April 2, 2010

What are your memories of Mike Cuellar?

There’s something about growing up as a fan of a successful team.

The guys you never saw play still seem like your heroes, youthful legends trapped in time.

I don’t remember seeing any baseball until 1976 or so. But those Orioles’ World Championship teams in 1966 and 1970 still seem like part of my history. Because they were my dad’s favorites and my brothers’ and I heard all about them.

My sisters and I were more aligned to the 1979-83 clubs. But I never discounted those older teams – or my father would quickly explain what real baseball was, when pitchers finished what they started and sluggers played the field and yadda yadda yadda.

The point is I never saw Mike Cuellar pitch – or Dave McNally or Pat Dobson – but I know the history, I know how important Cuellar, who died Friday of stomach cancer, was to the franchise. I met Cuellar a couple times in the past few years while doing my job. Brief, friendly encounters, nothing too memorable.

Still, when an Orioles’ great passes on, it strikes a chord in all of us who once followed the team. Even for those of us who have moved past the fan stage and now follow the team to make ends meet.

The lights are low in this place tonight. The Orioles title flag behind the bar is at half mast. Salsa music is playing softly in the background. Raise your glass.

Here’s to Mike Cuellar and his screwball. And to the memories he provided a generation – and then some – of Orioles fans.

Daily Think Special: What are your memories of Mike Cuellar?

March 31, 2010

Which worries you the most: O's offense, defense, rotation or bullpen?

Just watched the Orioles get their brains beat in by the Boston Red Sox, 14-6.

Are you sure it isn’t May yet?

Seriously, we all know about the Orioles’ struggles in the past 12 years. But it just seems to get magnified when they play the Red Sox – even more than it does when they play the New York Yankees.

Chew on this unsavory tidbit: The Orioles are 17-55 in the past four regular seasons against the Red Sox. That’s not a cruel, cruel April Fool’s joke. Sorry.

The Orioles are 28-45 against the Yankees. Practically dominating in comparison.

I know I have ruined your appetite, but hopefully you are still willing to drown your sorrows.

Anyway, there was a whole lot to make an Orioles fan shiver after this one – the fourth to last before the games count – in sunny Florida.

The starting lineup, sans only a sick Adam Jones, managed just three hits in seven innings against Red Sox starter Jon Lester. Felix Pie is the only regular batting over .300.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox bashed Jason Berken and Jim Johnson, two members of the Orioles’ Opening Day bullpen.

And Robert Andino, who made the team as a utility infielder because he can play shortstop, made two errors at the position and has four on the season.

Yes, it’s only spring training. So no reason to sound the alarm yet. But ... it might be coming in a few weeks.

Here’s my question: Based on what you have read, heard or seen, which part of the Orioles concerns you the most? Is it the offense, defense, rotation or bullpen?

Mine is the bullpen. Closer Mike Gonzalez hasn’t looked sharp – though he pitched a scoreless inning Wednesday -- and neither has Johnson, his setup man. The other setup man, Koji Uehara, will start the season on the disabled list. And the young power arm the Orioles were counting on, Kam Mickolio, won’t make the team.

I think the offense has enough quality talent that it will be fine. And the rotation will take its lumps at times – for sure. But the bullpen? That gets my vote.

Daily Think Special: Which worries you the most: O’s offense, defense, rotation or bullpen?

March 30, 2010

Does it matter who the Orioles' backup catcher is?

Two days in a row you get a bar entry from me. Pretty impressive.

I think Cal Ripken Jr., may start getting worried about my streak.

The big news in Orioles’ camp Tuesday is the pending announcement that Chris Tillman will be sent to Triple-A Norfolk and David Hernandez is going to be the club’s fifth starter.

But we’ve already talked about that one.

The smaller news – whispers turning into a blip, really – is that Craig Tatum is getting the backup catcher job over veteran Chad Moeller.

Tatum is 27 and has played just 26 major league games (batting .162 with one homer for the Reds last year).

Moeller is 35 and spent parts of 10 seasons in the big leagues (a career .226 hitter with 29 lifetime homers).

The front-office thinking was obvious on three fronts: The Orioles are choosing the younger and cheaper player. And they are taking the guy with the better arm.

The belief is that the backup to Matt Wieters will play just once or twice a week, and that person is going to get run on – that’s a truism in baseball, run on the catcher who doesn’t get to throw in a game often.

And Moeller’s arm is not his strength; Tatum’s is. So, on the surface, the move makes plenty of sense.

But there’s more to it. Moeller is arguably the most respected – and respectful – player in that clubhouse. He is not a rah-rah guy, but he loves talking the game. He aspires to be a front-office guy one day, and it would be shocking if he doesn’t achieve that, given his smarts (he studied economics at USC) and experience.

Catching prospect Caleb Joseph couldn’t stop raving about Moeller this spring. The core of young pitchers on the Orioles feels the same way. Many of them threw to him at either Triple-A or the majors last year, so they are incredibly comfortable with him.

Given how infrequent the reserve catcher will play, and given how much Moeller has seized the mentor role, it just seems wrong to cut him loose and go with Tatum, when Wieters, no matter how talented he is, has less than a year of big league service time.

This is absolutely no slight on Tatum, who seems like a nice guy and hard worker. He just doesn't have the experience I think is required for the backup of a young starting catcher.

But this may be one of those issues that rankles beat writers but makes no difference to the general public. I mean, the Orioles have serious obstacles ahead of them and I am pontificating on the backup catcher. So put me in my place if I am wrong here.

I want to know whether the backup catcher spot means anything. I say it does, because Wieters is your franchise, your young pitchers are your future and having an experienced, calming influence on the bench and in the clubhouse is key.

Daily Think Special: Does it matter who is the Orioles’ reserve catcher?

March 29, 2010

Who should be the Orioles' fifth starter?

We’re back. This bar keeps rising from the dead like Michigan State in the NCAA tournament.

Sorry that I’ve been slacking lately. Major computer problems – and stolen shipments of Dos Equis and Guinness – led to a shut down here. Plus, we’re officially into Swamp Week in Sarasota, which has nothing to do with alligators.

This is the final week of spring training, so we at The Sun will be burning a bunch of candles at a bunch of ends to get you ready for next Tuesday’s Opening Day.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t pour some libations today.

The most interesting thing in camp right now is the No. 5 starter battle, which technically is still among Chris Tillman, David Hernandez and Jason Berken.

But honestly it is between Hernandez, who has pitched well this spring, and Tillman, who has had trouble with his command at times.

It is a tough call – or a complex issue as Dave Trembley has called it.

Trembley has said all along that this would be a competition to be decided this spring. And if that is true, then it would seem unfair not to give Hernandez the spot. Also, Tillman is only 21, so getting more seasoning in the minors wouldn’t be a terrible thing.

But the flip side is Tillman is most likely a bigger part of this team’s future. His spring has been uneven, but OK. He’s a great kid and you don’t want to mess with one of your top prospect’s head.

Honestly, I think Tillman is so well adjusted – even at his age – that beginning in Triple-A would only make him work harder, and want it that much more. I still think this guy is a special talent, but we can’t forget how he young he is.

It really is a tough choice. But if the team doesn’t think Tillman will be successful in April, it’s best to send him down now instead of a few regular-season beatings. So I say go with Hernandez. But, yeah, it’s not an easy one.

What say you?

Daily Think Special: Who should be the Orioles’ fifth starter?

March 23, 2010

How will you remember the Terps' 2009-10 season?

I have been keeping it quiet in here since Monday.

Low piano on the jukebox, maybe Billie Holliday’s smoky voice soothing your nerves.

I was covering the Orioles in Clearwater on Sunday so I only saw the final two minutes of the Maryland-Michigan State game. Didn’t really have to watch much more.

That had to be one of the most exhausting losses in recent Baltimore/Maryland history. I won’t even attempt to stir those up.

We’ll make this one simple -- and hushed.

Now that the initial sting has gone, I want to know how you’ll remember this University of Maryland men’s basketball season. Good, bad or just plain painful?

Daily Think Special: How will you remember this Terps’ season?

March 19, 2010

Which No. 3 seed or worse gets the farthest?

I’ve gotten a little wrapped up in baseball as of late, and hadn’t yet made good on my promise to talk NCAA hoops.

Good Irish Catholics keep their promises, so long as they are made in bars.

Every year I fill out several March Madness brackets. Every year I stink, usually jinxing at least one fine educational institution.

This year it was Georgetown. On two brackets I had them in the Elite Eight. On one I had them in the national championship game and in one I had them win it.

Why? In retrospect, I couldn’t tell you.

But I can tell you that those entries are now in the trash. In the one pool, I am leading with 13 correct through the first night, but when your national championship club is out before the second day of the tournament, well, that’s not particularly good.

For the record, I think either Kansas or Kentucky wins the tourney. I know I am not alone there. The only pick I made that was slightly out on a limb – besides Georgetown, a spinning branch in a hurricane – was Pittsburgh, a three seed, to get to the Final Four.

Not a huge surprise, but not a No. 1 or 2 either.

So here is what I want to know? Which deeper seed – a No. 3 or worse – will get the farthest?

I am saying Pittsburgh.

Daily Think Special: Which NCAA hoops No. 3 seed or worse goes the farthest?

March 16, 2010

If not Brian Roberts, who should play second base on Opening Day?

We started off slow at the bar Monday.

I’ve heard about that legendary Kevin Cowherd hangover, and now I have experienced it.

I feel like Jay Leno following Conan O’Brien, who followed Leno.

At least this gig can be calculated in years and not months.

I am getting ready to ride up I-75 so I am going to make this a quick one. Because I know you all have some St. Patrick’s Day libations to attend to. (The Pogues, Van Morrison and Flogging Molly are on the jukebox all day long.)

Brian Roberts had an epidural on his back Monday and is hoping the pain subsides and he can resume baseball activities soon. He’s behind the other players, of course, but if he can get back soon he probably can be ready for Opening Day.

If he doesn’t, the Orioles have some decisions to make.

If Roberts has to be placed on the disabled list because he is not ready, the club’s Opening Day starting second baseman will be Ty Wigginton, Justin Turner, Robert Andino or a player yet to wear an Orioles uniform.

There are pros and cons to all four options. Trading for someone, for instance, has its pitfalls. The Orioles will have to give someone up, and they likely won’t get anyone back of significance since they already have Roberts and they don’t want to spend a lot on another second baseman.

So whomever they get probably won’t be much better than what they have. Turner is an unknown, and it’d be nice for him to get a shot. But no one knows if he can play in the majors. Andino held his own defensively but has never shown much with the bat, though he is having a solid spring.

That leaves Wigginton, who I think is by far the best option to play second if Roberts is out for a short -- or an extended -- period. Remember, one of the reasons they signed him last year was in case Roberts left as a free agent before 2010.

Wiggy has his warts. But he is definitely a pro and wouldn’t hurt the team with his play. But I know there are a lot of people who want to see Turner in action or would like someone completely different.

What are your thoughts?

Daily Think Special: What’s your preference at second base if Brian Roberts isn’t ready for Opening Day?

March 15, 2010

Which Orioles' minor leaguer will be the best big leaguer?

Well I am back. I’m not going to ask if you missed me. I can’t handle the truth.

And I am afraid to tell you I am gone again from the bar – but only physically. The entries for the next three-plus weeks will keep coming, but will be shipped in from Florida, slightly sunburned (even my words have fair skin).

That means you still have some time to fix the holes in the bar’s drywall before I start pointing fingers in person in April.

First, I want to thank Sun columnist Kevin Cowherd, who is much more comfortable passed out at a bar than tending behind it. But he did a heck of a job keeping this dive afloat for the past three weeks as our guest bartender.

I am going to have to buy him a beer or six for helping out. And that’s real beers, not the fictional ones poured in the blogging world.

Since I am in Sarasota, and spent my first day with the 2010 Orioles on Monday, I figured it’s most appropriate to talk baseball. We will get to that tournament thing later this week – I promise.

The Orioles made their first cuts on Monday, and there were no surprises. Among those jettisoned to minor leaguer camp were pitchers Luis Lebron and Brandon Erbe.

I asked manager Dave Trembley what he thought of those two – and let’s just say he gushed, talking about how the duo has everything it takes to be major leaguers one day, maybe one day soon.

It’s nice to think the Orioles still have some real prospects in the minors despite graduating so much talent last season. And it got me thinking. Who is the best Orioles’ prospect that has yet to arrive in Baltimore?

Baseball America thinks it is third baseman Josh Bell, with pitchers Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta and Matt Hobgood next in line. Also getting consideration are Brandon Snyder, Mychal Givens, Caleb Joseph and Lebron.

Here’s what I want to know: Of the current Orioles minor leaguers – ones that have not yet played in the majors – which one do you think will eventually emerge as the best big leaguer? In other words, when their careers are over, which one will be considered the jewel of this minor-league crop?

Because pitching is so unpredictable, the safe pick is a hitter like Bell or Snyder. I, however, am going with Britton; I just think he’s got the whole package, including the ability to throw with a left hand.

But I have never seen him pitch in a game of significance. And I know some of you minor league junkies have.

So let’s hear it. Get the crystal balls out and predict the future.

Pete Schmuck, my colleague and reluctant roomie for the next three weeks, says Snyder. And he’s the guy that called Wilfrido Perez as the surprise of the 2009 camp before Perez threw a pitch.

Daily Think Special: Which Orioles’ minor leaguer will be the best big leaguer?

March 12, 2010

Which position should the Ravens upgrade next?

Interesting piece by Ravens beat writer Jamison Hensley in today's Sun -- you can read it here -- about where the team should turn its attention next, now that Derrick Mason has been signed and the wide receiver position has been shored up.

Hensley says defensive end is probably the Ravens' next priority, and that could involve re-signing Dwan Edwards.

Edwards has been making free-agent visits to the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks, Hensley reports, but has yet to sign with another team.

Which brings us to today's question, which we ask you to kick around in-between your beer-swilling and postseason college basketball watching: Which position do YOU think the Ravens should concentrate on now?

Do you agree with Hensley that it should be DE?

Or do you think -- as I do -- that the more pressing need is cornerback, with Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington both coming off serious knee injuries.

Or do you think tight end should be the priority, now that Todd Heap has lost a step or two -- or maybe three -- and there's absolutely no one behind him on the depth chart.

Put down that beer and remote and let us know.

Daily Think Special: Which hole should the Ravens try to fill next?

March 10, 2010

How worried are you about Brian Roberts?

OK, we kind of all saw this coming, didn't we?

 All-Star second baseman reports to spring training camp, mentions he has a bad back, a general fan freak-out ensues and the club hastens to put out the word that it's no big deal, the player should be 100 per cent in no time.

 Except in Brian Roberts case, it hasn't worked out that way, has it? Now the herniated disk in Robert's back has him shut down until at least Thursday. And GM Andy MacPhail is admitting the coub is concerned Roberts might not be healthy to start the season.

 So that's today's question, Orioles fans and bar-flies: how concerned are YOU about Brian Roberts' back problem?

He hasn't played a game all spring. And he's gotten sick from the medication he took to control the swelling in the disk. Is it time to panic about this guy, or what?

And is is time for the Orioles to enact Plan B and start looking around for -- gulp -- a replacement at second base?

Or are we here at Connolly's Corner hole-in-the-wall over-reacting to the whole thing?

Sure, we'll occasionally plead guilty to that.

Daily Think Special: How worried are you about Brian Roberts health?

March 8, 2010

Is Derrick Mason keeping you up at night?

By my unofficial count, the Ravens now have, what, 35 wide receivers? Or does it only seem that way?

And now comes word from a league source -- I love that phrase, it smacks of so much intrigue -- that the signing of unrestricted free agent Derrick Mason is no longer a priority for the team.

Oh, sure, the Ravens would still like to have D-Mase back -- as the No. 2 receiver. But now that they signed Pro Bowler Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth, team officials won't hurl themselves off a cliff if they can't come to terms with Mason and he signs with another team.

Which brings us to today's question here at the bar: how do you feel about all this?

How important is it to you that the Ravens re-sign the popular Mason? Is this something that has been keeping you awake at night?

Or do you feel the addition of Boldin and Stallworth -- and any other receiver the Ravens get in the draft next month -- has strengthened the WR position sufficiently so that the Ravens should turn their attention elsewhere, maybe to shoring up cornerback or defensive end?

Free drinks to the first 20 respondents. Yes, that's a lie -- I'm not sure we even have a liquor license anymore.

Daily Think Special: Should the Ravens bring back Derrick Mason?

March 5, 2010

Should the NCAA Tournament expand?

Old joke: a reporter and editor are stranded in the desert. They're dying of thirst, exposure, etc. Finally they come to an oasis with a sparkling pool of water.

The reporter drops to his hands and knees and begins drinking greedily. But when he looks up, he's horrified to see the editor urinating in the water.

"What in God's name are you doing?!" he yells.

"Making it better," replies the editor.

Which brings us to today's question, bar-flies: Should they really be messing with the NCAA men's basketball tournament?

Isn't this about the most perfect post-season tournament around? But now there's talk that the NCAA wants to expand the field from 65 to 96 teams, generating even more millions of dollars for themselves and whatever network gets to cover the tourney.

What's prompting all this is that the NCAA's contract with CBS is over after this year's Final Four. And a new TV deal with an expanded field has college sports governing body seeing green and thinking: ka-ching!

But does anyone really want to see the top 32 seeds getting a bye and the tournament dragging on for another week? And wouldn't expansion cheapen the value of the regular season even more, with so many lesser teams now able to make the tourney?

Or do you think expansion would just double the excitement and that we here at Connolly's should just shut up and stick to pouring drinks?

If so, you just might make a great editor.

Daily Think Special: Should the NCAA Tournament expand?

March 3, 2010

Should Trembley crack the whip this season?

Interesting column on Dave Trembley by my buddy Peter Schmuck in today's Baltimore Sun, which you can read here.

The gist of it is that the Orioles manager had dropped hints in the off-season that he would be a tougher manager this year, a guy willing to "drop the hammer" on anyone not playing sound, fundamental baseball or otherwise failing to live up to expectations.

But according to various players Schmuck talked to in spring training camp, Trembley seems to be the same manager he always was, more passionate, enthusiastic nice guy than no-nonsense butt-kicker.

"Dave is Dave," Nick Markakis told Schmuck. "What you see is what you get."

Which brings us to today's question, bar-flies: do you think Trembley has to change his managerial style this year?

With Andy MacPhail's mandate that the club show definite improvement and that the manager and players be judged on wins and losses this season, does Trembley need to start kicking butt and taking names?

Me, I think a manager trying to be someone he's not is a recipe for disaster in a major league clubhouse -- witness how mild-mannered Sam Perlozzo lost the players a few years ago when he went from "good old Sammy" to a butt-chewer.

But let's hear what you think. Or maybe you think there's a middle ground Trembley could walk this season to show he's tough and no-nonsense, but still a guy who won't throw his players under the bus.

Get off that bar stool, hit the keyboard and let us know.

Daily Think Special: Should Trembley crack the whip this season?

March 1, 2010

How psyched are you for Maryland-Duke II: The Sequel?

As even the most addled and hungover of Connolly's customers should know, it's March, the high holy season for college basketball. So let the madness begin.

Here in the Free State, it begins with the huge Maryland-Duke game Wednesday night at Comcast Center, with the Terps hoping to avenge that 77-56 drubbing they took in Durham on Feb. 13 and tie the Blue Devils for first place in the ACC.

So today's question is this: how psyched are you to see this rematch between the two best teams in the conference?

And how do you think it's going to play out with the Terps, winners of five in a row and riding the hot hand of National Player of the Year candidate Greivis Vasquez -- yes, I actually wrote that and yes, he has to be considered -- now on their home court?

I wrote in today's Baltimore Sun that the game has all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster (you can read that column here). And according to my colleague Jeff Barker in his Tracking the Terps blog, all the hype for the game has sent the price of tickets skyrocketing.

But let's hear what you think. Get up off that bar stool, splash some water on your face and drop us an e-mail.

Daily Think Special: How psyched are you for Maryland-Duke II: The Sequel?

February 26, 2010

Orioles fans: What's freaking you out already?

We throw out this topic today because we know many of you -- especially our more down-at-the-mouth, hard-drinking customers -- are Orioles fans.

Oh, we understand why you're so mopey and irritable at times. You cheer for a team that's had 12 losing seasons in a row. A team that specializes in second-half collapses of almost Biblical proportions. A team that has to go up against the rich bullies of the American League East -- the Yankees and Red Sox -- and almost always gets its butt kicked.

So to you, our lovable, neurotic Orioles fans, we throw out this question: after one full week of spring training, what's your biggest concern about this 2010 team?

Is it second baseman Brian Roberts and his $40-million contract and the 'small' herniated disk in his back, an injury everyone at the Orioles camp in Sarasota, including the janitors, seems eager to spin in a positive way?

Is it pitcher Brad Bergesen's shoulder, hurt when he filmed a 'This is Birdland' commercial over the winter, proving there's no end to the innovative ways O's players can end up in the trainer's room?

Is it pitcher Chris Tillman's back, which tightened up after a night of sleeping on a couch? (See above paragraph regarding innovative ways O's players get hurt.)

Or is your concern non-injury-related? Do you stress about whether Miguel Tejada can successfully make the switch from shortstop to third base? Or whether Garrett Atkins, who played mostly third for the Colorado Rockies, can be the first baseman the Orioles so desperately need?

Let us know. We're here for you. No free drinks, but you get the next best thing (well, sort of): someone to listen to all your crazy fears.

Wait, did we say crazy fears? Check that. We meant we're here to listen to all your well-founded concerns.

Daily Think Special: What's freaking you out already, O's fans?

February 24, 2010

Does Vasquez belong with all-time Terps greats?

Here's a topic that tends to rile up the customers, especially after a few beers, but we bring it up anyway. Just don't wreck the joint. And remember: no smacking the bartender. I got a day job to go to after this.

OK, here goes: with Clemson coming into Comcast Center tonight and Maryland (19-7, 9-3 in the ACC) down to four regular season games remaining and a shot at a first-round bye in the conference tournament next month, let's talk about the driving force behind the Terps, the Venezuelan Volcano himself, Greivis Vasquez.

Specifically, how does he rank with the all-time greats who've played at Maryland? Do you put him up there with Len Bias and Walt Williams, John Lucas and Albert King, Joe Smith and Juan Dixon? Or does the very reading of that sentence cause you to spit your beer across the room and want to throw a bottle at my head?

Easy there, sport. I bring this up because the Shimmy Master is having another terrific season, averaging 18.8 points per game, 4.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists and practically carrying the Terps offense on his back.

Last year, the senior guard became the first Terp to lead the team in points (17.5), rebounds (5.4) and assists (5.0) and was voted All-ACC second team.

So, no matter what you think of the guy's uneven play at times or his antics on the court, his numbers match up pretty well with the best who've ever played at College Park.

With the considerable help of Terrapin Times publisher Keith Cavanaugh, I weighed in on this topic last week in The Baltimore Sun, which you can read here. But now we want to know what you think.

Does he rank in the Top 10 of all-time Maryland greats? How about the Top 15? And if you were lukewarm about Vasquez a few weeks ago, has his brilliant play of late won you over?

Or does his whole act turn you off worse than warm beer?

I hope the plate-glass window is still intact when we're through.

Daily Think Special: Does Vasquez belong with all-time Terps greats?

February 22, 2010

Fired up about hockey yet?

A confession: I don't know how I got in here. It's dark, it's dingy, you could be attacked by a rat the size of a Chihuahua on the way to the men's room. Yep, my kind of place.

All I know is, Connolly threw me the keys and about 30 unpaid bar tabs and said: "Keep the joint humming -- I'm outta here for a few weeks."

No one serves up drinks and scintillating conversation like Danno, but we'll give it a shot.

Today's question: how do you feel about hockey now? Does the stunning 5-3 U.S. win over Canada in the Winter Olympics Sunday change your mind about the sport?

If you didn't much care for the sport but tuned in just to see what the fuss was all about, did that thrilling win make you want to watch more?

And if you already love hockey, do you love it even more now? And why?

Me, I always found the game great to watch in person, hard to watch on TV. But Sunday's game even got me all tingly.

Hey, some people are calling this the biggest U.S. hockey win since the "Miracle on Ice" upset of the Soviet Union in 1980.

The last time the U.S. beat Canada in the Olympics was back in Squaw Valley, California in 1960. That's 50 years ago. Heck, Connolly's Corner Sports Bar wasn't even open back then. (Although the men's room looks like it's about 50 years old right now.)

So give us your impressions of hockey in the wake of the big win. Love it? Hate it? Still indifferent to it? Will you keep watching the U.S. team now as it advance past the quarterfinals?

I'll even have Connolly buy you a beer when he gets back -- although he's pretty tight when it comes to that stuff. Maybe it's all the unpaid bar tabs ...

Daily Think Special: Are you fired up about hockey?

February 18, 2010

If you could replay one game in Baltimore sports history, which would it be?

This is the last day I will be at the bar for about three weeks, so treasure the witty banter today and this weekend as if it were a free keg.

Although you should get plenty of that (the banter, not free beer) in the next few weeks as Sun sports columnist Kevin Cowherd takes over here and blogs a couple times a week in the traditional Connolly’s format (hey, this dive is almost two years old. That’s a fledgling tradition in my opinion).

Kevin will be serving up drinks, jokes and Maryland basketball talk, among other things. I’m not sure whether I want to give him the key to the wine cellar, though. I am not sure I can trust him with the good stuff. I’ll be back mid-March, but I may check back once or twice to make sure the authorities haven’t closed Cowherd down.

To send me on my temporary way, I figure we’ll go hypothetical today, as we do here on occasion. Gatorade has been sponsoring a “Replay” campaign in which they recreate a great game of yesteryear starring the former participants, such as a high school football game played by 30-somethings.

I’m going to steal this concept, and put on my own twist.

I want you to pick out one game in Baltimore sports history to have replayed. It can be college, pros, whatever.

Here’s the catch, since we are working with fantasy here: The replay will be played now but with the athletes in their primes – they’ll jump on the dusty Connolly time machine. So if you want to recreate Game 7 of the 1971 World Series, you get Frank and Brooks in their glory but also Roberto Clemente at his clutch best.

Now, here’s the other wrinkle: The game you replay may not end up the way you want it to. You won’t know until it unfolds. For instance, let’s assume you pick the 1958 NFL Championship between the Colts and the New York Giants because you want to experience first-hand the Greatest Game Ever Played.

Would be a great choice, but perhaps this time Ameche gets stopped at the goal line. Or maybe Frank Gifford gets that first down and the Giants limp to victory. It would be awesome to witness that game with your own eyes, but it will come with a risk. The Colts might end up as bridesmaids if you mess with history.

The flip side is that maybe a game that crushed the Baltimore fan base – Game 7s versus the Pirates, anyone? – gets reversed in your favor.

One more rule: It has to be one single game. It can’t be a circumstance – in other words you can’t give the Mayflower vans a flat tire or help the Orioles’ previous owners avoid bankruptcy court.

It has to be a game. Understand? (I am typing slow and making things simple in case some of Cowherd’s loyal readers got here early).

Here’s my choice: Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS in Yankee Stadium. Maybe, just maybe, Richie Garcia gets a little bit better look at Jeter’s fly ball a second time around. Maybe the Orioles win that one, get to the World Series and delay – maybe completely halt – the Yankees’ dynasty of the late 90s before it starts.

Probably not, but we’re talking fantasy here. So play along. And have a good late February.

Daily Think Special: If you could replay one game in Baltimore sports history, which would it be?

February 17, 2010

How would you slot the Orioles' rotation?

We’re continuing the pitching theme today in honor of the first Orioles’ workout in Sarasota on Thursday morning.

Before we get to that, though, just a little barcleaning matter.

Friday – or the weekend, really – will be my last post here until mid-March, when I’ll be blogging and tending from the Sunshine State.

Until then, I am taking a little bit of time off while Jeff Zrebiec and Peter Schmuck handle spring training duties.

But Connolly’s will remain open with a guest bartender, so you have no excuse to leave this place. And I didn’t just get you some generic slob with an apron and a bar rag and nothing else. No sir, I found you someone who knows his way around a stadium and a tavern.

Sun sports columnist Kevin Cowherd has agreed to jump behind the bar a few times a week for the next three weeks.

Kevin, as many of you know from his columns, sports and otherwise, has a great sense of humor and should add a little something extra to this dive. Assuming, that is, he doesn’t rob me blind and drink my inventory. (Rob K., you were right on, pal.)

