Friday, July 31, 2009

Wacky Walt and the Redlegs

"They’re so busy trying to prove to the fans that they want to win, that they’ll never actually win." - excerpt from the Cincinnati Reds' blog Red Reporter

Sometimes despite being the host of a daily sports radio show, even I am rendered speechless.

Let's set the scene: The Cincinnati Reds have lost nine of their last ten games, including three of four to the San Diego Padres at home, who entered that series as the 2nd worst team in baseball behind the Washington Nationals. They are 9 1/2 games behind the first place Cubs in the NL Central, 11 games under .500 overall, and buried in 5th place. Teams in a similar position - i.e. the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have just two less wins - were sellers, departing with Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny, John Grabow, Freddie Sanchez, Jack Wilson, and Nate McClouth (a few weeks ago).
Can someone tell me why the Reds were buyers?

Cincinnati inexplicably sent outcast Edwin Encarnacion, and pitchers Josh Roenicke, and Zach Stewart to Toronto for Scott Rolen. Yes, the same Scott Rolen that is 34 years old, has driven in a meager 158 runs in the last three years, and has played more than 115 games in a season just once since 2005. Oh, and he's owed $11 million (!) next season, all of which will be paid out of the Reds' wallet.

Rolen hit 34 HR in '04 - he's hit 54 in five seasons since

I don't have much of a problem with the Reds jettisoning Encarnacion, who has been a big disappointment when he's actually healthy. But, I can't understand why Walt Jocketty was willing to part with Roenicke and fellow pitcher Zach Stewart, who made the jump from Class A Sarasota to AAA Louisville earlier this season. Neither Roenicke and Stewart were considered top prospects, but still, there's no reason to part with a Major League ready pitcher (Roenicke) and a 22-year old (Stewart) for a veteran that can't help you in two years.

At this time last year, the Reds smartly sold off Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. before the deadline. This year, they sold off three players aged 26, 26, and 22 for a 34-year old on the decline with a lucrative contract.

We have been told that the focus for this team was 2011. Yet, I can't see a 36-year old Rolen batting between Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips in that Reds' lineup. Where does Rolen fit into a future core of Votto, Phillips, Jay Bruce, and top prospect Yonder Alonso?

I asked Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus what his immediate reaction was to the Reds dealing for Rolen. His response? "A confirmation of their delusion."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Grading the Pacers offseason

Despite another mediocre season in 2008-09, the Pacers entered this summer with their long-term plan providing promising early returns. Danny Granger made the jump to his first All-Star Game appearance, Troy Murphy had a career year, Roy Hibbert steadily improved, and Brandon Rush ended a rollercoaster season with a bang. While the franchise is still years away from being a serious Championship contender, they're finally moving forward instead of just treading water.

With a late-Lottery Draft pick and $8 million to spend, the Pacers didn't have much of an opportunity to greatly improve their personnel. They used the 13th overall pick on Tyler Hansbrough, and secured veteran PG A.J. Price with their second round selection. The $8 million was divvied up among veterans like Dahntay Jones, Solomon Jones (no relation), and Earl Watson, along with bringing back bench contributors like Josh McRoberts and Travis Diener.

While Hansbrough won't be a star player in the NBA, and doesn't have a ton of potential, he's a workhorse who will find a way to contribute. Price may take a few years of seasoning before he's ready to see the floor, but he did a great job running a super-talented UConn team this past season. Dahntay Jones isn't a scorer, but is a lockdown defender and frees Granger to concentrate on scoring, rather than drawing the defensive assignment of guarding the opposing team's best player. Earl Watson is also a defensive upgrade, and his career PER numbers (11.6 ppg, 7.3 apg) are very solid. Solomon Jones helps the frontcourt depth, is a shot-blocker, and once punched Zaza Pachulia in the face.
Hansbrough isn't flashy, but should provide solid minutes

In the process, the Pacers did have to let Jarrett Jack walk to Toronto because of his inflated price tag, and rejected a $7M+ option for Marquis Daniels. With Mike Dunleavy's injury situation still up in the air, the team has no backup plan should Danny Granger go down with injury. As of right now, there is only one backup wing (Brandon Rush), but a logjam at point guard.

