July 13, 2010

“Steinbrenner, whose outsized personality and win-at-all-costs mentality earned him the nickname “The Boss,” (ed. not Bruce. I remember him saying that if you make a mistake correct it and move on andyou can always get someone else who can’t do the job.) reestablished the Yankees as baseball’s premier franchise and changed the economics of the sport.”

Bill Shaikin wrote this wonderful profile in the LA Times.

“George Steinbrenner, who made his name synonymous with the revival of the New York Yankees as a dominant baseball team and leveraged multiple
championships into business ventures that forever changed the economics of the sport, has died. He was 80.

Steinbrenner died Tuesday morning in Tampa Fla., according to a statement released by his family.

“He was a visionary and a giant in the world of sports. He took a great but struggling franchise and turned it into a champion again,” the family said.

The death comes as Major League Baseball prepared to hold its All-Star game in Anaheim. It also comes days after Bob Sheppard, the Yankees’ longtime
public address announcer, died at 99.

Steinbrenner ceded control of the team in 2008 to his sons Hank and Hal after a period of declining health. He attended only three games during the 2009 regular season — including two in Tampa, Fla., where he lived — but was present at the new Yankee Stadium for two games of the team’s World Series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. He also attended the Yankees’ home opener this April.

In New York and beyond, Steinbrenner in his prime was “The Boss,” with an outsized personality and win-at-any-cost mentality, firing managers and
haranguing players at will. He parlayed a $168,000 investment in 1973 into control of a team now worth more than $1 billion, flush with cash for the 21st
century after launching the Yankees’ own television station and replacing iconic Yankee Stadium with a money-making duplicate across the street.

The Yankees won seven World Series championships during his 37 years of ownership, reclaiming their stature as the most storied team in American sports and redefining themselves as a brand marketed around the world.

Steinbrenner restored the Yankees to glory by embracing free agency at a time when most owners still despised it. He ultimately milked so much money out of his team that rival owners voted to institute a luxury tax that targeted the Yankees’ spiraling payroll and split the proceeds among the league’s less
successful franchises.

He employed the biggest stars in baseball — Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Don Mattingly, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera, among many others — but could draw more attention than his players. The television comedy “Seinfeld” lampooned him on a regular basis, he poked fun at himself as a guest host on “Saturday Night Live,” and he was portrayed with broad brushstrokes in the 2007 ESPN miniseries “The Bronx is Burning.” His trademark white turtleneck and blue blazer became costume shorthand for a boss full of bluster.

He hired Billy Martin as manager five times and fired him five times. He raged at a secretary for mixing up a plane reservation, fired her, then called the next day and arranged to pay for her child’s college education.

“Have I made mistakes? Yes,” Steinbrenner told The Times in 1998. “Are there things I would do differently? Yes.

“I’m human, and I have an ego. I’ll admit that. But, if the goal is to win, I’ll stand on my record.”

In an era when other owners trotted out talking points such as corporate synergy, competitive balance and fan experience, Steinbrenner unapologetically demanded to win. He compared owning the Yankees to owning the Mona Lisa and shot back at infielder Graig Nettles’ now-legendary quote: “When I was a little boy, I wanted to be a baseball player and join the circus. With the Yankees, I have accomplished both.”

Said Steinbrenner: “The Yankees are no circus. They are tradition. They are the greatest and most famous sports team in the world.”

He spent lavishly on players and demanded victory in return, defining any season that did not end in a championship as a failure. He portrayed himself as a populist, the owner who bellowed at every error on behalf of the construction workers and cab drivers who devoted their summers to the Yankees.

“I’m like Archie Bunker,” Steinbrenner told the New York Times in 1981, referring to the blue-collar and sometimes boorish father in the television comedy ” All in the Family.”

“I get mad as hell when my team blows one. … I want this team to win. I’m obsessed with winning, with discipline, with achieving. That’s what this country is all about. That’s what New York is all about, fighting for everything — a cab in the rain, a table in a restaurant at lunchtime — and that’s what the Yankees are all about and always have been.”

For Steinbrenner, the populist image was a facade.

George Michael Steinbrenner III was born, as he loved to note, on the Fourth of July — in 1930, in an Ohio town just outside Cleveland called Rocky River.
His father, Henry, had graduated at the top of his class at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in naval architecture, won a national college championship in the hurdles and risen through the executive ranks of the family’s shipping company, Kinsman Marine.

The family was wealthy, but the father insisted that his son earn spending money rather than rely on an allowance. Steinbrenner sold eggs, door to door.

At 14, his father sent him to Culver Military Academy in Indiana. His father hoped he would follow in his footsteps, by winning championships on the track and by winning admission to MIT. Steinbrenner often told of how his father approached him after one of his childhood track meets, not to congratulate him on winning two events but to scold him for losing a third.

MIT did not admit him. He studied literature at Williams College in Massachusetts, writing his senior thesis on the romantic heroines of English author Thomas Hardy. He also ran track, worked on the school newspaper and sang in the glee club. But he never lost interest in sports or military affairs, sprinkling his public statements and exhortations to players with quotes from Gen. Douglas MacArthur and decorating his office with a picture of Gen. George S. Patton.

Howard Cosell, the television broadcaster, famously referred to Steinbrenner as “Patton in pinstripes.” Steinbrenner embraced the comparison.

“I’m more of a Patton than an Eisenhower in the way I lead,” he told Newsweek in 1990.

After two years in the Air Force and one year studying for a master’s degree in physical education at Ohio State, he joined the Big Ten Conference coaching ranks, as an assistant football coach for one year each at Northwestern and Purdue.

As owner of the Yankees, Steinbrenner would believe this background — as an athlete in high school and college, and later as a college coach — afforded
him an edge in motivating players and building a championship team. No matter how bellicose his statements or how impulsively he switched executives, managers and players, Steinbrenner considered the Yankees better off with his hands-on management.

“These days, there are not many sports owners who have ever worn the jockstrap,” he told the New Yorker in 2002. “If you’ve never worn the jock, you don’t know. What hurts? What works? And, if you don’t know, that’s a problem.”

Steinbrenner met his future wife, Joan Zieg, at Ohio State. The couple married in 1956 and had two sons, Hank and Hal, and two daughters, Jennifer and
Jessica. According to Portfolio magazine, Joan filed for divorce in July 1962, but the couple reconciled two months later.

By then, Steinbrenner had abandoned coaching, involuntarily. In 1957, Steinbrenner’s father directed him to return home, put on a coat and tie and help run the family shipping business.

“He told me to get home and get busy,” Steinbrenner told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2001. “I wish I could have stayed in coaching. My father never asked that much, but when he did, it was an order.”

His father might have considered him a failure to that point, but Steinbrenner succeeded spectacularly in the family business. He engineered a merger with
American Ship Building Co., adopting that name for the two companies and ultimately tripling revenues while making his personal fortune.

That explained the “shipping magnate” that preceded Steinbrenner’s name in accounts of his purchase of the Yankees, but that was far from his first venture into sports ownership.

In 1960, he led an investment group that spent $125,000 for the Cleveland Pipers, a powerful amateur basketball team that Steinbrenner upgraded and
entered into the upstart American Basketball League that challenged the National Basketball Assn. He hired John McLendon, who became the first
African-American coach of a major professional basketball team, and the Pipers won the league’s inaugural championship in 1961.

Steinbrenner then signed Ohio State star Jerry Lucas to a two-year contract for $50,000, hoping the Pipers could leap into the NBA. But the ABL folded in the middle of its second season, and Steinbrenner lost a reported $250,000.

In 1972, he bought a 7% interest in the NBA’s Chicago Bulls. When Jerry Reinsdorf bought the team in 1985, Steinbrenner sold, ahead of Michael Jordan and the Bulls’ six NBA championships.

“I am one of the original dumb guys,” Steinbrenner told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2001. “Jerry twisted my arm to stay.”

By the time Reinsdorf bought the Bulls, the two men already were rivals in baseball. Reinsdorf owned the Chicago White Sox. Steinbrenner, who had tried but failed to buy his hometown Cleveland Indians in 1972, led a group of 12 investors that bought the Yankees in 1973.

The purchase price: $10 million. CBS, the seller, had bought the team for $13.2 million in November 1964, with the Yankees coming off their fifth
consecutive World Series appearance and 14th in 16 seasons.

In 1965, the first season under CBS ownership, the Yankees posted their first losing record in 40 years. In 1972, the final season of a CBS reign in which
they made no World Series appearances, they drew fewer than one million fans for the first time since World War II.

The Yankees rebounded to two million by 1976 and set a club record with 2.5 million in 1979. They hit four million in 2005 and 4.3 million in 2007, setting a club record for the seventh consecutive season.

And, by 2006, Forbes estimated the franchise value at $1 billion, the first baseball team valued at that level. By 2010 the Yankees’ value had increased to $1.6 billion.

Steinbrenner, who owned a controlling share of 57% of the team, said he never considered selling the Yankees at any time, despite what would have been an enormous return on his initial investment of $168,000.

“Athletics are in my blood,” he explained to the Tampa Tribune in 2002, “and being a successful owner gives you prestige you can’t get anywhere else.”

On Jan. 3, 1973, Steinbrenner introduced himself to New York as an absentee general partner, promising that he would remain in Cleveland and “stick to
building ships.”

Said Steinbrenner: “I won’t be active in the day-to-day operations of the club at all.”

That statement turned out to be nonsense. To his credit, Steinbrenner put his money where his mouth was, making good on his promise to deliver a winner by buying one. He came into baseball at about the same time free agency did, with arbitrators and judges ruling that owners could not control players indefinitely.

The baseball establishment, including many longtime owners, howled that open bidding for even a fraction of players would herald the demise of the sport.
Steinbrenner hauled out his checkbook, starting in 1974, signing pitcher Catfish Hunter for five years at a record $3.35 million.

Steinbrenner continued to bring in some of the sport’s biggest stars, including outfielders Reggie Jackson and Ken Griffey Sr. and pitchers Rich Gossage and
Tommy John. In 1980, he stunned admirers and detractors by signing outfielder Dave Winfield for 10 years and $23 million.

The Yankees vaulted back to prominence, winning the American League championship in 1976 and World Series titles in 1977 and 1978.

Yet the hard-driving Steinbrenner appeared reluctant to accept even a single defeat, berating players and other detractors in the clubhouse and in the
newspapers, the old football coach in a turtleneck and blazer.

In 1981, as the Yankees played the Dodgers in the World Series, Steinbrenner called a late-night news conference to announce that he had injured his left
hand in a brawl with two Dodgers fans in an elevator at the Hyatt Wilshire Hotel. The fans never surfaced publicly, prompting skeptics to wonder if
Steinbrenner was so frustrated in defeat that he punched a wall so hard he hurt himself.

Said Edward Bennett Williams, then owner of the Baltimore Orioles: “I’ve heard of phantom punches, but never phantom victims.”

In 1982, after a series of poor performances by pitcher Doyle Alexander, Steinbrenner issued a statement ordering him to take a physical examination. “I’m afraid some of my players might get hurt playing behind him,” Steinbrenner said.

Said Gossage: “George says Doyle needs a physical? Well, George needs a mental.”

Martin told The Times in 1981 that Steinbrenner’s clubhouse tirades did nothing to fire up the team.

“When he used to do those things, it would take me two weeks to unwind the club,” Martin said. “Motivation comes from within.”

The “Bronx Zoo” atmosphere extended to executives, managers and coaches, all more easily disposable than millionaire players. In his first year running the Yankees, he replaced the manager, general manager and team president.

In his first 20 years, he changed managers 20 times. In 1982 alone, he employed three managers, three hitting coaches and five pitching coaches.

Bob Lemon started that season as the Yankees’ manager. “I swear on my heart, he’ll be the manager all season,” Steinbrenner had said. He fired Lemon after 14 games.

In 1985, he fired another manager, Yankees great Yogi Berra, by telephone, except that he ordered General Manager Clyde King to make the call. Berra
did not reconcile with Steinbrenner or set foot in Yankee Stadium for 14 years.

