Thursday, October 29, 2015

Salute to a legend

I know this Blob is supposed to be for sports and other toys of that ilk.

But tonight I'm calling a moratorium on all that. My blog, my rules, remember?

Tonight the news comes down that Craig Klugman, the only editor I knew in 28 years at the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, is retiring after more than three decades in the editor's chair. And so attention much be paid.

Know this, first of all: Craig and I did not always see eye-to-eye. I was never averse to saying what I thought, even if it wasn't what Craig always thought. This made me a pain in the ass to him on more than one occasion. Actually it probably made me a pain in the ass more times than I ever suspected.

But here is the thing: No matter how many times I disagreed with Craig, I always respected his adherence to principle.

His allegiance to basic journalistic tenets, first of all, was total and unequivocal. He was a First Amendment absolutist to the nth degree, and 99 times out of 100 I agreed with that. The man was steadfastly committed to getting the story and getting it right, and to hell with who it might tick off. He was, over and above everything else, a by-God journalist.

You work for an editor like that once, it's a privilege. You get to do it for 28 years, it's a blessing.

And so, I lift a glass to him. Hell, I lift half a dozen glasses to him.

All aboard the merry-go-round

So now comes the news that Don Mattingly is about to be named the manager of the Miami Marlins, and the Washington Nationals are about to hand the reins to Bud Black. And again it occurs to me, as it frequently does where baseball is concerned, that I have seen this before.

Mainly it's because I have.

I'm not too young to remember, for instance, the day Mattingly was hired by the Dodgers in L.A., or the day Black got the call from the Padres. I also remember the day Black was fired 65 games into the season just past, and the day -- a week or so ago -- when the Dodgers decided they'd had enough of Donnie Baseball.

Yet Donnie was unemployed for roughly 12 minutes, and Black for only slightly longer. It all lends credence to my theory that there are in reality only as many major league managers as there are major league teams, and that those teams simply swap them back and forth the way those of us of a certain age used to swap baseball cards.

My Jerry Grote for your Jose Cardenal. Your Oscar Gamble for my Sudden Sam McDowell. You get the idea.

Now it's the Marlins picking up Mattingly from the Dodgers, and the Nationals snapping up the Padres' discard, Black.  Who knows how long before they get passed on again?

One of the knocks on Mattingly, for instance, is that he didn't speak a lick of Spanish, and therefore didn't relate well to Yasiel Puig and the rest of the Dodgers' Hispanic players. Yet he's going now to a team that has nine players from either Cuba, the Dominican Republic or South America. How's it going to go any better for him in Miami?

As for Black ... well, the Nationals are getting a guy who won less than half his games (.477) in San Diego. Yes, he was the 2010 National League Manager of the Year -- but that same season he also presided over the worst collapse in Padres history when the team lost 10 straight, went 12-16 in September and blew a 6 1/2-game lead over the Giants.

At least in that regard he'll be on familiar ground with the Nats, whose collapse this season lasted the entire summer after they were tabbed in the spring as a favorite to reach the World Series. Instead, they didn't even make the playoffs.

But a guy with a sub-.500 career record's gonna turn it around?

Full disclosure compels me to admit that part of why I mention all this is because no one seems willing to give Fort Wayne native Eric Wedge another shot, and Wedge is a friend of mine. But I'd be shaking my head even if that were not the case.

Then again ... I'm still shaking my head over that Grote-for-Cardenal deal. So, there's that.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Journalism 101

So here is your assignment, class, a day after Edinson Volquez stepped out into the World Series carrying a burden of which he apparently knew nothing:

Tell us who wins. You the journalist or you the human being.

Tell us what you do when word comes down that Volquez' father has died earlier in the day, and you have an iPhone with 55 social media apps and a Twitter account and a blog and lord only knows what else. Do you tweet it/blog it/post it on whatever website you represent? And does your trigger finger even hesitate if you somehow also know that, per the family's request, the Kansas City Royals didn't tell Volquez before sending him out to pitch Game 1?

I guess your answer might depend on for whom you work or how ingrained your instinct is to get news out there as immediately as possible (and in this day and age, that means instantaneously). It might even have something to do with how old you are.

Me, I'm old. And I've broken my share of stories. And so even though I have all those journalistic instincts, too, this isn't even a decision for me.

I sit on it.

I sit on it, because I know if I tweet it/blog it/post it, all the webbed world will know it immediately, and that includes everyone sitting in the stands watching Volquez throw BBs at the Mets. And I know a lot of them will assume, because I've put it out there, that Volquez already knows his father is dead. And I know that means there's a good chance he's going to get the worst news of his life from Michael the Accountant or Joe the Real Estate Developer sitting in the boxseats behind the Royals dugout.

I can't even imagine how horrible that would be.

MICHAEL (or Joe): Hey, Eddie! Sorry about your dad dying!

VOLQUEZ: Wait, what? What?!

Awful. The absolute worst.

Nobody deserves to hear that news, that way. He deserves to hear it the way Volquez heard it, from his family behind a closed door in the Royals clubhouse after the game was over. He deserves, every human being deserves, to be accorded that sort of  compassion and discretion.

So, there it is. I'd have been beaten on the story, because someone else surely would have tweeted/blogged/posted it. Good for them. Have at it.

I know whoever did it would sleep well that night, because that's who they are. And it's what they get paid to do.

But you know what?

Because I didn't do it, so would I.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fall(ing) Classic

Begin with this: I don't know what's wrong with me.

("We do!" you're saying).

I don't know what's wrong with me, because it's October and the landscape is all Technicolor flame, and tonight the World Series starts. New York vs. Kansas City. All those lively young Mets arms vs. the patient sticks and depthless savvy of the Royals. A classic matchup for the Classic, the kind of baseball that should make you want to linger long into the fast-falling autumn night, that should solder you to your big-screen TV if you're any kind of baseball fan at all.

Notice I say "should."

I say "should" because as much as I love the World Series, as much as it's one of those Big Events that tie you irrevocably to your childhood, I'm just ... well ... not into it this time. I'm loathe to say it, but I just ... you know ... don't care.

This has never happened before, I have to say. I'm the kid who sneaked transistor radio into Mrs. Becker's room to listen to the Yankees take on the Cardinals in 1964. (I rooted for the Cardinals, not knowing any better at the time. Also, like most Americans with any class and imagination, I hated the Yankees).

I'm the guy my uncle thought was weird (because, let's face it, I am) when I whooped and hollered after Steve Blass shut down the Orioles in '71, sealing the title for my Pittsburgh Pirates. I'm the guy forever grateful to Mr. Hanefeld in my sophomore geometry class, because he let us listen to Reds-vs.-O's in '70. And I'm the guy who tormented my long-suffering wife in 2004, counting down the outs in Game 4 as her Red Sox swept the Cardinals.

But now?


Again, I don't know why this is. Maybe it's because the light went out of the postseason for me when Jake Arrieta shut down my 98-win Pirates in the wild-card game. Or maybe it's because it really went out when the Cubs, who booted the hated Cardinals, got thoroughly silenced by Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and the rest of the Met blowtorches. Or maybe it's because, as cool as it would be to see the Royals win a World Series, they're still just, you know, the Royals. And I'm not sure they can beat four guys who throw the baseball 95 mph.

I guess it would be kind of awesome, from a hair standpoint, to see deGrom bring back the Tim Lincecum look (which, for fans, of the film "Dazed and Confused," is actually the Mitch Kramer look).  But, still, it's the Mets. I don't care about them, either.

And so ... let the Series begin.

Maybe I'll tune in occasionally. Maybe I won't. Only one thing, I figure, could turn that around for me.

Anybody got a transistor radio, circa 1964?


