Sunday, August 20, 2017

Look who's back

And now your It's Gonna Be A Great Day moment for today, because we all need those moments, especially on those occasions when it doesn't look as if there's ever going to be a great day again ...

This.

Good on ya, Jaylon Smith. May that tackle on Jack Doyle be the first of many.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Less is more

Mid-August now, and summer has grown old and weary. A million little tells are there now, dropping hints its hold is loosening: School buses rumbling again, high school football lighting up Friday nights, the very light in the sky taking on a different, bronzer cast as it rouses itself later in the mornings and flees earlier at night.

And then of course there's this: Two different universes of baseball showing us both the promise of the game, and perhaps its waning.

Every sports bar in America now has the somehow flawed finished product on one TV these days, and the somehow better, lesser version on another TV. On this particular night in this particular place, the finished product at one end of the bar is the Red Sox and the Yankees, renewing their endlessly renewed ancient beef from Fenway Park. And down at the other end?

Two groups of kids playing a game on national TV they've been playing all summer.

It's Little League World Series time again, and if once that was relatable to every American who ever picked up a bat and swung it during his or her summers, it is unfortunately less so now. If Little League baseball was the game unalloyed, the all-seeing eye of ESPN has transformed it into a Spectacle now, because that's the inevitable result when you turn the TV cameras on a thing. And now the TV cameras are everywhere, airing not just LL World Series games but regional qualifying games -- so many games, in fact, they've become so much late summer background noise.

The Blob has made its unease with this phenomenon known before, so we won't re-plow that ground here. Suffice it to say it still believes giving 12-year-olds the full ESPN treatment is something that should be viewed with a raised eyebrow at the very least. Proceed with caution, in other words.

Of course, that's not how TV does things. Less is not more; more is more. With the inevitable result that it winds up being less.

And yet ... you can understand why the teevees are so all in on this. Whether or not it's a byproduct of the Steroids Era, which has thrown a shadow over the game that exists to this day, baseball at the finished-product level has something empty at its core. It is not definable, and the Cubs winning the World Series last fall was a respite from that, but t's there. 

This summer, for instance, baseballs are flying out of ballparks again. There should always be magic in that act, but the Steroids Era now makes us innately suspicious if it happens too much, and that's where we are right now. Baseballs are flying out of ballparks, but they are going too far and it is happening too often. The magic has become the commonplace -- and after awhile, the commonplace elicits not wonder but a shrug, and more of the aforementioned raised eyebrows.

Oh, look. Giancarlo Stanton hit another homer. Wonder what HE'S on.

That sort of thing.

But the LL World Series, for all the corrupting influence of TV, remains untouched by this. Whatever is missing in the finished product, it remains found in the Little League product. There is something purer, more elemental in it, something more in tune with the game we all grew up playing. It is, yes, less, but it is more.

Even now. Even if it, too, is on the TV at the end of the bar every day now.

Background noise it may be, here in mid-August. But there is still music in it.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Your Old Man Shouting At Clouds Moment for today

In which we venture down to Tuscaloosa, where Alabama football coach Nick Saban is either 1) feeling the pressure of being the odds-on favorite to repeat as national champions, or 2) just being cranky because guys his age (65) tend to get cranky now and again.

Anyway, Saban was asked about redshirt sophomore linebacker Christian Miller's progress in practice yesterday, a seemingly innocuous question. And he ... well, went off.

"Oh, I don't know. You guys make all these predictions about everything, about guys who are going to be great players, that have been here for two years. Who's gonna win all the games? I don't even know why we play," Saban ranted. "Why do we even play? Why do we have practice? Why do we compete? Why do we coach guys? ...

"Sometimes I wonder ... why do we play? Why do we even have practice? Because you guys have got all these conclusions already drawn about who's what, how good they are, what they can do. So why would you ask me? That's what's puzzling to me. Why would you ask me?"

Oh, I don't know, Coach. Maybe so we can watch you get all mad and start spluttering stuff that doesn't make a whole lot of sense?

(Football preview stuff? You're mad about that? You're mad about stuff that's been a routine part of football coverage for eons? Wha--?)

In any case ... the spluttering was sort of entertaining. So thanks for that. I mean, we media types have to find something to amuse ourselves occasionally, right?

Not any given Sunday

Some things have no explanation, like what goes through Resident Donald "Donny" Trump's head besides refreshing breezes, and when America became a place where people fighting Nazis became as bad, in some people's minds, as the Nazis themselves.

And then there's this, just in from Atlanta.

Look. The Blob has no issue with Chick-fil-A's owner deciding his stores won't be open on Sundays. He's the owner. He can impose his religious beliefs on whomever he likes.

But why, then, would he put a Chick-fil-A stand in an NFL stadium, where your biggest sales day is almost always going to be Sunday? Does this make sense to anyone?

Because I don't get it. I just don't.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

In pursuit of the real

Giancarlo Stanton parked a baseball in the seats for the sixth straight game last night, for the 11th time in 12 games, for the 18th time since the All-Star break. He now has 23 home runs in his last 35 games, and now people are talking that he might hit 61, matching Roger Maris in 1961.

Which some people will tell you is the "real" home run record.

The Blob's annoying question about that: How do we know what's real and what isn't anymore?

And unless we can definitely say that what Stanton is doing is "real" (i.e., without the aid of illicit chemical enhancement), how is Barry Bonds' 73 home runs not the industry standard?

It's become chic in the last decade or so to de-legitimize what Bonds did, in part because it was Bonds -- a truly nasty person in those days -- and in part because tests in 2000 revealed traces of the fabled fabled Cream and Clear in his bloodstream. But the entire culture of the Steroids Era precludes the devaluing of his record, because so many others were chemically enhanced then, too -- including a number of the pitchers he was taking deep.

Those 73 home runs, in other words, were a product of their time, just as Maris' 61 were a product of their time. And just as what Stanton and his contemporaries are doing is a product of their time -- a time when no one knows for sure who's getting what sort of boost from what.

You'd like to think it's just fruits and vegetables and lots of milk, because if we're entering another Steroids Era, it means PED development has once again outstripped current testing procedures. And baseball is inordinately proud of those testing procedures.

In the meantime, big guys are launching baseballs into space again, just like they did 20 years ago. And Stanton?

His 23-jacks-in-35-games burst has been matched only by Sammy Sosa in 1998 (25-in-35), Bonds in 2001 (24) and Mark McGwire in 1999 (23).

In other words: Three of the biggest names of the Steroids Era, in the very heart of the Steroids Era.

So again the question: What's real? And what isn't?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Slow ride

The best of baseball happened last night, when a pitcher named Chad Bettis threw seven scoreless innings for the Colorado Rockies, scattering six hits while getting a no-decision.

What was significant about that is it was Bettis' first start since November. In the interim, he's undergone surgery and chemo for testicular cancer that spread to his lymph nodes.

So it was a triumph of no small measure, that no-decision. And the best of what baseball, and sport itself, has always given us.

And the worst?

The worst is that it was a 3-0 game that took almost three hours to play. And at 2 hours, 44 minutes, it still constituted what's considered a quick nine innings these days in Major League Baseball.

Maybe you missed it, but MLB commissioner Rob Manuel's crusade to speed up the pace of play in baseball is losing ground, after some initial success. The length of an average nine-inning game has jumped nine minutes in the last two seasons, including five minutes this summer alone. We're now up to 3 hours, 5 minutes for a nine-inning game, the longest average in baseball history.

This is not good news when you're trying to survive in a world in which technology has speeded up everything, and has turned all of us into creatures with the attention span of a gnat. It is also not what baseball was intended to be, as the Blob has pointed out ad nauseum.

Back when it first became the National Pastime, it was a fast-paced game that generally breezed through nine innings in two hours or fewer -- and sometimes, much fewer. Even taking into account the advent of modern TV commercial breaks, that still means the average nine-inning game in 1908, if played today, would run 35-40 minutes quicker.

But now the Pastime is the Passed Time, and even if attendance is up, interest among the demographic that will be the next generation of baseball fans is down. It's an old-timey game now, played at an old-timey pace suited to the oldtimers who constitute most of its audience.

And why not?  If baseball slogs around at a snail's pace these days, so do those oldtimers. They can relate.

But the rest of America?

Eh, not so much. Mostly, the rest of America is just waiting for pro and college football to fire up again.

Meanwhile ...

Well. This seems more relevant than ever.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Distract this

That Word came up again the other day, and the Blob was compelled once again to roll its metaphoric eyes and shake its metaphoric head. And then of course to shout angrily at the sky, because that's what Blobs do when they start getting up there in years.

That Word, just so you know, is "distraction."

Media in Sportsball World love this word, love to apply every time there's some controversy/suspension/other occurrence that doesn't have anything to do with normal Sportsball stuff. It's a contagion, they believe, that seeps into every clubhouse/locker room/organization on occasion, and when it does all those big, strong athletes, autocratic coaches and captains-of-industry owners are helpless against it.

Distraction happens when key players get suspended, the way Ezekiel Elliott just did. It's why Colin Kaepernick and other socially conscious athletes shouldn't express their beliefs on the sacred Sportsball field, and why Kaepernick suddenly can't find a job. Distraction interferes with winning, and winning is the bottom line in Sportsball World. It diminishes performance by making highly trained and conditioned athletes unable to function at peak capacity.

Why, just look how many catches Cowboys tight end Jason Witten will drop now that he's had to answer a few questions about Zeke Elliott's lack of maturity and focus.

