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.
Wow.
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.
Despicable.
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………”

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.”

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
consideration?
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.”

Tom Robinson of HamptonRoads.com said that Stephen Strasburg SHOULD be an All-Star and provided reasons for his thinking.

“The discussion has heated up in the media and is bubbling toward a boil: Should Washington Nationals rookie pitcher Stephen Strasburg be named to the National League All-Star team?
Allow me to join what I hope is a growing chorus by shouting “Absolutely.” “Positively.” And “NL All-Star manager Charlie Manuel, of the Phillies, should be decommissioned if he ignores the Strasasaurus.”
Come on, people. Sending Strasburg to the big event in Anaheim, Calif., on July 13 for the National League side shouldn’t even be debatable.
I know he’s thrown only 25 1/3 innings to date for a bad team. Like a lot of the things being lobbed up against Strasburg, it doesn’t matter.
Strasburg has created one of his sport’s all-time splashiest entrances that, yes, has lived up to every burst of hype. And that’s why he should be an All-Star despite a big-league tenure that began June 8.
He has struck out 41 hitters, the most for a pitcher in his first four games, and has 1.78 ERA. His first start – a 14-strikeout effort over seven innings against
Pittsburgh – is among history’s three or four greatest pitching debuts.
Strasburg has won two of his four starts, took a no-decision in a 2-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox, and last week absorbed his first loss only because his
team’s impotent offense was blanked 1-zip by Kansas City.
And so far, according to a stat I saw in the Washington Post, batters have failed to even touch the ball on more than 41 percent, a league-leading number, of their flailings at Strasburg’s 100-mph fastballs and 90-mph changeups.
This is a game that’s supposed to be about stars? Then Strasburg, 21, has to be there. Remember, the starting lineups, minus the pitcher, are determined by
fans stuffing ballot boxes – i.e. it’s a popularity contest. So who in the last month’s been more popular than Strasburg?
Fans want to see him pitch, and that will translate into big broadcast numbers when Strasburg works his inning – two, probably not – in Anaheim.
They will clamor after him on the autograph lines.
And don’t forget, although I wish we could, baseball a while back ridiculously set this game up to determine which league gets home-field advantage in the
World Series.
In that case, how could Manuel, whose Phillies are trying to return to the Series for a third straight year, not slobber over having two or three innings covered by Strasburg and Colorado’s crazy-dominant Ubaldo Jimenez (13-1, 1.60 ERA)?
The fact is, designating Strasburg as one of the 13 NL All-Star hurlers makes so much sense, on so many levels, that tradition-bound “baseball” almost
certainly will fight the tide rather than roll with it.
Baseball always does this kind of thing, and it is constantly infuriating.
Baseball will say Strasburg, who has been quiet and unassuming and talks in the media only when spoken to – and then only about his most recent start – hasn’t yet paid enough dues to be handed an All-Star berth.
Time hasn’t allowed him to give the game sufficient reverence. He is so good, and he has come crashing onto the scene so brilliantly, that he should somehow have to pay for it. Baseball’s cob-webbed mentality actually promotes this.
It’s silly. Same for the argument that a borderline-deserving veteran, one perhaps who has labored for All-Star consideration, could be bumped from the roster for the sake of a one-month rookie.
You know what? Life’s a…. um, life’s tough.
Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker was asked last week whether Strasburg should be an All-Star despite his minimal service time. “In my opinion, not yet,” he said.
And so comes another example of baseball’s fossilized, unwritten codes of “respect” when, as an industry, it really ought to be passing out hats and horns. To have a talent and an eyeball magnet like Strasburg is something to be celebrated, and not just in Washington either, instead of tempered.
Fortunately, as the Post story notes, there is one potential saving grace for Strasburg-files should Manuel be cowed by his sport’s maddening reluctance to promote individuals as aggressively as other pro sports do.
Five players from each league are nominated for a final vote that allows fans to choose one each for the AL and the NL teams.
Should Manuel go old-school or scaredy cat and force the phenom onto that ballot – he would be put on that ballot, right, baseball? – stuffing the box for him should be encouraged.
In fact, it would be the second-best thing to happen to baseball this season next to, yep, the arrival of Stephen Strasburg.”

