The worst sports moves of 2003
By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."
-- Albert Einstein

We give you ... the worst moves of 2003.

1. Grady Little leaves Pedro in
Grady Little
Grady Little will forever be remembered for leaving Pedro in too long in Game 7.
When Grady Little let Pedro continue pitching into the eighth in Game 7 of the ALCS against the Yankees, he provided the perfect demonstrator of why the Red Sox fired him after his second winning season in Boston. Little explained his move (which allowed the Yankees to tie and eventually win) after the game: "We trained him to work just like that deep into a game. When he tells me he has enough in the tank to keep going, that's the man I want out there. That's no different than what we've done the last two years."

In fact, the stats said just the opposite. Pedro pitched into the eighth only five times in his 29 regular-season starts, and simply didn't pitch well after he'd thrown 100 pitches, the number he'd tossed before taking the mound in the eighth. In fact, during 2003, opponents' batting averages went up .139 after Pedro tossed his 105th pitch -- strong evidence that he'd continue to weaken.

That it would turn out badly was likely, as most everyone knew -- and as the Red Sox computers knew. But Little is an old baseball salt, go-with-your-gut, set in his ways, and he didn't care much for the sabermetrics served up to him.

Did the Red Sox let Little go because of the Pedro move? No. They let him go because the Pedro move was entirely in character.

2. Bucks trade away Ray Allen and Ronald Murray for Gary Payton and Desmond Mason
The Bucks traded their short-term and, probably, their long-term futures to acquire a future Hall-of-Famer as a temporary hired gun and a decent sub.

For the Sonics, it wasn't a tough decision: Payton was going to leave as a free agent at the end of the season, anyway. So they shipped him off to Milwaukee, and in return got Ray Allen. Allen had 2+ years left on his contract, enough time to lead some kind of Bucks recovery, and more than enough time to possibly end up, in the long run, being the Sonics' franchise player.

Meanwhile, Payton played a grand total of 34 games for Milwaukee in the regular season and playoffs before departing for L.A. And Desmond Mason, a sub who at the time was the noteworthy throw-in, has met, but not exceeded, expectations in Milwaukee.

The Sonics also got Ronald Murray as a toss-in. Murray didn't make the headlines when the teams announced the trade. He didn't make the lead paragraph, either. But the Bucks gave up one of the NBA's best young guards. Murray's averaging 19.2 ppg for the Sonics in just his second NBA season.

3. Torre pitches Weaver in the World Series
In 2003 Weaver was, by far, the Yankees' worst pitcher, compiling a 5.99 ERA as a fifth starter. Inexplicably, Joe Torre decided Weaver was the man to hold the Marlins, as he brought the pitcher in in the 11th inning of Game 4.

Inexplicable? Yes. Not only was Weaver consistently bad throughout 2003 -- he was also, to put it mildly, rusty. He hadn't pitched in four weeks and, simply put, had no business being in a game that wasn't a blowout. And Mariano Rivera was available.

After getting out the Marlins in order in the 11th, Weaver surrendered the game-winning homer to Alex Gonzalez.

Torre's explanation: That Weaver was their man to face righties, and "I mean, if he's not in the game there, he shouldn't be on our roster." While it's true that Weaver is somewhat better against righties than lefties, he hasn't been particularly good, with right-handed batters hitting .290 against him and, logically enough, stealing well against him -- an important factor against the Marlins.

Emmitt Smith
Emmitt rides the pine and wonders, "Why did I sign here?"
4. Emmitt Smith signs with Cardinals, Cardinals sign Emmitt Smith
Here's one where two parties combined to make one very bad move. Sure, Emmitt thought he had some gas left in the tank, but what did he have to gain after becoming the league's all-time leading rusher with one of the league's greatest franchises? Nothing.

And the Cardinals, even though they need all the help they can get to get fannies in the seats and W's in the standings, looked in the wrong direction -- toward a guy playing out the string, instead of toward youth.

Smith's embarrassing 2003 stats: he's only played in eight of the Cards' 14 games thus far, compiling 79 rushes for 227 yards and only 1 TD. And against his former team, he carried six times for -1 yards, while cracking his scapula.

Meanwhile, Arizona is stuck with a two-year, $7.5 million contract and as many empty seats as ever -- the team drew only 23,594 for its home opener.

5. Pistons fire Rick Carlisle
Carlisle was signed -- he still had a year remaining on his three-year contract -- and he had turned around an ailing franchise, leading Detroit to back-to-back 50-win seasons while being named coach of the year.

So what's the deal? It's guesswork. All the front office could come up with was that he was too rigid (remember when winning coaches were admired for being rigid?). Some assumed it came down to Larry Brown being available.

All we can do is echo the sentiments of Dickie V: "The job he did warranted a multi-year contract extension, not a dismissal."

