Friday, July 21, 2006

Summer updates

Just some quick notes from this week...
1 - Martin Rucker and David Overstreet were named to the media's All-Big 12 first team. Overstreet, an honorable-mention All-Big 12 player in 2005, led the Tigers with a career-high 100 tackles. He added two interceptions, three fumble recoveries and eight passes broken up, as well. Rucker, a junior tight end, had 47 catches, 567 yards and one touchdown a year ago - the first of two figures which led the team. In just two seasons, Rucker already ranks sixth alltime in Mizzou history among tight ends with 66 career catches for 830 yards. Rucker is a preseason candidate for the Mackey Award as well, awarded to the nation's best tight end.

2 - Jimmy McKinney signed to play basketball with Deutsche Bank Skyliners of the German League. McKinney finished his career ranked among Missouri's top 10 in a number of statistical categories, including free throw percentage (6th - .798), assists (8th - 349), three-point attempts (8th - 371) and three-point field goals (10th - 123). McKinney also made an impressive 115 starts during his four seasons and played in 123 consecutive games after missing the first game of his career with a fractured frontal sinus.

3 - Thomas Gardner played in the Rocky Mountain Revue with the San Antonio Spurs. The Revue was scheduled to finish today.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Good News

By Tiger Fan

So I have some good news for those of you who are tired of checking in here to get perspective on the Tigers and find news about the Reds or Bengals or whatever other random sports events strike my fancy that day. I've got a new blog going over on the Sporting News Web site where I can discuss my Cincinnati roots or other non-Mizzou thoughts. It's called The Ickey Shuffle, so if you happen to enjoy my takes on life outside The Zou, check it out. Or don't. Whatever you prefer. This probably means there won't be many updates here until football season gets underway, but I'm sure you all can manage for another month or so. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

THE REDS DID WHAT?

By Tiger Fan

Here's something Mizzou fans can relate to: It's getting more and more difficult to be a Cincy sports fan. The Reds are making trades for 50 cents on the dollar and half the Bengals are in jail. I know most of you don’t care, but I have to get this off my chest. My hometown Reds just made an absolutely TERRIBLE trade. I know, I know… I’ve been complaining about their lack of bullpen help for months. But how do you trade Lopez and Kearns unless you are getting a known quantity in return? When I saw that they traded those two, I opened up the article, expecting to see that they got Soriano or Livan Hernandez or some well-known closer. Five random members of the Washington Nationals? Ouch.

I have liked most of Wayne Krivsky’s moves so far this year, but I have to say I don’t get this one. After the Arroyo-Pena trade earlier in the year, the ongoing outfield questions seemed to be answered for the Reds. But now, two of the four quality outfielders are gone. Somehow we went from having too many good outfielders to having too few. Meanwhile, Lopez was paired with Brandon Phillips to make one of the most promising young middle infield combos in the majors. Why screw that up? The Reds aren’t going to win it all this year; anyone who thinks otherwise is fooling himself. I like that Krivsky is willing to make moves to compete, but I think he made an unnecessary desperation play here. The only thing I can figure is that he’s hoping to find a closer or a solid starter among these young pitching talents… but the Reds coaching staff isn’t exactly known for developing players like that. Let’s take a look at the players involved:

The Reds lose…

Austin Kearns, OF
-26 years old
-.267 career batting average
-.358 career OBP
-Cannon arm in right field

Felipe Lopez, SS
-
26 years old
-Batting .268 this season with .355 OBP
-23 stolen bases this season
-2005 NL All-Star

Ryan Wagner, RP
-Minor leaguer who was a first-round pick in 2003
-23 years old
-8-4 with 101 strikeouts this season

The Reds get…

Gary Majewski, RP
-26 years old
-162.1 career innings pitched, 3.27 ERA
-96 strikeouts, 67 walks in his career

Bill Bray, RP
-23-year-old lefty
-23 career innings pitched, 3.91 ERA
-16 strikeouts, 9 walks in his short career

Royce Clayton, SS
-36-year-old veteran
-Probably a defensive upgrade
-Currently day-to-day with a shoulder injury
-.259 career batting average
-.313 career OBP

