Author Archives: William Martin

The Deep Freeze


Hugh Freeze

When Hugh Freeze was named as the head football coach of the Mississippi Rebels in 2012, he was tasked with turning around the fortunes of a program that had sunk to the bottom of the Southeastern Conference. In 2011, Ole Miss went 2-10 which led to the termination of Houston Nutt as the school’s head football coach. Freeze was tasked with being able to once again make the Rebels respectable and potentially rub elbows with the top teams in the SEC. In Freeze’s first season at Mississippi, he was able to get the Rebels to a bowl game. In 2014, Freeze led Ole Miss to a 23-17 upset at home against the Alabama Crimson Tide. And to show that the victory wasn’t a fluke, Ole Miss followed this upset up in 2015 by beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa for the first time since 1988, while it also marked the first time in school history that the Rebels had defeated the Crimson Tide in consecutive seasons. In 2014, Freeze got Mississippi to the Peach Bowl for the first time since 1971, and at the conclusion of the 2015 college football season, he led the Rebels to the Sugar Bowl for the first time since 1969 as his squad was now looked at as a perennial top 20 team. Freeze was also winning battles on the recruiting front as he was putting players such as wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil into the National Football League. And with these players being selected in the first round, it was only helping the credibility of Freeze and his Ole Miss program.

However things began to shift for Freeze at Ole Miss when the NCAA began to probe his program for illegal benefits to his players. Ole Miss gave itself a bowl ban for the upcoming college football season after their own review cited a lack of institutional control. And even with that Ole Miss is set to appear in front of the NCAA later this year as the possibility of them facing sanctions still looms. But even with all of this going on, Ole Miss stuck by Freeze, until this week.

This past Thursday night Freeze was fired by Ole Miss after an investigation by the school illustrated that he made numerous phone calls to an escort service on a university issued cell phone. Initially Freeze denied it, but after the school had concluded its investigation they gave him an ultimatum to either resign or get fired. Freeze chose to resign as either way his reputation is tarnished. And now Ole Miss is left to pick up the pieces and keep their football program afloat, but it will be easier said than done.

With the start of the college football season right around the corner, the upcoming campaign already appears to be a wash for the Rebels. Offensive coordinator Matt Luke will be the interim head football coach for the upcoming season as this will be his opportunity to audition for the job on a full-time basis, but school officials at Oxford might be ready to clean house and start over from scratch.

Ole Miss needs fresh blood to lead their program, while also hiring an established head coach that the alumni will get behind. One of the first names that will be thrown around is former LSU Tigers head football coach Les Miles. In nearly 12 seasons at LSU, Miles was 114-34 which included winning a pair of Southeastern Conference Championships, and one national championship. Miles knows how to win in the SEC and he has a tremendous record in regards of being a great recruiter as he has sent the likes of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., and Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Patterson to the National Football League. But what did Miles in at LSU was his inability to defeat Alabama in recent years as that prevented the Bayou Bengals from getting back to the SEC Championship Game. And as Miles is set to be 64-years of age in November, that could steer the big time programs that have openings away from hiring him.

Another name that people will be linking to Ole Miss is former Oregon Ducks head football coach Chip Kelly. In four years as the head football coach at Oregon, Kelly’s record was 46-7 as he was an innovator due to his uptempo spread offense. Kelly left Oregon and he spent the last four years trying to make his system work in the National Football League as he was the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers respectively. In four years in the NFL, Kelly’s record was 28-35 as his system could not translate to the next level. And once Kelly was fired by the Niners this past January, the speculation about him returning to college has begun.

The name of current Florida Atlantic Owls head coach Lane Kiffin could be thrown around as well. Kiffin is familiar with the Southeastern Conference from his time as the head football coach of the Tennessee Volunteers and most recently as the offensive coordinator for Alabama. Kiffin’s name alone produces intrigue, however he is a man who has burned bridges at every stop on his football journey, and as Ole Miss is attempting to escape from its current mess, they don’t need another headache.