“It was poor judgment,” Steinbrenner told the New Yorker in 2002. “Clyde called him in the middle of a lake or something, and that wasn’t right to do. I
don’t pretend to be perfect, and I’m not. You could sit and write a huge volume about the mistakes I’ve made.”

Two of those mistakes resulted in temporary exile from the Yankees. In 1974, he was suspended from baseball after pleading guilty to a felony, conspiracy to make illegal contributions to the reelection campaign of President Nixon. He was reinstated in 1976, but the episode triggered a memorable line from Martin in which he labeled Jackson and Steinbrenner thusly: “One’s a born liar, the other’s convicted.”

Steinbrenner was not shy with labels either. When Winfield had one hit in 22 at-bats in that 1981 World Series loss to the Dodgers, Steinbrenner tagged him “Mr. May,” a derisive reference to the World Series heroics that had earned Jackson his nickname of “Mr. October.”

The feud raged between the owner and his star player, in part over payments to Winfield’s charitable foundation. In 1990, Steinbrenner was suspended again, this time for paying $40,000 to confessed gambler Howie Spira, purportedly in exchange for digging up information that would incriminate Winfield.

By then, New York had turned on Steinbrenner. The Yankees had not returned to the playoffs since 1981. They would lose 95 games in 1990, their worst season since before World War I.

On its cover, Newsweek branded him “The Most Hated Man in Baseball.” At Yankee Stadium, the announcement of his suspension was greeted with a
standing ovation that lasted for 90 seconds.

He was reinstated in 1993, marking his return by dressing as Napoleon for the cover of Sports Illustrated, posed on a white horse. In truth, the Yankees did
not need to be rescued. In Steinbrenner’s absence, team management had righted the ship, with shrewd trades and a renewed emphasis on player
development, with free agency as a complement.

The Yankees had the best record in the AL during the strike-shortened 1994 season. They returned to the playoffs in 1995 and advanced to postseason play in every year until 2008, winning four World Series championships with such household names as Derek Jeter, the shortstop, and Mariano Rivera, the closer.
Joe Torre managed the Yankees for 12 consecutive years, an unimaginable run during the early years of the Steinbrenner era.

Torre’s tenure ended in 2007, after the Yankees were eliminated in the first round of the AL playoffs for the third consecutive season. Steinbrenner warned during that series against the Cleveland Indians that Torre’s job was on the line, and he meant it. After the season the Yankees offered Torre a one-year deal with a paycut, but he rejected the incentive-laden contract. Less than two weeks later he was hired to manage the Dodgers.

“Experience makes you mellow some,” Steinbrenner told the Sun-Times in 2001. “Becoming less hasty in your decisions is part of the growing-up process.
You hope you are wiser. You hope you depend on others more. You hope.”

With the baseball team in top shape, Steinbrenner and his advisors focused on expanding their business empire. As corporate sponsors followed fans back to baseball in the years after the strike, the Yankees parlayed their emergence as the dominant team and their position in America’s top media market into riches that extended far beyond the usual sales from tickets, T-shirts and television rights.

The Yankees allied with basketball’s New Jersey Nets in forming the YES Network, enabling Steinbrenner to keep millions in television revenue that he would otherwise have to share with a broadcast partner. With the Yankees’ on-field success, fans demanded that cable and satellite companies carry
YES — and pay Steinbrenner a hefty premium to do so.

He also joined in a marketing partnership with Manchester United, pairing perhaps the most famous club in English Premier League soccer with the most famous team in the major leagues. And the Yankees signed a $93-million licensing deal with Adidas, later settling a lawsuit in which the league and the other team owners claimed Steinbrenner had no right to make such a deal on his own.

By 2002, when the Sporting News anointed him as the most powerful person in sports, the Yankees had entrenched themselves as baseball’s biggest
spenders. As the Yankees’ payroll approached $200 million, baseball forced Steinbrenner to share the wealth.

In the new system, a thinly veiled anti-Steinbrenner reform, the highest payrolls were taxed and the teams that generated the most money had to donate millions to teams that generated the least. Owners approved that system, 29-1, with Steinbrenner the lone dissenter.

The Yankees’ welfare payments were so substantial — and the system so effective —that by 2006 Forbes reported the Yankees were the only major league team to lose money, despite record revenues of $300 million.

By then, Steinbrenner had all but faded from public view, his trademark bluster hidden behind statements issued by a New York publicist. He had fainted at a friend’s funeral in 2003 and appeared unsteady at groundbreaking ceremonies for the new Yankee Stadium in 2006.

Amid conflicting reports and rumors about his health, his two sons emerged as power brokers for the franchise. His son-in-law, Steve Swindal, had worked more closely with Steinbrenner than either of his sons, but he was removed after his 2007 divorce from Steinbrenner’s daughter Jennifer.

“Even if I wanted to move up in this organization, I would’ve never been allowed,” Jennifer told the New York Times in 2004.

In that story, Steinbrenner acknowledged he had “always been a chauvinist” and suggested one regret would follow him to his grave.

“I’m not proud that I haven’t been very patient over the years,” he said. “I guess that will be part of my legacy.”

Patriotism will, too, in his service as a vice president and board member on the United States Olympic Committee.

Charity will, too, in his numerous and sometimes unpublicized good works in Cleveland, in New York and his adopted hometown of Tampa, Fla.

As far back as 1991, during his second exile from the Yankees, Steinbrenner expressed concern that his legacy might be more of a caricature, more of the
bombastic baseball owner and less of the human being.

“Before, I didn’t give a damn, but now I want people to know there are two sides to George Steinbrenner,” he told Playboy. “I don’t want to be seen as
strictly a baseball guy — as one-dimensional — because I don’t feel that I am. That’s why I did ‘Saturday Night Live.’

“I’m tired of my kids’ suffering. I don’t want them thinking there wasn’t at least as much good in their father’s life as all the bad they’ve heard. I’d like them to
understand that I’m a guy who has spent a lot of his life doing hands-on community work and caring about people — young people, old people.

“In the end, I’ll put my good acts up against those of anybody in this country. Anybody.”

Steinbrenner is survived by his wife, Joan; his children, Hank, Jennifer, Jessica and Hal; grandchildren; and his sisters, Susan Norpell and Judy Kamm.

The funeral will be private; the Yankees are planning a public memorial service.”


Sally Jenkins wrote in the DC Post about what it means to be a true fan of many different sports.

“If you’re a Spain soccer fan the economy looks just fine — what double dip recession? The weather is nice — that isn’t heat; it’s just sunshine. Inky black
clouds in the Gulf? Not on your horizon — you’re just sure they’ll get a cap on that oil leak any minute now.
The sense of well-being that comes from watching your favorite team win in the World Cup isn’t just an imaginary glow. People with intense emotional
connections to their teams experience actual physiological symptoms when they win and lose, research shows. One psychologist even compares the rush of euphoria and despair to being “jumped by a mugger.” That’s why, right now, a tepid glass of water tastes like the finest Albarino wine to the Spanish.
Meantime, the French are suffering from such free-falling pessimism in the aftermath of their team’s disgrace that one government official called it a “moral disaster.”
We all know from experience that fans have strong personal investments in their teams — just watch Jack Nicholson writhe in his courtside seat at Lakers
games. But we don’t pause to examine exactly why, or what it is that happens to us. We only know that winning gives us a vague sense of optimism about,
well, everything, and losing plunges us into despair. Take one of my editors, who kicks holes in walls over Michigan football.
“What are some of the things you feel better about when your team wins?” I asked. He replied with the following list:
“Hopes for global peace.
“My capacity as both a husband and father.
“Food tastes better.
“I dream more fanciful dreams, and yet they seem achievable.”
According to Ed Hirt, professor of psychology and brain sciences at Indiana University, the reason he feels this way has to do with his search for a “social
identity.” We all look for ways to boost and maintain our self-esteem “through associations and affiliations,” Hirt says. “One of the key things we do in
developing a strong sense of who we are is, we define ourselves through groups we are a part of. Some may do it with gender, religion, or military service For many people, one thing that identifies them is their college team. And certainly people do it with pro teams, too.”
At Indiana, Hirt undertook a study of the school’s most passionate basketball fans, with the aim of observing whether the team’s success or failure had real
consequences for them. Hirt’s findings? Of course it did. When Indiana won, the fans’ belief in their abilities rose. He showed his subjects pictures of attractive members of the opposite sex and asked them to rate their chances of getting a date. After their team won, male and female fans alike were more confident of scoring the date. They also had more confidence at a variety of tasks, from throwing darts to shooting free throws to solving word games.
“For the really highly intense fan, the team’s success has as much effect on them as their own success,” Hirt reports. He adds: “People can elevate their
self-esteem in the eyes of themselves and others by their association with successful others.”
There are physiological reasons for that surge in confidence, according to Paul Bernhardt, an assistant professor of psychology at Frostburg (Md.) State
University. Bernhardt participated in a study that measured physical correlations in World Cup followers: Did external victory or defeat translate “into some meaningful change for that person?” he asks. He collected saliva samples from Italian and Brazilian men in sports bars before and after the two teams played one another in the 1994 World Cup. When the Brazilians won, the testosterone levels of their fans rose more than 20 percent. The levels of testosterone in the Italian fans fell more than 20 percent. He and his partners found similar reactions when they tested fans before and after a Georgia-Georgia Tech basketball game.
Daniel Wann, professor of psychology at Murray State, has carried the research further, studying fans’ blood pressure, heart rates, even their rapid eye movements, for scholarly articles such as “Testing the Team Identification — Social Psychological Health Model.” It’s Wann who compares the chemical surges in fans to those caused by a mugging.
“Anytime our reactions move from the psychological to the physiological,” Wann says, “that tells you something very important is going on. What that says is, it lets you know just how important this is to the fan. It’s one thing to say somebody left the game with a smile and felt good at the office. But they aren’t just idly watching this and it’s like they won the $5 dollar lottery That’s not how this works. This is a key component of who they are. Their overall self-worth and social identity are wrapped up in how their team does.”
That’s why some people, Wann observes, have such strong reactions that they pass out in the aisles.
“Of course, they’re probably the same ones who are having three bratwursts,” he says.
In the interest of furthering research in this fascinating field, I asked my Michigan-loving editor to list some of the things he feels worse about when the Maize and Blue loses. He replied:
“The weather.
“Hope for my children’s future.
“My choice of profession.
“My ability to digest lunch.
“The moral order of organized society.
“Why that same guy keeps walking past my house — you saw him last time, didn’t you?”
Next, I performed a test sample on my own father, who is such a fevered fan of his alma mater, Texas Christian University, that he once bought a house
simply because it had a view of the stadium. Does he feel anything changes when his team wins or loses? I asked him.
“Yes,” he replied. “My entire understanding of good and evil.”
A perfectly reasonable reaction, under the circumstances, Bernhardt says
“But I’m a fan,” Bernhardt adds. “So I’m having a hard time separating.”

Chris Erskine wrote in LA Times about a great assignment.

“The columnist is game for the plum assignment during baseball’s All-Star weekend at Anaheim, if only he knew who was playing. But he does know that
Food Network guy. And that supermodel.”

 “You can just imagine the hissy fits back in the office when it became clear that I was the one assigned to cover the celebrity softball game here in Anaheim on All-Star weekend — me, the new kid on the block, at the front lines of this very prestigious event.

I don’t know if you understand newsrooms at all — who does? — but such assignments are usually reserved for the very elite writers, the creme de la
cremliest. But on a Sunday like this, I can only guess that they were busy with church, as elite sportswriters often are.

So here I am, at the assignment of a lifetime, trying to distinguish a bunch of C-list celebs from each other. Honestly, could you tell Marcus Giamatti from
Kevin Frazier? And if you could, would you even admit it?

Well, if you could, you’re a better man than me, for I can’t even tell David Nail from Quinton Aaron. Obviously, I’ve got some work to do here in Anaheim,
the City of Motherly Love.

