Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Has 'Trader Jim' Lost It? Nats GM Jim Bowden is on a roll of sorts. First he makes a trade to bring in one possible head case, with Lastings Milledge, and now he goes after Elijah Dukes, probably the most troubled, if talented player in baseball today. Dukes is the poster child for the "bad boy." His troubles are well documented in Washington Post article about the trade. By all indications, Dukes has hardly put his troubles behind him, and this was on display for the Nationals just last week. Tim Tolman, the Nats' third-base coach was managing Dukes in winter ball, when Dukes had to be restrained after being ejected from a game. Dukes left the team after the incident.

It boggles the imagination that they would so covet him, under the circumstances. Still, Tolman is playing the good company man, saying "The whole time I've had him, he handled the situation as good as -- or better than -- a lot of guys do down here."

The Nats gave up one fantastic prospect to get Dukes. Before this past season, Glenn Gibson was not as highly touted as some, despite a pedigree as a son of a former major league pitcher. Still Gibson outshone his more highly touted teammates, Colton Willems and Jordan Zimmerman, to turn in some of the best numbers in the Nats' minor league system, with the Vermont Lake Monsters of the NY-Penn League. Gibson is listed as one of Baseball America's Top 10 prospects from the short-season league. Although his ERA climbed in his final appearances, to a still excellent 3.10, Gibson had the lowest WHIP on the team, and averaged exactly one strikeout per inning.

Everyone knows Dukes is an extremely gifted athlete, but this trade looks unduly risky for a guy who hit only .190, and clearly has profound emotional problems. Dukes may have tremendous upside, given his athletic prowess, but he seems a long way from realizing his potential. Frankly, Dukes probably isn't really ready to play at the major league level, either emotionally, nor as a function of his skill level. He tried to make the jump, last year, from the Carolina League to the majors, and did not flourish. By rights, the Nats should start him out at AA, or AAA, and give him a chance to build his confidence -- but they will probably rush him by handing him the major league centerfield job.

Also, having just traded for Milledge, who is considered best as a centerfielder, it's curious that the Nats went after Dukes, who would probably lay claim to the centerfield job, if he can straighten out his personal issues, and produce at the major league level. This makes me wonder whether the Nats really want Milledge to suit up for them next season, or whether they expect to move him during this week's winter meetings.

The Post is also reporting that the Nats have traded their top relief pitching prospect, Jonathan Albaladejo, for another roll of the dice with a prospect from the Yankees, who wasn't even among the Yankees top 3 rookie pitchers last year. Tyler Clippard, however had an incredibly strong finish, including a no-hitter over the last two months of the 2006 season, for the Double-A Trenton Thunder, in 2006, hinting at great potential -- even topping Baseball America's hot sheet at the end of August that year.

In 2007, however, Clippard struggled at every level. Clippard did not turn in an impressive year with the Yankees Triple-A team, but the Yankees' rash of injuries forced him into action with the big club, where he did win three games, despite an ERA of over 6.00. When he was returned to the minors, Clippard stepped back down to Double-A Trenton, where his struggles continued. Still, the Post article suggests he will contend for the Nats' starting rotation. That's not an encouraging statement.

While it's true that the Nationals need starting pitching depth more than bullpen depth right now, Albaladejo stood out among all the Nats' prospects. In 14 innings with the major league club, during a September call-up, Albaladejo, struck out 12 batters, and had an ERA of 1.88. Those are special numbers, and I believed he had the potential to close games for the Nats, an important consideration given the constant trade rumors surrounding the current closer, Chad Cordero.

Of the players the Nats have given up in the past week, including Brian Schneider, Ryan Church, Gibson, and Albaladejo, I believe the one they will miss the most over the long run is Albaladejo. That's what makes it so troubling that they Nats dealt him for a questionable prospect -- one who had a great 2006 at AA, but had a miserable eyar last year, at all levels. I cannot understand how the Nats would consider him a prospect for the rotation right away. Even if he can recapture his 2006 form, Clippard is still probably a year away from being a major league starter.

Trader Jim has sure been busy, but I wish he'd slept on these last two deals another night. These were trades that did not have to be made, and probably shouldn't have been. I woke up this morning thinking about how Bowden has done such a great job completing deals that were one-sided in favor of the Nationals. I think today, Trader Jim came back to earth.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Hot Damn! It's Hot Stove time! Not a moment too soon. The Nats strike while the iron is still cold....Getting super-prospect Lastings Milledge, for the streaky Ryan Church, and the anemic-hitting Brian Schneider.

What's NOT to like, or love, about this deal? Except that I'm a life-long Mets fan, and still a little conflicted when the Nats go up against them.

Church was never going to be given the chance to be a regular with the Nats, for whatever reason. On the other hand, Church killed the Mets this year -- his performance up in Shea, in September, took the division crown away from the New Yorkers. No doubt, this influenced the Mets greatly. Maybe he'll flourish up there, though he will surely still continue to strike out in many clutch situations. And maybe Schneider will regain some of the promise he had when he was picked for the USA roster at the World Baseball Classic. Mets' fans can only hope.

For the Nats, losing Schneider puts the team a little bit behind the eight-ball. He played quite nicely down the stretch -- showed off a laser rifle of an arm, and hit some, too. This deal means that Flores will stay up with the big club in '08, but it also means the Nats need to find someone else who can split the catching duties with Jesus. On the other hand, the Nats aren't going to win games without some more offense at the position than Schneider could give -- and the Nats need to be focused on 2009, and 2010, anyway.

In the meantime, as for Milledge, I see two possibilities. The Milledge trade could be preliminary to another deal -- possibly for the A's Danny Haren (the A's have been trying to pry Milledge from the Mets for years, but the teams couldn't swing the deal. If they do deal Milledge, then the Nats would continue to pursue that Japanese centerfielder. However, it's a mixed bag when you bring over a Japanese player -- you don't know what you'll be getting, especially in the beginning. Just ask the Metropolitans about Kaz Matsui. The Nats do (or did) need to find a major league centerfielder. As much as I love the idea of J-Max (Justin Maxwell), the local boy doing good, he's not ready for the bigs, yet.

So, the Nats just might hang on to Milledge. He'll flash a little leather, and bring the crowd to its feet with a few triples. Even if he takes some more time to develop his raw ability, he can contribute some excitement right away. Right now, they've got the prospect that Alex Escobar was supposed to be when he came up with the Mets...and they've got him young and healthy. So, we can forget about Escobar, let J-Max get some polish at Columbus, and focus on getting another backstop and pitching.

Forget about the stuff about Milledge's supposed character issues. In the words of Warren Zevon, he's just an excitable boy. When he started high-fiving the crowd? That was brilliant. I wish that happened more.

In two years, the Nats will be picking between Milledge, Pena, Kearns, J-Max and maybe Marrero (I guess we can't rule out Casto, either). I'd say they will be able to put together a pretty good outfield by then...and maybe, a lot sooner. If management can shape the rest of the team with the same kind of promise, the Nats will in pretty good shape.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Announcing: The Armistice Project -- In the United States, we're celebrating Veterans Day. There are ceremonies on the National Mall, most notably at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Arlington Cemetery. Across the country, there are the usual parades, and the television has the usual bevy of films celebrating heroic battles, like "The Longest Day" and "We Were Soldiers." While Americans honor a holiday, American troops are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, facing the twin dangers of IEDs and ambush.

The rest of the world remembers this date in history a little differently. Across Europe, in Australia, in many other countries, today is Armistice Day. Eighty-nine years ago, the great Western powers -- the allied Entente armies of the United States, Great Britain, Italy and France, reached agreement to stop fighting with the Central powers, consisting of the Austro-Hungarian, German and Ottoman Empires. The agreed cease-fire wasn't immediate - it was scheduled to take place on this day, 89 years ago. At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918, the slaughter that was once called the Great War came to an end. That is the Armistice which the world remembers this day.

Eleven years from now, we will commemorate the centennial -- the 100th anniversary of that most famous cease-fire. Of course, that Armistice ended a war we now know as the First World War. At the time, the fight was described as "The War to End All Wars." Obviously, that proved to be an overly optimistic prediction, as various conflicts erupted in the late 1930s, and eventually turned into the still greater conflagration of the Second World War. Much effort has been put into avoiding a Third World War, but there have been literally hundreds of other regional conflicts in the years since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought an end to that most terrible of wars.

We are still, as the NGO GlobalSecurity.org calls it, a World at War. By this group's count, there have been 1883 separate conflicts -- separate either in time, geography, combatants or events, just in the years since WWII ended in 1945.

Currently, according to another NGO, Ploughshares, there are currently 29 ongoing conflicts. That count is likely to hit 30 in the coming weeks, if, as expected, Ethiopia and Eritrea go to war. Even as I write this, armies are massing in that border region.

Concern about the carnage and death toll from mankind's seemingly endless series of armed conflicts is hardly a new phenomenon. As long as there has been recorded history, humans have longed for peace. The Bible speaks of a day when "they shall beat their swords into plowshares." Even governments have tried to end all war. In 1928, many nations signed on to the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which called for "the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy."

As discouraging as our history of violence can be, it is important to remember that, except for those 29 conflicts (some of which are in a state of cease-fire, including most obviously, the Israel-Hezbollah war in the Lebanon border region), every war that was ever started eventually ended. From that hopeful realization, comes the dream that a global peace is possible.

Numerous organizations have dedicated themselves to the promotion of peaceful resolution of conflicts. There are so many groups, small and large in number and focus, that it is impossible to compile a comprehensive list. Notable ones include the above-mentioned Ploughshares, the Centre for Conflict Resolution, and The International Institute for Strategic Studies . Leading American groups include The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Center for Strategic and International Studies , and the U.S. gov't-created United States Institute of Peace.

