Monday, October 31, 2011

St. Louis dynasty

By Keith Antigiovanni

The St. Louis Cardinals location in the middle of the country does not get the endless media hype of a Boston or New York but St. Louis' 2011 World Series title is no surprise to true baseball fans.

If you ask most casual fans about the Cardinals they would not have much to say but when you look at the stats in the past 12 years the consistency of the redbirds under Manager Tony La Russa is very impressive.

What has La Russa accomplished in his 16 years in the Gateway City? Since he arrived in 1996 St Louis has achieved 13 of 16 winning years, won the NL Central 8 times, appeared in 7 NLCS, won 3 NL titles and 2 World Series titles.

Based on that you would think the Cardinals would get more hype but with the success of the Philadelphia Phillies the past 5 years they have become the most overhyped NL team because of the east coast location. Again St. Louis was pushed aside.

The Cardinals ended up facing the Phillies in the NLDS and winning in five games on Chris Carpenter's brilliant 1-0 shutout. 2006 was a similiar situation when they won the NL Central at 83-78, advanced to the NLCS and faced another overhyped east coast club, the New York Mets.

The result was another NLCS title for St. Louis as they went on to the World Series title that year.

The Cardinals success is also impressive when you consider that they have had a payroll of 100 million or under in 11 of 12 years since salaries began to go over 100 million.

Compared to the Yankees who have been over 100 million in 11 of 12 years and over 200 million in at least half of those years. The Yanks have had 12 winning years, 9 division titles, 6 ALCS, 4 AL titles and 2 World Series titles. Almost similiar to St. Louis even though they had twice the payroll.

St. Louis success goes beyond this current decade and goes back to the 1920's when Branch Rickey established the modern farm system. The result was 40 winning years, 12 pennants and 8 World Series titles between 1920 and 1970. They are the National version of the Yankees but with much less hype and payroll.

NFC/AFC South thru week 8

By Keith Antigiovanni

NFC South:
The New Orleans Saints (5-3) face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-3) next week in the Superdome in a re-match and first place in the NFC South while the Atlanta Falcons (4-3) face the Indianapolis Colts (0-8). The Carolina Panthers (2-6) will get a bye week.

AFC South:
This division will be a two team race the rest of the way between the Houston Texans (5-3) and Tennessee Titans (4-3). Houston will face the Cleveland Browns (3-4) while Tennessee faces the Cincinnati Bengals (5-2). Jacksonville (2-6), after an impressive win over Baltimore going into the bye week and the perennial playoff contending club Colts is (0-8).

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Battle of Houston

By Keith Antigiovanni

The old Houston team (Oilers) now the Tennessee Titans faced the new Houston team (Texans) on sunday and the result was a 41-7 Texan win over the Titans in Nashville.

The win puts Houston a half-game up (4-3) over the second place Titans (3-3) as the AFC South has become a two-team race with the perennial power Indianapolis Colts (0-7) and Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5) appear to be out of the division race.

The Texans came into the 2011 season as the favorite to win the after it appeared Colts quarterback Peyton Manning would miss playing time for the first time in his 14-year pro career. Houston began 3-1 and in typical Houston fashion dropped two straight games in disappointing fashion.

Texans HC Gary Kubiak came into this year on the hot seat and will continue to be on it until he can get his team to the playoffs which will most likely mean winning the AFC South title.

Meanwhile the Titans came into this year with a new HC Mike Munchak to replace longtime HC Jeff Fisher. Fisher had been the longest tenured coach in the NFL and in the half-century history of the Houston/Tennessee franchise but a parting ways was mutual after a falling out with owner Bud Adams. The Titans at one time were the Colts arch rival in the new division and won the AFC South in 2002, 2003 (tied), and 2008 while the Colts won the AFC South in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010.

With the Colts appearing to be down and out for the 2011 season the two Houston teams, old and new will battle each other the rest of the way for what appears to be the AFC South's only playoff team unless both teams can go on winning streaks.

2011:SEC Thru wk 8

By Keith Antigiovanni

The South Carolina Gamecocks and Georgia Bulldogs sit atop the SEC East at 4-1 in the conference while Florida (2-3), Vanderbilt (1-3), Kentucky (0-3) and Tennessee (0-4) trail.
South Carolina has already beaten Georgia and the Dawgs will have to win out and hope South Carolina drops another game.

Although Florida is almost out of the division race they can play spoiler when they play both South Carolina and Georgia next week in their annual game at Jacksonville.

The Georgia-Florida game is: must win for Georgia
chance to knock out Florida
chance to get the Florida monkey off Coach Mark Richt's back

Florida, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Tennessee are also fighting to gain bowl berths as each teams scrambles to become bowl eligible with four or three overall wins each.

