Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Iverson Situation

A Hitter’s Count

The Iverson Situation

Allen Ezail Iverson entered the NBA as the number one overall pick for the Philadelphia 76ers in 1996. I was 10 years old. I had been a big Sixers fan since I can remember, which was the season when Charles Barkley was shipped out of town. I had never known a Sixers team to be a winner, or to have a transcendent star.

Immediately, I became infatuated with the little guy. During his rookie season I kept a handwritten notebook of how many points Allen scored in every game. This was before the Internet, so it did take some time and some diligence to keep the notebook. It had asterisks for when he set career highs (he scored 40 or more in five straight games his rookie year), asterisks for double doubles, and a big asterisk for the game where he crossed over Michael Jordan. I bought his original pair of signature sneakers, the Questions. Since then, I have probably owned at least five different colors of the Questions. Every year I would buy at least one pair of his signature sneakers. All the way up to the Answer VII (Reebok is now up to the Answer XII). I would venture to guess that I had at least 20 pairs of Allen Iverson’s sneakers growing up. The last year I collected trading cards I bought at least 25 Allen Iverson rookie cards. By the time I was 13, I owned six Allen Iverson jerseys. They switched logos after his rookie year and they added alternate colors – so I had to have every one. When he was traded to Denver I bought a Nuggets jersey. When I graduated from college, I was given an authentic Mitchell and Ness Iverson throwback jersey from his rookie year. Needless to say, I was buying in to what Allen Iverson was selling.

I was watching when he led the league in scoring for the first time during the lockout season in 1999. That year he took the Sixers to their first playoff berth in eight years and they upset the Magic in round one. Iverson set the all-time record for steals in a game in that series with 10.
I was watching in 2000 when they lost for the second straight season in the second round to Reggie Miller’s Pacers. It was brutal. They were swept in ’99 and went down 3-0 before losing in six games in 2000.

I was watching in 2001 when the Sixers finally got past the Pacers, this time in the first round. I watched Iverson drop 50 twice in a seven-game series against Vince Carter and the Raptors, while the Sixers narrowly escaped to head to the Conference Finals. I watched Iverson battle through injury (he missed a pivotal game five with a bruised back) and Ray Allen’s Bucks, and once again prevail in seven games. I then watched him drop 48 points and will his team to victory in the first game of the NBA Finals against a Laker team that had yet to lose in the playoffs.
Sadly, that was the high point of Allen Iverson’s career (at age 25). He has not won another game in the Finals. In fact, he has not made it out of the second round of the playoffs since that magical run in 2001. It did not matter to me though. I grew up with Allen Iverson and knew that he was doing everything he thought he needed to do to win. (That is not the same thing as doing everything he needed to do to win. Iverson’s thoughts and what are actually right for winning are not exactly on the same page.)
Times were tough early in his career, but I stood by him. When he was pulled over in his Mercedes with a concealed handgun and marijuana in his possession I shrugged it off because he was young and stupid. When he threw his wife out of their house naked, and then went and banged on doors supposedly brandishing a gun to go find her, I shrugged it off because, hey, who doesn’t have marital problems? I only have to say the word “practice” and you can form your own opinion on that subject and Iverson. When he sat out fan appreciation night with Chris Weber despite both of them not being hurt during his last full season in Philadelphia, I shrugged it off because he was still my favorite player and I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

At this point in my life and Allen Iverson’s career, I know that he no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt. Iverson is 34 years old and has not been healthy in 2 years. The last season he was healthy he was teamed with superstar Carmelo Anthony on a Nuggets team that was swept by the eventual Western Conference Champion Lakers in the first round. Melo was the top dog on that team and they still could not do anything substantial in the playoffs, so where does Allen Iverson’s ego stop? Does he really think he can carry a team that is centered around his me-first style? He only did that one year when he was at the peak of his career and was surrounded with guys who wanted to defend, rebound, and PASS HIM THE BALL! So he signed a contract with the flailing Memphis Grizzlies because no one else in the league wanted to handle his baggage. Instead of swallowing his pride and coming off the bench for a team with some young talented players, Iverson almost immediately took a leave of absence from the team because he was not happy with his role as a reserve. He then was waived by Memphis in an effort to alleviate the situation.