That's what happened the other day, and Witten answered the questions, and then he likely headed out to practice. But I bet when he lined up for the snap, he was still thinking about Zeke. I bet he was thinking about Zeke so much he couldn't remember what his assignment was on a particular play.  I bet he ran the wrong route a zillion times because he was thinking about Zeke.

Excuse me? You say that's just silly?

Well, of course it is. Which is why it's the Blob's firm belief the whole "distraction" thing is a unicorn, a mythological beast that lives largely in the fevered imaginations of the Sportsball media.

Let's look at Kaepernick, for instance.

It's become chic for those who don't want to admit he's being punished for his political beliefs to say the reason teams won't sign him is because he'd be a "distraction." This despite the fact former 49ers coach Chip Kelly is on record saying Kaepernick wasn't a distraction at all.

Apparently he got up at the beginning of the season and explained what he was going to do, and that was the end of it. He didn't keep talking about it in the locker room. He didn't try to divide the team. And the rest of the Niners, accordingly, shrugged and went about their business.

"We heard from the outside about what a distraction it is,” Kelly said. "Except those people aren't in our locker room and it never was a distraction. And Kaep never brought that and never turned it into a circus ... came to work every day, extremely diligent in terms of his preparation, in terms of his work ethic in the weight room, in terms of his work ethic in the meeting room."

Well, of course. This is how these deals tend to work, after all, in a reality-based world. The idea that some issue or other is going to impact the performance of professional athletes simply because they have to answer a few questions about it is ludicrous.

Distractions?

Yeah, they surely exist. But the "distractions" the media and outside world like to talk about?

Bigfoot is more real.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The long shadow of Ray Rice

Well, they don't call the man Roger the Hammer for nothing. Even if it's frequently in the ironic sense.

No, Roger Goodell is dead serious about players who engage in domestic violence -- even if it's only alleged, and even if the corporate monolith he runs seems only to be sporadically dead serious about it.

Hence Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension for alleging knocking around his girlfriend, even if there are enough questions about the specific incident cited that the legal system chose not to charge him. The NFL, however, is not the legal system. Its standard for these things is different. And its action is based, apparently, not just on a specific incident but on a pattern of behavior that includes an incident during a St. Patrick's Day parade last March in which Elliott apparently pulled down a young woman's top and fondled her breast.

So, there's that.

There is also this: Ray Rice.

Whom the NFL wrist-tapped for two games after he slugged his now-wife in an elevator, then was embarrassed into upping the punishment after security footage of the incident surfaced. And so Rice was ultimately cast into outer darkness -- even after his wife apologized for her "role" in getting slugged in one of the saddest, strangest press conferences ever.

And the NFL?

It got slammed from all sides for its inconsistency, and for changing its disciplinary standard to reflect the level of public outrage. And even though Ray Rice is long gone from the league, the shadow of what he did in that elevator continues to inform the NFL's attitude toward domestic violence.

Which is: Optics are all.

The optic here is the NFL had to land on Elliott hard not because he violated the code of player conduct (of which there's abundant evidence he did, and serially), but because his alleged victim cooperated with the investigation by providing photos of her injuries.

Were those injuries inflicted by Elliott?

 It doesn't really matter, even though his pattern of behavior strongly suggests it.  What matters are the optics: A bruised-up woman vs. an NFL that seemed not to care a whole lot about Ray Rice slugging his significant other until video of him doing it turned up.

And so, Elliott gets a six-game ding. And there should be no surprise about that -- because, again, the NFL is a corporate monolith, and corporate monoliths act according to the sensibilities of the paying customers. And the paying customers weren't likely to be happy about it if the corporate monolith went easy in a domestic violence case in which it had visual evidence and a cooperative alleged victim.

This is especially true now, when league owners currently are blackballing an accomplished quarterback for his social activism. Going easy on Elliott would make it look as if the league had a bigger problem with a guy engaging in a peaceful act of symbolic protest than it did with players beating up women. Which, again, is not a good look.

Optics. It's all about optics.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Time out for perspective

I don't know if you can characterize what's likely to happen in Chicago this morning as Trubisky Fever. But you're likely to hear a lot fewer people griping about how dumb the Bears brain trust was to take a quarterback with a 13-game sample size  back in April.

This is because Mitch Trubisky was 18-of-25 passing for 166 yards and a touchdown against Denver last night, and didn't throw an interception in those 25 passes, and wasn't sacked.

This is also because his presumed placeholder, veteran Mike Glennon, was 2-of-8 and threw a pick.

Three observations about that:

1. It was a preseason game.

2. It was a preseason game.

3. It was a preseason game.

Not to pump the brakes with a little perspective or anything.

OK. So exactly that.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Here, kitty, kitty

And now ... your Wildlife Moment for the Day.

To summarize: Cat gets on field. Member of grounds crew picks up cat THE WRONG WAY. Cat scratches/bites grounds crew guy to remind him he was picking him up THE WRONG WAY.

Fans laugh. Yadier Molina laughs. Yadier Molina hits a grand slam.

Rally Cat!

The end.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

That athletic bubble

Josh Rosen is 20 years old, and he is a star football player at a Power 5 football school. And so put it down to simple youthful ignorance, not youthful arrogance, when he says some of the things he says.

What UCLA's junior quarterback said the other day, among other things, was that football and school are not compatible.

"They just don't (go together)," he said in an interview with Bleacher Report. "Trying to do both is like trying to do two full-time jobs. There are guys who have no business being in school, but they're here because this is the path to the NFL. There's no other way."

Rosen is right about the latter, of course. That there are those who are in college only to get to the NFL -- or the NBA -- is self-evident and has been for a long time, because that's the way the system is set up. Those aforementioned guys  didn't create it. They can only negotiate it to their perceived best advantage.

For that reason, Rosen is also right when he says the prerogatives of high-dollar college football do not line up very well with a university's traditional mission, which is to provide a high-end education. And so when he says if you raise the SAT requirements at, say, Alabama (currently the pre-eminent football factory), the product will be hurt. And the product is all. Academic rigor exists only so far as the product is required to acknowledge it.

Where Rosen is wrong is when he says individual student-athletes can't marry the two anyway. They do all the time. More to the point, students who aren't athletes do it all the time.

College campuses -- even UCLA -- are full of young people who are doing what Rosen says can't be done. Playing football and going to school are like trying to do two full-time jobs? There are students walking around who do far more than that. They're going to school, and they're also working -- sometimes more than one job. And they're doing that because it's the only way they can afford to do what Rosen gets for free.

Rosen misses that essential fact, which should come as no surprise. He is 20 years old, with the limited perspective that comes with that. And for most of his young life, he has lived inside an elite athletic bubble that distorts almost every reality.

What that means is he has no more in common with the general population at UCLA than a Wall Street hedge fund pirate has with the people who do the real work in this country. So how could we expect him to say anything but what he said?

Doggiest days

Remember about six weeks ago, when the Blob noted that the San Francisco Giants were already 22 1/2 games out of the divisional race and it was still June?

Well, now we're just a week into the dog days of August, and they're 35 1/5 games out.

The good news: Yesterday they were 36 1/2 out. So they're gaining, sort of.

The bad news: There's still almost two months left in the season.

Random observation: Yesterday I was at the grocery store, and the outdoor displays consisted of jack-o-lanterns and skeleton decorations. Like, three months before Halloween.

Which makes me wonder, weirdly, if the Giants aren't being similarly proactive and already have most of their gear packed up for the offseason. I mean, when you're 35 1/2 games out, it's not like you're going to need it or anything.

Besides, it gives them ammunition for that letter to MLB commish Rob Manuel the Blob wondered about six weeks ago.

Dear Commissioner:

Can we go home NOW?

Look, we've already got our bags packed and everything. So it would be no problem. Really. Really-really.

Yours in pointless hanging-aroundness,

The San Francisco Giants

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Diminishing legacy

Peter Edward Rose has never been the sharpest knife in the drawer, nor anyone you could trust to tell the truth when lying through his eyeteeth was an option.  But at least you might have assumed you could leave your teenaged daughter alone with him for five minutes or so.

Apparently not.

Apparently Rose had a thing for under-aged girls back in the day, which adds a fresh layer of sleaze to a human being who more and more reveals that his ability to hit a baseball was his only redeeming virtue. Certainly nothing about him outside the batter's box merits anything but scorn, and perhaps pity.

Comes now court documents alleging Rose had a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl back in the mid-1970s, which qualifies as statutory rape in the state of Ohio. Even more appalling, perhaps, is Rose's defense for this.

He doesn't deny it. All he says is he thought the girl was 16 (and therefore of legal age of consent). Which I guess in Pete's mind is supposed to make it OK, except for the fact that Pete himself was 34 years old at the time.

Uh ... no. Sorry. That just makes you icky, Pete. And gives the creeps to those of us with a working knowledge of common decency and civilized behavior.

So here we are. Not only is Pete a degenerate gambler who willfully violated baseball's third rail and continues to lie about it, he's now also a sicko with a taste for high school girls.

On the other hand, he used to run to first base when he drew a walk. That makes up for the rest of it, right?

Right?

Monday, August 7, 2017

The great experiment

Or, you know, not so great.

Which is to say, this is either some wild fling of the dice Dolphins coach Adam Gase is up to down there in Miami, or it is further proof that he is a genius in embryo. Certainly it's reasonable to question if he's stripped a mental gear, bringing in a man with Jay Cutler's taint simply because Gase once got along with him in Chicago. But it's also reasonable to question if some of the questioning is happening because so many people simply don't like Cutler personally.

The Blob's verdict: It's a little bit of both.

