Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A hero's day

I became geography's orphan because of Roberto Clemente.

I was a Pittsburgh Pirates fan who grew up 320 miles and two states away in Indiana, dead center in Cubs-Tigers-White Sox country. It was the 1960s and the Lumber Company -- Clemente and Pops Stargell and Manny Sanguillen and Al Oliver -- was all the rage, and I got swept up. But mostly it was because of Clemente -- a legendary hypochondriac who was always moaning and groaning about this ache or that, then went out and played baseball the way a god would play it.

He hit for average, he hit for power, he ran the bases like a banshee wind. And no one ever played right field with more sheer grace. Watching him roam his domain was like watching Nureyev dance or Yo-Yo Ma play the cello. There was music in it -- and, at the end, a clap of thunder when he uncorked another sniper throw from that cannon of an arm.

Simply put, Clemente was the most mesmerizing baseball player I ever saw. And so of course I am going to pause to remember him today, which Major League Baseball has deemed Roberto Clemente Day.

There a million reasons to take that pause. Here, more eloquently stated than I ever could, are just a few of them.

So much truth there -- particularly the observation that Clemente is far more revered in death than he was in life, or likely would be if he were playing now. He was an intelligent, prideful man who suffered fools and bigots not at all. And that likely wouldn't go over well at a time when presidential candidates (or at least one) openly pander to the sort of racism, bigotry and ignorance Clemente, with his keen sense of social justice, not only refused to tolerate but openly raised hell about.

I can just imagine the enemies he would make among the yahoos, had he come along 60 years later than he did. And I can only daydream about what he'd say about the Game Show Host, and just how loudly and persistently he'd say it.

That's why I have a Clemente jersey hanging in my closet at home. It's why I have photos of him all over our den. And it's why I have his baseball card on one of the bookshelves in my office at Manchester University.

It is, of course, on the top shelf. But you probably knew that.




I could write about the NBA Finals today, LeBron 'n' them (and this time there will be a "them") against the Splash Brothers in Round 2, the Warriors having successfully executed a nifty escape from oblivion against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Well, sorry. Later for that.

Today will be given over to perception, and how divorced from reality it sometimes is.

Today will be about Alan Pulido, a Mexican soccer star, and how we've got it all wrong about soccer stars. Little guys with a theatrical bent, right? Little guys flopping to the ground like they were shot 15 times at the slightest hint of contact with another player. Little guys who then hop up, miraculously cured, after the ref yanks the yellow card on the (alleged) offender.

What do you say? I'm pretty close there, right?

Well, submitted for your approval, then, I offer this. I offer Pulido, who's not terribly big himself (5-9), but who apparently went all Rambo/Jason Bourne when he was kidnapped while playing for a team in Greece. Took on his captor barehanded, wrestled his gun away from him, and then cold-cocked him with a punch. Then directed the authorities to his location while his captor lay there unconscious, sent off to sleepy time by Pulido's fist.

And to think we used to talk about the Hand of God when Maradona was playing.

Monday, May 30, 2016

A few thoughts, the day after

I can see what this was now, after the sun has finally set on a day that began in the predawn darkness. This was Throwback Indy.

This was 350,000 souls jamming the roads and parking lots and every inch of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 1970s style -- you kept expecting to look out on the track and see A.J. Foyt's orange Coyote hunkered on the pole -- and there was an odd thrill to it, a certain electricity. Like when you heard, in some Speedway gift shop sometime on Sunday morning, that "there is now a 30-minute wait at the checkout line." Instead of groaning, you thought "Awesome."

This was '70s masses and a '60s feel, with a huge roar going up from those masses when Brazilians Tony Kanaan or Helio Castroneves went to the lead. Indy is the transcendent motorsports event in the world because everyone in the world races in it, making it a worldwide event and not just a backyard American brawl like NASCAR. And its audience loves that about it, roots as hard for its favorite foreign drivers as for its favorite Americans. And so when the roar went up for TK or Helio, it called to mind those moments in the '60s when flying Scots Jackie Stewart or Jim Clark went to the lead, or Graham Hill from England.

This was a '70s crowd with a '60s feel and a winner who felt familiar, too, in an odd sort of way. No one had heard of Alexander Rossi before he gambled and won yesterday, coasting across the yard of brick on dry tanks. It wasn't the most esthetically pleasing finish to the 100th 500, and Rossi wasn't the identifiable face a lot of people might have wanted. He wasn't even demonstrative enough for some in Victory Lane, looking more stunned than elated as he was coaxed through the ritual swigging-and-dumping-on-your-head of the milk.

All of which kind of took me back to a certain year in the '70s.

It was 1979 and another undemonstrative Californian won that day, and hardly anyone knew much about him, either. They would, of course, after Rick Mears went on to win four 500s and etch his name deeply into the thick history of the event and place. But in '79, he was barely two years removed from Roger Penske plucking him from the obscurity of off-road racing. And his demeanor ... well, flamboyance was not his thing, shall we say. Even at 26, he seemed more the cool calculator than a drop-the-hammer wild child, older somehow than he looked.

Rossi, same deal. At 24, toughened by seven years in Europe negotiating the political jungle of Formula One and its feeder system, he, too, seems older and wiser than his years. A young man of clearly immense self-assurance, he handled all the winner's hoopla with poise even though it clearly wasn't him -- and who, even in the moment, kept his eye on a prize far larger than just him or the fortunes of his race team.

"It won't sink in for awhile," he said in the postrace. "I don't want it to. I want to enjoy this moment, enjoy it with people around me. It's obviously a huge honor and privilege, something I'm going to carry with a great sense of responsibility.

"We need to really push this forward. It was an incredible event for the hundredth running of the 500. We need to do everything in our power to continue the momentum forward, make it even bigger next year."

Pretty remarkable perspective for a 24-year-old who'd just won the biggest race at Indy in a century. And oddly appropriate, in its way, for a day given over to history and its celebration.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Morning at Indy

INDIANAPOLIS -- The best part of  Race Day at Indy comes early, before the place is a living human carpet, before all the ceremony and pageantry and shrieking enignes.

It's a time of day when the sun touches only the top part of the blockhouses in Gasoline Alley, when the people lining the balconies overlooking A.J. Foyt's garages in Building A -- yes, people are lining the balconies, and it's barely 7 a.m. -- have to squint to see anything, have to shade their eyes as they look down on the nosecones and engine cowlings scattered about.

Everything is in tear-down mode, at this early hour. The engines are uncovered. Crew members hover over them. Outside polesitter James Hinchcliffe's garage, a crewman pulls out a wrench, gives a bolt on the rear wing a crank, stands back to study it. Then he leans in and gives it another crank or two.

A few garages over, an engine fires up, bap-bap-bap-bap. It's Buddy Lazier's No. 4, and as it growls and snaps, the first sharp tang of racing fuel taints the morning air.

It doesn't smell like victory, to quote Robert Duvall in "Apocalypse Now." But it does smell like race morning.

It also reminds you this is an occasion like few others, never more so than this year. There will be 350,000 souls or thereabouts in this vast expanse, before too long; not long after, the 33 will come to the green, and we'll get this party started.

But, first, a couple of random thoughts, entirely unconnected and perhaps of no consequence:

1. Winning the pole ain't what it used to be.

Twenty winners have come from the pole position, good news for Hinchcliffe. The bad news is no one has won from the pole since Helio Castroneves did it in 2009, his third 500 victory.

2. Once again, the winner will not be named Smith.

This is because, once again, no one named Smith is in the field. No one named Smith has ever been in the field in 100 years. I think I can speak for the entire Smith clan when I say this is a supreme disappointment.

3.Speaking of trivia, here's a personal favorite: No one named Smith has ever raced in the 500, but two guys named Dario have won it.

That would be Dario Resta (1916) and Dario Franchitti (2007, 2010, 2012). Even more deliciously bizarre, both were from Great Britain (Franchitti's a Scot) but also had Italian roots.

4.  There are six former winners in the field. Four of them are starting from the fifth row on back.

In fact, there is a whole pile of guys used to running up front who are starting mid-pack and beyond: Scott Dixon (13th), Marco Andretti (14th) Juan Pablo Montoya (17th), Tony Kanaan (18th), Ed Carpenter (20th), Graham Rahal (26th). Which means there will be some interesting stuff going on back there once the green drops.

Can't wait.

Not dead yet

Zero chance. That's what we all thought, right?

