Friday, July 31, 2015


Carlos Gomez was finally moved Thursday, the Milwaukee Brewers shipping their prized outfielder to the Astros. This was less than 24 hours after the Twittersphere did what it tends to do, which is shoot first and ask questions later.

It was all over the Twitter/blogo/podcastsphere, before anything was officially announced, that Gomez was headed for the Mets in exchange for shortstop Wilmer Flores, who had been with the Mets organization the entirety of his  career. It wasn't true, but, thanks to the wonders of social media, Flores heard it in the middle of the game he happened to be playing at the time. And so he wound up on the field fighting back tears, believing it to be the last time he would ever be wearing a Mets uniform.

Twenty-four hours later, Gomez teared up himself, acknowledging his own New Media-inflicted emotional roller coaster by saying "I'm not shocked by anything after what happened last night."

So, yes, boys and girls and Evelyn from "A League of Their Own," there is crying in baseball. There's also a responsibility to nail something down before you report it, a quaint notion that sometimes succumbs to itchy trigger fingers with a full load of 144 characters in the mag.

Look. This is not some old-guy-nodding-over-his-oatmeal rant, even if it sounds like one well begun. Twitter and all its various social-media cousins have revolutionized how we consume news, and that's not a bad thing. Getting the word out as quickly as possible has always been a major part of the journalist's charge, especially when the word's coming from people who don't necessarily want it out there. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, as they say. So the less control the aforementioned people have over the message, the better off we all generally are.

Which does not mean the journalists getting the word out don't bear a responsibility to show some control themselves. In fact, they have more responsibility than ever.

The problem with the Twittersphere is that, while it's easier now to get news out into the 24/7 cycle, it's easier now to get news out into the 24/7 cycle. By that I mean, it's a hell of a lot easier to jump the gun on a story. All it takes are those 144 characters and 10 to 15 seconds. And so the mad rush to get something out there before your competitors has become even madder.

The main casualty of that, as it always is, is accuracy. And that's the downside to the Twittersphere: It puts more of a premium on getting it out there than getting it right, because even if you get it wrong ... wow, check it out! I just picked up 500 more followers!

Which is the currency by which we measure success in media these days, apparently.

And which leads to the absurdity of Wednesday night, with Wilmer Flores in tears at shortstop because he found out in the middle of  game he was being traded (or so thought). When he next came to bat, he  got an ovation from the fans -- who also thought he was being traded, because of course they were all firmly plugged into the latest trade news on their phones.

The only ones who didn't get the word were the Mets themselves, who hadn't told Flores anything because there wasn't anything to tell him.

That would have been bad enough had the Twitter gunslingers been right. But they weren't.

And that, boys and girls, is your Mass Media 101 lesson for today.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Today's Olympic update

... comes from Rio de Janeiro, where preparations for next summer's Games are proceeding apace.

Well, not apace, exactly. And not proceeding, exactly.

What is proceeding, and apace, are some pretty nasty intestinal disorders for prospective Olympic athletes training on what's supposed to be the sailing, shell and kayaking venues for next summer's games. Apparently, there's stuff in the water at those venues. And it's not good stuff.

The Associated Press reports that, since Rio does very little sewage collection and treatment, much of it gets dumped raw into open-air ditches that empty into streams and rivers which feed the Olympic watersports sites. The AP conducted four separate studies starting in March, and has discovered dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria in the water at those sites.

It's a problem Brazilian authorities have promised to fix with a major overhaul of the city's waterways. Whether that can happen before next summer, of course, is the question of the day.

In the meantime, here's what visitors to Rio can expect, according to the AP account:  "But the stench of raw sewage still greets travelers touching down at Rio's international airport. Prime beaches remain deserted because the surf is thick with putrid sludge, and periodic die-offs leave the Olympic lake littered with rotting fish."

Let the Games begin!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Caught emptyhanded

And now for the news that is not news, the bulletin without a bullet in its chamber.

Of course Roger Goodell upheld Roger Goodell's ruling in Tom Brady's Deflagate appeal. It was always a pointless killing of air time/waste of ink to speculate otherwise, because the guy wasn't going to reverse himself and that's all there was to that.

Of course Brady is guilty as sin in Deflagate. It was always an equally pointless killing of air time/waste of ink to speculate otherwise, because to do so was to suggest a couple of low-level functionaries decided to deflate game balls on their own hook in the most rigidly top-down structure in professional football.

Equipment guys don't just decide to monkey with game balls in the Patriot system, not without getting a hall pass from someone higher up the food chain. It's the height of absurdity to even think that's possible. And yet that's what Brady wants America, and Roger Goodell, to believe.

The proof of his guilt might not stand muster in a court of law, but the NFL isn't a court of law. And the more Brady talks, the less credible he is.

He's now claiming  the NFL actually didn't prove he did anything in that court-of-law sense, and that he destroyed the cellphone that likely had incriminating traffic between him and the aforementioned equipment guys after it was ruled he didn't have to turn it over to NFL investigators anyway.

Lord. This is Tom Brady taking his legal cues from Lance Armstrong, Tom Brady thrashing around  deep in Bill Clinton I-Did-Not-Have-Sex-With-That-Woman country. It's lying with such breathtaking arrogance you're almost compelled to believe him. You're almost compelled to think, damn, if the man's that adamant about it, he really must be as innocent as a spring lamb.

But he's not. The bare truth is, he cheated. He cheated not just for any old occasion, but for the AFC title game. He had a couple of flunkies doctor game balls, and no amount of wonkish dissembling about PSI levels and phases of the moon can change that simple reality.

Whether he had to do it or not is irrelevant, because he thought he did. Whether it had any effect on the playing of the game is irrelevant, because he thought it did. And so he did it.

To defend himself now by saying the NFL didn't definitively prove anything only makes him sound more guilty. As does saying he destroyed the cellphone only after he was assured the NFL couldn't ask him for it.

That's like claiming you're innocent of that bank heist because the judge ruled you didn't have to produce the tools with which you did the heisting. So, yay, now I don't have to retrieve them from the bottom of that lake.

The skinny is, Brady destroyed evidence when he destroyed that phone. Does an innocent man do that?

And will he fight to the bitter end to avoid the only truthful answer to that question?

Sure he will. After all, Lance did. So did Bill.

Heck of a company Tom Brady's suddenly keeping.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Things left unsaid

Alex Rodriguez hit his 24th home run of the season last night, on his 40th birthday, in the New York Yankees' 91st game of the season. He now has 59 RBI to go with his 24 homers, which puts him on pace for 43 home runs and 106 RBI, which would be his best season since 2007, when he hit 54 homers and drove in 156 runs.

Rodriguez was 32 years old then, eight years younger than he is now. And he hadn't just sat out an entire season. And, well ... I'm just sayin'.

And I think you know what.

No one I've noticed has said it -- most of the major talking heads are more prone to mulling whether or not it would be appropriate to name him the Comeback Player of the Year -- but surely we're all thinking it, right? Surely we're all wondering how a guy with his track record has, at the age of 40, turned the clock back eight years and become a reasonable facsimile of what he was in 2007. And done it, at 40, after missing an entire season because of, yes, his issues with PEDs.

Is it unfair now to wonder if he's still having issues with them?

Is it throwing cold water on a marvelous story of redemption to raise a skeptical eyebrow at that story, given that we're dealing with a multiple offender here?

If it is, it's because of our natural inclination is not to spoil a good story, and, absent his history, Rodriguez' twilight resurgence is a good story. It is about redemption, after all. It is about regaining the love for the game, to hear Rodriguez tell it, and in so doing win back the love of fans who had seemingly abandoned him for good.