Barbara Barker of Newsday gives this update on the “Baby Yanks”.
“The act of fathers playing catch with sons is one of the most hallowed rituals of baseball, one of the most revered building blocks of the game.
But what if a kid doesn’t have a father? Or his father is too busy working to play ball? Or his family is simply too overwhelmed with day-to-day life to pay much attention to a kid’s baseball dreams?
“If you love baseball and you want to work hard and stay away from trouble, it doesn’t matter where you come from,” coach Ray Negron told members of his Long Island summer league team at a recent practice at Bay Shore High School. “That is what this team is all about.”
This team is Hank’s Baby Yanks, an 18-and-under summer league team of 18 kids who play at Baseball Heaven in Yaphank. The Baby Yanks are funded by
Yankees co-owner Hank Steinbrenner with various Yankees players, including A.J. Burnett and Robinson Cano, kicking in some money for travel and extras.
Many of the players are from single-parent homes. Some have been involved with gangs and one is a teenage parent. Most would not be able to afford to play on a team at this level without an assist from the Yankees.
“Baseball is just a steppingstone for these young kids who will hopefully turn into successful men in whatever field they choose,” Hank Steinbrenner said in an e-mail to Newsday. “I’m glad that the Yankees and I are able to play a small role in the development of these young kids. My dad always believed in second chances, and a second chance is what these individuals are getting.”
And it’s quite a second chance. This is no ordinary youth baseball team. In January, Hank’s Baby Yanks traveled to Tampa, Fla., to play at the Yankees’
training facility in front of pro scouts. Last month, they got to attend batting practice before a Yankees game against the Orioles and talk to manager Joe
Girardi and many of the players. There is some talk that later this season, the team might play at Yankee Stadium while the Yankees are on the road.
Negron, a special assistant for the Yankees who organizes many charity and community events, is quick to tell his players that his father wasn’t a part of his life when he was growing up in the South Bronx. “George Steinbrenner, baseball and the Yankees saved my life,” Negron said.
It’s a message that Jonathan Smith, a 17-year-old from Bay Shore, can relate to. Having lost both his parents, Smith lives with his grandmother. He doesn’t
remember his father, who died when he was a baby, but he and his mother were extremely close. He was devastated when she died of a heart attack when he was 14.
“Ray came from nothing to something, and I understand where he’s coming from,” Smith said. “I’ve gone through so much that a lot of people said there was no hope for me. But baseball is my dream; it’s what I live for. When I was little, I used to practice in the backyard all by myself. That’s how much I loved it. I know to make this dream happen, I have to work at it.”
The player who is closest to making his dream happen is Leonel Vinas, 18, the team’s star pitcher. Vinas moved from the Dominican Republic to Freeport as a teenager with his brother Mariano, who is an outfielder on the team. Vinas opened the season by striking out 18 in a 5-0 win over the Long Island Giants, and last weekend he threw privately for the Rangers and the Indians.
Said Vinas: “What I like about this team is everyone comes from different places and backgrounds, but it doesn’t matter because we all have the same dream.
We all love baseball and we all want to make it.”

Bill Plaschke of the LA Times talked about some American World Cup aims.

“The United States is giddy, grateful, gushing over soccer.

The president of the U.S. Soccer Federation says, “I think this has got to be the greatest win in U.S. soccer history.”

The goalkeeper pitches a shutout and says, “This is big, big news…. People in America have to understand this is huge.”

Landon Donovan scores a goal and says, “It’s like a dream.”

All of this after Wednesday’s World Cup victory against Algeria?

No, all of this eight years ago after a second-round World Cup victory against Mexico.

You see, we’ve been here before. But, this being soccer, we just don’t act like it.

I am as thrilled as anyone about Donovan’s extra-time goal to beat Algeria and give the U.S. its first group victory in World Cup history. I screamed. I jumped.
It was cool.

But I just can’t understand why everyone is tearfully acting as if it were another Miracle on Ice. I can’t understand why we continually diminish soccer — and thus inhibit its growth — by continually setting its expectations so low in the face of opposing evidence so thick.

The miracle is that, after six consecutive World Cup appearances including that final-eight showing in 2002, we still go crazy over early World Cup success.

The miracle is that, in a country where you can’t leave your home on a Saturday morning without encountering at least one child wearing a baggy soccer uniform and clutching a juice box, we’re still acting as if soccer is some newfangled cult activity.

This miracle is that, even against a team that did not score a goal in three World Cup games and has never advanced past the group stage, we insist on
celebrating like the underdog.

I loved the video that showed different parts of America cheering Donovan’s goal, but shouldn’t that rejoicing have been filled with more relief? We should
have won that game because we were clearly the better team. We should advance to the round of 16 because, well, we’re the 14th-ranked team in the world.

I suspect that one reason U.S. soccer does not become a superpower is because, as fans, we don’t demand it. We don’t pressure a losing coach like a
Southeastern Conference football crowd. We don’t push a struggling player like a New York baseball crowd. We blister an NBA coach for ripping a referee, yet we allow soccer players to fire away.

We give soccer excuses it doesn’t need, then shower it with praise for a job it hasn’t finished. We treat American soccer like a precocious prodigy instead of a burgeoning powerhouse. The youth soccer movement in this country is at least 30 years old, Major League Soccer is 15 years old — isn’t it time for everyone to grow up?

Landon Donovan has been this team’s leader for, like, forever, so he should be expected to be in the middle of the winning goal. Tim Howard is one of the
best goalkeepers in the world; he should be expected to stop shots. More than 3 million kids playsoccer in this country, we should be able to find a dozen or
so to beat a nation that can’t match our soccer program in funding or accomplishment.

This is not an anti-soccer column. On the contrary, it may be the most pro-soccer column you will read this week.

I respect the sport. My children played it. My university won a national championship in it. I respect soccer too much to compromise its potential by accepting the old stereotypes that drag it down.

Our best athletes play other sports? Somehow the U.S ski team can figure out a way to beat the Austrians, and the U.S. swim team can beat the Australians,
and there aren’t any tight ends in either sport. Our children don’t grow up with the sport as in other countries? Um, who do you think coined the phrase “soccer mom”?

I know, I know, I’m an uneducated hack, I don’t understand the evolution of the world’s most beautiful game, soccer is different, soccer needs time, blah, blah, blah. I do know this. In any other national team sport, if one of our teams is good enough to reach the world’s final eight in 2002, we would expect nothing less eight years later.

Which brings me to Saturday’s second-round game against Ghana. Despite what you may read, the only Cinderella here is the other team.

The U.S. is ranked 18 places higher in the world than Ghana. The U.S. has six consecutive World Cup appearances; this is only Ghana’s second. Despite a
loss to the Black Stars four years ago, the U.S. is light-years ahead of Ghana in age, experience and funding. This is not a gift game. This is a must-win game.

