A Few Thoughts 01/25/17

Full disclosure: I am a college basketball fan. My two foundation sports growing up in Trenton, N.J. were major league baseball and college basketball. March is my favorite month. I fully recognize the foibles of big-time college sports, and I sincerely wish we could start all over with a more rational approach. We are the only country on earth in which our institutions of higher learning provide widespread entertainment for the masses (including our neighbors to the north, where college sports are essentially Division 3 level) and this has led to obvious abuses. But I am a registered Enabler. So shoot me.
Just want to lay my cards on the table.

James Snook, USA TODAY Sports

James Snook, USA TODAY Sports

Now then, what an interesting college basketball season this is turning out to be. On Tuesday evening the number 1,2 and 4-ranked teams went down to defeat. Ranking are dubious measurements at any time, but we enjoy them because they give us something to talk about. The NCAA Selection Committee has access to all sorts of data that allows them to circumvent rankings as a major component when they make their decisions, but rankings are, and probably always will be, a part of the conversational deal when we take up the subject of college sports. It is a prestige thing, and thus what a moment it will be for the folks at a certain Jesuit University in Spokane, Washington if and when the next AP and USA rankings come out and the Bulldogs are ranked number one. Yes, we are used to seeing Gonzaga inside the Top Ten, but number 1? Wow.
This rise began in 1999, when the Zags went to the Final 8, losing to eventual champion Connecticut under coach Don Monson. Undoubtedly figuring his big ship had slipped into the dock, he skipped out to Minnesota, where he banged heads with the Big Boys in the Big 10 until 2007 before departing for Long Beach State, where he remains. An unknown assistant named Mark Few took over and he has transformed Gonzaga from a cute little “mid-major” power to an annual serious Capital P, Player in the college basketball world. As his teammates take the floor on Thursday evening to play San Diego State his 17 and a half year record as head coach is a gaudy 486-111. The only thing missing has been a trip to the Final Four. Oh, and a number one ranking. But that one may soon be forthcoming. This is heady stuff for the alma mater of Bing Crosby, Jean Claude Lefebvre (look him up in your spare time) and John Stockton. OK, I can’t leave you hanging like that. Jean Claude Lefebvre was a 7-foot-3 inch Frenchman who played for the Zags in the late 50s and whose claim to fame was “En Suspension;” i.e. a jump shot. And you thought Kristaps Porzingis was something new? Ha!

Every season we attempt to figure how many teams have a legitimate shot at winning the six games in succession necessary to become the national champion in college basketball. Well, let’s see. There appears to be three in the Pac 12 alone (Arizona, Oregon, UCLAP). There are always multiple teams knocking on the door from the ACC. The Big East will be heard from, starting with the defending champ, Villanova. We have Kentucky. We have the Zags. Oops, can’t forget the Big 10, although at the moment their only Top 25 team is Wisconsin. (Maybe we can forget them). Realistically, I wouldn’t think the number is much higher than 10, and it may be as low as 6. But it is only January.

Bravo to Steve Kerr for speaking out on the mess the NBA players — some of them, anyway — made of their All-Star voting. He properly called it a “mockery” that 300 players got at least one vote to be a starter from the players. Fans just don’t understand that, contrary to what they might think, players should not be entrusted with votes for anything. Not as many as you might think really pay attention to what’s going on outside their little worlds, and in this particular case voting for buddies appeared to be one explanation for the ludicrous voting pattern. Of course, there are conscientious exceptions. But, trust me, they are a very small minority.

superbowl51-page Has there ever been a Super Bowl in which both teams came in with monster boulders on their shoulders? The Patriots want to stick it to Roger Goodell. That’s self-evident. People in New England have been fantasizing all season about seeing the hated commissioner being forced to hand the Lombardi Trophy over to Bob Kraft as a smirking, leering Number 12 peers in over Goodall’s right shoulder. The Falcons have their own issue. They have had a magnificent season from the very start while not being given sufficient team credit for the accomplishments. Yes, Matt Ryan is getting his proper accolades, but the Falcons entered the post-season as an afterthought following the Packers, Seahawks, and, most of all, the Cowboys. The fact is the two teams that should be in the Super Bowl are in the Super Bowl. The Falcons had the best overall offense in the league and the Patriots romped home with a 14-2 record despite not having Tom Brady for the first four games and despite trading exiling linebacker Jamie Collins to Football Siberia (sometimes known as Cleveland) in the middle of the season. The Pats have gaudy defensive numbers, helped in some measure by a very soft schedule and some phenomenal good fortune. They did not have to face many of the top QBs, and when they came up against Ben Roethlisberger in the AFC title game Big Ben lost a major weapon in Le’Veon Bell early in the game. It’s a reasonable premise that the Pats would have won, regardless, but the task would more than likely been significantly harder had Bell been in there to do all his Bell things.
When you point this out to Patriots diehards, many of them go bat you-know-what. I’m wondering what so many of them just won’t step back, take a deep breath and look at the facts. (or even, perhaps, some alternative facts). Did the Pats defense answer the bell as well as could be reasonably expected? Yes. Did the defense improve as the season went on? Again, yes. But did they really have many stern tests? N-O, No. So the night of February 5, against the Atlanta Falcons offense, will be a suitable Final Exam. Why is that such an odious premise?
For the record, I think they will answer that challenge. But it may well be the most they’ll have to work in order to get the job done all year.

image-9  Usain Bolt may not be inviting Nesta Carter to his next birthday party. The nonpareil Jamaican sprinter now has one fewer gold medals than he thought he had because the man who ran the leadoff leg in the Beijing 4 X 100 relay has been found to have tested positive for the banned substance methylhexaneamine.  No longer can Bolt say he amassed a “triple-triple.” He’s 8-for-9, not 9-for-9. But I think his legacy is safe.

I don’t know about you, but I’m rooting for Roger Federer Down Under.

