-I’m going to lead off with golf this week – the USGA announced a MAJOR rules change which effectively will ban all belly putters by outlawing the ‘anchoring’ of any club. I have mixed feelings about this change – I prefer a standard putter myself, as do most, if not all, of my usual playing companions – but I do know some people who swear by long or belly putters. I also think that at the pro level, the evidence that a belly putter generates consistently better results is mixed at best, and basically confined to results from the past two years.
I believe the USGA’s priority should have been to get the technology of the new drivers and (especially) the balls under control – pro players are hitting the ball SO much further today that many classic courses are being rendered obsolete or being subjected to extremely costly renovations to add length. After that, perhaps the putting should have been reviewed, but from the stats I’ve seen the big difference between today’s plays and the players of 1980 has not been putting success – it has been driving distance. Hopefully the ‘powers that be’ in golf will address these issues soon.
-Is there something in the water at Heinz Field? The Steelers are 7-5, having beaten the Giants, Eagles (back when that was an accomplishment), Redskins, and now the Ravens. They have also lost to perhaps the three worst teams in the NFL, the Raiders, Titans, and Browns, and narrowly avoided a loss to the Chiefs.
The Pitt Panthers are 6-6, having lost to Youngstown State, UConn, and Syracuse while clobbering Virginia Tech, Rutgers, and giving Notre Dame a major-league, 3-overtime scare. Why is it that both these teams seem to have played to the level of their competition all season long? Considering the Steelers have two winning teams and two bad teams left, 10-6 seems like a reasonable assumption – with the loss coming to either the Chargers or Browns.
-Speaking of the Steelers, they would be wise to let Big Ben sit another week and make sure he’s TRULY healthy for the last three games and the postseason. Sure, they need every win they can get, but the truth is that it’s really down to the Steelers and the Bengals for the last playoff slot – and that slot is very likely going to be determined by the teams’ Week 16 meeting. Having Ben healthy and productive in that game is far more important than beating the Chargers this week – plus, the Chargers are looking quite beatable even with Batch behind center (which, given Pittsburgh’s year, probably means an OT loss).
-I wrote at length about the NHL last week, but I want to mention that the players and owners are meeting this week without the presence of union head Don Fehr or commissioner Gary Bettman – and Penguins’ co-owner Ron Burkle is now involved for the first time. Burkle is known as a deal-maker in the business world, and the removal of Bettman and Fehr should help everyone get down to the core issues quickly. This is the last, best hope for a season-saving deal – if we don’t see real progress by next week, I fear the entire season will be lost.
-Kudos to what Penn State Coach Bill O’Brien was able to accomplish this season – the win over Wisconsin was great at the time, and looks even better after the Badgers ran roughshod over Nebraska. He also showed the ability to ‘coach up’ unrefined talents like Matt McGloin, which should make Happy Valley a desirable destination for offensive NFL recruits.
Having said that, my Coach of the Year vote would go to Brian Kelly of Notre Dame. PSU’s losses to Ohio and Virginia (the Cavs were 4-8, including 2-6 in the dreadful ACC) won’t magically disappear like JoePa’s win total. In addition, Notre Dame is #1 in football AND #1 in player graduation percentage – and that deserves to be recognized on a national scale.
-On to the Pirates, who have managed to fritter away just about every ounce of goodwill they had built up early this summer. First came the collapse, then came SEAL-gate, now comes their annual overpay on an aging free-agent. Last year it was the combo platter of C Rod Barajas and SS Clint Barmes – look at the bright side, while neither of them hit at least Barmes was a solid defender! Now the Pirates wildly overpaid for the decline phase of C Russell Martin’s career. Now, I’ll gladly concede that the catching market is paper-thin and that Martin may well have been the best available – that still does not justify wasting $17 million over two years on him!
His batting average from 2010-2012 has declined from .248 to .237 to .211, his walk rate has stayed constant but his strikeouts are up considerably, and his defense is average to slightly above. Yes, he can give you some pop – but I’m convinced that Michael McKenry would put up similar numbers if given the starting job, and there are TONS of good-field, no-hit catchers available in the minors. Tony Sanchez, the Bucs’ first-round pick a few years ago, may never become an above-average hitter in the majors but I think he could hit .211, play solid defense, and cost a LOT less.
-In a related move, the Pirates released P Jeff Karstens, most likely because he was due to make almost $4 million through arbitration this season. Yes, he was not durable, but he was extremely effective when healthy and seems a good bet to command more than $5 million on the open market. Releasing Karstens was bad enough, but the Pirates decided to retain Charlie Morton for $2 million, despite the fact that he’s coming off elbow surgery and is likely to miss the first half of the season.
The inconsistency is striking – why release a healthy pitcher yet keep an injured one, especially when Karstens’ results have consistently been better than Morton’s? Why overpay for a poor-hitting catcher a year after letting an above-average hitting catcher (Ryan Doumit) leave for nothing? The biggest question: why did owner Bob Nutting decide to retain this management team despite all the evidence that they are floundering? As usual with the Bucs, there are a LOT more questions than answers.
Dave Glass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.