Houston Chronicle members

Not Logged In Login / Sign-up

August 20, 2009

10 reasons the Texans can make the playoffs in 2009

1. They're a team. It took a long time to define the Texans as a team, and at times, it seemed like it would never happen. Slowly, though, the Texans have gotten a core of solid, reliable players. It was most clear after the victory in Green Bay last year. That might have been the first time the whole was greater than the sum of the parts.

2. No holes. For the first time ever, they went to training camp without glaring holes on their two-deep depth chart. There could be depth problems at RB and the D-line and injuries could wipe them out at several spots, but the Texans finally have talent across the board.

3. Playmakers. It's one thing to have filled all the holes. Good teams need players that change games, win games, make a difference. The Texans have Mario Williams, Andre Johnson, DeMeco Ryans, Steve Slaton, Owen Daniels, Brian Cushing, Connor Barwin and Dunta Robinson. There could be others. For instance, Jacoby Jones and Fred Bennett.

4. Gary Kubiak. When Charley Casserly was fired, he went out of his way to tell people how impressed he was with Gary Kubiak and how he was convinced he's going to be good. Likewise, some of the people that have been let go from the organization still sing Kubiak's praises. First, he knows football. He can coach quarterbacks and call plays. Second, there's a decency and an honesty to the man that gives him credibility both with fans and players. What you see is what you get. He may not be perfect, but he's a very, very good NFL coach. He'd never been a head coach at any level when Bob McNair hired him, but he has been unafraid to bring in tough, veteran guys like Mike Sherman, Ray Rhodes and Alex Gibbs. If Gary Kubiak was insecure, he wouldn't bring in guys like that in because they're going to tell him when he screws up.

5. Coaching staff. Alex Gibbs is a Hall of Fame-caliber assistant coach. He transformed the running game last year. Frank Bush could be a superstar defensive coordinator. Kyle Shanahan has a chance to be star as an offensive coach.

6. Reliant Stadium. The Texans have gone 12-4 at home the last two years and need to win that many again in 2009. They should beat the Jets, Jags, Raiders, 49ers and Seahawks. They'll be underdogs against the Titans, Colts and Patriots. If they could win two of the three, they'd have a huge head start on making the playoffs. Those road games against the Bengals, Bills, Jags and Rams could decide whether the Texans are playing important games in December for the first time.

7. Matt Schaub. His health may be the single most important factor in the Texans succeeding in 2009. If you think he's injury prone, you're wrong. He has been hurt because he has been hit too hard too often. The key to keeping him healthy is a successful running game. If the Texans can run it, that will soften the pass rush and keep Schaub cleaner.

8. Chris Brown. Keep your fingers crossed. If he can stay on the field, he gives the Texans a great second option at running back. To have two productive backs could elevate the running game into the Top 10.

9. Amobi Okoye. He has worked harder than ever and he's older and it seems he has a chance to be productive at a position the Texans most need production.

10. Dunta Robinson, Owen Daniels, DeMeco Ryans. These guys are going to be playing with chips on their shoulders because they're not happy with how their contracts have been handled. The best way to get more money is to play well and help the Texans win. If the team wins, everyone wins.

• • •

Leagues and teams at many levels have tried to restrict how their games are covered while also creating their own thriving media divisions. That has already pitted them against traditional news media outlets, like newspapers and radio stations, for readers and listeners and advertising dollars. Now, they are trying to curtail rabid fans who run Web sites devoted to the teams they love -- or hate. NY Times

John Calipari is Kentucky's problem now. Or should it be Kentucky's punch line? Geoff Calkins

Posted by Richard at 06:52 AM in | Comments (7)

August 19, 2009

Sometimes I think Drayton doesn't get it

Drayton McLane said something last night that came off about as insincere as anything he has ever said. He was either insincere or clueless. Either way, it's not good for the Astros. He went on and on about how the Astros didn't want to trade Pudge Rodriguez and how they made the Rangers come back to them and overwhelm them with talent.

The Astros did not get overwhelmed with talent. Second baseman Jose Vallejo hasn't hit at Triple-A, but scouts do like him. The Astros got a couple of interesting prospects, nothing more. Considering the quality of their farm system, they made out OK.

Drayton's comments made it seem like he thinks the Astros are still a contender and that Pudge can still play. Who is he kidding?

First of all, Pudge is no longer a great player. He hasn't even been a good player in recent weeks, hitting .239 since June 1 and with one walk and one extra base hit in his last 67 plate appearances.

