Monday, July 28, 2008

Book Him!

I got into a seriously heated discussion the other night about the case of Julio Castillo. He's the minor-league pitcher facing felony assault charges after an on-field brawl in Dayton, Ohio last week.

If you haven't seen the video clip, take a look (and watch for #32 to flash across your screen, throwing a baseball at the opposing dugout from point-blank range):

Unfortunately for Castillo, his velocity was good but his location stunk. His throw drilled a fan in the head, sending the man to the hospital. Of course, you can count on a civil lawsuit, but the question I debated the other night was this: is it appropriate for Castillo to face criminal charges?

I take this position: absolutely. His behavior was at the very least criminally reckless. The fact that he was wearing a uniform and on a baseball field doesn't excuse it.

But several people with whom I discussed the matter argued otherwise. Their position: he was involved in a baseball game. Let baseball handle it.

Sorry, but I can't go there. For one thing, if we take the position that anything an athlete does on the playing field is off-limits to the law, we open a Pandora's box. What if a javelin-thrower decides to heave one into the crowd?

Look, I don't want to see the sheriff wade into every hockey fight or baseball scuffle. Even if a pitcher purposely hits a batter or a linebacker clotheslines a wide receiver, the rules of the game suffice.

But there is a line. It may be hard to define precisely, but just like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said of hard-core porn, we know it when we see it. And I don't see how anyone can think Julio Castillo was on the right side of that line.

Monday, July 21, 2008

So Long, Ray-Ray

Some people--in any business--are what you call "professionals". You're looking at one of them.

Ray Durham has plied his trade for the last 6 years here in the Bay Area--briefly for the A's and recently for the Giants. He's not a Hall of Fame candidate, but he's the kind of guy you want on your side.

Durham is now a former Giant. He'll get a chance to compete for a playoff spot with the Brewers while the Giants accelerate their rebuilding plans.

I'll always remember Durham for one meaningless at-bat. It happened earlier this month in New York. The Giants were trailing the Mets in the top of the 5th. Rain was falling heavily at Shea Stadium as Durham came to bat with 2 out.

It would have been easy for Durham to take three quick swings and bail out. But the pro in him wouldn't quit. He ground and battled and hung in long enough to work a walk. If the umpires had been doing their job, they'd have halted the game even before Durham stepped in.

Yet Durham knew if he made that third out, the game would become official and could become a Mets win if the rain kept falling. In the grand scheme of things, another Giants loss in this dismal season would have barely been noticed. But that's not how a pro approaches things.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Kill Le Tour?

Go ahead and roll your eyes: I still believe most of the riders in the Tour de France are clean. For the record, I no longer think a fat man comes down the chimney on December 24th, and I think pro wrestling is totally bogus.

So is it painful to watch another batch of suspected drug cheaters get hauled out of the Tour? Another team drop out in shame, just a year after the same thing happened (and everyone swore that this year, it would be different)?

Sure. Will it kill the sport? You've got to be kidding me.

One keen observer of the scene, Bob Cullinan at, is even calling for a shutdown of the Tour. He argues it's the only way to really drag the doping out into the open, reasoning that a shutdown of the big money machine will force the clean riders to rise up against the dirty ones.

Of course, it won't happen, simply because the big money machine is so big. Despite all the scandals that have clouded cycling in the past, crowds still turn out, and bike geeks like me still hanker for gear just like the big boys ride.

Look: it's just like major league baseball. We can wring our hands all we want about the steroid users, but exactly how many people boycotted the ballparks when they had a pretty good idea the many of the game's biggest stars were doping?

Monday, July 14, 2008

L'Affaire Favre

OK, let me get this straight. Brett Favre has the whole tearful retirement thing, and now he wants to play again?

Millions of us sat transfixed several months ago as this icon of the NFL told us he just couldn't answer the bell again. Sure, we all want to last forever, but we all eventually learn we can't.

Except now, it seems, Favre has unlearned that lesson.

I tip my cap to him for wanting to soldier on. He a quarterback and a warrior and we all love him for that.

But part of me wants him to open his eyes a bit and see the bigger picture. He's put the Packers (and their fans) in a very difficult position. They all respected his decision to retire, and now the team looks like a bunch of bad guys if they don't rush to welcome him back. On the eve of training camp, they've moved on.

It's time for Favre to do the same. Bow out gracefully. Let everyone cherish the memories. Don't let the last chapter be a sour one.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Who's In First?

As I write, the Giants, despite being 11 games below the .500 mark, are within 5 games of first place in the NL West. This means they, at the moment, are closer to a division title than the A's, the Yankees, the Braves, or the Tigers.

My only regret is that my esteemed colleague Steve Bitker is on vacation this week, so we can't have our regular argument about "bad" teams making the playoffs. Steve's position is a little hard for me to understand. It seems to be this: "good" teams have great win-loss records, while teams with poor win-loss records are "bad" teams.

Uh, well, maybe. Let's imagine a baseball race in which four or five teams are beating each other's brains out for weeks, leaving each with a .500 record. Are they all "bad" teams? No, they might all be really good teams at parity with each other.

This notion of determining the quality of a team without checking the standings is a fool's game. All that really matters is this: where are you in the standings?

Look, the Giants are flawed, with some glaring weaknesses (and some obvious strengths). But the Diamondbacks and Dodgers have holes, too (has anyone watched Kent and Garciaparra's vanishing range?). At the end of the day, one of these teams will win the NL West, perhaps with a .500 record, and since each has decent starting pitching, might well win a playoff series.

Would that team then be a "bad" team?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Book Report

Just finished a fascinating book: Rome 1960 by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Maraniss.

It's about the Rome Olympics (Rafer Johnson, Cassius Clay, Wilma Rudolph, etc.), and if you (like me) remain fascinated by the Olympics, it's a terrific read. I'm looking forward to our scheduled interview with Maraniss in a couple of weeks.

Maraniss argues that the Rome Games were significant because they presaged several future trends:
  • Doping (a cyclist's death during the Games was traced to a performance-enhancing drug)
  • The "shoe wars" (German gold-medal sprinter Armin Hary was apparently taking cash from adidas and/or Puma)
  • The collapse of "amateurism" (old coot Avery Brundage's crowd was losing its steely grip on sports)
  • The rise of the female superstar (Wilma Rudolph leading the way)
  • TV's grip on the Games (Jim McKay anchored CBS coverage out of New York)
  • The Cold War (battles over Taiwan and Germany, as well as an attempt to get a Soviet star to defect)

Along the way, there's some tasty detail about Rafer, Cassius, Wilma, and some other athletes whose stories may have faded away but still make fascinating reading: Dave Sime, Abebe Bikila, Ray Norton, Lee Calhoun.

Terrific book, and it will make a nice antidote to what you already know will be over-the-top TV coverage of this summer's Beijing Olympics.