It appeared to be a marriage made in heaven between Freeze and Ole Miss as he was the native of Oxford who loved everything about the school. However Freeze was done in by his arrogance which got the school into trouble. And just as Freeze could be shrewd salesman on the recruiting trail, he figured that he could have wiggled his way out of having issues after placing calls to an escort service. But as fast as Freeze made the Rebels respectable is how fast that is came apart.

Ole Miss isn’t the first school to be investigated by the NCAA for giving improper benefits to “student athletes”, and it won’t be the last. As long as head coaches are receiving at least $5 million per year like they currently are, they are going to do whatever it takes to get the top athletes as they must win games in order to keep the alumni and boosters happy. Freeze cut some corners to get Ole Miss among the top teams in the Southeastern Conference, but just like that he has gone from being one of Oxford’s favorite native sons to a man that cannot get out of town quick enough.


The Flushing Diva


Yoenis Cespedes

July 2015 saw the New York Mets acquire outfielder Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers and it appeared to be a marriage made in heaven. In 57 games with the Mets in 2015, Cespedes batted .287 with 17 home runs and 44 runs batted in to help New York win the National League Pennant for the first time since 2000. Following the season Cespedes would become a free agent, but he would remain with the Mets after the two sides agreed on a three-year deal for $75 million. Cespedes appeared in 132 games for the Mets in 2016 as he batted .280 with 31 home runs and 86 runs batted in to help New York reach the postseason in consecutive years for only the second time franchise history.

Upon initially re-signing with the Mets, Cespedes had a clause in his contract which allowed him to opt out after one year. Cespedes exercised this clause to become a free agent last winter. Cespedes would once again agree to remain with the Mets as both sides agreed to a four-year deal for $110 million, while he was also given a full no-trade clause.

This season Cespedes has been limited to just 46 games as knee and quad injuries have slowed him down. Cespedes is batting .272 with 9 homers and 20 runs batted in as the guy who was supposed to be the Mets cleanup hitter has been reduced to being one of Major League Baseball’s most expensive cheerleaders. And as the Mets who are 41-50 are set to unofficially throw in the towel on a season to forget for them, Cespedes has become the poster boy of their problems.

Cespedes made his Major League Baseball debut in 2012, but the Mets are the fourth different team that he has played for. There have not been any stories in regards to Cespedes being a bad locker room guy with any team that he has played for, but the 365 games that he played for the Oakland Athletics marks the longest stretch that he has had with any team.

Cespedes has the talent to be one of the best players in baseball, but he plays when he wants to. In 2012, Cespedes finished second in the American League’s Rookie of the Year voting as he batted .292 with 23 home runs and 82 runs batted in for the A’s. Cespedes also racked up 18 outfield assists as he simply dared runners to advance on his strong right arm. But inconsistency was the name of the game for the remainder of Cespedes’ time in Oakland which led him to being traded to the Boston Red Sox in 2014.

Cespedes appeared as if he was going to be a centerpiece in the Red Sox rebuilding until he was traded to the Tigers. In 102 games with the Tigers, Cespedes batted .293 with 18 home runs and 61 runs batted in. However when the Tigers fell out of contention, they wanted to make sure that they received something for Cespedes as he was set to become a free agent.

Upon arriving to Queens, Cespedes was greeted with a hero’s welcome as he appeared to be the final piece that would make the Mets a contender. Cespedes held up his end of the bargain by helping to give a dormant offense life as the Mets went from possessing one of the worst offenses in the National League to having one of the best. Cespedes exemplified this by putting the Mets offense on his back as he was the difference in them overtaking the Washington Nationals to win the National League East. And in Game 3 of the National League Divisional Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cespedes provided a 440-foot three-run homer that put the game out of reach.

However that would be the last highlight for Cespedes in the playoffs as he only batted .250 in the National League Championship Series win over the Chicago Cubs, and just a paltry .200 in the World Series as the Mets lost in five games to the Kansas City Royals. The Mets would make the playoffs last season as a wild card, but in the single-elimination game, Cespedes would go 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts as the Mets were eliminated at home by the San Francisco Giants.

