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Vander Wal, Benjamin are right players, but for the wrong team

Sunday, August 06, 2000

The Pirates are a better team with John Vander Wal and Mike Benjamin. Of that, there is no question. But that's not the right question. This is: Why sign role players when the players they're expected to complement are not yet in place? The true value of Vander Wal and Benjamin is what they add to a contending team. The Pirates aren't remotely close. Both of these players have performed beyond expectations. This isn't about them. It's about the right players for the right team at the right time. And the Pirates' "time" appears to be a ways off.

 
 

Stan Savran is the co-host of SportsBeat on Fox Sports Pittsburgh.

   
 

Plaxico Burress' most impressive play in Dallas was one no one is talking about. It was the interference call he drew to set up the Steelers' first touchdown. The way the game is played in the NFL these days, teams actually reserve room in their playbooks for pass interference. Especially when your wideouts have distinct size advantages. Just throw it up there, and chances are a flag will land before the ball does. And seldom is it called on the offensive guy.

I know a little something about the Cleveland Indians, and I'll tell you right now that Enrique Wilson is better both offensively and defensively than any middle infielder the Pirates have in their system, including those currently on the big-league club. I wouldn't trade Wilson for Wil Cordero even up, let alone throw Alex Ramirez into the deal. If I were Cleveland GM John Hart, and my secretary buzzed in to say Cam Bonifay was on the line, I would hang up and immediately change my phone number.

Unless you have a fear of empty seats, there's not much to fear from the Carolina Hurricanes. Still, it might not be a good idea to take penalties against them this season. Not when they can put Sandis Ozolinsh and Kevin Hatcher on their power-play points. While recognizing their defensive liabilities, I doubt any team can boast a tandem of point men as equally accomplished.

How can anyone question Eric Lindros' decision to reject Philadelphia's qualifying offer, when it contained a two-way clause that would allow the Flyers to pay him one tenth of his salary if they chose to send him to the minors? Which, if he's unable to play for the first half of the season, they most certainly would do. The Flyers can now freeze Lindros as the Penguins did to Petr Nedved. But in reality, all he'd be losing is 85 grand.

I didn't have many arguments with the NFL Insider's "Dream Team" announced this week. Art Shell would have been a better choice at offensive tackle than Roosevelt Brown. And Larry Wilson was named primarily because he was the first to demonstrate the effectiveness of the safety blitz. But by and large, the selections were solid. Predictably, quarterback was the most hotly debated position. The two greatest pure passers I ever saw play were Sonny Jurgensen and Dan Marino. And when you think of leadership-rich winners, the names Ken Stabler, Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw and others come to mind. But put all those qualities into one bag, and you come out with the man the panel selected, Johnny Unitas.

When did Monday Night Football become a religious experience? Some lost souls are acting as though the inclusion of Dennis Miller on the broadcast team is tantamount to desecrating a cathedral. It's a television show, for cryin' out loud! They broadcast from football stadiums, not St. Peter's Basilica.

In the steamy summer of 1988, Miller came home to do a weekend of standup comedy. He had begun to make a national name for himself, and so this very newspaper dispatched Tom McMillan, now a Penguins' executive but then toiling in the fields of journalism, and a former classmate of Miller's at Point Park College, to do a feature on the Count of Castle Shannon. One of the questions asked of Miller was, "What do you miss most about Pittsburgh?" The comic, tongue firmly imbedded in cheek, replied, "I miss the Myron Cope and Stan Savran talk shows. Especially Savran. He used to really nail the creeps!" That may be the nicest thing anyone ever said about me. I apologize for being 12 years late, but thanks Dennis. And for what it's worth, I think you'll do great on Monday Night Football. Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

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