Sports Outside the Beltway

Pats Lose First-Round Pick, Belichick Fined $500K

The NFL has smacked Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots hard for cheating.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was fined the NFL maximum of $500,000 Thursday and the Patriots were ordered to pay $250,000 for spying on an opponent’s defensive signals. Commissioner Roger Goodell also ordered the team to give up next year’s first-round draft choice if it reaches the playoffs and second- and third-round picks if it doesn’t.

“This episode represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid longstanding rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field,” Goodell said in a letter to the Patriots.

The videotaping came to light after a camera was confiscated from Patriots video assistant Matt Estrella while he was on the New York Jets’ sideline during New England’s 38-14 win last Sunday at Giants Stadium. Goodell will not change the outcome of the game.

Goodell said he had considered suspending Belichick but didn’t “largely because I believe that the discipline I am imposing of a maximum fine and forfeiture of a first-round draft choice, or multiple draft choices, is in fact more significant and long-lasting, and therefore more effective, than a suspension.”

No doubt about that. This penalty is very harsh but, in my view, fair.

Penalties that change history — expunging wins from the record, forfeiting championship banners, and the like — are silly. Fans watched the games and suffered through the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat. Going back and pretending that the outcomes were different for historical purposes hurt the fans, not the teams.


US Solheim Cup team- White women only need apply?

The biennial matches begin tomorrow in Sweden.

Welcome to the women’s version of the Ryder Cup that pits 12 of the best Yanks against 12 of the best from Europe. The biennial trans-Atlantic match-play pressure cooker beginning Friday in Sweden is three days and 28 matches of tension — eight foursomes, eight four-balls and 12 singles.

At stake is an 18-inch Waterford crystal Solheim Cup that carries an enormous amount of weight.

“If you put something in the oven that normally cooks at 325 degrees, the Solheim Cup is like taking it and turning up the heat to 500 degrees,” says Dottie Pepper, a former U.S. Solheim Cup star who won 17 times on the LPGA tour and is now a golf analyst for NBC and Golf Channel. “I always made an extra bathroom stop on my way to the first tee because I was feeling a little nauseous. The intensity and pressure affects your body.

“It’s a weird feeling knowing that you’ve worked so hard to make the team so you can go out and throw up on the first tee.”

Expect more reflux-inducing moments this weekend at the Halmstad Golf Club on Sweden’s west coast, where more than 100,000 flag-waving, mostly pro-European fans are expected to provide large doses of patriotic zeal that can shake even the most grizzled veteran.

The Americans lead the series 6-3, including a 15½-12½ victory in 2005 at Crooked Stick Golf Club near Indianapolis. But foreign soil has been unkind to the Americans, who are 1-3 overseas despite, on paper at least, being favored each time. In their last visit to Europe, in 2003 in Malmo, Sweden, Europe stomped the USA 17½ to 10½.

“It’s more like going to a basketball game or a soccer game than a golf tournament, and the fans cut loose,” U.S. captain Betsy King says. “They start chants and start singing songs. It does take some getting used to.”

King, at first-time captain, knows retaining the Cup is a tall order — especially because four of her players are Cup rookies. In addition to Lincicome, Morgan Pressel, 19, Stacy Prammanasudh, 27, and Nicole Castrale, 28, also make their debuts.


Though the Solheim Cup offers a unique type of pressure, King says her first-timers have successfully dealt with stress and anxiety on the golf course. Lincicome has won two events, including the 2006 HSBC World Match Play Championship; Pressel became the youngest major championship winner at the Kraft Nabisco Championship this year; Prammanasudh has two wins; and Castrale beat world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa in a playoff this year for her first win on tour.

“It will be interesting to see how they’ll react,” King says. “But they all know what it takes to win and they all love to compete and take on any challenge.”

King also has established Solheim Cup veterans Juli Inkster, Pat Hurst, Cristie Kerr, Laura Diaz, Angela Stanford and Steinhauer. Her two remaining players — Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis — made smashing debuts in 2005, going 6-2-1 between them.