Seriously, Kevin will come in and shoot the bull through mid-March. It’s perfect timing, since he is a keen follower of the University of Maryland men’s basketball program. So gear up for some serious Terps talk in this place – something that will be welcomed, I am sure.

Today, we’ll stick with my topic of (arguable) expertise: the Orioles.

Assuming Brad Bergesen (strained shoulder) is ready for the start of the season – and he says he expects to be -- and there are no other injuries, a trade or an implosion, the Orioles rotation in April should be some alignment of Bergesen, Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Kevin Millwood and Chris Tillman.

I am wondering how you would slot them for the beginning of the season. Millwood, because he is the veteran, likely will be the Opening Day starter against the Tampa Bay Rays in Florida on April 6.

The Orioles’ home opener will be April 9, and likely will feature the No. 4 starter there. My suggestion for that spot would be Bergesen, if healthy, since he was the club’s best hurler before he got hurt last season and it is still an honor to be the home-opening pitcher, even if it isn’t on the traditional Opening Day.

Rotation-slotting becomes moot a few weeks into the season, once teams experience different off days. But, initially, it has some import.

So I am making sure the veterans are at the top and my lefty is in the middle. If I were Dave Trembley, this is how I would do it: Millwood, Guthrie (rough year, but he still deserves to be high up in the rotation), Matusz (the lone lefty, and the rookie doesn’t need to be higher up, pressure-wise) Bergesen and Tillman.

Do you agree?

Daily Think Special: How would you slot the Orioles’ five-man rotation?

February 16, 2010

Which O's pitcher are you most interested in monitoring this spring?

It would be ridiculous not to talk Orioles today, when pitchers and catchers report in Sarasota, Fla.

Let’s limit the discussion to pitchers.

Who do you want to watch closely over the next six weeks?

I’ll throw out some names.

There’s Kevin Millwood, the new staff veteran who is pitching for another big contract. I think it will be intriguing to see not only how he throws, but also how he interacts with the young guys.

There’s Brian Matusz, last year’s phenom, who is one of the American League’s leading candidates for 2010 Rookie of the Year.

There’s Brad Bergesen, victim of TVspotgate 2009. Bergesen was the biggest surprise in the first half of last season before being sidelined by a severely bruised shin in July. He had a setback in December when he strained his shoulder filming an Orioles commercial. He’ll start the spring about 10 days behind the other pitchers.

There’s 21-year-old starter Chris Tillman, who is technically competing for the fifth starter’s job. But so long as he doesn’t fall completely apart or get hurt, it’s his spot. And I don’t see Tillman getting rattled in spring training.

There’s Jake Arrieta, the third member of the three-person pitching cavalry and the one who hasn’t made it to the bigs yet.

There’s Mike Gonzalez, the club’s new closer, who had trouble nailing down saves last year with the Atlanta Braves but should be fine at the back end of the bullpen.

There’s Koji Uehara, who is being moved to a relief role and needs to prove he can handle it. The ability is there; health and stamina remain questions.

Millwood’s the guy I am probably most interested in watching, but I’m also curious about Kam Mickolio, whom the Orioles would love to have claim one of the available relief spots. Mickolio can pitch, but the Montana native is still extremely raw.

There are plenty of interesting story lines involving the pitchers this spring. Which one has you the most intrigued?

Daily Think Special: Which O’s pitcher are you most interested in monitoring this spring?

February 15, 2010

Who should bat cleanup for the 2010 Orioles?

Orioles’ pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota, Fla., on Wednesday, which means they just put stuff in their lockers and exchange handshakes with their teammates.

They don’t start throwing until Thursday. The full squad doesn’t work out until Feb. 23 and the first exhibition game isn’t until March 3.

I’ll be down in mid-March and will stay through the Orioles’ first two games of the regular season in April in Tampa.

Meanwhile, my baseball colleague Jeff Zrebiec is in Sarasota now reporting everything Orioles. And our columnist, Pete Schmuck, is there, too, wearing ugly shirts and doing whatever a Schmuck in Florida does.

I’m going to take a few weeks off between next week and mid-March, but the bar may stay open. I have a guest bartender idea. I just need to see how much he’ll cost me.

Meanwhile, I had to write one of our last lead-ins to spring training, an analysis of some of the main questions facing the Orioles this spring.

Lots of bar material there. But one struck me immediately.

In trying to put together what the club’s everyday batting order will look like, I got stuck on cleanup hitter.

At this point, the Orioles don’t have a slam-dunk candidate to bat fourth. Garrett Atkins should be that guy if he can get his power stroke back (he averaged 25 homers and 110 RBIs in 2006-08, but had nine homers and 48 RBIs for the Colorado Rockies in 2009). But there’s no guarantee there.

Luke Scott is the only Oriole who had more than 20 homers in 2009 – he had 25 – but his second half was so rough (.208 average, seven homers, 26 RBIs in 216 at-bats) that he probably won’t get a whole lot of consideration initially for the cleanup spot.

Young guys such as Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters and Adam Jones may be able to handle it eventually, but it’s a lot of pressure for players with such inexperience. I say don’t toss them into that fire this early, at least not consistently.

Nick Markakis batted fourth in 47 games last season (with an on-base-plus slugging of just .733), but I think he is much better suited for third or second.

So, to me, that leaves Miguel Tejada as the best fit to bat cleanup for this team, at least in April – and especially if Atkins is struggling. Tejada only had 14 homers last season with the Houston Astros and just 13 in 2008.

But he is a proven run producer and has hit cleanup in more than 400 games in his career. He no longer has cleanup pop, but he won’t be fazed by the pressure inherent in the four hole. And he’ll help protect Markakis or Jones, which will be key.

So if I am writing out the Orioles 2010 lineup – at least for April – I’ve got Tejada batting fourth. What says you?

Daily Think Special: Who should bat cleanup for the 2010 Orioles?

February 11, 2010

Phil Itzoe Tribute: Which road stadium would you like to visit for an O's game?

Nothing beats the winter blues like talking baseball.

It surely helped Thursday, when we discussed why we loved the sport. Another reason I didn’t mention previously is that I love baseball because it has such a tight-knit fraternity.

On Wednesday, that fraternity lost a cherished brother: Phil Itzoe, the Orioles’ long-time traveling secretary who died after a lengthy illness. It seems like I’m writing about baseball deaths way too often these days.

This one definitely hit home. For many of you, Phil was just a name you heard on the radio when announcers chatted about their travel arrangements.

Phil was more to me. He was one of the first people I met when I began covering the Orioles as a full-time, traveling beat writer for the York Daily Record in 2001.

Phil and I shared several common bonds: We both started our sportswriting careers at The York Dispatch, albeit three decades apart. We often ended up at the same church for mass on Sunday mornings on the road before heading to the ballpark, occasionally comparing mass times on Saturday evenings. Also, Phil was not only a loving and doting father, he was a smart one. He sent his son to Calvert Hall, my alma mater.

So there were plenty of reasons for me to bond with Phil. But I needed no excuses; he was one of the nicest, most genuine people I’ve met in this game.

I have a bunch of Phil stories, but here’s my favorite:

One year in spring training we were in Jupiter, Fla., when O’s PR director Bill Stetka announced that Green Bay Packers’ GM Ron Wolf was at the Orioles’ exhibition game.

Stetka told us Wolf was there as a guest of Itzoe’s. Stetka added that Phil and Wolf were football teammates and graduated together from Susquehannock High School in Glen Rock. The guys in the press box chided me, because they knew I was going to write it, since the York angle was always something I paid attention to at the Daily Record.

So I included it as the last item of my spring training notebook, just a throw-away line that Wolf was there as a guest of his old teammate and fellow Susquehannock alum.

About 7 a.m. the next morning, the emails started flooding in, letting me know that Phil was a proud graduate of York Catholic High School. He had transferred from Susquehannock and graduated from York Catholic.

I probably received two dozen emails for that one ill-informed sentence. I wrote a correction, and was fined $1 by our press kangaroo court for “Falling for Stetka’s Phil Itzoe ruse.”

When I retold the story to Phil, he released one of his trademark hearty laughs and then put his arm around me and said, “Dan, if I knew it was going to cause you that much trouble, I never would have transferred.”

Classic Phil. Great sense of humor. Great man.

So let’s raise our glasses to an Orioles’ Hall-of-Famer and wish him Godspeed.

And let’s dedicate the Think Special today to the man who likely piled up more travel miles watching baseball than anyone else in the game’s history.

I want to know if you could pick any road stadium to watch an Orioles’ away game, which one would it be? Would you pick a classic like Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, or would you go with a newer one with a less rabid fan base?

If you’ve had a particularly good or bad Orioles’ road experience, share that, too.

Daily Think Special: Which road ballpark would you most like to visit for an Orioles’ game?

February 10, 2010

Finish this sentence: I love baseball because ...

I hate snow. There, I said it.

My wife and kids are calling me “Scrooge” because of my outward vitriol aimed at the snow. It’s easy to ridicule the bitter worker while you’re frolicking on a sled, I figure.

Grab my shovel for a few hours and then see if Jack Frost doesn’t blow.

OK, I’m feeling better. Nothing an Irish coffee and a little venting at Connolly’s can’t solve.

While I was helping a neighbor dig out for the second time in a three days, I was thinking about how good it will be to see baseball again.

I don’t head down to Florida until March, but I’ll be spending a chunk of that month there, finally free from snow.

That’s one of the reasons I love baseball. Another is because of the unique history that comes with it. I recently received a coffee table book that is heavier than a standard coffee table. It’s about Major League ballparks, with impressive, panoramic shots and detailed histories.

I love the NFL, and understand the history of the NBA and NHL. But, really, how interesting would it be to flip through a book of old football stadiums and hockey arenas? But the old ballparks? That hooked me.

So in this, the 212th straight day of shoveling snow, I am going to toss out a very simple statement that will hopefully get your mind off the winter weather. All you need to do is finish it. Unlike my driveway, which is seemingly unending.

Daily Think Special: Finish this sentence: I love baseball because ...

February 9, 2010

Who are your Top 3 NFL quarterbacks of all-time?

I wanted to go baseball today.

I really did.

Honestly, I wanted to go anywhere that was 70 degrees and sunny, but I digress.

The Peyton Manning debate from earlier this week, made me stick with the NFL a little longer.

While watching the Super Bowl, dome buddies and I had a quick debate about where Manning fits into the pantheon of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks.

Is he Top 10? Top 5? Top 3?

We started to discuss it but then something diverted our attention (maybe a Go ad) and we didn’t get back to it.

I’m curious as to whom the majority in here believe are the NFL’s three greatest QBs. I don’t necessarily want an order – just Top 3.

It’s so hard to pick, especially across generations. And I am sure our answers will vary. They should, honestly.

Although, you must be something special if you can stroll in here and not name Johnny Unitas in your Top Three. For the record, my father’s Top Three: Johnny Unitas, Johnny U. and John Unitas. I kid you not.

I’ll be a little more diverse. Cue the criticism.

I’m going with Johnny U., Joe Montana and Peyton Manning.

That means I am leaving out Dan Marino and Troy Aikman and Bart Starr and Terry Bradshaw and Sammy Baugh and John Elway and Brett Favre and a host of others.

I can only pick three. And, honestly, in Montana’s prime, I’d rather have him than any of his contemporaries. And, right now, I say the same about Manning, even against, say Brady or Favre. And I probably say Johnny U. over everyone.

For me, it’s about being the ultimate leader, and leading your team to victory. Yes, you can poke holes in that theory (since Manning has just one ring, etc.) And these are three pretty amazing leaders.

So those are my picks. Name yours.

Daily Think Special: Who are your Top 3 quarterbacks of all time? Why?

February 8, 2010

Did Peyton Manning damage his legacy Sunday?

The football season is officially over.

I know, for many of you, it ended in mid-January.

Here’s a toast for all of you that couldn’t stand the idea of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, the New York Yankees and the Indianapolis Colts all celebrating championships in a 12-month period.

At least something turned up OK for Baltimore-area fans.

Seven of you had the New Orleans Saints winning the Super Bowl over that blue and white team from Indianapolis. Free drink chips to Dwayne, Justin, Jeff O and Jeff F, E Low and Steve 119. Kevin in Iraq gets two drink chips for his backdoor jinx that stung the Colts.

And the free tab for the week goes to … wait for it … good old Rich, who had a 38-19 Saints win (just edging E Low’s 38-20 call). Congrats to Rich for a win in our last Prediction Friday of the NFL season. I’ll let you light up a cigar, Rich, if you promise it’s just a cigar.

Anyway, it was a good game and a fine evening. The post-game shot of Drew Brees lifting his son up with the confetti floating down was classic, though it wasn’t my favorite moment of Sunday involving a toddler.

I am still laughing about the E-Trade commercial with Lindsey the Milkaholic (milk-a-what?) You know a commercial is genius when it is more entertaining than Betty White and Abe Vigoda being tackled in a Snickers’ ad – which was almost impossible to top.

But E-Trade’s Lindsey the Milkaholic did, in my opinion. Yes, I am a simpleton. I admit it.

Anyway, we’ll take one more swipe at the NFL before we move on to baseball this week. The biggest play of Super Bowl Sunday was the Tracy Porter interception and return that sealed the New Orleans Saints’ victory.

Yes, the onsides kick was huge, but if Porter doesn’t make that play, the Colts are still in position to at least tie the game.

The funny thing is, it’s been debated as to whether Peyton Manning somehow diminished his legacy by throwing that pick.

I say he just proved he was human, showed that he was not invincible. I think he was one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history before that and will remain that way.

Quarterbacks throw interceptions, it happens. That’s my thought, anyway.

But I guess I understand why some would suggest that by doing it on the biggest stage at a crucial moment hurts Manning’s legacy and his status at one of the best ever. I don’t buy it. But maybe you do.

Daily Think Special: Did Peyton Manning’s crucial interception in the fourth quarter Sunday damage his legacy?

February 4, 2010

Prediction Friday: Saints-Colts

We’ve talked about Baltimore’s great announcers -- which was one of the best discussions we’ve had in this place in a while.

And we’ve talked about that horseshoed team in the Midwest, and how most of you -- besides Jack and his island barstool -- want them to lose violently on Sunday.

But now it is time to usher in the final Prediction Friday of the NFL season.

If you are just stopping by for a quick cocktail, this is how it works: Predict the score, the winner/loser and the hero of the game (in this instance, the Super Bowl MVP).

Whoever is closest will receive a free fake cyberdrink tab for the week, and let me tell you, those are coveted.

Here’s my call: I agree with most of you. I can’t bring myself to root for the Colts. It’s just in my Baltimoron DNA (yeah, I said Baltimoron again). So go Saints, I suppose.

That said, I think the Colts are going to win. I think it will be a great game, and likely somewhat of a shootout. But I think the Colts’ defense is just that much better than the Saints. So I say 35-31 Colts.

And my MVP?

Reggie Wayne with three touchdown receptions and 100-plus yards.

Now, take your best shot. We’ll leave this up through the big game.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Colts-Saints

February 3, 2010

Does Peyton Manning's presence alter your thoughts about the Colts?

At the end of an interview I had earlier this week with Cal Ripken Jr., for a story that will appear on Sunday, I asked the Hall of Famer about his thoughts on the Super Bowl.

Ripken will be in attendance, and as a Baltimore-area native and young professional athlete when the Colts moved away in 1984, I wanted to know who he would be rooting for: After all, Peyton Manning is Ripken’s kind of athlete and he’s been to a Ripken charity event in the past.

But it is the Colts.

Ripken, in perfect Ripken form, laughed and dodged giving a straight answer. Mr. Aberdeen, Mr. Oriole is too smart to bite on that one.

He said he really isn’t sure what he’ll do. He said he had the same thought when he watched the New York Giants and the undefeated New England Patriots play a couple years ago. He was there and was asked all week which team he was rooting for. He said he didn’t know until the Giants got a first down in the fourth quarter and Ripken heard himself say, “Yeah.” That’s when he realized he was rooting for the Giants.

So he figures that moment of realization will come Sunday. Boy, is that guy good.

And I get his point. In a way.

I am a bit torn about Sunday. It’s impossible not to have respect for Peyton Manning; he really is among the best ever. And he’s so gracious when talking about Johnny Unitas, that even the bitterest Baltimore Colts fan has to begrudgingly like the guy. And he had absolutely nothing to do with the Mayflower vans – neither did any of his teammates.

That said, he’s a Colt and we all know that history and that ownership. I realize it has been 25-plus years, but it is tough to completely let go. Listen, I’m no longer 14, I don’t hate Indianapolis anymore. But hatred versus not wanting them to win another Super Bowl are separate things, right?

The good news for the Bitter Baltimorons is that the New Orleans Saints provide a worthy team to cheer for. They have never won it. And that city sure could use the positive vibes. So you can mask your hatred with a soft heart for the Saints.

Several Baltimore-native friends of mine this week have debated what to do on Sunday: Do you root against the best quarterback of a generation simply because of the uniform on his back?

My answer is probably. I can’t wait for yours.

Daily Think Special: Does Peyton Manning’s presence alter your feelings about the Colts?

February 2, 2010

Who is your favorite Orioles announcer of all time?

The announcement of Jon Miller as the 2010 Ford C. Frick winner for outstanding contributions to baseball broadcasting got me thinking.

Who is my favorite Orioles’ announcer of all time?

This is a tough one for me. First, I have to exclude the guys who were TV-only. Many did great jobs, but it just isn’t the same as radio. That’s a special deal, in my opinion.

Ever since I can remember, my father listened to games on the radio. He’d be grilling in the backyard or fixing something in the basement, and the O’s game would always accompany him.

That became ingrained in me. Nowadays, I must admit, I rarely listen to the Orioles’ radio broadcasts. I am at most home games and a chunk on the road. When I am away from the team, I am usually at my house, and the game is on TV.

But that’s not to say I don’t listen to baseball on the radio anymore. I have a 50-minute ride home from the stadium after every game at Camden Yards, so I invariably listen to a West Coast game or two on my satellite radio.

It’s fantastic to hear other teams’ announcers, especially when I get the treat of Vin Scully with the Los Angeles Dodgers and, of course, Miller with the San Francisco Giants.

Because Baltimore has been blessed with such amazing baseball announcers over the years, the fan base might be a bit spoiled. I have heard a contingent of fans complain about Joe Angel and Fred Manfra, from time to time.

As I said above, I don’t get the opportunity to listen that much to Joe and Fred because of my job. And since I consider both men my friends, I am not fully objective. But I listen to a lot of other teams’ guys, and I really think the tandem here in Baltimore is excellent. I challenge you to listen to New York Yankees radio broadcasts, for instance, and not come away with an appreciation for Joe and Fred. Just my opinion.

Anyway, back to my original thought. Who is my favorite? I am stuck right in the middle of a generational argument. (Sort of like: Cal or Brooks?) To me, the voice of Orioles baseball -- and, really, the voice of summer -- is Chuck Thompson. He taught me the game when I was eager to learn it. And so I’ll forever think of Chuck when I think of summer barbecues and transistor radios hidden under pillows. (Bill O’Donnell should be mentioned here, too, but my memory of him is shaky since he died when I was 12.)

Then there’s Jon Miller. He was the perfect baseball companion for the teen and 20-something, especially when the Orioles stunk. He could make a terrible Orioles game fun – and that’s not easy to do. (Joe Angel is a master of doing that now.)

So, really, I am torn by my own question. It’s like choosing between your kindly grandfather and your crazy uncle. Both were tremendous in their own ways.

I guess I will say my favorite was Thompson, because that’s when I was in awe of baseball. And baseball on the radio was something more than just entertainment.

But it’s close.

I want to know where you stand. Don’t tell me who you think was the best Orioles announcer. I want to know your favorite. And, yes, there is a difference.

You can use TV announcers, too. But I won’t.

Daily Think Special: Who is your all-time favorite Orioles announcer?

January 31, 2010

What will you remember most about Melvin Mora's Orioles' career?

We’re going to recycle a little bit today.

Never say this place isn’t good for the environment.

A few months ago we talked about Melvin Mora and his place in history with the Orioles, because we knew he wouldn’t be back.

But now it is official. Mora agreed to terms – a one-year deal worth $1.3 million with the Colorado Rockies – on Sunday.

Mora finishes top 10 in most of the franchise’s offensive categories, including hits, homers, doubles, RBIs, runs scored and at-bats.

He also led the club in speaking his mind; usually good for one or two critical outbursts a season. He’d rip teammates and club personnel if he felt it were necessary. At times, that endeared him to fans while rankling teammates and/or club officials.

Mora was an enigma. He could pout and lose focus and act like the typical privileged athlete of this generation. And he could also show support and compassion for his community that is so rare these days. He chose to live in the Baltimore area year-round, which got him a whole lot of points around here.

I’ll tell you this much: No professional athlete I have covered supplied me with more humorous, head-shaking moments (most of which I couldn’t print) than Melvin, who said some genuinely hilarious things, some of which weren’t even meant to be funny.

Here’s a quick one. Melvin was once up with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth of a tied game when an errant pitch headed right for his back. Instinctively, Melvin shot to the ground – even though if the pitch had hit him, it would have won the game.

A few pitches later, Melvin walked and the Orioles won anyway. Afterward, we interviewed Jerry Hairston, one of the more loquacious players I have covered. Hairston joked that the next day the team was going to send Melvin out for early hit-by-pitch practice.

When the quip was relayed to Mora, he half-smiled and simply said, “Jerry Hairston talk too much.”

For the next year, every time Hairston was being interviewed, one of the guys in the press box would say, “Jerry Hairston talk too much.” And then we’d all laugh.

There is so much to remember about Mora’s days here, but I think I will remember most the crazy things he said when we were just shooting the bull.

What will you remember? Will it be good, bad or a little of both?

Daily Think Special: What will you remember most about Melvin Mora’s Orioles’ career?

January 29, 2010

Finish the sentence: The Orioles' offseason has been ...

I have been slacking off, people. I admit it.

I haven’t filed as many entries this week and I haven’t filled as many glasses.

And I certainly haven’t done much entertaining or thought-provoking, which is just as essential to cyber-bartending as changing the fake kegs.

So here are some random thoughts and a question you can chew on all weekend (kind of like the beef jerky in the glass jar at the west end of the bar).

I saw that Barbi Benton, 1970s sex symbol, actress and former Playboy centerfold, turned 60 this week. Not only does that make me feel ridiculously old, but it also makes me wonder how difficult it must be to be a 60-year-old woman named Barbi. I’d suggest changing her name to Betty or Sylvia and quietly ride out the next two decades.

The season-long suspension of the Wizards’ Gilbert Arenas cements a point that my 10-year-old son Alex made a few years ago. I took him to a Wizards’ game for his 8th birthday and on the train to the arena, I explained to him that Arenas was a superstar and one of the best players in the NBA.

Well, that game Arenas had like 10 points and Caron Butler had a career-high 20-something. Afterward, walking back to the train I asked Alex what he thought of the game. And he said, “Well, you were wrong. No. 3 is so much better than No. 0, daddy.” I think that was his indoctrination into an unassailable truth: sportswriters know nothing.

To my music lovers out there, I am seeing the Felice Brothers on Saturday night, and I am psyched. I can’t tell you the last time I was this excited about seeing a band for the first time. It’s a sold out show in an old, 450-seat movie theater. I can’t wait, even though they are Yankees’ fans.

Oh, and to the baseball fans in the bar, I really do think the Orioles are done setting their 40-man roster before spring training. Yes, that could change if Erik Bedard wants to return to Baltimore. But I’ll call that reunion unlikely right now. And I see no other 40-man roster additions before pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota.

So that makes me think it’s time to evaluate Andy MacPhail’s offseason. He said he is pleased with it – he traded for Kevin Millwood and signed Garrett Atkins, Miguel Tejada and Mike Gonzalez – but are you?

Daily Think Special: Finish the sentence: The Orioles’ offseason has been …

January 27, 2010

Who will play third for the Orioles in August?

We are back on baseball, where we are going to stay for a while.

I could ask what you think about the Miguel Tejada signing, but we already did that before it became official. We are so darn efficient at Connolly’s, it can be a real killjoy for future topics.

But the well – or the kegs -- never runs empty around here.

During Tejada’s introductory press conference on Tuesday, Orioles’ club president Andy MacPhail made a point to say that Tejada was signed to be the team’s third baseman for the 162 games of 2010 – or as close to 162 as possible.

Basically, his point was that Tejada wasn’t signed just to hold a place for the organization’s top third base prospect Josh Bell. So even if Bell is tearing up Triple-A in July, MacPhail still expects to have Tejada on the hot corner at season’s end.

This is where the cynic in me rises up. I am not buying it. If Bell shows he can hit – and switch hit – at Norfolk, I think the Orioles will give him a shot to do it full-time in the big leagues.

That may mean Tejada gets pushed to designated hitter or perhaps out the door at the July trade deadline.

If I were a betting man, I’d say Tejada doesn’t last to August 1 in an Orioles’ uniform. The man can still hit, and there will be a contender that will want to add him as a sparkplug in a pennant race.

Then again, MacPhail doesn’t like to rush his prospects, and maybe he will keep Bell in the minors until rosters expand in September. Maybe Bell struggles to the point that he needs the full season at Norfolk. Maybe he struggles and they trade Tejada anyway for another future piece. They could move Ty Wigginton or Garrett Atkins to third in that scenario.

So we know Tejada, barring injury (and the guy is extremely durable) will play third for the Orioles on Opening Day. But I want to know who will be on the hot corner in August. I want your predictions. I won’t hold you to it.

Daily Think Special: Who will play third base for the Orioles in August?

January 25, 2010

Do you care if Brett Favre ever plays another NFL down?

Well, it’s official: The Colts and Saints in the Super Bowl.

I think those are probably the best teams in the NFL, so I am OK that they both survived for the big standoff.

We didn’t exactly have rousing participation in Prediction Friday -- when the Ravens go away, so does the enthusiasm in this place -- but of those who saddled up to the bar and tossed your prognostications into the tip jar -- Rich, Rob and Jack -- had the right winners, along with yours truly.

You all get free drink chips, and, in an executive decision, I’ll give the free tab to Jack for predicting a four-point Saints victory in the NFC title game. That was the hardest to pick.

I am sure many of you watched the Vikings-Saints game, and it was definitely a good one. Although it was surprising to think a bad Brett Favre decision may have cost them a chance at advancing.

Part of me loves the fact that a guy older than me is still a major factor in pro sports. But most of me thinks it is time for Favre to walk away. For him, sure, but really for the rest of us.

I don’t see it happening, though. I don’t see him wanting his last play to be a key interception. And he showed he can still play this game at a high level.

You know there will be plenty of talk over the next few months on Favre’s potential retirement (No. 3). We’ll do it once here and I promise we’ll move on. But let’s put our cynical Connolly’s take on it.

Daily Think Special: Do you care if Brett Favre ever plays another NFL down?

January 22, 2010

What do you remember about Curt Motton?

We’re offering up a bonus entry today.

But we are doing it with the 1970 World Championship flag behind the bar at half-mast.

Curt Motton, a member of that Orioles team (and six others) passed away at age 69 after dealing with stomach cancer.

I didn’t know Motton, and don’t remember seeing him play. I was about five when he played his last big-league game.

But I knew about him, and his role as a key pinch-hitter on those amazing Orioles’ teams.

So I figured I’d give you the opportunity to talk about Motton, especially the old-timers at the bar who can remember 1966 through 1971 like it was yesterday.

Rich and Jack, this one is definitely for you guys. Have at it.

The rest of you, raise a glass to old No. 21.

Daily Think Special: What do you remember about Curt Motton?

January 21, 2010

Prediction Friday: AFC and NFC championships

We’ll make this one short and sweet.

No reason to belabor a Prediction Friday that doesn’t involve the Ravens.

At least you can pick Rex Ryan or Matt Stover to get to the Super Bowl. Or you can pick against the Colts because, hey, this is Baltimore and we don’t need a reason.

As for me, I have yet to pick the Jets in the postseason and I am sticking with that.

I say the Colts win 24-10 and head to the Super Bowl. Predictably, Peyton Manning is the hero with three TDs thrown.

As for the NFC Championship, I am going with a blowout. New Orleans 31-13 over the Minnesota Vikings. And I’ll stay with predictability: Drew Brees is the hero with three TDs and 400 yards passing.

Now I want your predictions for both the AFC and NFC championships. Include a hero for each game.