Once upon a time they booed him, or just ignored him. But, lord, do they cheer him now down there in the Bronx.

Absent Rodriguez' history, it's the best story of this baseball summer.

 But of course, that history will never truly be absent. It is a permanent shadow, and it will follow Rodriguez for the rest of his days. That is his enduring punishment -- not for juicing, but for being so unrelentingly untruthful about it.

The old saying, after all, still pertains: If something seems too good to be true, it usually is.

Especially when the person doing that something has had so many issues with what is true.



Monday, July 27, 2015

Solitude's child

So now the Great Hypothetical has an answer, almost: What if they threw a NASCAR race and nobody came?

Oh, there were somebodies Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, several somebodies, scattered here and there among that immense sprawl of seating like the first settlers staking their claim in Dan'l Boone's Kantuckee lands. But the 22nd Brickyard 400 played mostly to a whole lot of  big empty. It's not a new story -- attendance has been shriveling since Tiregate in 2008 -- but it perhaps has never been driven home more starkly than it was yesterday.

The aerial shots revealed entire sections of seating, primarily in the third turn and north chute, that hadn't even been opened, the Speedway deciding instead to turn them into vast advertising billboards. In the other short chute, there appeared to be only tiny clumps of fans here and there. Ditto the seating behind the pits.

I'm just spitballing here. But the eye test tells me this had to be by far the most sparsely attended Brickyard ever. It was ... sad.

Until yesterday, I had covered every Brickyard 400. So I remember those first few years when the stands were an immense carpet of humans wrapping itself around the old place. People were actually saying the Brickyard would eventually outshine the Indianapolis 500 itself as the Speedway's premier event.

Of course, there were people who thought New Coke would be the rage, too.

What happened, of course, is that after the initial rush of seeing stock cars at Indy, it quickly became  apparent that stock cars at Indy were blander than oatmeal. The straightaways were too long, the corners too flat and tight, the groove too small. Once the leader got out in clean air, he was gone, and everyone behind him became parade floats.

I can't remember the last time there was a dramatic finish in the Brickyard, a Hornish-overtaking-Marco, Montoya-Power-Dixon duke-out. Yesterday, in front of almost no one, might have come closest to that, ironically. It came down to one last restart on a green-white-checker, and Kyle Busch, who may never lose another race this season the way he's going, beat Joey Logano to turn one off the green.

And that, of course, was that.  Whoever won the restart was going to win, because, well, it's NASCAR at Indy. No one passes anyone for the lead except off restarts -- which were pretty wild yesterday, and the only real thrilling moments of the 22nd Brickyard,

And so Busch won his third straight Cup race and fourth in the last five, and that was nice, but it was also not ... momentous. The race that would one day outshine the Indy 500 is now, sadly, just another NASCAR show playing to half-empty venues. It might as well be Kansas or Pocono.

NBC thought so little of its drawing power Sunday, in fact, it bumped it off the main feed to its sports network. Taking its place on the Big Channel: Rally cross racing.

That's not quite like ESPN shunting you into the wee-hours programming alongside monster trucks. But it's damn close.

All I know is, the place where I went to watch it also had baseball and golf on its multiple big-screen TVs, and there was a scattering of people there on a summery afternoon. Most of them were watching the Canadian Open, which is not exactly what you'd call a major. A few were watching the Reds game. I might have been the only one in the joint watching the race.

"Not much sports going on right now,"  the gentleman sitting next to me commented.

I pointed past his shoulder at the TV I was watching.

"Well, the Brickyard 400's wrapping up," I said.

He looked at the screen, blinking.

"Oh. Yeah," he said. "Forgot that was today."

He wasn't the only one.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Brick(yard) shy

There's a hole in this Sunday morning, and it's loud and it's bright and there are people sitting in lawn chairs in front of campers in it, smoke rising in thin wisps from the breakfast fires while they crack open the first cold one of the day.

Yes, boys and girls, it's Brickyard 400 day at Indianapolis again. And for the first time, ever, I won't be there.

I was there for the first one, when the place was your basic mass of humanity, and a 23-year-old kid who grew up eight miles west of the Speedway won as the Mass Of Humanity sent down its love in thunderous sweat-blurred waves. And I was there for the 21st, when the place was a third full, and the kid-turned-elder-statesman won for the fifth time in an event that had lost its shine some years back.

I saw the Brickyard 400 when it was new and different (Holy gee, Martha, stock cars at Indy!) and when it became less new and different, and when it became what it is now: a race that too often turns into a 400-mile Tournament of Roses parade, with gaudy, blaring moveable ad campaigns circling each other nose-to-tail endlessly, endlessly.

I can't exactly say I'll miss that. But there's a hole in my Sunday nonetheless.

And if Jeff Gordon, the kid-turned-elder-statesman, doesn't win today in his long wave goodbye to  motorsports' most iconic landmark, I'll have a neat pair of bookends for consolation, assuming I've said goodbye to the Brickyard for keeps myself (and something tells me I haven't). I'll have come in with Jeff Gordon, and gone out with him. That's some pretty humbling company.

I'll be thinking about that this afternoon when I crash down on the couch and flip on the TV. I'll be thinking about the sheer magic of that first Brickyard, the fans wandering through the place wide-eyed in their Dale Earnhardt shirts and Jeff Gordon shirts and Ricky Rudd shirts. I'll be thinking about the 60-some drivers who tried to get into it (including A.J. Foyt, driving a Barney-the-Dinosaur-purple car).

 I'll close my eyes, and remember standing down inside turn one when the field came to the green.  I'll remember the animal roar of all that Detroit iron, and the black-and-white car of Rick Mast, the first Brickyard polesitter, leading them down, and the combustible August heat lying over everything like a collapsed tent.

 I had a camera with me that day, and as Mast dove into turn one, I raised it and snapped a picture. I still have that picture somewhere. It's one of the rare times I remember being utterly conscious of preserving not just a moment, but living, breathing history.

This will not be that today. It'll just be another Sunday, another Brickyard, probably three more hours of watching the Governor's Trophy Float chase the President's Trophy Float around and around.

It's only the hole in the day -- that odd, I-should-be-somewhere-else vacancy -- that will feel different.

Friday, July 24, 2015

That name

Once upon a time in America there was a tobacco brand named Nigger Hair.

Once upon a time there was a restaurant named Sambo's, an engine additive named Sambo X-15 and, yes, Darky Toothpaste, which employed a grinning black man in a top hat as its logo.

I can't imagine, when those went away, anyone shaking his or her head sadly and saying it was a terrible thing. I can't imagine a lot of impassioned talk that the America we all know and love was collapsing beneath the weight of tyrannical political correctness.

But then, those were the days when deliberately offending someone was considered rude, not some kind of half-assed virtue.

And so all of the above vanished from the landscape, and there wasn't a lot of caterwauling about it.  Everyone understood, on some level, how wrong it was.

No more, apparently.

Now Fort Wayne Community Schools is at long last reconsidering the North Side Redskins, a well-duh move that should have been made years ago. And here come all the apologists out of the woodwork, ranting about political correctness and muddying a pretty straightforward issue with all manner of irrelevant segues.

Tradition. Good intentions. The fact that there are Native Americans who don't consider "Redskins" to be a racial slur. On and on.

But here's the thing: It is a racial slur. It might not have seemed so in 1927, when North Side High School came into being, but Nigger Hair Tobacco wasn't considered a racial slur then, either. Or Darky Toothpaste. Doesn't change the fact that all of them were.

And, yes, there are Native Americans who don't consider "Redskin" a slur. I'm sure there were African-Americans who weren't all that bothered by Darky Toothpaste, either. No group of people is or ever has been monolithic. So it's a flimsy argument in your favor that, because some Native Americans don't consider "Redskins" a slur, you're off the hook.

