Monday, September 14, 2009

Great White Hope

"Lets get to the root of this: What's the Mets' fan love affair with Daniel Murphy?"

-Mike Francesa, 09/14

I didn't want to bother making another baseball post now that pigskin season is mercifully underway, but a call from Carol from Bayside making comments like "I don't understand why you're giving Daniel Murphy such a hard time, he's such a nice player!", "at least he speaks English" and "I'd rather have Murphy than Carlos Beltran, wouldn't you, Mike?"The fact the producer let a baseball call onto a football Monday show is a separate issue, but the bigger problem is the fanbase's perception of the team and its general manager, Omar Minaya. Callers like Carol are the same people who cling to the 'Los Mets' moniker Anna Benson gave the team after her husband was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for relief pitcher Jorge Julio and a throw-in starting pitcher Caucasian John Maine -guess she forgot that part. They're the same people who want Carlos Beltran out of town because of one at-bat defining his Met tenure even though he's infinitely more 'clutch' than fan favorite David Wright. They complain about the constant acquisition of Hispanic players as well as the language barrier in the clubhouse and media. They want GAMERSSSS, and GRINDERSSSS, like those on the mostly English-speaking Philadelphia Phillies, and perceive the play of Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran as 'soft' -Robinson Cano gets this treatment as well from many Yankee fans.

So when Daniel Murphy was called up in August and lit the world on fire, spraying doubles from left to right, fans found a new white player to rally around. Omar Minaya, supposed Latino-orchestrator, pinned a major portion of the success of the 2009 season on the development of Murphy, opting not to sign corner outfielders Raul Ibanez and Bobby Abreu -Spanish-speaking players enjoying great campaigns this year. Just four games after Murphy went deep in Great American Smallpark in Cincinnati, he botched a fly ball in sunny LandShark Stadium and continued to play left field -and bat- on rollerskates, showing no range, athletic ability, power or plate discipline. Carlos Delgado's hip injury gave Murphy the opportunity to minimize embarrassing himself on the field by playing a representative first base, but hitting like a catcher, posting a .717 OPS. After 580 professional at-bats, it's looking like Murphy's ceiling will be a career in pinch hitting. Yet the calls to "lay off him" persist on the talk radio air waves.

What's lost in the arguments from 'Los Mets' fans are all the crappy Caucasians Minaya's signed, traded and drafted, including Brian Schneider, Tim Redding, Sean Green, Jeremy Reed and a litany of mediocre college players including a boat load of relievers who have done squat. It's too bad so many people are so shortsighted, because Minaya DOES deserve to be relieved of his duties, but not because of any Latino conspiracy.

The Bizman on how the Niners went from Strictly Biz-ness to Strictly A-biz-mal.

Hot on the heels of the Big Dood's bangin Big Blue preview comes the Bizman with a scintillating San Fran reminisce. Should be noted that while eternal frenemies the Almighty Bizman aka II-Dope and Furdz aka Sam Boomz have had their fair share of disagreements dating back to their infamous battles on the crooked streetz of (trife-life-get-your-dome-checked) Tribeca, they both shared love for Niner football and Joe Cool back in the dizzay. So much so that a young Boomz forced a young Coachie 2 peep Joe Montana QB for a mediocre Chief team on Monday Night Football whilst lounging in a lavish Quebec City hotel room.

Anyhoo, the bizman speaks:

The San Francisco 49ers. Remember them? I’ll bet it’s been a minute since you’ve given them a second- or even a first- thought. They’ve been Team Irrelevant for a good five seasons now. But man, remember when?

I am what you could generously call a lapsed 49ers fan. When I started watching football around the 1986-87 season, I had no rooting interests. My dad didn’t have any particular allegiances beyond liking the local teams to win. Of my two best friends in elementary school, one was a Giants fan, one was a Jets fan. Meanwhile, I came to realize that these teams were on television every single week and were boring me. (This, it should be noted, absolutely holds true for me now as well. Familiarity bred contempt, but I have managed to lessen my dislike of the omnipresent local teams to a practiced degree of indifference, although I’m always up for a bad loss just so I can read the Armageddon-Is-Coming sports section in the Post the next day.)

I can’t pinpoint exactly when I decided to follow them, but after seeing highlights and a few playoff games, I saw that the Niners were different, were more exciting than the same boring old conservative NFC East teams. Look at all this passing!

[Sidebar: I like passing. It is a little-known fact (inexplicably so) that the pass opens up the run, but it is an even less-known fact that, as my extensive, hands-on Tecmo Super Bowl research will attest to, the pass opens up the pass, which leads to scores galore.]

