Sunday, January 27, 2008

Injury report

In only a few minutes, the pep rally for the Patriots will begin at Gillette Stadium, allowing all local news to have film at six. I would give anything to see the following sight at this non-event, which I won't, which is too bad for the Pats, because it would mean they were going to beat the Giants by approximately nine touchdowns.

Bob Kraft speaks the usual banalities. Bill Belichick takes his turn and offers more succinct banalities. And then...

Tom Brady is wheeled before the podium. We know it's Brady because someone has painted the number 12 on the chest of his full-length, head-to-toe, Warner Bros. cartoon body cast which has holes for his eyes, nose, and mouth. The microphone is placed in front of the mouth hole, and Brady guarantees victory in Super Bowl LXII -- in the voice of "Simpsons" character Hans Moleman.

Believe me, I know from bitter experience that filling the sports section of Super Bowl bye week when the home team's in the game is a desperate venture. No story, no matter how stupid, can be overlooked, because, in actuality, there are no stories that aren't either redundant or stupid. However, Brady's allegedly injured ankle need not disturb the sleep of any sentient Pats fan.

In the locker room after the 2001 AFC championship game win over the Steelers, Brady WAS hurt. He had a medical appendage on his leg that looked like a slice of the Stay-Puft marshmallow man from "Ghostbusters." One week later, Brady took every snap from center in Super Bowl XXXVI, and by most estimates gave a good account of himself.

So unlike some gifted athletes, like say, Manny Ramirez, Brady has a documented past of being a quick healer. A missed practice or three to heal is of little consequence. Brady already knows how to play quarterback.

In any event, the status of Brady's health will be made public beyond the shadow of a doubt the first time he attends one of the Super Bowl's mandatory press conferences. Brady will tell us all about it even if he doesn't say a word.

It's a good thing (on many levels) Brady's avocation is beautiful women and not card games. Brady doesn't have an "Old Maid" face, let alone poker. He's a wretched prevaricator. When Brady is hiding something, his body breaks out in a rash of tells. The perpetual listing of Brady on the Pats' injury report is likely done to spare him the embarrassment of failing to convince anyone he's fully healthy when suffering a minor ding most players would lie about with absolute conviction.

Besides, if Brady really was hurt, Matt Cassell would probably be in MGH on a 24/7 Prozac IV.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Executive of the Year, and It's Only January

Reading about a good white collar crime in the New York Times and/or Wall Street Journal offers the same pleasures as reading about a good gangland slaying in the Chicago Sun-Times or the two New York tabloids. So naturally, I've been neglecting my Super Bowl hype consumption this week to follow the case of M. Jerome Kerviel, formerly of Paris, France, now of parts unknown.

Kerviel is the enterprising employee of the humongous bank Societe Generale who stands accused of having lost the firm over $7 billion in one day's worth of imaginary stock trades he conducted after somehow bypassing the bank's in-house fail-safe system. It's unclear if any laws were broken, since Kerviel's initial profits in the fake deals went to the bank, not him. He was taking one (well, billions and billions of ones) for the team.

Serial killers, super fraudsters, it's always the same story. Would you believe that Kerviel was a loner? That he was totally average in every way, and colleagues and neighbors barely noticed him? Of course you would! Oh for the day when a neighbor says, "if you were looking for the kind of person who'd ruin the world financial system (slays six, ends high speed chase by ramming the Vatican, etc.) it'd be him."

If Kerviel wasn't average then we wouldn't be able to read all the entertaining conspiracy theories about Societe Generale and the masterminds who're using him as a patsy. A crime without conspiracy theories is like a cheeseburger without french fries.

Anyway, if you happen to run into Kerviel this weekend, buy him a Pernod. You owe him. According to today's Journal it now appears that when Societe Generale began to unwind all of Kerviel's transactions last Monday, THAT, and not fears of recession, are what sparked the worldwide collapse of stock prices that day. In other words, no Kerviel, no big interest cut by the Federal Reserve Board. No panic-created bipartisan economic stimulus package in Washington. No $300-600 check for you, the U.S. taxpayer. Better make that Pernod a double. It's only right.

Kerviel is only 31. I wonder about his future. Clearly, a man with such a creative flair for catastrophe is indispensable to the world economic system.

I have just for Kerviel, too. If a guy who lost 7 billion bucks before lunch one day isn't the perfect replacement for Isiah Thomas as coach, general manager, and president of the New York Knicks, I don't know who would be.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

America's Long-Winded Reminiscences' Team

If you quickly go around the house, close the blinds, shut off the lights, and remain crouched below the window line until Super Bowl XLII, you have a fighting chance of avoiding football anecdotes told by a member of the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Just don't open the door!