You're not. And if you think your are, wander out to one of the reservations out West and start calling the remnants of proud Indian nations "redskin." Then duck, because somehow I think your explanation that it's meant to honor those nations will fall on deaf ears.

So, yeah, it's time to change this. It's not 1927 anymore. Native Americans actually have a voice in America now, which is why "Redskins" is considered what it always was, a racial slur. If it wasn't considered so in 1927, it's because white people were controlling the message. Were controlling all the messages, really.

That's not true in 2015, and if you're mourning that, it's time to get over it. We live in a multi-cultural society now, and that's not a bad thing. It's just different.

So it's time for "Redskins" to go, not out of political correctness, but simple common decency. This does not mean Indians or Warriors or Braves or even individual Native American tribal names (the Central Michigan Chippewas come to mind, probably because I'm a Mid-American Conference guy) will go with them. There's a clear difference -- as clear a difference as there is between African-American and Darky.

And as far as tradition is concerned ... traditions change. They always have. Twenty, 30 years from now, the graduates of North Side will be just as passionate about their new nickname as some of the school's are now about Redskins.

And so: All hail the North Side River Rats!

OK. So that probably won't be it.

 But a graduate of New Haven  (whom North Side always knocked out of the sectional, every year, forever) can dream, can't he?


Thursday, July 23, 2015

A woman's place

The universe may implode today, and if it does you can shake your fist and curse the Blob. That's because it will be my fault.

I always said the Ice Capades would play Hell if I ever agreed with Colin Cowherd, ESPN's outgoing radio blowhole (he's leaving to do ... I don't know, something). But yesterday I was dialing through the channels on my car radio, and up popped Cowherd.

He was talking about Becky Hammon, who made history last year when the San Antonio Spurs made her the NBA's first full-time woman assistant coach. Now she's done it again by coaching the Spurs' summer league team to the summer-league title.

(I know. You didn't know there was such a thing as a summer league title. Neither did I. But there is. They've got their own trophy and everything).

Anyway ... I tuned in just in time to hear Cowherd scoff at the notion that a woman couldn't be an NBA coach, because she was never an NBA player or the players wouldn't respect her or whatever.
Said he didn't recall much about Spurs' coach Gregg Popovich's sterling playing career. (He didn't have one). Suggested you ask LeBron James how much he respects David Blatt. (He clearly doesn't, or at least Blatt defers to LeBron on all matters).

 Against my will, I found myself nodding along.

Because, yes, those are excellent points. That old saw about a successful coach having also to have been a player has been dull as dishwater for a long time. In fact, conventional wisdom now is that coaches who actually amounted to something as players generally fail. There are numerous examples, and untold examples (Popovich foremost among them) of successful coaches who never played a lick.

And here's the thing: Hammon was a successful player, for a long time, in the WNBA.  And the Spurs, by all accounts, do respect her. If a David Blatt can succeed coming out of the wilderness of overseas hoops, or a Brad Stevens can do it coming from Butler, why is it so outrageous to suggest Hammon could competently steer an NBA team because she came out of the WNBA?

This is, after all, modern times, whether you like that or not.  Even NBA commissioner Adam Silver says so.

 And so: You go, girl.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Dressing the part

Dave Haugh of the Chicago Tribune (and a fellow Ball State grad) stuck this landing before I could get to it. If you want to honor the life force of Indiana, why not pick something real?

Instead the Indiana Pacers went Hollywood, to loud hosannas from every quarter. And I get it. I do. Like Haugh, who grew up in a small Indiana town himself, "Hoosiers" gets me every time, no matter how often I watch it. I can quote Coach Dale chapter and verse. I can diagram the picket fence and run it at ya. And I'd have benched Rade, too, the little goober.

It's quite simply one of the two or three best sports movies ever made, and I'm not just saying that because I grew up in Indiana listening to Hilliard Gates (brought to you, of course, by Peter Eckrich and Sons). OK, so maybe that is why I'm saying it, a little. It's still true, dammit.

And so when the Pacers unveiled special Hickory Husker uniforms they'll wear on occasion to honor both the 30th anniversary of the film's release and Indiana's enduring love affair with high school buckets, I immediately wanted to run out and buy one. And I wondered aloud if, when the Pacers wear them, head coach Frank Vogel will be compelled to wear Shooter's gettin'-married suit. It is, after all, a humdinger.

But Haugh's right. If you're gonna honor basketball in Indiana, why not break out throwback 1954 Milan unis -- the real team upon which "Hoosiers" is based, and whose story remains, for better or worse, the seminal Indiana basketball fable?

That question has an obvious answer, and you see it every time you walk into a McDonald's these days and immediately get assaulted by Minions. Corporate tie-ins are the grease for the wheel in America now. And so McDonald's promotes the "Minions" movie, and the Pacers promote the 30th anniversary of "Hoosiers," and so on, and so on.

The problem in the latter instance, if you're the Pacers, is you're not so much honoring your state's history as obscuring it. Out-of-staters are already under the impression Hickory actually exists, and Jimmy Chitwood is the greatest player in Indiana high school basketball history. And didn't he go on to Butler to play for Brad Stevens, spurning the entreaties of Coach K and Coach Cal?

You see what I'm getting at. Jimmy Chitwood didn't exist, but Oscar Robertson and Rick Mount and Damon Bailey did. And they were better than Hollywood could ever have imagined. So why not honor them?

Milan's the obvious choice for that, but I've got another one. It's the state champions who came after Milan, the state champions who were the most transformative in Indiana high school basketball history. And -- bonus -- they were from Indianapolis.

How awesome would it be for the Pacers, instead of Hickory unis, to take the floor some night wearing throwback Crispus Attucks unis? The team of Oscar and Willie Merriweather and Sheddrick Mitchell and Ray Crowe? The team that made Indiana high school basketball ecumenical by becoming the first all-black school to win the Indiana state championship 60 years ago?

The corporate tie-ins might suffer a bit. But if you're gonna honor history, honor history, not fiction.

Heck. I bet even Jimmy Chitwood would be cool with that.  

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Lines of demarcation

We called it factory talk back in the day, and it worked like this:

The phone would ring.

 You'd pick it up.

On the other end would be some conspiracy theorist in the foundry or the heat treat or the paint shop -- some guy  out at Guide or Delco-Remy back in the days when both were riding the crest of the 1970s boom in Anderson, In.  He'd be shouting (or so it always seemed). That's how you knew where the call was coming from.


One year the high school basketball star was Ray Tolbert, the 1977 Indiana Mr. Basketball from Anderson Madison Heights.  One year it might have been one of the Zacharys from Anderson Highland. You get the idea.

The idea is that kids moving around is no new phenomenon, and that is especially true in Fort Wayne. The same year Ray Tolbert was winning Mr. Basketball, another basketball star in Fort Wayne was living across the street from my former brother-in-law. My former brother-in-law played football at Harding. The kid across the street from him wound up playing basketball at Wayne.

So, it happens. Probably not as much as the conspiracy theorists like to believe, and probably not always because the coach at the rival school across town is a blackhearted Machiavelli intent on stealing away what's rightfully your school's. After all, when your school's coach does it, it's completely legit.

That said ... it's happened forever here. And if sometimes it is completely legit, sometimes, yes, there probably has been some occasional poaching involved. It's why I've always laughed out loud at the idea that the parochial schools in town have some inherent advantage because they can "recruit" -- and do, shamelessly, to hear people talk.

"Oh, hell," I'd always say. "It's Fort Wayne. Nobody's going where they're 'supposed' to go."

