The 2010 Sportsman of the Year Debate… Kobe by Default

December 27, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless, and Optimist Prime.

Well, 2010 was special year for sports fans!

Several very long-standing championship droughts ended, as the New Orleans Saints (43 year drought), Chicago Blackhawks (49 year drought), and the San Francisco Giants (56 year drought) each won championships in their respective leagues.

For those of us with a deep sense of national pride in our sports teams, the Men’s U.S. Hockey and Soccer teams treated us all to some of the most exciting and dramatic athletic performances of the year in the Winter Olympics and World Cup, respectively.

Speaking of soccer, 2010 will always be a special sports year to me as my alma mater, The University of Akron, won their first ever National Championship by claiming the College Cup in very exciting fashion over the Louisville Cardinals.

The year also had its share of goats.

LeBron James’ “Decision” proved to be a PR nightmare, Rex Ryan apparently has a foot “thing,” and we learned about everything from travel destinations to bathroom habits thanks to the incessant media bombardment of “Tiger Watch” and “Favre Watch.”

Like I said, 2010 was a special year.

But even with those spectacular performances and storylines, the task of naming a Sportsman of the Year is tricky. You see, despite the exciting performances that we were all treated to as fans, no one really separated themselves from the pack in terms of individual performances.

Sure, there are some obvious default options to look to. Drew Brees certainly became the face of the NFL in 2010 after leading the Saints to their first ever Super Bowl championship. Here’s the problem – I credit Sean Payton, not Drew Brees, with winning that game. While Brees had a remarkable season leading up to that Super Bowl, it is important to note that performance came in 2009, not 2010. So far this year Brees has played well, but Tom Brady and Michael Vick (along with several others) have been far more impressive.

Being quarterback of the championship NFL team is not enough on its own to earn the “Sportsman of the Year” crown.

Moving on to baseball, several pitchers tried to make cases for themselves. In the post-season, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Tim Lincecum all pitched to historic levels. Halladay’s post-season no-hitter was the greatest individual performance, but Lee’s and Lincecum’s pitching had far more significant value for their teams.

All three pitched exceptionally well, but once again none separated themselves enough from the others to claim the title.

In golf, Phil Mickelson’s emotional victory at the Masters was the perfect start to the 2010 season, but Lefty proved unable to do anything more as the season played out. After winning his third Green Jacket, Mickelson could do no better than taking one more second place finish, and only six top-ten finishes on the year.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge Jimmie Johnson’s accomplishments in NASCAR this year, having won his FIFTH consecutive Sprint Cup Championship. He has become nothing less than a one-man dynasty, and is right now the single most dominant person in sports. The only reason I am hesitant in recognizing Johnson any further is that I am forced to now question the quality of his competition. With all due respect to his accomplishments, are his championships the result of Johnson being that good, or is it that the rest of the field is that bad?

By default, we are forced to look to the NBA to find our Sportsman of the year.

In the NBA, names like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Carmelo Anthony dominated headlines. Free agency in 2010 was undeniably the biggest sports story of the year, overshadowing even the NBA Finals. But it is Kobe Bryant who should be recognized as the Sportsman of 2010.

This year, Bryant quietly led the Los Angeles Lakers to a second consecutive NBA Championship. I never thought I would use the words “Kobe Bryant” and “quietly” in the same sentence, but in a year where it seemed that LeBron James was the ONLY person being talked about in the NBA, Bryant proved definitively that his Lakers, not LeBron’s Cavaliers (or now the Miami Heat) were the absolute best in the game. He led the Lakers to a Western Conference-leading 57 wins, and unofficially resolved the “Kobe versus LeBron” debate. This year brought Bryant the fifth title in his career, and the 17th in the history of the Lakers’ franchise.

Bryant’s stability and leadership (I really can’t believe I am writing this…) carried the Lakers into the post-season and through the Finals. When all the world was enamored with the courtship of LeBron James, Bryant busied himself with winning a championship.

Through nothing but his phenomenal talent, Kobe Bryant continues to keep the Lakers as the team to beat in the NBA. No matter how great the Miami super-team may hope to be, they are still playing in Kobe’s league.

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The 2010 Sportsman of the Year Debate… The Once and Future King

December 27, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan, and Optimist Prime.

In 2010 LeBron James not only redefined himself, but perhaps all of professional sports as well. Though he has been thoroughly scrutinized and lambasted for the way he set about this redefinition, it may just be the price one has to pay for experiencing growing pains as one of the most public sports figures in the world.

Critics, fans, and whole cities came to despise LeBron James in the wake of The Decision, but I believe his announcement on national T.V. was ultimately more good than bad, more help than harm, and more hope than heartbreak.