While the above-mentioned groups represent only a small sample of NGOs focused on conflict resolution and education, any such enumeration must include the largest organization or body contributing to the furtherance and maintenance of a peaceful globe: the United Nations' Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). There are currently 20 peacekeeping operations supported by the DPKO.

The United Nations itself is actually the preeminent organization in this arena -- the promotion of peaceful diplomacy and international relations. The organization was founded in the aftermath of WWII, by the nations of a war-weary world. The very first line in the U.N. Charter declares the nations' determination "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war."

Of course, the U.N. has had very mixed results in pursuing that end. In Korea and in the first Gulf War, the organization acted to authorize the member states to conduct military operations, in response to significant breaches of the peace. Sometimes, it seems, conflict is unavoidable, or at least, justified. Article I of the U.N. Charter declares the organization's purpose to "maintain international peace and security." It is understood that to achieve "that end" it is necessary "to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace."

Any advocate of peace must understand that it the first principle of international law is the right of self-defense. With the advent of U.N., that right has been expanded to include the right of the organization to authorize actions in collective defense -- that is the right of nations to intervene and protect other nations, or even threatened peoples within nations. That latter principle is understood as the right of Humanitarian Intervention. However, these rights stand as exceptions to the overarching principle established with the Nuremberg War Crimes trials, that it is a grave breach of peace and a crime to wage aggressive war.

Peace is, clearly, a complicated business, and has always been achieved on a piecemeal basis. In recent years, the United Nations has been the focus of efforts to go beyond piecemeal conflict resolution. In 1981, the United Nations created a yearly event designated as International Peace Day. The UN's resolution declared
"that the third Tuesday of September, the opening day of the regular session of the General Assembly, shall be officially dedicated and observed as the International Day of Peace and shall be devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples." The general concept was "to devote a specific time to concentrate the efforts of the United Nations and its Member States, as well as of the whole of mankind, to promoting the ideals of peace and to giving positive evidence of their commitment to peace in all viable ways."

Twenty years after that resolution was first adopted, the UN amended the original resolution, by declaring that the International Day of Peace would always be September 21. The original "Third Tuesday in September" was meant to commemorate the opening of the first UN General Assembly. It was decided to fix a permanent date, rather than continue the third Tuesday tradition. Somewhat ironically, this resolution was adopted less than three weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The 2001 resolution also included an "invitation to all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities for the duration of the Day."

To date, not one nation or combatant militia group has accepted that invitation.

I believe what is lacking in this effort is the symbolism needed to coalesce vague aspirations into a concerted effort to bring about a world-wide cease-fire. I believe that the coming 100th anniversary -- the centennial observation -- of the original WWI Armistice offers the necessary symbolism. I propose an effort to call for a new United Nations' resolution, and a global coalition of committed NGOS and governments, that would call for a universal cessation of hostilities on November 11th, 2018.

It is with that belief that I have begun to organize a new NGO dedicated solely to this effort. I have dubbed the effort "The Armistice Project." Because of admittedly halted efforts, the website, and the project itself, is still very much a work in progress. I am just laying the foundations, but I am using this moment to fully dedicate myself to the realization of the project goals. I ask all those interested in getting involved to contact me. I haven't worked out all the bugs yet. There is a contact link at the project website (the link is above). However, for now, you can also write me at fischy@comcast.net.

Why today? It is 11 years until the centennial day. 11 years, until the world observes the 100th anniversary of the the cease-fire that began on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Today, I announce an 11 year campaign. The goals are still a bit undefined, We can work for a day-long cessation of hostilities, as the U.N. has tried to do in the past. Or we can use that day as the platform for a greater effort aimed at ending all, or as many of the ongoing conflicts, as possible. The original International Day of Peace resolution called for the U.N's Economic and Social Committee to investigate "the possibility of declaring an International Year of Peace at the first practicable opportunity." The UN's ECOSOC has not followed through on that, and the realization of that directive could also be a goal for the Project. I invite you to look at the materials on the website, Additional materials will be posted in coming days or weeks. I invite you to offer your own ideas, and to get involved.

As a species, we have scuttled the dreams of 1918. It is time to dream once again. We've got eleven years to do something really incredible. Hope you can help.

Friday, November 02, 2007

United's Future -- Now that D.C. United is out of the playoffs, it's time to ask: What's in store for this club? What goodies should we ask Santa to bring for D.C. United's fans? It is obvious that United needs to get someone up top to pair with Emilio. It would be nice to see Jaime Moreno stay on as a sub, if he is willing to take that role. Moreno would be a good late-game extra attacker, but he can no longer be one of the featured attractions.

In his Soccer Insider blog for the Washington Post, the paper's United beat reporter, Steven Goff has hinted that there are a couple of significant rumors about, which may impact the club. I would guess that one of those rumors he is hinting at is that Juan Sebastian Veron will finally sign with United, after ditching them at the altar last Spring. Given his credentials, I imagine that would be a nice addition. I think Veron and Gomez would make a nice center midfield.

Of course, that assumes Gomez stays. I am guessing the other rumor will be a loosening up of the roster rules -- either raising the cap, or allowing for two Designated Players -- so, United will be able to give Gomez the money he wants. I have read some harsh feelings here toward Gomez. I have been sharply critical all season of his effort -- and his condition. I do not think he was in shape this year. Ran out of gas almost every game. Not tonight, though. Gomez put his heart and soul in that last flurry of action. He won me back over. His free kicks weren't very good tonight, but I still hope they keep him.

D.C. United has won the Supporters Shield in two straight years, but winning the regular season doesn't really get recognized here. So, United hasn't really won anything. Still, they do have one of the best teams in the league, if not the very best. That said, there will be some changes -- because some players may want to go, and others need to be replaced. Hopefully, we will see some upgrades in the defense, and another capable striker. And maybe, Juan Sebastian Veron.

This has been...The Fisch Fry. Over and out?
Once Again, United Flops in Playoffs -- This time was a little different, though. This time, United saved its best for last, even if the team came up just short. After a ghastly defensive performance over the first 60 minutes, United put on the most furious comeback tonight. It just wasn't enough.

D.C. came into tonight's game needing to win by two goals, because they'd lost 1-0 in Chicago last week (on a boneheaded defensive play). Tonight, they couldn't finish their chances early on. Emilio floated a ball to the keeper from the top of the six. Simms somehow failed to score when the ball came to right at the doorstep. Pretty soon, United's attack started to bog down in the midfield.

You could feel the game was about to go south, when Chicago got a breakaway and a goal that nearly sank any chance of a D.C. rally. Then, a couple of minutes later, another defensive breakdown, and it was suddenly 2-0 Chicago (3-0 in the aggregate). At halftime, the small, but vocal Chicago Fire fan contingent was singing "Our House, in the middle of D.C." We were dead on our feet.

But....then like a prayer was being answered, D.C. turned it on. They'd played scared and not exactly vigorously for 60-some odd minutes. Like a switch coming on, United starting playing like a team on the brink, because they were. They got one goal, and then another. The crowd was going wild -- never has 22,000 people made so much noise. And the team was playing with more energy and abandon than I've seen in a long while. Suddenly it was 2-2, and D.C. needed just one more goal to tie the series and force an overtime period.

United almost got it, too. There was such an explosion of disbelieving joy when, over a minute into the extra time added for stoppages (the ref added four minutes), Christian Gomez ran onto a ball in the box, got around his man, and buried his shot in the corner of the goal!!! Incredibly, United had come back to force the overtime. Or had they?

For two seconds, RFK stadium was the epicenter of an earthquake -- then the referee came up and started pointing to the spot where Gomez played the ball, indicating a foul. Seems ol' Christian hit the ball with his left arm as he raced the defender for control.

There is no joy in Mudville, or Bethesda, for D.C. United, mighty, mighty D.C., two years in a row the team with the best record in the league, has once again bowed out...of the playoffs.

Now, I'm stuck with two tickets to the final here in 17 days...and it won't be United in it... I was thrilled by the comeback attempt, and United players can be proud of the way they finished -- perhaps this ending will leave a slightly better taste in their mouths than the last couple of years. Still, I am deeply disappointed that United is out of the playoffs.

The disappointment, for me, is that United won't be playing in the MLS Cup. There may be other MLS Cup finals for the club, but there will likely never be another played in RFK. Even if United is able to someday play a final at home, it will be in a much smaller facility. This was an irreplaceable moment in time, and it ends up being wasted.

My overall impressions? I only got a quick look at the play on the Jumbotron, to see if I could figure out why the goal was being waved off. By that time, I was sitting to the right of La Norte (crowd was seriously into it) -- meaning that I was about 125 yards away from the screen. Still, it looked like a handball to me -- at least enough so that I realized instantly that was the call. I didn't have a chance to determine if Gomez intentionally handled the ball or not.

Of course, goalie Troy Perkins should have been called for a penalty earlier. Fortunately, the referee ruled the foul was committed just outside the box, but the replay I saw apperaed to show it happened just inside the box. I don't know from where Perkins has suddenly picked up this habit of these half-assed challenges at the top of the box, but it is no way to play goalie. If you're going to do that stuff, you damn well better get the ball -- otherwise, get set and make yourself big. He's done this quite a bit recently, and he's getting burned more often than not.

In the end, I do not know how to feel about this game. United blew an extraordinary opportunity that may never come again for the franchise -- at least not like this -- to play in the final, in front of a huge, sellout home crowd, in the year people are actually paying a little attention. I guess the league has some integrity, because I am sure the league wanted United in the final...very, very badly.

Of course, United played like dogs for much of the first half -- after missing some good opportunities earlier, you could feel that it was about to turn ugly...and then it did.

