Six is better than five

Adam EatonMeanwhile, Johan Santana pitched well against the Red Sox yesterday. His line: 4 IP, 4 K’s, 2 hits, no runs.

For sure, the sports world is ready to explode with action in the next few weeks. Actually, the world sports scene will be packed with HUGE events until the end of the Olympics in Beijing where athletes will battle pollution worse than Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles combined.

Call them “The Iron Lung Games.”

Nevertheless, the faux dramatics of the NCAA College Basketball Selection Show kicks it all off next Sunday. They stretch that tournament out for most of March so they can weed out all of those low-seeded teams that pulled off those early-round upsets. I guess that’s the proper way to do things because the better teams usually win, though it seems as if interest wanes after all the upsets stop and the TV network stops that rapid-fire coverage of showing 19 games ending all at once.

The truth is the NCAA Tournament lasts too long. What is it, six games to win it all? Shoot, they could do the entire thing in a weekend like a CYO Tournament where school kids played two or three games a day to get a trophy for the school’s trophy case.

Isn’t that what they play for in the NCAA Tournament?

They play The Masters, the biggest golf tournament in the world, in just four days the weekend following the NCAA Tournament. Sure, basketball is a little more athletic than golf, but everything is relative. If a person’s mind and body are programmed to play 18 holes of golf for four straight days, it’s kind of like running 18 miles… or something. Actually, let me explain it this way: I once played 18 holes at Pine Valley and didn’t even have to carry my own bag, but my feet were as sore after any of the 13 marathons I’ve run. Yeah, that even includes the ’98 Boston Marathon where my feet got all swole to the point that I couldn’t wear shoes for three days.

Oh, but the NCAA Tournament and The Masters are just the least of it in a busy-as-a-bee next 30 days. Major League Baseball kicks off its season in less than three weeks, the NHL and NBA playoffs start soon (I think), the NFL Draft is approaching and then the London and Boston Marathons, including the U.S. Olympic Trials for the women’s marathon, cap it all off.

Bill and HillaryThat’s a lot of stuff packed into a month and it could be even more if the Flyers and 76ers make it to the playoffs. Forget about the Pennsylvania Primary on April 22 that could decide on who(m) could lead our union for the next four years and the really important stuff like taxes and that stuff – there’s sports to follow. Besides, according to the story, sports people don’t really care that Hillary Clinton will be criss-crossing our Commonwealth for the next few weeks putting to practice the theories that a.) she will say and do anything to get elected, and/or b.) she will claim many cities in Pennsylvania to be “home,” further exemplifying theory A.

On the other side, Barry Obama seems pretty cool.

But frankly, even with the primary, the draft, Opening Day, the NFL and NFL playoffs, The Masters, the overhyped NCAA Tournament, Easter, Passover and St. Patrick’s Day and the accompanying parade of songs by The Pogues ready to blast off, the issue that has everyone worked into a lather is the status of the Phillies’ fifth starter.

You know, the guy who likely won’t appear in his first game until the second week of the season.

Frankly, give me The Pogues… or even something derivative like The Dropkick Murphy’s[1]. Let someone else wax on about the fifth starter.

The PoguesOK. The fifth starter… forget about it. No matter what anyone says, handicaps or conventional wisdom. Adam Eaton, and all that’s left of his $24.5 million salary, will continue to be the No. 5 starter until he no longer can be the No. 5 starter. No, that’s not some sort of cryptic hocus-pocus. It means that as long as there is nothing physically wrong with Eaton’s back, shoulder, mental or cardiovascular games, the Phillies will keep trotting him out there. They did the same thing last year even though Eaton went 10-10 with a 6.29 ERA (glass half full: he was 7-3 on the road and shoved it up the Mets’ collective rears at Shea).

So unless Eaton’s arm or back falls off or he’s clubbed so badly that he’s reduced to sitting Indian-style on the mound with one shoe on and the other in his non-glove hand and beating himself on top of his head with the cleated end and the new-look, throwback jersey defaced with Sharpie scrawl with the word “dog” between “Eaton” and “21,” count on the veteran right-hander to keep taking the ball once every five days.