A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 7

And now this week's installment of The NFL In So Many Words, the Blob feature recommended by nine out of 10 pediatricians, 7 out of 10 podiatrists and one guy in Des Moines who "thought you were talking about toenail fungus":

1 It's Tuesday morning and woman-beating Cowboys pass rusher Greg Hardy is still a punk.

2. It's Tuesday morning and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett are still saying, oh, come on, he's not really that much of a punk, even though Hardy physically assaulted the Cowboys special teams coach Sunday by slapping the clipboard out of his hands.

3. It's Tuesday morning and the special teams coach is probably thinking "What the hell, man?"

4. And also, "Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett are punks, too."

5. Meanwhile, in  Seattle, Jimmy Graham is open.


7. (To which Russell Wilson replies: "I'm sorry, what?")

8. The Jets!

9. Almost beat the Patriots!

10. That counts, right? 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Luck's out

No, I don't know what's wrong with Andrew Luck. Perhaps we should ask this gentleman over here.

US:  Excuse us, sir. Do you know what's wrong with Andrew Luck?

GENTLEMAN OVER HERE (looking around hazily): Who? Oh. Yeah. No, I don't know. Hey, did you see an edge pass rusher come by here awhile ago? I coulda sworn he was right in front me, but now he's gone. Weird.

Weird is right. Once upon a time -- like, say, two months ago -- Andrew Luck was a lot of smart guys' odds-on favorite to lead the Indianapolis Colts to the Super Bowl. Now he's leading them to  Chuck Pagano's farewell party.

The budding young star who previously had icewater in his veins now stands frozen in the pocket, no longer riffing through his reads like Myles Davis. These days when he does it, he looks more like the Tin Man, pre-oilcan. He hesitates. He double-clutches. He double-clutches again.

Oops, down he goes, sacked again. Oops, there the football goes, smack dab into double coverage or off toward Banker's Life Fieldhouse a few blocks away.

Game by game, week by week, the former Next Big Thing looks more and more like a young man whose confidence is shot. And if it's hard to pinpoint exactly why, it's only because there are a million reasons.

In some form or fashion, most of them have to do with the aforementioned Gentleman Over Here and his fellow offensive linemen, who simply aren't up to their jobs. For that, you can blame Colts general manager Ryan Grigson, who wasted valuable draft picks on second-tier wide receivers (of whom there are dozens, here in the era of the wideout) and spent the offseason cruising nursing homes for help.

That has gone about how you would expect. With the possible exception of running back Frank Gore, none of the Walker Brigade has panned out. Andre Johnson, who's been around so long he used to hang with Bronko Nagurski, has been all but silent. Trent Cole, brought in to juice up the pass rush, doesn't have a single sack. And so on, and so on. 

The offensive line, meanwhile, can't block sunlight. This is never a good thing, but it's especially un-good when paired with Pep Hamilton's offense, which dictates exactly the sort of deep drops and lengthy pass routes that require linemen who, well, can block sunlight. Not to say opposing pass rushers.

 The upshot is that Luck's getting hit. A lot. And the upshot of that is he's got a banged-up throwing shoulder and a serious case of the flinches.

This pretty much spells catastrophe for a football team that has depended on Luck to carry it since Day One, and which continues to do so. But if Luck consequently bears a good chunk of the responsibility for the Colts' 3-4 start (Stat of the year: Luck is 1-4 while his backup, Matt Hasselbeck, is 2-0) he's been done no favors by his offensive coordinator and his front office.

If the Colts were smart, they'd let Luck run the same offense Hasselbeck ran while Luck was out with the shoulder : Short drops, short routes, dink-and-dunk in much the way the Patriots do with Tom Brady. At least then Luck would have a fighting chance, and so would what few weapons he has at his disposal.

On the other hand ... when you get shut out for most of three quarters by one of the league's shabbiest defenses, maybe nothing helps. Maybe you look ahead to what's coming -- unbeaten Carolina, unbeaten Denver and once-beaten Atlanta -- and see 3-7 in the wind, and you start making plans to reset.

Pagano was probably already gone after Hey, Watch This, aka the fake non-punt against the Patriots. Grigson may be, too, judging by the postgame shouting match he got into Sunday with owner Jim Irsay in the Colts locker room. You can excuse losing to the Patriots, because at least it was an honest effort honestly given; you can't excuse Sunday's laydown, when the Colts fell behind the rebuilding Saints 27-0 in their own house and weren't even on the premises until it was too late to matter.

Luck was actually booed by the home folks after throwing a horrendous pick to end the first half. You couldn't blame them. But there was a message in it the Colts would do well to heed.

The message: Andrew Luck has done the heavy lifting for this team long enough. Time for the team to start lifting him up.   

Circus act

And now this week's dispatch from the country of NASCAR, aka What's That Damn Harvick Doing This Time, aka No, Not That Green-White-Checker Finish ...

Item the first: Yes, they're still racing.

Item the second: What's that damn Harvick doing this time?

Well, what a lot of people thought he was doing Sunday was deciding Talladega wasn't crazy enough, so, you know, let's wreck some guys. With a dying motor and his shot at moving on in the Chase elimination dying with it, defending Cup champion Kevin Harvick either did or didn't deliberately drive into the back of Trevor Bayne on a green-white-checker finish, triggering what 'Dega connoisseurs call the Big One.

That effectively froze the field, preserving Joey Logano's third straight victory and a 15th-place finish for Harvick. And that in turn kept him in seventh place in the standings as the Chase field was cut to eight.

Harvick swears he didn't intentionally trigger the accident to keep his chances at back-to-back Cups alive, but the circumstantial evidence to the contrary is strong. One, without the crash, he and his corpse of a motor likely would have dropped like a rock in the final two laps. Two, right before the restart, Harvick's crew chief was heard to say the only thing that could save them now was a crash.

Moments later ... hey, whatta ya know! A crash!

Compounding the lunacy was NASCAR president Mike Helton claiming he didn't see anything fishy about the whole business. This despite the fact it was fishy to begin with because NASCAR decided on the spur of the moment to change the rules, decreeing one green-white-checker attempt instead of the standard three.

Then they botched the first attempt at that and had to try again.

None of this, of course, amused in the slightest the grassy knoll crowd, a powerful NASCAR constituency which sees conspiracy lurking behind every stack of Goodyears. And it left more dispassionate observers (for instance, the guy driving this sentence) to wonder who thought it was a good idea to make Talladega a Chase elimination race to begin with.

It's true Harvick could have triggered a crash elsewhere if he was so inclined, but it's equally true Talladega, with its preponderance of green-white-checker finishes, is tailor-made for gaming the system. And if Harvick didn't do that Sunday, he sure made it look that way.

The solution: Either get 'Dega off the Chase schedule altogether, or make it a non-elimination
race. Otherwise ...

Well. More shenanigans await.


Saturday, October 24, 2015


And so, on top of everything else he might or might not be, Rick Pitino appears to be more a sit-down guy than a stand-up guy.

That's not how either he or his university would frame it, of course, because that's what a guy has lawyers for. And Pitino's lawyers are telling him it would be a bad idea to attend the ACC basketball media day next week, because, you know, someone might ask him about the late unpleasantness involving Louisville recruits, strippers and madams who pimp out their own daughters.

Pitino's official explanation is he didn't know nuttin' 'bout all that, even though it was going on right under his nose for four years. Now he's decided, or his suits have, that he not only won't say anything else, he'll shelter his delicate flower of a soul from even being asked about it.

The official version, disseminated by the university yesterday, is that Pitino will skip media day  "upon advice of counsel." The street version: He'll skip it because he doesn't have the stones to show up.

