Thursday, August 31, 2017

Passing of an era

Two guys with names you don't see anymore passed this week, and it gave us a chance to witness something that happens all the time but isn't often obvious to the naked eye.

Which is, an entire era going dark right in front of us, the lights winking out one by one.

That's how it feels right now, with a guy named Jud and a guy named Rollie having left us. Jud Heathcote and Rollie Massimino died within two days of one another, and a whole marvelous time in college basketball seemed to die with them, though it has of course been long gone  in actuality.

It was a time of high-water socks and higher-water shorts, a time of giants and giant killers and Rushmore presences named Jud and Rollie and Bobby and Lefty. Coaches are more visible today, but not more iconic. In a curious sort of way, the very lack of 24/7 public exposure back then somehow made them even larger than life.

Jud and Rollie, rumpled tie-at-half-staff types whose curmudgeonry was leavened by their postgame comedic timing, were what we used to call characters back in the day, and they never really looked right anywhere that didn't have rims, nets and a lot of gleaming hardwoods. They were old school before anyone came up with the concept, frankly. And yet one (Jud) coached the game that ushered in the era of college buckets as corporate monolith, and the other (Rollie) coached the game that put the Madness in March Madness for good.

Jud's moment was the 1979 national championship game, when his Michigan State Spartans beat the undefeated, upstart Indiana State Sycamores in the most watched title game ever to that point. It was Bird vs. Magic for the first time, and from that point on college basketball became something more than just a game; it became a bankable commodity fueled by bankable personalities, whether coaches or players.

And Rollie?

Well, we all know what his Villanova Wildcats did in 1985. They came into the NCAA tournament as an eight seed, and they exited it as national champions. Their defeat of John Thompson's defending national champion Georgetown juggernaut -- after losing to them three previous times that season -- was the tournament's second stunning upset in three years.

First, a scruffy North Carolina State team took down Phi Slamma Jama. Then, 'Nova, improbably hardly missing a shot, took down Patrick Ewing. And March Madness was truly Mad from then on out, every guy who picks some mid-major dreamer in his office pool tracing that impulse back to those two seminal moments in the 1980s.

And now Jud and Rollie are gone, and their era, too. That they each had a hand in ushering it out is, of course, a neat bit of irony. So is the fact that what they helped leave us with is flashier and immeasurably richer, but not necessarily better.

Yank those ties down one last time, boys. You've earned your rest.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

As Luck would have it. OK, maybe.

No, I do not know what the deal is with Andrew Luck's shoulder. So please stop calling me.

All I know, all any of us know outside the Cone of Silence out at the Indianapolis Colts complex on 56th Street, is that Luck's passing arm is still attached to his shoulder in what looks to be the proper way. Witnesses who've seen him around (although not throwing) say his fingers are not waving at us from beside his head or anything like that. So that's good, at least.

The rest, however, is all head coach Chuck Pagano and owner Jim Irsay dancing like Gene Kelly in a rainstorm. Pagano swears he's been so busy he hasn't even seen his franchise quarterback (and meal ticket) throw. Irsay initially compared Luck's shoulder surgery to the radical reconstruction of Drew Brees' shoulder, then said it was a simple, basic labrum procedure.

So who knows. Luck could miss the season opener, or he could miss the season opener plus five or six more games. That will become clear only if the Colts are forced to put him on the regular season PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list, which would sit him down for six games per league rules.

What does the Blob think?

I think Luck might have actually hurt his shoulder trying to tunnel out of Indy. But that's just me.

I also think he should resume doing so as soon as he's able, because if he stays in Indy he's going to get killed. Or at the very least wind up as a disembodied talking head in a jar, ala Richard Nixon in "Futurama."

Other than that, the Blob's Spidey sense is tingling all over the place on this one. It has, after all, been seven months since Luck's surgery. He's (apparently) just now starting the throw the football with a will again. And all the hemming and hawing going on out on 56th Street suggests that's all he's ready to do at that moment.

So I have to wonder if this was as routine a procedure as everyone's made it out to be. Seven months and still (again, apparently) not ready to go? Doesn't sound like a simple labrum fix to me.

But then, I'm not a doctor. And I'm not Chuck Pagano or Jim Irsay or anyone else inside the Cone of Silence. I'm just a naturally suspicious guy, especially when NFL teams get to talking about surgeries on key players.

