July 13, 2010

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

Bill Shaikin wrote this wonderful profile in the LA Times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Steinbrenner, the populist image was a facade.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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
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 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 and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash.

Bill Plaschke celebrated the life of Coach John Wooden who passed away on 6/4 by offering this remembrance in the LA Tribune.

“When I think today of the greatest sportsman who walked a sideline, I think, instead, of where John Wooden lay his head.

It was a tiny bed in a cluttered room in the dark Encino condo where he lived for the last three decades.

He showed it to me once, without a trace of discomfort or embarrassment, led me inside and pointed to the threadbare white bedspread, Coach still coaching.

“That’s Nell,” he said.

It was, indeed, a smiling picture of his beloved late wife of 53 years, propped up above the pillow where he slept.

In the space next to the pillow, where Nell used to sleep, there was another propped-up photo of her.

Below that photo, in the middle of the bed, was a bundle of carefully scripted letters, all in the same intricate handwriting.

“Fan mail?” I asked.

“You might say that,” he said.

The letters had been written by Wooden to Nell.

They contained humble descriptions of his day, gentle laughs over private jokes, eternal promises of his affection.

They had been written once a month, every month, since 1985.

They had been written after she died.

“I obviously don’t have anywhere to send them,” he said. “But I had to write them anyway.”

He said he had talked to his wife every day for more than half a century, and it still wasn’t enough. He wondered, when you are best friends, can it ever be

“I miss telling her things,” he said.

As he led me out of the bedroom in that darkened apartment, I realized he taught me again, only this time it was something that cannot be found in a pyramid or a rolled-up program.

I realized that I had just been given a glimpse into a lifetime of simple devotion, from Nell to UCLA, from a sport that didn’t deserve it to children who will never understand it.

Coach had just shown me the meaning of undying love, and, as he led me out of the darkened room, I quietly wept at its power.

This, though, is why I will not weep today, in the wake of John Wooden’s death at age 99.

Our loss will be his gain.

He will no longer have to sleep with a photo. He will no longer have to pick up a pen. The light of our lives can finally be with the light of his life.

All these things he’s wanted to share with Nell, he can finally tell her himself.

“I haven’t been afraid of death since I lost Nell,” Wooden told me that day. “I tell myself, this is the only chance I’ll have to be with her again.”

Heaven knows, he’s earned it.

When the great ones leave our courts and fields, don’t they usually leave our lives?

Jackie Robinson died young, Muhammad Ali lost his voice, Michael Jordan lost his basketball sense, and Joe Montana refused to be honored at the Super Bowl unless he was paid.

When the great ones retire, so, often, does their greatness.

But John Wooden was different.

Has any sports figure ever broken every record in his field, then contributed more to the world after the games ended?

Wooden will be remembered today as Coach by those who never even knew he coached.

He won 10 national championships at UCLA, a record that will never be broken, yet many know him only for applying those lessons to real life.

He spent 27 years coaching the Bruins. But after his retirement in 1975, he spent the next years coaching, well, the rest of us.

Guess which job had more impact?

Hint: It was not the one where he earned the name the Wizard of Westwood.

“I am not a famous man,” Wooden said. “I hate being called wizard. I am not a wizard.”

Everyone called him Coach, and he was a teacher, and that is how he will be remembered, the sports world’s greatest teacher, a man whose quiet voice
somehow rose above the clatter of those who had long stopped listening.

He will be remembered not for diagraming a triangle offense, but for writing a pyramid bible, his Pyramid of Success long since becoming the best-known
sports motivational tool.

He will be celebrated not only for sitting on the UCLA sideline, but for being in the bleachers just above the UCLA bench, where he sat for nearly every home game after his retirement, signing autographs and spinning wisdom.

He will be known not only for his loyalty to his many great players, but for his loyalty to his late wife; he once insisted that if the Pauley Pavilion court was
named after him, Nell’s name would have to come first, and so it does.

He will be applauded not for any endorsements, but for the one sponsorship he canceled. He removed his support of the John R. Wooden Award — college basketball’s Oscar — when he believed that organizers weren’t playing fair with his name.

During a time when the sports world was drastically changing, John Wooden never budged an inch, and in doing so, he moved us forever.

He was the only major basketball figure to disdain the NBA for the WNBA because he loved the fundamentals.

