Sports Journalism Today
On ESPN yesterday, NFL analyst Sean Salisbury was discussing the Colts' 34-31 win over the Broncos.
In his usual bellow, Salisbury said the 7-0 Colts were indisputably better than the 2005 team that won its first 12. He offered a highly original rationale to support that contention.
"Those guys were a fantasy football team," Salisbury said of the '05 Colts. "They won games 42-10. This team is winning the close ones week in and week out."
We see. The 2006 Colts are winning games by fewer points than did the '05 team at a similar point in that season. That makes them better. Logically, of course, that means if the Colts LOSE a few games, Salisbury will think they're an even BETTER team.
In fact, taking the Salisbury Theorem to its end point, the best team in the NFL right now is the Arizona Cardinals.
Political campaigns and newspapers themselves think the latter's editorial endorsements of candidates are a big deal. No one else pays them the slightest heed, nor should they. Anyone who reads the paper, any paper, down to the editorials is well-informed enough to make their own decision in the voting booth. Those citizens feeble enough to be swayed by the opinion of an authority figure don't read newspapers in the first place.
Besides, informed citizens already know which paper is going to endorse which candidate. The Globe picked Deval Patrick for governor, and the Herald picked Kerry Healey. Nobody in the state thought anything else was possible, so no one read either endorsement.
Men DO bite dogs every so often, however, and the Herald, staunchly conservative 364 out of 365 days a year, raised eyebrows by endorsing Edward Kennedy for re-election to the Senate.
Ted Kennedy. Liberal icon. Arch-villian of generations of Republican direct-mail fundraising appeals. Butt of Howie Carr's nastiest (and it must be added, funniest) Herald columns. Something does not compute.
Upon reflection, there's a simple explanation for the Herald's decision, one any Massachusetts resident can understand. The editorial board gathered to choose between Kennedy and his Republican opponent and came to a swift if embarrassing realization.
They couldn't remember the other guy's name either.
Monday Night Football
Announcers talk too much to suit me, but I'm old, and Madison Ave. can't get me to drink Coors Light no matter what it tries, so I don't count. I didn't care for babble in the booth when I was 20, either. I am, however, more used to it now.
As babblers go, the Mike Tirico, Joe Theismann, Tony Kornheiser trio have the potential to be less grating than other NFL announcing teams. Too bad they're blowing it. As the three broadcasters are finding enhanced camaraderie, they've stopped watching the games. Desperate attempts to cram in pre-arranged talking points lead them, especially novice Kornheiser, into patently absurd falsehoods.
From the game's second play last night, the most casual viewer knew the Patriots, an elite team, were in top form while the Vikings, a borderline OK team, were anything but. Mismatches, of course, are a deadly threat to announcers. It's when they press into absurdity to keep our attention.
Preset talking point number one was how Minnesota quarterback Brad Johnson doesn't make egregious errors. Somewhere in the midst of Theismann's third monologue on the topic, Johnson threw one of the worst interceptions in NFL history to Rodney Harrison.
Theismann's comment, "very uncharacteristic." Uh-huh. That's why Johnson is a quarterback who both won a Super Bowl and can't keep a steady job. He's a mechanic, a fill-in. He's also played since before the AFL-NFL merger. Everyone watching knew this. Why lie to our faces?
Thiesmann's howler was soon surpassed by Kornheiser. As Tom Brady shredded the Vikings' defense (nice pass rush, guys), Kornheiser said, "We don't really know Tom Brady that well. We're not as familiar with him as Peyton Manning."
Yeah, that Brady's a recluse. Aside from his two Super Bowl MVP trophies, his movie actress girlfriend, his guest spot on the Simpsons, being named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year, and sitting next to the First Lady at the State of the Union address, the Pats' quarterback has flown completely under the national radar. He might as well live in the Unibomber's old cabin.
If Kornheiser meant to say for reasons known only to themselves, Manning has chosen to do more TV commercials this season than Brady, he would've been correct. That would make a minor topic on Tony's old radio show. In the middle of an actual game, it would've been irrelevant. As the actual statement came out, it was comedy gold. Irrelevant comedy gold.
The source of these howlers was obvious. In the endless pre-broadcast meetings (announcers, believe it or not, work very, very hard), some nitwit in authority gave the trio a set of talking points. These points were the storylines ESPN wanted, and they were the stories ESPN was determined to get, whether or not they had any actual connection to the game the announcers were supposed to tell us about.
Announcing is not easy. A football game is an exercise in mass chaos in which most of the participants have only a sketchy idea what's going on. If announcers are trying to insert prepackaged thoughts into the mix while attempting to comment on the game itself, they're going to wind up sounding like idiots on a regular basis.
Tirico, Theismann, and Kornheiser are anything but idiots. Left to their own devices, they might become a quality announcing crew, enjoyable to many, and at least tolerable to crabby cranks like yours truly.
The three well-paid poor guys won't be left alone. Ratings are up, and of course the games themselves have nothing to do with it. Compared to ESPN, George W. Bush is a symphony of second thoughts and self-doubt.
That is why, dear readers, I'm off to Comcast's local office this morning. This post was made necessary by a terrible tragedy. The mute button on my remote is broken.
Red Auerbach died tonight. I always thought the piratical old SOB would outlive me and everything else except the cockroaches.
Auerbach was one of the few people in sports or any line of work besides science who could be labeled a genius without God laughing. He was one of the five best basketball coaches to ever live. He was the top professional sports executive of all time. Here was a man whose supreme professional triumph was kicking himself upstairs. Auerbach promoted himself to GM so Bill Russell could be the first black coach in any sport. He knew his star wouldn't walk away from that assignment.
It's unusual form for an obit to dwell on the departed's flaws. But Auerbach's flaws and Auerbach's virtues were so mixed together, it's impossible to serve truth without doing so.
Auerbach flat out lied to the Herald the night Len Bias died so that his buddy Will McDonough could have an exclusive. It was worth it to Red to have yet another big favor in Will's bank. A couple of old pros, those two, something both good and bad in both.
Auerbach saw everyone as someone to be used in the pursuit of victory, profit, and fun. That's why his Celtics were the first team to put five black guys on the court and the last to put five white guys out there. What was black and white and Red all over? An Auerbach team.
The white man who did as much or more than Branch Rickey for racial justice in sports was a devout fan of sitcom character George Jefferson. No surprise. I can just imagine Auerbach thinking, "if only I were black, I could really bust the universe's balls."
Let's get personal. Auerbach taught me some valuable lessons. If you weren't a better reporter after covering him, you were hopeless.
Lesson Number One: This was after Bird retired and there was some issue I forget where the Celtics were a pre-game column. I found Red at the Garden and began asking what I foolishly thought were tough questions. One of them began with "some people say."
Auerbach interrupted, at which he excelled.
"Don't say that," Red said. "That's bullshit. You mean you. You say that. Don't hide. That means you think the question might be stupid."
I was dead. Everything Auerbach said was right. To this say, I've never used that formation again. Watch the talk shows this morning from Washington. Every time you hear a question phrased that way, and you will, there's a bullshit reporter.
Lesson Two: Game Four of the 1984 NBA Finals wasn't bad as such things go. The Celts won in OT, and in those dark days, teams didn't have their own jets. The Celtics were in a near-deserted wing of LAX, just like the weekly sportswriter.
Someone, I think Cedric Maxwell, found the open cafeteria. It was grim, and I wound up with the last dessert, a cup of lime Jello.
Behind me in the cashier's line, Auerbach reached over, took the Jello, and put it on the tray of the man behind him-Larry Bird.
"I'm gonna give this to Larry," Auerbach said, "because he was such a good boy tonight."
I didn't say squat. You try it. Bird had only had a 20-20. Only later did I realize Red WANTED me to object. He wanted a scene to amuse himself and his team, and he'd hoped I'd oblige. If he wanted Larry to have Jello, he'd have swiped it off Ordway's plate.
Auerbach was well aware I had been among the 76er fans who threw lit cigars at his head in 1967. I'd written about it, and he was one of the last sports celebs who read EVERYTHING. The Jello was a rematch. Would I object to two legends swiping a dessert I could do without? He sure would.
I didn't. Sorry I let you down Red. It's not like it's a unique event, getting beat by Auerbach.
Hero, liar, racial pioneer, cheapskate, a man I hated in youth and am weeping as I write his obit. Sports and the world are duller and poorer places this morning.
Oh, yeah, and if Mendy Rudolph thought eternity would be a peaceful place, he now realizes he was mistaken.
An Open Letter To CBS4-TV, Boston
Dear Sirs: When I look out my window, I can see it's raining really hard in these parts. I cannot, however, see the Notre Dame-Navy game in my back yard. Lose the goddamn radar split-screen, will ya?
Thank you for your consideration in this matter.
One of the dangers of a career in daily journalism is becoming inured to absurdity. Part of one's duties is to write down what people say and then reprint their words without really thinking about what was said.
No apologies. You try getting a coherent thought out of a champagne-drenched World Series hero on deadline, or parsing George Bush's sentences for that matter. The story must get done, and that means a certain amount of stenography enters the process.
Now that I'm on the shelf, words that I transcribed thousands of times hit me differently. One phrase sure did last night.
On Washington Week in Review, one of the sonorous, tedious reporters on the panel said, "The Democrats have to worry about overconfidence."
We'll leave aside the fact it'd be easier to find people who think I'm overly handsome than an overconfident Democrat. The point is, "worry about overconfidence," a phrase I've heard a thousand football coaches utter, makes no sense. It's a logical contradiction, an absurdity on its face.
