Monday, October 8, 2007

Do as Isiah, Not as Isiah Do...?

The ultrasound says my wife is going to have a girl.

This is a good thing...because I'm torn.

You see, ever since the time I was a sophomore in high school, my first son was always going to be named Isiah. It was simply a given--Isiah Thomas Rosenthal. Or maybe Isiah David Rosenthal (named after my father, not the cold hearted son-of-a-gun who stole my No Sallies fantasy championship on Christmas Eve last year). I would even share this information with girls on first dates. (In retrospect, I'm now getting a sense as to why I wasn't more lucky with the ladies as an adolescent...) No ifs, and, or buts about it...My son was going to be "Isiah."

The problem is:now there's a "but."

You see, I'm a pretty simple sports fanatic, and I live by a couple of the simple rules of the sports fan. One is you never go and get a beer for a friend if he just referred to you as "beer bitch." (Unless of course you just lost a game and are therefore the official "beer bitch", in which case grabbing the beer is now mandatory.) Another is you never leave a ball game early, unless the starters have been removed. (Because if the coach has given up, any hope for that miraculous comeback has been shattered.) You never answer the phone during a Packer game. You never celebrate getting a foul ball if you picked it up off the ground. You never pee in the urinal right next to a guy, if there's an open urinal two or more spaces away.

(By the way, this last rule is an extremely important one in my book. I was traumatized in the eighth grade while peeing in the Middle school bathroom when our friend Metke stood two feet behind me and peed between my legs into my chosen urinal. As I hollered, "What the F are you doing?" he only laughed and said, "Stay still. We don't want to cross the streams." I felt like Batman in the old tv series, praying that the laser beam would not come close to me and slice at the inner side of my pants leg. "Will this be the end of our hero? Tune in tomorrow. Same bat time, same bat channel..." Miraculously, my jeans somehow remained dry, but to this day I break into a sweat any time the lines at Lambeau's urinals are four or five deep behind me. Because even though we're both in our mid-30s now, I have no doubt that if I met up with Metke in some arena's bathroom, he'd do the exact same thing today...)

And you never name your son after a man found guilty of sexual harassment.

As a kid, I had developed a knack at looking past Isiah's indiscretions. When he was accused of trying to orchestrate a freeze out of Michael Jordan at the all-star game, I chalked it up as a veteran trying to teach a young up-and-comer an important lesson. When he fell under fire for saying that Larry Bird would be just another ball player if he was black, I was quick to point out that Rodman had actually made that statement first, not Isiah. (He just agreed with it.)

And regardless of what was going on with Isiah Thomas the person at that time, all of it was forgotten whenever I was able to sit back and enjoy Isiah Thomas the ball player. Now, you can argue with me all you want, but nobody is going to ever convince me that there was a better player of his height than Zeke. What has always impressed me most about Isiah was his willingness to sacrifice his personal success for the success of the team. Many players will claim they are willing to do whatever it takes to win a championship. Few actually follow through. Isiah Thomas is one of the few exceptions.

Isiah could have been Allen Iverson before Allen Iverson was Allen Iverson. I have no doubt in my mind about this. As a matter of fact, I think he could have been an even more prolific scorer than Iverson because he was a better shooter, and could blow by any point guard who tried to defend him. (As a matter of fact, I remember my friends used to tease me that Isiah was only shooting 45% from the floor. It seems crazy now, considering how many times Iverson has failed to even hit 40%.) But Isiah knew (largely because Daley convinced him it was so) that in order to win championships he'd have to focus on making his teammates better. And he did just that. Oh, he'd still score. But he'd pick his spots and only start shooting daggers when the game was on the line. This is similar to the approach Jason Kidd takes today. Except, as great as Kidd is, he's nowhere close to Isiah on the all-time list of greats, largely because Kidd has nowhere near the same kind of scoring tools that Zeke had. As a matter of fact, I rank Isiah as the 9th greatest player of my lifetime, behind

1. Jordan

2. Magic

3. Bird

4. Olajuwon

5. Shaq (Lean, dominating Shaq of the early '90s)

6. Dr. J

7. Duncan

8. Barkley

9. Isiah

D-Wade and Lebron certainly have the potential to join this list and knock Isiah out of the top 10, but they're not there yet. I'd listen to anyone make a case for Kobe too, but since he wasn't smart enough to recognize how sweet he had it and orchestrated the trade that sent Shaq packing, I refuse to put him ahead of the guy that made the likes of Vinnie Johnson, Rick Mahorn, John Salley and Dennis Rodman become three times the players that they really were anytime he stepped on the floor.