Cespedes is the prototypical power-hitter in the aspect that he can hit home runs in bunches, and when he’s hot, a team can simply get on his back. However Cespedes also falls into the category of players whose numbers tank when they sign a big contract in free agency which is evident by his 2017 campaign.

Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon were under a ton of pressure to re-sign Cespedes after the 2015 season from a fan base that wanted to see the team keep the momentum going after their trip to the World Series. The Wilpons obliged and they did it once more last winter, but now it appears that the Mets are stuck with a player who only shows up when it is convenient for him.

You can expect Mets general manager Sandy Alderson to begin wheeling and dealing soon in order to send veteran players to contending teams, while dumping salary and getting prospects in return. All of the Mets struggles do not fall at the feet of Cespedes as this team has been hit hard by the injury bug as the likes of starting pitchers Matt Harvey and Noah Synderggard, along with relief pitcher Jeurys Familia are currently on the disabled list. But with Cespedes being the Mets highest paid player this season at $22.5 million, he is going to receive the brunt of the criticism. And in the process this is just another example of “buyer beware” in Major League Baseball free agency.


A Rough Patch For The Phillies


2007-2011 was arguably the most successful span in the franchise history of the Philadelphia Phillies. The Philles made five consecutive trips to the playoffs which included them winning it all in 2008. However as all good things have to come to an end, the core players that helped the Phiilies win the World Series have either retired or been traded. Since 2012, the Phillies have not had another winning season, and since Andy MacPhail was named as the team’s president of baseball operations in 2015, the team has been in full rebuilding mode.

2016 would see Philadelphia give a spirited effort in spite of the fact that they were 71-91. But whereas the Philies somewhat overachieved last year, that is not the case this time around as their record of 30-60 has them on track to lose 100 games for the first time since 1961. The Phillies also have the worst record in Major League Baseball this year as MacPhail and his staff are attempting to get things turned around.

Philadelphia has not been above .500 since April 28, and you have to go back to the beginning of June to find the last time in which they were able to win a series. Offensively the Phillies are near the bottom of the National League in all of the major statistical categories which includes them being 14th in runs scored (345), and the same can be said about their pitching staff whose team’s earned run average of 4.65 is 12th. And for Phillies manager Pete Mackanin and his young team, they are definitely taking their lumps this season.

However all is not lost for the Phillies as players such as first baseman Tommy Joseph, starting pitcher Aaron Nola, and outfielder Aaron Altherr are giving the folks in Philadelphia some hope for the future. Joseph who just turned 26-years of age this past Sunday is in his second season with the Phillies and he’s on the cusp of hitting 20 home runs for the second consecutive year. Nola was the Phillies first-round pick in 2014 and he made his Major League Baseball debut in 2015. Nola has yet to make at least 30 starts in a season, but he is putting together the best year of his brief career. Nola is 6-6 with an earned run average 3.54. But in Nola’s last eight seven starts, he has given the Phillies at least six innings in seven of those outings which included him going eight innings while only surrendering a pair of runs versus the San Diego Padres on July 8 as he was the hard luck loser. After appearing sparingly for the Phillies over the past three seasons, Altherr is finally getting an opportunity to be an everyday player. Altherr is leading the Phillies in batting average (.288) and on-base percentage (.359) as he along with Joseph each have the potential to go yard 20 times.

But in spite of the fact of the potential of players such as Joseph, Nola, and Altherr, the name of the game in Major League Baseball is winning and the Phillies have not done much of that. When you were on top like the Phillies were, sometimes the reset button must be pushed. After the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, Ruben Amaro Jr. would replace Pat Gillick as the team’s general manager. Amaro attempted to keep the Phillies machine rolling as he mortgaged the future by trading prospects in order to acquire established veterans. However being that the Phillies would remain in contention, they would never win the World Series again. And even though that the title window had closed on the Phillies, Amaro held onto his aging players too long which decreased their value on the trade front which has ┬ámade MacPhail’s job that much more difficult.