A Few Thoughts 01/20/17

 

Thomas B. Shea/USA TODAY Sports

Thomas B. Shea/USA TODAY Sports

Huh?
That was my reaction when I discovered Thursday morning that balloting was completed and Russell Westbrook would not be a starting guard for the West in the forthcoming NBA All-Star Game. Look, there is nothing wrong with either starters James Harden or Stephen Curry, but Westbrook just has to be there. The voting process is weighted this year to include input from fans, media and players, and I have not seen any breakdown of the vote that would tell us which segment cast the most votes for whom. And you all know we just love to blame somebody for something in this current climate. Is this the most pressing issue imaginable? No. But what’s right is right, and when a guy is doing what Westbrook is doing — averaging a triple-double halfway through a season — he should be rewarded by starting in the All-Star Game.

The level of praise that Aaron Rodgers its receiving from professionals is truly impressive.  Expert after expert is saying he has never seen any better quarterback play from anyone that would compare with what the Green Bay QB has shown us the past eight weeks or so. I don’t know if I’ve heard more high-level praise about anyone, in any sport.. That’s saying a lot when you consider the adulation heaped on the likes of Jordan, Gretzky, Bonds, etc. in their primes. People just can’t get over his compete mastery of his position. Of course, what fascinates people most of all is his ability to get the job done outside the pocket, especially his ability to throw deadly strikes while moving to his left. I heard Herman Edwards say on “Mike and Mike” that “there’s no third-and-20 play,” except whatever Aaron Rodgers comes up with.

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Guess we’re going to have to pay attention to Justin Thomas. When a guy wins twice in a row on the PGA Tour, and gets himself a 59 by eagling the final hole, attention must be certainly paid. I realize he is no stranger to true PGA aficionados, since he led Alabama to an NCAA title after being named the Haskins Award winner for being the outstanding collegiate golfer as a freshman. He had seven top-10s and 15 top-25s in 2015, securing his first PGA victory in the CIMB Classic that November. Heals tied for third in last year’s The Players Championship. But I must admit the name meant nothing to me until his recent exploits in Hawaii. And what really piqued my interest is that he is a throwback to the great golfers or yore in that he’s all of 5-10 and 145.

The much-anticipated Hall of Fame voting has come and gone, and the major takeaway is that the battle against inclusion for those with PED taints is slowly being lost. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens made significant gains and their eventual election is now likely, perhaps as early as 2018. Some voters changed their minds on these two because Bud Selig was named to the Hall by a special committee and  they reason that if Bud overlooked the PED users way back when you can’t punish the players now. I personally think Bud’s selection has nothing to do with anything regarding Bonds, Clemens and the other PED-linked candidates, but that is far from a universal view. Another sign the resistance to PED-tainted guys is softening was the first ballot election of Pudge Rodriguez, who was “outed” by Jose Canseco as a user in his book. Pudge has offered only non-denial denials in post-election interviews, so you can draw your own conclusion. For the record, I once again did not vote for either Bonds, Clemens or Sammy Sosa, but I did vote for Pudge, as well as Jeff Bagwell. The case against Bagwell is the eye test. There is no smoking gun in his resume.
Sympathy should be extended to Trevor Hoffman, who came in with 74 percent of the vote (75 is needed). A swing of five votes would have gotten him in, and we can assume he will  make it next year. But it’s going to be a long, agonizing,12 months for him, I would think.
There will be two probable first ballot selections next year. Chopper Jones falls in the category or mortal lock. I see the over/under at about 85 percent. Jim Thome, a member of then600-homer club, is not quite in that realm, but I find it difficult to think he won’t get in the first time around. One thing I do know: if the issue at stake was a “Good Guy Award,” Jim Thome would be a unanimous pick. I will always remember the year the Indians wore their socks up to the knee in honor of Thome on his birthday (August 27). Those did so, by the way, in honor of his grandfather, who had been a Triple A player. They were still wearing the socks high in his honor during the4 playoffs. I will also always associate Jim Thome with extraordinary opposite field power. He was one of those guys who stood a far better than average chance of no one touching the baseball when he strode to the batter’s box. He hit 612 homers. He walked 17747 times (over 100 nine times) and he fanned 2548 times (over 170 four times. He was my favorite non-Red Sox player of the past 25 years.

Getty Images

Getty Images

There are two other good first time candidates next year. Scott Rolen was a fine offensive third baseman who won eight Gold Gloves. He will attract some support. And then there is Omar Vizquel, whose misfortune was to have a career that overlapped extensively with a trio that framed a Golden Age of Shortstops. While attention was being properly focused on Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra, Omar Vizquel was busy earning 11 Gold Gloves, the last in 2006 at age 39. He and Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar may have formed the greatest double play combo of them all. Omar also lasted long enough to knock out 2877 hits. It will be interesting to see how much love the voters will give him. Well, Omar, I can tell you one thing. You will not get shut out (wink, wink).
Final Hall of Fame thought that has nothing to do with Curt Schilling: the New York press corps is weeping and wailing over Jorge Posada, who did not get the requisite 5 percent of the vote to remain on the ballot.  C’moon. He was a nice player, but no more a Hall of Famer than Jason Variety, who was also bounced. Yankee Hall of Famer, yes. Hall of Fame Hall of Famer? Absolutely not. Get over it.
As for Schilling, I am disappointed so many of my voting buddies have  allowed his strident tweets and far-right ideology to interfere with their baseball judgment. I don’t  plan on voting for him if he follows through on a threat and actually does run for the Senate, but I sure as hell will continue to vote for him as a Hall of Famer. The only time he was not a great pitcher was when he was injured.

A Few Thoughts 01/09/17

bobryan

I almost felt sorry for Adam Gase. The look on the Miami Dolphins coach as he walked off the field Sunday following his team’s 30-12 debacle (it sure looked and felt worse than 18 points, didn’t it?)  said something like, “Who the hell were those guys? I know we coached them up better than that.”
The Dolphins must have checked their brains at the door. They played a completely mindless game. I was one who felt certain the Steelers would win, but I was not ready for such a complete Miami no-show.

Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports

Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports

I cannot exaggerate for you the complete rah-rah build-up in both the New York Post and New York Daily News  for the Giants game against Green Bay. They were behind the Big Blue all the way. But speaking of no-shows, how about Odell Beckham, Jr. catching four passes for 28 yards while dropping three passes, one a sure TD and the other two first downs? No, I don’t believe for a second there was any direct connection between the well-publicized quickie trip last Monday to Miami and his performance in the most important game of the year. But that doesn’t excuse both Beckham and his traveling companions for introducing a needless conversational topic into the narrative. This was stupid, immature, nobody’s-gonna-tell-me-what-to-do behavior.  It put a rookie coach in a terrible position. I think all know no such thing would ever happen on the New England Patriots. It just wouldn’t.

Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe put it best in a tweet the other night. “A mark of how dominant Isaiah’s offensive season has been: He scored 38 points and it doesn’t feel like a big deal. Well, perhaps not in a season where both Russell Westbrook and James Harden are doing magical things every night, but neither of them are 5-9. We are speaking, of course, of Isaiah Thomas. We are closing in on the two-year anniversary of one of the NBA’s best recent heists, that being the February 15, 2015 acquisition of Thomas by the Celtics in exchange for Marcus Thornton and the 2016 Cavaliers’ draft pick they had owned (also as part of the trade, Tayshaun
Prince was dealt to the Pistons). Since returning from an injury in late December, Isaiah has been averaging over 30 ppg, something no one that small, not even the great Calvin Murphy, has ever done in the seven-decade history of the NBA. (In case you’re wondering, Tiny Archibald was 6-1). It will be interesting to see where this all leads for the Celtcs. Sooner or later, Danny Ainge will have to decide if the little guy is worth a max contract. That’s a tough one.

Heard this one the other day. On the basis of non-offensive touchdowns alone, Alabama would have gone 6-8.

Speaking of Danny Ainge, keep in mind the chief Celtics basketball honcho is holding the Nets number one pick this year. The way they are trending it’s a definitely high lottery pick, possibly even number one. There are a lot of enticing freshmen out there in college basketball. Ask yourself just how good a player must he be offered in order to give up that pick ? I know I can’t decide.

Brock Osweiler made some really, really nice throws as that game progressed Saturday. At least now we can say we can see what Houston saw when they doled out the big contract. And Jadeveon Clowney makes two. This will not translate to a W in Foxborough next Saturday night, however.

Elise Amendola/AP Photo

Elise Amendola/AP Photo

Are you aware of Dante Scarnecchia? He came out of a two-year retirement at age 68 to re-take charge of the Patriots offensive line, which was horrible in last year’s season-ending loss to Denver. This man has been an assistant in Foxborough under the last five Pats head coaches, starting with Ron Meyer in 1982. He has helped transform the line into a very efficient unit and it can be argued no coach in the league in any role has had a more direct effect on the fortunes of a unit. The Boston Globe ran a very nice feature on him Monday, and, predictably, he declined to be interviewed. Bill Belichick’s take: “As I’ve said many times, Dante is as good a coach as anybody I’ve ever been around.” If ever an assistant coach deserved a place in Canton, it’s Dante Scarnecchia.

Of all the amazing amazing feats we saw over the weekend, nothing topped Doug Baldwin’s catch, the one in which he somehow managed to keep the ball from hitting the ground as he cradled it to his butt. Among the attributes we never think about such are very strong hands. You must YouTube it.

A Few Thoughts 01/04/17

 

John Leyba/Getty Images

John Leyba/Getty Images

A little clarification is definitely in order.
In a recent column I recycled a metaphor I had formerly applied to the late 80s Atlanta Hawks in discussing the Kansas City Chiefs. I called them B or B-plus students who drank their milk to the bottom of the glass, looked both ways before crossing and even sent Mom a nice card on Mother’s Day. The idea is that they are a solid, well-rounded team, but somewhat shy of greatness and thus no real threat to win a Super Bowl in 2017. Ah, but then I went farther., I knew I needed to account for the unpredictable, game-changing explosiveness of Tyreek Hill, and so I threw his name in the mix. Well…what I did not do was think of something I knew very well, which is the sordid past behavior Hill brought to the table; specifically, domestic abuse. Thus, anything linking him to sending Mom a nice card on Mother’s day rang hollow.  And some people didn’t quite get the idea in general, thinking that I was implying that all the Chiefs were Boy Scouts, or something. This misunderstanding was all my fault, not the readers’. It was a case of a writer outsmarting himself, and I regret it. But I will stick with the notion that the Chiefs, with or without Hill, are not good enough to come into Foxborough and knock off the Patriots. The only remaining team that can do that, I believe, is Pittsburgh.

      The Lane Kiffin Era in Tuscaloosa ends in chaos. Gee, what else is new? What does surprise me about this whole thing is the idea that he put together a crappy game plan for the Washington game, which is what many people are saying. This is the first time I can recall him being accused of offensive incompetence. As the national championship game draws closer, more and more people are giving Clemson a serious chance to win. Dabo Swinney says that, in contrast to last year, when some key people were injured, his team is as healthy as he could possibly ask for going into this game. I still think that Bama defense will prevail, but I am starting to look forward to the game because there is some legit doubt about Bama’s superiority.
     Both the coach and the GM are out on the street, and all the local scribes have declared the once-mighty 49ers to be a complete dysfunctional disaster of a team, and they’re laying it all at the feet of owner Jeb York. Once upon a time the 49ers were the standard of NFL excellence, and it all started with Eddie DeBartolo at the top. The same can now be said of the New England Patriots, and it all starts with Bob Kraft at the top. But before he reached this stage he had growing pains as an owner. He clashed with Bill Parcells because he had deluded himself into thinking that he knew enough about pro football to voice an opinion. Nowadays, he pats Bill Belichick on the back and signs his paychecks. Things function much better that way.
    Oh, here’s a news flash: Pacman Jones is in trouble with the law. This time he is accused of head-butting a police officer and of sptting on a nurse after being arrested for disorderly conduct. This all began because he is alleged to have poked a man in the eye and then struggling with Cincinnati police officers. He was booked on misdemeanor charges of “assault, disorderly conduct, and obstructing official business.” Any team employing him needs to have a full-time defense attorney on retainer. My question is how has he ever lasted this long in the NFL? Is he that good? Apparently, and regrettably, the answer is yes.
Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports

Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports

Are you paying attention to Isaiah Thomas? He has averaged 30 ppg since returning from an injury. He had 52 (no assists) including 29 in the fourth quarter, against  Miami and followed that up with 29 points and a career-high 15 assists against Utah. He admitted he needed to show people he actually knew what a point guard’s job was after that zero assist game. There are better players in the NBA, but few who are more sheer fun to watch. I was wondering whether his 52 was a record for 5-9 guys. Nope. Calvin Murphy had 57 against the Nets in 1978. The only problem was the Rockets lost. It was loss number 11 in a 13-game losing streak. Calvin was actually a 5-9 two-guard. I think he and Isaiah could have played together, but no coach, then or now, would have had the guts to put a 5-9, 5-9 backcourt out there in the NBA. Well, maybe Don Nelson.

    Movie tips: “Manchester By The Sea’ and “Fences.” Go see ’em.

A Few Thoughts 12/30/16

Greater Love Than This No Man Hath Dept: Kentucky’s Derek Willis deliberately misseth a free throw to the left side of the rim in order that teammate Isaiah Briscoe snatcheth rebound number 10 to giveth him the third recorded triple-double in Kentucky basketball history. It does make the achievement a bit hollow, but it’s sure better than Ricky Davis giving himself a triple-double years ago by deliberately missing an easy lay-up in order than he grab the rebound.

Sure, we’re all looking forward to the college football doubleheader on New Year’s Eve, but before the Alabama-Washington game at 3 ET there is a superb appetizer. We get undefeated Villanova (13-0) playing undefeated Creighton (13-0) in Omaha.

Chris Pietcsh/AP Photo

Chris Pietcsh/AP Photo

Question: we already know they can lose, but is UCLA simply incapable of playing dull basketball? Their games with Carolina and Oregon have been thoroughly enjoyable to watch. And kudos to Oregon, which appeared out of that game on a few occasions. But I’m telling you: UCLA is appointment television this year.

Remember when Reggie Bush was Reggie Bush? He goes into his final game of the season with a chance to become the first NFL non-QB rusher to have negative yardage in 65 years. He has 12 carries for minus-3 this season. I remember thinking that if you passed on drafting him you might be spurning football’s answer to Michael Jordan. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, he plays for the Bills.

USA Today ran a piece on Curt Schilling’s Hall off Fame candidacy on Friday. Let me state for the record that he will not get shut out in the voting. If I thought for one millisecond that he really and truly endorsed the cartoon concept of lynching a sportswriter. that would be one thing. But I view to as silly hyperbole on his part. To me, he is a drop-dead, no questions asked candidate. The only time he wasn’t a great — not just good — pitcher was when he was hurt. No, I don’t agree with his politics, but so what?

December 30 is a boffo birthday day. Tiger turns 41. LeBron turns 32. The great Sandy Koufax turns 81. Outside of sports, we have such people as Matt Lauer (59), Sean Hannity (55), the infamous Ben Johnson (55), Monkee Michael Nesmith (74) and the ultra-talented Tracey Ullman (57).

I’ve always been a Kevin Love fan, and thus I am gratified that he got his well-deserved ring last season and has followed that up with 22 and 11 numbers this season.

Jessica Hill/AP Photo

Jessica Hill/AP Photo

How amazing is the UConn Women basketball team? I take Geno Auriemma at face value when he says he deliberately scheduled up early in the season to get the streak thing over with. But guess what? After defeating number 3 Maryland Thursday night they have run the winning streak to 87 and it now looks as if the streak will break triple figures. Gene created this dynasty, this tyranny, out of nothing. UConn was not a player when he arrived, and UConn is still located in Storrs, Ct., except that there really isn’t any Storrs, Ct., it being a mailing address. The actual town is Mansfield, and that’s not exactly Paris, either.

There’s lots of talk about the NFL MVP, and I’d like to go on record as saying the only reason for anyone to have voted for Tom Brady would have been if there were no other viable candidates, and that is most certainly not the case. Fellow QBs Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers and Derek Carr (pre-injury) all have a case, as did Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and maybe even a defensive player such as Khalil Mack. And I’m sure I’m forgetting some else with good credentials. Look, Brady has been as good as he’s ever been, but if someone does the job for 16 games and he does it for 12 that’s a tiebreaker for me, no matter what the circumstance was that prevented him from playing a full schedule. Anyway, I think Tom is a lot more concerned about getting his hands on the Lombardi Trophy than winning (yawn) another MVP.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Gonzaga is back again. Mark Few’s collection of regular domestic recruits, international recruits and grad transfers is making noise, as usual. Gargantuan Prezemek Karnowski (7-1, 300-plus), who missed 31 games last season with a back injury, is back, and that’s trouble for Bulldog foes. How about a 7-foot, 7-foot (Zach Collins), 6-9 (Johnathan Williams front court? This astonishing run by the Zags began in 1999, when they went to the Final 8 with coach Don Monson before losing to eventual champion UConn. Mark Few took over the following  year and he is a perfect 17-for-17 getting them to the tournament, compiling a 479-111 record, and counting. But they have been something of a tease for their fans, underachieving frequently in the tournament. They have yet to reach a Final Four and there has only been one subsequent berth in the final 8 (2015), Could this be the year?

