Wednesday, November 29, 2006

It's the Most Nonsensical Time of the Year

Christmas music is on every radio station, jewelry and perfume ads swarm off one's TV. And in another holiday tradition, the Red Sox are peddling Manny Ramirez. They hang the slugger up each winter like Ramirez was misteltoe. They just never get kissed.

This time, the rumormongers assure us, it's different. Not only are the Sox going to succeed in dealing off their "problem" future Hall of Famer, they're going to get valuable talent in return! Front-line pitchers! Promising young position players!! Top prospects ready for the big leagues!!!

Without casting any aspersions on hard-working baseball reporters, from a distance it certainly appears as if all the proposed Ramirez trades hang on one vital feature-an unprecedented amount of alchohol abuse at the upcoming winter meetings.

The Globe's Gordon Edes wrote today the Padres are considering sending starter Jake Peavy and/or first baseman first baseman Adrian Gonzalez along with the inevitable relief pitcher to Boston in return for Manny. If so, the family of San Diego GM Kevin Towers needs to stage an intervention ASAP. He's clearly a man in crisis.

Peavy only started the opening game of the playoffs for the Padres. Teams don't trade first starters under contract for mere sluggers, even those as gifted as Manny. Nor are they keen on dealing away a 24-year old who's proven he can hit in the majors for a 35-year old, no matter how gifted the old guy may be. Doesn't happen. Anybody seeking a fencebuster with baggage and achey knees can always sign free agent Barry Bonds for less dough than Ramirez makes and lose exactly no talent in return.

Later on in Gordon's story, we learn of less glamorous deals which actually make sense for the clubs MAKING an offer for Ramirez. The Mariners might part with either Richie Sexson or Adrian Beltre, and the Philles have an unspecified interest everyone knows means "please take Pat Burrell."

Inflation has altered the annual Manny dance. Once upon a time, like from 2003 on, Ramirez's contract of approximately $20 million a year deterred all suitors. Now, Manny's deal has but two years to go, and compared to the money given free agents Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee, his price doesn't seem so bad. Ramirez will never be a bargain, but he's no longer a market outlier.

The trade rumors reflect this reality. Where it used to be impossible to deal Ramirez except for the one player who made more than him, Alex Rodriguez, now clubs are prepared to make bids. Sexson, Beltre, and Burrell all fit into the same slot. They're all kind of like Manny-guys paid big bucks to hit a ton. The only differences are none of 'em are paid quite as much as Ramirez and, sadly, none of them are nearly as good.

Baseball has a long history of infamous trade swindles clubs rue for decades after the fact. Assuming the firm of Henry, Lucchino, and Epstein can't work a swindle for Ramirez, getting swindled for the sake of the franchise's mental health doesn't strike me as a good deal. Better to put up with the inevitable Manny headaches for the next two seasons. In between, there will be plenty of soothing homers and RBI.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


If it weren't for steroids, I wouldn't vote for Mark McGwire in the Hall of Fame election this year. Thanks to my suspicion the former slugger used performance-enhancing drugs, I feel I must put a check next to his name on my ballot.

If I'm going to play the hypocrite, I'll act on my own hypocrisies, thank you, not baseball's. I won't do Bud Selig's dirty work for him. Besides, as the Associated Press discovered, there are already plenty of Hall of Fame voters who will.

Prior to McGwire's either over or under-lawyered testimony before Congress in March 2005, I harbored doubts as to his worthiness for Cooperstown only tangentially related to the steroids issue. Basically, McGwire was a one-trick pony in an era where his trick was performed more often than at any time in baseball history. Homers are important, but if one played when the likes of Brady Anderson could hit 50 of them in a season, how big a deal could hitting 70 in a season be? In the event, McGwire's record was a big deal for exactly three seasons, until Barry Bonds showed what a scientific approach to drug abuse could do and hit 73.

The Great Homer Explosion of the '90s, baseball's own boom, was an obvious anomaly as it was going on. That it was in part artificially generated was also obvious. Homers have been the game's traditional remedy for crisis, and the strike and canceled season of '94 were its biggest crisis since the Black Sox. It was known players like McGwire were using LEGAL dietary supplements to build muscle. There were suspicions, small ones, some players were using the steroids endemic to sports like track and field, football, and weight-lifting. But those factors were considered part of a mix that includeed the new old-fashioned ballparks with their short porches and low walls, the dilution of pitching through expansion, and the strike zone shrinking to the size of an ice cube.

There were, in short, all sorts of artificial contributions to the homer boom McGwire symbolized, some of them created by major league baseball itself. There was and is no way to rank how much any of them contributed individually-including PED use.

In a sport where hundreds of thousands of demented fans spend their waking hours analyzing, dissecting, and God help us, inventing statistics, there has been no attempt to use the scientific method to determine the statistical effects of PED use. Let's posit that McGwire used steroids for at least half his career. How many fewer homers than 583 would he have hit without them. Ten? Fifty? One hundred? Nobody knows. We, the Hall of Fame electorate, are left to guess. I use a random figure of 15 percent, which I'll bet is too strict, which leaves McGwire with about 500, making him the borderline Hall candidate I thought he was in his playing days.