Zero chance the Golden State Warriors would win to Oklahoma City in Game 6 last night, zero chance, with it win or go home, that they would do anything but go home. No way the Thunder wouldn't close it outat home, not after destroying the Warriors in OKC in Games 3 and 4. No way the Warriors could survive, down by seven in the skinny minutes and looking late for their own funeral.

So, of course, it didn't happen.

Klay Thompson went off for 41 points and 11 3-pointers, Steph Curry was Steph Curry (31 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists) and the Warriors reminded everyone that, ahem, they did win those 73 games. It wasn't just a happy Bay Area dream. Final score: 108-101. Next up: A Game 7 back home in the Oracle.

Which proves what again, children?

That's why they play the games. Very good.

And that's why we shouldn't assume the Warriors will close it out in Game 7 anymore than we shouldn't have assumed OKC would close it out in Game 6. Assumptions, in case you haven't figured it out by now, are death in sports.

And -- in case you haven't figured this out yet -- that's what makes them great.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Same stuff, different day

This was about bottom lines, in the end.  Nothing else. It was about what men (and, yes, women, too) will do in service to the revenue stream, what they will ignore or pretend isn't happening because the revenue stream is all, high-end college athletics long ago abandoning the fiction that it's part of the larger university mission.

No, sir. High-end college athletics is a separate entity now, an engine of commerce only. And that especially pertains to football, the mightiest engine of commerce there is.

And so no praise today for Baylor University for "doing the right thing" by firing football coach Art Briles and demoting Ken Starr (yes, that Ken Starr) from university president to chancellor and law instructor. Baylor did not do this because it got a sudden attack of conscience, or because of some newfound sensitivity for the victims of the alleged sexual predators on its football team. It did this only because the cascade of revelations was threatening to hurt the football program.

In other words: Same motivation, different day.

The same instinct that led Baylor to pervert its own process regarding sexual assault allegations -- why would members of the football staff be allowed to interview alleged victims of the football team, unless it was to convince them to shut up? -- led it to purge Briles and demote Starr. And even at that, how does Ken Starr get to keep drawing a paycheck?

This was, after all, an institutional failure not just of athletics but of the university's policy regarding sexual assault on its campus. And the responsibility for that goes straight to the top. So how is Starr not on the street, too?

(Quick aside: What splendid irony this is. Ken Starr, who made his rep chasing Bill Clinton to the ends of the earth because of Clinton's sexual misconduct, presiding over sexual misconduct -- rampant sexual misconduct, apparently -- at Baylor. Seems his outrage over Monica Lewinsky's exploitation was not transferrable to Baylor. Clinton, after all, was only the President of the United States, not a football powerhouse in Texas.)

In any case, you could lose a bundle betting Baylor's actions yesterday indicated it had seen the error of its ways. More like seeing it got caught red-handed protecting the revenue stream, same as any other corporate interest.

Bidness is bidness, after all. Everything else is just everything else.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The dream dissolves

It's never a pretty thing, watching the invincible become mortal. And so these days Golden State Warriors fans are challenging NBA analysts to fights in bars, and the team owner is getting into it with opposing fans at games, and, well, like we said. Not pretty.

It has, after all, been such a grand dream, seductive in the sense all grand dreams are seductive. You think it's never going to end, even though no dream in recorded history has ever not ended. That hasn't happened yet for the Warriors, but it's looking like it will.

This after the Warriors lost Game 1 of the Western Conference finals at home, where they lost just one game during their epic 73-win regular season, and then they went out to Oklahoma City and got embarrassed in a way no one imagined possible. The Thunder beat them like the noon crowd at the Y, once by 28 and once by 24. And now that OKC is up 3-1 in the series and looking as unstoppable as Golden State once looked, it's suddenly dawned on everyone that this Thunder team has two of the best five players in the world (Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook), and they're playing like two of the best five players in the world. And that makes them sort of, you know, formidable.

Even for an opponent that won 73 games and whose offense was such a masterpiece to watch Rembrandt could have painted it.

So, yes, Golden State people are losing it. They can't believe this team that looked so utterly unbeatable not only is down 3-1, but has been absolutely annihilated two times in a row. And so we have the spectacle of the Warriors owner getting into it with an obnoxious Thunder fan, and a Warriors fan challenging NBA analyst Charles Barkley to a fight because Barkley had the effrontery to pick the Thunder to win the series.

(An especially rash act considering Sir Charles once famously threw an obnoxious fan through a plate-glass window.)

The mossiest cliché in the book is the one that goes "This is why they play the games," but, well, this is why they play the games. They play the games because you never know when a Durant or a Westbrook is going to start playing like a Durant or a Westbrook. They play the games because you never know when a Steph Curry is going to suddenly begin looking mortal and weary after being so head-grabbing amazing for seven months.  They play the games because there's no such thing as momentum in sports, a truism the Warriors must be clinging to right now the way a drowning man clings to a life preserver.

Because the way these playoffs have been going, they could easily come out tonight in the fortress that is their home court and obliterate OKC the way OKC obliterated them in Oklahoma. Just look at the East finals: After easily winning the first two games, the Cavaliers went up to Toronto and lost twice to a Raptors team that didn't look capable of sharing the same floor with them.

Then they came back to Cleveland last night  -- and won by 38.

So, yeah. The dream hasn't ended yet for Golden State.

But the light of day isn't far off.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A real century mark

So, you want even more history, with the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 coming up on Sunday?

Fine. I'll give you more history.

I'll give you the first sellout ever (ostensibly) for the 100th running, an occasion that has prompted the Speedway to lift the long-standing local TV blackout for the first time since 1949 and 1950. Which is saying something, considering in 1949 and 1950 about 12 people had TV sets, and they only had two channels: Milton Berle and Test Pattern.

So this is a Very Big Deal, and already those of us prone to freaking out on Race Day (i.e., me) are freaking out about what kind of traffic situation we're going to run into Sunday morning. I mean, a sellout of all available tickets means a crowd well north of 300,000. So I'm figuring I have two options if I want to avoid the epic Indy traffic jam of all Indy traffic jams:

1. Set my alarm for 2015.

2. Learn how to parachute.

Seriously, though, I'm sort of looking forward to this, in a morbid sort of way. Where will the traffic come to a standstill? I-465 before the 38th Street exit? High School Road at 38th? It'll be interesting to see. And it'll be interesting, sort of, to get stuck in the middle of it.

While I'm waiting, I can reminisce about the old days, when 300,00-plus was the norm. The difference now is, there's not as much room for the traditional sea of humanity in the infield. Will the real Snakepit (as opposed to the Speedway-approved fake Snakepit) make a re-appearance? Will there be drunks sleeping it off in the bed of pickup trucks while their buddies bury them in empties? Will there be rickety OSHA-defiant scaffolding in the beds of those pickups? And, with less room to roam, will the glamping area be invaded by hordes of unkempt Snakepitites, rampaging through the chi-chi tipis and indiscriminately answering calls of nature?

CHI-CHI TIPI DWELLER: Oh, my God! Is that man -- ?

Or words to that effect.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Credibility loses again

You could have worse days, I suppose. The Society of Guys With Pocket Protectors And Adhesive Tape On The Bridge Of Their Glasses could reject you as "not cool enough." The Philadelphia 76ers could say you can't play a lick. Turtles could refuse to let you join their jogging club because, well, you're "just too damn slow."

But Congress -- Congress! -- scolding you for unseemly behavior?

Man. That's pretty close to the lowest.

And that's what happened to the National Football League yesterday, when congressional investigators released a report accusing the Shield of trying to pressure the National Institutes of Health to take money away from a researcher critical of the NFL and give it instead to the league's paid lackeys ... er, "committee on brain injuries."

The money, $16 million, was to come from a $30 million unrestricted gift the NFL gave the NIH in 2012.

And so once again words do not match deeds for the NFL, which talks a good game about the welfare of its players but has resisted research into concussions and their connection to brain injury at virtually every turn. In that sense, trying to steer a government study toward its own people -- people who, remember, spent years telling us concussions were no big deal, and that CTE was just a crackpot theory cooked up by a bunch of football haters -- is not really news. The NFL has never had any credibility on this issue, and this is just more evidence.

But the timing of it, and the optics involved, make this revelation perhaps more damaging. By 2012, after all, the NFL was at least publicly saying it considered concussions a serious issue, and was implementing new concussion protocols and fresh prohibitions on helmet-to-helmet hits. And yet it was also continuing to drag its feet on a serious matter of player safety.