To get the free drink chips you need to pick both winners, unless you get one score completely right.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday – AFC and NFC championship games

January 20, 2010

Do you want Miguel Tejada back in an Orioles uniform?

We are switching gears and concentrating on baseball today.

No real reason, but why not?

We’ll keep the postseason NFL Prediction Friday going tomorrow. But we’re back to being seamheads today.

Andy MacPhail, the Orioles’ president of baseball operations, has shown a willingness the past few years to be environmentally friendly.

He has Reduced -- as in the club’s payroll.

And he has Recycled -- giving jobs to some of his old Chicago Cubs, such as Rich Hill, Lou Montanez and Felix Pie.

Now, there is a possibility he could Reuse.

As my Sun baseball partner Jeff Zrebiec wrote earlier this week, a lack of options at third base has put Miguel Tejada on the club’s short list at the hot corner.

Now that’s not to say there will be a reunion with Miggy, whom MacPhail traded to the Houston Astros in Dec. 2007, the day before the famed Mitchell Report on performance enhancing drugs came out.

But he’s definitely on MacPhail’s list, likely behind Joe Crede.

Tejada was a star and fan favorite here. He also was a dog and a fan target here. The guy can still hit and would be more willing to play third this go around. And, no matter the myriad problems he had here, he is a kind-hearted soul who is hard to dislike.

I, for one, liked Miggy the Person, but thought it was time for Miggy the Player to move on. And I don’t think two years have changed my mind.

Daily Think Special: Do you want Miguel Tejada back in an Orioles uniform?

January 19, 2010

What should be the Ravens' top offseason priority?

We had our first “Finish the sentence” day at the bar on Tuesday, our literary version of a sobriety test.

By my account it was a success, and we’ll be doing it again at another time. We may even do it with an Orioles theme (remember them?).

It’s nice when it is someone besides my wife finishing my sentences (that’s what happens when you are married for nearly 15 years).

Seems like most of you think the Ravens were both exciting and frustrating in 2009-10. Some excellent moments and some arrgh-inspiring ones.

Well, now I want you to fix your favorite football team. Obviously, the Ravens could upgrade in several phases in 2010: pass rush, pass defense, receiving corps and kicking game come to mind.

But if you were in charge and you could guarantee one spot that you absolutely, positively would transform next season, which would it be?

It’s down to two spots for me: Wide receivers and secondary. And the most glaring need could come down to whether Derrick Mason, Ed Reed or both retire.

I have absolutely no inside information here (as I’ve said before, I never do with the Ravens. I leave that to our experts on the football beat), but my guess is Reed returns. In my experience, guys as competitive as Reed don’t walk away when they can still play at a high level.

Mason, however, has sung this tune before and is 36, so he’s a better bet to leave. Even if he doesn’t, the Ravens need a consistent deep threat, one that can keep opposing defenses honest when they stack the box to contain the run.

But I am still going with the secondary – even assuming Reed stays. I want a shutdown corner or someone with that potential anyway. And I hope to get someone close to that in the draft. But I wouldn’t argue with a solid wide receiver addition or more beef on either side of the line.

And then there is a consistent kicker, so, yeah, plenty of options. What’s your first choice?

Daily Think Special: What should be the Ravens’ top priority this offseason?

January 18, 2010

Finish this sentence: The Ravens' season was ...

It was all quiet and dark at the bar Monday. Sorry, but I had to fix the plate glass window in the front.

Someone threw a mug through it about the same time Ray Lewis’s helmet connected with a horseshoe and a yellow flag floated in the air.

The investigation continues – into the broken window not the penalty flag.

Anyway, it was a tough weekend in Charm City. A dismal 20-3 loss to that team in Indianapolis to end the Ravens’ season.

I guess it is fitting that the patrons at Connolly’s laid an egg on Prediction Friday as well. I probably was the closest with a 24-20 Colts’ win, and I’m taking no credit for it.

So, yeah, it’s a somber mood in here. We’ll try to at least make it more upbeat.

I just picked up the new (well, relatively new) Jimmy Buffett CD to see if it is more like the old ones (great chillin’, drinkin’ music) or like the newer ones (a few good tunes sandwiched around schlock). I’ll give it a listen and report back later. Meanwhile, we’ll stick it on the jukebox.

Today is as appropriate as any to review the Ravens’ season. It started with such promise, three straight wins and the hopes of another AFC Championship game at the least. Then the momentum was flushed away by midseason, only for a solid finish that took them into the second round of the playoffs.

I asked earlier this month whether the Ravens’ season could be considered a success if they made it to the playoffs. Many of you answered yes, and I think that is the case, especially considering they got to the second round.

But it was a step behind last year’s AFC title game run, and the expectations were higher.

I want to know what word you’d use to describe the Ravens’ 2009-10. I’ll say frustrating, with a nod toward exhausting as well. Just so many ups and downs, so much talent wasted by poor execution at the most inopportune times.

So give me one word (or phrase) to sum this one. Make it clean. What do you say?

Daily Think Special: Finish this sentence: The Ravens season was …

January 14, 2010

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Colts

Not really sure what to post today.

Is there some big game going on this weekend involving a local team?

And a former local team?

With the winner getting one step away from the Super Bowl?

Yeah, I heard something about that.

Bring in your big, frosty mugs today, people. Natty Boh is flowing, and so are your predictions. I am stoked enough about this game that I’m not charging anyone today – not even Rich or Barry or Waspman or Scooter.

I’ll even give Putin free vodka shots if he materializes here.

So, will your Ravens continue their improbable run playoff run and knock off the AFC’s No. 1 seed, that blue-and-white team in Indianapolis?

Or will Peyton Manning and company be too much for the Ravens’ secondary?

I am going to stay consistent – which is a good thing for Ravens’ fans. Because I have been fairly consistently wrong on Prediction Fridays this year.

I am going with the Colts. I think the Ravens’ running game will make this one a contest, but unless the Ravens can jump out early again, I don’t like the idea of a rested Manning with the game on the line in the fourth quarter.

So I say Colts 24-20. Manning the hero.

Drinks on me if I am right. Drinks on me if I am wrong.

Your turn to predict the score and the hero of the game.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Colts

January 13, 2010

Peyton or Ray? Choose only one

Part of my job here behind this big slab of cherry wood is to dish out arguments.

Not just things that make you go, ‘Huh.’ But that also separate the bar a bit – that have several answers that could be, maybe even are, correct.

So, in that responsibility, I failed Wednesday. The question was whether Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis – two key components in Saturday’s playoff game in Indianapolis – are the best of their generation.

And pretty much everyone who stopped by to answer said yes.

\ So much for a potential barfight. I couldn’t even get WV Mike or Jim Traber to throw an elbow.

OK, so now I am going to add a twist on this particular drink, tossing in an apple and an orange.

Which player, Manning or Lewis, would you most want on your team of the late-90s/2000s if you could have only one?

Yes, comparing a defensive star to an offensive star is unfair. But that is what we are doing, so humor me.

They are both Hall of Famers, both have won a Super Bowl title and, as we established, the best of their generations at their respective positions.

But knowing what you know now about their pro careers, if you could go back to the late 1990s (Lewis was drafted in 1996 and Manning in 1998, so split the difference and say 1997) and take just one of them for your team, which one would it be?

On first blush, this seems like an easy call. Take the franchise quarterback, right? But, during Manning’s career, there have been some other pretty great quarterbacks, such as Tom Brady, Brett Favre and now Drew Brees.

As Rob K pointed out, the next best in line behind Lewis at middle linebacker in this era (the last 15 years or so) is Brian Urlacher, who is a very good player. But I think he is further behind Lewis than some of the other QBs are behind Manning.

And middle linebacker is the QB of the defense, or so the footballspeak goes.

So which one would you take to lead you through the 2000s? I still think I’d lean toward Manning, because he may be the best ever at the most important position. But I don’t think it is a slam dunk (yeah, I know, that’s from another sport).

Daily Think Special: Peyton or Ray? Choose only one.

January 12, 2010

Are Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis the best of this NFL era?

With Saturday’s clash between the Ravens and Colts in Indy looming, an interesting question by my Sun colleague Kevin Van Valkenburg was tossed to Ravens head coach John Harbaugh on Tuesday.

Are Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis the best offensive and defensive NFL players of this generation?

Harbaugh danced around it, saying he’d have to study all the great players of the past decade or so to make a comparison.

Me? Not so much. Not in this fine establishment, anyway.

I say yes and yes.

Manning gets serious competition from Brett Favre, who won three consecutive MVP trophies. But Manning has four, and my vote.

And, honestly, I think Lewis stands alone on the defensive side.

I assume you guys will have the same bias. But who knows?

There’s an occasional objective person in this place (at least before I summon the bouncer). Maybe some supporters of other teams will sneak in here – we still haven’t sprayed for Steelers fans this month.

Plus, I guess there could be a decent argument about what this “generation” or era is. For argument’s sake, I’ll say the past 15 years or so.

Daily Think Special: Are Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis the best of this generation?

January 11, 2010

Whose play will be key for the Ravens to beat the Colts on Saturday?

Football is a team game. I understand that.

You are only good as the unit as a whole – or something like that.

But one player’s performance can make a major difference, especially if that player is in a key “skill” position.

Ray Rice set the tone on Sunday with his spirit-crushing touchdown in the game’s first minute. Terrell Suggs and Chris Carr also stepped up at the right times and certainly were big reasons why the Ravens embarrassed the Patriots.

Now, Saturday evening it will be a new game, a new stage, a new opportunity.

And I am wondering whom will have the biggest influence on whether the Ravens’ win or lose – on the Ravens’ side that is.

If Peyton Manning is at the top of his game, the Ravens are likely packing up and going home next week. We all understand that.

But what about on Baltimore’s end?

Is there a Ravens’ player whose performance will best dictate how the team does against the Colts?

The easy answer is quarterback Joe Flacco, but he was non-existent against the Patriots and it didn’t matter. And I don’t see the game plan changing dramatically in Indianapolis (although I am sure there will be an attempt at better offensive balance).

So here’s my call: safety Ed Reed. A healthy Reed makes the cornerbacks and the entire secondary better. And Reed swarming around might just make the unflappable Manning hold the ball an extra nanosecond. And that could – just saying could, mind you -- give the Ravens’ pass rush the opening they need to be disruptive.

Again, I realize one man may not change the entire fate of Saturday’s football game. But one player could go a long way into determining it.

Daily Think Special: Whose play will be key for the Ravens to beat the Colts on Saturday?

January 10, 2010

What's your take on Sunday's Ravens' win in New England?

Not only do I admit when I am wrong, but there are times when I like it.

Sunday was one of those times. I just didn’t think the Ravens could handle the Patriots and Tom Brady in New England.

I was wrong. Incredibly wrong. Nineteen points wrong.

The Ravens throttled the Patriots 33-14 and are now headed to Indianapolis to play Peyton Manning and the … well, that team’s nickname escapes me right now.

There was a whole lot of optimism about this game on the other side of the bar this weekend. And I give you loyal fans credit. I especially give credit to Mike, who said he had a dream that the Ravens beat the Pats 31-17.

And that was his prognostication on Prediction Friday. He came closest to nailing it head on, and so he’ll get the free open drink tab this week.

Congrats Mike, live the dream.

Many of you Ravens fans are in dreamland, too. This club that made you shake your heads and fists much of the season are now in Round 2 of the playoffs.

And you have to be impressed with how they did it – absolutely punching the Patriots in the mouth in the first quarter to go up 24-0. The defense stepped up and the rushing attack was phenomenal.

I’ll leave the analysis for you guys today, since I proved this weekend I don’t exactly have my fingers on the pulse of this Ravens team.

We’ll get to Saturday’s clash in Indy later this week. Today, I’ll let you focus on the good that was Sunday in Massachusetts.

Do you think it was the start of something big? Or do you think the Patriots were just highly overrated? Was it a little bit of both?

Were you exhilarated by the rush-heavy game plan or did it make you concerned about how Joe Flacco and the receivers will respond after a veritable week off?

This is your turn. Use it.

Daily Think Special: What’s your take on Sunday’s Ravens’ win in New England?

January 7, 2010

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Patriots

We have made it to the postseason version of Prediction Friday.

This one is for keeps (cue the ominous piano strains).

I have thought a lot about how the Ravens are going to fare against the New England Patriots in Gillette Stadium.

For the most part, I like the match-up from a Ravens’ perspective. They can run the ball and the Patriots’ rush defense is spotty. Plus, potentially bad weather in New England could be conducive to a strong rushing attack.

Having Wes Welker out of the game certainly is a plus. Although Tom Brady is always difficult to contain, it helps when the defense can pressure him. The last time these two teams played, Brady was sacked three times.

In the end, though, I just don’t think I can pick the Ravens to win this. And it’s not because the Patriots have dominated these clashes before or because the Ravens are 1-6 this season against playoff-caliber clubs.

What sticks with me is that I have yet to see the Ravens dominate a really good quarterback. And in these situations, even without Welker, Brady is among the best.

So I apologize, my dear purple patrons. I’d love to side with the hometown team.

But I see the Pats winning this one 24-17. I see Brady as the hero of the game with three TDs, including a game-sealer in the fourth quarter.

Raise your glass and toast to the idiocy of your barkeep. And then give me your score and hero of the game for Sunday afternoon.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Patriots.

January 6, 2010

Who was this year's biggest Hall of Fame snub?

I know we’re in a countdown toward the Ravens’ first-round playoff game against the New England Patriots.

But we have to flip back to Major League Baseball for a day.

Wednesday’s Hall of Fame vote was just too interesting to avoid. Plus, as the local chairman of the Baseball Writers Association of America, I guess I might have to defend some of my brethren. At least a little bit.

I don’t have a Hall of Fame vote yet, so I can’t be held responsible for how the vote ended up this year. But let me say this: There isn’t a voter I have spoken to – and I know a bunch – who doesn’t take the responsibility seriously.

(Remember, to become a voter you have to have 10 years in the association, which means, in most cases, you have had to spend at least 10 years traveling around this country covering baseball for as much as nine months at a time. It may sound like fun, and it certainly can be, but it is also a heck of a grind. Trust me.)

For the most part, A LOT of thought goes into the voting process. No one I know takes it lightly. That said, some don’t make good decisions – in my opinion anyway.

For instance, I find it incomprehensible that five voters sent in an empty ballot this year. I don’t see how you can look at that group, headlined by Andre Dawson, Bert Blyleven, Roberto Alomar and Barry Larkin, and not see at least one deserving candidate.

I also think those that penalized Roberto Alomar for his spitting incident in 1996 are being shortsighted. Terrible moment in a great career.

If I had a ballot, Alomar would have been on it. And from what you people told me last month, he would have been on most of yours as well. So his failure to get 75 percent (he garnered 73.7 percent) is unfortunate.

To me, though, his was not the biggest snub this year. (Most surprising, but not biggest.) I cannot understand why Bert Blyleven fell short (only by five votes) again this year, his 13th on the ballot. He only has two more shots – and I really hope voters wise up by next year. You’d hate to have that class guy and great pitcher sweat out his final year of eligibility in 2012.

Of the guys currently eligible, I think Blyleven is the biggest snub, followed closely by Alomar. But, potentially anyway, there are others: Jack Morris, Larkin, Lee Smith, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell, Fred McGriff, Don Mattingly, Harold Baines, Tim Raines, Dale Murphy and, of course, Mark McGwire, who has been passed over for obvious reasons.

Former Chicago Cub Ron Santo is considered the all-time Hall snub (if you don’t count Pete Rose, who was never placed on the ballot, so don’t blame the writers on that one), but Santo is no longer eligible. So let’s keep this discussion to those who were on the ballot in 2009.

Daily Think Special: Who was this year’s biggest Hall of Fame snub and why?

January 5, 2010

How good is Tom Brady right now?

We are out of Iron City again. Rob K poured most of it on the heads of some of our visitors from the west on Tuesday.

I am a sucker for the Ravens-Steelers debate. It’s like Seinfeld episodes and Rocky movies. I know how they end, but I still enjoy them. Can’t help myself.

Let’s head north but stay with the NFL.

(I’d like to switch up and do baseball, but the three big baseball subjects of the day, Matt Holliday, Robbie Alomar and Randy Johnson, have all been dissected here at the bar in the past few months. We are so ahead of the curve.)

Let’s talk about New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. He apparently is playing with a few broken ribs. And, on Sunday against the Ravens in the first round of the playoffs, he’ll be without his most trusted weapon, injured receiver Wes Welker.

No question, Welker and his Pats’ record-setting number of receptions and yards will be sorely missed. Brady’s completion percentage is 11 points higher with Welker in the lineup.

Still, I believe Brady, even at 32 and one year removed from a lost season, can single-handedly beat a team, especially one with a secondary as suspect as the Ravens’. So Ravens’ fans should be sufficiently concerned.

In their earlier matchup this season, Brady was 21 of 32 for 258 yards and one touchdown against the Ravens. Nothing special.

Perhaps most important, he was sacked three times. And the Ravens know they need to keep pressuring Brady if they have a chance of winning in New England.

The thing about Brady is that he was pretty much under the radar this season while guys such as Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and others excelled. But Brady was pretty darn good, too.

He threw for 28 TDs (just 13 interceptions) and 4,398 yards. Take away his phenomenal 2007 (50 TDs, 8 INTs, 4,806 yards) and this season was his best, statistically speaking. So he may be older, and he may be hurt, but he is still Tom Brady. He is still extremely dangerous.

That’s my thought anyway. What say you?

Daily Think Special: How good is Tom Brady right now?

January 4, 2010

What was your reaction when the Steelers' playoff chances ended?

I tried to think of a good baseball question for Tuesday. I really did.

I spent most of the day making phone calls attempting to drum up Orioles news and there just isn’t a whole lot going on. Or at least nothing more interesting than the first round of the NFL playoffs.

So I am dropping back into prevent defense (hey, it gives you your best chance to score in a bar).

Before we get going, I wanted to point out that Monday was Michael Stipe’s 50th birthday, so we have old-school R.E.M. jammed on the jukebox all day – though I did put the kibosh on “Shiny, Happy People.”

If you are both shiny and happy, there is probably another dive that suits you better.

Dull, gloomy and sarcastic fits us a whole lot better.

But I am here to brighten your Tuesday (because I know Everybody Hurts). In case you missed it, the Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t make the playoffs. In fact, the Ravens’ win quashed the Steelers’ chances.

I know that makes a lot of you feeling shiny and happy. But not all of you apparently.

In Monday’s discussion, patron Joe said he was bummed that the Steelers are already out. Here’s his line of thinking: “I wanted the Steelers in too. Not that I'm a Steelers fan, but they could have mowed down their half of the playoff field and met us again for the AFC championship, but in Baltimore this time. Would have been nice.”

Ravens fans hoping the Steelers get to the playoffs? To me, that’s The End Of The World as We Know it (And I Feel Fine).

That kind of thinking runs contrary to the beliefs of my son 10-year-old son, Alex, who goes to school with a host of Steelers’ fans. He actually was happier about the Steelers exit than he was the Ravens’ playoff inclusion.

He just couldn’t handle the Steelers winning it all again. Anything else involving the Ravens is gravy, he figures.

I would assume most people in here were relieved when the Steelers got punted (the majority of us have never moved beyond the fifth-grade mentality). But maybe not. Maybe you wanted the Steelers in so the Ravens could get sweet revenge.

At least that’s what Joe wanted. Is he out Nightswimming on an island?

Daily Think Special: What was your reaction when the Steelers’ season officially ended?

January 3, 2010

Were you encouraged or discouraged by the Ravens' performance Sunday?

Sighs of relief and shots of Purple Jesus all around.

Your Ravens are in the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

Boy, that John Harbaugh is one heck of a coach (if you were here last week, you’ve gotta be chuckling about that).

Anyway, it wasn’t pretty. But the Ravens beat the Raiders in Oakland, 21-13. And now the Ravens are back in the postseason.

Kevin is our winner of the free bar tab for the week with a 24-13 prediction. This might be No. 2 for Kevin this year, though it might have been Kevin in Iraq who won in the past. The mind is slipping now that I am 40 (and the work ethic really has slipped, because I am not looking it up. We‘ll use the honor system).

Cali Chris (20-16) and Bob M (20-17) get a chip tossed their way. And I just had a field goal going the wrong way in my 24-10 prediction. So the barkeep is backed up one on the barkeep.

No one, by the way, had Willis McGahee running for 167 yards and three scores or Dannell Ellerbee with a pick and a fumble recovery. And you guys call yourselves educated fans?

OK, we’ll get into the playoff match-up later this week. Right now, I just want to know if what you saw Sunday in Oakland encouraged or discouraged you about the Ravens’ playoff chances.

On one hand, the resurgence of McGahee sure was refreshing. But there’s also concern that Raiders QB Charlie Frye, who had to leave due to injury, looked pretty good against the Ravens’ secondary (18 for 25 for 180 yards and a TD).

And my guess is the next few QBs the Ravens might have to face are a tad better than Frye, starting with some cagey vet up in the Boston area. But they did win on the road when they had to -- and that says something.

So making the playoffs was the goal, but the Ravens’ performance against the Raiders didn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence for the second season in my opinion. But I could be wrong here.

Daily Think Special: Did the Ravens' performance in Oakland encourage or discourage you for the postseason?

December 30, 2009

Prediction Thursday/Friday: Ravens-Raiders

It almost seems like a shame to shut the doors on Friday.

It has been one heck of a busy week at Connolly’s, thanks, in part, to the Ravens and their rabid/disgruntled fans.

The bottom line is if you like drama, Sunday should provide you with plenty. If the Ravens beat the Oakland Raiders – and they should – then we can unabashedly talk playoffs (Playoffs????) next week.

If not, then I’m sure I’ll be talking some of you off the second-floor bathroom ledge. That’s part of a good barkeep’s responsibilities along with tapping kegs and doling out charm to the more attractive female customers (the last one is not applicable in this joint).

Anyway, we will be dark on New Year’s Day and the weekend, and hopefully we’ll resume with the same fervor on Monday.

Please have a wonderful and safe New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Now, to the last Prediction Friday (which is, again, Prediction Thursday) of the NFL’s regular season: I don’t see the Ravens losing this one.

The pattern has been set. The Ravens beat bad teams and lose to good teams – or at least ones with proficient quarterbacks.

That means the Raiders shouldn’t be a huge problem. Although it’s never easy to play there – I covered the AFC Championship in the Coliseum in 2001, and it really is a madhouse.

My thought: Ravens 24, Raiders 10.

Ray Rice is the hero as he runs for 150 yards and two TDs.

Your turn. Make it a good one (predict the score and the game’s hero). It could be, gulp, the last one of the season.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Thursday/Friday: Ravens-Raiders.

December 29, 2009

What do you think of John Harbaugh now?

The Orioles are in a deep winter slumber and the Ravens are basically in crunch time.

So I apologize that a so-called baseball guy is riding the Ravens’ writers’ coattails right now. But it is what interests you guys the most. And I am here to please.

So I am serving up more purple-tinged cocktails today.

During Tuesday’s spirited conversation about whether the season would be considered a success if the Ravens make the playoffs, several of you voiced displeasure with head coach John Harbaugh.

This time last year Harbaugh was the toast of Charm City, a first year head coach who had motivated and instructed a merry band of underachievers to the playoffs and, eventually, a spot in the AFC Championship.

The Ravens are likely headed to the postseason again – depending on what happens Sunday in Oakland – and yet not everything is kosher on the USS Harbaugh.

He’s been criticized for questionable personnel decisions, head-scratching clock management and an overall lack of discipline by his players on the field (which we’ve argued in the past about who is to blame with that one).

And then there’s that goofy “mighty, mighty men” stuff, too.

Anyway, I don’t think it is time to buy Harbaugh a one-way ticket out of town on the Billick Express. But I have been surprised by how many of you have changed your tune on Harbaugh in the past year.

I understand the honeymoon is over, but is this relationship now on the rocks?

Daily Think Special: John Harbaugh: What do you think of him now?

December 28, 2009

If the Ravens make the playoffs, will the 2009 season be considered a success?

Baltimore sports fans are angry.

They are sick of their team losing to its rivals.

They are enraged that their players are caught on camera looking like they aren’t 100 percent focused.

They are sick of mental errors and lack of fundamentals.

And, hey, we aren’t even talking about the Orioles for once.

It’s been tough to watch the Ravens this year, and many of you used the bar Monday (and Sunday night) to vent. Wonderful. That’s the essence of why this joint was created.

Here’s the bottom line: The Ravens are a win in Oakland away from getting back to the playoffs. And, though the Ravens do not exactly look like a playoff-ready team (unless, say, the Bears and Lions are there), anything can happen in the postseason.

So your team wins and they have made it to the second season – which really is all a football fan can ask for.

And yet there is no joy in Charm City. Because this team has so many warts and because only the most loyal fan could envision John Harbaugh’s undisciplined squad making noise in January.

It brings up an interesting question: If the Ravens get to the playoffs, and eventually lose without making it to the Super Bowl, was this season a success?

I know, the Ravens made it to the AFC Championship last season and expectations were high for 2009. But the primary goal for a NFL team is to make the playoffs – only 12 of 32 do it. And the Ravens are on the precipice of doing it.

Of course, if they lose in Oakland, they end up 8-8 and no one can be happy with that picture of mediocrity. But 9-7 and a trip to the playoffs – where a little luck can propel a team – can’t be considered a disaster, right?

I know you can’t truly evaluate a season until it is officially over and the Super Bowl winner has been determined. But I want your thoughts now. I am impatient like that. I want you to evaluate whether the Ravens’ 2009 season can be considered a success if they make the playoffs.

Take your time. I’ll pour your draft slowly.

Daily Think Special: If the Ravens make the playoffs, will you consider the 2009 season a success?

December 27, 2009

What was the most frustrating part of Sunday's loss to the Steelers?

I’ve heard head coaches and managers talk about team wins before.

Sunday’s Ravens’ deflating defeat to the Steelers was a team loss. Just how many Ravens’ made individual mistakes that contributed to the downfall? Once I got to 10, I think I lost count (it was too cold to pull off my shoes and keep counting).

If you are a true Ravens’ fan, you should have at least three welts on your head Monday morning -- from banging your head against the wall (bar, coffee table, etc.) with each Ravens’ potential turning point that wasn’t. Some of you probably look like you ran into a bee hive with a honey-flavored ski cap.

For the record, I am giving the free bar tab to Sizemo, who predicted a 30-27 Steelers win. Most who predicted Steelers had them in a blowout.

Frank gets a free drink chip for having the right score, 23-20; he just flipped the outcome.

Here’s my question: Which part of Sunday’s frustrating contest frustrated you the most?

My answer: Derrick Mason’s dropped catch in the end zone. Yes, that stuff happens. But it normally doesn’t happen to Mason. And it shouldn’t happen for a team’s go-to veteran -- a guy who makes that catch 99 times out of 100.

That 100th time was a killer, though.

You have plenty to choose from in a such a head-shaking loss: Terrell Suggs’ boneheaded block, Frank Walker’s mugging at the end of the game. You name it. Literally. I want you to name it.

Daily Think Special: What was the most frustrating moment of Sunday’s Ravens’ choke job?

December 23, 2009

Prediction Thursday/Friday: Ravens-Steelers

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it. And happy holidays to everyone else.

We are shutting the bar down for a few days, since I doubt many of you are going to stop by here when you have presents to open and homemade eggnog to swig.

But we can’t go dark without first discussing Sunday’s game. My buddy Peter Schmuck made a point this week to say that Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh is not a must-win situation for the Ravens.

Technically, he is right. They can still get into the playoffs without winning Sunday – they’d need help, but it is possible.

But we all know football is so much about momentum and confidence. The Ravens appear to have both right now. But, as we chatted earlier in the week, their modest two-game win streak has come against Detroit and Chicago – games they should have won.

Sunday’s no such gimme, even though these Steelers aren’t the Steelers of 2008-09. Pittsburgh’s defense has struggled and its offensive line is not playing well.

These are still the Steelers, however and they still have a remote chance to make the playoffs. And even if they can’t, this is their Super Bowl now: Beating the Ravens and severely hampering their rival’s postseason chances.

So this is a difficult one to predict. Since the Ravens have been so enigmatic this year, because they have had trouble against good quarterbacks and because the Steelers have all but abandoned the run and put the full responsibility of winning on Ben Roethlisberger’s capable shoulders, it’s not a good matchup for the Ravens.