But of course, the voters who'll snub McGwire aren't truly evaluating his career or the facts about PED use. They're taking a moral stand against PEDs, one which reflects our society's hopelessly confused and hypocritical attitude towards drugs in general.

Let me put it this way. Mickey Mantle spent his entire playing career in the grip of a horrible drug addiction that wound up shortening his life by decades and inflicting unimaginable damage on his family. The addiction also HAD to affect his play-negatively. How many games did the Yankees lose instead of win because Mick was too hung over to hit? Were some of them World Series games, played in that worst of times for alcoholics, early afternoon?

We'll never know, and Mantle, quite rightly, was a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee. Given that fact, however, voting against McGwire because he took a drug to play BETTER seems inconsistent to say the least.

And that pales against what'll come when Sammy Sosa is finally eligible for the Hall. His stats and '90s physique changes are remarkably similiar to McGwire's, but Sosa denied using steroids when he testified to Congress. Doesn't matter. I predict a high percentage of the Hall electorate will use pure suspicion as a basis for leaving Sosa off their ballots.

Sorry. I don't think my Hall ballot was intended for God but got misdirected in the mail. I'm not omniscent, and have no wish to wield power for personal satisfaction. Having been relatively unimpressed by the homer boom, I find no need to participate in historical revisionism.

The truth is, many Hall voters fell and fell hard for the McGwire-Sosa homer duel of 1998, seeing it as redemption for the strike, and the return to glory of a game they truly love. Go back to the prose of that time in your local sports sections, and the color purple runs over the pages. The baseball writers conned themselves into ignoring their repertorial duties, and feel guilty about it. Selig is playing on that guilt to pass the buck on the whole PED issue.

I won't go along. As a voter, I play the cards baseball deals me. Left to my own devices, I'd vote for Pete Rose. I know it's wrong, but without Rose, my Phillies would never have won their only World Series. I can forgive a great deal of sins for that experience. That's my hypocrisy, and I'm thankful baseball took the matter out of my hands by declating Rose ineligible.

McGwire IS eligible. Officially, he's a member of the horsehide community in good standing, and his career statistics are presented to the voter without prejudice. It's not my responsibility to insert my own prejudices into the process to get baseball off the steroids hook. If MLB thinks McGwire juiced and that should disqualify him, let Bud be a man and take the heat for knocking McGwire off the ballot.

Until then, I will look at McGwire as a guy who hit 583 homers, a total that more than qualifies him for the Hall of Fame. He'll get my vote. I'll hate doing it, but I'd hate being manipulated not to do it even more.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Patriots 17-Bears 13

One useful rule of thumb for evaluating a late season interconference games between teams destined for the playoffs is to ask oneself "what if that had been the Super Bowl?"

The Super Bowl is the one game where the majority of fans think like sportswriters, that is, they're more interested in the contest's entertainment value than its outcome. If we apply that standard to yesterday's encounter at Gillette Stadium, a rematch looks to be a championship game well worth watching until the final gun.

Any game with nine turnovers would provide more than enough water-cooler conversation and second-guessing opportunities to last fans right up until the draft in April. It would also be refreshing to have a Super Bowl decided by football's primal skill-creative violence. Or, in Tom Brady's case, the ability to avoid same.

The only drawback one could see if yesterday's game had been for all the marbles in Miami next February is the unfortunate termination it would've brought to Rex Grossman's career.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Fire Doc!?

Firing a coach/manager during the season is the last refuge of the clueless. Small wonder Celtics' fans should be the ones calling for their team to do so.

For every team that's losing because it's demoralized and/or disorganized, there are a hundred teams that are losing because their players aren't good enough to win. Singificantly, the one sport where mid-stream horse changes work most often is baseball, where the season is long enough, and the differences between winners and losers small enough that a new emotional tone in the clubhouse can create dramatic improvement. But even there, mostly it doesn't. The new boss soon meets the old boss in the unemployment line.

In pro basketball, I can recall only two midseason coaching changes that did, in fact, turn a struggling team around. One was when Magic Johnson forced the Lakers to replace Paul Westhead with Pat Riley, whose instructions as new coach were pretty much, "let Magic run the offense and keep your eye on when Kareem needs to take a blow." Riley fulfilled his duties flawlessly. It may surprise younger fans to know that before becoming a Genius, Riley was the epitome of the laid-back mentor.

The other successful switch involved the Celtics. When Jim O'Brien replaced Rick Pitino, a team in a classic death spiral righted itself in apparent defiance of the law of hoop gravity. Of course, Pitino wasn't merely the coach, he was the Boss, the ruler of the Celts' domain, with hiring and firing powers Rivers sure doesn't possess. Almost any business does better without a Boss in mental breakdown mode hanging around the office.

So firing Rivers would be a terrific idea if only he was running the Celtics and if the 1982 vintage Magic could then play point guard for the new coach. Otherwise, dumping this garden-variety NBA coach would be a move that'd only impress the gullible-a large percentage of the Celts' fan base.

Look people, isn't it obvious by now the Boston franchise's failure is a total group effort? Sure, the Celts could use a new coach, but only if he came as part of a package. This team needs new owners, a new front office, and about ten new players before the identity of its bench boss would make the slightest difference in its performance.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Most Important Meal of the Day

Homemade apple pie, served cold out of the fridge with Swiss cheese on top accompanied by a cup of black coffee is the best breakfast ever created, if you don't count what it does to one's body-fat ratio and arteries. So it's probably for the best it's only served one day a year-this one.