The Solheim Cup, since its inception in 1990, with only one exception, has been won by the team hosting the event. So the home team has a big advantage. I’m picking the US to win this weekend. Annika is off form, and I don’t see any of the Europeans picking up the slack. Final outcome- US 15, Europe 13.

What I find most interesting is the omission of Christina Kim from the 2007 Captain’s selections made by Betsy King. Though I should have hardly been surprised.

In 2002, 2003 and 2005, Dorothy Delasin was either 11th or 12th in Solheim Cup pts.(She was 12th in 2002 or first alternate and 11th in 2005 and either 11th or 12th in 2003) before the Captain’s selections were made. In each instance Dorothy was passed over. Various reasonings were made, either a player was selected over her because they had team spirit(Kelli Keuhne’s Captain’s selection in 2003, even though Kelli was stinking up the tour(16th in the Solheim Cup pts and no higher than a 9th place finish) in 2003 and was 0-4 when playing for the 2002 US team) or that Dorothy had no Solheim experience.

Funny but that didn’t stop Patty Sheehan from picking Heather Bowie a rookie for the 2003 squad or Betsy King from picking Nicole Castrale this year.

The Castrale pick over Christina Kim, who many considered the spark plug of the 2005 winning US squad is what makes me scratch my head. Just look at the 2005 Golf World cover and who the magazine chose to feature.

So why wasn’t Christina, who was 14th in this year’s standings, not picked over Castrale when Christina had prior Solheim experience and obviously gets fired up for these events.

Could it be because Christina, like Dorothy Delasin isn’t white? Both players are Asian-American, Korean and Filipino to be precise.

I’m seeing a trend and a very ugly one. Past captains have used one justification or another to bypass Dorothy for three straight Solheim Teams. When Christina fits the qualifications, she gets passed up too. Tell me what other reason makes sense?

I’ll grant two points in favor of some of the last Solheim Captains. The 2002 Captain did pick Pat Hurst, who is half Japanese, for the squad.(Pat and Stacey Prammanasudh who is Thai-American, both made the 2007 squad based on the points standings) On the other hand, Pat is very popular with her fellow pros.

The 2005 Solheim Captain was Nancy Lopez. Nancy is hardly white.

On the other hand, Heather Bowie had never won a LPGA tournament before being selected for the 2003 team. A real head scratcher, when you throw in Heather’s dismal 2003 Cup results of 0-3. Dorothy had three LPGA wins before that year’s Cup, four overall now.

I don’t know whether Christina or Dorothy is popular among their fellow pros. A few Golf Channel announcers were also perplexed by Christina not being picked by Betsy King, so I’m not alone alone.

So if a Asian golfer can’t make the Solheim Cup team based on the standings, she might as well forget being picked by the Captain. Anyone want to disagree with me?

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Who is your NL MVP?

We still have just under 3 weeks of regular season baseball left to play, it’s not quite football season yet! The National League is totally up for grabs. The Central can be won by any of three teams. The East by the Mets or Phillies. The West by any of four teams. What a race! With all the competition, who is the National League’s MVP? I will list the top candidates and give you my pick for the NL MVP.

David Wright (3B Mets) – Here is the pick that you will most commonly see. Wright is a great option for the NL MVP. He is hitting .316/.411/.544 with a career high 28 homers, 35 doubles, 96 RBI, 98 runs, 31 stolen bases, and a 86/108 BB/K rate. Wright could, and should, win the gold glove at 3B. Wright kept the offense going while Carlos Beltran was out of the lineup due to injury and he has tore it up in the 2nd half (.355/.470/.609 and a 45/35 BB/K rate) with Jose Reyes struggling and hitting .258 since the break. Wright has carried the team on his shoulders but I tend to remember the team carrying him when he struggled at the beginning of the season.

Chase Utley (2B Phillies) – Utley has missed some time due to injury and if not for that missed time I think we would be looking at the NL MVP. He is hitting .338/.417/.565 with 18 homers, 43 doubles, 92 RBI, 86 runs, 9 stolen bases, and a 46/75 BB/K rate. He leads the league in AVG and is second in OBP. He plays a physically demanding postion up the middle and holds his own. The knocks on Utley are that he has a lineup around him and that he his home stats carry his total stats (.384/.458/.643 with 12 of his 18 homers). But imagine where teh Phillies would be if he never got hurt.