Also, the Astros aren't a good team. They're not going to the playoffs in 2009, and it would take a miracle to get them there in 2010. Salesmen never stop selling, and Drayton apparently is afraid if he tells the truth that fans will stop coming to games.

Earth to Drayton. Fans have already stopped coming. Attendance is going to be down more than 300,000 from 2008 and almost 600,000 from 2007. Drayton can say whatever he wants, but fans aren't as stupid as he thinks.

Drayton needs to come out and tell the truth because fans know the truth whether he says it or not. He would regain some of the credibility he has lost by constantly talking about winning a championship when the rest of the world saw the Astros as old, bad and boring.

I'm wondering why he says these things. People like him speak to a lot of civic clubs where the audience listens respectfully and nods at anything he says. Maybe he thinks the whole world nods at whatever he says. Maybe he has surrounded himself with so many butt-kissers that he has convinced himself the earth is flat.

If he thinks he's going to patchwork another old, bad, boring team for 2010, there'll be acres of empty seats.

He may have been right to sign Pudge, but it didn't work out. Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz didn't work out either. The Astros went south for a bunch of reasons, and Drayton is only a very small part of the problem.

Morgan Ensberg and Jason Lane were only good for a little, scouts made mistakes in the draft, the front office made mistakes in signing players, Jeff Bagwell got hurt, Craig Biggio got old, Roger and Andy left and Tim Purpura made some terrible trades.

Drayton made some mistakes too, but not nearly as many as people think. He squeezed a few draft picks and refused to honestly evaluate the state of his franchise. By the time he realized how badly the farm system had fallen apart, it couldn't be fixed overnight.

So he tried some quick fixes with Carlos Lee, Miguel Tejada, etc. Hindsight is 20-20, but in hindsight these were terrible decisions. They bloated the payroll, took up money that could have been spent on pitching and didn't get the Astros back in contention.

Live and learn. Now his choice is simple. He can spend more money on free agents and shore up the pitching staff, or he can blow up the roster, trade every veteran that he can and start over with kids.

Fans are already staying away. Why can't he see this? If they believe the Astros have a plan, they might cut the franchise some slack. If they see young players with a chance to get better, they might cut them some slack.

They're not going to cut anyone slack when the owner continues to talk about the Astros as contenders, when he talks about a World Series in 2010, when he assumes he can say whatever he wants and people will believe it.

The Astros are a mess right now. There's an open insurrection between the players and manager. There's not enough talent to contend and not enough major league-ready kids in the system to contend anytime soon.

The first step to fixing a problem is acknowledging a problem, but only Drayton can do that.

Posted by Richard at 09:28 AM in | Comments (67)

August 18, 2009

Pudge is gone, and the Astros are better

The Astros got better because they added at least one young player who has a chance to play in the big leagues. The Rangers got better, too. Pudge Rodriguez will play a couple of times a week on a team with a very good chance to make the playoffs.

These franchises should be evaluated differently at this point. The Rangers are playing only for 2009. They made the deal to improve their record this year. Nothing else matters.

To evaluate the Astros, look at the top 40-50 players. I'm told the Astros will be getting 22-year-old Triple A 2B Jose Vallejo and 22-year-old Class A Class RHP Matt Nevarez. Vallejo hasn't hit at Triple-A, but scouts think he has a chance to contribute when the Astros are good again. Pudge was going to be long gone when the Astros are good enough to contend.

The Rangers approached the Astros a couple of days ago and were told Pudge wasn't available. The Rangers finally gave the Astros a player that could help them.

It had to be a good player because it's a signal the Astros have given up on 2009. We've known this for awhile, but Drayton has had a hard time living in reality.

Pudge is the first to go, but he shouldn't be the last. The Astros ought to make Miguel Tejada, Jose Valverde, LaTroy Hawkins, etc., available. If they get one really good prospect for all of them, they'll be in better shape than they are now.

Pudge was Drayton McLane's idea. He wanted him because the Astros didn't have a major league catcher and also because he was trying to plug holes to keep the Astros in contention another year. He was forced to do this because his minor league system is in bad shape and because he was unwilling to raise the payroll into the $120-million range.

As he surveys all those empty seats, I'm guessing he's second guessing that decision. His baseball people wanted to look at the young guys through spring training and then see which veteran catchers got released if they needed help. Both plans made sense.

