Archive for February, 2009

Hawks beat the Heat; Josh works a flat-out wonder

Come April Fool’s Day, we’ll know if the Hawks have been fooling us these past four months. Over the 33-day day stretch that began Friday, they’ll play 18 games, 14 of them at home, 10 against teams with winning records. We’re about to learn exactly what the Hawks are, and quite possibly where they’re headed.

The interminable NBA regular season is filled with red herrings. A team can look good for a week or a month and wind up in the lottery. The Hawks aren’t going to drop that far, but for most of calendar year 2009 they’ve been running in place. It’s time now to spin things forward.

“It is a big month,” Josh Smith said, speaking before Friday’s game. “With so many home games and tough teams coming in, we want to create some separation for the fourth spot.”

Conveniently enough, Friday’s opponent was the team the Hawks need to outrun. The Miami Heat had closed on the Hawks and had made a deft trade – plying Jermaine O’Neal and Jamario Moon from …

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Ranking SEC football coaches: Who’s the most irritating?

Given that SEC football coaches have long had the capacity to rankle — remember Jackie Sherrill? Charley Pell? Tommy Tuberville? — you wouldn’t have thought one offseason could wreak so much havoc in the venerable league’s pecking order. Well, you’d have been wrong. Here’s the new world order among SEC mentors, ranked from least irritating to most:

12. Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt. Everybody likes him. Even rival coaches like him. Except when they lose to him and his intramural team. Then they hate him for getting them fired.

11. Rich Brooks, Kentucky. The only nettling thing about Daddy Rich is that he’d pretty well convinced UK grads — full disclosure: I’m one — he was a lousy hire, whereupon he takes the Cats to three consecutive bowl games. Which means we geniuses were wrong. Geniuses hate being wrong.

10. Gene Chizik, Auburn. The only folks who seem to have a problem with G-Chiz are the Auburn people who can’t believe he’s their head coach.

9. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State.

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Tommy Hanson: Blood, guts and a mighty big arm

On the first pitch of his first spring session throwing to live batters last week, Tommy Hanson tore the nail on his index finger. He looked down and saw blood, which would have served as a signal to most pitchers to stop throwing. Hanson kept throwing.

He felt sheepish – soon the bleeding was apparent to those standing around, Bobby Cox and some of his coaches among them – but he also felt he needed to impress these people. So he kept going. “One of our coaches finally cut it short,” Cox would say afterward. “But [Hanson] almost made his full five minutes.”

This tells us something about the 22-year-old considered the finest Braves pitching prospect since … dare we say Steve Avery? It tells us Hanson, who’s possessed of the requisite big arm, doesn’t mind shedding a little blood for the cause. It tells us he’s a young man in a hurry.

Indeed, the next day Hanson pulled the white bandage from his finger. He wasn’t supposed to throw that morning, but he said, smiling, “I snuck in …

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Bradley’s Buzz: Griffey, Frenchy, Knowshon, Vick and Kiffin!

So exactly what is it the Braves aren’t getting?

Ken Griffey Jr. — great guy, right? Not according to Gregg Doyel, who’s both a friend and a frequent contributor to these Buzz festivities. On CBSsports.com, Doyel tears into Griffey, calling him “unlikable” and “full of crap” for choosing to play in Seattle, which is 3,000 miles from the family on which Griffey claims to dote. Doyel also accuses Griffey of throwing a water bottle at him in the Reds’ clubhouse. (Griffey missed, prompting the eloquent Mr. D to write, “Gold Glove, my ass.”)

You’re free to agree or disagree with Mr. D’s opinion of Griffey, but I think we can all agree: As rips go, this one’s world-class.

As for Griffey the player … well, he’s not so hot, either. So writes Keith Law of Scouts, Inc. (I don’t know Mr. Law, but seeing as how I’ve linked to his stuff a half-dozen times now, I feel as if he lives next door. So, if you’re reading this, Keith: Howdy, neighbor!) Law believe Griffey has little left and …

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No Griffey? Be happy, Frank! Be happy!

The guess is that one or two folks will regard this latest incompletion as further evidence Frank Wren doesn’t know what he’s doing. The belief here is that Wren keeps getting lucky like a … well, if not quite like a fox, then certainly like the luckiest dog this side of NASCAR.

Twice now an object of Wren’s affection has done an about-face. The belief here is that the Braves are better off without Ken Griffey Jr., just as they’re better off without Rafael Furcal. (As you know, I had deep reservations about Griffey and even deeper ones about Furcal.) But Wren wanted both, and what does that say about him?

It says he’s trying too hard. That’s understandable. He succeeded the matchless John Schuerholz and proceeded to put together a roster that fell apart due to injuries. Now Wren is trying to recapture all lost ground in the span of one offseason. Pursuing Jake Peavy made sense because Jake Peavy is 28; pursuing Furcal and Griffey, both on the back nine of their careers, made …

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A year after the fall, a toughened Francoeur looks forward

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — It was a different Jeff Francoeur who took the field Wednesday for the first full-squad workout of 2009. He’s thinner. He has a new swing. Mostly he’s different because he bears a layer of scar tissue.

Last season hurt him. In one flailing summer the Golden Child learned the harsh lessons he’d managed to avoid in the first 24 years of a remarkably charmed life: That fame is fleeting; that people are fickle, and that the child’s game he plays for a living is actually a bottom-line business.

“My first two years [as an Atlanta Brave] were nothing but a fairy tale,” Francoeur said. “But fairy tales end.”

By any standards, he had a terrible year. He hit .239 with only 11 home runs and 71 RBIs. His on-base percentage (.294) was among the worst in the majors. For an athlete who had never failed at any level of any sport, such failure was stunning. That said, nothing could have prepared Francoeur for the rancor directed his way by fans he believed had come to …

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