Anyhow, I could defend Isiah the player for days...

I'm not so sure, however, I could do the same for Isiah the person. Running the CBA straight to bankruptcy and running the Knicks to quickly becoming the embarrassment of the league was tough enough to defend.

But there's no defending his use of the word "bitch" towards a woman, especially in a professional setting. And even more so, there's no defending someone who shows no remorse for doing it. I'm puzzled about Isiah's opinion that it's okay for him to call an African American woman a "bitch" because he's black. And I'm wondering if there's anyway I can blame it on Dennis Rodman.

But as for my son, whenever he might be born, I don't know if the name Isiah makes sense anymore. And unfortunately, my wife despises the names "Brett" and "Robin."

I suppose I could name him after one of my high school friends, Eric or Darren. But they don't really set the greatest example either...

...especially when you consider how often they tried to make me their beer bitch.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Not Quite Ready to Move On...

I shat my pants for the Cubs Friday night.

No. I'm just kidding. I didn't do that.

But you know what else I didn't do?

When one of the many drunken Cubs fans that had infiltrated Miller Park on Friday night came up to me saying that he was sick and tired of getting hit and that he wasn't going to be responsible if he "got into it" with someone, I certainly didn't bother calling anyone for assistance. I didn't even get out of my chair to see who was bothering him. This was the same Cubs fan, mind you, that I had witnessed earlier in the night screaming "Tough luck, buddy; it ends tonight" in the face of a nine year old wearing a Prince Fielder jersey. So you can see why I was slow to react. I made an executive decision that he had probably antagonized these Brewers fans and provoked them to throw things at him. And I figured if I wasn't working the game, I would have probably thrown things at him too...and, you know...I don't want to be a hypocrite.

Ah well. I'm optimistic that I'll get over the disappointment of the Brewers collapse by the time my daughter is old enough to register for tee ball. Given my wife's due date is still three weeks away, it looks like I've got four and half good years to put the frustration behind me. And thankfully, Willie Randolph did everything in his power to lead a collapse that has all but erased the Brewers downfall from the nation's collective memory.

Anyhow, I suppose it's time to move on to Packer season, and I've certainly ignored the stellar play of the Badgers (and my future fantasy football tight end Travis Beckum).
But before I can completely let go of the season that was, I feel it's important to look ahead. Disappointment or no disappointment--the one thing the '07 Brewers gave me is a ton of optimism for '08. Today, the Journal Sentinel took the time to look at the top ten things that went wrong this year. That seemed a bit idiotic to me--anyone who watched the games can tell you what went wrong.
No. What I want to do is look ahead. So, my dear seven readers, here are the top 10 questions the Brewers will face in the coming off season:

10. Contact hitter. It's not a question of do they need one; they do. The question is: who will it be? It's fun watching the Brewers hit the ball out of the yard as effortlessly as we used to hit the tennis ball out of the old middle school playground. But it's not fun watching guys constantly strike out with runners at second and third. Quite frankly, that's as "not fun" as it gets for me as a baseball fan. But it doesn't take an avid baseball fan to understand that more home runs equals more strikeouts. I'm not talking about needing a Tony Gwynn senior, but a Jeff Cirillo or Mark Loretta type (while in their prime) is the piece of the puzzle that this lineup is sorely missing. Maybe J.J. can be that type of hitter in time, but this year he failed to drop a bunt or move a runner far too many times.
And, of course, maybe Tony Jr. will finally get his shot...

9. Catcher--If Damian Miller's run is over, then it's going to be important to find a defensive catcher who can throw guys out. Opponents ran on Estrada with less fear than the Duke boys when they sped through Hazard County. If Mike Rivera or Vinnie Rotino are not the answer, than it will be important to find a veteran catcher that can handle the young staff. Is Estrada for sale? Despite two grand slams, he certainly wasn't the offensive force the Brewers were hoping for...

8. Centerfield. There are three solid candidates to roam center next year. Hall, Hart, and Gwynn. Gross played well in spurts, but I'm still not convinced he's going to be an every day outfielder, and I think Brewers management shares this concern. Regardless, the player who ends up in center, will dictate the rest of the outfield. If Gwynn finally gets his shot, you'd certainly feel good defensively with an outfield of Hart, Gwynn and Hall (in left?). Like Estrada, Hall might be dangled to see if teams show interest, despite his down season and new contract. His versatility and ability to play SS might make him more coveted than Brewers fans might initially think.

