Tuesday, February 20, 2018

National Past Time

Let's hear it out there today for Rob Manfred, baseball commissioner and all-around gentleman and scholar. He's bound and determined to save the National Pastime from itself, and the Blob says it's well Past the Time someone did.

Manfred, it seems, is determined to return baseball to its roots, when it was a fast-paced game and not, like now, a bunch of guys calling time to adjust their sleeves, their batting gloves, the angle of their batting helmets upon their heads. Wanting to be presentable is an admirable quality, but it's also boring. And Manfred does not want baseball to be boring.

And so he's moving ahead with plans to limit the number of mound visits to six, and pondering a pitch clock. He might also be pondering cracking down on the batting glove adjusters, but that is probably wishful thinking on the Blob's part, because that's the part about baseball in the new millennium the Blob finds most annoying.

If it were up to me, I'd pass a rule that decrees any batter calling time to step out of the box for anything but an injury or legitimate equipment situation would get one warning. The second time he does it, he's out. Grab some bench, Style Boy.

This might be anathema to some baseball fans, but not to those of us of a certain age. Routine three-, three-and-a-half, four-hour nine-inning games is not the baseball we grew up with, and it's not the baseball that made the game the National Pastime in the first place. Baseball fans who say otherwise miss this essential point. Manfred isn't trying to appease 2018 sensibilities by trying to make the game move more quickly; he's returning baseball to what it always was intended to be.

And so, good on him. You go, boy.

Cheatin' by any other name

I'm sure I speak for everyone this a.m. when I say "Wait ... what?"

By which I mean, "Wait ... what? Juicing in curling?"

Well, yes, boys and girls, there is juicing in curling, especially if (surprise, surprise) you happen to be Russian. Show of hands here. When Russian curler Alexander Krushelnitsky failed a drug test the other day, was anyone really surprised? And if athletes will juice in curling, what's next?

Waiting now for that upcoming doping scandal in the world Scrabble championships. Waiting also for the expose that will reveal Boris Spassky was using the Cream and the Clear when he played Bobby Fischer for the chess championship of the universe back in 1972.

Because, you know, the Russian thing.

This brings us to the obvious point, which is why the Russian athletes are even at these Winter Games. A whole pile of them got tossed out, originally, only to be reinstated. Now they're competing not as Russia but as the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR), which means if any of them wins a gold medal the Russian flag will not be raised,  nor will the Russian anthem be played.

Altogether now: Woooo! That'll show 'em!

Or, you know, not.

After all, they'll still get to go home with an Olympic gold medal, when (according to many, many other athletes at the Games) they shouldn't be there at all. And they're still representing Russia, even if the Russian Olympic committee wasn't allowed to be in PyeongChang, and even if the Russian flag doesn't fly and the Russian anthem goes unheard. So where's the punishment here for the rampant doping by Russian athletes?

Beats me. All I know is, in letting them compete as the OAR, the IOC has one oar out of the water.

Or, you know, something like that.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Generation next

Sometimes the page turns right in front of you, and there is nothing figurative about it. You turn on your television, and there is the future staring back at you. You turn on your television, and there is all this unfamiliarity where the familiar used to be.

The Daytona 500 happened yesterday, first herald of spring for a lot of us. It was also something else, and all you had to do was look at the leaderboard to see it.

All these kids, right there at the top. All these kids, deciding what once got decided by Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt (Sr. and Jr.) -- and even Jimmie Johnson, who's suddenly the old guard of the sport.

There, on Sunday afternoon, was Ryan Blaney, 24, leading 118 laps. Chasing him around at the front of the restrictor-plate freight train were a pile of other 20-somethings: Erik Jones and Joey Logano and Chase Elliott and Trevor Bayne and Austin Dillon and Daniel Suarez -- and also Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr., who would make history on a day stuffed with it.

Around all of it, there was this shine of newness -- a new-car smell, if you will -- that reminded you of golf a few years back, when an injury-ravaged Tiger Woods faded into irrelevance and the Rory McIlroys and Rickie Fowlers and Jordan Spieths began taking over the game.

In the end, after the usual Daytona chaos, it was Dillon who won, 27 years old and reaching back to the past to present the future. He won, after all, in that iconic forward-slanting 3, the number made famous by Earnhardt Sr. He won 20 years after Earnhardt put the 3 in Victory Lane in the 500, and 17 years to the day he died there on the last lap. He won with a kid's lucky penny glued to his dash just as Earnhardt had in 1998, and he won with the kind of move that was pure Earnhardt: Punting Almirola out of the way in the green-white-checker when Almirola moved over to block him.

Man had the Daytona 500 to win, same as Almirola did. Each did what he had to do to win it. It was old-school NASCAR, executed by its new face.

Nowhere was that new face more literally obvious than in the car that behind Dillon. Wallace, 24, was driving it. He gave Dillon the shove that got him to Almirola, then outdragged veteran Denny Hamlin to the line to finish second.

