Saturday, August 22, 2009

SPORTS: Here's One Heatley Idea I Haven't Heard

Sue the bum.

Just once, I would like a pro sports team to tell the star that screws them with words and deeds to see them in court. Wait, I mean twice. Because the ONE organization that has done this in the past is the self-same Ottawa Senators that are now being put through the wringer again by a player. Although I hesitate to call Dany Heatley a player. Players have hearts. He's missing one. Players have brains. His behaviour and expectations that this week's 'press conference' paints him in a team-oriented light obviously shows he has a deficiency there too. He deserves plenty bad to happen to him where ever he takes his ghost act to in the future. Might I suggest the KHL?

Ottawa once had a bonehead named Alexei Yashin. He took his money and figure-skated his way through games as if he hadn't a care in the world, save for what time Carol Alt was getting home. He was despicable too. And when he thought he could get his money and not even do the figure-skating part, a judge told him "Bad guess, bub."

Heatley has the ultimate legal enforcer this time around. He has a piece of paper signed by the team that says you can't waive me, trade me, or otherwise trouble me with silly team rules. And since you changed coaches on me (again) and this new twerp insists I play both ends of the ice, I'm going to force you to trade me. But I'm not telling you where, you have to guess. And if I don't like my would-be new coach and place to stow my gear, I'll just exercise my no-trade rights. Is this not one of the signs of the apocalypse? Trade me ... and I'll tell you where.

There is nothing honourable or praiseworthy about this cement-head. His actions, through word and mis-deed, have harmed the Senators. He's a monumental embarrassment to hockey and one can only hope that Steve Yzerman understands how destructive a personal prima donna like him would be to Canada's hopes of winning back hockey gold at the Olympics in Vancouver in February. I won't watch that exercise if it includes Heatley. I couldn't stand the shame of cheering for the guy.

All of this is just posturing of course. Nobody wants Heatley at the price and demands he comes with. Ottawa will have to retain and play him (although Eugene Melnyk could become a national hero by telling him to bide his time in his own personal hell, but that won't happen). Any Senator willing to blacken both of his eyes would be similarly blessed with hosannas and I'm sure there's an Edmonton Oiler or seven who might take up the fight... so to speak.

Until that happens ... and surely SOME good Canadian boy will make it happen, the dream remains. Sue the bum.

Friday, August 21, 2009

SPORTS: The Baseball Talent Entry System

The baseball draft has been broken for years. It rewards the Scott Boras's of the world and anybody who can manage to defect to a Caribbean nation and youngish old guys from Japan.

Bud Selig, clueless as he often seems to be, is probably going to make changing the draft his last stand before vacating the office of Commissioner of Major League Baseball. It's also going to lead to a strike. He wants massive changes and will get maybe half of the changes he wants, even after going through a strike. But at least there will be something new to complain about.

Since he won't get what he wants, let me tell you what SHOULD happen.

First of all, the draft changes names. The amateur draft hasn't been about real amateurs for years. Those full-ride college scholarships the baseball teams are competing against are worth thousands of dollars. Baseball players are semi-pro, when we are talking about high schoolers graduating to college. Soooo, we change the name of the draft to the Baseball Talent Entry System. That's step one.

Next, baseball talent can NOT sign a professional baseball contract with the major leagues and their minor affiliates UNLESS they have been through the Baseball Talent Entry System. If they go undrafted in their one and only one time in the draft, they are free agents to do as they will.

Thirdly (I think we are up to three 'rules'), the second requirement pertains to every player in the world. No exceptions for Japanese players. No exceptions for players escaping the brutal dictatorships around the world. No exceptions.

Japanese players, for example, can STILL participate with posting fees. It's just that the posting fee is stated up front and is open to all teams to accept as the price for drafting a player. If Daisuke Matsuzaka is going to cost some team $51M, then that's the price. But it's open to the San Diego Padres AND the Boston Red Sox. Posting fees from Korea and Taiwan follow the same process.

The draft is reduced to about 40 rounds, enough to refill a major league roster every year.

