Sports Outside the Beltway

Ron Wilson becomes new Toronto Maple Leafs coach

He was fired by San Jose less than a month ago. From AP-

TORONTO — Ron Wilson was introduced Tuesday as the new coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, less than a month after he was fired by the San Jose Sharks.

The 53-year-old Wilson appeared at a Tuesday news conference at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre after signing a four-year deal.

Wilson was fired May 12 by San Jose after the Sharks lost to the Dallas Stars in the second round of the playoffs. He succeeds Paul Maurice, who was fired by Toronto last month after missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

“I’m the happiest person in the National Hockey League today,” Wilson said. “I’m fulfilling a dream.

Wilson played for Toronto back in the 70′s. In addition he coached at Anaheim and Washington before his stint in San Jose.

Can Wilson succeed in Toronto? The Maple Leafs have been mired mostly in mediocrity for a time span that predates Ron Wilson’s time as player with the team. The Leafs have Mats Sundin, but not a whole lot else that stands out. This dream job stands a good chance of ending up as a nightmare.


The Stanley Cup has a dent

Look what happens when you allow a championship trophy out at night.

DETROIT — The Stanley Cup is OK after taking a tumble during the Red Wings’ celebrations in Detroit.

NHL spokeswoman Bernadette Mansur said on Saturday that the Cup got a slight dent Friday after some players took the trophy to Cheli’s Chili Bar, a downtown restaurant owned by Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios.

Mansur says a keeper of the Cup traveling with the trophy was able to smooth out the dent. She added that the trophy was expected to continue making the rounds, and that “the Cup has seen worse.”

I’d like to know what was worse. Now watch out as legislators in Canada and the US try to prevent a future incident. Stanley Cups must never be allowed at Chili bars ever again!(Cue the sarcastic laughter)


Chicago Bears release RB Cedric Benson

This comes after his second DUI arrest in about a month’s time.

After his boating DUI charge, Cedric Benson remained a starting running back in the eyes of coach Lovie Smith and the Chicago Bears.

His weekend DUI charge while in a car in Austin, Texas, has led to his release, however. The Bears placed Benson on waivers Monday, two years before the end of his contract and three years into a disappointing career with the team.

“Cedric displayed a pattern of behavior we will not tolerate,” Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said in a statement. “As I said this past weekend, you have to protect your job. Everyone in this organization is held accountable for their actions. When individual priorities overshadow team goals, we suffer the consequences as a team. Those who fail to understand the importance of ‘team’ will not play for the Chicago Bears.”

Benson wasn’t present at the Bears’ organized practice Monday. The Chicago Sun-Times reported on its Web site that Benson showed up and was sent home by Smith.

Benson had been a big disappointment for Chicago ever since the team took him with the 4th overall pick of the 2005 NFL draft. I haven’t watched Benson enough to know if he could still salvage a career in the NFL. The first thing the RB needs to do however, is put his life together.


Ken Griffey Jr. hits 600 career homerun

He did it last night against the Florida Marlins.

Monday, Griffey became the sixth player in major league history to hit 600 home runs. He deposited a Mark Hendrickson first-inning pitch about a dozen rows up into Section 130 of the right-field bleachers as part of a 9-4 Reds win at Dolphin Stadium. Stuck on 599 since May 31, Griffey is 10 shy of eclipsing Sammy Sosa for fifth on the all-time list.

Just 10 of Griffey’s 600 homers have come against the Marlins, a team he did not face until 2000. Five of those have come at Dolphin Stadium, where he hadn’t hit one since June 1, 2004.

Here’s the video.

So far as I know, no one has mentioned Griffey as a user of steroids. Griffey, who began his career with the Seattle Mariners, will make the Hall of Fame. Abusers like Sammy Sosa will have a long wait if they ever do get voted in. As Mark McGwire is presently finding out.


Michelle Wie qualifies for the US Women’s Open

When Michelle tees it up on June 26th, it will be her fourth LPGA event of 2008. From AP-

ROCKVILLE, MD — Despite playing 36 holes on a humid day with temperatures nearly reaching triple digits, Michelle Wie was still able to flash a big smile as she sat down with the media.

Qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open will do that.

Playing on two different courses, Wie carded rounds of 70 and 67 and her 137 total was the second-best score on the day and more than enough to qualify her for the 2008 Open, to be played later this month at the Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minn.

“I think I did pretty well. It feels good to be playing good again,” said Wie, who has struggled with her game for much of the last year. “There were a lot of shots that I left out there today with the putting and a couple of errant tee shots in the middle, but other than that I’m pretty pleased with my round and I’m really happy to be playing at the U.S. Open.”

Wie’s strong finish in Germany is encouraging so far as a sign the teen’s golf game is returning. I still believe more evidence is needed before saying conclusively Michelle Wie is back.


ABC Sports Announcer Jim McKay dead at 86

Sports fan my age(mid 40′s) will not forget Jim McKay due to his work on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. No question, McKay was a legend in the field of sports broadcasting. RIP.