Now the Astros are approaching a crossroads of sorts. Drayton can't stand still this winter. He must either spend more money to shore up the rotation, or begin a full-scale rebuilding project.

Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman probably aren't going to be in the prime of their careers when the Astros get really good again. This statement shouldn't be etched in stone because there are too many variables.

The Astros need so many things, and they don't appear to have them in their minor league system.

If Drayton has another off-season of patching together an old, bad boring team, he'll be making a huge mistake.

He might be able to contend with the position players, with Tommy Manzella at short and Chris Johnson at third and Jason Castro behind the plate.

But the Astros need help in the rotation and bullpen. If he's serious about winning, he needs to buy at least one good starter and at least two relievers. To do so would mean increasing the payroll substantially.

He has refused to blow the roster up because he thinks fans would stop coming to games. They've stopped coming anyway. The Astros are going to have about a 300,000 decline in attendance from 2008 and about a 550,000 decline from 2007.

These numbers are a referendum on how the Astros have been run. My guess is that Drayton will fire Cecil Cooper and most of the coaching staff. This is a smart move only if he hires first-rate people to replace them, and his recent history indicates he may not do this.

But that's only part of the problem. The Astros have missed badly on evaluating their big league team. This off-season will provide another opportunity to get it right.

Ed Wade's fundamental mistake has been spending way too much money on hitting and not enough on pitching. He didn't make the offense any better, and the lack of pitching will mean the Astros will miss the playoffs for a fourth straight year. Change is needed, but that change can only begin with Drayton. If he needs help, I stand ready to serve.

Posted by Richard at 12:48 PM in | Comments (73)

If Brett Favre is back, it's a great day for the NFL

The NFL just got a lot more interesting. Thanks, Brett Favre. Sure he could have handled this thing better, but in the end, it's a great thing for the NFL to have him back. Someone wrote that he may be the last real quarterback because he improvises and breaks plays and looks like he's having the time of his life. He's nothing like the robotic, system-guided quarterbacks coaches seem to favor these days.

Suddenly, the two most interesting dates on the NFL schedule — with the exception of the 16 times the Dallas Cowboys, America's most popular sports franchise, tee it up (a 7-9 Cowboy season is more interesting than most other teams going 12-4) — are October 5 and November 1.

Those are Favre's two games against the Packers. The first is in the Metrodome, the second at Lambeau Field. I can't remember a more interesting date on the sports calendar as this ironic figure goes back to the place he left in a huff.

What Brett Favre understands that many other players don't is that nothing he ever does in life will be as much as being out there on a Sunday afternoon trying to figure out a way to win a game.

Remember what Marv Levy used to tell his players just before kickoff? Where in the world would you rather be than right here right now?

When Brett was toying with retirement a couple of years ago, Phil Simms told him to play until they cut the uniform off of him.

Brett has struggled with this. When he's tired and his body is beat up and his arm is hurting, he somehow convinces himself that he has had enough. Then he gets a taste of life in the real world and realizes he would still like to go back out there one more time and try.

When Terry Bradshaw was inducted into the Hall of Fame, he stood up there and told the world how much he'd like to have just one more snap, how after all those years, he still missed it so much.

Professional athletes, especially those that have played at a high level, can't prepare themselves for retirement. They can try their best and they can convince themselves they're prepared, but in the end, they can't.

I know of a player the Texans released in the last year that has been experiencing something approaching depression that he's no longer part of a team, no longer one of the guys, no longer going out there on Sunday to bleed, sweat, hurt, cuss and occasionally celebrate. He's a young man in real world terms, but he's an NFL has-been.

The NFL has done studies confirming that players deal with issues ranging from marital problems to substance abuse to financial problems once they're done. It all goes back to not feeling relevant anymore.

Nolan Ryan was as prepared for the end of his career as any professional athlete could have been, but he said for about a year after he threw his last pitch, he felt like staying in bed all day. Larry Dierker, Rudy T and others say they deal with similar challenges.

Brett makes the Vikings the team to beat in the NFC. He's walking into a perfect situation, that is, a team with a great running game and a big-time defensive line. He gives them the piece they didn't have more. He'll bring a swagger, too.

There's a chance this thing could be a disaster. After all, Brett will be playing with a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. Who knows how that shoulder is going to hold up?

He might not even get through the last three weeks of camp. His shoulder just might not be up for the grind. At least then he'll know for sure it's time to say goodbye.