The only one I can tell for sure is that fude dude, Guy Fieri, the busiest guy in television these days, for even I recognize him from the fine work he does on
the Food Network, as well as his excellent hosting of … what’s that reality show … oh, “The Dumb Stuff Dumb People Do,” or something along those lines.

Fieri can hit, of that there is no doubt. Hitting is about 90% confidence and 10% luck, and this guy has plenty of both.

Another person who can hit is Marisa Miller, perhaps our best-hitting supermodel. Just like Mike Piazza was the best-hitting catcher of all time, she is the best-hitting supermodel of all time. Just how many times can I get the strangely hypnotic phrase “best-hitting supermodel” in one paragraph? Well, at leastthree, which has to be an MLB record in itself.

Seriously, if you have Miller in your fantasy league, call me because that’s a fantasy league I’d like to be in.

For all the glamour Miller lends to this event, this all-star lineup in Anaheim doesn’t quite come close to the Dodgers’ own celebrity game taking place Aug. 7, which has scheduled Billy Crystal, Jack Black and Kevin James, though I couldn’t pimp an event like that in good conscience without warning you that you’ll also have to watch director Rob Reiner swing a bat, and that can’t be good for anybody.

Just imagine spending thousands of dollars on private batting instructors for your kid, only to have it undermined by a visual of Meathead trying to dig one out of the dirt, eyes closed. Resilient as they are, I guess kids have gotten over worse things, though nothing springs to mind.

So I guess we’ll just have to deal with what we have here today.

The best reason to watch these fluff fests, of course, is to catch up with the former athletes who are also taking part. The bellies are a little bigger, but the gaits are familiar, and it’s still a thrill to watch Bo Jackson come to the plate. In the third inning, Jackson launches one that has yet to land. If something splats your windshield this afternoon on the 57 Freeway, it is probably Jackson’s homer.

Like the rest of us, Dave Winfield has put on a few pounds since his heyday, as has Rollie Fingers’ mustache. Gary Carter is as chatty as ever, and Fred Lynn
looks great — trim and happy as a three-handicap golfer ought to be. Before the game, Lynn confesses that his goal for this contest is to:

1) Not mess up his golf swing.

2) Not blow out a hamstring.

Lynn homers, as does nearly everybody else on the field, including this David Nail, who I still couldn’t pick out of a lineup.

As so often happens, this celebrity game devolves into a series of onfield interviews, including some pointless schtick with James Denton, who evidently plays a plumber on TV. Consider me an enemy of pointless shtick; I fight it like communism and tooth decay.

By the fourth inning, the minicam is out on the mound and the game has the feel of a minor league contest in which everyone is having a good time. Mascots from seven teams are dancing atop the dugouts and they’re flinging T-shirts into the crowd.

“Now batting No. 10 … Andy Richter,” the public address announcer sings, and a shiver goes through the crowd.

Anyway, if you care to see this colossal event for yourself, a taped version of the game will be on ESPN on Monday night, following the home run derby. As
you know, ESPN is an outfit eager to televise almost anything, the sillier the better.

See, once again, I beat even the networks on the big stories of the day, though a more seasoned reporter probably would have included the final score.”

Dan Shaughnessy reviewed that disgraceful exhibition that was televised by ESPN on Thursday night.

““Despicable Me.’’
Starring LeBron James, ESPN, Jim Gray, and the Miami Heat.
All despicable.
It’s been more than 36 hours since “The Decision’’ and I’m still nauseous.
Truly, has there ever been a more hideous sports-related hour than what we saw Thursday night?
It’s hard to know where to start. We had MeBron speaking of himself in the third person and saying, “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach.’’ We had ESPN lying to us about at what point MeBron would announce his move, then morphing into game-show mode. We had Gray forever forfeiting all semblance of integrity, taunting America (particularly Clevelanders) by intentionally delaying the only question we wanted him to ask. And now we have the Miami Heat — a veritable team of A-Rods, the team we will root against in every game as long as LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh are together.
Despicable. All of them.
I don’t know about you, but I’m suddenly a big fan of dangerous Dan Gilbert, the unhinged owner of the Cavaliers. In a rant worthy of vintage Boss
Steinbrenner, Gilbert blasted James as if he was Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner. Gilbert labeled James a narcissistic deserter and a “self-titled’’ former king. Then he called James a quitter, specifying all the playoff games in which MeBron quit against the Celtics this year. Ouch.
Certainly James is free to pursue all opportunities — he earned that — but maybe he could have spoken with Gilbert, man to man, and told him he was going to play elsewhere. After all, the Cavs did fire their coach and general manager and offer to play their games in Akron to please MeBron.
Reaction was all over the map. We saw folks burning James jerseys in Cleveland. The front cover of the New York Post screamed “LeBUM!’’, with “SON OF A BEACH!’’ on the back. The Daily News went with “WHO CARES!’’ Meanwhile, ESPN commentator Mark Jackson lauded MeBron’s
comportment and said he used “The Decision’’ as a teaching moment for his children.
Fans in jilted cities and happy fans in South Florida reacted along partisan lines and we expected nothing less. But it’s impossible to heap enough abuse on Gray and the Worldwide Leader.
ESPN executive Norby Williamson had promised that LeBron’s decision would be revealed in the first 15 minutes of the program. Fat chance. We sat
through 22 minutes of fluff before Stu art Scott finally tossed to Gray, who was sitting in a high chair, opposite James. Gray looked like the ridiculous host in “Slumdog Millionaire.’’ For a ridiculous six minutes, Gray toyed with a rapt audience, asking 18 mind-numbing, vapid questions about biting fingernails and the difficulty of arriving at a decision. Imagine the anguish for the oft-pummeled people of Cleveland, waiting for the verdict while a smug Gray sat there like he was reading from the script of “Our Town.’’
The New York Post’s Phil Mushnick said Gray was chosen for the role because of his “special relationship with the online college, the University of Phoenix.’’
Apparently the University of Phoenix is a sponsor of Gray’s Monday Night Football radio show.
What a field day for the Heat. The franchise is everybody’s favorite to make it to the Finals against the Lakers next year. Call me a homer, but LeBron to
Miami with reality-show-twins Wade and Bosh only makes me root harder for the Celtics, the Magic, the Bulls, or anyone but Miami in the upcoming years.
Too bad the Celtics have so many guys playing on the back nine. Think about it, folks; the 2010-11 Celtics will be the oldest team you have ever seen. In the last week they inked Paul Pierce to a four-year extension, which means he’ll play 17 seasons in a Boston uniform. Ray Allen was signed to a two-year deal
that will take him through 16 NBA seasons. Kevin Garnett, who has been playing in the NBA since 1995 (didn’t KG block a shot by John Havlicek?), will have played in 17 NBA seasons when his deal is up. And now the Celtics have Jermaine O’Neal, who came into the league in 1996.
Where are these guys going to train — On Golden Pond?
Doc Rivers is going to be Old Man Rivers. The Celtics of 2010-11 are the men from “Cocoon.’’
It’s fashionable to note that the Celtics are the model for the new Heat. Danny Ainge assembled three Hall of Famers and won a championship in the first
year. But that was different. Ainge gave up draft picks and players to get Allen and Garnett. Pierce, Garnett, and Allen were much older than James, Wade,
and Bosh. But Boston has players who could submerge their egos and play defense. The Heat have three megastars in their prime, but there’s no guarantee this will work. LeBron and friends have put enormous pressure on themselves. They have to win or they are LeFrauds.
Pray for a bust. Here’s hoping there’s no reward for any of the Despicable Me characters who participated in “The Decision.’’

Bob Ryan, also from the Globe, talked about “The Decision” in light of it creating the chief competition for his Celtics.

““I’m going to take my talents to South Beach.’’
With that, LeBron James brought joy to the Miami Heat and their fans, disappointment to New York and Chicago, and enormous sorrow to people in
Cleveland and Northeast Ohio, who have, as he himself said, “seen me grow from an 18-year-old kid to a 25-year-old man.’’
The vehicle was an hourlong ESPN special last night, which was unprecedented in American sports history and which was decried by many as an astonishing manifestation of egomania on the part of a young superstar who has basically conducted himself in a mature manner throughout his career. But James seemed to veer into a new realm during this recruiting process, culminating in this look-at-me declaration, which was in direct contrast to the low-key M.O. chosen by Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant, who announced his decision to sign a five-year contract extension via Twitter.
But this is 21st century America, and LeBron James is a classic product of his times. He is five years younger than ESPN itself. The network put many of his
high school games at Akron’s St. Vincent-St. Mary High School on television, which many thought was crass. But it all seems natural and normal to him.
There is little sense in exhibiting great moral outrage about the process. To paraphrase a certain football coach well-known in this area, it was what it was.
And now the Miami Heat are what they are, a bizarre collection of top-level players who will be surrounded by a lot of low-level, minimum-wage talent.
LeBron James will be teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the former a player who is only slightly less gifted than James, and the latter a top-flight forward whose range of skills separates him from all but a few big men in the NBA. They will automatically become the latest so-called Big Three to terrorize the league.
But the rest of the team is currently a mystery, and that’s not hyperbole. The only people other than the Big Whatever are the enigmatic Michael Beasley and solid point guard Mario Chalmers. But for there to be enough money to pay the great triumvirate — who will all be making less than they could have
commanded on other teams — Beasley must go. And any way you slice it, there will be little more than chump money available for the auxiliary members of the 2010-11 Heat. The question will be: Can a team thus assembled actually win an NBA championship?
This situation is highly analogous to that of the 2007-08 Celtics, at least as they were constituted in the summer of 2007. I, for one, denounced that roster from 4 through 12 as the worst in the league, a rash pronouncement that proved to be far off base. But in order for the Celtics to become champions, Danny Ainge had to come up with such key supporting players as James Posey, Eddie House, and, as the final piece of the puzzle, P.J. Brown. Clearly, Pat Riley, the Heat president and basic chief hoop honcho, has a lot of work to do.
As far as the jilted suitors are concerned, all the sympathy should be extended to Cleveland. New York spent two years preparing to welcome The King, but their entire pitch was based on nothing more than a ludicrous entitlement mentality. I’m speaking more of the fans and media than the organization, and it was all summed up by the back-page headline on the New York Daily News that shrieked, “Don’t Screw Us Now!’’ I mean, really.
Chicago will survive. Many people believe the Bulls would have represented a better avenue to a quick title, and with their signing of free agent forward
Carlos Boozer they will be rated ahead of the Heat by a lot of experts.
But Cleveland, oh, wow, that’s going to be devastating. There is no way to exaggerate the proprietary feeling the sports fans of Northeast Ohio had toward a player who was an enormous high school star in Akron (think Worcester to Boston) and who provided them with countless thrills during his seven years as a Cavalier, during which he played in six All-Star Games, made first-team All-NBA four times, and led the team to its only trip to the Finals, a losing effort to the Spurs three years ago.
But that doesn’t tell the half of it. As has been well-documented, Cleveland has not enjoyed a major sports championship since the Browns won the NFL title in 1964. And now, with the Indians in the dumper, the Browns classically mediocre, and no NHL franchise, the next title is nowhere in sight. But even that doesn’t cover it all.
LeBron was beloved because he had preached community and loyalty. He was the hometown kid made good, and that resonated in an area hard-hit
economically. Yes, even more so than other locales in this country. He was a source of pride. He was one of them.
And now he has abandoned them. That’s the way it will be framed. Is this fair? Should they have been able to hold him as an emotional hostage? Did he owe
them anything at all?
The good news for all of us is that this ordeal is over.”