Jim McKay, 86, a longtime television sports journalist, has died of natural causes in Maryland, according to a statement from the McKay family.

McKay is best known for hosting “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” and 12 Olympic Games.

McKay won numerous awards for journalism, including the George Polk Memorial Award and two Emmys — one for his sports coverage, the other for his news reporting — for his work at the 1972 Munich Olympics, which were tragically affected by the Black September terrorists’ attack on the Israeli athletes in the Olympic Village.

“There are no superlatives that can adequately honor Jim McKay. He meant so much to so many people. He was a founding father of sports television, one of the most respected commentators in the history of broadcasting and journalism,” ESPN and ABC Sports president George Bodenheimer said in a statement.

“For more than 60 years he brought sports into the homes of Americans on Wide World of Sports, the Olympics and many other programs that captured the essence of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

“Jim was the ultimate colleague, having helped generations of people who have now taken his mantle. He was also a warm and devoted family man. My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Margaret, Sean and Mary for their loss. And I know that countless people, around the world, have been touched by this great man. We will miss him.”

In 1968, McKay won the first of his 13 Emmy Awards, becoming the first sports commentator to receive that honor.

His 12th Emmy, in 1988, was not for his talents as a broadcaster but as the writer of the openings for ABC Sports’ coverage of the 1987 Indianapolis 500, the British Open and the Kentucky Derby. He is the only broadcaster to have won Emmys for sports and news broadcasting and for writing.

In 1990 he was the recipient of the first-ever Lifetime Achievement in Sports award from the Academy. In 1992 he was the recipient of an Emmy Award in the Individual Achievement category for the ABC Sports special, “Athletes and Addiction: It’s Not a Game.”

In 1989 McKay received the Peabody Award, which is presented annually to recognize the most distinguished and meritorious public service programming rendered each year on radio and television.

McKay was the first American network sports commentator to visit mainland China. In 1991, he visited Cuba to interview Fidel Castro.

McKay was with “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” since its inception in April 1961.

Jim McManus (McKay’s real name) was born in Philadelphia on September 24, 1921, and moved to Baltimore when he was 15.

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Yankees: Giambi wins it, Wang struggles and Mo is good

Thursday afternoon’s win was the best of the season (in terms of emotions). It looked totally lost at 7-2, only for the Yanks to crawl back to within one, then have Farnsworth re-blow the game, only to be followed by Arod, Matsui and Giambi coming up huge. In fact, Giambi increased the Yanks chances of winning 89.5% (almost unheard of).

And speaking of hitting, how about Wilson Betemit? His second HR in two days, this one coming from the right side. He gets killed a lot around the Yankee blogosphere, but it’s rather unfair to him. He’s a backup, and hence doesn’t get consistent playing time. If he did, I’m sure he would put about a .250/.350/.480 line. One of the positives about Giambi missing some time is that it might give Betemit more playing time, allowing him to get into a groove. Right now, you have to keep playing him – it comes down to four of Betemit, Giambi (if healthy), Damon, Matsui and Melky. Currently, Melky’s got to sit; the other hitters are just too hot to put on the bench. Damon is an inferior centerfielder, but the way he’s hitting he’ll easily make up for it.

- Now, on to Chien-Ming Wang: what’s wrong with him? Is there anything wrong with him? 82.2 innings is not even half a season so we shouldn’t jump to any definitive conclusions, but I’ll try to head in that direction. His ERA is the highest it’s ever been: 4.57. Through his first nine games, Wang was having a stellar year: 59 ip, 2.90 ERA, 38 K, 19 BB, 1 HR, .584 OPS against.

But he’s (frankly) sucked in his last four starts: 23.2 ip, 8.75 ERA, 11 K, 14 BB, 3 HR, .794 OPS against. The stat that most jumps out to me is the walk rate. It went from 2.89 BB/9 through his first nine starts to 5.3 BB/9. That’s almost double. It definitely jives with what my eyes tell me: Wang has been consistently missing his spots in his last several games.

To back me up, his BAA, BABIP and FIP are in line with his career averages. What I have to wonder is whether he’s trying strikeout more hitters – and if that’s causing him to avoid contact, hence throwing more pitches out of the zone. Along with a rising K/9 rate, his walk rate has also increased each of the last three years (along with his pitches/PA). And perhaps most disturbingly, his groundball rate has also decreased each of the last three years. My theory is thus: his critics who assailed him for not striking out enough hitters has caused him and his pitching coaches to try to improve his K rates, hence he’s throwing more pitches out of the zone (to induce swinging strikes) – this causes him to fall behind in counts more often which leads to more hits and walks. My hope is that it’s just a slump (it is just four games after all), but my fear is that the league has caught up to him or he’s hiding an injury.

