Thursday, August 30, 2012

The NFL steps out of bounds

Few would doubt that in the world of American professional sports, the National Football League rules. From popularity, to merchandise, to TV, to just about any other measure one can think of -- the NFL is, and has been for many years, the T-Rex of the zoo. It's not even a close call. NASCAR? A very distant second, by about a 3 to 1 margin. As king, what the NFL wants -- they pretty much get.

History is chock full of examples, in sports and otherwise, of people with too much power having it go to their head, and thinking they can do just about anything to anybody. After all, who would dare challenge their authority? Yet there are times when the masses have to draw the line and say, "Hey, you're out of bounds. We'll tolerate a lot -- but this is too much". I'll get back to that.

It might be a fair comparison to think of the NFL as a parent corporation in name only that consists of 32 subsidiaries constantly competing against each other, but all the while sharing the total revenue that comes in between them. How's that for a weird business model? Like many corporations, the NFL has to deal with a union that represents the actual workers. The league is well known for changing the "shop rules" every year as to how the game is actually played. Different by-laws on kick-offs, helmet to helmet contact, horse-collar tackles, crack-back blocks, and hitting below the waist are a few recent examples, though I'm fairly SUHre stomping an opponent when he's down has always been frowned upon. Sometimes their rules are comical. Consider the dress code. Players have to keep their jerseys tucked in, their chins straps snapped during a live play, and are regulated all the way down to how high their socks can be. Obviously, players on any given team all wear the same uniform. Yet at the same time, the coaches, which are management representatives, are free to wear anything from suits to hoodies. Does that make sense?

Recently, the NFL quietly instituted a policy that flew under most radar screens. Any fan who is ejected from an NFL game will be required to take a 4-hour on-line course before they will be allowed to return to the facility. Supposedly the course has to do with anger management, drinking and bad behavior. This not only crosses the line -- it's hypocritical and even stupid.

The NFL itself does everything it can to get attending fans worked into a riotous mood. They'll hand out things at the gates to entering patrons to stoke them. See the terrible towels in Pittsburgh. They'll sell them beer and mixed drinks at inflated prices even the Pentagon would be ashamed of. They'll sell them terrible food at the same rates. The PA announcer will stoke the crowd even more, and the signs ringing the stadium will call for various chants. Often, after some of the above mentioned liquid refreshments and not so fine cuisine has made it's way into a fan's digestive system, they'll have to run like Usain Bolt for the restroom, which by then is likely to offer about the same degree of sanitary conditions as an outhouse in a refugee camp. Of course, while one is taking care of necessary business there, the crowd will erupt with a deafening roar. They just missed the best play of the game.

After all of that, is it any wonder some folks start hollering things they normally wouldn't, and get a little rowdy? Now the NFL wants to ban them from the stadium until they take a 4-hour course on being a more polite citizen? Did I forget to mention the very essence of the product the NFL has so successfully marketed is a bunch of guys running around at high speed trying to beat each other's brains out in the first place? The hypocrisy screams.

About 7000 people got ejected from NFL stadiums last year for various reasons. Sounds like a lot. It's not. Do the math. Not counting the post-season and ignoring bye-weeks, there's 16 games for 16 weeks. 256. Let's assume an average of 50,000 people per game. That's about 13 million fans. 7000 is about one half of 1%. Given everything that goes on, it's a miracle that figure isn't considerably higher.

To boot, the NFL mandate says if any fan that had been previously ejected didn't complete their mandated course, they could be arrested if found back on stadium property. This is where it goes beyond arrogance and gets stupid.

First, anger management courses are a bad joke. The only thing they seem to accomplish is further pissing off the people that have to attend them. Like the typical NFL "ejectee" from a game, a guy or gal might have got caught up the heat of the moment combined with alcohol, and did something they regret. No real harm done. Let them go home, sober up, sleep on it,  and they'll return to being model citizens the next day. Forcing them to participate in a program which they neither want nor need, while being labeled as bad people, not to mention charging them some ridiculous fee for it, is a recipe for creating a bad attitude toward the "system" that was never there to begin with. It's counterproductive.

Second, how would the NFL identify a fan returning to a stadium that had refused the 4-hour course? No names are on the tickets, and I've never been asked to show ID going to a game. Though it may someday come to it, I'm pretty sure they don't have fingerprint or retinal scanners on the gates just yet. A general description? Well, good luck with that if they ban an innocent guy that looked like somebody else. Sam's phone will be ringing.

Third, though the NFL may have a lot of power within their own ranks, even to the absurd point of replacing their regular experienced officials with the Keystone Kops over pocket change in a multi-billion dollar industry, they don't have any authority to start arresting citizens over some rule they arbitrarily made up. I'm not even sure the typical security people at a game have a legal right to detain someone. Yes, they can escort a fan off the property, but arrest them? I don't think so. That might open the door to the wonderful world of false arrest and civil rights violations, criminal matters, and go a big step up from Sam to a guy named Jeff.

As the Commissioner, Roger Goodell certainly wields a lot of clout, but he might want to rethink this latest not so smart league mandate.

Even kings have no control over many things, like Mother Nature. It's not wise to taunt her.

Besides seriously disrespecting some of their fans, some of which may well be long time season ticket holders -- fooling with guys like Geoffrey Fieger isn't such a good idea either.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The latest bytes

Well, let's see. Justin Verlander, ace pitcher of the Detroit Tigers, just got shelled by the Kansas City Royals. Who do those guys think they are? The National League All-Stars that did the same thing? This is not a big deal. It's the big leagues. Even the best are going to get rock and rolled once in a while.

Tennis' Williams sisters are steam-rolling their not-so-good opponents in the early rounds of the U.S. Open. Yawn. Venus will likely bow out somewhere around the quarter-finals and Serena will play for the championship against some tall blond Russian girl. The only thing in question is which one of them will register higher on the shriek-o-meter every time they hit the tennis ball. Damn, that's annoying, not to mention the epitome of unladylike.

Once again, Tiger Woods played 2 days of good golf to be in contention at a PGA tournament, then his scores inflated like an air bag in a head-on collision over the weekend. This is starting to become a rather nasty habit for dear Eldrick.

To my knowledge, no Detroit Lions have been arrested in the past week or so. They still have ZERO running game, and the defensive secondary raises more questions than your average Jeopardy! panel, but hey, if they can continue to shut down the rap sheets -- it's a start.

Reigning NASCAR champion Tony Stewart blew up and threw his helmet at a competitor's car. To which I say -- it's about time. Those boys have been on their best behavior WAY too long, to the point of becoming boring. Nothing like some "bad blood" heading into the "chase" to spice it up. The attendance at race tracks and TV ratings have been going down steadily. If they really wanted to jump start it -- instead of Danica Patrick stomping her feet in a little hissy fit after yet another of her race cars was wrecked, have her pull what former US soccer star Brandi Chastain once did. Unzip the race suit, and rip off her shirt on national TV. The media would go berserk for weeks. BAM. Instant ratings. It might be for all the wrong reasons, but nothing ambulance chasing lawyers and typical politicians don't do on a regular basis. It's the American way, and who doesn't like a couple of raspberries on a piece of white toast?

No recent tweets from the likes of Kobe Bryant or Lebron James making the news. Thank you Lord for small favors.

Nothing new on the NHL - Players Association negotiations. This does not bode well for hockey fans. Commissioner Gary Bettman will probably never lead the NHL back into the mainstream of sports it once enjoyed. Why not try something different? Appoint former NBA great Charles Barkley as Commissioner. Sure, he never played the game either, but how much fun would it be with, excuse the pun, Charles in charge? Ya gotta love him.

