Poor Charlie Brown, he always loses....
It is the time of year for lists, so be sure to check out our Top 10 Aurora-area sports stories of the year by clicking here.
Poor Charlie Brown, he always loses....
It is the time of year for lists, so be sure to check out our Top 10 Aurora-area sports stories of the year by clicking here.
I was reminded Wednesday night that I hate watching college basketball games where Ed Hightower in the lead official.
Dude seems to think he's the show, emphatically making charge/block calls and demonstratively pointing one way or the other (see his signature pose in the photoshop image above) to indicate which team has possession on deadball situations. It's really, really annoying.
Your best officials are the ones that nobody notices. I shouldn't even know the referee's name. If I don't, chances are that official has done a fine job. Hightower always makes his presence known, both with his bad calls and his bizarre antics.
Illinois freshman Jereme Richmond pretty much had his Big Ten career flash before his eyes last night in the Illini's 87-77 win over Iowa, a game officiated by the great Hightower.
During the second half, Richmond made a dumb turnover. He compounded his miscue by chasing down the kid who stole the ball from him and committing a foul from behind.
Hightower emphatically and demonstratively called an intentional foul on Richmond. For dramatic effect -- and to please the hometown Iowa fans -- Hightower mimicked what Richmond had done to earn the foul, not once, not twice, but three times, making a fool out of the young freshman in front of over 15,000 people.
Forget about whether the call was correct or not. Just make the damn call and enforce the rules. We don't need to see an official dancing about on the court, demonstrating what a player did to commit a foul. It's embarrassing and ridiculous. Officials require the players to respect them and rightfully so. But respect is a two-way street. How about treating the players fairly, Mr. Hightower?
Richmond was upset and argued the call. I was worried he was going to get a technical foul. I was just hoping and praying one of the Illini seniors would intervene, because Hightower is the type of ref who holds a grudge. He could make Richmond's life miserable for the next four years, if he wanted to.
Eventually, Illinois senior Mike Tisdale pushed Richmond away and took up the argument. Arguing with the officials is one of the few things Tisdale does well. The refs hate him, and that's why he fouls out of every game. But I'd rather a senior like Tisdale do the arguing than a kid like Richmond, who represents the future of the Illini program.
Regardless, we shouldn't have to have this discussion. Hightower needs to control himself. I wish the NCAA would take action against him. I'm sick of his antics. He does it in every game he officiates, not just the Illini games. It's old. It's tired. It needs to end.
Absolutely everything continues to go right for the Bears.
The Minnesota Vikings were 14-point underdogs at Philadelphia Tuesday night. I figured that game wasn't even worth following.
Minnesota wins 24-14. As a result, the Bears clinch no worse than the No. 2 seed and the accompanying first-round bye that goes along with it in the NFC playoffs.
Tuesday's outcome completes a perfect weekend for the Bears. They beat the Jets. The Packers slaughtered the Giants 45-17, thereby eliminating New York's hopes for a first-round bye. Now, down go the Eagles.
Believe it or not, the Bears can still get homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs if they beat the Packers next week AND Atlanta loses at home to Carolina AND New Orleans loses at home to Tampa Bay.
That scenario sounds really far-fetched, but hey, it seemed really far-fetched to think Minnesota was going to win at Philadelphia tonight.
It is the NFL and anything can happen from week to week.
Is it just me, or do the White Sox lead the league when it comes to bitter endings with players?
The same scenario has played out a few times over the last several years. Player X is not asked back, so he flings a bunch of poop at either GM Kenny Williams or manager Ozzie Guillen in the media. Then, either Williams or Guillen fires back, creating a bunch of nonsensical hysteria for a few days.
Bobby Jenks, now with Boston, is the latest player to be all pissed off over his departure from the Sox. I find it interesting the Chicago Tribune didn't bother to give us the whole quote, making the Jenks comments look worse than they actually were. Fortunately, they had a link to the full story on MLB.com.
Jenks' comment is as follows, according to Scott Merkin's report:
"I'll always respect (Guillen) as a person and give him credit that's due," Jenks said. "But I want to play for a manager who trusts his relievers, regardless of what's going on.
"With the way Ozzie was talking this winter and the way he treated me, I don't want to fight with the guy. How many times did he question my ability, and then saying how he would love to have me back, but I would have to come to spring training and fight for the closer's role like anyone else?
"Why would I come back to that negativity?" Jenks said. "I'm looking forward to playing for a manager who knows how to run a bullpen."
I think Jenks is speaking out of frustration. Perhaps he really wanted to come back to the White Sox. It sure sounds like he did.
"I'm mad, but I'm not mad," Jenks said. "I don't know what to feel about it. I thought with the way I was part of the city and not just part of the team, they would make more of an effort to get me back. I wanted to be part of the White Sox a lot longer."
Yeah, I think this is an example of player who wanted to stay, but wasn't wanted by management any longer. And can you really blame the White Sox or Guillen? Jenks has had injury problems the last two seasons. His numbers have been on a steady decline.