Everyone thought they knew LeBron James best. Cleveland, New York, and Chicago all thought they understood the man and launched campaigns to appeal to what they thought motivated him. In Cleveland, they appealed to his heart, making passionate pleas to his sense of loyalty. Chicago played to his competitive nature adding players – like Carlos Boozer – that most analysts thought would put James in a position to win, given his particular style of play. New York appealed to King James’ ego offering him the treasury and throne in what may very well be the capital of the sports world. But in the end LeBron shocked them all and did what few saw coming before the day The Decision, announcing he would take less money and share the limelight in order to assemble quite possibly the most the most dominant super team the world has ever seen.

LeBron did the what we all believed was unthinkable. As one of if not the most sought after free agents in sports history he chose team victories over individual accolades, he chose championships over salary and sponsorships, and he put the urge to win above self. While this made him a heel in Chicago, a fool in New York, and public enemy number one in Cleveland, it also made him the Sportsman of the Year in my book.

Profound Consequences

I am certain that those loyal to teams spurned by James will be slow to see what he did as a positive (it might take Sports Geek and Bleacher Fan 50 years or so to come around), but that is exactly what it was – a good thing for both professional sports and athletes. LeBron proved it was possible for a player to put competitiveness and team success above self and still make it a profitable proposition.

While it is a crushing blow for sports mega-markets like New York, it opens up a world of possibilities for other franchises throughout the league. Maybe it is a sign that a fat stack of cash doesn’t guarantee players like it used to, and then again maybe its not. But it definitely provides a glimmer of hope for the rest of the league. Likewise, I am certain that franchises like Cleveland will view this as the nail in the coffin on the long term competitiveness of small markets without squads of superstars to attract more, but that is not necessarily the case either. This decision was also about who LeBron wanted to play alongside with as much as it was about the competitiveness.

Before the off-season arrived, James had been making public musings about free agents basically colluding for the betterment of a particular franchise. He suggested that if players like Bosh and James decide together where they thought they could make the biggest impact they could change the NBA’s landscape in a big way, and that’s exactly what they did. While maybe not completely within the rules, it does evolve the empowerment of the modern free agent.

Since James’ epic decision there has already been evidence of trickle down effects in other sports. Major League Baseball recently watched the hot stove pursuit of ace pitcher Cliff Lee take a James-ian turn as he turned down more lucrative contracts with New York and Texas in order to sign with a club he simply wanted to play for more. Just as was the case with King James, Lee’s addition to superstar players like Roy Halladay, Cole Hammels, and Roy Oswalt makes for one of the most dominant pitching staffs in team history, possibly MLB history. This trend could very well spread to the NFL this off-season and reshape the competitive landscape there as well. The fallout from James’ choice is as immense in its magnitude as it is controversial.

King Sized Perks

LeBron made his off-season choice known in a grandiose TV special that exceeded even the wildest of expectations in terms of anticipated hype. While “The Decision” may not have lived up to the anticipation in terms of climactic drama, it no doubt captured the attention of the nation. ESPN’s one hour special on the LeBron’ signing was the highest rated program on television the night it aired, and clearly caught the attention of more than just serious NBA fans. What’s more is a large portion of the profits from the special were donated to the Boys and Girls Club. Critics point to the fact that he could have done more, but in reality he could have done nothing at all. When was the last time you remember an athlete using their free agent leverage for charity? Having trouble? That’s my point exactly. Like a noble monarch, King James let his benefits trickle down to the people and that is a gesture seen far too seldom in sports today.

Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of the NBA…or at least I wasn’t before this season, but all the craze of this post-season’s free agency carried over to the regular season and now I’m hooked. I’ve purchased six tickets to NBA games this season (one of which is a Miami Heat game), which is 600% more than I have purchased in the last decade. While my personal habits do not make for a scientifically significant study, I do believe there is something to be said for LeBron making the NBA more popular during the off-season.

I realized I may not have made a believer out of anyone, but I feel that LeBron James deserves more credit than he has received. He was the biggest story in all of sports this year and the positive impact of that legacy earns him my vote for Sportsman of The Year.

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The Yankees Free Agent Attraction Debate Verdict

December 21, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless.

There are many different prophecies of those things that will signal the end times – falling skies, boiling seas, broken seals, death riding on a pale horse, dogs and cats living together, MASS HYSTERIA!

The Yankees failing to sign any of their top free agent targets did not make the list, though, so all you fans of the Bronx Bombers can rest easy tonight. Michael Stipe will not be singing his anthem song.