He has left himself with two options.

Option 1. He finds a team that will allow him to start and play him big minutes. Any team like this will not be making the playoffs this year and just looking to sell some tickets (read New York Knicks). He cannot possibly lead a team to the playoffs being the best player on it, but if he wants to try, more power to him. Why would you want to do that at this point though if you are Allen Iverson? He has accomplished pretty much everything an individual can accomplish, four-time scoring champion, league MVP, three All-NBA first teams, two All-Star Game MVPs, 10 time All-Star, the list could continue.

Option 2. He bites the bullet. He goes to an elite team’s owner, GM, and players and says: “I will play for you and do whatever it is you want me to do. I will come off the bench. I will not complain. I will be a good teammate in practice and during games. I will not sulk, pout, or throw temper tantrums when I do not play 40 minutes a game.”

Who would not want to inject their offense with some quick scoring like Iverson can provide? Apparently no one because Iverson is sitting at home without a team. I stopped buying Allen Iverson shoes and jerseys and paraphernalia years ago because I was growing up. It is time for Iverson to finally grow up and do what others are telling him to do. If he does not, he will tarnish the legacy of one of the best guards to ever play the game of basketball.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Yankees vs. Phillies 2009 World Series Report

Yankees vs. Phillies 2009 World Series Report

What we know about the 2009 World Series thus far.

The Yankees lead the series 3-2 after the Phils escaped Philadelphia with a hang on for dear life 8-6 win that should not have been nearly as close as it was.

Chase Utley may be Mr. November this year, but the only way that moniker will stick is if the Phils pull off the improbable down three games to one comeback victory. Utley is doing his best for that to happen. He launched two home runs in game five including a three run shot in the first inning off AJ Burnett. By hitting his fourth and fifth home runs in this year’s World Series Utley has tied the legendary Reggie “Mr. October” Jackson for the most home runs hit in a World Series (Jackson hit five in 1977 for the Yankees when he famously hit three in a row in the series clinching game six). Five home runs in a World Series is where the comparisons between Jackson and Utley stop. Jackson had an ego even bigger than New York City and frequently clashed with manager Billy Martin. He was flashy, flamboyant, and most of all arrogant. Chase is workman like, a student of the game, and team first. Imagine Chase arguing with Charlie Manuel. Yeah, I cannot do it either. If Reggie decided to show up at game six wearing a Chinchilla, Chase’s wife Jen Utley might just take a Chase-like short compact swing at him, or at least throw a bucket of paint on it. The Utleys are proud members of PETA. It’d be nice to say the Phils never looked back from the 3-1 lead Chase staked them, and technically they never trailed, but they were certainly glancing over their shoulder when Cliff Lee finally came undone in the 8th inning. Relievers Chan Ho Park and Ryan Madson got through the final six outs, but it was not pretty.

Burnett could not perform on three days rest (This may have been noted by announces Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, but I tried to black it out after the first mention of it). Burnett dominated the action in game two and kept Phillies hitters off balance. The exact opposite was true in game five. Burnett threw 22 out of 26 first pitch strikes in game two and it was clear that the Phils had a game plan to jump on the first pitch from Burnett this time around. Jimmy Rollins led off the game by swinging at a first pitch fastball that came in letter high. He swung and missed, but eventually got a pitch over the middle of the plate and lined it to center for a base hit. Second batter Shane Victorino then squared as if to bunt and was smoked on the right hand (He eventually left the game in the 7th and this almost cost the Phils dearly as defensive plays were not made in the late innings). With runners at first and second Utley stepped to the plate. The rally towels in Citizen’s Bank Park were waving and Kashmir by Led Zeppelin was bumping from the sound system. Almost on cue, Utley smoked the first pitch he saw (a fastball down the middle) into the right field seats. 3-1 Phillies. Pandemonium at the Bank. An expletive from Burnett. If Ryan Howard had waited outside the batter’s box, Utley certainly would have had to accept the curtain call the fans were begging for.