Black Friday? Nonsense. Happy Leftovers Day everybody!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Patriots 35-Packers 0, Cowboys 21-Colts 14

A long-time ago, current Pats offensive line coach, then special teams coach, Dante Scarnecchia told a rookie NFL beat reporter, "Don't worry. It's a simple game."

At about the same time, then 49ers head coach Bill Walsh noted, "The key to winning defense is the pass rush, especially in the fourth quarter."

Combine those two observations, and we have the most lucid explanation of several recent pro football results, including the two games noted above.

The Patriots played a weak Packers team yesterday. When Tom Brady went to pass, he had the time and space to practice his putting. He shredded Green Bay's secondary with the same ease he displayed against the Vikings last month, for the very same reason. The week before, the Jets were able to invade Brady's personal space with some frequency, and the Pats' quarterback, one of the two best extant, didn't do too well.

When the Patriots played the Colts on Nov. 5, the defense tried its best to dismember Peyton Manning. They couldn't quite reach him, and Manning excelled. The Cowboys employed the same strategy, but their rushers DID get to Manning in time to interrupt many of his throws, often quite rudely. Lo and behold, Manning didn't do too well, and the Colts are no longer unbeaten.

So Scar was right, football can be a straightforward sport. Of course, "somebody bell that cat" was also a simple game plan.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

College Football Reflection

Life gets tough sometimes, and it's often difficult to look at the bright side. During autumn, this sports follower gets through periods of intense stress with the following happy thought.
I'm working into late middle age, and I have never, ever lived a day in a place where anyone gave a rat's ass about who won the Heisman Trophy.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Plea to America's Baseball Writers

Ladies and gentlemen, in the name of something resembling perspective, can we pretty please have an end to the noxious overuse of unnamed sources? You are NOT covering the %#*&! CIA. The baseball world is the biggest collection of gossipy old biddies extant, don't encourage them. If your "veteran scout" or "league insider" won't go on the record, the reason might be he's playing you and your readers for his own ends.

In today's Globe coverage of the Red Sox bid for Daisuke Matsuzaka (spell his name once a day and you'll be ready for spring training), Nick Cafardo quoted "an American League general manager" who said the Japanese righthander "might be the best pitcher in baseball."

Bold talk from an anonymous source. I'll eat Trot Nixon's hat if it wasn't J.P. Ricciardi of the Blue Jays, but that's not my point. I was struck by a what if, namely, what if I was a fan of this GM's team?

My front office thinks Matsuzaka is the best pitcher in the game. My front office did doodley squat to get him for our team, but is happy the Yankees got screwed. I am paying for season tickets why exactly?

Baseball people are often indiscreet on the record. Off the record, they'll say any damn fool thing that comes into their head. This makes them delightful company for conversation, but not the most reliable sources for a journal of record.

Readers love baseball gossip. Nothing wrong with that, as long as they remember one thing. The stories about Britney Spears in the magazines in the supermarket check-out line contain more reliable information than the usual Hot Stove roundup. The national pastime has the highest bullshit to fact ratio of any human endeavor. Many dedicated and talented reporters spend countless hours chasing the same few facts. Of necessity, this drives the ratio even higher.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Celtics

Many years ago as young marrieds, Alice and I bought a set of Scandinavian bookshelves and cabinets for our first apartment. They were, we were told, easy to put together.

We took delivery, opened the boxes, and admired the smooth, well-crafted pieces of wood. Then we found the printed directions. They were in Swedish. The resulting shelves and cabinets were none too sturdy.

The Celtics remind me of those bookshelves. It doesn't do any good for optimists to admire the smooth, shiny pieces lying on the living room rug. Their assembly remains a problem locked in an untranslatable language. The resulting product can't bear the slightest weight.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Jets 17-Patriots 14

There's no more dangerous analytic tool than the evidence of one's own eyes. I hadn't seen the Patriots in person since Super Bowl XXXIX, and yesterday, my professional responsibility at Gillette Stadium was to cover the Jets. Therefore, I learned nothing about the Pats beyond what I could see on the field, and what I took away were impressions, not conclusions, with one exception.

Impression One: Tom Brady had the hell beaten out of him. In a directly related development, Brady was ineffective for long stretches of the contest, just as he was against the Broncos, the team that delivered his other horrific pounding of 2006. That's a big Code Blue for New England. The Pats not only can't afford to lose Brady, as we saw in 2002, they can't even afford to have their meal ticket limited by a nagging injury, the kind quarterbacks tend to develop on four-sack afternoons.

Impression Two: With about two minutes to play in the game, I realized I hadn't thought about the Pats' linebackers at all. The quartet of Mike Vrabel, Junior Seau, Tedy Bruschi, and Roosevelt Colvin had had no visible impact whatsoever. The stat sheet revealed they'd made a passel of tackles, especially Bruschi, but in the Pats' system, that's a given. Anyway, almost all plays end in tackles. It's where they happen that matters, and the Pats' backers made no plays of note yesterday.