And check out the Central Division standings -- with Rick Carlisle's new team, Indiana, on top of the heap and four games ahead of his former charges.

5a. Pistons draft Darko Milicic over Carmelo Anthony
We're not ready to give this its own entry yet, because Darko was a project pick, while Carmelo was expected to contribute right away. Then again, if you need help right away (as the Pistons do, especially come playoff time), why wait?

Alonzo Mourning
The Nets got burned by the contract they gave to Alonzo Mourning.
6. Nets sign Alonzo Mourning for $1.88 million a game
It's one thing to take a chance on a great player who may not work out because of a chronic illness. It's another thing to guarantee him $22.6 million for four years, even if it does help retain the services of Jason Kidd.

Which is what the Nets did with Mourning, who retired last month after playing only 12 games for New Jersey. There are two kickers: 1) The Nets already have salary cap problems, and Mourning's salary will count against the cap until the summer of 2005; 2) The Nets couldn't get insurance for the contract, meaning those bucks come straight out of the till.

7. Brewers betray fans, cut payroll
  It's a long story, but a simple one: Bud Selig believes new ballparks bring in fans and revenue. He convinced taxpayers in five counties to fund Miller Park, promising to significantly upgrade the team in return.

Instead, after three years in Miller Park (and reaping the biggest benefits in MLB from revenue sharing), the Brewers announced in November that the board of directors planned to downgrade the team, cutting payroll 25 percent, from $40 million to $30 million. Team president Ulice Payne publicly criticized his fellow board members, said he doubted the Brewers could improve under these constraints, and was shown the door.

Sports economist Andrew Zimbalist told Don Walker of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he sees no need for the payroll to be slashed. "I don't think that even if this team is in desperate straits financially -- and I don't think it is -- the operating income of this team has been roughly break-even for the past few years," Zimbalist said. Even if they're losing some money, "To say they have to reduce payroll is utter nonsense. There are certain people in the free-agent market that will bring them more in revenue than they are paying them."

U. of Illinois law professor Stephen F. Ross, an expert on sports economics, pretty much agreed with Zimbalist, telling the Journal Sentinel, "The Brewers are doing crappy. Why is that so? If they say it's because of the economic structure of baseball, they have some explaining to do because of the success of the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals."

8. Sammy Sosa pops his cork
Slump or no slump, nobody in baseball is less in need of a corked bat than Sosa, whose blasts don't need any small advantage (if any) that cork would provide.

Even if, as Sosa claimed, his use of a corked bat in a game was unintentional -- he said he mistakenly picked up a batting-practice bat he used to put on a show for early-arrivers -- he just shouldn't have had a corked bat around. Why take the chance?

We believe that Sammy's no serial corker. And he probably did make a mistake, of one sort or another. But there's no excuse for a Hall-of-Fame slugger not to be intensely aware of his most important piece of equipment.

9. Joe Paterno just keeps staying ... and staying ... and staying
We have nothing bad to say about Paterno, one of the greatest coaches of all time, and second-winningest in college football, behind Bobby Bowden. He's not just a winner, but a man of great character.

Joe Paterno
Will Joe Paterno ever hand over the reins at Penn State?
Unfortunately, Joe Pa has simply been ineffective over the past four years. The Nittany Lions have gone 22-26 over the past four seasons, by far the worst stretch of Paterno's 51 years of coaching in central PA. Of his four lifetime losing seasons, three have come during that stretch (the only other one was in 1988, when the Nittany Lions went 5-6).

But Paterno says he's going to stay, regardless of the critics -- perhaps even until 2006. And the best argument Page 2 could come up with for him staying was, "At least with Paterno calling the shots, fans of the Lions still have a link to their memories."

And the reasons for him to go? 1) It's time for new blood at Penn State, and 2) Joe's had a great five-decade run, and there's nothing sadder than a great one hanging on way past his prime.

10. Stephen Jackson takes a shot, misses
The Spurs won it all, with Jackson an integral part of the team. So what did the 25-year-old swingman do after that great season? He spurned a $10 million, 3-year deal with San Antonio, thinking he could do better on the open market. Didn't happen. He ended up signing with the Hawks after training camp started. His deal with Atlanta: 2 years, $2.2 million.

Remember Matt Harrington?

Also receiving votes:
President's Cup competitors agree to tie
Bears sign Kordell Stewart
Randall Simon smacks a sausage
Mets sign Tom Glavine

Thanks to ESPN studio production and ESPN Radio for their nominations.



Jeff Merron Archive

The List: Best moves of 2003

The List: Best college football seasons

The List: Biggest turkeys of 2003

The List: Worst No. 1 picks of all time

The List: Biggest Heisman flops

The List: Greatest bowl games

The List: Greatest teenage athletes

The List: NFL's greatest rookies

Email story
Most sent
Print story

espn Page 2 index