To be sure, this looks like a wackadoodle move on the surface. Bringing in any new quarterback at the last minute like this -- especially when you've rebuilt a positive locker room chemistry the way Gase did last year -- would raise an eyebrow. But to bring in someone with Cutler's sour rep as a player who doesn't care enough and can't lead? If he couldn't unite the guys who knew him in Chicago, how's he going to do it with a bunch of strangers?

Especially when there's already a backup QB in Miami (Matt Moore) who's enormously popular in the locker room, precisely because he's apparently Cutler's polar opposite?

This would seem to be asking for XXL trouble, but Gase thinks it's worth that trouble, and Gase is an up-and-coming coaching talent who got 10 wins out of the Dolphins last year. So maybe he believes the newly minted Dolphins Way will enable Cutler to fit in the way, say, Randy Moss did with the Patriots.

If so ... and if Cutler can stay healthy ... this could work.

It could work not only because the Gase-Cutler collaboration worked two years ago in Chicago, but because Cutler does have some considerable skills. In that aforementioned 2015 season, he completed 64 percent of his passes for 3,659 yards and 21 touchdowns, against just 11 interceptions. The year before, he completed 66 percent of his throws for 3,812 yards, 28 TDs and 18 picks.

Of course, Cutler played in 15 games both those seasons. He played in only five in 2016 because he got hurt (again!). And that is another problem: Cutler hasn't played a full 16-game season since 2009, when he threw 27 TDs and 26 interceptions.

Which of course is yet another problem.

Yes, he throws too many picks. Of course, he's not the only quarterback who's ever done that. Brett Favre threw too many. Jim McMahon, the quarterback of those fabled '85 Bears, threw too many as well -- was, in fact, more careless with the football than Cutler.

The difference, of course, is that Favre and McMahon were incomparable leaders, and Cutler is not. And so their pick-throwing was portrayed as a go-for-broke desire to win, while Cutler's is portrayed as simple recklessness.

Truth is, the man's got skills. And in the right environment, he could light it up. Gase is clearly betting he can provide the right environment, as he once did before.

We shall see.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The cost of glory

This is the weekend to celebrate what football gives, if you are lucky and gifted and determined enough. Six men went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton last night, from an owner (Jerry Jones) to a placekicker (Morten Anderson) to two running backs (Terrell Davis and LaDainian Tomlinson) -- one of whom, Tomlinson, so movingly implored America to rediscover its best self you were ready to print up LT for President bumper stickers.

But this is not about that. This is about what football taketh away.

This is about what another Hall of Famer, Jim Plunkett, said about his life the other day, which is not what anyone would wish for a man of 69. He has artificial knees and an artificial shoulder and, last year, he suffered from Bell's Palsy. He takes a minimum of 13 pills a day, suffers from crippling headaches and is in pretty much constant pain.

Yes, football gave him glory. But it left him broken beyond repair.

He is not alone, of course. I can never watch the Hall of Fame induction, for instance, without remembering what I saw the weekend I covered Rod Woodson's induction eight years ago.

One afternoon I sat in the lobby of a downtown hotel in Canton, and watched the heroes of  my childhood parade past me. There was Mel Renfro, walking with a cane. There was Joe "The Jet" Perry, no longer remotely jet-like. And there was Willie Davis, the great defensive end of the Green Bay Packers, hobbling gingerly through the lobby like a man walking barefoot over shards of glass.

Football gave them glory. And left them broken.

Plunkett, for one, has had 18 surgeries and, by his estimation, at least 10 concussions. What those concussions might lead to we have already seen too many times; even Davis, the newly minted Hall of Famer, admitted he worries about CTE these days, worries about what it has stolen from so many and what it might yet steal from him.

And, yes, this is undoubtedly where some reading this will say, "Well, what they knew were getting into." Or, "Well, it was their choice to play football." But neither is really true.

First of all, brain damage and early-onset dementia is not what anyone thought they were getting into, because the NFL went out of its way to tell Football America that brain damage and early-onset dementia weren't risks associated with playing football.  And second of all, talent very often effectively removes choice from the equation.

You choose to play the game when you're a kid, when you're 8 or 9 years old and it's just something fun to do. But if you show some aptitude for it, choosing not to play becomes less and less realistic. First you become a star in middle school. Then you become a bigger star in high school. And by the time the letters from the colleges start coming in the mail, choice is pretty much out of the equation.

The colleges, after all, are offering a free education in return for your willingness to use up your body. In many cases, they're offering it to parents who couldn't hope to afford that education otherwise, and who, like all parents, hold close the American dream of offering their children a better life. And so you either play college football, or you ... what?

Quit and go work three jobs to pay for school?

To be sure, a lot of people do it that way, but only because they have to. No one with the options available to a star football player is willingly going to spurn those options. And so where is the choice here?

And where is it when you get drafted in the first round and land that first outlandish contract?

"Ah, see," some of you will see about that. "They got paid a lot of money to play football. So they shouldn't be complaining now."

But sit in that hotel lobby, and watch the broken icons hobble past. Read about the brain damage, the dementia, the wrecked afterlives of those who give us our bread and circus every Sunday afternoon in the fall. And tell me any amount of money is worth all that.

Maybe you can still do it. I can't.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The usual suspects, unsuspected

Max Scherzer deserves a tip of the Blob's cap this a.m., even though it's not wearing one. He turned on a lightbulb the other night that should have been turned on awhile ago.

What Scherzer did was hit his first career home run, and it was no gasping shot that needed a ladder to clear the fence. It was a monster he hit 381 feet into the second deck.

A pitcher. Hitting one into the second deck.

Think about that for a second, and then think about what's happening in baseball generally, and then tell me your next thought doesn't travel back in time 20 years. To, I don't know, 1997 or '98. When suddenly there were all these muscle-y guys in baseball. When suddenly baseballs were flying out of parks -- way out of parks -- in unbecoming numbers.

Back then, the explanations were that the ball was juiced, and that players were spending more time in the weight room, and that they were simply swinging for the fences more than they used to.

Which is exactly what we're hearing now, as baseballs fly out of parks -- way out of parks -- at unbecoming rates again.

Some numbers: Since 2014, the number of home runs hit in the major leagues is up a staggering 38 percent. The number of homers tagged 450 feet or longer is up 31 percent in the last two years. And this year, the number of home runs per team per game is at an all-time high of 1.19.

We all know what that sort of trend augured 20 years ago. We've even got a name for it: the Steroids Era.

Yet now, somehow, hardly anyone is talking about PEDs in relation to the latest power surge. It's the ball. It's swinging for the fences. But it can't be PEDs, because that would mean MLB's stern drug policy was doing what all drug policies eventually do: Lag behind the development of new performance enhancements.

I don't want to be the buzzkill who says that's what's happening. I have no evidence that it is, other than the fact that the players getting busted for PEDs these days are all getting busted for using old-school steroids. Which, taken with the power surge and all the muscle-y guys showing up again, at the very least suggests the possibility there's new stuff out there baseball can't test for yet.

I hate the cynic in me who compels me to say that. But we've seen this before, haven't we? And heard the same things before?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Defining presence

Permanence is the great unattainable for matters of the flesh, except when it is not. A man or woman can achieve great things in life, but few ever become synonymous with those things, ever transcend mortality to become carved in stone on, say, a mountain in South Dakota, or in some leafy glade on a college campus in northern Indiana.

And so we come to Ara Parseghian, gone now at 94, and Notre Dame football. Who were of one piece for an entire generation of us, a generation that will never think of Notre Dame football as anything but Ara and Terry Hanratty and Jim Seymour, and particular measures of time in a childhood now passed.

Ara, for instance, will for me always be that hour after church when I'd come home and turn on my TV, and there would be Navy unable to move the ball, so they punted to Notre Dame. Lindsey Nelson would forever be moving on to further action in the third quarter. And for some reason, instead of Hanratty or Theismann or Tom Clements, it was always Cliff Brown -- the first black quarterback ever to start at ND -- who was calling the signals.

Ara was that hour for me, even though I wasn't really a Notre Dame fan. He was a November afternoon in 1966 in East Lansing, Mich., when Bubba Smith knocked Hanratty out of the game and Coley O'Brien had to replace him, and the Irish and Michigan State played to a 10-10 tie in the first Game of the Century -- one which forever marked Ara, fairly or not, as the Guy Who Played For The Tie.

Of course, he was also that night in 1973 when the Guy Who Played For The Tie became a riverboat gambler instead, instructing Clements to throw out of his own end zone to tight end Robin Weber, thus preserving Notre Dame's 24-23 win over Alabama and Ara's second national title.

He left not long after that, at the still-young age of 51. Notre Dame football would go on with other men on the sideline, and some of them would win national titles, too. But with the possible exception of Lou Holtz, they would never define football at Notre Dame the way Ara did.

Perhaps that was a function of age, of our generation growing to adulthood and losing some of that child's wonder that makes things like football at Notre Dame seem so much larger than life. And perhaps some of it was also the fact that Ara never coached again anywhere, while Holtz went on to his strange afterlife at South Carolina.

Perhaps, too, it was Ara's own afterlife, which was noble and unbearably tragic at the same time. He lost three teenaged grandchildren to a rare disease. He lost one of his own children. And he was indefatigable in leading the fight to find a cure for the disease that killed his grandkids, becoming as synonymous with that as he had been with Notre Dame football.

And now he is gone, after the full measure of a rich and purposeful life. Cliff Brown is gone, too, passing in 2012. And of course Lindsey Nelson has been gone for 22 years.

Notre Dame football, on the other hand, starts up again in a month.

Or, you know, something vaguely like it.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Speaking Ray-ese

... in which the Blob tries, and fails, to decipher whatever the heck Ray Lewis said this time.