Brendan Harris, INF
-25 years old
-Major League debut in 2004
-.210 career batting average
-.275 career OBP
-Fifth best Nationals prospect, according to Baseball America

Daryl Thompson, SP
-20 years old
-Still in A-ball
-6-12 career record
-127 strikeouts compared to 54 walks for the career
-Seventh best Nationals prospect, according to Baseball America

And for anyone who thinks former All-Star reliever Eddie Guardado (acquired last week by the Reds) is the answer, check out his stats this season:

24 innings, 8 HRs allowed, 11 walks, 23 strikeouts, 1 win, 3 losses, 5 saves, 5.25 ERA

Not terrible, but not particularly good. I’m not sold. Prove me wrong Eddie.



P.S. What the heck is in the water over at Paul Brown Stadium? The Bengals have a chance to make some noise next year, but only if they can stay out of jail. To recap: Chris Henry has been arrested four times since December, fifth round choice LB A.J. Nicholson is facing robbery charges and 91st overall pick Frostee Rucker has dealt with charges of spousal battery and vandalism. Now comes word that Odell Thurman might miss the first four games of next season due to a drug suspension. That might explain why the Bengals took a chance on another troubled player in today's supplemental draft. Ahmad Brooks has some serious talent, but he also had some serious off-the-field issues that got him kicked out of the University of Virginia football program. I hope the Bengals can get things under control over there because right now they are a tough team to cheer for. Can anyone say Ricky Clemons? Sigh...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Intimidating stadiums

By Tiger Fan

Matt Hayes of the Sporting News recently wrote a blog entry that ranked the most intimidating stadiums in the Big XII. It caused quite a stir over on Tigerboard where Tiger fans apparently thought Faurot Field came in too low at No. 10. Personally, I think that is about right as far as intimidation goes… but there’s a lot more to ranking Big XII stadiums. I came up with three sets of rankings: best intimidation, best tradition/in-game atmosphere and best gameday atmosphere. Here is the first of those lists. Look for the others in coming days.

1. Texas

As much as I hate the ‘horns, I have to put them No. 1 on this list. When you’re looking at how intimidating a stadium is, you have to consider the team that plays there. Texas is the defending national champion and rarely loses at home. That means they are sure to be playing with loads of confidence – not to mention a loud, full house

2. Oklahoma

OU is another school that fills the stadium for every game. They have history of winning, which means the fans know how to get it done too. When their stars are healthy, the team can be pretty intimidating too.

3. Texas Tech

Red Raider fans who were whining about their No. 6 spot over at the Sporting News site might be pleased with this ranking, but it’s not a compliment. Sure, they’ve played well at home in recent years, but Texas Tech is intimidating because their fans are crazy (in a bad way). After years of getting beaten down by Texas A&M and Texas, they go nuts for every win. Remember a few years back when they tore down the goalposts and rammed them into the Aggie fan section? Is that intimidating? Perhaps. Classy? No way.

4. Texas A&M

Aggieland was one of the most intimidating stadiums in the nation throughout the ‘90s. I wish that was still the case. But now that they Aggies aren’t winning like they used to, the intimidation is suffering too. I’m not questioning the 12th Man, but you can’t claim to be the most intimidating stadium in the Big XII if you only win half your home games. I hope the Aggies turn it around and give the fans at Kyle Field something to yell about again. Until it happens, opposing teams simply are not as scared to visit College Station as they used to be.

5. Nebraska

The Sea of Red is still intimidating to most opponents – particularly the I-AA teams the Huskers have been bringing in the last couple of years – but NU is basically getting by on reputation at this point. Some teams (a la Missouri) still can’t win in Lincoln, but other teams have definitely figured out how to get it done. While the aging Husker fan base usually makes nice with opposing fans, they’re reaching the point where it’s nice for opposing teams to visit too. And that’s not intimidating.

6. Colorado

It’s never easy to win in Boulder: 1) the air is thin, 2) the fans are crazy and 3) the Buffaloes always seem to play better than predicted. Remember last season against Nebraska when they had to clear out an entire section of the stadium because of wild fan behavior? As with Texas Tech, it’s not something to be encouraged, but it is intimidating. Also, if you visit, make sure to watch out for flying marshmallows.