A sports team or political party can lose a contest due to overconfidence. But they can't be overconfident and worry simultaneously. Overconfidence means you have no worries. To worry about overconfidence banishes it by definition. Bill Belichick is always worried. Hence, he's never overconfident.
What the talking head meant to say is, of course, Democrats have to worry about OTHER Democrats getting overconfident. Presumably, the accurate phrase took up too much valuable air time needed for another PBS pledge drive.
Not a Political Post! Honest. More Cosmic
So I'm back with the groceries yesterday and the local Whole Foods slipped a "Vote Yes on One" brochure into the sack (that's to allow wine to be sold in Massachusetts groceries stores and you know the hippie fascists are bankrolling the whole deal). That was okay, because in the sack with the wine for the bolognaise sauce, the packy located 40 yards away inserted a "Vote No" brochure inside.
Hope Gee is a better citizen then I'll ever be. She looked at the two brochures and said in real perplexity, "I'll have to read up and decide on this. won't I?"
My daughter is 18. In its infinite wisdom, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has told her to help make a law that she can only break no matter which side wins. There are thousands of young voters in the same boat, and in the world's biggest college town, no, state, they might hold the balance of power come Election Day. On Nov. 8, they'll get busted whether they're in the packy or the grocery store.
That strikes me as very, very weird.
I Understood There Was to Be No Math
Firejoemorgan.blogspot.com is a pretty funny baseball site. The guys who run it can be entertaining writers. They also will never, ever achieve the wider audience they deserve unless they drop some bad habits.
Habit One: Don't Beat a Dead Horse. That's What Talk Radio is For. Fjm.com doesn't think David Eckstein is a very good player, and doesn't it like it when people who do, especially sportswriters, say so. OK. Truth be told, Eckstein is an OK player who'll buy a ticket to enter Cooperstown just like the rest of us. He's no bum, but he's no Jeter or Carlos Guillen either. Hell, he's no Jimmy Rollins.
The time to point this out, however, is not when the Cardinals' shortstop was one of the big contributors in a win that put his team one more win away from winning the World Series. All World Series heroes are made out to be better players than they are on their less well-noticed days. Go to the BPL and look up the stories on the first Series. Same deal. That's not writers making a categorical statement of baseball knowledge as bloggers do. It's hard to write about the World Series and not focus on the people in it. When they do good, there's an echo effect.
Habit Two: Don't use statistics only you and your nerd friends have heard of. If you can't make a good argument using the same stats God gave John McGraw, odds are there's a hole in your argument that needs mending.
One member of Fjm wrote, or more accurately, toted up a long post ridiculing the idea Jeter was the best offensive player in the American League in 2006. Jeter wasn't. He doesn't hit for enough power to be the best offensive player.
See how simple that was. I made the same point as Fjm in a mere 14 words, many of them short ones. The Jeter hater on the site needed almost 14 statistics I had never heard of. Forget VORP or win-shares, concepts I grasp although I don't use. These were VORPs love children. They were terms left over from that CBS cop show where the math nerd prodgy solves murders on the blackboard.
The post was in-crowd cult overkill. Those who know what the abbreviations mean were the hip crowd, a group I left in all aspects of life around 1973. Those who didn't were probably the clueless type of sportswriters who might point out that of all the GOOD offensive players in the AL, Jeter was the one who most raised his performance above his already high career norms, in a season where the Yankees would've sunk like a stone had he not.
I strongly suspect the Fjm post was a pre-emptive strike against the dire possibility Jeter will be named MVP next month, which he likely will, and deservedly so. Should that happen, I see more stats of the 23rd century in Forejoemorgan's future.
I'm all for amateur baseball commentators. At present, I AM one. I'm not even against math and science, as long as they give me a wide berth. And believe me, I love a good baseball argument.
But fellas, it's tough to conduct an argument when one side is speaking a language known only to itself. Fjm's problem is the same one many of the new-wave numbers crunchers have. Reading them is akin to reading the most popular baseball writer in Helsinki-in the original Finnish.
A Solemn Promise: Last Political Entry Until Election Day
As far as forecasting goes, there are only two options left on the table. Either the polling and political study industries are not just wrong, but based on such false premises and methods they might as well go out of business or the Democratic party will at a minimum gain control of the House of Representatives.
Pollsters and the Charlie Cooks of this world have their place. They're political sabermetricians. Just like their baseball brethren, however, their methodologies are not a magic key that'll unlock the future.
For the math-challenged among us, like me, anecdotal evidence is as telling as numbers. I've been trying for a month to come up with what Republican talking heads have reminded me of this fall. Last night it hit me. The GOP's spinmasters are radiating the same false front I've seen in person twice before. It's Saturday night, and they're the guy who'll be paired with Tiger Woods the next afternoon in the final round of a major Woods already leads by more than a stroke.
Fear breeds error. The last few days, the Republicans have committed the primal error of denying voters the luxury of hypocrisy. People are often at their worst in the polling booth, but that's because what they do is a secret. Don't air their psychic dirty linen in public. Don't make them ashamed of themselves.
Taunting an ill celebrity is just stupid. In a very close election, it won't take very many Missouri voters thinking, "wow, I don't want to be on the same side as a nasty shit" to swing the decision to the Democrat. If x percentage of white voters say they'll vote for a black candidate but don't mean it, for God's sake don't PUBLICLY appeal to white racism. Don't create a situation where the only way white Tennesseans can disprove their racists is by voting for your opponent.
If the Democrats aren't exactly acting like winners, they're not acting like total losers, either, a significant improvement on their usual posture. A journey of a thousand miles and all that. The many paranoids among that party's base are pretty much reduced to fretting that Karl Rove is very confident. That's just childish. First, what the hell else is Rove going to say two weeks before the election? Second, in the movie "The Wizard of Oz" remember how much louder the Wizard's voice got the closer Dorothy got to the curtain?
Yours truly is only paranoid about the Phillies. The conventional wisdom and the political forecasting rackets depend on being right more often than they're wrong, and since they're still with us, they must be batting over .500.
But while I expect the Democrats to win, I wouldn't bet on 'em. It's way too easy to see the mental process by which enough changable voters would find it impossible to turn away from the Republicans in spite of their unhappiness with the national situation, indeed, because of their unhappiness. Anyone who's played poker more than once knows what I'm talking about.
In poker, the hardest single feat in the game, the one that separates top-flight professionals from aspiring amateurs, is being able to walk away from a big pot with a good hand with rounds of betting left to go. Cutting losses is a tremendous gut-check where one values math over one's ego. Even the top-flight professionals screw up that decision on occasion.
That's where the voters who do vote for different parties in different elections find themselves. In 2002, when a vote for Bush was a vote for war with Iraq, these folks thought the president was a pair of aces in the hole.
Then came the flop, and fate pushed a HUUGE pile of chips into the pot in 2004. The cards indicated a better than fair chance the Bush aces were cracked, but with two cards to go, the swing voters were uneasily committed, and called. (The most overlooked stat of the '04 exit polls was that 15 percent of Bush voters hoped he'd make major changes in a second term, i.e., get out of Iraq)
Up came the Katrina-Irag turn card. Swing voter's aces are a loser, and he knows it. Logic says fold and walk away. Human nature says, "all that money. Hey, I could still win on the river."
Throughout history, logic's record in big games versus human nature is about 2 wins and googleplex losses. The Republicans can't win this election, but human frailty could do it for them.
That's what partisan Democrats should fear. Me, I'm already on to 2008. I can't help remembering another poker mistake even the top pros make with shocking regularity.
After a bad beat, many players stop using logic altogether and play without regard to probability. It's amazing how often they go broke on the very next hand.
Who Wants Yesterday's Paper?
Personally, if a NESN commentator is going to buy the Boston Globe, I'd rather it was a partnership between Jerry Remy and Hazel Mae, not Jack Welch.
Snark aside, the front page story in today's Globe that former GE CEO Welch and advertising wheel Jack Connors are exploring creating a local syndicate to purchase the paper from the New York Times corporation casts a bright and unflattering light on my former business, and an equally unflattering light on the reported buyers. If businessmen want to do civic good works, they should give money away, not make an investment that's trying to be charitable and profitable simultaneously. That's an impossible parley.
Of course, the story could be a wild exaggeration. There's a major difference between holding meetings and commissioning due diligence on an investment and actually ponying up a half-billion bucks to make it. There's also the little matter of business transactions needing both a buyer and a seller. The Times' decision to purchase the Globe in 1993 for $1.1 billion was a spectacular mistake, one that could've been easily avoided, too. While his family controls the corporation's voting stock, CEO Pinch Sulzberger might be loathe to take a 50 percent loss on the deal. That kind of red ink is WAY thicker than blood. The history of American business is full of dynastic family enterprises, many of them far larger than the Times, where said family decided it had put a twit in charge, canned him, and brought in outsiders to straighten out the mess. The Wrigley Co. did so just this week.
As an intellectual exercise, however, let's assume the story's gospel. The local worthies headed by Welch are serious about buying the Globe, and the Times is seriously considering the proposal. If that's the case, here are a few unsolicited observations on the deal, some of which are serious.
1. Welch, Connors, Joe O'Donnell, Steve Karp-there's one thing about the Globe's suitors that stands out. They all wanted to own the Red Sox, Patriots, or both and didn't get 'em. If they're now seeking to buy the Globe on the emotional rebound from their first attempt to own a visible Boston institution, their doom is inevitable. Hang in there, Pat Purcell! A year or two more of fooling the wolf at your door, and you might own the city's only daily newspaper.
