Monday, January 25, 2010

Geaux Saints!

Sometimes, you have to look pretty hard to find a storyline.

Not this time. This Super Bowl is all about New Orleans.

It's a showdown between the hometown team and the hometown boy. The Saints wear the New Orleans symbol, the fleur de lys, on their sleeves (and their helmets). The Colts are led by Peyton Manning, the New Orleans-born son of Archie Manning, the quarterback who is a near-deity in the Crescent City.

The only shame is that the game will be played in Miami instead of in the Superdome.

I know, that would be an unfair advantage to the home team. But you see, New Orleans needs this game in a way few American cities have ever needed a ballgame. The scars from Hurricane Katrina--both actual and psychic--are still so deep and raw in New Orleans, and the Saints represent hope.

What I find inspiring is that these millionaire athletes have embraced that role. From quarterback Drew Brees to coach Sean Payton to lesser names, the Saints seem to have understood the privilege and responsibility of playing football in a shattered city. In fact, they play in a building that still reverberates with the ghosts of those who didn't survive the storm.

It'll be tough to root against Peyton Manning, who is, for my money, the greatest player in the game (and maybe the best quarterback in history). I greatly admire and respect Manning's approach to his craft: he's a hard-working perfectionist with a sense of humor and humility about him.

So I won't root against Peyton. I will pull hard for New Orleans--the city and the team

Geaux Saints!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Modest Proposal

I'm going to suggest this time that Major League Baseball owners should engage in collusion.

But, you say, that's illegal, immoral, and possibly even un-American.

Normally, yes. In the past, when owners have colluded, they've done so to lower the market for talent. In other words, they'd agree among themselves not to pay higher salaries to free agents. These "gentleman's" agreements had the effect of forcing a free-agent player to take less money than he would have gotten without the collusion.

But now we have the case of Tim Lincecum. The Giants' young two-time Cy Young Award winner has filed an arbitration demand of $13 million for next year. The Giants have countered with $8 mil. Since the arbitration process is binary (the arbitrator must choose one number or the other), Lincecum can lose and still set a record for a starting pitcher in his first year of arbitration. In fact, he'd just about double the old record (Dontrelle Willis and Cole Hamels at $4.35 million).

Now, the owners do not want to see Lincecum win and set a crazy-high new bar for arbitration cases. Most observers agree it's in the Giants' best interest to work out a multi-year deal with Lincecum before they roll the dice at the arbitration hearing. So here's my suggestion: collude. Get all the teams to pony up part of the price of that multiyear deal.

The effect would be to get Lincecum at something lower than his $13 million demand, thus preserving a lower market price for future phenoms (who will still be exceedingly wealthy young men). Lincecum still gets rich, plus gets the security of a multi-year deal.

And the other teams can enjoy watching Linceum whip them all summer, knowing they own a little piece of him.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Are You Surprised?

About Mark McGwire?

Me neither.

So now what? He finally 'fessed up. He's like the little kid who eventually tells his parents what they already knew, because his fingerprints were all over the cookie jar and he had chocolate-chip smears all around his mouth.

There will be much handwringing about how he needs to publicly disown his home run titles, and how he's only coming clean now because he's back in baseball as a Cardinals coach, and how he wants to endear himself to Hall of Fame voters, and on and on.

So what? We all knew what was going on. With McGwire. Sosa. Bonds. If we didn't know it for sure at the time, we sure as hell suspected, and by now, with everything we do know, there's so little drama left in the McGwire mea culpa.

I didn't notice anyone staying away from the ballpark when McGwire was smacking all those improbable homers. That's you and me, folks. Blame the players if you want. Blame the money-grubbing Lords of Baseball, too. But save a little for yourself. The circus came to town, and nobody was in a hurry to see it leave.

Hey, we could have listened to people like the late Ken Caminiti, who blew the whistle on this crap a long time ago. But we didn't. We kept packing the ballparks and oohing and aahing at the spectacle.

We got what we deserved, and if Mark McGwire's finally telling the whole story, it only spoils our own little fiction.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

So Long, Mr. Snappy

The numbers are impressive enough: 303 wins. 4,875 strikeouts. 5 Cy Young awards (4 of them in a row).

But they don't really tell the full story of Randy Johnson. You had to see the big fellow pitch. Ideally, you did that from the stands, and not from the left-handed batter's box.

Let's not forget: this is the guy who once killed a bird with a pitch. Sure, it was a freak thing, and it could have happened to anyone--but it didn't. The Big Unit killed a bird with a pitch!

He had a lethal combination: a sizzling fastball, a streak of wildness, and that stunning slider he called "Mr. Snappy". Who can forget that great bit of theater in the 1993 All-Star Game when he sailed a heater over John Kruk's head, then turned Mr. Snappy loose on the shattered Kruk? Here's the video--it's worth the watch.

Randy Johnson is truly the stuff of legend, the kind of ballplayer we'll be telling our grandkids we saw play. Nobody else looked like him, and nobody else in this generation pitched like him.

We fans got 22 years out of the big guy, but we'll be telling the stories way longer than that.

Thanks for the memories, Randy. But I have to tell you: those left-handed hitters won't miss you and your pal Mr. Snappy all that much.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Much NFL Ado About Nothing

So there's this raging debate about whether NFL teams should be compelled (or at least incented) to play all their starters once they've clinched playoff spots.

Commissioner Roger Goodell is looking into it. Among the ideas being tossed around: giving teams that keep playing their starters a little bonus for the effort--like maybe an extra draft choice.

And there are some truly daft ideas being proposed, like this one from blogger Mike Florio, who proposes setting up a committee to seed playoff teams based upon their performance down the stretch.

Please. What an idiotic debate. There's only one real goal in the NFL, and that's to win the Super Bowl. Anything a team can do to achieve that goal is going to get done. Ask a coach, owner, or player if they'd rather go 13-3 and lose a first-round playoff game or go 12-4 and win that game. As my kids used to say, "Duh!"

The NFL needs to save its energy for something that really matters, like the frightening severity and frequency of head injuries.

And if you think it's a good idea for teams to be forced to play their stars after clinching playoff spots, ask the Patriots how they're feeling about Wes Welker right now. He played in Game 16, but you won't see him and his torn ACL on the field for the playoffs.