The last time he was seen at a prominent baseball game, it didn’t involve the Dodgers; it was in Anaheim during the 2002 World Series, Coach preferring to support an Angels team that could bunt and steal and think.

His wisdom of “failing to prepare is preparing to fail” works better than ever on today’s self-entitled athletes.

His bromide, “The man who is afraid to risk failure seldom has to face success” could be the motto of every modern, Internet-hounded, alumni-harassed
college coach.

What he said back then works even better now, and so for years he never stopped saying it, giving speeches to groups who couldn’t pay, spending time with kids who had no idea.

Because his words will last forever, it is impossible to imagine that he did not.

But we are comforted in knowing that he is reunited with his inspiration while leaving us with plenty.

“Be quick,” we wanted to tell Coach before he set off for Nell and immortality, “But don’t hurry.”

Bill Dwyer gave us a true perspective of the Jim Joyce-Armondo Galarraga reactions to the call made in error. It wasn’t a blown call. It wasn’t an example of incompetence. It wasn’t a rallying cry for replays- it was an error.

“We had a truly wonderful moment this week. Somebody hit the pause button on the daily noise in our world of sports.

The anger and finger-pointing went on hold. The win-at-all-costs, the pressure-cooker pursuit of power and prominence, momentarily halted.

For this, we can thank an umpire and a pitcher, neither of whom we had heard of before. Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga turned a baseball game into a
teaching moment. Henceforth, Little League instructional sessions should include pitching, hitting and behaving like Mr. Joyce and Mr. Galarraga.

What happened had everything to do with baseball and, nothing. Think of it as two days of life lessons.

Wednesday, Joyce called a Cleveland Indians batter safe at first base on what would have been the game’s last out. That ruined a perfect game pitched by the Detroit Tigers’ Galarraga.

There was immediate outrage. It wasn’t only a bad call. It was a sacrilege. It would have been only the 21st perfect game in the history of baseball. Baseball needed more instant replay. Commissioner Bud Selig had screwed up again. This was awful. A breach of history. An affront to the game. Within hours, there was a website up and running called

Thursday, in place of Manager Jim Leyland, Galarraga carried the Tigers’ starting lineup to the plate for the pregame meeting with the umpires. That was done so Galarraga and Joyce could shake hands. By now, Joyce had seen replays, said his call was wrong, said he was sorry, said he understood the magnitude of the moment. He had personally apologized to Galarraga after the game and Galarraga, who had smiled bemusedly after the call and merely gone back to the mound to pitch the final out, accepted the apology.

“He even gave me a couple of hugs,” Galarraga said.

At home plate, Joyce saw Galarraga and got teary.

So should the rest of us, out of gratitude.

We have been given an oasis of decency in a desert of fist-pounding and bulging neck veins. Instead of implosion, we got perspective. All too often, baseball has been about only winning and losing, about who took the most juice, which manager left pitchers in too long and which owner was the biggest cheapskate.
We lose sight of the only axiom that matters. It is a game.

Galarraga handled it like a kid on a sandlot. He heard the call, smiled one of those “you’ve got to be kidding” smiles and let it go. He was playing a game.

Joyce handled it like a professional. He called what he saw, watched the replay, realized he had seen it wrong, and apologized. It was not one of those “I’m sorry if I hurt the fans” things. Or “I’m sorry if other people are angry.” He said he screwed up. Nobody else was to blame. His mistake, his apology.
Corporations, politicians and sports heroes pay thousands of dollars to public relations firms for guidance in crisis management. They should hire Joyce. He got it right.

Although there has been much talk about how Galarraga lost his place in history, the opposite is true.

It is reminiscent of the moment in the movie “Tin Cup,” where Roy McAvoy ( Kevin Costner) has finished his final round of the U.S. Open. He has stubbornly hit ball after ball into the water on No. 18, a nearly impossible second shot on a par-five hole, instead of taking a drop. With the last ball in his bag, he clears the water and the ball trickles into the cup. For a 12.

As he walks to the scorer’s tent, he bemoans his stupidity for blowing his chance at winning the tournament, at making history. Dr. Molly Griswold ( Rene Russo), a psychologist and his girlfriend, sets him straight by pointing out that, as years pass, nobody will remember who won the tournament, but everybody will remember what he did on the 18th hole.

Likewise, more will remember Galarraga because of how his perfect game wasn’t than will remember the 20 whose were.