Matt Thornton, Sergio Santos and Chris Sale all pitched better than Jenks last season. Why should he expect to keep his closer's job on the basis of what he did two years ago? Or five years ago? In baseball, you have to prove yourself all over again EVERY single year.
Guillen basically said he would like to have Jenks back, but that Jenks would have to compete for the closer's spot. Just what is wrong with that? Pro sports are all about competition, competing for jobs and then competing against other teams.
I don't think the Sox did anything wrong in their handling of Bobby Jenks. I'm sorry he's frustrated, but that's the business. Jenks did a lot of good things for the Sox, but stuff changes and time marches on, ya know? It was time for both sides to move on. Preferably, both sides could do that without whining and bitching at each other in such a public way.
I don't spend too much time listening to talk radio, but I would like think the meatheads aren't gnashing their teeth too much on this Victory Monday -- the day after the Bears, Blackhawks and Bulls all collected wins. Here's my take on Sunday's goings-on:
Bears 38, Jets 34
The over-under on this game was 36 points. Anybody who bet the over was already laughing all the way to the bank by halftime, with the Jets holding a 24-17 lead at the break.
The Bears seized control by scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions of the third quarter. More than anything, it was special teams and field position that turned the tide.
Check out the lengths on the Bears' five touchdown drives in this game: 45, 64, 40, 32 and 49 yards. Two of those drives were set up by New York turnovers. Another came after a 38-yard punt return by Devin Hester. A fourth came after the Bears stuffed an ill-advised fake punt ordered by New York coach Rex Ryan.
We've talked all year about some of the Bears' offensive limitations, but even an average offense is going to put up points when they are starting in plus territory all afternoon.
In this particular game, the Bears offense was decidedly above average. The pass protection was good. Quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked just twice and had enough time to throw three TD passes, all of which were 25 yards or longer. Matt Forte rushed for 113 yards, the first time the Jets had allowed a 100-yard rusher all year.
Prior to Sunday, the Jets were 10-0 in games where they scored 10 points or more. On this day, 34 wasn't enough.
It's really shocking that the fifth-best defense in the NFL (New York) and the eighth-best defense in the NFL (Bears) combined to produce a game where 72 points were scored.
Kudos to you if you bet the over.
Blackhawks 4, Blue Jackets 1
The big story here was Marian Hossa's return to the ice after a 10-game absence. Although Patrick Sharp scored twice in the Hawks' win, I thought Hossa was the best Chicago forward out there.
He had two assists and his drive to the net set up Tomas Kopecky for the first goal of the game in the first period. Hossa is a dominant force in all situations -- even strength, power play and penalty kill. He's the best Hawk when it comes to puck retrievals. He's the hardest Hawk to knock off the puck. The Hawks just have to find a way to keep this guy healthy, and he'll punish the opposition.
The win was the fourth consecutive for the Hawks, all coming at home. The big key has been a much-improved team defense. In victories over Detroit, Los Angeles, Nashville and Columbus, the Hawks have given up just five goals against. Only two of those goals have come at even strength.
Next up is a road test Tuesday in St. Louis. If the Hawks can win this one, they'll have defeated every team in their division over an 11-day stretch. In the tightly-packed Western Conference race, that would be huge.
I didn't watch any of this game because it overlapped with the Hawks game, but I see that forward Carlos Boozer continues to be a pretty nice "free agent consolation prize."
The veteran forward had 31 points and 11 rebounds to help offset a rough night for Derrick Rose. The Bulls' point guard did score 23 points, but he shot just 9 for 23 from the field and committed six turnovers. By Rose's high standards, that's poor.
Nevertheless, I'm feeling pretty good if I'm a Bulls fan right now. The team sits at 19-10, despite a rash of injuries to its frontcourt. The Bulls own a 5 1/2-game lead in the NBA's Central Division. Barring some sort of catastrophic injury to Rose, they are going to win that weak division and be the No. 3 seed in the East.
I'm not the kind of guy who pays much attention to the NBA regular season. It's not all that interesting to me, to be honest. It's December, and I'm already about 90 percent sure what seed the Bulls will have in the playoffs. Come April, it gets exciting and I'll start following more carefully at that point.
Really, the playoffs are going to determine what kind of season this is for the Bulls anyway. You have a fan base that's sick of token playoff appearances and first-round exits. It's time for that organization to win. If healthy, they should at least advance to the second round next spring.
Well, let me amend that. A Merry Christmas to all, except the Minnesota Twins and the Detroit Red Wings. Screw them.
Hee haw, hee haw!
Reporter Jim Owczarski got the quote of the season (so far) from Aurora Central Catholic boys basketball coach Nate Drye after the Chargers lost 63-53 to Waubonsie Valley Tuesday at the Matt Laurich Holiday Classic.
Aurora Central made just 14 of 27 shots from the foul line in the loss. Drye was not too pleased with that result.
"We completely yakked it up from the line and didn't give ourselves a chance," the coach said. "We're a terrible free throw shooting team. We suck at the line, we have all year and we'll probably suck the rest of the year and it'll probably keep costing us."
Give the man full marks for honesty. I love coaches like Drye. A little candor always spices up some of these otherwise routine game stories at holiday tournament time.