Then he broke down and cried in the postrace presser, overwhelmed by the weight of history. This will happen when you're the first African-American to run regularly in the Cup series since Wendell Scott in the 1960s. This will also happen when you finish second at Daytona, the highest finish in the 500 for an African-American driver ever, and the highest finish for an African-American in any NASCAR Cup race since Scott won in Jacksonville, Fla., 55 years ago.

And he, too, reached back to the past to present the future. Hank Aaron called him before the race. Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton, who is also black, tweeted his congratulations. And lest anyone forget, this happened during Black History Month, when everyone reaches back to the past to illustrate how far people of color have come in America, and how much farther there still is to go.

Sometimes the page turns right in front of you. And there is nothing figurative about it.

Sunday afternoon, on a February day brimful with echoes, the page turned. And what it revealed, what it always reveals, was the best part.

Because beyond that page, you could see all the others yet to be turned.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Hoops apocalypse

North Carolina coach Roy Williams can say what he wants. You can't tell the Blob that hearts aren't going pitty-patter on the nation's college basketball sidelines these days.

This is because the FBI's stealth investigation into college buckets is continuing to collect evidence, and, according to ESPN sources, a lot of very big names could be involved. Roy Williams certainly qualifies as one of those, and North Carolina would certainly be at my epicenter if I were investigating six-figure handshakes from skeevy apparel company operatives to high-end prospects, and the college coaches/athletic deparments that get paid handsomely to pimp their gear.

Williams, after all, works at a university where academic fraud was done on his and other athletic programs' behalf for two decades. UNC all but copped to it during the NCAA's investigation. Yet somehow it squirmed off the hook on a technicality.

So, yeah. If there's corruption in college buckets, you could do worse betting Carolina will get swept  up in the FBI's probe of same.

That's not to single out Carolina, of course. The sport in general has been a laughable parody of the desired college athletics model for a long time, if one assumes that model exists anymore or ever really did. If there's money to be made from something -- and there are billions to be made by a whole lot of interested parties in Big Five football and basketball -- then money will be made. That's America, boys and girls.

And so, yeah, I think Williams and any number of other name coaches are sweating bullets as they wait for the other shoe to drop, because there's a good chance when it does it will be a seven-league boot that will crush the entire rotten edifice. However this comes out, their world is about to change, incrementally or epically. And so when they walk out there on weekend afternoons and weekday nights and the bands are playing and the student section is making the place shiver and Dickie V is over there doing his schtick, the Blob's guess is it's more of a haven than usual for them.

Because when the fans go home and Dickie V goes home and Big Monday or Titanic Tuesday or whatever is over, and they're finished wondering what their blue-chip freshman was thinking, jacking up a three in that situation ...

Well. They might just have a second or a minute or five minutes to wonder something else.

Who have they talked to?

What are they saying?

How much DID I make off that last shoe deal, and is that why (Blue Chip Freshman) came here?

But, no, these deals are perfectly legal, it's all a part of doing business as a (choose one) Big Ten/ACC/SEC/Big 12 basketball program, surely everyone knows THAT ...

Sleep well, gentlemen. Sleep well.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Follow the bouncing ignorance

And now, here comes Laura Ingraham, shrieking harpy of the right, telling LeBron James to just "shut up and dribble." It seems he had a thought or two the other day on the leadership of Our Only Available President vis-a-vis race relations, and ol' Laura didn't think much of them. In fact, she thinks he should keep them to himself, because, after all, he has no standing to say anything on the subject.

After all, he's just a basketball player.

Know what I wish?

I wish ol' Laura would keep her thoughts about athletes to herself. Because she's just a radio jock.

And if I had a nickel for every radio jock/general nitwit who's played the tired old "dumb athlete" card when an athlete ventured an opinion on something besides athletics, I'd have enough money to buy out ol' Laura's contract and replace her with someone who doesn't traffic in lazy clich├ęs. Someone who, I don't know, knows her ass from third base on the subject of athletes.

I was a sportswriter in Indiana for almost 40 years, and what I learned in all that time is the "dumb jock" stereotype was very often a laughably bad fit. And that's especially true in 2018, when athletes like LeBron James (and dozens of others) are entrepreneurs as much as they are athletes.

In LeBron's specific case, he and his agent, Maverick Carter, are involved in a whole clutch of businesses and charities, not the least of which is SpringHill Entertainment, a media production and content company. It's a business model followed successfully by, among others, Magic Johnson, who began by building movie theaters in underprivileged neighborhoods and now presides over a business empire that includes an ownership stake in the Dodgers and an ownership advisor role with the Lakers.

But I suppose he wouldn't have anything relevant to say about race relations and the leadership qualities (or appalling lack of same) of Our Only Available President, either.