This would be gutless enough, but, hey, Pitino and Louisville are here to say you haven't seen gutless  yet. Pitino may not be showing up -- even though fellow ACC coaches Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams did when their schools were under NCAA investigation -- but the school is sending a couple of players to bear the scrutiny their head coach is cowering behind his lawyers to avoid.

And of course, they just happen to be a couple of transfers who weren't around for all the shenanigans.

So to sum up: Pitino's not only curled up in his foxhole, he's sending out a couple of human shields to draw fire. Nice. I hope his players remember this when he launches into the standard coachspeak about how a team is defined by how willing they are to sacrifice for each other.

I also hope the two players, having been duly hurled beneath the bus, return the favor in kind by answering any questions about the scandal thusly: "I don't know. You'd have to ask our coach. He was around for all that, we weren't."

And then, after pausing a beat:

"Oh, that's right. He's not here."

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The mess in Louisville

I don't know if plausible deniability is a thing anymore in the age of inescapable information/misinformation. Or, if it is a thing, I don't know if there's a single human face you can put to it.

What I do know is this: That human face is not the one that looks at Rick Pitino in the mirror every morning.

I met Pitino some 20 years ago, right after he won his national title at Kentucky and was traveling the country flogging his latest book. Rumors were firing left and right that he was about to jump ship in Lexington for the Celtics job, so of course I asked him about it.

I didn't expect him to give me a straight answer. But I also didn't expect him to look me in the eye and flat-out lie, either.

"Why would I ever leave Kentucky?" he said, painting a picture of UK as heaven on the half-shell, and no place he would even consider leaving.

The next day the news broke that he was leaving.

This is perhaps apropos of nothing now that Pitino is in deniable mode again, claiming he didn't know nuttin' about all the pimpin' and whorin' going on right under his nose at Louisville. But every time he opens his mouth about it, I flash back to that day in the bookstore in Fort Wayne. And I am, shall we say, not persuaded.

Maybe there's a world somewhere in which the head coach of a major college basketball program would not know about strippers cavorting with recruits in the basketball dorm, but something tells me it's not this one. This did not happen just once, mind you. It happened dozens of times over a four-year period. Money changed hands, multiple times. No one really knows whose money it was, or how it was obtained.

It's a seamy tale inhabited by seamy characters -- the madam who blew the whistle, after all, was pimping out her own daughters -- which gives Pitino cover at least in the short term. But long term, no head coach survives something like this.

If Pitino didn't know anything -- especially in the age of all-seeing social media -- then he is so disengaged from his own program that Louisville would have cause to fire him on those grounds. And if, as I suspect, he did know something, then the school would not only have cause but no choice.

Either way, he's gone. It's only a matter of time, and what time will reveal.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015


So it's three-zip now for the Mets in the NLCS, and I must admit: I'm feeling vaguely let down.

Here at the Blob we buy in with unseemly haste to signs and portents, and the Cubs are the world headquarters for signs and portents. And yet, even though the baseball gods are no longer returning the northsiders' texts and phone calls ("What did I do? Was it the pet flamingo?" Joe Maddon beseeches), there is no evidence of any otherworldly interference in the affairs of man this time around.

No Steve Bartman, the poor soul assaulted by gibbering lunatics in 2003. No evil goat. No curses at work in any form or fashion.

Well. Unless you count the Curse of Pitchers Who Throw The Baseball 900 Mph.

Very simply that's the only curse involved here, and, folks, it's nothing but baseball being baseball. There are immutable truths in the game, and one of them is that great young pitchers fare a whole lot better in the postseason than great young hitters. All this series is doing is revealing that truth.

Lost in all the this-time-it's-real euphoria of beating the hated Cardinals in the divisional series was the fact that the Mets, while winning the weak-tea NL East, did it with four of the most potent young arms in the game. In Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, the Amazin's had four starters with ERAs lower than 3.25, and three starters with ERAs lower than 3.00. And in the bullpen, they had a closer (Jeurys Familia) with 43 saves and 86 strikeouts in 78 innings' work.

All they've done so far in this series is live up to their stats. And all the potent young Cubs sticks have done is validate what is ageless: Arms beat bats in the postseason.

 No signs, portents or evil hexes in that. Unfortunately.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 6

And now this week's installment of The NFL Words In So Many Words, the Blob craze that's sweeping the land, eliciting such comments as "Hey, are you gonna make fun of that goofy play the Colts ran?" and  "I know, why don't you just turn the whole thing over to that goofy play the Colts ran?":

1. "Hey, you stole our play!" (A million kids playing football in the backyard)

2. "What the hell?" (Bear Bryant)

3. "What the hell?" (Vince Lombardi)

4. "What the hell?" (Tom Landry)

5. "Awesome!" (The Marx Brothers)

6. "Hey, guys! They're playin' our song again!" (The Royal Academy of Yakety-Sax Enthusiasts)

7. "Hey, guys! They're playin' our song again!" (The Royal Academy of  Looney Tunes Enthusiasts)

8. "This would never have happened if we'd swiped coach's crayons like we planned." (Several anonymous Colts)

9.  "You want me to explain WHAT?" (Stephen Hawking)

 And last but not least ...

10. "I let the governor call ONE play ..." (Colts coach Chuck Pagano)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Bumper tag

Somewhere this day, and not for the first time, the Intimidator is in full smirk mode. His eyes are rolled up in his head. He's elbowing Curtis Turner and Fireball Roberts and a few of the other ol' boys, pointing and snickering.

Heck. Dale Earnhardt may even be resurrecting one of his favorite lines, the one about tying a kerosene rag around your ankles so the fire ants don't climb up and "eat your candy ass."

This upon the notion that what Joey Logano did to Matt Kenseth with five laps to run out in Kansas yesterday was dirty dealing, that getting under a man's left rear quarter panel and turning him is simply not how it's done, old boy. Not in the New NASCAR, neutered as it is these days by the demands of its moneyed interests.

"Buncha tea sippers," would no doubt be Earnhardt's verdict on them, except for the less gentlemanly adjectives he might be inclined to add.

That's because what Logano did to Kenseth -- here, take a look -- was simply the way you did things  back in Earnhardt's day. The man made a positive art form of getting underneath people and spinning 'em, and if it got the spin-ee hot under the collar, hardly any of Earnhardt's legion of worshippers ever thought the less of him for it.

Indeed, it was the wellspring of his popularity.

But times change, and so the intertoobz is debating today whether or not Logano's move made him an outlaw along the lines of Dillinger or Jesse James. Alas, even the Blob has gotten sucked into it.

Not that the Blob thinks it's much of a debate.

The take here is that what Logano did -- and what Kenseth did by trying to block him -- was simply two guys racing for the checkers, and more power to 'em. Both men went for the W, and the only difference in their tactics was the difference in their respective track position. And so Kenseth  did whatever he could to keep Logano behind him, and Logano did whatever he could to get past him.

That's just racing, folks. Almost forgot what it looked like, didn't ya?    



First, the good news, for those of you whose favorite Blob pastime is Trolling The Dumb Guy:

The dumb guy said 42-14.

That wasn't even in the same galaxy as Patriots 34, Colts 27.

Yes, the Deflaters came, they saw, they conquered, but they did not, you know, conquer. Tom Brady, the Deflater-In-Chief, did not drop 50 on them. Outright humiliation was forestalled if not entirely routed.

I say "forestalled," because even in making the Patriots work for it, the Colts once again demonstrated just how utterly Bill Belichick owns their kindly souls. No one but Chuck Pagano knows how deep Darth Hoodie was in his head when Pagano ordered an unnecessary onside kick and then a ridiculous fake whatever-that-was, but reasonable people can reasonably infer he was trying to out-Hoodie Hoodie.