Speaking of Ryan Howard. Where do you begin? The big man (no longer capitalized in this blog) has gone from one of the biggest tears of his career to one of the worst streaks of his career. Howard has tied the mark for most strikeouts in a World Series with 12. You might wanna put some fake money down that he will break that record the way he is swinging the bat over the past week. Ryan might need to lay off the subway as well as the chew you can clearly see protruding from his lower left jaw. I cannot confirm this, but I am an avid attention payer to whether or not a ballplayer dips, and I cannot remember the big man dipping in the past. Certainly not as much as he is now. Anyway, it has to be the chew, or the beard he has decided to grow that is throwing him off. It cannot be mechanics or lack of confidence. One more possible solution would be Rick Vaughn type glasses because he sure cannot seem to pick up the spin of a slider. SERIOUSLY!! TELL THIS GUY THAT THEY ARE THROWING HIM SLIDERS AND THAT HE CAN HIT THEM OUT TO LEFT FIELD!!!!! The majority of Howard’s 228 (counting the postseason) home runs have gone to left field. He has the ability. He just needs to apply it.

Two of my big keys to the series were the mighty Howard and of course the enigmatic former NLCS and World Series MVP Cole Hamels. Chase Utley has basically replaced Howard as far as the big man on Broad Street. Howard’s struggles are glaring but because Utley has been able to pick up the slack the Phils were able to force a game six. So that leaves Cole Hamels. Hamels was gifted an early three-run lead in a pivotal game three. He was seemingly in control early in the game as he cruised through the first three innings. Then Alex Rodriguez doubled with a man on. Or did he? Umpires got together and checked replay to confirm whether or not Rodriguez’s ball cleared the stands. Replays clearly showed that A-Rod’s ball smacked into a camera that was just beyond the fence and he was awarded a two-run home run. Sidenote – this ball hit the camera right in its lens. We saw every angle possible to show that it cleared the fence and every one agreed that it did. BUT WHERE WAS THE FOOTAGE FROM THIS CAMERA??? Even if it was not a great view of the entire play it still would have been pretty cool to see! That was it for Hamels. He got out of the inning physically, but not mentally. He unraveled in the fourth (despite still leading the game and opposing starter Andy Pettitte struggling) and the Phils fell behind for good. Hamels seems to be too effected by things going wrong. He is a perfectionist in a game where there have only been 16 perfect games since 1900. If he wants to continue to excel in this league he has to add a few layers of armor to his repertoire because he certainly has a dazzling fastball changeup combination that is capable of baffling any lineup ever assembled. So with Hamels loss, the Phils are down 3-2 instead of up 3-2. Others can certainly be blamed, but Hamels has been due for at least a seven inning less three runs performance and he has not given that to his team in the postseason. He, and all of Philadelphia, will be hoping he still can get that chance in a winner-take-all game seven. In order for that to happen…

Taking the ball in another do-or-die game for the Phils will be Pedro Martinez. Pedro has pitched more than solidly in his two starts thus far in the postseason. He started both game two of the NLCS and game two of the World Series. In the NLCS he pitched seven shut out innings and got a no-decision in a Phillies loss. In game two of the World Series he allowed three runs in 6 plus innings and kept the Phillies in the game despite being dominated by Burnett. If Pedro can give his team a similar performance in game six, the Phils should have more than a puncher’s chance. Andy Pettitte will be starting for the Yankees and looking to extend his all-time lead in postseason wins (17) and series clinching wins (5). He kept the Yankees afloat long enough for Hamels to sink in game three and escaped with a win despite not having great command of anything. Pettitte set a few other records in this game: mound conferences (11, catcher and pitching coach combined), TV-close ups (lost count after 79 in the third inning), and most times pitching with a five o’clock shadow and getting away with it under the Yankees’ clean-cut rule (36 in 39 career postseason appearances). Is any one else tired of looking at Pettitte cover his mouth when Posada comes out to talk to him? Can’t they just speak Italian and let people try to lip read that? Speaking of which, do Pedro and Chooch speak Spanish during their conferences? These are things I would like to know and Joe Buck and Tim McCarver could probably tell us. Instead we have to hear that Burnett is struggling most likely because he is pitching on three day’s rest and that somebody father was once a battery mate with McCarver. I digress…

The veteran pitching, serious star power, and possibility of a game seven should make game six great theater. The Yankee fans will no doubt be on their “Who’s Your Daddy?” tip. In game five it was Chase Utley. Who will it be in game six?