published Monday, May 21st, 2012

5-at-10: LeBron, baseball at the first turn and SEC strength

Buckle up and go get a coffee refill, there's a lot to cover.

From the "Talks too much" studios, here we go...

  • photo
    Miami Heat's LeBron James looks down court during the first half of a NBA basketball against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Miami.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

We've made a playoff resolution. We're not going to flop back and forth on LeBron James, twisting in the wind with each playoff hiccup or thumping our chest with each playoff highlight.

Dude is the best player on the planet, and you could make a real argument that he's the best overall athlete on the planet. Does that change if he scores 22 and fails in the clutch against the Pacers? Does it change if he posts a near-historic stat line of 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists in a must-win game? Not really.

Here's what we're going to do: We're going to enjoy the LeBron Show and see how long it runs. Moments like Sunday — when he went nuts at Indiana in a game the Heat had to have — are reminders of what he can do and we should enjoy them as they happen.

Now if we get to June and he still doesn't have a ring, let the hand-wringing begin. But wow, the number of haters LeBron has accumulated is staggering. Side question: Is there anything an athlete has done that is not illegal or even unethical that has turned the public tide more than LeBron's decision a couple of years ago?

Around the NBA:

— If LeBron had pushed his teammates into traffic (side note: The 5-at-10 hates the expression "pushed under the bus" because there is no modern cliche this side of "Step up" and "In the zone" used more) like Kobe did, there would have been an earthquake of spilled ink. Kobe blamed teammate Pau Gasol for the critical Game 4 loss to the Thunder, who could close out the Lakers tonight. Granted, Kobe has five titles and gets more leeway because of that, but still.

— Regardless whether the Lakers or the Thunder advance, it appears either team would be playing for second in the Western Conference behind the overpowering Spurs, who eliminated the Clippers on Sunday. San Antonio has won eight straight playoff games and 18 consecutive games overall.

— For those of us a certain age, it's with a mixed bag of irony and amazement that the Celtics-76ers series is the least hyped and lowest-key of the four conference semifinals. Huge Game 5 tonight with that series tied at 2.

————

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    A two-run home run by Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton gets past Atlanta Braves center fielder Jason Heyward (22) in the seventh inning of a baseball game Wednesday, May 16, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Baseball zooms through turn 1

Major League Baseball has passed the 40-game point. It's a quarter into the season, and streaks have become trends and trends have become storylines.

And there are a plethora (Would you say we have a plethora of pinatas Jefe? Oh yes.) of storylines so far that range for sad to uplifting and from stunning to ho-hum. Here's a few:

Biggest surprise (team): Los Angeles, which has the best record in the big leagues, narrowly edges Baltimore, which has the best record in the AL. Neither team was projected to do much, but each has been stellar — and done it in opposite manners. L.A. is a MLB-best 19-4 at home; Baltimore is 15-6 on the road to lead the bigs.

Biggest surprise (player): Braves' right-hander Brandon Beachy would likely be the Cy Young winner if the season ended today. And not even your Aunt Jimmie Kate who watches every Braves game and still thinks Skip Carey is doing the games could have predicted that with a straight face.

Best team: The Dodgers have the best record, but the Texas Rangers look to be the best team. The Rangers' lineup is stacked — they are first in runs, average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage — and they have a budding ace in Yu Darvish. Some what surprisingly, your Atlanta Braves are as good as any team in the National League.

Best player: Josh Hamilton, and it's not even that close since Matt Kemp injured his hamstring. Hamilton is on pace to win a triple crown, and if he keeps this pace it would be the best single season ever. Hamilton is at .389 with 18 homers and 47 RBIs, which is on pace for .389, 69 homers and 181 RBIs. Not bad — especially in a contract year.

Biggest disappointment (team): While the Red Sox and the Yankees are hovering around .500 — and each is dealing with a fair amount of off-the-field drama — the Anaheim Angels of L.A. and lower Orange County in the Southern part of California have been as bad as their franchise name. They've already jettisoned hitting coach Mickey Hatcher after an offensive outage felt throughout baseball. It's especially bad considering....