That men of his and LeBron's stature, as powerful African-American public figures, very much have relevant things to say on the subject of race and leadership is obvious to anyone with more than a grade-school level of understanding. The whole "dumb jock" thing reflects even a lower level of understanding than that, and, frankly, in this case, carries a whiff of racial animus. You didn't hear ol' Laura take to task Steve Kerr or Gregg Popovich -- both white NBA coaches -- for criticizing Our Only Available President, after all.

Nope. She reserved her bile for LeBron and Kevin Durant, black men with even more standing to speak out on this particular subject than Kerr and Popovich have. In so doing, she ignored the entire well-documented history of African-Americans who used their platform as elite athletes to exert influence far beyond the lines on a court or athletic field.

Pro tip here, ol' Laura. Google "Arthur Ashe" and "apartheid." Better yet, Google the name of the company you work for (Fox), and "celebrity guests", and see how many show business folks your network's put on the air to talk about politics.

But of course, they're generally invited on because they express the opinions consistent with Fox's right-wing bias. So we'll never hear anyone there tell them to shut up and go make movies.

But LeBron?

Why, how dare one of the most recognized men in the world criticize Our Only Available President? How dare he, a mere (black) athlete, think he had the standing to evaluate the leadership of a former game-show host?

The nerve of the man. The nerve.

Friday, February 16, 2018

More truth bombs

And now this from Sportsball World, to which the Blob will soon be returning when he gets the disgust out of his system., and also when it feels appropriate again.

Here's Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs, saying "something has to change" at the vigil for the 17 students and adults slaughtered Wednesday at his high school alma mater in Florida.

And here's Golden State basketball coach Steve Kerr, whose father was murdered by gun-toting members of the PLO, telling us to vote the bums out and put people in Washington who have the stones to tell the gun lobby where and how far up it can stick its satchels of cash.

That about sum it up?

Yeah. I think that about sums it up.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Who we are now

The shocking thing, of course, is that none of us is shocked anymore. Seventeen kids and adults dead in a Florida high school, 17 kids and adults who are no longer around to laugh and love and live their lives, and what is that but just another day in America? What will it be next week or the week after or next month, when two or three or five or six more kids and adults leave for school and never come home?

Two or three or five or six?

Hell. That might not even make the lead on the news anymore.

This is, after all, who we are now. This is the America we apparently want, because we keep sending this America to Washington.

I am sorry. I know I should be writing about Mikaela Shiffrin today, or those crazy skeleton people bombing down a ribbon of ice headfirst, or LeBron and The New Christy Minstrels over there in Cleveland. But Sportsball World seems so far away today. It seems so incredibly tiny and insignificant and silly.

And I am tired of it. I am tired of it, and of much else.

I am tired of living in a country where mass shootings have become banal happenstance, the barbaric new normal in a bloody and barbaric nation. I am tired of living in a country obsessed with calibration, a country that has warped a certain constitutional amendment so out of round that lawmakers now push legislation to ensure even the mentally ill can arm themselves like the 82nd Airborne.

I am tired of those same lawmakers telling me this is not the time to talk about that, not the time to talk about maybe making it even a smidgen harder for angry people to take out their anger with military-grade weaponry and a satchel full of clips. I am tired of them saying this because so many of them believe there's never a time to talk about it.

Seventeen kids and adults dead, 30 incidents in which three or more people were shot in a year barely six weeks old, and what are you going to do? Write your senator or congressman? What the hell for? So he or she can spit back the NRA bullet points he or she has learned so well?

And he or she has. The gun lobby has stuffed their war chests with cash to ensure it.

But, hey. At least they'll send along their condolences. They're great at condolences.

I am tired of their condolences. I am tired of their specious arguments, that more laws won't stop what happened in blah-blah-blah. Probably they're right, because technically no law ever stops anyone from doing anything if his intent is strong enough. Yet we still pass laws, because that's what civilized nations do.

Look. I grew up in a house full of guns. My father was a member of the NRA until he figured out it was serving the gun industry and not hunters and sport shooters. And so I have no intrinsic problem with firearms, or the ownership thereof. I have no beef with the friends and family members I have who are avid outdoorsmen and hunters, because they are rational, responsible people and conscientious stewards of the land. What they kill, they put on the dinner table.

This is the way it should be in America. It's the way it used to be, before the country lost its mind on the subject of guns. I want that America back. I want an America back where there aren't people getting shot in multiple numbers every couple of weeks, and where the gun lobby and its Washington lackeys don't say "if so-and-so had only had a gun" -- as if packing heat should just be the normal thing if we want to be safe in America.

Car keys, wallet, Glock 9. Yep, we're ready to go to Wal-Mart.

I'm sorry, but that's insane. It's not how I want to live. And it's not how people in other countries -- civilized countries -- live.

Remember a few weeks ago, when Our Only Available President complained about America having to be a beacon of hope for a bunch of brown and black people in "shithole" countries?

Well. I have a question for you, Mr. President, if you're done sending out your condolences.

Shithole countries?

What the hell do you think 30 multiple-victim shootings in 45 days makes us?