Thank goodness the Bears got to play outdoors on Monday night, huh? The Metrodome is a house of horrors for Chicago teams. The Bears have lost seven of their last eight games in that dump.
Snowy TCF Bank Stadium, on the other hand, was a house of horrors for Minnesota on this night. The Bears throttled the going-nowhere-fast Vikings 40-14, humiliating their division rivals on national television.
In the process, the Bears did the unthinkable -- they clinched their first NFC North Division championship since 2006. I never thought it was possible. I still don't like the general manager, the head coach or several of the players, but I'll give credit where credit is due. They got the job done. I like my crow served medium-well, thanks.
By no means do I believe the Bears are a legit Super Bowl contender. I think Atlanta, New Orleans and Philadelphia are better teams in the NFC. The New York Giants might be better, too. But in a playoffs-or-bust season, the Bears made the playoffs. They deserve full marks for that. Jobs will be saved as a result of this outcome.
One player I am happy for is Jay Cutler. I have always believed in Cutler's ability. I always supported him in the face of critics who thought the team should have held on to Kyle Orton. Cutler performed admirably in the tough weather conditions Monday night, completing 14 of 24 passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns. He was intercepted just once. No matter what people say, I think the dude is legit. The Bears have been a pretty decent offense since the bye week, despite having a weak line and a limited group of receivers. Cutler deserves the credit for that, whether people like him or not.
As for tonight's game specifically, there were two keys to the win. First off, the Bears knocked old man Brett Favre out of the game in the second quarter. The Vikings were forced to play some guy named Joe Webb under center for most of the night, and you knew that wasn't going to work.
Favre was ruled out for Monday's game with a shoulder injury earlier in the week, but he miraculously healed in time to start the game. My thought coming into this contest was simple -- the Bears should pick Favre up and slam him into the frozen turf and try to knock him out of the game. Defensive end Corey Wootton sacked Favre in the second quarter, and that was that. The ancient one left the game with a head injury and did not return.
The second key to this game was playing with a lead. The Vikings are notorious front-runners. They don't respond well to adversity. They've had a underachieving season. They had a 5-8 record coming in, their year disintegrated in a sea of finger-pointing. Put them behind the eight-ball in cold conditions, and they are bound to quit. That's exactly what happened. Minnesota quit in the second half, and the Bears pulled away.
Devin Hester (pictured) finally got his NFL record early in the third quarter. His 64-yard punt return for score was his 14th career kick return touchdown, the most in league history. That play put the Bears up 27-7 and the game was over at that point.
The next challenge for the Bears is to try to secure a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs. Atlanta is sitting pretty at 12-2. The Bears (10-4) are competing with the Eagles (10-4) for that other bye. Right now, Chicago has the upper hand thanks to its head-to-head win over Philadelphia.
Here's the remaining schedule for both teams:
12/26 vs. N.Y. Jets
1/2 at Green Bay
12/26 vs. Minnesota
1/2 vs. Dallas
The schedule is softer for Philadelphia, but the Bears control their own fate. We'll see how it plays out.
For a team that has four seniors in its starting lineup, Illinois has a stunning lack of maturity this season. All week long, coach Bruce Weber worried and fretted because his team was practicing so poorly. He even told them he was scared they would lose to UIC. His players didn't listen, and now they are left to sift through the wreckage of a humbling 57-54 loss to the Flames suffered Saturday at the United Center.
You would think the four Illini seniors -- Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale and Bill Cole -- wouldn't need anymore wake-up calls. After all, they have suffered 46 losses in the three-plus season they've been in Champaign. Isn't that humbling enough? Further, they've won nothing of significance. No Big Ten titles and not even a single NCAA tournament game. Hell, these guys lost to Bradley last season, and now they've lost to UIC. What does that tell you?
The point I'm about to make is so simple that anyone with an IQ over 15 can understand it: Every single mid-major in the state covets an opportunity to play Illinois. When a school like Bradley or UIC gets that opportunity, it is the BIGGEST game on their schedule for the whole year. The in-state little guys are ALWAYS ready to play when they take on the Illini. The current group of Illinois players refuses to understand this. They refuse to prepare properly for these games, despite the pleas of their head coach. They think they can win games solely on their talent. There is no cause for this arrogance, given the scant resume this senior class has.
To be fair, I think McCamey has made a lot of progress. Most people will tell you he's one of the top five point guards in the nation. However, his considerable talents are being wasted playing with the two creampuffs the Illini have starting in the paint -- Davis (pictured) and Tisdale.
Despite a decided height advantage, "Mike and Mike" combined to go 2 for 11 from the floor for only six points against UIC. The pair combined for just six rebounds. Davis had only one rebound and his refusal to block out afforded UIC center Darrin Williams the opportunity to tip in the go-ahead basket with 17 seconds to play.
Davis missed a wide-open dunk in the first half. As soon as that happened, his head dropped. He didn't hustle back on defense. He checked out of the game emotionally and never got back into it. That's the very definition of soft. Davis has quite a bit of athletic ability, but he'll never be a winning basketball player. He's just too mentally weak. Any negative play will destroy his confidence. Illini fans can't trust him because he doesn't believe in himself.