2. Everyone in the newspaper business would like it to be 1983 again. I'd like it to be 1967 again so I have another shot at the girls of my youth. Neither's gonna happen.
Our burg's already got a newspaper aimed at older Irish people-the Herald. Every Friday night, my former paper's cosmic dilemma is on display all over eastern Massachusetts. That's wake night. Every town in the area big enough for a stop light also has a funeral home with an Irish or other Catholic name. And every time I'd drive by one on Friday and see the lights on, I'd think, "damn, there goes another loyal reader."
Gentlemen, try to run a Globe aimed at people who remind you of yourselves and you'll lose money faster than Jeff Gordon can drive the 24 car at Talladega.
2a. I know his wife is a big wheel at Bank of America. But if you hire Mike Barnicle, the whole city will laugh at you. Loudly.
3. The working headline for today's front-page political story in the paper you want to buy was, no shit, "Healey: Her Mom Still Likes Her." Don't waste time wondering why people don't buy the Globe as frequently as they used to. Spend fifty cents for a copy, and answer will jump out at you.
4. There's an AMAZING amount of human talent stockpiled at the Globe. Much of it goes wasted each day because the paper's trapped in rote thought, the rote that produced the story I cited in item 3. In my opinion, you're going to lose money with the Globe no matter what. If you want to be REAL benefactors of society in the process, experiment with your product. If any of the experiements succeed, you'll be doing a service for both your home town and journalism in general.
5. Perhaps the Welch-Connors consortium has done this already. If they haven't, they should make a lunch date with the only Boston newspaper proprietor who ISN'T losing money right now-Steve Mindich of the Phoenix.
Mindich has always been something of an outre figure in this ossified burg, a fact that's doubtless been to his advantage. He was my boss for almost a decade, and it's true he can be let's say tempestuous at times. But with age and experience if not wisdom, I've come to appreciate Mindich more and more. Perhaps that's because I've learned how damn difficult it is to BE a newspaper owner.
Last week I received an invitation to an upcoming 40th anniversary party for the Phoenix. Those years have witnessed both the greatest boom and the greatest busts in American newspaper history. Through it all, Mindich has managed to evolve his business to cope with every challenge. The Phoenix chugs along, and one never reads stories about it being on the block.
So Mssrs. Welch, Connors, et. al., get together to Mindich. Ask him any question you can think of. Then ask him if he'd like to be part of your little group.
It Steve says no, head for the hills yourselves.
Pick Up on Grocery Aisle Six, STAT!!
Bill Parcells added another line to his Hall of Fame resume last night-the first unassisted triple play in NFL history. The coach of the Dallas Cowboys made a single decision that may have ended three careers, both of his two quarterbacks' and his own.
The choice: Late in the first half of the Cowboys game against the Giants, starter Drew Bledsoe threw about as awful an interception as possible in the New York end zone, allowing the Giants to leave the field at intermission with a 12-7 lead. Parcells, who'd been openly hinting at a change all week, benched Bledsoe for backup Tony Romo.
The immediate results: Romo threw an interception on his first play from scrimmage, then threw two more. All were as awful as Bledsoe's blunder. The last was run back 96 yards for a touchdown, and New York won 36-22.
The long-term results: An overwhelming probability the Cowboys are toast for 2006, facing nothing but two months of a slow-motion crash and burn. There's a 95 percent probability Bledsoe's career is done, a fact that'll be made official in January. There's a 60 percent chance Romo will have no career at all, none better than mediocre, anyway.
Last but not least, the decision indicates there's a 100 percent chance this is Parcells' last year in Dallas, and at 66, his last year as a coach, period. They can put the entertaining, gifted SOB in the Hall of Fame where he belongs.
Parcells broke the most important rules of the coach-quarterback relationship, maxims so fundamental Pop Warner coaches know them by heart. You never change quarterbacks unless you must. You change quarterbacks in the middle of a game only if the "must" involves a near-death medical experience for the starter. Breaking these rules inevitably leads to disaster for all concerned.
As everyone who follows football knows, Bledsoe is somewhere on the 17th fairway of a long, reasonably OK NFL career. Drew never turned into Johnny Unitas, but he wasn't Tim Couch, either. At this point, however, the "flaws" section of Bledsoe's performance pie chart is swallowing the "strengths" slice in greedy hunks. Benching him would not in itself be an unreasonable decision. It happens to them all, eventually. There are 26 quarterbacks in the Hall, and only three, Otto Graham, Norm Van Brocklin, and John Elway, walked away from the game on top. Joe Montana and Joe Namath each got fired. No reason Bledsoe can't be.
BUT YOU DON'T FIRE A QUARTERBACK AT HALFTIME!!! The wise coach takes his lumps, then switches field generals for the next game. This allows the starter the chance to redeem himself in the second half. If he can't, he's got no bitch when you tell him Joey Clipboard's taking the first team reps in practice this week.
This procedure also gives Joey C. a far better chance of running the team with success when he steps into the huddle for the first time. He's as prepared as can be. Perhaps more importantly, so are his teammates. Changing QBs is a Very Big Deal. Football players, like most of us, are creatures of habit. The more time they have to get used to a major change, the better.
In the short-term, benching a healthy QB in the midst of a game is as surefire a way to lose a game as exists. It's a desperate decision, and recognized as such by all concerned. The line between panic and desperation is a fine one. A desperate coach usually winds up leading a panicked team. That seldom goes well.
But it's after the game when the real trouble starts. You lost. Former starter Bob Bigcontract thinks he got screwed (Bledsoe said so the media last night). Joey Clipboard, on the other hand, is wondering just how long he'll be the starter. Will another interception turn his battlefield promotion into a battlefield demotion? The offense is choosing sides between the two QBs. The defense is wondering what the hell's going on. The media is badgering you and everyone in the organization down to the towel boys about who'll quarterback and for how long next Sunday. Your team isn't exactly a band of brothers marching towards Agincourt. Cheese-eating surrender monkeys is more like it.
Yours truly covered three different mid-game quarterback switches in his past sportswriting career. None worked, and the one that appeared to work was the worst disaster of the three.
Two involved playoff games in which a big favorite was trailing at home, a situation where desperation is not uncalled for . In the 1987 playoffs, Bill Walsh replaced Montana with Steve Young late in the third quarter against the Vikings. The 49ers were down by three TDs. It was a Hail Mary to spark a rally and nothing more. When training camp opened next summer, Young was back on the pine. What I remember is the tremendous cheer from the crowd when Young came out to the huddle instead of Montana. That's when I learned that by and large pro football fans suck.
Three years later at the old Vet, Buddy Ryan benched Randall Cunningham for the first series of the third quarter of a wild-card game against Washington. One three and out later, the Eagles were on their way from a 6-3 to 13-3 deficit. After the Redskins' score, Ryan sent Cunningham BACK as the QB. Unsurprisingly, Ryan was fired about 9 seconds after the final gun of the 20-6 Philly loss.
The "successful" QB switch came in an October 1983 game in old Foxboro Stadium. In the second quarter, the Seahawks led the Patriots 23-0. Coach Ron Meyer removed Steve Grogan and inserted rookie first round draft pick Tony Eason.
In one of those events that make football a bad sport to bet, Eason led the Pats to 38 unanswered points and a 38-23 triumph. If only he'd then retired. The Grogan-Eason controversy became a malignant tumor eating at the vitals of a pretty damn good football team for the next four seasons.
Parcells knows all this. So the question isn't "why did he bench Drew?" It's "what in the world made an October game between two 3-2 teams worthy of such a high-risk, high stakes gamble.?" Why, in short, was Bill so desperate?
As an amateur (formerly professional) Parcellsologist, only one answer comes to mind. Parcells was desperate because he's already made up his mind this is his last spin on the merry-go-round, at least in Dallas. A great coach was so anxious to leave a winner he made the one move best designed to produce the opposite result.
There are 19 coaches in the Hall of Fame. Only ONE, Bill Walsh, walked away a winner.
Studio 60th in the Nielsens
This couch potato officially gave up on Aaron Sorkin's latest effort last night. A show has to be pretty bad if it turns me away from looking at Amanda Peet in favor of the comedy stylings of Tony Kornheiser and Joe Theismann.
More ominously for Studio 60, my teenaged daughter, a HUUGE West Wing fan, didn't watch either. It's Tivoed, and she said she'll catch up to the episode on the weekend, but I know she won't.
She won't miss anything. The fifth episode of Sorkin's latest foray into "quality" television failed in so many different ways listing them all might take until the show's next episode two weeks from yesterday. Turning the great Eli Wallach into a lame cliche is an almost impossible feat of anti-entertainment. Sorkin managed.
There were four separate story arcs in the show, all built around a cast party none of the protagonists spent much time attending. All four were hokey to the point of physical pain. Far more lethally, all were so predictable you didn't just know how they'd come out, you could recite the dialogue before it took place. Did any member of the millions in the audience not know the Dodger pitcher would put his phone number on Peet's autographed baseball?
Well, a lot of prime time TV sucks. Studio 60s primo rival in its time slot, CSI Miami, is a comical catastrophe, a head-on collision between impossible plots as they collide with tactical nuclear overacting. All Sorkin shows have talented and attractive casts doing their best with occasionally sparkling scripts. The man has talent. That's why Studio 60 is worth criticizing. When a Sorkin show tanks, there's less excuse for it.