With 30-some games remaining in the major league baseball season, a lot of teams are still in the hunt for playoff spots. It will likely go down to the last week, possibly even the last game of the regular season, to determine who moves on and who goes home. Many scribes and talking heads wrote or told us a loss in April or May didn't matter. It's early and a long season, they say every year. Yet if it comes down to the last game and their team needs to win -- well -- yours truly has always been of the opinion that the first game of the year counts just as much as the last. A win is a win and a loss is a loss. After 162 games, we'll find out who's who, and it's all about wins and losses -- over the ENTIRE season. Remember that next spring when you hear the same thing, from the same people, and let them know about it.

On a more positive note, it won't be long until apple cider becomes available. I love Michigan apple cider. The problem with that is if one drinks too much of it, their digestive tract tends to become quite loose.

It's sort of like paying 6 or 8 bucks for a draft beer worth maybe a quarter while watching what the Detroit Pistons are going to have to offer in the near future at the Palace in Auburn Hills. Either way, one eventually doesn't feel so hot, things get a little stinky, and it will involve a lot of toilet paper.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Janet Guthrie. A very impressive lady

Most race car fans, at least those that are old enough, remember Janet Guthrie as the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500. That took place way back in 1977 and yours truly just happened to be in attendance at that race, partying with the rest of the maniacs in the infield.

Times were quite different back then. The mere idea of a woman being admitted to Augusta National, the exclusive all-male country club and home of the Masters tournament, would have brought loud guffaws. It was much the same with Guthrie attempting to race in the Indy 500. Most open-wheel race fans considered it a novelty and/or publicity stunt. She must be kidding, right? But she wasn't kidding, and went on to earn her way into the field -- fair and square. Still, male chauvinism ran rampant, particularly amongst some of the other more established male drivers. This was their stag party, and Guthrie was no more than the entertainment. "Have fun racing your car", they grumbled, "but stay out of the way". Indeed, Guthrie didn't fare particularly well in that race, eventually having engine problems and finishing 29th out of 33. The following year she would be back and finish 9th. Not too shabby for a sophomore who never had the top-notch equipment many of her better known male counterparts had become so accustomed to.

Yet Janet Guthrie was so much more than just an Indy car driver. She graduated from the University of Michigan in 1960 with a Bachelors of Science in physics, then proceeded to go to work for Republic Aviation in New York as an aerospace engineer. While there, she worked on many programs that would eventually become part of the Apollo moon shots that we all remember so well. Along the way, she became not only a pilot, but a flight instructor, and even entered the astronaut program herself. Let's not forget that back in the 1960s the notion of a female astronaut wasn't even on the drawing board. In retrospect, it's no great surprise, considering the times, that Guthrie never made it far enough along in that process to suit up for an actual NASA mission. Nevertheless, she deserves the highest respect for getting as far as she did.

While many mostly remember Guthrie for breaking the gender barrier at Indy in 1977, her racing career was far more accomplished than that. She'd been road-racing at various levels for 13 years, building and maintaining her own cars along the way, before ever getting a shot at qualifying for Indy. Unlike Danica Patrick, who was handed a top-notch ride at Indy when she was only 23, Janet was 39 years old when she finally made her way into the Indy 500 field in 1977. She did it the old-fashioned way -- she earned it. It's funny, or maybe not, how Danica was so quickly accepted and became a crowd favorite, while Janet endured all the abuse 35 years ago. A sign of the times.

Another not so minor detail often overlooked is Janet Guthrie was also the first woman to compete in a NASCAR superspeedway event. That happened the year before, in 1976. If male chauvinisn was dominant at Indy back then, it probably goes without saying what the state of such attitudes were on the NASCAR circuit at the time. She finished 15th. In 1977, a mere 3 months before she would qualify for the Indy 500, Guthrie also qualified and raced in NASCAR's Daytona 500, and was rookie of the year. Despite an engine malfunction with 10 laps to go, she finished 12th. Very impressive stuff.

Janet Guthrie was a lot of things besides being the first woman to race at Indy. She was a true pioneer, in many ways. Her helmet and race suit are in the Smithsonian, and at the maybe not so tender age of 68, was finally honored by being admitted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2006.

Now 74, Janet Guthrie has a lot of miles under her belt, in more ways than one, and she's earned every last one of them.

This Indy infield maniac, that watched her car go by over and over again back in 1977, salutes her.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Blown coverage

Even if the entire secondary of the Detroit Lions were to suffer a tragic outbreak of polio, it's likely they could still provide better coverage than what was afforded the TV viewing public a short while ago.

On Saturday, the American finals of the Little League World Series were going on. The game pitted a team from California against one from Tennessee. It appeared to be a blowout, with Tennessee leading 15-5 going into the bottom of the 6th and final inning. Then California came roaring back to score 10 runs and tie the game at 15. The inning wasn't over. With 2 outs, the next California batter stepped up, and -- zap -- the local ABC affiliate pulled the plug on likely the most exciting comeback in LLWS history so they could switch over to the Detroit Lions' pregame show. Not a real game, mind you, the talking head prelude to an (expletive) exhibition game. Are you KIDDING me?

Then it went from bad to worse. While the Lions were tangling with the Oakland Raiders on the west coast, somehow TV coverage of a pivotal NASCAR race at Bristol got lost in the shufffle and wasn't available to most in the Detroit area.

On a personal note, I had been invited to my neighbors Paul and Lisa's house for a small NASCAR race-watching party. Upon arriving, Paul, an avid NASCAR fan, was discovering he couldn't tune it in. No TV kind of takes the fun out of a race party. I wasn't sure who his "provider" was so I hustled back across the street to check out what was going on with DirecTV, which I subscribe to. Sure enough, the "guide" listed the race on an obscure channel, called ESPNna. I think the "na" technically stands for national, but clicking on it, I was informed the program was NA in my area. As in not available. Well damn, if it's not available, then why is it on the guide in the first place?

Again, let's not forget the Lions-Raiders game was meaningless to all except the marginal players trying to survive the inevitable cuts that will come shortly. Meanwhile, the race at Bristol was of importance on the NASCAR circuit. They're getting down to "cut time" themselves regarding who makes their version of the playoffs, aka "The Chase". Playoff implications vs a grapefruit league game. We were force fed the citrus. Please.

ESPN has a number of regular channels, and checking those out revealed their flagship station was carrying high school football, of all things. Wait a minute. Prep football? On Saturday? They're showing replays of the Friday Night Lights thing while ignoring a NASCAR race? Couldn't they have shown the race on that channel? Who's in charge of this F-troop outfit anyway?

The answer would be Disney. They're the parent company of ESPN, ABC, and all the affiliates involved. Granted, Disney has been a very successful company over the decades, likely because old Walt himself once took great pride in organization, efficiency, and giving the people what they wanted.

I've been to every Disney theme park in the Orlando area, and even to the original way out in Anaheim.

But never have I seen a Mickey Mouse show quite like this.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

On to Danica Patrick

As was begun in the last post here, the media adopts certain "darlings" in the world of sports. Danica Patrick most certainly qualifies.

Like most auto racers, she started out in go-karts as a kid and progressively moved up. Her travels eventually took her to England, where she participated in a minor league Formula series, then back to the US, where she somehow landed an Indy car ride at the tender age of 23.

Though still somewhat a novelty, Danica wasn't the first woman to qualify and race at the Indy 500. That honor went to Janet Guthrie way back in 1977. Guthrie's life and career as a racer is actually quite fascinating, and I'll be writing about that shortly. But back to Danica.