The Pacers still have one roster spot to fill, but we know 14 of the 15 that they'll carry into the 2009-10 campaign (* projected starters):

PG: T.J. Ford*, Earl Watson, Travis Diener, A.J. Price

SG: Dahntay Jones*, Brandon Rush

SF: Danny Granger*, Mike Dunleavy

PF: Troy Murphy*, Tyler Hansbrough, Josh McRoberts

C: Roy Hibbert*, Jeff Foster, Solomon Jones

That's likely not a playoff team, and the Pacers could very well find themselves back in the dreaded NBA purgatory - the grouping between high-Lottery pick to low-seed playoff team where they've been the last few seasons. However, last year's team won just one more game than the 2007-08 team did, yet I think we'd all agree that they improved. Improvement isn't necessarily translated into wins and losses. By adding depth, and most importantly, players that can actually defend, this team is better-suited for a run at the 7-8 seed in the East than they were last season.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Brickyard Takes

- Overall, I thought it was a solid B to B- race. There wasn't a lot of passing up front, but that's to be expected at a place like Indy. This track wasn't built for stock car racing. However, between Juan Pablo Montoya's inexplicable pit penalty, and a mildly-exciting final 20-lap duel between Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin, the race was about as good as you'll see here. It doesn't fully erase the bad feelings from last year's tire debacle, but it's a good start.

- Speaking of Johnson, is it just me or does the #48 car always start stepping on the gas and blowing away the competition at this point in the season? JJ's third Indy win in four years could catapult him to an unprecedented 4th straight Cup championship.

- I fully believe in conspiracy theories, so when JPM was penalized for speeding in the pits, I couldn't help but think he got screwed. I mean how can a driver of his caliber and his experience with a FIVE SECOND LEAD allow himself to make such a crucial mistake? It cost him a sure victory - nobody was touching the #42 car on Sunday.

- I wonder how much more losing it will take for people to give up on Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior qualified 3rd despite having the "flu" (I heard from a trusted source Dale Jr. was this kind of sick as opposed to this kind of sick), and ran in the top ten all day, only to blow his engine late and finish 36th. Afterwards, he chalked it up to "driver error". Dale hasn't had a top ten finish in a points race since April's Aaron's 499, and is 22nd in the points standings. I know people don't root for losers, so I'm assuming it's only a matter of time before I stop seeing one-third of the fans at the Brickyard with #88 National Guard gear on.

Dale Jr. makes Danica Patrick look like Richard Petty

- Outside of Johnson, I thought it was a great day for both Carl Edwards and Joey Logano. Edwards' #99 Aflac machine was slow all week, but he was able to climb from 41st to a 15th place finish. The 19-year old Logano, making his first ever Brickyard start, finished a strong 12th despite starting dead last (due to changing motors).

- It was a bad day for Joe Gibbs Racing as both Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin had car issues. Busch's blown tire and 38th place finish drops him to 14th and out of The Chase for now. As for Hamlin, he's still solidly in The Chase, but had a drive-shaft problem which sent him back to 34th.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Brickyard Picks

With the 16th running of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard coming up tomorrow, I have decided to share with you my picks for Sunday. NOTE: I have dropped from 2nd to 8th in both of my Fantasy NASCAR leagues over the past four weeks, so please use these with the proper caution.

A Group: Jimmie Johnson
I could go with the cagey vet Jeff Gordon, who is looking for his fifth Brickyard title, but this is usually the time of year when Jimmie turns on the jets. The defending champion has only found Victory Lane twice this season, but is firmly in third place in the points standings thanks to 13 top-ten finishes.

B Group: Tony Stewart*, Juan Pablo Montoya
Smoke has kissed the bricks two of the last four (2005, 2007) races, and I don't really count last year's tire fiasco against him. The #14 has had a dream season so far - his first as owner/driver - and has opened up nearly a full-race lead in the Sprint Cup points standings. Also, unlike other drivers, I believe Stewart when he says that winning at Indy trumps even the Daytona 500 in his opinion.

As for JPM, if not falling victim to a blown tire last year, he probably would've been in contention. The former Indy 500 champion scored a runner up finish in the 400 two years ago, and has more experience on this track than about 90% of his competition.

C Group: A.J. Allmendinger
Last year was A.J.'s first career start at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but he finished 10th and even led four laps. I know it doesn't make much sense to use last year's caution-fest as a barometer, but he's run the best out of the C Group drivers so far this season.
If I'm picking a winner, it has to be Stewart. Just like Helio Castroneves this past May, I feel like this is the #14 car's race to lose.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Goodbye, Jamaal!