Which wasn't exactly true, of course. What is true is that enrollment lines in Fort Wayne Community Schools often have been remarkably elastic, and for a variety of reasons.

Well. No more.

Now the school system is cracking down, a direct result of  Indiana (which is not now nor will ever be known as the Education State) putting the financial squeeze on.  That means FWCS has to cut back on bus service, and that means kids who've been busing all over town won't be able to do that anymore.

How this will affect the football programs at the district's five high schools  is unclear, but according to this piece by Reggie Hayes of the News-Sentinel, the coaches don't seem inordinately concerned about it.  Of course, away from the media, they might be in a full-blown panic. And, if that's the case, it's probably a little more full-blown at the powerhouses (i.e., Snider) than elsewhere, because the powerhouses are the ones who are perceived to have most benefited from FWCS' laissez-faire enforcement of its enrollment lines.

What I suspect, though, is that the primary impact of the district's belt-tightening will be on that aforementioned perception. I think people are going to find out that what they always took to be conventional wisdom is more along the lines of mythology. No, the Sniders and North Sides haven't traditionally won more because they have bigger recruiting budgets. Kurt Tippmann (and Russ Isaacs and Mike Hawley before him) never spent their summers driving around town with duffel bags of unmarked currency in the trunks of their cars, the better to lure some prize freshman to the corner of Reed Road and Fairlawn Pass.

The powerhouses have won -- and this is true of Snider and North and Luers and Dwenger and everyone everywhere, really -- not because they outslicked everyone, but because of the quality of their programs. That's what I think everyone's about to find out.

I know. Boring, right?

And too bad, in a way. I kind of miss those phone calls.


Monday, July 20, 2015

O Canada. Oh, woe is us.

Any good historian could have set you straight. Despite what we like think here in the US of A, Canada's always been better than us.

I mean, we are 0-for-2 in attempts to conquer our neighbors to the north.

Benedict Arnold failed to take Quebec in the Revolution, then sold us out to the British (to rub salt in that particular wound).  Then, while Canada's British pals were burning our capitol, we failed utterly to return the favor, in comic-opera fashion, in the War of 1812.

So we can't beat the Canadians in war, we can't beat 'em hockey, and there's some pretty compelling evidence their beer is better, too. And now?

Now we can't even beat 'em at our own game.

Yes, that's right. Last night, in the Pan-Am Games, the Canadians won the gold medal in baseball by beating -- you got it -- the United States. Forget the Confederate flag. It's an outbreak of bleeping red maple leafs we really ought to be worried about  down here in Lesser America.

After all, if the Canadians can beat us in baseball, what's next? Ontario gets Vermont and New Hampshire in a package deal? LeBron James leaves Cleveland (again!) to join the Toronto Raptors? All Gordon Lightfoot, all the time, in America's elevators?

Or how about this: From now to the end of time, every U.S. president must take the oath of office while wearing a throwback Quebec Nordiques jersey. And instead of the Bible, he takes the oath with his right hand on a copy of My Life, by Bobby Orr.

Then Don Cherry, the crazy-uncle host of Hockey Night in Canada, comes out dressed in a suit fashioned from an American flag and leads everyone in a rousing chorus of "O Canada." And all the while ranting that we'd better get the bleepin' words right, because it's not like we've got an alternative.

I mean, what are we gonna do? Invade 'em?


America's day

We are a provincial country. In that, we are probably no different than any other country -- only louder about it, with shinier trappings, and at center stage of the world's consciousness instead of somewhere lurking in its wings.

So when you point out that part of the problem for IndyCar is that so many of its stars hail from elsewhere, it's undoubtedly true even if it makes you queasy in the boiler at some basic level. And the reason it does that is so many of those stars are such eminently likeable people -- who doesn't like Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves, for heaven's sake? -- and would be eminently saleable if only IndyCar remotely knew how to sell them.

(The other reason it makes you queasy is how narrowly the line is drawn sometimes between being provincial and being xenophobic. We're getting a perfect illustration of that right now from alleged presidential candidate Donald Trump, an old-school demagogue who knows the quickest way to dupe the masses is to pander to their ugliest instincts. And so it's not just "Yay, America!" with him, it's "We gotta get rid of them dirty rapin' Mexicans 'cause they're takin' your jobs!" And the masses cheered, sadly).

But back to IndyCar.

Its issue is not that it doesn't remotely know how to sell its foreign stars, it's that, despite their appeal, Americans like to see Americans win. And they will flock in greater numbers, and with greater enthusiasm, to sports where Americans win.

And so Sunday was a good day for IndyCar, because Americans were everywhere. An American, Ryan Hunter-Reay, won the Iowa Corn 300 for an American team owner (Michael Andretti) An American (Josef Newgarden) finished second for two more American team owners (Sarah Fisher and Ed Carpenter). Another American, Sage Karam, finished third. Another, Graham Rahal, finished fourth.

It marked the first time Americans swept the podium in an IndyCar event since the 2006 Indianapolis 500, and if it likely won't be an habitual thing, it did indicate that the American presence in IndyCar is in good health and getting healthier.

The sport likely will never attain the prominence or visibility in motorsports it once had for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the product or its viability. And it  likely will never entirely slay NASCAR's 800-pound gorilla, an outlier that skews the public's perception for what constitutes success in motorsports. But it's a heartening prospect for a sport that is still in some sense struggling to recover from the defection of arguably its two brightest American stars, Sam Hornish Jr. and Danica Patrick.

Who really ought to come back to IndyCar, if for no other reason than it would be much less labor intensive for them these days.

There is, after all, lots of help now to wave that flag.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Tiger's tale

In case you missed it, St. Andrew's knocked down Tiger Woods and stole his lunch money yesterday in the first round of the British Open, extracting a 4-over 76 from him that left Woods tied with Tom Watson for 136th or thereabouts.

This is the final British Open for Watson, who's not as old as the Old Course but is getting up there. As for El Tigre ... well, apparently age was the meme for his day, given all of that.

Bad enough that he went swimming in Swilcan Burn and found hallowed trouble all over his sport's most hallowed ground. But he also got flamed by AARP -- which is hard to do, and therefore oddly impressive if you think about it.

It seems Woods made a harmless crack the other day when asked about retirement -- something about how he didn't have his AARP card yet. Well, AARP was not about to take that lying down. And so, when Woods, who's 39, limped in with his wreck of a round yesterday, AARP tweeted this:  "It's better to be over 50, than it is to be over par. "


Man. Old people are mean.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Scam of the century, ongoing

So I'm trying to decide what $250 million could buy me, now that the politicians in Wisconsin have become the latest to cave in to blackmail. Better roads? Better schools? More libraries? Universities (more on that later)?

Nah. Let's give it to a basketball team instead.

Let's build a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks because the new owners (with the not-so-subtle backing of the NBA) basically threatened to move the team to Las Vegas if Wisconsinites didn't pony up. It's an old standard, playing off municipalities against one another, and the reason it's an old standard is it always works.

And so the owners, a couple of stickup artists named  Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens, will get their new arena virtually for free, if the state Assembly, as expected, approves what the state Senate just passed. Oh, they'll have to kick in $150 million, but that's couch cushion money for two guys whose aggregate worth is somewhere well north of $3 billion. No word on whether they'll also score a bundle of food stamps and other welfare the public so often resents, unless of course it's welfare for a couple of billionaires.

Then it's all about job creation, a weak jest in these cases, given that economists long since shot that one full of holes. These big stadium/arena deals, at least on the major-league level, never create enough jobs to make them worth the public investment, and the ones they do create are mainly transitory construction jobs. The rest are restaurants and bars that simply shift the existing workforce from other restaurants and bars around town.