Now, if the U.S. team can win two more times and make the Final Four for the first time? Well, that’s something. That’s progress. That’s an awakening. That’s
big-boy soccer.

Until then, don’t just cheer for their success, but demand that success, and stop treating them like children.”

Ron Borges of  the Boston Herald looked at the impact of that win over Algeria.

“Judging by the first two weeks of World Cup broadcasts, the most overused word in soccer is not futbol. It’s nil.
Generally, nil is not what you’re looking for when it comes to sports, but in soccer it’s too often what you get. Yet, this morning, it is the precisely appropriate word for the likely long-term effect the United States’ 1-nil victory over Algeria yesterday will have on the future growth of American soccer.
Nil.
Sure, it was satisfying to finally see Landon Donovan kick an object smaller than a basketball into a goal bigger than the state of Vermont for the win in the 91st minute in South Africa, but the breathless way ex-Revolution pitch man Alexi Lalas talked about it, you would have thought the United States had just won something of note.
It’s true the win was the United States’ first World Cup victory in eight years. It’s great that it allowed the U.S. national team to finish atop its first-round group for the first time since the original World Cup in 1930, even if it did win only one game by, of course, the score of 1-nil.
It was better still that the Americans advanced into the 16-team knockout round because now that the World Cup has become an elimination tournament many more of us may watch Saturday when the U.S. squares off against Ghana.
We’ll holler when the referees foul up U.S. chances again, even if we don’t understand how they did it. But let’s be real here. Who did it beat to advance?
Algeria?
No disrespect to my Algerian friends. But, truth be told, beating Algeria to declare yourself a soccer power is like beating Peru to become a military power. It doesn’t count for nil, but what’s the word for next to nil? Nyet?
Algeria, after all, was consistently nil throughout the tournament. It failed to score a single goal in three games, apparently concentrating its efforts on withering defense. Hey, it almost worked – with a little help from a Belgian referee who redefined the offside rule, preventing a 2-nil win and what would have been talk of an offensive explosion.
Interest will not be nil when the United States faces Ghana, but interest in soccer in America is like interest in curling in the States. We may get up for it every four years, but as a steady diet? We have nil interest in that.
This reality has been proven many times over. It was even proven after the United States won the women’s World Cup in a dramatic shootout. That
tournament created stars and a new women’s league. Where are they now?
That doesn’t mean no one is excited about what just happened in South Africa. ESPN.com soccer commentator David Hirshey wrote after the United States win: “Make no mistake, June 23, 2010, will go down as one of the defining dates in American soccer. People in the rest of the world can deride the standard of the U.S. game all they want, but now they do so at their own peril. More importantly, the 1-0 victory over Algeria plants the sport’s flag even deeper in the consciousness of U.S. fans who were ready to go back to work had the Americans lost and not advanced.”
Not to rain on the parade, but Donovan & Co. beat Algeria, after all, not Brazil. If getting through to the Round of 16 was all it took for the average American sports fan to finally embrace soccer and begin calling it “the beautiful game!” or something like that, why didn’t it happened when the U.S. got to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup? You remember, don’t you?
This is, of course, a matter of perspective. Ian Darke, the veteran BBC commentator on the ESPN broadcast of the U.S.-Algeria game, called Donovan’s goal, “breathtakingly exciting.”
We’d call it a tap-in, being as how he was standing all alone six feet from the goal when the rebound came right to him. But “beathtakingly exciting?”
The chance of the majority of America’s sports fans seeing it that way was, well, nil.”

Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe looked at the first two rounds of the NBA’s draft and said:
“It was always going to be John Wall, and who among us would be surprised if we were to learn somewhere down the road that the clincher was watching Rajon Rondo in the playoffs?
I say that because Wall, like Rondo, like Steve Nash, like Chris Paul, and like Derrick Rose, is a one-man fast break. Get him out on the open floor, and you have someone who can take it coast-to-coast against any retreating defense. That outweighed any worries about his expertise in the half court (where he has turned it over a bit too much), and, in the end, is why the Washington Wizards made him the first pick of the 2010 NBA draft.
Is he as good an all-around player as Evan Turner, whom the 76ers took at No. 2? Probably not. The 6-foot-7-inch Turner was the darling of league purists, a polished, poised, versatile inside-out threat who, because we a re a sports society that always cries out for comparisons, has been continually likened to Portland’s Brandon Roy. Turner is a safe, solid pick. Wall is a sexy pick. The Wizards, who were last truly relevant in the Jimmy Carter administration, need sexy. Actually, they need everything. Wall makes sense for them.
So there was no surprise here. The fun started with the third pick.
The question was simple: who would bite on DeMarcus Cousins?
On paper, the answer should have been “Everybody.’’ Cousins is 6-11, rugged, very clever inside, and clearly the best rebounder of the bunch. He also got better as the season progressed, not a surprising development since he is just a kid, albeit a feisty one.
And that was part of the problem. Cousins was a highly demonstrative player who had run-ins with coach John Calipari (who downplays them now),
referees, and, frankly, himself. The second warning flag was conditioning. It was a major part of every preseason Kentucky analysis and it was a major topic as he went through the predraft process. It did not help his image, or his chances of going in the top two or three, when he was officially weighed at 290-plus when his desired playing weight is about 270.
The final issue was that there was a standard of comparison, Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors, another large young man with similar skills. The two, in fact, have been in competition in some form for a long time.
Favors did not carry the baggage Cousins did, and when the New Jersey Nets went to bat in the third spot they opted for Favors.
Cousins had to wait until the fifth pick to hear commissioner David Stern announce his name, as Sacramento’s pick. Minnesota had No. 4, and it decided on another nice, safe pick, Syracuse forward Wesley Johnson. He is a 6-7 transfer from Iowa State who had one of the great all-around seasons in Syracuse history, and that’s saying something when you’re discussing one of the great programs of the last 35 years.
So Cousins went fifth, and his college coach says Washington, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Minnesota had better take heed. “He’s the kind of kid who will never forget who passed him up,’’ John Calipari told ESPN this week. “When he’s 35, and in the league 15 years, he’ll always remember who passed him by and he will want to drop 50 on them.’’
Wall and Cousins were two of a record-five Kentucky players taken in the first 29 picks. Kentucky is the fourth school to have at least four first-round picks, the others being, not surprisingly, Duke, North Carolina, and Connecticut. The other Wildcat selections were forward Patrick Patterson, guard Eric Bledsoe, and backup center Daniel Orton. Patterson went to Houston at No. 14, Bledsoe will wind up with the Clippers after being taken by Oklahoma City at No. 18, and Orton is a noted shot-blocker who went to Orlando at No. 29.
There is usually much tittering about so-and-so “sliding’’ to the point where a team could take him and begin babbling about how “we never thought he’d be there.’’ (Exhibit A: Paul Pierce in 1998). But there didn’t seem to be any such example in this draft. It was a very formful process. You might arch an eyebrow about Butler’s Gordon Hayward going to Utah at No. 9, but no one saw him going much lower than 14. And if anyone in this draft was born to play for Jerry Sloan and the Utah Jazz, it was Gordon Hayward. He probably knows their plays already.
There have been two great trends in recent drafts. One is the rise of the international player. Last year there were six in the first round. This year the only European/Latin American/South American/African/Asian player taken in the first round was Kevin Seraphin, a 6-9 French product selected by Chicago on behalf of Washington at No. 17.
The other trend is to treat four-year players as if they had a communicable disease. The previous low spot to find the first senior taken was No. 12, in both 2002 and 2008. But things reached a new low this year when Clemson’s Trevor Booker, a 6-7 forward, was taken by Minnesota at No. 23.
All in all, it’s a utilitarian draft, not a glamour draft. There might be some nice rotation players in here somewhere, but for sizzle it pretty much begins and ends with John Wall. For vengeance, there will always be Mr. Cousins.”

Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle wrote about things he liked and disliked about the US Open.

Everything I know about golf I learned this week at the U.S. Open. And with luck, I’ll forget it all by Tuesday:

Nobody can play it.

If the nine hottest golfers in the world, with all their fancy clubs and caddies and trainers and massage therapists, can play 18 holes Sunday and only one
of them can break par, what chance do the rest of us slobs have?

“The cream rises!”

That’s what one fan yelled from the bleachers behind the third green Sunday when Tiger Woods curled home a putt for one of the gutsiest scrambling pars of the tournament. Everyone could feel it: Here comes Tiger! He’s got momentum!

BP oil also rises.

Woods bogeyed the next hole, and five of the next nine.

Historical knowledge is overrated.

On Thursday, I asked Graeme McDowell, two shots off the lead, if he had given any thought to the illustrious company he would join (Jack Nicklaus, Tom
Watson, Tom Kite, Woods) if he were to win the Open at Pebble Beach.

He said, “I couldn’t even name one, apart from Tiger Woods, obviously. You know, I’m not a massive golf historian.”

Coincidentally, none of those guys knew who Graeme McDowell was.

Not all great golfers are robots.

This guy McDowell is an absolutely charming and engaging fellow: glib, funny, humble, bright, emotional, thoughtful.

When someone asked him a crazy-long question at the winner’s news conference, he said with a smile, “That’s like one of my answers – kind of long-winded.”

He did not pout or whine once during his four rounds.

I sat in on three of his media chats, enough to know that McDowell does not carry a single cliche in his bag.

Nobody sucks up like golf fans.

You might have thought the reception for Woods by the galleries would have been a mixed bag, and you would have been correct. It was love mixed with weeping adoration.

When Woods walked onto the first tee Sunday, one fan harked back to the previous day, to Woods’ approach shot on the last hole.

“That was a fantastic shot on 18, buddy!” the fan yelled.

Buddy?

When you mobilize a security army to protect Tiger Woods, don’t forget to mix in a fighter plane.

An airplane flew over the course Sunday trailing a sign: “Tiger, are you my daddy?”

Who knew Elin had a pilot’s license?

Golfers are easier to root for if they have nicknames. Lefty, Tiger, Big Easy …

How about Slammin’ Graemey McDowell?

When you’re ready, you’re ready.

McDowell said Thursday, “If I get a sniff Sunday, I’ll certainly be ready for it. … I’m going to be relaxed and disciplined and try to keep control of my emotions and see where that leaves me Sunday afternoon.”

We should pay more attention when an intelligent-sounding man tells us he can win a tournament, even if we haven’t heard of the fellow.

McDowell told the media Thursday that he played the AT&T three times, thus learning Pebble; that he came early to this event to prepare; and, “Between myself and my caddie, I really think we’re very good at putting a game plan together. We’re very sensible, we’re pretty good strategizers when
it comes to that kind of stuff.”

Players are not allowed to run off the course in the middle of the final round, glue on a fake mustache and hitchhike out of town along 17-Mile Drive.

Because if they were, Dustin Johnson would have done so Sunday after the third-round leader went triple-bogey/double-bogey/bogey on Nos. 2, 3 and 4.