That said, this is the Ravens’ season. Even if they back into the playoffs, their confidence and the momentum will be severely altered.

I say the Ravens pull it out, 24-21, on a Joe Flacco to Todd Heap touchdown inside two minutes. They then pick off Roethlisberger on a desperation heave. Flacco is the hero with three touchdowns.

Although, let me add, I can easily see it go the other way.

As always, predict the score and player of the game in Sunday’s Ravens-Steelers clash.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday/Thursday: Ravens-Steelers.

December 22, 2009

Is Garrett Atkins an upgrade at third over Melvin Mora?

We’re so close to Christmas I can almost smell it. Or maybe that’s the mall Santa at the end of the bar drinking his paycheck. Bad Santa (loved that flick), but we accept all kinds here at Connolly’s.

I’ve done my best to try and remain in the Christmas spirit. We have Dylan’s “Christmas In The Heart.” on the jukebox right now (it‘s definitely cool if you haven‘t picked it up), and I’ve listened to the Bowie-Bing “Little Drummer Boy” roughly 1,000 times so far.

I did feel a little Scrooge-y earlier this week when my tremendous neighbor Denny allowed me to borrow his snowblower and I paid him back by running over a patch of Christmas lights and pulling the blower’s blade right out of the casing. Seriously.

I am hoping it isn‘t broken -- another friend got the blade back in thankfully -- meanwhile Denny received an early Christmas present of a case of Blue Moon Belgian Wheat courtesy of his idiot neighbor.

Anyway, we’ll be closing the doors for Christmas, but we’ll move Prediction Friday to Prediction Thursday this week, and leave it up until Sunday’s clash in Pittsburgh.

We’ll talk football then. We’ll talk Orioles now.

Garrett Atkins was introduced Tuesday and will likely be the Orioles’ 2010 Opening Day third baseman unless they sign someone else -- such as Joe Crede -- later in the offseason and move Atkins to first base.

Atkins just turned 30, and had three seasons, from 2006 to 2008, in which he batted .286 or better, hit 21 homers or more and drove in 99 or more runs. In 2006, he batted .329 with a .409 on-base percentage, hit 29 homers, 48 doubles and had 120 RBIs.

He placed 15th in the MVP voting that year and was part of a Colorado Rockies team that made the World Series in 2007. But then there was 2009, when he batted .226 with nine homers and 48 RBIs, lost his starting job and eventually his spot on the Rockies‘ roster.

To me, his one-year $4.5 million contract (that includes a $500,000, 2011 option buyout) is a low-risk, high-reward move for a talented player looking to rebound. But, after hearing about the Atkins signing, a friend of mine shook his head and said, “The Orioles should have just re-signed Melvin Mora for another year.”

Truth is the Orioles and Mora are probably both better off with a divorce after 10 seasons together, especially after Mora and manager Dave Trembley publicly clashed toward the end of the season. Mora turns 38 in February and had a rough 2009. He batted .260 with eight homers and 48 RBIs -- numbers similar to Atkins in about 100 more plate appearances.

But Mora was pretty good defensively last year and Atkins isn’t known for his defense, though I have heard mixed reviews on that part of his game.

So, if you look at the numbers and throw in defense, I guess I can see my friend’s point. Although I still contend it was time for the Orioles and Mora to part ways and Atkins, based on age alone, has a much higher upside.

Daily Think Special: Is Garrett Atkins an upgrade at third over Melvin Mora?

December 21, 2009

Are the Ravens peaking?

I was hoping for the holiday spirit from you people. Or at least some understanding that it is a down economy.

But you guys are too good.

The Ravens beat the Bears 31-7 on Sunday in impressive fashion.

And we had one guy (Dave) predict a 31-6 victory and another (Jeff O.) predict 30-7. Since neither predicted Joe Flacco would be the star of the game with four TDs, this one sits at a tie.

So both of you get the free bar tab this week -- and I take out a second mortgage (you should see the receipts from the last time Jeff O. won).

OK, the Ravens did what they had to do the past two weeks, pummeling teams they absolutely had to beat. Now, if they win their next two, they are in the playoffs, guaranteed.

The big one comes up this weekend, of course. In Pittsburgh against the Steelers, and the Steelers still have something to play for besides pure hatred of the Ravens. We’ll talk about that one as the week progresses.

Still. if the Ravens win, they’ll have to earn it.

I listened to several national TV types after the Bears game and they were praising the Ravens, saying, in full TV cliché, that they are “clicking on all cylinders.” That the defense, running game and Flacco are “peaking at the right time.”

I am sure some of you believe that. By nature, I am skeptical. And the Ravens’ so-called peak came against the Lions and Bears. That previous loss to the Packers was anything but a “peak” show. So I am more inclined to believe that the competition is what has led the Ravens to look like they are playing their best football, and not reality.

To me, the test comes in Pittsburgh. I’ll change my mind if they win by 20 there. I could be wrong here. I’ve never claimed to be Mr. Football. So are the TV talking heads right?

Daily Think Special: Are the Ravens peaking right now?

December 17, 2009

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Bears

I’ve got to admit I had a whole lot of fun talking baseball the past two days.

As someone who has covered this Orioles’ team for a better part of the decade, anything that can get you guys fired up – even when it happens in the offseason -- is worth it for me.

But, alas, we’re going back to football today (incidentally, that was the first time in blogosphere history that alas and football were used in the same sentence).

It is Prediction Friday. And Sunday’s game is a key one for the Ravens, as all of the remaining ones are. It’s the Ravens last game at home this season, and I see no way the Chicago Bears win this one.

I say 23-7 Ravens, and I’ll go with Connolly’s favorite, Ray Rice, as the hero of the game. I also predict one TD for the Ravens’ defense.

Now it is your turn. I want your predictions for the score and player of the game. You only have three more chances, including this one, to get the famed (and fake) Connolly’s free bar tab. That’s resume-worthy stuff.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Bears

Adding Mike Gonzalez and Garrett Atkins, good moves?

We are going to give you a 2-for-1 special today here at Connolly’s.

You can certainly go to my last entry – which was intended to be the one for Thursday – and tell me which remaining free agent you want the Orioles to sign.

But it looks like two of the popular names have to be scratched out. You know that quick-acting and unpredictable Andy MacPhail keeps us on our toes.

The Orioles have agreed in principle to deals with closer Mike Gonzalez and third baseman Garrett Atkins, pending physicals, the Sun has learned.

So here’s another topic for your thinking pleasure. It’s pretty simple. But I’m sure you’ll have your opinions. I want to know if you like the additions of Gonzalez and Atkins.

I’ve already written about Atkins. As for Gonzalez, I am a big proponent in having a set closer, no matter how bad a team may be. Having established roles – especially in a young bullpen – can be crucial. But I am also not a huge proponent in giving big money to a closer, since it is such an unpredictable position.

And $12 million over two years to Gonzalez isn’t without risk. But the Orioles targeted someone and went after him. And, when healthy, Gonzalez can be pretty darn effective. So I am fine with that one, too.

Daily Think Special: Adding Mike Gonzalez and Garrett Atkins, good moves?

December 16, 2009

If the Orioles could sign one free agent, who would you want it to be?

We are sticking with baseball again today.

Some of you want the Orioles to spend money. Others don’t, simply because you don’t see a lot out there worth buying.

I am on record as saying it’s not a good free-agent class.

John Lackey and Chone Figgins are quality players, but they are now off the board. Matt Holliday and Jason Bay are excellent, too. And they aren’t coming here.

There’s always the trade-for-Adrian Gonzalez pipe dream, but you’d have to give up a whole lot of talent for what likely would be a short-term rental. Not real smart for a rebuilding club.

But that’s not to say there aren’t players out there that could help the Orioles in 2010 and beyond. They need a closer and several are available such as: Jose Valverde, Fernando Rodney, Mike Gonzalez, Kevin Gregg and Matt Capps.

They also need at least one, if not two, corner infielders. The available list includes: Garrett Atkins, Hank Blalock, Joe Crede, Ryan Garko, Carlos Delgado, Nick Johnson Mark DeRosa, Adam LaRoche, Adrian Beltre, Troy Glaus and Mike Jacobs.

The team could also use another starting pitcher, and there are plenty including former Oriole Erik Bedard.

I don’t see the Orioles spending what it takes to get Beltre or DeRosa., although I guess you never know. Given that, though, if I had to pick one player that I think best fits what they need, my selection is Atkins.

He just turned 30, bats right-handed – a real need in this lineup – and has experience playing first or third base, so he also gives them flexibility. And I’d rather see then pay for an everyday infielder than a closer on a losing team.

Atkins had a down year last season, and it’s easy to be skeptical of anyone who plays half his games at Coors Field. But from 2006-2008 he had more than 20 homers and 99 or more RBIs each season. And there are no lingering health questions with him as there are with so many other guys on this list.

So if the Orioles bring home one free agent present for Christmas, I say make it Atkins. What’s your call? And make it realistic. Bay and Holliday don’t count.

Daily Think Special: If the Orioles sign just one current free agent, who should it be?

December 15, 2009

Should the Orioles keep spending pace with their AL East rivals this offseason?

We’re switching back to baseball today. Write what you know.

Or at least what I think I know.

As this offseason has progressed, the New York Yankees have traded for Curtis Granderson and the Boston Red Sox reportedly have added John Lackey as well as Mike Cameron and Marco Scutaro.

The Tampa Bay Rays solidified their bullpen with closer Rafael Soriano and the Toronto Blue Jays, God bless them, apparently are dealing away ace Roy Halladay.

The Orioles, meanwhile, added innings-eater Kevin Millwood to the top of the rotation. That’s not a bad move, but it certainly isn’t the same as grabbing Lackey.

Now this is where you, as fans, can help me out. Intellectually, I understand that the Orioles cannot compete with the Yankees and Red Sox this offseason. Partially it’s a money thing, but primarily it’s a reality thing. The Orioles haven’t competed with that duo for more than a decade on the field, so they aren’t going to be able to do it off the field. Certainly not now, and perhaps not ever.

So it doesn’t bother me that the Orioles haven’t answered the Granderson or Lackey moves. It’s a chicken or the egg concept. The Orioles can’t improve unless they get better players. And they can’t buy better players until they show they can be more competitive on the field. And in the 2009 standings, the Orioles actually went backward.

What needs to happen is the Orioles’ young nucleus must take another step forward, and serve notice it can be counted on. Then it will be easier – and more justified – to add big names for big money (or expendable prospects).

This is what President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail said recently when I brought up the subject of the player movement within the AL East.

“We watch it, of course, like everyone does,” MacPhail said. “But it really doesn’t dictate what we do. We make decisions that we think make sense for us. We have been pretty upfront about what it is we are trying to do. And those things stay the same despite what swirls around us.”

Again, I understand that intellectually, especially since this free-agent market is utterly underwhelming. But as a fan, are you buying this? Because I know it’s what has been sold here for 10-plus years.

Daily Think Special: Should the Orioles try to keep spending pace with their AL East rivals this offseason?

December 14, 2009

Which two teams will earn AFC Wild card berths?

I am back, just in time to see the Ravens play well in an exhibition game against the Detroit Lions.

I think they may be ready for the regular season soon.

Seriously, it’s hard to make too many observations after Sunday’s throttling of the Lions. The defense played well and Ray Rice was phenomenal, but it wasn’t exactly a litmus test for the final quarter of the season.

Still, a win is a win, and the Ravens need each one they can get right now.

At this point, they trail the Bengals by two games with three to play, so you have to assume the Ravens are really playing for the Wild Card. They are currently one game behind the Denver Broncos (whom they have beaten) and tied with the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars for the final wild card spot.

The Ravens’ final three games are against teams that are under .500, so that’s a plus. But they have to go to Pittsburgh and to Oakland to end the season, and neither place is friendly to visitors despite how much the home teams may be struggling.

If the Ravens win out, I think they make the playoffs. There is at least one real tough game facing each of the other wild card contenders. And there is no reason the Ravens can’t win out. Then again, I don’t see the Steelers rolling over for their arch-rival, no matter how bad they have looked recently.

Just for your edification, this is the remaining schedule for the five contenders (assuming the current division leaders stay that way): Ravens (vs. Chicago, @ Pittsburgh, @ Oakland); Broncos (vs. Oakland, @ Philadelphia, vs. Kansas City); Jaguars (vs. Indy, @ New England, @ Cleveland); Dolphins (@ Tennessee, vs. Houston, vs. Pittsburgh); Jets (vs. Atlanta, @ Indianapolis, vs. Cincinnati).

Here’s the way I see it: The Ravens and Broncos make the playoffs with identical 10-6 records. In that scenario, the Ravens would actually get the fifth seed.

If the Ravens slip up once, however, it gets dicey. Still, I don’t see any of the other contenders running the table.

Now you have seen the schedule. What do you think?

Daily Think Special: Which two teams get the AFC Wild Card berths?

December 3, 2009

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Packers

This is the last day in the bar for a week. But I refuse to disappoint our loyal customers.

I simply can’t shut down the bar on Prediction Friday. And this is a particularly interesting one.

Before I get into my Ravens-Packers thoughts, I want to thank those who have wished me a happy birthday and welcomed me to the “40 and over” club. As one friend emailed me, it certainly is better than the alternative.

One final programming note: The bar will be dark until Monday, Dec. 14 or Tuesday, Dec. 15. I’ll review this week’s predictions then.

Now to my thoughts on Monday night in Wisconsin.

I would like to pick the Ravens; that certainly makes it easier around here. I know they are playing with their backs against wall, and that certainly helps. But I just don’t like the Ravens in a game in which the opposition has a quality quarterback.

And I think Aaron Rodgers is one of the best QBs in the NFL. If he’s not yet, he is certainly on his way. I am not saying Green Bay blows out the Ravens. I think the Packers will have trouble running the ball and will be forced to be one-dimensional. I also think the Ravens will score some points against Green Bay’s defense.

Ultimately, I say it is a close game, 28-24 Packers. And Rodgers is the player of the game with three TDs thrown.

I know, how dare I?

Give me your thoughts, a final score and a hero of the game.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Packers

December 2, 2009

Is Roberto Alomar a first-ballot Hall of Famer?

OK, people, I have kept this from you long enough.

But I can’t hold out any longer. I’ve got to be honest with my peeps, as the kids say.

So all drinks are 40 cents today. All beer bottles are 40 ounces today.

It just seems appropriate.

Yes, today I am confronting what the therapists call, “a milestone birthday.” We don’t need to go any further than that. Even with all of the brain cells you’ve killed in here in 20 months, my guess is most of you can figure it out (even Rich, just kidding big guy).

Anyway, I will be shutting down the bar for a week after Prediction Friday. My wife also is celebrating that certain birthday this month, and so we are taking off for a few days together. A low-key, cool celebration without our kids. Should be good.

I’ll do an entry for Friday and then check back Monday, Dec. 14 or Tuesday, Dec. 15 and we’ll be back with some Christmas cheer and hot-stove talk. I promise.

One other quick aside to Jack and a few others that complained: I know we might be making you jump through a few more hoops before you post now. But we were having some serious spam issues on the site which have been corrected thanks to the additional security measures. So thanks for putting up with that.

OK, enough personal junk. Let’s talk sports. Baseball’s annual Hall of Fame ballot came out this week and there is a new name on there that is of serious interest to old Orioles fans: Roberto Alomar.

Alomar spent three seasons at Camden Yards, and will be remembered first and foremost for spitting in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck in September 1996. That may taint his Hall worthiness for some, but I think he definitely has the credentials: In a 17-season career, he compiled 2,724 hits, 474 stolen bases, 210 homers, 1,134 RBIs, 1,508 runs scored, a .300 lifetime average and a career .371 on-base percentage.

He was a 12-time all-star and 10-time Gold Glover, finished in the Top 6 of the MVP voting five times and won two World Series rings with the Toronto Blue Jays, who have inducted him into their “Level of Excellence” ring of honor. He’ll almost surely enter Cooperstown, if he goes, as a Blue Jay.

One other nugget of consideration: Former Sun columnist and now Fox Sports baseball guru Ken Rosenthal once told me that Alomar was the greatest all-around player he ever covered in his lengthy career, and that includes Alomar’s double-play partner in Baltimore (and I’m not talking Mike Bordick).

I don’t have an official vote yet, so I can share my opinion without reservations. I think Alomar is a Hall-of-Famer. And although I am not sure he will make it on his first attempt, he is enough of a slam-dunk for me that I’d put him in there this year.

He was absolutely one of the best all-around players of his time. He may not have gotten 3,000 hits, but he came close and the other areas in which he excelled – the basepaths, in the field – push him over for me.

But how about you?

Daily Think Special: Should Roberto Alomar be a first-ballot Hall of Famer?

December 1, 2009

Explain to me why Ralph Friedgen should get another shot?

When we opened this dive almost two years ago, I billed it as a place where we could argue sports -- all types of sports -- while I mixed pithy banter with watered-down drinks.

For the most part, I’ve kept my word. The banter has been extraordinary and you can’t get a whiskey sour that tastes more like tainted ocean spray in any other place on the Eastern Seaboard. I am strangely proud of that.

We certainly have done our share of arguing (here’s hoping Putin is back for good to keep that going), and almost always in a civil manner.

But if I have pulled a Steve Slaton and dropped the ball in the past two years, it’s in that “all sports,” category. We do baseball and football with aplomb, and we get to horse racing and college basketball when necessary.

Unfortunately, we rarely discuss college football except at BCS time. That’s a shame, because I love college football. For years, I wrote columns for another newspaper about Penn State football. I still keep an eye on the Nittany Lions, partially because my in-laws are obsessed and I like to stay in good standing with them (the in-laws, not the Nits).

And although I do my best as a sports journalist to keep my rooting interests quiet, I have also admitted in the past (this is where Rob K. spits on the bar) that I am tied both by heritage and family tradition to a certain unnamed and overrated football program that recently fired its overweight head coach. Yeah, them.

That brings us to another portly football coach, Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen, who will continue as the top football Terp next year, his 10th season.

Here’s my question: How does that happen?

Fridge seems like a good coach and a solid guy. His team was riddled by injuries this year, so maybe he deserves a little break. But the Terps went 2-10 in 2009. They have had losing seasons in four of the past six years. In the ho-hum ACC.

That’s not good enough. Sorry. But it’s not. At Maryland, or at any pseudo-big-time Division I program.

Yes, I am the same guy that defended Dave Trembley after another disastrous Orioles season. But the difference is that Trembley doesn’t go out and get the players. He gets stuck with them. And he was stuck with an inferior group in nearly every aspect.

The Terps squad that went 2-10 this year was recruited and assembled by Friedgen. If it stumbled due to injuries, than that is his fault for not mining better depth. Put it this way: Friedgen gets $2 million a year to win football games – more than quadrupling what Trembley receives for managing the Orioles. And Friedgen hasn’t done it with a flourish since that amazing run in 2001.

Again, I don’t want to ever see someone lose their job. But I just don’t see how Friedgen, after the first 10-loss season in Maryland’s history, kept his.

Illuminate me, oh football fans of Maryland. I know you are out there.

Daily Think Special: Explain to me why Ralph Friedgen deserves a shot in 2010?

November 30, 2009

Is the Ravens' 2009 cup half-full or half-empty?

OK, raise your hand if you had Paul Kruger as the hero of Sunday night’s Ravens-Steelers game. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

In the abbreviated version of Prediction Friday, our free drink tab for the week goes to Sean Quinn, who nailed the final score, a 20-17 Ravens win. Sean didn’t have it going into overtime, but when you get the exact score, you also get some slack.

One of our regulars, Kevin In Iraq, had the Ravens winning with an OT field goal, 23-20, so a handful of drink chips his way. And our old buddy Jack was just one point off, predicting a 19-17 Ravens win. So a drink chip his way as well (seems like I could send my kid to college for all the drink tabs I give Jack).

I’ll be honest, I am not sure what to think about Sunday’s win.

On the one hand, the Ravens have beaten Pittsburgh once, are now 6-5 and are in a three-way tie for the final AFC playoff spot. And they are just one game behind the Broncos, who have lost a head-to-head against the Ravens.

So your purple-and-black squad basically controls its own destiny – and that’s all you can ask in the last five weeks of the season.

Now, let’s look at that other, not-so-pretty hand. The Ravens were pushed into overtime at home by a team that didn’t have its best defensive playmaker (Troy Polamalu) or its best offensive playmaker (Ben Roethlisberger).

I don’t want to take anything away from Dennis Dixon, but the kid was making his first NFL start and he threw for a TD, ran for one and wasn’t sacked once. There was a day when the Ravens’ D would have feasted on such a neophyte, and this year it took until overtime to take advantage of Dixon’s inexperience.

Of course, if you are a believer in positive thinking (and no one has ever accused me of that), you can be excited that Kruger and Mark Clayton made significant contributions and Chris Carr and Lardarius Webb both played well. And Ray Rice is becoming a force (maybe already is one) before our eyes. So maybe things are starting to click.

Honestly, I am not sure what to think about this team and its immediate future. Is it a playoff team? Will it play to a record (9-7, 8-8) that is indicative of the mediocrity it has shown much of the season? Are the Ravens good enough to beat bad or struggling teams but not good enough to win against the elite ones?

The latter is probably my take.

Now, it’s time for you to jump onto the lawn of optimism or pessimism. I want no fence riders in this place, unless, of course you are a big tipper.

Daily Think Special: Is the Ravens’ 2009 cup half-full or half-empty?

November 27, 2009

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Steelers

We have made it to Prediction Friday.

We’re five pounds heavier and still have cranberry sauce on our collective collars, but we are back and the doors are open.

We’re actually making another turkey tonight at the Connolly household, because we just can’t get enough (and we still have out-of-town guests for two more days).

I was going to call this dive “Connolly’s Corner Sports Bar and Bed and Breakfast,” but that is just too long to put on a sign and business cards.

But, yeah, in case you were wondering, my family and I hammered the Thanksgiving spread like we were Calvert Hall devouring Loyola (Sorry Dons fans, but just had to shed impartiality for a moment. It’s the first time since this joint has been open that I’ve been able to puff out my chest about my alma mater the day after the Turkey Bowl. So congrats to coach Donald Davis and his boys for making the world right again. And a quick aside: 90 years of playing a high school football game. That’s impressive.)

We’re sticking with football, and the one we are discussing likely won’t be a blowout.

Big Ben is expected to play Sunday night for the Steelers, who have dropped two straight and are seemingly desperate. But I can’t imagine they are as desperate as the Ravens, who need this win or can relinquish any faint hope of the playoffs.

And for that reason – and because it is in Baltimore – I am going with the Ravens to beat their ultimate rival, 17-14. Don’t get me wrong, the Ravens are flawed in several areas, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they lost to the Steelers. And it would be surprising if the defending Super Bowl champs lost three in a row.

But I’m going with the totally desperate team at home versus the pretty desperate team on the road.

As for the star of the game, I am predicting a two TD performance from Derrick Mason. I like Mason’s ability to step it up when the Ravens needed it most.

I want your predictions, both the final score and the hero of the game. As always, Steelers fans are welcome to come in, grab a seat, make a prediction and buy the $6 Iron City cans we have in the back fridge (I’m a hospitable barkeep, but I can’t make it too comfortable for yins. There has to be some gouging). Just keep it clean, people.

Closest to the prediction gets a free (and fake) bar tab for the week.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Steelers

November 24, 2009

What or who in the sporting world are you thankful for?

We’ll go a little lighter this Wednesday. Or maybe we’ll get deep and thoughtful. I guess it all depends on where you people want to take it.

The Wednesday night before Thanksgiving is traditionally one of the busiest bar days in the country. I am not exactly sure why, but it’s an excuse to drink on a Wednesday evening, I guess.

I am thinking this bar won’t be jammed, though, since many stop by here to get away from work for a few minutes. But, let’s face it, half of America doesn’t show up for work on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

Still, Connolly’s doors are open now (though they’ll close Thursday and re-open Friday morning for Prediction Friday.)

And I want to know what (or who) in the sporting world you are thankful for this year.

Maybe you are thankful that the baseball season is over, so you don’t have to watch the Orioles lose again.

Maybe you are thankful that college basketball has started up, giving you a little bit of hope for a cold winter and spring.

Maybe you are thankful that the Ravens are in the Cleveland Browns division.

I’m going to get sappy for a second here. I am thankful that sports – no matter the heartbreak it continually delivers – will occasionally offer that moment of redemption or triumph that is nearly impossible to receive anywhere else.

Case in point: With three minutes left in his final game of the season, my 10-year-old son scored the first goal of his five-year soccer career on Saturday. The goal tied the game and two minutes later his teammate scored to seal the win. And my son finally felt what it was like to score a goal in a game after all those years of practices and drills.

He may never score one again. But it doesn’t matter. That was his moment. And I was there to share it (actually, I had to fill in as the referee and couldn’t show any emotion initially when the ball hit the net. Later, Alex was asked about my reaction and he said, “He smiled a little with his mouth, but his eyes were smiling really big.”)

So I guess I am thankful that I could witness such a cool sporting moment for my son.

And now I am hopeful you guys have much funnier, less sappy responses to share.

Daily Think Special: What in the sporting world are you thankful for?

November 23, 2009

Who is most responsible for a team's mental errors?

I perused a lot of the readers’ comments Monday that were connected to various Sun stories and blogs detailing Ravens’ fans’ frustrations with their team’s play.

There are some who are all over quarterback Joe Flacco, for whom they were universally ‘wacco’ earlier this season. There are a whole lot of fans crushing defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron as well.

And now John Harbaugh is getting lit up by a certain disgruntled segment of the Ravens’ fan base. Guess the honeymoon is over.

One of the criticisms of Harbaugh is that his squad commits too many penalties -- often of the reckless, undisciplined nature -- and that halts any momentum this team can muster.

No question, that the Ravens’ myriad penalties are killers. But here’s what I have trouble following: I don’t see why that is Harbaugh’s fault. Listen, if it’s clock management penalties or too many men on the field or simple preparation things that go wrong, by all means, blame the coach.

But personal fouls and execution penalties? Those should fall on the shoulders of the players. Professional players. This isn’t Little League or high school ball.

To me, it’s the same faulty logic that some Orioles fans had this summer when so many baserunning mistakes were made, and manager Dave Trembley was blamed.

Say all you want about having a team that is disciplined and prepared. You have the personnel that you have. And if those players go onto the field and do boneheaded things, if they can’t execute fundamentals, that’s on them. Bad game plans, terrible play calling, incorrect pitching matchups, blame the manager/head coach.

But not knowing how many outs there are or plowing into a scrum after the whistle blows is the responsibility of the people who get paid to play these games.

Ultimately, I know the head coach/manager is responsible for how his team fares. The buck stops there. I get that. But I am little befuddled why the players – football, baseball, croquet – aren’t hammered more by fans when they are the ones making the mental errors. Besides, of course, it’s just easier to trash the coach/manager than the guy whose jersey you bought.

It’s a soapbox I carried around during the baseball season and I am planting it at the foot of Ravens’ headquarters now. Am I way off here?

Daily Think Special: Who is most responsible for a team’s mental errors?

November 22, 2009

Who makes the playoffs: Ravens, Steelers, none or both?

Remind my not to invite Las Vegas oddsmakers to the bar anytime soon. It’s amazing how accurate some of those spreads can be.

Indianapolis was favored by 1 point in Baltimore on Sunday. I saw it at 1.5 in some places. And the Colts won by 2. That’s scary good.

It really wasn’t a surprise that Sunday’s game was close, and that the Ravens dropped it to the only undefeated team in the NFL.

No one in the bar this weekend, however, expected such a low-scoring affair. Only Christian (28-27) had the Colts winning by two or fewer. He gets a drink chip. Woody wins the free bar tab for the week with his 20-17 Colts victory, which he said would be won on a Matt Stover field goal.

Basically, he was right, so drink up Woody.

Incidentally, no one had Billy Cundiff making five field goals – or missing a sixth. And no one had Flacco and Co. failing to get into the end zone.

If you want a bright side – and I am not exactly Mr. Silver Lining – here is one: The rest of the AFC isn’t exactly tearing it up. If the Titans can beat the Texans Monday night, there will be only seven teams over .500 in the conference.

Six make the playoffs, and the Ravens are really just a game out of the wild card. Another shot of optimism (it’s rum, tequila and orange Shasta) for you: At least the Ravens didn’t lose to the Chiefs.