Might as well get to the heresy and be done with it. The hallowed SportsNight left me cold. Great cast, snappy cross-talk, and a complete lack of versimilitude. Sports journalism is a topic I know something about, and Sorkin's show about it left out one kind of important ingredient-none of the characters cared about sports very much. Sex, their careers, their professional integrity, yes. The scores? Not so much.
For all the rip jobs public and private I've laid on Chris Berman and Stuart Scott, I know both of them love sports as much or more than myself. They wouldn't be in sports TV if they didn't. SportsNight almost never conveyed the idea its characters were interested in the topic of their working lives. Professionally speaking, they were earnest liberals obsessed with integrity's battle with the corporate meat-grinder.
West Wing was also a show about earnest liberals. Since they were in the White House, a place where earnest liberals occasionally can be found, this worked just fine. Sorkin's best and subtlest work in West Wing was his exploration of the limits of earnestness in politics, policy, and life itself. Jeb Bartlet's transformation from the garrulous know-it-all economist of the show's first season to the grimly confident leader who won a second term was both excellent acting by Martin Sheen and superb writing from Sorkin. Bradley Whitford's Josh Lyman was the most earnest of all the West Wingers, and as often as not, this made him the butt of the show's jokes. Earnestness, unchecked, made Lyman a buffoon.
Studio 60 is yet another show about earnest liberals. It's also a show about comedians and comedy. And that's why it has seemed so false to me since the pilot.
There aren't nearly enough laughs in Studio 60. The cross-talk between Whitford and Matthew Perry is the wittiest part of it, and there's not even enough of that. But comedy is serious business. Off-stage, few comics are barrels of laughs. Many are miserable people. The very funniest, as often as not, are spectacularly self-destructive. Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, John Belushi, Jonathan Winters, the honor roll of laughter is full of human beings ripped apart by their overacute perception of the absurdity of life.
That's a high-falutin' way of saying that comedians, whatever they may be, are seldom earnest liberals obsessed with the integrity of network television. Not on the job anyway. Lots or comics are liberals in private life, but when working, they're anarchists. If they're not, they don't get any laughs.
Do we see a pattern here? Sorkin has created three shows. One was about something besides the TV business, and it was a hit. For all its cult status, SportsNight was a flop. So far, Studio 60 is an even bigger flop. If it weren't for all the money NBC gave Sorkin, it might've already been canceled. Each of the shows about TV were basically about how heroic stand-ins for Aaron Sorkin fought for truth, justice, and the earnest liberal way of TV. That's entertainment!
In time, Sorkin will create another hour-long episodic drama for television. If it's not ABOUT television, I promise him I'll watch.
As for Sorkin's enablers at NBC, may I suggest to the fourth-place network it's comedy priorities are exactly ass-backwards? The network now has not one but two shows that are backstage comedy/dramas about what's obviously Saturday Night Live. Nobody in the world's vast comedy audience needed either one.
What we need and want from Rockefeller Center is for the real Saturday Night Live not to suck so very, very much.
One Sign Your Favorite NFL Team Has Had a Rough Time For a Few Seasons
Preface: TV networks slot their announcing teams by market size and a game's national appeal. Here in New England, we're used to having the Pats' games called by the Dierdorfs, Gumbels, Simms, and Aikmans of the world, not to mention Al and John. That wasn't always the case, right, Beasley Reese?
Lesser-known or new-hire announcers are assigned games between lousy teams shown to smaller sections of the country. This has the odd effect of making them MORE familiar with and knowledgeable about the clubs they cover over and over than the stars who hopscotch to a different marquee matchup every Sunday.
The Punchline: While dial-twitching yesterday, an NFL team to be named later booted a punt into the end zone for a touchback. The announcer then said. "Punter X has had a lot of touchbacks this year. Last season he did a great job of avoiding them and keeping the ball inside the 20."
I shuddered. Even with my eyes closed, that statement meant a) the team in question uses its punter often enough that his performance is a big part of their game, which can't be good, and b) said punter is having a bad year, bad enough to make his downtrodden club's situation worse than before.
Don't believe me. The team in question was the Detroit Lions.
Stat of the Week
What's in a name? One name would seem contain nothing but superpowered poltiical mojo.
According to the invaluable www.electoral-vote.com
, CNN ran two polls on the 2008 presidential election this weekend (no, I don't know why political journalists do useless crap like that either). One showed Sen. John McCain leading Sen. Hillary Clinton 48% to 47%.
The other poll was very slightly different. Sen. Hillary RODHAM Clinton leads Sen. John McCain 51% to 44%. Including her middle name made Clinton a clear favorite with the electorate.
The scientifically-minded chaps at electoral-vote.com said this was proof of how the wording of questions is the most important element of any poll. I saw it in simpler terms. For one in every twenty-five American voters, the most important qualification for our next president is whether he or she has Rodham somewhere in their name. Presumably, this desire extends beyond politics to all aspects of American life. We want Rodhams as our doctors, lawyers, firefighters and reality-show winners.
Using three names in a newspaper byline is considered the height of pretentiousness in the journalists' trade. Some of us, however, can't be choosy. Come 9 a.m. Monday morning, I'll be at the Concord branch of Middlesex District Court, finding out how to legally chance my handle to Michael Rodham Gee.
The Fall Classic
As usual, the World Series will rest on which team's dominant starting pitcher will carry his team to victory. Will it be the Cardinals' Jeff Suppan, or Kenny Rogers of the Tigers?
Based on the evidence of the 2006 post-season to date, every word of the above paragraph is the gospel truth. Writing it reminded me that baseball is a very weird sport.
An Apology of Sorts
Dear Boston Globe and Brian McGrory: I'm sorry I swore at you. That was unseemly behavior.
But I still think your attitude stinks, and I stand by all the non-cusswords in my post.
Vote STFU on Prop. One
In Massachusetts, the most advertised issue of this election year is Prop. One. Two sides of committed, informed, passionate citizens are battling over the primal question of our time-should grocery stores be allowed to sell wine.
If only I were kidding. That IS the first ballot initiative question we'll get next month. Just in case democracy made any of us feel good anymore, here's a quick reminder the republic has already suffered a fatal fall in its bsthtub.
The "yes" ads feature smiling middle aged white folks stuffing bottles of Chateau Latour in their shopping carts right next to the Tuna Helper. The "no" ads show the grainy black and white footage common to negative political commercials and imply 15-year olds will be hanging around the produce section in order to swoop up wine to facilitate their plan to kill themselves and others in drunk driving wrecks.
This raises the question when was the last time anyone ever saw a pack of unescorted teenagers in a supermarket, but I digress. The main point is that the front door of my local supermarket has a sticker urging "vote yes on one" while the local packy has one urging me to vote no.
Come to think of it, the REAL main point is that these two stores are all of 50 feet apart. One would be hard-pressed to find a single Mass. supermarket that's more than 300 yards away from a liquor store. Since booze sales are regulated and controlled at the distribution level, the only possible issue for a voter, convienence, is already moot. Prop. One is classic special interest legislation, of vital economic interest to the parties involved with no impact whatsoever on the rest of us.
Questions like Prop. One are why representative democracy was invented in the first place. At the local, state, and federal level, we elect and pay people for the job of deciding shit like this. To be blunt, this is the kind of issue that's sending Jack Abramoff to prison, and sends many legislators on junkets to St. Andrews.
And that, by God, is a small price to pay for the luxury of not having to think about it myself. I don't care about Prop. One. I never will. Booting the question back to yours truly is the system saying, "you know what Mike? We're a complete failure. You take the wheel."
I will vote no on One because I vote no on all ballot initiatives. It's the only sane choice. My brother Dave, a conservative Republican business exec, and Markos Moulitsas, the celcbrated Kos, main man of the lefty blogosphere, do the same thing. It may be the last sensible bipartisan stance in American politics.
If ballot initiatives are to continue, my suggestion is skip the ads and go straight to bribes, as special interests would with the legislature. If I got a fiver back every time I went to Stop and Shop or to buy a six-pack over the next two weeks, I'd be more interested in Prop One.
For a trip to St. Andrews, you DEFINITELY have my vote.
All human institutions have institutional character flaws. Newspapers are no exception. Their quirks and imperfections are more apparent than other organizations, because newspapers have a collective voice. Their collective characters are on display each day.
Any Bostonian knows the flawed trait of my former employer the Herald. In a word, insanity. The Herald presents life as an endless series of exclamation points, a truly loopy, no, disturbed way of viewing the universe. In justice to the old stand, I must point out that worldview is not a cynical marketing ploy. It was and I assume still is the (lack of) thought process that dominated every aspect of the organization. Folks, if you think the Herald seems a little weird from the outside looking in, you can't imagine what it was like from the inside looking out. The collective nuttiness was THE number one reason working their was a joy. Fun and sanity aren't often running mates.
Any Bostonian also knows the character flaw that blights the Globe. In a word, snootiness. New England's largest if shrinking newspaper operates on the premise it is the benevolent, all-seeing colonial governor in these parts. We the readers are the childlike, backward, basically pathetic natives who need its constant guidance. The Globe knows best. Its shit don't stink and never will. From the "Curse of the Bambino" to running the funny papers for political balance rather than laughs, when the Globe fails, it does so with a patronizing smile at its customers.
Gosh, that's appealing. Who wouldn't want to buy a product with that message? And never, ever, will one find better examples of the Globe's group flaw than in its commentary on last night's gubernatorial debate.
I pause here to qualify my message. The subjects of what's to come are the Globe's editorial page, which is run by someone I consider a good friend, and metro columnist Brian McGrory, who I think's a pretty good writer more often than not. I hope both will take my observations as a gentle admonition to do better, not a personal attack.