Biggest disappointment (player): Albert Pujols signed a mega-deal to head to the Angels and has been floundering. In fact, the word floundering is insulted to be used to describe Pujols. He's at .211-3-18 and is on pace to for .211, 12 homers and 69 RBIs. Of course fellow $25-million-a-year guy Alex Rodriguez is on pace to hit .270 with 20 homers and 59 RBIs. Ouch-standing.

Feel free to share yours.

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SEC sends message

We wrote a column about it this weekend, but we have not discussed it here too much since it happened Friday afternoon.

We're talking about the SEC-Big 12 agreement to send their champions to a bowl game against each other. Granted, if the winners of those conferences are in the four-team playoff, they will go to that and the league's runner-up will go to the "Champions" Bowl, at least that's what we're calling it.

Here's what the agreement does in broad strokes, and almost all of them are good for the SEC (As Virgil Sollozzo says, "our compliments consigliere," to Mr. Slive and Co.):

— The Big Ten's arguments about the Rose Bowl have been reduced. Sure the Rose Bowl has great tradition and the new bowl can't compare to that, but the new bowl will have a bigger pay day, and the third rail of college athletics administrators is money. And if you think any of them will put a colleague — whether they are friends or foes — in a position where they have to sacrifice a BID-ness deal, well, you'd be wrong. It's in their secret code, right behind the chapters on properly using the phrases "they are STUDENT-athletes" and that "education is the most important thing" can apply to any situation if they are said with enough conviction.

— The ACC had better have a plan. A month ago FSU, the league's most marketable football program, floated the notion of realigning and moving to the Big 12. Granted it went over like a toot in church, but the idea is out there. Now, with the help of this deal, the Big 12 is firmly positioned as one of the top four leagues. The ACC is not, and if there is another raid on programs, the ACC looks like the slowest gazelle as the lions start the hunt.

— The BCS in general had better get in the game. If the current BCS bowls are part of the soon-to-be enacted four-team playoff (and when it become official, we'll start calling it the "soon-to-be-expanded four-team playoff), then OK. But this Champions Bowl is like graduate school for the conference championship games and they will go to the highest bidder. And don't you know that Jerry Jones and Dallas and the Sugar Bowl folks and New Orleans are itching to make the Champions Bowl something like $15 million to each team.

— The other bowl games better makes some friends and sign long-term extensions that include heavy exit fees. That, or some of the smaller bowls should look to signing deals to be played on that first weekend of the year. The wise folks at Chick-fil-A have showed us this could work. They also have showed us the standard for chicken sammaiches and unsweet tea. Why can't we have the Music City Bowl, the Liberty Bowl or some others that first weekend with semi-marquee match-ups?

— Change is coming, and it's coming quickly. The SEC is looking beyond today, which takes great foresight because today the SEC is so strong, it would be tempting to gaze longingly at its self-reflection. Instead, the league is positioned for the next wave. As JFK said "put your pants on Marilyn".... no wait, as JFK said, "the time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining," and the SEC did just that. Again, as Sollozzo said, our compliments consigliere."

———

This and that

— Wow. Just wow. The UTC men's golf team went to Bowling Green, Ky., and slapped around a super-talented field. The Mocs won the regional and are headed to the NCAA tournament on a wave of momentum unforeseen since the 1997 Sweet 16 run. And in truth, while not as high-rpofile, this win is more historic in that according to our UTC golf ace David Uchiyama, this is UTC's first NCAA regional title in any sport since joining cross country did it in the late 1990s. Outstanding work to Mark Guhne's troops, especially Stephen Jaeger, who made a birdie on the final hole to clinch the team win and take medalist honors. Wow. Just wow.

— Speaking of golf, who's the hottest pro golfer on the planet? Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy? Nope. None other than dip-spitting, smile-avoiding, solid-as-a-rock Jason Dufner, who capped his second win in a month with a 30-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole of the Byron Nelson Classic on Sunday. Dufner leads the FedEx standings and is the PGA Tour's first multiple winner this year and, according to Golf Channel's Jason Sobel — who does excellent work, for what it's worth — has notched both of those wins since quitting the Twitter.