Based on the NBA renumeration system, there is a pre-determined payment system based on a three-year MINOR LEAGUE contract that is the only payment method available. Strictly cash, no other bonuses. Players won't need agents or 'advisors.' The money will be non-negotiable. The price for the top pick will be healthy, and will be adjusted as a portion of major league revenues on a yearly basis. Each succeeding pick through the first two rounds will get payments on a sliding scale. For rounds 3-10, there will be a flat fee that is respectable, say $250,000. Rounds 11-20 get $200,000, 21-30 $150,000 and rounds 31-40 $100,000. Draftees in the latter half of the draft (21-40) only get two-year contracts.

Will this system result in more kids staying in school? Yep. And I find nothing wrong with that. And no, declining an offer after being drafted as a high school senior, doesn't leave you with a free agent bonanza two years later. A draftee's rights stay with the drafting team for a period of four years. Each year, the signing cost escalates by a percentage for those drafted in the first three rounds, otherwise, by $50,000 a year (a stay-in-school bonus, so to speak). At the end of the four-year 'rights' window, the drafting team has another year, less a day, to sign the player before he becomes a free agent.

The same four years (plus 364 days) window applies to foreign players freshly added to the now-drafted group. That means 32 year old Japanese stars looking to try their hand in America and 16-year old Dominicans.

If you do NOT get drafted in the 40 rounds of your 'draft' year, you are a free agent to do as you will.

Eligibility to participate in the Talent Entry System follows, more or less, current baseball rules. You have to have graduated high school or be at least 18 years of age. This obviously affects the Latin players, where we are seeing signings of players as young as 16 (and scouting/touting of even younger kids). This is going to require baseball to spend some money along the lines of the old Kansas City Royals' Youth Academy. MLB will set up Youth Academies in each of the various countries that produce baseball talent. Besides ensuring good instruction, nutrition and the chance to play before assembled scouts, the schools will also teach English and general life skills for these kids. Anything we can do to stop the bonus-stealing and, let's be honest, flesh-peddling that goes on, has to be a step up. The laissez-faire attitude that some Caribbean nations have for performance enhancing drugs will be battled. And the academies will do a lot of the pre-screening for legitimate birth certificates that seems to be a game with some of the kids down there. By the time these kids make their trip north to The Show, they will be older, stronger and better prepared for cultural shock. And closer to being actually ready to help a major league team.

A LOT of the money MLB will be saving under my draft plan will have to go to these youth academies. But the return on investment will be immense. Like the high schoolers in the States and Canada, this system helps stem the tide of poorly-prepared teenagers from bypassing schooling opportunities to chase the dream. Won't stop it completely, but it will be a good start.

Baseball benefits greatly in that they won't be paying for the 'learning' years nearly as much as it currently does. No big fat bonuses for the kids who don't pan out. (well, not as big). The players they DO sign, will be either the super-talented, super-driven kids or the more mature men who come later on. By that time, they will have a better idea of whether signing the player at the assigned price is a good deal or not.

So, what do we do about draft pick compensation for signing free agents away from other teams. (There's no worry about sandwich picks for not signing this year's draftees, of course). Well, this is simple. Each team's 40-man roster (including new free agents signings) is ranked in value on opening day. Injured players are included. The value is assumed to be the cash payements with ALL bonuses assumed to be awarded. If your new free agent is the first player in value, you owe your first-round draft pick to the former team. If he's the 20th-ranked player, then the old team gets the 20th-round pick you own.

This system is straightforward. It doesn't prevent the situation like that, that happened to the Toronto Blue Jays this year. AJ Burnett signed a huge deal that would have given the Jays a first rounder and a first round sandwich pick ... if he signed with anybody but New York, basically. But because he was the third-ranked free agent on the Yanks this year, the Jays got a THIRD-rounder from New York and the sandwich pick, which hardly seems fair to some people. And my system is even worse. I think Burnett's seventh on the Yankee payroll this year. Soooo, under my rules, the compensation for Burnett comes down to a seventh-round pick. A flaw? Yes. But just about any compensation system is flawed when factoring in the Yankees and Red Sox. Would I like to see a payroll cap? Sure. Won't happen. But I'd like to see one. If not a cap, I'd like to see a punishing luxury tax that starts lower and doubles every 40 million or so. If the Yankees were really only spending in the $150M area and the Red Sox and other big spenders came down to the $120M, teams could definitely compete with them for nine figures total.