Joyce will be remembered too, for decency, honesty under fire, and for reminding us that baseball is played and officiated by humans.

Selig now can do several things.

He can reverse Joyce’s call and make Galarraga’s game officially perfect. Indications are he will not.

He can radically change replay rules to include situations such as this. Indications are he will not.

Or he could thank Joyce for years of good work and his integrity in this matter by making sure he works the World Series this year. No indications on that until late October.

Meanwhile, Manager Ned Yost of the Royals got into a finger-waving, nose-to-nose dispute with umpire Mike Estabrook during Thursday’s Angels game and was tossed.

We are back.”

Bill Conlin wrote in the Philly Daily News about the “Umpire’s Balk” as well as his reactions to some other issues.

“Baseball’s Rules Committee will implement an “Umpire’s Balk” for application only in situations after the seventh inning where a no-hitter is ended by a
possibly blown call . . . The manager asks the crew chief for a video review. The crew views a replay. If the umpire misses the call at first base, as veteran Jim Joyce did with two outs in Armando Galarraga’s denied perfect game, an umpire’s balk is called. Which means there was no pitch, no play, a do-over. The call will not be simply overruled because an umpire doesn’t have the benefit of replay. The slow-developing play on Indians rookie Jason Donald’s roller wide of first gave Joyce every indication of an impending bang-bang play. Miguel Cabrera ranged far to backhand the ball. He cut in front of Tigers second baseman Carlos Guillen, who would have had a routine play. But corner infielders are taught to go as far as possible to their left and right on slow-hit balls. Cabrera was forced to lead Galarraga with a hard throw. But the righthander did everything right and clearly beat Donald with daylight to spare.
There was speculation Joyce ruled that Galarraga, who snow-coned the ball, might not have controlled the throw. However, if that had been his ruling, Joyce would have flashed a juggle sign, giving the official scorer latitude to rule an error and preserve the no-hitter. Afterward, Joyce was a man about his role in tearing up a page of baseball history that would have included three perfect games in less than a month. Oh, well, maybe Roy Halladay will pitch another one against the Padres. For the disintegrating Phillies to win, Doc may have to spin up another perfecto, or at least a shutout . . . Fab rookie Austin Jackson ran farther and at a more difficult angle to make his sensational robbery of the Indians’ Mark Grudzielanek leading off the ninth than Willie Mays did on his famed catch of a Vic Wertz drive in the 1954 World Series . . . Is it too early to call the Phillies’ funk the Curse of Cliff Lee?
Bryce Harper isn’t baseball’s only teenage sensation. South Jersey’s Mike Trout, a 6-1, 215-pound centerfielder from Millville, was only 17 when the Angels made him the 25th pick in the 2009 June draft. He raised a lot of eyebrows by batting .360 in the Arizona Rookie League and began this season in the full-season, much more advanced Midwest League. Two months short of his 19th birthday, Trout is tearing up a traditional pitcher’s league where spring takes its time shaking off winter. He was 4-for-5 Wednesday night for Cedar Rapids and leads the low Class A league with a .376 average, 45 runs, 77 hits and 28 stolen bases in 32 attempts. Trout appears to be growing into what the Angels feel will be plus power, with six triples and a team-leading six homers. Baseball America has been touting Trout as a Minor League Player of the Year candidate.

The National Football League will take a hard look at the amount of contact that is done during the various activities that lead up to the full-squad attrition that begins in July and ends in January . . . This is not the same game I played with limited success back in the twilight of two-way football. It is not the game my father played well enough to support a family during the lean years of the Great Depression. It is not the same game played by Steve Van Buren and the Eagles of the championship years in the late 1940s. It is not the same game played by Chuck Bednarik, Tommy McDonald, Pete Retzlaff, Norm Van Brocklin and the title game stars of 1960. It is not even the same game played by Dick Vermeil’s Super Bowl team of 1980.
It is a faster, more specialized game played by bigger, more powerful and more athletic men. Each game inflicts the jarring injury potential of a series of 35-mph auto wrecks. The number of high-speed helmet-to-helmet hits have bred an epidemic of concussions. NFL fans know more about the function of the anterior cruciate ligament and Lisfranc mid-foot fracture than they do about the West Coast offense and Cover Two. When Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty (also attributed to Vince Lombardi) said, “Football is not a contact sport, football is a collision sport. Dancing is a contact sport,” he was talking about the game of that day. In the game of today, football, particularly the four exhibition, 16-game NFL gantlet, is a high-speed wreck where the repetitive impacts can produce permanent injury and reduced lifespans.