This may well have been no more than part of the game's overall pattern. The Jets were the aggressors. They pushed better than the Pats could shove. But it's always struck me that the linebacking corps was a potential weakness in Bill Belichick's defensive philopsophy.

Belichick has said "you always try to get younger" when building a roster. He didn't add "except at linebacker" but he should've. He ALWAYS selects veterans at that position, the more veteran the better. After losing Willie McGinest and Ted Johnson, the Pats didn't draft a rookie linebacker, they lured Junior Seau out of a one-day retirement.

It's the coach's carefully unstated belief that a high degree of NFL experience is necessary to meet the ever-changing responsibilities his defensive game plans put on his linebackers. Given the spectacularly successful results, it's hard to disagree with Belichick's conclusion.

There is, however, one obvious difficulty with an all-veteran approach to an important position. What if they all get TOO experienced at once? If just one or two of the LBs are wearing out, there's no scheme on earth that'll hide the fact.

Conclusion: Whatever the cause of Belichick's animus towards Eric Mangini, he needs to drop it-now. It doesn't matter how many Pats' personnel Mangini tried to hire when he went to New York. Either file a grievance with the league office or forget it ever happened. Sulking is not an option.

Belichick's pre and post-game demeanor towards his former assistant made the Pats' head man look like a complete jerk, especially after Mangini's team WON the game. There was the moment Belichick needed a brave smile and a hearty handshake for Mangini, maybe even a friendly hand on Eric's shoulder for the world to see. It didn't have to be sincere. Instead, Belichick came as close to dismissing the post-game ritual as he dared.

This made the Pats' coach look small, as Belichick to know it would and didn't care. His image is his problem alone, so that's fine. What Belichick should care is that the whole Mangini riff made him look distracted as well as peevish. For the first time in my memory, the coach let a rivalry get personal. The Jets, or at least their coach, were under his skin.

Belichick's won justified fame for NEVER letting personal emotions interfere with his single-minded problem solving approach to his job. Not for nothing does he usually identify an opponent's biggest stars by number rather than name. Whether they admit it or not and they never will, it had to be disconcerting for the Pats to see their coach indulge in the sort of pregame feud he forbids them on any grounds.

Worse, since the Jets won the game, the rest of the NFL is on notice Belichick can be knocked off his detached genius pedestal, if only a little. In pro football, a little is all it takes.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Land of the Rising Rotator Cuff Surgery

Scott Boras would never, ever, overhype a client. Baseball franchises would never succumb to a panicked herd mentality in the free agent market. Sportswriters and fans would never overreact to the first news from the Hot Stove League.

Sure they wouldn't. That's why five clubs are bidding at least $25 million just for the rights to TALK to Japanese righthander Daisuke Matsuzaka. The 26-year old is the official next big thing, the toy all big-budget clubs want under their tree.

The result is a fast-acting market bubble, in which otherwise sensible people are saying and doing things they'll regret by spring training. ESPN reported a rumor the Red Sox offered as much as $45 million to the Seibu Lions for negotiating rights to Matsuzaka. That's a significant sum for the opportunity to be sent to the cleaners by Boras yet again.

Matsuzaka's merits as a pitcher are now beyond realistic appraisal. In the course of ONE Boston Globe article this morning, the hurler was compared to Tom Seaver, Curt Schilling, David Cone, Mike Mussina, and Greg Maddux. The best comparison to Matsuzaka would be Sidd Finch, the mystical Mets' phenom. Nobody'd ever seen him pitch either. George Plimpton made him up.

Delving through the misty adjectives for data, we find two significant facts about the soon-to-be-ludicrously-wealthy Matsuzaka. He has superior but not overwhelming stats in the Japanese majors (108-60, 2.95). He's also thrown 1400 innings there.

Fourteen hundred innings! That's 240 innings per season for five straight seasons. Even back in the dark pre-La Russa ages, teams wouldn't give a pitcher in his early 20s that sort of workload. Either Matsuzaka is Joe McGinnity reincarnated, or he's a $75 million set of MRIs waiting to happen.

Paging Dr. Jobe, Dr. Andrews, Dr. Jobe!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

On Strategy

A football coach whose game plan called for winning an endless series of one-point games would not be called a genius. He would first be called a lunatic, then an unemployed lunatic. So I never quite got what the fuss over Karl Rove was all about.

Yesterday's election results were, in part, the inevitable result of the silly concept of a permanent 51 percent percent majority. Political parties, like sports teams, need to win the occasional laugher if they're to be consistently successful. Otherwise, they have no cushion to soften the blows of outrageous fortune, or their own mistakes.

Rove's reputation is the result of a journalistic fallacy that's almost impossible to escape. As deadline nears, there's a natural tendency to see the world through one moral imperative-he who returns my phone calls is the font of all goodness and wisdom. In politics, the front-runner's profession par excellence, this tendency gets much worse.

Rove was a genius because he told reporters he was and they wrote it down because they needed a simple explanation of a complex issue for a story. It's not a partisan trick. Rahm Emanuel is out there today doing the very same thing.

There would be much less public distrust of the press if we acknowledged the obvious on top of each newspaper or website each day. Capturing reality in a 750-word piece is like painting a sunset in crayon. With your teeth.