Somehow the Steelers are 6-4 after losing in Kansas City. That sets up an intriguing matchup next Sunday night in Charm City between the Steelers and Ravens. The two teams that were in the AFC title game last season are now fighting for their playoff lives.

Yeah, I am talking playoffs.

Daily Think Special: Who makes the playoffs: Ravens, Steelers, none or both?

November 19, 2009

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Colts

Back to football for a weekend.

It’s Prediction Friday, so dust off your crystal balls.

Or just go with the opposite of what I say. Although, like just about everyone else, I did correctly predict Monday’s Ravens’ win in Cleveland.

This one, though, is going to be a little tougher for the Ravens (Who says I am not a football expert? How about that for inside analysis?).

Honestly, I don’t see the Colts blowing out the Ravens as some prognosticators have hinted. I think the Ravens will be down early, make a solid comeback, maybe make it 20-17, and then, ultimately, lose on a fourth-quarter drive by Peyton Manning.

I just don’t see the Ravens’ D hanging with Manning for four quarters.

My call: Colts 27, Ravens 17. Manning is the game’s hero, throwing three TDs, two to Reggie Wayne.

Sorry, doesn’t make me feel good either. I’m a native Baltimoron, remember. Predicting the Indianapolis team, whatever they are called, to win in Charm City will always be painful.

But it’s happened before, and I assume it will happen again.

Daily Think Special: Predict the score and hero of Sunday’s Ravens-Colts game.

November 18, 2009

Which free agent/trade chip is most likely to become an Oriole in 2010?

Friday is the start of free agency in Major League Baseball.

It’s also NFL Prediction Friday at the bar, and I can’t break tradition, unless, of course, I am off and am too lazy to file a blog entry.

And that’s not the case this week. So we’ll do our Ravens predictions – as usual – on Friday. Today, we are talking baseball.

The Orioles need more talent, we all understand that. And they have some money to spend; besides a couple option buyouts, they are not on the hook in 2010 to pay anyone who has already been cut or traded. That, in itself, is refreshing.

But just because they have money to spend, that doesn’t mean the most coveted free agents – guys such as Matt Holliday and John Lackey – are coming here. In fact, they are not. Those guys will get beaucoup bucks from current contenders. And the Orioles won’t – and probably can’t – outspend the biggest boys on the block.

They will, however, be in the mix for a lot of second-tier (and third-tier) free agents. And, given the economy, they may be able to have their pick of that litter. My guess is this winter they end up with a first baseman and third baseman through free agency as well as at least one starting pitcher and possibly a late-inning reliever. And here’s betting none gets more than a two-year deal with an option.

I don’t know exactly whom the Orioles will land, but I have my guesses. And I am sure you do, too.

Beat writer Jeff Zrebiec and I have played an offseason game for years in which we go three to five rounds deep and draft the most likely players to become Orioles for the upcoming season. Last year Jeff’s first pick was Cesar Izturis. I had Mark Hendrickson and Ty Wigginton in my stable. So we are pretty good at this.

I want you in this year. If you had to bet the house on one Major League player – a free agent or a trade chip -- that will end up on the Orioles for 2010, who would it be?

This isn’t who you want – we’ll have plenty of time for that – but who you expect to be running down that orange carpet in April. The free agent or trade target you look at and say, “Yep, he’s an Oriole in 2010.”

Here’s my first-round draft pick: Third baseman Pedro Feliz.

Now it is your turn.

Daily Think Special: Which free agent/trade chip is most likely to become an Oriole in 2010?

November 17, 2009

Really, how much has Matt Stover's absence hurt the Ravens?

I was a little late getting going this week, sort of like the Ravens in Cleveland on Monday night.

As we know, a win is a win. But that one was not particularly inspiring. At least the Ravens don’t have to face an undefeated team on a short week this Sunday.

As for our free tab of the week based on the prediction for Sunday’s game, you’re all paying. Because the house won. Or at least I came the closest on both sides to predicting the 16-0 win. I had 24-6, and so did Frederick McMurray (a drink chip your way).

We all assumed a Ravens’ beating for the Browns, but most of us overestimated the Raven’s offense. There were three customers who predicted shutouts; the closest was 27-0.

So, yeah, the Ravens won, but there were plenty of red flags from that game. Most alarming was the continuing number of yellow flags. There’s a fine line between aggressive and stupid.

Monday also marked the end of Steve Hauschka’s Ravens career. Missing a 36-yarder and having an extra point blocked was not the way he needed to rebound.

Now the Ravens are kicker shopping with a more than a week to go before Black Friday. Not a good sign for a team that still has playoff hopes.

Forget Monday-morning quarterbacking, the Hauschka decision should create some Wednesday-morning placekicking. It’s pretty obvious the Ravens should have stuck with fan favorite Matt Stover this season. His accuracy is definitely missed.

But how much? What I mean is how much different would this Ravens’ team be with Stover, who is now with Sunday’s opponent, the Indianapolis Colts? Would it still be in “long playoff run, Super Bowl talk” discussion?

One school of thought is that Stover would have given them a win against Minnesota and possibly one against Cincinnati. The other way of thinking: Stover is a kicker. If your team is lamenting the loss of its kicker, it’s got bigger problems than missed field goals.

My opinion: Stover would help, for sure. But unless he can cover 6-foot-4 receivers, provide a pass rush and get to the line of scrimmage without a false start, I am not convinced Matt Stover is the difference between a playoff Ravens’ team and an also-ran.

Then again, I am a baseball guy by trade. School me, people. Learn me, football gurus.

Daily Think Special: How much has Matt Stover’s absence hurt the Ravens?

November 12, 2009

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Browns

We’re going from the outfield to the open field today.

It’s Prediction Friday, which in recent weeks could be called, “Dan’s Wrong Friday.”

I can’t seem to figure out these Ravens, at least not as well as opposing offenses.

The gut says the Ravens roll on Monday Night Football. That the maligned defense feasts on a weak Cleveland Browns’ offense.

And that the Ravens’ offensive line beats down the Browns’ defensive front, allowing Ray Rice and company to run wild while Joe Flacco gets time to pick apart the secondary.

But the gut has been so wrong so often this season when it comes to the Ravens that I am not sure whether to trust it.

My best guess is that the Ravens’ win 24-6. Rice has two TDs and over 100 yards rushing to be the hero of the game.

Now, it’s your turn. Predict the score and the hero on Monday Night Football. Are you betting on Jekyll or Hyde to show up?

We’ll give you an extra day to contemplate this one. We’ll leave this up until Monday’s game.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Browns.

November 11, 2009

Who are the three best defensive outfielders in Orioles history?

It was an interesting day at the bar on Wednesday.

Lots of good discussion about the Orioles’ current defensive outfield situation.

And a few silly comments thrown in there, too. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion, but I am going to have to call a cab for some of you.

For the record, and in case it didn’t get spelled out Wednesday, I am happy for Adam Jones that he won a Gold Glove. I never questioned whether he is deserving; I simply said I was a bit surprised because I think he had a better defensive year in 2008.

And I do believe, at this point in their careers, Nick Markakis is a slightly better defensive outfielder, though Jones has the potential to be better as his career unfolds. Plus Jones plays center field, and that does mean something.

The important thing for beleaguered Orioles fans is that you have both of them for a long time. Enjoy that.

The overall discussion – and some of the rants about the Gold Glove going mostly to center fielders – got me thinking.

If you were to use the current Gold Glove rules – that is, choose three overall outfielders, not necessarily one each from left, right and center – to represent the Orioles’ all-time best defensive outfield, who would be in it?

As much as I don’t like the “three center fielders approach” that the Gold Glove committee uses, it’s true that when I think of the best defensive outfielders in O’s history, I immediately think of center fielders, before I shift to the left and right.

So here’s the task at hand today: If you were to give out Gold Gloves to three Orioles outfielders throughout the years, who would win?

There’s no question Paul Blair is one answer. Even if you never saw him play – and I don’t have clear memories of him in Baltimore – he probably should be on your list. Everything I have ever heard from players and fans is that Blair was the best defensive outfielder to ever wear an Orioles uniform. And he has eight Gold Gloves to prove it.

So he gets my first award. I think I have to give the second to Al Bumbry, who was the guy I watched growing up, and that little guy had serious hops before we ever referred to jumping ability as serious hops. Plus, he had his share of outfield assists.

The third is tricky. Mike Devereaux is probably my ultimate answer, but that leaves Jones (the only other Orioles outfielder with a Gold Glove) off the list. That also would deny Nick Markakis, Brady Anderson, Steve Finley, Frank Robinson and Jackie Brandt, among others, the award.

There is no wrong answer here. Pick three outfielders (yes, it can be all center fielders) to receive the Orioles’ all-time Gold Glove. I’d love to hear the reasoning behind your choices.

Daily Think Special: Who are the three best defensive outfielders in Orioles history?

November 8, 2009

What must the Ravens do to have a successful second half?

OK, I think we can all admit this now.

The Bengals are a lot better than we thought. Even better than they looked last time around. There were only five bar patrons this weekend that predicted a Bengals win.

CB, Mike B., Steven and Rich all get a free drink chip for picking the right winner. And T.J. gets a free drink tab all week for his guess: 24-13 Bengals. It was the closest to the 17-7 outcome.

Here comes the tough part. I’m not really sure what to say here about Sunday’s loss. They simply looked like an overmatched team.

The Ravens have dropped to 4-4 and don’t have an easy road ahead. They have to play the Pittsburgh Steelers twice, as well as the Indianapolis Colts, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears.

They do face a trifecta of bad teams – and must wins – against Cleveland, Detroit and Oakland.

So they need to win those, at least split with the Steelers and then win two of three against the Colts, Bears and Packers to get to 10-6.

It can be done. But the Bengals are in the driver’s seat and the Steelers are riding shotgun. So the Ravens have to excel in the second half to make it to the playoffs.

There’s definitely a lot of season left. But even the most optimistic Ravens fans have to be disappointed in the first half. The question is can they do enough to make the playoffs?

Or maybe the real question is what must they do on the field to make the playoffs?

Daily Think Special: What must the Ravens do to have a successful second half?

November 5, 2009

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Bengals

Before we get to the Ravens today, I have some Orioles info to pass on., an online gambling site, set its odds for winning next year’s World Series, and the Orioles are 75-1 longshots. The only clubs worse off are the Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals. They are all at 100-1 to win the 2010 title.

So, yeah, aren’t you glad it’s Prediction Friday and we have the Ravens to discuss?

(By the way, here’s a drink chip to CSB Jack, who predicted the exact score of the Ravens’ 30-7 victory over the Broncos. Of course, he cheated and submitted it after the fact while the bar was closed. But I am offering a chip anyway for his creativity.)

Now, for your predictions (you must submit before the Bengals’ game, Jack).

For the record, I will not be overlooking the Bengals the way I did in Week 5, when Cincinnati won in Baltimore, 17-14. But I am still going with the Ravens to win.

I am sticking with the same theory I had for the Broncos game (though I didn’t write it). The Ravens need this win more than the Bengals. If they lose, they drop two games behind Cincinnati and also will lose the head-to-head tiebreaker.

The Ravens aren’t talking about desperation, which admittedly is a bit of a stretch at Game 8. But this one is pretty darn important.

So I say the Ravens win 17-10 on a Kelley Washington 23-yard TD reception from Joe Flacco in the fourth quarter.

We’ll make Washington the game’s hero. Why? No clue.

Daily Think Special: Predict the winner, score and hero of Sunday’s Ravens-Bengals game.

November 4, 2009

Which athlete's life story would you like to see become a movie?

Yeah, it’s true I have been away too long.

But you have to give me credit for coming back with a flourish, getting half the bar stirred up about Mark Teixeira in November.

I may not be bright, but like they said about me during my entire educational career, I can stir it up.

Now, to answer the question posed from Rob K. and the other regulars, my time off was not Steve Phillips-esque. There was no forced vacation, no revealing text messages and no rabbits in pots during the entire week the bar was dark.

I simply took some time off after the long baseball season, but it had to be delayed a little bit.

So everything’s cool and there is no need to Google my name with “arrest” or “fired.” Certainly not yet, anyway.

Today’s topic is something we have hit on before. But it has been 18 months or so.

Wednesday evening I attended a screening of “The Blind Side,” the movie based on the book that was based on the life of Ravens’ offensive lineman Michael Oher.

I’ll give you my thoughts about the film at a later time.

I really enjoyed the book and was eager to see how it translates to the big screen. I also was also looking forward to seeing Sandra Bullock for 90 minutes. That’s one of life’s small pleasures.

Plus, this one movie is going to open up a whole lot of cool topics here for the next couple of weeks. Let’s get one out of the way quickly.

Oher’s story – a disadvantaged teen living from home to home was befriended by a rich family that helped him realize his potential – is an inspiring one and deserves to be told.

My question is this: Which athlete’s story – local, national or international -- would you like to see made into a movie? One that already hasn’t been told by Hollywood.

This is a serious inquiry, but I am sure we’ll get some jokers to chip in, and that’s cool too. Just keep it clean.

Daily Think Special: Which athlete’s life story would you like to see become a movie?

November 3, 2009

Would you be willing to give Mark Teixeira a mulligan?

I am back. The bar is open. Hope you are thirsty.

Not sure where to start. We could talk about the Ravens and that big win against the Denver Broncos. But that’s old news now.

We could talk about the upcoming game against the Bengals, but we still have some time for that.

We could discuss the Orioles’ recent moves, but they are so minor they are not worth your hard-earned two cents. Instead, we are going to rehash one of our favorite subjects – at least since this dive has been open.

While I’ve been off, I have been keeping one bleary eye on the World Series. And one thing is apparent to me: Baltimore’s curse on previously favorite son Mark Teixeira seems to working.

At least partially.

Teixeira, a career .290 hitter, is batting .172 this postseason. He has just four extra-base hits in 67 plate appearances in the New York Yankees’ three playoff series.

Still, heading into Wednesday night’s Game 6, Teixeira is one win away from a World Series championship ring, the ultimate prize that Baltimore’s voodoo doctors kept away from Mike Mussina for all those years in pinstripes.

If Teixeira wins one – and I’m pretty sure he is going to – we’ll have to line up shots on the bar for many of you.

When Teixeira signed with the Yankees last December and said at his news conference that he dreamed of being a Yankee and wore a Yankees hat to Camden Yards, many of you immediately cursed him.

Deep down, though, you know how good he is. And you also know what the Orioles most need right now to compete is a power-hitting first baseman in his prime who is either a switch-hitter or a right-handed hitter. Teixeira, who grew up in Severna Park, really was the perfect fit.

I am not asking you to cry over spilled beer. But here is my fictitious scenario for the day. Assume for a minute that Tex could opt out of his Yankees contract after one year and that shiny ring on his finger if he said he wanted to come home.

Would you let bygones be bygones and welcome the prodigal son into the Orioles’ nest? Or did he lose you forever at that press conference, no matter how much he would help your team?

Here are the ground rules: If he came back, he wouldn’t have to apologize for his previous comments. He wouldn’t have to give back his ring. He’d still cost the Orioles $180 million or so. But he’d be with the Orioles at a time when they could really use him.

Well, what do you do?

Daily Think Special: Would you be willing to give Mark Teixeira a mulligan and an olive branch?

October 21, 2009

Predict the 2009 World Series winner and its MVP

Interesting talk about Philadelphia and its fans on Wednesday.

Like I said before, I think most of you are going to need a sidecar for the Phillies bandwagon as it gears up for the World Series against the New York Yankees.

Stranger things can happen, but Phillies-Yankees looks inevitable.

So, assuming that is the case, break it down for me. Call it Thursday’s Pre-Prediction Friday.

(We are shutting the bar down today and will be back in early November to talk Ravens and the hot-stove league. Make sure you check back shortly after Halloween.)

I want your predictions for the World Series: The winner, the number of games and the MVP.

Here is my thought: Your hated Yankees win in six games. Robinson Cano gets the MVP. There’s no insider information here. Just a hunch.

Have a great week or so and, to quote Rob K. quoting an ad campaign, stay thirsty.

Daily Think Special: Predict the World Series winner and MVP.

October 20, 2009

What's your feeling about Philadelphia sports teams and their fans?

Back to baseball for a day.

(But a quick programming note first. With the Ravens’ bye week coming up and the Orioles rather silent, I am going to be shutting the bar down, likely for the rest of October. That means probably no Prediction Friday this week or next, but we’ll get back to sports talk in early November. Thursday will probably be the last day for a while, but I’ll leave the key under the door in case you guys need an emergency drink.)

Anyway, I was in Philly on Monday and watched the Phillies come back to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers and go up 3-1 in the National League Championship Series.

In the preseason I predicted the Dodgers would win the World Series. Technically, they are still alive, but I don’t see it happening now. The Phillies are a very good team with a great offense and a dependable – if not formidable -- rotation.

So I am pretty sure they’ll represent the NL again in the World Series.

Now I know if they play the Yankees in the October Classic, this place will suddenly become South Street South. But otherwise I am curious as to hear what Baltimore fans think about the success in Philadelphia.

There was a time when the two cities had a little geographical rivalry, especially between the Orioles and Phillies, who met in the 1983 World Series.

I went to a Pennsylvania college and the number of Philadelphia sports fans there grossly outnumbered Baltimore/Washington or New York area fans.

And so I had a lot of Philly sports shoved down my throat in four years.

It has been a long time since I have been a fan or hater of any particular sports team, though. So I want your opinion on the Phillies and Philadelphia sports in general.

To be honest, I think this Phillies team is pretty likeable. Also, two men with Orioles ties that I respect, third base coach Sam Perlozzo and assistant GM Scott Proefrock, are in line for a ring, and I’d like to see that happen for their sakes.

Plus, after the initial celebration wore off, Philly Phanatics were pretty darn civil and respectable this year as the fans of the defending World Champions. They didn’t seem to flaunt it the way a certain crew up north has recently. I think part of it is that Philly fans are so used to falling short that they were waiting for someone to wake them up this year.

So I don’t have a problem if they repeat. But do you?

Daily Think Special: What’s your feeling on Philadelphia sports fans and their teams?

October 19, 2009

Which 2008 Raven does this year's team miss the most?

Now that Ravens fans are a bit on the disgruntled side, there has been a whole lot of remorse getting tossed around the bar.

Usually we save that kind of second-guessing for old flames at 1 a.m. But I’ll indulge you all today.

The Ravens broke up their long-term relationships with several players/personnel last offseason.

The list of those hitting the road included linebacker Bart Scott, kicker Matt Stover, defensive back Jim Leonhard and defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, among others.

Each name has been brought up in the last few days, with that “I never should have dumped him” tone.

You could argue the Ravens could use all of them back here. But which one do they miss the most? Is there someone else from the 2008 team that they need right now?

Sure, some left on their own accord, others the Ravens chose not to re-up. Point is, they aren’t here anymore.

It’s time to cry in your beer over spilled milk.

Daily Think Special: Which 2008 Raven does this year's team miss the most?

October 18, 2009

What do you take away from Sunday's Ravens' loss?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first.

That was one heck of a game at the Metrodome Sunday. I know it didn’t end the way most of you wanted, but it couldn’t have been much more entertaining.

And Joe Flacco couldn’t have looked more like vintage Brett Favre if he had worn Wranglers and retired in the fourth quarter.

Still, the Ravens lost and have dropped three straight. What was a season of immense possibilities (3-0) is now one of confounding mediocrity (3-3).

Several of you picked the Vikings to win this one, but no one was real close to the 33-31 score. So I am giving the free bar tab this week to Space, who predicted a 24-23 Ravens’ loss. He wins because he knew this would be a nail-biter that would end poorly.

Steve Hauschka missed the game-winner, but he didn’t lose this game. The secondary did. It was a concern before the season started and it’s absolutely alarming now.

Sure, there are plenty of positives with this team. It has heart, and Joe Flacco, despite his inexperience and inconsistency, is often a pleasure to watch. That said, it may not matter if other teams can slice apart the Ravens’ pass defense.

That’s what I take from Sunday’s Ravens’ loss. Great game, but if the secondary doesn’t improve, the Ravens won’t get far in the postseason, if they make it at all.

Daily Think Special: What do you take away from Sunday’s Ravens loss?

October 15, 2009

Prediction Friday: Ravens at Vikings

You’ve made it to another Prediction Friday.

We are serving double shots of Purple Moose (or Purple Jesus in some parts) in honor of the Ravens-Vikings game in Minnesota. So line up.

I am no longer predicting blowouts. I have learned my lesson.

I think the Ravens win, because I don’t think they’ll lose three in a row heading into the bye week. Pretty scientific, huh? And some of you thought I was just a baseball guy.

I look at it like this: If the Vikings defensive front can keep up its impressive season, get past the young offensive line and pressure Joe Flacco, there could be some serious trouble for the Ravens. It Flacco can get some time, though, the Ravens should put up points, especially if they can add a balanced running attack as well.

Adrian Peterson is going to get his, as will old man Favre. But I still like the Ravens in this one, 27-24, on a late touchdown pass to Derrick Mason (remember him?)

I’ll give Flacco the hero of the game tiebreaker for three TDs, including a Favre-esque, game-winning drive.

Daily Think Special: Predict the score and hero of Sunday’s Ravens-Vikings match-up.

October 14, 2009

What's your hope for the Yankees this postseason?

Well, the good news from Wednesday’s discussion is that there still are plenty of passionate opinions about the Orioles, despite their continual losing.

You may not care as much as you once did, but you still care. And that’s important.

I understand some of you believe it is ridiculous that most of the coaching staff (and Dave Trembley) can be back after the team lost 98 games and stumbled through consecutive losing season No. 12.

I say to that what I said to the picking up of Trembley’s option: There isn’t enough talent to make a true judgment on the coaching staff.

But, trust me, it is expected that if this team is disastrous again next year, there will be a housecleaning -- even if, again, it’s not the coaches’/manager’s fault. It won’t matter.

One quick point about Wednesday’s discussion: Juan Samuel has re-upped as third base coach, so he will not be bench coach. He probably would have been good at that position, but look for the new hire to have catching experience.

OK, moving on. We haven’t talked much about the baseball postseason. So we let the premature ending of the Red Sox season pass without any comment. Shame on all of us.

The Yankees are still alive, though, and they are worth discussing. I have talked to several Orioles’ fans as well as some friends who are just baseball fans. And the thoughts are all over the board when it comes to these Yankees.

Some traditional Yankee haters are unhappy that the Bronx Bombers are back in the ALCS. Yet at least one Yankee hater I know wants to see the Yankees get to the World Series, so they can lose to Joe Torre. He figures they can suffer that indignity while the whole world watches them suffer.

I ran that theory by another Yankee hater, who admitted that is a sweet scenario but said he didn’t want to leave it to chance. He’ll root for the Angels, and if they falter, then he’ll root for whomever plays the Yankees in the World Series.

Another O’s fan told me that he views this Mark Teixeira-led team much like he did Mike Mussina’s Yankees. He has cursed them and hopes Tex never wins a ring.

Then there’s another interesting theory. A writer I know said he’d like to see the Yankees win it all, just to show that you can go from a non-playoff team in one year to a champion if you can buy the three best players in a free-agent market. He says it will further expose baseball’s economic disparity for the sham it is. I get that, but I also told him it’s not a news flash and it’s not going to change a thing.

One last side of the Yankees coin. A diehard Orioles fan told me he wants to see the Yankees win, because he now hates the Red Sox more, and if the Yankees win, it’ll most pain Red Sox Nation. And that will give him tremendous pleasure, since he doesn’t harbor the illusion that the Orioles can top either in his lifetime.

So which camp are you in?

Daily Think Special: What’s your dream scenario involving the Yankees and this postseason?

October 13, 2009

Should the Orioles have brought back most of their coaching staff?

I know it is football season, but we’re going to talk baseball today.

We are going to talk baseball lots of days, no matter what the temperature is outside. We won’t abandon the Ravens, but I have to stick with my so-called expertise on occasion.

And that’s baseball, and those battered and beaten birds of Baltimore.

Before I get to them, though, a quick scouting report on the Jason Isbell concert for those that care (and based on the e-mails I’ve gotten about my lack of music discussion recently, some of you, a vocal/typing portion anyway, do).

Isbell put on a heck of a show, one that would make all Drive-By Truckers fans proud. He played for about two hours, did several of his most recent solo tunes as well as covers of The Talking Heads and Tom Petty and mixed in some of his Truckers stuff (“Outfit,” “The Day John Henry Died,” “Decoration Day.”) There were some technical difficulties at the venue, but Isbell and his band, the 400 Unit, fought through it and sounded great.

The only disappointment was the size of the crowd. I wasn’t expecting a Truckers’ audience, but thought there’d be more people out. Of course, as an old guy, I’m much more comfortable with gatherings versus crowds these days.

Two Baltimore notes from that night: The opener was Charm City’s own J Roddy Walston and the Business, a fun band that’s energy is only matched by its volume of hair. The drummer is Steve Colmus, who is one of the Warning Track Power guys that created “How Bout Dem O’s?” which we have featured here before. Steve came up and re-introduced himself to me before his gig, which was cool.

Also, I discovered after Isbell’s show that one of the guys in his band, keyboardist Derry deBorja, is from Towson. He’s a McDonogh grad, and this old Calvert Hall guy didn’t hold it against him. I swear.

So, yeah, Baltimore’s music scene was well represented in Pa. last week. Good to see.

OK, back to something you care more about: the Orioles.

As I wrote today, Dave Trembley has brought back all of his coaches except bench coach Dave Jauss. I guess that’s somewhat of a surprise from a team that lost 98 games in 2009. But if you believe that Trembley deserved to return despite the record, the same can probably be said about his staff.

The fact that the only one to get the ax was the bench coach isn’t surprising. The manager and the bench coach have to have a special relationship and if that doesn’t develop – or if it slips some over time -- it’s an easy spot to make a change. Don’t worry about Jauss, who has been in the game forever. He’ll surely find a job somewhere else.

I know some were disappointed that Juan Samuel stayed. A bad team’s third base coach is always a target for fans. It’s by far the easiest coaching position to criticize and, in the time I have covered this club, fans wanted the heads of Sam Perlozzo and Tom Trebelhorn, too. Yes, Samuel made some mistakes in 2009. But a third base coach is only noticed when he makes a questionable decision. The other 700-plus times when the team scores, no one gives him any credit for waving his arm.

Here’s what you need to know about Samuel: He is arguably the most respected person in the Orioles' clubhouse – players and coaches alike. A former all-star, he’s unafraid to tell a player when he did something wrong or isn’t acting professionally. And, at 48, he’s still has the muscle (and resume) to back it up. I would have kept him, too.

In fact, I’m OK with the returning of these coaches; there is something to be said for continuity, But are you?

Daily Think Special: Should the Orioles have brought back most of their coaching staff?

October 11, 2009

What must the Ravens do to improve?

My guess is you are stunned.

I definitely was stunned by the Cincinnati Bengals’ last-minute upset of the Ravens Sunday. Part of that was because I wholly underestimated the Bengals, especially their defense.

I also didn’t see the Ravens’ defense folding during crunch time. OK, I’ll be honest. I didn’t even expect a crunch time on Sunday.

That folding, of course, had plenty to do with the Ravens committing penalties. You can blame the officiating all you want, but the bottom line is the Ravens have lost two straight, and the Bengals now have an advantage in the AFC North.

And I guess the Bengals are for real.

Four patrons – Sentient, Space, Christian and Larry – each had the Bengals, and all deserve an open tab today. Larry, with a 21-17 Bengals’ prediction, gets the tab for the week. Enjoy.

For the rest of you, I am sure the first part of the week won’t be enjoyable. Rest assured, it won’t be a bowl of cherries for the Ravens, either.

My question is a little different today. Let’s forget about the two consecutive losses, and be forward thinking and try to build on Sunday's loss.

Daily Think Special: What must the Ravens do to improve from here forward?

October 8, 2009

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Bengals

OK, all.

The place is open for business and I’m swapping filled shot glasses for predictions.

But before we go there, a few personal notes (it is a blog, after all. So I am allowed to get personal. The gambling part is for recreational purposes only).

First, I apologize for the closed door this week. I was taking a breather after the long Orioles season and the breather turned into a veritable slumber after I had to tend overnight to a couple incredibly flu-bitten daughters. But I am back now.

Secondly, I must apologize to the music fans out there -- and I’ll eventually get to those of you who e-mailed me -- for my lack of music banter the past few busy weeks. I have some time to download new CDs now and I’ve updated my iPod (took me a while to figure out how to exclude my son’s “Harry and the Potters” tunes from my sync).