It's no big secret that the sport of open-wheel racing had basically self-destructed due to a long lasting feud between the powers that were, a couple decades ago. So when Danica came along, pretty face and all, it should have come as no great surprise that the Indy car PR folks, in conjunction with the media hypsters, trumpeted Ms. Patrick from every mountaintop. Surely, she would not only breathe life back into open-wheel racing, but be a frequent visitor to Victory Lane. The sport would quickly be restored to it's former greatness with Danica leading the way. Needless to say, it didn't quite work out like that.

When Danica was an Indy car racer, she had top notch equipment from top to bottom. First it was Rahal Letterman racing, and then Andretti Motorsports. Those two outfits were heavyweights in the Indy car world. Yet, despite the superior gear and unending hype, Danica couldn't seem to win. Yes, she won an obscure race in Japan, but the best she ever did at the Indy 500 was 3rd. What was almost comical was every year at the Brickyard, when the superior drivers were coming in for routine fuel and tire pit stops -- Danica was always left out on the track for another lap or two. That allowed the announcers to breathlessly scream, "Danica Patrick's leading the Indianapolis 500". After Danica had to come in for the same pit stop and the field reset itself, she would typically be back in the middle of the pack. But, by God, she was leading it for a few minutes, the hypsters would remind us. One word. Please.

Having unconquered that circuit, Danica decided to move on to greener pastures. NASCAR. It's certainly a bigger market and offers many more opportunities. Instead of just one marquis race a year like in Indy car, NASCAR has a bunch of them. No more worries about making a driving mistake and incidental contact that would trash her Indy ride. Now she could play bumper cars with the roundy-round boys and carry on. And the exposure? Holy cow. Bring on the drooling redneck fans every week, schedule the photo shoots, and line up the endorsements.

Thing is, Danica doesn't seem to be any better in a "stock" car than she was in an Indy car. In fact, it's gotten worse. Forget winning, she's not even competitive. On top of that, it's a rarity she can go through an entire race without totalling the car. At one point she'd participated in 7 races, and wrecked 6 cars. Like her Indy days, Danica is still sponsored by Go Daddy. What exactly is that anyway? Some sort of on-line business? What she used to say to her father when she was getting spanked for being a bad girl? Beats me, but whoever it is, they must be getting a little financially weary of how many cars they're getting cha-chinged for. Those things don't come cheap.

And this is only in the minor leagues of NASCAR, commonly known as the Nationwide Series. Danica is running a "limited" schedule with the big boys in NASCAR's major leagues -- the Sprint Cup Series. No doubt, the hypesters wait with bated breath and a bazillion sound bytes for Danica to become a full time participant on that circuit. If she ever somehow actually wins a big time race, the media blitz will be incredible. The chances of that happening? Hard to say. Anything's possible. Jim Leyland might decide to grow a ponytail. But I wouldn't count on it.

Danica's not that good as a race car driver.
She never has been.
Chances are, she never will be.

But the hype will continue, at least until those that bestow pseudo royalty can find another to anoint.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Danica Patrick and Tiger Woods

As mentioned in this space a while back, there's such a thing as media darlings, particularly when it comes to the world of sports. These are the people that are hyped to no end for various reasons.

The media wants them to win. They WILL them to win and, if there was a way the scribes and talking heads could stack the deck in their favor -- by God -- they WOULD win. As someone much smarter than me once put it -- the media likes to play king or queen maker. Sometimes it has to do with good looks, personality, gender, or even race. Yet other times one wonders where the media is coming from with their latest anointed "superstar".

Michelle Wie might be a good example. As a 13-14 year old golfer, Ms. Wie was trumpeted as the next queen of the ladies' professional golf tour. Before she was old enough to qualify for a driver's license, much less vote or drink, Wie was given exemptions to participate in many events she hadn't earned the right to play in. The media wanted it that way -- and so it came to pass. Through somebody's audacity, Michelle even found a way to tee it up against the top male professionals -- where she was predictably humbled. Even the "little engine that could" blew a gasket trying to climb that particular hill. Several years later, and after all that hype, what did she amount to? Just another lady golfer in the middle of the pack of the LPGA. Nothing special.

Tiger Woods, of course, had the best of all worlds. Not only did the hype begin shortly after young Eldrick was out of diapers and swinging a club on a TV talk show, he grew up to be a handsome young man and, oh my, could he ever play golf. He was blowing away everybody at every level along the way, including going on to dominate the PGA circuit for several years. Did the fact that Tiger was a black man playing a predominantly white man's game make him a novelty and therefore a media favorite? Perhaps, but there was no questioning his ability. Sure, the last few years Tiger hasn't been anywhere near the dominant player he once was, and the constant force-feeding of his replays to the TV viewing public can be irritating to objective golf fans that are not amongst Woods' groupies, especially when he's fading fast on a weekend at any particular tournament. Why would we want to see replays of a guy that's 5, then 8, then 12, or whatever strokes behind, to the detriment of seeing the people that are in contention? I suppose Woods at least earned some of this for once being so great, but hey, does anybody want the TV cameras to concentrate on Jeff Gordon's #24 car in NASCAR these days? Gordon was every bit the winner Woods was several years ago, but he's been slip-sliding away as well. Show me the leaders.

Oops, this has run on too long. Danica next time. Go Daddy indeed......

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The NHL labor negotiations

With a little over 3 weeks to go before the current collective bargaining agreement expires on Sept. 15, the NHL and the players appear far apart in their negotiations. Let's examine a few issues and see who's being fair and who's not.

The league wants the players to reduce their current share of revenues from 57%  to 43%. That's quite a cut, to the tune of approximately $450 million. Do the owners really need another $450M? Somehow I doubt that. A more reasonable figure would seem to be in order. Why not split the difference and make it 50-50?

The league wants to limit the length of contracts to 5 years. Currently there's no limit. That makes sense on two fronts. First, it's ludicrous to sign a player to a 10-12 year contract. Nobody knows if a player will even last that long, let alone stay productive. Second, while a very select few players may enjoy that luxury, it protects the owners from their own stupidity in granting such deals.

The owners have stated they'll lock out the players on 9/15 if a new agreement isn't reached. Everybody loses, especially the fans. The players have expressed a willingness to play on under the terms of the current agreement, if need be, while negotiations continue. Unless the owners are losing money hand over fist under the current deal, which I also doubt, the union position is much more reasonable.

The league wants to extend the number of years required for a player to become an unrestricted free agent from the current 7, to 10. That's crazy. The average length of an NHL career for a player is only 5-6 years. More players (5%) only last one single game in the NHL than players (4%) that play 1000 games. Seven years is bad enough to possibly be tied to a team that a player doesn't particularly care for, let alone 10.

The coup de grace is the league wants to eliminate the right of players to go to salary arbitration. In cases of disputes, what could possibly be fairer than both sides making their numbers pitch to an impartial third party, and letting them decide? If THAT goes away, and the owners get their way on everything listed above, the NHL will more closely resemble a plantation than a pro sports league.

Finally, though the figure is unclear, the union has agree to cut their percentage of the revenue and suggested the owners adopt a revenue sharing policy amongst themselves to help out teams in smaller markets. Seeing as how all the wins and losses count the same, regardless of who's playing who, to a certain degree the owners need each other to thrive. It will be interesting to see if they consider that.

Overall, the league is asking for WAY too much in the way of player concessions. If the union and players give in to all of it, they might as well forego the national anthems before a game and play Swing Low Sweet Chariot. Here's hoping cooler and more reasonable heads prevail on the league's side of the negotiating table, or we might not see any pro hockey for quite a while.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Augusta National and the ladies

Satan himself has icicles hanging from his ears. Porky and Petunia Pig have sprouted wings and are cruising at Mach 2. For all I know, maybe John Boener and Nancy Pelosi have become all touchy-feely. And OMG, Augusta National Golf Club, home of the fabled Masters Tournament, has decided to admit women members.

