New Orleans grabs top pick in NBA lottery

Let the NBA mock drafts begin. New Orleans will grab Anthony Davis, and then we’ll see if Micheal Jordan snags Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as Chad Ford predicts, or whether he goes with Thomas Robinson as predicted in the USA Today mock draft.

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If you’ve blinked, you’ve missed some exciting baseball in 2012

If you haven’t been paying attention to Major League Baseball this season, then it’s time to wake up.
Because you’re missing quite a show.

It’s not even June and we’ve already seen a perfect game pitched by Philip Humber and a no-hitter by Jered Weaver. Josh Hamilton hit four home runs in a game against the Orioles on May 8 and by May 29 Melky Cabrera reached 50 hits…in the same month. Chris Sale even struck out 15 batters on Monday and didn’t even pitch eight full innings.

Baseball will never touch the love affair that America has with football, but 2012 already has the makings of the most exciting season in recent memory. When you consider that the Orioles and Nationals are in first place while the Phillies and Red Sox are stuck in the cellar of their divisions, that’s exciting stuff by itself. (Or, at the very least, intriguing stuff.)

So are young players Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, who are raking Major League pitching despite the fact that they’re not even old enough to buy their teammates a beer yet. When you think about what Carlos Beltran and Rafael Furcal are doing in St. Louis, it’s not as if baseball is entirely a young man’s game either. Players from all ages are doing incredible things and making baseball a must-watch every night.

The game has become interesting off the field as well. Since his five-game suspension Ozzie Guillen has held his tongue but he’s still a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. Apparently so is Indians’ closer Chris Perez, who all of a sudden has turned into a walking quote. What’s great is that Perez is also pitching his ass off, so he’s not making headlines just for being a mouthpiece. Just days after he hit one of the more improbable home runs you’ll ever see, Reds rookie Todd Frazier also saved a man’s life by using the Heimlich Maneuver while eating at a downtown Pittsburgh restaurant.

A no-handed home run and the Heimlich Maneuver all in the same week? Fantastic.

Yes, the law of averages is bound to catch up, as we’ve already seen with Albert Pujols. El Hombre entered play on May 6 with a batting average of just .194 with no home runs and five RBI through 114 plate appearances. Since then, he’s raised his average to .238, has blasted eight home runs and has driven in 23 runs. At some point things will come back to the mean in baseball and maybe the intrigue will die down with it.

But whether you’re a diehard or casual fan, it’s fun to watch Major League Baseball these days. Bud Selig has a good product on his hands and the best part is it’s a steroid-free product. (Well, not entirely steroid-free; just ask Guillermo Mota.) Thanks to the nightly feats of guys like Hamilton, Cabrera, and Matt Kemp, the storyline is no longer about how some big-headed monster is chasing down the home run record. Good, clean baseball is on display at ballparks across the nation.

And how refreshing is that?

Terrell Owens gets booted by the team he owns

Just how insufferable is Terrell Owens to work with? Enough for a team that he owns to release him.

That’s right, Owens has been released by the Indoor Football League’s Allen Wranglers, who cited T.O.’s refusal to play in two upcoming road games (which had playoff repercussions) as well as skipping out on a scheduled appearance at a local children’s hospital as reasons for his termination. His ownership stake has also been terminated.

“It’s disappointing and unfortunate,” owner Jon Frankel said in a statement. “But (he) could no longer be tolerated by the Wrangler organization.”

Considering none of the 32 teams has dialed Owens’ number the past two years, that sentiment is likely shared by the NFL as well. He has always taken phenomenal care of his body but given his personality and age, there’s absolutely no chance any team will take a chance on him moving forward. Get yourself released from an IFL team and you can forget any NFL teams contacting you.

Furthermore, what kind of selfish human being is a no-show for an appearance at a lock children’s hospital? Granted, there are always two sides to every story but what was his excuse? That he had to make another appearance on Dr. Phil to bitch about his current financial predicament? What an ass.

The nice thing about Owens’ release from the Wranglers is now he has become even less relevant than he already was. Not that it’s right to bask in others’ misery but this latest setback is downright comical.

One of Baseball’s Wacky Rules

I saw the Mets play the Padres on Friday, and something strange happened. I’d always thought a run that scored on an inning-ending play only counted if the third out had been made on a tag. A force out means no run, right? Wrong.

Get this: in the first inning, Dillon Gee walked the first batter, Will Venable, and got the next one out on a pop-up before giving up a single to Yonder Alonso that moved Venable to third. Then, with runners on the corners and one out, Jesus Guzman hit a shot that looked to be an easy double off the wall, that is, assuming it didn’t clear the fence. Mike Baxter put an end to all that by making the incredible catch you see above before doubling Alonso up at first. Here’s the video.