Still, United gave us twenty of the most thrilling minutes in the history of the franchise. I do not know if they will ever match the excitement and intensity of that burst. The crowd -- no crowd has ever been louder -- we could have outshouted a full house at Wembley. I just wish the team had that intensity throughout. It's been missing for a month.

There were odd personnel moves. I don't know why Bobby Boswell was in there to start. He's been terrible all year, and tonight was no exception. I'm not clear why Marc Burch came out just before halftime. Was he beat on the goals? After the goals, he made a sparkling defensive tackle -- the first sign of life for the defense. Then, suddenly he was out, and he didn't appear injured. Without the benefit of the TV cameras and replay it's not always possible to see everything.

I guess Luciano Emilio was struggling with his injury. It seemed like coach Tommy Soehn was throwing in the towel, when he subbed out Emilio, the only guy who can score with any regularity -- even though United needed to score three goals in the last half hour. In fact, United was able to pick up its pace at that point, and began the comeback. So, that was a good move. One can't fault Soehn for giving Emilio a chance. I'm not so sure I feel the same about the Boswell start, and the Burch exit.

Oh well. I guess it's Hot Stove League time.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Al Gore's Political Capital -- Nobel Peace Prize laureate!! Al Gore is definitely riding a wave of profound personal popularity and respect, beyond anything he has achieved previously. Indeed, his current stature, in some ways, exceeds that of any other world figure, for many years -- maybe even generations. As Mr. Gore's political standing has grown, a grass-roots movement has coalesced and grown with it, over the past year, seeking to impel the former Vice-President to run, once again, for President. There is no more enthusiastic supporter for a Gore candidacy than me.

If, however, we are to believe his public pronouncements, Mr. Gore is more interested in realizing the objectives of his campaign to initiate action to reduce greenhouse gases and limit the consequences the of global warming. He claims to believe that he is not a very good politician or campaigner, but I believe he is skilled enough to realize that he has built-up enormous political capital, which is probably now at its useful peak. It is with this in mind, that I am proposing a way in which he can productively use that capital.

According to a diary on the Daily Kos site (by NY Populist), the leading organization in the Draft Al Gore movement (AlGore.org) has commissioned a Zogby poll to assess how Mr. Gore would fare in a contest against the Democratic primary candidates. If that poll shows Gore doing reasonably well, the pressure to mount a campaign will increase. Concomitantly, so will his ability to influence the race and the direction of U.S. policy, should Gore choose to flex his new-found political muscle.

Given her tremendous fund-raising, and ever-growing popularity, Hillary Clinton is looking like not only a formidable opponent in the Democratic primary race, but also seems increasingly likely to be the next President. Of course, it is still over a year before the actual election and several months before even the primaries, but Mrs. Clinton is a supremely skilled politician and is unlikely to commit the kind of stumble that could derail such a juggernaut.

Many of Gore's supporters, especially those on this site, believe Mr. Gore does not favor Mrs. Clinton's candidacy. Assuming that is true, Mr. Gore could decide to run himself, to oppose Mrs. Clinton. Some in the Draft Gore movement view him as the man who can wrest the nomination from Clinton. Others, myself included, hope for a Gore candidacy because of their belief in the man and his positive agenda. We wait for a sign or a pronouncement that he will heed the call.

With the primary windows starting to close, Gore's supporters need to consider the alternatives just as Gore needs to decide what he can best do to further his agenda. Because Mr. Gore's personal popularity is at a peak, the time for a decision is now, lest he squander the moment. If Mr. Gore is firm in his decision not to enter the fray on his own, then the next most obvious course of action would be to endorse one of the Democratic primary candidates.

Assuming Mr. Gore would favor a candidate other than Mrs. Clinton, the question to be asked is whether a Gore endorsement of one of the other challengers holds the potential to change the outcome of the race? That seems a highly dubious proposition, not least because Gore's endorsement did not prevent Howard Dean's campaign collapse in Iowa four years ago. The gap appears to be too wide, and it is hard to imagine that Gore's endorsement of another candidate would pull away enough votes from Mrs. Clinton to make a decisive difference.

What then is Gore to do with his substantial political capital? What good is all this political prestige he has accumulated, if he cannot act decisively to move the country in the direction he would most prefer? The answer is to ensure that Hillary Clinton moves in the directions that Al Gore demands for this country. That is where Gore can make the greatest impact.

Mr. Gore should meet with Mrs. Clinton to discuss the terms of a possible endorsement. Would Hillary Clinton be interested in such a meeting? Consider the curious result in recent polling that has her in a virtual dead heat against Giuliani, despite significant preferences for a Democratic candidate. Given that dynamic, I would think that Sen. Clinton would be anxious to rally her base.

Moreover, the Clinton campaign must be anxious about the former Vice-President's plans, since the newest polls suggest that Gore may be a more popular candidate than Senator Clinton. Until and unless Gore rules out a run of his own, Mrs. Clinton will be running in his very large shadow. Mr. Gore's early support for her candidacy could go a long way towards uniting the party behind this likely nominee. It might also influence independents to support her candidacy.

If an endorsement from Gore is strong enough and memorable enough, it might even swing over a few Republicans -- those who are disenchanted with their own party, but still hold an unfavorable image of Mrs. Clinton, formed through the prism of the years of her husband's presidency. No doubt, there are a number of Republicans who might want to atone for supporting George Bush 8 years ago. If Gore were in the race, he might get their votes. However, he might also convince them to support another Clinton, the second most obvious antidote to the Bush years. A Gore endorsement at this time would surely cause a reexamination of Mrs. Clinton, and might kick some more momentum her way. A little momentum, after all, can have a snowballing effect on a candidate's popularity.

So, Al Gore would be in a position to exert some influence on Hillary Clinton, in exchange for a ringing endorsement. Gore should extract promises from her to pursue certain objectives. He should insist that Clinton publicly commit herself to aggressively pursue the two or three major policy initiatives that Mr. Gore is most determined to see enacted into law. He should take the measure of the woman and get her to pledge on record that she will cooperate fully in his efforts to cut back on human-generated climate change. If there are other issues that he wants moved to the forefront of her agenda, he should seek to get some commitments there, as well.

Then, Gore should make a statement (sort of a "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Hillary Rodham Clinton" thing) to the American people -- and I humbly suggest it should read something like this:

"My fellow Americans, I stood before you seven years ago, seeking your votes for my own candidacy to be President. A record number of Americans did give me their votes, but in the end it was George Bush that took the Oath of Office. Over these last seven years, the current Administration has governed from a blind faith in an unreasoning, deeply flawed ideology -- against all evidence, logic, science, and reason -- even against the constitutional traditions of our country. They have struggled against the laws of nature, and the laws of man. They have not changed direction even when all evidence and logic would compel any reasonable person to do so. They have ignored the lessons of their own errors, and it has cost this country deeply.

It has cost us our standing in the community of nations. It has cost us the respect that we earned over generations with our commitment to the rule of law, and our efforts to work with other nations to solve the problems that confront all of us. It has cost us lives, as thousands of brave young men and women have died for a misbegotten cause, and it has severely damaged our efforts in the struggle against the terrorists that seek to impose a totalitarian ideology upon the Islamic nations.

Perhaps most dangerously, it has cost us years that were more important then of us realized at the time, in the race to stop climate change. Many lives were lost here due to a powerful storm, and the powerlessness of the government's response, and still the dangers went unheeded. Now, leading climatologists are telling us we may already have reached the crucial tipping point. Reason tells us it is time for action -- that it has become too costly to wait any longer. Still, that is all this Administration seems intent on doing.

We cannot wait. We need action. Many Americans know this. People all around the world know this. I have spent the years since the 2000 election leading a personal campaign to increase awareness of the danger, and to insist on action. In October, the Nobel Prize committee acknowledged the seriousness of this cause by awarding the Nobel Peace Prize -- shared by the United Nations panel of committed scientists, and myself. It is, without a doubt, the greatest personal honor I could receive. However, this recognition does not mark the end of this campaign. It just makes it all the more important to seize the moment and generate the needed momentum to act.

I have just finished a very profound discussion with Senator Clinton regarding this issue and other issues that concern me today. I came to the Senator because she is in a unique position. I also came because she is one of the most talented political leaders of our time. I have the greatest respect for her husband, whose administration I was privileged to serve for eight productive years. Bill Clinton's appetite for and knowledge of issues became legendary. However, I can say that the Senator from New York, Hillary Clinton, is more than his equal in this regard. There is no person more dedicated to public service, more interested in government and policy, and more committed to changing the direction of our country -- getting this country back on the track we were on 8 years ago.

I have discussed how the Senator and I can work cooperatively to promote a new agenda for this country, especially in the area of reversing climate change. She understands the importance of acting, and I am pleased by the commitments on policy that she expressed in our meeting.

I understand that a lot of people believe this is a moment of great consequence for the country and for the world. I understand why so many have rallied to insist that I enter the Democratic primary race. I am humbled and flattered by their support. I stand here today, though, to say that Senator Clinton also understands how important this moment in history really is. I stand here today to tell you I believe there is no person as prepared or as qualified to lead this country as President over the next eight years. As I stand here, I want to tell you, as well, that I believe Senator Clinton is more prepared and better qualified to be President than any candidate in a very long time. She is a skilled politician, a woman who commands respect everywhere she has been, because she is so capable, and so dedicated. She is, without a doubt in my mind, the right person for these times.

Anyone who knows her can tell you she is a woman of great personal faith. She also knows how important the office of President is, how influential. She knows that the President must demand evidence, must follow logic, and insist on the rule of law and the rule of reason. We cannot afford to have a President who insists on being unreasonable. With the problems we face today, the time is growing short to make a difference. Hillary Clinton will make a difference, and that's exactly what we need now.