Or who knows… maybe Eaton will split starts with Kris Benson if he is recovered and ready to go come late April or early May. Perhaps the Phillies will go to a six-man rotation like the Red Sox did last September in preparation for the playoffs. Hey, with this Phillies club something like that could work.

Why not? Brett Myers is returning to the rotation after a year in the ‘pen followed by a career of inconsistent starting pitching; Cole Hamels has never pitched more than 183 innings in any season and has suffered an injury in every season going back to his high school days; Kyle Kendrick has turned in uglier numbers than Eaton this spring and probably would have started the 2008 season at Triple-A if he hadn’t been pressed into service last year; and then there is steady, 45-year-old Jamie Moyer who has seemingly turned in 200-plus innings every year going back to the Reagan Administration.

A six-man rotation? Sure, why not. Or maybe a modified six-man rotation with certain pitchers jumping up a day based on matchups or the importance of a particular game.

In other words, forget about the fifth guy… who will take the No. 6 spot?

[1] Apparently, The Dropkick Murphys and Ted Leo are playing in Dorchester at the IBEW Local 103 this Friday night. Talk about Irish… that’s more Irish than a Friday night with a bottle of Jameson and my Mick uncles and their bloodshot eyes. Everyone is welcome as long as they bring their own tin whistle, four-string and ride home.

Fully engaged?

Barack & HillaryToday is another Super Tuesday of sorts in the Presidential primary races. It gets the all-encompassing “super” moniker simply because of the implications the races in Vermont, Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island. For the Republicans it means that shoo-in nominee John McCain will collect the necessary delegates to put him over the top.

On the Democrats side, a four-state sweep by Barack Obama could push Hillary Clinton’s Presidential bid to the brink. However, if Clinton wins the two delegate-rich states in Texas and Ohio, be ready for a full-court press by both candidates before the Pennsylvania primary on April 22.

Here comes the understatement of the week: There is a lot at stake today.

But that fact has been known for a very long time. In fact, media reports indicate that the 2008 bid for the White House has galvanized voters of all ages in ways that have not been seen in a very long time. People are engaged in the process, they are listening to the speeches out on the campaign trail, dial up the relevant news on the Internet, and have turned out to the polls in record numbers.

Everyone is engaged, especially 20-something year-old voters, who, according to reports, have turned off the ridiculous YouTube videos and dived into the national discourse. Better yet, those folks are asking questions and confronting conventional wisdom… these are all very good things. Frankly, it should make all citizens, regardless of political philosophy, to see so many people engaged.

It is an exciting time in our history.

But according to an story by Jeff Pearlman, there is one subset of folks whose precarious bubble has not been pierced to allow reality inside. That group?

Major League Baseball players.

According to Pearlman’s story, there are little fraternity houses in every ballpark around the country where Maxim magazine, the lack of fuel efficiency of one’s Hummer, and the run-of-the-mill superficiality of the bling-bling culture have not been offset by a true historical moment. Yes, according to Pearlman, baseball players are as dumb as ever.

Chronicling his visit with the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals and the lack of political discourse therein, Pearlman charted the top 10 topics of discussion. They were:

Indeed, a top 10 list of spring training topics discussed by ballplayers would look something like this:

2. Free sunglasses
3. Breasts
4-5. Jesus/golf (tie)
6. Dinner options
7. The Kyle Kendrick YouTube video
8. Britney Spears
9. Strip clubs
10. More Jesus/golf (tie)

C.J. WilsonNot every player is so switched off, though. One who was not shy about discussing his disdain for his teammates’ apathy was reliever C.J. Wilson, a left-hander who has been described as a Taoist and adheres to the Ian MacKaye-inspired “Straight Edge” philosophy of personal politics. When asked who amongst his teammates is as interested in the Presidential races as he, Wilson glumly answered, “No one.”