None of this is anything new, of course, but what makes it especially obscene in this case is the backdrop against which it's happening. While the Wisconsin lege gets ready to comfort the comfortable, the state's governor, the famously anti-labor, anti-education Scott Walker, just signed a budget which will gut the University of Wisconsin system, previously one of the best in the nation.

The amount he's taking away from his state university?

You got it: $250 million.

Ain't (selective) austerity grand?


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Hindsight alert

I don't know if Jordan Spieth will win the British Open. Like the Blob's ever been down with the crystal ball thing?

What I do know is he's 21 years old and he's won almost everything else this year, a pretty significant slaughter of expectations. There's no way he should be doing all this at his age, and everyone knows it. But because he is, if he winds up putting the Old Course between two slices of bread and having it for lunch this weekend, I won't be shocked. He's pretty much worn out our capacity for that.

And if he doesn't?

Well, here's something else I know: I won't be starting any sentences with "If only he'd ..."

The best part of 24/7 media here in science-fictiony 2015 is the flow of information is more untapped than it's ever been. And the worst part about 24/7 media in 2015 is the flow of pure unadulterated crap is just as freely untapped.

It's a veritable open field for second-guessers, and even preemptive second-guessers. That's what's going on right now around Spieth, who chose to honor a commitment to the John Deere Classic last weekend rather than spend two weeks at St. Andrews unlocking the mysteries of the Valley of Sin. That he won the John Deere has not stopped anyone from deciding it was a tactical mistake, and, if he winds up not winning this weekend, that will be the reason why.

In a word, balderdash. (A pretty good word if you get to pick one). If Spieth winds up not winning, it won't be because he overstayed in America or hasn't played sufficiently on links courses, having just won the U.S. Open on a links course.

It will be because Adam Scott remembers that he's the best links golfer in the world. Or because Rickie Fowler, who won the Scottish Open, decides he kind of likes the way courses play in Scotland. Or because some as-yet-faceless Euro who's played St. Andrews a million times lapses into an Open coma, forgetting this weekend is something other than just four more rounds at the Old Course.

And if Spieth does win?

I fully expect someone out there to say he would have won by MORE, won more easily, if he'd skipped the John Deere.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Pete's night

So tonight the spotlight will find Pete Rose again, after long years of wandering a wilderness of his own making. He'll be honored as part of the Big Red Machine, because that's what you do when the All-Star Game is in Cincinnati. He'll wave to the crowd. The crowd will pour out its love in return, and that love will be fierce and unconditional.

Heck. Jim Gray might even leave him alone this time.

All of this will be more evidence that baseball and commissioner Rob Manfred do not really think he's the greatest criminal in the history of the game, nor do they believe it serves the game's purpose to Stalinize its history by treating him as such. Pete will have his moment tonight because it's entirely appropriate for him to have that moment. Baseball will survive the outrage.

What it won't do, what it can't do, is allow what is inappropriate. And that includes enshrinement in Cooperstown.

Once upon a time I said Pete's banishment from the Hall was simple justice for the way he violated the game's most inviolable rule, and the only way for him to overturn that banishment was to come clean. Finally, he did, or so we thought. And even though it was entirely self-serving (as is everything with Pete), I thought it was enough.

The man had done his time in purgatory, not to say in every card show and whistle-stop independent baseball town in America. He'd owned up. He'd been, for want of a better term, rehabilitated.

So, let him in. Certainly everything else about him screamed Hall of Fame, even if his rectitude didn't.


Well, now, of course, it turns out Pete still can't tell the truth. Now it turns out he DID bet on the game as a player, and rather than admit it, he's gone into lawyer mode by saying that, technically, he didn't lie, because he was also the Reds manager at the time.

Please. Enough.

Enough with the bobbing, the weaving, the hair-splitting. Enough with the supporters who try to justify him with moral equivalency ("What about the steroids guys? You gonna tell me Pete's gambling hurt the game more than steroids?").  The man not only touched baseball's third rail, he  wrapped it in a bearhug. And he's still lying about it.

And so ... give him his night in Cincy. Let the love pour down around him. Acknowledge that, from a purely performance standpoint, the doors of Cooperstown should swing wide for him, and likely will someday.

But not for awhile yet. Not for a good long while.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Cubs factor

So tonight is the All-Star Home Run Derby, and this time I might have to watch. It would break my streak of never having watched the Home Run Derby, but you know what they say about records. They're made to be broken.

 Tonight would seem the night to do it, because there are two Cubs in the thing -- Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant -- which means a Cub has a 1-in-4 chance of winning. I want to be watching if that happens, because the skies may part and Harry Caray will reappear astride a golden stallion, flanked by Frank and Bertie from Winnetka bearing chalices of Old Style.

Or something.

Or something, because these are the best odds the Cubs have seen in awhile, and you don't want to miss it.  Mainly you don't want to miss it because it's Bryant and Rizzo, the two stalwart pillars of  a  Cubs future that for once is so dazzling it challenges your ability to forecast doom. You look at where they are now and what they have waiting in the pipeline, and suddenly finding a scenario in which they screw it up becomes unexpectedly difficult.

They're still the Cubs, sure. But Rizzo is already a coming star, and Bryant looks more like Mike Trout 2.0 every day. And all evidence suggests there's more where they came from.

No one would be so rash as to predict a World Series sometime in the not-terribly-distant future. But imagine if it happens. You could put Theo Epstein in a FedEx envelope and ship him straight to Cooperstown, because no front-office type in the history of baseball could match his feat of shepherding two of the three most snakebitten franchises in baseball to the promised land.

Next stop for Theo: Cleveland.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. For now, it's Bryant, it's Rizzo, it's Cubness unchained in the Home Run Derby. The only dark cloud: Albert Pujols, former icon of the hated Cardinals, is also in the thing.

Uh-oh. Tell me I didn't just pick the winner.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Mitigating circumstances

The thank-you fruit basket is no doubt in mail, addressed to one Harold Henderson. The card attached will be brief and to the point: "Regards, Tom Brady."

Or so one assumes now that Henderson, an arbitrator called in by the NFL, has reduced Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy's suspension from 10 games to four games, exactly the number of games Roger Goodell deemed Brady worthy of in Deflategate. And if you're wondering here what the connection is, you'd do well to revisit the power of public perception, and how even the mighty Shield readily bows to it.

Because now Goodell and Co. are looking at the absurd prospect that Tom Brady's punishment for abusing footballs is precisely equal to Greg Hardy's punishment for abusing women, not a place the NFL likely cares to go right now. The league is already playing catchup from the notion, backed by plenty of corroborative evidence, that it's soft on domestic violence. Now it becomes a league in which knocking around women is regarded as no more heinous than the covert deflation of footballs. How's that gonna play in Peoria?

To be sure, the original penalty meted out by the NFL was 10 games, but appearances are appearances. And the NFL can ill afford this appearance. That's the price it pays for so long turning a blind eye to the its Greg Hardys -- who was originally convicted of throwing his ex-girlfriend around, then was freed after a settlement in civil court.

Whereupon the ex-girlfriend made herself scarce when it came time to show up in court, almost literally taking the money and running.

So how is this good for Tom Brady?

Because appearances are appearances. And so don't be surprised if the sudden (and embarrassing)  equality of Hardy's punishment and Brady's doesn't influence Goodell's decision in Brady's own arbitration. He'll never admit it, but if  Goodell reduces Brady's suspension to, say, two games, it'll be almost impossible not to make that connection -- and just as impossible to credibly refute it.

Perception wins again.



Friday, July 10, 2015


So, children, you want to know who Kenny Stabler was?

Kenny Stabler was the cool kid in school who pranked the principal and never got caught.