I have the utmost respect for the other candidates in the race, I have worked with some of them in the Senate, and I have met the others since. I wholeheartedly support the agenda that John Edwards has been campaigning for, and he is the most forceful advocate for those issues I have ever heard. Barack Obama is an incredibly talented leader, and I am confident that voice will be among the most important of his generation and that his message of a new politics will carry the day -- his time is coming. Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson -- they are all leading lights, dedicated public servants, committed to bringing about needed changes for America.

I would gladly support any of these men, if they were to win the nomination. However, I stand here today to offer my support now to Hillary Clinton because I believe she is the right person to lead America for the next four years.

Eight years ago, I tried to offer America a choice. If I had the political skills that Senator Clinton has, I believe I would have become President. As I said, I am flattered that so many people want me to run again. I am involved in a different campaign now - maybe one that is better suited for me. It is a time for a new direction for this country and Hillary Clinton is the woman to lead us on the path."

I still hope that Al Gore will decide to run, because I believe HE is the right person for the time, the one who best understands what the next President of the United States must do. My second choice, in this regard, would be John Edwards, because I think his policy priorities are similarly well-ordered, and he has dedicated himself to the important causes. However, I expect that Al Gore will not run, and I further expect that Hillary Clinton will emerge as the Democratic nominee, regardless of any Gore endorsement. If it matters, my record's been pretty good in this regard. My first choice doesn't always come out as the nominee, but my predictions have been spot on.

I think Gore can do an awful lot of good by sitting down with Mrs. Clinton and getting some policy commitments from her. I'm not as engaged on the issues as Al Gore, obviously. I wouldn't presume to suggest what policy initiatives he deems so important he could trade his endorsement. However, I believe that, if he is not going to run, the moment is ripe for such a meeting -- it might even be imperative. This diary is offered to recommend that course of action, but only if Mr. Gore will not run himself. And, also to suggest what Mr. Gore might wish to say in such a hypothetical endorsement. That, and nothing more. That said -- I say Run, Al. Run!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Youth is Served as U.S. Wins in Basel -- Put this one in Ripley's Believe it or Not. For the first time in nearly a decade, the U.S. Men's National soccer team has finally won a game on European soil. It was a friendly match in Switzerland, played in poor conditions, on a rainy day and a very slippery field. The U.S.A. has rarely won on European soil, including a losing streak on the continent that dates back to the tune-ups preceding the 1998 World Cup. That record of futility, however, meant little to some of the younger players on the U.S. roster, and it was the kids that combined to deliver the surprising, streak-busting victory.

Coach Bob Bradley fielded a young lineup to begin with, as the most veteran players were Carlos Bocanegra and Eddie Lewis. When DaMarcus Beasley left the game early due to a bruised leg, the lineup got even younger, and younger still when Brad Guzan replaced Marcus Hahnemann in goal, at halftime. The U.S. played the Swiss evenly. The best chances came to the U.S. with a flurry late in the first half, but Eddie Lewis and Carlos Bocanegra both sent balls right at the Swiss goalie.

In the second half, there were few chances before Brad Guzan was called for handling a ball at the edge of the penalty box in the 82nd minute. Although the call could have gone either way, it was an unnecessarily risky play. Fortunately, Guzan made a nice save on the ensuing free kick.

The U.S. attack was lacking much inspiration, and Coach Bradley found the right touch to change that. Freddy Adu came on in the final 15 minutes and immediately made an impact. His first touch was a crafty back heel that set Steve Cherundolo on a run into the box. the most creative play the U.S. had put together. After the close call coming on Guzan's dicey play, Danny Szetela checked in as a substitute. Szetela's insertion further opened up the attack, and proved decisive.

Maurice Edu, who sparkled in his first start for the senior side, recovered a loose ball in the Swiss end. Instead of playing it pointlessly into the defense, Edu turned and sent the ball wide to Szetela, who was unmarked at the touch line. Szetela sent a nearly perfect cross over the defense. The ball fell to a sprinting Clint Dempsey (Dempsey may have intercepted a pass intended for Adu, but no matter). Though Dempsey couldn't control it, the ball went off his knee and over the final defender. As the Swiss goalie raced Dempsey for the loose ball, it was Michael Bradley, the coach's young son, who got his foot to the ball as it came down. Bradley just beat the Swiss goalie to the loose ball and touched it into the goalmouth.

Adu nearly produced a second goal as he got on the end of a nifty pass over the defense from Dempsey. Adu couldn't control the ball, but was able to stretch and chip it over the goalie. Unfortunately, Adu's touch was a bit much, and the ball also floated over the crossbar.

Finally, Robbie Findley came on to earn his first cap, and showed the potential danger that comes with a player that has his speed. Findley's play led to a couple of nice attacks involving Adu. Freddy probably deserved a penalty kick on one, when he was kicked in the face by the defender. Just before the final whistle, Adu was tripped about 25 yards out. He sent the final free kick right into the goalie's midsection, but his talent still shone.

One other American player deserves mention. Heath Pearce came on as a sub, for Beasley, and turned in a very strong game in defense.

For most of this game, the U.S. did nothing very remarkable, except shut down the Swiss attack. This game will be remembered for ending the winless streak in Europe, as well as ending the U.S. team's five-game losing streak. However, the game should really be remembered as the day the torch was passed to a new generation of U.S. soccer players. When the kids got a chance to show their stuff, we got a look at a very promising future.

On a related note, there is an interesting article about Thierry Henry in The New York Times. Henry admits to a fascination with the U.S., and American sports. The best news in the article? The French superstar, supremely talented and probably the most elegant striker in the game, would like to play professionally in the U.S. someday. He's in love with New York City, so it would seem that he might be destined for the Red Bulls. Unless, of course, the MLS comes around to my suggestion of placing a team in New York City. In the meantime, we can expect to see more advertising taking advantage of Henry's fame, paving the way for what we hope will be his eventual Atlantic crossing.

Today was a pretty good day for Henry. He scored two late goals, within 2 minutes of each other to give France a win over a game Lithuania side, in a Europe '08 qualifier. With those goals, Henry become's the all-time leading goal scorere for Les Blues, passing the great Michel Platini. Dare we dream of getting to watch him play in the MLS, perhaps when his current contract with Barcelona runs out? Dream on!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Tomorrow (Friday) is Nobel Peace Prize day -- the day that Gore-illas hope will launch the man who "used to be the 'next President of the United States'" on a quest to win, once again (and this time for keeps), the Presidency of the United States. If you're a reader of the Daily Kos (where I am cross-posting this essay), I'm sure you have not missed the deluge of Gore-love paean diaries, proclaiming our hopes for a new Presidential run by the former Vice-President.

Just for review, though: How do I love thee, Al Gore? Let me count the ways!

First: Everyone is always talking about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it!

Many of us fear that every other issue in this campaign is almost meaningless if we don't do something soon about global warming. For us, Al Gore represents the last best hope. Other politicians may say some of the right things about climate change peril, but Gore has lived the cause. A President Gore will be committed to moving heaven and Earth to do something about climate change and greenhouse gas production.

Second: "He's my Commander-in-Chief" vs. "Bernie, thank God George Bush is our President."

Astute readers will recognize the first quote as Gore's perfectly-struck note of unity, offered after the attacks of September 11th. They may also recognize the other quote as Rudy Giuliani's declared recollection of his comment to Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, when he realized New York was under attack.

Al Gore was no weak sister, when it came to Saddam Hussein. Gore was reputed to be the strongest proponent within the Clinton Administration of a more aggressive stance toward Iraq. Yet, in 2002, Gore understood that a war on Iraq would be a terrible distraction and counter-productive to the struggle against militant, terrorist groups. He was right on Iraq -- and for all the right reasons.

Gore may lack John Kerry's Bronze Star and Purple Hearts, but on this issue, he has the right credentials. He can make the best case for a new direction in the struggle that consumed this country on September 11th -- actually refocusing our efforts where they need to be.

Imagine this scenario next September, or October: Al Gore will get on the stage to debate against the Republican nominee, Rudy Giuliani. Gore will remind America that he loyally and enthusiastically supported Bush's decision to move against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Without rehashing whether the Bush Administration could have prevented the attacks, Gore can still remind America why Bin Laden is still at large. More importantly, he can ask Americans if we are as thankful as Giuliani claimed to be that George Bush has been President these last 7+ years.

Heck, Gore can even put the question rhetorically to Giuliani, as to whether he's still thankful that Bush, and not Gore was President. Is this a trap to be avoided? I'm sure Giuliani would have a glib answer already prepared, but Gore can win this debate. He can tell the American people what things he would have done the same as Bush, and what he would have done differently. He can describe how things would be better now. Finally, he will lower the boom on Giuliani, when he asks Americans to answer for themselves whether they are thankful these days that George Bush was the President for nearly the last 8 years.

I ask, rhetorically, "Is there anyone else that can ask those same questions, with the same impact as Al Gore?" Of course not!

Third: Restoring the Pride! A Nobel Prize Winner before taking office -- How cool is that!?!

Unlike Woodrow Wilson, who won the Nobel Prize near the end of his second term in office (and Jimmy Carter who won the award two decades after his term), Gore may already have this extraordinary honor to his name before he ever announces. As I write this, the 'net is rife with rumors that Gore is headed to Oslo or Stockholm for the announcement. Even if the Peace Prize goes to someone else, Al Gore could bring something to the office of President that no one else could. No American has ever begun a Presidency with the degree of international regard and respect that Al Gore commands.