There are some plot lines that can't be avoided. Joe Namath guaranteed a win in Super Bowl III. Did you know Jerome Bettis is from Detroit? Rest assured, the surviving members of the only undefeated team in NFL history will be asked, often, about the only team in history with a chance to match that feat, the 2007 Patriots. Just a hunch, mind you, but I wouldn't be surprised if some of them are rooting for the Giants.

Shouldn't snark. There are a great many football fans in all 31 other NFL cities who cannot abide the Dolphins' reverence for their own legend, the champagne ritual, etc. Doesn't bother me. Athletes are proud and competitive people. If they've done something nobody else has, naturally they would like to keep the feat exclusive. Sir Edmund Hillary couldn't have cared for seeing the top of Mt. Everest become a tourist destination over the decades.

Unfortunately for the Dolphins, their public relations stunt diminishes their team's stature rather than enhancing it. By drawing so much attention to their supreme accomplishment, the Dolphins let folks forget it wasn't their only one.

Miami went 14-0 in the regular season, and except for their opening win in Kansas City, they played nobody. This fact has been cited ever since as proof the Dolphins' perfect record wasn't such a much. It was cited DURING the perfect season. The '72 Dolphins were underdogs in Super Bowl VII. Only 3-point 'dogs, but still, that's pretty insulting.

Take wider angle lens to the Dolphins of the early '70s, and the picture gets clearer. They were one of the NFL's legitimate dynastic powers, and that would be true if they'd been 16-1 in 1972. In fact, if they had been, maybe more fans would give the Dolphins their due.

Coach Don Shula and six players on that 1972 team (Griese, Csonka, Warfield, Langer, Little, Buonoconti) are in the Hall of Fame, a dynasty-worthy number. For my money, Jake Scott or Dick Anderson could be, but that's another post. It's difficult for a center like Langer to make Canton off of one season, even if it was perfect.

In 1971, the Dolphins went to the Super Bowl and lost to the Cowboys. In 1973, they repeated as champions, beating the Vikings. Three consecutive Super Bowls. Back to back NFL titles. Can't disrespect that.

In those three seasons, Miami's overall record, playoffs included, was 44-6-1. Not too shabby. Throw in 1970, when the team first made the playoffs, and 1974, when they were eliminated by the Raiders in their three-peat bid, and the irritating boys of yesteryear went 65-16-1 in a five year period. That's an .813 winning percentage. The Dolphins dominated their time as well as any other NFL dynasty ever did.

That time, however, was relatively short, only five seasons, which is one of the reasons the Dolphins don't get quite the historical position they deserve. They also had the misfortune to be immediately succeeded by the far more engrossing (and better) Steeler dynasty of the rest of the '70s. Interregnum periods make dynasties look better in retrospect.

The other main reason the Dolphins are forced to toot their own horn is stylistic. There's no gentle way to put this. Those Dolphins were the dullest great football team, perhaps the dullest great sports team, ever to make one long for a commercial break.

Play a word association game with the NFL's other legendary teams. For Lombardi's Packers, "execution" comes to mind. For the Steelers, it's "violence," "precision for Joe Montana and 49ers and so on. For the Patriots, I'd pick either "resourcefulness" or "versatility." When I think of the Dolphins as I watched them "methodical" pops right to the tip of my tongue.

Methodical. There's a compliment, huh? It's pro football as an episode of "This Old House." I hate myself for thinking it. It is, however, the truth. God, Miami was boring.

Super Bowls VI, VII, and VIII were without doubt the dullest, most unmemorable Super Bowls of them all, utterly lacking in entertainment value. I've attended my share of Super blowouts, but at least in those games, one side is putting on a show. 24-3, 14-7, 24-7. The SCORES are boring.

It drives the old Dolphins crazy that all anyone remembers of the final win of their perfect season is Garo Ypremian's slapstick attempt to pass. They should count themselves lucky. Otherwise, nobody would remember the game at all. It was, and remains, the only Super Bowl I did not watch from start to finish. At halftime, I went for a walk in the foothills around Pikes Peak with a young lady I admired, and didn't get back until there were 1o minutes left in the fourth quarter. I have never regretted this decision, and after reviewing the videotape of that tilt, realize I could have left before kickoff without missing anything. Clear mountain blue skies and deep mountain blue eyes beat the hell out of another 8 yard square out to Jim Mandich.

Football historian Bill Belichick sneers at the idea of style points, and he's right. But there's real history and there's popular history, and popular history always wins their arguments. Football fans were happy the Miami dynasty was replaced by Pittsburgh because the Steelers were more entertaining to get beat by.