So, let’s go Niners. What the hey. And it was a mighty good run, other than some rough playoff defeats at the hands of the Giants and ‘Boys. You could almost always rely on a good show- Montana’s brutal efficiency and Rice effortlessly open, Young’s brutal efficiency (and crazy running!) and Rice effortlessly open, Roger Craig and an underrated string of excellent pass-catching RBs (“Stillllll” Watters, William Randolph Hearst, Garner “More Yards”). Down to third-string? No problem! The Niners even had the White Willie Beamen in Steve “Shh, It’s” Bono. Bill Walsh left the sidelines? No problem! Enter George Seifert, a terrible college coach many years back (at Cornell, no less!) under whom the offense ran as smoothly as a Big daddy Kane silk shirt....

Sure, their last Super Bowl title (and appearance) was in 1994, but they remained a perennial playoff team. Young was forced to retire and in stepped Jeff Garcia, whose current sad incarnation (cut by the Raiders!) should not overshadow the fact that he was fee-nominal in his prime. 2001- 32 TDs passing, 5 rushing (!). A then-inoffensive T.O. took the mantle from Rice and owned the league, posting double-digit TDs three straight seasons. Thing was, they seemed to lose to the Packers in the playoffs every year, except for that one fantastic game where Young found Owens in the end zone for the winning score as time wound down (essentially Owens’ “I have arrived” moment).

The last hurrah was in 2002. After the Niners’ furious, highly improbable, long-snapper-crying, no-penalty-call-assisted comeback against the Giants in the wacky 39-38 playoff game (yeah, you like that, Shockey, standing there looking stupid on the sidelines), they were absolutely throttled by the eventual Super Bowl champion Bucs. By midway through the first quarter, I was thoroughly deflated (and disgusted with the team’s lack of effort).

Coach Mariucci was fired and replaced by in-over-his-head Dennis Erickson (yeah, he was great with the Seahawks, too). In 2003, the Niners lost five games by 3 points or less and finished 7-9. And then things really went bad.

T.O. managed to run Garcia out of town, then wrote his own ticket to Philly. With Garrison Hearst breaking down, there went the offense, just like that. Poof, gone. The replacements were Tim “Picks Ay-Day” Rattay, nobody at wide receiver, and Kevan “Lower than Low” Barlow. Not exactly Montana/Craig/Rice.

Years and years of skillfully (but perhaps not completely legally) skirting the salary cap finally caught up to the team, and free agency was no longer a viable option. Drafting went south in a hurry. Over the next five seasons, the Niners finished in the in the top 25 in defense and in offense one time each. Once! There are only 32 teams! No receiver topped 850 yards. Alex Smith? One first overall pick and $25 million guaranteed later, he’s on the bench. Nate Clements? On a team where everything is a problem, $80 million for an overrated cornerback may not be the best start. Brandon Lloyd? Lots of dudes can jump, doesn’t mean they’re any good.

In all honesty, I had to research exactly what happened in the years since 2002, because I had almost completely stopped following the team out of sheer boredom and my concurrent rising interest in fantasy football. In my mind, the Niners are much more fun as the top team in Tecmo (way better than the Giants, child please, Brent Jones will always catch that pass over the middle on the blitz), banned from competing against almost all squads because they were too damn good.

Last season offered a glimmer of hope with the firing of Mike Martz, a strong finish under a coach who seems to have some idea what he’s doing (Mike Singletary gave a motivational speech in my office a couple years ago, and no, he did not drop trou) and the great fortune of landing the top wide receiver in the land with the #10 pick in the draft (come on, Crabtree, just take the money!)

However, the reality is that the division is no longer a cakewalk (Rams don’t count, they belong in the UFL) - the Cards are a real team, the Seahawks have more than three healthy players- and the Niners, for the most part, are still not good. Unlike Martz, Singletary seems to realize that Frank Gore is by far their best player and should be run into the ground. The defense is coming around, and Shaun Hill is serviceable at quarterback. It’s still a wasteland at wideout, unless Josh Morgan finally becomes, you know, good. As a fan, boy oh boy is this team boring. You cannot even argue that anyone on this team is worth watching (including Gore). Who’s gonna break the big play? No one, that’s who. Not hearing it.

I’d be Michelle Shocked (shocked!) with an 8-8 record. A repeat of last year’s 7-9 sounds about right, but 6-10, given the talent level, should not surprise at all.

Now, back to my fantasy squad.