No other person could reestablish the international credibility and prestige of the office as swiftly and surely as Al Gore -- both by dint of the world-wide respect he has gained, and the radical change of vision an Al Gore Presidency would represent. With Albert Gore at the helm of our ship of state, we would no longer have a "We're America -- Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes!" attitude." A Gore Presidency would mean an America that understands its policies have to change in order to account for the needs and concerns of other countries.

So much of what has gone wrong the last seven years -- including the disdain even our friends have for us, and the despair and disgust most Americans feel when they think of their government -- would change dramatically on the day Al Gore takes the Oath of Office. The challenges that would lie ahead: ending the war in Iraq; reviving American economic strength; reducing the deficit; climate change, of course -- tackling these challenges would seem possible because we would have someone in the office committed to solving these crises.

Al Gore is uniquely positioned to ask the Ronald Reagan question: "Are you better off than you were 8 years ago?" How many would answer yes? To use the pollsters’ favorite question: How many could say this country is headed in the right direction? If George Bush has the country headed in the wrong direction, who is the obvious choice to get us moving in the right direction? Al Gore!

Fourth: Look! Up In the Sky! or A Man of Action Proves Caring is Cool

When Brownie, and the rest of the federal government couldn't figure out how to get into New Orleans and help, Al Gore did something. He took a plane into New Orleans and brought out people who needed attention which they could get elsewhere, making the demands on the local hospitals somewhat more manageable. Isn't that the image we want of our President, not some contorted photo-op on a carrier outside San Diego Harbor?

The resemblance to Superman is uncanny...but he makes caring cool, too.

Fifth: The Rock Star

Al Gore isn’t just another candidate. He may lack some personal charisma, but he’s achieved something grander with his celebrity. His magnetism is based on his ideas, and his dedication to the cause. People believe and trust Al Gore now. The nonsense about the Internet and Love Story can’t hurt him now. He’s established a level of credibility on issues that no other candidate, Democrat or Republican, can approach, or besmirch. He’s not a Teflon candidate – he’s better. He’s become a brutally honest one. We believe Al Gore, because he’s willing to risk ridicule in order to speak painful, even terrifying truths.

Sixth: Second Chances

America has often been the land of second chances and second acts -- where redemption is possible. A second chance to make amends, and set right what went so horribly wrong 8 years ago. Not for Al Gore's sake. For our own sakes, a second chance for America.

Finally: No more 'Mourning in America'

O.K. I could list a lot more reasons for this hope against hope, but brevity is beautiful. Remember that it's always darkest before the dawn. Al Gore wants to bring an end to the 'assault on reason' -- bring an end to the dark madness of faith-based politics, by shining the light of reason. It's been a long night in the wilderness. Soon, it could be "Morning in America" -- with a President Gore.

Cross-posted at

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Shocking News? Marion Jones Admits Steroid Use -- To paraphrase the famous line from Casablanca, "I'm shocked...shocked to find there is steroid use in the Olympics." So, the Washington Post breaks the story that Marion Jones will plead guilty to using steroids, and admits to using the performance-enhancing substances in advance of the 2000 Olympics. Shocking!

I actually don't mean to detract from what Ms. Jones accomplished. She set new standards for female athletes, but this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, least of all Marion Jones. Yet, according to the article, it was a surprise to her. In the latest dodge that athletes have turned to, Ms. Jones is pleading ignorance, blaming it all on her trainer. According to the Post article, Ms. Jones was told she was taking flaxseed oil supplements.

Of course, this was all done with a wink and a nod. Jones says "Red flags should have been raised when he told me not to tell anyone about" the supplement program.

She also says she noticed that she was recovering more quickly from her workouts. Another red flag for Jones might have been the changes in her body. She looks fantastic, but few women are able to achieve that level of strength and development naturally. As it turns out she was getting THG, the synthetic steroid at the center of the Balco case.

I say we shouldn't be too harsh on Jones, because she achieved remarkable things. 3 gold medals and 2 bronze medals. Not because she is feigning ignorance, but because how many other competitors have done the same? How many of Jones' competitors have always been clean?

This case really brings out the crux of the dilemma in modern sports: We demand the highest performance, but attempt to deprive the athletes of tools they could use to elevate their performance. The temptation to cheat is irresistible, particularly when one suspects your competition won't hesitate to cheat similarly. Testing will always be behind the curve. Some athletes will be caught -- maybe, in time, all will be caught, as test catch up to flag preserved blood samples.

The fact is steroids can be harmful to one's health -- destructive to joints, etc. So are sports. 'Roid rage is a problem, too, but we don't criminalize alcohol, which has similar affects. With women, there can also be considerable, and permanent masculinizing changes to the body, but it's a choice women can make, if it's in the open. Otherwise, they may be victimized by unethical trainers.

So, why are we making criminals of athletes who are playing by the rules their competitors are? I know I'll never be able to compete without the chemical boost, and I won't take it. Then again, I’m no wannabe Olympian or professional. Instead of destroying competitions by pretending we're just leveling the field, why not allow the athletes to do what athletes do? Why not do what they do in bodybuilding, with natural competitions for those who want that, and the prestige competitions for the steroid-using hulks, who've taken their body to the extreme levels that fans want from their athletes?

Cross-posted at http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/10/4/203158/398

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Drought Continues as United Falls in Jalisco -- In case anyone is interested in my impression, I think United was probably ill-served by the defensive shell in which they played this night in the Estadio Jalisco. Chivas was always one ill-considered pass away from the goal that would send them through to the next round. Not entirely surprisingly, that pass came from Clyde Simms, whose defensive play seemed to break down in the second half. Simms made some foolish passes under pressure last week, and did much the same tonight in the return match.

Meanwhile, United did little to generate any offense, and this was largely by design. Christian Gomez nearly scored on a free kick in the first half, but United did nothing to challenge the Guadalajaran goal until after the home team scored, giving them the series advantage, based on away goals. In the final minutes, United was able to generate some good chances, including some goalkeeper-testing efforts by Stephen DeRoux and Ben Olsen, and a couple of near misses by Luciano Emilio, Brian Carroll and Christian Gomez.

If United had been intent on pressing an attack, I think there might have been more chances -- and those chances might have come when United players were fresher and more likely to convert. Moreover, Chivas would have had to play with more attention to defense. Though Coach Tom Soehn was quoted as saying United would play its game, instead of going into a defensive shell, apparently that was no more than mere gamesmanship. The strategy that United employed meant they were behind the eight ball the moment Chivas scored. While it might have seemed to be working in D.C.'s favor, as the game went deep into the second half without any goals, the reality is that United had little time to recover when their defense finally cracked.

No U.S. club team has ever won on Mexican soil. So long as they continue to play for draws, that drought will continue.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Burch's Blast -- Luciano Emilio is being promoted for Sierra Mist's Goal of the Week. I have to admit I was shouting "Goal of the Year", when I saw Emilio's one-time scoring volley, knocking in the rebound of Christian Gomez' free kick that had caromed off the crossbar and out to Emilio. The big goal, though, was Marc Burch's magnificent left-footed rocket (of course), which drew United even with Toronto on Saturday night. Burch's goal was his first -- one that was a long time in coming -- and it touched off a cascade of goals by United, who buried Toronto by a 4-1 score.

About a minute before his goal, as Burch had sent in a nice cross, I was telling my gal-pal all about Burch's amazing left foot. I really think this young man has national team potential written all over him. If he can raise his game, especially on the defensive end, he should become a fixture at left back for the U.S. national squad. His gifted left foot is something no other American has -- something the U.S. team has lacked for the last ten years or so, since the days of Preki.

Burch is really in his first year playing regularly as a defender. He's learning this totally unfamiliar position, while playing at the highest level in this country. His occasional struggles must be expected, but his ability is both obvious and surprising, given the circumstances.

I think Burch can become a very good defender -- I've seen him make some very good plays. Though he was undone last week by the speedy Chivas attackers, Burch will benefit by more such encounters with top players. Hopefully, United will hold on to their one-goal lead over Chivas on Tuesday night. This will mean more games in the Copa Sudamericana, and more chances for Burch to learn how to defend against the speedy, skilled competitors he will encounter someday with the national team, should my predictions for him come true.

D.C. United has once again become the best team in the MLS. It would seem they are reaching their potential at a much more opportune time than last year's squad, which burned out in August. The crowd was ecstatic with United's offensive outburst on Saturday. United is, without question, the best ticket in town. Seeing them win the title this year, in RFK, would be absolutely amazing -- I get goosebumps imagining the celebration that will ensue.

Should United win the MLS Cup this year, it would be the best thing that could happen for the MLS and American soccer. The size of the crowd, the enthusiasm, and crowd's reaction would be something the American media couldn't ignore. No Beckham -- just the best-supported soccer team in the MLS, and an indication of the sport's potential in this country.

So, when Marc Burch or some other left back takes the field for the U.S in the World Cup, and there are tens of thousands of Americans cheering the team on, we can say it is America's game, too. It might also influence the D.C. city government to reconsider it's decision to take bids against United's bid to build a new stadium at Poplar Point.

Speaking of American national team players -- If you saw Kasey Keller post a clean sheet for Fulham, against Chelsea, you have to pleased for him. Keller had one particularly good save. Clint Dempsey is becoming a real fixture for Fulham, and someone English defenses have to watch out for (he had a couple of good chances against Chelsea) -- although he really pushes the limits of the rules with his physical play.

The American I was most impressed by, however, was Carlos Bocanegra. Boca was given the nearly impossible task of defending Didier Drogba. Sure, Drogba was coming off an injury, and was a bit of a surprise in the lineup -- probably not at his best. Yet, it was still Didier Drogba -- the most dangerous attacker in the Premier League last year -- and Boca ran all day with Drogba, and made several solid stops.