In the meantime, all hail Scott Tolzien. Or that other guy, Stephen Whatshisface. May the Force be with them.

If Luck's experience is any indication, they're going to need it.    

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The market keeps bearing

Of course Matthew Stafford is not the greatest quarterback in NFL history. That's just silly.

He is, however, the RICHEST quarterback (or player, period) in NFL history. At least for now.

This upon the news, reported here by my former colleague Michael Rothstein, that Stafford has signed a deal that will keep him in Detroit for the next five years and pay him vast sums of American dollars. Under his, he'll make $27 million a year, and his deal will top out at a grand total of $135 million.

I know what you're saying now. You're saying, "But ... but he's Matthew Stafford! What's he done to earn that kind of jack?"

Allow me to tell you.

Allow me to say that Stafford's gargantuan deal is simply the free market at work, and nothing more mysterious than that. He's the highest paid player in NFL history -- at least for now -- because the market value of quarterbacks in the NFL has never been higher. If quarterbacks have always been critical to a team's success, they're more so now, because stylistically it's a quarterback-driven league in a way it's never been before.

You get a top-shelf quarterback now, you pay him whatever dollars necessary to hang onto him. Just ask anyone who doesn't have a top-shelf quarterback.

And so the Lions opened the vault for Stafford, because he already holds every career passing record the team has, and because he's been the quarterback for a team that's made the playoffs three times in the last five years. Context is important here; when you're a franchise that made the playoffs just eight times in the 37 years before Stafford arrived, and which historically hasn't been overserved with Tom Bradys or Peyton Mannings at the quarterback position, that makes him invaluable.

He's the most successful quarterback the Lions have ever had, or at least since Bobby Layne was playing for them 60 years ago. And he's playing in a league that rakes in $14 billion a year, and in an era in which quarterbacks are at greater premium than they've ever been.

Any further questions?

Dark omens. Or not.

Whether or not the sky is actually falling depends largely on where you live these days, and what your perspective is. If you're sitting on top of your house in the parts of Houston that are now a vast inland sea, for instance, you're no doubt damn sure the sky is falling. As water.

On the other hand ...

On the other hand, let's talk about football for a minute.

Some people, for instance,  see the rightful (and belated) concern about head trauma in the game, and think it's the beginning of the end for the game itself. If only kids today just learned to rub some dirt on it the way we did back in the day ...

Well. We wouldn't have all this hysteria, and there wouldn't be stuff happening like what happened in New Jersey the other day.

What happened was, West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North decided to drop varsity football this season. And at least part of the reason is concern about the concussion issue.

And so let the Chicken Littles begin running in circles.

But while they do, the rest of us might consider a few  additional facts about the West Windsor-Plainsboro situation.

Chief among them is that the decision to drop varsity football was not solely about the concussion issue, or even primarily because of it. More paramount are issues that have led schools to drop football since immemorial: Shifts in demographics, single-sport specialization, cost weighed against participation.

At West Windsor-Plainsboro North, for instance, the varsity comprised only 37 players. That likely had more to do with the decision than anything. And at that, football is not going away there; the school will still field a junior varsity squad.

Now, is the decline in numbers a dark omen of what's to come, as more and more parents steer their kids away from football? Maybe. But the Blob tends toward the pendulum theory of the universe -- which is, in politics and everything else, the pendulum has to swing so far one way before correcting itself.

That's what I think is going on with football. Eventually the concussion issue will be addressed at all levels -- even youth football leagues are partnering with concussion awareness and protocol organizations now -- and proper tackling techniques that avoid helmet-to-helmet contact will become the ingrained instinct they always should have been.

And if they're not?

Well, as my all-time favorite IHSAA commissioner, Gene Cato, used to say, the rules will be clear and the penalties severe.

At the same time a high school in New Jersey was dropping varsity football, for instance, the NFL was dropping Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict from a great height, disciplinarily speaking. Burfict, one of the league's most notorious headhunters, got slapped with a five-game sitdown for an over-the-middle hit on Chiefs' fullback Anthony Sherman in an Aug. 19 preseason game.

The rub-some-dirt-on-it-crowd was quick to point out that Burfict's hit on Sherman was simply a football player making a football play, and they might be right. The zebras threw no flags on the play, Sherman wasn't hurt, and video seemed to suggest Burfict actually hit him with his shoulder.

