Sunday, March 31, 2013

Another mass killing!!! Bodies everywhere

Luckily, I escaped relatively unscathed. It was absolutely gruesome. Thousands of spectators watched on in horror. No one should ever have to witness others, much less those they are fond of, being subjected to such atrocities. The helpless wide-eyed victims were systematically tortured and toyed with before they were methodically mowed down. These are the sort of terrible things that can haunt a person for life with recurring nightmares.

Others had warned me of the dangers of visiting such a high-risk zone with a recent history of so many godawful abuses, but I thought I could handle it. I was wrong. The sheer magnitude of it happening right in front of my eyes overwhelmed me. Never again, or at least until some semblance of order and common decency replace the merciless tyranny that is currently going on.

Yep, I went to a Detroit Pistons game at the Palace a while back. They got slaughtered. It was brutal.

What? You thought I was talking about something else?

April Fools.

PS. That "relatively unscathed" part was my wallet. They had a special going on that night.

2013 Detroit Tigers. Perception, expectations, and reality

The Detroit Tigers once again present us with a sports paradox that has long been there, but few take heed of. Specifically the differences between expectations, perceptions, and reality.

This year the perception of the fans is the Tigers are amongst the best, if not the best team in the American League. They are expected to do very well. After all, they made it to the World Series last year and, having supposedly upgraded their roster in the off-season, visions of their first world championship since 1984 no doubt dance in the heads of the Tiger faithful. But the reality is baseball can be a very fickle game.

Look at last year. With only about a month to go in the season, the Tigers' playoff chances were slim at best. Yet somehow they got hot, the White Sox took a nose dive, and the next thing you know -- presto -- the Tigers were in the World Series. Sure, they got broomed by San Fran in the Big Dance, but as late as Labor Day they were thought to be all but out of contention. Funny things can happen. For all the excitement in Detroit, there was likely an equal amount of frustration on the south side of Chicago as it unfolded.

But whether it's the 2013 Tigers or most any other team in pro sports over the years, there's a trap their fans, usually egged on by their local media, never cease to walk into. Sometimes they'll emerge unscathed, never knowing the trap was there -- and other times the trap will indeed snap shut with a painful reality. Such folks will look at the best player performances from the previous year and take for granted they will repeat themselves. At the same time, they'll look at the sub-par performances and further assume those players must have had an off-year and will be better in the next campaign. Those sort of win-win expectations sound great in theory, but reality doesn't always work out that way. It's just as likely quite the opposite will happen. One need only remember the expectations of Detroit fans and scribes after the Lions went 10-6 in 2011. Talk of the Super Bowl being within their reach the following year was in the air. How did that work out?

This year the Tigers' starting pitching staff is generally credited as being amongst the best in baseball. Yet a hard look might suggest otherwise. Yes, Justin Verlander is one of the top pitchers in the game, but it's not an automatic win just because he takes the mound. The guys he'll pitch to are major league hitters for a reason. There will be times JV will get lit up. Last year, Max Scherzer became almost a co-ace. Is it reasonable to expect the same of MS in 2013? Anabal Sanchez seemed to pitch well towards the end of 2012 and is locked into a spot in the rotation. His career record is 48-51, including 4-6 last year. Doug Fister was 10-10 in 2012 and is 30-41 lifetime. Rick Porcello was 10-12 and is 48-42 over his career. Even if Verlander and Scherzer perform at their best, the other three projected starters offer a career record of 126-134. They could get collectively better, collectively worse, or stay collectively mediocre. Who knows?

Besides perennial sluggers Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers got Victor Martinez back, but will he return to his old .300 productive form after missing a year? Maybe. Maybe not. For that matter, expecting Cabrera to turn in another Triple Crown worthy season is far from a given. He could slide. They also added aging Torii Hunter for a little pizzazz and leadership. Has he still got it or is he on his last legs? We'll see.

About to break spring training, the Tigers, with the media fanning the flames, would have us believe their only possible weaknesses are a back-up left fielder and who will be the designated "closer", though their collective bull-pen is highly touted as well, as is manager Jim Leyland for supposedly knowing how to get the most out of his relief pitchers.

And of course, none of the above takes any sort of injury factors into consideration -- always a possibility.

Yet in the end, the perception is the Tigers are an elite club. The expectation is they will go far. With the American League Central Division again being projected as the weakest in all of baseball, the Tigers should easily win it.

They'd better at least do that, or the reality is they'll join their football brethren that play their home games across the street from them as one of the biggest flops since the Edsel. Come think of it, wasn't that a Detroit product too?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Big Ten Yo-Yo

After all of that -- who would have figured it? As only a #4 seed going in, Michigan is the only Big 10 team still left standing in the NCAA hoops tournament. If they beat Florida (no walk in the park) they'll make the Final Four. And who knows? They could even win the whole thing. Stranger things have happened. Well, maybe.

All season long the Big Ten was touted as the best in the country by many folks. After all, it featured 5 teams in the Top 25 preseason poll. Indiana was #1, Ohio State #3, Michigan #5, Wisconsin #17, and Michigan State #22. Throw in Illinois and Minnesota, no slouches, and that shaped up to be some mighty tough in-conference competition. At that, all 7 of them qualified for the NCAA tournament.

Like yo-yos, up and down they went during the season. Indiana got toppled, only to retake the throne a couple times. Michigan flirted with being ranked #1 here and there, if they could only win their next game before the new polls came out. But they'd always seem to crash and burn when presented the opportunity in those contests, only to fall back again.

Idle thought: Why does everybody get so caught up in the polls during the regular season? When the tournament starts, none of it ever mattered anyway. Yet people do it year after year. It's like the Lotto. The people that don't think a $50 million jackpot is worth spending a couple bucks to take a chance on -- are the same folks that will stand in line waiting to shell out everything they can get their hands on, including their kids' lunch money, when the pot gets up to $300 million. Hey, if 50 mil won't tide you over for life -- you're too stupid to be playing anyway.

Sure enough, the quality Big 10 teams beat each other up during the regular season. A beat B, B beat C, C beat D, D beat A, etc., and round and round they went. Michigan even lost a game to cellar dwelling Penn State, which would be Penn State's first and only conference win of the entire year. That was a big deal at the time -- but how important does it seem now? Same thing with all the hype over which team would win the Big 10 conference and it's mini-tournament. Trophies went into showcases and banners will be hoisted into rafters somewhere, but once the brackets of the Big Dance came out and the music started, how many really cared about all that?

Likely few considered Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin serious threats to go deep in the NCAA tourney. Yet Indiana entered it as a #1 seed, OSU as a #2, MSU as a #3, and UM as a #4. Indiana got beat fair and square by #4 Syracuse, same thing for MSU by #2 Duke. I dare say few thought the Shockers of #9 seed Wichita State would indeed zap OSU in the western regional final. But they thoroughly dominated the Buckeyes throughout. Who ARE these brutes from Wichita, and why were they only a #9?

Michigan wasn't supposed to beat #1 seed Kansas either -- but they did. Over the year, Michigan has been called a lot of things. Young, extremely talented but prone to ups and downs, can't win a tough game on the road, and certainly soft. They earned all of that. But here's the deal. UM won it's first 2 tournament games against much lesser teams basically at home. Now they've squeaked by Kansas at a neutral site. Was the latter an anomaly where the stars just happened to be perfectly aligned -- or are they really as good as their maize and blue koolaiders would have had us think all along? Hard to say.

But they're the only Big 10 team still left. That has to count for something -- I think.

Friday, March 29, 2013

UM -MSU hoops

Most reports will say Michigan made a stunning comeback in the last few minutes, with their super-star guard Trey Burke hitting a long range 3-pointer with 4 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime -- in which Michigan eventually prevailed over #1 seed Kansas. That's all true.

But there's another reality to it as well. Evidently, Kansas head coach Bill Self went into brain-lock on that last play in regulation. Kansas was leading by 3 points with under 10 seconds to go. Incredibly, they allowed Burke to take the in-bounds pass, dribble the ball down the court, and then leave him wide open for his game-tying shot. What were they thinking? Why not foul Burke long before he got into shooting range? Let him go to the free throw line for two shots. Burke can't tie the game there. If he makes both shots, Kansas gets the ball out of bounds with a 1 point lead, and only a few seconds remaining. If Burke makes the first and intentionally misses the second, hoping for a put-back by a teammate, odds are very high Kansas gets the rebound anyway, or one of their players gets fouled in the process by a Michigan player trying to crash the boards. Either way, it's pretty much game over. Michigan should be commended for their comeback and, yes, Burke wound up the hero, but Kansas pulled a colossal bone-head on that play. Even the talking heads on TV were saying, "In that situation I foul 100% of the time". One would think Bill Self knows that right about now. Whether or not he ever owns it......

So now UM gets Florida on Sunday for a spot in the Final Four. Likely a coin flip game.

In the meantime, Coach I of Michigan State was bested by Coach K of Duke. It could have went either way. But if history matters, and opinions vary, the K man was 7-1 against MSU going into that game so it's not all that surprising he's now 8-1. Even though there were several minutes left to play, that game was basically over once MSU found itself in the situation of having to foul Duke. Typically, the Blue Devils were lethal from the free throw line. What did they shoot -- 24 out of 26?

Yet given the tournament history of UM and MSU, who would have guessed that the Spartans would be going home before the Wolverines?

At any rate, yours truly was once again remarkably consistent. In my previous post I predicted Michigan to lose and Michigan State to win. 

Yep, I've still got it.

Sometimes I wish I could get rid of it, though..........

NCAA updates and predictions

Down goes another #1 and #2. Indiana's finest got chucked into the Wabash. Head coach Tom Crean's boys got creamed. The Hoosiers were hosed. This happened at the hands of  #4 Syracuse, which is a quirky team itself. In various games over the year, sometimes they've looked like Orange Crush, and other times more like Orange Marmalade. Tough to predict what Jim Boeheim's squad will do on any given day. They'll face off for a spot in the Final Four against...