If they don't, tough. What they brought to the table in today's paper was real weak shit.
With its nose so far in the air it must've whacked the top of the Hancock, the lead editorial admonished all four candidates, but mostly Kerry Healey and Deval Patrick, for not giving voters a campaign worthy of the Globe's coverage. The debate had too many soundbites and generalities and not enough specifics.
This just in. Patrick and Healey aren't interested in running the kind of campaign the Globe would like to cover. They want to run the kind of campaign that'll get 'em elected. The presidential campaigns of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and John Kennedy were full of soundbites, generalities, and promises each man abandoned the moment they took the oath of office. We simple-minded voters know that's the way the game is played. Why don't the bigdomes of Morrissey Blvd. get it?
As blogosphere observers from both the left and right have noted, the TV debate format makes coherent discussion of the issues actually impossible. In their alloted time, candidates are lucky if they can get off a soundbite or generality. They're hard-pressed to speak in complete sentences. Put Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, Pericles, and Winston Churchill up on stage with the same format, and they couldn't do any better than the candidates did last night.
If the Globe wants specifics, let me introduce it to the Internet. You know, the handy gizmo that's putting the paper out of business. Every candidate for every office down to small town tree preservation council has a web site spelling out their positions in enough detail to choke Bill Clinton. Ideology aside, it's a slur on all four gubernatorial hopefuls to say they haven't addressed the issues. They may not have done it well, but they all tried.
Take it from a former newspaper opinionist. Cluelessness is an occupational hazard that snares us all from time to time. Hatefulness is less excusable, and in HIS effort to appear superior, McGrory went way over the line into just that.
"And Grace Ross?" McGrory wrote of the Green party candidate last night. "She seems really nice. But let's step beyond the political correctness and admit that she has none of the support and qualifications that entitle her to a spot on the stage. She's a distraction and she no longer belongs."
I don't know Ross. I'm not gonna vote for her. But on behalf of Ross, anyone who does know her, anyone who is going to vote for her, and, in fact, for all the voters of Massachusetts, I'd like to deliver a rebuttal to McGrory's remarks.
Fuck you, Brian, you arrogant, pretentious jackass! Who the flying fuck are you to say who belongs in an election and who doesn't? Aren't the debates supposed to show us Ross' qualifications for office or lack of same? Isn't her level of support (and the other three candidates') yet to be determined? Isn't that why we're voting on Nov. 7 in the first place? We're all so sorry democracy offends your super-developed sense of smell.
Rant over. McGrory deserved it, but as noted, his offensive remarks stemmed from the basic Globe attitude that drives its readers into a rage and has been doing so for all of the 35 years I've lived here. One of America's top newspapers operates on the theory God died and left it in charge of New England. It's an unappealing trait.
Businesswise, it's also a suicidal one. The primary fact of Globe life is its balance sheet, not its content. The paper is losing readers, advertisers, and revenue in appalling quantities. It's not going too far to say the Globe's troubles are all that's keeping the Herald alive. Its collective attitude can only be making its problems worse. The Globe high-hats its readers today, it's like going to one's high school reunion, seeing the cheerleader/football captain one had a crush on who's now fat, 40, living in a trailer down by the river, and they STILL won't give you the time of day. It's more comical than irritating.
To fix that problem, the Globe's corporate masters in New York gave the paper a new publisher last month. He's got a tough job. There may not be a publisher on earth who can solve the problems facing newspapers. Beat the Internet? Get young people to read more? Gandalf the Grey couldn't come up with a business plan for those babies.
Self-improvement, however, is always possible, for individuals and institutions alike. The new publisher could insist his newspaper work on a new attitude.
As a Globe reader since 1974, let me say it couldn't hurt.
"His Kind of Player"
The news is a little stale now, but it can't bear enough repeating that it was the Oakland Raiders who didn't want to trade Randy Moss to the Patriots, not the other way around. The Pats didn't say "no way." They wanted to haggle over price.
This bit of information soon will be smothered under a ton of written and spoken nonsense to the effect Bill Belichick wouldn't make a deal for Moss because the idiosyncratic wideout is not "his kind of player." This is more proof American sportswriting has embraced the Liberty Valance School of Jourmalism. When fact conflicts with legend, legend becomes official history.
Moss is self-centered, mercurial, and has been known to take off the occasional play, game, or month. No coach likes those qualities in a player. Moss is also a tremendous talent. That attribute trumps all his negatives. Belichick's kind of player is the same as every other coach's. He prefers good ones.
The Pats don't win because Belichick has assembled a selfless gang of role players. All successful NFL teams describe themselves that way, even when it's blatant nonsense. Yours truly heard Deion Sanders say it about the '95 Cowboys. Belichick's gift is for finding players mistakenly rated as role players, then finding them ways to be much, more more. Case in point, Mike Vrabel. The Pats' linebacker is the hero of my favorite Belichickian statistic. In New England's three Super Bowl victories, linebacker Vrabel's caught two touchdown passes. That's the same number as future Hall of Fame wideout Michael Irvin had in the Cowboys' three Super Bowl wins in the '90s. Current Hall of Fame wideout Paul Warfield played in three Super Bowls for the Dolphins and a pre-merger NFL title game for the Browns. He didn't catch a scoring pass in any of 'em.
All coaches balance a players' ability versus any negative personality traits he brings to the complex entity of a football team. The kernel of truth in the "Belichick's kind of player" legend is his personal scale puts more emphasis on the latter than many of his peers. That's an understandable sentiment from a man whose most celebrated stint as an assistant coach involved co-ordinating a Giants' defense whose best player was Lawrence Taylor. Not only was Taylor undisciplined and dissolute, he was head coach Bill Parcells' teacher's pet. This so offended Belichick's professional soul that when reminiscing about those Giants' teams, the Pats coach still has trouble saying LT's name.
But I will guarantee anyone any sum they care to name that if a football Mr. Applegate appeared before Belichick this evening and offered to swap an in-his-prime Taylor for Vrabel straight up, role player Mike would be wearing a crimson uniform for the ultimate warm weather franchise before the brimstone scent could fade from the coach's office.
Belichick is a BETTER coach than most any ever. That's not the same as being completely different from the rest. In this matter, Belichick is the same as any coach who's ever drawn a paycheck. It's a tough job as is, so they'd all prefer not to have a player who's a pain in the ass.
If that player's good enough, however, well, there's always Preparation H.
You Call THAT a Personal Foul? Sissy!
For the second time in three years, a Sports Illustrated poll of NFL players named Patriots' safety Rodney Harrison as the league's "dirtiest" player. What a weenie age we live in. Calling Harrison "dirty" is nothing but grade inflation and a distortion of the word's true meaning.
To paraphrase a famous quote, I know dirty players. I grew up watching dirty NFL players. At least one dirty NFL player was a friend of mine. And Rodney Harrison, sir, is no dirty player. If he's the worst pro football has to offer, the league is operating under standards of sportsmanship better suited for a cricket Test Match.
Harrison is an extraordinarily aggressive and hard-hitting defender. Ergo, he's often on the nanosecond's edge between legal and illegal hits. The penalties Harrison draws when he falls off the edge aren't a feature of his game-they're inescapable bugs, mistakes that are a natural byproduct of the way he plays. Harrison admits his personal budget his a line-item for NFL fines, and there's no denying some of his penalties and collisions are, at the least, creative. But they seem to stem from the flow of a game and the inherent violence of the sport.
Ripping off Hines Ward's facemask was a flagrant foul. Was it dirty, or a natural outgrowth of a day's worth of collisions between two very tough hombres?
To me, anyway, the word "dirty" means a player who breaks the rules in the deliberate attempt to inflict bodily harm on the opposition, or cheating as one's ONLY means of competing. In Harrison's time with the Pats, I've seen him deliver more than a few late hits, but I can't recall any which appeared to be an idea he had before the play began.
Dirty means Conrad Dobler, poking fingers in his man's eyes and spitting in his face for a capper. If I'd voted in the SI poll, my ballot would've gone to the Denver offensive line. The Broncos highly effective cut blocking scheme depends on play designed to create the threat of injury. Hitting guys real hard while drawing fouls as the cost of doing business isn't the same thing at all.
Not to date myself, but yours truly has been watching pro football way longer than the players SI polled have been alive. That's a mixed blessing, but it does mean I came of age with the game in the early and mid-'60s, a/k/a the Golden Age of Dirty Football. What Harrison does today would've qualified him for the Lady Byng back when LBJ was in the White House.
The Pro Bowl defensive back of my youth was the Eagles' Tom Brookshier. Brookie was neither particularly big, strong, nor fast. Nevertheless, receivers found it most difficult to get separation from him. This was no surprise. Brookshier usually had both hands inside their shoulder pads.
Any football fan wishing a delightful and terrifying half-hour should spend the time chatting with Deacon Jones. Jones was one of the top three defensive linemen in history, and there's nothing he likes better than recounting the various moves he laid on enemy blockers. These stratagems, most of which were perfectly legal at the time, woudn't just get Jones penalized today. He be en route to the Hague to stand trial for war crimes.
Were players more sociopathic back then? Naah. They were, however, less scrutinized. Instant replay was in its infancy. Games were telecast by maybe three cameras, and none were focused on the mayhem in the pit. There was even one fewer official on the field until 1965.
There were fewer rules for those zebras to enforce, as well. The face mask was in common use by the mid-50s. Grabbing the fack mask did not become a penalty until 1962! If players could get away with more legal assault, it stands to reason their ILLEGAL hits were correspondingly more atrocious.