As for Tisdale, if I see him fade away on his hook shot one more time, I'm going to run on to the court and smack him. I might need a stepladder to do that, but I'll do whatever it takes. It's ridiculous that someone who is 7-foot-1 is having his shot packed by guys who are 6-8 and 6-9. I know for a fact Tisdale has put in the necessary work in the weight room to get stronger. Unfortunately, he has no idea how to use his newfound strength. He's still playing the same finesse game he has always played, and it simply isn't good enough.
Make no mistake, the Illini are going to win their fair share of games this year because they've got shooters. They killed Gonzaga and North Carolina with 3-pointers. However, there are going to be games where shots don't fall. That's what we saw Saturday against UIC (Illinois was 4 for 17 on 3s). When that happens, the Illini have to be able to go to their big guys and get inside baskets. Time and time again, Davis and Tisdale fail in those situations. These two simply aren't getting better. As Illini fans, we have to accept them for the limited players they are.
It's time to lower expectations for this seasn. You can't compete for championships -- or win NCAA tournament games -- when you've got tissue paper playing in the paint. I actually feel for McCamey. He's gotta be great every night. When he's not, the Illini can lose to literally anybody in the country. The proof of that came Saturday at the United Center.
The Big Ten has been riding the Fail Train to Funkytown this month with its new division names. Commissioner Jim Delany thought "Legends" and "Leaders" would resonate with the conference's fans. Instead, the new monikers have been mocked mercilessly, with polls showing that over 90 percent of the public disapproves of the names.
Delany admitted Friday in an interview with WGN radio that the Big Ten may reconsider the division names after the first of the year.
"I think we have enough experience with names, and expansion and development of divisions, to know that you never, rarely, get 90 percent approval rating," Delany said during the interview. "But to get a 90 percent non-approval rating was, you know, really surprising."
The conference aligned the divisions based upon parity, not geography, thus making an East-West or North-South nomenclature impractical. Now, we have this "Legends" and "Leaders" nonsense. We'll see if the uproar causes the commish to budge.
"It's humbling, to say the least, because we're trying to build fan bases, not push them away," Delany said . "I was surprised. I've been around this business a long time, and it's one of the more surprising things."
My brother-in-law, Brian, texted me this afternoon and asked me if I was going to blog about this topic. To this point, I hadn't said anything about it because I don't have any good suggestions on what to name the divisions myself.
Personally, I don't think the alignment itself makes any sense, and that makes it more difficult to come up with reasonable names. The conference was hellbent on making sure Michigan and Ohio State were in opposite divisions. Their dream scenario is to have those two schools meet in the Big Ten title game every year.
Thing is, Ohio State and Michigan have finished 1-2 in the Big Ten standings only twice (2003, 2007) in the last decade. The Big Ten is not going to get that matchup every season no matter how hard it tries, so why is it trying to rig the divisions to set that up? It's a bunch of contrived, political bullcrap.
As you can see in the graphic above, the Big Ten put Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin in the Leaders Division and Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern in the Legends Division. This was done for the sake of "parity."
Well, if they had just done it by geography, they still would have had parity and they could have just called the divisions East and West.
You put Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State, Indiana and Purdue in the East.
You put Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Northwestern and Minnesota in the West.
Personally, I don't see a competitive imbalance there. I see three traditionally strong football programs in the East (Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State). I see three traditionally strong football programs in the West (Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin).
Instead, the Big Ten tried to get tricky, hoping to stage their precious Ohio State-Michigan matchup at the end of the year. Now, they've got a public relations nightmare.
Serves 'em right.
Scroll down to the third item, "Problems with praise for Lee and Phils' rotation"
Certainly an interesting perspective. One thing that I will say about pitching ... it's imperative that the White Sox *DO NOT* trade any of their established starters this offseason.
I've heard fans toss around ideas about trading Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd or Edwin Jackson. Some seem to believe Sox GM Kenny Williams can snooker St. Louis into giving him Colby Rasmus in exchange for Buehrle. That's pie-in-the-sky if I've ever heard it. Others just think the Sox need to make a move to get some salary relief.
From my point of view, the Sox rotation -- while not the best in baseball -- matches up pretty well when compared to most teams, as writer Marchman suggests. It's good enough to win the AL Central, if Williams can cobble together a decent bullpen this offseason.
One thing that people need to understand is that Jake Peavy is injured right now and can't be relied upon. He may not be able to pitch until May or possibly even June. If you trade a guy like Buehrle for "salary relief," that blows another hole in your rotation. Who is going to cover those 200 innings? Lucas Harrell? Please.
The correct strategy here is to hold on to the aforementioned three starters, plus John Danks, and pretty much go with four guys until Peavy returns. Early in the season, there are enough off days where you don't need a fifth guy too often. If Peavy comes back healthy, you've got a pretty solid five.
Philadelphia solid? No, but solid nonetheless.
The White Sox are addressing one of the holes in their bullpen by signing former Minnesota Twins reliever Jesse Crain to a three-year contract.