Kenny Stabler was the kid who threw erasers at the board when the teacher's back was turned, then snickered when you got blamed for it.

Kenny Stabler was Tim Riggins, for fans of "Friday Night Lights." He was the bad boy who wasn't really that bad. He was who men wanted to be and women wanted to be with, the perfect QB 1 for the kick-ass-on-Saturday-night, kick-ass-even-harder-on-Sunday-afternoon Oakland Raiders of the 1970s, the most outrageously renegade (and fun) team in professional football.

Between 1973 and 1979, Stabler won a Super Bowl, 74 regular season games and seven postseason games for those Raiders, and when he died yesterday at 69 it gave occasion to ponder just how much less fun the NFL is today than it was then. It's always been a business, pro football, but it's not always been so relentlessly, soullessly corporate. And so you wonder what would have happened had Stabler come along now instead of when he did.

I'll tell you what would have happened: He'd have been traded five times because five organizations (they're not teams anymore; they're "organizations") would have decided he wasn't worth the off-the-field "distraction."  He'd have been traded because the percentages say you can't keep drawing up plays in the dirt and flinging the ball into the teeth of the Cover-2 and succeed in Today's NFL. He'd have been traded because of that Instagram photo of him partying the night before a game, and that other Instagram photo of him partying the night before a game, and that other Instagram photo of him partying the night before a game.

Shoot. In Today's NFL, Johnny Manziel's considered a hell-raiser and a bust because he goes to Vegas every so often. The Snake and the rest of the boys in Oakland would have asked if Johnny Football wanted a nice glass of milk to go with that choirboy getup.

Now Manziel gets packed off to rehab to deal with his "maturity" issues, and what a world, what a world. The NFL got rich and traded its soul in return. It's more popular than ever, but not nearly as much fun. The money keeps rolling in, and now quarterbacks aren't quarterbacks anymore but investments, and if they don't genuflect before the computer models and live the lives of Trappist monks, they're considered bad investments and it's on to the next guy.

No room in this NFL for that pass the Snake threw against the Dolphins, with the clock winding down and the end of the season staring him in the face. So the Snake scrambled and got hit and then he let the thing go into the end zone as he was going down, let it go into triple coverage, let it go into the arms of Clarence Davis and into legend.

Today the NFL courtiers who pass as "commentators" would have been all over talk radio the next day, saying Stabler just got lucky. Saying it was a dumb pass that should never have been thrown. Saying, despite the fact he got away with it and the Raiders won, this was exactly why long-term Kenny Stabler was a bad investment.

One weeps. And then, raises a glass.

To hell with the Shield. I'll take the Snake -- and the Snake's NFL -- any day.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

An explosive situation

So maybe the solution is this: More minicamps.

More minicamps would equal more supervised activity would equal less time for that perennial non-favorite of NFL teams, Players Behaving Dumbly. You just can't leave these guys on their own, apparently. Stuff happens.

In just the last week, last week being Fourth of July and all, two NFL players tried to blow themselves up, with varying degrees of success. Jason Pierre-Paul of the Giants shattered his thumb and had to have his right index finger amputated after a fireworks accident. C.J. Wilson of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had to have two fingers amputated, same reason. Maybe the next big thing in NFL offensive schemes is not the Chip Kelly spread, but the Bursting Bubble Screen featuring M-80s and Silver Salutes.

(A brief aside here: When did it become permissible to report a player's medical condition, complete with photos of his medical records, without contacting the player first? I thought this was a massive no-no under HIPPA, but ESPN did it anyway in its reporting of the Pierre-Paul case. I smell lawyers in Adam Schefter's future).

At any rate, you really do have to wonder if NFL teams will start coming up with more OTAs and the like, superfluous though they might be. A s'mores minicamp, perhaps. A wiffleball minicamp. A Zumba minicamp followed by an embroidery minicamp followed by a poetry-reading minicamp.

Anything to protect these guys from themselves. Idle hands may or may not be the devil's workshop, but the idleness clearly isn't good for those hands. They tend to lose pieces of themselves.

You might wonder why two reasonably well-off NFL players (and I can't think of any who aren't) would be messing with fireworks less than a month before training camp -- especially if there are clauses in their contracts that would cost them a pile of they engaged in such activities. I mean, really, if you're Jason Pierre-Paul, and you stand to make at least $14 million this year, why don't you just hire a professional to shoot off your fireworks for you? Why take the risk?

But then, that's failing to take into  account the power of the athletic illusion -- i.e., there's nothing I can't do, because I'm bulletproof. It's not just a football thing. Rory McIlroy -- a professional golfer, for heaven's sake -- just took himself out of the British Open by rupturing a tendon in his ankle while playing soccer. You might ask yourself why he was playing soccer two weeks before the British Open. The correct answer: Because he's Rory McIlroy. What could happen?

Well, we saw. Saw with Wilson and Pierre-Paul, the latter of whom might be gone from New York before this all plays out because he's actually between contracts. These guys never learn.

Or perhaps they learn too well things that should best be unlearned,

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A porous defense

Another day, another Florida State quarterback behaving badly. Where do the Seminoles find these guys, Paul Crewe Prep?

(Yes, that is a "Longest Yard" reference, Blobophiles. The original "Longest Yard", not the dopey remake. The "Longest Yard" in which Paul Crewe, the quarterback/felon protagonist, is portrayed by Burt Reynolds, who ... played football at Florida State. So you see, there's more to the Blob's madness here than just some desire to go old school).

At any rate, now there's video of D'Andre Johnson slugging a woman half his size in a bar, and let the standard excuse-making begin. His attorney: He was provoked by racial epithets, and, anyway, she swung first. One of his former teammates, now with the Bills: How come the woman isn't being charged, because she swung first?

Well, yes, she did, in the sense that a 5-year-old takes a swing at you while playing in the backyard.  And it was after Johnson tried to elbow her out of the way, then put his hands on her when she confronted him. And he's a quasi-professional football player who's twice her size and to whom she posed no physical threat.  And when are these guys gonna learn to just walk away?

Probably never. It takes a man to do that, and football players good enough to get recruited to Florida State rarely are men. They're pampered children with the sensibilities of pampered children, having been told for half their lives they're special and the world owes them more than it does the common ruck. And so, here's Johnson on tape punching out a woman, a candy-ass move that's a direct result of all that wrongheaded entitlement.

Kudos to Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher for immediately dismissing the kid, but not too many kudos. D'Andre Johnson, after all, was not a Heisman Trophy winner for a team with legitimate national championship aspirations. Jameis Winston was, and so Jimbo was considerably less decisive where he was concerned. In fact you can make the argument that he wasn't decisive at all where Jameis was concerned.

And so the beat goes on, with only one redeeming notion: At least Johnson's attorney didn't try to argue that he was just standing his ground, per Florida law.

Of course, there's still time.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015


So he'll move on now, from a homegrown career that was almost entirely homemade. Kaleigh Schrock got the cutesy nickname "Schrocky Balboa" because of his willingness to drop the gloves anywhere, anytime against any cementhead imported for the purpose. But somehow there was always more to it than that.

Like his almost-namesake, he was the hometown guy who came up mostly from nowhere, riding heart and want-to and a gift for leading by example. In 2009, he came to camp with the Komets as a face in the crowd who would have been even more anonymous had he not been from Fort Wayne; he stuck because Al Sims couldn't bring himself to cut this kid who left everything he had on the ice every single minute of every single shift, and who would have thrown down against the young Ali if that's what was required of him.