His arrival might do for the Vikings what Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte did for the Astros. Clemens and Pettitte didn't play to make the playoffs. They played to win the playoffs, and their attitude rubbed off on others. It's no coincidence that the Astros had their two best seasons in history when Clemens and Pettitte were around.

I hope Brett stops talking about retirement. He looks silly to keep retiring and then coming back.

But it's understandable. He's lucky enough to have one of those people that found a job he both loves and is great at, and I'm glad he's back.

Posted by Richard at 12:22 PM in | Comments (4)

Now we know why the Astros wouldn't touch Matthew Purke

Klein LHP Matthew Purke rejected a $4-million offer from the Texas Rangers last night and will attend TCU. For all of you that criticize the Astros for drafting players they can sign, remember this one. No matter how good Purke is, he isn't going to help the Rangers and they would have been better off taking a lesser talent that was more interested in baseball than money. He'll be eligible for the 2011 draft. Good luck, kid.

If I'm running the Rangers, I'm asking some hard questions of the baseball people today. The Astros loved Purke's talent, but there was no way they were going to draft him because of the signability issues. They simply were unsure how much money it would take, who was controlling the negotiations and how anxious the kid was to play baseball.

The Astros are trying to rebuild their farm system in a hurry and want kids willing to take fair-market value and go play. As a scouting director with another NL team told me, ''There are plenty of good players out there. Why waste your time on the ones that are going to haggle over every dime? These kids in the higher rounds are all getting great money.''

These kids get no sympathy from anyone. Their asking prices infuriate longtime baseball people who would rather give the money to proven players. Many veteran players roll their eyes at the size of the signing bonuses.

Purke has now wasted a season of his talent. If he wanted to go to college all along, that's fine. But if his first priority is to pitch in the major leagues, he made a huge mistake. Regardless of how good the coaching is at TCU, it's not nearly as good as he'd get in the minor leagues.

Did he think holding out for more money was worth more than being tutored by Nolan Ryan along the way? MLB's recommended slot price was $1.6 million, but others around him got more, so he wanted more.

Give the kid credit for having the good sense to avoid Augie Garrido. He has top-of-the-rotation ability. Can you imagine how many pitches Augie would have him throwing?

Let's see, kid, I've got you starting on Friday, closing the first game on Saturday and pitching long relief in the second game on Saturday. To show what a nice guy I am, I'm giving you Sunday off.

Scouts are supposed to find out two things about a player: how good he is and also how much money he wants. He also tries to find out who is in charge of the negotiations. Is it the kid? The parents? An agent?

In the case of both Jason Castro and Jiovanni Mier the last two years, the Astros decided both wanted fair-market value and were ready to begin their careers.

I'm sure the Purke family believes it was justified asking whatever they asked for, reportedly around $4.7 million. Good for them. If he has great career at TCU, he might get just as much money in 2011. However, the attrition rate on young pitchers is high, especially for young pitchers.

And then there's the case of Aaron Crow, who is represented by the Hendricks Brothers (Jimi and Elrod). Drafted by the Nationals in 2008. Rejected $3.5 million. Drafted by the Royals. Still unsigned.

Last night's deadline didn't apply to him, but he's going to miss his first two professional seasons. Hope the extra money was worth it, son.

Posted by Richard at 09:04 AM in | Comments (29)

August 16, 2009

Join me on a tour of Milwaukee. Is this really where the commissioner lives?

Had myself a great morning. Up early. Met Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at Alterra Coffee Shop on the shores of Lake Michigan. He wanted to give me a tour of the beautiful neighborhoods and villages along the lake. (If you're ever at Alterra or one of its branches, try the Cowboy Crunch Cookie. All-time best cookie.)

It was a perfect morning, sunny and 70 degrees. Tons of people running, walking, etc., enjoying an end-of-summer day. We drove north along the lake and just kept going.

Finally, he turned here and there, and pulled onto a narrow street and drove slowly.

''There,'' he said, ''is where Bud lives.''

I'd heard about this house for years, about the work that had been done and how Bud Selig had lived there almost 40 years and never intended to move. If the digs were modest at one time, they're very nice now, complete with a rock garden, pond and reflecting pool.

The commissioner is a creature of habit. Same hot dog stand for lunch. Same barber. Takes the grandkids to Target on Saturdays. MLB has allowed him to keep his office in Milwaukee because he'll never live anyplace else. He loves it, and most days when he has an event around baseball, he'll be back home to sleep. He has a second home in Arizona, but Milwaukee will always be where his heart is.

