Saturday, April 6, 2013

Pitching, pitching & pitching. Did I mention pitching?



By Chuck Sanger

MILWAUKEE, WI – Okay, the older I get the more convinced I am that the guy on the mound is all that matters. And last night, much anticipated as the mound debut of $33-million man Kyle Lohse, did nothing to change my mind.

Lohse was sterling in his first Brewers start, going six innings, allowing five hits, just one earned run and striking out six after only one spring training start. But my pitching credo applies to relievers as well. Enter Burke Badenhop and Mike Gonzalez, who in the seventh inning could manage a grand total of 16 strikes in 34 pitches. In one-third of an inning, Badenhop was tagged with two earned runs and saddled with the loss after Gonzalez entered the game and bounced a wild pitch off Home Plate Umpire Chris Conroy’s facemask allowing the two deciding runs to score and sealing the Brewers’ fate,3-1.

I know, Iknow. Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez and before last year, Prince Fielder. Offensive juggernaut. I get all that. You know what? It just doesn’t matter. Take a look at the two most successful – some would argue the only successful – Brewer seasons in the last three decades: 2011 and 2008. Just like 2009, ’10 and ’12 squads these teams featured offensive talents like Braun, Ramirez and Fielder, could score runs in bunches and had questionable defense. The difference? Outstanding pitching. The 2011 team, which advanced to the National League Championship Series, had a staff that included a 16-6 ZackGreinke. The ’08 squad, which lost in the National League Divisional Series, included C.C. Sabathia, who was 11-2 with the Brewers.
In addition to those two aces, the staffs had other stars such as Shawn Marcum, Yovani Gallardo and Ben Sheets who routinely took their starts deep into games, leaving the relievers fresh for when they were needed.

I have a sinking feeling that we’ll have no such luck this year. While Lohse looked remarkably sharp last night and Gallardo likely will flirt with 200 innings pitched, no such expectation exists for Wily Peralta, Marco Estrada and Chris Narveson.

The result? A depleted bullpen by June and the need for complete games by Gallardo and Lohse to make the season entertaining, if not successful.

So, when’s the Packers’ pick in the NFL Draft?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Why I Love the Chicago Bears


FERDONIA, Wis.--As I sit in a Ferdonia, Wis. McDonald’s, I’m waiting for my buddy to make a final sales call in Random Lake before we can head up to Lambeau for the latest installment of the greatest rivalry in sports: The Green BayPackers vs. the Chicago Bears.

As I’ve grown older, my level of distain for most of the sports enemies of my youth has waned considerably. The Raiders, Cowboys, Lions, Browns and Vikings still sport legions of fans that far exceed the buffoon quota, but their very existence, along with the Yankees, Braves and St. Louis Cardinals no longer make me physically ill. The Bears, on the other hand…

Before I launch into any diatribe about my hatred for the Bears and all of their fans, save the ones I actually know personally, please understand the following: I love the Chicago Bears.

Huh?

Yes, even though the Bears are the number one enemy of my beloved Packers (please don’t bring up the Vikings, that’s strictly minor league as rivalries go), I can’t imagine life – at least my sports-fan life – without them.

Without the Bears, I wouldn’t have the memory of sitting on Lambeau’s aluminum bleacher seats with my Dad as Packers’ kicker Chester Marcol returned a blocked punt for a touchdown to defeat the Bears 12-6.

Without the Bears, I wouldn’t have fallen off an emotional, apoplectic cliff when Bears running back Neal Anderson tiptoed down the far sideline , stepped of bounds but still was awarded a touchdown at Soldier Field during a game and a season that, for the Packers, was hopelessly lost. Adding texture to this particular recollection was the reaction one of my roommates from college, an ardent Bears fan living in Chicago when I called to vent about the out-of-bounds issue. “You know what, Charles," he replied, raising his voice with each passing second, “it doesn’t matter, ‘cause the Packers F**king SUCK!”

Without the Bears,  I’d have missed the euphoria of Jay Cutler quitting, B.J. Raji scoring and the Packers winning the NFC championship en route to their  fourth Super Bowl and NFL-leading 13th world championship.

So, thank you Chicago Bears. Thanks for myriad quarterbacks at which we can laugh. Thanks for the Mike Ditka tirades that revealed Jim Harbaugh’s feminine side. And, on a more serious note, thank you for Walter Payton. While working in the Minnesota Vikings’ public relations department I met him a few times. Rarely will you see such a combination of class, talent and humility in one package, especially in a Chicago Bear.