Happy New Year to one and all. 2016 was a sports year unlike any other. We’ll be fortunate if 2017 is half as good

A Few Thoughts 12/28/16

Jason Miller/Getty Images

Jason Miller/Getty Images

Someone help me out here. I just don’t get it.
What exactly is the NBA trying to prove with this policy of announcing to the world how their referees have screwed up in the final two minutes of a game? Are we supposed to be impressed with their honesty? Fine. Wonderful. But the only thing it does, it seems to me, is make the offended team feel worse than it already does. I’m all for self-examination, assuming the goal is self-improvement. But I don’t see what possible good it does to air this sort of dirty laundry in public. The latest example took place in the aftermath of the Christmas Day game between the Cavs and Warriors, won by the Cavs on Kyrie Irving’s turnaround over Klay Thompson. The issues were twofold: a dunk by LeBron James with 1:43 left which, we were told after the fact, should have been coupled with a technical foul for hanging on the rim, and then the sequence on the game’s final play, when Kevin Durant was entangled with Richard Jefferson as he missed a potential game-winner, and no call was made.
At first Durant expressed anger, saying he had not gone to the ground without help. But when the league made its silly pronouncement that the two calls had been blown, Durant instead took a very high road. He said that the referees were under unfair pressure, that because of this policy they might become tentative while trying to be perfect. “They should get rid of it,” he said. “Refs don’t deserve that. They’re trying their hardest to get the plays right; then you look at the slo-mo and say it’s wrong. He went on to say it’s unfair “that you throw the refs under the bus like that after the game. Like it matters. The game’s over; we’re moving on.” Those are the words of a grown-up. I hope Commissioner Silver pays attention.

It was a nice story when former USA national coach Bob Bradley became the first American to become a head man in the English Premiership, but I hope he was renting, and not buying. His tenure in Swansea (that’s Wales, in case you didn’t know) is over after 85 days, two wins in 11 matches and a goal differential of minus 15 (14 goals scored, 29 allowed). The deck remains stacked against an American in the Premiership. An American faces opposition from the players, fans and media. Bradley did not exactly ingratiate himself with those factions when he referred to penalty kicks as “PKs,” a phrase unheard-of across the pond. I suppose it would be as if an Englishman coaching in the NBA referred to foul shots as “UTs” (“Unguarded Tosses”), or something. And speaking of rookie mistakes, Swansea’s owners are Americans Steve Kaplan and Jacob Levien. That’ll teach ‘em to stay inside the box.

Arriivederci, Rex. And Robb. It’s hard to feel sorry for someone with such bombast, and it’s not like he was doing a boffo job, but it’s also hard not to loom at the dismissal of the Ryan brothers in Buffalo as nothing more than scapegoat move for a franchise that has not been in the playoffs for 17 seasons. How good a head coach is Rex? He did get the Jets to lofty places in his first two years, but since then it’s been a matter of foolish unkept promises and blunders, such as there being 10 men on the field last Saturday when Jay Ajayi went for 57 years to set up the winning field goal. Let us shed no tears for Rex, who gets $15 million in walkaway money, as they say in boxing, and who has career options ranging from being a defensive coordinator, a head man in college or talking head on someone’s football shows. The one thing we can be fairly sure of is that he will never again get a head job in the NFL.
Since becoming head coach of the Patriots for the 2000 season, Bill Belichick has faced 23 opposing coaches. In the division. Discuss amongst yourselves.

ROBERT SABO/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

ROBERT SABO/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

John Harper of the New York Daily News had an interesting interview this week with baseball commissioner Rob Manfred. Asked to clarify his observation late in the 2016 season that David Ortiz’ inclusion in that 2003 anonymous testing could have been faulty, he said, “It was nascent testing. It was at a point in time when the federal government had all sorts of legal supplements out there, and distinguishing who was using what was very, very difficult. I tried to make that clear as a subset of a broader proposition.” He also defended newly-elected Hall of fame Bud Selig on the PED issue that many naysayers feel should keep him out of the Hall. “Commissioner  Selig had what I uniquely recognize as a very, very difficult job,” Manfred said. “Whether it was fast enough, slow enough, whatever, he dealt with the steroid issue during his tenure. I think he moved the issue forward dramatically. I think it’s really hard to argue with that.”
I defend Bud Selig on this issue. Many people accuse with the commissioner and the media of “covering up” on the PED issue, especially in the late 90s, and, specifically in the great Home Run Derby between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998. I confess to blissful ignorance, without question. But that’s it.
Others have taken issue with Selig on the subject of “collusion,’ saying he was an active participant in his capacity as owner of the Brewers prior to becoming commissioner. That may very well be. The problem is that, as unfair as it was to certain players, at no point in the past 25 years have I ever heard a single fan complain. I don’t believe the fans, who think the players already make enough money anyway, just never cared about “collusion.” Am I wrong?

Jason Day finishes the year ranked as the number one golfer in the world. Thus he is the eighth different number 1 in the past eight years, starting with Tiger in 2009, followed by Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Tiger, McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. I am totally OK with this. I like having so many golfers vying for the top, instead of for number 2, as was the case during Tiger’s dominance. But that’s me. By the way, Tiger currently occupies the 652 slot. I doubt he’ll ever win another tournament, let alone a Major.

No one believes in the Falcons outside Atlanta. I’d love to see them get through the NFC.

Over in the AFC, the Chiefs are the hard-working B, B-plus students who do all their homework assignments, drink their milk to the bottom of the glass and look both ways before crossing and even remember to send Mom a nice card on Mother’s Day. And they have that funky X-factor in Tyreke Hill. Beware.

You knew Mike D’Antoni and James Harden would be a match in Hoop Heaven.

A Few Thoughts 12/09/16

Steph Curry is the two-time reigning MVP of the NBA, but he’s not the Golden State guard who has people wagging their tongues these days. And to think some of us wondered if Klay Thompson would somehow become the Forgotten Man in the new world order of the ball club.

