Monday, April 20, 2009

The area's greatest athlete passes

Over the weekend, Felix "Doc" Blanchard of Bishopville died in his Texas home at the age of 84. If Blanchard was playing during the ESPN and internet era, he would have been as big a name as Tim Tebow. The Army running back was the first junior to win the Heisman and won back to back national championships in 1944 and 1945.
In 2004, Mark Haggard and I decided to take on the project of profiling the 15 greatest athletes from the Pee Dee and Grand Strand. We selected a panel of local experts who had a lot of experience and insight in our area to vote on the top athletes from our area. As always, lists like this are subjective. Here is the list we had in 2004:

WPDE's 15 Greatest Athletes of the Pee Dee and Grand Strand

#15: Reggie Sanders (Florence) - MLB

#14: Anthuan Maybank (Georgetown) - Olympic Gold Medal

#13: Buddy Baker (Florence) - NASCAR

#12: Terry Kinard (Sumter) - NFL

#11: Jumpy Geathers (Georgetown) - NFL

#10: Willie Puddin' Head Jones (Dillon) - MLB

#9: Bobo Newsom (Hartsville) - MLB

#8: Pearl Moore (Florence) - women's basketball (FMU)

#7: John Abraham (Lamar) - NFL

#6: Levon Kirkland (Lamar) - NFL

#5: Harry Carson (Florence) - NFL

#4: Cale Yarborough (Sardis) - NASCAR

#3: Freddie Solomon (Sumter) - NFL

#2: Bobby Richardson (Sumter) - MLB

#1: Doc Blanchard (Bishopville) - Heisman Trophy winner

We did this project five years ago. A couple of interesting things. First, our top three athletes came from what would now be considered outside of our viewing area. If we were to do this list again, we would likely exclude the Sumter players, but keep Bobby Richardson as he lives part of the year here on the Grand Strand. At the time, Harry Carson was not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but now he is. I always thought that Carson and Cale Yarborough should have been higher on this list.

Five years later, there would be new names that you would argue could make the top 15list:

Raymond Felton (Latta) - NBA
Ramon Sessions (Myrtle Beach) - NBA
Albert Haynesworth (Hartsville) - NFL
Lawrence Timmons (Florence) - NFL
Robert Geathers, Jr. (Georgetown) - NFL
Dustin Johnson (Myrtle Beach) - PGA

This was a fun project that gave us a great history lesson on our area when it comes to athletes. Doc Blanchard was a very private person and we were fortunate enough to talk to him just outside of Manning when he came to visit his sister. Blanchard never got to play in the NFL, because he chose to honor his military commitment. If there's one thing this project taught us, this area is a fertile ground when it come to elite athletes. Perhaps a couple of years down the road, we will re-visit this project and update our 15 greatest athletes from the Pee Dee and Grand Strand.

Just to put Blanchard's legacy in perspective. Imagine if a modern day Heisman winner went #3 overall to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the draft and went to Iraq or Afghanistan instead and never played pro football. That's what Blanchard did to serve our country and a lifetime of "what if" when it comes to professional football.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Sports Guy and I agree!

One of my favorite stops on the internet is to read Bill Simmons columns on The Sports Guy hardly needs an endorsement from me, but if you haven't had a chance to read his stuff, you definitely should. I wonder if he gets paid by the word, because if that's the case, he's a very rich man. The Sports Guy recently wrote a column breaking down the MVP race in the NBA starting from 450 and working his way to #1. Now, he didn't actually write about all 450 players, but he came close enough. Here's what he wrote about our two time WPDE Mister Hoop Zone Raymond Felton from Latta:

51. Raymond Felton
The guy I'd pursue this summer if I ran an NBA team. Ten weeks of trade rumors bounced off him and he never held a grudge. He has lottery pick pedigree (fifth overall in 2005), and if we've learned anything over the years, it's that many blue-chip point guards take awhile to "ferment" (for lack of a better word). He's one of the five or six best people in the league by all accounts. I've never seen a Bobcats game where he didn't play as hard as he could. The arc of his first four years looks exactly like Chauncey Billups, and like Chauncey, his game will open up once he starts making 3s. Just a lot to like. Someone will steal him this summer just like Detroit stole Billups in 2002. You watch.

To read the whole article, cut and paste this link:

Now, I'll take you back to the Janaury 14th posting I had on this very blog:

It is no coincedence that Felton's game has picked up since the trade rumors have started. 23 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds and only 1 turnover against the Detroit Pistons that included the game winning jumper with .7 seconds left may be Raymond's finest effort as a pro. Whenever Raymond hears doubters, his determination raises to an elite level. I saw it in high school and in college and now it's the pros. If I'm looking for a comparison, the best I can come up with is Chauncey Billups who was a top 5 pick by the Boston Celtics and was eventually moved and became a great guard.

Felton is now a restricted free agent and it will be interesting to see which teams make a play for him and if the Bobcats will have the wallet to match an offer.

