“At what point is there too much football? At the same point there is too much fudge,” wrote Bernie Lincicome.

“The commissioner raised this possibility at the owners’ meeting, the notion greeted with respectful silence while the owners did the figures in their heads. More games, more money. The players have yet to agree to anything, but the NFL players generally mind when told to. Cutting two non-salaried preseason games for two full-pay regular season games does not seem a deal breaker. Fans who already pay full price for exhibition games can certainly see the value in paying for games where both sides are trying to win. The entirely bogus August pantomime known as the preseason is mostly for third stringers and special team wannabes, all the real work done at daily practices and with position coaches. Only one game is considered valuable, the third of the usual four, when the team that will be the team is allowed to play an entire half of football, intermittently at full speed. Objections have been raised, mostly by those diligent guardians of integrity and health, the press. This is an institution of which I have a passing knowledge. Mostly the press likes to poke holes in things, and being an old hole poker from way back, I know where to aim. In this case, it is easy. Greed. Every argument against more football is an argument against football altogether. The number of games has nothing to do with it. The thing to do is make all of them matter.

“When the final history of basketball is written, it will not start with “In the beginning…” but instead “With the score tied and three minutes to play…”Nothing important ever happens in basketball until the end. That is the essence of the game. Absolutely dependable. You can come in late and not miss a thing. The tidiness of it all is unparalleled in athletics. No one wants to miss the opening kickoff or the first pitch, but anyone who can remember the first shot of a basketball game has a garage full of string and will wash his laundry one sock at a time.”

Scott Ostler compared Don Nelson of the SF Warriors with Billy Martin; two different people born 12-years apart to different parents but so much alike that they could almost be fraternal twins. Martin was born on May 16 (1928) and Nelson on May 15 (1940). Taurus. I looked it up. Bruce Jenkins said, “Both guys strike you as just plain nuts, with that undeniable touch of genius. Martin’s role-model manager was Casey Stengel, an eccentric innovator (see: platoon hitting). Nelson’s role-model coach was Red Auerbach, an iron-willed and arrogant powerbroker (see: victory cigar). Both made changes to their sport- Martin created “Billy-ball” to manufacture baseball runs while Nelson had “Nellie-ball” that features full-tilt running and controlled chaos.

 

 

 

 

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Bruce Jenkins related : “Hilarious story of the week: Isiah Thomas, one of the most devious and incompetent executives in NBA history, meeting up with Donald Sterling, the bumbling boob who ran the Clippers into the ground and is basically a complete idiot. Thomas was in L.A. — his daughter is set to attend Loyola Marymount — and reportedly asked Sterling if there’s a job opening in the Clippers’ front office. It appears that Mike Dunleavy is on his way out as GM (he should also be fired as coach, but that’s another story), but Thomas isn’t the answer. Great player, terrific smile, pretty decent company in the right circumstances, but also a con man and not to be trusted. I read somewhere that Isiah is a ‘good judge of talent.’ Good lord. This is a guy who showed faith in Stephon Marbury, Zach Randolph, Eddy Curry, Vin Baker and Steve Francis — a veritable who’s-who of Don’t Touch It poison.”

I read over the weekend that when Ichiro returned to the Seattle Mariners clubhouse after starring for Japan in the WBC, he wasn’t greeted very warmly.

Mets reliever J.J. Putz who was with Seattle last season vocalized the complaints and said that Ichiro wasn’t a team player and was interested only in padding his stats HMPH, I guess he didn’t see how animated, vocal, and involved with his team’s play Ichiro was in the tournament. Seattle has always had a losing attitude, even when they were the Seattle Pilots (I guess Griffey Jr. was brought back to correct that).

It’s really no wonder that Ichiro was standoff-ish. Seattle was terrible. They had bad management and poor hitting that was only made to look better by its poor pitching. Ichiro, on the other hand, has an eight year career BA of .331 and has 1805 hits (AVERAGING 228 hits a year).