What's next? The sports editor of this paper, Jeff Kuehn, returning punts for the Detroit Lions? My long time critic and Tiger fan Al throwing Woods under the bus in favor of Rory Sabbatini? The sky is falling, everybody out of the water, and surely Defcon 1 approaches.

After being in business for 80 years, it seems Augusta National, one of the last bastions championing an all-male membership, has opted to pass their own version of the 21st Amendment to our constitution. The repeal of Prohibition. Many will claim it's about time, yet some men might shake their heads and say, "Wow, if THEY caved, we poor working stiffs don't have a chance. There's no getting away from them anymore. We're doomed". Both sides would seem to have a point.

The first two honorees will be Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore. Rice is well known for her days as the national security adviser under former Prez George W. Bush. Moore is some sort of -- surprise -- big time southern financier. There's little doubt she's a conservative Republican as well. Check out her picture. No liberal would be caught dead in a Leave It To Beaver hairstyle like that.

Yep, they've both got big bucks. While Augusta National won't disclose how much a membership initally costs, or what the annual dues fees are, it's pretty safe to assume joining that particular club is a tad more pricey than, say, the Eagles, Moose, or Elks.

About ten years ago, one Martha Burk and her women's advocacy group challenged Augusta over its all-male membership. Burk even staged a protest down the street from Augusta. It drew about 30 people. 30 people? There would probably be a bigger turn out than that supporting a statue of Fidel in Miami, Adolph in Tel Aviv, or Osama at ground zero. Needless to say, it wasn't exactly a million woman march going on. Martha had her 15 minutes of fame, then disappeared from the radar. Now Martha is back claiming, "we finally won". Burk didn't win anything, nor did those who sympathized with her cause. Augusta did things in their own way, like they always have. For any who doubt that, consider that when Burk was in the news and the liberal media was nipping at Augusta over women -- the membership responded by severing ties with TV sponsors for 2 years. No commercials allowed. We'll do it ourselves and we don't need your money. That little gambit sent a strong message to those that were used to having their way for a price. Their bluff had been called and they had to fold.

At the time, former Augusta chairman Hootie Johnson stated they might one day ask a woman to join, "but that timetable will be ours and not at the point of a bayonet". Indeed, a source privy to the inner workings at Augusta anonymously said the club had been considering Rice and Moore as members for 5 years. Despite their wealth and fame, one can assume they were thoroughly vetted over that period. The people at Augusta don't bow to pressure. They do things when they're damn good and ready, for their own reasons -- and not until. It's their PRIVATE club, and they should be able to run it as they see fit. Evidently, after years of deliberations, they decided Condi and Darla would be beneficial to their former "fraternity".

Certainly that requires a new locker room and shower facilities, likely a minor detail to the gentry at Augusta. It might just be that the 2 new female members will be on probation for a while -- just to see how they work out. If they get their green jackets and understand their "place" as low dogs in the hierarchy (seniority-wise)  -- perhaps the door will open again for others. But if they start wanting to redo all the furnishings, raise hell about the placement of women's tees, and change "Amen Corner" to "Women's Corner" -- the good ole boys might have to reconsider. Probation is a good thing sometimes.

If these two pass inspection, you just know who's on deck. The former First Lady, Senator from New York, and current Secretary of State running all over the planet telling other world leaders how they should run their countries.

If she gets into Augusta -- then Roseanne and Judge Judy can't be far behind.

God help them.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Dwight Howard and the Detroit Pistons

As all NBA fans know, former Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard is now with the LA Lakers. In a complicated 4 team deal, involving many players and future draft picks, Howard has left Disneyworld and entered LA-la land.

The best player the Magic got in return for Howard is Arron Afflalo. Wait a minute. Didn't Afflalo used to play for the Detroit Pistons? General manager Joe Dumars shipped him out for a couple of nobodies a few years ago and now he's traded for Dwight Howard? Wow. Who knew it was that easy?

Joe D's generally thought of as a shrewd guy, but maybe he's missing the big picture. If Afflalo can bring Dwight Howard, maybe Dumars should consider making a couple other phone calls.

How about offering up Jonas Jerebko and a couple draft picks to Okla City for Kevin Durant? You never know.

If new Pistons' owner Tom Gores wants Pistons fans to believe he'll do anything to make his team a winner -- then he should put his assets where his mouth is. Offer the Miami Heat Pine Knob (it will always be that to me) and Meadowbrook for Lebron and D-Wade. Throw in Jason Maxiell, Kyle Singler and a couple draft picks just for appearances to the league. Having a couple summer playgrounds when the weather is brutal in Miami just might be attractive to Heat owner Micky Arison. Stranger things have happened. Maybe.

(Yeah, I know. This is all ridiculous. Then again, scribes and fans in the Detroit area are talking about the Lions winning the Super Bowl this year. Please. Ridiculous is one thing. Spiked kool-aid spread amongst the masses causing hallucinations is quite another.)

Let's not forget the Thunder of the NBA is the only pro team in the entire state of Oklahoma. No baseball, hockey, or football. With the Lakers getting Howard, along with earlier acquiring point guard extraordinaire Steve Nash from the Phoenix Suns, the Thunder aren't necessarily the elite team in the NBA west anymore. Throw in a prolonged drought that has withered their crops, thereby forcing herds of cattle to be culled, and things aren't so good in Oklahoma these days.

So here's hoping Joe D makes the call about trading Jerebko for Durant. If nothing else, the folks in Oklahoma City could use a good laugh right about now.

Friday, August 17, 2012

NFL replacement officials

Having been a card-carrying member of the UAW for over 30 years before I retired, it's likely I'm somewhat biased when it comes to union/management labor strife. While I understand the necessity of it at times, to this day it still grinds my gears some to see "scabs" replacing the "regular" workers while negotiations drag on.

That said, the replacement officials in the NFL are getting a raw deal. Everybody's all over these guys -- and that's not fair.

They just woke up in a new world. Sure, most of them probably had experience at the high school or college level, and were given a crash course in the ways of the NFL, but they're basically all rookies.

It's fully expected that rookie players will make lots of mistakes, but that's generally accepted as just part of the maturing process. Same with rookie head coaches. They make some bone-headed calls as well. Over time, both usually get better with experience. The same could be said of an electrician, plumber, or other tradespeople with a brand new journeyman's card in their back pocket, a teacher in their first class with real students, a cop fresh out of the academy, and countless other examples. Being "booksmart" is one thing, but in the real world most people have to learn "on the fly". Regardless the vocation, some go on to excel. Others crash and burn.

Yet consider who's raising the most hell about the replacement officials in the meantime. It's the media. How ironic. Print journalists seem to forget about when they were cub reporters and the mistakes they made. To boot, they've always had editors to correct many of their goof-ups before the public sees their work. Spellcheck and various other computer programs don't hurt either these days. The talking heads on opinionated TV sports shows can do umpteen "takes" before they get it right and the viewers see the final product. Quite the safety net.

I dare say very few of these same critics, that have the most influence on what fans think, have ever experienced anything remotely similar to what it's like to be an NFL replacement official right now. When they were writing their first stories, or learning how to look into different cameras without stuttering, they were under nowhere near the same pressure. Yes, they have their "deadlines" and news is a fast-paced business these days, but not nearly as fast as what's going on at ground zero in an NFL game. Throw in players and coaches from both teams constantly yapping at them, 50 or 60 thousand screaming fans in attendance, the pressure of already knowing they're not appreciated at most every level, and having to make tough calls in a matter of seconds. This is not exactly an easy job.