Andy MacPhail

However MacPhail knows how to build a winner as he has previously worked as a front office executive for the Minnesota Twins, Chicago Cubs, and Baltimore Orioles. MacPhail’s time with all three clubs led to playoff berths for each organization with the Twins winning their only two World Series Titles in franchise history which gives the Phillies optimism that he can do the same for their club.

2017 might be a wash in Philadelphia, but I do expect MacPhail and his staff to use this time to evaluate the roster as they are getting a jump start on 2018.


The Prototype Of Futility


You have to go back to 1957 to find the last time that the Detroit Lions won the National Football League Championship. The Lions are one of four NFL franchises that have never appeared in the Super Bowl, while they have only won one playoff game since 1957. The Lions are also the only NFL franchise to go 0-16 as they did this in 2016. As a team the Lions have been inept, but that hasn’t stopped great individual efforts by the some of the men who have worn the “Honolulu blue”. Players such as Lem Barney, Charlie Sanders, and Barry Sanders enjoyed stellar NFL careers which led to them being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But as good as these players were individually, they were enable to catapult the Lions to success as the organization has been passed by. And unfortunately for the Lions, you can add another player to that list.

Calvin Johnson

Wide receiver Calvin Johnson was the second overall pick of the 2007 National Football League Draft by the Lions. At 6’5″, Johnson had tremendous size for a wide receiver and he was able to blend that with rare speed for a person his size. It didn’t take Johnson that long show that he was the real deal as by his second season with the Lions, he was able to record 78 receptions for 1,331 yards and 12 receiving touchdowns. By 2010, Johnson would be selected to his first Pro Bowl, and the following season would see him lead the league in receiving yards with 1,681 yards, while tallying 96 receptions. In 2012, Johnson would lead the NFL in receptions with 122, while he would also set a single-season league record with 1,964 receiving yards. By this point Johnson had been given the nickname “Megatron” after the character from Transformers due to his freakish ability as he had the respect of everyone around football. However as good as Johnson was individually, he could not help the Lions elevate to the next level.

Since the NFC North was formed in 2002, the Lions are the only team that calls the division home to have never finished in first place. The Lions made the playoffs twice with Johnson on the roster, but he was never able to help them get that elusive playoff victory, while Detroit never had consecutive winning seasons with him. And as the losing continued in Detroit while the injuries were beginning to mount for Johnson, he abruptly decided to retire from the National Football League at the end of the 2015 season at the age of 30.

Barry Sanders

Johnson’s retirement sparked numerous debates as him walking away from the Lions while leaving some quality years on the table brought back memories when Barry Sanders retired following the conclusion of the 1998 National Football League season at the age of 30. Sanders retired as the NFL’s second all-time leading rusher with 15,269 rushing yards. And like Johnson, Sanders simply got tired of the losing as he was a part of the only Lions playoff victory since 1957 when Detroit defeated the Dallas Cowboys in the 1991 NFC Divisional Playoffs. But whereas it was bad enough to see two of the best players in Lions franchise history walk away from the game early, it is how they have been treated since then by the franchise in which they played for.

When Sanders walked away, the Lions held a grudge against him as they felt that this was a ploy on his part to get out of his contract in order to play for another team. However Sanders was done and the losing by the Lions continued once he left. After initially being quiet about walking away from the National Football League, Johnson has recently opened up about leaving and how he has been treated by the Lions.

Since Johnson retired he had to pay back part of a roster bonus to the Lions, and he also let it be known that he would not be let out of his contract or traded to another team because he simply wanted to win. And when you hear cases such as that of Sanders and Johnson, it is no wonder why the Lions have been as bad as they are.