Of course, it didn't work. The Patriots recovered the onside kick and turned it into a score. The fake whatever-it-was failed miserably, first by being stuffed and, second, by not being a legal formation to begin with.

After which the Patriots immediately scored again.

And so all Pagano and the Colts succeeded in doing is elicit gales of knowing laughter from the general direction of Boston, where Patriot Nation long since concluded that the Colts were not so much a rival as the perfect foil, a sort of football version of the Washington Generals. Like the Generals vs. the Globetrotters, any trickery imposed by Darth Hoodie is destined to succeed spectacularly; any similar stratagem by the Colts is destined to backfire laughably.

And so the takeaway from last night, if you're the Colts, is that Andrew Luck finally was Andrew Luck against the Cheat Fleet, with three touchdown passes, no turnovers and 312 passing yards evidence, perhaps, of a coming of age of sorts. Belichick might have been able to bumfuzzle the kid before, but not this time. So, there's that.

Of course, there's also this: Belichick still has not lost to Pagano. And Pagano's trickery, collapsing as it did like a fallen soufflĂ©, likely did not enhance his allegedly shaky job status.

Belichick wins. Colts lose.

Same as ever.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

That game

No, not that game, in which Michigan State stole one in the Big House with the second goofiest ending in the history of college football.

(And why was Michigan punting the football there, on fourth-and-2 at midfield and 10 seconds to play? I don't know. You don't know. Only Jim Harbaugh knows).

And, no, not that game, in which the Indiana Hoosiers blew a 52-27 lead with five minutes to play in the third quarter, at home, and lost to Rutgers, 55-52, on a last-second field goal.

Not that game. Not the Fumbled Snap From Beyond Space And Time Game. Not even the Cubs game, which ... well, which they lost, 4-2. And now they really need to win Game 2 of the NLCS today to avoid falling in a 2-0 hole to the Mets.

But enough.

We're here to discuss That Game, i.e., Colts vs. Patriots, i.e. Revenge of the Deflaters.

Here at the Blob we're all about the what-ifs (See: "What if Michigan had gone for it?"), so we'll start by saying, what if the Patriots march into Lucas Oil Stadium tonight and lay an egg? What if Bill Belichick has another brain cramp and goes for it on fourth down at his own 20 again? What if Tom Brady gets so over-pumped (over-inflated?) at the prospect of getting back at the people he blames for his own actions, and can't complete a pass?

Or how about this: What if Johnny Unitas comes down from heaven, tells Andrew Luck "I got this, kid" and throws for 400 yards and six touchdowns, all the while laughing at Darth Hoodie's puny attempts to get inside his head?

Because, listen, that will happen before all the other stuff happens, and so will flying pigs and unicorns. Here's the thing, see: Much as I love what-ifs, I got nothin' this time. I've been trying to think of a scenario where a pissed-off Brady and his pissed-off crew don't absolutely ball-peen the Horsies tonight, and I can't.

Truth is the Patriots laminated the Colts twice last year when they didn't have any special motivation to do so. Now they're in full raging Up Yours Goodell mode. And right at ground zero of that mode are the Colts, whom the Patriots loathe and despise anyway.

And so: Pats 42, Colts 14. But only if Brady doesn't have a chance to score more.

Sorry, folks.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Push plus 10

Joe Montana, remarkably slight and unimposing in the flesh, was off to my right, five feet away. Andy Reid stood a little further down the way. And between me and Matt Leinart were a thicket of heads and shoulders, all of us wedged along the sideline as night came down hard and every howling son of Erin was on his or her feet, shaking down enough thunder to make your ears bleed.

Welcome to Notre Dame Stadium, 10 years ago, No. 1 USC backed up against the wall with the blindfold on and the cigarette burning.

Welcome to what would go down in the lore as the Bush Push game, and what would also go down, in retrospect, as a loss that cost Notre Dame far more than it appeared that night. In 38 years as a sportswriter, USC-Notre Dame 2005 remains, along with Purdue-Ohio State in 2000 and Notre Dame-Florida State in 1993, the most momentous college football game it was ever my privilege to cover. And it portended so much none of us could see in the roaring cauldron of the moment.

Down there on the field that night, with Notre Dame leading and the clock getting skinny, Leinart reared back and threw a prayer into the night, and somewhere a bunch of yards downfield, Dwayne Jarrett reached into the sky and pulled it down.

First down, USC. A slight banking of the 747 noise. And then, full stop, as what was fated to happen next happened: The Trojans driving to the shadow of the goal, Reggie Bush pushing Leinart into the end zone (or not), USC hanging on to win.

The Trojans come back to Notre Dame Stadium again today, and, 10 years after the  Bush Push, the residue of it lingers. Because of that night, Notre Dame is still paying Charlie Weis, perhaps the first coach in history to parlay a loss into a 10-year contract. Turns out it was his signature moment at ND, and it compelled the school to not only pay up but, as a consequence, to stick by him longer than it should have as Weis led the Irish into slow eclipse.

Brian Kelly has largely reversed that -- the Irish will enter today's game a sizeable favorite against a USC squad reeling from Steve Sarkisian's dismissal earlier this week -- but you wonder how much further along the revival would be if that night in 2005 hadn't transpired the way it did. You wonder, if then No. 1 USC had marched into Notre Dame Stadium and thoroughly ball-peened the Irish, if Weis would have been gone from the scene and Kelly had arrived much sooner.

Then again ... maybe Kelly wouldn't have been ready much sooner. Maybe the Irish would have gone in another direction. Maybe they find this other guy named Kelly, first name Chip, coaching the offense at tiny New Hampshire, and decide, what the heck, let's give him a shot ...

And instead of landing in Oregon, Chip Kelly lands in South Bend.

And he never goes to the Eagles because, come on, it's Notre Dame.

And consequently, LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin don't get traded.

And as a result of all that, the Eagles go on to win the Super Bowl, the Fighting Irish win a national title, and their quarterback, Marcus Mariota, wins Notre Dame its first Heisman Trophy since Tim Brown.

What the hey. Coulda happened, right?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Karma wars

So I finally tracked down the goat last night, after many back-channel talks and the delivery of a bag of cash to an undisclosed location where some shady characters in trench coats were waiting.

(Actually, I just offered the goat a beer. And the glass in which it came. But this sounds better).

(And if, at this point, you have to ask "What goat?", you're at the wrong address. Vacate this post immediately).

Anyway ... I talked to the goat. The topic of conversation, of course, was karma, of which the goat knows much, and which is threatening to undergo a sea change on the north side of Chicago.

The goat is not pleased with this development.

"You come on my turf, you better be prepared to throw down," he says.

This upon the news that the Cubs have elected to leave the baseball Kyle Schwarber hit the other night where Kyle Schwarber hit it, i.e. the top of Wrigley Field's mammoth new videoboard. There it will remain until the conclusion of the playoffs, a sort of anti-Bartman ball designed to emit waves of positive energy in the days/weeks to come.

"Bartman," the goat snorts. "That poser."

Then he shakes his head mournfully.

"I swear, these Cubs people," he goes on. "Year after year, they let themselves get sucked in, and year after year I have to go upside their let's-play-two, Jody-Davis-throwback-jersey-wearin' melons with the Curse. It's like they think they're normal fans of a normal baseball team or somethin'. Sad, man.

"Now they think all they gotta do is leave a baseball on top of a scoreboard and it's all good, the Curse is lifted, I'm just another entree for their post-World Series barbecue. Because, you know, it's destiny, right? It's these young kids and Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon and his pet flamingo, and, sweet Jesus, how can they lose? How can it possibly go Dixie on them this time?"