Matt Holliday (LF Rockies) – If the Rockies squeek their way into the playoffs this guy could easily win the award. Holliday is hitting .335/.396/.586 with 29 homers, 46 doubles, 5 triples, a league leading 191 hits, a league leading 116 RBI, 100 runs, 11 stolen bases, but a not-to-great BB/K rate of 52/111. Holliday also has improved his defense in left. The knock on Holliday will always be that he plays in Coors but he has hit .306 with 51 RBI on the road this season. If the Rockies miss the playoffs expect Holliday to finish in the 5-8 range in the MVP voting.

Prince Fielder (1B Brewers) – You want power numbers for your MVP? Fielder is your man. He has hit to the tune of .290/.387/.616 with a league leading 44 bombs. He has also driven in 105, scored 96, hit 33 doubles, and has a good BB/K rate for a power hitter at 72/105. The Brew Crew have had a hard time keeping the lead in the Central and Fielder could lose votes for that. He could also lose votes due to the surrounding cast he has in rookie Ryan Braun (tied for 5th in homer with 30 in only 388 at-bats), Corey Hart (hitting .297/.355/.536 and is a 20/20 guy), and J.J. Hardy having a career year at SS with 24 homers. But let’s not forget that Bill Hall is having a down year with only 13 homers and a .258 AVG. And Rickie Weeks has been injured and been sent down to AAA. Fielder is a good option for MVP.

Jimmy Rollins (SS Phillies) – If I had a vote it would go to Rollins. He has been the one constant in the Phillies lineup. While Ryan Howard was out he hit. While Utley was out he hit. While Pat Burrell sucked he hit. While the bullpen was blowing saves. While the bullpen and rotation were injured. While… wait, I think you get my point by now. Overall Rollins is hitting .295/.346/.532 while leading the league in runs scored at 125, triples at 17, at-bats with 633, tied for the lead in extra-base hits at 80, and third in hits with 187. He is second amongst shortstops in homers with 27, tied for the lead in RBI with 82, third in doubles with 35, and third in stolen bases with 30. Like Wright, Rollins should also win a gold-glove if there is any justice in this world. In my opinion defense is way overlooked when it comes to MVP voting and it should factor in. Now, imagine where the Phillies would be without Rollins.

Other notable options:

Albert Pujols (1B Cardinals) – .321/.424/.562 with 30 homers, 31 doubles, 89 RBI, 88 runs, and a ridiculous 90/56 BB/K rate.

Russ Martin (C Dodgers) – .297/.378/.475 with 17 homers, 30 doubles, 21 stolen bases, 81 RBI, 80 runs, and 60/79 BB/K rate.

Chipper Jones (3B Braves) – .330/.416/.598 with 25 homers, 39 doubles, 87 RBI, 93 runs, and a 70/70 BB/K rate.

Eric Byrnes (OF Diamondbacks) – .297/.367/.487 with 21 homers, 28 doubles, 8 triples, 81 RBI, 94 runs, 45 stolen bases, and a 56/89 BB/K rate.


Injured Bill Kevin Everett Should Walk Again

Bills tight end Kevin Everett, thought to be permanently paralyzed after a freak injury in Sunday’s game, will likely walk again.

Kevin Everett voluntarily moved his arms and legs on Tuesday when partially awakened, prompting a neurosurgeon to say the Buffalo Bills’ tight end would walk again — contrary to the grim prognosis given a day before.

“Based on our experience, the fact that he’s moving so well, so early after such a catastrophic injury means he will walk again,” said Dr. Barth Green, chairman of the department of neurological surgery at the University of Miami school of medicine. “It’s totally spectacular, totally unexpected,” Green told The Associated Press by telephone from Miami.