It’s hard to be easy.

Ernie Els, the Big Easy, refused to stop for the standard quickie news conference after Sunday’s round. Had Els shot 1-over on the back nine, he would have won his third U.S. Open.

He shot 4-over on the backside. Bye, Big Queasy.

Ain’t no mulligans.

Woods said, “I was telling Steve (caddie Williams), we made three mental mistakes today. The only thing it cost us was a chance to win the U.S. Open.”

A guess what his three mistakes were: Awoke. Got out of bed. Dragged a comb across his head.

Keep your ball below the hole.

That was the mantra of the week, because if you leave yourself downhill putts on the super-fast greens, your rear end is poa annua. The difference between an uphill putt and a downhill putt was the difference between climbing Mount Everest and falling off of it.

A torrid affair cannot be rekindled.

Woods and Pebble Beach once shared a special love, when he won the U.S. Open in 2000 by a preposterous 15 strokes. There are two chances Woods will ever again play the Pebble Beach AT&T Pro-Am – slim, and kiss my poa annua.

It is what it is.

Woods said this repeatedly. It’s a handy phrase that fits every occasion and situation, and says nothing. Somebody needed to ask Woods, “What is it that is?”

The new champion really likes his trophy.

“I don’t think I’ve put down (the silver cup) since they gave it to me,” McDowell said an hour after his win.

Well, they didn’t give it to him. He took it.”

Tom Robinson of HamptonRoads.com talked about the greedy NFL owners.

“The logical, sensible and reasonable thing for the NFL to do is to eliminate 2 of 4 preseason games while keeping the regular season at 16 games. Except we know that, when it comes to bankable – as in revenue – logical, sensible and reasonable stand no chance.
As it stands, NFL franchises get 10 home dates a year to shovel the gold into the vault. To expect them to voluntarily reduce the size of their shovel, for the sake of something silly like the health and safety of the human resources who produce that gold, is, unfortunately, laughable.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady surely knows this despite his recent comment to The Associated Press: “The long-term impact this game has on our bodies is well-documented.”
Sure it is, which doesn’t change the fact that 18 regular season performances are coming. The idea has been floated too often by management during the
drum-beating of collective bargaining discussions to believe it’s not going to happen.
They present two more full-speed chances, then, for life-altering concussions and other lasting ills in a game where collisions change lives weekly. Two more opportunities to damage exhausted bodies before throwing them into the unforgiving cauldron of playoff football.
What’s to like about that plan, except nothing?
I dread the idea, as I suspect most reasonable pro football fans do, but shame on me for mentioning the “R” word again. It has no place at this table.
“I don’t believe it’s a good thing,” said Chesapeake’s Chris Crocker, a safety for the Cincinnati Bengals who is about to enter his eighth season. “I think it’s
motivated by television contracts; more games, more money to be generated from them.”
How much of that money will go to the abused players will have to be worked out in the bargaining process. So, too, will the possible expansion of roster sizes and practice squads in order to meet a more intensive labor schedule.
“I know for sure from a player’s standpoint, we just want to get rid of some of the preseason games in general,” Crocker said.
Of course they do. Practice games are charades as unwatchable for fans as they are unnecessary for players, most of who must stay in top shape year-round because they’re strong-armed into attending a slew of “voluntary” workouts.
Practice games are blatant licenses for franchises, which exploit every advantage, to calculatedly rob consumer bases invested far too emotionally into a business relationship.
I’d love to see the players tell the owners what to do with their two additional bone-breakers. But they probably won’t have the chance before they’re locked out by owners, who are guaranteed TV money in any case, seeking to change the financial status quo.
“There’s definitely going to be a lockout,” Crocker said. “It will happen, there’s no doubt in my mind. That’s (the owners’) leverage. They have all the chips.”
Even so, ram-rodding two more dangerous games onto the schedule would be a boorish, and foolish, display of that muscle.”