Which of course got all the Chicken Littles running in circles shouting that the sky was falling and pretty soon the NFL would be a two-hand touch league, and all the usual hysteria.

Lost in all that, of course, were the extenuating circumstances, which were that Burfict is a repeat offender of the first order. And so he got dinged hard for a hit that would likely have gotten another player no discipline at all. And so, no, this was not the NFL trying to legislate good ol' red-blooded American violence out of the game.

Fact is, there will always be plenty of big hits in football, particularly at the NFL level. It is, and always will be, a collision sport. No one's trying to make it less than that. All they're trying to do, in an era in which players are increasingly bigger and faster and therefore generate more foot-pounds of force, is keep the cheap shots to a minimum. Because those cheap shots are far more lethal to careers and lives than they used to be.

The rub-some-dirt-on-it-crowd have this all backward. It isn't legislating the violence in football that will destroy it. It's not legislating it.

Fore, or something

And now this from Tega Cay, South Carolina, where apparently golf is about improving one's lie, or lay, or something else incorrigibly juvenile.

I leave the latter to you Blobophiles. Presenting the Provide Your Own Punchline for today!

Have it at.

Or, you know, something like that.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Your awesome vow for today

Because, you know, it's Monday. A day for vows.

Like, "I will not let Monday ruin me like it did last week."

Also, "And the week before that."

Also, "And every week I can think of dating back to 1987."

Anyway ... here's your vow for this Monday, courtesy of a University of Louisville radio host named Mark Ennis. It seems another broadcast guy, SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic, tweeted out his predictions for the College Football Playoff. And, out of pretty much nowhere, he included North Carolina State.

To which Ennis responded he would "eat a live animal" if North Carolina State makes the playoff.

Now, he's probably safe, because North Carolina State is not going to make the playoff. But every red-blooded, meat-eating American just became a HUGE Wolfpack fan, because, come on, who doesn't want to see a guy eat a live animal?

It should be noted here that Ennis doesn't specify what live animal he would eat. Just a live animal. This means we are free to speculate, and also to offer suggestions.

I vote porcupine.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Da "Fight," deconstructed

So now that the inevitable is over, a few thoughts on the Fight of the Century, or the Exhibition of the Century, or A Really Nice Payday For A Couple Loathsome Guys On A Saturday Night In August:

1. Seldom has there ever been a sporting event more easily predicted. Most seasoned observers of the fistic arts predicted Conor McGregor would come out fast, Floyd Mayweather would slowly wait for him to wear himself out (because MMA fights last about 12 seconds in comparison to a prizefight), then take him apart.

Well, surprise, surprise, That's exactly what happened, if a bit later than some thought. I figured Mayweather by TKO in the fifth or sixth. It was Mayweather by TKO in the 10th.

2. Which some people have spun as redemption for the whole circus act, and for McGregor in particular.

3. But not me.

4. Because to the people saying, "See, it was a real fight!" I can only reply "See, they made it look good for all the people who plunked down all that money!"

5. Which of course they were going to.

6. Because that's the secret to a great con.

The end.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The big con

So here's what we know about the Snake River Canyon Jump or Riggs-vs.-King or whatever it is Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor are doing tomorrow night:

1. Both men are going to make an obscene amount of money for what everyone agrees is probably a ginormous con.

2. The betting in Vegas is crazy heavy from people who acknowledge what they're betting on is probably a ginormous con.

3. People are lining up for the hundred-buck pay-per-view even though they also acknowledge what they're signing up for is probably a ginormous con.

Everyone I've talked to who's buying this ... whatever it is, admits that it's probably not going to be much of a fight. It's the greatest pound-for-pound boxer of his generation against what amounts to a street fighter. Given Mayweather's supreme defensive skills, there's an excellent chance McGregor doesn't land a punch, or at least more than a handful.

But that's not why people want to see this.

They want to see it because it's a spectacle, and people will always line up to watch a spectacle even if they know in advance it's probably ... well, a ginormous con.

That's why the carny running the shell game will always find takers even if the takers KNOW they're likely to get fleeced.  It's why Jesse Owens once raced a horse, why Muhammad Ali once fought a wrestler, why stock cars came to Indianapolis in the '90s and front-engine Indy roadsters went to Monza, Italy, in the '50s to race Formula One cars.

