David's Blog

On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest.  Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!

Kettle calling the pot black(be sure to read the comments below the article)




Saban compares unscrupulous agents to a 'pimp'

HOOVER, Ala. -- Nick Saban didn't pull punches Wednesday when discussing the improper contact with athletes by unscrupulous agents, comparing their behavior to that of a "pimp."

The Alabama coach was upset about the rash of recent agent-related incidents that have resulted in NCAA investigations at several Southeastern Conference schools.

"I don't think it's anything but greed that's creating it right now on behalf of the agents," Saban said in a rant at the SEC media days. "The agents that do this -- and I hate to say this, but how are they any better than a pimp?

"I have no respect for people who do that to young people. None. How would you feel if they did it to your child?"

Agents, not national titles, was the primary topic on Day 1 at the Wynfrey Hotel. Three SEC teams -- Florida, Alabama and South Carolina -- are investigating allegations involving improper contact with an agent. Saban and SEC commissioner Mike Slive both emphatically said it was time for a change to NCAA rules governing agents.

Saban confirmed that Alabama is looking into a trip defensive end Marcell Dareus took to an agent's party at Miami's South Beach. South Carolina is looking into claims from the same South Beach party with tight end Weslye Saunders.

Georgia associate athletic director Claude Felton confirmed that the NCAA requested permission late Wednesday afternoon to conduct an inquiry on the Bulldogs' campus. He would not say what the inquiry was about or whether it was related to the South Beach party. "This is all we can say," Felton said.

Florida and the NCAA are reportedly investigating whether offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey -- now an NFL rookie with the Pittsburgh Steelers received $100,000 from a sports agent's representative between the SEC championship game and the Sugar Bowl.

Pouncey denied the allegation.

"I did not accept $100,000, it is an absolutely ridiculous claim," he said in a statement through his attorney. "I have completely cooperated with the investigation and answered any and all questions put to me."

Florida coach Urban Meyer said the Gators support Pouncey.

"If something happened, we should be punished severely," Meyer said. "If it didn't happen, then it's nonsense. I heard his denial today and we stand by Maurkice Pouncey."

The player's twin brother, Florida offensive lineman Mike Pouncey, said they have both cooperated with investigators.

"I talked to my brother and it's not true," Mike Pouncey said. "He pretty much cleared that up in his statement. I feel bad about it because they're ruining somebody's name and they really don't know who my brother and I are. We pride ourselves on having a good, clean name. It's just hard right now.

"I'm just ready to be done with it."

Saban said he wants the NFL Players Association to get involved and suspend agents whose dealings help cost players eligibility, sending a message through their bank accounts.

"That's the only way we're going to stop this happening, because it's ridiculous and it's entrapment for young people at a very difficult time in their life," the former Miami Dolphins coach said. "It's very difficult for the NCAA to control it, and it's very unfair to college football.

"I think we should look into doing something about that."

Florida coach Urban Meyer said it's impossible for a coach to keep agents or their "runners" off campus and said they need to be "severely punished" by either state laws or the NFL for wrongdoing.

"It's epidemic right now," he said. "It's always been there, but I think we've reached a point where the magnitude of college football is really overwhelming. We've really got to keep an eye on that."

The NFL itself, though, seems unlikely to get involved. Told of Meyer's comments, league spokesman Greg Aiello noted in an e-mail exchange with the Associated Press: "The agents are regulated by the union."

Asked whether the NFL might prod the NFLPA on the matter, Aiello wrote: "The union's comments make clear that no encouragement is necessary."

NFLPA assistant executive director George Atallah wrote in an e-mail to the AP: "We take violations of NFLPA rules by agents seriously and investigate them vigilantly. This situation is no different."

Atallah's boss, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, voiced an even stronger stance in an appearance on ESPN radio earlier Wednesday -- before Saban's remarks.

"I think that any agent or contract adviser who does that, and preys upon kids like that in college, is something that we're going to deal with extremely aggressively," Smith said. "Frankly, God help those agents if they're found to be in violation, because I've given our players ... the green light to take the most aggressive steps that they want to take.

"If those steps include me or someone else in our office making a criminal referral under certain circumstances, that's what we'll do."