At any rate, that's a separate rant somewhere in the future.

A lot has been made of the Yankee's home-grown talent. That IT's the secret behind their success, as much as the high-priced free agents. But a LOT of that talent was acquired, in effect, as undrafted amateur free agents. Mariano Rivera? Undrafted. Bernie Williams? Undrafted (although he would be today). Alfonso Soriano? Undrafted. There are more, but those are first three that come to mind. Credit the Yankees for finding that talent, but they signed LOTS of Latin talent. Those are amongst the ones that panned out. Spreading lots of money around meant lots of opportunities to get lucky. And they did.

I say, take back the Yankee advantage to get lucky in Latin America and I believe the field gets leveled. And afterall, isn't that actually the reason behind a talent draft in any pro sport?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ART: A Tartan To Be Proud Of

My brother Ricky is the artist of the family. He's had a long string of artistic accomplishments and did the family proud by going back to school relatively late in life and becoming an architect. A damn good one. He's well thought-of within the profession.

But he still dabbles a bit in things that fall outside of his architect purview. For example, he designed a tartan for The International Festival of Authors. And now it's been recorded for all posterity. That's right, the high mucky-mucks of Tartan have recognized his concoction of purple, green and magenta (and some other colours). You can see it here!

And it will live long after he and the IFOA are but fond memories. The official Scottish Register of Tartans has been recording the unique patterns for sixty years, but is only the latest incarnation of a group that got started back in the 1200's! The Scots take this kind of stuff seriously.

At any rate, this just adds, literally, another colourful chapter to our family history. Well Done! Rick.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

SOFTWARE: Cairo Calling ...

I am a fan of Crossloop, the little remote access and viewing software that solved my problem with helping Dad through his computer problems, even though he was 200 miles away and not all that computer literate. A zero configuration answer to a problem that had plagued for years.

But I still use Remote Desktop Connection, the internal Microsoft remote software for most of my pro work. Partially, that's out of habit. Partially it's due to the layers that have been added to Crossloop over the last year. There's a (voluntary) login, a survey at the end, and endless ZoneAlarm questions because I don't allow anything but a temporary allowing of the program to bypass the firewall. Nothing regarding remote control gets out of or into my computer without my acknowledging that it's doing it.

Still, it's awfully nice to have Crossloop around for the unanticipated situations. Such as the call I received from half-way round the world recently. I got the call and a familar voice growled into the phone, "I've got a problem." No formalities, just a statement of fact. It was my friend Doug. And he was calling from Cairo, Egypt.

I don't get many calls from Egypt. Can only recall one in the past, when I was running PR for the American Contract Bridge League and talked to an Egyptian journalist about the Epson World Pairs. But I digress. Getting a call from Cairo was a different kind of start to the day.

Doug used to employ me before he sold his company to American interests and retired to go gallivanting around the world. He's semi-computer literate, knowing enough to be dangerous with his laptop. I continue to provide computer support for the sheer entertainment value. He's incredibly creative when it comes to computer problems. I yell at him. A LOT. It's cathartic.

At any rate, we couldn't solve his initial problem because he couldn't access the internet in the middle of the afternoon Cairo time (which was seven hours ahead of Brampton time). We agreed to make a second try later in the day, nearer late evening there.

And Crossloop worked perfectly, if a little slowly. Probably the effects of the Egyptian secret service watching our every move. Or so I would like to believe. I fixed his issue in short order and told him to call me when he got back to Canada to report on whether the fix stuck. He did. It did. And that was that.