Maybe a downtown parade would be a bit overboard, but I think a major celebration is in store now that Jamaal Tinsley has departed our fair city. The troubled guard was finally bought out by the Pacers after a lengthy stand-off with the team. The final number is $10.7 million of the remaining two years and $14.7 million left on his deal.
If you're doing the math at home, that means that the Pacers paid Tinsley over $17.5 million in the past year to play all of zero minutes.

Tinsley's departure means that Indy can finally move on

It’s hard to believe, but Tinsley spent over eight years in Indianapolis after a Draft Day trade in 2001. While most wouldn’t question his talent on the court, his lack of conditioning and publicized off-the-court issues didn’t exactly enamor him to Pacer Nation. I don't think Tinsley was necessarily a bad guy, just a bad decision-maker that surrounded himself with the wrong people.

Putting an end to the Tinsley era, hopefully is the final nail in the coffin of a dark tenure in Pacers basketball. The Brawl, downtown shootings, club incidents, marijuana use, harboring friends with murder warrants – we can bury all of that along with any faded memories of Jamaal Tinsley.

With a core of Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, Brandon Rush, and the newly-minted Tyler Hansbrough, hopefully the Pacers have turned the corner both from standings standpoint, and more importantly a character standpoint.

So we bid you adieu Jamaal. If you can fit through the threshold, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vick Destinations?

On today's show, we discussed the possible landing spots for Michael Vick should he be reinstated by Roger Goodell. Here is a short list that I came up with:

San Francisco – they haven’t had a legitimate quarterback there since Jeff Garcia left after the 2003 season. Since then, the 49ers have trotted out Trent Dilfer, Alex Smith, Cody Pickett, Tim Rattay, Shaun Hill, Chris Weinke, JT O’Sullivan (eat your heart out Moses Moreno!). Now the team is deciding between two terrible options in Hill, or the bustilicious Smith to be the full-time starter. Yikes.

Seattle – Sticking with the pathetic NFC West, Seattle head coach Jim Mora Jr. has a lot of familiarity with Vick from his time in Atlanta. By all indications, the two had a pretty solid coach-player relationship. Matt Hasselbeck (soon-to-be 34) is on the downside of his career and the Seahawks don’t have much else going on at that position.

Oakland - I guess anything is possible with the erratic Al Davis. The Raiders don't seem to be fully behind former #1 pick JaMarcus Russell, and some have questioned his work ethic. When you're as bad as the Raiders have been lately, it could be worth rolling the dice.

Jacksonville – wouldn’t this be hilarious? The team committed $60 million to David Garrard, only to see him fall on his face in 2008 (13 INT, 81.7 QB rating). Maybe they could run a few trick formations with Vick and Maurice Jones-Drew?

Cincinnati – dude’s an ex-con. It’s a match made in heaven.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Peyton, you so crazy!

It's no United Way PSA, but it's not too shabby...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cink Kills Santa Claus

Lots of sports fans came away after Sunday's Final Round of the British Open feeling bad for Tom Watson. Me? I feel bad for the winner Stewart Cink.

Cink, a top-ten ranked golfer from 2004-2008, finally breaks through to capture his first major championship, and everyone at Turnberry is acting like he just killed Santa Claus. I, along with everyone else in the world, would loved to have seen the 59-year old Watson pull the ultimate Cinderella story - but I'm also not going to blame Cink for playing to win.

Let's remember that just because Watson blew that eight-foot putt on 18 and ran out of gas in the four-hole playoff doesn't diminish what he accomplished during the Open Championship. His story was 1,000,000 times better than any drama or storyline that the absent Tiger Woods could have given us. It may be hard to fully grasp the thought, but a Watson victory surely would've equaled any of the biggest surprises in sports history, and that includes the untouchable Miracle on Ice.

Watson's performance won't soon be forgotten

Watson's performance is why we watch sports. Overcoming injury, defying insurmountable odds, and even turning back the hands of time - every once in awhile, we see it happen. However, fairy tales don't always finish with a happy ending. George Mason made it all the way here to Indianapolis for the Final Four before their clock struck midnight against Florida. The Arizona Cardinals couldn't get that final stop against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII. James Braddock (the actual "Cinderella Man") lost his title defense to Joe Louis following his epic upset of Max Baer. It wasn't until the final eight feet of the 72nd hole at Turnberry that the magic ran out for Tom Watson.