And, yes, it's also why Billy Jean King played tennis against Bobby Riggs and Evel Knievel tried to jump the Snake River Canyon.

All of that happened because someone, somewhere, said "What if ..." And people came out to watch what resulted, because human beings are naturally curious creatures who can't resist the siren song of those two words.

And so people I know have good sense will drop a C-note to watch Mayweather-McGregor tomorrow night. Because what if McGregor gets in the million-to-one shot that takes Mayweather down?

I mean, it's probably not going to happen (and if it does, it's likely just a setup for the rematch). There's a better chance the Earth will stop turning or the Current Occupant will start acting like a grownup instead of a bratty 5-year-old. But ...

What if?

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The future is now ... irrelevant

I wouldn't know Eric Winston if he lit me up with a helmet-to-helmet hit. But I do know he's everything fans have come to loathe about professional athletes.

Winston is an offensive lineman for the Bengals and president of the NFL Players Association, and the other day, while predicting a work stoppage four years out, he said something far more disheartening.

He said whatever the players will be fighting for in 2021, it won't be to benefit those who come after them.

"Honestly, I don't care, and I don't think the guys in this locker room care whether [the NFL] is going to be around in 20 years because none of us are going to be playing," Winston told WCPO TV in Cincinnati. "So if these guys [the owners] want to own for a long time, then they can own for a long time. But another work stoppage might kill the golden goose."

The Blob's immediate reaction to that: Fine. Less NFL, more college football. Works for me.

The Blob's upon-further-review reaction: How dumb can all you people be?

Because, listen, the NFL is a $14 billion business, which means there ought to be any number of ways for everyone to get seconds on dessert, metaphorically speaking. But both players and owners -- and the owners have been just as obnoxious in what they've been saying -- don't want seconds. They want the whole dessert to themselves.

And so the mightiest corporate enterprise in American sports seems perfectly willing to blow itself up over money issues that shouldn't be unsolvable given everyone's relative wealth. But that's the problem with wealth. The more you have, the more you want.

Which means it's simple greed that's fueling all the swaggering chatter about a work stoppage in 2021, a work stoppage both sides seem almost eager to see happen. That the product will, as Winston acknowledges, be severely hurt by such a work stoppage seems not to matter to any of them. As Winston made abundantly clear, the future of the game is not their concern. It's a total I Got Mine, Up Yours, Jack festival of craven self-interest.

That's too bad. Because once upon a time that wasn't the case.

Once upon a time securing the game for the next generation actually mattered to NFLPA, or at least the leadership of it was smart enough to say so. Now the leadership is, shall we say, not quite so astute. And that is to the detriment of everyone, because none of them seem to have figured out that caring about the game going forward is the surest way of preserving it in the present.

After all, Eric Winston isn't shouting I Got Mine if those who came before him -- owners and players -- didn't make sure there was a Mine to get. But now?

Now NFL owners abandon long-time markets for quick cash grabs. Now tradition means nothing and a cheap buck means everything. And now the players, seeing that, think it's perfectly OK to be as openly greedy themselves, saying out loud what they'd never have dreamed of saying back in the day: That they don't care about the players to come as long as they make their pile.

Partly that's understandable, because they play a game that uses up human beings at an alarming rate, which means the window for making their pile is a small one. And it's not as if the league particularly cared what the toll was until it was shamed into doing so.

Still. This is not the way you win hearts and minds in a time when the fans already are increasingly critical of the NFL for any number of reasons.

The product is still booming. But the bust may be coming, and sooner than everyone thinks.

Especially if Eric Winston, and those like him, keep talking.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

What's in a name, and other stupidities

It's no stop-the-presses news flash that we live in a country now where the inexplicable has become the inescapable. The default response to pretty much everything these days, more and more, is one word.

That word is "Seriously?"

And so this latest bit of nonsense from ESPN, the Worldwide Leader In Political Correctness, apparently, and also Oh, Come On. And also, of course, Seriously?

It seems the WWL has decided, in the wake of the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Va., that it's making a lineup change for its broadcasts of University of Virginia football games. The reason?

Because the announcer lined up for the job is named Robert Lee. Which means he shares a name, but nothing else, with Confederate icon (and rally flashpoint) Robert E. Lee.

One more time: Seriously?