- If you hadn’t noticed, Mariano Rivera is having a good year. How good is it?! It’s so good that among relievers with at least 25 ip (going all the way to 1901):
a. he has the best ERA+ (1185)
b. 4th best K/BB rate (13/1)
c. best WHIP (.500)
d. best OPS+ against (negative 24 = ludicrous!)
e. 2nd best hit rate (3.81/9 ip)

- The MLB amateur draft can be found here. The Yanks selected high-school pitcher Gerrit Cole with the 28th pick of the first round. I don’t know much about Cole, but here are several sources who do.
Baseball America
Perfect Game
River Ave. Blues
Keith Law (via Pinstripe Alley)


Former NFL Defensive End Dwight White dead at 58

White becomes the second member of the famed ‘Steel Curtain’ to die this year. Ernie Holmes was the other. I was a heavy football watcher in the 70′s and recall Dwight White very well. RIP.

PITTSBURGH — Dwight White, the Steel Curtain defensive end known as “Mad Dog” who helped lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s, died Friday. He was 58.

The Steelers said White died at a Pittsburgh hospital. The cause was not disclosed. The team said White was released from the hospital after having back surgery, but then was readmitted with complications.

White is the second member of the original four-man Steel Curtain to die this year. Defensive tackle Ernie Holmes died Jan. 17 in a car accident in Texas.

White, a two-time Pro Bowl player, was chosen as one of the 33 members of the Steelers’ 75th anniversary all-time team last season.


Cowboys’ Henry ‘Down With’ Safety Move

So long as he gets paid, Anthony Henry will play wherever the Cowboys need him.

Anthony Henry is the Dallas Cowboys starting cornerback. But he is open to making a switch to safety, which could be a possibility if Pacman Jones is fully reinstated and first-round pick Mike Jenkins emerges.

Henry, a former safety at South Florida, realizes with the added depth at cornerback he could be moved to safety. He believes a move to safety would help prolong his career. “At some point it could happen,” said Henry, who is entering his eighth season. “I am not sure when. If they made the decision, I would be down [with the move]. I think I will make the switch eventually. That’s what I have in my mind and plan on doing at some point. I know it’s something I could learn and play well.”

Henry, who led the Cowboys with six interceptions last season, started at free safety his first three years in college. He has worked some at safety in the dime package where Roy Williams usually lines up to cover the tight ends. It could allow the Cowboys to have four cornerbacks on the field.

“I understand it,” Henry said. “Terence [Newman] got paid, they draft a corner in the first round and bring in Pacman. It does affect me. All I can do is play my best and try to be successful and let things fall where they fall.”

In stark contrast to Greg Ellis, who first resisted the move to linebacker and is now balking at moving to situational status to prolong his career, Henry is a team player who knows where his bread is buttered. Henry will be an outstanding safety, if necessary, and the best ball hawk at that position the Cowboys have had since Darren Woodson retired.


John Smoltz’ Season Ending Surgery

John Smoltz valiantly tried to fight through the pain but he’s now having shoulder surgery that will sideline him the rest of the season and, quite possibly, end his career.

Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz will have season-ending shoulder surgery, but he hopes to return in 2009.

Smoltz and general manager Frank Wren declined comment until the briefing, but the pitcher said on his radio show that he will miss the rest of the season. “I’m having surgery with the hopes of pitching beyond this year,” Smoltz told 790 The Zone. “We’re only kidding ourselves if we try to mess around any longer.”

Still, the decision to have surgery raises serious questions about Smoltz’s future. He turned 41 last month, and it would be highly improbable for a pitcher to come back from a major operation at his age. Smoltz had only returned from the disabled list on Monday, hoping to make it through the rest of the season as a closer after starting five games this season.

His loss was a huge blow to an Atlanta team already dealing with a rash of injuries to its pitching staff. The Braves went into Wednesday’s game 3½ games behind Philadelphia in the NL East. “Not having him at all for the rest of the season is devastating, flat out devastating,” third baseman Chipper Jones said. “Going into this season, I said there’s one guy on this club we cannot do without. That’s John Smoltz.”

The right-hander is the only pitcher in baseball history with 200 wins and 150 saves, and he reached another milestone this season with his 3,000th strikeout.

While on the disabled list, Smoltz changed his pitching motion, going to a three-quarters motion to ease the pain in his shoulder. He came on in the ninth inning of Monday night’s game against Florida with a 4-3 lead but gave up three hits and two runs, blowing his first save chance since 2004.

Manager Bobby Cox said the pitcher was “pretty sore” the following day, and Smoltz apparently decided that it was futile to continue his comeback even though he’s long indicated another surgery would probably end his career. He’s already had four operations on his right elbow, including Tommy John surgery that kept him out for all of 2000.

“I’ve always said that if it gets to that point, I don’t know the value of coming back,” Smoltz said Monday. “At the same time … the right choice will be made. It won’t be made emotionally.”

Truly a shame. Smoltz is a class act and the Braves sure need him.


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