Barbara Barker talked about the outlook for Amer’e Stoudemire with the NY Knicks.
“LeBron James or no LeBron James, the Knicks were in a celebratory mood Thursday afternoon.
About nine hours before King James took over the airwaves and announced he was going to the Heat, the Knicks took over the floor of Madison Square Garden, holding a half-hour news conference to officially welcome Amar’e Stoudemire to the team.
Stoudemire, a 6-10 power forward, appears to be bringing a dose of much-needed swagger to the organization. After being introduced, the new Knick stepped to the podium and boldly declared it to be “a new era” at the Garden.
“We’re looking to get the Knicks back on top,” Stoudemire told a crowded news conference that included No. 1 Knicks fan Spike Lee. “We’re looking forward to building this franchise and winning a championship.”
Stoudemire, who has a career average of 21.4 points and 8.9 rebounds, is the most dominant big man to wear a Knicks uniform since Patrick Ewing. Though he is sure to be a power in the Eastern Conference, some teams, including the Suns, had concerns about his left knee and did not want to give him a maximum contract.
The Knicks, however, were pleased to welcome him aboard. The Knicks and Stoudemire had agreed to a five-year deal worth $99.7 million on Monday, but the deal couldn’t officially be announced until yesterday, the day the NBA’s moratorium on signings and trades was lifted.
The Knicks and Suns arranged a sign-and-trade deal, which provided the Suns a draft pick and a $16.5-million trade exception. By doing so, the Knicks gained an extra $800,000 in cap room.
Though Stoudemire never won a title with the Suns, he did help lead them to the Western Conference finals twice. One of those trips, in 2005, was when Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni was the Suns’ coach.
D’Antoni and Stoudemire did have some differences, but both said they worked them out this past weekend when they sat down to breakfast.
D’Antoni said it takes a rare kind of person to succeed in New York, and he believes Stoudemire is that sort of person.
“New York is not for everybody,” D’Antoni said. “It’s a big stage and you have to show some guts and some grit. You’ve got to come out every day and work. And Amar’e will do that.”
Former Knick Allan Houston, who was on the team that went to Cleveland to pitch New York to James last week, agrees it takes a special person to have the courage to play in New York.
“LeBron, I don’t know if he wants it,” said Houston, who came to the Knicks from the Pistons as a free agent and now works in the front office. “Stoudemire, he wants it.”
But wanting it and getting it are two different things. Stoudemire is joining a team that has had nine straight losing seasons. The last two admittedly resulted from the Knicks’ decision to position themselves for this year’s free-agent market.
“Up until now, our plan has been to save money under the cap,” Knicks president Donnie Walsh said. “Now it’s about putting together a team that can win.”
The Knicks certainly have a lot more wheeling and dealing to do before they get to the team they want to rebuild with, but Stoudemire clearly is not afraid to be the first piece of the puzzle.
Said Stoudemire: “It was a situation where no one wanted to make the first move. I felt confident enough to take that first step.”

Here is a rant from the Sports Curmudgeon about our World Cup program or the lack of one.
“I do not intend this to be soccer bashing; if that is all you want to read about soccer, you will probably be disappointed.

I am not – – nor do I aspire to be – – one of the “soccer poets” who is certain that someday soon the American sporting public will come around to the
thinking of the rest of the world and embrace soccer at the expense of other US sports.  If that is all you want to read about soccer, you will be disappointed.

I am going to try to be analytical here about the game and the US place in that game in a world perspective knowing full well that I will invite the wrath of
soccer-lovers and soccer-haters.  C’est la guerre.

The United States was the most populous nation represented in the past World Cup tournament.  Therefore, one would think that with the largest pool of potential talent to select from, it should have been one of the powerhouse teams in the tournament.  It was not.  Yes, the US did win their group.  In addition, yes, the US was the only group winner to leave the tournament in the “Round of Sixteen”. 

After watching about a half dozen games in the first tranche of group play, it was clear to me that the US was not going to win the World Cup any more than
Japan or Ghana were going to win the World Cup.  They proved themselves good enough to make it to this tournament but they are not/were not an elite
squad.  That is the view without putting on rose-colored glasses or from the vantage point that soccer has so little scoring that all it takes is one lucky break to win any game any time…

Following the exit of the US team, there were reports that the head of the US Soccer Federation – – a man named Sunil Gulati whom I could not pick out of a lineup with the Dixie Chicks – – said that he would take some time to ponder the future of Bob Bradley as the coach of the US National Team.  That is
probably one of Mr. Gulati’s prerogatives based on his office.  It also conveniently deflects from him and his organization the scrutiny as to why with the largest pool of talent to choose from the US team sent to South Africa was talent-deficient.

After the loss to Ghana that sent the US team home, Gulati held a lengthy news conference and buried in the midst of it was this comment:

“The missed opportunity [not being able to play another game or two] is partly a chance to get to the quarters and the matchup with Uruguay, but it’s also a missed opportunity to stay in the American public’s eyes for another four, five, six days, maybe 10 days, when interest is at an all-time high.”

Let us analyze that for what it is.  He puts the burden of keeping soccer in the public’s eyes on the US National Team in an event that happens once every
four years.  Excuse me, but if that is not one of the prime objectives of the US Soccer Federation, then what the Hell does that organization do for a living
between now and 2014 in Brazil?  I had never heard or read the name Sunil Gulati until reports on that news conference; I cannot recall the last time I read something about a creative initiative on the part of the US Soccer Federation to do anything other than to maintain its existence and its hegemony over US soccer.  If anyone wants to hand out rotten tomatoes to a group of folks who do not keep soccer in the public’s eyes and who miss opportunities to do so, allow me to suggest that the biggest bushel basket of rotten tomatoes ought to go to Sunil Gulati’s office – – wherever the Hell that is.

In that same news conference, Mr. Gulati seemed for a moment to happen upon a significant challenge for US soccer when he said:

“The expectations have to be realistic. The players that are representing the U.S. are not players at Arsenal and Inter [Milan] and Real Madrid and Barcelona and Chelsea and Manchester United and so on. The players we were playing against in some of these situations are.”

Ah yes, there is the crux of the problem as to why the US made the World Cup tournament, struggled to make it to the knockout round and then made its
early exit.  The “missed opportunity” Mr. Gulati referenced is part and parcel of the problem that the United States does not develop great soccer players
from its large and diverse gene pool.  Now, ask yourself this question:

Who has the responsibility to develop soccer players in the US?

If you answered, “The coach of the US National Team”, you probably do not have sufficient brainpower to master the mathematical concepts needed to run a soccer scoreboard.  Player development and the promotion/maintenance of the development programs is the purview of the … US … Soccer … Federation. 

From these comments, I fear that Mr. Gulati is living in a delusion.  He recognizes that the longer the US stays in the World Cup tournament the more positive exposure the team and the sport gets in the eyes of the US sporting public.  He also recognizes that the US National Team is not on a par – – talent-wise – – with other squads.  What he does not do is to connect those dots and see that the problem with all this lies within the organization that he directs.

Mr. Gulati.  Mr. Sunil Gulati.  Please pick up the white courtesy clue phone to receive one.  Mr. Gulati…

Here are some of the problems that the US Soccer Federation faces.  The problem with the listing I am about to present is that these are the same problems that the US Soccer Federation has faced for the last 50 years and so far there has been only marginal change in status.  Translation:  The US Soccer Federation has been a feckless body for multiple decades…

1.  Name a single population center in the US where the following situation obtains: 

The high school football and basketball coaches have to prowl the sidelines of soccer pitches all over their districts to beg the best athletes to play football or basketball in addition to soccer. 

The answer is that this happens nowhere…

2.  Youth soccer – the activity that soccer poets always point to as evidence of the growth of interest in the sport and the basis for future US dominance on the world stage – has been co-opted by yuppie-like parents who have turned it into a feelgood exercise where everyone gets a trophy and there are no
winners and losers.  That is not how Lionel Messi, Kaka, Wayne Rooney and Miroslav Klose “came up” in the game.

3.  Many of the prominent soccer teams (clubs to use the world parlance) have their own soccer academies for youth as young as 8 years old where kids go to learn skills first and then to play games.  These soccer academies also provide academic tutors in many circumstances.  But the main difference between the world and the US is that in other countries, the kids are learning soccer skills from top teachers of those skills while US kids are running around playing soccer games that are “organized” only in the sense that chronological adults have scheduled the games and gotten the players to and from the venue at the appointed hour.

4.  At precisely the age when the best foreign players show that they are good enough to play at the professional club level, many of the best US soccer
players head off to college.  Believe me, I am a full-blown advocate of higher education; I have no quarrel with kids getting real educations to set them up for the rest of their lives.  However, from the perspective of putting top teams on the world stage, four years of college soccer in the US are nowhere near as
developmentally positive as playing on a club level professional team.  Nevertheless, that is the “career arc” for many of the players who came up through the US youth soccer system.

I do not pretend to have sufficient insight to state with confidence that these are the only problems for the US Soccer Federation to solve should they truly
care about making the US a world power in soccer – – as opposed to raising money to pay their own salaries first and then letting the chips fall where they may every four years.  However, I think the US National Team is apt to “miss another opportunity” in Brazil in 2014 and in wherever in 2018 and 2022 if the US Soccer Federation does not change a few fundamental ways that it goes about its business.

We are at the point in a four-year cycle where the soccer poets point to survey data and predict an explosion of soccer interest in the US.  This is the time when those folks will say – – correctly – – that more kids in the US under the age of 12 play soccer than play baseball.  Those data have been reported for at least the last decade; I have little doubt that the data are correct.  The problem is twofold:

1.  Huge increases in youth participation have yet to link in any direct way to huge increases in soccer interest in the country in terms of game attendance or television ratings.  Yes, I do know about the FOX Soccer Channel; I watch it on my cable system.  Its ratings are about what the ratings are for Versus; its ratings are not nearly as good as The Food Channel.

2.  The vast majority of those kids playing youth soccer are not being taught skills by accomplished teachers of soccer skills.  They are being bused about to play games instead.  When the cream of that crop gets to the world stage, they will be talent-deficient not because of some genetic flaws but because their developmental time has favored game playing over skill teaching.

The US Soccer Federation and Sunil Gulati can fire Bob Bradley or retain him.  It is their prerogative and I have no quarrel with that.  The problem is that
that if they fire him – – or even if they retain him – – they will announce that this is a key element in their long-range plan to move the US forward in the
rankings of world soccer.

That is what they will assert. 

What it will really be is irrelevant.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………”

Mark Heisler, the NBA reporter for the LA  Times, had this to say about the LeBron noise.

“Goodbye, Golden Child.

Ending the greatest recruiting war in NBA history — and his career-long honeymoon — LeBron James announced Thursday he’ll sign with the Miami Heat, creating the most controversial team since Shaquille O’Neal met Kobe Bryant and leaving a smoking crater in Cleveland.

In so doing, James did everything skeptics said he wouldn’t.

He didn’t go for the most money, spurning $128 million in Cleveland for $99 million in Miami.

He didn’t insist on having his own team. joining a superstar ensemble in Wade County, which was Dade County before it was temporarily renamed to help
keep Dwyane Wade.

After seven seasons of carrying Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao and Co., James now has Wade and Chris Bosh on an East power as glamorous as the
Lakers, the heretofore-unchallenged kings of glitz.

(By the way, if Jerry Buss is still looking to unload Lamar Odom to save money, someone should tell him to hold up.)

Shaq and Kobe needed years together to make the Lakers soap opera idols, or enough-already villains.

James did it for the Heat in one day, selling his announcement to ESPN as a one-hour special, serving himself up to his critics like a roast pig with an apple in its mouth.

Despite the storm about to break over his head, James had every right to leave, if it meant breaking every heart in Ohio (and driving owner Dan Gilbert off the edge, which would explain his open letter noting “our former hero … deserted this evening … [in a] narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his ‘decision’ unlike anything ever ‘witnessed’ in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.'”)

After seven years, all the Cavaliers had around James were people like Williams, Antawn Jamison, J.J. Hickson and Delonte West.

James nonetheless spent last week trying to get Bosh or Amare Stoudemire to join him.

Only after Bosh turned down a sign-and-trade did James turn toward Miami.

As a basketball decision, it was arguably OK, although Chicago had the better, deeper roster.

As TV — and a reflection on James — it was a disaster.

Injured elbow or no injured elbow, it was inevitable that James would be bashed after his second-round pratfall against the Celtics.

ESPN’s Skip Bayless, who had long insisted James was Scottie Pippen, not Michael Jordan, gave him a “D as in Dog-minus.”

Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski called him a “narcissist” who “quit on his teammates … a young Alex Rodriguez, so insecure with himself and his MVP awards, so desperate to find validation in the courtship of free agency.”

Lo and behold, James, who had accommodated only frenzy to this point, then made his deal with the devil, dressed as ESPN.

James, who once flew to Nebraska to meet Warren Buffett, prides himself on his business acumen. In the real world, he and his “people” — friends from high school — are children dressing up as adults.

The over/under on how long ESPN would withhold the news turned out to be an incredible 27 minutes, 17 more than a network exec had announced.

Rather than go low-key, ESPN gave it the full self-important, self-referencing treatment:

6:00 — Stuart Scott intro, blah, blah.

6:01 — Recent James interview, saying, “At the end of the day, we all know this is a business.”

6:02— Panel discussion, blah blah.

6:11 — Graphics with James in Cavaliers, Heat, Bulls, Nets and Knicks uniforms.

6:12 — Scott: “Coming up, it’s the decision we’ve all been waiting for — the King will chose his next court!”

6:13 — Three-minute commercial break for search engine, designer water, insurance company, fast-food chain and promos for telecasts of All-Star Home Run Derby and the World Cup.

6:16 — James interview from 2008 saying, “At the end of the day we all know this is a business.”

6:17 — Last canvas of ESPN panel. Notes Jon Barry of James: “He doesn’t look happy.”

6:19 — Another three-minute commercial break for the search engine, insurance company, et al.

6:22 — They finally go to Jim Gray with James.

With the audience hanging on every word, awaiting The Decision, as ESPN calls it, Gray, a real newsman who had been handpicked by James and had
allowed himself to be dragged into this to play emcee, asks:

1. What has James been doing?

2. What has he thought about this process?

3. Did he enjoy it?

4. What did he expect?

5. How many people know his decision?

6. Can they be counted on one hand or two?

7. When did he decide?

8. When did he last change his mind?

9. Did the team he’s going to know?

10. Who did he ask for advice?

11. What was the major factor?

12. How deep did the evaluation process go?

13. Did he have any doubt?

13. Did he want to sleep on it or would he announce it now?

And, most incredibly:

14. “You still a nail-biter?

At 6:27, perhaps having run out of chit-chat, Gray asked what The Decision was.

“This is tough,” James said later, having lined up more help on the floor and, if he had no idea, a legion of haters off it.

“It’s very tough because you feel like you let a lot of people down.”

He doesn’t know the half of it.”

Let’s get back to baseball!                                                                                                                                      Ken Davidoff of Newsday echoed all of the wondering by Mets’ fans about the addition of another starter.

“’Pretty much every team within five games of the playoffs” has called the Mariners about Cliff Lee, a person familiar with the situation said Wednesday on the condition of anonymity.
Taken literally, that’s 17 contending clubs, and you can count our Mets and Yankees as absolutely having kept tabs on the best available pitcher.
But the Mets have a special burden among those 17, it seems. They must prove, still, to their skeptical fan base that they’re not financially strapped.
Whether it’s Lee, Ted Lilly, Roy Oswalt or some unforeseen player, such an acquisition would serve dual positive purposes for the Mets:
1. It would improve the Mets’ chances of making the playoffs.
2. It would drive the Mets further away from Bernie Madoff.
Two of the contenders, the Rangers and Dodgers, are undeniably strapped, with paperwork to back it up. The Rangers find themselves tied up in bankruptcy court until they change owners, while the Dodgers’ owners Frank and Jamie McCourt continue their grisly divorce proceedings and battle for control of the team.
The Mets, however? We just don’t know.
Yes, we learned that they took a hit from Madoff, but only the Wilpons understand just how bad the damage truly was, vis-à-vis their overall assets. And as much as it sometimes seems that the Mets have skimped since the December 2008 Madoff revelation, the evidence is more gray.
They cut their payroll by roughly $15 million over the offseason. Yet they’ve countered some of that already by selecting Matt Harvey, a Scott Boras client who will not sign cheap, in last month’s amateur draft. And now they’re looking to spend a few more million on an upgrade in their starting rotation, essentially writing off the rehabilitating Oliver Perez as a sunk cost.
If the Mets don’t make a trade this month because they can’t afford to do so? Then Omar Minaya is wasting not only his own time right now, but also that of many opposing teams’ officials.
Minaya and his staff are operating under the belief that they can add payroll. That doesn’t mean that Oswalt, owed some $25 million, is coming in return for the top prospects the Astros want. We’d rip such a trade, as it wouldn’t make baseball sense.
Lilly and his $6 million, however? Doable. The Cubs are starting to get serious about dealing the former Yankees lefthander, and Lilly is going to be less in
demand than Lee. The Mets like Lilly’s flyball tendencies and his New York experience. This could definitely work, even though a look at Lilly’s peripheral statistics show that he has benefited from luck this season.
Lee? Mariners people insist that, if they can’t top the underwhelming package that Philadelphia got from Seattle last winter, then there will be no deal.
A one-year payroll cut, considering all of the other factors in play, shouldn’t set off any alarms. But of course, these are the Mets we’re talking about. Their
fans aren’t in a very forgiving mood after the Collapses of 2007 and 2008 and last year’s debacle.
To their credit, the Mets are utilizing outreach programs like the free tickets for former season-ticket holders. And they drafted Harvey. And, you know,
they’re playing very good baseball, last night’s 3-1 home loss to Cincinnati notwithstanding.
The next step comes between now and July 31. With a better pitcher will come a better pitch. “We believe in comebacks,” this team’s slogan, would carry even greater weight with a shiny, new addition to the starting rotation.”

Michael Wilbon wrote in the DC Post about his own free agency struggle.

“I actually do know what it’s like, relatively speaking, to be driven crazy by a dilemma. The Chicago Tribune called. Well, actually, a Chicago Tribune editor flew to Washington to visit me some years back and said my hometown newspaper, the one I grew up delivering as a kid with my brother and our dog, was going to make me an offer I couldn’t refuse. That started weeks of deliberations, nights where I couldn’t sleep, days of uncertainty and anxiety.
So I have a sense of what has gone through in recent weeks, being pulled by Miami and his life there the last seven years and Chicago and his life there the
previous 21 years, the mom he bought a church for, the brothers he played with in the back yard, the two young sons who live there now has gone through a similar push-and-pull, especially since a change of teams would mean leaving home in Northeast Ohio, leaving Cleveland where he’s the most beloved thing to come down the pike since Jim Brown.
I presume they’ve gone back and forth a hundred times because I’d wake up one morning convinced I was leaving D.C. for Chicago. I even had my wife go
to Chicago one weekend and look at neighborhoods we might live in. One day the Trib sent me a box of “recruiting materials” that included my high school
letter sweater from my days on the baseball team. It was an incredible rush. I was gone. Then I’d wake up the next morning convinced I couldn’t possibly
endure those Midwestern winters again, and anyway I couldn’t at that point in my life tell Benjamin C. Bradlee, the greatest editor in the history of
newspapers, that I was leaving The Washington Post for another paper.
Last week, former major league outfielder Eric Byrnes told me about one free agent winter when he bounced back and forth, convinced one day he would go to Cleveland only to change his mind the next day and become certain he’d wind up in Arizona. It went on that way for days.
Of course, the conversation turned to LeBron James and D-Wade, mostly LeBron, and Byrnes said: “I imagine those guys have to be all over the place.
People think you know all along where you’re going and there’s no possible way .. . and I wouldn’t even dare compare my situation to LeBron’s.”
Oh, but it is comparable in one way. Whoever is confronted with the decision, it’s only your whole life. That’s not to be confused with one’s quality of life;
that’s not going to change one iota for any professional athlete choosing between $20 million per year offers. But in the case of LeBron and Wade, maybe even Chris Bosh, we’re probably talking about their decisions affecting the way the modern history of will be written, the way their careers will be assessed, criticized and/or celebrated. So, Bosh is not only weighing whether he wants to live in Cleveland, Miami or Chicago, but whether playing with LeBron James in Cleveland (or Wade in Miami) is better than playing without either in Chicago. Making these decisions in partnership with another person who has a million considerations of his own would be impossible for me. During my own personal debate, I didn’t really need to take into account how competing with the Chicago Sun-Times’s Jay Mariotti was going to affect my life.
Ultimately, I think whoever is in Wade’s ear last is going to win him over, and right now he’s physically in Miami. I can’t imagine him, while in South Florida, telling Pat Riley goodbye, not even to go to Chicago where he’d return a conquering hero. If you took a vote in that city as to which player natives prefer, Wade or LeBron, the bet here is Wade would win comfortably because that’s the way Chicagoans are wired. LeBron, in any basketball circle, would be considered the better player but Wade is ours. There would be so much more pressure on LeBron to win in Chicago (or anywhere else) than there would be for him to win in Cleveland, where the love for one of their own is closer to unconditional. While following this story as closely as I’ve followed anything in years, and in the process talking to agents and executives and other players, I’ve changed my mind a half-dozen times about where I think each is going to wind up, so not nearly as much as they have. I’m at the point now where I think Wade is going to stay in Miami and LeBron is going to stay in Cleveland, and what that probably speaks to is life being pretty damn good where each man already is. (I keep hearing Kornheiser tell me “If people can make you happy where you are, then stay.”) Maybe the only thing more difficult than going home again is leaving home. Meanwhile, my home town, as happened at the end of the Olympic bidding, appears likely to be shunned again.
I remember at the most stressful point of my own ordeal thinking I couldn’t make a bad decision, which was of great comfort. Don Graham was the best boss in the world. My editors, Len Downie and George Solomon, were my Micky Arison and Riley, to continue the Wade analogy. I stayed in Washington, happily as it turned out. It could only have been a fraction as complicated as the stuff Wade and LeBron are navigating, though it was my whole life at the time. The free agent drama has been pretty good theater since before the end of the playoffs, even during the NBA Finals. Decisions are going to be announced soon. It’s fair to wonder if either man believes now, or in 10 years, that he couldn’t make a bad one.”

Gwen Knapp wrote in the SF Chronicle about the problems suffered by those East German “Female” swimmers and how the problems are still present.

“South African government ministers should have kept self-righteousness out of their statements when they applauded Tuesday’s reinstatement of 19-year-old Caster Semenya to women’s track and field competition nine months after she was forced to undergo gender-verification testing.
“The disregard for her human dignity … was deplorable,” said Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya, the Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, in a statement.
She was referring to the International Association of Athletics Federations, but the minister should have directed some of that scorn toward her country’s sports officials.
They hired Ekkart Arbeit as the country’s chief track coach, despite the fact that Arbeit was part of the East German sports machine that dosed women with male hormones, often without their knowledge.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Arbeit was one of many coaches and doctors investigated for his role in giving anabolic steroids to their athletes. Arbeit
reportedly answered to the East German security force, the Stasi, during his coaching career. He confessed to the doping, arguing that it was standard
practice in sports during the ’80s.
The former Heidi Krieger – now known as Andreas and living as a man – was one of Arbeit’s proteges. Krieger accused Arbeit of contributing to altering her sexual identity through doping practices.
The South Africans haven’t been alone in latching onto the infamous Arbeit. Australian officials tried to hire him in 1997, but the resulting furor in the media threatened the country’s image in advance of the Sydney Olympics, and the alliance didn’t last. Britain’s Denise Lewis, the 2000 Olympic heptathlon champion, briefly hired him to work with her during a comeback from childbirth.
The South Africans tried to hire him several years ago, backed away amid controversy, then went back to the well. Of all the coaches in the world, why him?
A governing body that held “human dignity” in high regard would not have put its athletes, or their reputations, in such jeopardy.”

Bob Ryan, of the Boston Globe, put a pin in some free agents’ balloons.