The goat takes a bite out of the beer glass, chuckles mirthlessly, swallows.

"Damn fools," he says.

"I mean, for the love of Harry and Jack, didn't we hear this same crap in 1984? Didn't we hear it in '89? And in 2003, wasn't it an absolute can't miss, the Cubs coming back to Wrigley with Prior and Wood going and the Cubbies up 3-2?

"And what happens? Thaaat's right. Moises Alou comes unglued over a ball he probably couldn't have caught anyway. The most reliable glove in baseball boots a surefire double play ball -- Alex Gonzalez must hit his knees every night thanking God for Steve Bartman -- and the Cubs do what the Cubs do.

"They lose. Spectacularly."

The goat shakes his head again.

"Now they've got Arrieta and Lester lined up to start the NLCS, and the kids are launching baseballs into space like the north side is Cape Canaveral in 1962, and, ooh, it's gonna happen this time, it really is," he says. "And I'm the one who's gotta remind them how eerily reminiscent of 2003 all that is. I'm the one who's gotta point out this is just the 2.0 version of Prior and Wood on the bump and Sammy 'n' them sending baseballs into lunar orbit."

The goat falls silent. And I interject that, well, maybe, but the 2003 Cubs didn't have what the 2015 Cubs have. They didn't have the Schwarber Ball up there on top of the scoreboard. They didn't have karma working for them instead of against them for once.

The goat eyes me balefully.

"Yeah?" he sneers. "Well, I've been doing the karma thing since '45, sonny. The Schwarber Ball's been doing it for, what, five minutes? So let's go. Bring me that ball. I'll show it what destiny looks like. It looks like me kicking its ass."

A pause.

"OK, so I probably won't kick its ass. I'll probably just eat it. But you get the -- Hey! Hey! Put me down! PUT ME DOWN!!


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Human psychology explained, Part Deux

And now the exciting follow-up to the Psychology 101 course you slept through here on the Blob a few days ago, because, here at the Blob, we're nothing if not about the education thing:

In Chicago, the Cubs defeated the Cardinals 8-6 to win their first playoff clincher ever in Wrigley Field and move on to the NLCS ...

Id: Another beer! Now!

Ego: (Face palm).

Class dismissed.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Quittin' time

Maybe the man's just tired.

Steve Spurrier's 70 years old and he's been coaching for about 65 of those, or so it seems, and maybe he just wants to get off his feet for awhile. Take the damn visor off. Open his mail. Catch up on back issues of Wisecrack Monthly (for whom he's a regular contributor, as Florida State, Tennessee, Auburn and various other schools he's snarked could attest).

Or maybe it's this: He just doesn't want to lose to Vanderbilt.

That's who his South Carolina Gamecocks play this weekend, and, yeah, they'll probably lose. They've already lost to Kentucky, Georgia, LSU and Missouri. They've beaten only North Carolina and Central Florida. If this were 20 years ago, he'd gut it out and at least finish the season. But this isn't 20 years ago.

This is Spurrier at 70, and this is college football at the highest level, and that is a grind like few others. If you're not X-and-Oing, you're lying at wake at night thinking about Xs and Os. If you're not begging some entitled 18-year-old to come play for you, you're putting the gentle arm on well-heeled boosters to build you better facilities so you won't have to beg the entitled 18-year-old so hard. If you're not winning, the well-heeled boosters want to know why; if you are winning, you feel good for about five minutes and then start wondering how you're gonna do it again next week.

And at some point, enough is enough. Or too much.

Hard to say where that tipping point was for Spurrier, but it arrives for everyone sooner or later. College football is no longer Knute Rockne drawing up plays on a cocktail napkin and then sending the boys out to surprise Army under the blue-gray October sky; it's a multi-billion dollar business now, and the head coach is the CEO. If he fails, an entire financial empire fails with him.

And so Spurrier is walking away, and if you want to ding him for quitting on his team, go ahead. But the demands of his job are crushing enough without being 70 years old. Look at what happened on the opposite coast from Spurrier yesterday.

To  be sure, the circumstances of Steve Sarkisian's firing at USC are yea different, but maybe at bottom they're not much different at all. It's problematical at best to say Sarkisian's obvious issues with alcohol stemmed in any way from the pressures of being a major college head coach, especially a major college head coach in a cauldron like USC. But it's not problematical at all to say those pressures likely didn't help him confront those issues.

In the end, he had to be pushed to do so by an athletic director (Pat Haden) who should have seen the signs earlier but chose not to. In any event, this might be the best thing that ever happened to Sarkisian. One can only hope.

The bottom line?

Two notable men of notable skill and standing are no longer coaching, as of today. One walked away voluntarily. The other did not. But maybe both, in some form or fashion, were looking for an escape hatch.

One tragically. The other, perhaps, simply inevitably.


A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 5

And now this week's installment of The NFL In So Many Words, the Blob feature whose side effects may include nausea, vomiting, high blood pressure, increased irritability and minor scrapes and owies:

1. The Bengals!

2. Are outer space aliens who've absorbed the life force of the real Bengals, like in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

3. Especially "Andy Dalton."

4. Like that guy's real.

5. Speaking of not real, who's this Jay Cutler guy?

6. Geez, the Lions.

7.  The Cowboys! America's Team! Symbol of garish excess and everything else that's right and good!

8. They'll show those Patriots a thing or tw--

9. Never mind.

And last but not least ...

10. Geez. The Lions.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Whither Peyton

Some things you hardly ever want to say, on account of they might come back to haunt you/make people laugh at you/take a big wet bite out of your hindparts:

1. I'll remember where I put (fill in the blank).

2. There's no way we lose this game.

3. It's just a phase.

Oh, and one more ...

4. Peyton Manning is finished.

People who should know better are saying that now, and, well, maybe they're right this time. Certainly the man looks like he's skipped a few decades and has landed in his 70s. He can't throw downfield anymore (or so it appears). His deep outs flutter like young hearts in love. He's already thrown seven picks, and we're barely to Columbus Day.

Conclusion: Peyton Manning looks exactly like a 39-year-old man who's had four neck surgeries. He looks like someone shot him through a wormhole, and he came out the other side as Y.A. Tittle in, say, 1964.

I mean, who can forget this?

Tell me that doesn't remind you a little of Peyton these days.

He was 22-of-35 for 266 yards on Sunday, and his Broncos wheezed past Oakland to remain undefeated. But Manning threw two more picks, both to Charles Woodson. One of them Woodson intercepted in the end zone almost in self defense, because there wasn't a Bronco within a nautical mile of it. Heaven only knows who the intended receiver was, unless it was actually the 39-year-old Woodson as part of some sort of AARP brothers-in-arms deal.

Everyone's conclusion: After years of carrying his team, his team is carrying Peyton now. He is, after all, the 30th-ranked quarterback in the NFL today according to Pro Football Focus, down there with the likes of Jimmy Clausen and Johnny Manziel.

Here's what I think, having watched a fair chunk of Broncos-Raiders yesterday: I think that analysis is right on the mark.

I also you think you're a damn fool if you sleep on the guy because of that.

Remember when all those same people who should know better thought he was done the last time, after the Indianapolis Colts flushed him because Andrew Luck was waiting in the wings? All Manning did across the three next seasons was throw for 14,863 yards and 131 touchdowns, including 5,477 and 55 in 2013, when he got the Broncos to the Super Bowl.

So much for done.

So much, too, for the notion that the Broncos' defense is all there is to the Broncos. Because Peyton is still Peyton, proud and stubborn and, as ever, frighteningly in earnest. And so one of these weeks someone is going to game plan for the Broncos without paying him proper mind, and he's gonna lay one of his Rembrandts on 'em, just for old times' sake.