Six years later, he'll walk away with two rings from two leagues and the captain's "C" on his sweater, and there have been few better. When the Komets made him captain at midseason in 2013 with the team in disarray and the shadow of the Captain, Colin Chaulk, still seven leagues tall, it looked to some like a woeful mismatch . As usual, Schrock proved us all wrong.

Everything he learned while watching Chaulk own the locker room he applied, and by the end of the season the Komets were in the ECHL playoffs and it was Schrock who owned the room. He did what the best of them do, which was lead by example. If he didn't always skate a regular shift, and some fans carped that he was taking up a roster spot better used on a more talented body, they missed a  home truth that was as glaring as it was subtle: The Komets were a demonstrably better team when Schrock was on the ice.

He brought hustle and energy and an edge the team simply was lacking when he was out of the lineup. And perhaps -- just perhaps -- he brought perspective, too.

Fort Wayne may not be a destination in the ECHL, a minor league more truly a developmental league than any the Komets have previously inhabited in almost 65 years. But it's not just a bus stop, either. There is a weight of history behind the franchise unique to this level, and there is a defined Komet Way that goes with that.

Schrock, having grown up in its sphere, was supremely qualified to instill that. If the prospects lugging their bags into town each fall were destined to wear any number of logos on their chests in the coming  months, they should at least understand what was back of the orange fireball they would wear here. And why it demanded their respect.

Schrock, who grew up wanting only to wear that fireball, would certainly clue them in. And now that he's walking away at 30, a decision hastened by a severe eye injury he suffered this past season, the biggest question out there is who will next wear the "C", and if he will have as much understanding of what it means as Schrock does.

Which, of course, is what we were all wondering when Chaulk took his leave.

If there's a finer legacy than that for Kaleigh Schrock, I can't imagine what it is.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Queens. For a day.

Of course we paid attention, for two hours. It was Fourth of July weekend. It was the World Cup. And Carli Lloyd was Captain America, scoring twice in five minutes, then scoring again with a shot from midfield that will ring to the touch forever.

And so, USA 5, Japan 2. And so, Abby Wambach and Christie Rampone, the wily vets, raise the Cup together. And so, America lifts a glass, roars, says, "Damn, we're good!"

But what now?

That is the question, isn't it? And don't we already know the answer?

Sure we do. The more astute among us were already clueing us in before it was even over Sunday, observing that it was refreshing (and somewhat dismaying) to see women's sports actually occupy more than a blip on the national radar for once. And then observing it will just as quickly be gone as soon as the glasses are empty and everyone heads back to work today.

As with all such judgments, this isn't completely accurate. Professional tennis these days, after all, is basically Serena Williams And Them Others. And if women's sports are indeed treated too often with condescension and indifference by the national media, its OCD in this instance probably has as much to do with the sport as it does with outright chauvinism.

Women's soccer may vanish from the radar between World Cups, but so does men's soccer, at least for the country at large. So the talking heads at ESPN will yap about the U.S. women for a day or two, and then, because it's soccer and not the NFL, they'll move on. Can't steal precious air time from iconic NFL moments like First Day Of Camp Stretching, you know. Let's go live to Anderson, where Andrew Luck is about to lead the Colts in jumping jacks!

(Apropos of nothing, but the best line I've heard about ESPN comes from fellow Indiana sportswriter Andrew Smith. He notes that he likes to say ESPN's coverage calendar consists of five things: The NFL season, the NFL Draft, NFL free agency, whatever LeBron is doing, and NFL training camps).

The more relevant question, for me, is how different will be the impact of this World Cup from the one Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain et al won 16 years. The little girls who painted their faces and screamed for Mia in 1999 went on to become the launch pad for what happened yesterday. The example of '99 became the seedbed for everything that has come after, and what has come after is a women's national team that, even if it didn't win the World Cup for 16 years, has consistently been one of the premier sides on the planet.

It's a legacy that, 16 years later, will likely render the impact of  this World Cup team less dramatic, but perhaps as enduring in its own way. In '99, girls who never would have played soccer before played it because they wanted to be Mia; now those girls already play soccer. Carli Lloyd and Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan just give them something new to aim for.

And maybe not just the girls, either. The most obvious difference between 1999 and 2015 is that it wasn't just little girls painting their faces and waving their flags, it was little boys, too. Hero worship is far less respective of gender than it used to be, and that's a good thing. Kids, male or female, need all the positive examples they can find these days. So if your son or daughter is growing up in a world where the acceptable Fatheads on the wall in either of their rooms include both LeBron and Carli Lloyd, consider yourself rich beyond measure.

And ESPN and every other national sports conduit, consider taking notice. More than once every four years, that is.



Sunday, July 5, 2015

A creeping separation

Once upon a time I could have looked at a list of likely All-Star players and known exactly who every one of them was.

I could have named the teams they played on even if those teams weren't listed. I could have identified them by position. I could have run down the list of pitchers, American and National, and told you who was a righty and who threw portside. I probably could have gone on to tell you who threw gas, who threw junk and who were the subversives (Paging Dan Quisenberry ... paging Kent Tekulve ...) who released the ball from beneath their beltlines.


Now I have the New York Times in front of me this a.m., and here is a list of the players, American and National, likely to be picked for the All-Star game a week hence. I recognize Andrew McCutchen, because he's a Pirate. Ditto Gerrit Cole. I recognize Mike Trout, Jose Bautista, Brett Gardner, Nelson Cruz, Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Anthony Rizzo, Max Scherzer, Madison Bumgarner, Bryce Harper, Buster Posey, a handful of others.

But Nolan Arenado? Todd Frazier? Joe Panik?

Francisco Cervelli? Yasmani Grandal? Stephen Vogt?

Sorry. Got nothin'.

Even the players I do know, I'm not sure what teams half of them play for. Of the 14 pitchers listed on the National League side, I can identify 10. Of the 13 on the American side, I recognize six.

Most of this is due my own waning attention to baseball, but my waning attention is a symptom of a larger issue. If the game has slipped away from me, it has slipped away from a lot of the country. Although the ballparks still draw, baseball's national presence has dwindled to the point where the World Series has become just a part of the landscape in October, and not a particularly significant part. A nothing NFL game between, say, Jacksonville and Buffalo clobbers it in the Nielsen's.

And it's not just because the small-market Royals played in the Series last fall. Even the game's heavyweights -- your Red Sox, your Cardinals -- get buried by the NFL.

The demographics tell us baseball is increasingly the province of an older, whiter, more male audience, not an encouraging marker in a society that is increasingly younger and more racially and culturally diverse. Kids still play the game, but American kids -- and particularly African-American kids -- do not. If you want proof, check out a single A roster sometime; a smattering of white American kids, the odd African-American, and a pile of guys from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela and points south.

Baseball there is what it used to be in America, two generations ago.  Baseball here ...

Well.  There are other options now if you've got a child who loves games, and the other options are winning. Soccer. Basketball. Hockey. Even football, despite the queasiness engendered by the way the industry leader bungled the concussion thing.

Denying you've got a problem virtually ensures  the problem will explode in your face, sending ripples to places you never imagined -- like, say, youth football. That's what the NFL did, and that's the price it's paying.

As for baseball ,.. once upon a time, you couldn't turn on your TV without seeing some baseball star hawking something. Who could forget Mickey Mantle weeping over his Maypo, or Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine sulking in a Nike ad because Chicks Dig The Long Ball?

Now you turn on your TV, and it's all Peyton Manning, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and various faces from the NBA -- faces with whom we are so familiar, the ad sometimes doesn't even bother to identify them. Yes, that's LeBron, that's Steph Curry, that's Jabari Parker. Got it.

And baseball?

The other night, an ad popped up on my TV. It featured Adam Jones, the Baltimore Orioles' star outfielder. I knew that because Adam Jones was wearing his Orioles uniform.