Or at least, that's how it looks. And on top of it all, there's also the matter of allegedly trying to influence the use of a gift that was supposed to be unrestricted -- i.e., the NIH could use it as it saw fit. Instead, when the NIH rebuffed the league's effort to remove neurodegenerative disease specialist Robert Stern because Stern had been publicly critical of the NFL, the NFL reneged on its pledge.  Taxpayers ended up footing the bill instead.

And so the takeaway is that the NFL, despite all its happy talk, remains so resistant to player safety it was willing to be seen as an entity whose word is worthless. And who was equally willing to leave the taxpayers holding the bag for a commitment it made.

(Of course, leaving the taxpayers holding the bag is kind of a thing in the NFL. They are world-champion freeloaders at the Shield. Just ask the good citizens of Las Vegas, who'll be on the hook for the lion's share of a proposed $1.4 billion stadium for the Raiders, who'd like to relocate there.)

In any case ... why, after this, should anyone believe a word the NFL says about player safety vis-à-vis concussions and brain trauma? And how does this not make its rank-and-file even more distrustful of the league's motives than they already were?

I mean, the worst part of yesterday was not the NFL being accused by Congress of being slimy and underhanded. The worst part was the likely reaction from the players.

Something along the lines of, "Well, duh," no doubt.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Provincialism go home

IndyCar owner Sam Schmidt's day began with him driving a specially-designed Chevy Corvette around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 152 mph, not a bad bit of stepping along for a former hotshoe who was left a quadriplegic by a crash at Orlando 16 years ago. But then he watched one of his drivers hang it on the edge and keep it there for four laps in the last of the day, winning the pole position for the 100th Indianapolis 500 by less than an eyeblink.

So you could forgive a bit of cognitive dissonance.

"God bless America," Schmidt said down on pit road, as his polesitter, James Hinchcliffe, let out that breath he'd likely been holding for four laps.

The no longer ink-stained scribes in the IMS media center immediately picked up on the irony.

"God bless America? Hey, Sam, your guy broke up the all-American front row," someone said, or words to that effect.

Provincialism is a big deal in auto racing, or at least it's perceived to be. And so when Hinchcliffe, a Canadian, snatched the pole from Josef Newgardan, a Tennessean, a few wise guys immediately started crafting phony wise-guy ledes.

"How about 'Maybe we should build a wall after all'?" one of them said.

OK. So it was me.

I was, of course, joking, because provincialism is a bad fit for Indianapolis in May, where the 500 is the century-old phenomenon it is because there has always been a shine of international glamor to it. If the Unsers and Foyts and Andrettis have made it an American event, the Jim Clarks and Tony Kanaans and Dario Franchittis have made it a world presence. Ten countries will be represented in this year's field, drivers who hail from Toowomba, Australia (Will Power) to Ipswich, England (Pippa Mann) to Moscow, Russia (Mikhail Aleshin). There are three drivers in the field from Bogota, Colombia, alone (Carlos Munoz, Juan Pablo Montoya, Gabby Chavez).

So this is not a solely American thing and never has been. And here's the odd thing: As much as the largely American crowd might have been rooting for Newgarden, Ryan Hunter-Reay (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) and Townsend Bell (San Luis Obispo, Calif.) to hang onto the front row -- it would have been the first all-American front row at Indy since 2001 -- the Canadian who crashed the party is as hugely popular as anyone.

Which follows the trend. And it's why, here at the Blob, we've never bought the notion that IndyCar fell off the map after A.J., Mario, Al and Bobby and Rick Mears retired and no comparably dominant Americans stepped in to fill the void.

Nonsense. Some of the most popular drivers in 500 history have been, like Hinchcliffe, visitors. Clark, Graham Hill, Emerson Fittipaldi, Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti ... the list goes on and on.

What you want, and what will give the sport a boost, is to have at least some Americans who can be public faces for the sport. That's the issue right now for IndyCar. With the possible exception of Graham Rahal, there aren't enough Americans who've managed to be successful enough to capture the public imagination the way A.J. and Mario and the Unsers did. It's a balance issue, and the balance isn't there right now.

So, yeah, a lot of people were rooting for the all-American front row. But at the same time, they weren't rooting against Hinchcliffe -- one of the most popular and accessible drivers in IndyCar, and who was owed some good karma from the Speedway after the place tried to kill him last year.

And who, of course, is also a proud Canadian who waved the maple leaf after winning the pole yesterday, and who feels a kinship with the late Greg Moore, an IndyCar star from Canada who was killed in a race and whom Hinchcliffe grew up following.

"I still wear red gloves in honor of Greg," Hinchcliffe said. "You can say anytime I get in the car there's someone else with me there."

A sentiment that knows no borders.

Karma wins again

So maybe the Golden State Warriors are the greatest thing to hit basketball since James Naismith knocked out the bottom of the peach basket. But there are forces in the universe that are manifestly unimpressed with the boasting of mortal men.

Like, you know, karma.

Karma doesn't care how many step-back 30-footers Steph Curry drops down the well, it's gonna do what it's gonna do. The Splash Brothers? Pffft. Seventy-three wins? Whatever. Mess with karma, you get exposed, because karma is, you know, pretty much undefeated as we understand the concept of undefeated.

And so to last night, when the Warriors were made to look like mere mortals by the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. The Thunder rolled the Warriors like they were the Sixers, 133-105, taking a 2-1 lead in the series and looking alarmingly capable of crashing Golden State's year-long party. And, oh, yeah: At one point, Draymond Green of the Warriors did this to Steven Adams.

Now, I don't know if Green booting Adams in the tender mercies had anything to do with the Thunder going on to treat Golden State like that trash bag Juan Pablo Montoya ran over at Indianapolis yesterday. But I'm not going to say it didn't have anything to do with it, either.

Because, you know, karma. It's a you-know-what.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

PC in DC. Or not.

I have been infected with political incorrectness, reading about this Washington Post poll that claims nine out of 10 Native Americans aren't offended by the Washington football club's nickname. I've decided it doesn't really matter that they rounded up a few Native Americans who didn't care if you called them names, because it doesn't really change the fact that you're calling them names.

Being un-offended by a racist nickname does not magically make it non-racist. It doesn't make it any less insensitive. I mean, if you call me a white-bread honky so-and-so, it's a racial slur. The fact I don't care if you call me that doesn't change that.

And so this poll (which is counterbalanced by ANOTHER poll that reports 65 percent of Native Americans regard the term "Redskins" as racist) is not quite the triumph the Washington football club's clueless owner, Daniel Snyder, regarded it as being. It's still a pejorative term. And it's still simple common decency not to use it if you can avoid doing so.

See what I mean? Totally politically incorrect.

Because, listen, bewailing simple common decency as PC has itself become PC, at least from where I'm sitting. It's become perilously close to a cliché, in fact. Certain political candidates being lauded for their political incorrectness, same deal. Being deliberately offensive, under the false flag of "telling it like it is," has become so much the new normal it's become, well, hackneyed. And therefore politically correct itself.

Or so it looks from here.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Time travel is a thing

I know this because I just read this, which proves that humans can, in fact, travel back to the days of yore ("Yore" meaning "a time when women bloody well knew their place"). And they can, in fact, remain for indefinite periods.

And so don't waste your time looking around in 2016 for the gentlemen who run Muirfield, the iconic Scottish golf club that just voted again to remain all-male because, well, they don't really care that it's 2016. In their minds, it's still 1950. It will always be 1950. Set the Wayback Machine and then destroy it, laddie.

That by doing so they just got ousted as a British Open site (the people who run the British Open apparently declining to remain stuck in the past with the gentlemen from Muirfield) means very little. The sensibilities of 2016 -- in which it's agreed that women should be treated as actual citizens who can vote and everything -- cannot touch you if you've fled 2016. Time really can stand still if your minds are right.

"A traditional resistance to change is one of the foundations of our unique position in golf and our reputation," reads a letter to Muirfield's members.

Most of us, here in 2016, would not tend to regard that as a point of pride. But no doubt the members, all cozy back there in 1950, had a different reaction.

"Quite!" you can almost hear them responding.

Followed by a discreet golf clap.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

I'll take Clueless for $200, Alex

Look, I get it. Not everyone finds his or her way inside the sports bubble, even by accident.