What Ray Lewis said this time, in the guise of fatherly advice to Colin Kaepernick, was this: "The football field is our sanctuary. If you do nothing else, young man, get back on the football field and let your play speak for itself. And what you do off the field, don't let too many people know, because they gonna judge you anyway, no matter what you do, no matter if it's good or bad."

Uhhh ... OK.

But does Ray not realize that Kaepernick is trying to get back on the football field, only no one in the league will let him?

And if you keep your activism quiet, as Ray suggests, is it actually activism?

And if people are going to judge you anyway, no matter what you do, what's the point of keeping your activism quiet?

Inquiring minds want to know. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Welcome to the cesspool

Restraint has always been a watchword here at the Blob, except on those occasions when it's not. So it's not going to go all nuclear here and say AAU ball is the ruination of basketball as we know it, with its sketchy characters and misplaced priorities and the coddling of young players' already outsized sense of entitlement.

What it will say instead is it's a damn cesspool.

Witness what happened last week, when a "coach" with whom all of America is familiar was allowed to dictate the removal of a game official because she made a call he didn't like. The "coach," of course, was LaVar Ball, paterfamilias of the ballin' Balls. His youngest son, LaMelo, was the star of Dad's AAU team, and one of the tournament's top draws.

Keep the latter in mind. It's the most important factor in all of this.

It's important because Adidas put a lot of money into this particular tournament, and it didn't want one of its star attractions to flee the scene. So when the game official, who happened to be a woman, made the offending call, and LaVar (telling her to "stay in her lane" like the sexist pig he is) demanded she be replaced immediately or his team would leave, you know what happened.

Adidas caved and replaced her. In the middle of the game. Even though she was a respected NCAA Division I women's basketball official.

I'm not saying this alone makes AAU ball a complete joke. I'm saying it's one of many things that make AAU ball a complete joke.

The rules that govern the sport elsewhere are warped all out of round in the bizarre universe of AAU ball, where "coaches" (quote marks deliberate) wield more power than those charged with making sure the integrity of the game itself is protected. That Adidas allowed Ball to eventually yank his team off the floor after a subsequent call does not absolve it from failing to back its game officials.

If Adidas, or the enterprise it was bankrolling, cared at all about the legitimacy of that enterprise (or the game itself, for that matter), it would have told LaVar Ball he needed to stay in his lane, and that if he couldn't do that, he knew where the door was. And don't let it hit you in the hindparts on the way out.

Alas, Adidas didn't do that. But again, this wasn't really basketball.

It was AAU ball. Different animal altogether.

Cubs win! Part Deux

Well. I guess this really has morphed into the roll of all rolls, there on the north side of Chicago.

First the Cubs turn around their trudging season.

Then a Cubs fan baits New Jersey governor/national punchline/not terribly bright guy Chris Christie into further making an ass of himself.

And now ...

Steve Bartman gets a ring!

In the sort of magnanimous gesture we see too little of these days, the Cubs have given Bartman the ultimate payback for all the garbage he went through because of one night in 2003. They've given him a World Series ring.

Frankly, it was the least they could do for the guy, who the Blob has always maintained was blameless in the whole interfering-with-Moises-Alou thing, on account of Alou never would have caught the ball Bartman reached for anyway. One, it was already over the rail when Bartman touched it. Two, at least two other people can been seen reaching for it on the video. Three, it had nothing, zero, nada to do with the Cubs losing that night.

But Bartman was made the scapegoat. One sleazebag Chicago columnist outed him publicly. He had to go into hiding for awhile. And all because fans, and Cubs fans in particular, aren't rational creatures.

So good for him. And good for the vast majority of those Cubs fans, who have cheered the move as loudly as some of them once booed Bartman.

Nicely played, Cubbies. Nicely played.   

Monday, July 31, 2017

Cubs win! And, Cub fans win!

And now it's time to check in on the world champion Chicago Cubs, who, as we all know by now, floundered around for half the summer, sending waves of angst from the most angst-ridden fan base in America coursing through the universe.

Well, no more.

Now the presumed real Cubs have at last appeared, and suddenly Cub fans are getting their cardio again raising their W flags. They took two of three from the Brewers over the weekend, pushing them 2 1/2 games in front in the NL Central -- after which Theo Epstein, the Wizard of Wrigleyville, struck again, getting a veteran catcher and a reliable closer (Justin Wilson) from the Tigers for a hill of beans.

(OK, so they got them for a couple more of their seemingly endless supply of prospects. But in return, they shored up their short relief in preparation for the playoffs, which now look as inevitable as they didn't look six or so weeks ago. So, yeah, basically, hill of beans).

In other words, Cubs Nation is feeling its oats again. Why, their fans even razzed New Jersey governor/national punchline Chris Christie, luring the perpetually clueless Rotund One into a face-to-face confrontation with one fan that of course was captured on video.

This sort of thing is almost always a lose/lose proposition for any politician, in that invariably anyone who indulges in it comes off as a flaming you-know-what. Of course, Christie pretty much is a flaming you-know-what, so perhaps the whole incident is a public relations push this time.

One could have only hoped the Cubs fan Christie confronted had a sense of history, and came back at Christie with former Buffalo Sabres' coach Jim Schoenfeld immortal slapdown of veteran game official Don Koharski.

"Have another donut!"

Heh.

Joke of the day

Remember a couple of days ago, when the Blob weighed in on the banishment of veteran quarterback and social activist Colin Kaepernick?

The other day, when questioned about that, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell denied that any such banishment or blackballing was going on.

Of course, this is the same NFL hierarchy that for years denied repeated concussions were a long-term health issue for its employees, to the point of refuting the findings of its own studies.

And so: Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha.

What women can do ...

... that men apparently cannot. Well, at least in the United States.

What women did yesterday, in case you missed it, is shock Brazil in soccer. And do it in the most ridiculously improbable manner, by scoring three goals in nine minutes to turn a 3-1 hole into a stunning 4-3 victory.

That's the U.S. women's team did yesterday in the Tournament of Nations, and if you missed it, you missed one of those things that makes sports, for all its hypocrisies and excesses, so enduringly wonderful. When Brazil scored in the 78th minute, it was leading by two goals with 12 minutes to play. In other words, in the Blob's Adjusted NFL Scenario (a Blob patent!), the Brazilians were the Patriots and they were leading 28-7 with six minutes left.

But somehow, the American women won anyway, scoring goals in the 80th, 85th and 89th minutes to pull it out. And to once again distinguish themselves as the only world power America has in soccer.

Because somewhere in the land, the reaction was undoubtedly this: "How come the men can't do that?"

It's a refrain that's repeated itself endlessly as the women have won World Cups and various other international titles while the men struggled to get out of WC pool play. There are any number of reasons for this, ranging from coaching to soccer's higher profile among American female athletes. More women gravitate to soccer because they grew up watching Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and Julie Foudy; men gravitate to football and basketball because they grew up watching Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and LeBron James.

This is not to say it will always be thus. There is considerable, and warranted, optimism in the American soccer community about the crop of American men currently coming of age. In Christian Pulisic in particular, the possibility exists that America could finally produce its first real Neymar/Ronaldo/Messi level star.

Until that happens, though, the women are what we have. And that's a lot more than something.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Growing pained

And now we go almost-live to the Boston Red Sox' crib, which might be an actual crib, given all the whining and fussing and general crybabyin' going on there these days. It's as if they're following the lead of the Whiner in Chief, President Donald J. "Donny" "Fake News" Trump, who continues to bitch and moan on Twitter because those he considers beneath him (i.e., the media) continue to hold him accountable for his actions.

Is there a grownup in this house? Like, anywhere?

Certainly not in Boston, where David Price was at it again, whining some more about Red Sox color commentator Dennis Eckersley because Eckersley is either A) saying mean things about the team he's watching, or B) telling the unvarnished, sometimes painful truth about the team he's watching. You can probably guess which side the Red Sox come down on.

The Price-Eckersley kerfuffle went public after Price loudly and profanely confronted Eckersley on the team plane a month ago, after Eckersley said something unkind about the rehab start of one of Price's fellow pitchers. Now Price is at it again, doubling down by complaining that Eckersley hardly ever comes into the clubhouse the way other Red Sox announcers do.

A suggestion: Shut your cakehole, David. You're not gonna win this one in the court of public opinion, so just let it go.

Of course, these guys can't let it go, accustomed as they are to so much hero worship since they were playing for Chico's Bail Bonds back in their Little League days. The pampering of promising young athletes, with sometimes ruinous effects to their perspective and self-awareness, is an old and consistent refrain, of course. But sometimes I think we forget just how old.

It's tempting to listen to Price whine and his teammates (who cheered him when he took on Eckersley on the plane) back him up, and put it down to some generational weakness of character. Ah, those millennials. Can't handle criticism because they grew up in the land of instant gratification and participation  trophies, grew up as fragile snowflakes who must be fed a constant diet of self-esteem without merit.

And so Price whining, and his teammates backing his play, and LeBron getting to make up his own rules, and Kyrie deciding he wants to go somewhere he can make up his own rules, too. Except ...

Except that's not what this is about.

This is about the aforementioned stroking of athletic egos. Which, yes, has been going forever.

Back in your father's day, after all, another Red Sox star had his issues with criticism. His name was Ted Williams, and his battles with the Boston media were legendary. It seems Teddy deemed the scribes insufficiently fawning at times, even in an era when they were almost always fawning to a fault. So he dubbed them, sarcastically, the Knights of the Keyboard.

Seventy-five years later, we've got David Price yelling at a broadcaster on the plane.

Same song. Different day.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Persona non grata

NFL training camps are starting up again, which seems as good a time as any to check in with Colin Kaepernick, Official Non-Person of the National Football League.