Meanwhile over in the SEC West Alabama (5-0) and LSU (5-0) are on a collision course when the meet on November 5 in Tuscaloosa. The game will not only result in the SEC West champ but could one of the teams that make the BCS as Nick Saban's current team faces his old team against the man who replaced him in Baton Rouge 6 years ago, Les Miles.

The winner of this game gets a two-game edge with the game up in the standings and tiebreaker in case of a tie.

Arkansas (2-1) could also sneak in to the SEC title game in Atlanta if LSU can beat Alabama. Then Arkansas will get a chance at the LSU Tigers after Thanksgiving and possibly create a three-way tie in the West. The Razorbacks will have to win out of course to create this possibility.

The defending SEC Champ Auburn Tigers (3-2) have fallen out of the race and will have to play spoiler the rest of the way in their annual "Iron Bowl" game vs Alabama after Thanksgiving.

Ole Miss and Mississippi State are both 0-4 and playing out the string.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

2011 World Series

By Keith Antigiovanni

The Texas Rangers repeated as American League champions after winning the AL West for the second straight year. Texas has posted a third straight winning year under manager Ron Washington.

Their opponent are the Cardinals who are going to make their 18th World Series appearance after a challenging year that allowed them to win the Wild Card on the final day of the season.

Texas is a hungry team who wants to win its' first World Series title since they moved to DFW in 1972 while the Cardinals have won 10 World Series.

Texas has a proud professional baseball tradition that goes back to the early 1900's when the Dallas and Fort Worth teams dominated the Texas League between 1902 to 1958 until they became one team in 1960-1963 and 1965-1971 until the Rangers moved to Arlington four decades ago.

When you talk tradition the Cardinals have the NL's most prolific that stretches back to 1920 when General Manager Branch Rickey created the modern farm system when the Cardinals bought independent minor league teams to develop a talent base.

The farm system brought them 40 winning seasons, 12 pennants and 8 World Series titles between 1920 and 1970. The winning tradition continued into the 1980's under manager Whitey Herzog when his birds won 3 pennants and 1 World Series title.

After a mediocre early 1990's Tony La Russa was hired in 1996 and led the redbirds to the NL Central title, NLCS and 1 game away from the World Series.

The 2000's was an incredible era when the Cardinals posted the NL's best winning percentage, 9 winning seasons, 7 central titles, 5 NLCS, 2 NL titles and 1 World Series title.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


By Keith Antigiovanni
When CBS began covering College Football again in 1996 I was skeptical after the way they allowed FOX to take the NFC and neglected their own MLB coverage in 1993.

I recall watching College Football games on CBS on saturday afternoons in the 1980's when they had the games from 1982-1990 and always enjoyed their coverage which included a pre game show hosted by (who else?) Brent Musburger and then games which covered a mix of conferences (PAC-10, Big-10, SEC, Big-8, ACC, etc).

Their games and overall coverage was always upbeat and entertaining as compared to ABC's stoic coverage. but when the SEC on CBS came back I figured it would be gone after a few years however its' staying power has been impressive on an annual basis.

First, their pre game show with Tim Brando and Spencer Tillman is outstanding. Even though the constant moving graphics are annoying and unnecessary CBS has the right idea with Brando as the host and Tillman as the analyst. All you need for a pre game is two people and not the half dozen that CBS, NBC, ESPN all use.

Second, their announcers are experienced and manage to focus on the game. Venerable Verne Lundquist is in his 12th year as the play-by-play guy for CBS and is now a modern classic with his patented belly laugh and good natured on-air personality. I still remember when Verne was an announcer on CBS college football coverage in the mid 1980's and of course his time covering NFL games from 1984-1993 and 1998-1999 on CBS.

Verne's partner Gary Danielson is adequate and for a few years could grate on you but if you get past his nasally midwestern accent there is a quality football analyst there.

Overall the SEC on CBS coverage reminds me of the days of pre-free agency NFL when you had great teams and great teams played great teams. The 1990's we watched the Tennessee- Florida rivalry become one of the top in the sport thanks to Phillip Fulmer and Steve Spurrier, Peyton Manning, etc. Fulmer the humble, quiet Volunteer Coach was a stark contrast to the cocky, loud mouth Steve "Superior" as his he was sometimes referred to.

The tradition of the Alabama Crimson Tide was also evident throughout the 1990's with former Bear Bryant assistant Gene Stallings. Although the Tide struggled until Saban arrived four years ago the tradition appears to be back in Tuscaloosa in the 2010's.

Other characters are also back including Spurrier who has been at South Carolina since 2005. Former Georgia Coach Vince Dooley's son is all grown up now and coaching the rival Volunteers.

Today the NFL is interchangeable and overly commercial while college football continues to be steeped in tradition and can attract fans in much greater numbers. The NFL has become a vehicle for gambling, fantasy sport (gambling) and gossip for its' pre game shows.

The NFL is something a true fan of the sport will watch out of loyalty and habit while College Football is something a true fan will watch out of enjoyment.