No, as a rule, I still don't like scabs, but under these circumstances, I think we should all cut them a little slack.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The perfect Cabrera Jones head butt

Congrats to Seattle Mariner pitcher Felix Hernandez on throwing a perfect game. Something seems weird, though. Major league baseball's been played since way back in the 1800's, and I don't know how far back the records go, probably at least 100 years, but only 23 perfect games have been recorded over that entire time. This latest is the third one in just the 2012 season. Every time a hitter puts up big numbers that aren't in line with his career statistical average, people start whispering about steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. Maybe they should start checking the pitchers a little closer. Just a thought.

Speaking of which, Melky Cabrera of the San Francisco Giants just got zapped with a 50 game suspension for having too much testosterone in his system. He was the Giants' best hitter and they're in a divisional race with the LA Dodgers. Depending on how things play out with other teams, the runner-up isn't necessarily guaranteed a wild card spot. To Detroit Tigers' fans, that would be like their own Cabrera getting bounced for the rest of the season, while they're in a similar race with the ChiSox. A disaster.

Jerry Jones, that ever-lovable owner of the Dallas Cowboys said the window might be closing on his current team to reach the Super Bowl. Who does he think he's kidding? That window's been closed and boarded up for years. The bars on the outside of it even have names. The Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, and New Orleans Saints have all been superior to the Cowboys for quite a while. Now the San Francisco 49ers have jumped in, and even the Detroit Lions look to be ahead of what's going on in Big D. Maybe HE should be drug tested.

Chad (the artist formerly known as Ochocinco) Johnson got cut from the Miami Dolphins. He'd pretty well worn out his welcome every other place he'd been with his antics. Whether another team will give him a chance is a good question. Besides the previous not-so-good rep he'd built over the years, now he allegedly head butts his new wife? Good-bye marriage, and maybe good-bye career. Bad, repeat BAD idea.

So why is it that in every other sport they call it an "exhibition game", but in soccer it's a "friendly"?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Life after the Olympics

The Olympics are over and wasn't it grand? From the opening ceremonies, through all the various thrilling competitions, right up until they turned out the lights, it was quite the spectacle. But something was wrong.....

There was even a little scandal thrown in with protests over scores, an athlete here and there being suspected of doping, and whoever heard of badminton players intentionally throwing a match? The Olympics just wouldn't be the same without a little scandal to spice it up.

Even the mayor of London, Hizzoner Boris Johnson got in on the act. Getting stuck on a zip line while waving a couple British flags? Great stuff. We could use a few politicians like him in the US. Maybe even as President. BJ was born in New York, so he's technically eligible. He may or may not be capable of solving the myriad of problems the US is facing, but it sure would be fun. Something about those initials, though, hmmm, nevermind. Still, why did it feel like something was out of whack? It seemed like I should know this, but I couldn't put my finger on it....

Now the athletes are scattering all over the globe returning to their home countries, where they do -- what? It probably depends on the country. Some of them will go right back to training for the next Olympics in Rio, while others blend into society, and go in search of a real job. The American Olympians are a little different. They'll go in search of other things -- like the talk show circuit, breaking into fashion, TV, or the movies. And of course, there's the never-ending quest for the highest standard of all -- endorsements. Cha-ching. Surely, there's enough products out there for each of them to find a niche. Even the low-profile sports like, say, hammer throwers, could advertise wrecking balls. Somebody's gotta do it.

If one could avoid the dreaded "spoiler alerts" on the 6 o'clock news, it was pretty cool being able to settle in for Olympic action every night for the last few weeks. But that's when that mysterious feeling that something was amiss would get even stronger.

Now that it's all over, the problem is finally solved. It was obvious all along, but I just couldn't see it. And that's exactly the point.

No Jeopardy! for 3 weeks. Welcome back, Alex Trebek.

How appropriate they start right off with the Tournament of Champions in the wake of the Olympics.

Perfect. All is well now.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rory McIlroy now and Tiger Woods then

Whether or not Tiger Woods will ever again dominate professional golf is anybody's guess. There was a time, not that long ago, when Woods was so far above the rest that many would take Tiger against the entire "field" in a wager, particularly when it came to major championships. That wasn't such a bad bet. For whatever reasons -- time, age, tougher competition, personal demons, injuries, swing, coach and caddy changes -- take your pick -- few would take that same bet these days. Tiger's still a world-class golfer, but the last few years haven't seen him in the dominant role he once played.

To currently compare Woods and Rory McIlroy might be apples and oranges, but looking back at what Tiger did when he was Rory's age reveals some remarkable similarities.

McIlroy just won the PGA championship for his second major, at the age of 23. Tiger did the same. So did Jack Nicklaus, for that matter. Rory was one month older than Jack, and 4 months younger than Tiger, but close enough.

When Tiger was merely 21 he blitzed the field at the Masters, winning by a whopping 12 strokes, a record.

Rory just blitzed the field at the PGA, winning by 8 strokes, to eclipse the record Jack had held since 1980.

McIlroy has quickly become a crowd favorite, as Woods once did. To be sure, Tiger still has his legions of fans many years later. As McIlroy was walking the 18th fairway, about to close out the 2012 PGA championship in grand fashion, the gallery was chanting his name. RO-RY. RO-RY. RO-RY. Pretty impressive for a kid that wasn't even playing on his own continent, let alone in his own country.

Whether or not the current competition is tougher than it was in Tiger's hey-day is debatable, but just the fact that up until McIlroy won the PGA, the previous 16 major tournaments had all been won by different golfers certainly speaks of parity. It also seems like more "young guns" are popping up from all over the world every year these days than they did a decade or so ago, but that could be an illusion. Either way, it might be safe to say the competition is certainly a lot tougher than it was back in Nicklaus' prime.

Around the turn of the century, Tiger got on an unbelievable roll, winning majors (and a slew of other tournaments) at an unprecedented rate. He once even held all 4 major championships at the same time. Most had little doubt it was only a matter of time before Tiger would easily eclipse Jack's record of 18 majors. Fast forward a decade and that doesn't look like such a given. Maybe he will. Maybe he won't. It's astonishing to think that over the past year, Woods didn't shoot a single round under par on the weekends at any of the 4 majors. It used to be that on Saturday and Sunday Tiger would shift into overdrive and leave the field in his dust. Of late, he'll often start off well on Thursday and Friday, only to fade on the weekend. It's like everything's backwards.

Like Woods, McIlroy is long off the tee, has every shot in his bag, and is a superb putter. Tiger was "pressure-proof". If anything, the bigger the stage, the better he played. Time will tell if Rory can handle the constant scrutiny he'll find himself under if he remains the #1 golfer in the world for any length of time. Yet having won 2 majors by the same age as Tiger and Jack once did speaks a lot for the young Irishman's nerves in big situations.

It would seem foolish to suggest that McIlroy will ever approach what Woods has done in golf, but back then, who ever thought someone like Tiger would come along and accomplish what he has?

Rory's only beginning, Tiger's not done yet, and there might be a 14 year old kid out there somewhere that will burst upon the scene in a few years to eventually smash ALL the records. You never know. The more likely scenario is that it won't happen. There's too many guys that are really good, and it only takes one of them to get hot while winning any particular tournament to deny any one golfer the chance at chasing all time records. It could be a different guy every tournament, like the last 16 majors, but the cumulative effect works against one player being singularly dominant. Parity may be boring, but for now it's certainly real. It's odd that all the other professional sports leagues strive mightily for that same parity, through the likes of draft picks and salary caps, while golf seems to relish having a "king". Tiger could very well reassume the throne. Then again, perhaps the golf gods will decide it should remain vacant. Or maybe, just maybe, another will come along and seize power.

