Good news, New York Knicks fans. It looks like Larry Brown is on his way out as coach, and the club is going to replace him with someone really exciting.
That's right, Knickerbocker lovers, according to published reports over the weekend, Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan wants to buy out the remaining four years and $40 million on Brown's contract and give Thomas, the guy responsible for putting together the roster that went 23-59 this year, more responsibility.
The good news for you Knicks fans out there is that as bad as the 2005-'06 season was -- the last one that was worse was 1963-'64 -- you'll soon look back fondly on it.
Dolan has said he's unhappy with Brown for publicly criticizing his players. Those complaints are an indictment of the general manager, Thomas, who put together the most expensive team in the NBA, one that would have struggled to compete in the Public Schools Athletic League.
The players are reportedly unhappy with Brown too, for pretty much the same reason. The New York Daily News reported that, according to player agents, about half of the Knicks players blamed Brown for this horrible season in exit interviews -- with Thomas.
"We do have a group that, for everything that I've heard today, like each other, want to stay together and want to play together, and believe that they can get it done," the Daily News quoted Thomas as saying.
Which goes to show why players don't run teams. Thomas' credentials as a general manager: He was a hell of a player!
So now the Knicks are making noises about hiring Thomas to double up as the coach. Hey, you save money that way. Only need one office, one phone, one 401K, that sort of thing. The club needs to save every penny so it can pay Jerome James $36,496.35 for every point he scores.
Shaquille O'Neal, with the highest salary in the league, got paid $16,934.80 per point this year.
Thomas coached the Indiana Pacers for three seasons at the start of this decade. He took a team that won 56 games and three playoff series for Larry Bird in 2000 and won 41, 42 and 48 games, losing in the first round of the playoffs each time. The Pacers did improve slightly in each of the two years after Thomas' first, thanks mostly to Jermaine O'Neal coming into his own and Ron Artest coming to town.
The year after Thomas left, the Pacers won 61 games under Rick Carlisle and made it to the conference finals.
So here's what's up at the Garden. On one side of a power struggle we have a coach who's been successful everywhere he's ever gone, and he's gone everywhere. He's had this one bad season in New York, but he also had a rough first season in San Antonio and Philadelphia before quickly turning those struggling teams around.
On the other we have a general manager whose handiwork has led to the Knicks swapping traditional roles with the Los Angeles Clippers. Now the Clippers trade haymakers with the Lakers while the Knicks wanly try to convince people they aren't as big a laughingstock as the Raptors or the Hawks or the Warriors or whoever happens to be down there at the bottom with them.
But at least Thomas has Jerome James on his side.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
It's a new record! [PERMALINK]
Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle set an American League record Sunday night for most runs given up in the first inning by a pitcher who got the win: seven. The White Sox beat the Minnesota Twins 9-7.
That made two obscure "records" I heard about this weekend. On Saturday night, Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals hit a home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks to become the fastest player in major league history to reach -- I kid you not -- 19 home runs in a season. He did it in 37 games.
The old record -- I'm sure I don't have to tell you this -- was 40 games, by Mickey Mantle in 1956 and Luis Gonzalez in 2001. Who can forget either? The buzz has barely died down from Gonzalez's record-tying 19th home run five years ago, and growing up I spent many an hour listening to my dad talking about the year Mantle set the record for fastest man to 19 homers.
"In those days," he'd say, "19 home runs was really 19 home runs."
He didn't really, but what did really happen was that I was in junior high when broadcaster Ross Porter joined the Los Angeles Dodgers radio team, and he was so stat-happy, spewing meaningless splits during every at-bat -- "Yeager is hitting .423 in weekday day games on grass" -- that we used to try to guess what crazy, meaningless subset of performances Porter would highlight next. Like weekday day games on grass, which I made up just now but I'd bet Porter actually used at some point.
Now, the typists union is soberly reporting these silly things -- fastest player to 19 home runs, give me a break! -- as real, useful information that helps our understanding of the game or something. The Associated Press report of Saturday's Cards-Diamondbacks game led with the 19-homer-record thing as though Pujols had just broken a record anyone in the world had ever spent a single moment thinking about.
Did you know I hold the record for most kids named Daisy for a national sports columnist who lives in St. Louis and also has a kid named Buster? I should have negotiated a performance bonus for that.
Incidentally, the White Sox also turned a triple play Sunday, tying the major league record for most triple plays in an inning.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Bonds' homerless streak [PERMALINK]
I've also been amused by breathless reports of Barry Bonds' homerless streak, which has now reached six games. "Bonds stuck at 713" read one popular headline in various Monday papers. Power slump hits Bonds read a USA Today headline Monday.
"Bonds homerless yet again" trumpeted one I saw on Sunday morning, when his homerless streak was at five.
A five-game homerless streak is really not a big thing. Hit a homer every sixth game for a whole season and you end up with 27. Even with a six-game homerless streak between every dinger, you finish with 23.
Those are hardly Ruthian totals, but a six-game homerless streak doesn't exactly mean a guy can't hit anymore. Homers come and don't come in bunches for all power hitters, and Bonds, like many players, has a history of getting "stuck" for a little while on the doorstep of one milestone or another.
This is not to suggest that Bonds can still hit. But not because he's gone six games without a home run. Jim Thome, who leads the American League in home runs with 15, hasn't gone six games without a homer yet, but he has gone five in a row. Carlos Lee, second to Pujols in the National League with 15, has gone the last five without a homer, and also has a nine-game homerless streak already.
If you want some numbers to tell you that Bonds is through, look at his .217 batting average and .458 slugging percentage, not a six-game homerless streak.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Hall of Fame clarification [PERMALINK]
In Wednesday's column arguing that Bill James deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, I wrote that the founder of sabermetrics won't be eligible until he's an executive for at least 10 years. Actually, the written rule is he has to be retired for five years before the veterans committee can consider him.
But while there's nothing in the voting rules about it, the committee has historically made it an unwritten rule that a person be active for 10 years before he or she can be considered.
The committee would be free to make an exception for a square-peg figure such as James, who might be thought of less as an executive and more as a modern-day pioneer, not unlike former union chief Marvin Miller, who has been considered, and who also should be in. Miller was active for much longer than 10 years, but then again, he was technically never a baseball executive.
- - - - - - - - - - - -