Ben Margo/AP Photo

Ben Margo/AP Photo

Thompson already had one distinction. His 37-point period two seasons ago is an NBA record . But he did something this week that was equally dazzling, scoring 60 points in 29 minutes against the Pacers last Monday night. And even that may not be his most intriguing achievement. For, according to easily documented evidence, in the course of shooting 21-for-33 (13-for-19 on twos and 8-for-14 on twos) he put the ball on the floor — this is almost truly impossible to believe — 11 times. Yes, he dribbled the basketball 11 times. Let me put this another way: he bounced the basketball in question 11 times all night long while taking 33 shots and scoring 60 points. Who among us has ever heard, or even conceived, of such a thing? This gives an entirely new meaning to the concept of “catch and shoot,” wouldn’t you say? Someone must have been setting some good picks.

In the Better Late Than Never Dept. it has come to our attention that Ring Magazine has named Muhammad Ali as its Fighter of the Year. The year is 1966. Explains editor-in-chief Michael Rosenthal, “The editors at theme obviously felt strongly that Ali, while succeeding in the ring, didn’t meet other criteria they deemed important. But we can see the injustice by today’s standards even if we take issue with some of the things Ali said and did.” I’m just pleasantly surprised to learn that Ring Magazine is still publishing.

In a matter of the Big Guy vs, the Little Guy we give you the logo battle between the newly-christened NHL expansion franchise Las Vegas Golden Knights and the College of Saint Rose, a Division II school in Albany, N.Y. Were I a judge, any potential suit would be dismissed as “frivolous,” since there is no conceivable harm that could come to the school that I can see. But there will be some good billable hours in here somewhere. What we do know is that this should provide some excellent material for St. Rose alum Jimmy Fallon (he left school one semester early to pursue his comedy career and returned 14 years later to finish up for his degree in communications). I still say the only appropriate nickname for the hockey team is the Croupiers.

Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Want to know how much of baseball is dominated by agents? Yankee general manager Brian Cashman laments that he had to give Aroldis Chapman an opt-out after three years, but says he actually is fortunate. Regarding the opt-out clause he has given Chapman, Cashman said, “I don’t like it. At the end of the day, I know that the competition that we were up with were giving him opt-outs in Year 1 and 2. At least we put in Year 3.” This, folks, constitutes a management victory here in 2016. Meanwhile,not everyone is pleased that the Yankees have brought back Chapman. Melissa Mark-Vibvierto, who is the Speaker of the New York City Council, has called Chapman”s return an “outrageous decision,” and “an insult to fans who now have to choose between their favorite team and their conscience.” Chapman, you may recall, was accused of choking his girlfriend and of firing off several gunshots in his garage. He was suspended for the first 30 games of the 2016 season.

Dale Earnhardt. Jr. has been cleared to drive again after sustaining a concussion. I’m no NASCAR buff, but I know what this means to his many fans.

Tune in Sports Reporters on ESPN Sunday at 9:30 ET. Mitch Albom and Jemelle Hill will be there and I’ll try not to embarrass myself. Mike Lupica is our host, of course.

A Few Thoughts 12/06/16

 

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Stop the presses! Only minutes ago the Red Sox pulled the trigger on a blockbuster deal, obtaining Chris Sale from the White Sox for some prime prospects, including Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada and flame-throwing righthander Michael Kopech. So they now have a top-of-the-rotation trio of Sale, 2012 AL Cy Young winner David Price and  reigning Cy Young winner Rick Porcello. That would be two lefties and a righty. GM Dave Dombrowski also obtained righthanded reliever Tyler Thornburg from San Diego to set up Craig Kimbrel.  Moncada was a particularly prized prospect, but the Sox prospects cupboard is not yet bare. File away the name of Rafael Devers, yet another valued infield prospect. Interestingly, by trading away Kopech the Red Sox maintain their reputation as an organization that cannot, or will not, develop its own pitching. And Dombrowski maintains his reputation as a GM who values proven commodities far more than prospects.

      There was really no right or wrong, only making sure it made sense and isn’t it too bad some deserving team was left out?
      I’m speaking, of course, about the final Four of College Football. Once you got beyond Alabama, the arguments were always going to begin, and that includes doubts concerning Clemson, whose record may or may not be as gaudy as it appears, depending on your point of view. In the end, there were five teams for three spots, or two for one, again depending on your point of view.
       I am fine with the outcome. It would have been so much easier had Ohio State beaten Penn State, but we all know they didn’t, and so we are left with a scenario in which a team that won its conference title, and which, along with USC — another minor controversy here — is the hottest team in the country and which, defeated a team that was chosen ahead of them has to watch as that team they defeated goes to the Playoffs and they do not. And then there’s Michigan, which is saying, yeah, well, we beat Penn State by 39, and it could have been 59.
      It would not have surprised me had Pac 12 champ Washington been the one losing out, but the Huskies did survive, and I’m pleased with that. I’m all for a little geographic balance, and I’m anxious to see if Jake Browning and his receivers can cause some problems for the Men of Saban.
    The agitation for an expansion to 8 (or even 12, with first round byes) will increase, and this is something I do not support. If you have eight, number nine will whine. If you had 118, 129 would whine. The number of championship-worthy teams is going to vary year to year.  But I think expansion is inevitable. One argument you’re sure to hear is that if they can do it at every other level of NCAA football, and NAIA football, why can’t they do it at the highest level?
      Oh, yeah, Clemson. If I had been on the committee and if the subject of Clemson vs. Someone Else for a spot had come up, I might point out that on October 24 the Tigers had a game with North Carolina State about which all they can say is that they did not lose. They were about to lose when the Wolfpack placekicker missed an eminently makeable game-winning field goal. So, to me, for the purposes of any comparision discussion that eventual overtime triumph falls in the category of “non-loss” rather than a true, clear-cut “win.”
      All that said, I’m happy Deshaun Watson will be playing another game or two this season
Sergio Estrada/ USA TODAY Sports

Sergio Estrada/ USA TODAY Sports

Matt Barnes is the quintessence of an NBA journeyman. He began his career as the 46th pick of the 2002 draft, and he needed two seasons in the NBDL to make it into the league. It is a career that has carried him to nine teams, two of them twice, as well as a 10th (Cleveland) which released him before he played a game. He is a bastard 6-6 forward, capable of playing either the 3 or the 4, or maybe not.I’ll say this someone always seems to find use for his services.