Norman Chad posted this explanation on the DC Post.
“On another 100-degree day in the desert, I am taking the temperature of America while sitting in the Rio Casino sports and race book. Yes, Sin City has been devastated by tough times, but the gambling economy, my friends, never dries up completely.
With a bank of 32 screens in front of me, I am again reminded that Sports Nation is controlled by two entities: Television (lately ESPN) and gambling
Where there is a will, there is a way. And where there is a line, there is a wager.
By late morning here, a half-dozen racetracks already are in action, and by late afternoon there will be a dozen baseball games from back East, plus golf and soccer filling the room.
It is Wall Street, minus the inside trading; trust me, Gordon Gekko would go bust within one year of betting the ponies. The house is the only one with an
edge — you never see a sports book downsize, do you? Sure, once on “Seinfeld” that bookie buddy of Kramer’s didn’t have money to pay Jerry for his winning Knicks bet, but in real life, real bookies shop at Benetton and drive Cadillac Escalades.
You can bet on what’s happening today or what might happen six months from now. In either case, you are pinning your financial future on athletic
performance of which you have no control. Frankly, you have a better chance of scaling Mount Everest in a Hyundai than you do of beating the game.
Still, with the odds against us, we can’t stop trying to buck them. Heck, if I were a betting man, I would’ve taken Slovenia +250 on the money line last week against the United States — that means, for a $100 wager, I would’ve won $250 if the Slovenes beat the Americans in the World Cup. But I had one
extraordinarily bad betting week many, many years ago, and now I only gamble on marriage.
Ah, but my gaming misery doesn’t stop others from flooding into sports books such as the Rio.
(Kicking it up a notch is chef Emeril Lagasse, who opened Lagasse Stadium — a sports book-sports bar-dining emporium — last year at the Palazzo here on
the Strip. Let’s say you’re visiting from Pittsburgh and plunk down $50 on your beloved Pirates — while watching them get beat, 9-2, on one of 100
high-definition screens, you now can enjoy Ahi Tuna Melt with Creole Tomato Glaze. Note: Bring cash for your losing bets and two credit cards for your bill.)
A sports and race book is like a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, without the introductions. Everyone just goes about his business and no one cares what you’re doing. At the Rio, the sports book is just across from the thrice-daily buffet, which now offers a $39.99 “all-day pass.” Considering that cocktail waitresses come by every few minutes offering free drinks and bathrooms are nearby, realistically — if you bring a change of clothes and a razor — you likely could spend up to a week in the sports book without having to leave.
Sports books remain one of my favorite people-watching venues in the world, comparing favorably with a Parisian sidewalk cafe or the Venice Beach
boardwalk. The human condition is on display, in its rawest form. You bet, you watch, you win or lose; you emote. Rinse and repeat.
After a race finished at Derby Lane greyhound track in St. Petersburg, Fla., an older gentleman to my left waved his right hand dismissively and grumbled,
“That [expletive] dog couldn’t win a three-legged race with Carl Lewis.”
I had nearly moved away when this misfit sat down next to me — because he was smoking a cigarette, though I could’ve sworn we were in a non-smoking
section — but after he uttered his somewhat brilliant, somewhat nonsensical canine pearl, I stuck around to hear more. Alas, all he did over the next half-hour was cough and crumple losing tickets.
Which, happily, recalled for me one of my favorite gambling tales:
There’s a fellow who bets football every weekend, and for three straight months he loses every weekend. He’s a bookie’s dream. Then, when football season ends, the bookie — fearful of losing his best customer — tells him he can bet hockey. “Hockey?!?” the man exclaims. “What do I know about hockey?”

Ask The Slouch

Q. Have you ever thought about being referred to by a single name, just like a Brazilian soccer player? (Radu Marinescu; Fairfax)
A. If you saw the e-mails I’m getting from angry readers of late, you’d know I am already referred to by a single name.

Q. How many John Feinstein books do you have to stand on to change a light bulb? (James Gould; Marina del Rey; Calif.)
A. None — Feinstein will just keep writing in the dark.

Q. So is Slovenia now your Team of Destiny? (Michael Stone; Indianapolis)
A. Team of Destiny? It’s my Nation of Destiny — I’ve got a time share in Portoroz.

Q. With Texas staying put, any chance the Pacific-10 lures LeBron? (Chris Cutone; Gibsonia, Pa.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.

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

Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel gave us this profile of the problems being experienced by college BB coaches, who’ve been using free labor for a long time.

“John Wall will celebrate one of the greatest moments of his young life Thursday night.

Barring a change of heart from the Washington Wizards, David Stern will walk to the podium at the Theater at Madison Square Garden and announce the
University of Kentucky point guard as the top overall pick in the NBA draft. Wall will rise from his seat, hug loved ones and step out onto the stage, where
he’ll don a Wizards cap and pose for pictures with Stern.

Forgive college coaches if they don’t rejoice.

Thursday will be the fifth draft in which the NBA’s so-called one-and-done rule has been in effect, and most college coaches dislike the minimum-age
requirement. Put into effect in 2006, it states that players must be at least 19 years old during the calendar year and be at least one year removed from their high-school class’ graduation to be eligible for the draft.

“It was a rule that I don’t think makes a whole lot of sense,” Florida Gators coach Billy Donovan said.

Yet the NBA’s age minimum has had an undeniable effect on college basketball. Without it, some high-school stars such as Greg Oden and Derrick Rose might have bypassed college entirely. Instead, Oden led Ohio State to the 2007 Final Four, and Rose led Memphis to the 2008 Final Four.

Then, Oden and Rose left the college stage days after their freshmen seasons ended.

NBA teams have selected 26 one-and-done players in the draft since 2006 — including Oden and Rose, who became the top overall picks. Wall will become the third one-and-doner to be selected first overall in the last four years.

“I think in terms of overall quality of play and building a program and sustaining a program and academic accountability and success of a program, it’s hard to do that when you’ve got guys coming to college with the expectation of playing only one year or maybe two years,” said Jim Haney, the executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

The NBA describes its age minimum as a business decision. League executives say having youngsters play at least one season of college basketball or one year in Europe (as Brandon Jennings did) or one year in the D-League gives teams a better opportunity to evaluate potential draft picks.

Indeed, Leon Smith, the 29th overall pick in 1999, played a total of 15 NBA regular-season games. Kwame Brown, the No. 1 pick in the 2001 draft straight out of high school, never became a force. Ousmane Cisse, picked 47th in ’01, never played an NBA game.

“You can imagine that a first-round draft pick in particular is about as valuable an asset as a team has,” said Joel Litvin, the NBA’s president of league and basketball operations. “Spending it on somebody who a team has only seen play against high-school talent raises the risk profile.”

Still, from 1995 — the year Kevin Garnett was drafted out of Farragut Academy — through 2005, NBA teams drafted 38 players who had just finished their senior years of high school. Thirty of those players have gone on to play in at least 200 regular-season NBA games.

Many of the college coaches’ concerns revolve around academics.

Players who leave school in bad academic standing after one season hurt the program’s academic progress rate and jeopardize scholarships.

