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.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

'Merica!

Happy Independence Day to all you Blobophiles out there, and here's to the greatness of America -- which, contrary to the current occupant of the White House, is not something we've lost somewhere and need to regain.

As someone far more notable, de Tocqueville, once said, America is great because America is good. Certainly not always, and not even close on too many shameful occasions, but at least striving to be more often than not.

And so let's celebrate that. Let's celebrate, because for all our faults and discontents, we live in a country where all manner of astounding things are possible.

I mean, even arrested adolescents can rise to the presidency here. So that's something.

And how great is a country where a basketball player (Kevin Durant) can sign a contract for $52 million, and still say he left money on the table?

Or where another basketball player (Paul Millsap) can sign a deal that will pay him $30 million a year, even though he's 32 years old and has a career scoring average of 14.2 points?

Or where discussing the contracts of basketball players is actually a thing?

I don't know if this is what the founders had in mind when they got together in a stuffy room in Philadelphia and told King George to stick it. Certainly they left a lot open to interpretation, and we've been interpretin' the bejeezus out of it since. I sometimes wonder, speaking of that stuffy room, if they might have hashed out a few more details if they'd come along after air conditioning, Right Guard and moisture-wicking fabrics were invented.

But even if they had, I doubt if they could have foreseen an America where leisure (i.e., sports) would have become such a dominant force in the culture. Entire multi-billion dollar industries built around children's games? Great universities subordinating their academic mission to the mad pursuit of an inflated pig's bladder? Iconic American cities prostrating themselves to build immense, garish  stadiums, because, by golly, we want guys who are really good at throwing and catching balls, too?

(Or sometimes, not so good. See: The Los Angeles/St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams).

I don't know. I think the founders would have been flabbergasted, and not a little dismayed. They were high-minded folk, after all. They undoubtedly saw in America a new Athens, an incubator of democracy in which art and philosophy and the noblest pursuits of man could flourish.

Then again, maybe John Adams would have just donned a Tom Brady jersey and headed off to pound a few Sammys, boo Roger Goodell and watch the Patriots tool up on the bleeping Jets.

Yeah. I could see that.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Who are these guys?

So again this morning I have the AL and NL All-Star starting lineups in front of me, and again I am dismayed by my disconnect from America's one-time Pastime. I have never heard of half of these people. I have never heard of them even though some have played in multiple All-Star games.

Ryan Zimmerman, I know. Aaron Judge, I know. Francisco Lindor played in the World Series last year. Starlin Castro used to be a Cub. Zack Cozart's a Red, Salvador Perez has played in five straight All-Star games, and there are  Buster Posey, Bryce Harper, Nelson Cruz, Mike Trout.

But who in blazes is Nolan Arenado?

What's a George Springer? Where did Justin Smoak come from? Are Corey Dickerson, Charlie Blackmon  and Marcell Ozuna guys whose baseball cards I'm going to want to hang onto?

Inquiring minds want to know. Or, more to the point, non-inquiring minds.

Here is my problem, and also baseball's: I am squarely in that aging demographic that is baseball's prime audience these days, and even I am no longer fully engaged. I don't follow the game the way I used to. I don't check the boxscores every morning. In fact, doing so seems impossibly quaint in 2017, like the idea of the milkman leaving glass bottles of his product on your doorstep every morning.

So why is that?

A million reasons and no reasons. As ever.

Part of it for me, I suppose, is I'm almost three years removed from the daily sportswriting gig, so I don't pay as much attention to sports in general as I used to. I don't even have ESPN anymore. And I don't really miss it except on rare occasions.

But part of it, too, are the endless distractions of life in a wired world, the desperate roar of desperate voices desperately vying for our attention. I've learned to filter some of that out; for instance, I no longer gasp in horror at the Thumbsucker In Chief's latest 140-character abomination on Twitter, because it reveals nothing I don't already know. I get it, the President of the United States is a 3-year-old. Move along.

Of course, there are other distractions. Summer is no longer as empty as it was when baseball ruled it absolutely; the NBA Finals drag on well into June now, and then there's the NBA draft, and then there's NBA free agency. There is, most summers, some sort of international soccer going on. There is NASCAR. There is more NBA free agency. And then ... NFL training camps, y'all!