What Price Ignominy?

Ten million bucks. That's the sum, more or less, of her own money Kerry Healey spent to blow herself up forever.

Or rather, it was Healey's husband's money. Love isn't just blind, it can't add either. Never was such an amount spent so counter-productively. In terms of her political future, Healey could've achieved the same results much more cheaply had she simply robbed a gas station and pistol-whipped the attendant.

Healey was bound to lose. This wasn't a good year to have the little "R" after your name. If Democrats were winning in Kansas, they sure as hell were going to win in Massachusetts. The Lt. Governor had two options to deal with this dilemma. Lose in quiet dignity and take one for the team, or try the old Karl Rove playbook and demonize her opponent. As pols always do, Healey chose the course which allowed her a 1 in 10,000 shot at victory rather than the one promising certain doom.

That trait is what most separates politics from sports. People who run things in sports always consider the worst-case scenario. People in politics almost never do. Healey put her faith in negative ads, when a simple look at Deval Patrick's smiling mug should've told her this was ridiculous. It's impossible to fear a man who bears such a striking resemblance to Casper the Friendly Ghost.

The "Patrick for rapists" concept failed dismally. Healey is now trapped in her worst-case scenario, she lost in a way rendering her radioactive. No ambassadorship to Canada for her. No phony-baloney citizen's panels. She's headed straight for oblivion, a/k/a frequent appearances on New England Cable News.

So it's with some amusement I read the Globe headline this morning "Healey advisers defend negative campaign plan." I hope they didn't do that while MR. Healey was around. In fact, I'd give him a wide berth if I were them-at least until hunting season's over.

Monday, November 06, 2006


In a nation of 300 million, we can't ask for a show of hands every time some question comes up, be it "who should be president" or "does Studio 60 suck or what?". So we got polls.

Maybe show of hands would be better. The following polls are generic ballot questions from five polls taken over the weekend, all from polling and news organizations of the highest reputation. The point that follows is non-partisan to the max. It's about math and mass society.

Pew: D 47-R 43
Post/ABC: D 51-R 45
Gallup: D 51- R 43
Time: D 55-R 40
Newsweek: D 54-R 38
CNN: D 58-R 38

So according to the masterminds of opinion samples, the Democrats are favored in tomorrow's election by somewhere between 4 and 20 points. Somebody's wrong up there. Somebody could be mismeasuring one-sixth of the electorate. Some distinguished newsgathering organization is stuck with a false premise. Maybe all of them are. This spread makes each survey incredible, not to the poli sci majors maybe, but to normal people. What's the point of these damn things? If I'd written an article the day before a Super Bowl saying the Pats would win by a margin between 4 and 20 points, my boss would've flown on-site and killed me at the pregame brunch.

All political journalism is based on polls. Without them, Chris Matthews would be struck dumb, and the Washington Post would be nothing but the funnies and the classified ads. And news organizations must stick with the polls they commissioned. So today, CNN will be forecasting a Democratic sweep while ABC will be focused on a Republican rally. Someone will be slinging bullshit. There's an excellent change all five polls will be bullshit.

Perhaps it's time to remove the rectal thermometer from the body politic. If we had to fly blind in a non-poll universe, we couldn't see less than we do now.

Colts 27-Patriots 20

Everything I ever knew about football is wrong. OK, two things, but they're big things.

Since its invention, football has had one unvarying prime directive. A team that cannot stop the run cannot win. Pop Warner to the NFL, the defense that's run on is being pushed around, and victory always goes to the pushers, not the pushees.

Or anyway, it always used to. The Indianapolis Colts cannot stop the run. They get manhandled up front, and many of their defensive players are atrocious individual tacklers. Halfway through the NFL season, the Colts are allowing 5 yards per rush attempt. Boiling that down, EVERYONE who carries the ball against Indianapolis turns into Jim Brown.

The Colts are 8-0. They are currently the best team in pro football, and not even the most diehard Pats' fan would deny that, not after Indy won at Denver and Gillette in back to back weeks. I'm baffled. So's Vince Lombardi.

My other certainty to fly out the window last night was a belief the Patriots, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady especially, would never let the opposition impose their wills on them. Win or lose, the Pats would not take counsel of their anxieties. They'd play with a faith in each other's ability to define a game.

Not last night, they didn't. Even on television, the Pats' decisions portrayed an insecure outfit nagged by one psychic reality. They were reacting to Peyton Manning, not acting as the game's driving force.. From start to finish, the Pats acted as if they couldn't stop the Colts' quarterback when it counted. As a result, they didn't.

Running is body punching. It pays off in the late rounds. When it became obvious early on the game would be an offensive one, the Pats began to press, slowly at first, then more and more with each possession. Runs were called less and less. Passes, and gimmick passes at that, called more and more. Fourth downs (not that either team had many) became near-automatic go for it situations.

In short, the Pats acted as if they had to score on every possession. And once a quarterback gets that thought in his head, pressing, bad throws, and turnovers are almost inevitable. Brady isn't immune to this phenomenon. But it's deadly for the Pats when he does, because the root of Brady's gifts as a great quarterback is the belief it's not all on him. Run 60 times and pass six in a 17-3 snoozer? Fine by Tom, as long as he's got the 17. His egalitarian ball distribution to receivers shows Brady's core thought-any guy on my team, given the opportunity, can help us win. My job is to give him that opportunity.