— NASCAR had it's all-star race Saturday night, and proving that there are no really good all-star events in pro sports, there were a lot of grumblings and fan angst. The NASCAR all-star race set-up, which changes about every 60 days, has its great points (The Ricky Bobby set-up where it's a $1 million to the winner, everyone else gets a handshake) and its bad (once a driver won a 20-lap segment and secured a top-four spot in the 10-lap race to the finish he would pull a Darrell Waltrip impression and coast around the track in the back taking in the sights). Fans were less than thrilled, but it's still better than the Pro Bowl.

— Lawrence Taylor's Super Bowl XXV ring went for more $230,000 at auction, more than triple the price experts expected. It was put up for auction by LT's son TJ, and the Hall of Fame linebacker was OK with PDQ even if he was not ROTFLMAO or any other alphabet abbreviations. Side note: According to the Interweb, a Babe Ruth jersey sold at auction brought in more than $4.4 million to rank as the most expensive item of sports memorabilia of all time. How crazy is that? Well, ruth earned about $910,000 playing baseball from 1915-1935 and his estate in Massachusetts — the actual house that Ruth built — is on the market for $1.65 million. Who needs real estate when you can buy a 92-year-old garment at almost triple the price?

— There are few occasions that you can work William Wallace of "Braveheart" and Austin Powers' father in the same thought, but each would support this new law. Apparently a new Scottish law against bigotry is not applicable against anti-English acts of violence http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/anti-bigotry-law-fails-to-protect-england-fans-1-2306242. We know Braveheart would approve, but so would Nigel Powers, who in "Goldmember" famously said, "There's only two things I hate in this world. People who are intolerant of other people's cultures and the Dutch."

Today's question

As always feel free to share your thoughts on any of the topics above or any of the ones we missed. It's a Monday after all.

If you need a starting point, what grade do you give the Braves at the quarter-pole of the baseball season? It would have to be pretty high, no?

(And will have more on this later, but we're already about to need a new keyboard from writing too much, how about that I'll Have Another and a shot at the Triple Crown? Good times.)

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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Yes, congrats to the UTC Men's golf team and Stephen Jaeger.

Did I miss your mention of the Chattanooga State NJCAA D1 National title?

May 21, 2012 at 11:01 a.m.
jgreeson said...

BTG —

We wouldn't say you missed it Bob.

Seriously, we forgot about it, but nice job to Beth and all those involved in the softball success.

— 5-at-10

May 21, 2012 at 11:12 a.m.
jgreeson said...

From friend of the show StuckinKent —

I think we may not even realize what has just happened.

Basically, the Rose Bowl and (as you called it) the Champions Bowl just got turned into national semifinals. I think there will be provisions for if another team happens to crack the Top 5 and be ranked ahead of one of these champions, but the Rose Bowl will feature the Pac 12 and Big 10 champs and the Champions Bowl will feature the SEC and Big 12 champs, regardless of their rank. Then the winner of the two bowls would square off for the national title in an undisclosed location a week later. Will there be a wildcard allowed? Only if they are ranked ahead of the conference champion, and then only one. Seems like this is a bone tossed to the Rose Bowl and their counterparts, who want only conference champions in the playoffs.

So last year, the semifinals could have easily been LSU-Oklahoma State in the Champions Bowl and Oregon-Alabama in the Rose Bowl. That would have been 1 vs. 3 and 2 vs. 5. Not your typical playoff, but one that maintains a lot of tradition (Rose Bowl featuring the Pac 12 and Big 10 champs normally) while rewarding the best teams. I may be way off base here, but that's my new prediction about where we are going. The selection people would have had to decide last year between Alabama, Stanford, and Wisconsin (the two non-conference champs in the Top 5 and the Big Ten Champ). Very interesting.

May 21, 2012 at 11:14 a.m.
Livn4life said...