#3 Marquette, which caned the 'Canes of #2 Miami. Perhaps there's something to be said for Milwaukee's finest, though I personally always thought that particular brew was nasty. At any rate, weird geography aside, both Syracuse and Marquette are from the Big East conference, so it seems only fitting one of them should emerge from the eastern regional of the tournament and go on to the Final Four in Atlanta. That game depends on one thing. If the Crush shows up, they win. If the Marmalade shows up, they lose.

Out in the west, #2 Ohio State squeaked by #6 Arizona and #9 Wichita State blistered upstart #13 Lasalle. In the regional finals it is the Shockers of Wichita State that will get zapped by the Buckeyes.

The Midwest regional is interesting. Michigan State squares off against Duke. Brains against toughness. A storied program vs one that never seems to get the respect they should have earned. One that plays their home games not far from a bunch of state owned "god's country" and the other not far from a bunch of state politician country. Not counting all the canned goods on supermarket shelves, there's no such thing as a Spartan anymore. And what's up with the Blue Devil thing? People turn blue when they're very cold. The Devil is supposed to reside amongst fire and brimstone -- which is red hot. Beats me. Maybe that's why they call them student athletes. If they stay in school long enough, hopefully their highly educated minds will be able to unravel such enigmas and explain it to the rest of us lowly schmucks. The Dukies obviously have the superior coach. Say "Coach K" and everybody knows who you're talking about. Say "Coach I" and few would have a clue. But in a mild upset, I'm liking the green over the blue. Regardless, neither one will get past #1 Louisville in the regional finals. They face off in the semis against #12 Oregon. Duck hunting season is now open. Nuff said. Speaking of Blue....

#4 Michigan takes on #1 Kansas in the southern regional. The over-hyped at every opportunity against the steady as she goes year after year. Flash against substance. Kansas features a bunch of seniors and a freshman guard that not many have heard of, but might be an NBA top 5 lottery pick. Michigan features some freshmen, a couple second-generation guys named after their more famous fathers, and a highly-touted sophomore guard that gets a lot of press coverage, but methinks is vastly overrated. Prediction? At least the Wolverines get to play in Jerry Jones' palace down in Big D. But for only one game. They're going down to the Jayhawks, which means they'll never get to face the winner of...

#3 Florida vs this year's Cinderella #15 Florida Gulf Coast. FGC is the first #15 seed to ever make it to the Sweet 16. Handily defeating #2 Georgetown in their opening game was quite an eye-opener. These guys are good. Not only that, they've got confidence and even a bit of swagger. Can a little school that's only been in existence since the Clinton administration possibly take down an in-state behemoth that dates back to pre-civil war days?  Maybe, but I wouldn't count on it. The Eagles get snapped up in the jaws of the Gators.

And, of course, as yours truly has often owned up to before --- I have an incredible track record -- of picking losers. So perhaps the best thing you can do is take all the above predictions, turn them upside down, and bet everything you have on the other team.

Either that, or save your money and just kick back with a beer to enjoy the action. But I still don't recommend Milwaukee's Finest. Yuck.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Miami, Tiger, and the Lions

Well, let's see. The Miami Heat's consecutive win streak was broken in Chicago, Tiger Woods is once again the #1 ranked golfer in the world, and another Detroit Lion player has (allegedly) run afoul of the law. Nothing too surprising. Actually, all three almost seemed inevitable.

Defending champs Lebron and company may very well still be the best team in basketball, but nobody wins them all, and every streak gets stopped eventually. Unless, of course, one considers the Chicago Cubs not winning the World Series or the continuing absence of yours truly as the fold-out in Playgirl magazine. Despite how wildly popular either one of those events would surely be, perhaps the legions of potential adoring fans are destined to remain deprived. Alas.

Yep, Eldrick's #1 again, pretty much by default. He hasn't been playing all that great, but all the young golfing studs that were routinely taking him to the Woods shed not that long ago seem to have collectively regressed. Maybe the presence of Lindsey Vonn is more intimidating than we thought. At that, what in the world was Steve Stricker thinking when he gave Tiger a putting lesson, which apparently has worked wonders? Isn't that a little like telling your nemesis how to aim his pistol better before you face him down in a duel? Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.....

And the Lions? C'mon. They're just being the Lions. A head coach that went berserk on the field chasing an opposing head coach. The same head coach that threw a challenge flag which cost his team the game, then later admitted he knew the rule all along but did it anyway. The very same guy that has posted an abysmal 22-42 record over 4 years, only to get a contract extension from that loveable, if decades-old dysfunctional entity called the front office of the Detroit Lions. Throw in a stomp here, a groin kick there, alcohol abuse, one Lion slugging another during a mere scrimmage, and the slugger eventually deciding the team playbook didn't matter. He'd run his own plays. Add a heaping helping of draft choice busts, mysterious car crashes, multiple drug offenders, and an absentee owner. Is it any wonder a few free agents the Lions had with any marketable value bailed for other teams?

Now they have a player that stands accused of some sort of domestic violence and endangering a child. Ironically, this alleged aggressor was slated to play alongside the above-mentioned teammate that was on the receiving end of the abuse from the guy that made up his own plays as the game went along.

Jeez, and I thought the Barnum and Bailey & Ringling Bros. travelling circus went out of business. Not to worry. The greatest show on earth is alive, if not so well, in Detroit.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Chauvinist pigs

What a bunch of chauvinist pigs. How else to explain what's going on with college hoops these days?

The March Madness of the NCAA tournament is under way. Justifiably, everybody from the President and billionaires on down to street gangs and the homeless are talking about it. With no clear-cut favorite and all the upsets/bracket-busting that have already happened, this might be the wildest, most unpredictable shoot-em-up tournament there ever was.

But wait a minute. Aren't we forgetting something here? The ladies are playing too, you know.

While the boys have been getting massive media coverage, it appears the girls are once again getting the barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen treatment. Cable stations like TBS, TNT, TruTV, and network giant CBS are all covering mens' hoops. Program your DVR and channel surf at your leisure to catch it all. In the meantime, the entire goings on of the women's tournament have been shuffled off to a single secondary ESPN channel. So what happened to equal rights, Title IX, and all that? Though TV ratings are likely the Superman in the room, is this "madness" so pervasive that we temporarily lose sight of truth, justice, and the American way? Something is seriously wrong with this picture, no pun intended.

Yep. I suspect those dastardly chauvinist pigs are up to their old tricks again.

Thing is, the women's NCAA tournament seems to be just the opposite of the men's. While the guys continue their free-for-all, the gals, as in many other things in life, are much more organized.

#1 seeds in the men's tournament aren't necessarily a lock to reach the Final Four. Far from it. Gonzaga already went down, and Louisville, Kansas, and Indiana are going to face some mighty stiff competition before any can claim a berth in Atlanta. Anything can happen.

Conversely, the Big Four on the women's side seem to be a cut above all the other competition. That would be #1 seeds Baylor, Stanford, Notre Dame, and UConn. It's entirely possible, maybe even probable, that all will arrive safely in New Orleans as the Final Four. Upsets just don't happen as often with the women as they do with the men. They know their pecking order (CERTAINLY no pun intended, ahem). Sure, there are other quality teams in the field like Tennessee, Duke, Cal, and Kentucky, all #2's, and one of them might pull off an upset in the regional finals, but the odds are against it. Barring key injuries, the Big Four are just too good. Beyond that, the other 56 teams have little, if any, shot at getting to the Big Easy.

And if it plays out that way with the #1's, that's when the women would finally face their own little free-for-all.

Baylor's only lost one game all year -- to Stanford.
Stanford's only lost two games all year. One to UConn, and the other to Cal, the latter likely an anomaly.
UConn's lost four games. One to Baylor, and 3 to Notre Dame.
Notre Dame's only lost one game all year -- to Baylor as well.

So if A beat B, and B beat C, but C beat A, and D beat a couple of the others, etc --- then what do you have? Here's how the brackets work out ----

If the Big Four hold serve, then UConn gets Notre Dame again in the semis. The Irish seem to have the Huskies' number.

Baylor would square off again with Stanford, the only team to beat the Bears this year. I would look for Baylor to avenge that loss. At 6'8", Baylor freak and superstar Brittney Griner just keeps getting better and more dominant. Even so, either one of these teams would likely dispatch whoever survived the Notre Dame/UConn game to win the championship.

But in the end, what does it mean? The translation of all the above rhetoric is actually pretty simple. Yours truly has always been a big fan of equal rights.

No more worrying about opening up doors or pulling out seats for a lady. We're equal. They can do it themselves. Thank god, no more of that laying my coat across a puddle so a member of the fairer sex can waddle their size 10s somehow crammed into size 4 shoes over it when they could have walked around the puddle in the first place. Forget that. And the hair thing? Outta here. Hey, they knew it was going to rain. They should have brought their own umbrella. Why should I give mine up? Half the time I never got them back. It's like I signed them over to them or something. Umbrellas aren't cheap, you know? And how many women ever had the common decency to accompany the man home to wipe up the kitchen floor he would leave a water trail across, and wash his clothes -- which, after all, she was responsible for getting wet and soiled in the first place? Geez, what primitive times those were. Personally, I could never figure out how a woman could spent a couple hundred bucks on an ounce of perfume, but couldn't manage a Hamilton to help out with a dinner tab. Sure am glad those days are over.

Yep. We've come a long way baby.

But I'd still like to see more coverage of the ladies' basketball tournament.

Damn chauvinists.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Slippery Rock, Butler, and Gonzaga

Not counting Slippery Rock, Butler and Gonzaga are probably my two favorite colleges. And I've never set foot on any of the campuses. Doesn't matter. I always root for them, though I haven't seen or heard of Slippery Rock lately. Hope they're OK out there in -- where else -- Slippery Rock, Pa. They even have a mascot named Rocky and call themselves the Rockets. Evidently they have a thing about big stones, or is that getting stoned in a big way? I dunno. Like I said -- never been there. Or maybe I was and can't remember.....

Idle thought: Yeah, few expected Gonzaga to actually win the NCAA championship, but how can they finish the regular season ranked #1 in the nation, but then Louisville is named the #1 overall seed in the tournament before it even starts?

Alas, both Butler and Gonzaga went down while trying to reach the Sweet 16. Perhaps the problem is as simple as their nicknames.