The happiest man in the whole room has to be Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, because he won't have to face Crain any longer. Crain has basically made a living killing the Sox -- and Konerko in particular. In 19 career plate appearances against Crain, Konerko has gone 2 for 18 with 10 strikeouts, one walk and two doubles. How the hell he got the two doubles, I don't know. Maybe Crain just hit Paulie's bat. Konerko has been hopeless against Crain through the years.
Actually, not too many of the Sox have done well against Crain, who is 5-2 with a 1.45 ERA against the South Siders in 45 lifetime appearances.
Next summer, we'll find out whether Crain can pitch against other teams, too, including his former teammates in Minnesota.
Tennessee loses at home to Oakland (Mich.) Tuesday night. Good. Serves Bruce Pearl right. This blog will continue to mock Pearl until the day he is fired.
Here are some more comments where former UIC head coach Jimmy Collins tells the truth about sleaze-ball Pearl.
When will Tennessee wake up and fire that fraud of a head coach?
Philadelphia Phillies projected rotation (with 2010 stats in parentheses):
Roy Halladay (21-10, 2.44 ERA, NL Cy Young winner)
Cliff Lee (12-9, 3.18 ERA)
Cole Hamels (12-11, 3.06 ERA)
Roy Oswalt (13-13, 2.76 ERA)
Joe Blanton (9-6, 4.82 ERA)
Four pitchers with an ERA of 3.18 or less. If those guys duplicate those numbers in 2011, the Phillies are going to be awful difficult to beat. Give full marks to Philadelphia, which shocked the baseball world by signing Lee (pictured) to a five-year deal worth $120 million late Monday.
This will be Lee's second stint in Philadelphia. He was with the club for the second half of 2009, when the Phillies made the World Series and lost to the New York Yankees. He spent time with both the Seattle Mariners and the American League champion Texas Rangers last year. His career mark in the postseason is 7-2 with a 2.18 ERA.
The Phillies obviously realized why they lost the National League pennant to the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants -- their starting pitching wasn't deep enough. They addressed that in a big way by acquiring the biggest name on the free-agent market this offseason.
It's interesting that Lee turned down the Yankees, who reportedly offer $138 million over six years. To be honest, it's actually quite refreshing to see New York not gets its way. Year after year, it seems like the best free agents gleefully accept the Yankees' money. Lee is going a bit against the grain here, and you can hardly blame him. Philadelphia was stacked even before his arrival. The path to the World Series is a little bit easier in the National League than it is in the American League. The chances of winning next year are arguably greater in Philadelphia than they are in New York.
As an aside, I would wager the Phillies spent their $120 million more wisely than the Washington Nationals did. The sad-sack Nationals gave former Philadelphia outfielder Jayson Werth similar money. Big mistake there.
Meanwhile, Lee is out of the American League. If you're any AL team not named the Yankees or the Rangers, who were reportedly the top two bidders for Lee, this is terrific news. AL pennant hopes just got a little higher in places like Boston, Chicago, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Detroit and Anaheim.
This also could be terrific news for the Kansas City Royals. While Kansas City has no chance in hell of winning anything in 2011, the Royals are looking to trade former Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke. Having lost out on Lee, there's no doubt both the Yankees and Rangers will be in the running for Greinke's services. If the Royals are smart, they should be able to get a windfall in any deal.
I believe the Blackhawks are one of the five most talented teams in the NHL. I'm also not convinced they'll even make the playoffs this season, let alone successfully defend their Stanley Cup championship.
You see, the top players on the Hawks are still resting on their laurels from last season. Some of these guys look like they need a nice, long winter nappie-poo. It's getting tiresome to watch. Case in point, tonight's game against the Colorado Avalanche.
The Blackhawks had a 5-4 lead with three minutes to go. They lost 7-5. Defenseman Brent Seabrook literally handed the game away with two piss-poor, embarrassing defensive mistakes in a minute's time. Twice, he stood around and did nothing while Colorado players scored goals.
Seabrook is the very definition of easy to play against this year. My grandma could score a goal when he's on the ice, and she's dead. That's how terrible he has been. He's not alone. Check out the plus-minus ratings for the so-called top Hawks tonight:
Duncan Keith -4
Patrick Sharp -3
Tomas Kopecky -3
Jonathan Toews -2
Troy Brouwer -2
Brian Campbell -1
The Blackhawks don't need Dustin Byfuglien, Antti Niemi or any of the other traded players from last year back. They need their so-called best players to wake the hell up.
How many losses is it going to take? A lot of points are being left on the table right now. These are points the Hawks might be missing come March and April.
The Metrodome has been a house of horrors for the White Sox and Bears over the years. Frankly, I'd like to see that place burn down. But watching the roof collapse is probably the next best thing:
Updating our blog from yesterday, West Aurora coach Gordie Kerkman did indeed earn his 700th career victory Friday night. The Blackhawks rallied from 11 points down to beat Naperville North 46-41.
Our congratulations go out to Kerkman, the only basketball coach West High has had in my lifetime. He's been at West High since 1962, and he's been the head coach since 1976.