Tom pulled right into the circular driveway and said, ''Come on, let's walk around.''

I've known Bud Selig for 25 years. He's one of the best people you'll ever meet, decent and honest and funny. If Bud Selig is your friend, you've got a friend for life.

Still, I didn't really know if I should be walking around his house at 8:30 on a Sunday morning. I could see him coming out for the morning paper and us hunkered in the shrubs.

''Oh come on,'' Tom said, ''Bud loves us.''

So there I was on a Sunday morning walking around the commissioner's yard, checking out the sculptures and fountains and flowers. At one point, we thought about banging on the door, but I couldn't bring myself to do that. He'd hosted a party the night before, and while he's an early riser, you never know.

Tom is one of Selig's walking partners, and they'd planned to hook up later today. He thought the commissioner was going to have a big laugh out of the fact that we were touring his grounds. I hope he was going to have a big laugh.

Posted by Richard at 10:57 AM in | Comments (23)

August 15, 2009

Evaluate Ed Wade? Anytime. Glad to help.

Mickey Jones has written to ask for a rundown of Ed Wade's trades in the nearly two years he has been general manager of the Astros. This is your lucky day, Mickey Jones.

I'm always happy to evaluate and criticize another man. The thing I'm not so good at is when people evaluate and criticize me. Sometimes, I get downright snarky.

Lucky for me, I tend to surround myself with people like McTaggart and Berman and Puma and Morey and Granato and Topper and Raymond and Battier. They all adore me and see me as perfect and would never ever be critical of me.

I've been around the block a few times, and I've come to the conclusion that people are happier and more productive when they surround themselves with people that constantly kiss their butts.

Did I mention that Nick's Place will be premiering the Justice Burger on Monday? That's going to be such a good day that I'll be able to forget that Obama wants to kill all the old people.

I'll say again this isn't as bad an idea as it sounds, but this is a little bit of a hot issue and the last thing I want to do is get people upset. Besides, my 90-year-old mother thought I was referring to her, and of course, that's not the case even if she does turn the thermostat up to 97 whenever I'm visiting.

OK, to Mr. Mickey Jones. Take it away, Mickerroo.

Ed Wade made several trades when he first came to Houston. I do not remember all of them or even all the players involved. I see Lidge and Qualls seem to be doing OK now although Lidge was a head case here. Bourn seems to be coming around, and he certainly provides defense needed in center field. Where is Chris Burke? I am wondering if you can research the players involved in Ed's short tenure? I suspect I am not the only one curious about all the players traded and released. Adam Everett is back in the .230 batting range and not playing every day. Where is Wigginton? Thanks for answering if you have time.

• He traded Troy Patton, Matt Albers and Luke Scott for Miguel Tejada.

Scott has had two nice years for the Orioles. Albers hasn't pitched well. Patton is 1-3 with a 6.45 ERA at Triple A and is one of the keys to the deal. He's just 23 years old and if he makes it, the trade will look a lot different.

Many people would say Wade got the best of the Orioles because Tejada has made the National League All-Star Team two years in a row. However, when you factor in the money, it doesn't look as good.

Wade traded three small-money guys to take on $27 million. That $27-million commitment to Tejada limited his ability to acquire pitching, and with the Astros missing the playoffs again, it's easy to argue he shouldn't have made the trade. Would the Astros have been better with a good-field-less-hit player at short and another reliable starter in the rotation?

• He traded Chris Burke, Chad Qualls and Juan Gutierrez for Jose Valverde. This deal also increased the payroll and took up money he could have spent on starting pitching. Valverde led the NL in saves in his first year and has been pretty good this year. Qualls and Gutierrez have been 93 games between them for the Diamondbacks and both pitched well. Burke is playing minor league ball in the Atlanta organization.

• Wade's most important trade was sending Brad Lidge to the Phillies for Michael Bourn. In year one of that deal, Lidge was great and Bourn terrible. In year two, Lidge has struggled and Bourn has been outstanding. That trade has worked out well for both teams. The Phillies won a World Series, and no matter what Lidge does now, he made the trade pay off.

• He made real smart moves to get Randy Wolf, LaTroy Hawkins and Jeff Keppinger. His deal for Oscar Villareal seemed smart at the time, but didn't work out.