In the latest news of He Who Shall Not Be Named (even though the Blob just Named him), Joe Flacco of the Ravens said, heck, yes, we'd welcome him, though not as a starter, of course, but as a backup with some considerable NFL experience. It's been noted Kaepernick might be a good fit there, because the Ravens are coached by John Harbaugh, brother of Jim, under whom Kaepernick flourished as a young QB who helped take the 49ers to the Super Bowl.

Unfortunately for Kaepernick, Flacco's duties with the Ravens do not include any paycheck signing. That belongs to the owners, and the owners of the Ravens seem just as hell-bent on keeping That Troublemaker out of the league as everyone else.

Which is why they instead just signed some guy from some indoor team no one's ever heard of.

And so Kaepernick's exile goes on and on, becoming more obvious with every passing day. No matter what increasingly laughable excuses some people invent to explain his banishment, it is in fact a banishment. The man's being punished for his political stances, and there's no longer any question about it that can be taken seriously.

He's being punished for taking the apparently extraordinary position that police officers shouldn't go around shooting people of color first and asking questions later. Why this makes him a dangerous radical in some people's eyes (including, clearly, everyone holding the deed to an NFL franchise) says far more about the nation we live in right now than it does about Kaepernick. And none of it's good.

Nor does it say anything good about the NFL that it's apparently so averse to social activism unless it's politically correct (i.e., visiting kids in the hospital, encouraging kids to read and get physical exercise, honoring the troops). Weightier issues like the one Kaepernick tried to call attention to it has no stomach for. Go kneel on someone else's sideline.

(Unless, of course, you're Tim Tebow, and you're kneeling because you're a religious guy. Then it's OK.)

Kaepernick kneeling in a similar attitude of prayerful silence, though, was considered blasphemy because he did it during the national anthem. That it was as tasteful, elegant and respectful as an expression of protest can be and still be an expression of protest didn't matter. It was still a protest, which apparently is not acceptable in these United States anymore -- unless, again, it's in support of a politically correct cause and is done in the "appropriate" time and place.

(The latter of which undermines the entire idea of an effective protest, and which the Blob has always found to be an interesting bit of denial. That's because the people who always say it are trying very hard not to say what they really think, which is that protests with which they don't agree should be banned. So they say it's not the "appropriate" time and place. What would be the appropriate time and place, of course, they never say.)

In any case, Kaepernick's political stances have made him persona non grata. Even though he's just 29. Even though his career touchdown-to-interception ratio is a more than decent 72-to-30. Even though he's run for more yards (2,300) in the last six seasons than any quarterback except for Cam Newton and Russell Wilson, and even though he completed 59.2 percent of his passes for 2,241 yards, 16 touchdowns and just four picks last year. Oh, and averaged 6.78 yards per rush.

Yet unless something happens in the next few days, he won't be in an NFL camp. A whole pile of  quarterbacks of lesser quality will be, but he won't. Likely someone, at some point, will suck it up and bring him in, because need eventually trumps everything in professional sports. But until then ...

Until then, in an NFL wholly subservient to corporate prerogatives, his title is as set in stone as it gets.

Non-Person. Official.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Cages of circumstance, Part Deux

So, remember last week, when the Blob wrote that O.J. Simpson being paroled didn't really free him from the consequences of that bloody June night 23 years ago?

Well ... ahem.

The life sentence continues.

Silence is golden. Also probably impossible.

I know what some people will say. They'll say this is another incursion by the Orange Slice Brigade.

It's political correctness Run Amok. It's Everybody Gets A Ribbon fascism. Why, how will our children ever grow up to be great leaders and exemplary human beings like Donald J. "Donny" Trump if we don't teach them the First Rule of Youth Sports?

Which, as Genghis Kahn (and Conan the Barbarian) once said, is "to crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women."

Or, you know, something like that.

Anyway ... now comes the South Carolina Youth Soccer Association,  which has decided that sort of attitude simply will not do. So they're instituting what they're calling Silent September, in which parents are being asked to sign a code of conduct that forbids yelling, loud celebrations or even cheering from the sidelines for one month.

The backstory to what admittedly seems a draconian measure is an uptick in verbal and sometimes physical abuse of youth soccer referees, many of whom are mere kids themselves. It's gotten so bad, according to association officials, that it's driving out refs and putting the association in a critical shortfall.

And so, "Silent September," to make a point. The Blob commends what frankly seems a harmless symbolic gesture. It also figures there isn't a chance in hell it's going to work.

In fact, it expects open defiance, because we live in a country now where defiance of  communal rules deemed a hindrance to someone's individual desires is not only encouraged but admired. Entitlement to do whatever you want to do, no matter the consequences to anyone else, is what makes America great, or so we're told.

And so expect pushback from the No Orange Slices crowd. Because, after all, this 'Murica. And, by God, it's not like this is just for a month, or it's just kid soccer or anything. No way. It's the freaking World Cup, where entire futures hang on the ability of little 8-year-old Johnny's ability to kick a soccer ball to little 8-year-old Jimmy. And so no one's gonna tell Johnny or Jimmy's dad he can't threaten that 16-year-old ref when he misses a call.

Or, you know, something like that.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A brief pause to say "What th--?"

And when I say "a brief pause," I mean "a brief pause in the Blob's down time."

Because by now, surely you've noticed its absence these last few days. OK, so some of you noticed. OK, so maybe one of you did.

Anyway ... the brief pause comes because I was sitting in a hotel room in Mackinaw City, Mich., Sunday night, and I was channel-surfing, and suddenly, whoa, here were Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski lining up in front of a handful of stock cars for a green-white-checker restart at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

First immediate thought: "What is this?"

Second immediate thought: "Is this the Brickyard?"

Third immediate thought: "Why are they still racing at (checking clock) 8:30 at night?"

A few seconds passed while they tooled around behind the pace car, and then a fourth thought occurred.

"Dang," I said. "Sure glad I'm not covering this mess."

Because once I pieced it all together, it was pretty much what I guessed: They had one whopper of a rain delay. I mean, a real whopper of a rain delay. Because it was, like, seven hours after this thing was supposed to go green, And still they were out there driving around.

And after yet another wreck (because, apparently, there were a whole pile of wrecks, which further stretched out the day) the thing still  wasn't over, and now it was almost 9 o'clock and the light in the sky was fading, and did anyone at the Speedway realize the headlights on NASCAR cars are purely decorative?

"Dang," I said again. "Sure I'm not covering this mess."

Anyway, I kept watching through that last delay, and they dropped the green again, and somebody crashed again ("Can't these guys drive?" I said), but Kasey Kahne crossed the magic line on the backstretch before the yellow came out, and so he won, a few minutes before sunset.

From the looks of it, about 12 of the original handful of people who showed up for this deal were still in the grandstands

I can't say I blame the ones who vamoosed. Apparently the whole day was even more of a crapshow than usual, pointing up once again that it's not the July heat that's turned the Brickyard 400 into the Greatest Spectacle In Staying Home, it's the ugliness of the show. And that isn't going to change because they're moving the race to Sept. 9 next year because the people running this thing think at least it will be cooler.

It likely will. Of course, sunset arrives at 8:02 p.m. on Sept. 9, as opposed to 9:05 last Sunday. Which means a couple of things.

One, NASCAR and the Speedway better hope it doesn't rain.

Two, if it does, they'd better hope these guys learn how not to run into each other in the next 13 1/2 months.

Otherwise ...

Well. Remember the essentials here.

Headlights.

Decorative.

The 24 Hours of the Brickyard  400, called on account of darkness.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Ws cure everything

How everything works in corporate college athletics was on full display the other day, when Ole Miss football Hugh Freeze abruptly stepped down six weeks before the start of the season. His crime: He didn't win enough, especially in the SEC.

OK, OK. So that's not officially why Ole Miss offloaded him.

It offloaded him because he was apparently making calls to an escort service on a company phone, a violation of personal morality apparently too much to ignore for even officials at a football-crazy school in the football-crazy South. Freeze couldn't survive that, even if he'd survived so far the NCAA sniffing around his increasingly sleazy program, leveling 21 charges of academic, booster and recruiting shenanigans.

Mainly he survived that because Ole Miss was winning. Well, sort of.

What Ole Miss wasn't doing under Freeze was winning enough in the SEC, where he was 19-21. He hadn't won a conference title. And he surely hadn't won a national title.

Which brings us to how things work.

Because while Hugh Freeze was forced to step down for calling an escort service, up in Kentucky, Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino still has a job despite presiding over a program that was running a brothel out of its basketball facility. Pitino, of course, claimed he didn't know nothin' 'bout no brothel. And he got away with that nonsense because ...

Well. Because he did win a national title, in 2013.

The fact Louisville's been stripped of that title now doesn't really matter, because Louisville fans and alums don't give a damn what the NCAA says. Their Cardinals still won. And besides, this is Kentucky and this is basketball.

So Pitino lives on because he delivered a title, bogus or not.

And Hugh Freeze, because this is Mississippi and this is football, is out of a job because he didn't deliver a title, and was 19-21 in the SEC besides.

Winning absolves everything. Not winning absolves nothing.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Cages of circumstance

O.J. Simpson is in the news again, which is another way of saying "Let's torture the Goldman and Brown families some more, just because," and also another way of saying America has an unhealthy addiction to lowlifes.

(And, yes, simply by writing this, the Blob realizes it's playing into that. Mark me down ten points for hypocrisy. Or something).