How great a coach was John Wooden? On 3/30/75 his UCLA basketball team won their 10th NCAA Title in 12 years and gave Wooden a 620-147 record after 27 years of coaching. Wooden always said he was an educator first and a basketball coach second. “On the first day of practice, I remember him saying, ‘I’m not going to be talking to you about winning or losing because I think that’s a byproduct of our preparation. I would much rather be focused on the process of becoming the best team we’re capable of becoming,’said John Vallely, who played under Wooden on the 1969 and 1970 UCLA national championship basketball teams.

 

What a week for sports fans. Not only are we reading all of the Final Four ink (OK, I missed on Duke and Syracuse) but we also have the Mets and Yankees breaking Spring training camp and going North to move into their new ballparks.

Then there are the legal problems of Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress. I’m deliberately not going to mention the Knicks and Rangers.

The Knicks haven’t improved that much even though some optimists will say that their win total went up by almost 50% (it’s not hard to get a 50% improvement when you start out with the low number that they did- 23.

I haven’t paid that much attention to the Rangers since the league shut down when the multi-millionaire players went on strike. I didn’t miss not seeing them.

I AM interested to see how Vick is going to answer the judge’s inquiry about repaying money he took illegally from a pension fund when he’s been suspended without pay by the NFL.

Burress is first out of the slot (rim-shot) with a plea for gun possession. NYC Mayor Bloomberg made a pledge to throw offenders in the clink for a mandatory 3 ½-years. (Burress might be lucky that Bloomberg isn’t the judge.

 

That ‘Nova-Pitt game, won by ‘Nova 78-76 was a typical Big East game that Boston Ryan described as “Big East Fratricide Warfare.” It had countless lead changes, full court rushes, hard but clean (no blood-no foul) fouls, and a chance for a last half-second score-tying ¾ court shot that banged off the backboard and rim. I’m pretty sure that the 18,871 fans were pretty tired-out from rooting at the Boston TD BankNorth Garden, at game’s end

The UConn coach Jim Calhoun pushed out some fog by saying, with regard to recruiting violations, “”The university is going to look into any matter, as we would, when we hear light of something with regards to… making sure that we are being compliant.” Wilbon said, “Pardon me for having a difficult time getting worked up about an investigation into text messaging and agents. Once upon a time it used to be that schools got into trouble because a booster gave some recruit a car. Now it’s agents developing relationships with players when they’re in high school, stashing players at colleges for a year so that nobody else can touch them and then signing them, and communicating with the schools through — and I love this concept — a “bat phone.” Seriously, this is how it works. The NCAA prohibits schools from contacting a recruit more than once a month during his junior year. But if somebody at the school has a “bat phone” that isn’t in any way connected to either the basketball program or the university, there can be constant communication with the agent who communicates with the kid, or actually hands the phone to the kid. (The NCAA, not surprisingly, is too stupid to see the end-around is more harmful than the coaches simply being allowed to have more than one phone call a month.) In fact, coaches say there is no rule more commonly trashed than the excessive- phone-call rule. Also, I was told Thursday night by multiple sources with direct recruiting knowledge that these agents are unavoidable and they’re getting hold of the best players during the summers of ninth and 10th grades. AAU programs are linked with agents. Schools, indirectly, sometimes are, too. How about some “Rocket-man” impressions? This is from Bruce Jenkins, “Jeff Pearlman, author of ‘The Rocket That Fell to Earth,’ on Roger Clemens: ‘The thing is, I don’t think he’s evil. He did a lot of good. He’s just kind of a doof and a bully, and there isn’t much to him. Bonds was devious. Roger, sometimes I imagine his mind being like ‘baseball, baseball, baseball, breasts, baseball, need something to eat, baseball.’ He really makes everything in his life about the game. I mean, he buried his mom in a necklace with 21 [Clemens’ number] diamonds. Each of his four kids’ names start with a ‘K’ for strikeout. Who does that?”

 

 

Ok, Duke was spanked 77-54 by ‘Nova and knocked out of my Final Four. But do you know what- I don’t mind a bit that Duke lost.