• As the payroll got tight last winter, Wade was forced to send Ty Wigginton and Randy Wolf packing. Wigginton has eight home runs for the Orioles. Wolf has been solid for the Dodgers, going 6-6 with a 3.43 ERA.

At the end of the day, general managers should be evaluated on a couple of things. One obviously is the won-loss record. The other is the circumstances.

Wade took over an organization that was in shambles. He appears to have done the right things to rebuild the farm system while keeping the big league team competitive.

He'll face a long list of tough decisions in the off-season ahead. Are the Astros going to stay the course and patch here and there and try to remain competitive? Or are they finally going to tear it down and start over?

Drayton McLane has been against a full-blown reconstruction, but he ought to at least take a look. The problem is that his three highest-paid players (Berkman, Oswalt and Lee) all have no-trade clauses, so while Wade maybe didn't make all great deals, he inherited a mess.

Posted by Richard at 12:09 PM in | Comments (29)

August 14, 2009

Are you up for another 36-10 run? Fasten your seatbelt, Astros fans.

If you're an optimist, you'll be interested to know that Saturday is the fifth anniversary of the start of the Astros' 36-10 sprint to the playoffs. Want to hear something that'll send a cold chill down your spin? Or up your spin depending on how your chills run.

The Astros were 56-60 when they began that 36-10 run. Know what their record is going to be when they get to Miller Park on Saturday? You guessed it. The very same 56-60.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? I don't know what you're thinking, but I'm thinking we're about to have some fun and I should be getting plenty of TV time.

Some of you accuse me of rooting for the home team. I plead guilty. When the home teams do well, I do well.

I get on television, and frankly, I like getting on television. I like walking in a saloon and having people say, ''Hey, there's the guy from PTI.''

Lately, I've been doing more PTA than PTI, and frankly, that hurts. It's not because I might be lousy on TV. It's because the local baseball team is lousy. Big difference.

I've done lots of TV over the years. Some have suggested I do too much TV because I'm not real good at it. To these people, I say, ''It takes the same amount of energy to be nice to someone.''

It's true I won't go on Fox News because, well, if you have to ask you don't really get it.

Let's just say that the 2009 Astros are like the 2004 Astros in that they've got 'em right where they want 'em. Go ahead and be cynical if you like. I'm selling optimism.

Once this thing gets rolling, Drayton is going to regret his announcement Friday that he's going to give tickets away to anyone willing to show up at Minute Maid Park the rest of the season.

Uh, Richard, that's not what he announced. Drayton is going to give two tickets to 14-and-under fans for every full-price ticket purchased. Big difference.

Oops, my bad.

Cecil Cooper spent some of his afternoon trying to figure out who was rested or healthy enough to pitch long relief if another starting pitcher got in trouble. None of his starters had gotten an out in the sixth inning in South Florida, and he desperately needed a quality start Friday against the Brewers.

His most reliable starter went out and got lit up. Wandy Rodriguez allowed eight first-inning runs and was taken out after four innings. He allowed 10 runs and threw 105 pitches.

The Astros are headed for their 14th loss in 20 games. Their starters have allowed 27 earned runs in their last 24 innings for a 10.13 ERA, and the Astros have been outscored 17-3 in the first three innings on this road trip.

Cooper used at least two relievers every game in South Florida, and Mike Hampton's sore shoulder means Yorman Bazardo is a candidate for the rotation. Only the Brewers, Nationals and Padres have gotten fewer innings from their starters this season, and only the Brewers and Nationals have had fewer quality starts.

That workload could be one reason Astros relievers have performed so poorly. They're third in the National League in innings and 12th in ERA. Only the Nationals have blown more saves.

''We need two or three days in a row of seven innings (from our starters),'' Cooper said, ''and then we'll be in pretty good shape. That hasn't happened too often here lately. When your starters go short and you press a guy to go one inning longer than normal, now instead of one day to bounce back it takes two and sometimes three. If you continually do that over the course of a summer, it gets pretty tough for a guy. The guys really need their recovery time, and sometimes they don't get it. It's been a struggle to keep it all mapped out. But that's still not an excuse. We've still got to try and get it done.''

Posted by Richard at 07:37 PM in | Comments (30)

Smart move by Michael Vick

If you're looking for some sign that Michael Vick gets it, this is it. He didn't sign with the NFL team that offered him the best chance for playing time. He did something way better. He chose a team with a great coach, a team that's one of the NFL's smartest and most successful, a team that will give Vick every chance to resume his career and get his life back.