“It’s NBA free agency season. How do you like it so far?
(By the way, the Jordan Farmar Era is over in LA. The Lakers gave Steve Blake a four-year contract. You scared?)
There’s been some head-scratching stuff going on out there. Minnesota gives Darko (one of these years I’ll play more than 15 minutes a game and average
more than 8 points per) Milicic four years, $20 million (but, hey the fourth year is only partially guaranteed)? Milwaukee gives Drew (nine teams in eight
years) Gooden five years, $32 million? Amir (go ahead, name the team that has re-signed him) Johnson gets five years, $34 million? The answer is Toronto.
This isn’t just a wonderful country, or, I guess I should say, continent. This is a fictionally blissful, pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming continent. It’s a tremendous time to be young, tall, and a marginally talented basketball player.
And what was that about the “impoverished’’ owners (who, according to the Commish, lost $400 million last year) gearing up to lock out the players a year hence?
You’ll be hearing lots more about that depressing story as the 2010-11 season unfolds. Let’s again turn our attention to the fascinating summer of 2010, which was endlessly discussed and analyzed in advance for at least two years, and which, six days into the process, leaves most of the really big fish still swimming in the Sea of Uncertainty.
Forget about what we think, intuit, or feel is worth a reasonable guess about what’s going on with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh,
three-fourths of the free agency Big Four. Here is the only thing we know: Amar’e (forget about my bad knees and utter lack of interest in defense and
growing disdain about getting myself dirty by actually, you know, posting up every now and then) Stoudemire, he of the wandering apostrophe, is a New
York Knick.
The beyond-desperate inhab itants of Madison Square Garden, whose team president/CEO rates a separate admission wing in the Idiot Owners Hall of
Fame, have thrust the maximum contract (five years, nearly $100 million) at a player who is pretty much guaranteed to break down no later than the midway point of the deal and who has proven, as have several others in this free agent class, that he is a fine wingman, a suitable adjunct, a faithful Tonto to the Lone Ranger type player, but someone who will be unmasked once asked to be The Man.
And can you imagine a worse city in which to be thus exposed, especially when LeBron is kissing the Larry O’Brien Trophy while wearing the uniform of the Cavaliers, Bulls, Heat, or, and wouldn’t we all contribute to the kitty to make this happen, the Brooklyn Nets?
The Knicks aren’t the only one suffering from that debilitating disease known as Max Madness.
To begin with, here’s a philosophical question: Just because you’ve identified someone as your best player, does that mean you’re duty-bound to give him a max contract? Can’t you just reward him nicely and fairly without giving him a contract that implies he’ll be something he’s constitutionally incapable of being?
Exhibit A: Atlanta maxes Joe Johnson. A fine player, Joe Johnson. I’d like to have him (oh, wait, we did). I’ve seen him make shots against the Celtics that
were somewhere between Jordanesque and Kobe-like. But he’s not a No. 1 guy. He’s a No. 2 on a team of No. 2 and No. 3 guys. As the Hawks were en
route to the most savage four-game series beating in the history of the NBA — that’s fact, not hyperbole — no one shrunk into nothingness against the Magic more than Joe Johnson. In fact, here are his shooting numbers in the final seven games of the 2010 playoffs: 6 for 16, 8 for 24, 4 for 14, 4 for 11, 5 for 16, 3 for 15, and 5 for 15. That’s 31 percent. What would the Hawks have done for him had he actually played well when it most mattered?
Exhibit B: Memphis maxes Rudy Gay. A nice player. Anyone would take him. But max him? He used to disappear a lot in games when he was at UConn,
leaving one with two conclusions. 1) He’s a shy kid who doesn’t know how good he is. 2) There simply is no pilot light. After four years with the Grizz,
people down there are of the same opinion. And if he’s a max guy, what is O.J. Mayo? I’m not so sure Marc Gasol isn’t more important to the Memphis
As for the Big Three free agents, what do we really know?
We know that before they signed Stoudemire the Knicks tried to hit LeBron with major money talk, producing a report from a marketing consultant claiming that James could make anywhere between $1 billion and $2 billion in total salary and outside income as a lifetime Knick (i.e. 37, 38 years old, a real reach), as opposed to an estimated $700 million in Cleveland, $690 million in Chicago, and $600 million in Miami.
We know that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov tried to dazzle LeBron with his international business reach. We know the Heat talked having Wade and
sufficient salary cap space to add another max guy.
We know the Bulls talked up their current roster only needing LeBron to become a champion. We know Cleveland prepared a cartoon video that one wag suggested was very well-geared to recruit a 14-year-old.
Cleveland surely needs roster re-do, but the Cavaliers do have an edge. The public is laying a colossal guilt trip on him to remain home, the implication that the franchise might collapse if he leaves. There is also no denying that he is loyal to the region.
Wade is totally comfortable in Miami. His situation is complicated by a very messy divorce proceeding in which he has been given temporary custody of his two children, who had been living in Chicago. But should he win full custody, which legal observers believe will happen, he then can move the offspring to Miami.
The odds still favor him staying where he is.
Chris Bosh? Aside from having a camera crew follow his every move (remember Manny and ESPN 10 years ago?), Bosh has been in the background.
He is very much the wild card. Is he worth the fuss? Some say that if he’s that good, why has he only been to the playoffs twice in seven years? Valid point.
But I’ve seen him perform in international competition, and this guy can really play. Playing alongside either LeBron or Wade, he could affect the balance of power.
When you come down to it, there really is only one thing we know for sure. A lot of people have gotten rich. Or are about to.”

Chris Erskine of the LA Times talked about the reactions in France to their team’s performance in the World Cup.
“What you should never forget is that the blood of Napoleon runs through these people. Sacre bleu, you should see them cramming their luggage into an overhead bin on my Air France flight in the heat of summer. Chocolatiers and fashion models aside, these are a very tough people, the French. Soccer should be easy for them. But it no longer is.

There’s this guy in a cafe on the Left Bank, face like a leather loafer, sitting at the table along the sidewalk while nursing his wine and watching the women in summer dresses pedal past on bicycles. He says he’s still way too sad to talk about what happened to the French soccer team in South Africa.

For a while, I was too — heck, I think we all were, but we blasted right through those emotions the way Americans do. The French, to their discredit, are
more melancholy about their defeats. Napoleon died a long time ago, after all, and frankly things have never really been the same since.

What happened to the French at the World Cup was ugly on many levels, “LINDSAY LOHAN ARRESTED WHILE SWIMMING IN TIDAL
BASIN”-ugly. As you’ll probably recall, the star player threw a hissy fit, while playing for a coach of dubious merit. I could convey the details of their
exchange, except it would get me fired. Leave it said that what the star player said to the coach is anatomically impossible.

In true French fashion, the players all went on strike in support of the malcontent, refusing to practice. Refusing to do things is almost as French as bad music.

“So how are people taking to what happened in the World Cup?” I ask the shuttle driver from Charles de Gaulle Airport.

“The Louvre is a very nice museum,” he answers.

So, yes, they’re in denial about the whole World Cup thing; who wouldn’t be? When you collapse in such delicious fashion on the world stage, all you can do is pretend it doesn’t mean as much as it does. I don’t know that the U.S. has ever suffered the equivalent of this, other than the annual deflowering of the
Chicago Cubs, or all the embarrassing things that used to go on with the University of Miami football team. True, the Denver Broncos used to collapse in spectacular ways in Super Bowls, but then John Elway came along to erase all that. No, other than Lohan, there is no real precedent for this level of national shame.

“You should’ve seen this bar,” says Sasha White, a Temple University student summering at the Frog and the Princess pub. “People were drinking themselves retarded.

“When they played Mexico, either people wanted to go home and not be around people for a while, or they wanted to get wasted.”

“We expected it,” says barman Francois Dedieu. “We weren’t surprised.”

Through it all runs this undercurrent of disenchantment. World Cup teams are often made up of mercenaries with only tangential ties to the motherland. There is also a coming to terms with what France is today, a simmering melting pot.

“There was tension over the racial makeup of the team,” explains David Ng, a Parisian originally from Hong Kong. “We have a saying in China: Doesn’t
matter if it’s a black cat or a white cat. If the cat can catch a mouse, it’s a good cat.”

Thing is, the French have this very twisted notion as to what sports should be. Almost none of the bars have TVs — only flickering candles — and if they did there would be nothing to show. Here, there is only soccer, and a little bike race called the Tour de France. An annual tennis meet warms the summer for a while, and in the south of the country, they have rugby. Strangely, NASCAR has yet to gain a foothold.

Instead of sports, they do all sorts of crazy things with their time. They chase each other around parks and take long, decadent lunches. In America, we’re all eating at our desks and checking Facebook. Here, workers spend the lunch hour at sidewalk tables, sipping coffee and planning their August flings. It’s no way to live, if you ask me, but c’est la vie.

By the way, you should hear me conversing with these French.

“Bonjour, monsieur,” the bellman says.

“Bonjour yourself!” I say back brightly.

The communication between them and me is so rich that I plan to stay on a while. I think I could do them a lot of good. I could open a true sports bar, for example, and perhaps help them acquire an NFL team. Imagine me as the French Ed Roski.

It’s the sort of low-pressure situation in which I generally thrive. And if the team tanks, and anyone complains, I already have the proper French response.

The Louvre is a very nice museum.”

Tom Robinson talked, on, about the two baseball players who led the way into free agency.

“Independence Day.
The day, in the course of human events, when two major-league baseball players dissolved the bands that connected them to their employers, and so were declared by an arbiter to be free and independent athletes.
Dec. 23, 1975, of course.
The birth of a nation of free agents in professional sports.
I wonder if LeBron James knows the history. I wonder if He Who Is About To Get Paid realizes it’s only been 35 years that pro athletes have been able to
pursue money, happiness and championships in any city they choose once their contracts expire.
Such a relative blip in time. But such a revolutionary epic.
Pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally launched and won their fight for freedom, with the help of baseball’s landmark labor leader Marvin Miller and arbiter Peter Seitz.
And nothing about contracting to play pro sports has been the same.
Funny that it seems such a self-evident truth now: a person endowed with athletic talents should be free to exercise them where they are most valued.
However, class, let it be remembered that until ’75, forced allegiance to the crown so to speak – a condition known as the reserve clause – was the law of the land.
Baseball owners had long established the system under which players belonged to their original teams until the original teams said they didn’t. It was tyranny endorsed by the U.S. Supreme Court, and other sports leagues followed that lead.
With no need to bid for talent, the year-to-year offers given to those who wished to play ball for pay had one mandate: take it or leave it.
Curt Flood of the St. Louis Cardinals fired the first shots at the reserve clause in 1969. They were in vain, but a seed had been planted among the subjects,
who in ’70 won salary arbitration through collective bargaining.
Then, a year before Messersmith and McNally, the late Catfish Hunter – of Hertford County, N.C. – became free to sign a big-dollar deal with the Yankees when Seitz ruled Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley had breached Hunter’s contract.
Still, it was the simultaneous rebellion of Messersmith and McNally, who died in 2002, that established the new day in pro sports.
Unhappy with their offers for the ’75 season – Messersmith’s from the Dodgers, McNally’s from the Montreal Expos – the pitchers refused to sign. They played on, though McNally retired in June, at their previous salaries, but after the season Miller filed the Jeffersonian grievance heard ’round the sports world:
To paraphrase Miller, those two players had technically played without contracts. Ergo, they were now free players.
Seitz agreed. All leagues, once again, eventually followed.
And just as every King long dreaded, compensation in the unchained market quickly rose like rockets into the sky, their glare reflecting upon the fortunes of a new and prosperous people.
A freedom we reflect upon today, ironically, as the fist of King James exerts its power throughout the land.”

Norman Chad is upset with Al Gore’s internet, that’s allowing others to create social networking sites in his name.