And thank you for today.  Thanks for the chance to laugh at your fans and your quarterback.

I just hope I’m still laughing tomorrow.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Home Run Derby: Matt Kemp Always will be Petty; Braun Always Better

I hate to break it to you Matt Kemp, but your petty, childish temper tantrum doesn’t change anything. National League home run leader Ryan Braun is better than you. I’d like to say he’s a better man thanks to the classy way he responded when asked about this nonsense, but it is impossible for one man to know what’s in another’s heart…or head.

What I do know is that, while you are extending your pout over Braun’s 2011 National League Most Valuable Player Award to a bizarre selection of a sans Braun Home Run Derby roster, the reigning MVP took the high road when asked if you’d approached him about being on the National League’s Derby team.

According to Bleacher Report, when asked, Braun’s reply was, “I’m just excited to watch it.”

Not too tough to translate that.

As captain of the National League Home Run Derby team it is Kemp’s right to select any player to be on the team for any reason. However, rather than wonder why Kemp did what he did, let us return to the premise of the post and take a look at the two careers. Following are the seasonal, 162-game averages, according to baseball-reference.com, of each player’s performance since they entered the big leagues. Kemp’s rookie year was 2006 and Braun’s was 2007.

Hits: Braun, 199; Kemp, 174  
Doubles: Braun 40, Kemp, 29  
Triples: Braun 6, Kemp, 6  
Home Runs: Braun 37, Kemp, 28
Batting Average: Braun, .311; Kemp, .296  
On-Base Perecentage: Braun, .373; Kemp, .354  
Slugging Percentage: Braun, .566; Kemp, .505  
OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage): Braun, .939; Kemp, .859  
Total Bases: Braun, 361, Kemp, 129

Braun’s better. Nothing Kemp ever does or doesn’t do will change that.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Fan's Ode to Junior Seau

The beauty of sports is that it gives us a chance to go home again. A chance to visit our childhood, if only at a stadium for a few hours on a football Sunday, or in the bleachers on a hot summer night. It’s a chance to remember the kids you played ball with, or to remember the strength and love of your Dad’s (or Mom’s) hand guiding you into a stadium for the first time.

But occasionally, and far too often of late, sports have become something else. The realities of a world filled with tragedy threaten to sever that sacred connection between the games of today, and the fields of our youth.

I experienced those emotions upon hearing of the apparent suicide of NFL Hall-of-Famer-in-waiting Junior Seau. The linebacker from USC played 20 years in the NFL, mostly with the San Diego Chargers, but also had stops in New England and Miami.

As I heard the news, I was a little perplexed by my reaction. I was thinking, “I have no particular connection to Seau; I’m not a Chargers fan and I harbor a pretty healthy distain for USC. So, why am I filled with such sadness?”

I then experienced an epiphany of sorts. Seau and legions of other players–from all levels–remind us of the best part of our youth. Memories of endless, sunshine-drenched games, where lifelong friendships were born and our biggest concern was finishing the game before night came.

Seau’s death is tragic on many levels. Certainly to his family, although not having a personal relationship with him or his family. I can’t really speak to that.

But this much I do know: Junior Seau brought joy to millions, me included. Unfortunately, it was a joy that, for some reason, we couldn’t reciprocate once he stepped off the field for the last time.

Please find peace Junior Seau. I wish you could’ve seen your life from our seats.

You really were something.

Friday, December 31, 2010

The easy (but not best) story: Badgers are slow, TCU's fast



I spent several years working as a sportswriter, so I am accustomed to the easy story. It's right there in front of you and simple enough to do, so you do it. As my life progressed and my attitudes migrated from that of a sports reporter to a fan, I've still retained a somewhat critical eye when it comes to news judgement and the topics sports writers and columnists choose to write about.

The easy story might be fine when you're covering a high school basketball game, but when it comes to the Rose Bowl, it's just not good enough.

Apparently Michael Hunt, the outstanding sports columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, agrees. A couple of days ago Hunt called his sports media brethern to task for this very issue.

Media outlets from coast to coast are doing the same story: Sure the Badgers are big, strong and powerful, but TCU is fast and speed kills.

Blah Blah Blah. I've read this story thousands of times. Whether it's Notre Dame-Miami in the 80's or the Badgers and Miami last year, its the same old story.