That approach should make Brady's life much easier than Manning's. The Colts QB is under no illusions. On his team, it IS all on him, and it always will be. Yes, Manning's a great player, but that burden cracks a superstar sooner or later. It's always cracked Manning in January.

Maybe this year is Manning's statistical outlier, like the 1966-67 NBA season was for Wilt Chamberlain when the 76ers finally beat Bill Russell and the Celtics for the first and only time. I remain skeptical. Demanding perfection from human beings is both wholly unfair and an excellent formula for perpetual disappointment.

I'm less skeptical than I was before last night, however, and not because of anything Manning did. What struck me is how Belichick and Brady acted as if they were seeing Manning's outlier season.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Non-Partisan Thoughts for Nov. 7. And Nov.8

(Can't be sure I'll get to posting these on Nov. 7 itself. You don't have to read them until then. I'm not breaking my campaign promise. These are other people's thoughts.)

"The people have spoken.....The bastards!"- Concession speech of Aspen mayoral candidate and '60s Democratic operative Dick Tuck

"Hain't we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain't that a big enough majority for any town?"- Mark Twain, "The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg"

"My old pappy used to say you could fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, and those are pretty good odds."- Bret Maverick

"Well, you have made your choice of idiots. You may now await the news of a terrible disaster." - Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to Abraham Lincoln after the latter named Gen. William Rosecrans commander of the Army of the Cumberland.

And, of course, any citizen's all purpose denial of responsibility.

"Don't blame me. I voted for Kodos."- Homer Simpson

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Heard About the Lindbergh Baby? Not in Texas, Apparently

Via Google, here's a headline from this morning's Houston Chronicle.

"ANALYSIS: Mideast Peace Remains Elusive."

Extra! Extra!

Great Moments in Marketing

Bedford, N.Y. is a cushy suburb of New York City in Westchester county. Bedford, Mass. is a middle class suburb of Boston. The two towns are about 200 miles apart. Despite that, someone in the Stop and Shop corporation must have the two mixed up.

The Bay State Bedford contains the Stop and Shop closest to my home. All summer long, in the big aisle containing seasonal goods (everything from Passover foods to Christmas lights, depending on the calendar), the beach accessories featured a stack of styrofoam coolers bearing the logo of a major league team-the Mets. Sales were not brisk.

Yesterday, I entered the same store as the Halloween decorations were being dismantled and great stacks of stuffing mix and cranberry sauce were being placed on the shelves. At the entrance was a massive pyramid of Wheaties boxes. As ever, the cereal displayed the image of a famous athlete on the front of each box.

The jock in question was Alex Rodriguez.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Today in Journalism, Part 2

No chore in journalism, and perhaps no human endeavor period, is more difficult than getting Bill Belichick to say something when he doesn't want to. Bitching about this fact only makes reporters covering the Patriots' coach look like McGroryesque whiners.

A far better approach would be to consider the question from Belichick's point of view. What percentage was there for the coach in saying word one about Adam Vinatieri this week? None, that's what. The only consequences of addressing the topic would be either negative or disastrous.

If Belichick said the Pats could get along without Adam very well, thank you, he'd come off as a complete jerk. And while Belichick is the opposite of superstitious, he knows better than to tempt fate by dissing a talented player on the other team before an important game.

Now suppose Belichick had gotten all warm and fuzzy about Vinatieri, waxing nostalgic about Adam's game-winners in Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXVIII. How do you suspect that would've gone over with his current kicker, rookie Stephen Gostkowski?

There will be a smidgen of pressure on Gostkowski Sunday night. He hasn't yet been placed in a win/lose placekick situation, but sooner or later it'll happen-maybe against Indy. Kicking is 600 percent confidence. It couldn't be good for the kid's serenity to hear his coach slobber over his old kicker. Oh, gosh, Bill thinks he made a mistake when they let Adam go. Yeah, that worry will help Bruce with that 47-yarder into the wind. The kicker needs no noise about Vinatieri. In an extremely wise move, the coach has apparently had Gostkowski practice somewhere in the Yukon this week.

Belichick clammed and stayed clammed because it was in his best interests to do so. If he appeared tense and peevish, maybe, just maybe, the Colts, not reporters' questions, were responsible.

I'm sure they were. Belichick talks up every opponent. Now and then he really means it, and with the Colts, he really, really means it. The coach regards Indianapolis' offense as the top challenge of his career as a defensive strategist. He's pumped, he's apprehensive, and most of all, he's preoccupied.

It gives me no pleasure to write what follows. It's a message to my former colleagues. To imply Belichick is freezing out reporters in response to stories about his personal life is despicable. Come on, gang, you're better than that. Show a little class out there.

Today in Journalism

Brian McGrory remains an arrogant, patronizing jackass whose political knowledge could fit in a thimble with room left over for a double Scotch.