As a Bidness(using your term)deal, the SEC/BIG12 Champions Bowl is great. It may even be a good posturing for whatever evolves in the next few years in Division 1A NCAA football. But if they dawdle as we could happen, this might not be the best thing for the game. As with the Rose Bowl, any "tie-ins" can lead to stagnation and impediment of some best teams playing each other. That may not become the case with this new development. But my final contention is if it is held in Dallas, it will be ridiculous. Everyone knows how "neutral" that location would be for either Tayhas or Oklahoma. It will be interesting to see how this works out. As for LeBron and company, they should put a hurting on the Pacers but I am unsure they can hang with the Spurs or Thunder. You are right, if he continues on with no Ring he will be more KING OF THE HILL(cartoon) than King of the NBA. On Duffy Dufner, as he came to the 18th with that putt I was thinking NO WAY! Dude stepped up and WAY, in fact WAY WAY! It was a great win for him. Braves--I'm all for them and glad to see them step it up but I am not into putting out letter grades. My teacher/wife does that and I am not saying what she gives me! ON WITH THE SPORTS BRIGADE!

May 21, 2012 at 11:36 a.m.
jgreeson said...

StuckinKent —

There's the distinct possibility that the Champions and Rose could be de facto semifinals. But even if they are it will be just for a little while until the four-team field becomes eight. And gang, that will happen sooner rather than later.

Livn(Large) —

At no point have the college administrators and conference commissioners been worried about what's good for the game (or the fans for that matter). This is about greenbacks and how many each conference can collect, and setting up a power bowl that does not exist (so you can name your own price) is genius.

We concur about LeBron — no matter how many 40-20-10s he tosses out, if he doesn't get that ring it don't mean a thing. And they better hope the Thunder handle the Spurs, who look untouchable.

We concur about Dufner — who looks about as excited as Bernie from "Weekend at Bernie's" most of the time but was money down the stretch Sunday.

For the Braves, we think grades as follows:

Overall — A

Manager — A (and Fredi could be make a case for A-plus)

Pitching — B+ (Jurrjens' ailments and Minor's struggles are the only blemishes; heck even 128-year-old Livan Hernandez is getting people out)

Hitting — A (everyone in the lineup other than Brian McCann is at expectation or exceeding it; kudos Greg Walker, take a bow sir)

— 5-at-10

May 21, 2012 at 12:02 p.m.
Stewwie said...

[Side question: Is there anything an athlete has done that is not illegal or even unethical that has turned the public tide more than LeBron's decision a couple of years ago?]

The only one I can think of that might come close is Tom Brady...unless you consider him guilty by assocation for Spygate. Even if he had nothing to do with Spygate (at least directly), I think he's had to suffer a lot of backlash because of it. It also doesn't help that he reeks of arrogance (more so on the field than off it.)

[Kobe blamed teammate Pau Gasol for the critical Game 4 loss to the Thunder, who could close out the Lakers tonight.]

This was really stupid of him to do. Pau wasn't the one who missed 8 out of 10 in the 4th. If Pau needs to be "more assertive," as Kobe put it, then tell him at practice, not through the media. If Kobe had made 8/10 and the Lakers won, he'd say, "Guys did a good job of finding me and I hit the shots." Since he missed 8/10, and got those same looks, he needs to tell the media, "My fault for missing those shots." At least Chris Paul manned up about coming up short for his team last night.

A four-team college football playoff is a step in the right direction. However, 2004's pre-bowl standings should be heavily considered when trying to determine the best playoff model. The top 3 in '04, USC, Oklahoma, and Auburn would make it for sure. But who'd be the 4th? Texas, whose only loss was to the Sooners? Cal, whose only loss was to the Trojans? Or an undefeated Utah? Looks like a discussion of an 8-team playoff needs to happen sooner than later.

May 21, 2012 at 1:38 p.m.
jgreeson said...

Stew got what we need —

Brady and Spy-gate is a good call. That was more a slight on the organization — and Belichick — but as the face of the organization, Brady kind of wears that. It also doesn't help that the Pats have not won a Super Bowl since.

Think how much differently Magic, Bird or even MJ would have handled the Gasol deal. They would have spoken in general terms, but with enough specifics that everyone knew who they were talking about. If this motivation, well we'd be motivated to put our fist through his teeth.