But I'm watching "Jeopardy" last night (I'm pretty good at it, at least in the safety of  my own living room), and it's a special Media Celebrity edition. And so here are CNN's Anderson Cooper, "60 Minutes" correspondent Lara Logan and Michael Steele from MSNBC.

(Brief sidebar here: Why have I always thought the term "Media Celebrity" was an oxymoron? I don't know, maybe because media is supposed to be the chroniclers, not the center of attention?)

Anyway ... here they are, three big-time journalists, and here is Alex Trebek, giving his answer: "The Carolina Panther who was the first NFL rookie to pass for over 4,000 yards."

Blank stars from all three big-time journalists.

"We don't do sports," Logan finally said.

Yeah, but ... seriously?

I get that none of the three is a sports person; some things are on people's radar, and some things are not. But they are alleged journalists, with an alleged heightened sense of the wider world. Like most journalists of note, if they don't know a lot about a lot, they at least know a little about a lot.

Or should, in my estimation. Maybe it's different on the broadcast side, but it shouldn't be.

And so, I'm sorry, "we don't do sports" is not acceptable. Especially when the subject in question has been so much in the news the last year, considering he's the reigning MVP of one of the most inescapable corporate entities in America (the NFL), and was the quarterback for one of the teams in the Super Bowl, the most inescapable sporting event in America.  Even if you don't do sports, you know about the Super Bowl, because it's impossible to avoid. You're telling me that three Media Celebrities didn't have a clue, upon mention of the "Carolina Panthers," who Cam Newton was -- the single most recognized Carolina Panther?

Makes me wonder if any of the three could have named the two teams who played in the Super Bowl, let alone any of the players.

I'm not a betting man. But I might have laid down some coin that they couldn't have.

And that's just sad. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Heaven is a pink slip

Notre Dame just made its federal tax returns public, and you'll be pleased to learn that being a failure in South Bend is still the best gig going.

This upon the news that former football coach Charlie Weis, who last coached the Irish back when the single wing was in vogue (or so it seems), is still making more money in deferred payments than the current coach, Brian Kelly, even though Kelly has actually gotten ND to a place Weis never did, which is back in the national conversation.

Other people who made less money from ND than Weis: men's basketball coach Mike Brey, women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw and, yes, athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

Weis pulled down $2,054,744 in 2014 from ND, while the school paid Kelly $1,624,730. Brey earned $970,177 from ND; McGraw $1,377,396; and Swarbrick $1,605,070.

The most amazing thing about all of this: Weis tapped into this windfall because of a loss.   Notre Dame rewarded him with what was even then seen as a rash act -- a 10-year deal -- after the Irish pushed No. 1 USC to the limit in 2005 before losing 34-31 in what's forever after been known as the Bush Push game.

As the Blob has said before: Nice work if you can get it. Or even if you can't.

Punch heard 'round the Pastime

Unless you're a dedicated seamhead, you probably never heard of Rougned Odor, the Texas Rangers' second baseman. Well, until this, that is.

Now he'll be woven into the rich tapestry of baseball iconography, because he's now the Man Who Threw The Greatest Punch In Baseball History. I mean, take another look at that thing. Even Joe Frazier is saying "Damn!"

Of course, it must be said here that there really isn't much competition for The Greatest Punch In Baseball History, because baseball fights are not exactly, well, fights. You won't see Bob Probert taking on Marty McSorley anytime soon on a baseball diamond, and you certainly won't see a Thrilla In Manila. Or a Punch-Up At PNC Park, for that matter.

That's because most baseball fights skew closer to animated discussion than out-and-out throwdowns. The dugouts empty, everyone gathers in a big scrum in the middle of the diamond, and there's a lot of pushing and shoving and hollering. No one (especially pitchers) wants to break a hand throwing punches. So baseball "brawls" tend to be ballroom dancing with cussing.

That's why Odor's punch has become an instant legend, and will remain so until someone one-ups him. The fact the victim was Jose Bautista, not exactly a beloved figure in baseball circles, only adds to the mythology that will inevitably grow up around it.

Why, someday those glasses that flew off Bautista's face could wind up in Cooperstown. And the notation, if Bautista's long list of non-admirers has anything to say about it, will read something like this: "Sunglasses worn by Jose Bautista the day Rougned Odor knocked the bleeping bleep into the middle of next week like he was a department store mannequin."

Can't wait to see that.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Without a ripple

This is the "new voice" to which Larry Bird referred on the day he fired/did not fire Frank Vogel? This guy?

This is not a new voice, this Nate McMillan. You know what this is?

It's that old SNL skit in which Chevy Chase plays the Landshark, trying to talk his way into his victim's apartment by claiming to be different people. But in the end, they're all just him. The Landshark.

Nate McMillan, in the same vein, is just Nate McMillan, who's been in Indianapolis for three years. Which is interesting, because Bird said, on the day he fired/did not fire Vogel, that three years was usually the maximum an NBA coach could hold his players' attention. Thus the whole "new voice" meme.

And thus an outbreak of wrinkled brows over this hire, because it's not a new voice but one the Pacers have already been hearing for three years. Which means, by Bird's own measure, the expiration date on McMillan has already expired.

Now, granted, being an assistant and being a head coach are two different things. But when you advance the idea that you're looking for fresh blood, and then hire the guy down the hall ... well, some puzzlement is to be expected. Or perhaps an out-and-out chorus of "What the hell?"

More WTH: While Bird has expressed a desire for the Pacers to play more up-tempo, McMillan, like Vogel, comes in with a reputation as a defensive-minded coach. And while Vogel departed with a 250-181 (.580) regular-season record in six seasons, McMillan went 478-452 (.511) in 12 seasons as a head coach in Seattle and Portland.

What the hell?

Plainly, this is no splashy hire; it's more a barely-a-ripple hire. And it makes you wonder if McMillan is actually a front man, put in place as a clever bit of misdirection so Bird can indulge a rumored coaching jones away from the glare of the spotlight.

Hey. It's a  theory.

Grassy Knoll. Magic Bullet. You pick.

Context is all. Or, you know, nothing

Finally caught up with the clip of LeBron James supposedly dissing Steph Curry for his unanimous MVP award, and I have to say I was disappointed. From the way the gentlemen of the press, Twitterverse and teevees have been carrying on about it (and on, and on) I figured LeBron had at the very least called into question Curry's parentage.

Alas, no such luck.

Instead, I watched the clip, and then I watched it again, and then I watched it again. And I still don't know what the fuss was about. I still don't know why Curry himself was compelled to comment on it, or why various radio larynxes have been spent so much time trying to parse every word, certain there was some deep Hidden Meaning behind what LeBron said.

Alas. No such luck.

Or at least, none that I can see. Instead of LeBron questioning Steph's MVP credentials, which is what I expected from all the furor, I instead heard him say this: "Look at Steph's numbers. He averaged 30, he led the league in steals, he was 90-50-40 [shooting percentages from the free throw line, field and beyond the 3-point line], and they won 73 [games]. So, I don't -- do you have any debate over that, really, when it comes to that award? He's definitely deserving of that award, for sure."

Italics mine.

Italics, because that sentence is the only one that really matters here. LeBron said there could be no debate about Curry's worthiness, and that he was definitely deserving. End of story.

And the rest of it?

Well, the rest of it, from where the Blob sits, is much ado about less than nothing. It's LeBron doing what he tends to do -- over-expand on a thought -- and, if some interpreted it as a slap at Curry, it sure didn't come off that way. It came out as an absolutely valid point: That sometimes "most valuable" and "most outstanding" are two different things.

Which they are.

It's a point that's been made a million times before by a million other people. It's a point that gets debated, without the media losing its mind, on countless occasions. And so move on, nothing to see here.

The problem, of course, is that the media can't move on these days. It is a 24/7/365 animal that demands constant feeding, even if what you're feeding it is the journalistic equivalent of rice cakes. If there is no substance, substance will be invented. That's just how we roll these days.

And it's been going on for awhile. The first time I remember encountering it was (if memory serves, and it might not) the year Mike Vanderjagt blew the gimme field goal and the Colts lost to the Steelers in the playoffs. In the postgame, someone asked Peyton Manning the classic what-went-wrong question. In the course of answering, he mentioned that they had had "protection issues."

Which they did. I wrote it down and thought nothing more about it -- until the stories started coming out that Peyton had thrown his offensive line under the bus.

"When did he do that?" I asked. And I was serious.