It is sad to hear that before Father’s Day, ill-starred safety Marlin Jackson suffered what turned out to be a career-threatening Achilles’ tendon rupture during an Eagles minicamp session Tuesday. He was coming back from a second torn ACL. Concern was voiced over an apparent recurrence of the foot injury that kept important guard Todd Herremans out of the first five games last season. Moreover, the hitting at these minicamps is not nearly as intense as the brutal scrums of training camp, where the many called are hitting for a chosen few roster spots. But it is hitting nevertheless.

Speaking of hitting and Bryce Harper, the 17-year-old Southern Nevada wunderkind went into Game 4 of the Juco World Series in Grand Junction, Colo., batting .500. But the damage he had inflicted was minimal. That ended in a Tuesday night winner’s bracket game against Iowa Western. With his No. 2 ranked Coyotes trailing 3-0, Harper evened it with a laser homer to right. Southern Nevada trailed 5-3 when he tied it again with a double to left. And then he put the game away his next at bat with a towering, opposite-field shot over the bleachers in left. Just an eight-RBI performance for The Unnatural. In Wednesday night’s 10-8 winner’s bracket loss to No. 1 San Jacinto, Harper was ejected in the fifth inning for wordlessly drawing a line next to the plate with his bat after being called out on strikes by umpire Art Gilmore, who missed the pitch badly. It was Harper’s second ejection of the season. According to NJCAA rules, he must sit out two games. Harper’s next at-bat could be for a Washington Nationals rookie league team.”


May 31, 2010

Christy Mathewson was a man who was bigger than life. When you look at all he accomplished you will appreciate the review, penned by Jerry Crowe of the LA Times. of what Eddie Frierson has done to give it the deserved ink

“You might say that actor Eddie Frierson is infatuated with Christy Mathewson, the dominating pitcher who was part of Cooperstown’s inaugural class of inductees.

For nearly half his 50 years, Frierson has brought the gentlemanly Hall of Fame right-hander to life on stage in the one-man play “Matty: An Evening with Christy Mathewson.”

Written and performed by the actor, it’s a labor of love that drew glowing reviews during an off-Broadway run in the 1990s. These days, with Frierson
dressed in dead-ball era New York Giants flannels and cap, it is reprised up to 20 times a year by the actor, a former Santa Monica High baseball coach and
UCLA walk-on.

“I figure I can do it for at least another five years,” says Frierson, who already has outlived his subject, who was 45 when he died in 1925. “I was going to
retire it a few years ago, but it’s too much fun and people keep asking me to do it.”

The latest was Greg Hayes, who persuaded his former college roommate to stage a benefit performance of “Matty” this Saturday night at the Canyon Theatre Guild in Newhall.

Says Frierson of the appearance, which will benefit a college scholarship fund: “It’s something Matty would have done.”

Frierson would know.

After graduating from UCLA in 1982 with a theater arts degree, he started researching Mathewson two years later, making the first of several trips to the pitcher’s hometown of Factoryville, Pa.

“It was kind of a fluke,” Frierson says of his introduction to Mathewson, who played 17 major league seasons from 1900 to 1916, winning 373 games. “I was looking for something to develop as a project and my dad found an old copy of ‘Pitching in a Pinch,’ ” a memoir written by Mathewson in 1912.

Thus began Frierson’s immersion into all things Matty.

“The characters and the stories just kind of jumped out at me and I thought, ‘This is perfect,’ ” Frierson says of his initial interest. “But then as I got to know more about him, it became clear that he was a lot more than just a few stories in a book.”

In addition to his baseball exploits — he is credited with introducing the screwball — Mathewson was class president at Bucknell, a devout Christian who refused to pitch on Sundays and, in the words of football pioneer Walter Camp, “the best all-around football player to ever put on a collegiate uniform.”

He also was a musician and singer, a World War I veteran, author of children’s books, co-author of a Broadway play, etc.

As Frierson continued digging, he says, his priorities shifted.