In all likelihood, the old Dolphins will watch the clock run down in Super Bowl LXII knowing their title is now, "only undefeated team in NFL history until February 3, 2008." They shouldn't brood on the loss. Just as Hank Aaron spurred a revival of interest in Babe Ruth, and Barry Bonds one in Aaron in turn, having a peer in perfection will add to their historic image, not erase it.

Besides, they also stand to make a bundle off selling their pixeled images to whatever video game designer is hard at work writing the code for "72 Dolphins vs. '08 Pats," coming soon to an XBox near you.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Giants? Do They Have a Case?

Over at the Boston Sports Media Watch message board, the devout community of Patriots fans who hang their pseudononymous hats there posed a reasonable question for current and not-s0-current football reporters and commentators. Aside from pop psychiatric bullshit and/or specious historical analogies, are there factors one could cite that indicate a possible Giants victory in Super Bowl LXII on February 3? At the risk, no, certainty of ferocious scorn from that crowd, I submit the Giants do have attributes giving them the puncher's shot at an historical upset.

1. The Giants' line play has been excellent in the playoffs on both sides of the ball. They have run, and they have stopped the run. They have rushed the passer, and kept homicidal lunatics off Eli Manning's back. This is more in the nature of a prerequisite for not getting massacred than a key to victory, but it's a fact all the same, and a handy one for New York, seeing as how blocking and tackling decide the outcome of 99.9 to the googol percent of all football games.

2. The Giants have not turned the ball over. Troy Aikman noted last Sunday that a team not beating itself had done half the work involved in beating the other team. Turnovers always matter. In the Super Bowl, due I think to the enormous psychological stresses unleashed by the game, they matter more than in any other contest.

3. The Giants have a potentially dominant offensive player in Plexico Burress. The enigmatic (nice word for disappears sometimes) receiver is capable of an MVP performance. A team needs at least one player like that BESIDES its quarterback to have a shot at winning any Super Bowl.

4. The Giants have won a road playoff game. I am moderately violating my rule against using history, but this is actual research, and the research indicates this matters. In Super Bowls dating back to the 1980 season, which is where the pages of my 2005 NFL media guide began to turn up missing, when a team with a road playoff win met a team without one (which, remember, means it almost surely had a better regular season record), the team with the road win won 10 out of 15 Bowls, 7 of the last 10, and 6 of 7 in this decade (Super Bowl XXXVII, Pats 32-Panthers 29 is the sole exception).

It is not difficult to explain this phenomenon. Hell, Mike Shanahan did it before his 1997 Broncos upset the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII. He asked the team if they thought beating Green Bay on a neutral site would be more difficult than defeating Kansas City and Pittsburgh on the road in consecutive playoff games. Winning the Super Bowl is very, very difficult. Winning a road playoff game is even harder. A team that wins one KNOWS it has reached about its highest possible level of play.

There you have it, dear readers, dear Pats fans, and the world at large. The Giants have reasons to expect to win the game. Not enough of them for me to actually pick them or anything rash like that, but any analyst forecasting a New York win is not entirely indulging in contrarianism for its own sake.

Monday, January 21, 2008

History Takes Some Funny Bounces

Luckily for the National Football League, the Patriots DID win all those close games in December. Otherwise, we'd be set up for the least interesting two weeks of Super Bowl hype EVAH.

Imagine if the Ravens had had a teeny bit more luck, and the Pats were playing the Giants with a 15-1 or 14-2 (the regular season game between the two being rendered irrelevant to all concerned). We'd have a decided underdog versus a favorite whose record of resilient efficiency has ALREADY made them the team of this decade. Plus, no offense, it ain't exactly a team of quote machines, either. Tedi Bruschi is smart, can be funny, and is insightful, but what could he or any other Patriot say about the Super Bowl they haven't said already?

Unless, of course, the Patriots were undefeated entering the Super Bowl, as happens to be the case. Now, they, the NFL. and all football fans are in unknown territory. New England's entire decade of dominance, its historical stature, is on the line in a way it could never have been without that 18-0 record. This has become a table stakes Super Bowl, which engages me, anyway.

If the Patriots win, which I would assess at about an 85 percent probability, the rewards are obvious. New England would have established a clear case as the greatest team in pro football history by both the standards commonly used to evaluate that matter. If we are judging one season, then the different rules and far more difficult schedule faced by the 2007 Pats makes 19-0 more impressive than the 17-0 of the 1972 Dolphins. If we are judging by the more common standard of "same team over 5-10 year period," then 4 Super Bowl wins in 7 seasons plus the greatest one season ever argues strongly that the Pats are the best team anybody's ever seen, and shut up about the Decatur Staleys, great-grandpa.