7. The Diamond Dancers--Seriously, I like flesh, women, and the flesh of women as much as the next married guy...but some of these gals had guts that rivaled Homer Simpson. I vote we throw them up in Bernie's chalet full time and call them "Bernie's biatches." The conga line down the slide alone is worth the price of admission. Either that or perhaps we save the half naked dancing girls for the Bradley Center.

6. Capuano. Quick story--When I was a kid playing little league I had a lucky pair of underwear. I'm not really sure how they came to be my lucky pair of underwear. I think I hit a little league homer (translation: a single and then a bunch of errors that allow you to run around all the bases) while wearing them, and from that point on they were officially my lucky underwear. Funny thing though--after about three games in a row of taking the collar, I quickly decided that they were not my lucky underwear anymore. I loved them drawers, but they just didn't have any magic left. Do you see where I'm going with this? The Brewers had lost 20 straight games in which Cappy had pitched, but yet they threw him out there on the day we were eliminated.
Needless to say, a change of scenery may be in order. And because he's a left-handed starter, the Brewers will get something good for him. (Maybe even a contact hitter.)

5. Veteran leadership. All spring training we heard how the Brewers had a great balance of youth and veteran leadership. But it's hard to follow those veterans when they don't perform. If you looked up "clutch" in the baseball dictionary the second or third definition listed would read "not Geoff Jenkins." Counsell was simply atrocious. Even Suppan struggled until September. This is why our 23 year-old firstbaseman emerged as the team leader. It's a great story, but it also happened out of necessity. Melvin needs to take some pressure of the kids and find the right veteran leaders this offseason.

4. Middle Relief. There was a message on my phone after the Monday night win to the Cardinals. It was my friend Darren saying that he wasn't giving up hope yet, but if the Brewers blew their chance I should look no further than Rick (and yes, he said "Rick") Weeks and Bill Hall. Now I hate to argue with Darren; he's a doctor, a real smart guy, and if I was ever being chased by the mafia I'd turn to him to help me pay off my gambling debts. Nonetheless, the real reason the Brewers blew their chance at the division was because of the 6th and 7th inning collapses that kept happening all season long. The not-so-sweet sixteen, if you will--the sixteen games in which the Brewers blew a lead of 3 runs or more. This bullpen needs to be revamped. I know the numbers say that Turnbow was on more often than he was off, but you simply can't put your pennant race hopes on a pitcher who too frequently loses the strike zone. The good news is that guys who can throw in the upper 90s are still highly regarded, so Turnbow might bring us something good in return. I'd bring back Linebrink, Shouse and King, give youngsters like Aquino and Stetter a shot, and then revamp the rest.

3. Ben Sheets. I know, I know. The Sheets fans are going to tell me that I'm crazy to mention a possible Sheets trade. And they have a good case--after all, the Brewers were horrible when he went down. The other side of that argument, of course, is that you have to worry every time Sheets sneezes for fear that he might pull something. And with just one year left on his contract, the Brewers probably do have to make a move so they don't lose Sheets and get nothing but a draft pick in return. Raise your hand if you thought the Brewers overpaid Suppan. Well, you can bet Sheets' next contract will be much closer to Bary Zito money than it will be to Jeff Suppan money. Since it would be bad PR to trade him at the deadline next year (assuming the Brewers will be in the midst of another run), it might make sense to deal him when there's snow on the ground. At this point, I'm not really sure what will happen. But the only three pitchers I'm willing to bet on as members of the rotation come April are named Suppan, Gallardo and Villanueva.

2. Francisco Cordero. Once they pay Jenkins his $500,000 buyout, the Brewers will have an extra $6.5 mil to play with. I say you put as much of that towards Ko-Ko as necessary and sign him quicker than you can yell, "click, click, boom!"

1. Retro Fridays. Anyone who read the article on my encounters with many of the '82 Brewers knows that they will forever have a special place in my heart. But just like the Packers had to let go of the Lombardi era, it's time for the Brewers to let 1982 go. There's a new legacy about to be written with names like Fielder, Braun and Gallardo. Leave the retro wear for the fans. Let's start turning our focus to the future....

Go Crew. We'll get 'em next year...