I am hardly a Peter Vescey or Bill Simmons. My NBA knowledge consists of two guys: Raymond and Ramon Sessions, who both proved they are on their way to long and fruitful careers in the league. This is not worthy of making one of Simmons marathon chats or mailbag sessions, but it's a moment for me. Simmons campaigned to be the Milwaukee Bucks GM and made some pretty valid points. I'm sure he'd agree with my assessment of Ramon's red hot play to close out the season.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Rotisserie baseball: Fantasy baseball on steroids

With opening night in baseball almost upon us, I made a note to post my 2009 Roti baseball team on the blog so I can keep track of my team throughout the years. For the past 13 years, I've run a roti baseball league that was originally formed in Maine. Among the 10 owners in that original draft, none of us live in Maine anymore! We have kept the same group of owners for the past ten years.

Roti baseball is like fantasy baseball on steroids. When I graduated from college, I was getting into fantasy sports and bought the Rotisserie baseball book and decided to start a league. Fantasy baseball can have a stacked all-star team of elite players from both the American League and National League. Like fantasy football, you go pick by pick and simply select the best player that is available.

Here's the rules for our 10 team roti league:

American League only
$260 budget for 23 players - 2 C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, MI (SS or 2b), CI (1b or 3b), DH, 5 OF and 9 pitchers
you may protect anywhere between 5 and 12 players for each draft
10 categories
batting average, HR, RBI, SB, R for offense
Wins, Saves, ERA, WHIP, K's for pitching (WHIP and hits divided by Innings pitched)
You don't face teams in regular games - it's 10 points for leading a category, 1 point for last place in a category.
If a player is traded from the AL to the NL, you lose that player! If a player gets traded from the NL to the AL you can bid to get him on your team. The roster management and strategy is great. Like many teams in real baseball, you get into a spending mode when you have a chance at winning it all; if you are having a bad year, you trade off your high priced players for youngsters who can help you in the future.
Here's the great thing. On draft day, you can literally have any player you want. You simply need to outbid the other 9 owners. Many a championship has been won in the late rounds when you grab a young prospect for a dollar and he becomes a superstar. When you get a player, you get him on a 3 year contract. At the end of three years, you have to pay $5 more to re-sign him.

We held our draft last week. We used to have to get together in groups around the country and do some of the draft on the phone, some via chat room on computer and the day could be as long as 12 hours. Technology is finally in our favor in year three as we had a draft room with all of our rosters, available players at our fingertips. We were able to get the draft cranked out in just under 3 hours.

Here is who went for the highest dollar amount in our draft:

Josh Beckett, Red Sox pitcher: $52
Matt Holiday, Oakland outfielder: $45
Daiske Matsuzaka, Red Sox pitcher: $43

Here's my team for 2009, the * are players I protected from the previous year

* C: Joe Mauer, Min - $15
* C: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Tex - $5
* 1B: Billy Butler, KC: $10
2B: Asdrubal Cabrera, Cle: $1
SS: Elvis Andrus, Tex: $22
3B: Hank Blalock, Tex: $12
CI: Brendan Harris, Min: $3
MI: Nomar Garciaparra, Oak: $1
DH: Luke Scott, Baltimore: $7
* OF: Mike Cuddyer, Min: $6
* OF: Jermaine Dye: Chi: $12
* OF: Adam Jones, Bal: $10
OF: Jason Bay, Bos: $40
OF: Hideki Matsui, NY: $19

* P: Joey Devine, Oak: $10
* P: Gavin Floyd, Chi: $10
P: Brian Fuentes, Ana: $40
* P: Justin Masterson, Bos: $5
* P: Jeff Niemann, TB: $5
P: Carl Pavano, Cle: $1
P: Andy Pettitte, NY: $15
* P: Joel Zumaya, Det: $5
* P: David Price, TB: $5

After our regular draft, we hold a three round minor league draft. I have had great success with minor league picks in the past. Salty was my first round minor league pick last year. My second round pick was Elvis Andrus. I made a huge mistake by not protecting him. I wound up paying $22 for him when I had him locked in at $5! Hope Elvis doesn't let me down.

I finished in 8th place last year and made a couple of trades for the future. I dealt Mariano Rivera at $40 to a contending team for David Price and Justin Masterson. I also dealt Gil Meche at $6 for Billy Butler and Jermaine Dye.

I had a good amount of money to play with on draft day which allowed me to get Jason Bay at $40 and Brian Fuentes for $40 - a top level outfielder and a closer. I was thrilled to get Blalock for $12 and Matsui for $19, I expected them to higher. My biggest concerns - starting pitching and stolen bases.

SB's is the main reason I overpaid for Elvis. Hopefully he can swipe 30-40 stolen bases and I get some help from Adam Jones and Cabrera. I've got some young arms, but injuries and the Rays sending Price to the minors is killing me right now. I'm looking at Devine and Zumaya on the DL to start the season, Price in the minors, and Justin Masterson in the bullpen. This will hurt my wins and saves. I need Fuentes to be a stud closer and hope that Devine and Zumaya can get saves later on in the season. I'm hoping that Carl Pavano is a steal and I find some young arms to start the season that can get me some wins.

Now that we've been in this league for 13 years, I wish I had my old opening day rosters so I could look back and see what kind of bargains and flops I've had over the years. Now, I'll check back in October and see if I can win my first Roti title. The best I've ever done is 3rd - maybe this is the year for Can O Corn.