He won't do that every week, of course. At this stage, he won't even do it every month.

But woe to anyone who thinks he won't ever do it again.


Slide rules

So Chase Utley has drawn a two-game sitdown for his kamikaze slide that broke Ruben Tejada's leg the other night, and I know what I think about this.

I think the likelihood of Utley actually serving this suspension is roughly comparable to the likelihood of Babe Ruth coming back from the dead to dance the lead in "Swan Lake."

I think the umps blew the call big-time, and that's why the likelihood of Utley serving the suspension is roughly comparable to Babe Ruth, etc., etc., etc.

I think going into a completely different time zone to break up a double play is not a borderline call, because there are explicit rules against it, and the only reason it keeps happening is because the umps refuse to enforce those rules.

I think anyone who watches that play and says it's just "a hard slide" and "old-school baseball" needs to, like the umps, read the rulebook again. I also think that when they say that's how the game has always been played, they need to remember that once upon a time the game was always played by white players only. And that it was always played in broad daylight. And that it was always played barehanded. And that once a team signed you, they owned you for life.  

In other words: Times change. So does the game.

Players are expensive assets now, and owners will do whatever it takes to protect those assets. That's why Pete Rose couldn't run down Ray Fosse today without paying a penalty for it. And it's why Utley got suspended. Times change, the game changes, its priorities change.

John McGraw, bloody-minded hard-liner that he was, would have hated this. He would have waved his arms and spluttered angrily that Utley was suspended for what, in his day, was just baseball.

But you know what?

John McGraw is long dead. And so is his day.

Sunday, October 11, 2015


So, maybe Jim Harbaugh really is a magician in $8 pants. And maybe there really is something to the rumor that the Colts are going to dump Chuck Pagano at the end of the season and money-whip the Wizard of WalMart into moving 4 1/2 hours south to take Andrew Luck under his wing.

(OK, so that's ridiculous. Jim Harbaugh is not going anywhere. I just said that because I'm mean and like to see people who insist on calling the color yellow "maize" turn ... well, maize around the gills).

Anyway, back to the Wizard.

Back to Ann Arbor, where Harbaugh's Wolverines ball-peened No. 13 and previously unbeaten Northwestern 38-0 yesterday. It was Michigan's fifth straight victory and third straight shutout. The last time Michigan posted three straight shutouts, it was 1980 and Bo You-Know-Who was still prowling the home sideline in the Big House.

The Wildcats came in leading the nation in points given up per game (7.0), and the Wolverines got that in the first 13 seconds. It was 21-0 after a quarter, 28-0 at halftime and 31-0 after three quarters.

Suddenly it's not insane to think undefeated and No. 4 Michigan State might be in deep trouble next week, when the Spartans -- who futzed around and finally beat Rutgers 31-24 yesterday -- visit Ann Arbor. And it's equally not insane to think Urban Meyer's Ohio State legions, who haven't exactly impressed anyone since their opening win over Virginia Tech, could be an entrĂ©e in waiting when they come to the Big House at the end of the season.

A Michigan State win next week would of course derail all of that, but even if you think Harbaugh is a bit strange (and kind of a jerk at times), it's astounding what he's doing at UM right now. He's basically taken a bunch of sad sacks who couldn't get out of their own way last fall and turned them into a razor.

 Their only loss was in Week 1 at Utah, which is unbeaten and ranked fifth and the best team in the Pac-12 right now. Since then, the Wolverines have outscored five opponents 160-14.

And suddenly, Ann Arbor is back to being a place you don't want to spend your Saturdays. Yes, that fast.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Human psychology explained

And now a few brief thoughts on Cardinals 4, Cubs 0, in which the psychological nature of humans is explained in a way that will not put you to sleep the way it did when  you were a freshman at Whatsamatta U.:

So the Cardinals beat the Cubs 4-0 in Game 1 of the NLDS in St. Louis last night ....

Ego: Well, of course.

Id: Dammit!

Class dismissed.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The cure for what ails 'em

Sooo, maybe it's time to go all nursing home on this and pick up Matt Hasselbeck for the fantasy team.

OK. So not really.

Still, Hasselbeck -- who is not older than dirt, but was in the same graduating class -- is now 2-0 in relief of Andrew Luck, and he has become a Rosetta Stone of sorts for how the Indianapolis Colts ought to proceed from here on out. You want to keep Luck upright, when he comes back from his dinged wing?

Do what the Colts are having Hasselbeck do.

Which is, throwing a lot of underneath stuff off short drops and quick releases, the better to offset the Colts' screen-door offensive line and keep the pass rush off the front step.  Spread the field. Move the ball around. Make opponents defend more real estate, thereby opening up running lanes for Frank Gore that the Screen Doors can't open on their own.

And, yes, that does sound a lot like what the hated Patriots do. Well, so what? When's the last time someone landed a really good shot on Tom Brady?

It may not be the perfect system, and it may not be what offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton wants to do. But you can't argue with the results. The Colts are 3-2 after starting 0-2, and Hasselbeck's QB'ed two of the three wins. Whatever this is, it's working.

Last night it kept J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and the rest of the Houston Texan swarm out of Hasselbeck's kitchen, and the Colts won the roadie, 27-20. Hasselbeck completed 18-of-29 passes for 213 yards and two scores, with no picks. More to the point, he was hit only three times.

He also averaged a modest 11.8 yards per reception, while completing passes to eight different receivers. Three tight ends caught four balls among them. And Andre Johnson, another ancient, finally awoke, catching six passes for 77 yards and two touchdowns against his former team.

For those not inclined to do the math, that was about 12 yards a catch. And that's pretty much perfect.

All of that opened up some running lanes for Gore -- yet another oldtimer -- who tottered his way to 98 yards on 22 carries. Throw in 87-year-old Adam Vinatieri's two field goals, and it was a big night for the back-in-my-day crowd. Word has it the Social Security checks even cleared.

So what happens next?

I can tell you what should happen: Nothing.

When Luck comes back -- and that may or may not be anytime soon, given the news reports that he's got a partial separation of his throwing shoulder -- the Colts should continue to play as if it's still Hasselbeck taking the snaps. It will protect Luck, and it will result in Ws.

 And isn't that the goal here?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Inevitability blues

Look, it's not like I didn't know what was coming. Didn't I say to one and all that my Pittsburgh Pirates were doomed? Didn't I say, look, they haven't gotten an earned run off Jake Arrieta since 1969, why do you think they're gonna start now?

And then there's Kyle Schwarber. Don't even get me started on that guy.

But, hey, hope springs eternal, even if, when it does, it's wearing its clothes backwards and thinks cheese curls are a food group. So, yes, I put on the sacred Clemente jersey. Yes, I sat directly beneath the sacred Clemente photo (standing on first, looking regal). And, yes, I put my Pops Stargell bobblehead on the end table right next to me.

Fat lot of good it did.

The game began, and, yes, it went exactly how I thought it would go. The Pirates couldn't hit Arrieta -- until, stupidly, they actually hit him. Great strategy there, boys. You're down 4-0 in the late innings, you need every out you can get, so you deliberately put the pitcher on base? Genius.

Anyway ... Arrieta went through 'em like a stomach virus. And Schwarber -- IU Guy, Freakin' Gomer From Freakin' Bloomington -- hits one of Gerrit Cole's pitches so hard it probably landed in Buffalo.

And my Bucs were toast. I turned it off (at least for an hour or so). I knew it was hopeless.  Heck, it was probably hopeless before the first pitch.

And so a 98-win season ends in less than three hours, and don't get me started on that nonsense again. If you're gonna have a one-and-done wild-card format, you need to seed the playoffs. Worst records play the one-and-done whether they won their division or not.