Kerkman retired from teaching my senior year at West High, which was 1994. That was quite some time ago. He's continued to coach into his 70s, which is proof positive he loves the game. Kerkman is a humble guy; he's quick to deflect all the credit to the assistant coaches and players he's had through the years. Indeed, he has had some great players, but he's also had some teams that overachieved due to his terrific coaching.
As anyone around this area will tell you, there are few high school coaches anywhere who have done it better or for longer than Gordie Kerkman. Job well done, coach.
Some people have really gone overboard in mourning the death of Cubs great Ron Santo. Take this guy for example. If you're going to vandalize a CTA platform wall, at least spell everything correctly for crying out loud.
"Good! Buy! Ron Santo!"
Ugh. The copy editor squirms.
In a grander sense, I find myself wondering why John Q. Public shows up at funerals for people like Ron Santo. I mean, you might be a Cubs fan and you might have listened to Santo on the radio for years, but you didn't know the guy personally. So, why go to his funeral?
Whenever long-time Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson kicks the bucket, I guarantee you I won't be attending his funeral, nor will I be lining the streets to watch a funeral procession. I've listed to Harrelson broadcast hundreds of games in my lifetime, but I don't know the guy. So, I won't go to his funeral when he dies.
Maybe this is just a jaded sportswriter thing. I don't know. But I have a hard time understanding why people show up at funerals for famous ex-jocks.
Longtime readers of The Beacon-News almost certainly remember my former colleague, Tim Wagner. I'd say Wags has covered more of West High basketball coach Gordie Kerkman's 699 wins than any other reporter we've had here, past or present.
Wags now works for Pampered Chef in Addison, but we invited him to put his sportswriters' cap back on this week and write a story about Kerkman, who will seek his 700th career win Friday night at home against Naperville North. Tim's article turned out really well, so if you follow Aurora hoops at all be sure and click on the link in this paragraph and take a look.
I thought it was interesting that all of Kerkman's previous milestone wins have come away from home:
No. 1 -- vs. Wheeling, 60-50 at Batavia's Windmill City Classic (Nov. 1976)
No. 100 -- at Lake Park, 48-44 in double overtime (Jan. 1982)
No. 200 -- vs. Alton, 67-52 at Pontiac Holiday Tournament (Dec. 1987)
No. 300 -- vs Lockport, 45-44 at Lockport Thanksgiving Tournament (Nov. 1992)
No. 400 -- vs. Danville, 55-44 at Pontiac Holiday Tournament (Dec. 1997)
No. 500 -- at Elgin, 56-48 (Dec. 2001)
No. 600 -- at Naperville Central, 70-58 (Feb. 2005)
Come Friday night, we might be adding No. 700 to this list. If so, the West High gym will finally be the site of an historic Kerkman victory.
There was never a point where I thought Paul Konerko would sign with any other team besides the White Sox. Sure, GM Ken Williams said Tuesday there was an "impasse" in the contract negotiations, but in my mind I dismissed that as posturing for the media.
Chicago is where Paul Konerko belongs. The parties on both sides of the table knew that, and ultimately that led to the veteran first baseman and team captain agreeing to a 3-year deal worth $37.5 million on Wednesday.
I heard all the gloom-and-doom reports about Konerko on Tuesday, and I thought, "I'm not going to believe he's signing elsewhere until it actually happens." When I got up this morning, I already had the e-mail from whitesox.com telling me that Konerko had agreed to terms.
I wasn't surprised. All that crap yesterday was just a bunch of hot air. It was part of the whole negotiation process. Fortunately, it's out of the way now and Sox fans can start talking about how the lineup looks for next season. Here's mine:
Juan Pierre, LF
Alexei Ramirez, SS
Alex Rios, CF
Paul Konerko, 1B
Adam Dunn, DH
Carlos Quentin, RF
A.J. Pierzynski, C
Gordon Beckham, 2B
Brent Morel, 3B
Looks pretty good. I don't anticipate any more tinkering or additions to the starting lineup this offseason. I do believe that Williams will look to add to the bullpen via free agency or trade.
Right now, you've got four arms slated for the bullpen: Matt Thornton, Sergio Santos, Chris Sale and Tony Pena. It's a good start, but I'd be more comfortable with at least one more veteran out there -- maybe even two.
Still, the Sox have their 2011 starting rotation and everyday lineup set. That's a good place to be in mid-December.
The Cubs also made news Wednesday, agreeing to terms with former Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Carlos Pena on a one-year, $10 million deal.
Pena, 32, hit only .196 last season and saw his home run numbers dwindle from 39 to 28. However, the Cubs were looking for a left-handed hitting first baseman with power, and Pena fits that description.
It's only a one-year contract, so the Cubs won't be on the hook for anything long-term if Pena continues to trend downward. There is some upside in this move for the Cubs, because Pena has been a feared hitter in the past.
That said, I don't think the Cubs are going anywhere next year unless they've got some money left in the coffers to address their pedestrian starting rotation. Right now, they've got Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and a cast of thousands competing for three sports -- with Tom Gorzelanny, Randy Wells and Carlos Silva the top candidates. Sound like a winner to you? Me neither. We'll see if GM Jim Hendry has anything up his sleeve.