(ESPN's explanation for the move is it was a mutual decision, and it was done to spare Lee a lot of cruel memes and harassment. Understandable, but it seems not to have occurred to any of the suits that his replacement now will likely be subjected to proxy cruel memes and harassment. Because idiots will always find a way to be idiots.)

Anyway ... forget for a moment the ultimate absurdity of this, which is that ESPN's Robert Lee isn't even white. He's Asian. Worse is that it gives yet more fuel to Trumpian America's favorite paranoid delusion, America Is Being Destroyed By Political Correctness.

It's not, of course. Most of what Trump's America regards as "political correctness" is simple common decency. It's what your mother told you, if you were raised right, about not deliberately insulting others.

Which brings us back to Robert Lee, and those confounded monuments -- the latest flashpoint for the "white nationalists" (cough, cough) who marched in the streets of Charlottesville when they weren't driving Dodge Chargers into crowds.

The "white nationalists" (cough, cough) regard pulling down those monuments as tantamount to erasing history. It's not. It's simply correcting what the cult of Lost Cause remembrance and neo-Confederate thought distorted to begin with. And in any case, most of the monuments in question were erected some 60 years after the war, as part of Jim Crow and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. They were not erected to honor the memory of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, but to remind African-Americans that the white man still ran things down this way.

They were, in other words, a deliberate slap in the face to people who'd already endured too many slaps, and of course much, much worse. And that's why it's entirely appropriate to remove them from public places paid for in part by African-American tax dollars.

And as for the erasing history nonsense ... well, the last I looked, no one had closed Gettysburg National Military Park. Or Shiloh or Antietam or Chancellorsville/Wilderness, all places where monuments to Lee and Jackson stand and should stand. History is pretty lovingly preserved in those places, I've noticed, and in any number of museums dedicated to the Civil War. Don't see a whole lot of erasing going on there, nor will I.

The larger issue here is not history but the future. Back of the monuments kerfuffle is a whole lot of free-floating anxiety among certain whites about an increasingly multi-cultural America. Thus the elevation of a crude race-baiting buffoon to the White House, and blatant voter suppression, and "white nationalists" (cough, cough) marching in the streets chanting slogans straight out of Berlin and Munich in the 1920s.

These are serious issues in this country now, and they demand serious reflection. But when ESPN indulges in silly public relations ploys, it doesn't address those issues. It simply demeans and devalues them.

To our detriment.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Protest 101

Seth DeValve is a tight end for the Cleveland Browns, and you've never heard of him.

This is because he played his college ball at Princeton, a fine Ivy League institution but not, you know, Ohio State or Alabama football-wise.

It's also because he was taken by the Browns in the fourth round of the 2016 draft, which means he's not Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham.

He is one thing, however.

He's the first white guy to kneel in prayer with his black teammates during the national anthem, in what has become a regular (and frankly eloquent) silent protest against racial injustice in America.

This landed Seth DeValve on a lot of radars all of sudden, just a few days after Michael Bennett of the Seahawks said that what the movement needed was for the white guys to join in. Now one has, and, as Bennett noted, that is significant. It makes the protests ecumenical, and therefore makes racial justice something it should have been all along: Something in which we all should be invested.

A dozen Browns, including DeValve, knelt for the anthem last night. Afterward DeValve said what convinced him to do so was what happened in Charlottesville, Va., a week or so ago, where "white nationalists" (i.e.: white supremacists) took over the streets in a torch-lit march that evoked Berlin in the late 1920s in almost every eerie detail. It was nothing America is or should be -- in fact, it was everything the Greatest Generation bled and died to vanquish in World War II -- and it likely woke up a lot of people whose sense of history had gone dormant.

And so, DeValve knelt. And then spoke about it with the eloquence you'd expect from a Princeton man.

"It saddens me that in 2017 we have to do something like that," he said. "I personally would like to say that I love this country. I love our national anthem. I'm very grateful to the men and women who have given their lives and give a lot every day to protect this country and serve this country. I want to honor them as much as I can.

"The United States is the greatest country in the world. It is because it provides opportunities to citizens that no other country does. The issue is that it doesn't provide equal opportunity to everybody. I wanted to support my African-American teammates today who wanted to take a knee."

Well said. But you know what's even sadder than having do "something" like kneeling during the anthem?

That DeValve felt the need to say he loved his country and was grateful to those who defend it.