Boston Ryan was at the Boston Garden, er-I’m sorry, that’s the T.D. Banknorth Garden for an NCAA playoff game, and said, “It was a different experience, and a fun time. The Garden was alive in a way that’s far different from the NBA experience. The NBA has been taken over by marketers and people, who, I swear, detest sports, and they have something they call “Game Presentation.” College doesn’t do “Game Presentation.” College does – I don’t know how else to put this – basketball. So there were cheerleaders, time-proven mascots, and bands. You know, live music, not irrelevant noise being pumped out from the sound system. And there was no applause meter encouraging people to cheer. I know this will be a difficult concept for the marketing geeks to understand, but these college fans actually know enough to cheer without prompting.”

Lance Armstrong recently had a visit from his old friend, Mr. Pain. He was racing his bike in Spain and had a tumble and wound up in a ditch with a broken collarbone. I don’t know if you’ve ever broken your collarbone but I have and it hurt like heck. If you move just a little bit before your arm is stabilized you see the flashing lights of pain. Armstrong (it’s too bad he wasn’t “shoulderstrong”) said that he didn’t want to feel around in case something, like a bone, was sticking out. I only cracked my collarbone but he “bustakated” into several pieces and he had to undergo (you never want to hear the words open reduction) surgery to attach a metal plate with twelve screws so the bone could be held together. Sally Jenkins said that “Armstrong views pain as corrective and cleansing.” Armstong has the belief that “Pain is temporary; quitting is permanent.” As soon as he is allowed he’ll start his rehab by riding a stationary bike on rollers in his living room. However, the worst part of that rehab will come when he’s on a bike a pedaling up hill. That’s when he’ll have to put weight on his arms on the handlebars. You can say whatever you want about Armstrong’s personal lifestyle. But there’s no denying all of the health problems that he’s had to overcome to be able to race again.

 

 

 

WBC, NFL, NCAA’s

March 26, 2009

 

 

There’s been a lot of wasted ink recently by some writers who have parochial (small p) views about Thunderstix. They call them abominations and are dreadful noises that drown out human sounds, the noise of pure joy. Well, joyful sounds certainly didn’t come from all the empty seats in San Diego, LA, and Miami witnessing the play of Team-USA.

Who are these people to say what is or not the way to watch and enjoy a game? They must own the “say-so” rights to the way to root.

The fans in South Korea were so enthused about their team that they filled a stadium in Seoul at 9 o’clock in the morning to watch a live BROADCAST. If they wanted to use Thunderstix to express their feelings, their style of rooting should be applauded not criticized.

 

Bob Molinaro expressed some ideas to which I wholeheartedly agree. “Starting next season, a defender on the ground who hasn’t been blocked into the quarterback will be penalized if he lunges or dives at the quarterback’s knees or lower legs. If it seems as if each new rule is designed to hinder the defenses, well, that’s pretty much the way it is. This one sets the stage for even more dubious judgment calls by officials.

But if the league is going to add one more layer of bubble wrap around its chosen few, the least we should expect from the owners is an extra modicum of concern for the ACLs and MCLs of all players, even the grunts who don’t possess dimpled good looks and box-office appeal. We know, of course, that owners do not care about the long-term health of most of their chattel. The latest proof of this is the NFL’s intention to lengthen the regular season to 17 or 18 games. In May, the owners will vote on a longer season, which probably will start no earlier than 2011. Is it possible that the owners will leave the regular season at 16 games? It’s more likely the Detroit Lions will win the Super Bowl. Schedule expansion is intended to help NFL owners recover a growing debt that’s partly a product of the economy but also a result of collective greed among their ranks.

The answer to everything is always the same, isn’t it? More, more, more.

One March night in 1979 more than 35% of all the TV’s in America were tuned into the “Magic Bird Show.” Wilbon said, “It was like a Christmas present in March, and it’s something that could never happen today. We’d know everything about an undefeated team featuring any player as talented as Bird. A 6-foot-9 white kid from small-town Indiana who had driven a garbage truck and who had run from Bob Knight during a freshman year spent briefly at Indiana? Are you kidding?