The issues with the Lions go back to “The Curse of Bobby Layne”. Layne was the Lions starting quarterback as he helped Detroit win three National Football League Championships during the 1950’s. But when Layne was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1958, he claimed that the Lions would not win for another 50 years. But the Lions have taken it a step further as it has been 60 years and they still have not won.

Some people might be critical of Johnson’s comments, but what is the purpose of keeping a player on the roster who simply does not want to be there? Just like it was with Sanders in 1998, it would have been very easy for the Lions to have traded Johnson to a contender and wish him all the best with his new team. However the Lions decided to take the low road which makes them continuously look like the bad guy.

Johnson finished his National Football League career with 731 receptions, 11,619 receiving yards, and 83 receiving touchdowns. Johnson was selected to six Pro Bowl teams and although that there are some people who would have liked to see him stick around for a few more years in order to solidify his Hall of Fame resume, he should be commended for walking away instead of padding his stats on a losing team.

The Lions never did right by Johnson as they never put a championship team around him. There were talented players on the Lions such as quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, but the losing culture of the Lions has reigned supreme. And as good as Johnson was, that was simply too difficult to overcome.

So now as training camp is set to open in a few days for the Lions, there will once again be some optimism for them; just like it is for the other 31 teams around the National Football League. But whereas the Ford family who has owned the Lions since 1963 has never done right by the team or its fanbase, I don;t see things changing anytime soon in Motown. And as for anyone who is expecting anything different other than the same old futility on the part of the Lions might want to get their heads examined.


Chicago’s Other Baseball Team


It’s hard to believe, but it has been nearly 12 years since the Chicago White Sox won their last World Series Championship. The White Sox came out of nowhere in 2005 to win 99 games in the regular season before they only lost once in the playoffs to win it all. But since then the White Sox have had a tough go at it as they’ve only made the postseason once since then, while failing to record a winning season since 2012. The White Sox struggles have been further compounded by the emergence of the Chicago Cubs who won the World Series last year for the first time since 1908. And since the Cubs became the champs, they have owned the City of Chicago, while the team that calls the South Side home in the Sox have been the wicked stepchild.

Whereas the White Sox could do no wrong in 2005, they have been a team that has been done in by bad personnel decisions ever since. Since 2000, starting pitcher Chris Sale has been the only first-round pick of the White Sox who has gone on the be an impact player with the team. And in the case of Sale, he was traded this past off-season to the Boston Red Sox as the losing along with front office issues had gotten to him. The White Sox have not fared any better better in trades or free agency. 2016 saw the Sox acquire third baseman Todd Frazier from the Cincinnati Reds and starting pitcher James Shields from the San Diego Padres. In nearly two seasons in Chicago, Frazier has hit 56 homers, but he is only batting .220, while he is also prone to striking out. And as the White Sox are currently 38-50 which has them in last place in the American League Central, Frazier could be on the move again to a contender. In 30 starts with the White Sox, Shields in 6-14 with an earned run average of 6.32 as he has been throwing batting practice on the mound. The struggles of the White Sox led to the team trading starting pitcher Jose Quintana to the Cubs earlier this week as they are once again waving the white flag. However there appears to be no end in sight in regards to the futility of the South Siders.

Rick Hahn, Kenny Williams

The White Sox issues fall into the respective laps of the team’s president of baseball operations in Kenny Williams and their general manager Rick Hahn. Williams was the White Sox general manager when they won the World Series in 2005 and he was promoted to his current position in 2012 and he would be succeeded by Hahn as the team’s general manager. But this combo has been unable to do right by the White Sox.

Offensively the White Sox are no higher than sixth in any of the major categories in the American League. Chicago’s pitching staff has not done much better as they are last in the A.L. in quality starts with only 29, 11th in team earned run average (4.55), and their 326 walks have been the second most allowed. The White Sox have not been above .500 since May 6, and as the trade of Quintana is a sign that they are waving the white flag, don’t expect better things for this organization any time soon.

After five seasons as the White Sox manager, Robin Ventura was let go following an 84-loss campaign last year. Ventura would be replaced by former Cubs manager Rick Renteria who just like his predecessor has not been given a good team to work with which is the result of the lack of production by Williams and Hahn.