Slive said he wanted the NCAA to change its philosophy for dealing with agents from one based on rules enforcement to a policy that is more oriented toward educating student-athletes.

He said the current NCAA rules "may be as much part of the problem as they are the solution."

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Rachel Newman-Baker, the NCAA's director of agent, gambling and amateurism, said the governing body is reviewing its policies, but pointed out that schools can "change or amend the agent rules through the normal legislative process."

The statement said, "NCAA rules allow conversations and information gathering between agents and student-athletes, but agreements and receiving extra benefits are not permitted. The NCAA Division I Amateurism Cabinet, a group of individuals from across membership with representation by 21 conferences, is currently reviewing how the NCAA can continue to help student-athletes gather information about pursuing a career in professional athletics."

Improper contact with agents is hardly just an SEC issue, and it appears the rest of college football is paying attention.

At Miami, players said Wednesday they're reminded "constantly" about the rules prohibiting contact with agents. And the investigations that have come out in recent days led to a reiteration of those rules, Hurricanes wide receiver LaRon Byrd said.

"It's kind of crazy," Byrd said. "You look at things like that, and I feel like those guys are being selfish, not looking out for the team. That's something we always instill. It's all about teamwork here. I would not put my teammates in danger, in jeopardy of losing games or damaging this program because I want to be greedy and take gifts or take things."

Alabama is among SEC schools who use former NFL executive Joe Mendes to counsel players and families about dealing with agents. Heisman Trophy running back Mark Ingram said Tide players are educated about dealing with agents or their representatives.

"We have a great program in our organization that teaches us how to deal with situations like that," said Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Mark Ingram, a junior. "Everybody is educated on how to deal with situations and how to approach those situations.

"My focus is on this team and this football season. Anything else is irrelevant."

Tide junior linebacker Dont'a Hightower said he hasn't personally been contacted by agents.

"We try to keep away from things like that and not bring it into the team," Hightower said.

The BEST pitch from one of the ALL-TIME BEST pitchers



July 1, 2010, 11:34 am

How Mariano Rivera Dominates


The New York Yankees

Most Yankees fans are aware that the key to Mariano Rivera’s success as a closer has been his signature cutter. But to understand exactly how this pitch has worked for Rivera, watch the above video. The Times’s Graham Roberts, Shan Carter and Joe Ward have put together an eye-opening interactive graphic to accompany James Traub’s profile of Rivera in Sunday’s Magazine.

Nice article re: BWP Bats which is on my list of links



Bat maker a big hit with the pros
Jefferson County company has made inroads with maple bats over the past decade in major leagues
Sunday, July 04, 2010

BROOKVILLE, Pa. -- When he was taking his first cuts in the business of selling baseball bats 10 years ago, Mike Gregory visited the spring training complex of the Minnesota Twins to extol the virtues of a maple instrument handcrafted from his family's stands of Pennsylvania hardwood.

"I went everywhere to get the word out," he said, aware that bat-making giants such as Louisville Slugger and Rawlings had long established themselves among the fickle and fussy clientele of major league baseball players.

One player who had just been drafted by the Twins -- he was Canadian-born and wore the No. 33 of hockey goalie Patrick Roy -- liked what he heard. He liked the feel, and he especially liked the results after taking his whacks.

That first customer was Justin Morneau. And in the ensuing decade, while swinging lumber made by BWP Bats LLC, he has won an American League MVP award, two batting titles and the home run derby at the 2008 All-Star game.

"We knew we could make a nice bat," said Mr. Gregory, 35. "It's all in the wood. We can paint it and make it pretty. It all comes down to the wood."

In addition to Mr. Morneau, who receives six dozen BWP bats a year, the company provides bats to former batting champion Freddie Sanchez and Detroit's Johnny Damon, who formerly played with the Red Sox and Yankees. Manny Ramirez also uses BWP, although he relies on several manufacturers.

Another client is pitcher Brad W. Penny, whose monogram matches the company logo, and the company uses the initials in its slogan -- Built With Pride.

That's not a bad stable of stars for BWP, one of about 32 manufacturers of bats for major league players.