Since the NFL hates its own history, and operates on the principle that today's game is always the most and best ever in every respect, younger fans might not believe modern players are relative models of on-field decorum. I refer them to the following reference materials. Steve Sabol of NFL Films has a clip show devoted to outtakes from the organization's early days in the '60s, and a good part of the episode covers dirty plays. Nothing major-running a guy into the water table 15 yards out of bounds, knocking down a player from behind as he stood by a pile over a fumble on a play already whistled dead, that kind of thing. The kicker? We see the fouls, but we don't see any flags thrown. Nobody's seen more pro ball than Sabol. If he says the game was dirtier back then, he's got more credibility than any other source I could site.
Except for this one, perhaps. The Golden Age of Dirty Football was also the time when Esquire was the greatest magazine in American history. In September of 1965, it ran an issue devoted to the NFL, AFL, and the violence therein. The cover of the mag was a shot of a lone player (guard Darrell Dess of the Giants) kneeling in prayer. The title "God help this man, he's about to pro ball."
The part of the issue I remember most was a segment listing the top five NFL players in terms of pain, five who'd endured the most, and five who'd inflicted the most. List B was highlighted by Hall of Fame fullback John Henry Johnson, and the blurb by his photo contained the following anecdote.
Once during a game Johnson was driven out of bounds by one opponent, then hit by another well after the play should've been dead. So John Henry got up and whacked the miscreant upside the head WITH THE DOWN MARKER!
There's dirty football, folks. Harrison's just not in that league. He couldn't be, no more than a NASCAR driver could race in the protective gear of 1965. Players are much bigger and faster than they were 40 years ago, and if there weren't more rules more strictly enforced, fatalities would be a commonplace occurance on NFL Sundays.
If we're going to enforce the rules of the English language with similiar strictness, however, Sports Illustrated's poll draws a 15-yard walkoff for false marketing. It called Harrison the dirtiest player in the NFL when it meant to call him the most violent. That's not an insult, it's a tribute. It's why Harrison will himself make the Hall of Fame one day.
I hope during his induction weekend in Canton, Harrison, J.H. Johnson, and Jones get together and compare notes.
The Threat of Gangsta-Kegger Culture
Those Americans with televisions, which is all of us, haven't been able to avoid multiple replays of the on-field brawl last Saturday night in the midst of the football game between Miami (Fla.) and Matchbook State, er, Florida International University. Unlike most sports fights, players on both teams did their very best/worst to really hurt each other during the melee, making it great television indeed.
We're now deep into the pretentious tut-tutting stage of post-brawl analysis, commentary made more tedious than usual by Miami's well-earned reputation for flashy if increasingly empty street bravado. Before the Monday morning sociologists go off the deep end, they should note the Miami-FIU rumble wasn't the only bench-clearing brawl in college football that day. The other one took place between those notorious outlaw programs, Holy Cross and Dartmouth.
Visiting team Holy Cross won the game 24-21 in overtime and began celebrating in the middle of the field. Some Dartmouth players took exception to this, and the fireworks began.
One can only imagine the Dartmouth rallying cry.
"This is OUR carriage house! NOBODY does that in our carriage house!"
Why It's Tough To Be A Democrat
DOUBLE WARNING!! NOT ONLY IS THE FOLLOWING POST ABOUT POLITICS, IT ALSO CONTAINS A VERY POLITICALLY INCORRECT, BADLY DISGUISED CUSSWORD. TO ANYONE OFFENDED, THAT'S WHY I USED IT.
Being the underdog every time out doesn't bother me. I spent 20 years working for the second newspaper in a two-newspaper town. Truth be told, "outmanned but never outfought" are fun words to live by.
Losing sucks, but it doesn't drive me to despair. I've been a Philadelphia sports fan for over half a century now. Kerry '04 was hard to swallow, but compared to the '64 Phillies, it was nothing. Bill Veeck summed up the Democrats' plight many years ago. "If the status quo didn't win almost all the time, it wouldn't be the status quo anymore." Those who can't accept that situation should get out of politics.
No, there's only one insupportable problem with being in the Democratic party. It's infuriating and sickening to line up for a game when a significant subset of one's own team are a bunch of f*&$@!ing p#$@*&ies
Too harsh? Not from where I sit. With three weeks to go before national elections, much of the most committed and intelligent members of the Democratic base are already preparing to lose another. There's not a scintilla of evidence to support their pessimism. It's an ingrained defense mechanism. To be precise, it's the quitter's defense mechanism.
That's not a sentiment heard from Democratic officeholders, not in public anyway. It's commonplace all over the left-liberal blogosphere, what's supposed to be the party's new driving force. I've read it from people who otherwise have my utmost respect as thinkers and writers.
It's best to get my hopes up, wrote Matt Yglesias. Uh, Matt, if you don't like to hope, why are you in the business of trying persuade people your political opinions represent the electorate's best course of action?
William Grieder has been one of the country's top political journalists for over 25 years. Last week in the Nation's blog site, Grieder wrote couldn't stand his own fears of what'll happen on Nov. 7 another minute, and the signs of a possible Democratic triumph only made him more anxious. Grieder was, in effect, playing the game with one eye on the scoreboard, hoping to run out the clock. Uh, Bill, me and Denny Green can tell you how that usually works out.
Underneath the movement's stars rests a base of frantic, almost despairing comment from its base, good citizens who're so afraid of losing they're already beat. With sorrow more than anger, their viewpoint is summarized in the following paragraph.
Oh, I'm a Democrat, boo hoo. We always lose, boo hoo. Karl Rove is so mean and smart, boo hoo. The Republicans have more money (something that was just as true when FDR ran against Hoover), boo hoo. Diebold, boo hoo hoo hoo! Putting a twist on top of their paranoia, some commentators have written it won't matter if the Democrats do win, because George Bush will still be president.
It is to puke. These people really are defeatocrats. What's most odd is that these are the same folks who spend a great deal of energy rightly berating Democratic officeholders for their timidity, no, make that cowardice, when confronting Bush and his agenda. Gang, what do you expect if you send your leaders signals like these. Given an army of yous behind him, Stonewall Jackson would've surrendered at First Bull Run.
Upon further review, that's only the second-oddest thing about the Democrats' worriers of October. Number one is they've got nothing real to worry about.
That's doesn't mean the Democrats are a cinch to win. There's no such thing as a cinch, and I've got decades of lost bets to prove it. But in a very real sense, the opposition party is irrelevant to next month's election. The moral and practical consequences of the vote rest squarely on the voters themselves.
Unless the entire polling industry has imploded (which wouldn't be such a bad thing), the electorate is wildly dissatisfied with the status quo, and hence the party in power. Bush and the Congess have approval ratings on a par with some life-threatening illnesses. If the electorate holds that opinion, but come Nov. 7 is too frightened, apathetic, or confused to vote for change, it's on them, not the Democrats. There's nothing, nothing, any political party can do to win over voters who're so set in their habits they'll put up with their own anger rather than risk changing direction. All the opposition can do is wait for the facts of life to get even worse by the next election. Don't worry, they will.
But for heaven's sake, team, try to look like you expect to reach the end zone every so often. Sports is not important and that's why I like it. But to the people in sports, winning and losing are everything, and they know more about those two non-imposters than most folks. Here are some rules they live by.
1. Never look at the scoreboard until the last out or the clock is at 0:00.
2. Pessimism is the first, fatal step down the slide to quitting.
3. You play to win the game. Herm Edwards will never make Canton, but he's a lock for Bartlett's Quotations.
Those Democrats who can't internalize those rules should STFU anyway. I believe it was Pericles who first said sniveling is not a big-vote getter.
The Paralysis of Psychoanalysis
We're deep into the baseball playoffs, and all fans know what that means. Sports journalism pages Dr. Freud, Dr. Adler, and Dr. Jung, then winds up channeling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine and Dr. Howard.
This will be subject to change depending on who wins the NLCS but most commentators currently are wrestling Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Joe Torre to the couch. The inner turmoil of these three Yankees are the reason New York was bounced from the playoffs by the Tigers. Had they been in better mental health, Jared Wright would not have remained a lousy pitcher.
The fatal belief that players' souls determine ballgames rather than their arms, bats, and gloves afflicts even the most talented writers. Allen Barra, who was my colleague in the Village Voice sports section in the summer of 1987, is as talented and creative a sportswriter as there is. Last week, Barra published a howler in the Wall Street Journal speculating that Torre's calm, no waves persona was responsible for the Yanks inability to hold a lead in its losing playoff series from 2001 on.
Funny. I always thought that problem stemmed from the fact New York's third, fourth, and fifth starters this century have been aged, injured, unreliable, or some combination of the three. There's no way known to medical science that Torre's personality caused David Wells' back problem in the 2003 World Series.
A-Rod was indeed a mess at the plate against Detroit. Was that because of a lack of comradely love and support from Jeter? Or was it because Rodriguez had an enormous amount of trouble with low pitches dipping beneath the strike zone all year long? There is a reason why more teams have hitting coaches than shrinks on their payrolls.
The need to come up with facile fallacies simple enough to compete in the media's struggle for the lowest common denominator of its audience explains some of the psyche delving. The main reason it's so prevalent, however, is the amazing fact that's how athletes tend to talk about themselves and their own performances, too. After a loss or poor individual performance, 99 of 100 jocks would rather say they needed a better attitude towards their work than that they just didn't have it today. When it comes to admitting maybe they just weren't as good as the other guy or team, make that 999 of 1000.