That's not the worst part, though. The worst part is, the Cubs now play the Cardinals. So I've got to root hard for 'em now, even Freakin' IU Guy.

Go, Schwarber. Go, Cubs.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Draft stings

I am not a gamblin' man. Let's get that on the (blackjack) table straightaway.

Airdrop me onto the Strip in Vegas and I'll roam around the MGM Grand for awhile, then sit down at one of the slots and feed five bucks worth of quarters in it. Then, when that's gone, I'll look around and say, "OK, what next?"

I'd never bet the ponies in Vegas, because I have a distinct aversion to risking Benjamins on an animal with a brain the size of a walnut. I'd never bet college football or basketball there, either, because they're played by college kids, and I remember what I was like as a college kid. And I'd never bet the NFL in Vegas, because ... well, because I don't trust the NFL zebras. Sorry, guys.

Let's face it. I'm a skinflint. Never met a dime I couldn't squeeze 'til it looked like a large shiny pizza.

I do, however, play fantasy football, like everyone else in America. My team, the Fightin' Hammocks, is currently a forest fire grafted onto a nine-car pileup. Every decent player I have is either hurt or figuring out how to get hurt. My kicker's 97 years old, my running backs excel only in the weeks I don't play them, and one of my wide receivers is a Cleveland Brown, for God's sake.  Take me off the grill, I'm done on both sides.

But at least I don't bet. 'Cause if I did, I might have gotten sucked into the gambling/fantasy nexus that is daily fantasy sports, aka DFS.

You've seen the ads. They run 24/7 now, all these guys wearing their baseball caps backwards, celebrating the $2 million they just won playing FanDuel or DraftKings, the two main providers. That's what they always show you, the winners. The thousands upon thousands of guys who lose their shirts, pants and backward caps ... eh, not so much.

That's because this really isn't fantasy football, it's illegal gambling in funny glasses and a mustache. All those ads, they never mention that to play FanDuel or DraftKings you have to first kick in entry fees of as much as $1,000. So you're in the hole before you even begin. And if you don't win (and most people don't) ... well, you lose. Sometimes a lot.

Another thing: Because it's not technically gambling, it's not technically illegal. I's also totally unregulated -- which means all the usual sharks swim free, gobbling up Backward Cap Guy like so much chum.

According to this piece by Michael McCann in Sports Illustrated, one of those sharks, a DraftKings writer named Ethan Haskell, just turned a $25 entry fee into $350,000. He did this, allegedly, by using insider info on draft results of thousands of DraftKings participants. Banned by his employer from playing DFS, he took that inside dope to a similar game on FanDuel and raked.

Somewhere Bernie Madoff no doubt nodded approvingly.


I'm staying as far from this racket as I can. Because you know what?

I may not be a gamblin' man. But I know a rigged game when I see one.



A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 4

And now this week's installment of The NFL In So Many Words, the Blob feature downgraded by the National Weather Service to "a minor tropical depression" and described by The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore as "not even worth putting my GoreTex on for":

1. AARP 1, Jaguars 0.

2. Or, "This is how Sammy Baugh/Lou Groza used to do it." (Matt Hasselbeck and Adam Vinatieri).

3. The Bengals!

4. Starring A.J. Green as "A.J. Green," Tyler Eifert as "Tyler Eifert" and "Andy Dalton" as "The Beaver."

5. Phreet. Holding, Buffalo.

6. Phreet. Offsides, Buffalo.

7. Phreet. Pass interference, Buffalo.

8. Phreet. Excessive celebration of his team's 17 penalties, Rex Ryan.

9. Drew Brees is fini--

10.  Oh. Wait.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Excellence, schmexcellence

Look, I know how this is gonna sound. It's gonna sound like whining.

It's gonna sound like a guy sitting here in his Roberto Clemente jersey harvesting sour grapes, because his baseball team got burned in the wild-card one-and-done last year and likely will again this week. It's gonna sound like a lot of boo-hooing whose only possible response from the heartless multitudes is "Ah, dummy up. Whyncha win your division if you didn't want to wind up in the one-and-done?"

To which I will respond: Hey, we tried. We won 98 games, for cryin' out loud. What else do you want?

We (and by "we," I mean, of course, my luckless Pittsburgh Pirates) won 98 games, and the Chicago Cubs won 97, and the only reason both are in the one-and-done is because the (expletive deleted) Cardinals turned into the best team in baseball and won 100. Three teams, one division, one patently ridiculous set of circumstances.

Look. I know the argument. You should be rewarded for winning your division, and blah-blah-blah. It's nonsense. What if you play .500 baseball and still win your division because everyone else in it is the '62 Mets? For that you should be rewarded?

Sorry, but no. And I'd say that if this were, say, the Twins or the Indians who were in the same position as the Pirates and Cubs.

That's because it is patently absurd that one of the three best teams in baseball is going to be gone after Wednesday night, before the playoffs even fully begin. How does that make October more appealing?  The playoffs are supposed to be the best of the best. Instead, in Seamhead World, it's the best and sure-glad-we-played-in-the-NL-Least.

That's just wrong.

What's right is to reward excellence, not happenstance. Best records in both leagues, regardless of where they finished in their respective divisions, get the byes to the divisional round. Worst records meet in the one-and-done. You say that's not fair, because you won your division?

Tough. To paraphrase the heartless multitudes: "Ah, dummy up. You played in a crap division. Whyncha win more games?"

Some numbers: The two other NL divisional winners, the Mets and Dodgers, finished seven and five games behind the Cubs, respectively. Behind the No. 2 wild-card. In the American League, the AL West champion Rangers finished 10 games behind the Pirates. Yet they all get a pass into the divisional round?

Wrong. Just flat wrong.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

The three Ls

They all look alike, squatting there on the ledger in black-and-white. An "L" is an "L", as they say. There are no moral victories, as they also say.

And so Clemson 24, Notre Dame 22, and Ohio State 34, Indiana 27, and Michigan State 24, Purdue 21 on the big college scoreboard yesterday, and this is where what They say goes right off the rails. Because if those three scores represent losses for all of the state's Big Three, at least two of them didn't feel that way.

Notre Dame losing at Joaquin-drowned Clemson you could have seen coming, because when you ran a finger down the Irish schedule back in August, this was one you readily identified as a potential loss. But what happened in Bloomington and East Lansing was unforeseeable by practically everyone.

Start with Indiana, which lost its stud running back during the course of the raw afternoon, and then its stud quarterback, and still had No. 1 by the throat on the last play of the game. Not even a botched snap on the play stopped backup quarterback Zander Diamont from skimming the ball off a receiver's hands in the back of the end zone. That's how close it was for the Hoosiers, whose 4-0 record coming in was regarded as largely counterfeit, on account of it was, you know, Indiana.

But the Hoosiers outplayed, outfought and out-hearted Ohio State all over the field, and if Ezekiel Elliott hadn't run from Bloomington to Indianapolis (and gotten there sooner than driving there, given the state of Indiana 37 these days), the Hoosiers would have parked it in the W column. If there's no such thing as moral victories, this one sure as hell played one on TV.

Meanwhile, in East Lansing, No. 2 Michigan State survived a Purdue team that was coming off a home loss to a MAC school (Bowling Green), and whose only victory was a win over FCS Indiana State. But this one, too, went right to the finish, with Purdue gunning for the win in the final seconds after trailing 21-0 early.

Another gutty showing, especially considering Purdue had the added handicap of wearing strange white helmets that Boilermaker purists must have thought had no business adorning the head of a true Boilermaker. Might as well wear fruit baskets instead.