The company, which produces about 40,000 bats a year and has annual sales of about $4 million, makes up about 10 percent of the major league market and is intent on growing. It has more than 200 major and minor leaguers under contract, and it is the second-largest supplier of bats to the minor leagues, including bats used in the farm systems of the Phillies and Pirates.

It ships bats to all 50 states and 20 countries -- wherever baseball is played.

BWP is a subsidiary of Brookville Wood Products, which for 45 years has harvested and processed wood for the furniture and flooring industries. It owns 5,000 acres of hardwood stands in Pennsylvania's prime lumber belt.

For years, the company also sold cylinders of wood that can be processed into bats by Louisville Slugger and other bat makers. The changing dynamics of the furniture industry led to fresh thinking and ultimately to baseball bats.

About 25 years ago, furniture makers lost ground to cheaper competition from China, and the domestic lumber industry was shaken to its roots.

"The U.S. furniture business died," said Mr. Gregory, a graduate of Slippery Rock University and BWP vice president. "We needed to diversify."

Baseball bats are lacquered in mystique. Some players pamper them the way King Arthur cared for Excalibur. In the movie "The Natural," a young Roy Hobbs crafts a bat named Wonderboy from an oak tree that has been struck by lightning.

Some of that charm is evident at BWP Bats in Jefferson County, about a two-hour drive north of Pittsburgh. The factory is in what used to be a country church, and the basement is known as -- what else? -- the Bat Cave.

But computerization and science are now ingrained into the process of turning raw billets into finished bats with the consistency demanded of some of the most superstitious people on the planet -- major league hitters.

"You can make a bat, or you can make a bat right," Mr. Gregory said. "When we do tours, the thing that surprises people the most is that a piece of wood is touched 17 times before it leaves the factory."

BWP Bats came into existence just as maple was emerging as a favored hardwood. Toronto's Joe Carter swung a maple bat in 1998 that was approved by Major League Baseball, and about half of the bats used in the big leagues are made from maple. About 70 percent of BWP's bats are maple; the rest are ash.

In the earliest days of professional baseball, hickory was used to bludgeon a pitch.

Northern ash, however, was lighter and had more flex, and it ruled the batter's box for more than a century until hard maple made inroads. The best ash for bats grows on the eastern slopes of the Allegheny ridges in Pennsylvania and New York.

But several years ago, when baseball bats were breaking with alarming frequency and broken shards posed injury threats to fans, umpires and players, baseball turned to a dream team of forestry and other experts to find remedies. Maple bats were failing three times more often than ash, and they tended to break into multiple pieces.

Science and strength

In 2009, when new regulations called for better wood quality, there was a significant drop in the number of broken bats. The decrease has continued through the first half of this season, but at a lower rate.

In 2009, the number of broken bats was down 30 percent from the year before. Through the first half of this season, the number is down another 15 percent to 20 percent. Injuries have tapered off, which means the game is safer.

"Knock on wood," said Dan Halem, MLB's senior vice president and a member of the safety and health advisory committee. "As long as we keep seeing reductions, we're going to keep at it.

"We collected every bat that broke, and after evaluation by our team of experts, we found that lower-density wood proved to be breaking more," he added. "We approached the issue the way a wood manufacturer approaches a construction project. When you're building a house, you choose wood that has certain weight-bearing characteristics and a certain quality. "

The chief factor in determining the strength of wood is something called slope of grain: Wood will be strongest if cut parallel to the grain of a tree. Its strength diminishes if it is cut at an angle to the grain of the tree.

"In layman's terms, the straighter the slope of grain is, the stronger the wood is. The denser it is, the stronger it is," said Scott Drake of TECO, a timber engineering company in Sun Prairie, Wis.

Maple is harder to grade by slope of grain, but extra steps have made a big difference in delivering better wood, said Mr. Drake, who has a wood science degree and a master's in business administration but never had a class in baseball bats.

"We drew a line in the sand on these grain angles. We didn't want the problem to get any worse," he said. "The bat manufacturers do not want their logo on a broken bat flying into the stands, or at a player in the field or at an umpire. They were feeling it financially."

Enormous help in identifying better lumber for bats came from research done in World War II by Wisconsin-based Forest Products Laboratory, the country's largest wood research facility. It found that the strongest wood for use in airplanes had the straightest and densest slope of grain.