Throughout his career, Bocanegra has really been most notable as being a defender who is a good offensive threat -- not especially known for his defending. In years gone by, I don't think Boca could have kept with Drogba, but this weekend, Boca took his game to a new level. This was great to see. Though his national team play has been mostly underwhelming, Boca could still become a strong central left back for the U.S., perhaps flanked, one day soon, by Marc Burch.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

D.C. United Is an Upset Winner; Nationals, too -- What a night for D.C. I haven't posted to my blog in a month (since I turned 43), but I had to post a report on tonight's doings. I've just returned from a rocking RFK Stadium. Reports of the old grey flying saucer's demise were somewhat exaggerated. There was a good turnout for tonight's Copa Sudamericana match against CD Guadalajara (Chivas) -- just over 21,000. United opened up the upper deck, and that's where I plopped myself -- amongst the Chivas supporters. I hadn't seen a soccer match from up there in years.

Actually, most of the fans were cheering for the visitors, but D.C. United's supporter clubs were well-represented, and the atmosphere was electric. The game itself was played at a frenetic pace that MLS fans aren't accustomed to seeing. While United probably held the balance of the possession in the first half, there was no question that Chivas was the more dangerous side. Marc Burch and Bryan Namoff were frequent victims of the speedy and talented Chivas wingers.

Yet, it was United that struck first. Most of United's threats were coming from the left side, where Fred was working his tail off, and Burch was sending in his customarily picture-perfect long crosses into the area. It was off a cross by Fred that United got its first goal. Jaime Moreno found himself in front of the goal, but couldn't stretch far enough to get a solid touch on Fred's pass. If Moreno had let the ball go through, Emilio was in position to finish, but Moreno tried to make the play himself, to no avail. However, a bad clearance followed, coming straight to Ben Olsen who sent a grass-cutter into the lower left corner of the goal, putting United in front, 1-0.

United had a couple of other good chances in the first half -- really, Luciano Emilio did. Emilio narrowly missed a long-range shot, and was denied from point-blank range, near the end of the half, by Chivas' goalie, Luis Michel.

Most of the good chances belonged to Chivas, but Troy Perkins was really on his game -- at least, between the pipes. Perkins was simply awful with his goal kicks, putting three of them wildly out-of-bounds, much to the delight of the Chivas' supporters. However, flying this way and that, Perkins was clearly the man-of-the-match for D.C., stopping shots and denying balls that seemed certain to be put in by waiting strikers. United's defenders were also crucial, blocking numerous shots, and clearing the ball when Perkins wasn't able to do so.

Unfortunately, while Burch was strong on the attack, he was horribly overmatched on defense. He has looked good in the MLS, but he's never had to face an attack with such skill and such speed. This might have been a learning experience for the young defender, but the lessons came to an end early when Burch received a second yellow and was ejected just before the half, having played a ball with his hands as it was skipping dangerously between his legs.

So, playing a man down for the entire second half, United struggled to weather a punishing Chivas' attack. Chivas' players couldn't penetrate Perkins' shield, except with some balls that sailed just wide or just over the crossbar. It seemed only a matter of time before Chivas punched through for the equalizer. However, ten minutes into the second half, United made a rare run into Chivas' end, and Christian Gomez was brought down just outside the penalty area. His free kick went in to the ball, but Clyde Simms raced for the rebound, and drilled a low shot into the Chivas' goal, giving United a surprising 2-0 lead, and some much-needed breathing room.

Chivas responded quickly -- this time it was Devon McTavish that was schooled out on the wing, and Xavier Baez' cross was hammered in for a goal -- Sergio Santana's shot was so powerful that Perkins barely flinched before it had gone past him. Once again, United was desperately clinging to a one goal lead, while Chivas controlled nearly all the possession. Christian Gomez left the game with about 20 minutes remaining, as he appeared to be cramping up in the heat -- leaving United with no one really capable of running at the Chivas' defense. still, United was able to hold on, as Chivas was unable to finish any of its chances. For the game, Chivas was credited with 21 shots (it seemed like more), but only one found the net.

There's no doubt that Chivas is the more talented squad, even when playing at even strength. So, United's 2-1 victory tonight was a remarkable achievement. Can United manage a tie or better in the return match, next week in Guadalajara? It seems unlikely, but so was tonight's undermanned victory.

As for the Washington Nationals -- It's true that the New York Mets are playing simply awful baseball, unable to get anybody out, due to ineffective pitching and really bad defense -- and all of this was especially true in the two September series against the Nationals. However, one has to give credit to the Nationals for a stunning achievement. They went up to New York and swept the division leaders, scoring 32 runs in three games. Sure, the Nats nearly gave away the game last night, as the Mets came up just 90 feet short of an all-time historic comeback. The fact is they won that game, and they won the others, too, with an amazing offensive display.

This really does raise some serious questions for the off-season. It's beginning to look like the answers for the Nationals are already in the system. J-Max (Justin Maxwell) might be the answer in center field, even though he hadn't played above A-ball before this month. The way Willy Mo Pena has hit since joining the Nationals last month, and the way Ryan Church has hit this month, it looks like they may have a battle for left field. Best of all has been Austin Kearns, who has been outstanding the last couple of months. It makes one wonder where the team is going to play Dmitri Young. If he returns at first base, what do the Nationals do with Nick Johnson, who was the best hitter left from last year's squad?

Ronnie Belliard has hit so well, and played such good defense that he seems certain to return as the starting second baseman, leaving Felipe Lopez to try and compete with Cristian Guzman for playing time at shortstop. The only obvious weak spot in the order seems to be at the catcher spot, but Schneider and Flores have excelled defensively. Of course, the Nats still lack a lot of power, but moving into a smaller park will make their numbers seem a little more impressive. Young could hit 20 HRs next year, and the Nats could expect at least that from the corner outfielders, based on the way they've hit in the second half. Ryan Zimmerman is also likely to hit at least 20 HRs. If they can get double figures from Belliard and the center fielder (maybe Maxwell), the offense wouldn't seem so anemic any more.

As for the pitching staff, with Hill and Bergmann, the Nats have a pretty good one-two, when healthy. Tim Redding is looking like a good candidate for the staff next year. Which means Matt Chico and John Lannan will be competing for the fourth and/or fifth rotation spots -- at least, as it stands now. And then there's the wild-card of John Patterson -- what kind of pitcher will he be after his nerve repair surgery this month? The bullpen should be outstanding, from end to end, with Rivera, Albaladejo, possibly Schroder and/or Munoz, Ayala, Rauch and Cordero.

I'd like to see the Nats go after a front-line free agent starting pitcher, if there are any this offseason. They may have the makings of a good, albeit very young rotation, but there are still too many question marks. Getting a proven starter will take the pressure off the youngsters. If they can land one, this team might be ready to contend next year. I know they don't have anyone who can compete with the big hitters on the Phillies or the Braves, or even the Mets...and yet...the Nats seem to have an intangible that makes them better than the sum of their parts.

There are still questions for the Nationals to ponder in the offseason, but it's beginning to look less crucial that the team seek answers outside the organization. It would be nice if the Nats can bring in a slugger -- and maybe Jorge Posada to catch. It would be equally nice if they can land a big free-agent pitcher. What I'm saying is, that even if none of these things happen, the Nats just might be a winning team next year. Don't be shocked -- if you leave aside the disastrous first six weeks, the Nats will probably have a winning record this year. Once you realize that, you have to admit the Nats already have become a good team. The next step up may be a contending team. I know back in May or even June that idea seemed ridiculous -- but, now, is it really so far-fetched?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Gotta Hand it to the Os -- Apparently, the Orioles don't want to repeat the Joe Girardi fiasco. Perhaps owner Peter Angelos fears that few top managerial candidates would agreee to take over the Orioles. So, instead, the Orioles gave next year's job to the current interim manager. The team celebrated this bit of news by surrendering more runs in one game than any other team in the modern era of Major League Baseball. The Texas Rangers pounded out thirty (30) runs on 29 hits. If ever there were a bad omen....

It's too bad, really, because the Os have some great young starting pitching. If they can put together a team around those young arms, they could find themseleves back in contention in the A.L. East. Orioles' fans are learning not to get their hopes up...but 30 runs??!??!??!?
Big Night -- for Jaime Moreno and D.C. United: Let's not dwell on the United States' tough loss to Sweden, because tonight we honor the new Sultan of Score, the Genie of Goals, Jaime Moreno. United's long-time scoring leader became the all-time goal-scoring leader in MLS history, with a penalty shot early in the second half of tonight's game against the New York Red Bulls.

It was an interesting game for some United stars, including Moreno. As a team, United really outplayed the Red Bulls. Most notably, Ben Olsen had a brilliant start to the game. First, he put away a rebound off a shot by Fred, who drove at the goal after taking a beautiful long clearance from goalie Troy Perkins. A few minutes later, Olsen's hustle again paid dividends, as he intercepted a pass on the wing. Olsen then executed a give-and-go combination with Moreno, and then Olsen crossed the ball to Christian Gomez, whose header gave United a 2-0 lead in the first nine minutes.

The best play of the night came later in the half, as Moreno again played the middle in a give-and-go with Olsen. This time, however, Olsen was surprised the return pass, a nifty back heel pass by Moreno that was so creative and so well-executed that Olsen was as surprised as the defense and couldn't control it. Following his fast start in this game, Olsen's night took a turn for the worse. Later, he found himself behind the defense (the linesman appeared to have missed a clear offsides on Olsen), but Olsen chose to try to force a cross to the onrushing Luciano Emilio, despite having an excellent, wide-open shot at the goal himself, with only the goalie to beat.