It is true that the Yankees were dealt a very difficult sucker-punch in the ego region as they were turned down (or perhaps not even considered) by both Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford, but as Babe Ruthless points out in his winning argument, this should not be taken at anything more than face value.

Because of unique circumstances, the New York Yankees were not the preferred destination for two baseball players. Nothing more, nothing less.

Don’t get me wrong. Loyal Homer is absolutely correct in stating that everyone (including us) expected the Yankees to land at least one big fish. The fact that they failed to do so this year raises questions about the allure the Yankees actually possess. But I just do not believe that you can allow the admittedly surprising decisions of two athletes to serve as a generalization of shifting tides in Major League Baseball.

There are two “usual” reasons that drive a free agent toward choosing one team over another – money, or the promise of a championship. Realistically speaking, are the New York Yankees lacking in either of those arenas?

As far as money is concerned, the Yankees have proven that they are still the standard bearers. They offered Cliff Lee a far more lucrative deal than the Phillies did, but as Babe Ruthless highlights, it became evident that money was not the most important factor in Cliff Lee weighing his options. Meanwhile, in terms of championship contention the Yankees still remain a favorite every year for the post-season. They are only one year removed from a World Series championship, and last year entered the ALCS as favorites to once again represent their League in the World Series.

The reasons why Crawford and Lee chose to play elsewhere this year are certainly intriguing, and I would recommend that Brian Cashman head back to the drawing board to analyze exactly where they went wrong. The business manager in me believes that there is ALWAYS room for improvement, and this could serve as a critical learning opportunity for a team that perhaps allowed arrogance to make them lazy in their pursuit of people who they REALLY wanted. But there is absolutely no reason to believe that it signifies a shift in the free agent mindset.

For any top-tier baseball free agent with a desire to earn a RIDICULOUS salary while at the same time contending ANNUALLY for a championship, the New York Yankees will continue to play the role of the alpha male.

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The Yankees Free Agent Attraction Debate

December 20, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless.

Allow me to apologize on behalf of all of us here at The Sports Debates for breaking the first rule of clichés.

That’s right – we assumed. And you all know what happens when someone assumes…

So, what is it that we assumed? Well, we assumed that the Yankees would get AT LEAST Carl Crawford or Cliff Lee in free agency this off-season, if not both of them.

As it turns out, we were wrong.

With Carl Crawford now playing in Fenway, and Cliff Lee returning to the city of brotherly love, the Yankees are for the first time in a long time watching their truckloads of money come back to the Bronx with their deliveries refused.

This very shocking turn of free agency events begs a new and unexpected question: Are the post-George Steinbrenner Yankees still the main destination point for free agents in baseball?

Yankees’ money used to mean something in baseball, but this year the top free agents left millions of that money on the table to play elsewhere. Loyal Homer believes that this is a sign that market tides are shifting in baseball and free agents are looking for more than just chasing the Yankee dollar. Babe Ruthless, however, feels this off-season was an anomaly and that the Yankees are still the premier destination point for free agents.

Before we begin, though, I want to offer a bit of advice to both our debaters. Unlike Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford, I CAN be bought for a truckload of money.

Begin…

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The Yankees Free Agent Attraction Debate… Still The Empire State

December 20, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

John Lennon is credited with once saying, “Today America is the Roman Empire and New York is Rome itself.” While I normally don’t find much common ground with deceased drugged out communist hippies, this may be the rare exception. New York is indeed the center of the baseball world and the Yankees are its clear monarch.

I realize there is a lot of irony in comparing New York to the capital of a once great but fallen empire, especially in a debate about the continued reign of NYC as the epicenter of free agent appeal. But I believe the comparison is appropriate nonetheless. I do not make the assumption that the Yankees will rule the baseball world forever, as the Yanks are always just two words away from losing a great deal of competitive advantage (those words being “salary cap”). But I know for certain that their days of ruling are not over.

Making Mountains Out of Molehills

There has been a lot of talk lately about the Yanks falling off. Talk that they have lost the power to land their man, and that in the post George Steinbrenner era, New York is no longer the main destination for free agents. These claims are unsubstantiated and preposterous!

These critics are trying to make something out of nothing. What evidence is there to support these ideas? While it is true that the Yankees failed to sign Cliff Lee, is that really the end of the world? Does it truly signify the end of the Evil Empire? Absolutely not.