"It takes more work, more time and more materials, but it results in a better bat," said Mr. Drake, who grew up in Bethel Park and remains a Penguins fan.

Although it costs more to make a safer bat -- major league bats sell for around $80 -- BWP Bats is among the manufacturers who favor the stricter regulations.

"Nobody wants to see anybody get hurt," said Mr. Gregory. "Our goal is to make the best product possible."

Baseball is so committed to getting its hands around the broken bat issue that it has gone high tech.

Because all games are broadcast on MLB Advanced Media, video of every broken bat is coded and preserved on a master tape. Information is later attached to include where the bat landed, whether it shattered or cracked, what teams and what players were involved, what species of wood and what bat model.

It doesn't take a federal study to note that a bat that has a thick barrel and a thin handle is more likely to break, which is why there are standards on size and weight ratios.

An example of a well-engineered bat belongs to Alex Rodriguez -- a Louisville Slugger Model C271 made of ash with a strong handle and a strong barrel, Mr. Drake said.

"If everybody used a bat like Alex Rodriguez, I wouldn't be here talking to you," he said.

Although work continues to make bats as strong and as lively as possible, broken bats are like fielding errors or bad pitches -- part of the game.

"We can always improve what we're doing. But no matter what, there's always going to be breakage," said Mr. Drake. "This is a wooden tool used at its extreme, a strong batter using a thin handle making contact with a 100 mph fastball. Something's got to give."

Alternatives to ash

Is ash better than maple? There are advantages to both, but it comes down to a matter of feel in the hands of a big league hitter.

The debate is likely to become moot, however, because stands of ash are threatened by a metallic green menace, one-half inch in length, that has destroyed 40 million ash trees in the past eight years and could wipe out all the ash trees in North America.

The voracious emerald ash borer is an exotic beetle that is native to Asia and likely hitched a ride to America in a shipping container. Since its discovery in Michigan in 2002, it has spread to 14 states and two Canadian provinces. Pennsylvania is among the states affected, and 12 counties are under quarantine.

Despite quarantines and the work of foresters, it may be too late to stop the infestation.

Manufacturers are keeping a wary eye on developments, but they have always tested new wood for making bats.

At BWP Bats, ones made of red oak are being tested by major league hitters in batting cages. But no new product can be used in games unless approved by Major League Baseball.

"We see oak as a strong alternative to ash," said Mr. Gregory. "Everybody's looking for the new mouse trap. We've also looked at yellow birch, white birch and bamboo."

In the meantime, the factory is buzzing. More than 10,000 maple and ash trees are felled each winter when the sap's not running, and the best trees can yield maybe three major league bats.

After a tree is felled, it arrives at the saw mill and eventually becomes a billet. At BWP Bats, the wood is dried in a kiln, a process that maximizes the strength of the wood at the molecular level. To convert a billet into a bat, a lathe programmed by a computer shaves the wood into shape according to the specifications on weight and length.

A total of 17 colors are available, including walnut, mahogany, black, cherry red, pink, three shades of blue, green, yellow, purple and clear. One of the final steps is applying the BWP logo.

"We are only a small part of the big picture, but yes, it's fun to be able to be a part of it. Our workers feel like they're a part of a hitter's success," Mr. Gregory said.

"There are times when I'm in a big league ballpark talking about bats and I ask myself, 'What am I doing here?' It's pretty neat."

Is ash better than maple? There are advantages to both, but it really comes down to a matter of feel in the hands of a big league hitter.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10185/1070388-63.stm#ixzz0sjeYetK4

Going Batty

Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/sports/baseball/story/2010/06/23/sp-bats-feature.html#ixzz0rioPAf7T

Big leaguers have love-hate affairs with bats

Recent conversation overheard in the Toronto Blue Jays’ dugout:

Player: Hey, you got any hits in that bat?

Player B: Nah, this one’s 0-for-3.

Asked later about it, Vernon Wells rolls his eyes: "Oh yeah, the bat’s 0-for-3."

Around this time, 141 years ago, Harry Wright sent a member of the Cincinnati Red Stockings up to face some rounder from a semi-pro team to look at the first pitch ever tossed to a fully professional baseball player.