Because, listen, truthfully pointing out that, among other things, "protection issues" were a factor in a loss is not throwing your offensive line under bus. I was in the room. I heard what he said. He didn't say "my offensive line sucked." He didn't say "my offensive line couldn't block a stiff breeze." He said the Colts had had "protection issues."

That's all. That's it. Same as LeBron saying MVP and best player are sometimes not the same thing.

Move on. Nothing to see here.

No matter how hard some people try.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Simply Simon. Or not.

So remember a couple of months ago, when the Blob made its early, early, early prediction for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500?

Well ... it's later now. And I still like Juan Pablo Montoya.

But maybe not to win.

Maybe he's become the counterintuitive pick, now that the obvious pick seems to be his Penske teammate, Simon Pagenaud. If you haven't been paying attention, Pagenaud has gone off like a bomb so far this season. His ridiculously dominant win in the Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis yesterday was his third in a row, and he finished second in the other two races. So he's of course the odds-on favorite to win Indy in a couple of weeks.

I wouldn't dispute that at all, given that he looked to be the winner of the 500 for awhile a year ago. But I also know odds-on and Indy rarely dovetail neatly.

This is because weird stuff tends to happen on Memorial Day weekend in Indianapolis, stuff that doesn't seem to happen anywhere else. It's how a young Marco Andretti winds up leading until the last 150 yards in his rookie year, even though he'd never led until lap 198. It's how J.R. Hildebrand crashed on the 800th and last turn I 2011 to hand the race to a stunned Dan Wheldon. It's how Kenny Brack won in 1999 after Robby Gordon ran out of gas ... and how Johnnie Parsons won with a cracked engine block in 1950 because it rained while he was leading with 62 laps to go ... and how Frank Lockhart and George Souders won back-to-back as rookies in 1926 and '27 despite starting 20th and 21st, respectively.

Stuff happens at Indy. Only three times in the last 11 years, after all, has the 500 winner led the most laps. That includes last year, when three drivers led 149 of the 200 laps, and none of them won.

Scott Dixon (84 laps) finished fourth. Tony Kanaan (30) finished 26th. And, yes, Simon Pagenaud (35) finished 10th.

Food for thought.

Spoiled rotten

The big ideas just keep on coming, and heaven knows I can't stop them. Like Einstein and the theory of relativity, they arrive unbidden. I really don't have any control over them.

And so -- tada! -- the lightbulb went on upstairs this morning, while I was reading about the incredible hardships being endured down in Florida by the world's finest golfers. They're playing the Tournament Players Championships at Sawgrass down there this weekend, and the most awful happened yesterday: A perfectly manicured golf course turned into a descent into hell.

Or so you'd have thought from listening to all the complaining about the perfectly manicured greens, which for some reason became as slick as a three-card monte dealer after two days of being kept in proper PGA (aka, "perfectly manicured") condition.

Golf balls were rolling around out there like marbles on, well, marble, and scores shot up. The field averaged 75.59 in the third round after averaging 71.06.

The players, of course, blamed the course management, figuring they rolled the greens too much. But the PGA scoffed at that, offering the much more logical hypothesis that it was simply the weather, a 20-mph wind and beating sun drying out greens that had been double-rolled beforehand because they were too wet.

So, in essence, the world's best golfers were blaming the weather.

This is a level on the Whine Meter rarely achieved even for professional golfers, a notoriously whiny lot. And it came even from the third-round leader, Jason Day, who despite calling it "the toughest day I've ever had in my life" managed to shoot 73 and maintain a four-stroke lead.

The problem was, he'd set a 36-hole record the previous two days, when the course was deliberately set up for he and his fellow golfers to score well. Which is to say, conditions were even more optimum than they usually are for these guys, who rarely see anything that remotely resembles what your average hacker has to deal with on a daily basis.

Which led me to my big idea: Let's give the PGA's spoiled legions a taste of how the other 99 percent lives.

And so today I present my plans for the Greater Velveeta Ham Sandwich Open, which will be a mandatory event (i.e., play it or you lose your card) on the PGA Tour. The Hammy, as it will be called, will be played not at Sawgrass but at Whatgrass Municipal Golf Course, a new track currently being laid out on a Superfund site in Pig Snout, Oklahoma.

Needless to say, it will not be Perfectly Manicured.

Instead, it will be what we'll call Classic American Muni Track. The fairways will be as brown as a piece of toast and as worn as the hair on an old man's head. People's driveways and the railroad tracks that cut across the fairways on No. 4 and No. 12 will be in play.  And the greens will either be really fast or really slow, depending on which hole you're playing and whether or not Carl Spackler, the greenskeeper, remembered to water them.

And the roll?

Why, the roll will be as true as a politician's promises, because the green surfaces will come in two types: Pitted Concrete and Brazilian Rainforest.

I can't wait to hear the whining.



Friday, May 13, 2016

The Olympic flame(ing mess)

So I've been putting together a list of events that will likely make an appearance at the Rio Olympics in less than three months, assuming there still is a Rio Olympics in less than three months:

1. 12-Meter Contaminant Yachting.

2. The 100-Meter Dash For The Can (Also known as Greco-Roman Dysentery).

3. Contagion Roulette.

4. Truth Or Dare You To Drink The Water.

And last but hardly least:

5. Compulsory Mosquito Netting Arrangement.

In which the nation that arranges its netting so it gets bitten the fewest times by Zika-bearing mosquitoes wins. In more ways than one.

This is some grand balls-up we've got shaping up down in Rio, and not just because the president of Brazil just got impeached, plunging the country into political turmoil. First of all, there's that little problem with the sailing venues, which will basically be conducted in an open sewer. Now there's the much more considerable issue of the Zika virus, which has been around forever but has mutated  into a much more dangerous strain for some people.

Olympic officials have predictably tried to downplay the threat, just as they casually brushed aside the issue with Rio's appallingly contaminated watersports sites. This is not only callous but almost criminally irresponsible, given that Brazil is about to invite half-a-million visitors to Rio in the middle of a Zika outbreak of significant scope.

Or so says Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa professor of population health, who wrote this in the Harvard Public Health Review (excerpt courtesy of Deadspin): "But for the Games, would anyone recommend sending an extra half a million visitors into Brazil right now?  Of course not: mass migration into the heart of an outbreak is a public health no-brainer. And given the choice between accelerating a dangerous new disease or not—for it is impossible that the Games will slow Zika down—the answer should be a no-brainer for the Olympic organizers too. Putting sentimentality aside, clearly the Rio 2016 Games must not proceed."

Now, granted, most of those infected won't be at any great risk. But some will be. And yet the Olympic poobahs seem perfectly willing to roll the dice -- the dice in this case being the health and well-being of their athletes. And, as Attaran points out, what happens when all those Olympic visitors go home?

Then, he says, you've got the potential to turn a regional outbreak into a pandemic.

So, to review: The Olympics is about to expose the world's athletes to contaminated venues and a potentially dangerous virus in a nation in the midst of political upheaval.

What could possibly go wrong?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Code talker

The Blob has made its disdain for baseball's alleged Code crystal clear before, but one more time, let's review:

The Code is stupid. It's as archaic as dueling pistols, and it's kinda whiny, besides. And it does nothing but reinforce the impression that baseball is not so much reverent of its past as hopelessly lost in it.

This after Cubs pitcher John Lackey complained about the Padres' Christian Bethancourt admiring his shot after Bethancourt took him yard last night, the only run in a 1-0 Padres win. Not only did it make Lackey sound as if he'd been transported through time from 1925 or something, it made him look inappropriately pouty given that the Cubs are crushing everyone they face right now.

Nonetheless, Lackey was steamed, saying he has "a long memory."

Yeah, OK. Whatever, dude.

Here's the deal: I don't have problem one with Bethancourt doing what he did, because A) it was the winning run against a team no one's beating right now, least of all the Padres, and B) it was a stupendous shot that ended up in the street outside Wrigley. You're telling me a guy's not supposed to savor a moment like that? You're telling me he's supposed to just put his head down and trot around the bases because, what, he might hurt poor Lackey's feelings?

Screw him. As the Blob has said before, if Lackey didn't want Bethancourt lingering over the moment, he shouldn't have given it to him. Throw a better pitch, don't go crybabying around because you didn't. You've got nobody to blame but yourself.

And the Code?