Another Oscar-winning performance in the Moral Victory category. They Say be hanged.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Hillary's insult, and other frippery

My political outrage meter must be broken. Donald Trump just makes me laugh. Various other wanna-be demagogues only make me wonder how deep was their slumber during American History 101.

Heck. I can't even get fired up about this.

That Hillary Clinton called Indianapolis "basketball-crazed Indianoplace" in 2010 in one of those interminable e-mails elicits nothing from me but a shrug, and maybe a bemused chuckle. Once again a national political figure is revealed to be hopelessly ignorant of anything that lives and breathes outside the Beltway bubble. Stop the presses.

I mean, really. Indianoplace?

Good lord, I haven't heard Indy called that in, what, 30, 40 years? And it's as much football-crazed as basketball-crazed these days.

The Indy I know, that most people know, is a city that pulled off a Super Bowl in 2012 without a labored breath. It's a city with an NFL team that's been two Supes in the last eight years and won one of them. It's an Indy with a professional basketball franchise that's been around for almost 50 years, and that's been host to the most populous single-day sporting event in America for 100 years, and that holds the unofficial title of Best Final Four Site Ever, given how often the event returns there.

None of this would appear on either Hillary's or any other presidential candidate's radar, of course, which makes her comment more an occasion for ridicule and laughter than anything else. Yes, that's right, Ms. Clinton. We're all just common folk livin' in the cornfields out here in Indiana, runnin' the picket fence at 'em. Here, have a giant breaded tenderloin. Visit our one-room schoolhouses. And how about that indoor plumbin'?


You could attempt to update the candidate on what's happened in Indy since the last time she was  there (1970, apparently), but what would be the point? It's not like her comment was in any way serious (at least not the way I read it), nor will even hurt her chances in Indiana. Assuming she's even the Democratic nominee -- a rather large leap of faith these days -- she has not a hope in hell of carrying the state anyway. So this is all pretty much a non-story.

Candidate Reveals She's Howlingly Out Of Touch: Stop the presses.

Or, you know, don't.

Friday, October 2, 2015

That old doomsday feeling

And now comes the battle of the gloom-meisters, single combat between opposing forces whose mastery of creeping pessimism and the Bad Times Are Comin' Blues is the real titanic struggle as baseball heads for October.

By which I mean: It's me the Pirates fan vs. everybody else the Cubs fan.

Me, the Pirates fan, beaten down by 20 years of numbing futility, knows what's coming next week when the Cubs invade PNC Park for the win-or-go-home NL wild-card game. The Cubs are going to throw Jake Arrieta out there, who hasn't given up an earned run since Christmas. The last time he faced the Pirates, he not only put their bats in stasis, he hit a home run just to grind salt in the wound.

"It's gonna be just like last year, when the Giants sent out Madison Bumgarner and he shut out the Buccos in PNC," I moan. "Deja screwed all over again."

Cubs Fan immediately gets a pained look on his/her face.

"I don't know," he/she says. "It's the Cubs. Bad stuff always happens to 'em in the playoffs. I wouldn't be writing the postseason off just yet."

"Are you kidding? Have you seen what Arrieta's done to the National League in the second half?" I counter. "You couldn't pick up his ERA with tweezers. The Pirates can't hit him. Nobody can hit him."

More sighing and hem-hawing from Cubs Fan.

"Yeaaah, but ... that just means he's due for a bad outing," he/she says. "I mean, how long can a guy pitch that well before having a bad game? Everybody has a bad game once in awhile. It would be just so, well, Cubs-y for Arrieta to lay an egg in this one."

Derisive snorting from me.

"Yeah, right," I say. "And Roberto Clemente's gonna descend from heaven in a golden chariot, leading Sam Siani's goat on a leash. Not happening. Not. Happening."

We stare at each other.

"Yeah, well ..." Cubs Fan says.

"Yeah, well ..." I say.

And somewhere behind the pearly gates, Clemente and Ernie Banks look at each other. They roll their eyes.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

One night in Manila

Forty years along now, and still you see the topography of Joe Frazier's face changing, dips and swales and small hillocks rising up beneath the merciless pounding. Still you see Muhammad Ali sitting exhausted on his stool, all hollowed out after emptying everything in the well in the 13th and 14th rounds.

They called it the Thrilla in Manila, and we'll never know, 40 years along, if Ali could have risen one more time that night of Oct. 1, 1975. We'll never know if Joe Frazier could have even survived one more rising, because he was half-blind by then and yet ready to go one last round with his bitterest enemy.

But Frazier's cornerman, Eddie Futch, ended it right there, unwilling to let his fighter destroy himself any further. He ordered the gloves cut off, and Ali won, if not the greatest heavyweight fight in history, certainly the most brutal.

Two lion's hearts met for the third time that night, and it was a Gethsemane that forever changed not only Ali and Frazier, but the trajectory of boxing itself. The two men ruined each other for keeps, and the heavyweight division was never the same thereafter. There have been heavyweight champions since -- Larry Holmes, the young Mike Tyson -- but none of them riveted the attention of the world like Ali and Frazier. If boxing has become a thundering irrelevancy, the heavyweight division has become a greater one within it, overshadowed by the lighter weight classes and, of course, MMA.

And it all started that night in Manila.

Having effectively destroyed one another, Ali and Frazier were supplanted by pale imitators. Holmes, who was not and never would be Ali. Tyson, a counterfeit threshing machine who could never surpass Frazier's genuine article. Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis, the Klitschkos: None of them could give us what Ali and Frazier gave us.

That's because, 40 years ago tonight, they gave us everything. For better and worse. 


Swift injustice

I suppose, this being the first of October, the Blog should address whether or not Peyton Manning's seams are starting to come undone, or whether or not Derrick Rose has some evil genie who follows him around and periodically breaks parts of him, or who's going to win the World Series now that baseball's postseason landscape is nearly in place.

I'm not going to address any of that. This especially goes for the baseball postseason, because the sight of the insufferable St. Louis Cardinals clinching the NL Central over my saintly Pittsburgh Pirates is simply too painful to contemplate just now.

What I'll do instead is this: Pick on Taylor Swift.

I know, I know. She's the Queen of Pop, the lineal descendant of Michael Jackson, the hugest act in the whole wide world right now. And apparently a decent human being on top of it all.

But the woman is poison. Speaking of, you know, evil genies and the like.

According to ESPNW, the platform the Worldwide Leader puts out there to convince us it's not the buzzing hive of misogyny some have accused it of being, Swift has jinxed not one, not two, but three different baseball teams this season. They include the Padres, the Nationals and the Astros, the most luckless Taylor target of all.

The 'Stros were 55-45 and solidly in charge of the first wild-card spot when, on July 27, they rescheduled Swift's concert at Minute Maid Park from Oct. 13 to Sept. 9 to clear the decks for a possible playoff date.  But since the concert, Houston's gone 7-11, losing seven of eight games immediately after she performed. Wobbling to the finish, the Houstons would not make the playoffs if they started today.

An eerie side note: The last time the Astros failed to make the playoffs after being at least 10 games over .500 at the halfway point of the season was 1989 -- which, of course, happens to be the name of  Swift's current tour. Cue the sudden appearance of Rod Serling, brows knitted alarmingly, cigarette burning between his fingers.

The Nationals, meanwhile, have gone 32-38 since Swift performed at Nationals Park in July, effectively doody-ing their way out of the playoffs. No word if there's any connection between Swift's appearance and the subsequent appearance of serial asshat Jonathan Papelbon on the Nats' roster, but the Blob certainly wouldn't rule it out.

As for the Padres, they've gone 11-17 since Swift's Aug. 29 appearance at Petco Park. Not that they weren't pretty awful before that, but ...

Well.  Tell me she's not a witch. Go on.