“I was looking for something to develop into a vehicle for me,” he says, “but within two weeks of deciding, ‘Hey, this is the thing to do,’ it stopped being about me and starting being about, ‘How many people can I introduce to this wonderful man?’ ”

The first draft of his script, Frierson says, took 12 hours to read. And his initial performance, at a Society for American Baseball Research convention in Washington, was “pretty amateurish,” notes Frierson, who makes his living mostly as a voice actor.

Seven or eight years later, pared down to 2½ hours after numerous revisions and trial runs, “Matty” ran for nine months at the Two Roads Theatre in Studio City in 1995, leading to its off-Broadway debut a year later.

“You don’t have to be a baseball fan to be completely engaged by Eddie Frierson’s performance,” NBC’s Bob Costas said. “He leaves the audience with a real appreciation of Christy Mathewson, and the place and time in which he was an authentic American hero. On the other hand, if you are a baseball fan, you will be surprised at how much you didn’t know about Matty.”

Theater critics also raved, the New York Times hailing “Matty” as “charming” and “appealing” and USA Today calling it “as memorable as an exciting World
Series game.”

The New York Post called it “pure virtuosity, a perfect pitch.”

Frierson, a father of three whose two sons are named Christy and Matty, was overwhelmed by the response, and by a later invitation to bring “Matty” to

“It was surreal when I walked up to the Hall of Fame and there’s my banner on the brick façade,” he says. “And people are lined up halfway around the block
to get my autograph.”

Frierson, as a pitcher, says he helped Nashville Hillwood High to a Tennessee state championship in 1977, but he never got into a varsity game during 2½
seasons at UCLA.

“I made it further in baseball through ‘Matty,’ ” he says, “than I ever had the opportunity to do as a player.”

And performing it, Frierson notes, has never grown old. At the show’s conclusion, the actor often remains in character and takes questions from the audience as the legendary “Big Six,” so nicknamed because he was 6 feet tall.

“I can answer any question that anybody has about Christy Mathewson,” Frierson says.

Someday, he says, he hopes to write a Mathewson biography, but for now he’s happy portraying the Hall of Famer.

“My kid wants me to keep doing it until he can do it,” Frierson says of 12-year-old Christy. “I think as long as I’m physically able and nobody says, ‘Gee, you
look old,’ I can keep doing it until I just don’t look the part anymore.”


May 25, 2010

Alan Scher Zagier, an AP writer, had a piece published in the LA Times that pointed out an inequity that’s often played out by NCAA member schools. The NCAA says that its rules are clear that athletic scholarships are one-year, merit based awards and can be revoked putting the athlete in limbo.
Very often recruiters will often promise a lot including full rides but can deliver a lot less.