“This is the first of two columns raising Couch Slouch concerns about the Internet. If I get tossed off the World Wide Web, I can only hope the real wide
world will take me back.
On Twitter, I have more than 2,900 followers. One problem — I don’t have a Twitter account.
On Facebook, you can read this exact sentence: “Norman Chad is on Facebook.” This is rather disturbing because, well, I’m not on Facebook.
And on MySpace, you can find four different MySpace pages — complete with photographs — citing my various biographical information, likes and dislikes.
Will the real Slim Slouch please stand up? None of the four is me.
Even if I had been a fan of the newfangled social networking sites, this burgeoning online identity theft would’ve turned me against another of the Internet’s unrelentingly dangerous byproducts.
(At MySpace, each of my pages lists a different age: 55, 53, 50 and 26. Boy, if I could only be 26 again; that’s, like, 2 1/2 divorces ago! I do like this: On
one of the pages, under the question, “Who I’d like to meet,” the answer is, “Not really anyone.” Hey, maybe that is me.)
I first discovered I was on Twitter when friends and colleagues started e-mailing me, “I didn’t know you were on Twitter.” So I went to Twitter and there I was — my name, the usual unflattering photo and tweets galore.
As it turns out, my Twitter account is simply stuff I say during ESPN’s World Series of Poker telecasts. That’s it — somebody is just watching the endless
reruns of poker, writing down my “witticisms” and posting them online on a daily basis.
This would seem rather benign, except . . .
1. Many of the quotes are inaccurate.
2. What if something slanderous or offensive is posted inappropriately?
3. Shouldn’t an individual be able to protect his own name by not allowing others to pose as that individual in a public forum?
So I attempted to contact Twitter.
After a few futile days, I felt like Indiana Jones searching for the Lost Ark.
At Twitter, you can click on a “Contact Us” tab. I am challenging anyone — and offering $1.25 — if you can actually find a way to contact Twitter at its
contact page.
I finally found a form under “Customer Support” that I filled out, detailing my problem.
I received an automated response that read in part, “Your request made it to Twitter Support. Someone from our support team will review it as soon as
Two days later, I received another automated response: “Hi. Thanks for the mail and sorry for the delay in response. Are you still experiencing the problem that you have reported? Did you check our known issue page? We might be aware of the problem and must be working on them! Here is the link. . . . If your problem is not listed here, please write back to me and I will be more than glad to assist you!”
Even though I appreciated the two exclamation points — such enthusiasm! — I quickly saw what I was up against; frankly, becoming pen pals with An
Automated Response seemed like an e-postal dead end.
I also sent an old-fashioned snail-mail letter to Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters, but considering I didn’t even have a name to address it to, I may as well have put a message in a bottle and dropped it in the Crimean Sea.
To be sure, Twitter is here to stay. The 140-character format, launched in 2006, attracts 60 million tweets a day. Heck, the Dalai Lama — @DalaiLama — is on Twitter, tweeting spiritual tidbits.
(By the way, where did they come up with 140 characters? Uh, 140? That’s like the 24-second shot clock, or pi; I would’ve gone with 99 or 139 — sexier
numbers, shorter tweets.)
At this point, I figure I no longer can fight my own pirated Twitter account; I should just sit back and see what I have to say.
Besides, I’d like to have 5,000 followers by my birthday, whenever that may be.

Ask The Slouch
Q. Rolling Rock was bought and you stopped drinking it. Now Pabst Blue Ribbon has been bought — your move, Mr. PBR Me ASAP. (Joe Hinton;
A. Everything near and dear has either been sold out from under me or walked away on the eve of my second, or sixth, anniversary. So I’ve learned to drink alone, though I’m hopeful that Toni — a.k.a. She Is The One (And Then Some) — sticks around, cooks a nice coq au vin and remembers to chill the PBR, pending my investigation of its new owners.

Q. Can you explain America to me in 25 words or less? (Christopher Haynes; Hayward, Calif.)  
A. Capitalism is one big casino: The big banks are the house, and the house never loses; the rest of America is just rolling the dice, and, eventually, most of us crap out. But that’s 32 words.

Q. In tennis, players — upon winning the match — always seem to fall to the ground in joy and disbelief. Did any of your ex-wives have a similar reaction
upon leaving the courthouse? (Dan Zenner; Sturtevant; Wis.)                                                                               
A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!”

Thomas Boswell writes for the DC Post and his columns recently have reflected an attitude change in Nats’ rooters.

At the midpoint of their season Friday, the Nationals pondered two intertwined questions. Are they close to being a winning team, as they seemed in April and May (record: 26-26), or are they as bad as they looked in June (8-19)? If they’re not as good as they had hoped, should they react to their recent fold by trading sluggers Adam Dunn or Josh Willingham for prospects before the July 31 deadline?
The answers are clear. The Nats are much better than last year. They’ll come out of their recent funk. And they’ll be better still in 2011. Once team brass
understands this, they’ll get their second answer, too: The Nats would be nuts to trade Dunn or Willingham.
However, it’s far from clear that the Nats grasp the situation. On Sunday, General Manager Mike Rizzo described the team as “underachieving,” “playing bad baseball” and “not a team that should be 10 games under .500.” Then, Thursday, Manager Jim Riggleman said “time is running out” for the current group of players to prove that it should be kept together beyond this month. Then, after his walk-off RBI on Thursday night, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman told me how worried he is that the Nats won’t keep together their Zimmerman-Dunn-Hammer power trio.
“The last month wasn’t good. But there is plenty of time. We haven’t gotten hot even one time this year. But we will. It’s going to happen,” said Zimmerman,
after the Nats beat the Mets, 2-1, in the bottom of the ninth. “We shouldn’t overreact to a bad month.
“To me, the hardest thing to get in baseball is strong 3-4-5 hitters. We have it. Why break it up and then just have to rebuild it?” said Zimmerman, who has
teamed with Dunn and Willingham to give the Nats arguably the second-best heart of the order in the National League this season, behind the Cardinals.
“I’m signed for the next three years. It’s not my decision or my money to spend, but it seems like you’d want to extend [the contracts of] Dunn and Willingham to keep us together and see what we can accomplish,” Zimmerman said. “People are talking about breaking it up. Man, we’re way too close right now to do that.
The front office “knows how we feel. The three of us get along together, but what’s important is that we think we’re pretty good together,” he added. “I’m
staying [in D.C.]. But it’d sure be nice to lock those two guys up so I’d have some partners in crime.”
Dunn, Willingham and Zimmerman rank 7th, 11th and 17th in the National League, respectively, in on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) and are on track for a
season like 2009, when they combined for 95 homers. Their RBI totals, and the Nats’ run-scoring (24th in MLB), have been disappointing for several
reasons. The Nats’ top two hitters in the order have low on-base percentages, which reduces RBI chances. The rest of the lineup is bereft of home run
power. And the three sluggers have unusually high solo-homer totals, probably a temporary fluke.
The idea that you improve this situation by subtracting a power hitter or even two of them — rather than work to add an on-base artist and another bat with punch for 2011 — is bizarre at best, penny-wise at worst. Remember ’08, when Lastings Milledge often batted cleanup and the Nats’ team leader in home runs had 14? Those Nats were unwatchable.
These Nats have, within the past month, dashed up from 25th in attendance to 20th as Stephen Strasburg arrived and larger crowds came with him. In a year when MLB attendance is declining, the Nats are one of the few teams gaining both fans and buzz. Is this the time to deal off a top-20-in-the-league hitter for prospects?
Yet Nats execs have confirmed that they are listening to offers; that means Dunn and/or Willingham, because no other veteran would fetch much more than a bag of balls.
Are the Nats simply dreaming that a steal deal will fall in their laps? Fine. That’s wise. But that’s not the only explanation. Do they doubt that they’ll be given the payroll to re-sign Dunn, probably for three more years, and also be able to afford Willingham when arbitration will jump his salary in 2011 (his last year under team control)?
When money is involved, almost any negative argument seems to scare the Nats. The idea that Dunn, 30, and Willingham, 31, will somehow get old in a hurry is a concern, but not a deal-breaker. In these bad economic times, teams are in the driver’s seat. You don’t have to do contracts that take these guys to their 35th birthday, often a drop-off point for large sluggers.
Is there risk? Yes. Is it worth taking? Absolutely.
Even Riggleman has indicated that, if the Nats don’t shape up soon, that July 31 date may bring out the old argument: We’re losing with you; we can lose
without you.
“You can’t make that strong suggestion to keep this group together when you’re not winning enough ballgames to justify it,” Riggleman said this week. “We have time, but time is running out. We need to get it going and make it clear that we don’t need to overhaul it, because we can do better with this group right here.”
When the manager talks about “time running out” on a team on pace for a dozen-game improvement, with sensible prospects for another such jump in 2011, something is amiss in the reality vs. expectations equation. This is a team that’s overcome a combined 2-8 record from John Lannan and Jason Marquis, its Game 1 and 2 starters in April.
If the Nats show confidence in their roster, and demonstrate a willingness to make commitments to players such as Dunn and Willingham who have earned it, then they may reduce some of the tension in the locker room and see better play.
The Nats are much improved. But, especially on defense, they’re not a winning team yet. They must wait for Jordan Zimmermann and other injured
pitchers to return. Their true rotation may not jell until next March. They don’t need trade-deadline subtraction. They need offseason additions. Let
second-half production tell you what positions need help. And, at an appropriate time, they need to lock up Zimmerman’s “partners in crime.”
But, for heaven sake, don’t blow up what’s already built. The Nats have a young ace, a potentially solid rotation by 2011 and a fine Clip-Store-and-Save bullpen. They have gifted but raw everyday rookies in Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina, plus good team leaders who’ve kept morale intact. And they’ve got core 3-4-5 hitters who are the envy of more than 20 teams. Compared to just one year ago, when the Nats were a national joke, that is real progress.
Build on it. Don’t tear it down.

Jerry Crowe reported in his “Crowe’s Nest” column for the LA Times about Archie Roberts, “After playing only one game as a professional in the 1960s,
Roberts focused on a career as a surgeon. He now has partnered with the NFL Players Assn. to screen retired players for heart disease.”

“Archie Roberts knew he faced daunting, almost impossibly long odds, but he was young, ambitious and maybe a little naive.

He wanted to be a surgeon and a professional football player.

So there he was in the mid-1960s, the Columbia graduate and aspiring quarterback endeavoring to make an impression on the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins while also attending medical school, a daunting double few would even attempt.

Roberts, his professional football experience limited to one game, ultimately left a more indelible legacy with a scalpel than a football, performing more than 4,000 open-heart procedures during 2½ decades as a cardiovascular surgeon.

More recently, he founded the Living Heart Foundation, which pioneered advanced mobile methods for cardiovascular screening in an attempt to raise awareness about heart disease.

Concerned about the increasing size of NFL players and the risks associated with the added weight, Roberts has partnered with the NFL Players Assn. to
screen retired players.

“It’s really something wonderful,” Andre Collins, a former NFL linebacker and director of the NFLPA’s retired players division, says of the program. “There
have been life-threatening situations that have been avoided because of these routine screenings.”

Roberts, 67, estimates that about 1,500 former players have been tested so far, with about 10,000 more to go.

“It feels natural and comfortable,” the physician passer says of his return to the NFL universe all these years later. “I can make a contribution where I feel
there has been a real need.”

A three-sport letterman as a prep star in Holyoke, Mass., and again at Columbia, Roberts decided before he ever set foot on the Ivy League campus in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights neighborhood that he would pursue a career in medicine.

But his football and baseball success at Columbia, where he set numerous Ivy League records in football and was an All-American shortstop, gave him
opportunities he never anticipated.

The Kansas City Athletics, he says, wanted to make him a high pick in the 1965 amateur baseball draft — but only if the undergraduate would leave school a semester early.

The New York Jets showed interest too, making him the 51st pick in the 1965 AFL draft — after making Joe Namath the first.

“It was tempting,” Roberts says over coffee during a late-morning interview at a midtown Manhattan eatery. “The money in sports back then wasn’t what it is now, but to a kid that had very little money, from a small town in western Massachusetts, any kind of money like they were talking about, whether it was football or baseball, would have been appreciated.

“But it was not meant to be for me because of the way I was brought up and the value systems I had developed.”

Medicine was his mission.

But then the Browns made an offer he couldn’t refuse: In a deal brokered by owner Art Modell, a transplanted New Yorker, they paid for Roberts to study
medicine at Case Western Reserve University while basically working part-time for the Browns.