So we’ll throw some names and CD ideas around in the next few weeks, but I do have one programming note: I’m heading out Friday to see Jason Isbell play in Harrisburg, Pa. Isbell, as many of my hip patrons know, is the former “Drive-By Truckers” guitarist and songwriter who has ventured out on his own. The recent studio album is good, but rather bluesy and mellow. Curious as to how that translates into a live show.

Last, and most important, you may have read that The Baltimore Sun lost a valued employee this week when business editor Tim Wheatley was killed in a car accident while taking his 9-year-old daughter to school.

Tim was my sports editor for a few years, and he was the one who listened intently and then approved a silly idea to create a blog based around a fictitious sports bar. I’m sure he had his doubts, but he encouraged me to do this two years ago, and, honestly, if it weren’t for him, Connolly’s would never have seen the light of the Internet. For that, and the opportunity to interact with you people, I will forever be grateful to Tim.

Please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers during this tragic, difficult time

Thanks for that. Now, to the matter at hand: The Ravens will crush the Cincinnati Bengals and Chad Ochocinco this week. I’m going with 34-14.

My hero of the game is the Ravens young running back Ray Veintisiete, who will run for two touchdowns, including one in excess of cincuenta yards.

I want your predicted score and game hero. Fake bar tabs are at stake, people.

Daily Think Special: Predict the Ravens-Bengals score and the game’s hero.

October 4, 2009

What went wrong for the Ravens on Sunday?

The Ravens weren’t the only ones who had a rough Sunday.

Of the 40 or so prognosticators at the bar this week, only four had the Patriots winning. Plenty of confidence in the old Balmer team, and you have to respect that, I guess.

Didn’t work out though.

No one correctly predicted a 27-21 Pats win (Never More gets one drink chip for the right score, but the wrong winner).

The closest -- and therefore the winner of the free bar tab this week -- was JTK, who had New England to win, 27-17. Congrats, I suppose.

Since I have never lied to you before (at least that you know of), I have to come clean today. I didn’t watch much of the Ravens game, not enough to be analytical anyway. You see, I have this pesky day job watching another professional sports team in Baltimore.

Yes, there is one.

So I basically know what happened on Sunday in New England -- I know about Jared Gaither and Mark Clayton‘s drop and the referees' spots. But I don’t know the big picture stuff. Like, specifically, what ultimately cost them the game.

That’s where you come in. It’s time for you to be the analyst (you guys do it in here every week anyway). What did you think went wrong on Sunday?

Was it the game plan? Was it the execution of a particular facet? Or did they just run into a good team that was more desperate to win?

Daily Think Special: What went wrong for the Ravens on Sunday?

October 1, 2009

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Patriots

We made it to Friday.

Grab a spot at the bar, snag a cold glass and while I pour give me your prediction for the Ravens-Patriots game this Sunday.

I have a special on the spiked purple Kool-Aid. Because I think the Ravens go into Gillette Stadium in Foxborough and take this one.

I know, I am the guy that predicted a loss to the San Diego Chargers in Week 2. But I am more of a believer now.

That’s not to say I think it will be easy. I’m by no means dismissing the Patriots.

I think Tom Brady will get his share of yards passing and a couple touchdowns. But their running game will be non-existent, and the Ravens’ secondary will come up big at the end.

My call: Ravens 24, Patriots 17.

Ed Reed gets his first touchdown of the season – late in the game – and serves as the hero of the day.

That’s how I see it. I want your thoughts on the fourth Prediction Friday of the season.

Daily Think Special: Predict the score and hero of Sunday’s Ravens-Patriots game.

September 30, 2009

What type of manager do the Orioles need for 2010?

This is not an official poll. The results are haphazard and arguably meaningless.

What did you expect? I mean, it’s not even a real bar. But if you are truly disappointed, then I will return your cover charge.

Anyway, I tallied Wednesday’s comments for and against keeping Orioles manager Dave Trembley for 2010.

It was 32 against him, 25 for him and a bunch that commented around the specific question without giving a definite answer (I’m cool with that, too. We don’t judge at Connolly’s).

The point is it was close. An argument can be made each way.

I guess my contention is that those who criticize Trembley’s in-game moves are missing the big picture. Oftentimes, he is replacing one reliever who shouldn’t be in the majors with another reliever who shouldn’t be in the majors.

He is pinch-hitting a kid who won’t be in the big leagues in two years with a veteran who won’t be in the big leagues in two years.

OK, I’m exaggerating a bit, but the guy doesn’t have enough quality personnel to allow us to properly evaluate his managerial skills on a daily basis. Are there things he has done I disagree with? Absolutely. But are his mistakes so rampant that it proves he can’t manage at this level? Nope.

I keep him for 2010. And one of the reasons is I don’t know who should be his replacement. Or, I should say, what kind of manager should replace him.

Today I don’t want to get into the names of potential replacements. Trembley still has his job, and it would be disrespectful to start clamoring for another candidate.

But I want to know this: What type of manager should lead the Orioles in 2010?

What’s funny is that the Orioles have tried all kinds of prototypes in the past decade: There was the veteran who would force accountability onto the players (Ray Miller), the proven winner (Mike Hargrove), the fresh-faced hot commodity (Lee Mazzilli), the players’ manager (Sam Perlozzo) and the nurturing development guy (Trembley).

How did those work out?

What’s left is the hard-(nosed) disciplinarian -- which is usually a disaster for young teams. No doubt some Orioles could use a good benching when they don’t give 100 percent. But let’s see how that disciplinarian keeps the clubhouse when this team is losing 90 in 2010 and the veteran leaders are grousing about being treated like rookies. (Remember, the 2009 player is much different than the ones Earl Weaver terrorized in 1970.)

Again, I think it is a lot more about the personnel than the manager right now.

But I want to hear what personality type you want in your next manager. And I want to see how that differs from what Trembley brings to the table. Or what Sammy P brought. Or Mazz or Grover or Rabbit.

Daily Think Special: What type of manager do the Orioles need for 2010?

September 29, 2009

Would you keep Dave Trembley? Why or why not?

We have officially made it to the last week of the Orioles season.

And I am ready to address the elephant in the barroom.

It’s really a two-headed pachyderm.

Will Orioles manager Dave Trembley be fired at season’s end?

Should he be?

My colleagues at The Sun, columnists Peter “The Promised Land’s Ugly American” Schmuck and Kevin “Cat Hater” Cowherd give their differing opinions in Wednesday’s edition. If I were you, I’d check it out.

Now, I am weighing in as well.

I have been waffling on the first question during the past month, and now, as the Orioles are hideously stumbling to the finish line, I’m leaning toward the belief that Trembley will be fired. It’s tough to survive a 100-loss season (or something real close).

The second question I have answered consistently all year: No, Trembley shouldn’t be fired. He didn’t put this team together. He didn’t assemble the bullpen. He didn’t ask for several of his best veteran players to be dealt away or shelved with injuries.

Trembley did what he could with this mess of a roster. Like those before him -- Sam Perlozzo, Lee Mazzilli, Mike Hargrove -- he was handcuffed the moment he said, ‘I do.”

You can make the argument that Trembley has done a better job than those mentioned above. Because, collectively, he probably had less talent to work with, and, for the most part, the players haven’t openly turned against him.

Sure, Trembley made some lineup and pitching moves that could be questioned. But that’s the beauty of baseball. None of us is under the same pressure as the manager and yet we can second-guess his decisions.

The biggest criticism of Trembley is that his players failed miserably when it came to mastering the fundamentals. Yet Trembley’s teams practiced fundamentals more during the season than any other group I have covered. Whose fault is that?

Some of Trembley’s biggest critics within the clubhouse are the same guys who failed to do their job this year. But as the old adage goes, "You can’t fire 25 players."

The only reason to can Trembley now is to change the ever-present “culture of losing.” Yet whoever takes over almost certainly will have to suffer through another terrible season next year. And then that person will be caught in the undercurrent of losing as well. And the cycle, the criticism will continue.

That is until the club has enough horses to compete with the big boys in the AL East. That could be coming, but it isn’t here yet. And won’t arrive next year.

So until then, it doesn’t matter who the manager is. Therefore, it seems unfair to ship out Trembley now to pay for the sins of past regimes.

That’s my $2.02. Give me yours.

Daily Think Special: Would you fire Dave Trembley? Why or why not?

Watch a video of Peter Schmuck and Kevin Cowherd debating whether the Orioles should bring back manager Dave Trembley.

September 27, 2009

Are the Ravens this good?

Now, that one was easy.

I know there were several of you that were slightly worried that the Ravens could experience a letdown against an inferior Cleveland Browns team.

They did; they allowed a field goal. They should be ashamed.

Seriously, the final was 34-3, more of a blowout than most of you blowout predictors had anticipated (including myself).

Drew Johnston gets a free drink chip for his 34-6 prediction. Ed gets one, too, for his 31-3 guess.

They aren’t the big winners, though. This week’s free (and fake) bar tab goes to Tay Dizzle, and not just because he has a cool name.

Tay Dizzle went with 31-3, Ravens. But he also called the tiebreaker, predicting Willis McGahee would be the hero of the game. Drew and Ed were thinking running back, but went with Ray Rice.

Plenty of heroes on Sunday, but McGahee ran for two TDs and nearly 10 yards a carry.

So drink up Tay Dizzle.

As for the rest of you, I have a simple question: Are the Ravens this good?

They are 3-0 and look much improved offensively. Their defense is still fierce against the run, and perhaps their pass defense – four picks Sunday – is getting it together.

I know any NFL team can beat any other on any Sunday, but, be honest. Even the most pessimistic Ravens’ fan had to expect the team to be 2-1, at the worst, at this point. And the San Diego Chargers, with their injuries last week, weren’t as good as everyone expected heading into the season.

So the real test comes next week, when the Ravens travel to New England. If they can beat the Patriots, and then the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings, they would head into the bye week 6-0 and arguably be considered the NFL’s best team in 2009.

That will be the week to truly evaluate. But what about now? Are the Ravens as good as they have looked so far? Or is their unblemished record more of a by-product of the teams they have played.

I am thinking it’s a combination of both.

Daily Think Special: Are the Ravens this good?

September 24, 2009

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Browns

I am officially south of the border now.

I’m not buying fireworks or anything, just home from Toronto.

Just in time for Prediction Friday.

I won’t be going against the patrons this week. Consider me happily in the majority.

I don’t see the Ravens having a letdown Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. And partially that’s because I don’t think much of the Browns. (And as an Irish Catholic I am biologically obligated to support Brady Quinn in his endeavors.)

Really, even a Jonathan Ogden-sized letdown shouldn’t be enough for the Ravens to drop one at home to the Browns.

But it is the NFL, so I guess you can never say never.

Still, I’m predicting a 24-6 Ravens win. My hero of the game is Ed Reed, who snags two interceptions, and returns one for a touchdown.

Am I off? Did I jinx your beloved purple and black?

Daily Think Special: Predict the score and hero of Sunday’s Ravens-Browns game.

What are your impressions of Matt Wieters now?

I am finishing up at Rogers Centre – I can call it Skydome in a blog, thankfully -- after the Orioles were swept by the Toronto Blue Jays in an amazingly forgettable three-game series.

There is truly only one highlight from this series.

Matt Wieters hit an absolute bomb against Scott Richmond that hit the façade just under the club-level seating in right field. They don’t give estimates in Toronto – and I am not smart enough to do the conversion anyway – but trust me, it was crushed.

There was so much buzz about Wieters when he arrived that his slow start at the plate and behind it made it seem like he was a disappointment.

But the kid has heated up in a big way.

After two hits Wednesday, he now is batting .290 with eight homers and 38 RBIs. He’s also made some great throws to second recently.

He has hit safely in 15 of the 19 games he has played in September and is batting .367 in the month.

He is hitting an outrageous 12-for-22 (.545) since being moved to the third spot in the lineup five games ago.

So I am impressed.

This kid has become a major league hitter before our eyes. Yes, he could exhibit more consistent power, but for a guy in his second pro season it’s a matter of time.

But I know some of you wanted more from Wieters early on. Has your perception changed in the past month or so?

Daily Think Special: What are your impressions of Matt Wieters now?

September 21, 2009

What is/was Ray Lewis' greatest play?

Hey everyone:

Transportation issues have made Monday one heck of a day. So I decided to bang out a bar entry before I got to the ballpark in Toronto.

Therefore, we are going back to football again for Tuesday.

(Quick aside: If I could have one superhero power it would be teleportation. No question in my mind. After sitting for a couple hours in Baltimore rush hour traffic and a few more hours at BWI, I would pay good money to be able to teleport. I’d give up the potential of having X-Ray vision or flying like a bird or superhuman strength if it meant I could just show up where I wanted whenever I wanted.)

OK, back to the real item at hand. And speaking of superheroes.

After the Ravens’ Ray Lewis tackled San Diego Chargers Darren Sproles for a loss with 30 seconds left and fourth down on Sunday, I heard an announcer refer to the game-clincher as possibly the greatest play in Lewis’ career.

I immediately scoffed. Great play, sure. But come on, this is Lewis we are talking about. This is a Hall of Fame career we’re talking about.

No way it was his best ever, right?

Well, after the game, Lewis called it “probably one of the greatest plays of my career because of what we did as a team.”

OK, well he would know.

It got me thinking. In your opinion, what is Lewis’ greatest play? Certainly something from the Ravens’ Super Bowl run qualifies.

I am going with the now famous Eddie George hit that teleported the Titans running back into another zip code. Maybe it didn’t end a game, but it served notice about the force that was Lewis and the Ravens.

Daily Think Special: What is Ray Lewis’ greatest play?

Bonus Think Special: Which superhero power would you most want to possess?

September 20, 2009

What's your take on Sunday's Ravens' win?

You all were right. I was wrong. I am more than OK with that.

Your Baltimore Ravens are now 2-0 after a 31-26 win at San Diego.

Excellent win. Definitely not an easy one, though.

Most of you said the Ravens would be victorious. A lot of you predicted a blowout.

Both Jeff Orndorff and Ed SoPaFan had the Ravens winning 31-27 and Bob Dana was right there, too, with a 31-24 prediction.

Bob gets a free drink chip and Ed can enjoy a free tab today. But we’ll give the free (and fake) tab for the week to Jeff, who won the tiebreaker by saying Todd Heap would be the hero of the game.

He wasn’t. Willis McGahee deserves that title (with Ray Lewis delivering the biggest play of the game). But Heap caught a TD, and Ed didn’t list a tiebreaker.

So if you can’t follow the fake rules, Ed, you can’t fully reap the fake benefits. It’s probably not his fault, however. Those guys up in York County get confused easily.

Anyway, be thirsty, Jeff. You are a winner at Connolly’s.

Now, to Sunday’s victory. I must be honest, I had other responsibilities and couldn’t watch the Ravens’ game as intently as I would have liked. I saw most of it, but had to listen to some on the radio. So I am even more ill-equipped than normal in my not-so-expert analysis.

But here are three quick observations: 1. The offense really does look like it will be formidable this season. 2. The secondary concerns me even more than it did last week.
3. So long as the offense is for real, this team should win a bucketload of games, because the defense will improve.

I want to hear what you think. Let’s get a good discussion going today among the patrons while I fly to Toronto to watch those other birds of Baltimore.

Daily Think Special: What did you take from Sunday’s Ravens’ win?

September 17, 2009

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Chargers

It’s Prediction Friday, people.

You know the drill.

I don’t want to bore you with a lot of useless prose. You don’t read it anyway on Prediction Friday.

It’s all business and dry martinis when it comes to pigskin prognostication.

So give me your prediction for Sunday’s Ravens game in San Diego. I want a score, a winner and who you think will be the game’s hero.

If you get it right, you’ll get lauded at this very site next week.

I am going with a hunch here people. Remember, don’t shoot the bartender. Or at least not until after closing time.

I think this is a knock-down drag-out with a few big plays mixed in.

My prediction: The Chargers win 20-17 with a last-second 51-yarder by Nate Kaeding. I’ll make Kaeding my star of the game, too, for that potential boot.

I know, I am wrong. How dare me.

So set me straight.

Daily Think Special: Predict the Ravens-Chargers outcome and star of the game

September 16, 2009

Tomlinson or Sproles?

We’re flipping back to football for a couple days after doing some baseball.

The San Diego Chargers, my pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this year, host the Ravens on Sunday.

Should be a good game, and we’ll make predictions Friday.

But here’s what I want to know from you today:

Which running back gives the Chargers a better chance to win these days: Darren Sproles or LaDainian Tomlinson?

Tomlinson injured his ankle last Monday and was watching on the sidelines as the Chargers and Sproles made their final comeback against the Oakland Raiders. But there are some that believe LT should have stayed on the sidelines regardless.

That the short and shifty Sproles is a more effective weapon these days.

I am not ready to believe it. Not yet anyway. I think Tomlinson still has plenty left in the tank. I think he is still a feature back. I think he is still the best running back in San Diego.

Sproles has looked good, very good, at times, but he has never been a feature back before. So I can't automatically give him props over Tomlinson.

I may be in the minority, though.

Take away the fact that LT may be a little banged up right now, and answer this question: Who is the better back for 2009, LT or Sproles?

Daily Think Special: Who is better Tomlinson or Sproles?

September 15, 2009

Nick or Brian for MVO?

I am writing this sitting in the press box at Camden Yards, where myriad baseball arguments are being tossed around as I type.

It’s September in Baltimore, we have to entertain ourselves somehow.

I may recycle a couple of them later, but I want to throw one at you today.

We have kicked around who should be the 2009 Most Valuable Oriole a couple times this season.

It has been an award of attrition. And now there are two candidates standing: second baseman Brian Roberts and right fielder Nick Markakis.

Injuries wiped out Brad Bergesen and Adam Jones (who had struggled in the second half anyway). Luke Scott’s post-break slump took him out of the competition, too.

George Sherrill might have had a chance had he stayed in Baltimore, but he and last year’s winner, Aubrey Huff, were shipped out.

That basically leaves Markakis, who leads the team in RBIs, batting average and is third in homers while playing a strong right field.

And Roberts, who leads the team in runs scored, is second in RBIs and set a franchise record for doubles Tuesday night with his 52nd of the season.

Both have had good years. Either is a fine choice.

I lean toward Markakis for the all-around game. Others argue for Roberts, because of the doubles.

I am sure some of you will say it doesn’t matter because being the MVO is akin to the world’s tallest midget.

But, to me, it is worth arguing/discussing. Really, what isn’t? So let’s do it.

Daily Think Special: Nick or Brian for MVO?

September 14, 2009

What is your primary thought about Sunday's Ravens' win?

OK, let’s be honest.

None of us saw that coming.

Thick 5, Steve and the ubiquitous Anonymous had the Ravens scoring 38 points in Sunday’s opener. No one had the Kansas City Chiefs scoring 24 in what was the second highest scoring game of the day (behind New Orleans thrashing Detroit).

The open bar tab this week goes to Dave, who at 33-14 was at least in the ballpark.

But it certainly wasn’t a blowout, like most of us expected. The opposite in fact. Heck, it was a tied game with three minutes to play.

Yet here is my lasting impression of Sunday’s Ravens’ 38-24 win over the Chiefs: I never thought the Ravens were going to lose. That’s not Monday morning quarterbacking or pure homerism.

And maybe it had something to do with how bad I thought the Chiefs were. But it never struck me that the Ravens would lose that one, even as the score was tied. I was taken aback that it was so close, but didn’t expect them to lose.

And that is a feeling that I didn’t have at the beginning of last season. So that’s what I’ll take from Week 1 of the 2009 NFL season: This team has confidence, and it spills over to the stands.

Here are a few other quick thoughts from Sunday’s Ravens game before I give you the floor. (Disclaimer: I have covered football in the past, but it has been years since I stepped into a NFL locker room. These observations have no insider-info linked to them. If you want true analysis, check out the Sun’s Ravens’ beat stuff, which is excellent.)

It’s nice to see the Ravens can air it out -- and will do so when necessary.

I don’t want to see them get into a shootout with a good NFL team.

Flacco’s no fluke.

Great to see Kelly Gregg back (and Todd Heap, too).

The big play could haunt the defense this year.

Daily Think Special: What’s your lasting thought about Sunday’s Ravens’ win?

September 10, 2009

Prediction Friday Returns: Ravens vs. Chiefs

We’re cracking open the bubbly. And not the cheap stuff either.

This champagne comes all the way from French Lick, Indiana.

Only the best for my patrons.

We’re celebrating because you have made it to our first true, football Prediction Friday of the late summer.

If you are new around here, Prediction Friday is simple. It’s a fiesta and party all wrapped into one.

Basically, the deal is this: Each Friday we share our predictions for the upcoming Ravens game. The one who is closest to the score gets a free drink chip and the adoration of his barkeep and fellow patrons for a full week.

(Neither is worth anything, but this is a fake bar people. What do you expect?)

If you hit it straight on, it’s a free bar tab for a week and your name in Christmas lights over the sports mural on the front wall.

The tiebreaker – if we need one – is if you correctly select the hero of the game (decided at my discretion to give me a better chance of winning).

But since this is the very special week one, we have even more fun and games on tap (bad bar pun). I also need your prediction for the Ravens’ season record.

I’ll keep them and get back to you in January. Last year, almost no one had them over .500. My guess is that changes today. We'll have this run all weekend, and you can make your prediction up until kickoff.

OK, here is my entry: I say the Ravens win 23-6. Todd Heap catches two TDs for hero of the game.

And the Ravens go 11-5 in 2009.

Your turn.

Daily Think Special: Predict the winner and score of Sunday’s Ravens-Chiefs game.

Bonus Think Special: Who will be the hero of the game?

Double Secret Think Special: Predict the Ravens’ record at regular season’s end.

September 9, 2009

Post your Super Bowl predictions

We are now knee deep in NFL preview week here.

And it’s time for your Super Bowl predictions. I'll keep them, I promise.

I believe I had the Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl this time last year. So it’s pretty obvious why The Sun employs me as a baseball writer (For the record, most of my predictions for the baseball playoffs are still in good shape).

Basically, the AFC is tough for me to figure out this season.

I’m going to avoid putting the Ravens into the Super Bowl. That would make me too much of a homer. But feel free to do it yourself.

As a card-carrying Baltimoron, I am contractually obligated to not pick the Pittsburgh Steelers. Besides, it is so tough to repeat that I probably wouldn’t have picked them anyway, despite their immense talent.

And I am just not sold on the New England Patriots simply because Tom Brady is back. Yes, it makes them better; but not necessarily the AFC champs.

So I am going with the San Diego Chargers, because I like their balanced offense and strong defense, assuming a certain former Terp behaves. Plus, their division is so terrible they should be ashamed if they don’t lock up the conference’s best record and home-field advantage.

On the NFC side, I know the Cowboys, the Eagles and the Falcons are chic picks. But I am going with the Green Bay Packers. Again, I like the balanced offense and the opportunistic defense. And they also get to face some bad teams.

So that’s my call: Chargers versus Packers in the Super Bowl, with Packers winning.

Daily Think Special: Post your Super Bowl predictions.

September 8, 2009

Which Ravens will have breakout seasons?

We dipped into the NFL pool on Tuesday.

Let’s jump in feet first today.

I am looking for a breakout Raven (prison jokes not welcome). Could be offense, could be defense, could even be new kicker Steve Hauschka.

Basically, I am looking for this year’s Le’Ron McClain, Jim Leonhard or Joe Flacco.

Players that helped carry the team that you weren’t exactly counting on before the first game. Players that took the biggest leap from one season to the next.

Ray Rice is going to be the popular answer here. I will give you two more: Tavares Gooden and Todd Heap.

Yes, Todd Heap. Yes, I know it is not 2003. Yes, he’s already broken out, but then he broke down.

As Paul of Arlington (free drink chip) predicted in Tuesday’s fantasy football entry, Heap could be a big source of TDs if he is healthy.

A huge if, I get it. But I think he might have one more productive season left in him.

Call me an optimist.

Or call me an idiot. But call me.

Come on Ravens’ fans, I want your breakout Raven for 2009-10.

Daily Think Special: Which Raven (or Ravens) will have a breakout year? Why?

September 7, 2009

Which NFL players will have breakout/sleeper seasons?

Labor Day is over, so I no longer have an excuse to keep the bar dark.

And it is a good thing, too. I have received several emails wondering why I have ignored the NFL for the past month.

The answer: Because it was preseason. And preseason means nothing. And the Orioles, if you haven’t noticed, are still playing. And my pseudo-expertise with baseball is why I get a paycheck.

But, alas, we are into September. We are post Labor Day. I won’t wear white for months (I’ll have to dust off the colored undershirts) and I won’t make baseball my only focus.

So, you ready for some football?

We are embarking on the first week of the NFL season with the first game Thursday.

We’ll get to Super Bowl prognostications and the like this week as well as Prediction Friday (copyright pending) with the Ravens.

But Wednesday night is my second fantasy draft, and since Aubrey Huff is no longer an Oriole (he was my fantasy football sounding board) I am coming to you. (Although Orioles PR guru Jay Moskowitz navigated me through my first draft.)

I want your sleepers, guys that may not be highly touted to start the season and end up as key picks. I will give you a few of mine, but I have to be careful because some of my opponents frequent the bar.

Running back: Donald Brown of Indianapolis. Wide receiver: Hakeem Nicks of the New York Giants. Quarterback: Matt Leinart of Arizona (no way Warner makes it through the season).

I have others, but I am keeping them close to the vest. But you don’t have to.

If you aren’t a fantasy football player, that’s OK. Just give me some names of players that you think are going to have breakout seasons. That’s helpful, too.

Daily Think Special: Which NFL players will have breakout/sleeper seasons?

September 3, 2009

Is losing 100 games a big deal to you?

Thursday was an off day for the Orioles, but baseball writers still have to come up with stories.

That and the fact that baseball players make roughly 600 times what we earn in a year are really what separates the professions.

Oh, and the groupies. And the fact we can’t hit curveballs. And don’t have shoe or sunglasses deals.

OK, there is plenty.

Apparently, some of you believe there isn’t much that separates Yankees’ fans and Red Sox fans. It was another interesting debate at the bar Thursday. Some great points and very little name-calling, I like that.

Back to off-day stories. The one I wrote for Friday’s paper is about the possibility that the Orioles could lose 100 games in a season for just the third time in their history.

They did it in 1954 – the first year of the modern-day franchise here – and in 1988, when the club lost 21 straight to begin the season.

And now this year it could happen again. The Orioles (54-80) would have to go 9-19 in their final 28 games to stave off 100 losses. Coincidentally, they were 9-19 in their past 28 games.

So they’ll have to dip a notch below their current scuffling pace, but with a tough final schedule, the loss of center fielder Adam Jones to injury and the eventual shutdown of starters Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz, it’s within reach.

But does it matter? Do you want to see the Orioles avoid 100 losses, or is it just another number in a rough season?

Daily Think Special: Is losing 100 games a big deal to you?

Bonus Think Special: Will the Orioles lose 100?

September 2, 2009

Yankees or Red Sox?

OK people, the Yankees fans have gone. It’s safe to come out now.

They have taken their swollen pride and their “Hip, Hip Jor-Heys” and headed back up Interstate 95 for another year.

You only have to suffer through three more Red Sox games at home this month before you can reclaim Camden Yards.

Yeah, that Blue Jays series in October is going to be rocking.

Three-quarters of the park this week was filled with Yankees fans – par for the course these days. They did their thing, too, cheering everything pinstripe. But I’ll stay on record that Yankee fans are much more tolerable in 2009 than Red Sox fans. Not even close.

We’ve done this topic before, and most of you agree with me.

But here’s my question for today: The Yankees and Red Sox are, again, clearly among the best teams in the American League. They’ll both likely make the playoffs, meaning there’s a 50 percent chance one will get to the World Series.

I want to know which is the lesser of the two evils. Right now. In 2009.

Would you rather have the Yankees, who last won a world championship in 2000 but have 26 overall, get to the World Series?

Or would you still rather see it be the Red Sox, who have won two since 2004?

You don’t get an alternative option of swallowing cyanide in late October.

It’s a simple question. Two choices. One painful answer. If you had to choose – and I am making you – who would you rather see win the 2009 World Series?

Daily Think Special: Yankees or Red Sox?

August 31, 2009

Which pitcher do you most hate seeing the Orioles face?

I’m back from the beach, with no discernible color on my cadaver-white, Irish Catholic skin.

No burns, either. So I considered that a small victory.