Pffft. Time to pack it away with the dueling pistols.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

That toddlin' town

So Rational Brain and Crazy Go Home You're Drunk Brain are having an argument today, something that happens way more than the Blob would ever let on in public, or maybe even in private.

First Rational Brain says this: "No. No, no, no. It is waaay too early to talk about this. Hell, it's waaay too early to even think about this."

To which Crazy Go Home You're Drunk Brain says this: "No, it's not! It's never too early! I mean, have you seen what these guys are doing?"

And then, these dreaded words: "The Windy City World Series! It's comin', baby!"

Rational Brain just sighs.

I mean, he knows -- we all know -- you never, ever, ever count your chickens before they're hatched, especially in Chicago. And that's especially true if it's the Cubs we're talking about, who haven't won  the World Series since Roosevelt was in the White House.

That would be Teddy Roosevelt, not Franklin Delano.

And so it's utterly insane to be talking like this in May, five months and change away from the World Series. Too much can happen between now and then. A meteor could strike Wrigley Field in the middle of Jake-Arrieta-From-The-Planet-Ktron's next start. The White Sox could wake up and realize they're way too high off the ground. Joe Maddon could lose his glasses. The Royals could become the Royals again. Something.


Oh, sure. It's almost impossible not to think about October right now, considering the way things are going. The Cubs are 25-6, have an eight-and-a-half-game lead and have won eight in a row by mostly ridiculous margins. The White Sox are 23-11, have won seven of their last 10 and lead the AL Central by five games. Together, the Cubs and White Sox have the two best records in baseball. No one else is within 2 1/2 games of them.

"See!" says Crazy Go Home You're Drunk Brain. "They're invincible! It's gonna happen! The Windy City Series, just like in 1906! Tinker to Evers to Chance to Rizzo! Mordecai Three-Finger Arrieta! The past is the future!"

To which Rational Brain just rolls his eyes.

"Yeah, I got your future right here, pal," he says.

And then opens the door. Behind it stands a guy in a Kris Bryant jersey and a guy in a Chris Sale jersey. They do not look happy, because they know what usually happens when people talk the way Crazy Go Home You're Drunk Brain is talking. It's why their fists are clenched.

Rational Brain stands aside, gesturing towards his crazy drunken opposite number.

"Have at it, boys," he says.         

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Don't mess with Canada

So, Dwyane Wade has apologized. Maybe he heard what happens when Americans dis Canadians.

Twice in our history we've invaded our neighbors to the north, and twice we've been thoroughly embarrassed.  The Canadians kicked our sorry butts back where we belonged as easily as Jean Beliveau would have skated rings around the competition had the Montreal Canadiens ever sent him down to play against peewees in Moose Jaw.

So, yeah. Wade apologized. It was disrespectful of him to continue taking warmup shots while "O Canada" was playing the other night in Toronto, and he heard about it. So he said, hey, sorry, my bad. Won't happen again. Please don't send the Mounties after me.

(Which, you know, would have been kind of cool. Although the Canadians would never have done it. They're too polite and too civilized -- not to say way saner than we are. More likely, they'd have done something less militant, like revoking Justin Bieber's passport. Sorry, Yanks. He's yours now.)

Anyway ... it's one more international incident averted, and the upset is The Game Show Host, Donald "I'm Great, Just Ask Me" Trump, didn't weigh in with some dopey comment about how Americans should never apologize for anything. It would be just like him.

Of course, in that case, I suppose there's still time.

Stay tuned.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Living la vida Wigwam

There were times, back in those gone days, when I really did feel like I was living in the Wigwam down at Anderson High School, one of the great high school basketball venues in America.

But, you know, I never actually lived there.

And so it was with a good deal of interest that I read the other day about the plans, apparently in motion for some time, to turn the 'Wam into "affordable housing units" while maintaining the gym, in which so much amazing Indiana high school basketball history played out. According to the Anderson Herald Bulletin (my ancestral newspapering home, sort of) initial work on the $42 million project is scheduled to begin this summer. The 9,000-seat facility closed its doors in 2011, the most conspicuous casualty of school system budget cuts.

Living in the Wigwam. Man, I can't even imagine.

I can't help thinking of all the psychic energy contained within its walls, all those Friday night echoes that will surely disturb the tenants' slumber in the skinny hours of the night. Will they look up some evening to see Johnny Wilson standing there? Will they bump into a spectral Roy Taylor walking the halls? Will Troy Lewis appear out of nowhere some night to jack up a silken jumper or three?

Hey, look! Isn't that Anderson coach Norm Held, flinging his towel skyward while the game official tells him "Norm, if that comes down, I'm teeing you up"?  And what's that odd slapping noise? Oh, it's just Madison Heights coach Phil Buck stomping his foot in frustration. And could that be Gary Delph of Highland, once again shooting that legendary jumper over two Anderson defenders as the clock goes to zeroes?

Look over there at the end of the floor, where the team benches used to sit. Who's that?

Why, it's Dally Hunter from Lapel. It's Calvin Bayley from Frankton. It's Garth Cone, the Wizard of Alexandria.

All of them had a part in the glory days of high school hoops in Madison County, which happily  corresponded with my time there. It was the 1980s, and the names were Held and Buck and Hunter,  Cone and Bob Fuller at Highland and Marty Johnson at Pendleton Heights. Ray Tolbert, still the best high school big man I ever saw, played sectional games there. So did Rick Lantz from Highland. Shawn Teague, Henry Johnson, Andre Morgan, Stew Robinson, Winston Morgan, Danny Zachary ...

On and on. You can't conceive what it was like there at tournament time, the place packed to the rafters, 9,000 confirmed hoopheads speaking in one voice. When the place got rocking, you could feel the sound in your chest, a physical hammer blow. You couldn't talk to the guy next to you unless you leaned in and practically shouted in his ear.

It was damn glorious.

And actually living in the place?

That would be glorious, too, and weird. I'd keep expecting former Anderson athletic director Bob Belangee to knock on my door some night and ask me what the heck I was doing there after hours. I'd find myself standing around where the old locker rooms were, an ingrained reflex from all those nights waiting for Buck or Held or Fuller to let us in. And, yeah, every so often, I'd hear that sound again, filling the world the way it always did, hammering away at my chest.

Yes, that would be weird.

And, yes, glorious.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Hey, Mom, it's me


It's raining here in Bloomington this Sunday morning, a thousand silver stitches embroidering the pavement, raindrops falling straight and true and all-business from a sky the color of battlements. It's rained a lot, these last few days. My yard is a swamp. The sun, when it appears, seems more like an alien presence than a celestial body. And if I close my eyes, I can hear your voice, see you peering out at the gray murk with that look on your face you always got when the World According To Jackie wandered off the reservation.

"Good Lord and Taylor! I swear it's never gonna stop raining!" you'd say.

I loved those expressions of yours, Mom. Good Lord and Taylor. Shitey go Mabel. Don't get your bowels in an uproar. And the one I heard most often: "You haven't got the sense God gave a goose!"

Because, well, a lot of the time I didn't. Still don't, actually.

Anyway, I loved those even when they were directed at me, and here's a dirty little secret, Mom: Every time you told me I didn't have the sense God gave a goose, I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. Or to reply with the obvious comeback: "Hey, I hear geese are pretty smart, Mom."

I'm guessing if I'd ever said that, you probably would have had to bite your tongue to keep from laughing, too. That was my gift, see. I could always make you laugh.

Of course, lots of things made you laugh, which is why so many people were drawn to you. You had more good friends than anyone I ever knew, and most of that sprung from the fact that you were so passionately loyal to them. You laughed with them. You cried with them. You got angry and indignant on their behalf. You had the truest empath's soul I ever knew until I met my wife, Julie, who is the best thing that ever happened to me and ever will.

You were an opinionated person and you were never afraid to give voice to it, which is probably why you wound up with a son who made his living giving voice to his opinions, if on a slightly more public scale. Every time I see or hear Donald Trump running his mouth, I chuckle when I imagine your reaction: "What's wrong with him? He acts like he's not right in the head." And I can just imagine what you would have thought of our current governor.

The sharp side of your tongue could wound at times, but there was never any doubt where your heart resided. You loved your children and grandchildren unreservedly, and you fretted over them accordingly. If I had a nickel for every time you told me I was going to wind up digging ditches for a living (hey, I could have done it), I'd be a rich man today. Heck, I might even be Donald Trump.

Kidding, Mom. Kidding.