While I cringe whenever I am forced to watch any NFL coverage I can only beam with pride and excitement when the SEC on CBS is on the air. My only hope is that they dont screw it up.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

SEC Thru Wk 5

By Keith Antigiovanni

After five weeks of play the SEC is in to conference play.

The SEC West standings are close with Alabama and LSU at 5-0 and Auburn and Arkansas 4-1
Alabama, LSU, Auburn are all at 2-0 while Arkansas is at 0-1 in conference play.

The SEC East standings are also close with Florida and South Carolina at 4-1, Tennessee and Vanderbilt at 3-1 and Georgia at 3-2. Florida, South Carolina and Georgia are all at 2-1 in conference play.

Alabama is coming off a 38-10 win over Florida in Gainesville in the SEC Game of the week.
This week the The Tide plays the Commodres (Vanderbilt) at home while Florida tries to rebound by going on the road to Baton Rouge to face LSU.

Tennessee plays Georgia in Knoxville as both teams try to remain in the SEC East playoff picture. The winner will be in good shape.

Auburn pulled out a tough 16-13 win over South Carolina in Columbia and goes on the road again to Fayetteville against the Arkansas Razorbacks. Arkansas is coming off a come from behind 42-38 win over future SEC rival A&M.

South Carolina is at home again against Kentucky.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Texas vs Tampa

By Keith Antigiovanni

The Texas Rangers and Tampa Rays are everything that is right with baseball and everything that is potentially right with baseball if the sport can get on the same economic page as the other professional sports in the 21st century.

Texas has now had three straight winning seasons, two AL West titles and are defending AL champions after making the World Series in 2010. What is surprising about the Rangers' success is that the previous owner, Tom Hicks, filed for bankruptcy just a couple of years ago but how quickly Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan rode in to Arlington to rescue the club and has given them the fiscal responsibility, leadership and baseball knowledge this team needed for so many years.

Texas fans will recall when Hicks signed former Mariner Alex Rodriguez to a ridiculous salary of over 200 million dollars in 2001. The experiment failed as the club could not afford to sign quality pitchers to help bolster its' roster and became a laughingstock for making such a move.

It was especially disappointing since Rangers' ownership under former President George W. Bush worked so hard to bring credibility to the franchise in the early 1990's by building a strong farm system and getting enough support to get the Ballpark at Arlington built in 1995. The result was Texas' best decade in franchise history (1990's): 7 winning seasons and 4 AL West titles and overall winning record of 807-747.

Nolan Ryan's efforts are an attempt to continue the work of the Bush ownership before Hicks overspending.

The Tampa Bay Rays on the other hand have had a less than stellar history. They began as an expansion franchise in 1998 but had to compete with the Yankees' A club in the same market. According to baseball rules when a minor league market becomes a major league market the affialted minor league team is forced to move to another market.

It happened in Kansas City and Baltimore in the mid 1950's, it happened in Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1958, it happened in Houston in 1962, in Atlanta in 1966, in San Diego, Montreal and Seattle in 1969, in Denver and Miami in 1993, in Phoenix in 1998 but not in Tampa. For some reason baseball rules didnt apply to the Yankees farm team as MLB looked the other way.

Because of this and the 10 straight sub .500 years the Rays had a very slow start. 2008 was their breakout year when they won the AL East, the ALDS and ACLS over Boston. They followed up AL title with a winning season in 2009 and another AL East title in 2010 before the Wild Card title this year.

Dallas-Fort Worth and Tampa have great "minor league" traditions which the typical baseball fan is not aware of and the "national" (east coast) media has no knowledge of.

Dallas and Fort Worth fielded winning teams between 1902 until 1958 when both moved out of the Texas League. The Fort Worth teams were a "dynasty" between 1919-1925 by winning 7 straight regular season titles and 5 of the first 6 Dixie Series which pitted the Texas League champions against the Southern Association champions. Dallas and Fort Worth dominated the Texas League between 1902 to 1958 by winning combined 25 regular season titles and 11 Dixie Series between 1920 and 1959.

Tampa's teams competed in the Florida State League between 1919 and the 1980's. Tampa won regular season titles in 1920, 1925, 1929, 1957, 1959, 1961 and 1976 and made 9 finals appearances (1920, 1925, 1929, 1957, 1959, 1961, 1976, 1982, 1984) and 3 league titles (1929, 1957, 1961).

Tampa played at Al Lopez Field in 1955 until 1988. Al Lopez was a Hall of Fame catcher in the Majors, Major League manager and Tampa native. The field put Tampa professional sports on the map as Tampa Stadium was built right next to it in 1967. Prior to Al Lopez Field Tampa teams played at Plant Field and Phillips Field.

After the Tampa Tarpons moved in 1988 the area was without a professional club until the Tampa Yankees moved there in 1994. The result is alot of Yankees fans in the Rays home market.