Late in the first half, United gave back a goal, when Marc Burch, who was the last defender, fell down and lost control of the ball just outside the penalty area. Burch immediately took down the Red Bulls' Juan Pablo Angel. Burch deserved a red card, but the referee allowed play to continue, because another Red Bulls player took possession with a chance to score. Perkins took down Richards, and Angel scored on the ensuing penalty shot. Frankly, United was very fortunate that Burch was not ejected for his deliberate hand-tackle of Angel -- giving up a goal, and going down a man would have changed the character of this game. As it stood, it was a rare miscue by Burch, who made several standout plays on defense. Like some of the other United players, Burch's night was a mix of the great and not-so-great.

Finally, United put the game away with Moreno's record-setting penalty shot goal, which followed a take-down of a streaking Emilio in the Red Bulls' penalty area. The jubilant crowd celebrated by serenading Moreno, and the game ball was given to the Bolivian striker's young son. Perhaps that bit of history will be headed to the United States Soccer Hall of Fame in upstate N.Y. -- or maybe just a place of honor in the Moreno home. Either way, United fans will long remember the moment.

United has disappointed in other tournaments, but remains a strong contender for top honors in the MLS this year. This game was emblematic of so much of their season. One can see the quality of this squad, just as one can see how this team sometimes fails to put away inferior opponents with inexplicable misplays. All-in-all, though, this was a dominating performance that thrilled a big crowd of the faithful at RFK. Can you really ask for more?

With Gomez and Moreno starting together for the first time in months, United is getting healthy, and looking much more energetic and creative. Troy Perkins has looked shaky recently, but not so tonight. Aside from the penalty, Perkins was decisive, and made several acrobatic saves. While the offense could have done more, with more aggressive shots, Coach Tom Soehn has to be happy with the chances his team created. Of course, things can turn in an instant. Luciano Emilio had to be helped from the field, during the second half. Hopefully, this will not be a serious injury. Otherwise, it was a great, historic night for D.C. United.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Detwiler's D.C.-area Debut -- The Nats' ballyhooed first round pick, Ross Detwiler took the mound tonight for the Potomac Nationals in his Carolina League (and D.C. metro area) debut. I think it's safe to say there wasn't quite the same level of anticipation and excitement that attended David Beckham's MLS debut, across the river, at RFK, last night. Still, there were hundreds of fans who showed up to get a look at Detwiler, and maybe score a Randy Knorr bobblehead doll. Count me in their number.

The Nats have been suggesting that Detwiler was on track to pitch in the majors come September. If that was ever true, the train derailed tonight. It wasn't that Detwiler was serving up batting practice quality pitches, but he was hit hard, and with regularity. Still, he wasn't totally ineffective. In fact, all of his troubles came with two outs.

In the second inning, Detwiler allowed his first run with a pair of two-out doubles -- the first being one of the strangest doubles I've ever seen. The ball was actually bounced off the hard dirt in front of home plate, but was driven hard enough that the bounce took it well over the head of the third baseman, and into left field. By the time Chris Marrero got the ball back into second base, the runner was in just ahead of the throw. Tonight wasn't really Chris Marrero's night either, but I'll get to that later.

In the third inning, Detwiler looked like he was going to escape a jam, but the Potomac catcher Devin Ivany couldn't handle a two-strike foul-tip. The batter stroked the next pitch for an RBI hit that made the score 2-0. Detwiler failed to cleanly field a dribbler towards first base to lead off the fourth, but he got a nice double play, and a strikeout that made the fourth inning his strongest of the night.

In the fifth inning, the wheels came off with two outs, again. Another double had a man in scoring position, but Detwiler looked poised to record another strikeout to close out the inning, Instead, he hit the batter with a 1-2 pitch, and that was the end of his night. It was a bit ironic, because I had just commented that Detwiler had, at least, shown good control, not having walked any batters. when he hit the batter, manager Randy Knorr came out to tell him he was done for the night.

Detwiler left to a standing ovation -- having surrendered 8 hits in 4 and 2'3 innings, but having given up only 2 runs at that point. Unfortunately, the bullpen was no relief, and the runners Detwiler had allowed came around to score. His final line included 4 runs allowed. Still, it wasn't even the numbers that tell the story. Most of the outs were hit sharply. If Detwiler had been throwing like that to major leaguers, he wouldn't have lasted through the second inning. Right now, he would be cannon fodder for big league hitters. Of course, that can change, and it could be that he just had an off night.

Chris Marrero certainly had an off night. He did show some potential, with a sweetly stroked double to the right field corner. His other at bats were disappointments. Weakly hit grounders, and a strikeout that came after he thought he got ball four on a 3-1 pitch. Marrero also missed a ball that was dipping down in front of him. He looked like he might make a great play on the ball. Instead, it got past him and went for a triple.

Overall, the two top prospects for the Nationals had some moments tonight, but they weren't good enough to outweigh their miscues. Potomac showed some life with a three-run homer in the ninth inning, but the team also came up short, losing 6-4. There will be better days and nights for both Chris Marrero and Ross Detwiler, but fans of the Washington Nationals should not expect to see either of them in the majors any time soon.

I continue to be impressed by the catcher Devin Ivany. Barring trades or injuries, I think he can be ticketed to arrive at RFK in the 2009 or 2010 season, possibly even before Marrero, though he lacks Marrero's sweet power stroke. Detwiler needs to find something other than a straight fastball, and he probably needs to add some muscle, especially in his legs, but there is clearly some potential there.

There were probably three future major leaguers in the lineup for Potomac tonight, and possibly a fourth. Marvin Lowrance turned in a nice game, with a beautiful running catch in right field, and he got the ninth inning rally going with a leadoff hit. Lowrance's batting average has been falling lately, but he's got some major ability. He and Marrero may both be patrolling the outfield in the new Nationals' Park in a few years.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Another Game, Another 1-0 Win for United -- Of course, this was hardly just another game. This was Beckham's competitive debut for his MLS side, the Los Angeles Galaxy, and there was a sellout crowd in RFK. Still, while the former Galactico turned Galaxy superstar waited on the sidelines to make his debut, D.C. United relied on a now-familiar formula to take control of the game. Marc Burch continued his remarkable contributions, both on defense and as spark for the offense. It was Burch's pass that set up Emilio's decisive strike, but Burch also had a couple of good chances of his own. Troy Perkins' gutsy goalkeeping produced another clean sheet. Ben Olsen produced some good crosses and helped secure the midfield. Finally, Luciano Emilio was good enough to score the winning goal, again.

Of course, once again, United failed to finish off a number of excellent chances that could have put the game out of reach. In addition, some favorable refereeing was crucial in maintaining the goal advantage. Landon Donovan was pulled down, and surely deserved a penalty kick early in the second half, but none was given. Late in the game, Donovan had another chance, when the Galaxy striker slipped behind the defense to take a fine pass from Beckham. Although it seemed impossible that Perkins could avoid a penalty, or a handball call, his bold slide appeared to cleanly strip Donovan of possession, while the Galaxy striker flipped over the sliding goalie. Perkins gets credit for a game-saving play, but it would have been hardly surprising if the referee had awarded a penalty for the initial contact, or called handball on Perkins, after his momentum carried him outside the box.

Once again, Christian Gomez sat out. One wonders if this about his health, or if a signal is being sent by Coach Tom Soehn. Certainly, Gomez has seemed more interested in international matches than he has in MLS games. Still, I expect to see him next week, in the SuperLiga match with the Galaxy.

Much drama at RFK, but another slim victory for a United club that can do better. At least they're winning, right?


In "Yanks Abroad" news (you might have missed the report if you were at RFK -- ESPN mentioned it at halftime), Benny Feilhaber is headed for the E.P.L. Recently promoted Derby County has arranged for a work permit for the U.S.A. international, and has completed his transfer from Hamburg. Presumably, Benny will get much more playing time now, given his new team's investment in him. A couple of days ago, DaMarcus Beasley tallied in European competition, scoring the game-winner for his new club, Glasgow Rangers. Rangers, of course, was where Claudio Reyna made his real mark in European soccer. Danny Szetela appears to be on the verge of parlaying his strong performance at the U-20s World Cup into a transfer to AS Roma, one of the top clubs in Serie A. It still seems a bit silly for Landon Donovan to be plying his trade here in the U.S. Yet, with that one notable exception, we are starting to see, bit-by-bit, the emergence of a new class of Americans gaining top-flight foreign experience. Maybe, we can expect a more competitive effort in South Africa, three years hence.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

WooHoo! 3,000 Hits! Barry Bonds gets 756, (and 757, for that matter), and The Fisch Fry, at long last, notches 3,000 hits. Took a year and change (although I suspect that I might have made the total weeks ago, if I had the counter up during the first days), but the deed is done. Despite reaching this milestone, it's clear that readership has definitely dipped. Clearly, I need to sex this up to get the readers again. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Deed Is Done -- Despite the steroid scandal (and the virtual certainty of HGH use, too), one still has to respect Barry Bonds' achievement, and give credit where credit is due. However, you have to give credit to the Nationals, too -- for challenging Bonds. Most teams have just pitched around Bonds for years now -- whenever the situation allowed. Last night, pitching in only his third major league game, John Lannan kept going after Bonds. Of course, Lannan didn't have a lot of choice. Time after time, Bonds came up with men on base, in a low-scoring, closely-contested game. Lannan walked Bonds twice but he also retired him three times, including striking out the slugger to end the seventh inning. Lannan allowed the leadoff hitter to reach base in almost every inning, but he kept pitching out of trouble. He even got Bonds to hit into a double play.