Butler calls it team the Bulldogs. So who ever heard of a bulldog being a butler? Those critters don't know anything about hanging up coats. That team should rename itself after the most famous butler of all. The Butler Lurches. Think about it. Lurch was a really tall dude, usually a good thing in basketball. Even better, when a visiting team trotted out onto the floor of Butler's home arena, a huge gong could sound, the entire crowd could rise up as one, and in their deepest voices somberly intone, "You Rang?" to welcome them. How cool would that be? Throw in cheerleaders with REALLY long hair called the Itts, do the "wave" with hands only and rename it the "Thing", change Hinkle Fieldhouse to Fester Fieldhouse, and that program would start shaping up in a hurry. Besides, ahem, education, college is supposed to be about having fun, right? So what kind of blue-chip prep hoops star wouldn't want to go there?

Sadly, Butler lost to Marquette. Marquette used to call it's team the Warriors, but in 1994 they changed it, possibly due to the name being deemed insensitive to native Americans, which was faddish at the time. It wasn't cool to call yourself the Warriors -- unless, of course, you're a pro basketball team in Oakland, Ca.  That was OK. "Indians" was definitely out of the question, but evidently the major league baseball team in Cleveland (aka the "Tribe") got an exemption. And if anybody can explain the political correctness of the Washington Redskins name -- then let me know -- because I'm obviously missing something here.

At any rate, Marquette now calls itself the Golden Eagles, which is also the name of a casino in Mt. Pleasant, Mich, which is the home of Central Michigan Univ, which still calls its team the Chippewas, which is not that far away from Eastern Michigan Univ, which used to be called the Hurons, but switched over to the Eagles about the same time Marquette did because of native sensitivity. If all that's confusing, not to worry and join the club. I got lost trying to keep up with all that hypocritical nonsense a long time ago. Apparently, where you stand depends on where you sit -- or something like that.

Formerly #1, sort of, Gonzaga just got bounced by Wichita State, which calls itself the Shockers. Maybe they got that name from the old Glen Campbell song Wichita Lineman, because linemen run the risk of getting shocked during the course of their duties. Could it be?

Gonzaga also calls itself the Bulldogs. Earlier in the year, they lost a squeaker at Butler. Something bad is bound to happen when there's that many bulldogs in the same place.

And who's to say bulldogs don't have sensitivities too? Even more so with eagles. Humans have a lot of nerve calling certain eagles bald, when they just have a white patch of hair on their heads. Besides, even if they had no hair up top, there's no such thing as "bald" anymore, remember? They would be "follicly challenged" eagles. Get it right.

Maybe even rocks have feelings we should respect. Stop throwing them around, sit down for a heart-to-heart talk with one and maybe you'll get a whole new appreciation of a world you never knew before. After all, it wasn't that long ago we used to adopt them and shower them with love and attention. Surely you remember "pet rocks".

Some of them can be slippery, though.

And I think that's where I came in.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

NCAA Bracket busting

Did I hear that right? ESPN had over 8 million brackets submitted to them and, after just one full round of the NCAA hoops tournament, every last one of them is already broke? Wow. What are the chances of that?

But maybe that's what happens when you consider....

#10 Iowa State knocked off #7 Notre Dame. Well OK, not a huge upset.

#12 Ole Miss dispatched #5 Wisconsin.
#12 California bested #5 UNLV. Maybe those aren't too outrageous either.

Lasalle, a play-in team, trumped #4 Kansas State? That wasn't supposed to happen.

Combine those with the whiz-kids from Harvard, a #14 seed, brushing aside #3 New Mexico. I dare say few saw that one coming.

And OMG, #15 Florida Gulf Coast stared down the mighty #2 Hoyas of Georgetown? Probably 99% of the brackets not submitted from the Fort Myers area bit the dust on that one game alone. Florida Gulf Coast? Really?

So every bracketeer got busted just paring the field down to 32?  We all knew this tournament had no clear-cut favorite, and was wide-open, but gadzooks, you'd think out of all those millions of entrants, at least a few would have survived one full round. Has this ever happened before? Beats me.

Even more incredibly, Tiger Woods finished his round with three straight bogies at one of his favorite courses to go tumbling down the leaderboard? I couldn't have heard that right.

That NEVER happens.

Wow. And the weekend hadn't even started yet.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Detroit Pistons @ Miami. Brutal?

It almost doesn't seem fair. That being the Detroit Pistons travelling to Miami to play the Heat tonight.

After all, Miami's current win streak is well known. In fact, they haven't lost a game since Feb. 1. To put that in perspective, it was two days before the Super Bowl -- and how long ago does that seem?

On the other hand, the Pistons have lost 12 of their last 13, their only win being a one point squeaker over the even more hapless Washington Wizards, are 0 for March, and currently riding a nine game losing streak. And now "ice cold" has to go to "red hot" Miami to take on the defending world champs in their own back yard? It would appear to be a beatdown waiting to happen. Sheep being led to the slaughter.

Actually, Miami should have gotten beat a couple days ago. They were in Cleveland, original Lebron territory, where many fans still harbor resentment over his "taking his talents to South Beach" a few years back. They would have liked nothing better than to see their Cavs knock off the Heat. And they had them down by a whopping 27 points well into the 3rd quarter. Nobody can come back from that sort of deficit -- right? But Miami did. Not long before that, much the same thing happened in Boston. The Celtics dominated most of the game, had the Heat right where they wanted them, and then oops -- another late flurry and Miami left Beantown with yet another win. It's almost like the Heat have a warp drive they can shift into when they really need it, while burning just enough fuel to get the job done. Scary thought.

In the meantime, Pistons' head coach Lawrence Frank had taken a personal leave from the team to be with his seriously ill wife. To his credit, Frank managed to return to the bench, only to watch his Pistons get obliterated at home by the Brooklyn Nets. However you want to slice it or dice it -- getting beat by 37 points at home is as about as ugly as it gets. Media reports said Frank went back to be with his wife after the game -- and might not be available for the trip to Miami. I don't blame him -- in more ways than one. Draw your own conclusions.

Sure, the Pistons are banged-up with injuries to a few guys, but that's life in the big leagues. It is what it is. If they just got blistered by 37 at home by Brooklyn -- what might the margin be in Miami?  50? 70? Whatever the Heat feels like?

Yet it's quite likely, and totally understandable, that the Heat will "overlook" the Pistons. They probably figure it's a gimme they can cruise through to chalk up another easy W. No afterburners or warp drive will be necessary.

And wouldn't it be something if the lowly Pistons, injuries, maybe without their head coach, losing streak and all -- were to go into Miami and knock off the Heat? Talk about media buzz. Wow. That might rank right up there with other classic upsets like the "Miracle Mets", the "Miracle on Ice", Spinks defeating Ali, David slaying Goliath, or maybe even John Daly winning a couple of majors.

Even so, I'm telling you -- the Pistons could actually pull this off. It could HAPPEN.

But would I bet on it?

HELL no. I'm not as dumb as my picture makes me look, or, a few hundred articles notwithstanding, what has been written in this blog.

I think. I hope.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Greg Kampe and a bad Oakland joke

It appears as if the men's basketball team of Oakland University, my alma mater, headed off to something called the College Insider Tournament (CIT) for postseason play. In the face of some that doubted their worthiness, long-time head coach Greg Kampe fired back. Let's take an objective look.

The OU mens' hoops program has come a long way under Kampe's tutelage. Not all that many years ago, they weren't even a blip on the radar screen. That was likely due to other factors. With in-state mega-schools like UM and MSU, and out-of-state perennial powerhouses scouring the state for the best prep prospects -- it should have came as no surprise that Oakland wasn't going to get any "blue-chippers". More like green, or yellow, or however those rankings go. And good luck with recruiting when they couldn't even offer a talented kid a decent venue to play in. But somewhere along the line, the powers that be at OU managed to build, and further along the line, upgrade the O-rena. No, it's not exactly Crisler or Breslin, but it ain't too shabby. The in-coming talent started getting better. So much so, that OU somehow eventually clawed and scratched their way to becoming a Division 1 basketball program. They even made it into the field of the prestigious NCAA tournament. No, they had zero chance of winning it, but just getting there was quite an accomplishment, considering where they started from. Hats off to coach Kampe, the administration, and all the kids that worked so hard to make that happen.

Now for the bad news.

As mentioned above, the Golden Grizzlies of Oakland went on to post-season play this year. This, despite the fact they had a 16-16 record while hailing from something called the Summit League. It might be fair to say that particular league could be likened to Class AA baseball in the whole scheme of things. Guys come and guys go, and some are pretty good, but it's a couple steps removed from the major leagues, and not much attention is paid to them outside of their local area.

Coach Kampe has proclaimed that not only should his team be rewarded for their performances in past years, but also that they will be much better next year. Also, that he is the one that "decided" whether or not his squad would participate in the College Insider Tournament.

There are so many things wrong with this.

First, what happened before doesn't matter. Look no further than Kentucky. They were national champs last year, couldn't even make the field for the "big dance" this year, and just got bounced by some little school named Robert Morris in the opening round of the second-tier NIT tourney this year. It happened, and the world goes on. Nobody cares about last year.

Second, would any objective person ever agree that a college team should be rewarded THIS year, because they might be better NEXT year? That's absurd.

Third, coach Kampe can say he "decided" all he wants regarding his team going on to post-season play, but unless he's willing to pay for it out of his own pocket, yours truly strongly suspects his superiors at OU would have the final say on any such matters -- especially when travel costs and the like are involved. Hey, there's another coach K at a school about the same size named Duke that might have that sort of pull, and Greg K has been getting some TV air time lately to further boost his image -- but c'mon -- let's try and keep things in perspective here.

And finally, the ultimate irony. While coach Kampe was busy fiercely defending his team's "right" to be in the College Insider Tournament, it appears he, and perhaps Grizzlie fans overlooked the obvious.

If a team's not good enough to be selected in the NCAA "brackets", which accommodates 68 teams, nor the second-tier NIT, which fields yet another 32, then the post-season format to which Kampe and his troops headed was apparently misnamed.