All right, enough about the Cubs. Time to play Paul Konerko's walk-up music....
I'm going to try to take a break from my usual Bears-hating this week. Make no mistake about it, I'm still not on the bandwagon. Yeah, the Bears have won five games in a row to move to 9-3. They own a one-game lead over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North race with four games to play, this is true.
However, I'm a non-believer. I think that crummy offensive line is going to catch up to the Bears eventually. (How is J'Marcus Webb starting in the NFL?) Plus, the defense is one injury to either Julius Peppers or Brian Urlacher away from collapsing.
All right, enough of that. Let's talk about the playoff picture in the NFC. For the sake of this discussion, we're going to go ahead and assume the South Division is going to produce two playoff teams. Atlanta (10-2) is in great shape to win its division and get a first-round bye. You have to like defending champion New Orleans' chances of getting in, too. The Saints are sitting at 9-3.
Naturally, somebody has to win the putrid NFC West -- probably Seattle (6-6) or St. Louis (6-6).
That leaves five teams for the other three spots -- the Bears (9-3), Green Bay (8-4), Philadelphia (8-4), the New York Giants (8-4) and Tampa Bay (7-5).
It goes without saying the Bears are in if they finish ahead of Green Bay. That would make them NFC North champions. But what if they don't? What are their wild-card prospects? Who has the edge in the tiebreakers?
If it comes down to the Bears and Eagles, the Bears are in on the basis of a head-to-head win. The Giants would have the edge on the Bears for the same reason. The Bears did not play Tampa Bay this season, so it would come down to conference record if those two teams tie. Right now, Chicago is 7-3. Tampa Bay is 5-3. That's nip-and-tuck. Could go either way.
Below, I've taken a look at the schedule for each of the Bears' competitors and projected a finish for them:
Green Bay (8-4)
at Detroit -- W
at New England -- L
N.Y. Giants -- W
Chicago -- W
Projected finish: 11-5
at Dallas -- L
at N.Y. Giants -- L
Minnesota -- W
Dallas -- W
Projected finish: 10-6
N.Y. Giants (8-4)
at Minnesota -- L
Philadelphia -- W
at Green Bay -- L
at Washington -- W
Projected finish: 10-6
Tampa Bay (7-5)
at Washington -- W
Detroit -- W
Seattle -- W
at New Orleans -- L
Projected finish 10-6
If all my projections hold true (FAT CHANCE!), 11-5 is the magic figure for the Bears. Even if they lose the tiebreaker and lose the division to the Packers, they would still finish ahead of the Eagles, Giants and Bucs and get the second wild-card spot.
That means the Bears MUST win two of their remaining four games. Here's the schedule: New England, at Minnesota, N.Y. Jets and at Green Bay.
I think the Bears can take the overrated Jets. The games against the Patriots and Packers project as losses, IMO. That means the Bears need that Monday nighter in Minnesota on Dec. 20, or else their playoff fate may come down to a bunch of tiebreakers.
Here's to hoping the Vikings are stupid enough to continue playing injured and broken-down Brett Favre for the rest of this season. I think Minnesota has a better chance of winning if they play Tavaris Jackson at QB. A player with a point to prove is always more dangerous than an old fart playing out the string, counting the days to retirement.
One thing is for sure, the Bears and their fans can feel a lot more comfortable if the team exits the Dump Dome with a 10-4 record two weeks from now. Then, only one win would be necessary over the final two games to secure a postseason spot.
Cubs great Ron Santo passed away Thursday due to complications from bladder cancer. He was 70.
I had the chance to interview Santo back in my days as a sportswriter in Sterling. Santo was doing an autograph session at a local Sherwin-Williams store and I talked to him for about 15 or 20 minutes before he went out to greet the fans.
It was a good interview and I was able to write a pretty decent story for our newspaper that day. I enjoyed talking to Santo. He answered my questions candidly and honestly. He obviously had the same passion for the Cubs that I do for the White Sox, and I can respect that.
That said, listening to his commentary on the Cubs radio broadcasts pretty much drove me nuts. So, on the day that we mourn his passing, I think it's only fitting that I post this video:
RIP, Ronnie. Chicago will not forget you anytime soon.
Hours after we heard catcher A.J. Pierzynski was going to sign with the Toronto Blue Jays, we are now hearing reports that he'll stay with the White Sox.
Sounds like a two-year deal worth $8 million. If so, that means Pierzynski took a paycut to remain in Chicago. He made $6.75 million last season.
I think this is a reasonable deal for the Sox. It isn't like the team could afford to hand the job to Tyler Flowers. If the Sox had failed to resign Pierzynski, they would have had to look outside the organization for a catcher.
It's easier to just bring back A.J. than to try to acquire somebody via trade.
Maybe the Washington Nationals should have dealt Adam Dunn to the White Sox at the trading deadline last July. At least they would have gotten something for him then. Instead, the Nationals lost him for nothing in free agency.