Tonight, Mike Bacsik kept challenging Bonds, even though he had much less success than Lannan had the hight before. The difference was that balls were flying out of the park. The Nationals had already hit three home runs, and Bengie Molina had hit one for the Giants. When he came to bat in the fifth inning, Bonds already had two hits, having slammed a double over Austin Kearns' head, and lacing a single to center. There was one out, and nobody on base, in a game that was tied 4-4. Bacsik could have pitched around Bonds, but he didn't fear being part of history -- being remembered as the guy who gave up #756. I think everyone felt that this was going to be the historic at-bat. Still, Bacsik nearly had Bonds, who grounded a 3-2 curveball to Dmitri Young. The ball was ruled a foul ball, but it was a close call -- even a questionable decision. Then, Brian Schneider called for a fastball on the outside corner. Bacsik's pitch, though, came over the inside of the plate, and Bonds smacked it to deep center.

The Nats, it must be said, didn't lay down. They came back to win this game, and make a little team history in the process. They've tied the Florida Marlins for fourth place. The night before, the Nats had the chance to catch the Marlins. When Dmitri Young came to bat in the 10th inning, I correctly predicted he would hit the third pitch for a home run. That run didn't hold up though. Felipe Lopez came on a s a defensive replacement, but came up just short of reaching a pair of grounders, giving the Giants men on the corners, and Chad Cordero couldn't prevent the run from scoring. The Giants won it in the 12th. On this historic night, the Nats overcame that disappointment, and the historic home run by Barry Bonds.

Tomorrow night, Tim Redding may be pitching with the chance to move the Nats past Florida, and out of the cellar. Props to Bonds, but props also go out to the Nats, who continue to play really good baseball. At this rate, a winning record ir a s real possibility.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Tomorrow A Red Letter Day for the Nats? -- There's no denying it. The Nats are, quite simply, hot. The Nats won their season-high fifth game in a row, with a 12-1 thrashing of the St. Louis Cardinals (who bear no resemblance to last year's World Series winning team). Once again, it was the Ryan Zimmerman show, as the second-year star had his first multi-homer game -- one night after he hit a ninth inning, (walk-off) game-winning single. OK -- so he's not going to challenge Barry Bonds' record (Bonds tied Aaron tonight), or Alex Rodriguez, who may surpass Bonds' home-run total someday (A-Rod hit his 500th today). Still, Zimmerman is a pretty special player -- the kind any franchise is fortunate to develop.

While Zimmerman is the cornerstone of the team's future, it's OK tonight to mention that the present isn't so bad, either. The Bonds and A-Rod milestone home runs made Saturday a red letter day in baseball history, but the Nats can make a little team history on Sunday. The Nationals are on the verge of a series sweep of the Cardinals. If they can win tomorrow, they would move out of the National League East cellar, provided the Florida Marlins lose to the Astros. It's that close.

The Nats are now one-half game behind the Marlins. With the injuries the Marlins' pitchers have suffered, and the way the Nats makeshift rotation has overcome the Nats' own pitching injury woes, it seems inevitable that the Nats will move past the Marlins, into fourth place. That really is far better than I predicted at the start of the season -- and better than anyone had a right to expect.

The truly amazing thing has been the contributions by Mike Bacsik, Tim Redding and Joel Hanrahan. Since the All-Star break, this threesome has outpitched any other three pitchers on any team in the National League. What makes this truly remarkable is these guys lost in the Nats' vast spring training auditions. They were the last pitchers to be sent to the minor league camp, but failing to make the Nats' staff is not the kind of thing to put on one's pitching resume. One of those three, or young John Lannan, is likely to be the one to surrender Barry Bonds' record-breaking home run next week, but they should be remembered for more this season than that ignominy. Amazingly, since the All-Star break, Redding, Bacsik and Hanrahan have each allowed fewer than 3 runs per game -- actually, they've each put up an E.R.A. of less than 3.00.

On top of that, the Nats' hitters are producing as they never have before. Zimmerman and Kearns are finally in good grooves, while Ronnie Belliard and Dmitri Young keep plugging along, hitting over .300. For the first time in memory, even pinch-hitters are delivering. D'Angelo Jimenez one night, Tony Batista another. I wrote that the Nats would win more games the second half than they did the first, but I'm positively giddy over how well the team is playing.

The Nats' management will have some tough decisions sorting out the rotation for the remainder of the year, and trying to figure out which of these pitchers will belong in next year's rotation. I don't envy them for having to make those calls. If they're on the horns of a dilemma, at least they're enjoying the ride.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

United Goes Down, But Moves On -- If you didn't stick around to see the second game in tonight's SuperLiga action, you missed an exciting finish. D.C. United fell to the Houston Dynamo once again, by a very familiar 1-0 score. That result meant United would not advance to the next round if Monarcas Morelia could beat Club America. It got pretty hairy in the second half. America squandered a 2-0 lead, and Morelia was peppering their opponents' goal with a number of difficult shots and near misses.

Finally, a Club America counter-attack resulted in a third goal, giving America the win, and sending United through to the next round. The game-winner came when the Uruguayan striker, Hernan Rodrigo Lopez, delivered a ball up the middle to America's Argentine midfielder, Frederico Insua. Insua got behind the defense, and knocked his first touch to the right, beyond the reach on the oncoming Morelia goalie. Actually, the goal was very reminiscent of the goal that Houston's Brian Ching scored, in simliar fashion, to beat United just two hour earlier.

So, United lives to play another day. They are still struggling to score goals, but they still have a shot at the million dollar prize. United will have to take on the L.A. Galaxy, who dispatched FC Dallas with a flurry of goals last night, in a wild 6-5 affair...and that was without David Beckham. It seems United may get two looks at Beckham, in the span of six days. First, the Galaxy will come to a sold-out RFK for an MLS match next Thursday, and then the SuperLiga match at the Home Depot Center in Carson, for the SuperLiga semifinal. Great stuff.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Baseball Trading Deadline Special: Among contending teams, the big winner is clearly the Atlanta Braves, having brought in Mark Teixiera and Octavio Dotel. While the Braves gave up a real talent in Jarrod Saltalamacchia, they got more than they gave. This will be especially true, if they can re-sign the Georgia native, Teixeira.

Of course, the Braves are focused on catching the Mets right now. The Mets added Luis Castillo to play second. Presumably, this trade makes the Mets a better team than they were. While Castillo's defense isn't what it once was, Castillo is still a better fielder than Ruben Gotay. On the other hand, Gotay was putting up great numbers at the plate, and Castillo will be hard pressed to match them. I guess the real explanation here is that the Mets just didn't have faith in Gotay, didn't believe he could keep up that level of production. So, they jumped at the chance to add a good veteran like Castillo. The key for the Mets, however, will not be the addition of Castillo, but the healthy return of Pedro Martinez. The Mets' starting pitching has been very inconsistent lately. Getting Martinez back into the game might be the difference in this race.

The team that was most improved with the recent trades, though, is likely to be the Texas Rangers. For once, this misbegotten franchise seems to have gotten it right. I think they fleeced the Red Sox' pockets in the Eric Gagne trade. As a Red Sox fan, I have to hope this doesn't turn out like the infamous Larry Anderson for Jeff Bagwell deal of yore. Kason Gabbard had the best debut of any Red Sox' rookie pitcher since Roger Clemens. The Red Sox don't really need Gagne. The trade makes some sense for the team in that it keeps Gagne out of the Yankees' hands. The Yankees coveted Gagne, and had greater need for him.

In the long run, having Gagne (assuming they re-sign him), may allow the Red Sox to move Jonathan Papelbon into the rotation, but I thought that wiser heads prevailed a few months ago, when that experiment was abandoned during spring training. I think the Red Sox would be a better team with Papelbon as the closer, and Gabbard in the rotation. Only time will tell if the Red Sox made the right move here, but I'm inclined to think they did not.

The Red Sox are turning into another version of the Yankees, and this is not a good thing. They seem to believe they can deal their best young prospects because there will always be another top veteran they can bring in, regardless of cost. Even the Yankees no longer believe that, as they have made a commitment to hold on to young Phil Hughes, no matter what offer they have to reject because it would include Hughes. The Red Sox have struggled to find a shortstop ever since they dealt Garciaparra, but they had the shortstop of the future in their own ranks, when they had Hanley Ramirez. This is not to dismiss what Josh Beckett can bring to the team, but I think that trade was misguided. They may have made another unnecessary, shortsighted deal today.

The local team? The Nationals made two interesting moves in re-signing Ronnie Belliard and Dmitri Young. Once again, Jim Bowden chose to stay pat, unmoved by any offers he might have received for Nationals' players. Keeping Belliard was a no-brainer, but keeping Young is an interesting move. It only increases speculation about Nick Johnson's future. It's always possible that Young could return to the outfield, but he'd have to drop 20-30 pounds to make that a realistic option. Will Young be willing or able to do that? For his own health (he has diabetes), he ought to, but it's an open question as to whether Young will be in shape to play the outfield next year. Even a more svelte Dmitri would be a defensive liability in the outfield, but if he hits as well next year, as he has done this year, it would be an acceptable liability. If the Nationals could add Andruw Jones in center field, during the off-season, having Young and Kearns as the corner outfielders wouldn't be such a bad thing, and that lineup might finally have the ability to score some runs.
Freddy's Excellent Adventure Begins -- The much ballyhooed career of young Freddy Adu has taken another turn, the most interesting yet. He's headed to Benfica, the historic powerhouse of Portuguese soccer. I think the Portuguese game may be especially well-suited to Adu's size and skills. No doubt, Freddy's agent, Bethesda's own Richard Motzkin deserves some credit for making this happen. If Freddy cracks into Benfica's regular lineup, he will certainly deserve a long look for U.S. national team play. Even though Peter Nowak, his former D.C. United coach, is the top assistant with the team, if Freddy can prove his worth as a playmaker in Portugal, he'll have to be considered for that role with the U.S. senior squad. Bon voyage, Freddy.