A game between Bird and Magic — two “Cousys,” as Al McGuire called them — that reintroduced the passing game to basketball, only at a higher and more sophisticated and entertaining level, could never sneak up on anybody today, not with 24-7 saturation coverage and bloggers and Twitter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WBC

March 25, 2009

  There were excuses galore when our guys returned to their teams in order to resume their regular day jobs. Gwen Knapp talked about it in the SF Chronicle, “The excuses piled up after the Americans’ loss Sunday. This was just one game. The Americans are still in spring training form, whereas players from the Far East play a lot of winter ball. The U.S. roster had a lot of injuries. Some of the best American players sat out to protect their bodies for the major-league season, rather than risk them in this charming, though utterly meaningless, exhibition series. The home run got way too much credit for reviving the sport, without much consideration for other critical factors: an influx of Asian and Latin American stars who surely expanded the audience pool, the renaissance of the Yankees and a slew of pretty new parks. At its best, the sport is elegant and cerebral, like a moving chess match. Two of the greatest moments over the last decade were Derek Jeter’s backward toss to the plate against Oakland’s Jeremy Giambi and Dave Roberts’ history-altering stolen base in the ninth inning of the 2004 ALCS’s Game 4. Defense, head games, speed. Sublime.

Then Bruce Jenkins finished it off by giving the real reasons for our semi-final exit. Every moment had a World Series feel. The Dodger Stadium crowd was announced at 54,846, and it sounded like more. The play on the field was exceptional, especially considering the excruciating pressure felt by every participant in this fierce rivalry. Bud Selig keeps saying that the WBC will be part of his legacy, and he’s absolutely right. We may not fully realize it in this country, nor can we ever expect to field our best teams, but the tournament’s impact will be immeasurable. In the coming years, we’re going to see big leaguers arriving from all corners of the world, just as the NBA’s Dream Team excursions gave rise to so many wondrous international stars. It’s so evident now that the WBC isn’t about the United States at all. It’s important, though, that the finals be kept here. For millions of viewers around the globe, part of the excitement is seeing their countrymen playing vitally important games in America, home of the big leagues, the final stop for any player who seeks an unassailable reputation. Keep the early rounds in international sites, no question, but let it finish here, and forget about any setting beyond Dodger Stadium. Last night validated the wisdom of that decision. There were times during the game when I wondered: If I’d grown up in Tokyo or Seoul, would I be one of those frantic, Thunderstix-waving fans? I’ve always cherished the game’s measured pace, the chance to really study a player’s mechanics and mannerisms, talk about it at length with friends between pitches. It’s the reason I always gravitated toward baseball writing; the game gives you time to think, ponder and analyze before the next flurry of action. From what I can tell, the Japanese and Korean fans simply go berserk for four straight hours. Every time they flashed a scene from Jamsil Stadium in Seoul — jammed with fans watching the game on a huge screen — people were standing, yelling and pounding those annoying contraptions. It was wonderful, though. That’s how they enjoy the game over there. The passion that surrounded this tournament, most everywhere beyond the U.S. team, was unforgettable.

Perhaps we should establish our roster a full year ahead of time, clearly identify who’s going to play and make sure the players understand how to prepare (just as our basketball team in this past Olympics). It would be nice to get a serious, high-energy manager, as well, not some retread like Johnson or Buck Martinez. Get somebody who lives and dies with the WBC, whose very reputation depends on the U.S. performance. Offer players a bit of cash to participate, if you must; that always gets their attention.

In any case, hats off to an event that held a connoisseur’s attention for a full three weeks. “This will someday be huge,” said Selig, only partially correct. Around the world, in places about to give rise to a generation of future stars, it already is.