And if he hadn't been?

I wouldn't have known him from, you know, Adam.




Friday, July 3, 2015

A few independent thoughts

I am here to declare my independence, on this day before The Day. It seems the right time.

I declare my independence from sentences that begin with "You know, those hotdogs, you don't know what's in 'em."

I declare my independence from other sentences that begin with "You know, there are carcinogens in charcoal."

I declare my independence, this day before The Day, from the flawed notion that if you confer justice on someone, finally and rightly, you're somehow being unjust to someone else. Welcome to America to gay Americans who have too long been told they weren't worthy of all its blessings. And the rest of you, get over it. This isn't an assault on your freedom or your religion or anything else, and it never has been.

I declare my independence from the equally flawed notion that removing lost-in-the-past symbols from official places where they are almost ludicrously inappropriate does not mean you have to go completely insane about it. I mean, really, the Dukes of Hazzard? The Civil War itself?

A flag of rebellion against the American government (and of officially sanctioned oppression of a goodly number of Americans) has no business flying proudly on the grounds of an American governmental entity. And if a corporate entity like NASCAR has decided that flag doesn't square with its values, it and its partner venues have every right to request its patrons cool it with the Stars and Bars.

It's not gonna work, of course, for the excellent reason that when you tell an American he or she can't do something, he or she is going to do it, no matter how addled it is. That's why sales of Confederate flags have gone through the roof. So, good luck, NASCAR, with policing the infield at, oh, Talladega, for instance.

More pointless yet was TVLand's decision to yank the dopey old Dukes from the airwaves, as if they were the lineal descendants of D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation" or some such thing. The Dukes have as much to do with slavery and its tragic legacy as "Hogan's Heroes" had to do with the extermination of the Jews at Auschwitz, but by God there was a Confederate flag on that car, so out it went. Mindlessness raised to a high art.

As are the sporadic attempts now to demonize remembrance of the Civil War, as if study of the War itself is somehow shameful. This is especially relevant to me, a Civil War nerd who has always conflated Independence Day with the three days that precede it. Eighty-seven years after the signing, on the slanting, rocky fields south of Gettysburg, Pa., the national crisis came to its tipping point. Either we were going to be a whole nation, or we were going to be two nations that could never have achieved much of anything without each other. And Gettysburg decided that.

One-hundred fifty-two years ago today, at somewhere around 2:00 in the afternoon, all of that came to its final shattering climax. The history books have never gotten Pickett's Charge exactly right -- Pickett, for instance, actually commanded only a third of the 12,000-plus troops engaged in his namesake action -- but it was demonstrably the pivotal moment of the war, and probably of this nation's history. It's why, decades later, in "Intruder in the Dust," William Faulkner penned that immortal passage about 13-year-old Southern boys and how they always hold fast to that moment before the brigades stepped off and whatever they imagined they were fighting for still seemed possible.

Then it all went to pieces in smoke and flame and, yes, valor, because marching across a mile of open ground into a hurricane of shot and shell is nothing if not courageous. To deny it because it was ultimately in service to, as Ulysses.S. Grant put it, "one of the worst (causes) for which a people ever fought" is, again, mindless.

I've stood beneath the trees on Seminary Ridge a dozen times and looked out across that mile of ground, the Copse of Trees that marked Pickett and Co.'s target impossibly tiny in the distance. And every time, I marvel at the sheer brass of it. It's why I have no issue with the extravagant monuments to the North Carolinians or Texans or Mississippians along that stretch of roadway, nor with the tiny Confederate flags that bloom always around them. In that place -- and in that one place, I would hold -- they are entirely appropriate.

That is, of course, a contradiction of sorts. But then, we are a nation of contradictions; they were enshrined in our Constitution by our endlessly bickering founders. The Civil War was fought to resolve those contradictions -- and while it did so, it also spawned contradictions of its own.

I'm not sure that's the kind of thing we celebrate when we celebrate America on Independence Day. But it's part of who we are.

And so, I declare my independence from obsessing about it. Happy Fourth.   

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Off the Pace

So, remember a couple of years ago, when the young Indiana Pacers were reaching the Eastern Conference finals every year, Frank Vogel was a boy genius and it appeared Larry Bird was putting together the next great power in the East?

Yeah. Me, neither.

Interesting stuff here from Bob Kravitz of WTHR in Indy, on an unraveling that seems to be proceeding apace. Yes, that's David West, the Pacers' resident grownup in the room, opting out of his deal for several reasons, none of them reflecting well on Bird and the Pacers' brain trust.

One, he's leaving because he doesn't think the team can win, and at his age it's about rings and not jing these days.

Two, he doesn't like the way the team jacked up Roy Hibbert, basically trying to run him off by saying he was headed for the bench next year if he didn't opt out of his deal.

Along the way Bird apparently  head-faked the media about West's intentions, saying before the draft he didn't know nuttin' while West was insisting the Pacers knew full well his intentions by then. It's never a winning move to jerk the media around, something Bird should know by now. But then, there are a lot of things he should know by now that apparently he doesn't.

Chief among them is you don't piss off the leader of your locker room. Bird has apparently done that, and now West is in the wind, and Hibbert's back although the Pacers clearly don't want him -- and because they talked so publicly about benching him, they've lost any leverage they might have in trying to move him.

What team is going to give up anything of value for a center upon whom you've so obviously given up? No one with a lick of sense is going to part with much for someone you've so loudly identified as a spare part.

That ship sailed the second Bird and Vogel started trying to force Hibbert out the door. And it hardly bears adding where it is that ship has sailed.

Yes, mateys.  That is an iceberg dead ahead.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Look who showed up

And there my internal pessimist goes, tumbling off the cliff. Have a nice trip, dude. Yes, you're finally right. This isn't going to end well.

You're in for a sudden stop down there on the rocks, because the U.S. women's soccer team finally got off their duffs. I don't know where it's been, but the team we were all supposed to see finally showed up in the semifinals last night, and Germany is packing its bags because of it.

The U.S. beat the top seed 2-0 and now it's on to the finals, and, yes, I was wrong. I've been predicting doom for the U.S. women all tournament long, because they struggled to score and at times didn't even look like they were trying to. But something changed in the China game, and it kept on changing last night, when the U.S. got much the better chances and made it pay off with Carli Lloyd's penalty shot and Kelley O'Hara's header off a neat bit of ball movement in the box.

To be sure, we can all wonder how it would have gone had the Germans not gagged on their own penalty shot, Celia Sasic sending it wide of the post even after Tonya Harding down there in the U.S. net guessed wrong and dove the other way. Put the U.S. behind for once, and it might have been different. But somehow I think they would have gotten it done anyway, if only because they were finally pressing the attack.

Taken as a whole it was their best performance of the tournament, and now they'll go into the final as the presumptive favorite against either Japan or England. They're confident, they're playing their best soccer and Tonya now has five straight shutouts.

(And before we go on: Yes, I know her name is Hope Solo. I also know she shouldn't be playing, for reasons the Blob outlined some time ago. And I know it was a journalistic low point for Fox last night when it allowed her to basically tape her own player feature after refusing to be interviewed by Fox. At that point you say, "Sorry. We're not your spin doctors. You want to tape a segment, we're asking you questions about your inner Tonya. You don't want to do that, we're not putting you on the air." Thank God for Alexi Lalas, who, at the end of the Solo piece, pointedly mentioned the way she was allowed to control her own message).

I don't see the Americans losing now. I don't see them losing unless they go back to tiptoe soccer in the final, and I can't imagine their brain trust being dumb enough to do that.

The pessimist is dead. OK, not dead, but he's not moving around much down there.

Good riddance.