“After scoring just 22 points all season in mop-up duty, Missouri freshman forward Tyler Stone has no illusions of bolting college for the NBA after a single year.
Instead, the 6-foot-7 Memphis native is a different sort of one-and-done: a college athlete leaving a school sooner than his family expected as a prized recruit takes over his scholarship.
“I can’t see how a school can love him to death one year and the next year cut him loose,” said his mother, Sharon Stone. “They had to get rid of somebody.”
The NCAA says its rules are clear. Athletic scholarships are one-year, “merit-based” awards that require both demonstrated academic performance as well as “participation expectations” on the playing field.
College sport watchdogs – and, occasionally, athletes themselves – tell a different story. They see unkept promises and bottom-line decisions at odds with the definition of student-athlete.
Those discrepancies apparently have caught the attention of the U.S. Justice Department. Its antitrust division is investigating the one-year renewable
scholarship, with agents interviewing NCAA officials and member schools. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined comment because the probe,
announced on May 6, is ongoing.
“This happens a lot more than anybody even believes,” said New Haven management professor Allen Sack, a former Notre Dame football player and vocal NCAA critic. “You’re allowed to do it. According to the NCAA, there’s nothing wrong with it.
“Coaches don’t go out of their way to clarify (scholarship length). They make it as vague as they possibly can.”
At Missouri, the school announced on April 12 that Stone and sophomore guard Miguel Paul were transferring to seek more playing time. Two days later, the Tigers signed a pair of the country’s top-rated junior college transfers, rugged 6-foot-8 forward Ricardo Ratliffe and guard Matt Pressey, whose younger brother Phil will also join Missouri as a freshman in the fall.
Missouri coach Mike Anderson called the timing of the two announcements coincidental. Both Stone and Paul had previously expressed interest in seeking a fresh start, he said, calling their decisions to leave “mutual.”
“I don’t have a lot of guys go in and out of my program,” he said. “My kids are like my family, and I want my family to be happy. If you’re not happy, then
maybe this is not the right place.”
Paul told The Associated Press that “the coaches wanted me to stay but I told them this wasn’t the place for me.” He is transferring to East Carolina.
Stone, meanwhile, will play for mid-major Southeast Missouri of the Ohio Valley Conference after sitting out the required year for Division I transfers. He declined an interview request, but his mother spoke with the AP at length in several interviews and made it clear that her son was pushed out.
She described a celebratory spring break barbecue touting her son’s first year in college. Her son went back to campus afterward and, hours later, called with unexpected news. “He came back (to Columbia) Monday and said, ‘I have to transfer,'” she recalled. “I thought he was going to graduate from that school.”
Exactly how often athletic scholarships are revoked to make room for better players is hard to quantify, though a pair of recent studies on turnover in college basketball offer a few clues.
The National College Players Association, an advocacy group that lobbies for athletes’ rights, found an average roster turnover rate of 22 percent among the 65 schools in the 2009 NCAA tournament. That works out to 169 players out of 775 possible returners.
The group includes players who lost scholarships for academic reasons or who sought transfers, but excludes graduating seniors and those who left for the NBA.
The University of North Carolina’s College Sport Research Institute found that 11 of 95 Division I schools studied had at least 20 percent roster turnover for the 2009-10 season. The UNC study also excluded injured players as well as those who turned pro or graduated.
Both studies include Kentucky, where seven players on Billy Gillespie’s final squad didn’t return once John Calipari took over in 2009 and brought his own recruits. Four of those former Wildcats have said publicly they were asked to leave the program.
Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said that Calipari was honest with the team he inherited.
Players were told up front whether or not they fit into Kentucky’s plans. Either “we have a spot for you or we can help you go someplace else,” Barnhart said.
Advocates for athletes say players who leave against their will often stay quiet, so they can save face by requesting a transfer and getting a recommendation from their now-former coach that will help them jump more easily to a new school.
The one-year renewable scholarship, with a limit of five years of athletic aid, has been in place since 1973. Kevin Lennon, the NCAA’s vice president for
academic and membership affairs, said the 37-year-old policy has not been a frequent topic of concern among member schools. He noted that NCAA rules
require colleges to provide athletes who lose scholarships with an appeals option, typically consisting of a campus panel formed from outside the athletics department. But such arbitration is not common, he acknowledged.
Requiring Division I transfers to sit out a year before competing for a new school prevents coaches from recruiting players away from other schools, said Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams.
Coaches who routinely “run off” players risk sullying their reputation – and losing recruits to other coaches who would point out that track record, he added.
“I don’t know many coaches who do that,” Williams said. “If you develop a reputation for doing that, you probably won’t be coaching very long.”
In football, former Colorado State kicker Durrell Chamarro expected to stay at the school that recruited him for his entire college career. After a redshirt
freshman year and another season as a backup, he hoped to emerge as a starter by his senior year.
Instead, former Rams coach Sonny Lubick told Chamorro in the spring of 2007 that his scholarship had been revoked. Chamorro was invited to remain with the team as a walk-on, but the only child of a retired southern California school teacher and a waitress couldn’t afford out-of-state tuition of more than $17,000 a year.
“I was told that as long as I maintained at least a 2.0 GPA and didn’t break any rules, I would have my scholarship for four or five years,” said Chamorro, who was also offered scholarships by Arizona State, Oregon State and Washington out of high school.
Lubick retired in 2007 and now works in community outreach at Colorado State’s business school. He recalled that Chamorro was put on notice after his first year on scholarship that “you’ve got to be better. We’ll give you one more year.”
The retired coach added that NCAA rules allow schools to sign up to 25 scholarship athletes each year but with a roster limit of 85 players – a system that assumes some students won’t have their aid offers extended.
Chamorro, who had a 3.4 grade-point average at Colorado State eventually transferred to Cal Poly Pomona – but not before borrowing roughly $10,000 in student loans, changing his major because his new school wouldn’t accept all of his transfer credits and taking a detour through junior college.
“They say whatever they think they need to get you to come to their school,” he said. “But when you get there, they can do whatever they want.”