      Now here comes the “But.” But he is reckless on the floor, if not downright dirty, and he is a constant pain in the you-know-what off the floor. He is currently charged with choking a woman at a Manhattan nightspot. I wasn’t there, and neither were you, but when you read up on it things don’t sound so good. In typical Matt Barnes fashion he is attacking the “biased” media, saying ,”Don’t believe everything you read” in a tweet to his 430,000 followers. All this took place following a game at, yup, 3:20 AM. Now you know what they say about nothing good happening after midnight, correct? That goes triple for “after 3 AM.”
      Matt Barnes has had a very good run. He has squeezed everything out of his ability he could. He’ll have plenty to tell his grandchildren. It would now be best for everybody if he would just go away.
      UCLA emerges as number 2 in the college basketball polls this week. Attention should be paid. I went out of my way last Saturday to make sure I could see the UCLA-Kentucky game, and was I ever glad I did. I am a UCLA convert! Freshman guard Lonzo Ball is going to be one of the most talked about players in the nation this season, but what I really liked were the Bigs, junior Thomas Welsh and ballyhooed freshman T.J. Leaf, each 6-10 and each in possession of multiple skills. Then mix in Aaron Holliday, Isaac Hamilton and coach’s son Bryce Alford, and you’ve got a potent team. I know there’s a lot of pressure on coach Steve Alford after a 15-17 team and a 10th place finish in the Pac 12, but i think there’s going to be a lot of excitement in Pauley Pavilion this year. And shed no tears for John Calipari’s Wildcats. They are going to be just fine. Come March, this UCLA win at Kentucky may be regarded as the best road win by anyone all year.
Morry Gash/AP Photo

Morry Gash/AP Photo

I understand the objections to Bud Selig getting into the Hall of Fame die to his presiding over the Steroid Era and his involvement with Collusion. What I do know is that the only previous commissioner who even came close to Bud Selig’s boysh love of, and devotion to, the game of baseball itself was Bart Giamatti . There is nowhere else Bud Selig wanted to be on any one of the 365 days (or even 366) each and every year other than a ballpark. I like that in a commissioner.

    Trust me, I have nothing but admiration for Navy and coach Ken Niumatalo. But once I again I shall root unabashedly this coming Saturday for Army, just because. Sixteen straight Midshipman wins, and 18 out of 19,  is creepy; that’s all. This is supposed to be a rivalry, arguably as special as any rivalry in America  So…Go Cadets!.

A Few Thoughts 12/02/16

Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group

Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group

The Rockets defeated the Warriors, 132-127, in double overtime Thursday night. Ordinarily, I would applaud that score. That’s the NBA I grew up on.
Oh, but I guess I was also supposed to be excited and/or impressed because the teams combined for a new NBA record: a combined 88 three-point attempts out of 212 total FGAs. Sorry, count me out. They Warriors were a rousing 12-for-44. The Rockets were slightly better at 14-for-44. Yeah, right. I’m really thrilled.
I don’t care if I’m the last man standing in opposition to the three. I still think it’s the worst thing happening to the game of basketball in my lifetime. The three, which was brought into the game as a gimmick by Abe Saperstein for his short-lived American Basketball League, and then adopted by both the Eastern Basketball League and the American Basketball Association, now distorts the game at every level. And it doesn’t appear there will be any going back.
Worst yet, I know what’s coming. It’s only a matter of time before we get a four-pointer.
Whoopee.

Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports

Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports

Rob Gronkowski is almost undoubtedly gone for the season due to a herniated disk. This adds to the long list of injuries that include ankle problems, a broken arm, torn ACL and MCL a hamstring and probably 117 other things I have forgotten. He has somehow managed to score 68 touchdowns in 88 games, regardless. I think he’s the greatest tight end in history based on performance. What we all wonder now is how much more punishment his body can take. As harmful as his loss will be, the Pats do have a very viable tight end remaining in Marcellus Bennett, and when they lose in the playoffs it will be due to their defense. I don’t think they were winning even with a 100 percent healthy Gronk.

Baseball didn’t do anything stupid. That’s probably the best way to look at the successful bargaining between the owners and Players Association for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Both sides got less what they wanted, and that, by definition, makes for a reasonable meeting of the minds. We as fans are less concerned about the minutiae of compensations and luxury taxes and assorted high-level financial mumbo-jumbo. What’s pleasing to us is the abandonment of the dumbest idea Bud Selig ever had — at least the dumbest idea that actually was put into action — that being, of course, the idiotic notion that the home field advantage for the World Sweeties would be determined by the outcome of the All-Star Game. Bud was embarrassed and upset when the 2002 game ended in a tie in his very own ballpark when the skippers plan ran out of hurlers and the commission overreacted. Henceforth, the team with the better regular season record will get the advantage. I have no idea what the tie-breaker will be. I still think the most logical way would be to give it to the league getting the upper hand in inter-league play, not that I like inter-league play, by the way. There’s another idea that has run its course. I wish they had done something about the foolish idea to expand rosters from 25 to 40 in the most important month of the season, September. I really don’t why anyone would oppose this. Oh, that’s right: managers. Well, boo-hoo. Let them cope.

I write in advance of the season-ending college football games, including the conference championship games. What amuses me is that not a whole lot has changed since the BCS days. We are just arguing about a few more teams; that’s all. Football just can’t be basketball, where enough games are played to have an inarguable system. In the end , every team with a remote chance of winning the NCAA tournament gets in. Somebody wins 6 games and gets crowned champion. Period. No muss, no fuss. But football is different, and nothing can change it. This year we have about eight or nine teams vying for four spots, and when those lucky four are chosen the arguing will get even more vociferous, as the ones left out, and their followers, bitch and moan. Conversation is what distinguishes college football. Conversation, not competition. Expand to eight, you say? Well, tell it to number nine. At any rate, I’m glad the final decision is made by human beings, not a computer. Let computers be research aids, but give me real, live human beings utilizing their best judgment, every time. Meanwhile, won’t we all take Alabama vs, the field?