If Vick doesn't take advantage of it, he has no one to blame but himself. He's getting the kind of second chance many people don't get. I have no idea if he understands the horrendous nature of his crimes. If Tony Dungy and Roger Goodell believe in a guy, I'm inclined to believe in him, too, but I really don't know and am not going to pretend to know.

What I do know is that when Michael Vick got in trouble with the law three years ago he was already on the verge of throwing away his NFL career. Near the end of his time with the Atlanta Falcons, he'd become a nightmare. He'd regressed as a passer and didn't seem interested in working hard enough. He seemed content to use whatever talent God gave him.

The thing people don't know about playing quarterback in the NFL is how tough the job is from a mental and time standpoint. Matt Schaub is among the first to arrive at Reliant Stadium and among the last to leave.

We see all the fun quarterbacks have on Sunday, but we don't see the hours they spend in dimly lit meeting rooms, the hours and hours of looking for tendencies, going over game plans, refining plays, eliminating some, adding others. Calling it drudgery is being kind. It's amazingly tedious.

Quarterbacks have to be leaders. They're the face of a franchise, some combination of ambassador and player and management. There's no position in sports like it.

Plenty of quarterbacks like going out and playing on Sunday, being the main man and basking in the glory. Not all of them are willing to spend the hours it takes to be great.

David Carr simply was unwilling to put in the time to nurture the gifts he had. Vince Young hasn't been willing to do it.

Michael Vick didn't do it the first time around, but signing with the Eagles and hitching his wagon to a demanding, brilliant offensive coach in Andy Reid is an indication he's going to do things differently this time.

Once upon a time, I wouldn't have touched Michael Vick because I couldn't wrap my mind around how sick and mean he had to be to do the things he did. Now I'm intrigued. I believe he deserves a second chance.

He couldn't just pick a team. He needed a strong, respected franchise, a franchise that stands for the right things in the NFL. That's what the Eagles represent, and that's why Vick has taken a huge step in the right direction.

Posted by Richard at 09:47 AM in | Comments (37)

Rays might have another Rookie of the Year in Rice's Jeff Niemann

Jeff Niemann was the fourth pick of the baseball draft in 2004, taken ahead of Phil Hughes, Stephen Drew, Jered Weaver and Homer Bailey. Haven't forgotten about him, have you? He helped Rice win a national championship in 2003, and even though he seemed bound for glory at the time, his path has been neither easy or quick.

Getty Images

Maybe it's sweeter to have it work out this way. He has had to overcome injury and disappointment, and just when it would seem he'd never make it, he might give the Tampa Bay Rays a second straight American League Rookie of the Year.

Rays 3B Evan Longoria was a unanimous choice last year, and Niemann's teammate David Price seemed like a slam dunk ROY before the season began. Niemann, 26, didn't win the fifth spot in the Tampa Bay rotation until the final day of spring training. He's now leading the Rays in victories with 10.

"I know it's there,'' Niemann told the St. Pete Times. "We're definitely a ways away from that, but it would be something cool to keep it in the organization for another year.''

Former Rays GM Chuck LaMar, who drafted Niemann, said: ''We thought we were drafting a college pitcher who could get to the majors leagues relatively quickly and have impact when he got there. And we were right on one of the two.''

• • •

Speaking of the Rays, Marc Topkin of the St. Pete Times has a sweet story about manager Joe Maddon's new home. When the team landed in Southern California for the first time last Sunday, Maddon saw his new digs for the first time.

He'd told his new wife, Jaye, to pick it out, buy it, refurbish it and furnish it. If she was happy with it, he'd be happy.

''I have a lot of faith in her,'' Maddon said. ''And she's good.''

It's a four-bedroom place near the beach in Long Beach and comes with a wine cellar.

''Not only from the taste and quality what she would choose, but her ability to work the finances ... so it was easy,'' Maddon said. ''I told her, 'Hey babe, just get what you like. Of course I trust you. I don't want to hear about it - just tell me where to show up.' ''


''Oh my gosh, she did a great job. Beautiful home, great location.''

• • •

Michael Vick did a very smart thing in hooking up with Andy Reid and a great organization. Peter King

Posted by Richard at 09:23 AM in | Comments (2)

August 13, 2009

Turns out, Dunta Robinson might be the smartest guy in the room

I've been so many places in my life and time. I've sung a lot of songs, I've made some bad rhymes. To quote Bill Clinton, I've got more yesterdays than tomorrows. And the one thing I don't think I'll ever understand is why NFL teams approach training camp the way they do.