7. Kansas State

In the late ‘90s, KSU would have been higher on the list. But as the team has gotten worse, so have the fans. They do get up for the big games… and that makes sense. After all, what else are you going to do in the middle of kansas.

8. Mizzou

Here are the facts: 1) we only get up for big games… and only when we think we can win (compare Nebraska ’03 or Oklahoma ’02 with Texas ’05), 2) if the game is before 2:30, most students aren’t showing up until halftime, 3) unless it’s a one possession game, the alumni are leaving before it’s over, 4) we only make noise on third down… and that’s rare, 5) our students like to get down on the alumni for not cheering, but half of them don’t cheer either, and 6) the corporate atmosphere created by Alden brings in a lot of money but it doesn’t created an intimidating atmosphere. So why are we No. 8? Because everybody else is worse. If Tiger fans want to complain about this ranking, show up to non-conference games and cheer like it’s Nebraska. Prove me wrong. When Mizzou fans are at their best, Faurot is one of the craziest fans in the Big XII. Unfortunately, we’re usually not.

9. Oklahoma State

Mr. Hayes got this one right: If the Sooners are in town, it is – as the name implies – bedlam. Otherwise, they just seem kind of cooky.

10. Iowa State

A classic big game school. I’ve seen them play Nebraska with a packed house going crazy. I’ve also seen them play Mizzou with a chance to lock up a Big XII North title and completely lay an egg. Any place where Mizzou can play well on the road is not intimidating.

11. kansas

You know I wish I could put them last, but I can’t. The fair-weather football fans at kU have tried to step it up in recent years. But the last time I was there, the stadium was only 3/4 full and the crowd noise was pathetic – and they were playing Mizzou. Isn’t that a rivalry game? If you can’t intimidate a rival, it’s time to pack it up.

P.S. Urine bombs and profanity don’t count as intimidation… we’ve come to expect that.

12. Baylor

Only the Bears could keep the beakers out of the basement. Their fans match their team, which is simply pathetic, as we all know. The good news? Things are starting to turn around for Baylor on the field. Maybe the crowds will follow. That’s what I am rooting for… that way I can put kU fans at the bottom where they belong.

Monday, July 03, 2006

What happened to the soccer I used to play?

By Tiger Fan

Since we’re in the midst of the summer lull for Mizzou sports, I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about the World Cup – an event I was truly excited about a month ago, but now I find depressing. No, it’s not the pathetic showing put forth by Team USA. And no, it’s not because all the games happen while I’m at work. The 2006 World Cup is depressing because it is proving American soccer critics right.

I’m not talking about the ignorant meatheads who argue that soccer is boring or claim that soccer players aren’t real athletes. These assertions will always be foolish. Anyone who thinks soccer is boring doesn’t understand it and anyone who thinks soccer players aren’t real athletes have never tried to play. I actually heard a radio commentator say recently that the only people who play soccer are those who can’t excel in football, baseball or basketball. Really? I’d like to see great “athletes” like Cecil Fielder or David Wells try to stop a shot from David Beckham or watch even the best DBs in the NFL try to keep up with DeMarcus Beasley or Ronaldinho… for an entire 90 minutes… without a 35 second break between each play.

But this year’s World Cup has proven the other two most popular criticisms of soccer: 1) The refs have too much power and discretion, and 2) The players act like wimps because they are constantly taking dives. In all my seasons of soccer, I never thought these were legitimate knocks. Now I’m finding that I agree.

Growing up, I played soccer two seasons a year for 13 years, starting at the tender age of five. I also was a referee for several seasons. In all that time, I never received a yellow card… and I only issued one as a ref. More importantly, I’m happy to say that I can’t think of a single game that was decided almost entirely by the refs. Sure, there were games where we thought the officiating was pretty bad, but it was usually bad all the way around and could be chalked up to the fact that the guys reffing a bunch of 10-year-olds didn’t have a whole lot of experience.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the referees at this year’s World Cup. They seem to think that fans have traveled thousands of miles and paid thousands of dollars to see the referees decide the outcome of games. It’s been ridiculous and disgraceful. The most blatant problem has been the record number of yellow and red cards, which has been well documented. After the first round of play, more cards had been issued than in any previous World Cup. That meant some of the world’s best players were watching games from the sideline. If the cards were justified, that would be one thing… but most of them have not been. To me, cards are only warranted when a) the player committing the foul did so out of bad sportsmanship or b) the player committing the foul put the other player at a serious risk of injury. That’s it.