A few minutes later, that guy, or one just like him in silly short pants and red dyed stirrup socks, swung and registered the first strike in pro ball history.

We can speculate that he then swore, stared at the bat, and called it all sorts of names unacceptable in polite society, even one that had so recently been savaged by a bloody civil war.

Thus was born the difficult and complicated relationship between a man and his bat. Or bats.

Lots of bats, actually, because major leaguers can take delivery of a dozen at a time and, once they’ve finished feeling them, eyeing them, stoning them, sanding them, listening to them, tarring them and praying to them, they will likely choose just two or three to be their "gamers."

The rest are consigned to batting practice or used as autographed giveaways for friends, family, admirers and that guy up in the fifth row whom our hero just beaned with a broken "gamer" bat that got away from him.

Did he just say listened to it?

Cito Gaston (Louisville Slugger, models P72, P55 and S2) says so, and he was there.

"I used to see Roberto Clemente … he used to shake his bat, before he hit … shake it … put it down, pick one up and shake it … then he’d pick one out and go up and hit," says the Toronto manager, who played in the National League at the same time as the Pittsburgh Pirates hall of fame legend.

Did you ask him why?

"No, I didn’t ask him that. I knew Roberto, too, and I could have asked him, but I didn’t," Gaston says. "He was probably just feeling it, probably had it close to his ear (listening) when he was doing it.

"Because all bats are not the same, very seldom do they feel the same."

Best bat I ever had — Part 1

"I had a bat in the minor leagues that lasted me the whole summer. I only used it for batting practice, then it broke about a week left in the season – that was my September call up [to the majors] in ’06, and it broke just before the season ended."

— Adam Lind, Jays designated hitter.

Adam Lind (Old Hickory AP1) says whatever you do to a bat, if it works then it’s not crazy. Personally, he chats with his.

"I talk to it when I’m on deck," he says, relaxing in front of his locker, pre-game. "I stare at it and say ‘please work.’ "

Lind shakes his head, thinking of his .213 batting average as of Tuesday, down from .320 in 2009. "Not this year."

At least not right now.

Pitchers can get annoyed at bats, too, he recalls.

"When I was in AA, our team wasn’t hitting real well, so before a game all of our bats were in the bat rack and [one of the pitchers] threw them on the ground – every bat – to try and wake them up."


"I don’t know if it worked that day, but our bats came alive shortly after that."

Whatever works.

When you have a good bat, and it finally breaks, it can be an emotional time.

"There’s a moment of silence if I’ve had a good run with it," Lind says, smiling.

Best bat I ever had — Part 2

"It was in the minor leagues. It was short season A ball, in my first year in Miss oula, and it lasted at least a month, if not a month and a half. It had … two knots, right on the barrel, right there (gestures) … I used it, I think I remember, that month of July in ’99. I think I had 53 RBIs. And it was all that bat. I was sad to see it go."

— Lyle Overbay, Jays first baseman.

What finally happened was Overbay (Louisville Slugger P72, 34 and 32) hit one right off the tip of the bat and it cracked as the ball went for an out. That’s what really hurt.

"Usually you are alright with [breaking] it, if you get a hit with it and it goes down a winner. A champion, I guess," he says. "But it didn’t this time. It had plenty of hits, so I was very sad to see it go."

The whole approach of stoning a bat (rubbing a smooth rock over it is supposed to harden the surface) or pine tarring it, or rubbing bone on it, or shaving down the barrel, doesn’t impress Overbay much.

Though understand, he means for himself, not for anyone else. If someone wants to sleep with a bat and it seems to help, he’s all for it.

But on the question of outies and innies, now there’s a point for discussion.

In the 1970s someone came up with the bright idea of hollowing out the tip of the bat to save an ounce or so in weight. "Cupped" bats caught on, and Overbay was one of their adherents.

Until he ran into Houston’s Lance Berkman in an off-season and the Astros star pointed out that extra little knob on the tip of the bat might just buy you an extra hit here, and another one there.

And in a sport where the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is one lousy hit a week (as Crash Davis taught us), that was worth thinking about.

So Overbay switched back. But that’s just him. Some players still think non-cupped makes the bat top heavy and they won’t use them.

Whatever works.