Now, obviously, a young athlete in the prime of his career expects to be able to play, not merely walk. This is still sad news. It’s a big upgrade from yesterday, though.

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Cowboys Re-sign Ayodele to Replace Injured Ferguson

The Cowboys have signed twice-released defensive tackle Remi Ayodele to fill the roster spot filled by a season-ending injury to starter Jason Ferguson.

Remi Ayodele Dallas Cowboys PhotoWhile the Cowboys know replacing veteran Jason Ferguson will be a nearly impossible task, they at least filled his roster spot with a player familiar to their system. The Cowboys re-signed Remi Ayodele, the younger brother of Akin Ayodele, to the 53-man roster on Tuesday. Ayodele, who was with the club for all of training camp and the four preseason games, replaces Ferguson’s spot on the roster after the veteran was placed on injured reserve. Ferguson is expected to undergo surgery on Friday to repair a torn biceps tendon in his right arm.

While the Cowboys certainly will miss Ferguson’s leadership and 11 years of NFL experience, they can only hope Ayodele can bring more athleticism to the position as a backup to new starter Jay Ratliff. Ferguson actually called Ayodele “the quickest of all the defensive linemen,” and that includes both the ends and tackles.

Ayodele will be asked to spell Jay Ratliff, who takes over as the starter. A converted defensive end, Ratliff also has more quickness than Ferguson, who was considered more of a space-eater inside that clogs the middle.

Head coach Wade Phillips has said that Ratliff will likely have to play the position differently, using more stunts and even lining him up more in the gap as opposed to directly over the center. That’s the main reason why Phillips said all throughout training camp that he wanted one of the three young tackles battling for Ferguson’s backup spot to win the job. Ayodele was in that group, along with Montavious Stanley and Ola Dagunduro. Stanley and Dagunduro were released in the first wave of cuts on Aug. 27, while Ayodele was released on Sept. 2.

The Cowboys were hopeful to get Ayodele back to the practice squad, but he was claimed off waivers by the Falcons the next day. Ayodele, however, was released by Atlanta last Friday, making him available once again. Even before Ferguson’s injury, the Cowboys had intentions of signing Ayodele to at least the practice squad. Now, his services are needed in a greater capacity.

Indeed. The lack of depth at defensive tackle was one of the glaring holes pretty much everyone cited in the Cowboys’ roster even before the draft. They never found anyone, unfortunately, that fit their bill. Maybe Ratliff and Ayodele can prove them wrong.


Patriots to be penalized by the NFL for spying on Jets

The NFL will penalize the Patriots for ‘videotaping the Jets defensive signals’ during their 38-14 win on Sunday. There was also a similar incident to this last year in a game in Green Bay. Frankly, it makes you wonder how long they’ve been doing this. They won three Super Bowls by an average of just 3 points. Did ‘spying’ occur in those games, and if it did, did it make the difference?…

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Yanks win as Hughes goes six, Giambi slams and Ohlendorf debuts

- Phil Hughes pitched well and won his 3rd game of the year. The YES gun had him at 90-93 mph most of the game, with a few 94s (mostly in the early innings). Despite getting saved by some good defense in the 2nd (from Damon and Melky), he still pitched very well, and quite frankly, that good luck makes up for some of the bad luck he’s suffered through in a lot of previous starts. With more experience will come better command, and if he can go 6 ip, 1 er with inconsistent command, imagine when he has his terrific command – which from his minor league career we know can be truly exceptional. Jason Giambi hit a 5th inning Grand Slam to break the game open. Edwar pitched a scoreless 7th and 8th with five Ks.

- WCBS Radio in New York conducted a good interview with Brian Cashman. He talks about Ross Ohlendorf (among others), who made his ML debut tonight, pitching a perfect inning with a strikeout. His velocity was good, ranging from 90-95, and showed a sharp slider.


Browns Trade Charlie Frye, Starting QB

In a stunning move, the Cleveland Browns have traded away Charlie Frye, their starting quarterback, to the Seattle Seahawks for undisclosed draft picks.