I was struck later by the whole matter-of-factness of the whole situation. It was no different than when he would call from his Toronto home with some problem or another. Ten, fifteen minutes later, thanks to the immediacy of being able to see what he saw, the problem would be fixed. Toronto, Cairo? No different in actual terms these days.

Good on you Crossloop. Oops, that's how I would say it to my Australian friends. Good FOR you Crossloop!

Monday, August 17, 2009

SPORTS: Ukic Gone. Too Bad

If Roko Ukic had a rental lease somewhere in Toronto, I'm pretty sure he didn't renew it anytime after about, oh, June. By then, Bryan Colangelo, as close-lipped a GM as there is in sports, had let it be pretty well known he wasn't happy with the Toronto Raptors' backup point guard. You or I might quibble with his obvious unhappiness, but neither of us happens to have the power to move Ukic out of town. Apparently, that moving van's headed for Milwaukee.

Ukic and the sign-and-trade rights to Carlos Delfino, another fan fave, are going to be moved to Milwaukee for front-court plugger Amir Johnson and a player as yet named (methinks it will be Jodie Meeks, for salary reasons. But it might be Joe Alexander). Will not be official before Aug. 23 because Johnson was recently obtained by Milwaukee and can't be moved until then, but the transit papers are already in order.

I am a fan of Ukic, the son of a Croation rock star. Although he shoots the ball as if he's afraid of it, Ukic made me think he was on the same career path as starter Jose Calderon. Calderon's rookie problems were also shooting related. And Calederon improved dramatically with a lot of extra work. And Ukic is not afraid of hard work. I was hoping the 6-5 guard (I LOVE tall point guards) would mimic Calderon. And he might end up being a better defender than Calderon (who's not very good) by virtue of more dexterity and having more height. I just pictured Ukic as Calderon's more-or-less younger, bigger brother. But alas, the transformation of Ukic into a super sub won't happen here.

There's every chance it WILL happen in Milwaukee. Luke Ridnour's the starter for the Bucks and I'm not sure he's really any better than Ukic right now. Brandon Jennings was drafted to be the starter, maybe as early as this year, and Ramon Sessions might still return. And Sessions is likely to be the best bet for playing time this year, if that's the case. But it's more likely that Sessions ends with either the Clippers or the Knicks. Thus, Milwaukee traded for Ukic to be the third-stringer and back-up in training. I believe Jennings is the single most over-rated player drafted in July and Ukic will get playing time at his expense. And Ridnour's hurt about as often as Tim Horton's sells coffee. It's not hard at all to see Ukic playing good minutes ... assuming his shot doesn't resemble mine in accuracy.

Delfino's year away in Russia made him better in the minds of just about all Raptors' fans. He was Jordan in absentia as we watched wing problems plague last year's non-playoff team. The truth is, that he's always going to tantalize you with good games two of three nights, taking the third one off completely. I think he starts at the wing for Milwaukee, ahead of Hakim Warrick and Canuck Luc Richard Mbah A Moute. That and a bit more money than Toronto was offering on a one-year deal is probably what sealed Delfino's decision to abandon the wilds of Russia to become a Buck. Assuming Delfino is about the same player he was when we last saw him two years ago, you have to think Milwaukee did okay with the trade.

Did Toronto? I think so. It's a long season in the NBA and big men get banged up. Having a sixth big is a good idea and Johnson offers some rebounding, shot-blocking and a bullyish personality on the court to the Toronto mix. He's Reggie Evans, but younger and he has something approaching a mid-range game. He's also got an expiring contract. Joe Dumars has had some hits and misses in his drafting over the years and no longer wears the kind of halo reserved for Jerry West, but he has had faith in Johnson forever. Maybe the kick of being traded twice this summer does something to ignite Johnson. If so, Toronto traded a free agent who wasn't going to re-sign here and a third-string point guard for a contributor. That can't be bad.