“I’ve been fortunate at Florida that our guys have hung in there and they’ve finished up school,” Donovan said. “But you get some kids sometimes and the
season ends in the middle of March, and they’ve declared. All of a sudden, they just pick up and they forget about school and they’re not eligible to come back. It’s points against you. Really, a lot of this stuff you have no control over.”

Donovan and the NABC would like to see the NBA scrap the one-and-done rule and instead adopt an eligibility requirement similar to Major League
Baseball’s. Such a rule would permit players to go into the draft right out of high school, but it would prevent college players from being drafted until after their junior seasons.

Any change to the NBA’s minimum-age requirement would have to be made in conjunction with the National Basketball Players Association. The current
collective bargaining agreement runs through June 30, 2011, unless the league invokes an option to extend the agreement by one year.

Litvin wouldn’t comment on the league’s plans in its talks with the union.

But he did add, “Suffice to say we are pleased with this rule. We think it’s been a good thing for our teams and that’s who we negotiate for.”

Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald talked about all the sports stars who have and haven’t appeared in Boston.

“As New England sports fans, we have seen the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Peyton Manning, Sidney Crosby and LeBron James pass through the region.
We have seen Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski. A couple of months back, at the Agganis Arena, we saw a couple of tennis oldtimers named John McEnroe
and Bjorn Borg battle each other.
For better or worse, we have seen Ben Rothlisberger and Tiger Woods and, when he played against Boston College during his Virginia Tech days, Michael Vick.
Manny Ramirez came back, this time as a Dodger. Roger Clemens came back, this time as a ticket-holder.
That’s the beauty of being a big league sports town: We get to see all the stars.
Imagine the surprise, then, when one of the nation’s best-known sports stars revealed yesterday that she – that’s right, she – had never even been to Boston until last month.
“I went to Boston for the first time actually during the end of May,” internationally known racecar driver Danica Patrick said during a conference call. “I know that it’s very intense for its sports.”
That’s right, the Danica Patrick. Racecar driver . . . model .. . advertising spokeswoman . . . sometimes actress. She is famous enough to have appeared in one of those “This is SportsCenter” commercials, talented enough to have been named rookie of the year for the 2005 Indy 500, attractive enough to have been in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition.
And now, finally, she’s bringing her game to New England. Patrick, the biggest name in racing, will participate in Saturday’s New England 200 at the New
Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H..
This woman knows how the game is played, and we’re not just talking about auto racing. As she fielded questions from throughout the United States, she
showed a talent for customizing her answers in accordance with whatever city the questioner happened to call home. She was asked about returning to
Michigan International Speedway in August.
“It’s always good to have a visual of the track,” she said. “Having been there and seeing the place and knowing what it’s like and how the track surface is and everything, I think it’s a really nice thing for me to have that going into the weekend.”
Someone from Milwaukee asked if there are any courses at which she’s looking to race.
“Hmm, well, the one coming up being Loudon, I’m excited because it’s a lot like Milwaukee, I heard, and I have always enjoyed going to Milwaukee over the last, well, unfortunately not this year but for seven years previously,” she said. “So it’s good to get that feel of a nice flat track and a short track. So that one.”
She was asked about returning to Illinois, where she grew up.
“I shouldn’t forget Chicago,” she said. “I look forward to it. I love the city of Chicago. It’s such a great city. I was just there last week for a couple of days.”
Boston?
“I was cheering for the Celtics. I was,” she said of the C’s doomed showdown against the Lakers in the NBA Finals. “I know that’s not a popular answer with
my friends in LA, but I met Ray Allen a couple of years ago at the ESPY Awards. He was just a nice guy. I was kind of cheering for them.”
OK.
So let’s get to Loudon, N.H. Turns out Patrick is actually nervous about her upcoming appearance, because “it’s new and there’s so much to learn about the way a race goes, how the race kind of plays out normally, and the yellow flags and the pit stops and how the car changes over a fuel run and how the tires change. And there’s just so much that I’m unfamiliar with.
“That makes me nervous because I care and I want to do well,” Patrick said. “And I’m not going to know it all the first time I go there, but I hope to do a
good job. I know that people will be watching and I want to put on a good show for the fans. I want to give them a reason to cheer for me.”
What we’re saying here is this: If you happen to have a bucket list of famous sports figures you want to see before moving on to the big adios, and if Danica Patrick happens to be on your list, then this weekend is for you.

Frank Deford commented on SI.com about the formation of  “Super-Conferences” and their relationships with TV.
“There is an old aphorism: “College football bears the same relationship to education that bullfighting does to agriculture.” Ah, but when there is something of a drought at the bursar’s office, it’s awfully comforting to have a few toros out there in the fallow fields to take to the bullring to sell tickets and maintain the endowment crop.
So, there’s a lot of talk these days about realigning America’s most prestigious college conferences. However, despite all the nonsense college presidents are mouthing about finding just the right sort of university to join our sacred conference of institutions of highest learning, the reordering of the college leagues is really only about football . . . and television money. Hey, any conference would take in Satan U. and Beezlebub Tech if they came from the right TV markets.
For example: The Pac-10, which has always been celebrated as a virtual seminary in the pigskin marketplace, hired a promoter from international tennis to be its commissioner. Even if he hasn’t been able to snare the University of Texas, projections are that he can add other colleges from east of the Sierra Nevadas and raise the Pac-10’s income from $97 million in annual total revenue to $256 million . . . strictly from television.
We are on our way to having four jumbo conferences of the compass — so it’s time to rid them of their quaint names from the varsity drag era of Rudy Vallee and call them correctly: the Big Ten becomes the Nasty North; the Pac-10, the Wicked West; the SEC, the Savage South; and once the Big East and the
Atlantic Coast Conference get their conglomeration together, we’ll have the Evil East.
Out there in the fly-over middle of the realm, does still remain the territory ruled by the erstwhile Big 12 — although, with defections, it has become the
Medium 10. It manages to stay in business only because the University of Texas would rather be the Huge One with a blue-ribbon television deal than just be an equal partner with a lot of glamorous California rivals.
For now, the lingering question is when Notre Dame will finally realize that “independent” has come to mean “irrelevant” and get on board with somebody.
Otherwise, the Irish can proudly continue to claim to be the only team in the world operating alone in the 21st Century … besides the Harlem Globetrotters.
When the dust settles, the real question will be: what happens to the NCAA? Obviously, the four monster conferences can police themselves, so the power is bound to drain out of the NCAA and leave it attenuated, sort of an athletic League of Nations.
And, of course, the beauty of it all: no matter how many mega-millions the colleges make from television and tickets, they don’t have to pay the football
players a nickel. That’s the American way.”