At any rate, he won parole yesterday, which made white America grind its teeth again, because O.J. long ago became a fetish for those who only get upset with guys skating when it's not their guy skating. Hence all the outrage when a rich, connected black man walked on a double murder 23 years ago, and a shrug of the shoulders for all the times rich, connected white men have walked on crimes just as heinous.

We choose our side and we stay on our side, here in America. Until we realize we're all one side, and an injustice to one of us is an injustice to all of us, we'll never be the nation we ought to be.

Sermon over.

As to the rest, his parole yesterday after nine years in the slam came as no surprise to anyone who could look past the fact it was O.J. and realize his original sentence -- 33 years -- was piling on. And, yes, it happened because the judge who handed down the sentence couldn't look past the fact it was O.J., either. So she sentenced him as much for what happened 23 years ago as for the crime he actually committed.

Which was wrong. And which was why O.J. got exactly what he deserved yesterday.

Here's the thing, though: He's also getting exactly what he deserved for what happened 23 years ago.

Yes, he skated on the murders of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown, and he did it because, like so many white folk before him, he had money and he used it to hire all the best attorneys. And they did the job they got paid to do.

But there are prisons, and there are prisons. No, O.J. may never have done brick-and-mortar jail time for Ron and Nicole, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been doing jail time. The courts might have freed him, but society did not. And so he has spent the last 23 years as the most radioactive pariah in America, as confined in many ways as he would be if he were actually behind bars.

What happened that June night will never leave him. It is his cage, and he will live inside it until he dies.

That may be scant comfort for the Goldmans and Browns, who had to turn on the news yesterday and see again the man they believe, and much of America believes, butchered their children. But it is justice of a sort.

Rough and imperfect justice, true. But justice.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The heat is on

The memory is blurry now, and not because all memories tend to blur with time. This one's blurry because sweat keeps running into my eyes, and I keep swiping at them with the back of one soggy hand, and, damn, this sun and that humidity and all this concrete is baking us like a cookie in a convection oven.

Some late afternoon at the Brickyard 400, 20 years ago, maybe. Some race day, waiting back here by the haulers while sweating crew members load up the cars and we stand in a melting little huddle waiting for the occasional driver to wander through.

Thus has it ever been on Brickyard day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, because it's high summer and it's always 90 degrees with 70 percent humidity that weekend, and the Speedway gets hot like few places get hot, anyway, but especially in July and August. Heck, even an old pro like Bill Elliott was heard to bitch about the heat one particularly oppressive afternoon. And Bill Elliott's from Georgia.

So I completely get why Speedway president Doug Boles has decided the Brickyard 400, which runs again this weekend, will move to September next year.

Where his own vision gets blurry is when he says they're doing this because the heat is what's keeping all the fans away.

As someone who covered 20 Brickyards, and who remembers what every one of those race weekends was like, I respectfully call bullpucky on that.

Look, it's always been hot at the Speedway on Brickyard weekend. Always. It isn't any hotter now than it was 20 years ago, because I remember how hot it was 20 years ago. I also remember seeing north of 200,000 fans packed into the joint despite all that heat.

So it's obviously not the heat that's keeping anyone away.

But if you're the president of the Speedway, you have to blame the fall of one of you signature events on something, so you might as well pick something you can fix. It beats having to admit that what's wrong with the Brickyard is something you can't fix, because that would mean admitting what's wrong with the Brickyard is out of your control.

And it is, mostly. Sadly.

It is, because what's wrong with the Brickyard is a microcosm of what's wrong with NASCAR, which is mostly a perception issue. The sport simply doesn't draw the way it used to, at Indy and everywhere else. That it's still the most successful motorsports enterprise ever to run on the American continent is a fact that eludes its leadership, because its leadership is still measuring it against the ridiculously unsustainable, success of the late '90s and early 2000s.

And, yes, the Blob has said all this before, numerous times. It's also said, numerous times, that the bloom came off the Brickyard rose after the Tiregate debacle of 2008, and more generally after spectators discovered that NASCAR at the Speedway simply isn't a very good show.

Thus the crowds have dwindled from 200,000 to something around 50,000 or 60,000. Which, mind you, is the kind of crowd that would have set NASCAR to popping champagne corks back in the days when it was still a quaint regional phenomenon and not the vast corporate enterprise it blew up into. But now all those empty seats are just an embarrassing visual, and the Brickyard is just another NASCAR weekend instead of the crown jewel it once was.

The heat didn't do that. The fact it's a boring-ass race did.

I'm not sure how Doug Boles can remedy this, other than to get the event off the oval and run it on the infield road course (a suggestion the Blob has been making for years). Absent that, what are the Speedway's options?

Move it to September. That's the only other option.

September, when presumably it will not be as hot.

September ... when it will be more invisible than ever in the gargantuan Sunday shadow of the NFL.

Sigh.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

You're it

So you think you've seen everything, including Michael Vick teleporting in from the '60s to tell Colin Kaepernick to cut his hair. NFL training camps are still a week or so off, baseball doesn't matter for another two-plus months, and Lonzo Ball does not play another basketball game until October.

What to do, what to do.

Well ... how about this?

Yes, boys and girls, it's professional tag, which is actually a thing, and no doubt will soon become an Olympic sport. I mean, they're already adding driveway basketball, aka 3-on-3 basketball. Can tag be far behind?

This is, of course, not your normal game of tag, and not your normal athletes playing it. It is, in fact, pretty awesome to watch, in a way you never thought tag would be awesome to watch.  And it makes you wonder what would happen if it landed Gatorade or Nike as a sponsor, and ESPN got its mitts on it, and it blew up into this huge deal that had a season that lasted as long as the Hundred Years War.

Suddenly there would be a Tag Bowl, and Tag Bowl parties, and tag minicamps. There would trade deadlines and a Tag Summer League and an official Tag Draft, in which Mel Kiper Jr. would tell us who the best duckers and dodgers were coming out of college, and why the Jets blew it again. There would be preseason tag and regular season tag and tag wildcard games.

And of course, at some point, Tom Brady would cheat by hiding behind the big tree in the backyard, then jumping out to tag Andrew Luck. Who would then go complain to Mom that Tom was cheating again, and Mom would tell Tom to knock it off or she'd make him come inside, and then Tom would start chasing Andrew around the yard for tattling on him.

Or, you know, something like that.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

LaVar Ball is a genius

Got your attention, didn't I?

But, see, it really is working out just the way LaVar, the self-promoting paterfamilias of the ballin' Ball brothers, envisioned it. His kid was so much the talk of the NBA Summer League it was as if no one else was playing but the No. 2 (Not even No.1!) pick in the draft. That the NBA Summer League became such a thing this summer, in fact, is largely because of Lonzo Ball's drawing power.

And now this. To which LaVar would say, "Well, of course. Like I didn't tell you this would happen?"

(And, yes, before you start, I know it's the Summer League. I know it's essentially just rookies and down-roster bench-splinter collectors playing noon ball at the Y. So we likely still don't know just how good Lonzo Ball really is, or will be -- although he's obviously a lot better than the LaVar haters hoped he would be).

But anyway ... LaVar wins again. He may be an annoying braggart, but things sure turn out the way he predicts they will a lot.

I know. I'm grinding my teeth, too.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Roger the (Time) Dodger

The cynic in me will not stay quiet, much as I try to muzzle him. He looks at Roger Federer winning Wimbledon again, and he says maybe this is not about him, so much. Maybe it's about who he's playing.

"I mean, what's it say about the quality of men's tennis when a 35-year-old can skate through Wimbledon without losing a set?" the cynic sneers.

After which I finally corral him, put a burlap sack over his head and stuff him in the back of the closet with the rest of the accumulated irrelevancies.

Because, listen, when you start talking about the quality of the competition, remember that Rafe Nadal is still around, and Novak Djokovic is still around, and Andy Murray is still around. Except none of them were around Sunday.

Federer was. Federer abides.

 Likely it's different if he runs into Nadal or Joker or Murray somewhere along the line. Likely he loses a set or two. But it's not Federer's fault they weren't there to face him. And what does that say about the quality of the competition?

And so the gate swings both ways here. Behind it is the greatest tennis player of all time, breezing through Wimby unmarked at 35. Behind it is a man whose career looked finished a year ago, and now here he is, with two of the first three Grand Slams of 2017 in his pocket, and a record eight Wimbledon titles, and a record 19 Grand Slam titles. Behind it is a man as crafty in his preparation as he is on the court, strategically sitting out chunks of time last year and earlier this spring in order to have fresh legs and a fresh will for the big tournaments.

Two steps ahead. As ever.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Tour de Dirtbag

Well, that was ... illuminating.

"That" being the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor Conning The Rubes Tour, a four-part series in which the principles basically functioned as carnival barkers trying to whip up interest in their alleged "fight." The goal, of course, is to take your money and then, on fight night, reveal that you picked the wrong shell.

Pea's under the other one, old-timer. Better luck next time, sucker.

Here's the problem with the Tour: It was specifically designed to reveal Mayweather and McGregor for being exactly what they are, a woman-beating punk and a racist punk. Mainly because they're not really roles, they played their roles perfectly. And they did so knowing that's exactly what would play with their audience. Witness how loudly they cheered McGregor when he called Mayweather "boy", and for Mayweather when he came out wearing an Irish flag.

They'll gladly plunk down their money now. And that says nothing good about human beings as a species.

Because the question now is, what kind of sporting event is it that uses racism, xenophobia and misogyny to sell itself? And what kind of society is it when so much of the media covering this farce seems to see that as normal, as just the way you play the hype game?

Here's hoping I'm wrong about human beings. Here's hoping there's a lot more people out there than I think there are who, if not already unwilling to be carny-ed out of their money by these two, would  be unwilling simply because they refuse to subsidize what they're selling.