One other point. If a guy is going really good, like say Aaron Hill was last season (.286, 108 RBI), others will start to ask about his bat. Or maybe borrow one.

No one is asking this year with Hill hitting under .200. Must be the bat.

Don’t believe it? In 2001 when Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs with a new fangled maple wood bat, more than half the players in the majors switched from ash.

Then word got around that maple broke more quickly (and spectacularly) than ash, so the switch began to reverse.

But ash trees may be disappearing because of the emerald ash borer beetle and you might suddenly not be able to get any. And maple is harder and the ball may travel further (not proven by science, by the way). But maple doesn’t have grains to count and ash does. But Ash seems to break less often. Blah blah blah.

Whatever works.

Best bat I ever had — Part 3

"I remember having a bat that went for a month. I didn’t use it in batting practice, only in the game. And it just went for a while …didn’t break it. When you broke it, you went ‘aww,’ I broke my bat.’ "

--Dwayne Murphy, Blue Jays’ hitting coach (Aww seems a big-time expletive for the coach, by the way). .

Murphy (Louisville Slugger, C243) played 12 years in the bigs and now teaches major leaguers two key things – how to stay hot when they’re hot, and how to get hot when they’re not.

He knows it’s mostly confidence. Guys will, he says, believe anything. Including it can’t be me, it must be the bat.

"You get hooked on these bats," Murphy says. "[For some] it’s all about the grain – how many lines [of grain] are in the bat. You see bats shatter and break and guys come back to the dugout and they say they scored that bat – they hit it right on the barrel – and it still broke."

Bats are getting lighter and lighter (Babe Ruth used a 42 inch, 42 ounce battle club, now the average weight is just over 33 ounces) and yes, a player can tell if it’s just an ounce wrong either way.

Justin Morneau, of Minnesota, is said to weigh every bat he gets out of a box on the postal scale in the team’s office. If any are more than .3 of an ounce off, either way, they’re dumped.

Murphy understands that. Heck, guys will scrape the pine tar off the bat because they think it’s making the bat too heavy.

Whatever works.

Best bat I ever had — Part 4

"The best one I ever had was the last bat I used in 1970. The last game of the season I used it and it went 4-for-4. That was a good bat."

— Cito Gaston.



Updated: Wed., Jun. 23, 2010, 9:43 AM home

Tigers' Galarraga: Baseball needs instant replay

Last Updated: 9:43 AM, June 23, 2010

Posted: 2:23 AM, June 23, 2010

Armando Galarraga handled the blown perfect game perfectly, but he would like to see baseball use instant replay so another pitcher doesn't miss out on perfection like he did as a result of a bad call.

"I say yes because [instant replay] is going to help the game," the Tigers right-hander, who will start against the Mets tomorrow, said last night. "Technology now is so involved in the game. I think with stuff like that, really big things, you can use it. But you don't want to slow the game down."

At the least, Galarraga, 28, should be named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year for the way he reacted after first base umpire Jim Joyce blew the call on June 2 vs. the Indians on what should have been the final out and a perfect game.

He said players come up to him all the time and congratulate him for the way he has handled everything. The Mets' Henry Blanco gave him a hug yesterday and told him, "Man, you handled it well. You're doing a really good job."

Said Galarraga, "This is all fine now, it's all a nice memory and now it's time to move on. Hopefully we can make the playoffs and I can have a good career.

"I smiled because I was nervous," he said of his immediate reaction to Joyce's call. He said he still has two boxes of mail at his locker, "I feel like a superstar," he said, and his emails "have been crazy."

The humanity he showed toward Joyce has made Galarraga one of the more beloved players in the game.

"I felt bad for him," Galarraga said of Joyce. "When you see the guy, he can't even talk because he was crying and crying and crying. He tried to tell me, 'I'm so sorry.' He told me I was perfect and he was not perfect. I was sick, because a perfect game is a dream come true for any pitcher, but when you saw the guy it made me feel so sorry."

In the end, there were no words and Galarraga and Joyce hugged.

Galaragga loves the metallic gray Corvette that Chevrolet presented him with on the day after the game.

"That surprised me, and I said, 'Oh my god,' " he recalled. "My wife has a Mini Cooper and I said, 'We will sell it right now. Sell the Mini Cooper.' "