Anyway ... it's been three years since you left us, and yet of course you are still with us. I think about you almost every day. Jackie-isms still garnish my speech. I think you'd have liked what I'm doing now, which is working with a lot of caring and mission-driven people at Manchester University. I think you'd be proud of how your grandchildren have turned out. And I think you'd have absolutely adored your great-granddaughter, Charlotte, who has your mouth and your chin and just a smidge of that Jackie orneriness about her.

I also know one other thing, having heard you call first me and then your grandson by a certain pet name.

I mean, come on. Charlotte?

Is there any doubt at all she'd be "Charlie-O"?

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.


The original Charlie-O.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Pay to play

Ah, those apples. They just never fall far from the tree.

And so here we have the son of Al Davis, Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis, messing with the city of Oakland just like Daddy did. Al yanked the Raiders out of town and moved them to L.A,, then moved them back. Now his son is schmoozing Las Vegas with plans to move the Raiders there.

This would at once erase the fiction that the NFL and gambling isn't a hand-in-glove arrangement,  despite the Shield's protests to the contrary. Its own requirement that teams release weekly injury reports already gives the lie to that, because the injury reports are nothing but a service to the bettors who regularly plunk down immense wads of cash on NFL games.

And then there's this: Davis has pledged to give $500 million toward the construction of a 65,000-seat domed stadium near the Strip (another great optic for the Shield). That sounds magnanimous until you hear that the proposed price tag for said stadium is $1.4 billion.

Three guesses who picks up the rest of the tab. And the first two don't count.

Billionaires strong-arming taxpayers into subsidizing venues that largely benefit only the billionaires is an old story in the land of games, and it will continue until municipalities learn to say two words: "Hell, no."  But welfare for the Mark Davises of the world is always justified by the perceived return on the investment, which, as study after study has shown, is negligible on the major-league level. And yet the old lie -- Hey, you're gonna get more out of this than I will -- persists.

And city after city gets burned over and over as a result.

Consider: At roughly the same time Davis was courting Las Vegas, a very different scenario was playing out in Portland, Maine, interim home of the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League. I say "interim," because the Pirates just announced, pretty much out of nowhere, that they're  moving to Springfield, Mass., ditching a city that has supported minor league hockey teams for 39 years. And they're doing so just two years after Portland poured $33 million into renovating the Pirates' arena.

The lesson here?

Well, it should be that cities should be as wary of trusting the word of a team owner as a motorist would of picking up a hitchhiker in the middle of the night on a highway that runs past a prison. But, of course, that lesson will be lost. The lure of having your very own team will always override common sense.

And that's why Mark Davis will get away with paying only a fraction of the cost of a stadium that will mostly be his private preserve. You can, ahem, make book on it.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Casualty of bore(d)

Hey, I get it, Larry Bird. Sometimes a guy just gets tired of a guy.

Sometimes you've just gotta switch it up, and so you call a news conference and you say nice things about your head coach and then you fire him, trying to soften the blow by saying you're not really firing him (except you are). You say stuff that sounds good until you stop to think about it, like how the Indiana Pacers needed a "new voice." As if this were, I don't know, an episode of American Idol or something.

The truth is less fuzzy.

The truth is, Larry Bird apparently just got bored with Frank Vogel.

No other rationale makes sense for offloading a coach who, despite what Bird thinks, worked pretty close to a miracle with a flawed team this season. The Pacers braintrust, of which Bird is the lead brain, gave Vogel an almost entirely new  team whose second-best player was a 19-year-old kid named Myles Turner. They were Paul George and the Georgettes. And somehow Vogel squeezed 45 wins out of them, turned them into the third-best defensive team in the league and got them to the playoffs, where the Pacers pushed the 2-seed in the East to seven games.

And yet somehow Bird viewed that as an indictment.

It all gets curiouser and curiouser the more you examine it, because Vogel is clearly one of the bright young coaches in the NBA, winning 250 games in six seasons and making the playoffs every year except for 2014-15, when George was out after gruesomely breaking his leg. He lost one All-Star (Danny Granger) and never got him back. He oversaw a virtual revamp of the lineup after David West, Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson departed. And still he won a heck of a lot more than he lost.

Now he's on the street, where he won't linger long. And Bird is left to replace him with ... who, exactly?

That's the other thing about this: The timing. Is there anyone available right now among the usual suspects you could call an upgrade from Vogel and keep a straight face? And if there isn't, why do you cut ties with a coach the rest of the league is going to trample one another to hire?

Because you needed "a new voice"?

Well. I suppose Kelly Clarkson could throw her hat in the ring. Or maybe Bird will pick up the phone and give the Chicago Bulls a jingle.

The Bulls! Sure, that's it. Remember how they dumped Tom Thibodeaux because he was too grumpy and brought in that nice boy Fred Hoiberg? Look how awesome that turned out!

Call 'em now, Larry. Operators are standing by.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Commitment issues

You've gotta feel a little something for Aaron Moorehead. Someone should have told the guy there are beasties in that there Twitter jungle.

Most of them are beasties of one's own devising, which is what made a snack this week of Moorehead, the receivers coach at Texas A&M. Not long after blue-chip quarterback Tate Martell announced (via Twitter, of coruse) he was re-opening his recruitment after a long commitment to A&M, Moorehead took to Twitter himself and spouted this: "I feel sorry for ppl who never understand loyalty. I can't really even vibe with u. At the end of the day trust is 100 & everything else is BS."

Then he said he wasn't referring to a certain player specifically, because doing so would have been an NCAA violation.

Of course, the timing pretty much makes that BS, too, and the fallout commenced. Not very long after Moorehead's 140-character homily about loyalty, another A&M recruit, wide receiver Mannie Netherly tweeted that he, too, was de-committing, on account of he couldn't play for a position coach with Moorehead's attitude.

Here's the bizarre thing about all this: Moorehead is absolutely right. He's also a damn fool.

He's right when he says a commitment should mean something, and that when a young man backs out of it, it says little to recommend him. And he's a damn fool because a college coach -- particularly position coaches who do so much of the recruiting legwork -- should know the recruiting landscape in 2016 better than this.

Which is to say, a commitment is not a commitment these days. The Blob has argued long and loud that it ought to be, that once a kid pledges his troth to good old State U., good old State Tech should honor that and quit recruiting him. I have been called a fool and worse for that, a sad relic clinging to a bygone era when coaches actually did honor a young man's word.

Let me say right here that my critics are absolutely right. I am a fool.

I'm a fool for thinking this immense corporation that is big-time college football could be expected to operate as anything but an immense corporation.  Corporations poach one another's employees all the time. It's simply business. How could I have been so silly to think college football would behave any differently?

What I think now is, if these "commitments" don't really mean anything, university athletic departments and the media should stop acting as if they do. Which is to say, stop treating them as if they're actually news. They're not. It's just Player A deciding he likes School B better than School C for the time being. And that's exactly how you phrase it when you type it up as a one-sentence item for the briefs.

In other words: Nothing to see here, folks. Yet.

Horse sense

First off today, a shameful admission: The Kentucky Derby took me completely by surprise this year.

It came creeping in on little horse feet, leaving me no time to wax lyrical about the best sporting event in the world of which I know practically nothing. I didn't get to talk about the twin spires ("Look! There's two of 'em!"). I didn't get to make the usual jokes about the Kentucky Colonels ("Kentucky Colonels? You mean like Artis Gilmore?"). I didn't get to mention that song by Dan Fogelberg, or those hats designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, or the peculiar joys/torments of the worst mixed drink ever conceived by man, the mint julep.

(It's a cocktail! It's cough syrup! It's two mints in one!)

Anyway ... here we are two days from post time, and the Blob's got nothin'. It hasn't told you who the favorite is. It hasn't told you who the favorite should be. It hasn't offered the kind of  intelligent analysis you've come to expect from a guy who once got his Derby intel from a talking horse.

(Mr. Ted, 2000-2012. RIP, Big Mouth)

And so, without further ado ...

A few observations:

1. Hey, look, it's a horse named after a hockey player!

No, I'm not kidding. The horse's is name is Nyquist, and he's the favorite, and he's won a bunch of races in a row, like, I don't know, seven, maybe. He's brown. He's named, no lie, for Detroit Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist. And did I mention he's brown?

2. Hey, look, it's a horse who hasn't raced in eight weeks!

That would be Destin. He's got no chance. No, not because he hasn't raced in eight weeks. I saw a picture of him, and he's gray. Never bet on a gray horse. They're frequently Alpo.