Sources say the Sox finalized a four-year, $56 million dollar deal with the left-handed slugger on Thursday afternoon. The move is expected to become official Friday, pending a physical.
Dunn hit 38 home runs and drove in 103 runs for the Nationals last season. In a power-hitting paradise like U.S. Cellular Field, there's no reason to believe Dunn can't duplicate or possibly even improve those figures in 2011.
If you're a Sox fan, you have to like this move -- especially after watching Mark Kotsay stink as the team's left-handed middle-of-the-order presence in 2010. The Sox got only 21 home runs COMBINED from all their left-handed hitters last season.
Think Dunn might be able to do something about that? I believe so.
Now, you wonder whether Dunn will be used primarily as a DH or a first baseman. What does this signing mean for free-agent first baseman Paul Konerko? Ideally, the Sox would have Dunn as their DH and bring back Konerko to play first. But does the team have the money and will Konerko want to return?
According to GM Kenny Williams, Konerko is now the Sox top priority in free agency.
"I've made no secrets that we have strong interest in bringing him back,'' Williams told Sun-Times beat writer Joe Cowley. "Not only is there room for it, but it would be the ideal fit from our perspective. The one thing Paul and I talked about at the end of the season is being mindful of each other's process. It's a fine line I have to walk right now where I am respectful of his process, but where we are also putting the best baseball team on the field.''
That comment suggests the Sox do, in fact, have the money to retain Konerko. It's just a matter of whether he is interested in staying in Chicago. Reportedly, Williams has tried to start the conversation with Konerko's agent, Josh Landis, but it looks like Konerko is intent on testing the market.
While Konerko's status is still unclear, it is certain that closer Bobby Jenks will not be back in a Sox uniform in 2011. The club non-tendered Jenks on Thursday, making him a free agent. I don't think the Sox want Jenks back, and I don't think Jenks wants to come back. Translation: He gone.
One guy who is not gone is shortstop Alexei Ramirez. The Sox exercised a club option on him Thursday. He'll make $2.75 million in 2011. That's a bargain considering the offensive and defensive production we saw from Ramirez last season.
Free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski is likely to sign elsewhere. Cowley is reporting that Toronto is interested. If Pierzynski walks, that leaves the Sox with Ramon Castro and Tyler Flowers at the position. After Pierzynski, Miguel Olivo is the best free-agent catcher on the market.
But as Williams said, the top priority right now is Konerko, not Pierzynski or relief pitcher J.J. Putz. Sign Konerko to steady the middle of the lineup, and you still have the remainder of the offseason to address catcher and the bullpen.
As a Sox fan, the bullpen is my biggest concern right now. Cutting ties with the oft-injured Jenks is the right move. I'd like Putz back if the price is right, but I doubt it will be. That leaves Matt Thornton, Sergio Santos and Scott Linebrink as the only pitchers sure to be a part of the Sox bullpen in 2011. That's a lot of holes to fill right there.
The winter meetings begin next week. You know Williams isn't going to sit still. It will be interesting to see what other pieces he adds. The first big domino has fallen today with the acquisition of Dunn.
After the Big Ten collected four wins in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday night, I figured the Purdue-Virginia Tech game Wednesday was going to be the one that decided which conference would win the event.
The Big Ten had a 4-2 lead coming into Wednesday, meaning it needed two more victories to come out on top. I was confident that Wisconsin would hammer N.C. State up in Madison. That's exactly what happened.
The other matchups, though, seemed to favor the ACC. Indiana on the road at Boston College? I'm not buying the hype on the Hoosier revival. BC wins. Penn State hosting Maryland? Ha! That's a football school in Happy Valley. No surprise they couldn't handle Maryland.
How about the marquee game of the event -- Michigan State at Duke? The key phrase there is "at Duke." I think MSU is pretty damn good, but there was no way Sparty was walking out of that building with a win. Not with Leader K's family members officiating the game and Duke Vitale on the mic for ESPN.
That leaves us with Purdue and Virginia Tech as the swing game. Boiler Up! Purdue wins 58-55 in overtime on the road behind 29 points from JaJuan Johnson. And the Big Ten wins the Challenge 6-games-to-5 for the second consecutive year.
Thank goodness. I hate turning on ESPN and hearing about how great the ACC is all the time. Winning the Challenge two years in a row should give the Big Ten a little more national respect. Frankly, the Big Ten should have won this thing 7-4. The Minnesota Golden Goofers didn't hold up their end of the bargain on Monday night, blowing a 10-point halftime lead AT HOME to a crummy Virginia team.
That's the same Virginia squad that lost to Wichita State, got hammered by 21 points by Stanford and got slaughtered by 43 points against Washington. Embarrassing loss for Tubby Smith and Minnesota.
Fortunately, other favored Big Ten teams took care of business. The Fighting Illini had a solid 12-point win over North Carolina on Tuesday. Ohio State showed why it is the top team in the conference right now with a road win at Florida State. Michigan punked the perennially underachieving Clemson Tigers. Northwestern destroyed Georgia Tech.
Should be an interesting year in the Big Ten. There are six teams, maybe even seven, that could make the NCAA tournament.