I can't speak for anyone else, but count me among the latter. All I've learned from their "tour" is that they're both mouth-breathing low-life scum. One's a boxer who ought to be in prison for beating up women, and is no credit to his sport. The other's the perfect representative of a shady enterprise that strong-arms reporters who dare write anything negative or break news.

A pox on both of 'em.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Venus rising

So now comes the time, this a.m., to have Breakfast at Wimbledon, and raise a spoonful of strawberries and cream to the Other One. And to acknowledge the inherent unfairness of that.

Venus Williams is 37 years old now, and you can be forgiven, perhaps, for thinking of her as a page in a history book and not a blood-pumping human still capable of striping a forehand down the line when everything is right. That she has been so eclipsed by the marvel that is her younger sister has always had an off-kilter feel to it, a fractured fairy tale sense of an unkempt storyline that wouldn't stay tucked in.

Venus, after all, was the first of the Williams sisters to come out of Compton and turn the prim  cloistered world of women's tennis into something far more inclusive. She played at Wimbledon for the first time when she was 17. She won it for the first time when she was 20. And then ...

And then came Serena. Who only morphed into the greatest tennis player in history.

And yet here we are 20 years later, and here still is Venus, playing in her ninth Wimbledon final. She has won it five times. She has won seven Grand Slam titles in all. She was the first African-American woman in the Open Era ever to be ranked No. 1 in the world,  and she remains the only tennis player, male or female, to win a medal in four different Olympics.

And then there is this: She was a major force behind the push for women to get equal pay in Grand Slam tournaments, which finally happened when Wimbledon and the French Open capitulated in 2007.

And today?

If she beats Garbine Muguruza, she will become the oldest woman ever to win a Grand Slam title. She has overcome a debilitating auto-immune disease which has sapped her strength since 2011. She has overcome the trauma of being involved in a fatal automobile accident last month in Florida, when a car ran a stop sign and T-boned her, and one of its occupants died.

Yet she is here. She has always been here: one of the greatest and most influential women's players in history, and yet one who has never gotten her due because her sister happens to be the greatest.

That business about being the oldest woman ever to win a Grand Slam title, for instance?

If it happens today, Venus will supplant a woman who just became the oldest herself by winning the Australian Open at the age of 35. And that woman's name?

Serena Williams.

But of course.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Union Jacked

I can't say I know for sure how England feels on this saddest of days. But I do have an imagination, and sometimes it actually works, so I can take a stab at the monologue that might have been going on in some London pub after three or four pints last night ...

Bloody Americans. Always have to ruin everything, don't you? Not enough that we let you have your damn country even though we had the MIGHTIEST ARMY ON THE PLANET and might have stayed if we'd chosen, oh, we would have made it hot for you, you and your George Washington and your rabble army that couldn't have beaten a motley of football hooligans if the French hadn't bailed you out ...

But Our Andy? You had to take Our Andy, too? And what the bloody hell IS a Sam Querrey, anyway?

Something like that.

The only thing worse for the Brits, I imagine, is that this is tennis and not Olympic hockey, or we'd have been turning the 24th-seeded Querrey's upset of top-seeded Murray (the pride of England!) into the Miracle On Grass or some such thing. And I can't imagine how England will lose its mind if Querrey would jack around and actually win Wimbledon this weekend.

I'm guessing the reaction would be similar to the reaction the Brits have every Fourth of July. Which kind of looks like this.

Why, yes. Yes we are ungrateful.

 And proud of it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Hurry, hurry. Step right this way.

So now the big top is up on the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor circus, and this is going to be more entertaining than a car full of clowns. The fight is still just a wink and a nod while Floyd and Conor lift your wallet, of course. But the run-up?

Pure genius.

And so here they were yesterday on the first stop of their press tour/hypefest, and it was three rings of fun. Floyd showed up dressed like an American flag on acid. McGregor showed up dressed like a CEO, except the pinstripes in his suit spelled out "F--- you." And of course McGregor stole the show,  being the standup comedian of the two.
   
"He is (bleeped)," McGregor said. "There's no other way about it. His little legs, his little core, his little head -- I'm gonna knock him out inside four rounds, mark my words."

The man's Bobby Riggs reincarnated. I'm telling you.

Can't wait for the next act in the show.

Fun at the old ballpark

Or, why can't regular baseball be like this?

"This" being the MLB All-Star Game, which the Blob actually watched chunks of last night, and which reminded it of everything the game has lost. Pitchers pitched and hitters hit and there wasn't a lot of the attendant messing around that has turned regular baseball into such a numbing slog here in the new millennium. What, you mean you don't have to call time between every pitch to adjust your batting gloves? You don't have to take 15 pitches before getting the bat off your shoulder? You don't have to lollygag out on the mound before throwing the pill?

An extra-inning game, and it only took a tad over three hours. The Red Sox and Yankees would still have been in the seventh-inning stretch at that point. Refreshing to see the game played the way it was intended to be played, stepping lively instead of slowing to a crawl.

And that wasn't even the best part.

The best part was NL catcher Yadiar Molina impersonating Ironman in his solid-gold chest protector and solid-gold mask.

(OK, so that wasn't it. But still a pretty cool rig).

The best part was looking up and realizing Jim Bridger had taken up baseball.

(OK, so that wasn't it, either. But those mountain men beards? All that was missing was fringed buckskin, a tomahawk and a Kentucky long rifle).

The best part ...

Well. The best part -- the real best part -- was that moment when Nelson Cruz called time as he came to the plate, handed Molina his phone and had him take a picture of him posing with legendary plate umpire Joe West.

It was at once a serious breach of baseball etiquette, and a moment that pulled aside the curtain that too often obscures a great truth: That all these professionals, all these men who often seem as comfortable in a boardroom as a dugout, are at heart still little boys playing a little boys game. And therein lies its magic.

In an age of VORPs and WARs and all the other sabermetrics that reduce the game to some bloodless algorithm, it was a comfort to see that magic again. If only for a moment.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Today in greed

And now a few thoughts on corporate dumbness, while waiting for Aaron Judge's last crushed baseball to come down ...

That was some great stuff last night, for baseball and for the city of Miami. Tonight's All-Star game will be great stuff, too.

Maybe, if the host Marlins are lucky, it will be great enough to obscure the not-so-great stuff.

The not-so-great-stuff involves the Marlins' cotton-headed owner, Thick Jeffrey Loria, who's decided the only way to deal with fans who owe him money is to send in the Armani legbreakers -- aka, the lawyers. According to ABC News and Miami New Times, the Marlins have sued at least nine season-ticket holders since 2003, and are currently trying to seize a $725,000 property owned by season-ticket holder Kenneth Sack over $97,200 the Marlins say he owes them.

This is not quite as distasteful as picking on some poor Joe Fan because he's behind on his upper-deck payments, in that it's one rich guy suing another rich guy. But the tone-deafness pertains: It's a Major League Baseball club trying to bully one of its fans -- one of its high-dollar fans, no less -- because the club didn't follow through on certain promises and the fan rightly decided not to pay for what he wasn't getting.

Granted, in this case there is more than a whiff of Trumpian privilege here. At issue, after all, is not the quality of the view from the cheap seats or the freshness of the hotdogs, but such snooty amenities as pre- and postgame buffets and prime parking spots. Apparently the latter never materialized and the quality of the former was not up to snuff.

First-world problems, as they say.

And yet ... it's still a very bad look. And Thick Jeffrey, like most of these owners, doesn't seem to get that. Or doesn't care, because he's already got his ballpark, and most of his paying customers are still paying, so why would he care about how this all looks?

Even if he should.

"I don't understand why Major League Baseball continues to allow Jeffrey Loria to behave like this," Daniel Rose, an attorney representing another former season-ticket holder, told the New Times. "At the end of the day, what is the motive to go after fans like this? It just shows their greed and a complete lack of respect for their fan base."

As does strong-arming the taxpayers to foot the bill for all these glittering palaces the Thick Jeffreys of the world so love to build for themselves. But that's another Blob for another day.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Night of the dinger

A confession, to begin with: I am not particularly a fan of the All-Star Game Home Run Derby.

Like the NBA dunk contest, it's a contrived event, and I've never been a big fan of contrived events. (This occasionally includes allegedly legitimate events, like Formula One races and professional boxing matches). Watching muscle-y supremely coordinated dudes hit batting practice pitches into the upper deck just doesn't do it for me. It's what muscle-y supremely coordinated dudes are supposed to do when you thrown 'em batting practice pitches. Where's the wonder in that?

But tonight I may have to make an exception. Tonight I might watch.

I might watch because Aaron Judge is in the thing, and Aaron Judge is the size of an NBA small forward. And when he hits a baseball on the screws, it tends to go an absurdly long way. There's also, in a sport tied to its history like no other, a significant  historical context to him: He is the Next Great Yankee.

 For one thing, he wears an unusual and iconic number (99). So when you watch him step to the plate, you're acutely aware that, barring injury, that 99 will someday join 2 and 3 and 5 and 7 and a host of other numbers in the ever-expanding Yankees pantheon.

For another ... well, he hits baseballs an absurdly long way.

And so, tonight, I might watch. I might watch because there's an off chance Aaron Judge will actually become the first human to put a baseball in orbit. I want to say I was there to see that.

Now that would be a wonder.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Summertime "news"

My wife is much smarter than I am.

This comes as no news flash to people who know us both, because she's the practical one who can carry on a grownup conversation in grownup social settings, and I'm the one who says "Didja you see that video of the guy in the T-Rex suit walking down the beach playing bagpipes? Hilarious."