A 59-year old all-time great that was 26 years removed from his last major championship captivated sports fans for four unbelievable days that we'll never forget. I heard on SportsCenter that Watson missed his chance at making history. That's funny because I won't watch another British Open for the rest of my life and not think about Tom Watson and 2009.

He didn't need a stupid jug to make history.

Friday, July 17, 2009

No Andy for Indy Tennis Champs

Wow, what a kick in the groin.

Two-time Champion and headliner Andy Roddick was forced to withdraw from the Indianapolis Tennis Championships due to a hip flexor suffered in an epic Wimbledon Final loss to Roger Federer.

Obviously, the ITC is hardly what it used to be when it was the premiere hardcourt warm-up to the U.S. Open and attracted names like Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Jim Courier and Andre Agassi. That being said, there was a lot of buzz surrounding the event coming off Roddick's near upset of Federer and ticket sales were way up.

Now that Andy has pulled out, many fans, including myself, won't get their first live look at Roddick. The highest remaining ranked player is Sam Querrey (#34 in the world) and the rest of the field includes Robby Ginepri, Taylor Dent, and others that non-tennis fans couldn't pick out of a police lineup.

You have to feel for Tournament Director Kevin Martin and their PR guy Michael Morrison, both of whom have been phenomenal to deal with and put on a great event each year.

It's always important to support local sports, so I don't want to drive people away from the event. It just can't be understated what a disappointment it is that Roddick will not be there.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

No Contest

Looking for new ways to spice up the MLB All-Star Game? How about instead of including the National League, just having a split-squad American League scrimmage?

The AL's 4-3 triumph extended their 13-game unbeaten streak which dates back to 1996. The losing pitcher for the American League the last time the NL won an All-Star game? Charles Nagy.

In the spirit of the American League's dominance over their National League counterparts, I took a look at the most lopsided rivalries in recent history:

USC vs. Notre Dame (football)
The Irish haven’t won since Pete Carroll’s first year at the helm in 2001. Outside of a 34-31 USC win in 2005, the scores have been 44-13, 45-14, 41-10, 44-24, 38-0, 38-3 - that's a composite score of 42-11 in favor of the Trojans.

Ohio State vs. Michigan (football)
Since Jim Tressel took over, the Buckeyes have dominated the series, winning five straight and 7 of the last 9. This has especially been magnified in the last two meetings, where Michigan has been outscored 56-10.
Steelers vs. Browns
One of the fiercest rivalries in sports has been very one-sided over the past decade. Since coming back into existence in 1999, the Browns are just 3-18 against Pittsburgh. The Steelers have won 11 straight in the series, and eight straight in Cleveland.

Roger Federer vs. Andy Roddick
Federer has been dominant over just about everybody except Rafael Nadal, but no player has felt his wrath more than Roddick. Federer has beaten A-Rod in 19 of their 21 career meetings, including all four Grand Slam Final meetings and all eight matchups in Grand Slam play overall. Both of Roddick’s wins have come in lower-level tournaments in Montreal and Miami.

North Carolina vs. Duke (basketball)
Carolina has won 7 of the last 9 meetings and four straight at Cameron Indoor, where Tyler Hansbrough never lost. Adding insult to injury, Carolina has also won two titles and gone to three Final Fours in that time, while Duke hasn’t advanced past the Sweet 16.

Nothing like a good old UNC/Duke slap fight

Kentucky vs. Indiana (basketball)
As much as it pains me to say, UK has taken full advantage of IU's decline from powerhouse program in the early 90's to what it is today. The Wildcats have taken 14 of the last 18 meetings and beaten some very good IU teams along the way including Calbert Cheaney's 1992-93 team that was #1 throughout the season, and the 2001-02 National Finalist squad.
Honorable mention: Purdue vs. Indiana (football), Pistons vs. Pacers, Florida vs. Florida State (football), Oklahoma vs. Nebraska (football), Tiger vs. everybody.

The recent lopsided nature of these series doesn't take anything away from the rivalries. As we've seen from the past, these things go in cycles. For instance, from 1988-2000 Michigan was 10-2-1 against Ohio State (entire John Cooper era). The Irish were unbeaten against the Trojans from 1983-1996, and Lou Holtz lost just once to USC during his tenure. Duke had won 13 of 15 against Carolina before their recent struggles.
Is there hope for the National League? Probably not. But, hey at least playing in Triple-A the NL gives teams like the Cubs, Reds, and Cardinals a chance to win a Championship with just 83 wins.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Catching up...