Interesting, though, how McIlroy was wearing a red shirt on Sunday, as he blew away the field at the PGA. Sound familiar? If he starts wearing black pants and gets a surly caddie --- watch out.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Media darlings

For whatever reasons, the media seem to adopt certain athletes as their favorite sons or daughters. They'll hype them to the max. They want them to win. They WILL them to win. And, lo and behold, sometimes they DO win. Lebron James would be a prime example. From always coming up short in Cleveland, to the "decision" to take his talents to Miami, to getting blown away by the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals a little over a year ago -- the media never wavered in their commitment. It didn't seem to matter that outside of the southeast Florida region most basketball fans didn't much care for James, to put it mildly, they weren't going to stop pushing that story down our collective throats until James was a champion. And now he finally is. Whew. I'm glad that's over.

There have been many others over the years in different sports, both male and female, that the media have come together to rally behind for their own reasons. Most times these athletes are amongst the best in what they do, but not always. Even at the local level, sometimes the bias can make one wonder. Take Brandon Inge, formerly of the Detroit Tigers. Though he never could hit much, while making millions during his career in Motown, Inge was adopted as the "favorite" Tiger. Inge was a team spokesman, gave great interviews, and was an all-around nice guy. But he still couldn't hit. Many were quick to defend him by claiming his fielding prowess at third base more than made up for his deficiency in the batter's box. Yeah? If that was so important, why did the Tigers kick him to the curb in favor of Miguel Cabrera? Cabrera's a beast in the batter's box, but compared to Inge, has Roberto Duran's famed "hands of stone" when in comes to fielding the same position.

The media wanted us to believe Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa were the greatest thing to happen in baseball for decades when they were slugging all those home runs years ago. Look back at what they said and wrote at the time. Once the whole steroid scandal broke, they turned on them quickly. Like the old "Mission Impossible" mantra, they currently disavow all knowledge of their involvement at the time -- but it happened.

Yet there's one athlete that is the undisputed champion when it comes to being a media darling. The king. The czar, emperor, Pope, President, pharaoh, and shaman of the media. They love him. They worship him. They can't get enough of him. His every word is looked upon as if Moses keeps coming down from the mountain with a new set of tablets.

Gee, I wonder who that could be.....



Thursday, August 9, 2012

China vs USA. Who's better?

That's a loaded question, in a lot of ways. However, let's ignore politics, particularly in an election year, religious issues, productivity, and even Wal-Mart merchandise for sale. This is about which nation is winning the most medals in the current Olympic games.

As the games have gone on -- it's been a see-saw battle. One day China is ahead by a couple, and the next the USA has regained the lead. Meanwhile, the athletes of Great Britain have certainly made an admirable showing. Yes, they have "home field" advantage, but who would have guessed before the games started that they would win as many medals as they have? And Andy Murray winning the gold in tennis? Perfect.

But when it's all over, either China or the USA will have won the most medals. Perhaps bragging rights will be involved on some level, though it shouldn't be that way. The Olympics are supposed to be a showcase of not only highly-skilled athletes from the world over competing against each other, but also peaceful, dignified and, win or lose, done with honor and respect amongst the competitors.

Some countries don't have the means to compete in all the events, but are world-class at what they take seriously. As examples, Jamaica is known for their sprinters, Bulgaria for weightlifters, and Kenyans for running long distance races, especially the marathon. I doubt you've ever seen a Kenyan weightlifter or a Bulgarian lining up against Usain Bolt. Many countries don't pretend to be good at everything, so they stick to what they do best. Of course, such "specialized" countries will never be in the running for the most medals.

Not so, the USA. America will always offer up athletes and teams for every event there is. Some will be great, most of them at least highly competitive, but others might not fare so well against world competition.

And there's the rub in the China vs USA medal battle. All the "track and field" events put together offer a whole slew of medals, but China doesn't seem to even participate in most of it. I can't remember ever seeing a Chinese sprinter, hurdler, or distance runner. Nor do I recall them competing in the hammer or discus throws, shot putt, long jump, steeplechase, and other events. It's almost like they don't even bother, but concentrate on what they do well elsewhere.

Who will win the final medal count is yet to be seen, but it tilts in the Americans' favor, given the events that remain -- some of which the Chinese won't even contest.

Bottom line? If a country's in the hunt for the most medals, and don't even participate in a lot of events -- they must be really good at the ones they take seriously.

Between China and the USA, who's better overall? Beats me.

But you won't see me at Wal-Mart.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sumo diving

Olympic fans have certainly been treated to some mighty impressive stuff when it comes to the divers. No, not the ones in the NBA or NHL who go down faking agony every time an opponent breathes on them. I'm talking about the real divers. The boys and girls that jump into the deep end of the pool.

It's almost unbelievable what they can do. I highly salute these athletes for the years of dedication, skill, and perseverance that are required to reach the level of near perfection they are capable of. But be honest. After a while, after you've seen a whole slew of somersaults and twists -- doesn't it get a little boring? 

Much has been said about the competitors assuming the "pike" position during the course of some of their dives. That shouldn't be too tough, considering all the divers seem to have the bodies of REAL pikes. The game fish. Both glide through the water and are bony. They also seem to have the same look in their eyes once they're hauled out of the water -- but I could be wrong about that.

Nevertheless, the diving competition would get a lot more entertaining if the people in charge of the Olympics used their imagination.

Sumo diving. The big fellas. Sumo wrestling's not an Olympic sport, but how fun would it be to see those same guys in their thongs jumping into the pool? Forget the springboard competition because they'd snap that off like a twig. Put them up on the high platform, and nevermind the somersaults and fancy twists. A "cannonball" contest. Consider 500-600 pound men plunging into a pool after having jumped from 3 stories up. Sure, a mini-tsunami would wash up into the crowd -- but how entertaining would THAT be to watch? Even the judging would be simple. Instead of all the technical junk average diving fans don't understand anyway -- the scoring could be solely based on how many gallons of water it took to refill the pool after any one guy's plunge. Whoever displaces the most water takes the gold.

Yes, the Olympics are supposed to be about the most highly skilled athletes from around the world getting together to see who's the best. But what would be the harm in throwing in a new wrinkle here or there to make it infinitely more entertaining to the viewers?

Tell me you wouldn't watch that, and I won't believe you. It would probably have the highest TV ratings of any event in the entire Olympiad.

One thing, though. Like any other contest, there would be 3 medal winners.

It might just be a good idea to reinforce the podium they will eventually stand upon.

There's a difference between pikes and whales.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Opening the vault. Olympians and yorkies

Just when I tuned into the Olympics for another night of action, I saw something go across the screen saying the women's pole vault would be featured. Really? I didn't even know the ladies did that, much less it was an Olympic event. This I had to see.

Turns out it was a mistake. The "vault" was the same piece of gymnastic equipment that the ladies have been competing on for a few days now. You know, the thing that looks something like the pommel horse the men use -- but without the handles?

I thought all that stuff was over. After all the ladies went through the various disciplines in the gymnastics competition, the "team" medals had been awarded, as had the individual all-around honors. Everybody's done everything. What else could be left? Oops. They still have to compete yet again in a few individual events, for even more medals. Silly me. I should have known. When it comes to the Olympics, they find a way to hand out more medals than are distributed in your average World War.

At that, the ladies doing the "vault" weren't that impressive. One landed on her belly, another on her butt, and a few others botched their routines in various ways. 

I see better performances than that every day -- right here at home -- live and in person.

It involves two 5-month old yorkie puppies. They'll get a running head start, use a piece of furniture as a springboard, do a few flips and twists in mid-air, and always "stick" their landing. Perfect 10's every time.