In other words, I'm not the go-to guy to talk seriously about Putin and Trump at the G-20 summit. I'm the guy who says "You know who Putin and Trump are? Putin's Dr. Evil and Trump is Scott."

Or something like that.

In any case, last night we were sitting in a local restaurant having dinner, and the TV in the bar was tuned to ESPN. Or should I say, it was tuned to NBA Summer League Action! Yes, that's right, a full half-hour of chit-chat to preview a Summer League game between the kinda Boston Celtics and the sorta Los Angeles Lakers.

And, yes, I know, LONZO BALL!* was playing for the Lakers. Which I guess was reason enough to roll out the full Hey Look It's A Great Big Event treatment by ESPN, except for one thing: It's Summer League basketball, people.

In other words, rookies and various down-roster schlubs playing glorified pickup ball. Your basic noontime at the Y, only with higher tax brackets.

And yet, somehow, it's everywhere now. ESPN seems to be airing every game. Summer League results are listed every day on its website. Which prompted me to wonder aloud, "Why the obsession with the NBA Summer League all of a sudden?"

To which my much-smarter wife responded: "It's summer. What else is going on?"

I started to say, well, baseball, and NASCAR, and also real motorsports, aka, IndyCar. And, you know, soccer. And Wimbledon. And the British Open. And ... and ...

Hmm.

She's right. What else is going on?

Because, listen, if it's not the NBA or the NFL these days, it's basically Cricket City in Sportsball World, or so ESPN seems to believe. And ESPN, for all its many financial woes these days, drives public perception. We are now in the very heart of summer, and yet drive-time sports-poodle radio is still 90 percent NBA or NFL. Sometimes they'll accidentally talk about baseball, which used to be the king of summer. But then it's right back to "What will LeBron do next year?"

The crotchety old back-in-the-day part of me thinks this is a shame, and who cares about the NBA in July anyway, for God's sake, and what did my Pirates do last night? (They beat the Cubs, 4-2. So there.) The more reasonable part of me wonders why NBA teams are risking their high-dollar draft picks in games that don't matter. I mean, was it worth it to the 76ers to have No. 1 draft pick Markelle Fultz go down with a sprained ankle yesterday in a pickup game?

I think not. I think if I were Magic Johnson, I wouldn't be letting LONZO BALL!* participate in such nonsense. I've spent too much money on him. Why risk getting him hurt three months before training camp?

Well,. because ESPN (and the NBA) think it's important. And, besides ...

"What else is going on?" my much-smarter wife says.

Yeah.

(* -- A registered trademark as soon as LaVar Ball thinks of it.)

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Your Of Course Moment for today

So now comes the news that former Indiana men's basketball coach Bob Knight was investigated by the FBI for inappropriately touching four women during a 2015 visit to the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

(Question that doesn't get answered here: Why was a Hall of Fame college basketball coach visiting a spy agency? These are things real people want to know, news media).

Anyway, Knight was cleared of any wrongdoing. Which doesn't mean he wasn't being a misogynist jerkwad, because that's who he's been his whole life.

I mean, the Washington Post dutifully reported that he was accused of "making suggestive comments, hugging a woman tightly around the chest and hitting another on the buttocks."

In other words, he said nasty things to four women, grabbed them in a bearhug and slapped them on the ass.

Sounds like just another day in the life of Bob to me.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Today in mascot news

And now, because the Blob is and always will be a Mascot Appreciation Zone, an update from the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, renowned far and wide for having the scariest mascot in sports ...

Apparently this is a problem.

Apparently the Mad Ants, and their parent club the Pacers, have decided to "soften" the Mad Ant, to make him less intimidating and more child friendly -- and also make him blue.

A blue ant!

And, yes, that's because it's a Pacers color, and also because you can find blue ants in cartoons and animated feature films. So certain individuals think it's all good.

It is not. It is bad, very, very bad.

Because, listen, having one of the scariest mascots in sports is a brand, a great brand -- who out there in America would know about the Mad Ants if it weren't for the Scariest Mascot In Sports? -- and now they're not just giving that up, they're voluntarily giving that up. And they're giving it up for some Smurfy, cuddly Ant, a mascot that will look like pretty much every other mascot in sports.

Well, except for Clark the Bear, the Cubs mascot. Who stands out because he doesn't have pants.

But the Ant?

He was red because red ants are nasty, the way you want your basketball team to be. He was muscle-y and fierce-looking, because you want your players to be muscle-y and fierce (Like Draymond Green!). He was smiling, but it was one of those psycho, I'm-going-to-kick-your-butt smiles -- the kind of smile Draymond Green wears right before he kicks someone in the twigs and berries.

WHICH IS AN ENTIRELY APPROPRIATE WAY FOR A PROFESSIONAL SPORTS MASCOT TO SMILE.

Sorry. Didn't mean to yell.

But the idea of devolving the Mad Ant into some "softer" blue thing deeply offends, or should deeply offend, all right-thinking mascot lovers everywhere. Yes, the current Mad Ant is not particularly kid-friendly, although lots of kids apparently love him. Besides, mascots, no matter how cuddly, are always going to intimidate young children.

They're big, they're puffy, they walk funny. And they don't talk. Scary.

Not as famously scary as the Mad Ant though. More's the pity.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Cheater, out yourself

The worst part is not the act itself. The worst part is the New England Patriots, of all people, get to indulge a heapin' helpin' of self-righteousness now.

This upon the news that the Indianapolis Colts, who outed the Pats for Deflategate, were a bunch of scheming cheaters, too, and were frankly way more blatant about it. A smidge or two of air getting taken out of a football is pretty minor stuff, except that it came from a team that had been caught spying multiple times on other teams. But equipping your offensive linemen with crowd-muffling hearing aids so they can better hear their quarterback's snap count?

That is absolutely, positively against the rules. And according to former Colts offensive lineman Tarik Glenn, it was line coach Howard Mudd who supplied the illicit goods back there in 1998 when Peyton Manning was a rookie.

“We were playing on the road, it might have been Peyton’s rookie year, and it was really loud,” Glenn told Clifton Brown of the Indianapolis Star in a recent profile. “Peyton [Manning] hadn’t mastered the silent count, so [former offensive line coach] Howard Mudd had us wearing these hearing aids that were supposed to muffle the crowd while projecting the quarterback’s voice.”

You can hear the howls of outrage from all those Sullys in their Tom Brady jerseys from here.

Yah, they're accusin' US of cheatin', and they're a buncha cheatin' bastahds, too. Buncha Indiana hilljacks ...

Or something like that.

In any case, there is egg on a few faces down in Indy now, and the only defense available is that, even if the Colts blatantly cheated, it sure didn't help 'em much. They went 3-13 in 1998.

Of course, the question is whether or not this was an isolated incident, or if it was something they continued doing after '98. Glenn didn't say, so let the speculatin' begin.

In the meantime, if you're a Colts fan, forget the hearing aids. Best wear earplugs to block out all the derision from Boston.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Honesty, the worst policy

Well. I bet you know who Bernard Tomic is now.

Who he is, is the 59th-ranked tennis player in the world, and given that the general public (particularly the general public in America) couldn't identify the 10th-ranked tennis player in the world on a bet, that makes him about as anonymous as a person can be who plays a professional sport for a living. But he's 24 years old, and Australian, and he's been playing professional tennis all over the world since he was 17.

And now you have occasion to know all that, because yesterday at Wimbledon he hauled off and did something we always say we want athletes to do, until they actually do it.

He was honest with us.

Got up there in front of the media after a dispirited 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 first-round loss to Mischa Zverev, and basically said he didn't care. Said his head was in a bad place right now. Said, in effect, he was bored with the game.

"I feel holding a trophy or doing well, it doesn't satisfy me anymore," Tomic said. "It's not there. I couldn't care less if I make a fourth-round US Open or I lose first round. To me, everything is the same. You know, I'm going to play another 10 years, and I know after my career I won't have to work again.

"So for me this is mental."

In the age of Twitter and all-encompassing social media, you can imagine how this went over. Fans called for him to give back his prize money and renounce his Australian citizenship. Former Aussie star Pat Cash declared him a national embarrassment. American coach Brad Gilbert essentially said he was a disgrace and should go get a real job.

Me?

I think it just sounds like he needs to take some time off. Simple as that.

I also think this is the last time I'd better hear anyone complain about athletes who speak fluent I'm Just Here To Help The Ballclub, and rattle off clich├ęs like machine gun fire.

Because, listen, the firestorm Tomic created by getting caught telling the truth is exactly why so many athletes hardly ever do it. It's why, confronted with pointed questions, they fall back to Platitude City and regroup. It's why Tiger Woods' father drilled him on proper press conference etiquette -- i.e., give the most minimal answer possible to even the most innocuous question, and never, ever, ever offer anything that isn't directly asked.

Which resulted in the media soon characterizing Woods as some sort of bloodless android. He didn't give us anything, and we came to see it as a character flaw.

And then along comes Tomic, who's being vilified because he wasn't a bloodless android.

Sure, it was bad form, particularly at hallowed old Wimbledon, to say you didn't really give a hang about tennis anymore. But I'd bet my house there are any number of guys out that there slogging around the tour who feel the same way. It's a grind, the pro tennis tour. And even if you're playing a game for a living, eventually even playing a game for a living comes to feel like a job.

It happens. I suspect it happens  a lot more than you think. It might even happen to a lot of the people who say "Why, I'd pay to play (insert sport here) for a living."

Sure, maybe at first. But after awhile, in spite of themselves, they'd come to appreciate that paycheck.

Not that you'd ever get them admit it.