Jerry Reinsdorf

So now as the White Sox are an afterthought, it is time for team owner Jerry Reinsdorf to start over, and pushing the reset button means parting with both Williams and Hahn. The White Sox need a new voice in their front office that not only has an eye for finding talent, but also the development of players. The Sox are going to have to build from within in order to once again become a contender and Williams as well as Hahn are no longer the guys who can be expected to do so.

Todd Frazier

2017 is a wash for the Sox as it now time for them to focus on next year. Frazier and relief pitcher David Robertson could be traded. But if it is prospects that Chicago is seeking, they need to find guys who will be difference makers or else they’ll continue to be Chicago’s other baseball team that is in the shadow of the Cubs.


Bringing The Midsummer Classic To These Venues


With the Miami Marlins having hosted Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game earlier this week for the first time in franchise history, the Tampa Bay Rays are now the only MLB franchise to have never hosted the Midsummer Classic. In recently history, hosting the All-Star Game has come down teams getting a new stadium or undergoing heavy renovations to their current facility. And when Marlins Park opened in 2012, the debate began as to when the All-Star Game would be heading to South Florida. And now that the Marlins have had their opportunity to show off their stadium to the baseball world, who should be next in regards to hosting the Midsummer Classic.

Rogers Centre-Toronto, Canada

The first and only time that the Toronto Blue Jays hosted the All-Star Game was in 1991 and it came on the heels of the Rogers Centre (formerly the Toronto SkyDome) opening for business. The SkyDome was ahead of its time as the amenities there included Major League Baseball’s first retractable roof as well as a hotel. Since that time the Montreal Expos left Canada to become the Washington Nationals and being that the Blue Jays are MLB’s only team north of the border, it is time to bring the Midsummer Classic back there in order to further promote the game and keep fan interest intact.

Camden Yards-Baltimore, Maryland

When Oriole Part at Camden Yards opened in 1992, it was the gold standard of what a Major League ball park should be. It didn’t take MLB that long to award the Baltimore Orioles the All-Star Game as they hosted the Midsummer Classic in 1993. And as the park is still a crown jewel, it is high time for the All-Star Game to return to Baltimore.

Citizens Bank Park-Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Citizens Bank Park opened for business in 2004 and it quickly became a huge home-field advantage for the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2007, the Phillies won the National League East, and by they 2008, they would win their first World Series Championship since 1980. But unlike many of the other new venues around Major League Baseball, Citizens Bank Park has yet to host the All-Star Game. The last time that the Phillies hosted the All-Star Game was in 1996 at Veterans Stadium. The fans in Philadelphia have a uniqueness about them and it would add a special twist to the All-Star Game to have Phillies fans jeering every single player as he is introduced.

Wrigley Field-Chicago, Illinois

Right next to Fenway Park, Wrigley Field is the most historic venue that it currently in use in Major League Baseball. The ivy that covers the outfield walls at Wrigley along with the throng of fans who hang out on Waveland and Sheffield Avenues to catch home run balls is always huge, and we cannot forget about the spectators in the bleachers as well. The Chicago Cubs last hosted the All-Star Game in 1990, and the timing is perfect now for MLB to have the Midsummer Classic return to the Windy City being that it is still buzzing there after the Cubs won the World Series last October. And if the wind is blowing out on a warm summer night at Wrigley, the All-Star Game could resemble the Home Run Derby.

Dodger Stadium-Los Angeles, California

It’s hard to believe but Chavez Ravine has not hosted the All-Star Game since 1980. The Los Angeles Dodgers are one of Major League Baseball’s most iconic franchises and their new ownership group has taken extreme pride in renovating Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers are more popular than ever in the City of Angels as they have won four consecutive National League West Titles, and it’s safe to say what the reaction would be when players from the San Francisco Giants would be introduced as there is no love lost between these two iconic franchises.