Meeks is roster fodder, a shooting guard out of Kentucky who set the school one-game scoring record last year. A total wild-card with a slim chance to contribute. But the pedigree is good and he's 6-6, which is about the right size for a shooting guard. If, somehow, the guy coming back is Alexander, then the Raptors have a lottery ticket kid with spectacular hops and a single season of college success. But he was so spectacularly good with West Virginia two years ago that I wouldn't mind putting him on the developmental squad at all. He was rushed a bit in Milwaukee last year and failed. But again, a new coach might mean new results.

Whether Meeks or Alexander, we are talking long shots to contribute. But not hopeless players. Putting which one of them comes over, Patrick O'Bryant and fifth-string point guard Marcus Banks in civies most nights will be the best thing Toronto can do. It means they're dressing 12 legit NBA players that night.

Just too bad Ukic won't be one of them.

UPDATE: Apparently the soon-t0-be 15th Toronto Raptor will be guard Sonny Weems. I though he was trade-locked until Oct. 1, but guess I was wrong. I liked Weems coming out of Arkansas two summers ago, so I can't turn around and diss the acquisition completely. On the other hand, he didn't exactly light up the Denver sky with the Nuggets last year. My guess is he's going to look good wearing Cavelli on the bench beside O'Bryant and Banks.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

SPORTS: Insane Usain Bolt Strikes Again

I shouldn't be writing this right now. In fact, I shouldn't have been watching the world track and field championships, which prompted this blog. But Boss, I couldn't help myself.

Usain Bolt did it again. A new world record in the men's 100 metres. A mere 9.58 seconds, start to finish. It took longer to write the sentence with his time, than it took to run the race for the Jamaican superman. And when it was all done, ho hum. The dancer and prancer from Beijing is all grown up and expecting the kind of stupefying performance he put on today in Berlin.

Let's put things in perspective. Tyson Gay of the U.S.A. ran the third-fastest time in the history of the race. Bolt beat him by .13, a full eighth of a second. He lowered his own world record by .11 seconds, more than a tenth of a second, in a race where the record used to get lowered by a hundredth here, a couple of hundredths there. If anybody had any right to start goofing around, playing the winning clown, it was Bolt.

Everybody who knows me, knows I detest the kind of premeditated narcissistic celebration routines that permeate sports, especially football. I hate them, hate them, hate them. Basically because they come in team sports and celebrate 'I' rather than team. But in the individual sports, like track, I have a whole lot less antipathy towards celebration. And I also point out, celebrating a meaningless touchdown in Hamilton in July is a WHOLE LOT DIFFERENT than a world record in anything. Let alone the demolition job Bolt did on records in Beijing. Actually, I found the youthful enthusiasm refreshing and honest, something I could never say about that idiot Arland Bruce or his goofball brothers-in-shoulder pads Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens.

Bolt was in Toronto earlier this year, winning a sub-10 second race in the rain. Any doubts I had about genuineness disappeared that day. He's a big teddy bear of a guy who loves running fast. He's personable and is not full of himself. He's the ideal ambassador for the sport, which still hasn't completely overcome the druggie champions of the past. And no, I don't think there's anything chemical going on in the Jamaican giant that isn't natural and legal. I've long thought some past champions escaped detection. I'm only sure of a few having run to glory completely cleanly (Donovan Bailey from down the road in Oakville is one of them). But add Bolt to the list. The man is a self-refined freak of nature.

What finally struck me most about that record today was the fact Bolt didn't act surprised. He ran through the whole race, something he didn't do in Beijing. That was a night when he ran 9.69, celebrating over the last 30 metres. What could he have run if he'd been intent on pushing the limits?

We know now. Something in the 9.5's. Incredible. And that's worth celebrating.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

SPORTS: Jury's Out on Rios Move

I might be in a minority, but I'm sure you can't be sure the waiving of Alex Rios isn't going to come back and bite the Toronto Blue Jays on the butt. Same goes for Kenny Williams latest trip out onto a limb, where few dare go.

I've wavered back and forth on the merits of just letting Rios' contract evaporate off the books of the club, as if he never existed. There are times when I can see the merits of freeing up the eight figures a year the Jays were going to hand the frequently unfocused right-fielder. Certainly, he wasn't turning in an all-star performance this year ... although he wasn't being paid like one. Yet. On the other hand, his play HAD picked up over the last month and it isn't too late for Rios to end the year hitting .290 and having banged out 25 home runs.