Bob Hohler, of the Boston Globe Staff, wrote about a series of lawsuits between the inventor of a bat-testing machine and the UMass-Lowell Research Center.
This appears to be a complicated issue with wrong-doings on both sides. So we’ll have to watch how this plays out.

“The blueprint seemed foolproof. With free money — $200,000 grants each from Major League Baseball and Rawlings — the University of
Massachusetts-Lowell would buy a bat-testing machine and create a research facility to help ensure the integrity and safety of the national pastime.
The UMass-Lowell Baseball Research Center opened in 1998 and struck profitable deals to certify every model of bat used in the major leagues and NCAA competition. As a gesture of goodwill, the center gave free advice to the National Federation of State High School Associations and youth baseball organizations, gaining national acclaim for addressing the dangers of balls rocketing off metal bats at dangerous speeds.
Juiced balls, corked bats, other threats to baseball’s historic standards: If scientific testing was needed, the Lowell center responded.
Then came a legal nightmare. Accused of violating its license to operate the testing machine, the baseball center became entangled in a seven-year court fight that spanned two jury trials and ended in January with the taxpayer-supported university taking a $4.4 million hit: a $3.1 million court judgment, plus $1.3 million in interest. The case also cost the university $1.7 million in legal fees.
Now the testing center is in crisis, its future in jeopardy.
The center is “at risk of closure if an effective plan for financial sustainability is not developed,’’ UMass-Lowell chancellor Martin T. Meehan recently wrote to the NCAA, seeking financial assistance.
The university paid the exorbitant legal judgment by borrowing money against the school’s research grant reserves, a UMass official said. The loan is scheduled to be repaid with funds generated by the center.
The question is, will the center survive?
The stakes are high. While the major leagues and NCAA could fund another testing center, shuttering the Lowell facility would eliminate jobs, student research opportunities, and a vital resource for more than 1.5 million young players a year who benefit from bat safety information the center provides at no cost to high school and youth baseball.
Elliot Hopkins, the baseball rules editor for the National Federation of State High School Associations, said the organization cannot afford to pay for the safety information it receives from the Lowell facility.
“Losing the center would literally cripple high school baseball nationally,’’ Hopkins said. “We couldn’t replace it.’’
Meehan has appointed a committee to recommend ways to save the center. The facility generates about $600,000 a year in revenues, with the NCAA paying about $480,000 and Major League Baseball contributing most of the balance.
Meehan’s first step was to ask the NCAA to pay an additional fee for each bat model the center certifies. The center has tested hundreds of models through the years.
“The per-bat financial contribution would help ensure that the [center] can continue to provide a valuable service to the NCAA for years to come,’’ Meehan’s letter stated.
The NCAA, while expressing appreciation for the center’s work, indicated in a statement to the Globe that it was not in a more giving mood.
The Lowell center “has helped in the development and growth of the NCAA baseball bat certification program,’’ the statement read. “In regard to its request for additional monetary assistance, the [center] is an independent contractor and solely responsible for its finances. For its part, the NCAA did renegotiate its contract late last year for an increase in certain testing fees in the hope of enabling the [center] to continue its work and remain financially stable.’’
UMass-Lowell spokeswoman Patti McCafferty said last year’s increase was not related to the financial burden created by the legal case.
“We’re going to continue to work with the NCAA on this issue because it’s important that the center continues the good work it is doing on behalf of baseball players across the country,’’ she said.
‘Very big black eye’
No one is more pained by the center’s predicament than its founding director, James Sherwood, who has been at the forefront of regulating bat performance since the NCAA began cracking down on non-wood bats in the 1990s. A mechanical engineering professor, Sherwood was a key defendant in the legal case, arguing that his alleged breach of the license generated no more than $25,000 for the university.
The machine’s owner, Baum Research and Development Co., and inventor, Charles Baum, of Traverse City, Mich., alleged otherwise, claiming millions of dollars in damages.
Two juries in a federal court in Michigan agreed with Baum. A judge set aside the first jury’s verdict against UMass-Lowell ($2.5 million, plus interest) in 2005 as excessive, but a second jury heard additional evidence and hit the Lowell center even harder. The university’s appeal for a third trial was denied.
Sherwood was flabbergasted. He said the case stemmed from a once-productive working relationship with Baum gone bad.
“This is a blemish on our record, a very big black eye,’’ Sherwood said. “But we don’t deserve it. I really believe we were victimized.’’
Baum, who also manufactures composite bats and has sued both the NCAA and bat maker Hillerich & Bradsby, sold the testing machine to UMass-Lowell on the condition that it be used only to certify bats for the NCAA and other baseball organizations, not to perform commercial testing for his competitors. He alleged Sherwood violated the agreement by performing tests for numerous bat makers.
Baum’s lawyer, Andrew Kochanowski, blamed the costly litigation on Sherwood’s refusal to admit the extent of his licensing breach.
“The whole thing could have been avoided 10 years ago when they were informed they were using the machine improperly,’’ Kochanowski said. “When they decided to keep using it improperly, everything spiraled downhill.’’
Sherwood said he felt deceived by Baum and betrayed by the legal process.
“In all honesty, I never would have continued using that machine if I didn’t feel we were within all our rights to use it,’’ he said.
Lawyers hit it big
With the sides unable to settle their differences, the legal struggle turned into a bonanza for the lawyers. Baum’s legal team rang up more than $750,000 in bills, while UMass-Lowell’s lawyers charged the school $1.7 million.
Officials at UMass-Lowell said the school made numerous attempts to settle but were unwilling to meet Baum’s multimillion-dollar request. Instead, the university’s lawyers waged a full-court defense, including an unsuccessful attempt to persuade a federal appeals panel to dismiss the case.
In the end, UMass-Lowell’s exhaustive legal maneuvering inspired ridicule from Baum’s camp. After the second jury heard two weeks of proceedings and needed only four hours to reach a verdict, Baum stated in a court motion, “This litigation has been dragged out by UMass regardless of cost, using the money of the state of Massachusetts to employ three different law firms to raise frivolous issues.’’
The university’s lawyers described their work in court filings as a legitimate attempt to prevent “a miscarriage of justice.’’
“If Mr. Baum cared so much about the state of Massachusetts, he would have settled the case eight years ago instead of dragging the university through two costly federal trials in Michigan,’’ McCafferty said.
She said the university should not be accused of spending exclusively state money on the legal fees because state appropriations total only about 24 percent of UMass-Lowell’s budget.
Sherwood, meanwhile, remains hopeful about the center’s future. With his student assistants and a new testing machine, he continues certifying bats, ensuring the quality of major league baseballs, and preparing to enforce a new set of bat performance standards the NCAA plans to enact next year.
“We’re doing a lot for the welfare of the players in the game,’’ he said. “It’s really a labor of love.’’
He has participated in seminars from France to Australia, will travel to Vienna in July, and is scheduled to host a prestigious international conference at the center in 2012.
Until then, his work will include a special challenge: trying to save the center and pay down the $4.4 million bill.
“Closing the center is not going to change the outcome of the case,’’ Sherwood said. “We need to find a way to grow and move past this.’’