3. Suddenlybreakingnews is an awesome horse name.

I mean, come on. It is. Plus he's a 20-1 shot out of the not-great No. 2 post position, so you could make some serious coin on him if he wins.

4. Mor Spirit is the horse to bet on if you don't want to bet on Nyquist, and also if you can't spel.

He's pretty good, I hear. Also he has the correct number of legs, four, and a mane and a tail. Also he's not gray.

5. Apparently there are an inordinate number of mutts in the field this year.

The field, as a whole, is generally slower than erosion. There are a few OK horses, like Creator, Moyhamen and My Man Sam. Out of that group, I'd go with My Man Sam. Especially if your name is Sam.

6. Speaking of mutts ... Hey, look! It's Trojan Nation!

The first horse in Derby history to get into the field with a fake ID (or so I suspect), Trojan Nation has yet to win a race. He's a 50-1 shot. And he's starting in the Position of Death, aka, the No. 1 slot next to the rail. I'd put a bundle on him.

7. Victor Espinoza is the man.

If you bet jockeys, he's the guy to bet on. He's won the last two Derbys. He's going for four Derby wins overall. He goes off at 20-1 aboard Whitmore, who, as far as I know, is not named for the actor James Whitmore.  So there you go.

And, there you have it: Your Kentucky Derby primer. But, wait, you say. What about the incredibly bad betting advice the Blob always gives out, on account of the Blob doesn't know anything about betting on horse racing?


OK, here's a name: Tom's Ready.

He's going out of the 12 hole. He carries 30-1 odds. He's Ready (because why would you name him Tom's Ready if Tom wasn't Ready?), and his trainer is Dallas Stewart -- about whom I know nothing except that he looks like a horse trainer, or at least what I imagine a horse trainer should look like.

Oh, yes: And the "Tom" in his name alludes to his owner, Tom Benson, who also owns the New Orleans Saints. And Tom could use a break after the way the Saints pooped the bed last fall.

Yes, sir. Tom's Ready is your horse.

Ready, set, go.

That's how they send 'em off, right?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Against all odds

The Blob knows its audience, which is why it rarely strays into what for Americans constitutes the wilderness on this planet of games. But sometimes attention must paid.

And so, this morning, all hail Leicester City.

If you've never heard of Leicester City, it's because you regard soccer as some alien incursion that must nipped in the bud forthwith. But right now it's as big a story in England as the NFL Draft and the NBA playoffs are in the States, because Leicester City just pulled off the greatest upset in the history of sports as we know them.

Yes, bigger than the Miracle On Ice, because that was just one game. Yes, bigger than Villanova over Georgetown, or North Carolina State over Houston, or Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson.

That's because Leicester City just clinched the championship of  the Barclay's Premier League, English soccer's version of the NFL. It did this despite being a 5,000-to-1 shot to win the title. It did this a year removed from nearly being relegated (i.e., sent down to the minors), and with a lineup that averaged an ancient 28 years in age and comprised mostly benchwarmers from more celebrated clubs.

In short, Leicester City winning the Premier League is like Chico's Bail Bonds winning the World Series. Or, closer to home, like the Komets winning the Stanley Cup.

Actually, it's more astounding than that, because Leicester did it across an entire season. Almost incomprehensively, it occupied first place for all but one week from November on. And if it benefited from traditional heavyweights such as Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United having down years, it also did it by consistently beating head-to-head its main rivals for the title -- in this case Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, among others.

Not bad for a 5,000-to-1 'dog. Which, if you're looking for comparisons, made Leicester City light years more a longshot to win the Premier League than Mitt Romney is to be elected president this year.

According to some books, Romney's odds are a mere 200-to-1.

And he's not even in the race.

Monday, May 2, 2016


He is, it turns out, one of the great mythological figures of all time, at least within the proscribed confines of our playing fields and athletic arenas.

Mo. Mo Mentum. Guy's about as real as the Easter bunny.

Oh, we all like to talk about him as if he's flesh and blood and bone, especially when we're talking about the artificial construct of a playoff series. It's the first to four wins in a seven-game universe, and Mo is huge in that universe, the acknowledged ruler of the kingdom. Win Game 1, and Mo's with you. Win the pivotal Game 3 or Game 5, and he'll be with you for Game 4 or Game 6, guaranteed, because that's the way the world works.

Except it doesn't.

Except Mo is someone who exists only in the minds of men, a false god of well-being. Truth is, momentum ends the second the puck is dropped or the ball is tipped or the pitcher comes set and lets go of that first heater. Whatever happened before that has no consequence. Everything resets from that moment, and good old Mo is once more in the wind.

Thought about that a lot Sunday when the Raptors closed out the Pacers in Game 7 of their first-round NBA series, 89-84. DeMar DeRozen dropped 30 on the Indy boys. Paul George went for another double-double -- 26 and 12 this time -- but got little help from anyone else. The seedings -- Toronto was a 2-seed and Indiana a 7-seed -- held to form.

Go back 48 hours, however, and you'd never have believed it would play out that way.

Forty-eight hours before, after all, the Pacers crushed the Raptors 101-83 in Game 6 in Indianapolis. George double-doubled again with 21 and 11. All five Pacers scored in double figures. And DeRozen was a virtual ghost, finishing with just eight points.

The narrative that followed this was that the Pacers had seized control of the series, and the Raptors were in serious trouble. Examples were cited of previous Game 7 roadies in which the Pacers had triumphed. They had, it seemed, finally proved they were the tougher, smarter, more resilient team in this series.

Until, you know, they weren't.

All Game 6 meant, in the end, was that the Pacers were better in Game 6, a pretty much universal truth. No matter the sport, no matter the circumstance, a win in any one game of a seven-game series only means you were better that game. It has absolutely zero impact on what's going to happen in the next game; a seven-game series, it turns out, is not a narrative but a series of largely unrelated events. It's not a novel but a collection of short stories.

As we discovered once again Sunday. And no doubt will continue to.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Reefer madness

So here's what I hope now that the NFL Draft is finally over:

I hope the Miami Dolphins wind up splitting their sides laughing.

I hope Laremy Tunsil, the stud offensive lineman from Ole Miss the Fins got with the 13th pick, turns out to be what everyone thought he was before someone hacked his accounts and posted that video of him taking bong hits through a gas mask. No one knows who decided to ruin the biggest night in the kid's life by doing that, although there are prime suspects (i.e., the stepfather from hell who's currently making his life miserable). No one knows when the video was shot, although Tunsil says it's several years old. And no one can figure out why it caused NFL teams to run for their lives from the young man, who was originally projected as a top-three-or-four pick.

OK, so that last is not quite true. Let's just say I can't figure out why it caused NFL teams to run for their lives, except that they're NFL teams and they'll run from any kid who's ever done anything kids in college do all the time as a matter of course.

Admittedly, it's a creepy piece of video. The whole gas mask thing reminds you of Tommies huddled in the mud of the trenches on the Somme in World War I. And, yes, it depicts a commodity of some value ingesting marijuana, which the Shield apparently regards with the horror society in general regarded it, um, 40 some years ago.

Here's the thing, though: It's not 40 some years ago.

Marijuana is legal now in a handful of states, and its medical use to relieve pain is becoming widespread as users discover it A) works as well or better than opioids, and B) is nowhere nearly as  addictive. Which is a big reason why it'll likely be legal in most states before another two or three decades are out.

Yet the NFL continues to behave as if "Reefer Madness" -- the unintentionally hilarious public service film from the 1930s -- plays on an endless loop in Roger Goodell's head. That it still tests for weed as a banned substance is both an indictment of how out of touch the NFL is, and how blind it is to the fact that league-sanctioned trainers routinely dispense more powerful and addictive drugs just to keep players on the field.

Young people smoke weed now. They just do.  Outside the bubble of the NFL, it holds no more stigma than drinking a beer before you're of legal age. And I daresay a good chunk of America has done that.

Of course, video of an under-aged Tunsil drinking a beer would likely have sent NFL teams screaming into the night, too. It is, after all, the NFL, where the sky is always falling on both the wary and unwary. And it's the age of TMZ, when even the most innocuous of activities -- Eli Manning pounding beers at a party, for instance -- is regarded as scandalous.

In any event ... here's hoping the Miami Dolphins will someday have a good laugh at the expense of all their Chicken Little brethren.

A good, long laugh.