McGrory's SECOND hissy fit over the fact the governor's race hasn't entertained him enough suggests strongly he's suffering from a common Globe malady-Athlete's Bigfoot. His whining has the ring of a man who wanted a great deal of access to Deval Patrick and didn't get it. I can't prove this without putting my son, a press aide in the Patrick campaign, in a most compromised position. Adam Reilly, Dan Kennedy, you're under no such constraints. Go get 'em.

If the Times corporation ever looked at anything the Globe puts out except its balance sheet, McGrory would be a prime candidate for re-assignment. Might I suggest Springfield bureau chief?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Old Guard (Plural) May Be Ready to Surrender

Bob Cousy had had enough last night. Maybe Tom Heinsohn felt the same way. The seeds of a Green Revolution may be germinating at the Garden.

For those who missed it, in his low-key mournful manner, Cousy absolutely murdered the 2006 Celtics in his color commentary on FSN. There were, of course, grounds for Cousy's displeasure. Losing at home to a team without a home on opening night is bad. Losing the first game after Red Auerbach's death is a disgrace to the uniform.

Heinsohn's whole schtick as an announcer is flagrant homerism, Tommypoints and all that. In the final, hopeless time out before the end of New Orleans/Oklahoma City's 91-87 win, Heinsohn was positively baiting Cousy to take off on the current Celtics.

The following dialogue is from memory, so its accuracy is not total.

Heinsohn: "Come on Cooz, tell us what you saw tonight."

Cousy: "What I saw in the few parts of the exhibition season I saw. A bunch of guys running up and down the court."

Those comments should sure spark a rush to the ticket windows for tomorrow's game. Bob Cousy thinks we suck, but hey, look at the dancing girls! Of course, the Celtics did suck, at least last night they did. What's significant is that Cousy had no qualms about saying so.

Cousy is in the inner circle of the most exclusive and best club on earth-the old Celtics. He and Heinsohn are charter members, Hall of Fame players on the first of Boston's 16 NBA champions. And his remarks were a massive violation of one of the club's prime rules.

The old Celtics club is no myth. These guys really are a band of brothers, linked by bonds of affection and accomplishment it's genuinely moving to see in action. This is exemplified by club rule one-all Celtic champions are created equal. Bill Russell was one of the two best players in history. M.L. Carr waved a mean towel and took the occasional flagrant foul. They're both members in good standing.

Rule number two is loyalty to the brand. The Celtics are always right, at least for public consumption. In two decades of decline and stagnation, the old Celtics have kept stoic silence, even in the midst of the Pitino catastrophe.

That was Auerbach's way. On the record, anything the Celtics did was a good move as far as Red was concerned. Auerbach had a million different ways of knifing someone like Pitino without fingerprints, but it was beneath his dignity to carp in public.

This was wise. The old Celtics have a moral authority with the franchise's fans that makes them nuclear superpowers. They could erase a player, coach, GM, or owner from the Boston scene with about a week's worth of public criticism. If Bill Russell, say, was to give an interview dissecting Doc Rivers' substitution patterns, Rivers' position would be untenable.

The old Celtics buried Auerbach this week. One wonders if that was the last straw, if the cone of loyal silence is now to be shattered by the horrid realization that the current Celtics are worse than a failure, they're an irrelevance.

The old Celtics are really old. A funeral for a beloved father figure makes anyone more aware of their own mortality. Now, this elite group turns to the organization THEY made famous, the monument to their lives' work, their talents, their devotion, and what do they see?

They see a devoted but clueless ownership group grasping at any straw to recoup their overinvestment. They see a fellow of the club, Danny Ainge, with three years of hard work as the boss and nothing to show for it. They see a pleasant coach as yet unable to get much production out of some talented young men who, face it, haven't really learned how to play basketball.

Speaking as someone brought up to hate the Celtics and all their works, I can't stand this state of affairs. There's no fun in rooting against a team that isn't very good. They need not be champions every year, but a proper villian has to matter. It's disgusting to feel pity for the Boston Celtics, but I do. Nothing in sports depresses me more than knowing my son, 22, and daughter, 18, have no idea the Celtics ever were any good. That's something to read about in books. When the Celts are on network TV, the channel is ESPN Classic.

If garden-variety Celtic haters feel that way, imagine the emotions of the old Celtics. They're the men who MADE the Celts matter. It's their sports legacy, and to see it vanishing into the mists of history must be painful beyond description. Auerbach's death wasn't unexpected, no 89-year old man's passing can be, but it had to focus every old Celtics' attention back to the wreck of the modern-day green and white, with its best-case scenario of a 7th or 8th seed in the playoffs. There are no banners for that. Yet.

Bob Ryan is as close to the old Celtics as a non-member can be. His Globe column today allowed Ainge and Rivers to call, once more, for patience from the team's fans. Maybe not this year, but we'll matter again someday soon. Just hang in there. All I can say is as a fan, my response to a team calling for patience is to answer, "Fine. You just be patient, too, and maybe I'll buy another ticket someday."

Cousy's 78. Just how patient is he supposed to be? How's he supposed to tolerate knowing for the foreseeable future the only celebrations of Celtic greatness will be memorial services?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

More Journalism Today

Two kinds of people have cable news on all the time-people overly interested in politics and people in the news business. Nobody else has it on at all. This allows the first two groups to fulfill their mutual ideal, obsessing about each other without having to pretend they think about their alleged audiences.