On either side of me when I sit down to dinner.

Nope, the lady Olympian vaulters have nothing on those two.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cliff Avril. Legend in his own mind

Defensive lineman Cliff Avril finally decided to report to the Detroit Lions' training camp. He acts like he's giving the team, and their fans, a break by his mere presence. He's not. This guy is more overrated than pet rocks or cabbage patch dolls ever were, and his ego appears to rival that of Donald Trump. Let's look at reality.

During his short NFL career, Avril's been a decent lineman. Nothing spectacular, but serviceable. Last year he made about $2.6 million, and had 11 QB sacks, which led the team in that department. Yet when one considers a couple other factors, his 11 sacks aren't quite the eye-popping statistic some would make them out to be.

First, he was playing alongside a guy named Ndamukong Suh. Suh regularly drew "double teams" blocking him, which left Avril and the other linemen "one on one". Second, the NFL itself has turned "pass-happy" over the last few years. That means more chances to rush the QB and put him on the ground. Avril got there 11 times -- less than once a game. This is supposed to be impressive?

Evidently, in Avril's mind it was. When the season was over he wanted a long term mega-buck contract. The Lions balked, as well they should have. Avril stewed and went on a not so quiet campaign trying to sway the media and fans that he was as good as he thought he was. Negotiations reached an impasse.

Then, in a stunning development this last March, the Lions slapped the "franchise" tag on Avril. Cliff grumbled. He was not a happy camper.

It's hard to say which was worse. The Lions wasting the franchise tag on an average lineman, or that lineman being disappointed in getting it. The former sounds like something Matt Millen would have done. The latter more like an ego maniacal fool that is still ungrateful after he won the lotto.

With the franchise tag, Avril's salary was determined by the average of the 5 top salaries at his position. He's going to make about $10.6 million this year -- roughly 4 times what he made in 2011. Do you know anybody that would be unhappy with having their salary quadrupled after they put in an average year on the job? Not me.

Avril's certainly not amongst the top 5 defensive linemen in the NFL. He's probably not even in the top 30. There's likely other NFL teams around the league he couldn't even START for. But Avril's still unhappy. Alas, and boo hoo hoo. Let's all have a good cry over poor Cliffy's misfortune.

As mentioned at the top of this article, His Highness finally relented and lowered himself to report to training camp. You know -- like actually showing up on the job to earn one's pay? Imagine that.

His reasons for waiting until the eleventh hour to do such a thing don't hold water. Avril says he didn't want to risk injury. Hey, earth to Cliff. You're in the NFL. People get hurt all the time. It goes with the territory. If that's not acceptable, perhaps you should pursue another career. Take up chess, become a librarian, find a cure for cancer, or maybe try your hand at synchronized swimming. Even I'd pay big bucks to see your legs twirling around in the pool with the rest of the girls, but good luck earning that $10.6 M that was just handed to you on a silver platter.

But the real reason should be obvious. We've seen it so many times over the years with various other players around the NFL that think they're more important than they really are, and have done the same thing. While all their teammates, from the rookies, to the longer tenured veterans that are truly committed to the team, are out there busting their butts in the sweltering heat of "training camp", the prima donnas lay back and ease in at the last second, avoiding a lot of hard work while knowing their spot is secure. It's the same way with Avril since he got the franchise tag. He's "uncuttable" -- and he knows it.

But he's WAY overrated.

Especially in his own mind.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ryan Braun revisited

What a difference a year makes. Or maybe not. Baseball fans know that Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers was the National League's MVP last year. Then the bottom fell out -- sort of.

Long after the 2011 season was over, Braun was informed that a urine sample he had provided weeks before had come back positive for elevated levels of testosterone. It was not only elevated, but "insanely high", according to a source at the time. More than twice as high as any other sample previously tested -- EVER. (It should be noted that no steroids of any kind were detected -- just testosterone). Red flags went up and Braun was looking at a 50 game suspension in line with Major League Baseball's new "get tough" drug policy.

While Braun professed his innocence, saying some sort of mistake must have occurred, the court of public opinion quickly turned on him. "Fine him. Suspend him. Ban him. Throw da bum out", they howled.  It seems nowadays that as soon as a person is accused of something -- everybody turns into a prosecutor. He/she got accused of it -- must be guilty. Nevermind the only things they base their conclusions on might not have any basis in fact whatsover. All that matters to the hordes of knee-jerkers is the gospel of the boob tube, the internet, newspaper columnists, and maybe what Bubba at the bar thinks about it. Most times they collectively don't know diddly either, but are merely trying to draw attention to themselves. In their typical rush to judgement, getting it right doesn't matter as much as ratings, hits, readers, and street cred. It happens every time there's a "juicy" story. Even if they totally botch it, another "nugget" will come along soon enough, and everybody will forget. They don't care. No skin off their noses.

But in the meantime, they've stirred up the colossal hornet's nest of idiots. "Warm up the tar and start plucking the chickens. We want justice -- dammit." No doubt the real prosecutors love it, but that doesn't make it right. In fact, it's scary. If you were wrongly accused of something, would you want to be facing the same firestorm? I don't think so. Arm-chair quarterbacking is easy. It takes on a whole new meaning when you're the one on the field getting hammered.

As the Braun saga raged on, it became all about how his urine sample was handled, chain of custody, whether it could have been tampered with, etc. In the end, whether or not Braun got suspended for 50 games, and his reputation even further tarnished, came down to three people. A representative from Major League Baseball (the prosecutor), a representative from the Players' Union (the defense attorney), and an impartial arbiter (the judge).  After all the hoopla, it was basically reduced to a bench trial. No jury. The judge decides.

She did, in favor of Braun. Howls of protest went up. "He's dirty and got off on a technicality", they cried. "Just wait and see what happens to him next year when he has to play clean", they gloated.

Well, let's see. In 2011, Braun played in 150 games. 187 hits, 33 home runs, 111 RBIs, a batting average of .332 and a slugging % of .597.

So far this year, he's played in about 100 games, is batting .316, 119 hits, 29 home runs, 73 RBIs, and a slugging % of .609. Just like last year, Braun's amongst the leaders in the NL in most offensive statistical categories. And does anyone doubt he's being tested often, and for every substance imaginable?

In Braun's roughly 5 and a half years in the big leagues, he's hit over 30 home runs every year but one (2010, when he had a measly 25), only once had less than 100 RBIs (his rookie season when he got a mere 97), and has a career batting average of .312.

I see a pattern here. The dude can flat-out hit.

But still, in the minds of many, that supposedly testosterone laden urine sample will always be a thorn of contention.

Thing is, in their misguided blood-lust to tie Ryan Braun to the whipping post last year, the hypsters conveniently overlooked one small detail.

Turns out, when Braun's back-up, or "B sample" was finally tested -- it came back totally normal. Clean as a whistle.

Funny how that little tidbit was never sensationalized like the original accusation was. Of course, by then, the hounds were on the scent of Roger Clemens, or whatever other quarry they could prey upon. Hounds are good at what they do -- but they have short memories -- and no consciences. Hounds don't apologize when they get carried away and maim an innocent animal. A couple minutes later, they're ready for another hunt.

Ryan Braun is certainly in the hunt for another MVP award this year. If he keeps hitting like he always has, it's a very real possibility.

I hope he gets it. After the meat grinder he's been through, and so many wanting to see him fall flat on his face this year -- it would truly be justice served the way it should be. Cold.

Caustic Olympic satire

Warning. While the following is intended as a spoof, it contains language and references that may be offensive to some readers. For those of the "thin-skinned" or "politically correct" variety, it is suggested you stop right here, and perhaps watch an old Disney movie, or maybe check out another blog about kittens or puppies. It's time to play hardball.