I'm back from my mini-vacation to Chicago/South Bend (exotic). Here are some of the thoughts I have on some of the events the past couple of days:

South Bend isn't South Beach, but still enjoyable

THUMBS UP TO DAHNTAY: Though it's far from a blockbuster deal, I don't see any downsides in bringing in free agent Dahntay Jones. He adds a defensive prescence, which is what this franchise has needed for years, and he comes at a bargain price of $11 million over four years.

USUAL SUSPECTS: After Justin Wilson's big win at Watkin's Glen, things returned to normal for the IRL over the weekend at Toronto. Ganassi/Penske went 1-2-3-4 with Dario Franchitti, Ryan Briscoe, Will Power, and Scott Dixon.
PRINCE = HR KING: Sure it wasn't quite up to par of Josh Hamilton circa 2008, but Prince Fielder still got the job done in an enertaining Home Run Derby win over Nelson Cruz and others. Fielder launched a 503-foot blast en route to victory. You could only wonder what this kid would do if he sucked about 20-25 pounds...

LEBRON THE DIVA: I'm not sure if the dunk-gate story is an elaborate marketing scheme by Nike as one caller mentioned, but if it's not, then the issue is another link on what is becoming a disturbing chain. First, LeBron walked out on shaking hands, then he blew an opportunity to apologize for it - now he's confiscating videotapes of himself getting dunked on? That even makes Mariah Carey blush.

One last thing, there are way too many tolls on the way to Chicago. I have to pay on the Indiana Toll Road, pay to get on the Skyway, and pay one other unknown toll for an unknown reason - and all tolls are both ways! Back East, I may pay six bucks to get over the GW (that's George Washington Bridge to you), but I only have to pay it once going southbound to Jersey. I don't have to sit in traffic TWICE. Outside of that, I love Chicago and always enjoy visiting.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dahntay Does Indy

The Pacers have finally made their first free agent acquisition of the summer, coming to terms with former Nuggets guard Dahntay Jones. The deal is reportedly worth $11 million over four years, and gives the Pacers a much needed defensive stopper. Jones started 72 games last year, and helped lead Denver to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 1985.

Also, Jones is African-American. Just thought I'd point that out so we could stop this nonsense. (Side note: I totally agree with everything that Bob says in the piece. What I mean is that we can stop talking about the white player conspiracy theories).

I think this is a great move by Larry Bird & Co. A bargin-basement veteran who is the ultimate role player and can guard the opposing team's best player. Having Jones will also free up Danny Granger from having to worry about locking down LeBron James or Dwayne Wade, and focus on what he does best: scoring.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Shots - Week of July 6

Swish: Dale Coyne Racing
A 25-year wait came to an end for Dale Coyne at Watkins Glen today. Justin Wilson dominated the field and captured his first victory of the season by holding off Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon after a final restart. The win was monumental for Wilson's team owner Coyne, who had spent 25 years as an owner or driver without ever finding his way to Victory Lane.
Dale Coyne Racing's previous best finish in the IndyCar Series was third in the season opener at St. Petersburg, and its best overall in open-wheel racing had been second with Bruno Junqueira in a 2007 Champ Car-sanctioned race in Belgium.
The 55-year old Coyne and his driver Wilson were the first non-Penske or Ganassi pair to win a race in the 2009 season.
The long wait for Dale Coyne and his team is over
Brick: Coverage of performance-enhancing drug users
Sometimes the mainstream sports media can be so fickle. When allegations broke against Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, both of the players were almost universally condemned for their actions. Yet after an apologetic puff-piece and some eye makeup for A-Rod, and a charming rehab stint in low-A for Manny, it's hands-across-America for these guys. Don't get me wrong - I don't think performance-enhancing drug uses should be put in the stocks or anything, but do we really need hourly updates on Manny at-bats in his return from a 50-game suspension?
These players cheated the game and they cheated themselves. Whether you are staunch anti-steroids or think it's not a big deal, both sides should agree that these guys shouldn't be commended for "overcoming adversity" or shed in a positive light.
Air Ball: Bernie Eccelstone
As if things couldn't get worse for this miserable Andy Warhol wanna-be. Formula One chief Bernie Eccelstone, who thumbed his nose at Tony George and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is back in the news after praising Adolf Hitler and other totalitarian regimes for "getting things done".