It is decidedly the College OUTSIDER Tournament. Or in this age of acronyms for everything -- COT.  Perhaps a cot would be a good thing for Kampe. A place to lay his weary head after so many valiant struggles over all these years.

And that's just his hair. Basketball probably took its toll too.

Reasons why Detroit Lions will be contenders 2013


C'mon. Get serious.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Lindsey and Tiger....

Sittin' in a tree. K-I-S-S-I....   Nah, I probably shouldn't go there. Somebody might think I'm being racist, or sexist, or even (horrors!!) childish. We can't have that. Sorry. Ahem.

At any rate, it appears as if Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are the latest and greatest "item" in the sports world. They've been merrily posting pix of their glorious, cue the trumpets, "togetherness" for all the world to see. And obviously, planet earth wouldn't survive very long if its inhabitants weren't kept abreast (no pun intended) of every detail regarding the love lives of its glitterati. How long the dynamic LT duo had been enjoying each other's company before it went public is anybodies guess. Regardless, they've come out of the closet...... No, scratch that. Yours truly wrote something else on that subject a while back and got hammered for it. Damn, this gossip column stuff is trickier than I thought and fraught with danger. Where are you when I need you Dippy?

Yet Tiger and Lindsey seem to make a great couple. After all, they have a lot in common.

Between tournaments and races -- they've both won a lot of stuff, have bursting trophy cases, and are world famous.

They both seem easily prone to cussing when things aren't going their way in competition.

And lord knows, they've broken things. Besides records, there's golf clubs, skis, relationships -- and for some reason they both seem to have a thing about leg problems. On that note, and perhaps others, they're also both "on the mend" right now. Or was that rebound?

In their respective sports worlds, they're also both American media darlings. When they compete, even if they're losing, the cameras and microphones will always seek them out.

And talk about picture-perfect blinding incisors just begging for a toothpaste company endorsement -- one of them just has the cutest, most adorable smile that can make hearts flutter -- but I won't say which.

Lindsey got famous by going lickety-split despite the risks. Some have claimed Tiger was doing a variation of the same term in Vegas. Alas, it seems either one can lead to great falls.

Lindsey and Tiger routinely face, and often defeat, world class skiers and golfers that hail from all over the world. Sweden offers both. Lindsey might not be too popular in that country. For his part, Tiger might receive a warmer welcome from the Taliban in the mountains of Afghanistan than he would in Sweden these days. Something about how he treated his ex.

Speaking of the lovely Ms. Nordegren, she's got the kids, over $100 million of Tiger's money, and is now dating a billionaire.

Even if Lindsey Vonn fully recovers from her accident, wins every ski race she enters until she retires, gets endorsements galore, her own reality TV show, and even has a blockbuster Hollywood movie made about her life.....

There's no way she'll ever top Elin's act.

Tiger's one thing. Fooling with Mother Nature is quite another and usually not the best of plans. But seriously disrespecting a Swedish girl is a bad -- repeat -- BAD idea.

As for the longevity of Eldrick and Lindsey? I'll put the over/under at a year and a half.

Whew. Glad that's finished. This gossip stuff is enough to make anybody crazy. I'm going back to real sports. Like thinking of logical reasons why the Detroit Lions will win the Super Bowl.

Hmmm. On second thought -- anybody heard the latest on Brad and Angelena?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Miami Heat. How much is enough?

Congrats to the Miami Heat. After narrowly defeating the Celtics in Beantown, they are now the proud owners of  the NBA's 2nd longest winning streak ever. In the regular season, Boston had been a house of horrors for Miami for quite some time. They'd lost 10 in a row there. Now at 23 straight, the Heat are 10 games shy of catching the Lakers for the all time mark.

That raises some interesting possibilities. Of the 15 remaining regular season games on Miami's schedule, it would appear they only have one really tough test. Playing at San Antonio on March 31. The Spurs are cruising along in their typical low profile fashion while trying to hold off Okla City and the LA Clippers to wind up the #1 seed in the western conference going into the playoffs. Every game matters. Further, the showdown in Alamoland on April Fool's Eve could well be a preview of the NBA Finals. Both teams will want to make a "statement".

Other than that particular game, the Heat's remaining schedule looks relatively easy. They've got a lot of patsies like Cleveland (2), Charlotte (2), Orlando (2), Detroit, New Orleans, and Washington coming up. The only decent teams they play are the Knicks and Celtics again, but the Knicks are hobbled with key injuries and they get them and Boston both at home. Plus home and home with Chicago, but the Bulls ran out of gas a long time ago, especially with star guard Derrick Rose evidently trying to set a record of his own for the longest time refusing to play after he's been medically deemed fully recovered from an injury.

Sure, it's the NBA, and at least theoretically anybody can beat anybody else on any given day. But assuming Miami easily dispatches the teams they should and manages to beat San Antonio, and also doesn't suffer any significant player injuries of their own along the way -- it's not beyond the realm of imagination that the Heat could run the table for their last 15 games.

The question might become one of motivation, or even strategy, as the regular season winds down. It's pretty much already a given the Heat will be the #1 seed in the eastern conference, enjoying home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Is playing hard for the next 10 games to set the all-time consecutive win streak record that important to them? And even if so, and they pull it off -- what then? They'll still have a handful of games left. Would it be prudent of them to cut back on their starters' minutes at that time to rest them for the grind of the playoffs? If they lost some games that didn't matter in the playoff picture towards the end of the season -- would Miami ownership risk the wrath of commissioner David Stern and the league for "mailing it in"?

Ah heck. The Heat could have a bad game and lose to a patsy. It happens. And if star guard Tony Parker of the Spurs is healthy and back to his old self by the time Miami visits San Antonio in a couple weeks -- I like coach Pop's boys' chances of defending their turf against the beasts from the east.

But if this plays out a little differently -- it could get very interesting. Stay tuned......

Monday, March 18, 2013

Michigan/Michigan State and the Palace

Maybe there's at least a little bit of justice in the world. For whatever reasons, though they continue to have identities tougher to pin down than your average CIA secret agent, the all-knowing folks of the NCAA hoops tournament selection committee have decided in their infinite wisdom to allow Michigan and Michigan State to play their first round games at the Palace in nearby Auburn Hills.

This is a good thing in several ways -- for the Michigan teams -- and the Palace too. First, not counting their home arenas, the Palace is about as close as it gets to a "home" game for either team. The crowds will most definitely be their favor. Second, the Sparties and the Maizies will likely travel in buses to get there. It's under a two hour drive for both. This will save a lot of money, as opposed to the fancy flights such programs have become accustomed to when playing away from their respective cocoons. Tell ya what. If either one of those teams actually charters airplanes to get to Auburn Hills, then somebody has WAY too many dollars and not enough sense.

And third, it's good for the Palace itself. Chances are, with both UM and MSU being in town, the late Bill Davidson's self-paid-for venue supreme might actually sell out. Lord knows, the team the arena was originally built for -- the Detroit Pistons -- despite every promotion short of Elvis REALLY showing up again -- can't seem to attract many people to watch them anymore. But maybe that's because they're terrible. How bad are they? If Elvis, now 78, WERE to show up again, the Pistons might be well advised to tender him a long term contract offer to shore up their bench a little bit. Couldn't hurt. That's pretty bad, but talk about people standing in line for tickets, not to mention the "comeback player of the year" award being a lock? Whoa. But maybe I'm getting a little off track here.

Anything can happen (don't underestimate teams like Memphis or VCU) , but if all goes as expected (at least by the Michigander faithful), then both UM and MSU will prevail at the Palace and reach the "Sweet 16". And, in my opinion, that's where the feel good merry-go-round suddenly stops. There will be no team from the great lakes state in the Final Four.

More on that next week, but let's see how things play out at the Palace first........

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The quick brown Fox jumped over...

The lazy dogs at the 4 letter sports network, otherwise known as ESPN. Or so the folks at Fox TV hope to accomplish in the future. According to noted scribe Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated, the ever-lovable Rupert Murdoch's little brainchild -- the even more lovable TV conglomerate that Fox has morphed into -- has decided to launch its own version of a 24/7 sports network called Fox Sports 1.

And man oh man, did they ever trot out the heavyweights to be there at the announcement. There was Gary Bettman, and Adam Silver, and.... wait a minute. Not counting NHL owners, isn't Bettman one of the most despised people in all of sports these days? And isn't Silver NBA Commish David Stern's right hand hatchet man and hand-picked heir apparent? Plus Hope Solo was part of the mix. Well gee, that's much better. It sure is comforting to know that a moody soccer goalie has so much public appeal these days. Personally, I wish she'd jump on a starship and fly off with her (rumored) grandpa Han to go fight another empire in a different galaxy. May the force be with her -- as long as it's somewhere else far away. But that's just me.

But wait, there's more, as they say on those late-night TV gadget commercials. In an absolutely breath-taking stroke of genius, the Fox people might even feature such dynamic on-air personalities like Erin Andrews. Hold on again. Erin Andrews? Who the hell is that? Beats me, but I wouldn't cough up 50 cent for one of her kisses.

It seems they might even get Mr. TV himself, Regis Philbin, to be a part of this bonanza. I once read where Regis was the all-time record holder for most TV air time (though that pesky William Shatner keeps hanging in there to try and go where no man has gone before). Now Regis had his day, and his years, and his century, but c'mon. Fox wants to put an 81 year old guy out there as one of the faces of their newest venture? Tell ya what. Even though they might pay him millions, if Fox were to "ask the audience", they might give Regis a 50-50 chance of making it through the first year, no matter how many phone-a-friends he had to help him out.

It appears Terry Bradshaw is a possibility as well. I love Bradshaw. Whether it's him being on an NFL pre-game show or sitting across from a late-night comedian -- the dude's flat out fun to watch and listen to. Sara Lee might very well have come up with the original slogan, but nobody doesn't like Terry Bradshaw either. Old #12 definitely knows his football, and he'd no doubt be worth the price of viewership calling a UFC cage match, or even yee-hawing it up at a NASCAR race -- but I'm not at all sure his style would fit so well with major league baseball, much less soccer. Of course, in America, nothing gets lower TV ratings than soccer, so I suppose it couldn't hurt.