Michael Phelps is a great swimmer, probably the best of all time so far. His total Olympic medal count over the course of 3 Olympiads would certainly reflect that. I rooted for him. Go, Michael, go. But how much is enough? Seeing that same mug on the TV over and over again gets irritating after a while. No, not Michael -- his mom. Whenever her boy wins a race, the TV cameras zoom in on her and she acts like she just got the OK to pass through St. Peter's gates. The first couple go-rounds I can understand, due to the thrill of it all, but when it gets up to the 10th, 15th, or maybe 20th time, the same old shtick, knowing she's going to be on camera, starts to get really old.

She's not the only one. There's lots of moms that get air time. Americans only, of course. Even though the Olympics are in London, we'll never see a mom of a foreign athlete that just won a gold medal. This is an international event. Shouldn't they count too?

Yet, when it comes to some of the American moms, I can see why their kids are so slim and trim. They don't get any food at home. Mom's eating it all. Have you seen the size of some of those women? It's a good thing they're not tigers, or the future Olympians they spawned might never have made it. They would have been eaten when mom's munchies ran low.

And what's up with the American female swimmers anyway? They glide through the water like torpedoes, and pretty much have a build to match. This is a good thing for lady swimmers. Maybe not so good when men size them up romantically later in life. But when they pop up out of the water after any race and smile -- they all have exactly the same set of teeth. From incisors, to canines, to bicuspids, to molars, forensic scientists would have their hands full trying to tell them apart. It's like they all came from the same mold. Amazing.

An American woman pulled off a huge upset and won a gold medal in judo. She competed in the 78 kilogram weight class. How nice. Translated, that means she weighed in at over 170 pounds. Why not just say it like it is? This was a big girl, that's really good at throwing other big girls around. In woman-speak, what would they tell us next? Her shoe size is five centimeters? Please. I wonder how big HER mom is?

American Gabrielle Douglas won the the gold medal as the best over-all female gymnast, a very impressive feat. Get ready for the Gabby blitz, because it's coming. She's the first black, or in the case of the United States, first "African-American" to win that particular medal. Makers of various products will be falling all over each other trying to get Gabby to endorse their wares, while showering her with money. She hadn't even left London yet and Oprah Winfrey was offering Ms. Douglas her own TV reality show. Fair question -- do you think Oprah would have done that if Gabby was white, or Hispanic, or oriental, or anything but African-American? I highly doubt it. Make of that what you will. Gabby has the nickname "Flying Squirrel", reminiscent of Rocky in the old Bullwinkle cartoons. A skinny little thing gracefully flying around everywhere. When they showed her mom, it didn't appear like she'd missed any meals in a while. Gabby has already been shown holding up a box of a Kellogg cereal product. Gee, between her and her mom, I wonder who's going to scarf down more free Frosted Flakes in the near future? 

Now the track and field events have started. Some of those athletes, such as the 100 meter dashers, are wound up tighter than Joan Rivers' new face. One never knows what might happen with all that when they get turned loose. Everything could be just fine, or it could self destruct into something hideous in the next 10 seconds. It's almost scary to watch. I'm pretty sure we won't be seeing Joan's mom on camera, but what of the boys and girls that are competing in the various track and field events? If they win -- will we see more shots of moms front and center on NBC? Will they have a flag in one hand, a couple  twinkies in the other, and a jumbo triple buttered popcorn between their legs?

Beats me. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Counting Olympic medals. Fair?

Last time I looked the USA and China were running neck and neck in total Olympic medals won, with China several ahead in "golds". Any athlete winning "silver" or "bronze" should rightfully feel proud as well, because being 2nd or 3rd best in the world at ANYTHING is quite an accomplishment. But let's be brutally honest. Like horse races or the recently concluded Tour de France, those that "place" and "show" are quickly forgotten. Quick, who was the runner-up in this year's Indy or Daytona 500? See what I mean?

Thing is, the medal count is skewed in a way.

China and the USA are both very formidable nations which go about backing their Olympic teams in different ways. Yet they have similarities. For example, the best gymnasts likely all train in the same top-notch facility, with the best coaches, as do the swimmers and divers in an equally impressive facility of their own. As countries with so many athletes to choose from, and commitments to make them the "best they can be", it should come as no surprise that China and the USA are slugging it out for the most Olympic medals.

But we forget about one thing. The former Soviet Union. Not that long ago, the USSR was dominant in winning Olympic medals. Obviously, the USSR no longer exists and that region of the world has undergone major political and geographical changes in the last couple decades. They are no longer "united" as the Chinese and Americans are. Here's an analogy to consider ---

Ukraine now competes in the Olympics as a separate entity. What if California, and every American athlete that hailed from there, had to compete under a different flag as well? The former Soviet Republic of Georgia is much the same way. Take away Florida from the US team and I suspect it would get a little weaker. All the "Stans" that were formerly part of the USSR are now on their own. Compare them to what used to be the "confederate" states in the USA, and delete them as well.

Then throw in the fact that all the above would no longer fall under the umbrella of the once "national" team, and would have to provide their own separate athletes, equipment, training facilities, and coaches. Perhaps whatever was left of the former USA team could be renamed America, much like what Russia has experienced of late. If the USA fractured like what became of the USSR, it would likely not find itself on the leader board of Olympic medals either.

It all depends on how one looks at it.

As for the USA vs China? There's no way the Chinese can offer decent competition in beach volleyball.

But if they bring on the ping-pong tables..... look out.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The USA lady gymnasts. Cyborgs?

Unlike their male-counterparts, the USA lady gymnasts performed almost flawlessly, running away with the gold medal. They earned it and are worthy of whatever laurels come their way. Bravo.

Idle thought -- the scoring system changed somewhere along the line. Nowadays a perfect score in a routine might be 16.600, and after deductions of, say, 1.373, will equal out to -- I don't know -- some weird number. I miss the days when a good effort yield a score of 9, a great one 9.5, and an eye-popper was a perfect 10. Everybody understood that. Now, nobody knows what the hell is going on, but I digress.

Yes, I understand that after years of training, and umpteen thousand repetitions, these athletes can appear to be almost programmed like robots to perform what we eventually see on TV. This is not to take away from their dedication and ability, which should be admired, but merely to point out a detail that makes your truly wonder about these girls sometimes. Are they truly flesh and blood humans, or cyborgs cleverly made up to look like real people? I'll get back to that.

If one was looking close, there's no doubt these girls were heavily "made-up". Besides flesh colored make-up, they sported eye-liner, eye shadow, mascara, lip gloss, a touch of rouge here and there, and probably a few other things most men have no idea about. They can't just slap all that goop on themselves 5 minutes before they're due to perform on TV. I wonder if they spend more time warming up or in the make-up room. And what's the point? This is supposed to be an athletic contest, not a beauty pageant.

Nevertheless, those girls run, jump, spin, flip, tumble, twirl, and perform all manner of other amazing feats in their various routines. It's incredible to watch as they push themselves to their limits in the pursuit of perfection. Few would doubt these world-class athletes give it everything they have in a very physically demanding sport.

Which brings me back to the original dilemma. Humans or cyborgs? Certainly they can smile, frown, laugh, cry, and fluently converse -- like humans.

But here's the thing. During all of the physical exertion over their various exercises, their make-up remains perfect. Other than rain, what's the one thing that will ruin a woman's make-up?

Sweat. A human would be wringing wet after what these girls go through, yet not one drop of perspiration from any of them -- ever -- anyplace on their bodies. Check it out.

Cyborgs don't sweat either.