The good side of the waiver deal for the Jays is that they will have close to 10 million American pesos to spread around, come the off-season. Some have pointed out that that sum this year could have meant Bobby Abreu, Orlando Hudson and a couple of scrubs for the bench, with enough change for a dinner at McDonald's. Not one baseball man was smart enough to actually do that kind of signing, but the two teams in L.A. at least get some credit for spotting free agent value. Even if the money is used to keep certain free agents-to-be in Toronto (Scutaro and Barajas come to mind), it's good money to have. Also, the Jays might very well suspect that a contented Rios is a terrifying combination of talent and a lack of motivation to maximize that talent. We might very well have already seen the best of Rios. Certainly, a man who believes in personal responsibility, like Clarence Gaston, might not have the mind-set to beat a performance out of Rios. And Gaston's going to be here for awhile.

Not surprisingly, there's a consensus out there by baseball touts that trading Rios for a bag of baseballs was an outstanding move by the Toronto Blue Jays, even if it was the truth-challenged GM doing the deed. In fact, given the savings and acquisition of some prime pitching prospects in the Scott Rolen deal, you might even say J.P. Ricciardi is on a roll. And if this late-season willingness to take advantage of the largesse of other G.M.'s (Walt Jocketty and then Williams) lets him keep his job, then this will be very bad news for Toronto fans. (It also immediately hurts my Minnesota Twins' chances at winning the Central Division, which is bad news no matter what).

Bad news can also arrive in other ways. First, let's face it. Ozzie Guillen might just pull Rios' short hairs out through his esophagus if he doesn't put in enough effort in Chicago. Lacking only Concentration amongst the Three C's (Capability and Confidence), under Guillen, Rios could turn into the all-star centre-fielder the Pale Hose have been looking for. He'll shunt Scott Posednik to the sideline and play between Carlos Quentin and Jermaine Dye when the ChiSox have everybody healthy. And I think he might bat lead-off, which I had long bruited he should do to salvage this season in Toronto. He doesn't actually have to perform a heck of a lot better to earn eight figures.

Plus, the Blue Jays are now faced with the lure of pocketing the Rios Savings rather than trying to sign value for the money. Or they can let Ricciardi loose to spend the money. If his track record is any indication, that money will either go to fading stars who won't earn the money, or average major leaguers who will be a step down, a BIG step down, from Rios.

The consensus will be that this is a good deal for Toronto. Maybe. Maybe not. I think the jury's going to be out until next year. Maybe it's my distate for Ricciardi, but I've got the feeling this is going to look better for the White Sox than the Blue Jays down the road.

Friday, August 07, 2009

SOFTWARE: Suction, Simple and It Just Works

Software that does one thing, and that one thing really well, is a dying breed. I've seen all kinds of one-trick ponies that do that trick really, really well. But the programmer can't stand the onslaught of feature requests and sooner or later, that one-note piece of software is a thundering herd of mish-mashed together ideas that ceases to be nearly as good as the software was originally. (Careful now, I think I mixed three different metaphors in that paragraph).

At any rate, cheers to those that want to do something really well. Say DrNathan, who offers us Suction. Suction collapses a series of sub-folders into its parent, moving all of the files into that parent folder. Simple. Works. Works better for me after the author responded to a query of mine with incredible speed and completeness. And that's all it does.

Why is that important to me? Well, when I archive files onto a DVD, I like to print a file-listing to include in the disk jacket. A heck of a lot easier when all the files are in the root. But accomplishing that is mousing-heavy, since I took great care to put them in separate folders in the first place. Suction does it in two clicks. And I don't run into PowerDesk/ExplorerPlus's nasty habit of running afoul of file-locking, forcing me to unlock the files through Unlocker. It's all quite civilized.

I'll bet most of you don't need Suction. But if you do, then Suction is worth its weight in gold. 'Cept it's free. A useful free utility.