More important, the bar is open just in time for the Orioles to take another shot at history.

They were seven outs away from being up-close spectators of a perfect game.

The pitcher who had retired 20 straight Orioles to begin Monday night?

Andy Pettitte, the New York Yankees’ veteran left-hander and one of the greatest Oriole killers of all time.

Pettitte lost the perfect game when former Oriole Jerry Hairston Jr., booted Adam Jones’ two-out grounder in the seventh. The no-hitter evaporated when Nick Markakis singled in the next at-bat.

An eighth-inning Melvin Mora homer ruined the shutout, but Pettitte still got his 26th win against the Orioles, moving him into a tie with Catfish Hunter for second all-time in wins against the Orioles.

Only Whitey Ford, with 30, has more.

We’ve discussed Oriole killers before. We’ll put a slightly different twist on it today.

When Pettitte goes out to the mound in Camden Yards, you absolutely expect him to dominate the home team since we have seen it so many times before.

But who else gives you that feeling when he faces the Orioles?

Roy Halladay? Jamie Moyer? Every starter in the AL East?

Daily Think Special: Which pitcher do you most hate seeing the Orioles face?

August 21, 2009

A successful September or the No. 1 overall pick?

I am thinking about making another change to the bar.

I am considering offering up only topics about hate. Ones that really fuel your ire.

Because that’s what makes this place rock.

On Thursday I mentioned my slight irritation with the Tropicana Field cowbells and my deep-in-the-gut, wanna-retch disdain for the wave. (Thanks Gus. I did this at 1 a.m. But, hey, no excuses).

Many of you rode that whitecap of vitriol all the way in. Beautiful.

I probably could get away with doing a “Do you hate the wave?” topic, but that would be too easy.

And I can’t be lazy today, because I am closing the bar for a week. I need time to think on an all-hate décor (Post-modern Irsay, perhaps?)

Actually, I am going to the beach for a week with my family. Every now and then I have to act like an actual dad.

So the bar likely will be closed after this weekend – unless something HUGE happens in the world of Baltimore sports. But there will be other aisles to stroll down in the Toy Department. Or so I have been told.

We’ll get the place reopened by Sept. 1. I promise. And maybe in the meantime we’ll get rid of that rat problem once and for all.

Today’s topic should be a good one. It comes courtesy of my friend and Connolly Bar semi-regular Brian.

He’s torn and wants your opinion. And I think it’s a good one.

If the Orioles just maintain their crappy pace for the rest of the season, they will again lock up a Top Five pick in the amateur draft for the fourth consecutive year. But if they step up their September Swoon into overdrive, they could challenge the Nationals (and Royals, etc.) for the top pick.

And that could, perhaps, yield them 16-year-old Las Vegas slugging phenom Bryce Harper. Or whoever is considered the best amateur player next June.

So would you like to see the Orioles fall apart even more if it meant getting the No. 1 pick? Obviously, the Orioles’ players and management wouldn’t consider tanking the rest of the season for the No. 1 overall slot. That is wrong in so many ways.

But what you, as fans, wish for is a different story.
The dilemma is this: Losing at a clip that would produce the No. 1 pick would make this season even uglier. And that means the young players on the roster will be exposed to even more desperation and have even less hope to build on going into 2010.

So which would you rather have: A good final stretch to give the young players some positives or a terrible swoon that produces the top pick?

Which would make the future brighter?

Your choice. I am hitting the beach.

Daily Think Special: A successful September or the No. 1 draft pick?

August 19, 2009

What's the most annoying cheer/act in sports?

This week, I’ve been at Tropicana Field, home of the inspiring Tampa Bay Rays and the annoying cowbell.

That’s what these fans in St. Pete do when they want their boys to rally. They shake their cowbells.

Who would have thought there would be such a thing as too much cowbell?

It’s not the most annoying cheer (or cheering apparatus) in baseball, however. The tomahawk chop in Atlanta is pretty irritating, and it didn’t even start with the Braves. So it’s stolen and annoying.

I actually think the rally monkey in Anaheim is somewhat entertaining. And I guess I can deal with the “Let’s Go Red Sox” and “Let’s Go Yankees” chants, even when they are in Camden Yards.

The wave, however, I can absolutely do without. I’d rather take a Justin Verlander fastball in the noggin than participate in the wave. If the Orioles want me out of the press box, all they have to do is institute a mandatory wave, and I am history.

The wave, to me, is the worst fan act/cheer in all of sports. Hate it.

There I’ve gotten that off my chest.

Now, more cowbell.

Daily Think Special: What is the most annoying fan cheer/act in sports?

Who was/is baseball's ultimate "Natural?"

Every now and then I feel it is my responsibility as your bartender, confidant and an erstwhile pop-culture moron to pass on some important info to you, my beloved patrons.

This is one of those times.

Roy Hobbs is 73.

Actually, Robert Redford, one of those actors who seemingly stayed the same age for about 40 years and then suddenly looks old, turned 73 on Tuesday.

Sharing a birthday with Redford: Dirty Dancing’s Patrick Swayze, who turned 57; and Baltimore’s Edward Norton, who hit the Big Four-Oh Tuesday.

Also turning 40 Tuesday: Creepy actor Christian Slater and rapper Masta Killa of Wu-Tang Clan.

Yeah, I had too much time on my hands Tuesday. I was on a plane to Tampa to cover the Orioles and I accidentally packed my novel in my check-in luggage. So I read every inch of two newspapers (and still had about an hour to kill).

Anyway, back to Redford, who has had many key roles in his esteemed career. But to me he will always be Hobbs, the mythical lead character in, “The Natural,” one of my Top Five baseball movies (Bull Durham and Field of Dreams battle for my top spot).

Quick aside: For nearly two decades I have been in a fantasy baseball league in which the person that finishes last has to attend the following year’s draft in a dress. Yes, it’s an all-male league. One year, a respected journalist who will go unnamed – but was not me: I’ve never had the dress indignity -- showed up as Glenn Close in “The Natural,” complete with the wide-brimmed white hat. Now that is losing in style.)

OK, so to today’s question: The term “The Natural,” has been thrown around a bunch of times over the last few decades to describe a young ballplayer with unlimited promise.

Orioles’ catcher Matt Wieters has gotten that moniker from some (I prefer “Savior in Shin Guards,” but that’s just me). Many of the players with that label, however, have failed to meet the lofty expectations. New York Mets outfielder Jeff Francoeur, formerly of the Atlanta Braves, is a recent example. But who is baseball’s ultimate natural?

Brief Guidelines: To be a proper “natural,” the player has to have immense God-given talent, has to have hit the big leagues early in life and has to have ridiculous hype surrounding him.

To me, the quintessential natural was Ken Griffey Jr., who was one of the few to live up to the expectations. As for Orioles, Jeffrey Hammonds is the first to come to mind. Injuries stopped him from reaching his potential.

Daily Think Special: Who was baseball’s ultimate natural?

Bonus Think Special: Who was the Orioles’ ultimate natural?

August 17, 2009

What's your take on the Aubrey Huff deal?

Aubrey Huff is no longer an Oriole.

We knew it would happen eventually, but now it won’t drag into the offseason.

Huff was the club’s MVP in 2008, which was one of the more tumultuous seasons a player has had in an Orioles uniform (not including the disaster known as 2005).

From his offseason radio antics and “Baltimore is a horse---- town” comments to being booed on Opening Day to becoming the club’s best hitter in 2008, it was a whirlwind for Huff.

Honestly, I appreciated the way Huff handled himself last year – no pun intended – and he became one of the best Orioles to deal with. He’s funny and never took himself or the game too seriously. So, yeah, he’ll definitely be missed within the clubhouse.

That said, I think trading him for a relief prospect – right-hander Brett Jacobson, the Detroit Tigers’ fourth-rounder last year out of Vanderbilt University – makes sense.

Huff turns 33 in December, is a free agent and isn’t part of the club’s future. The only way the Orioles would have gotten compensatory draft picks for him would have been to offer arbitration this offseason.

And given Huff’s production this year coupled with the uncertain effect of a down economy on free agency, it was possible Huff would have accepted arbitration. And that would have stuck the Orioles with an $8 million-plus first baseman, who potentially would be blocking prospect Brandon Snyder.

So give the Orioles and club president Andy MacPhail credit for being proactive and getting something for Huff.

And here’s hoping Huff gets to the playoffs for the first time in his career and does well. He deserves it.

That’s my take. What’s yours?

Daily Think Special: What’s your take on the Aubrey Huff trade?

August 16, 2009

Who is baseball's best manager?

The Orioles are finishing up their four game series with the Los Angeles Angels on Monday night. They won’t see that club again until the Orioles turn on the playoffs sometime in October and watch Mike Scioscia and company on TV.

(Quick shout out: CSB Jack came up to say hi to me in the press box this weekend. I love the opportunity to meet some of the regulars face-to-face. Free drink chip to Jack).

Anyway, Scioscia is considered one of the best managers in baseball. It is a well-deserved reputation. Although some of it has to do with the fact that Scioscia has a whole lot of good players at his disposal.

Really, judging managers is often chicken-and-the-egg. Good managers can’t do anything without good players. And just because a team stinks, doesn’t mean the manager is incompetent.

I have covered four managers with the Orioles, and it’s difficult for me to tell you which one was the best. Because each had to manage with inferior personnel. (I know which one was worst, but I’ll leave that up to your imagination. One hint: He’s not currently in an Orioles’ uniform. Not even close).

All that said, look at the division leaders in the majors right now, and five of the six are led by former managers of the year. The only one that isn’t, Philadelphia’s Charlie Manuel, won the World Series last year. He deserved the award in 2008 and is a serious candidate again this year.

The other five are a who’s who of managing: Scioscia, Jim Leyland, Joe Girardi, Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre.

Of those five, Scioscia is the only one who doesn’t have a Manager of the Year Award with a team besides his current one (which, incidentally, is the only big-league team Scioscia has ever managed. So that stat’s kind of unfair to Mike, who won the 2002 award with the Angels and may get another this year).

The point is the other guys have won in multiple destinations.

So, yeah, good managers need good players. But the real good ones can win with different personnel – so long as it is quality.

I want to know who you think is the best.

Daily Think Special: Who is currently baseball’s best manager?

August 15, 2009

The baseball cycle: Cool feat or meaningless stat?

Hey all,

I just saw Felix Pie hit for the cycle Friday night.

Pretty cool accomplishment, no matter how random it may be.

It really is one of those strange statistical things that baseball fans like. Or at least we writers think you do.

How rare is a cycle?

Pretty rare. Pie’s was just the fourth in Orioles’ history and the 290th of all time. In comparison there have been 282 no-hitters

Although not super rare.

Pie’s is the seventh this season, and second at an Orioles’ game – Texas Rangers’ second baseman Ian Kinsler did it against the Orioles in Texas earlier this year.

And it’s the second by an Oriole in little more than two years (Aubrey Huff did it on June 29, 2007) after happening just twice (Cal Ripken Jr. on May 6, 1984) and Brooks Robinson (June 15, 1960) in the franchise’s first 53 seasons.


Anyway, I want to know if you think the cycle is a cool bit of baseball history or just some bizarre baseball statistical anomaly that helps sportswriters get through the dog days of August.

Daily Think Special: The cycle: Cool feat or meaningless stat?

August 12, 2009

Which facet of the Orioles' 2009 performance bothers you the most?

The Orioles have dropped two of three at home to the perpetually rebuilding, financially challenged Oakland A’s.

The Ravens start their exhibition season today against their Redskins.

I’m thinking it’s bad timing for the Orioles to continue another August swoon (they are 3-9 this month).

Of course, it’s been bad timing for more than a decade.

But we will persevere here with the Orioles at Connolly’s, at least until the regular NFL season starts.

Because I really don’t care if Troy Smith or Ray Rice looks good in August.

Instead, I want to know what’s bothering you the most about the Orioles right now. The good news is that there is plenty to choose from.

The baserunning continues to be embarrassing. The starting pitching is young and susceptible to ugly innings. The relief corps is dragging from overuse. The defense is solid but unspectacular.

And the offense, you know, the strength of this team, has been on summer vacation. In their past eight games, the Orioles have scored more than three runs once.

Sure, it can be deflating when you are in a big hole early. But this is an offense fronted by some big-salaried players. And it hasn’t been good since the first two months of the season.

Still, some of you may be so angered by the baserunning that nothing can top it for your disdain. What’s the worst of the worst?

Daily Think Special: Which facet of the Orioles’ performance bothers you the most?

August 10, 2009

What do you do with Jeremy Guthrie this winter?

No question that one of the biggest mysteries this season for the Orioles is Jeremy Guthrie.

He struggled through much of the first half, and we talked about him then.

To start the second half, Guthrie pitched brilliantly in Chicago. He had two terrible outings and then pitched well again last week in Detroit.

On Monday, he was terrible again, allowing five runs and a season-high 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings. He has a 5.43 ERA, his 81 earned runs allowed ties for the major-league lead and his 12 losses are worst in the AL.

A total headscratcher.

He may not be as good as he was in 2008, but he’s not this bad either. The Orioles have no choice but to let him pitch the rest of this season and hope he can turn it around.

Yet the inconsistency of this season puts into question his future.

Is he a guy you try to trade in the offseason for something slightly useful while he still has some value given his age and salary situation (he is under club control for three more seasons)?

Do you offer him arbitration (assuming he’ll make $1 million or more in 2010), pencil him into the back of your rotation and just assume he figures it out?

Or do you cut your losses, non-tender him a contract and move on?

I think you have to hold onto Guthrie for 2010, and hope 2009 was an aberration. The Orioles just aren’t deep enough in major-league starters right now and Guthrie is too talented to discard him this winter.

Am I right?

Daily Think Special: What do you do with Jeremy Guthrie this offseason?

August 9, 2009

What do you remember most about the 'Why Not?' season?

Just got back from Detroit, where the Orioles left me on Thursday.

They went on to Canada, but I stayed in this country. Something about “past felonies” and “international incidents” that I really don’t want to detail here (just kidding, mom, just kidding).

Actually, I stayed the weekend in Detroit on my own free will. Seriously.

My brother and his family live in Central Michigan, and so my brother and my 18-year-old nephew met me in Detroit and we hung out for two days.

I went back to Comerica on Friday as a regular old Dan and watched the Tigers and Twins play. And this just in, Joe Mauer is good.

I might have misspelled the Twins catcher’s last name. I think I left out a V and a P in Joe M’s last name.

He’s got my vote, and not just because he was about six inches from going 5-for-5 in the game I saw Friday night.

We also went to the old State Theatre (the Fillmore Detroit now) on Saturday and saw Chickenfoot live. If you aren’t familiar with the band itself, you certainly are familiar with its musicians.

Chickenfoot features Sammy Hagar as the lead singer, Van Halen’s Michael Anthony on bass, guitar god Joe Satriani on lead and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith on drums.

Satriani’s guitar playing was worth the price of admission (and it wasn’t cheap) and Hagar, at age 62 believe it or not, can still scream with the best of them. He jumped, rolled and leaped – and never broke a hip the whole night.

Chickenfoot’s new CD is fine (a must-have if you miss Van Hagar), but their live show is the reason this group is together. Not normally my cup of tea now that I’m an old guy, but it was definitely something to check out.

Given the crowd – old rocker chicks and balding, paunchy dudes mixed in with some 20-somethings – it was definitely a flashback night.

And since the Orioles, kings of the flashback, are celebrating the 1989 “Why Not?” season Orioles throughout this year, I figured we’d continue the theme on a Monday.

I loved that 1989 team because I was in college in Pennsylvania and the year before had to endure the ignominy of the 0-21 Orioles. So that 1989 season was a reward for loyal Orioles fans (just imagine your reward when this club finally gets good).

Of all of those players that burst on the scene that year, I’d say my favorite was Pete Harnisch. The guy had “guts.” Damn that rusty nail.

Who was your favorite 1989 Oriole? And what was your most memorable moment from that season?

Daily Think Special: Who/what do you remember the most from the 1989 “Why Not?” season?

August 6, 2009

Who will lead the 2010 Orioles in saves?

We had great response Thursday on which pitcher would emerge as the Orioles’ ace for 2011, so I figured we’d do something similar again today.

But we’ll focus on the bullpen this time.

Now that George Sherrill has been traded, Jim Johnson is your newly anointed closer, though he has not had a save opportunity since the Sherrill deal.

Johnson certainly has the stuff to take on the role, but he hasn’t done it since high school.

Chris Ray has struggled in his return from Tommy John surgery but is looking better now. And pitchers are usually better in the second season after elbow surgery.

Kam Mickolio has nasty stuff and is 10-feet-tall, so he would certainly strike an imposing figure in the ninth.

Cla Meredith has a funky delivery and is a tested late-inning guy.

And my wild card is Koji Uehara, who has been a closer previously in Japan.

I don’t want to know who you think will start the season as the club’s closer next year. That’s child’s play. I want to know who you think will be most effective.

Daily Think Special: Who will be the Orioles’ saves leader in 2010?

August 5, 2009

Who will be the Orioles' ace in 2011?

Sorry the bar was dark for a weekday.

Something about a rat and a wire and a “potential fire hazard.”

No worries.

To old business first: We didn’t have an on-the-nose prediction of Brian Matusz’s debut line Tuesday, which was 5 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 Ks and a win.

But we had some close ones. Free drink chips to Alex D, Rob K, Jason and Matt.

And a free bar tab for the day goes to Dave who predicted 5 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 2 BBs, 4 Ks and a win.

He was off by a walk, a strikeout and two runs. That’s pretty good.

I had the pleasure of covering Matusz’s debut in Detroit (and really all of the debuts this year) and my take is basically what Dave Trembley was screaming from the rooftops in the Motor City on Tuesday night.

Matusz is the real deal. He has four solid pitches that he can throw for strikes. And he’ll throw any one of them in any count.

He’s also an extremely impressive guy off the mound. He’s very mature and polished in interviews and has a genuine friendliness about him.

In spring training, while getting our first real looks at the young pitchers, O’s beat writer Jeff Zrebiec and I knocked around which one would eventually emerge as the best. After some deliberation, Jeff said Matusz and I said Chris Tillman.

One scout I know said it would be Jake Arrieta. Brad Bergesen and David Hernandez weren’t in the conversation. And Jason Berken wasn’t even at camp.

Now, we’ve seen all but Arrieta pitch in the big leagues. I am sticking with my Tillman prediction, because he is the youngest, has pitched the most at Triple-A and because if he can get some more movement on, and a little better command of, his fastball, he is going to be downright nasty. His curveball and changeup are already plus pitches.

But it’s hard to go against Zrebiec’s gut call after seeing Matusz in Detroit.

I want to know your thoughts. But I am putting a specific timeline on it. Forget about now and even next year. Who will be the club’s best pitcher starting in 2011?

Daily Think Special: Who will be the Orioles’ ace in 2011?

August 4, 2009

Predict Brian Matusz's debut pitching line

Prediction Tuesday doesn’t have much of a ring to it.

But hey, I didn’t decide when to call up Brian Matusz. We’ve got to deal with what the Orioles give us.

Matusz, the club’s top pick last year, will be making his big-league debut Tuesday night in Detroit.

I have a good feeling about this one. At least for Matusz.

I’m not sure the Orioles will beat veteran Jarrod Washburn, who is making his own debut. This will be his first game with the Tigers after spending the last three-plus years with the Seattle Mariners.

I say Matusz leaves with a 2-1 lead in the seventh. And the Orioles’ beleaguered bullpen turns it into a no decision. (Has anyone noticed I haven’t written about the Orioles bullpen in the past two months without using the word beleaguered? I need a fresher adjective).

OK, it’s Prediction Tuesday time. Here’s my thought on Matusz’s pitching line:

6 2/3 IP, 4H, 1ER, 1BB, 5Ks. A no decision.

What’s your call?

Daily Think Special: Predict Brian Matusz’s line Tuesday night.

August 2, 2009

Whose Orioles debut excited you the most? Rank your top three

This one is going to take some deep soul searching.

You are going to have to be honest with yourself and your fellow Connolly patrons.

The Orioles have had some seriously anticipated big league debuts this year.

There was Koji Uehara and then Brad Bergesen. Nolan Reimold followed, and then it was Jason Berken, David Hernandez and Matt Wieters.

Chris Tillman’s turn came Wednesday and now it looks like Brian Matusz’s shot is Tuesday in Detroit. I’ll be there, and I’ll make sure we chat about my/your observations on that one.

I don’t think I have covered as many anticipated Orioles debuts in the past eight years as I have this season.

For the record, according to Baseball America, the Orioles’ first (Wieters), second (Tillman), third (Matusz), fifth (Reimold), 10th (Kam Mickolio) 16th (Hernandez), 17th (Berken), and 18th (Bergesen) prospects are up in the majors.

It’s funny, given what we have seen, that Bergesen is the lowest-rated among the group heading into this year. But his debut had some hype around it, too, since he was the organization’s Pitcher of the Year in 2008.

I am wondering who you were most excited to see this year.

I’m assuming the answer is Wieters, simply because of the hype throughout baseball surrounding him.

But there was definitely a whole lot of buzz around Koji’s and Tillman’s debuts. And Matusz’s has some cache since it was the most unexpected, given that this is his first year as a pro.

I want to know the top three Orioles debuts you were/are most excited about in 2009.

Daily Think Special: Whose Orioles debut excited you the most? Rank your top three.

July 30, 2009

Will you miss George Sherrill? Do you like the move?

In less than 24 hours, we’ve seen the Chris Tillman Era start and the George Sherrill Era end.

Sherrill was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers for third base prospect Josh Bell, 22, and pitcher Steve Johnson, 21.

Both are headed to Double-A Bowie.

Bell was the must-have in the trade. The Orioles view him as a potential third baseman of the future – and that’s sort of important since the third baseman of the present, Melvin Mora, can be a free agent at season’s end and almost surely won’t be back.

Johnson’s a good story. A local kid from St. Paul’s that excelled in high school and grew up around the game with his father, former Oriole pitcher and current MASN broadcaster Dave Johnson.

It’s way too early to determine whether this was a good deal by the Orioles. There are several factors, including whether set-up man Jim Johnson can close and whether the big-bodied Bell, (6-foot-3, 235 pounds) can adequately play third in the future.

So the best question for today should be about Sherrill and whether you’ll miss him.

I’ve got to be honest. Sherrill and I clashed at first. But over time I learned to appreciate Sherrill and his stand-up demeanor when he blew a save.

Eventually, I learned to like Sherrill the guy. He was very approachable and had a sly sense of humor.

As far as a pitcher, he has -- and I’ll say this in a polite way -- serious guts. The guy didn’t get rattled. And, though his stuff was a tick above ordinary, he never doubted his ability to get hitters out. He was made for the late innings – regardless of role.

I was at the 2008 all star game when he became belle of the ball when he threw 2 1/3 shutout innings. Let me tell you, he loved being there, too. A former independent leaguer, you could tell how excited he was to be on that stage. And it was cool to see.

Daily Think Special: Will you miss George Sherrill? What’s your take on the move?

July 29, 2009

What was your first impression of Chris Tillman?

Chris Tillman’s first start is in the books.

Here’s a bet: He will have better outings in his Orioles’ career.

The 21-year-old super prospect struggled some, allowing three home runs, including two solo shots in the second inning. He’s entitled. He had to be pretty nervous Wednesday.

He lasted into the fifth, and was pulled with two runners on and two outs. Matt Albers made sure Tillman’s night didn’t end terribly by getting the third out.

Here was Tillman’s final line: 4 2/3 IP, 7 hits, three earned runs, one walk and two strikeouts.

I include the line because on Wednesday I asked you to predict it.

And, let me tell you, I want to go to Vegas with TD Saul. A free bar tab all week – hey, it’s fake, make that all month – for TD.

His/her predicted line was this: 4 2/3, 6H, 3ER, 2BB, 2Ks.

TD Saul incorrectly confused a hit with a walk. Otherwise, it was the absolute perfect prediction. That’s amazing.

TD Saul, what number am I thinking of? Right now.

By the way, trmahoney gets a free drink chip and some props for his/her prediction of 5 IP, 7H, 2ER, 1BB, 4Ks.

Close, but no TD Saul.

For the rest of you that can’t see into the future, give me a little bit about the present. What did you think about Tillman Wednesday? Any first impressions?

Daily Think Special: Now that you have seen him pitch in the big leagues, what’s your first impression of Chris Tillman?

July 28, 2009

Predict Chris Tillman's debut pitching line

OK, Orioles fans, the future has arrived at Camden Yards.

Once again in 2009.

There was Brad Bergesen, then Nolan Reimold and Matt Wieters.

Now Chris Tillman, the organization’s top pitching prospect, makes his debut Wednesday night against the Kansas City Royals.

We’ll make this entry short and sweet. What will Tillman’s line be?

Drink chips for the one who is closest to Tillman’s line. Free tab and a spot in the “barstools for legends” section if you nail it right on.

Here’s my guess: Tillman goes 6 2/3 IP, allowing 4 hits, three runs, all earned, 3 walks and 5 strikeouts.

He gets the hard-luck loss because Zack Greinke allows just one run in seven innings.

Still, that would be a tremendous debut. What’s your call?

Daily Think Special: Predict Chris Tillman’s debut line.

What do you do with Jason Berken's rotation spot?

After Monday’s game, Orioles lefty Rich Hill said he has been dealing with tendinitis in his shoulder for much of the season.

So it looks like there is no mystery as to what’s going to happen when top prospect Chris Tillman gets promoted to pitch Wednesday against the Kansas City Royals.

Hill likely will go on the disabled list. Who knows if he’ll pitch in the big leagues again this year? Certainly, they could stash him away at least until September call-ups.

The club could still designate him and try to get him through waivers. But the DL is the safe bet.

So Jason Berken’s chances of staying around beyond Tuesday have improved dramatically.

But here’s a question: What if Berken struggles again Tuesday against the lowly Royals? He is 1-8 with a 6.55 ERA. He hasn’t won since his big-league debut.

He’s only 25 and wasn’t supposed to be in the majors this quickly anyway. Heck, he wasn’t even invited to big-league spring training.

The guy has a lot of moxie. But, if he keeps losing, he might be better off going back down to Triple-A where he can get some success again before returning in September.

The question is who would replace him in the rotation? The answer isn’t Brian Matusz, even though you would love it and he is tearing up Double-A.

Andy MacPhail has been adamant about the schedule Matusz is on, and it doesn’t include the majors in 2009. So put that thought away.

Jake Arrieta is a possibility, but he’s made just nine Triple-A starts (3-4, 4.34 ERA). Troy Patton (1-3, 6.00 ERA in seven starts) has struggled at Norfolk.

They could always bring up someone who is not considered a future mainstay such as Andy Mitchell (9-2, 3.82), David Pauley (7-9, 4.08) or Chris Waters (8-4, 4.55). Or they could move a big-league reliever – Mark Hendrickson, Brian Bass or Matt Albers – to the rotation.

Or they could do nothing, and keep trotting out Berken, and let him learn on the job.

Daily Think Special: What do you do with Jason Berken’s rotation spot?

July 26, 2009

What's your take on promoting Chris Tillman?

The day you have waited for is approaching, Orioles fans.

Or at least the second day you have waited for.

The first was in May, when catcher Matt Wieters made his big-league debut. I’m not sure that can be topped from an anticipation standpoint.

But now it looks as if 21-year-old pitching prospect Chris Tillman will make his big-league debut Wednesday at home against Kansas City.

Tillman has been pretty good in the minors, going 8-6 with a 2.70 ERA. With Rich Hill and Jason Berken both struggling in the big leagues, promoting Tillman seemed inevitable.

It should make the Orioles better right now, but is it best for Tillman in the long run?

He is only 21. He was supposed to stay in the minors all season. The Orioles feel that because of what he has done at Triple-A, it’s time to keep challenging their top pitching prospect.

But there is a camp out there that believes the Orioles should stick with the original plan and keep Tillman at Triple-A Norfolk all year. Let him have success and continue to work on the little things, like mixing his pitches and fielding his position. The feeling is that the Orioles aren’t winning this year anyway, so don’t rush him.

So what’s your take?

Daily Think Special: What’s your take on promoting Chris Tillman?

July 24, 2009

What makes a great dive bar?

We’re going to switch it up in the old bar today and talk about … bars.

Yeah, we’re a sports forum, but we have room in here to mix it up (and not just on the never-been-used, four-foot-square dance floor).

And this is sort of about sports, so stick with me.