The Cliff Lee debacle was an aberration. It is not indicative of a normal free agent pursuit. Lee did something no one expected. He took a deal for less total cash to go to a team that no one thought was a contender at all. Lee chose the Philadelphia Phillies over both the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers. Reports indicated that he chose the Phillies for varying reasons. Some reports indicated that he simply fell in love with the team and the city during his stint with the Phillies last season, and others point to his family’s preference not to live in the Big Apple. One such story even indicated that Lee’s wife could not get over an incident where she was spat upon by an unruly New York fan. If that is true then who in their right mind would believe that any amount of money would have brought Lee and his family to New York? We are talking about putting a price tag on his families pride and well being, and I simply don’t think anyone can really expect that to happen. The Cliff Lee signing was anything but business as usual, so it really cannot be lauded as the end of the empire.

A Big Deal Or A Non-Factor?

Similar to the way the Yanks failure to land Lee was overblown by critics in the media, much ado is being made about the fact that the team did not acquire free agent outfielder Carl Crawford either. This is being proposed as a cause for panic in the Yankees’ Universe, but again this is not being considered in the greater context of the off-season.

Even before Crawford signed with the division rival Red Sox, the Yankees made it clear pitching was their main concern. That made Crawford expendable to the Yanks, who made it abundantly clear that they would not be putting their efforts into a push for another outfielder. With Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, and Brett Gardner already capably patrolling the outfield, Brian Cashman and company determined that signing Crawford was not a necessity (contrary to what Bleacher Fan and I may have felt here at TSD earlier this year), and put all their eggs in Cliff Lee’s basket.

So how is it that failing to acquire a player that a team admittedly deemed a non-priority is a signal of a loss of power? The answer is… it isn’t!

Lee did what most professional players never do and put preference above money, and Crawford was a non-factor… a backup plan from the beginning of the off-season. Neither of these two player signings are an indication of things to come. Count me among those aren’t ready to declare that the sky is falling because two players didn’t choose to sign with Yankees.

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The Yankees Free Agent Attraction Debate… Money Doesn’t Buy Free Agents Anymore

December 20, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

‘Tis the season to be jolly!!! Unfortunately, I’m not sure how jolly it is from a baseball standpoint for New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. First, Carl Crawford decided to take his talents to Beamtown, and then last week, Cliff Lee, long rumored to be destined for the Bronx (I even wrote about the need for Lee last month) decided to return to the city of Brotherly Love to pitch for the Phillies. This is quite the change from yesteryear, when the Yankees seemingly had no trouble whatsoever getting any free agent they wanted. That was then, this is now. Cashman is supposed to play Santa this time of year, and right now, Santa isn’t delivering.

Bleacher Fan is asking the Babe and myself if New York is no longer the main destination for free agents, and I would have to say that it really isn’t the main destination.

The school of thought used to be, “Well if the Yankees want him, they’ll get him.” We all thought that was possibly the case while watching Lee pitch this post-season. We’ve let these types of thoughts enter our minds because as we often say, “they’re the Yankees.” They have the biggest wallets. They have the biggest fan base. They have the most history. They have the pinstripes. Well, this off-season, they have the most egg on their face.

Why, is a good question here. With Lee, the Yankees went to seven years in contract value for a pitcher that is currently 32 years old. Various reports had Lee bypassing close to $30M to pitch in Philadelphia rather than in New York. That really is astonishing if you think about it. Perhaps playing for the Yankees doesn’t have the same allure that is used to. I’m sure Babe Ruthless and other diehard Yankees fans truly don’t believe that, but it could be on the verge of being true. Part of the reason the Yankees are so polarizing is because the average fan feels like they try to buy the World Series. I’ve said that numerous times over the years with all of their high profile free agent signings of guys like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Texiera, C.C. Sabathia, Jason Giambi, etc. If they don’t get all the high profile guys anymore (and they didn’t this off-season), and have to settle for guys like Russell Martin and an older Mark Prior, then maybe they truly are losing a little bit of steam.

And then there’s the incident that was rumored to have happened in the ALCS this past off-season at Yankee Stadium involving Lee’s wife, Kristen. She was harassed repeatedly at Yankee Stadium, with beer tossed in her direction and obscenities shouted at her throughout much of the night. Now, fans will be fans, and that’s all well and good and part of it. But to treat a player’s wife like that is unacceptable, and that kind of behavior can’t sit well with ANY player. Now, both Lee and his wife downplayed the incident last week and said it had no bearing on his decision to not sign with the Yankees. I just have a hard time believing that the issues from this past post-season never entered into the picture.

The bottom line is that the Yankees have lost their grip as THE main destination for free agent. It’s no longer a given that the Yankees’ organization will get every marquee free agent it wants. This off-season has proven that, and Babe Ruthless, I hate to tell you buddy, but it’s not going to get any better for you anytime soon!
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The Who Should the Yankees Sign Debate Verdict

November 8, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer.