Venable had crossed the plate before they made the third out, but so what? It was on a force, the run didn’t count, or so I, along with most everyone in the stadium, thought. That “everyone” includes the Mets’ first baseman, Ike Davis, who told the AP, “I gave a first pump because I thought the run wouldn’t count.”

But alas, Ike and I have something in common: we were wrong. Well, that and the fact that we’re both hitting under .200 this year. Then again, I haven’t had 156 at bats (hint: I haven’t had any). Anyway, we both thought the run would be nullified by the double play. It was not, because as is the case with so many of baseball’s finer points, the devil is in the details.

Remember when I told you it was wrong to think a force out means no run? Well, I was lying. See, it’s not that this play was an exception to the rule, that the run counted despite being a force out. Rather, it’s that the second out on a tag up double play like this one isn’t actually a force out. Why, you ask? Well, that requires some definitions. To the rule book, let’s go!

Alright Robin, now that we’ve got our atomic batteries to power and our turbines to speed, I’ll tell you. Rule 2.00 of the Official Baseball Rules states that a force play is one in which “a runner legally loses his right to occupy a base by reason of the batter becoming a runner.” Likewise, Rule 7.08 tell us that “if a following runner is put out on a force play, the force is removed and the runner must be tagged to be put out,” and Rule 7.10(a) states “Any runner shall be called out, on appeal, when after a fly ball is caught, he fails to retouch his original base before he or his original base is tagged.”

So what happened on Friday is this: the force on Alonso was removed when Baxter made that catch, and the third out, which came from the ball getting to first before he could tag up, was technically a tag out. That’s despite it looking so much like a force play.

Funny, isn’t it? Because the definition of a force out is so specific, that of a tag out is the opposite. A tag out doesn’t actually require a runner being tagged with the ball, a base can be “tagged” as well. So basically, a tag out is anything that isn’t a force out. But hey, it’s these little complexities that make baseball so great. It’s one thing for me or Ike Davis to be surprised, we’ve only got 40 years of baseball-watching between us, max. But it’s entirely another that my grandfather, who was there as well, can learn something new about the game he loves after seeing it played for over 75 years. In baseball, there actually is something new under the sun, and that’s what makes it such a beautiful game.

Spagnuolo was a great hire but do Saints the have enough pieces on defense?

Steve Spagnuolo proved in St. Louis that he was overmatched as a head coach but there’s no denying that he’s one hell of a defensive coordinator. That’s why the New Orleans Saints did well to replace Gregg Williams with Spagnuolo when their coordinator position became open last January.

But do the Saints have enough pieces on defense to make Spagnuolo’s scheme work?

Make no mistake, Spagnuolo’s defense has more depth, is more creative, and is more versatile than the one Williams developed over his three-plus decades of coaching. Spags is a disciple of the late Jim Johnson, who was a blitz-happy playcaller but he also played with discipline on the backend.

That’s why New Orleans fans should take comfort in the fact that Spagnuolo will keep the Saints aggressive while also implementing more zone coverage in the secondary. Instead of almost irresponsibly blitzing defenders like Williams, Spags will bring a more calculated approach to his play designs.

That said, you have to wonder whether or not Spagunolo has enough to work with. Leading pass rusher Will Smith has been suspended four games for his role in the team’s bounty scandal and Curtis Lofton, one of the Saints’ free agent signings this offseason, doesn’t have the same coverage skills as Jonathan Vilma (suspended for an entire year).

Can the Saints generate enough pressure with their front four in order for Spags’ defense to be effective? Safety Roman Harper recorded nine sacks last season but if Spagnuolo plans to run a lot of zone, Harper will likely remain in coverage. Junior Galette finished with four sacks last season but he’s only a situational pass rusher and Sedrick Ellis has been a major disappointment since the team selected him with the seventh overall pick in the 2008 draft.

The Rams weren’t very good under Spagnuolo the past three years but one thing they could do was get after the quarterback. Chris Long finished with 13 sacks last season while James Hall and Robert Quinn each had six apiece.

But all three of those players were able to rush the quarterback starting with their hand in the dirt, just like Osi Umenyiora, Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck were able to do while Spags was the defensive coordinator in New York. His schemes work best when the front four is able to generate pressure on its own, which is why he potentially has a problem in New Orleans.

While Williams was able to generate pressure from the secondary, that’s not the way Spagnuolo runs his defense. The Saints simply lack that premier pass rusher and unless 2011 first-round pick Cam Jordan is ready to take the next step in his development, New Orleans could struggle in Spags’ first season as DC.

That’s not to say that Spagnuolo isn’t creative enough to find other avenues to get after the quarterback but Saint fans may have to exercise patience when it comes to their new defensive coordinator. He was an excellent hire but every coach needs the pieces in order for their scheme to work.

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