Scott Ostler, of the SF Chronicle, wrote about those guys in the bullpen.

“The Philadelphia Phillies stand accused of stealing signals. At Coors Field in Denver, Phillies bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer was seen using binoculars to peep at the Rockies’ catcher from the center-field bullpen.
Cheating? Poppycock, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
“We’re not going to let somebody just stand out there in the bullpen with binoculars looking in,” Manual sputtered, after he let somebody just stand out there in the bullpen with binoculars looking in.
TV cameras caught Shane Victorino in the Phillies’ dugout, on the bullpen phone. Does this make Victorino “the Spyin’ Hawaiian”?
Manuel insisted, in spite of all the evidence, his team was not cheating.
“We’re smarter than that,” he said.
(Sound of crickets.)
Clearly the Phillies need assistance defending themselves against the charges. Because I wrote the book, “How to Cheat in Sports” (Chronicle Books), I might be able to help. Charlie and Mick, here are some helpful phrases to fire at accusers:
— “Since when is bird-watching a crime?”
— “I just found these in my box of Cracker Jack.”
— “Hell yes, I was watching the Rockies. I want to make sure they’re not trying to steal our signals.”
— “Dude, it’s a Viewmaster.”
— “You mean this? My ‘binoculars’ flask? Want a taste?”
— “Tell you what, buddy. When you try to make a criminal out of a guy working undercover for Homeland Security, the terrorists have won.”