RUSSELL WESTBROOK! That’s all. Just RUSSELL WESTBROOK!

A Few Thoughts 11/23/16

Once it was simple. Once it was even pleasurable. Your baseball Hall of Fame ballot arrived in the mail. You did your homework. You made tough calls. You knew you were fallible, but at least the issues always had to do with baseball performance, and baseball performance, only. Sadly, that is no longer the case.
    Due to the infestation of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) into the game, voters have been forced to become moralists. We have to pass judgement on candidates who may or may not have utilized PEDs to boost their performance. Sometimes, we pretty much know for sure they did it, and even when they may have started. In other cases there is less direct evidence, but good reason to have strong suspicions. But that assumes it matters.
     There is a wide difference of opinion within the voting body on how to address the PED issue with regard to Hall of Fame voting. To some, it makes perfect sense to ignore the issue entirely and judge people strictly on the numbers, the awards, the overall performance. After all, do we know for sure which juiced pitchers pitched to which juiced batters? Do we know how many home runs would have landed on the warning track, absent the juice, or how many Ks would not have been Ks if the suspected hurler were throwing 88, as opposed to a juice-aided 93? No, we do not. Rather than get bogged down attempting to be judge and jury, these voters go about their business as if PEDs had never existed.
      Thus far, they have been less numerous than the rest of the voters. I am one of the rest. I have yet to vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa. I did not vote for Rafael Palmeiro or Mark McGwire, each now off the ballot. I was identifying myself as a guardian at the gate type.
        But I did vote for Mike Piazza, despite the accusations of the tell-tale acne on his back. I will vote once again for suspected user Jeff Bagwell. about whom there is no direct evidence, only the so-called “eye test.”  Was voting for Piazza being inconsistent? Probably. But it speaks to the fogginess of the issue.
Michael Dwyer/AP Photo

Michael Dwyer/AP Photo

This year we have two more candidates who should waltz into Cooperstown with 95 percent or more of the vote, but who will do no such thing because of PEDs. The first, Manny Ramirez, has one of the great resumes of all-time. We needn’t waste five seconds reviewing his stats. On the surface, he’s a drop-dead Hall of Famer if ever there was one. But he was twice rightfully suspended late in his career for using PEDs. Granted, his work had been done years before. However, do we know for sure he wasn’t using before and just didn’t get caught? No, we do not. Again, should it matter? anyway, I doubt he will get in, at least not right away.

      The other tainted candidate is Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez, who is one of the handful of greatest catchers we’ve ever known. He was never suspended for PED usage, but he was identified by Jose Canseco as a user, and Jose has been surprisingly accurate in his claims.Every voter is aware of the charge. This one will be interesting. It would not surprise me if Pudge gets in. Granted, it’s just a hunch.
     For the record, there are five incumbents on my ballot, and I will vote for them once again. In no particular order, they are Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina and Jeff Bagwell. The general assumption is that Bagwell will make it this time. The same is true for Raines, and it had better be true, because this is his last year on the ballot. I worry about Edgar, because he is going backward in the voting, not forward. Too many of my colleagues stubbornly downplay DH as a legitimate position, and this will impact David Ortiz five years hence even more than his own association with PEDs.
       I think Schilling is a terrific candidate. The only times he was not just good, but great, were when he was injured. He was great in Philadelphia. He was great in Arizona. He was great in Boston. His post-season log is impeccable. C’mon, guys do the right thing. I hope his blowhard nature and his politics aren’t factoring into someone’s evaluation.
       Mussina grew on me. He was ultra-reliable, and his .638 winning percentage (270-153) got my attention, as did his K/BB split of 3.58-1.
      maxresdefault  The one easy new call is Vladimir Guerrero. His average 162-game season over a 19-year career was .318-34-113. His career OPS is .931. He was a perennial All-Star. He had a rocket arm, three times leading the league in assists from right field. I can’t imagine him not getting in.
       My position remains the same. Some day I may awaken and say, “The hell with it. I give in. I can no longer be judge and jury.” I must admit I’m getting closer to adopting that viewpoint. I suspect I’ll be holding onto this ballot as long as possible while I beat myself up.
        What I really want is for Jeff Idelson and the folks at the Hall itself to take charge of the matter and remove the pressure on the voters. I would like Jeff to commission someone to write a statement that would be posted in giant letters at the entrance to the room where the plaques are mounted. The statement should acknowledge that there was a period of time when PEDs were rampant in baseball, but that the issue is too complicated and uncertain for voters to separate who did what and when, and they should vote strictly on the numbers and performances. But you, the fan, should obviously feel however you wish about these players from the era.( I would even advocate someone giving a silent middle finger to a player he or she dislikes, but I doubt Jeff would go that far).
      I’m far from the biggest Notre Dame fan you’ll ever meet, but it just seems to me the Irish are getting whacked by the NCAA far out of proportion for the alleged offense. I don’t advocate cheating, but until the NCAA doles out the appropriate punishment to North Carolina for two decades of known academic fraud there should be a moratorium on other penalties for anyone else  That said, once upon a time it was undeniably true that Notre Dame operated on a higher moral plane than most everyone else playing big-time sports. Let us put to rest any notion that this remains the case. Notre Dame is just like everybody else.
      Raise your hand if you knew that Argentina and Croatia will be battling for the Davis Cup. When I grew up, it was either us or the Aussies. Boy, are those days gone.
      The shelf life of modern sports facilities is frighteningly short. It truly seems like yesterday that the Detroit Pistons couldn’t wait to get out of town and head to the ‘burbs.  First, they went to Pontiac and the hideous Silverdome. Then in 1988 they went to Auburn Halls in a building the revolutionized arena construction with its ingenious use of luxury boxes. And now,  they are heading back downtown. Hard to believe.
        The new NHL franchise in Las Vegas will be known as the Golden Knights. I was hoping they would be named the Croupiers.