The Texans have now lost three starters in less than two weeks of this camp. At this rate, they'll lose about half their starting lineup by the opening game. There just has to be a better way.

Rookie LB Brian Cushing is the latest. He's a huge loss. He was supposed to provide some of the playmaking the Texans haven't had enough of on the defensive side of the ball. He wasn't just going to make plays for himself. He was going to force offenses to account for him and free up DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams to make more plays.

Now he's gone indefinitely, and the Texans aren't sure how he got hurt. Cushing told reporters it probably was the wear and tear of training camp. CB Jacques Reeves and C Chris Myers also have gone down in this camp.

Good thing the Texans will have Dunta Robinison. He has had the sense to stay home. No heat. No contact. No dead legs or torn ligaments. He's ready to go.

About this time last year, one of the Texans said, ''Do you find it peculiar that we're more prepared to play a game on the first day of camp than the last?''

Yes, it does. It strikes me as real peculiar and maybe not real bright. Then again, training camp has often seemed like it's more about the coaches and the things they believe even when those beliefs don't always make a lot of sense.

They talk about ''getting through'' camp as if it's being forced upon them by some higher force. Really?

Once upon a time, the Texans went to Seattle and got crushed. Afterwards, one of their running backs, Dominick Davis, admitted he'd been cramping up before the game.

That was a week when coaches worked the players extra hard because they were upset with their practice habits and wanted to teach them a lesson. Instead, the entire organization got embarrassed.

When a member of the medical staff approached Dom Capers about backing off on the practice schedule, Capers sort of shrugged and said he didn't know any other way to do things.

There's medical evidence that practicing in the heat and humidity doesn't condition players to practicing in the heat and humidity. It tears bodies down in a way that fluid replacement can't fix.

Gary Kubiak has backed off dramatically in the amount of hitting the Texans have done. He basically has eliminated two-a-days, and this surely is a step in the right direction.

Maybe the Texans would have lost three starters even if they took the pads off and did two weeks of non-contact work. There's surely a certain amount of hitting that needs to be done to get players accustomed to playing in pads and tackling and all of that.

Would two days of contact a week do it in camp? Is more necessary?

Injuries are a huge factor in every NFL season, and no matter how much a coach backs off in practice, he's going to lose players on Sunday. Super Bowl champions many times are the teams that get lucky about injuries.

Trying telling a high school coach to back off on practice. He'll tell you he's going to have his boys hit and he's going to have them practice in the heat and he's going to do it just the way Bear Bryant did it.

Yes, but Bear Bryant had more than 100 players. He had depth stacked upon depth. Scholarship and roster limits have made his way a thing of the past. Every roster spot is valuable, every injury is important. Is this the only way to do things?

Posted by Richard at 07:26 AM in | Comments (43)

August 12, 2009

Astros are loading the bandwagon, and I intend to be on it

Let the word go forth to St. Louis and Chicago and Milwaukee every other city that is thinking about playing in the 2010 World Series. This race isn't over until the Astros say it's over.

All around the National League, people have been paying attention to what has been going on in South Florida. As Wandy Rodriguez returned and then Roy Oswalt and now Lance Berkman and LaTroy Hawkins, they all said the same thing.

Here comes Houston.

That's what they're saying in Chicago and in Milwaukee and in St. Louis. The Astros have 48 games remaining. To win 90, they're going to have to go 34-14. Is that anything like 35-10? Isn't that how they finished the 2004 season? Is there any reason this team can't do what that one did? OK, anything other than pitching, hitting and defense?

Getting Lance Berkman back in the lineup transformed the lineup, made the whole team look different and certainly made the whole team feel different. The odds are stacked against them, but that was true in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008. They clinched a playoff berth on the final day of the season in two of those years and were eliminated on the final weekend in two others.

They began the rest of their season by getting 16 hits, including a pair of three-run home runs from Hunter Pence. Michael Bourn and Berkman were on base four times apiece, and even though Bud Norris wasn't perfect, he joins the very short list of Houston pitchers that won their first three starts.

Posted by Richard at 10:39 PM in | Comments (31)

Search this blog


    Privacy statement | Terms of service
    Copyright © 2009 The Houston Chronicle