But I hereby predict Fox's venture is doomed to failure. I don't care how much money they pour into it, what advertisers they attract, or who they get as on-air personalities to connect with the viewers. That network has always had an inherent flaw which will quickly turn off sports fans.

When we're watching a sporting contest, whether it's baseball, football, basketball, a car race, a fight, soccer, or anything else-- we want to see all the action -- not just half of it.

If Fox is true to their history, then viewers will only get to see and hear the "right" side of anything they show. Anything to the "left" in the picture has always been at best ignored, and at worst ridiculed, even though they steadfastly refuse to show it. Sometimes they even blur the center.

Hard to say how all this will work out, but until Fox corrects that problem -- I'm sticking with ESPN.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Massive cover ups

No, this isn't about Watergate, or any other "gate" for that matter. Nor is it about certain, ahem, "wardrobe malfunctions". Rather, it has to do with something that we've long taken for granted, but shouldn't.  Flooring. That's right. Flooring. Other than oxygen, or maybe remote controls, what could be more important than what we walk on? Hate that cold bathroom tile in the middle of the night? Hey, it beats the heck out of a hot bed of coals, not to mention a sinkhole flushing YOU, instead of the other way around. Speaking of which, I dated this girl once that could.... well nevermind. Anyway, flooring matters. But it's tough to get a handle on it when it keeps changing.

The old Boston Gardens, longtime home of the Celtics, was famous for its parquet floor. Sure, there were those that thought parquet was some sort of talking margarine in a cup that people got confused with real butter -- but that was only a TV commercial. The basketball court itself was very unique. Nobody else had a floor like that. Nowadays, such things change as fast as a politician's loyalties.

The LA Lakers and LA Clippers both play in the same Staples Center, but depending on which is the home team, including when they're playing each other, a different floor will be used. Lakers one night and Clippers the next? A crew will be busy removing one floor and installing another, only to be repeated over and over again throughout the season.  How stupid is that?

Right now, the Big 10 is holding their basketball conference tournament in Chicago at the United Center -- home of the Chicago Bulls. The floor has been changed to say "Big 10" instead of the usual Bulls logo. Why should that be? Teams play on the road all the time and other arenas don't change their floor when visitors come-a-calling. Too boot, it's likely the Big 10 had to pony up big bucks to the good folks at the United Center to have this happen at all. The teams don't care what the floor looks like. They all measure the same. So what's the point, other than a waste of money?

Baseball and football are even worse, both college, professional and, in rare cases, even high schools. Over the years we've seen teams change from one variety of natural grass, to whatever the latest "turf" invention at the time is, back to another variety of grass, and back again. Sometimes communities will hold umpteen fund-raisers, or even manage to put a millage on the ballot --- just so they can pay for changing the color of their local football field. Really? Baseball stadiums can cover up most of where the infielders normally play with turf, only to leave a little dirt around the bases. Good grief. Countless generations played on grass football fields and baseball infielders learned the game playing on dirt for their entire young lives, including the occasional bad hop, but now these aren't good enough? Somehow, this is just wrong.

We need blue football fields like we need black ice in hockey. And when baseball players are spitting every 5 seconds, as so many seem to do for whatever reason -- stop and think about something. When that happens on grass, the ground crew will eventually turn the sprinklers or hoses on to water it down anyway, so it soaks in. No big deal. When those same players do it on turf -- be it bubble gum, tobacco, or whatever -- it's not going anywhere -- and would you want to be the guy/girl that has to clean it up after the game? Somebody has to.

It's odd when you think about it. Basketball courts are all the same dimensions, as are football fields. Hockey arenas look the same, but they're all different. And in baseball, there don't seem to be any rules at all when it comes to park dimensions. Fenway Park in Boston has a very strange layout, and in Houston, the deepest part of center field, where the bleachers would normally be, is not only still in play, but actually goes UPHILL. How weird is that?

Don't laugh, Detroit fans. Remember when Tigers' owner Mike Ilitch first got Comerica Park built. Not only did many wind up footing a good portion of the bill through tax dollars, a lot of people got booted out of their homes to make room for it as well. And after all the thousands of hours of engineering that no doubt went into the planning -- what happened?

A big fancy scoreboard, but the left field fence below it was too deep. Not enough home runs. So they reconfigured the whole shooting match, including the bull pens, so certain players could pad their stats. One way or the other -- fans paid for that too. Bigger stats mean bigger contracts mean bigger ticket prices, etc.

It's too bad all that can't be more like golf. A game that is much more civilized and brings a certain soothing constant into our lives. Like par 3s varying from 120 to 260 yards; some par 4s being longer than other par 5s; the difference between a perfect shot being one inch away from landing in a pit of sand deeper than one of Dick Cheney's bunkers........

On second thought -- no wonder they throw clubs once in a while.

Hmmm. Tennis anyone?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Reggie Bush - Detroit Lions thoughts

The Detroit Lions have signed running back Reggie Bush to a 4-year contract. Most consider this a good fit and I agree, though for possibly different reasons.

Coming to a new team is never easy for a player. It takes them a while to get adjusted to all the different things that will be going on. Even though Bush will have many practices and all of the preseason to learn the new system, it might take him a few "real" games before he gets totally comfortable.

So if Bush really started to roll around the 5th game or so, and the Lions reeled off 4-5 straight wins, could Bush become "Mr. October" in his very first year in Detroit? No, that won't work. Another Reggie has already laid claim to that name.

Just think. If the Lions hired a staffer to call the plays and personally coach up Bush while doing so -- and that assistant happened to be named Cheney -- Lions fans could have some serious shock and awe going for them. Hmmm. Somehow that sounds familiar. Or was that another Bush? Regardless, if they threw a lady named Rice into the coaching mix to provide some brain power, chances are good a lot of people would start getting scared. Very scared.

And hey, free agency isn't over yet. Besides Reggie, maybe the Lions will bring in guys named Archie, Moose, and Jughead. Now THAT would be taking a new direction. Or is that an old one? Beats me, but I'd bet it would gather plenty of national attention.

Actually, Reggie Bush should help the Lions. Though he's never been spectacular as a pro, he brings a lot to the table in running and pass catching ability. And he would certainly seem to be an upgrade as to what the team had before at his position. That includes a couple guys that were hit or miss at best, that may or may not have even made the roster of many other NFL teams and one poor devil who sadly, and quite literally, became a head case.

As an every down running back, even capable of an occasional big play, Bush might well provide a dimension the Lions have been sorely lacking. Sure, QB Matthew Stafford can throw for 5000 yards and wide receiver supreme Calvin "Megatron" Johnson can even set records, but in the big picture -- that's just not going to get it done by itself. Last season should be proof positive of that. They needed more.

Please notice yours truly has refrained from any Reggie/Lions/bush league cracks, though it IS tempting. I mean, c'mon, one measly playoff win since the Super Bowls even started -- way back when Lyndon Johnson was President? But OK, we'll let that slide.

Nevertheless, I'm glad his name is Reggie and not Anheuser. The Lions have already driven enough people to drink.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Popes and commissioners

And there it was. Black smoke. The quest to install a new Holy See, or conclave, sometimes known on the streets as the "Pope-a-thon", will continue. This is serious business.

Yet with all due respect to both, an idle, or perhaps in my case, delusional mind could suggest there are some parallels to be drawn between the "election" of a new Pope, and the naming of a new professional sports commissioner. To anyone who regards either of these ventures as matters not to be trifled with, I apologize in advance for the following levity.

No one knows for sure how long either one will serve. It could be a short time, or it could stretch on for decades. There's not exactly term limits involved with either one.

In sports, when in need of a new leader, the owners of the various franchises will get together at some ritzy location to hash over the pros and cons of all the candidates, and sometimes will even appoint one of their own. See Bud Selig. Similarly, all the Cardinals will make a pilgrimage to the Vatican to discuss much the same and, as places go, it doesn't get any ritzier than the Vatican. They will ALWAYS appoint one of their own.

No pesky reporters are allowed to witness the deliberations of either. No one knows what man (sorry ladies -- a few dozen commissioners and thousands of years of history speak for themselves and don't bode well for your chances) will emerge to assume the throne until it's all over.

The sports owners can be a tight-lipped group at times when it comes to such things. And trust me, NOBODY keeps a secret like those guys in the red gowns.

Idle thought: I wonder how and when a "cardinal" became the symbol of such lofty stature? Regardless, it's sure better than a "peacock", or those outfits might be something to behold indeed.

Once chosen, be it a Pope or a commissioner, that individual will wield great power. It might be likened to being God's representative on earth in their respectful undertakings. Few would dare to question their authority. They're the MAN. A Pope is charged with leading his flock, which consists of hundreds of millions of people. A commissioner has a flock of his own to worry about. Millions of fans. Both these groups pay the freight, as it were. If for whatever reason, such a group were to become disenfranchised and turn their backs, thereby cutting off the money supply, it is entirely possible, in either case, the entity affected would find itself in a rather difficult situation quite soon.

Both men set "policy". Some have been more "old school" and played it tight to the vest, while others have loosened things up a bit with rule changes. Alas, it seems as if neither one has ever been able to please their entire masses. No matter what they do, or don't do, there will be many that will disagree. Tough job being a Pope or a commissioner.

A commissioner will typically get paid an outrageous salary for his "service". He'll fly in ultra-first class planes and stay in posh hotels while making appearances, giving speeches, shaking hands, kissing babies, and generally live a life of luxury. Though the Pope's actual pay scale isn't so hot, he'll enjoy the same level of comfort while on the road doing many of the same things, and who needs money when everything is provided and you live in a place like the Vatican? Talk about fancy digs. If a Pope wanted to, he could probably sell off a few knick-knacks lying around and BUY a couple entire professional sports leagues, lock, stock, barrel, stadiums, concession stands, and naming rights, but that's another story.

But be it a commissioner or a Pontiff, they both have their share of headaches. A Commish will always have that troublemaking bunch known as a players' union nipping at his heels. Issues like compensation, free agency, player safety, and the seemingly never-ending battle against other agents of evil, such as performance enhancing drugs, continue to rear their ugly heads occasionally. Sometimes a commissioner will quietly delegate authority, keeping himself above the fray.