How we came to a pass in this country where you feel compelled to explain that protest against injustice in America is not protest against America itself is something that should give all thinking humans pause. But even more bizarre is the way kneeling in an attitude of prayer for the national anthem has become synonymous for some with disrespecting "the troops."

I suppose part of it is the national veneration for those "troops," which the NFL has exploited for PR purposes and which, while entirely appropriate, sometimes veers perilously close to secular worship. But it remains a curious conflation.

All those years I stood for the anthem at sporting events, for instance, I never once thought I was honoring "the troops" by doing so. That never entered my mind. To me, standing for the anthem was simply about honoring the nation of my birth.

Now, however, I hear more and more of the "they're disrespecting the troops" refrain. And more of the "they hate America" refrain. And more of refrains that accuse the  African-American protestors of being ingrates, because, after all, they're allowed to play football for a living.

There is a steaming pile of thinly-veiled racism in that refrain. There is a whole lot of nonsense in all of them. And they all miss the point by miles and miles.

Which is, you can hate certain things about America without hating America.

A simple and obvious concept. But not simple and obvious enough for some, apparently.      

Monday, August 21, 2017

Dying alone

Yesterday was Pocono day for the IndyCar crowd, and so there was I was, uncrowded. Sitting in the bar at Buffalo Wild Wings, watching the race. Only guy in the place doing so, even though they put it on, like, five screens at one point, which was kind of embarrassing because  (again, and I can't stress this enough) I was the only guy in the place watching the race.

It's old news now that IndyCar is little more than crickets and echoes away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but sometimes you have to sit in lonely splendor in a public place for that reality to hit home. I watched alone, and so did the people who were actually there. Which, from the brief glimpses of the grandstands every time the cars flashed past, were pretty lonely souls themselves.

I don't know where IndyCar goes from here. I truly do not.

I can't see it totally going away, but when you throw a 500-mile race in an old-school IndyCar venue and nobody comes (or next to nobody), you come awfully close to seeing it. Pocono was a ghost town yesterday, and the fact IndyCar could put only 22 cars on its 2 1/2-mile expanse only gilded that impression. Wheeling around the place, they looked unnervingly like the Seventh Cavalry's survivors clustered atop Custer Hill. All that was missing was the whisper of a prairie breeze and the mournful echo of a last, desperate bugle call.

I know, that sounds a bit over the top. But it's hard not to see the glass as half-empty when you watch what I watched yesterday, and read what I've been reading this summer.

IndyCar has always had its share of teams that ran May in Indianapolis as a one-off. But now even the kingpins are cutting back their commitment.

The doggiest of the top dogs, Penske Racing, has made no secret of the fact it's planning on moving Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves to its new sports-car venture in 2018. And Chip Ganassi, having lost long-time sponsor Target, will not pick up Tony Kanaan's option next season.

Which means, unless Kanaan hooks another ride (and he always seems to), the circuit will be without two of its biggest draws next season. IndyCar can only hope it finds bankable stars to replace them.

Possibilities exist. Josef Newgarden -- just 26 years old, immensely talented and immensely personable -- seems likely to emerge as IndyCar's longed-for American superstar, particularly if he becomes only the third American in 15 years to win the IndyCar title. The same goes for 28-year-old Graham Rahal, every bit as talented and as personable as Newgarden. And defending IndyCar champ Simon Pagenaud seems poised to become the circuit's next great star.

The problem, of course, is that IndyCar has never been able to maximize the star power at its disposal. Two of its most successful drivers, Scott Dixon and Will Power, are great talents and perfectly congenial men, but are quiet public souls who simply don't excite anyone. Ditto Marco Andretti, who has that great American racing name but who, like Dixon and Power, is not overserved with flamboyance.

Power, by the way, won the race at Pocono, holding off Newgarden in closing laps in the kind of riveting finish IndyCar provides as often as not. He was the first IndyCar driver ever to repeat at Pocono, and he did it from a lap down after pitting early to change a damaged nosecone.

So there was some drama there. There were some storylines. And there was virtually no one there to see it.

So what's the answer?

Again, I don't know. Motorsports are and always have been niche properties, and much of that niche in America is occupied by NASCAR, itself a waning entity. So maybe there isn't an answer -- or at least one that's viable.

I'd love to think that's not the case. But I'm starting to think it is.

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 ...


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.


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?


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.