We'll revisit the 2004 conundrum, especially since it will be a 10-year look back when the playoff gets here. (And no, we're not bitter about Auburn getting stiffed or anything.)

— 5-at-10

May 21, 2012 at 2:23 p.m.
BIspy4 said...

As big a disappointment as Pujols has been, where does Tim Lincecum fit into that equation? Also, big Prince said a hefty contract and he's been ... OK.

Braves grades - Overall A-minus. Fredi? B-plus. Because I still ain't sold. Pitching? B-plus. Minor and Jurrjens, and let's not overlook the uneasiness engendered now by O'Flaherty and Venters. Fixable, yes, but until then... Beachy and Hudson have been dominant, and Hanson is still pretty good. Kimbrel may be the best closer in the game going, with Mo on the shelf. Hitting? B. Bourn and Prado at the top of the lineup have been stellar, and Tyler Pastornicky has learnt very quickly. Chipper, when he's healthy, is still a beast. Freeman's been consistent and Heyward has been red hot or lukewarm. Uggla is all or nothing. Strikeout or bomb, it seems. Would really love to see him and Chipper swap places in the lineup. But yes, Greg Walker has been a sincere upgrade over Larry Parrish.

Josh Hamilton is a man. And he's not even 40.

NASCAR had its all-star race Saturday night? Really?

And you should really try Aunt Jimmie Kate's pecan pie. Especially after she remembers to include the pecans (my grandmother used to make great oatmeal cookies. She'd always remember to include the oatmeal in the second batch she made).

May 21, 2012 at 3 p.m.
jgreeson said...

Spy —

Well-played sir. And what exactly is an oatmeal cookie sans oatmeal?

Reminds us of our days back in Smyrna at the Dairy Queen on South Cobb Drive. Homer — the guy that every small town has who is a step slow and is at every high school sports event for his school — walks in and gets a brand new employee. Everyone in town knew that Homer always got a plain hot dog but always ordered a "Chili dog with no chili."

Well, he steps up and orders a "Chili dog with no chili," and the new employee says, "So you want a plain hot dog then?" and Homer was adament he wanted a "Chili dog with no chili." New employee had to get the manager involved and finally Homer got a Chili dog — minus the chili of course.

— 5-at-10

May 21, 2012 at 3:09 p.m.
BIspy4 said...

By the way, 5, have you seen what the ghost of Kevin Millwood is doing in Seattle? Seattle? Isn't that where players in witness protection go to play?

Speaking of Brady (want me to get in an irregardless as well? I'll leave out Yeah Yeah's contribution. But I digress), I think it was Justin Tuck who talked about how much the Giants hated Brady before the first Super Bowl. And they took shot after shot at him during that game and he didn't complain, didn't stand there and berate his linemen or whine, just took it and got back to the huddle, and how much he earned their respect that day.

May 21, 2012 at 3:11 p.m.
jgreeson said...

Spy —

What's next, Rick Camp throwing a two-hitter in the 60-and-over league?

Millwood doing work — he's allowed 1 earned run in his last 16 innings. Plus, the corpse formerly known as Derek Lowe threw a shutout last week and is 6-2 with an ERA at 2,15 for Cleveland.

Somebody get Paschal Perez on the blower stat.

— 5-at-10

May 21, 2012 at 3:44 p.m.
wcole777 said...

DUFNER!!!!! Amen. Dude finally began playing the weekend like Thursday and Friday. I couldn't agree more that he's the most on fire golfer right now. He's been building to this for a hot minute though. I'm looking forward to that Auburn feller to get out there and get some War Eagles!

May 21, 2012 at 3:54 p.m.
BIspy4 said...

I saw over the weekend where George Strait turned 60. Six-oh. Now, he is a man. And he's 60? Would never have guessed. I hope my eyes didn't fail me and I saw that correctly. And I type this with a cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" blaring on my iTunes (the great Social Distortion version of the Man in Black's classic).

May 21, 2012 at 4:14 p.m.
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