THERE IS NO JUSTICE
We suppose that if you’re a Yankee fan, you should immediately start hoping that there’s a psychic connection between Tino Martinez‘s change of winter training regimen, which helped him rebound from a disappointing 2000 season, and the fact that 34-year-old Robin Ventura had suddenly taken up kickboxing during this off-season before the Mets sent him to the Yanks for David Justice last week in a swap of high-priced, aging underachievers.
It sure has been interesting to note how many reports have described Ventura as coming off a subpar year. Did we miss something, or wasn’t he coming off a subpar year going into 2001? And as long as we’re number-crunching, while Yankee GM Brian Cashman is technically correct in noting Ventura’s decent ’01 on-base percentage of .359, it should also be noted that 10 of Ventura’s 87 walks were of the intentional variety. (PS: Desi Relaford‘s .472 slugging percentage was over 50 points higher than Ventura’s .419. Kickbox that.) Still, there’s no denying Ventura brings a certain spirit to a ball club. In fact, our single favorite Ventura moment during his three-year stint in Queens—outside of 1999’s grand-slam single, of course—came during a post-game scramble in the Shea clubhouse last year after a late-inning Mike Piazza home run had given the Mets a dramatic win. With media swarming four deep around Piazza, Ventura, whose locker was catercorner from the catcher’s, took several chairs, turned them around, and formed a small barricade in front of his stall. When the crush of reporters caused us to inadvertently bump into one of the chairs and lose our balance, the sure-handed third baseman nonchalantly caught us by the arm and helped steady us. When we thanked Ventura, he just shrugged. “No problem,” he said. “Of course, if it gets any more crowded in here, I may have to fart.”
QB OR NOT QB?
With their team in Dallas last weekend, Giants fans looking for the cure to what ailed quarterback Kerry Collins needed only switch over to the Jets’ game following Big Blue’s embarrassing 20-13 loss to the Cowboys.
No, the solution isn’t installing a West Coast offense like the Jets’. It’s hiring a quarterback coach, which is what the Jets’ opponent did.
The Pittsburgh Steelers made Tom Clements their first full-time quarterback coach since Babe Parilli in 1973 when they hired him last winter. Their goal: to help gifted, but emotionally fragile, QB Kordell Stewart regain the form that made him arguably the most dynamic signal-caller in the NFL in 1997, the year he threw for 3020 yards and rushed for 476 more. Stewart had struggled during the three years since, wilting under the pressure of his hardass head coach Bill Cowher and the criticism of the Steeler faithful and their Bradshaw-esque expectations. So far, Clements has worked wonders with the sensitive Stewart. With his team 10-2 following their 18-7 win over the Jets on Sunday, the Steelers’ quarterback is on pace (2228 yards passing, 423 yards rushing) to equal or better his 1997 numbers.
Collins, meanwhile, is on the hook for 13 INTs (the same total he had all last season) and 16 fumbles (though not all turnovers) in 12 games so far this season. But Collins has already had success as a Giant under the tutelage of a QB coach. Sean Payton took Collins under his wing when the latter signed as a free agent in 1999 and helped mold him into the player who set career highs for passing yards, TDs, and completion percentage; took his team to the Super Bowl; and become a team leader in 2000.
Since then, though, Big Blue’s brain trust has done anything but foster the relationship, instead promoting Payton to offensive coordinator and making him the team’s primary play-caller. By giving the coach less time to work one-on-one with Collins, the team has left the quarterback looking more like the player who battled with alcoholism and teammates in 1997 and 1998 than the one who took Carolina to the NFC championship game in 1996 and the Giants to the Super Bowl last year. With the team now 5-7 and all but officially eliminated from the playoff picture, the Giants may want to follow the Steelers’ lead in the fast-approaching off-season and hire a full-time coach for their own emotionally fragile QB.
• Gee, we’re so glad that Marcus Camby and some of the other Knicks are feeling less stressed at practice now that coach Jeff Van Gundy isn’t around to hassle them. But who’s going to make them play defense? And have they already forgotten how ferociously Van Gundy fought for his players? Don’t they remember the tiny coach plunging into a fracas against the Heat and wrapping himself around Alonzo Mourning‘s leg?…
•This just in from the Short-Term Memory Dept.: Sports Illustrated‘s pigskin preview only a few months ago picked Oregon State as the No. 1 college team, and the Beavers wound up not even being invited to a bowl game. Three of the eight BCS teams—Colorado, Maryland, and Illinois—didn’t even make SI‘s preseason Top 25. You sure you want to renew that subscription?
Contributors: Billy Altman, Brian P. Dunleavy, Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz Sports Editor: Ward Harkavy