Browns starting quarterback Charlie Frye, benched before halftime in the season opener, was traded to Seattle for an undisclosed draft pick on Tuesday, a stunningly swift move as Cleveland clears the way for rookie Brady Quinn.

Frye was dealt less than 48 hours after playing poorly and being pulled in the second quarter by coach Romeo Crennel for backup Derek Anderson in the Browns’ 34-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Browns said Frye must pass a physical for the trade to be completed. Cleveland also signed free agent quarterback Ken Dorsey, cut 10 days ago by the club, to a one-year contract.

Amid the changes, the Browns have not identified a starter for Sunday’s home game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The team has several options, including allowing Quinn, the former Notre Dame four-year star, to make his NFL debut.

Amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this happen. Trading your starting quarterback? After one game?!

As a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, who hold Cleveland’s pick in the first round next year’s draft, I’m quite pleased.


Umpires vs. technology

As I’ve said before, umpires need help. And I refer you to a piece I wrote over a year ago on this very same subject. Baseball (and sports in general) is far behind the times in utilizing modern technology where it can, specifically to improve officiating.

I’ve thought about this topic for a long time. I think Questec is a good thing. (For those who dont know, it’s a computerized system that measures ball & strikes, and compares it to what the umpire actually called.)

One of the biggest and most frustrating problems in pro sports are bad calls by umps/refs. What I’d like to see is the steady removal of the so-called ‘human error’ from sports; I’ll talk specifically about baseball:

When umps are unsure when a ball is fair or foul down the line, why can’t a system be installed like they use in tennis? They could use technology to determine whether balls are just that, fair or foul.

Also, on disputed HRs, they must use instant replay. There’s no other fair way. An ump should be stationed in the park somewhere near a TV, like in the NHL. He should have the final word, since he’ll have access to the replay.

On balls and strikes, why not use Questec or ESPN’s ‘K-Zone’ (for example) to actually call the strikes? The only problem is that strike zone height is different for every hitter, but width is exactly the same, 17 inches (the width of homeplate). Rickey Henderson had a smaller up/down zone because he was short and crouched, and Richie Sexson’s up/down zone is bigger because he’s 6’8″. But their side-to-side zone is exactly the same. Therefore, computers/technology should be used to tell an umpire when a ball hits the plate or just misses. For the time being, umps will still need to call the up/down pitches (because every hitter is different), but will know for sure when a pitch crosses the corner or not. Or an ump could be assigned to determine the upper limit of each hitter’s strike zone dependent on his stance.

It also sucks when a pitcher throws a strike, but it’s not where he meant to throw it, the catcher has to reach for it, so the ump automatically calls it a ball. It doesn’t matter where the pitcher MEANT to throw the ball, it only matters whether it’s a strike or a ball.

For out/safe calls, when the closest ump feels the play is too close to call, he could send it to the ‘booth ump.’ TV technology is such today that it could be done in 30-60 seconds. Or (ala the NFL) managers should have two replays to use per game.

These steps would help legitimize the officiating and would make for fewer arguments from players and managers. You can’t argue with Questec strikes – it’s 100% consistent and 0% prejudiced (for veterans, or against rookies). Instant replay would also ensure the right call, and isn’t that worth waiting (at most) 60 seconds for – especially in close and/or playoff games?


Weekly Miami Dolphins prediction

Another NFL season is upon us. That means it is time to get my dusty crystal ball off the shelf and make my Dolphins picks for the year. I was 11-5 in predicting their games last year.

Miami is playing at Washington this week. Expectations for Miami are slim compared to last year, though I did see someone say Miami could start 4-2 this year. The team does have 3 flyweights on the schedule in the first three weeks, Oakland, Cleveland and Houston. Then I could also add, Miami has lost both its only ever games with Houston, and gotten clobbered by Cleveland the last time the teams played. Yes Miami could open 4-2 or 1-5 also. I think it will fall somewhere in between, probably 2-4. Overall I’m predicting Miami to go 5-11 this year.

Washington isn’t much better than Miami, but they have a fine defense which is liable to cause fits for the aging Trent Green. My prediction- Washington 24, Miami 14.


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