“We did a terrible thing when we supported the idea of getting rid of Saddam Hussein. He was the only one who could control that country. It was the same [with the Taliban]. We move into countries and we have no idea of the culture. The Americans probably thought Bosnia was a town in Miami. There are people starving in Africa and we sit back and do nothing but we get involved in things we should leave alone.”

Ugh. My head hurts. Here's an idea Bernie - take your lame, boring Formula One racing and get as far away from the States as possible. I could give a crap what Brazil and Italy think about F1. If it is irrelevant in America, then it's irrelevant period.

Sparkler Bomb

As I mentioned on Friday's show, this (below) is a Sparkler Bomb:

Despite acting like a 10-year old and ignoring all of the proper procedures of firework safety, I luckily emerged from another Fourth of July weekend uninjured. I hope you did the same.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Programming Note

Big show tomorrow to kick off the 4th of July weekend. The guest list includes:
Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 car for Andretti-Green Racing.

Pacers' 2nd round pick and former UConn star PG A.J. Price.

Former Indiana Mr. Football and Baseball at McCutcheon and current White Sox SP Clayton Richard.

Butler G/F Gordon Hayward, who is participating for Team USA for the World University Games U19 team in New Zealand.

You can listen in live on XL 950 from 3-6 PM, or online by following our stream address.

Back to the Garden...

News dropped yesterday that both Indiana and Butler would be participating in the 2009 Jimmy V Classic at the World's Most Famous Arena (that's Madison Square Garden to you).

Oddly enough, both programs have had tons of success playing the the mecca of basketball. Butler ran through IU and Notre Dame before routing Tennessee and Gonzaga at the Garden en route to the 2006 Preseason NIT Championship. The Hoosiers won a pair of preseason NIT titles, beating Seton Hall in 1992 and blowing out Duke in 1996. The below clip is a highlight of Andrae Patterson's ridiculous 39-point night against the Blue Devils.

It's funny because what I actually remember the most about that Tournament was the night before when IU needed Patterson's buzzer-beating jumper just to get by Evansville. If memory serves me correctly, that Hoosier team started the season 14-0 before falling to Kentucky by about 1,068,528 points (I looked it up and the score was actually 99-65). They eventually were rocked by #9 seed Chauncey Billups and Colorado in the first round of the NCAAs.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

By George, he's Gone!

Tony George is out as president at CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Robin Miller of Speed TV first reported Tony George's ouster last month, and the news became official late Tuesday. The move has drawn mixed reviews from open-wheel racing fans, because in his near 20 years at the Speedway, George has been a polarizing figure.
Some blame him for the destruction of open-wheel racing when he caused a split in 1996 with the formation of the Indy Racing League. However, others rave about his ability to bring NASCAR to the Brickyard, and his efforts in spear-heading several key safety modifications.
Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle.

Yes, George did help turn the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from an antique into the finest racing facility on planet earth. George oversaw the addition of the Tower Terrace Suites, pit lane reconstruction (including the addition of a warm-up lane), and the building of a road course for F-1, and a control tower. He also brought NASCAR to the Brickyard in 1994, and the race annually ranks on the short-list of the most coveted Sprint Cup titles along with Daytona and Talladega. George ushered in several safety modifications, including the SAFER barrier (or soft wall) which is now used on almost every mile-plus racing oval in the country.

However, under George, open-wheel racing is a shell of its former self. Though the split in 1996 was resolved with last year's unification, the damage for the sport cannot be undone. His short-sighted 25-8 qualifying format (25 spots for IRL cars, just 8 for CART entries) led to a CART boycott, robbing race of most of the premiere drivers in open-wheel racing and severely hurting the fanbase and sponsorship. Drivers like Andretti, Fittipaldi, Rahal, Sullivan and Unser took their skills elsewhere. The Indianapolis 500 has never quite recovered.

Empty stands during practice/qualifying and low ratings speak for themselves

If I was asked to give a grade on the Tony George era at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it would be a C-minus. George did some good things, and anti-George race fans that choose to ignore those aspects aren't telling the whole story. That being said, much of the frustration felt by open-wheel fans in the last two decades has been caused by George.

Tony George wasn't a complete failure, but his era as the top-dog at the Speedway has unceremoniously come to an end.

George did do some good, but the dark cloud from the split, and the lasting effect on the Indianapolis 500 will hang over open-wheel racing long into the foreseeable future.