 

 

 

WBC

 

There were excuses galore when our guys returned to their teams in order to resume their regular day jobs. Gwen Knapp talked about it in the SF Chronicle, “The excuses piled up after the Americans’ loss Sunday. This was just one game. The Americans are still in spring training form, whereas players from the Far East play a lot of winter ball. The U.S. roster had a lot of injuries. Some of the best American players sat out to protect their bodies for the major-league season, rather than risk them in this charming, though utterly meaningless, exhibition series. The home run got way too much credit for reviving the sport, without much consideration for other critical factors: an influx of Asian and Latin American stars who surely expanded the audience pool, the renaissance of the Yankees and a slew of pretty new parks. At its best, the sport is elegant and cerebral, like a moving chess match. Two of the greatest moments over the last decade were Derek Jeter’s backward toss to the plate against Oakland’s Jeremy Giambi and Dave Roberts’ history-altering stolen base in the ninth inning of the 2004 ALCS’s Game 4. Defense, head games, speed. Sublime.

Then Bruce Jenkins finished it off by giving the real reasons for our semi-final exit. Every moment had a World Series feel. The Dodger Stadium crowd was announced at 54,846, and it sounded like more. The play on the field was exceptional, especially considering the excruciating pressure felt by every participant in this fierce rivalry. Bud Selig keeps saying that the WBC will be part of his legacy, and he’s absolutely right. We may not fully realize it in this country, nor can we ever expect to field our best teams, but the tournament’s impact will be immeasurable. In the coming years, we’re going to see big leaguers arriving from all corners of the world, just as the NBA’s Dream Team excursions gave rise to so many wondrous international stars. It’s so evident now that the WBC isn’t about the United States at all. It’s important, though, that the finals be kept here. For millions of viewers around the globe, part of the excitement is seeing their countrymen playing vitally important games in America, home of the big leagues, the final stop for any player who seeks an unassailable reputation. Keep the early rounds in international sites, no question, but let it finish here, and forget about any setting beyond Dodger Stadium. Last night validated the wisdom of that decision. There were times during the game when I wondered: If I’d grown up in Tokyo or Seoul, would I be one of those frantic, Thunderstix-waving fans? I’ve always cherished the game’s measured pace, the chance to really study a player’s mechanics and mannerisms, talk about it at length with friends between pitches. It’s the reason I always gravitated toward baseball writing; the game gives you time to think, ponder and analyze before the next flurry of action. From what I can tell, the Japanese and Korean fans simply go berserk for four straight hours. Every time they flashed a scene from Jamsil Stadium in Seoul — jammed with fans watching the game on a huge screen — people were standing, yelling and pounding those annoying contraptions. It was wonderful, though. That’s how they enjoy the game over there. The passion that surrounded this tournament, most everywhere beyond the U.S. team, was unforgettable.

Perhaps we should establish our roster a full year ahead of time, clearly identify who’s going to play and make sure the players understand how to prepare (just as our basketball team in this past Olympics). It would be nice to get a serious, high-energy manager, as well, not some retread like Johnson or Buck Martinez. Get somebody who lives and dies with the WBC, whose very reputation depends on the U.S. performance. Offer players a bit of cash to participate, if you must; that always gets their attention.

In any case, hats off to an event that held a connoisseur’s attention for a full three weeks. “This will someday be huge,” said Selig, only partially correct. Around the world, in places about to give rise to a generation of future stars, it already is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WBC, NCAA’s, DUKE

March 24, 2009

 

 

Japan has taken the WBC title and no matter how much the players say that it’s not the end of the world, BASEBALL IS SUPPOSED TO BE OUR NATIONAL PASTIME! This reminds me of how it felt that the Little League World Series trophy was won by an Asian team so many times. We didn’t write new rules. We just learned to play better.

Bruce Jenkins said, “The finalists could not be more fitting. Aside from having enough talent, flair and technical skill to beat any group of U.S. players, these are the two teams (Japan & South Korea) that care the most. They deserve this stage. The Americans don’t belong anywhere near it, Cuba proved to be less than its intimidating best, and both the Dominicans and Venezuelans were undermanned.But when you think about it, a great deal of this year’s energy came from the Netherlands, Italy, Australia, teams that weren’t expected to make much noise. And it seems likely that China will be a major international force before long. No matter how you slice it, the tournament’s ideal always comes back to 16 teams with a double-elimination format.”