While he won't have to worry about a union, at least the labor variety so far (though that same-sex union thing may be a migraine waiting to happen), a Pope will inherit the age-old debates over such things as birth control, women becoming priests, who to promote to what position within the ranks, and it could fairly be said they've had a few truly evil demons of their own to cope with in the last several years. Bet they'd trade that problem for steroids any day. Sometimes delegating and staying above the fray would seem to be a prudent move.

Popes never go by their real names. They'll select another one like John, Paul, Benedict, usually a name one of their predecessors chose. Within a short time, most people quickly forget what their original names were.

This could be a ploy well-used by certain professional sports commissioners. I'd wager there were times when the likes of Gary Bettman, Roger Goodell, etc. wished nobody knew who they were either. It could come in handy when the going got tough.

Of course, all in all, the selection of a Pope is a much more important occasion than choosing some sports commissioner.

How do I know this? You'll never see thousands of people camped outside a hotel, waiting with bated breath for as long as it takes, where professional sports owners have assembled. Heck, most of the time we don't even know where the hotel IS. And you'll certainly never see Anderson Cooper, CNN's apparent version of deity, on site providing live coverage.

Idle thought II: What's the point of sending someone half way around the world to cover an event he can't see or hear?

But I think that white puff of smoke from the Vatican after the new leader has been chosen is a nice touch.

Maybe the sports owners should consider that. Couldn't hurt.

Monday, March 11, 2013

No speaka da English

Earlier, yours truly tuned into a baseball game on ESPN's flagship station to watch a contest between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. This was just one game in the on-going World Baseball Classic. The WBC is like an Olympic style competition, in that it brings teams from countries all over the world together in a tournament to slug it out for nationalistic pride, bragging rights, and a bunch of medals.

But something immediately struck me as quite different about this particular game. The announcers were calling it in Spanish. Now, it didn't take a heavyweight rocket brain genius to figure out what the 4-letter network was up to. Like so many others, they were attempting to reach out to a certain demographic in their never-ending quest for the Holy Grail -- sometimes referred to as "ratings".

Problem was, I don't speak Spanish, so I had no idea what they were saying. Yet I still wanted to watch the game. What to do? There was only one logical solution. Hit the "mute" button and watch it anyway.

For a while it seemed strange, not having the running commentary we've all become so accustomed to. Then something even stranger happened. Even without the play-by-play audio, I quickly got used to it and quite enjoyed the remainder of the contest. After all, most anybody that's watching a baseball game knows what's going on. They don't need to be told by someone else.

On that note, consider -- where's the absolute best place to watch a game at? Most would likely agree it's in the stadium itself. You're there. The players are real and not pixels on a TV screen. Standing up for the national anthem(s). The programs, the atmosphere of the crowd, screaming at umpires, the 7th inning stretch, $8 ball-park hot dogs, $10 beers, gas, tickets, parking, watching your favorite hitter strike out 3 times while making more money doing so then you'll make in the next 3 years, and waking up the next day facing the decision of whether to keep the lights on in your home in the near future, or eat nothing but ramen noodles for a few weeks. Hmm. It does seem to have it's drawbacks, but dammit, you were THERE.

Thing is, even at the ballpark, there's nobody providing you with running commentary as to what's going on. The guy on the public address system will announce each player by name as they come up to bat, or enter the game for another reason. That's it. The rest of the action is left up to you to watch, understand, and appreciate. The same applies to contests in football, basketball, hockey, tennis, golf, you name it. Even auto racing. Be it Indy or NASCAR, it's quite a thrill to be at the track while they're zooming around. But after the "field" gets jumbled through such things as pit stop strategies, nobody really knows who's what and where until the final few laps. Sitting at home watching TV, this is all explained to us. At that, the home viewers have the added advantage of countless replays, shown by umpteen cameras covering the action, and know EXACTLY what has gone on. But where would you rather be? At the action in person with nobody explaining it to you, or watching it on TV where every minor detail and trivia from hell are offered up for your consideration by a rotating team of hyperventilating announcers?

A few days ago, yours truly happened upon an old-time boxing match in black and white. At first, I thought my sound system had gone kaput. Nobody was calling the action -- at least for a little while. Turned out, the announcers were indeed there but, for the most part, let the fight speak for itself. I didn't need somebody telling me a left hook had been thrown. I saw it. And I sure as hell didn't need somebody screaming the likes of "Down Goes Frazier/Foreman/Pacquiao" repeatedly, or otherwise berating the obvious. The dude just got clocked and he's on the canvas. No explanation was necessary.

Perhaps that's what it's come to. We've been conditioned over the years to depend on somebody else telling us what's happening in a particular sporting contest, even though we're looking at it with our own eyes. Sure, I can see the need for this as regards blind people who want to be kept abreast of the sporting contests they enjoy, but the rest of us really have no excuse. We've been brainwashed over the years into depending on those announcers. Scary.

Depending on how the aforementioned World Baseball Classic works out -- it would be interesting if a predominantly Spanish speaking country (or Japanese, Chinese, Italian, etc., take your pick) eventually made it to the finals to face the US. I wonder what language that would be broadcast in to viewers in the US?

Tell ya what. If that happens, and there's two announcers -- one speaking English and the other another language -- at the same time -- forget the mute button. I'm going back to the black and white boxing channel.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Mariano Rivera's swansong

So long-time closer supreme for the New York Yankees Mariano Rivera is going to retire after this season, eh? Well OK, he's 43 years old, this will be his 19th season, he's won a few World Series along the way, and is also the all-time save leader. A very impressive career indeed. How he was able to be so successful over all those years while basically only throwing one pitch -- a cut fastball in the mid-90 MPH range -- will forever remain a mystery. But it worked, and good for him.

Still, something is wrong with this picture. Why announce his retirement now, on the eve of another long baseball season? Sadly, it seems that anymore pro jocks in most sports have a need to feed their egos one last time. It's not enough that they've made obscene amounts of money for playing a game over the years and, unless they're total boneheads, will live out the rest of their lives in luxury beyond the imagination of 99.9% of people on the planet. No, they have to have a "farewell tour" to go out in a blaze of glory.

No doubt, the public relations people employed by the Bronx Bombers will trumpet Rivera's final season at every turn. In Yankee Stadium, he'll get standing O's every time he comes in to pitch. His personal paraphernalia sales will surely skyrocket. Cha-ching. Over the course of the year, while on road trips, Rivera will be in every other ballpark in the American League, and if those particular home town fans don't wish to honor him -- rest assured the TV folks will find a way.

And my oh my, those same folks can come up with some off-the-wall stats sometimes in their rush to canonize yet another sports hero. Did you know the Yankees have an .850 winning percentage in games Rivera has appeared in? That sounds great, until one thinks about it. Rivera was/is a "closer". Closers only enter the game toward the very end when their team is ahead, and seldom will pitch to more than 3-4 batters. In other words, they inherit an advantage. No team puts their closer in when they're behind. Such mop-up duty is left to pitchers that "need a little work". In that light, that same .850 team winning percentage loses a bit of luster. And who sits around looking this stuff up anyway?

But we've seen it before. Brett Favre was a poster-child of farewell tours. All hail #4 on his last go-round. Oops. He's back again. Michael Jordan retired from basketball to play baseball, crashed and burned for a couple years in only the minor leagues, then went back to hoops.

And it's not just limited to sports. How many times have we seen an aging rock band on a farewell tour, only to rediscover themselves a year or two later and hit the road again for yet another one, more major cha-chings, and still playing the same songs? Obviously, we're suckers for that sort of thing.

To see how far the media-hype has gone, one only has to take note that Rivera attracted major attention when it was merely rumored an UPCOMING press conference to announce his retirement might come about. The actual conference itself will no doubt be yet another media circus. All this will have occurred just before -- Rivera goes out and plays another season. Amazing. And how about if he has a terrific year, changes his mind, and decides to come back for yet another campaign? Would he get another "tour"? Could happen.

The guy who got it right was Barry Sanders. In July of 1999, he had 4 years and $35 million remaining on his contract with the Detroit Lions. Still in the prime of his career, Sanders was also only 1400+ yards behind Walter Payton for the all-time NFL rushing record at the time, a mark he likely could have easily surpassed had be played only one more year. But Sanders was finally fed up with the Lions' losing culture, yet the team played hardball and wouldn't consider a trade (even though the Washington Redskins seemed willing and had multiple first round draft choices to offer). The Lions had backed Sanders into a corner. Either play for them, or don't play at all. To the surprise of many, Sanders called their bluff and simply walked away from the game entirely. No muss, no fuss, no press conference, and certainly no farewell tour. In the lowest of profiles, Sanders' retirement only became officially known through a mere fax he sent to the Wichita Eagle, his hometown newspaper at the time. It would be many more years before Barry would even discuss the matter publicly.

Though many Lions' fans were disappointed, or perhaps even outraged, Sanders having left them high and dry just before the team was entering it's pre-season phase in 1999, that was likely the result of the spin the Lions' PR folks put on it at the time. Their star running back had just taken a hike, and it couldn't be THEIR fault, right? So it must be his. All through the ensuing firestorm Sanders remained silent. That was class. Just like he had always displayed on the field.

It's too bad other athletes like Rivera can't seem to follow his example. When it's time to go, just go, and stop making such a big deal out of it. But in the end, the fault actually lies with the fans themselves.

Because they keep buying into it.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A massive right-wing conspiracy

Tiger Woods is leading another golf tournament after the first two rounds. Nothing new there. Eldrick's done that several times in the last few years -- only to blow up like the Hindenberg on the weekend. With apologies to George H. W. Bush, our former prez, perhaps this time Tiger can "stay the course". Then again, maybe he'll have "a thousand points of light" go off in his head in the last couple rounds, where the ghosts of Elin past, competition present, and major titles future pay him an eerie nighttime visit that rattles around in his mind. Or maybe that last part should be attributed to someone else. The Dickens you say.

Per usual, we're getting bombarded with Tiger highlights. All the while, Phil Mickelson, certainly a world famous golfer in his own right, and very much in the hunt in this particular tournament, again is relegated to "back-up" status. Obviously, blatant discrimination has reared it's ugly head once again.