Bill Conlin of the Philly Daily News talked about the long road back traveled by Jimmy Rollins.       

        
”Jimmy Rollins sat in the shade of the Threshers dugout in a stifling ballpark that was surrounded by thunderheads.
It had rained snakes and lizards in the early afternoon, a gullywashing cloudburst. But by the time the Phillies’ Class A Florida State League team trickled out for batting practice around 4:30, there wasn’t a puddle to be seen. The clouds had given and the fierce sun had taken away.
Jimmy is one of those lucky guys who emerged from the womb smiling. He was even upbeat and effervescent when he discussed the lost 10 weeks, which had to be the longest and most frustrating period of his All-Star, MVP career. He had last played May 21 in a 5-1 Cole Hamels victory over the Red Sox.
In his fourth at-bat that day, it happened again . . .
“Running in a straight line,” he said from beneath a gleaming coat of sweat worked up taking ground balls at short. “Both times. Nothing fancy. First time I thought, ‘OK, maybe it’s a cramp or just a little tightness,’ and I kept on running and made it worse. This time, I knew right away. And I threw on the brakes and waved to the dugout. So the reason I’m optimistic this time is that because I stopped right away, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the first time.”
This was his first batting practice since May 21 and just his 14th since that fateful Opening Day, when his right calf seized while running a loosening-up sprint so close to the national anthem that bench coach Pete Mackanin had already presented the lineup at home plate. Rollins was leading off and playing short. He stood for the anthem, then told Charlie Manuel he couldn’t go. Manuel had no choice but to start Juan Castro in the leadoff spot.
Rollins played five innings in good health last night against the Brevard County Manatees, a Milwaukee farm club.
“I’ll play five more tomorrow night,” Rollins said, pleased with his night.
He came out of the chute with two putouts and an assist in the first inning, throwing out the leadoff hitter on a routine play, then nailing two basestealers with nifty short-hop scoops and tags. He skied the second pitch he had seen since the Boston series to right and lined out sharply to center in the third. He had done nothing to cause a sudden yelp of pain, or another limping trip to the trainer’s room. He was under careful observation by Threshers trainer Ichiro Kitano throughout his first BP and game action in 25 days.
What next?
“Then I’ll take Thursday off, play Friday and, hopefully, be ready to go by the end of the weekend,” he said.”
His night ended with a soft fly to left with two outs in the fifth. It ended without drama, hard slides or excessive baserunning. The perfect baby step, in other words.
In New York, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. termed a weekend return for Rollins as “a little aggressive, but possible.” Asked if the Phillies planned to
ease Rollins back in for fear of a recurrence, Amaro said they would “monitor it day-by-day. We’ve got to get him here first.”
J-Roll is realistic enough to know that he is 31 years old and what has happened twice with disarming similarity could happen again.
“I could lay a Latin name on you,” he said. “It’s a calf injury, but it’s related to some other surrounding muscles that interact and they’ve got to heal, too. I’m righthanded, so that’s my load leg pushing off, making pivots. The worst part is the fear it could happen again. Frustration, not really. Injuries are a part of playing sports and I’ve been lucky. This is my first really serious injury and I’ve been playing in the majors 10 years now.”
How exasperating was the downtime that has now consumed 2 1/2 months and taken a ravenous 30 percent bite out of the long season?
He thought it would be worse, that time would drag like a jail sentence, that he would agonize over the Phillies’ epic offensive swoon and the obvious domino effect his absence at the top of the lineup would have on the rest of a lineup cut in stone, with the roles sculpted by a track record of success.
“Actually, the time has gone by pretty fast,” he said. “It helped to be able to be with the club at home. I got to doing my work with Raul [Ibanez]. He’s such a
fanatic and so detailed and thorough, it was really hard to take it all in. I had to get myself lined up so I was just doing A-B-C and not getting wrapped up in all the things he was doing. But it was really great working with him.”
The Phillies installed a new field while the ballclub was in spring training. I wondered if J-Roll had suffered the first injury sprinting over a square of sod that had not quite settled.
“Not at all,” he said. “That grass is perfect. Nope, it just went on me. The surface had nothing to do with it. The second time I was running on dirt.”
Jimmy Rollins wore No. 3, Babe Ruth’s number. His Phillies number, 11 – it will be retired one day – belongs to Threshers leftfielder Derrick Mitchell.
Just a few more days in the steam bath that is the Florida State League. Then, hopefully, Charlie Manuel will have his favorite leadoff hitter back again.”