Thank you Mr. Hunt for the insight you've offered on this issue and others as you cover the Badgers in Pasadena. The Rose bowl, the Badgers and its legion of fans all deserve it.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A perspective check: Young boy befriended by Packer Ryan Grant dies of leukimia

Along with thousands of others on Thanksgiving Day, I read Lori Nickel's story of two Ryans - one a big, strong football player, the other an incredibly brave boy engaged in a battle with a deadly foe - leukemia. Packer running back Ryan Grant and Ryan Luxem became friends in a relatively short period of time, but it was a friendship that moved us, nonetheless.

Following Ryan Luxem's passing (wearing his Donald Driver jersey, no less) I couldn't possibly offer the proper context or perspective to such a tragedy. So, below you'll find Ms. Nickel's blog post, in its entirety, as it appeared on JSonline.com.

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Off the field: Packers fan Ryan Luxem dies of leukemia

By Lori Nickel of the Journal Sentinel

It is with great sorrow that I pass along the news that Ryan Luxem died Wednesday of leukemia.

The 11-year-old boy and Packers fan was surprised with a visit from Packers running back Ryan Grant in November. Ryan Luxem was thrilled with this visit and his family enjoyed the respite from their own pain to watch their boy smile at Grant so much.

Ryan, who was rarely without his Packers hat, watched the Packers beat the Giants Sunday and looked for Grant on the sidelines, chest bumping John Kuhn after a touchdown.

Ryan Luxem was at home, surrounded by his family, wearing his Donald Driver jersey, when his difficult, painful and long battle with the disease ended.

I have never had so much feedback from readers as when his story appeared Thanksgiving day. More than 100 people contacted me through twitter or email specifically asking how they could help parents Matt, Amy and the Luxem family financially.
Their friend, Mark Winters, said the family had this suggestion:

“The parents ask that a donation be made to either the MACC Fund or Make-A-Wish Foundation on Ryan's behalf. Ryan cared deeply for these two organizations and spent a lot of his time making origami that was then sold in order to raise money. He tried teaching his parents how to make origami in his final weeks of life, so that they could, in turn, teach his younger brother and sister so they could raise more money for the MACC Fund and Make-A-Wish.

“Ryan wanted to see childhood cancer cured someday and contributed thousands of dollars via his fundraising efforts towards that goal.”

Here are the links to those websites:

MACC Fund. Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer Inc.

John M. Cary, executive director, explained the ongoing mission of the MACC Fund: "I have been fortunate to do this work for nearly 29 years. I learned very quickly that it never should happen to a child and a family yet still, far too often, it does despite impressive cure rate increases. Unlike most things, it doesn't get easier with time. As a distinguished member of our Scientific Advisory Board told me recently, 'We do research to honor those we have lost.' The MACC Fund will continue to do research to help the other Ryans."

Make-A-Wish Foundation national.

Make-A-Wish Foundation of Wisconsin.

One final note: The family is making final arrangements for Ryan and those will not be publicized here, out of respect for their privacy. Thanks for understanding. Lori

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Please consider a donation to Make-A-Wish or the MACC Fund and keep the Luxem family in your thoughts and prayers.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rodgers off Pro Bowl squad: Leave it (any of it) up to the fans and they'll screw it up every time

A popularity contest. That has and continues to be my chief complaint regarding the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, along with the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League versions of the same, pointless event.


The Pro Bowl stood alone. It always was a little odd, it being at the end of the season and all, but the physical nature of football and the way the NFL's season unfolds really doesn't lend itself to a midseason all-star game. But I loved the notion that the players' votes determined who was honored with inclusion on the National Football Conference and American Football Conference squads. "No bigger honor than being voted in by your peers," I used to hear from players during my tenure both in public relations with the Minnesota Vikings and while working as a sportwriter.

Well, the Pro Bowl no longer stands alone and hasn't for a while. When the league decided to include fans in the voting along with the players, I thought to myself, "only a matter of time until this gets screwed up."

Well, it happened. I haven't taken the time to research how many more snubs have happened over the years, but I can't imagine a bigger one than this: The NFC's leading passer - yes as in #1 - was left off the NFC squad. No NFC quarterback is having a better season than Rodgers. He's tallied 27 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 3,693 yards and a passer rating of 101.9. Another eye-popping stat: Rodgers career passer rating is 98.6, the best in NFL history. So, the statistically best quarterback in NFL history, isn't good enough to represent the NFC in the 2011 Pro Bowl.

I wish this was surprising. Commissioner Goodell, it's time to pull the plug on the experiment. It was laudable, but we can't handle the responsibility.