Before you jump to any conclusions, be advised that race and/or skin color has nothing to do with it. Nor does gender or any other ethnic flavor come into play. No, a far more insidious plot has been afoot for some time.

It's lefthanders. Southpaws. The world is obviously biased against them. Consider President Obama. He's a lefty, and no matter what he says or does -- he'll get ripped for it -- by the righties. When's the last time you saw a left-handed throwing catcher in major league baseball? You haven't. The bases are still the same, and these days batters are about 50/50 from which side of the plate they swing from, and we also see a slew of left-handed pitchers. So how come not a single southpaw catcher?

History is chock full of famous left-handers. Bill Gates made a few bucks. Mark Twain wrote some stuff. JFK, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton hunched their pens over when they signed things. Masters such as Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Picasso, and Mozart, along with such notables as Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Churchill, and Einstein all had a dominant "other hand".

Given the above, one would think southpaws should be held in high esteem. Alas, there were a few bad apples that have dragged their reputation down. Like Billy the Kid, Jack the Ripper, the Boston Strangler, and horrors, a certain editor that I hope never gets around to reading this.

If you think about it, the bias against southpaws is everywhere in our lives. Ever hear of a deodorant called "Left Guard"? Shouldn't that armpit matter too? When someone wants something immediately, they'll say, "right now", but never "left now". In geometry, there's right angles, but not left angles. In boxing, we've heard of a "right cross", but never a "left cross".

There's even a drug store chain called Rite-Aid. But the last time I was in one, I was "left" twiddling my thumbs at the counter waiting for a cashier to show up. That didn't seem right. Perhaps I should have left.

This can get confusing at times.....

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Detroit Lions' first round draft pick will be...

Probably another bone-headed move. After all, to most every NFL fan across the nation but the die-hard Honolulu blue and silver faithful, the Lions have firmly established themselves over the decades as being a bone-headed franchise. From an owner that is either clueless or doesn't care, to bizarre front office personnel, to wacky coaches and their game decisions, to even wackier player performances both on and off the field, and former high first round draft picks that flamed out like like a Roman candle in a thunderstorm, it should come as no great surprise that the Lions have only won one playoff game in the last half-century. It's like Murphy's Law. Give them a chance to get it wrong -- and they WILL get it wrong. This is what they do. As sure as ducks quack, fish swim, and politicians pick our pockets, the Lions will find a way to screw things up.

Last year, despite glaring needs at most every other position, the Lions spent their first round pick on offensive tackle Riley Reiff. He couldn't even start. Other NFL teams selected guys that could step right in and be "impact" players. Difference makers. Unlike in years past, when a team drafts even a quarterback with a high first-round pick -- they don't sit around as understudies for a few seasons learning the ropes. They're expected to jump right in and start. Witness Robert Griffin III in Washington, Russell Wilson in Seattle, and Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. They not only made a difference, but now have a year of experience under their belts and will likely be better because of it in the years to come. Other teams also got a variety of different positional players as first-rounders, and they made a difference too. Maybe 15 years from now, Riley Reiff will have proven himself to be one of the greatest offensive linemen in the history of the game, and eventually be inducted into the NFL's Hall of Fame. Stranger things have happened, I think, maybe. But why in the hell would Detroit make him a first round draft pick when they already knew he wouldn't be able to crack the starting line-up? Only the Lions.

Now there's local buzz about the Lions perhaps drafting yet another offensive tackle with the #5 overall pick. Yes, Eric Fisher's a "home boy", having played his high school and college years within a couple hour drive of Detroit -- but what difference should that make? In the world of pro sports, where a jock had his roots, or used to call home, is totally irrelevant.

The Lions are in desperate need at several positions. Like a running back. A receiver to compliment Calvin Johnson. A tight end that can catch. Defensively, their linebacker corps is decidedly mediocre at best; they've got one safety that supposed to be good, but can't stay healthy, a defensive line that underachieves with their play, but overachieves with their shenanigans, both on and off the field, and has anybody seen a cornerback that can actually -- you know -- cover an opposing receiver once in a while for the last few years? Good grief, they've even got a soon to be 43 year old place kicker.

The Lions have more (pot)holes to fill than Michigan road commission crews. The only thing they seem to have going for them is QB Matthew Stafford throwing for about 5000 yards a year, primarily to Calvin Johnson. Their passing game, such as it is, holds its own. The LAST thing they need is another offensive lineman that probably wouldn't start either.

And that is EXACTLY why yours truly wouldn't be a bit surprised if Eric Fisher is their first round pick.

Because that's what they do.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Derek Jeter. What's the rush?

Somehow, we shouldn't be surprised. Anymore, the sports media, especially the TV talking heads, will find a way to create a new hero just about every day in their own minds -- then attempt to convince the viewing public of that particular athlete's iconic status. We should stand in awe and bow our heads in reverence, they will breathlessly claim. Whether or not the hypester folks perpetually flapping their soup coolers really believe that stuff themselves would seem to be a very good question. Yes, they've got a job to do. I get that, and evidently the sort of stuff they spout must be popular amongst many, because ratings matter in their world. I get that too, but after a while of being continually bombarded by these people trying to make mountains out of molehills -- it can not only get wearisome, but cause an objective fan to cast a very skeptical eye on what they just saw and heard.

Enter Derek Jeter as their latest offering of an athlete that is so "special" -- in their minds -- that he should be given special treatment as well, in particular when it comes to Jeter being eligible for enshrinement in baseball's Hall of Fame. Now don't get me wrong. Yours truly has a huge amount of respect for what Jeter has accomplished over his on-going major league career. He's put up a slew of very impressive individual statistics, both offensively and defensively since he broke into the majors back in 1995. Jeter's also won a fistful of World Series' over that time, and for the last 10 years has been the "captain" of the Yankees, arguably the highest profile team in all of sports. He's also been known across the baseball spectrum as the consummate teammate. And all the while, he seems to have been a model citizen in his off-the-field life. There are few athletes in history that have ever had such a glowing resume.

But now, the idea has been floated that when Jeter becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame, he should be voted in unanimously. Yours truly would be hard pressed to explain why any voter would leave Jeter off his/her ballot when the time came, but wait a minute.

NOBODY'S ever been unanimously voted in. EVER. It's mind-boggling that players the likes of Ruth, Cobb, Aaron, Musial, Williams, DiMaggio, and umpteen other legends of the game were left off certain ballots when they became eligible to be voted on for enshrinement  -- but they were.

Quick quiz. Which player got the highest percentage of Hall of Fame votes in history?  The answer, below, may surprise you.

Sure, unless he pulls a Pete Rose or Barry Bonds type stunt before he hangs up his cleats, highly unlikely, Jeter's probably a shoo-in for the Hall when his time comes. But does anyone really believe he should be the first to get 100% of the ballots when a guy like Babe Ruth only got 95.13%? And by the way, why is there current talk of Jeter going into the Hall anyway? Last time I looked, he was still playing, and could for a few more years. Then there's a 5 year waiting period before he'd even be considered. It could well be into the 2020's before he becomes eligible anyway. So why, pray tell, should anybody be the least bit concerned right now about what might happen that far down the road? Can't the sound byte monsters think of anything better to serve up to us? (That's almost as bad as that commercial featuring Joe Theisman talking about his prostate. Excuse me, but I don't want to hear about Joe Theisman's prostate either.)

Regardless, Jeter shouldn't get any special treatment when the time comes. One guy got that, but I still think it was wrong. That was Roberto Clemente, who had an equally, if not superior career with the Pittsburgh Pirates as that Jeter has enjoyed with the Yankees. On December 31, 1972, Clemente perished in an airplane crash not far from his native Puerto Rico, while trying to get humanitarian aid to Nicaragua, in the aftermath of a horrendous earthquake that had left that country devastated. It was a noble cause indeed, and Clemente's untimely death was certainly a tragedy. His body was never recovered from the sea. Less than 3 months later, on March 20, 1973, the Baseball Writers Association of America, the scribes who do the actual voting on Hall of Fame nominees, convened a special session. Clemente garnered 92.69% of the votes to posthumously gain immediate induction. But with all due respect to the legacy of a fantastic baseball player, and an even better man -- why should Clemente have warranted such special treatment at the time to have the 5 year waiting period waived? Had he not been on that plane and instead got into a terrible car accident, which he survived, but left him unable to ever play again, that emergency meeting of the BWAA probably never would have taken place. Even though he was a "lock" for the H of F, Clemente would have been put on hold for 5 years like everybody else. Not to be insensitive, but what's really the difference?

Quick quiz answer. Tom Seaver got 98.84% of the vote, barely edging out Nolan Ryan, who checks in second with 98.79%.

Out of all the legends to ever play the game, you'll never guess who got the 3rd highest voting percentage into the H of F. That was Cal Ripken Jr., at 98.53%. He was only a .276 career hitter, but dammit, he played a lot of games in a row. For posterity's sake, that ranks Ripken well above the aforementioned names of Ruth, Cobb, etc.

For that matter, Willie Mays only garnered 94.68% of the vote to be a mere 14th on the all-time percentage list. Evidently, in the eyes of the voters, Cal Jr. was much more deserving of a plaque in Cooperstown than the Say Hey Kid. How in the hell can THAT be?

I have a theory on that. As time has gone on, the media exposure, along with the hype they espouse, keeps getting greater and greater for these players. And let's face it. For all their wisdom and experience, the distinguished members of the BWAA are only human. Like propaganda, if they keep hearing the same thing over and over and over again, they might just start believing it.

By the time the spin-meisters are done, maybe Jeter will get that 100% after all.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Bias in the NBA

NBA fans, at least the objective ones, have known for a long time that the rules don't seem to be exactly equal when it comes to league referees making calls during the course of games.