I wrote earlier about the Orioles’ spring training move from Fort Lauderdale to Sarasota and how there were some things about Lauderdale I’d miss. Several of my baseball-writing buddies wrote on their blogs about their memories from Lauderdale.

And Jack, among other regular customers, wanted some tall tales about the spring from me. Well let’s say I believe in the truism, “Whatever happens in Lauderdale, stays in Lauderdale.” I know, that’s no fun. But I am a former altar boy, I have a reputation to consider.

My pal Roch Kubatko over at MASN wrote about some of his fondest memories, and included a little dive bar called Jester’s in North Lauderdale. (I’d say his account of our late night is 99 percent accurate, though I contend, perhaps sheepishly, that it was common knowledge I wasn’t on the next morning’s trip).

Crazily, when I think about my nine seasons in Lauderdale, Jester’s will be one of the most memorable places – to the shrieks of the Fort Lauderdale Tourism Bureau. The place screamed dive bar – and I loved it.

It was open until 4 a.m., while others in the area had to close at 2. So it was one of the few places that got busier after 2. And what a clientele that poured in there after hours. It made the Star Wars bar look tame. Creatures with three heads were a common sight. It was prime people-watching territory, and that’s key for a frumpy, married sportswriter with time on his hands.

My two all-time Jester’s highlights in order: 1. Watching a knock-down, drag-out fight between two drunken women that spilled into the parking lot and nearly toppled a motorcycle. 2. Seeing Roch cry at the bar while listening to Green Day’s “Good Riddance” on our last day of the spring one year (Roch claims he was just a little melancholy, but I swear I saw mist in those eyes. One of us is telling the truth, I promise).

Anyway, it got me thinking about my favorite dive bars and the connection between them. They’re usually dark, dingy and filled with bizarre-looking people. I explain dive bars this way: You likely wouldn’t eat there and you certainly wouldn’t take a first date there. But it’s the place you and your buddies start or end a night on the town.

So, while the Orioles are on a losing road trip, let’s talk dive bars. What makes a good one and which is your favorite?

If you absolutely, positively need a sports fix this weekend, however, here’s a trivia question to ponder that I stumbled across.

Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, at age 23 and 105 days, became the 15th youngest player in baseball history to reach 50 career wins this week.

The youngest to reach 50 was age 20 and 297 days. He’s a Hall-of Famer. The second youngest wasted his talent. The third youngest should be in the Hall, but hasn’t gotten the necessary votes yet.

And the fourth is a former Oriole, who reached 50 wins at age 22 and 108 days. His name isn’t Jim Palmer, by the way (Cakes was 24 and change when he did it).

So name the four youngest to reach 50. I’ll let you know for sure on Monday.

Daily Think Special: What makes a great dive bar? Which is your favorite?

Bonus Think Special: Name the top four youngest big leaguers to achieve 50 wins.


July 23, 2009

Do you care that the Orioles are leaving Fort Lauderdale?

I’m back, a day after leaving you high, and more important, dry for a day.

Sorry, things have gotten a little out of control the past couple days. I was hoping to check out Pete Yorn down at the Ram’s Head this week, but duty called. (If there is anyone out there who saw him, let me know how it went. I’m a musical sucker for singer/songwriters from New Jersey).

I’ve been pretty busy with the news that the Orioles are leaving Fort Lauderdale and moving to Sarasota for the upcoming spring (and the 29 after that).

I’ve only been to Sarasota once and it was for a Josh Hamilton press conference and a game. So I wasn’t exactly hanging out at the beach or anything. I hear it’s a nice area – and I also hear it’s not Lauderdale.

From a selfish standpoint, I am sort of torn. I have spent parts of the past nine winters/springs in Lauderdale, and I knew the place pretty well.

I had my favorite restaurant, favorite dive bar, favorite pizza place and a joint where I could get my hair cut. I was all set. But the flip side is that there were no other teams close to Lauderdale. So we spent a huge chunk of our time driving up Interstate 95 or across Alligator Alley, and I won’t miss that.

From Sarasota, you can reach about six parks in the time it takes to get from Lauderdale to Fort Myers. And that will be great.

From an organizational standpoint, this is something the Orioles had to do. They’ll basically be getting a state-of-the-art facility after one year at Ed Smith Stadium. An easy penance considering the dump they played in back in Lauderdale. And they won’t have to pay any of the primary start-up costs for the new place.

More important, they’ll have their minor-league and major-league camps located in one town. That is a huge improvement over the three-hour drive between the two camps. Now, veterans can go over to the minors if they need some extra work and the youngsters can come over to get a taste of big-league camp.

So overall, it’s a great move for the Orioles, even if part of me will miss my favorite blackened mahi mahi sandwich in Lauderdale.

But I wonder if you, Orioles fans, care. I know those of you in Florida do, but what about the rest of you? Did you go to spring training? Will you again now that it isn’t based in Lauderdale? Does the season start for you only when the club comes north?

Daily Think Special: Do you care that the Orioles are leaving Lauderdale? Why or why not?

Bonus Think Special: For those of you that know Florida, what’s Sarasota like?

July 20, 2009

What's your take on the Oscar Salazar deal?

I am flying back to the bar Monday afternoon, and I am hoping I recognize the place.

I’m sure the “In Oscar We Trust” banner is no longer hanging over the bar.

I’m curious to get your thoughts on Sunday’s Oscar Salazar trade to the San Diego Padres for reliever Cla Meredith.

Basically, this is my take on the minor deal: Salazar is a tremendous guy, perhaps one of the nicest in the Orioles’ 2009 clubhouse (and there is a bunch of good guys in there).

He is a great story. He played in Italy, Mexico, etc., and never gave up his big-league dream. And he can flat-out hit.

But a 31-year-old pinch hitter/DH with limited defensive skills is not a good fit for a rebuilding club that’s jammed at the corners.

It’s possible he goes to San Diego – or somewhere else – gets a full-time chance and succeeds. I couldn’t be happier for the guy if that happens.

He just didn’t have a spot here. Like it or not, Melvin Mora is the Orioles’ third baseman for now. He has a no-trade clause and is still owed millions for this season. Cutting him outright with two months on his contract to find a spot for Salazar, who may not be able to play third effectively, seems like a harsh end for your most tenured Oriole.

Cutting Felix Pie, who is just 24 --younger than Nolan Reimold, for instance – also doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

So dealing Salazar – a guy who anyone could have had for free this winter – for a 26-year-old major-league reliever with a minor-league option was about as good as the Orioles could have done.

Meredith’s presence in the bullpen also makes it a little easier to deal Danys Baez or even George Sherrill this month. Think of Meredith as a poor (and young) man’s version of Chad Bradford.

Yes, it’s a very minor deal. But if Meredith ends up being a solid member of the bullpen for a couple years, it will be a solid, understated move. I wish Salazar luck, and I give Andy MacPhail credit for getting some value for Salazar.

Daily Think Special: What’s your take on the Oscar Salazar deal?

July 16, 2009

Prediction Friday: Write a headline for the Orioles' second half

It’s been a while, but we are returning an old feature to the bar today. One that is about as dusty as those near-beer bottles in the storage room. No one drinks that stuff.

Anyway, “Prediction Friday” is back. Cue the bands and cheerleaders. There will be much rejoicing. All is right with your cyberworld.

Usually reserved for Ravens’ games and major golf tournaments, I am dusting off “Prediction Friday” for the Orioles. It’s a one-day-only appearance.

Friday night the club begins the second half of the season in Chicago, and I’ll be there to chronicle exactly how it kicks off (that means you guys must behave yourselves at the bar with no supervision).

This could be an interesting 11 weeks because, frankly, the Orioles have stunk mightily in the second half over the last decade. There is a little more optimism this year since the organization’s minor league reinforcements are more talented than in the past.

Still, the schedule, as always, is brutal. And if the Orioles aren’t careful, their annual second-half debacle could begin this week with a rough road trip to Chicago, New York and Boston.

I want to know how you think the Orioles will do in the second half. There are 74 games remaining. My guess is they go 31-43 and end up 71-91.

But what I really want to know is what you think will be the biggest storyline of the second half. Will it be a trade or a call-up or a firing?

This is your chance to be a headline writer at The Baltimore Sun. And you get to do it on Prediction Friday. So predict a second-half headline. What could be cooler?

Here are some headline possibilities: “Sherrill Traded.” “Trembley Fired.” “Reimold Wins Rookie of the Year.” “Tillman Dominates in Debut.” “O’s Have Winning September.” Or simply, “Orioles Scuffle Again.” We love the word scuffle in journalism circles.

Daily Think Special: Predict a headline for the Orioles’ second half. And explain why that’s your choice.

Bonus Think Special: What will the Orioles’ second-half record (74 games) be?

July 15, 2009

Who was the Orioles' Least Valuable Player in the first half?

Before we get into today’s topic, I just want to point out that there actually was discussion in the bar Wednesday on the attractiveness of a British Prime Minister.

Now that is good reading. You don’t get that kind of perverse diversity at a place like “The Schmuck Stops Here.” I’m just saying.

We’re smaller, but we can kick it up a notch when needed.

OK, to real topics in a fake establishment.

Today is the day you have been waiting for: The Orioles’ Least Valuable Player of the First Half Award.

It would be easy to give it to the long departed Adam Eaton or Ryan Freel. That’s too easy. I am sure Felix Pie will get some votes, but the expectations shouldn’t have been high for the 24-year-old. He’s still trying to learn at the big-league level.

You can interpret a LVP anyway you want. But I look at it this way: Guys like Eaton and Freel weren’t really supposed to be particularly valuable. So they didn’t do well, but their failure delivered no shockwaves.

On the other hand, there is starter Jeremy Guthrie. He was the team’s best pitcher last year. He is the ace – by default, I understand, but still the ace.

In the first half he yielded 20 homers, among the most in the majors. His struggles are about as confounding as anything that’s happened this season. He was 6-8 with a 5.35 ERA in 18 starts – pretty much the epitome of mediocrity.

Keep in mind, several Oriole pitchers have worse numbers.

But honestly, more is expected out of Guthrie –by the front office, the media, the fans and most important, by Guthrie himself. I’m not sure he’d be offended to know he was considered the first half Least Valuable Oriole. He might bristle – the guy can bristle with the best of them – but deep down I think he gets that more is expected of him than a 5.35 ERA and a losing record.

And that’s why I say he’s the LVP of the first half. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up having a very solid second half. Because I can’t see Guthrie settling for mediocrity.

This, though, is about the first half only.

Daily Think Special: Who is the Orioles’ Least Valuable Player so far?

July 14, 2009

Who is the Orioles' first-half MVP?

You have to love when we have a negative topic in the bar. It just makes the beer taste that much colder (to paraphrase a legend).

Quick aside: One of my favorite watering holes, an Irish bar at that, unexpectedly closed yesterday. I’m distraught, so I’m selling 2-for-1 Smithwicks today.

At this bar, we are in the middle of our Orioles season review, and we’ve already looked at best and worst – and many of you picked out specific moments or areas of play.

Today we are simply about the player (sorry if this is redundant for some of you, but I have no problem hearing your opinion more than once. Remember, I get paid to sit next to Peter Schmuck).

We’ll get to disasters tomorrow. This one is reserved for the best.

Who is the Orioles’ first-half MVP?

If you remember (and if you don’t, you might want to skip the sauce for a day), I said Monday that I thought rookie Brad Bergesen was the club’s brightest spot. But that doesn’t mean he is my Most Valuable Oriole.

Bergesen wasn’t expected to come up and pitch as well as he did. And so he gets my brightest light award.

But I don’t think a MVO should go to someone who plays every five days unless that guy completely dominates. In that spirit, I’m also not giving it to relievers George Sherrill or Jim Johnson despite how well they have pitched.

No, for me, the Orioles’ first-half MVP should go to either Adam Jones or Luke Scott.

Scott has better power numbers and has proven he deserves to be in the lineup every day. A wonderful year for him so far. Yet, I am going with Jones, even though he has struggled the past month.

Because even when Jones is slumping at the plate, he takes away runs with his center-field play. Yes, his tendency to play so shallow can be aggravating, but he usually gets to everything he should. And he makes plays that very few can.

So Jones, the Orioles’ lone all-star, is my MVO. What do you think?

Daily Think Special: Who is the Orioles’ first-half MVP?

July 13, 2009

What was the worst part of the Orioles' first half?

We’ve gotten the happy stuff out of the way. I hope you all were feeling chipper Monday.

Because now I am serving up a big glass of losing, bitters are optional.

Monday you told me what you thought was the best part of the Orioles’ 40-48 first half.

Now, we’re going to look at the worst part.

It can be a game, an injury, a managerial/front office decision, a particular player’s performance. It’s up to you, I just polish the glasses around here.

I am going with the overall malaise known as Oriole baserunning. I have covered this team for nine years and consider myself a bad-baseball aficionado. But I’ve never seen such terrible decisions on the basepaths as I have in 2009.

And that’s saying something considering I’ve covered Jack Cust, Deivi Cruz and nine seasons of Melvin Mora.

Mora’s getting crushed by fans this year for some of his baserunning decisions, but he’s not alone. The team, as a whole, has been atrocious. A lot of you want to blame Dave Trembley for not stressing fundamentals.

But it’s mainly veterans making the mistakes. I am not sure what he can do short of buying 13 shock collars and handing out remotes to John Shelby and Juan Samuel.

So, for me, baserunning blunders wins out for worst part of the Orioles’ first half. Having to watch Adam Eaton is a close second, narrowly defeating Aubrey Huff’s mustache (it’s Moe’s joke, but I’m stealing it for a free drink chip and a mention in the world’s most famous fake cyberbar).

What say you?

Daily Think Special: What was the worst part of the Orioles’ first half?

July 12, 2009

What was the best part of the Orioles' first half?

Congratulations, you have made it to the official halfway point of the Orioles’ season.

You’ve accomplished something that Adam Eaton, Ryan Freel and Alfredo Simon couldn’t. (I will be giving out free beer chips in September for those of you who will be able to name the Orioles’ original 2009 five-man rotation.)

The Orioles ended the first half 40-48 and 14 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East. Totally unexpected, I know.

Let’s spend the next few days looking at the first half of this season.

Today, we’ll go with the positive.

What was the best thing about the first half? Besides the fact that it is over?

I’d say the emergence of Brad Bergesen. The guy was the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2008, so he shouldn’t have been a complete surprise. But, remember, John Stephens and Josh Towers also won that award.

Bergesen is now 6-3 with a 3.54 ERA. He’s my call for brightest light, but there have been other positives to come out of the first part of 2009.

Like the callups of Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold, the continually improving Adam Jones, the power display of Luke Scott and the clutch pitching of George Sherrill and Jim Johnson.

Am I missing something?

Daily Think Special: What was the best thing about the Orioles’ first half?

July 9, 2009

What roster move do you make when Izturis is activated?

OK, it’s time to replace your beer-drinking hat with your GM-thinking hat.

(Sure, you may wear both if you really want).

Shortstop Cesar Izturis is expected to come off the disabled list Friday, and the Orioles don’t want to get rid of a pitcher.

So they have a tough roster move to make.

They likely will have to move either outfielder Felix Pie or infielder Oscar Salazar. They’ll either trade one or designate one, meaning they will then have 10 days to trade or ask waivers on that player.

Pie, 24, has much more upside and has been hitting well of late. But he lost any chance of starting full-time when Nolan Reimold came up from Triple-A.

Salazar, 31, has shown an ability to pinch-hit and can play several infield positions, but he isn’t considered part of the future. And a pinch-hit specialist isn’t crucial for a last-place team.

Neither one will bring you much in the trade front; both likely will be claimed if waived.

The other option is designating/releasing/demoting a pitcher. But with such a young rotation that doesn’t go deep into games, the club needs as many relief arms as possible. So I don’t think that will be heavily considered.

My guess is Salazar will be traded for a low-level prospect. But this isn’t about me. You are the one wearing the GM hat.

Daily Think Special: What roster move do you make when Cesar Izturis is activated?

July 8, 2009

Who most exudes love for the game of baseball?

We are heading back to what we serve best at this dive: Baseball.

I did a story this week on High-A Frederick catcher Caleb Joseph, who is leading the Carolina League in hitting.

What’s most intriguing about Joseph is his attitude. The kid absolutely loves baseball. He even occasionally sleeps in the Keys’ clubhouse because he doesn’t want to leave the stadium. He also admits to crying at baseball movies. Seriously.

Joseph really has a refreshing attitude. But it’s not as if his “love of the game” is unique; it’s just we don’t see it as much as we’d like.

That got me thinking. Which baseball player most exuded love of the game? Who do you remember watching and thinking, “Man, he just loves being in the big leagues and playing baseball.”

My first response is Rick Dempsey. The guy just had fun at the ballpark, whether it was playing the games or diving on the tarp or leading an Orioles’ cheer.

There definitely are others, with the Orioles (Elrod Hendricks, of course) and throughout baseball. Kirby Puckett always struck me as a guy who loved everything about the sport.

As for someone I covered, I think pitcher Bruce Chen (who finally is back in the majors with the Kansas City Royals) is in the enthusiastic discussion. So might be reliever Danys Baez. And, yes, of course, Cal Ripken Jr.

Daily Think Special: Which baseball player most exuded love for the game?

July 7, 2009

Have you adopted a non-Baltimore sports team? Why?

We tackled a sensitive subject Tuesday, looking at the legacy of Steve McNair. I applaud most of you for the way you handled it, even when waging criticism.

To those of you who were edited (and for the very few of you who were ushered out by the bouncers) I am not comfortable with speculation or name-calling. I hate drawing a line, so I try to do it in pencil. Most times I’ll let you say what you want to say.

It’s a free country here at Connolly’s, but watered down 7-and-7s will cost you $4.

As often is the case, we are using the previous day’s entry as a jumping off point to a new topic.

In Tuesday’s discussion, I mentioned that I adopted the Houston Oilers as a favorite team when I was a kid and the Colts were so terrible. And then I stuck with the Oilers when the Mayflower vans stole my childhood. I stuck with the Oilers all the way until I became a sportswriter in the mid-1990s and distanced myself from sports fandom.

Jack, one of our loyal regulars and welcomed voice of reason, suggested that we should knock around that concept as a daily question. And since I love when you guys do my work – and it only costs me a free imaginary drink chip to Jack – we’ll do it.

What I want to know is if you have adopted a non-Baltimore sports team over the years. If so, which team(s)? What do you do when your “other” team and the Baltimore one meet? And most important, why did you take on another?

I assume many of you did when the Colts left and you were left without a NFL club for more than a decade. And some of the younger bucks in here may have sought out another baseball club during the current orange-and-black’s blue period.

This could make some interesting reading. So tell your stories, people.

Daily Think Special: Have you adopted a non-Baltimore sports team? Who and why?

July 6, 2009

How will you remember Steve McNair?


There’s always been a weird line that has existed since I became a full-fledged sportswriter in 1996.

Up to that point, I had been a big sports fan, which is, partially anyway, why I moved from news to sports when an opportunity arose.

But that move killed the fan in me. Really, it had to. I began dealing with professional athletes as part of my daily grind. Suddenly, I didn’t care who won; instead I looked for the best story angle. Ethically, I couldn’t treat one player differently than another. And I learned in many cases I didn’t want to. Those heroes of yesteryear weren’t the same as their public personas.

A true rooting interest is gone; however we can’t erase who we cheered for in the past.

I bring this up because the death of Steve McNair hit a chord with me. As I have written before, I grew up as a Baltimore Colts fan, but they were so bad when I was a pre-teen that every football fan in my elementary school had two teams – the Colts and another club that actually had a chance of winning. Back then, most of the kids in my school adopted the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers or Oakland Raiders.

Me? I’ve always trudged uphill. I chose the Houston Oilers, who at the time had the incomparable Earl Campbell. He was my first out-of-Baltimore sports hero.

When the Colts abandoned Baltimore, I stuck with the Oilers, making them my No. 1 team. And I suffered through some terrible squads before Warren Moon arrived. Then it was a bunch of heartbreaking losses. Still, I remained a fan.

And I remember watching the 1995 NFL draft, hoping the Oilers would take that huge Air McNair kid from Alcorn State.

By the time McNair began realizing his promise, the Oilers had moved to Tennessee, the Ravens had moved to Baltimore and I had moved on.

My true football fanaticism had evaporated as I had to do more and more NFL coverage. But I still followed McNair’s career. I was quietly pulling for him in the Super Bowl, and quietly pleased that he had become a Raven.

If Campbell were my first non-Baltimore sports hero, McNair was my last. It certainly wasn’t the same feeling, but it was something.

So, honestly, the McNair murder struck me a little harder than some other sports tragedies. I’m sure there are people who will remember McNair mostly for his death. But I’ll remember McNair the competitor, with the huge arm and the warrior mentality.

I am curious as to how he will be remembered here, since he once was a fierce rival and then became a respected veteran.

Daily Think Special: How will you remember Steve McNair?

July 1, 2009

Which Oriole most deserves to be a 2009 All-Star?

The Boston Red Sox have left town. I saw the bandwagon lights heading up I-95.

We can joke all we want, but even after that incredible comeback Tuesday, the Orioles are just 1-6 against the Red Sox this season. And so it goes in this Groundhog’s Day at Camden Yards.

At least I can try to serve you a little spirit-lifter today.

Let’s talk about the Orioles who have played well this first half.

On Sunday, the All-Star rosters will be announced. The Orioles will get one representative, like they have in seven of the last eight years. It likely will be either center fielder Adam Jones or closer George Sherrill.

Both are fine choices – despite Sherrill’s rough outing Wednesday. Don’t forget the guy had only allowed one run in his past 21 innings before his Red Sox meltdown.

Given how tough it is to juggle All-Star rosters, outfield and the pitching staff are logical spots that need to be filled.  So that’s probably where Tampa’s Joe Maddon will go.

But is that who you would select? What about setup man Jim Johnson or DH Luke Scott or right fielder Nick Markakis?

Remember, this is regardless of position. Choose the Oriole who is most deserving.

Daily Think Special: Which Oriole most deserves to be an All-Star?

When did you believe the Orioles actually had a chance to win Tuesday night?

This is when a bar owner gets into trouble.

This is when you have to worry that the liquor license might get revoked.

Can you imagine how loud it was in the bar Tuesday night when the Orioles rallied for the greatest comeback in their 55-year history?

You people woke up the Sleeping Baby Sallys in the Toy Department.

The cops came twice, and eventually gave up crowd control after the eighth.

I now have to suspend the backup bartenders for letting you all stay well past 2.

Heck, maybe it was worth it.

To be honest, I had another entry prepared for today. It wasn’t particularly positive, either. But I tossed it away. Sort of like the Red Sox bullpen Tuesday night.

So this one will be short and sweet – for you Orioles fans anyway.

This is primarily for those of you who stayed up to watch the Orioles rally from a 10-1 deficit in the seventh to beat Boston 11-10. But we won’t ignore the rest of you who went to sleep either. Some people have real jobs.

For those that stuck it out:

Daily Think Special: When did you believe the Orioles actually had a chance?

And for the rest of you:

Bonus Think Special: Where does Tuesday night rank among the best regular season wins in Orioles’ history?

June 29, 2009

Which Red Sox player would you steal for the Orioles?

I am writing this from Fenway Park at Camden Yards, where 36,000 Red Sox fans and 548 Orioles fans converged for a baseball game.

You have to give credit to the Red Sox for traveling so well. But goodness gracious is this getting out of hand.

It seemed like there were more Red Sox fans watching batting practice than there were Orioles fans attending the game.

So, I figured it’s time for you guys to strike back. Even in a fictional way.

If you could steal one Red Sox player and put him on the Orioles, who would it be?

That has to be hard for many of you, since Boston stars like Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon and Dustin Pedroia aren’t exactly loved by opposing fans (many of you have voiced that opinion before).

The catch is it has to be someone that fits on the Orioles team. So it probably wouldn’t make sense to grab a center fielder, right fielder or catcher.

Lefty Jon Lester is a solid choice, since he is young and absolutely destroys the Orioles. Papelbon, Beckett and Youkilis are excellent ones as well. Especially Youkilis, who could play either first or third next year for the Birds and bat third or fourth.

I’ll go with left fielder Jason Bay, but that means finding playing time for Nolan Reimold or Luke Scott. It’s worth it to get Bay’s bat – and attitude -- I think.

Daily Think Special: Which Red Sox player would you steal for the Orioles?

June 28, 2009

Which Oriole finishes highest in AL Rookie of the Year voting?


I had a great weekend, or at least an incredibly strong Saturday.

Went to my favorite annual book sale on Saturday afternoon and picked up about 30 titles for roughly $40. Nice haul.

I got some novels I had been eyeing and a few sports books, including compilations by Red Smith and Shirley Povich.

Then, in the evening, my wife and several of my journalism buddies saw my favorite band, the Old 97s, at the Recher Theatre. Love those guys (the Old 97s, not my journalism buddies).

Sunday, though, it was back to work at the old ballpark. And let’s just say my Saturday was a whole lot better than Orioles catcher Matt Wieters' Sunday.

The phenom went hitless in three at-bats, made his third throwing error in four games and dropped a ball to wipe out what would have been a sure out at the plate.

Afterward, Wieters was typically calm -- saying he’s working on his defense, and he’s not worried about a bad game.

This kid really is the whole package.

But, here’s the funny thing: The way things are going right now, Wieters (.234 average, two homers, six RBIs) is not the Orioles’ best candidate for Rookie of the Year. Outfielder Nolan Reimold (.286, 9 homers, 20 RBIs) is, with pitcher Brad Bergesen (5-2, 3.76 ERA) also ahead of the backstop.

The BBWAA doesn’t vote until the end of the season, however, and Wieters will eventually catch fire at the plate. Count on that.

So here is my question: When the dust settles on 2009, who will be the Orioles’ leading Rookie of the Year votegetter?

Will Wieters make a surge? Will Reimold or Bergesen falter?

Get your prognostication caps on people.

Daily Think Special: Which Oriole will finish highest in AL Rookie of the Year voting?

Bonus Think Special: Will an Oriole win the award?

June 26, 2009

What will the Nationals' final record be?

Just watched the Orioles play the Washington Nationals on Friday night.

And know this Orioles fans: You don’t have it the worst. Not even close.

Puff out your chests and feel good about your old ballclub for a moment.

The Nats really do look as bad as advertised. Heading into Saturday, they are 21-50, that’s a .296 winning percentage. That’s under .300 ball, people.

The Nats are no longer on pace to challenge the 1962 New York Mets, who finished 40-120. But they are still within striking distance.

Some of you may not like Washington DC – you’ve mentioned that on occasion -- but you have to feel a little bad for the Nats’ fan base. I know I feel terrible for Manny Acta, the Nationals manager and one of the classiest men in a baseball uniform. He just doesn’t have a chance with this roster.

Empathy aside, we can still speculate on just how bad the Nats will be come September. I say they end up losing 112. Putting their record at a clean 50-112.

What’s your call?

Daily Think Special: What will the Nationals’ final record be this season?

June 24, 2009

What's your goofiest piece of Baltimore sports memorabilia?

Welcome back to Connolly's Corner Sports Bar. Like what we did with the place?

We had a little hiatus and you probably thought I was being lazy and didn’t feel like doing much around Father’s Day.

Not a bad theory; not completely accurate.

While you were gone, we have shifted some things around. We now have a different entrance. You can now find new posts and visit the bar via the Toy Department.


If Wal-Mart can include a barbershop, a McDonald’s and a grocery store, the Toy Department can encompass a corner sports bar.

If you don’t think a toy store and a bar are compatible, you’ve obviously never shopped for a Wii with a 10-year-old. It is reason No. 1 for a stiff drink.

Anyway, what does this change mean for my loyal customer? Nothing, really.

We’ll still be a click away on The Sun’s baseball and sports site pages. You’ll still see my smiling face most of the time (a real attraction, I know) and we will still be serving up the same daily questions with a dash of attempted humor.

The bonus is that I’ll be joining some of my fine Sun colleagues in a larger collaborative effort and you’ll get one-stop shopping. And, on the occasion in which I am not blogging, you’ll have other cool things in the Toy Department to check out.

Should be a win-win. So, first Toy Department beer is on me.

As for today's question. It comes from my buddy and electronic sports media guru Mark Viviano, who recently asked his listeners about their strangest piece of Baltimore sports memorabilia.

Continue reading "What's your goofiest piece of Baltimore sports memorabilia?" »

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