A New Republic staffer wrote yesterday the Kerry whirligig of sound "took a whole vital half-day of the cable news cycle" away from the Democrats only a week before the election.

Dude, back away from the laptop. You've got to get out more. Out where there's light, and happy people, and nobody's watching cable news. Ever.

Back in the day, say 2001-2, people did watch cable news-if there was a local or international emergency, like 9/11 or an earthquake. The Internet and its new YouTube hench idea are killing that audience. Nobody even uses cable for a quick headline grab anymore, a very good thing for Nancy Grace and her agent. Something has to fill up 24 hours of airtime.

Here are some numbers that reveal cable news place in the national information system. Despite some recent slippage, the most popular cable news show, by far, remains Bill O'Reilly's hour of disjointed bluster on Fox. In a nation of 300 million people, it draws about 3 million viewers a night, or 1 of every 100 people it COULD reach.

My former employer, the Boston Herald, is an anachronistic second newspaper. It's in dire straits financially, a representative of what's wrong with an industry anyone in cable news will tell you is dying a slow and painful death.

Greater Boston has a population of something over 3 million. The poor, dying Herald SELLS slightly over 200,000 copies a day.

Do the ratios. One in 100 Americans watch O'Reilly for free. One in 15 Bostonians pay to read the Herald. Cable news' influence is a product of its own mind and the inherent insecurity of those who live by the ballot box.

People watch cable. They watch sports, children's shows, wrestling, old movies, and Comedy Central in that order. If SpongeBob offers an opinion on Iraq this weekend, THAT might cost somebody a vital cycle.

Today in Journalism

Real Life, No Kidding Headline from "Would Alex P. Keaton back Fox on stem cells?"

I miss my old job a lot. But some days, shaving's a little easier when you're a former journalist.

Biggest Game Until the Next One

The game between the Patriots and Colts Sunday night should be most entertaining-good enough so I'm considering inviting company over to watch it. Significant? Not so much, unless some vital star on either team suffers major injury.

Significant and entertaining are not synonyms, which is why so few of us enjoyed our Great Books surveys as college freshpeople. Nevertheless, attempts to use the contests results to soothsay the future of the 2006 NFL season will be widespread next Monday. They'll also be pure bunkum, foolish attempts to reconcile the needs of the American hot air industry and the fact pro football teams only play once a week.

The mundane truth is that a teeny, tiny minority of NFL games played in early November have implications that carry up to, let alone past, Thanksgiving. Yes, there are regular season games that mean more than a W or L on the schedule. They almost always take place in December. Even then, for every "big" game that forecasts the future correctly, two equally "big" contests get it wrong.

I was at a couple of the latter as an NFL reporter. In 1989, Buddy Ryan's Eagles played Bill Parcell's Giants for the NFC East lead in December. Thanks to a 90-yard quick kick by Randall Cunningham, Philly won going away, thereby establishing the two teams' relative strength forever, or, as really happened, the Eagles blew their next two games and handed the division to New York.

The next season, the undefeated Giants played the undefeated 49ers in San Francisco on the Monday night after Thanksgiving. The Niners won 10-7, thereby accurately predicting the eventual NFC title game between the two teams-except for the final score, which was Giants 15-49ers 13.

In the case of the Colts and Patriots, there's nothing about the two clubs we'll know after Sunday night we don't know already. Let's review the relevant facts.

1. They're two of the top teams in the league, and Grace Ross is a better bet to become governor than Indy and New England are to miss the playoffs.

2. In their encounters of the recent past, the Pats have had the better of it, the major reason why New England has won three Super Bowls and Colts have yet to play in one.

3. Given fact no. 1, there is no possible outcome of this game that could serve as an indicator of what lies ahead for either team. This was proven in their encounter last season, when the Colts thumped the Pats 40-21, and both clubs wound up losing in the same round of the playoffs.

Let's do some forecasting of our own. Suppose the Pats thwart Peyton Manning one more time and win by a blowout. That would prove they're playing well right now. We knew that. It would also complete another edition of the strange round-robin where New England beats Indy who beats Denver who beats the Pats. If anyone knows why the Denver defense can drive Tom Brady nuts yet can't do a thing to stop Manning, I'd really like to be let in on the explanation. Until the playoffs arrive, we can't know how those three will be forced to deal with their dysfunctional triangle. Since I just wrote this paragraph, such a result cannot contain new information.

Now let's assume the other extreme. Suppose the Colts blow out the Pats. That'd make them the strongest team in the league right now, a distinction more meaningless to them than to any of the other 31. November's not the Colts' problem-January is. You know it, I know it, and boy, do they know it. Indy is to be congratulated for the character it shows rolling that rock up the hill year in year out after getting crushed by the damn thing every season. They're like the old Bills, destiny's ultimate foster children.

So we won't learn anything about this season Sunday night. Either two teams will be 7-1, or one will be 8-0, the other 6-2. Nobody ever lost a Super Bowl by having any of those three records at the halfway point of the regular season.

There's no item in my fan's notebook, or even my old pundit's notebook, that says anyone has to watch a football game to learn something. In this case, we can leave that to the worrywart coaches and spend three hours enjoying ourselves.