The days of baseball being the only earthly thing out there in the summertime are gone, in other words. Maybe once upon a time the only summer sounds besides crickets were the porch-swing rhythms of a baseball game droning softly from the radio. But not anymore.

Several years back, maybe almost 30 now, I tried to recapture that. I hauled my radio out to the front porch and tuned it into the All-Star game. Rain was falling softly where I was, darkening the street outside. The game murmured soothingly from my radio.

I lasted three innings before I turned it off and came inside.

Nostalgia never takes into account the mosquitoes, for one thing. And, even 30 years ago, the game couldn't hold my attention. Porch swings, it seemed, were out of date.

More's the pity, part of me thought.

Welcome to modern times, the rest of me added.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Down for the count

Crock-idile Dundee. Maybe that's what we call this.

Maybe that's what we call the Battle of Brisbane, aka Fix on the Barbie, aka Here Comes The Judge (Somebody Cut A Check). Manny Pacquiao beat the mortal stuffing out of the hometown Aussie, Jeff Horn, only to have it stolen from him by hometown judges in a robbery brazen even by boxing's deplorable standards.

And on basic cable, no less.

So much for boxing's attempt to go mainstream. America finally got to see what the greedheads who run professional fisticuffs have shut it out of with its ruinous pay-per-view deals, and America said, "Hey, I recognize this. Professional wrestling, right?"

Right. Only pro wrestling is a straighter show.

At any rate, it makes those of us who remember boxing's glory days want to weep, and then it makes us want to laugh. You gotta do one or the other, amirite?

And so without further bloviating ... here are the jokes:

Q: What was the first clue this deal was not on the level?

A: The judges were named Homer, Homer and Homer.

Q: What was the second clue?

A: You needed a second clue?

Q: Other than the winner repeatedly hitting the loser's fist with his face, how do we know the fight wasn't aboveboard?

A: Because it was Down Under.

And last but not least ...

Q: What did the Australian boxing official say when he read about the Russians gaming America's presidential election?

A: "Amateurs."

Oh, and also:

"That isn't a fix. THIS is a fix."

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Go West, young men

Well, at least that's over.

And kudos to the Indiana Pacers, because none of the NBA yapping poodles saw this coming. I mean, Paul George was going to the Cavs, he was going to the Celtics, he was going to Washington. But Oklahoma City?

Sure, that'll make Russell Westbrook happy. And, sure, the Thunder got him for a song. OK, so two songs: Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

Oladipo you've heard of, mainly because he played at Indiana. Sabonis' dad you've heard of, because his dad is Arvydas Sabonis, the 7-foot-2 aircraft carrier who starred for the old Soviet national team before playing seven years in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers.

That's not very much to get for a guy so many teams were lusting after, but the Pacers didn't have a whole lot of leverage here. No one was going to give up what a player like George is actually worth, because the suitors all understood they were essentially renting him for a year. He's already said where he wants to wind up once he becomes a free agent next summer, and it isn't Cleveland or Boston or Washington or, heaven forbid, Oklahoma City.

For George, Oklahoma City is a layover on the flight to L.A. Nothing more.

So no real surprise OKC got PG for a couple of boxtops. What's illuminating here is the way the Western Conference continues to widen its dominance over the East

George is the second marquee player this offseason to go West(ern Conference), young man, joining Jimmy Butler, whom the Bulls traded to Minnesota. And it's probably going to continue, because, let's face it, the Eastern Conference is the crummy apartment you lived in right out of college. The Western Conference is the nice house in the 'burbs you live in now, 30 or 40 years later.

And it's not like it's going to get any better. What do you think happens next year, when LeBron's deal is up in Cleveland? No one's talking any Eastern destinations for him right now. And if LeBron goes west, the NBA becomes even more the Western Conference And Them Others.

Momentarily, anyway. Because, to be clear-eyed about it, this is just the pendulum swinging back and forth the way it always does.

The fretters and garment-renders will fret and rend their garments the way they are about the Warriors and the dominance of superteams, but, as the Blob has pointed out before, thus has it ever been. There always have been and always will be superteams occasionally, just as one conference will lord it over another occasionally.

After which the pendulum, being a pendulum, will swing back the other way. At least enough.