Tom Knott wrote about the Duke hating going on: “Duke is the college basketball team that everyone loves to hate, however misguided the hate is.

The Blue Devils are said to be too pristine, too privileged, too much a reflection of their sanctimonious coach.

They have no street urchin in them, no dirt underneath their fingernails, no rap sheet.

They do not come from the despair of America’s urban jungles. They come from Medford, Ore. Or they come from Merion, Pa.

That is symptomatic of the upside-down logic that permeates America today. It is the kind of class warfare that politicians employ to exploit the American electorate. Bad is good, and good is bad in this environment. Reward the unsuccessful. Penalize the successful.”

You’ve heard it. You’ve Seen It. Good is bad and bad is good.

 

 

 

 

 

My Final Four GUESSES are still alive- Louisville, Syracuse, Duke, and UConn.

Wilbon wrote about Jim Calhoun, UConn’s coach, and what kind of man he is, “But toughing it out truly is who Calhoun is. Quick story: Just last June, the coach was supposed to play in the Bruce Edwards Celebrity Golf Classic, a benefit for a foundation named after Tom Watson’s longtime caddy, who died in 2004 from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Calhoun called the day before the event to say he was scheduled for radiation treatment for his skin cancer the very next morning. How could Calhoun have the treatment and still travel to suburban Baltimore to play? But an hour or so before tee time, there was Calhoun heading to the practice green to take some putts. He’d chartered a private plane and flown down to play in the event, which, to my knowledge, he finished.”

We’ll have to see how Calhoun feels playing against Purdue in Arizona for a “Sweet 16” seat.

I always like to read what Bernie Lincicome has to say, “Madness has been built into this month ever since the March Hare tried to stuff the dormouse into the teapot, never mind that nothing important happens until April, month of fools. March Madness is, after all, as curable as pressing the off button on the TV remote, and probably the only cure since the usual sham of the first week never seems to do it. The NCAA provides the framework for easy gambling, and that is why folks who have no idea whether Gonzaga is a team or an ointment are willing to spend three weeks watching other people’s tall children. The look of March Madness is not dissimilar to the glazed preoccupation of someone feeding coins into the dollar slots. Bracketology is one of those ESPN words, representing one media conglomerate’s persistent contribution to viewer idiocy. It is not unlike political election coverage in which hours and hours are spent predicting what the news will be instead of just reporting the news when it happens. This is called pomposity, a much older activity than bracketology.”

That blood-curdling scream you heard Tuesday night was Dan Day after he discovered the play-in game was being announced by Brent Musburger. Dan wanted to know if anything was safe from this man.

 

 

 

 

 

The Yankees are set to christen a brand-new stadium and are about to become intimately familiar with Cody Ransom. There’s no way he adequately replaces third baseman Alex Rodriguez on the field, as Bruce Jenkins said, but as a person, he represents a cool and refreshing breeze. While A-Rod gallivants off to some photo shoot, including an image of him sidling up to a mirror to kiss himself, the 33-year-old Ransom has captured his teammates’ fancy in workouts. “I really think he’s the best athlete on the team,” said Johnny Damon, and if anyone doubts that, check out the YouTube clip of Ransom’s now-famous 60-inch leap. Taking just one step and then exploding out of a knees-bent position, Ransom soars onto the top of a box measured at 60 inches off the ground, although Ransom said it’s only about 40 inches. HA! My leap is measured in negative inches because I lose height when I jump.

Even as the economy sinks to catastrophic levels, the Yanks have refused to discount tickets listed at $350, $700 and even $2,500 per seat (you read it right) at the new park. No wonder they’re having trouble selling out. You’d think it would be a lock, but sometimes justice prevails over greed.

When someone points out a group of players and asks you to pick out the pitcher, chances are your choice will be the 6-5, 185 player, not the David Wells look-alike. Yet there’s still a lot of room for the C.C. Sabathia, or clones of the bulky (I’m being nice here) Mickey Lolich, or the 5-6 Bobby Shantz. However, the long lean pitchers are in vogue right now and will be until the next big (or maybe not so big) thing comes along