This used to baffle me. Why would anyone admit to the primal character flaw of an inner reason for not giving one's best rather than the value-neutral fact of coming in second in a physical contest? It took a long time before I realized that as men (and women) of action and not reflection, athletes PREFER to analyze their own minds rather than bodies. A defect of mind or will can be corrected. Getting beat physically moves one that much closer to unemployment. It's a lot easier to come to spring training with a new attitude than a new body.
There's no reason why we outsiders should fall for the jocks' defense mechanism, however, especially when baseball's the sport in question. It's not a game that attracts introspective people.
When the geese are on the wing south, the frost's on the pumpkin and psychobabble dominates baseball discourse, my thoughts turn to the brilliant insight of Mayo Smith, a manager of the '50s and '60s who won a World Series in 1968 with, of all teams, the Tigers.
"Open up a ballplayer's head and you know what you'll find?" Smith once said. "A lot of little broads and a jazz band."
No Given Sunday
Something very odd isn't happening in the National Football League this season. Normality is so much the norm as to seriously weird me out.
The missing phenomenon can best be described by example. Yours truly participates in a survivor pool with hundreds of contestants. (For the benefit of non-gamblers, a survivor pool is a contest where each entrant must pick the winner of one NFL game each week. Point spreads do not apply, but you can't pick any team more than once). There were over 300 plungers still alive before last week's games. The same number are still alive today. EVERYONE picked a winner.
Our shared success ran counter to NFL probabilities established over decades of league history. Since the whole point of survivor picks is the search for mismatches, week five of the pro football season was an upset-free zone. Upon further review, so were the preceding four weeks of the schedule, too.
Think back, pro football fans. Can you point to ANY game this year where the form chart was upended in spectacular or even noteworthy fashion? I couldn't without studying the week-by-week record of all 32 teams, and the best I could come up with was pretty small beer, the Redskins' 36-30 overtime win at home over the Jaguars on October 1. In truth, the most startling part of that game was its total score, not which team one. In the same vein, the Giants' comeback against the Eagles was a surprise because of the way Philly blew a big lead. Beforehand, the contest was viewed as a toss-up.
Otherwise, nothing. Oh, favorites have failed to COVER on a steady enough basis to keep Las Vegas one of our fastest-growing cities, but they haven't actually LOST. The Colts were pressed to the limit by two decided underdogs, the Jets and Titans, but Indy is as undefeated as it's been unimpressive. The Patriots have been in-and-out on offense, but're 4-1, which is about where one suspected they'd be going into their bye week. Those two teams were supposed to be good, and they are. The Raiders and Lions were expected to suck, and they do. The league to date has been an overwhelming triumph of the conventional wisdom.
We won't go into the whys and wherefores of this pattern because a) the answer is probably "who knows?" and b) this former reporter no longer has the authority to ask players, coaches, and executives what they think. It is obvious, however, that should this extreme degree of predictability continue for the final two-thirds of the season, the NFL would confront a dire threat to its primary marketing message. "Any Given Sunday" means "upsets are always in play, so keep watching!" The less that's true, the less reason to watch. At this point, anyone living in a Bay Area, be it San Francisco, Tampa, or Green, has no further reason to follow their teams except hoping for an upset. If that hope seems futile, it'll be time to turn off the tube and start scouring draft guru web sites.
Ever alert to market trends, old-fashioned bookies catering to point-spread gamblers have responded by escalating point-spreads to Big 12 levels. The Broncos at home are giving 15 to the Raiders this Sunday night, which is simply absurd. The longer the upset drought goes on, the more spreads of that magnitude there will be. When the trend ends, as all trends do, some bookies will get crushed on a very black Sunday indeed.
But not this Sunday, I hope. The Broncos are my survivor pick.
Real-Life Dictionary, An On-Going Series.
In American politics, the word "crime" begins with an "n".
A long time ago, the biggest star on the New York Yankees went 2 for 17 in the post-season and the Yanks were swept. For some reason, despite having lost back-to-back World Series behind the overrated selfish bum, the Yankees held on to Babe Ruth anyway.
Not quite so long ago, the biggest star on the Yankees fell into a dismal post-season slump. Over the course of three consecutive seasons, he hit a snappy .130 in playoff competition. For some reason, nobody saw fit to call Mickey Mantle a gutless choker.
Once upon a time in a very different New York City, Dodger first baseman Gil Hodges, batting cleanup, went 0 for 21 as Brooklyn lost the Series to the Yanks in seven games. Public reaction was swift. Priests led prayers for Hodges in parish masses.
Alex Rodriguez may take comfort from these historic episodes. But he'd be better off taking comfort in all that money. It's all society gives ballplayers anymore. In return, they have to sit still while we pretend we're better people than they are.
Patriots 20-Dolphins 10
The Patriots are one of a significant number of NFL teams whose record and overall performance aren't running on parallel tracks. As a result, we don't know much more about them today than we did when the season began.
The Pats are a most creditable 4-1. The statistics and the evidence of our own eyes, however, record New England has having played one outstanding game (Cincinnati), one poor one (Denver), and three middling contests against less than middling opponents (Buffalo, the Jets, Miami). The Pats won those last three, but is that a testament to veteran poise and opportunism, or mere proof of the August theory the AFC East would kind of suck this year?
Beats me. Also Bill Belichick and the ghost of George Halas. The Pats aren't even the NFL club MOST at odds with its record. The Colts are a perfect 5-0, and belching clouds of doubt and suspicion with each win. Their defense, never great, is clearly weaker than it was in 2005. So's their offense minus Edgerrin James. Any team that can surrender over 200 yards rushing to the Titans is in for serious misery down the road, or else all football textbooks will be recalled for major rewrites.
The Bears look like a 5-0 team. The Raiders, Titans, and Lions look like their winless records, too. In between, all is confusion. Before the season began, most of us had the Saints season over/under for wins at five. They're 4-1, too. So are the Rams, another record I prefer to treat as a mirage. The defending champion Steelers are 1-3, and pose the flip side of the Pats' mystery. Their poor start could be due to a front-loaded schedule, or maybe Ben Roethlisberger's medical travails will make 2006 a lost year for the Pittsburgh QB and his team.
So what do we know about the Pats so far? Try this numerical sequence, 17, 17, 17, 13, 10. Those are the points New England's allowed in each of its five games. That performance DOES equal a 4-1 record. Allow no more than three separate scoreboard entries, you usually win.
It must be noted that the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins main problem is lack of offensive firepower. No one would say that about the Bengals, however, and the Pats
throttled their attack with merciless thoroughness.
So if the Pats have been dominant on defense, why haven't they seemed as impressive as their record overall? The answer is both obvious and staggeringly counter-intuitive. Tom Brady. The top quarterback in the NFL has become a supernumerary, a spear-carrier, at times a liability.
When New England's duo of Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney ran well, the Pats offense was both consistent and efficient. When they could not (against Miami and Denver), New England sputtered through long periods of futility. When the team put the game entirely in Brady's hands against the Broncos, he failed.
Memory's a tricky muse, and doubtless more obsessive Pats' observers than yours truly would be able to cite exceptions to the following observation. When I recall the five games New England's played to date, the decisive winning strokes and big plays are almost exclusively created by the defense, from the goal line stand against Buffalo in the opener to the three turnovers that resulted in 17 points against the Dolphins. Then come some spectacular moments by Dillon and Maroney. Frankly, Brady's not in my memory bank at all. Since the sack/fumble/Bills TD on the opening play of the opening game, Brady's primary responsibility appears to be the minimalist chores of error-avoidance and capitalizing on short fields provided courtesy of the D.
Brady's supreme gift is adaptability, so he's done well at his new, more limited duties. The results remain disconcerting nonetheless. Giving one's best player less to do is an odd strategy to watch, whether it works or not.
There are teams in the NFL a good team can defeat without major contributions from its quarterback. Three of them can be found in the AFC East. They're almost never found in the playoffs.
Baseball: Too Simple A Game to Be Understood
Any writer, from Nobel Prizewinners down to yours truly, would ordinarily be thrilled to have a bylined article in the Sunday New York Times. Mr. Martin B. Schmidt is the exception to the rule. He's out there somewhere this morning, trying to locate and destroy every Times sports section he can get his hands on.
In "Keeping Score", the Times' weekly sop to the figure filberts in sportsland, Schmidt pored through history to determine that the best indicator of a ballclub's post-season success is how it plays in September. The better a team plays in the final 30 games of the regular season, the better its chances of making and winning the World Series.
Schmidt must've done a lot of work, and if his piece had only run LAST Sunday, he'd be OK this morning. Alas, current events have undermined Schmidt's scholarship, because the four playoff teams who were strongest in the final 30 games of the 2006 season, all cited in Schmidt's piece as good bets, were, you guessed it, the Twins, Padres, Dodgers, and Yankees. The teams with the weakest finishes were the Tigers, Cardinals, and Mets.
Three of the teams with "momentum" are gone, two of them without winning a single game, and the Padres are still one game away from elimination. The Mets and Tigers shrugged off their very real miseries down the stretch to eviserate their allegedly hot rivals in short order. The only comfort I can offer Schmidt is that prognicator's misery loves company, and boy, does he have some. All the media baseball experts hashed their divisional series predictions, too, and the ones who love statistics most ((hi, Rob Neyer!) did the worst.