For two seasons, Roberts joined the Browns at training camp, stayed with them through the exhibition season and then was assigned to the taxi squad as an emergency backup.

“In today’s age, it wouldn’t be possible,” he says of the arrangement, “but even in those days, it was way out.”

Roberts, however, longed to do more than sit and watch.

In 1967, sensing a greater opportunity elsewhere and without objection from the Browns, he signed with the Dolphins, who had joined the AFL as an
expansion team a year earlier.

“But as luck would have it,” Roberts says, laughing, ” Bob Griese was drafted and came in that year.”

During a semester’s leave of absence from medical school, however, Roberts finally got onto the field.

In a 41-0 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, he completed five of 10 passes for 11 yards, with one interception.

And that was that.

He never played again and, after the season, returned to med school to resume his studies. A few years later, Roberts launched a distinguished career as a cardiologist.

Settled in Little Silver, N.J., with wife Nancy, the grandfather of six looked forward to several more years of open-heart procedures when, in 1997, he felt numbness in his right arm and helplessly slurred his words while giving a lecture.

He had suffered a stroke.

“I was a doctor giving advice to my patients but not living healthy myself,” says the 6-foot, 190-pound Roberts, who at the time carried an additional 25
pounds. “There were risk factors that any good doctor would have recognized — I had put on weight and my cholesterol was high — yet I was too busy
doing my thing.

“And that’s pretty stupid.”

The stroke may have prematurely ended Roberts’ surgical career, but it led him back to the NFL through his foundation.

What if, years ago, he’d devoted his full attention to football?

“I’ve often wondered,” Roberts says. “I’ll always wonder. But I can never answer the question.”

Thousands of heart patients, of course, are the better for it.

Phil Rogers of the ChiTrib wants to make the All-Star Game mean a lot more than a photo-op.
“Commissioner Bud Selig has vastly improved the All-Star Game since that embarrassing 2002 tie in Milwaukee.
A lot of people don’t like using it to determine home-field advantage in the World Series, but it’s a better alternative than merely rotating home fields on a yearly basis, which is how the Twins wound up hosting Game 7 in 1987 and ’91. The game has become much more competitive.
Selig has expanded rosters for the 2010 game in Anaheim, Calif., and made managers’ lives easier by requiring that starting pitchers who work on the
previous Sunday be replaced on the active All-Star roster. But he didn’t go far enough with the changes announced in April.
It’s time to eliminate the rule requiring each of the 30 teams to send a player to the game.
Call the change the Robert Fick/Dmitri Young rule, for the players who represented the Tigers in ’02 and ’03, when they lost 105 and 119 games.
Voting by fans and players will select 50 of the 68 players who will be announced Sunday as All-Stars. Managers Joe Girardi and Charlie Manuel then have discretion to round out the rosters, but easily half of those picks could end up being used on players from the teams overlooked in voting.
Don’t be surprised if as many as 10 teams don’t have a player voted on, including the $144 million Cubs.
Most teams that don’t have a player voted onto the team do have someone who won’t look too awkward when teams are introduced.
Nationals closer Matt Capps entered the weekend with 22 saves. The Royals’ Joakim Soria had 20 saves. A’s sinkerballer Trevor Cahill was 8-2 with a
2.74 ERA. Orioles infielder Ty Wigginton had 14 homers and 42 RBI.
But what are you going to do with the Astros? Roy Oswalt’s 5-10, so he’s out. Would you rather have speedy center fielder Michael Bourn (25 steals) or
closer Matt Lindstrom (19 saves, 2.97 ERA)?
And the Pirates? The guy having the best year is setup man Evan Meek, but setup men tend to be invisible. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen has a ..301
batting average, 19 stolen bases and much talent, which probably will get him the call even though his stat line is unremarkable.
And the Diamondbacks? Dan Haren is 7-6 but his ERA is 4.56. The lineup is loaded with low-average, high-strikeout hitters who have double-figure home runs and 35-plus RBI. You might as well put names in a hat and draw them out. Chris Young? Justin Upton? Kelly Johnson? Adam LaRoche?
Oddly, the big-ticket Cubs are almost as difficult to decipher.
Carlos Silva is probably the most deserving, but he was 5-18 for the Mariners in 2008-09. Do you think Manuel wants to run him out against American
League hitters?
Centerfielder Marlon Byrd and setup man Sean Marshall are worth consideration, but there are so many more deserving outfielders and pitchers in the NL.
Even Alfonso Soriano can’t be ruled out. He leads the Cubs in home runs, RBIs and OPS (on-base plus slugging) and could be used as a designated hitter or pinch hitter.
But it’s time to stop squeezing guys like these onto the roster. It’s a game for the guys who are playing the best, so why not make that the primary
A keeper: Not much has gone right for the Indians, but it looks like they have handled catcher Carlos Santana just right.
Santana, acquired from the Dodgers in the 2008 Casey Blake trade, has been killing the ball since he was promoted from Triple A, showing why he has
been advertised as a future batting champion. He was hitting .333 with four home runs and 14 RBIs through his first 17 games.
“And he’s seeing all these pitchers for the first time,” Indians broadcaster Rick Manning said. “Wait until he learns them.”
The 23-year-old Santana, like the Braves’ Jason Heyward, has advanced strike-zone judgment for a rookie. He has almost twice as many walks (13) as
strikeouts (7), boosting his on-base percentage to .456.
“He was that kind of hitter in the minor leagues, and we knew it would continue when he got up here, and might even get better,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “When you’re a patient hitter in the minors, and then come up here where the umpires are better and the strike zones are tighter, patient hitters can draw even more walks.”
Taking no chances: Jeremy Jeffress, considered the Brewers’ top pitching prospect before he began a run of three suspensions for marijuana use, has
returned from a 100-game ban. He will be banned for life if he tests positive again.
But Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin has placed Jeffress on the 40-man roster, which will shield him from pot testing. The players’ union, which generally
doesn’t allow MLB to test for “drugs of abuse,” should protect him now.
Melvin claimed the move was made to reward Jeffress, not to protect him.
“He has been a model citizen with his counseling, rehab, everything,” Melvin said. “We would have had to put him on (the 40-man) at the end of the year
anyway, and we thought he deserved to be put on now.”
Melvin says Jeffress has maintained his “electric arm.” He has been moved to the bullpen, and the Brewers hope he can put himself into big-league
consideration within a year.
Silver lining: Joe Maddon’s new favorite team is the 1917 White Sox.
They were managed by Pants Rowland and featured Shoeless Joe Jackson, Ray Schalk and Eddie Cicotte. They also won the World Series after being
twice no-hit during the season, as Maddon’s Rays have been this year (Dallas Braden’s perfect game, Edwin Jackson).
“I’m looking for that positive vibe, and there it was,” Maddon said.
The last word: “People say, ’Who’s the best player?’ (Albert) Pujols. I’ll give you that. But offensively, Miguel (Cabrera) is now every bit as good as
Pujols.” – Chipper Jones after the Braves played the Tigers.”

Mike Wise of the DC Post reported that ex-Redskins coach is trying to give NFL players some advice about their post-career lives.
“Unbeknownst to all but a handful of people, Joe Gibbs spent most of two days at Redskins Park on June 1-2. He met with many of the team’s key veterans, two of their wives and about 20 players in all, sandwiching the time during the team’s offseason training activities.
He is involved. Very involved.
“I wanted to give back,” Gibbs said in a telephone interview. “I just thought this was something I could do for the players.”
Joe Gibbs talked money  early last month. For help, he enlisted two university professors with Harvard MBAs.
He humbly spoke of how, during the early 1980s in Washington, Gibbs lost his personal fortune because of financial ignorance. How he felt helpless when
several of his former players — some in contract disputes — confessed to him about making bad business decisions that negatively affected their careers. And how every team in the NFL needs the kind of OTA that recently transpired in Ashburn: a free-of-charge financial seminar Gibbs partnered with Strayer University to put on.
“What Coach Gibbs felt compelled to do means a lot,” said London Fletcher, a Pro Bowl linebacker who took part in the nine-hour, three-session class over
a week and a half with teammates Phillip Daniels, Kedric Golston, Reed Doughty and other players. The wives of Daniels and Golston also attended.
“I’m fairly conservative — some would say tight,” Fletcher added. “But I have friends who have situations where once they’re done playing, they fell on hard times. Is it needed? We just saw a stat that after retirement about 80 percent of players end up in financial ruin. What do you think?”
According to a 2009 Sports Illustrated 78 percent of all NFL players go bankrupt or are in financial duress just two years into retirement. Which makes the furor of the past month feel a little like small potatoes, no?
For all the consternation over a certain lineman not showing his face around Redskins Park, Albert Haynesworth could have used that seminar more than a new defensive scheme; he currently faces three lawsuits and other legal filings
Mark Brunell, the former Redskins quarterback who has signed playing contracts for $52 million during his career, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week because he could no longer pay off a series of bad business loans when a housing investment backfired.
Young, black defensive stars.
Aging, white quarterbacks.
Hall of Fame coaches.
As Gibbs learned a long time ago, banks don’t discriminate at collection time.
About the time he won his first of three Super Bowls and started to become the most revered sports figure in Washington’s history, Gibbs got involved in an Oklahoma real estate deal that went belly up. He lost everything because he didn’t understand his liability if another person signed on his behalf.
“It probably took [his wife] Pat and me four and a half years to pay off our debts,” Gibbs said. “I just didn’t know anything, like the difference between a
simple partnership and a LLC.”
He also remembered some of his dejected former players who confided in him. “To be quite truthful, when a player who was very good or great had that
going on while he was playing, it affected him; I could see it,” Gibbs said. “I just felt helpless. There really wasn’t a lot I could do there, you know?”
Hence, Gibbs’s brainstorm a couple of months ago: Instead of one NFL-sponsored seminar players could sign up for at a certain time of year, why not bring the class to the training facility?
Said Robert Silberman, the chairman and chief executive of Strayer Education, Inc., Gibbs “came to us and essentially asked, ‘Can you put together a short course where they can ask the right questions of their financial advisers, attorneys and agents?’ As he put it, he thought there was a real dearth of instruction and education. His concern was a number of pro athletes have not had sufficient instruction in finances.”
The next step was getting the owner and the coach to go along, which they willingly did.
“Joe asked us to support this program, and we’re happy to oblige,” Redskins owner Daniel Snyder said through a team spokesman. “Anything that helps
players we’re in full support of.”
When the players shuffled into the room at Redskins Park used for the seminar early last month, Gibbs actually shared his own personal story of financial loss and embarrassment. Then Strayer professors Meghan Rodgers and Angela Harris began.
Investments. Spending habits. Savings. Taxes. Credit cards.
“Something as simple as creating a budget, how to put away money properly, looking at our window of earning opportunity,” Fletcher said. “Or what kind of questions to ask financial advisers, how to set up a business to reduce your liability in case things go wrong.”
Gibbs said of the 20 who took part, “about 15 of ’em were real serious,” and ended up receiving completion certificates after finishing with an online portion of the seminar.
“Some of them have a lot of money now; some of them don’t have a lot of money, relatively speaking,” Gibbs said. “Didn’t matter. I just wanted all those guys I coached with the Redskins to be better prepared in life to handle their finances.
“I said: ‘I’m not going to charge you anything. We’re not recommending any investments. We don’t want to ask you for anything. This is a gift.’ ”
The gift of having something to fall back on once the cheering stops, the gift of not making the same mistakes a young, impressionable man made in his first
steps on the way to Canton because he didn’t know how to protect his assets.
“I’d really like to talk to the league and the union about doing something like this leaguewide,” he said. “Just makes sense.”
When a $100 million defensive lineman hasn’t repaid a $2.38 million loan to a Knoxville, Tenn., bank, when a veteran quarterback is left holding the bag in multiple, failed real estate investments — when just 22 percent of NFL players are thriving two years after they leave the game — as usual it’s hard to argue
with Joe Jackson Gibbs.”