals have had the worst record in baseball (right now, they are tied with the Pirates), the Pirates just got swept by them. As the article says, they used to win. In 1979, the combination of the Pirates and the Steelers winning championships made Pittsburgh the “City of Champions”. While the Steelers have held up their end of the bargain, the Pirates continue to sink to lower and lower depths. It is sad to watch this franchise turn into a laughingstock – I think it is time to look at a way to make a change in ownership.


NHL Game May Be Played at Yankee Stadium

This is an NHL game I might go to.

“The House that Ruth Built” may be used to stage a hockey event.

Newsday reported on Wednesday that the NHL is looking at the possibility of having the New York Rangers play the New York Islanders in a regular season game at Yankee Stadium.

I love this idea. Playing a pro ice hockey game outdoors would add an interest angle to it, and its not like the temperature inside an NHL arena is warm enough to justify always having it inside. It would be only the second NHL game played outside, and holding it at a historic sports shrine like Yankee Stadium would be a great publicity boost for the game.

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And You Thought Pete Rose Got Mad . . .

This temper tantrum has to be seen to be believed. Strangely enough, Roger Clemens’ son was at the center of this one – it was the call that went in favor of him that set this manager off.

Upset with umpire Andy Russell’s call in the fifth inning of Asheville’s 5-2 loss, Mikulik rushed onto the field. The manager of the Colorado Rockies’ Class A affiliate made a headfirst dive into second base and later pulled up the bag — taking a few tugs to get it done — before throwing it into right field.

By the time he got ejected, Mikulik was just getting warmed up. And by the time he was done, he had thrown a resin bag, several bats and blocked the umpires’ locker room.

He claims he never lost control, although it may have looked like it. Yeah, sure.

Listen closely to the music the PA announcer plays – its priceless. The Lexington guy in charge must have a sense of humor, as he plays “Lost that Lovin’ Feeling”, followed by “Hit the Road, Jack”. Simply unreal.


Larry Foote in Custody Battle

We had been lacking in any Steeler news for weeks . . . but when it rains, it pours.

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Larry Foote has asked a Michigan court to award him custody of a 10-year-old son he says he did not know existed until nearly two years ago.

Foote, 26, who has homes in Pittsburgh and the Detroit suburb of West Bloomfield Township, made his request in a recent filing in Oakland County Circuit Court. A hearing is scheduled for July 5 before Judge Cheryl Matthews.

Trey-Veion’s mother, Khalila Shanese Hammond of Inkster, said she was surprised when she received the filing. She said she appreciates Foote’s actions on behalf of their son but says the boy is homesick and should not stay with Foote full-time.

“It’s not going to happen,” Hammond said. “I’m going to fight him.”

Strange story, really. But most of the stories coming out of Pittsburgh these days are strange. I’m not sure what to make of all of this, seeing as how the Steelers have remained largely trouble free until this year. At least Foote isn’t getting arrested, like some other Steelers teammates.


Big Ben Not Ready to Talk


It’s been more than two weeks since Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had emergency after he smashed his face into a car during a motorcycle accident.

And Big Ben’s agent, Ryan Tollner, says it will be a few more weeks before Roethlisberger speaks publicly about the accident.

Tollner told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that Roethlisberger has had requests from “every major media outlet, not just sports” to talk about the accident, but he’s not ready to do that.

Perfectly understandable, I think. I’m about his age, and I don’t think I’d be ready yet either.

Also, the article states that his face is looking pretty good, which is encouraging. I’d hate to have to get used to another face.


Steelers First Round Pick Facing Possible Suspension

So you’ve been drafted in the first round by the Super Bowl champions who have a decent shot at going to the playoffs again. You are playing a game you love playing, and everything is going well for you.

So why on earth do you keep doing stuff like this (KDKA TV)?

The Steelers’ No. 1 draft pick’s personal problems could be causing trouble for him on the field.

Our news partners at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report that Holmes may face suspension from the NFL for violating its personal conduct police, even though Holmes has not even signed his contract with the Steelers.

Holmes was arrested earlier this month, accused of choking the mother of one of his children.

He was also arrested last month in Florida for disorderly conduct.

Talk about throwing it all away. I hope this kid gets a wake up call, because I don’t want him playing for the Steelers if he does stuff like this all the time – he’s the first true thug I remember being in the team in a long time.


Peter Gammons Has Brain Surgery

Legendary baseball writer Peter Gammons had a brain aneurysm yesterday morning followed by surgery overnight.

Photo Peter Gammons Baseball Hall of Fame Longtime ESPN Baseball analyst Peter Gammons is out of surgery and resting in intensive care after undergoing an operation to treat a brain aneurysm Tuesday. Gammons suffered the aneurysm Tuesday morning near his home on Cape Cod, Mass. He was airlifted to a Boston hospital, where the surgery was performed.

Gammons, 61, is probably the best-known baseball writer of his generation, first with the Boston Globe, beginning in 1969, then for Sports Illustrated, before joining ESPN in 1990.

He was honored with J.G. Taylor Spink Award for outstanding baseball writing during the 2005 Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y. He was selected in balloting by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

He started his career as a reporter for the Boston Globe in 1969 and wrote a very popular weekly Sunday baseball column for many years. He has also worked for Sports Illustrated covering the National Hockey League, college basketball and Major League Baseball (1976-78, 1986-90).

In 1986, upon his return to Sports Illustrated as a senior writer following a second stay at the Globe, he wrote numerous stories covering some of baseball’s most important news events, as well as authoring “Inside Baseball,” Sports Illustrated’s weekly baseball notebook.

Gammons primarily serves as a studio analyst for ESPN’s Baseball Tonight, but he also does regular spots for SportsCenter, ESPNEWS and ESPN Radio and contributes to ESPN The Magazine. Beginning this season, he became a reporter for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. He is also a columnist and writes a popular Weblog for

My hopes for a full and speedy recovery.


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