“It’s frustrating,” Wilson told Pearlman. “I’d say there are two reasons. One, there’s a general lack of education among us. But two – and most important – you’re talking about a population that makes a ton of money, so the ups and downs of the economy don’t impact whether we’re getting paid. Therefore, we often don’t care.”

“It’s not that complex,” Wilson says. “Baseball players think about baseball.”

That’s true. Baseball players get paid a lot of money to play a game and there are always dozens of players just waiting to get a chance to bump off another from the lineup. Understandably, there is a lot of pressure involved in keeping such a high-profile and high-paying job.

Yet at the same time there is a ridiculous amount of downtime for professional athletes. Games don’t last all that long and there is only so much time that a player can devote to workouts and treatments and whatever other job-related tasks. As a result, Pearlman’s list is pretty apt, though he seems to have missed on the ballplayers’ devotion to gambling, card playing and crossword puzzles as favorite pastimes.

At the same time, maybe Pearlman picked the wrong clubhouse? The Phillies have a few players switched on to issues, if not elective politics. Chase Utley is a budding conservationist and has lent his name to environmental and animal-rights initiatives. Meanwhile, Jimmy Rollins, the team’s player representative, is quietly aware of history regarding civil rights and baseball.

Jamie Moyer runs his Moyer Foundation, which created and funds Camp Erin, the largest national network of bereavement camps for children and teens; Camp Mariposa, for children affected by addiction in their families; The Gregory Fund, for early cancer-detection research; and The Moyer Foundation Endowment for Excellence in Pediatric Palliative Care for Seattle’s Children’s Hospital.

Additionally, Moyer’s father-in-law, Digger Phelps, worked for the Office of National Drug Control Policy and also served as an observer in the 1993 elections in Cambodia.

Those things are little more involved than simply following along with the process. Still, baseball players have – and various athletes in general – have picked up the label as being nothing more than “dumb jocks.” Some have chided golfer Tiger Woods for refusing to take a stand on various racial and political issues. Meanwhile, Michael Jordan famously failed to endorse African-American democratic senatorial candidate Harvey Gantt in his early 1990s race against arch-conservative Jesse Helms in North Carolina, because, as Jordan stated at the time, “Republicans buy sneakers, too[1].”

That’s hardly as inspiring as Ali’s, “I ain’t got no quarrel with no Viet Cong,” but perhaps Jordan and Woods have to protect their corporate interests first? If that’s the case, how does one define ex-cyclist, turned marathoner, Lance Armstrong, who has been nothing if outspoken in endorsing political candidates and calling out others for their failure to work for improved cancer research and better health care?

Greg Odenwhat about Greg Oden, the top pick in last summer’s NBA draft? Out with an injury for the entirety of the season, Oden has spent his time following the campaigns and musing about them on his blog. In a recent interview with The Washington Post’s, Michael Wilbon, Oden admitted some of his naiveté about politics, but said he is committed to being fully engaged in the process.

“I can’t even imagine that now, knowing enough to govern a city or a state,” Oden told Wilbon. “I’m just at the point where I’m watching CNN more than I ever have, listening to the candidates. I’m not the most educated guy in the world on the issues, but I’m getting there.”

During various campaign stops, Oden has had a telephone conversation with Obama and introduced First Lady Laura Bush at a campaign event. He admitted that both events were quite nerve-wracking.

Nevertheless, Oden has come out with an endorsement for Obama on his blog and says the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I can’t say I know every single one of his policies by heart,” Oden told Wilbon, “but I’ve done enough homework to know what I like about him. I really feel more strongly about young people voting, about making an educated decision. I’m not trying to tell people what to do or who to vote for, just to educate themselves and participate. What could be the harm in that?”

None. None at all. Perhaps all this engagement could have some sort of influence on our democracy and maybe even get a few more folks involved.

Also by Pearlman: Nomar is a creep.

[1] To be fair, Jordan contributed money to Gantt’s campaign and has also been a contributor to Bill Bradley’s and Obama’s run for the White House. Plus, people have the right to shut-up, too.