Recent case in point: Guard Ray Allen, formerly a long-time fixture with the Boston Celtics, who jumped ship to the Miami Heat before last year and won a title. Allen is a well-known commodity. During a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Allen was dribbling the ball and pushed off with his free arm on Minnesota defender JJ Barea. (Barea obviously does not enjoy the same name recognition as Allen.) Perhaps technically it should have been called a foul, but things like that happen all the time in the NBA so play went on. It was no big deal and no call was made. However, just a short while later, much the same scenario played itself out, but that time Barea gave Allen a similar one-armed shove. It was no big deal either, but Allen became incensed. He attempted to charge Barea, with what looked like mayhem on his mind, for what he deemed to have been some sort of assault upon his person. Luckily, other players and officials intervened and stopped the incident from escalating. Nevertheless, when all was said and done, Barea had been slapped with a flagrant foul, Miami somehow wound up shooting 3 technical foul free throws, and Barea was ejected from the game. Allen would not only play on, but claimed in a post-game TV interview that what Barea had done was "bush league". In reality, Barea had done no more to Allen than Allen had done to him a short while before. Evidently, Ray-Ray thinks it's OK to do things to others, but when he gets a dose of his own medicine -- it's time to throw down. Worse yet, the officials in the league seem to buy into it.

It's happened a lot in the league over the years. Everybody remembers Shaquille O'Neal. Between height and weight, he was probably the player with the most total girth ever to play in the NBA. Shaq would routinely receive the ball maybe 10-12 feet from basket. Never much of a shooter, he'd typically lower his shoulder, take one dribble, and make contact with a stationary defender -- pushing him back a foot or two. Excuse me, but that was a foul. Another dribble, another bump, another couple feet of displacement. Repeat a couple more times -- and presto -- Shaq would be right under the basket, and merely stand on his toes to slam home a dunk. Because Shaq was a super-star, nobody batted an eye and such a play was deemed acceptable. Nevermind he committed 3-4 charging fouls along the way which weren't called. For that matter, consider the opposite scenario. The very same player that Shaq pushed around is trying to score himself on the other end of the court. If he bumped into the man-mountain, chances are he'd just bounce off, maybe even winding up on the floor. But incredibly, he might get whistled for a charging call, and Shaq might be bricking a couple more free throw attempts. How could that be right?

Besides Ray Allen on the Miami Heat, super-star Dwyane Wade routinely gets away with bulldozing a defender on the way to the basket. If any call is made, it typically goes against the defender. Not only did he get knocked down, he'll have to watch D-Wade shoot free throws. That's always been OK. Still is. Flip the scenario, and have that same guy run over Wade in the same manner, and not only will he get called for charging, but perhaps "flagrantly". To boot, Wade would probably jump up and want to fight like Allen did, and the poor guy that got ran over on the other end of the court 20 seconds ago in the same fashion, by the same guy, would be lucky if HE didn't get tossed out of the game. It's not right.

We've seen other big names get away with the same shenanigans over the years. Kobe Bryant can push, shove, bump, poke, and pretty much do whatever he wants without a whistle blowing. If a defender somehow makes the slightest incidental contact with Kobe, Mr. Bryant will often fall to the floor writhing in pain like he just got tased. Tweet goes the official's whistle. While still grimacing, limping, or shaking an arm trying to get the "feeling" back into it from the horrific "physical abuse" he had suffered moments earlier, Kobe will shoot free throws. Most times he'll even favor the leg that supposedly originally got hurt, or shake the correct arm, trying to get some "feeling" back into it, that supposedly originally suffered the "brutal" contact. Regardless, magically, as play recommences, Kobe is completely cured. It's a miracle. And the refs continue to buy it. Paul Pierce of the Boston Celtics does much the same thing, along with others.

Likely the all time Rodney Dangerfield poster-child for getting no respect was former Detroit Piston Bill Laimbeer. There were countless times when Laimbeer would establish his defensive position, arms straight up in the air, and stand as still as a snowman. Then somebody like Michael Jordan would run right through him on the way to the basket, with Laimbeer winding up on the floor. Guess who got called for a foul?

And it's not even just basketball. It's always happened in other sports as well. The good players always seem to get the benefit of the calls, sometimes to the point of being outrageous. Tom Glavine, longtime ace pitcher for the Atlanta Braves and likely future Hall of Famer, had his own scam going on for years. Glavine was just a little guy, and he didn't have overpowering stuff, but he possessed precise control with his pitches. Glavine would routinely throw a pitch thigh-high, but 3-4 inches outside the strike zone. He knew it was a ball. The catcher knew it was a ball, the batter knew it was a ball, and everybody watching on TV knew it was a ball. But with his control, Glavine would keep "painting" that same spot over and over and over again. After a while, the home plate umpire would somehow become convinced that if Glavine could keep hitting the same spot over and over again -- they must be strikes, so he'd call them strikes. It seemed to happen every time, with every different umpire -- for years -- but those pitches were all still balls. When the batters would start crowding the plate to cover them, all Glavine had to do was throw a little "chin music" one time, or plunk a guy in the ribs, and the opposing hitters would back off the plate to start the cycle over again. Glavine was truly a master at that art, but it didn't make it right.

And don't get me started on soccer. Some of those guys put folks like Kobe to shame with their drama queen routines. It's like if an opposing player even comes close to touching them, they'll flop to the pitch like they just stepped on a land mine. A minute later they'll be back running up and down the field. Another miracle.

But it isn't right. Never has been. Never will be.

Granted, some athletes are more talented than others, and salaries can vary wildly. But hey, if they're playing the same game in the same league -- is it really too much to ask that they play by the same rules?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Who's the greatest of all time?

A lot of people in sports have been called "the greatest" at what they do -- or did. After a while, it gets hard to sort them out.

In football, Jim Brown was the greatest running back. Then a guy named Gale Sayers came along and, if his career hadn't been cut short by a knee injury, or medical science was then what it is now -- maybe he would have been the greatest. Later, there was another Chicago Bear named Walter Payton who was considered the greatest. If Barry Sanders hadn't got sick and tired of the Detroit Lions' losing ways and took a premature retirement -- maybe HE would have been the greatest. Now some dude named Adrian is on the scene tearing it up, and maybe in a few years HE'LL be the greatest. Beats me.

Babe Ruth was the greatest home run hitter. Then Roger Maris hit his 61 in '61 to eclipse the Babe's single-season record of 60.. But Maris had 8 more games to get that last home run. Nobody much mentions Maris anymore, so he couldn't have been THAT great. Career-wise, for decades Ruth's 714 home run record looked untouchable. But a guy named Hank Aaron was pounding out 35-40 dingers every year, played for a long time, and finally shattered the Babe's record by putting up 755. Maybe HE was the greatest. Of course, Barry Bonds eventually surpassed them both with 762. But Bonds was associated with the steroid thing. Maybe he took them and maybe he didn't. And if he did, maybe he could have broke the record anyway even if he didn't. If that sounds confusing -- not to worry. Yours truly has been lost for years, but let's press on anyway. At any rate, I dare say nobody calls Bonds the greatest.

Joe Louis was considered the greatest heavyweight champ, having held the title for 12 years. Years later some guy named Cassius Clay came along, won the title, changed his name to Muhammed Ali, and started saying HE was the greatest. A lot of people still believe him. But he got whupped in his prime by the likes of Leon Spinks. That doesn't sound so great. Nobody talks much about Rocky Marciano either anymore, but HE was the only one to go undefeated during his entire heavyweight professional career. Shouldn't that count for something?

Gordie Howe was the greatest hockey player -- until that skinny kid named Wayne Gretzky came along and shattered all his scoring records. Who's the greatest? Take your pick.

Jesse Owens was the greatest track star back in the 30s. Fast forward a few decades and Carl Lewis was considered the greatest. These days, a Jamaican named Usain Bolt would blow by either one of them like they were in slow motion. After all, it's still just a man running a 100 meter dash on his own two legs. Maybe HE'S the greatest.

Jack Nicklaus was the greatest golfer. Then Tiger Woods took the game by storm and was winning seemingly everything. Surely he would eclipse Jack's records, particularly the number of "major" tournament victories. Tiger was the greatest. But in the last few years, Tiger has slowed down and maybe he won't pass that record after all. To boot, that pesky young Irish lad, one Rory McIlroy, is ranked #1 in the world at the tender young age of 23. So far, given his age and experience, he's equalled or surpassed a lot of things Jack and Tiger did at the same point in their careers. Some project HIM to be the greatest.

Once upon a time, many thought Oscar Robertson was the greatest basketball player. Some guy named Michael Jordan showed up years later, and now HE'S considered the greatest. But hold on, there's another dude named Lebron James that might be even better than Jordan. Could HE be the greatest? Is there another kid in a gym somewhere that will come along one day and make us all forget about Jordan and James, so HE can be the greatest? Who knows?

Lance Armstrong was undoubtedly the greatest cyclist of all time. But then, well, you know the rest.

Rod Laver was the greatest tennis player. Then guys like Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg made a lot of people forget about what Laver ever did. Go forward another generation and names like Pete Sampras and Roger Federer come to mind as the greatest. Who was indeed the greatest? Beats me -- it might turn out to be that Serbian guy Novak Djokovic that's been steam-rolling the tennis world for the last few years, and continues to do so.

All in all, it just seems like "the greatest" is a phrase that gets used way too often (this article notwithstanding of course, nyuk, nyuk). However, there should only be ONE that is the greatest of them all -- at least among us mere mortals.

Indeed there was, and it has absolutely nothing to do with sports. Further, though I've referred only to male athletes above as examples, it was not meant to overlook the fairer sex. Certainly, the ladies have put forth their own versions of the "greatest". For that matter, yours truly considers "the greatest of all time" to be a woman.

Unlike Cassius Clay/Muhammed Ali , she never saw the need to proclaim herself as the "greatest". Nor did the media over-hype her every move, as they are so prone to do today with their hero of the day/week/month/year, whatever.

Quite the contrary. She, along with so many of us over the years, came to know her status as the all-time #1 because of her husband. He was the one that shouted it out repeatedly to her, and I dare say we all came to believe him.

That woman's name was Audrey Meadows (1922-1996). Even the "Great One" himself (Jackie Gleason/Ralph Kramden) told us over and over......

Alice, you're the greatest.

Names in sports come and go, but there will never be another Alice. May she rest in peace on the moon. After all, isn't that where Ralph ("one of these days -- pow -- zoom") kept promising to send her?

I rest my case.