The other problem has been penalty kicks. When I was a ref, I never wanted to call a PK that would decide the game. The closer a game was, the less likely I was to call one. In other words, if it is a tie game late in the second half, it will need to be a blatant foul in the box to get the call. It’s like the way refs used to call basketball: No autopsy, no foul in the final 10 seconds or so (of course, they seem to moving away from that in the NBA… just ask the Mavericks).

The World Cup refs apparently don’t share my philosophies, as we have seen countless games decided by cards and penalty kicks. Here are some examples:

-USA v. Italy: I’m not sure if this game would have turned out differently without the cards, but the unfortunate thing is that we will never know. Three players were ejected from this game and in my opinion, all three were bad decisions. The elbow that broke McBride’s nose deserved a yellow card, nothing more. Same with Mastroeni’s slide tackle. And Pope’s tackle, while dangerous, was not severe enough in my opinion to give a second yellow card for. It should have been 11 on 11, not 10 on 9. As much as I hate to say it, the only thing the ref did right in that game was disallow Beasley’s goal.

-Netherlands v. Portugal: Sixteen yellow cards! Four red cards! I know it was a chippy game, but come on – that’s ridiculous. I didn’t actually get to see the game, but I can’t imagine anything short of a Ron Artest-style melee in the stands that would warrant that many cards. The ridiculous part is how those cards would affect whichever team won that game for the rest of the tournament. Amazingly, Portugal still beat England without the services of three starters, but you have to think all those cards will come back to haunt them at some point. Here’s a situation where a ref is deciding not just the game, but affecting the entire tournament. Absurd.

-USA v. Ghana: To be clear, USA played poorly throughout the tournament and did not deserve to beat Ghana and make it to the second-round. That being said… the penalty kick called against Onyewu was ridiculous. Both guys were pushing and yes, had it been in the middle of the field, I would have been okay with a penalty against either one of them. But in a game that important, I just don’t see how a referee can justify a penalty kick in that situation. To me, that’s a no-call. There was still lots of time left and it should have been left up to the players to decide that match.

-Italy v. Australia: This is the most clear-cut example of a referee deciding a match in the entire tournament. The referee awarded a penalty kick to Italy in stoppage time of the 90th minute on a play that replays showed was probably a dive. If you are that referee, you have to be absolutely certain about that call. But Totti took the dive and the ref bailed out a 10-man Italy squad on the game’s final play. I know it’s easy to say from home on my couch, but I swallow my whistle in that situation.

The Italy game leads me to the other problem with soccer today: diving. Italy is the biggest culprit, but everybody does it. And I don’t know why. Maybe they teach them this practice at a young age in other countries, but no one ever did that when I was playing. No phantom fouls. No fake injuries. No dramatic exits from the field, only to return completely healthy one minute later. Just good, hard soccer. I left the field twice for an injury in my playing career: once when I broke my arm in half playing goalie and once when I broke my ankle. That’s it. Every other time I just got up and kept playing. That includes several times when I was bleeding and once when I broke my other arm. Now, the point is not to make me sound like some sort of tough guy. But the fact is that I wanted to keep playing, so I sucked it up and went back out there. That’s what we are taught to do as Americans.

Other countries apparently don’t share this attitude and I think that’s what turns Americans off to soccer. We enjoy stories about guys like Willis Reed or Kirk Gibson who were seriously injured but played through the pain. That’s why we hate it when we see an Italian player get clipped on the ankle and roll around on the ground for five minutes like he’s going to die… only to get carried off on a stretcher, spray some icy hot on it and check back into the game.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love soccer and I’m still watching every possible minute of the World Cup. But what depresses me is that these problems with the game are overshadowing the aspects of the game that make it fun. Lots of people are asking whether soccer can ever catch on in this country on a professional level. Until we get the reffing and the diving under control, the answer is no.