Schmidt and his fellow wrong guessers aren't baseball ignoramuses. They know much more about the game than outsiders. That was their problem. The recurring failure of smart people in all disciplines is the tendency to overrate details at the expense of basics. Genius is the capacity to understand details as expressions of the basics.
Some folks use numbers as the bedrock of their baseball knowledge. That's a perfectly valid approach, but for myself, I use the game's endless encyclopedia of cliches. They're how generations of baseball men have tried to express the sport's mysteries, and ignoring them misses much wisdom (and, I'll admit, much hooey, too).
Post-season cliche number one: "We all start off 0-0 now." The important thing about this chestnut is that players actually believe it. The Tigers and Cardinals may have skidded their way into the playoffs, but they made it. A near-death experience of that nature gives a team a natural sense of relief. We're not chokers after all. We have a fresh start, let's use it. That, of course, is one psychic plus the Yankees never get. New York could go 30-o in September and a single man left on base in its first playoff game is an unacceptable negative.
Cliche number two: "Momentum is your next day's starting pitcher." The reason the Mets advanced and the Yanks did not is that in their Game Twos, Tom Glavine was lights out with minimal run support while his Bronx counterpart Mike Mussina was unable to hold a 3-1 lead. Champions win 3-1 games. The Yankees almost never play them.
Cliche Three: "Pitching is 75 percent of baseball." The Tigers had the best staff ERA in the American League by a wide margin. Oakland's hurlers are no slouches. Surely there had to be at least a 40 percent chance Barry Zito might outperform Johann Santana, and that the Detroit starters would thwart the over-loaded Yanks' attack (a team that has to bench Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi in successive games is unsafely engineered. That's a waste of a roster spot better spent on a middle reliever who doesn't suck).
Not a cliche, just an observation: As the 2006 Red Sox proved as well, when older teams hit the wall, they don't skid, they collapse. This risk was always on the table for the Yankees, and it bit 'em. Surprise, if any, should be mild.
Cliche the fourth: "It's a game of percentages." The unspoken word in that sentence is the adjective "narrow." Historically great ballclubs win at best slightly over two of every three games, and historically lousy ones lost slightly over two of every three. Divide those figures into best-of-five and best-of-seven series and there's an uncertainty dividend so huge as to render any prediction a blindfolded guess. I realize the expertise industry requires forecasters to sound conclusively sure of themselves, which is why the wise avoid baseball predictions whenever possible.
Cliche the last, from the immortal Joaquin Andujar: "There's only one word to describe this game. Youneverknow."
Timing is Everything
Everyone knows the above title is one of sport's most profound cliches. Take Kenny Rogers. In the course of his 189-year major league career, the southpaw pitcher was utterly unable to record outs when facing the Yankees in one of his 74 prior uniforms. Then came last night, and those sorry stats went out the window.
The same goes in life. To err is human is one of the grandest understatements of all time. What's human is to blunder, botch, and so screw up one's own affairs as to defy comprehension. We've all done it. most of us more than once. But WHEN one drops the old ball of being is what determines how much of a price we pay.
Your essayist has brutal personal evidence to support his theory. The primal fuck-up of his career occured during a slow news week, meaning the offense received nationwide notice out of my former trade's need to fill space. Six weeks later came Katrina. Had I committed the same damn fool mistake THEN, the sin would've remained intensely private.
Therefore, we must conclude Democratic gubernatorial nominee Deval Patrick lives under a lucky star thousands of times brighter than the sun. Perhaps confused by the surfeit of advice that comes to candidates who look like winners, Patrick made a complete hash of explaining his efforts on behalf of an imprisoned rapist some years ago.
Such sins are the stuff of campaign furors, or would be, were it not for timing. The very same day Patrick's misstatement was revealed, the public learned of the instant message habits of former congressman Mark Foley.
It's common knowledge American voters "don't have time" for politics. This is a polite euphemism for "America has the laziest, most ignorant voters of any democracy". The public's limited attention to public affairs applies as much to scandals as issues.
Class, let's compare and contrast. Which scandal would YOU find more interesting: A) A candidate's flawed effort to explain a potentially embarrassing professional decision; or B) a congressman who wrote laws against cyber-stalking engaged in the cyber pursuit of underage young males in the Congress' trust?
You picked B, dear reader. Anyone who isn't working for Patrick, Kerry Healey, or who gets paid to cover Massachusetts politics would. Patrick's screw-up drew a "Hmmn". The Foley affair is a bona fide "Holy Shit!" And alas for Healey, the miscreants have little Rs after their names, just as she does.
Napoleon said he promoted only lucky generals. Were he an early 19th century Frenchman, Patrick already would have his marshal's baton.
A journalism inquiry
Second-guessing live newspaper coverage of sports events is a risky endeavor. If readers knew how many things can and do go wrong in the process, they'd be pleasantly surprised their paper arrives printed right side up. One of my most painful career memories is how I and the rest of the Herald's four-man team for Super Bowl XXIII (49ers 23-Bengals 16) left a seam in its zone and somehow managed not to write a separate story on Joe Montana.
So with no, merely a genuine sense of mystery, I have the following questions for Dan Shaughnessy and the Boston Globe this morning.
1. It's not unusual for two major sports events to take place in the same American city on the same day-especially not in New York, our biggest city. I don't know a single serious sports fan who hasn't attended two different games in one day at some point in their lives. Why in hell was doing so yesterday considered newsworthy? We know New York has a subway system.
2. The Globe is devoted to baseball, and Shaughnessy is more devoted to baseball than just about anyone I know. As an eyewitness to one of the damnedest plays in post-season history, two men thrown out at home on the same play almost simultaneously, how the triple hell could Dan not make THAT his column? Would it have spoiled the pregame plan? Tough. He should've done what any columnist worth his salt in that spot would've done-whined and wailed, big-foot up the chain of command, and be a colossal pain in the ass until he got his hands on the play as his column topic.
Dan knows that drill as well as anyone. How come he didn't?
There are many worse management teams in sports than the crew in charge of the Red Sox. They do, however, have one flaw that sticks out in times of adversity. If it's you or them baby, you're going off the back of the sled. Say hi to the wolves for Mssrs. Henry, Lucchino, and Epstein.
Let's be blunt. There couldn't be a more chickenshit reaction to missing the playoffs than dumping the pitching and hitting coaches, especially when pitching coach Dave Wallace missed much of the season with a serious medical problem. Until yesterday, Ron Jackson was an avuncular clubhouse figure who received credit for helping David Ortiz patch up the holes in his swing. Jackson's big role seemed to be talking about Manny Ramirez when the outfielder had a big game but didn't feeling like speaking to reporters.
Now Jackson's a liability? Sorry, that idea seems straight out of Denny Haestert's damage control playbook.
The untidy lynching of Grady Little after the 2003 ALCS remains the troika's most flagrant effort to round up the usual suspects, since their public rationale for firing him was an obvious, childlike lie. If the brain trust had concluded IN JUNE Little was a liability, didn't they have an obligation to fire him then, rather than let the season play out?
The truth of the 2006 is no big secret either. The Sox' major off- and in-season front office moves didn't work out. Josh Beckett's pet gopher grew to the size of Godzilla. Coco Crisp was something less than an adequate replacement for Johnny Damon. Boston's older players got hurt, as has been known to happen, and its young pitchers, with the exception of Jonathan Papelbon, struggled, another rather routine development. Epstein didn't like the price of available trade deadline talent, and his prudence burned him.
None of those unhappy facts mean EPSTEIN should be fired. Bad years happen, and standing pat in July 2006 may seem a stroke of genius in July 2008. But if the guy near the top of the flow chart deserves to return, so do his minions. Firing coaches (assistant coaches in the other sports) isn't shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic, it's more like working on the seating chart for the captain's table.
After pondering, I can come up with only one reasonable explanation for Jackson's departure. It must be the Sox have concluded they have no further need for a spokesperson for Ramirez. If that's the case, God help the NEXT hitting coach.
A Question About Democracy
Why do politicians think they always have to smile?
Channel-surfing I hit on CNN and Wolf Blitzer was asking Whie House flack Dan Bartlett if Bob Woodward's new book didn't prove George W. Bush was a lying sack of shit. (That's a paraphrase, unfortunately).
A normal person faced with a serious charge against his side would look grave. Bartlett was grinning in a smile that had to oost him $5K worth of dentistry.
That's not a Democratic observation. Both parties do the same. Why don't they understand how wretchedly false it looks?
It's Morning in Massachusetts
Today's Globe brings the news that although a majority of voters disagree with gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick on the issues, they still give him a 55-30 lead over Republican candidate Kerry Healey. This takes me back to the golden days of 1984 when MTV and the Radio Shack TRS-80 were the cutting edge of American life.
Disclosure: My son has been a Patrick volunteer for the past 16 months, so naturally I have a rooting interest. This has also allowed me the chance to meet the candidate, which I did in July of 2005. And while it might irk Democrets to say so, he instantly reminded me of another pol I'd met a long time ago-Ronald Reagan.
Some people are just gosh darn likeable. Reagan was. Patrick is. And attempting to wage an ideological battle against such a foe is a hopeless proposition. Fritz Mondale probably doesn't know who Healey is, but he should give her a courtesy call.
If Nick Cafardo is right, and when the subject is baseball he often is, and the Phillies could somehow get Manny Ramirez in exchange for Pat Burrell, this Phiuladelphia fan will be delirious with joy.
Oddly enough, while it would be a bad deal for the Red Sox, it wouldn't be THAT bad. It's doubtful any Manny trade will get any major league talent better than Burrell. So he's been in a little slump for five or six years. These things happen.