There’s nothing like overlapping sports season to provide fodder for a periodic question-and-answer session. Here are a few questions that arose in the past week or so.
Q — Was last Saturday’s Seattle Seahawks-Denver Broncos exhibition game a Super Bowl preview?
A — Since the Seahawks registered a 40-10 victory, the Broncos better hope not. Fox, which is telecasting next year’s Super Bowl, probably wouldn’t be thrilled by such a lopsided game, either.
While preseason games are notoriously unreliable barometers of regular-season performance, the Seahawks clearly belong on a short list of strong Super Bowl contenders.
How far the Hawks progress depends in large part on whether second-year quarterback Russell Wilson replicates his play during the second half of his rookie season (Wilson was erratic enough early in the 2012 campaign that some observers unwisely called for Matt Flynn to take the starting job) and how consistent their defense performs. For a club ranked high in most defensive categories, Seattle was vulnerable to a surprising number of big plays last year.
A third key in obtaining home-field advantage in the playoffs is how well the Seahawks perform on the road. In this area, the schedule-makers have done them few favors.
Ideally, the Hawks would play their toughest non-divisional foes at home. But aside from a Monday night match-up with New Orleans at CenturyLink Field on Dec. 2, most of Seattle’s seemingly most attractive non-divisional contests will take place away from the Northwest.
Houston, Indianapolis, Atlanta and the New York Giants are among Seattle’s road opponents. The Hawks are hoping the latter game will be a preview of coming attractions. The Meadowlands in New Jersey will be the site of the 2014 Super Bowl.
Q — The Mariners evidently extended General Manager Jack Zduriencik’s contract by one year. Is that the right call?
A — I’m OK with it, although the fact that the extension apparently happened months ago without anyone from the media discovering it reinforces my belief that Zduriencik’s true calling would be director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
As stated in a previous column, I’m deeply ambivalent about Zduriencik. His recent trading record has been dismal and his assertion that he needed seven years to turn around the Mariner fortunes is ludicrous.
Yet it seems unfair to blame him for the team’s lack of clutch hitting, the main factor that’s keeping the the M’s from playing at least .500 ball. It also appears that the team’s slow-developing youth movement is finally bearing fruit, with infielders Kyle Seager, Nick Franklin and Brad Miller and currently injured catcher Mike Zunino demonstrating they can play at the major league level.
The one-year extension gives Zduriencik an opportunity to address the club’s evident offensive and bullpen shortcomings without making a long-term commitment.
A couple of unrelated factoids about the Mariners bear mentioning. The much-discussed decision to move in the Safeco Field fences appears to have paid off. As anyone who has listened to a Rick Rizzs broadcast for more than five minutes knows by now, the M’s rank in the top three in American League in home runs, a statistic that probably makes Seattle at least a marginally more attractive location for free-agent sluggers.
For all the early season hand-wringing about small Safeco Field, the Mariners currently are ninth in the league in home attendance. That’s not great, but it’s better than their overall record (which is 10th in the AL).
Bringing up the rear in the attendance category, despite having a fine team to support, is Tampa Bay — the same community that former owner Jeff Smulyan viewed as a baseball Shangri-La when he was attempting to move the M’s there in the early 1990s.
Q — Chris Hansen, the hedge-fund manager who wants to bring pro basketball back to Seattle, is caught illegally contributing anonymously to a petition drive that would have forced a public vote on the Sacramento Kings’ proposed new arena. Should that revelation scuttle Hansen’s plans to build a new arena and own an NBA franchise in Seattle?
A — No and no.
Hansen’s actions were stupid and inexcusable. He deserves whatever penalties California officials levy for making an illegal campaign donation. In addition, his subsequent “apology” sounded an awful lot like regret for being caught.
Nevertheless, Hansen isn’t applying to join the College of Cardinals. Most owners of professional franchises have skeletons in their closet.
If you listen to arena opponents long enough, you’d swear that Hansen is a two-faced carpetbagger bent on singlehandedly destroying the Seattle maritime industry and plunging Northwest taxpayers into debt. I’m not convinced any of that is true.
The reality is that the Puget Sound area needs a larger multi-purpose indoor facility than KeyArena. Hansen’s proposed project, for which he is footing the majority of the bill, is the best arena deal Seattle is likely to get.
Until a viable alternative surfaces (and arena opponents aren’t exactly rushing to go public with their own proposal), he deserves support.
Q — New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez is appealing his 211-game suspension for allegedly using performance-enhancing drugs. What are his chances of winning that appeal?
A — My colleague Rob Burns and I have a bottle of water bet (we roll high here at the Daily World) on the outcome of this case.
Unless Major League Baseball officials have compelling evidence that Rodriguez obstructed its PED investigation (and given A-Rod’s track record, that’s a possibility), I can’t see an independent arbitrator upholding what amounts to a career-ending suspension for a second offense. While a strong case can be made for a zero-tolerance policy on drug violations, such sanctions are currently not part of baseball’s basic agreement between management and players.
My guess is that the arbitrator will cut the suspension at least in half, to perhaps 100 games. In this instance, I hope I’m wrong.
If the arbitrator wanted to think outside the box, he could reduce A-Rod’s suspension but also require him to finish his career with the Mariners, his original major league team. That might be a punishment worse than a 211-game ban.
Rick Anderson is The Daily World’s sports editor. He can be reached at (360) 537-3924 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org