While the post-season celebration in the City by the Bay may finally start cooling off, the old Hot Stove is just heating up. Mere days removed from the San Francisco Giants World Series championship, some 29 other teams are already thinking about how to unseat the Giants during the 2011 season.

With huge contracts and blockbuster deals in the works, the baseball landscape as we know it could be in for a major overall. The actions in the days to come serves as a crucial indicator for the upcoming season as teams make statements about their willingness to compete or rebuild by being buyers or sellers on the off-season market. It is during this pivotal time that championship contenders are made. This is a very exciting time for a baseball obsessed seam-heads like myself, but especially so for Yankees’ fans in particular.

The Yanks are already making waves with high profile drama about the anxiety ridden task of finding an appropriate deal for the Yankees captain, Derek Jeter. But the Bombers will not be content to just sit on their laurels and re-sign core players. This season is about reloading. Now, deciding which free agents and players on the trading block are worth the asking price, and which players are the next overpaid (yeah I’m talking to you Javier Vasquez and Carl Pavano), is the necessity of the time.

There has been much speculation that the Yankees will make a run at acquiring Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford. While the Yankees have the economic resources to sign both players (not to mention pay off a good portion of the national deficit while they are at it), today’s debate explores the hypothetical scenario of: If the Yankees could only sign one person between free agent pitcher Cliff Lee and free agent outfielder Carl Crawford, who should the team sign?

Bleacher Fan provided what can be aptly called a thorough argument for the Yankees to sign free agent left fielder Carl Crawford. His main premise hinged on the fact that while the addition of Lee would be nice, it was not necessary. I have to admit that I wasn’t completely convinced that the need for another top tier pitcher would be entirely superfluous, but his description of the advantages of adding Crawford to the Yankees’ lineup were undeniable.

The Yankees have clearly been moving towards a more all around athletic club. This ascension of players, like Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson, are proof enough of that, and Crawford fits that mold perfectly. He brings the speed of the former with the power of the latter. Not to mention the best fielding in the AL. It is tough to argue with the attractiveness of adding a player like that, but Loyal Homer was more than willing to give it a try.

Loyal Homer made a strong case for the New York Yankees to acquire free agent pitching phenom Cliff Lee. As is often the case in Yankee Universe, the team has become enamored with a player that has dominating success against the Yankees. As Loyal Homer adeptly points out, Lee nearly single handedly eliminated the Yankees from the playoffs, and if that doesn’t qualify as success against a given team then I don’t know what does. This has no doubt made him an all the more attractive option for the Bombers. Add to that the fact that the Yankees made a huge push for Lee and failed to land him before the trade deadline, and we are talking about team wants Lee more than Brett Favre wants attention.

Aside from C.C. Sabathia, the Yankees’ rotation is about as stable as a Milton Bradley meltdown. Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett are both hot and cold pitchers that cannot be counted on during the post-season. As Loyal Homer’s observes, Andy Pettite’s Brett Favre-esque “will he or won’t he” retirement melodrama only serves to further undermine the stability of the rotation. So it’s clear that acquiring Lee would be a great first step in shoring up a beleaguered rotation, not to mention providing them with a great one-two punch in the post-season.

What ultimately determined the outcome of this debate was a statement Loyal Homer made about what might have been if the Yankees acquired Lee in July, rather than see him slip to the Rangers.

We all know that scenario actually played out – with Texas beating the Yankees in six games and going on to their first World Series in franchise history – but Loyal Homer’s hypothetical scenario got me thinking about how the 2010 post-season would have played out with Lee in pinstripes. The Yankees probably would still have beaten the Twins, and would probably handled a Lee-less Rangers rotation with relative ease. But would the World Series have proven any better for the Yankees than it did for the Rangers?

I have to believe it would not.

Lee proved less effective in the World Series, and that was with a much hotter offense than the Yankees displayed this October. Although Lee’s presence would undeniably make the Yankees a better team, there is no proof that it would have made the Yankees into World Series champs. In fact, the evidence points to the contrary. Crawford, on the other hand, packs more potential. Based off of the numbers that Bleacher Fan presented, it seems likely that Crawford’s potent bat behind Derek Jeter would certainly prove more effective. It could even have a trickledown effect providing relief to the rest of the lineup by bumping a bigger bat like Nick Swisher further back in the order and removing questionable DHs like Marcus Thames altogether. While Crawford isn’t a sure thing (because really, who is besides Mariano Rivera) he has more potential upside given his track record. That’s why I’m awarding this debate win to the Bleacher Fan. While I don’t have a fat contract offer for you, you have my congratulations and another notch in the victory column.

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