If the Pats should lose on February 3, then history is up a stump. There is no relevant comparison to help it. We would be confronted with an admittedly great team slipping on the verge of its signature accomplishment in the most humiliating fashion possible. The nearest I can come to envisioning this possibility is to imagine the reaction if Lombardi's Packers had lost Super Bowl I.

Sane people would conclude that the past cannot be erased by the present. The Patriots' record from 2001-2005 doesn't go away if the Giants pull the upset. They're still one of the NFL's historic best, just with this weird blot on their resume. But any chance of being ranked as the top team of all the great teams would be gone. Seems a fair penalty.

Sane people do not dominate discussions about sports, which is why Glenn Ordway lives well. They are especially thin on the ground when the topic is a dominant team. Teams like the Pats acquire haters in the nature of things. Let them lose Super Bowl LXII, and the haters will put forward a narrative suggesting that the Pats' past is indeed negated by missing (except they'll say "blowing") the chance for a perfect season. It's wrong, stupid, and inevitable. If the upset comes, we can have a pool. Which commentator will be the first to say this proves the Pats cheated in their Super Bowl wins. Skip Bayless? Sean Salisbury? Michael Felger?

A love of football history is, along with attending Wesleyan University, the only thing I have in common with Bill Belichick. If the team involved in this situation wasn't his, I'd wangle a press credential from somewhere and go have a talk with him on the subject. As it is, however, the only persons who'll hear Belichick's opinions on the Patriots' historical jeopardy are the Patriots themselves.

I'm reasonably sure that when he mentions what's at stake against the Giants, Belichick will tell the team the haters will be the ones who write history if they lose.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Bobby Fischer, 1943-2008

Bobby Fischer died in Iceland at age 64, dead, as my wife Alice put it, of acute eccentricity. Fischer went from a paranoid, neurotic youth to a stone-crazy adult. He was proof of a sentence I wrote in the Herald years ago. The sport chess most closely resembles is boxing, the only difference being that in chess you get the brain damage from the inside out.

Fischer is one of a long and distinguished line of chess immortals who were hopelessly, often dangerously nuts. He was the picture of well-balanced moderation compared to 19th century American champ Paul Morphy, for example. That, however, is not the part of Fischer's life I wish to commemorate. He and his rival Boris Spassky deserve a place in American sports history for their 1972 world championship match. It marked what should go down as the Golden Age of Trashsports.

Despite a Winter and Summer Olympic Games (Munich massacre, not a sports related event, aside), the World Series, Super Bowl, etc., the most ballyhooed and discussed event in U.S. sports that year was a chess match! In Reykjavik! And the U.S. tiger was a complete ass! People actually watched a chess board recreation of each move on television, on PBS, natch. Well do I recall the fey color commentator who exclaimed. "That move is either a brilliant one or a tremendous blunder! I have no idea which!"

I submit that's one hell of a lot stranger than any UFC broadcast will ever be. And in the years to come, big-time sports got even more divorced from old-time reality such as, well, sports.

In 1973, the most ballyhooed and discussed sports event of the year, which got killer ratings, was the tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. King entered the Astrodome (what, you were thinking Wimbledon?) lazing in a sedan chair carried by six muscular chorus boys in Egyptian slave outfits! The entire board of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association suffered a simultaneous death by WASP embarrassment.

Then, in 1974, came the ultimate non-sports sports event. That's when the most ballyhooed and discussed event of the year was Evel Knievel's (himself dead last month) Snake River Canyon jump, or non-jump. Hype was so intense that Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon the day of the event in the hopes the nation, its eyes focused on Knievel, wouldn't notice.

After that, trash sports died down, at least until Tonya Harding entered the picture. But Fischer's triumph remains in the books, and so does the triumph of the marketing system, far more insane than he ever was, which led the world to Iceland in 1972.

This country turned a paranoid, anti-Semitic, self-hating recluse into a national idol, because he was good at a game 0.0007 percent of its citizens can play, or even understand. You have to respect that. That, or emigrate.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Fog of War Has Nothing on the Fog of Commentary

There are many times I desperately miss my old job. Then there are times like the last two days.

Didn't think about Randy Moss for a second today. Yesterday, either. OK, that's not strictly true. When I heard the news some woman in Florida had accused Moss of hitting her, I thought, "Gosh, that'd be bad if it's true. Hope it's not. Randy never seemed like that to me, but hey, who knows?"

And that was it. Moss went in one synapse and out the other. I had no desire to speculate, recall Moss' past shenanigans as an adolescent, or get on the phone to some ferocious attorney in Florida. I had no obligation to beat feet down to Foxboro and get Moss' side of the story or delve into the background of his accuser, so, naturally, I didn't.

Best of all, I didn't have to fill up a Herald column with many words about Moss' situation. I would've had the same opinion, that is, who knows, so why don't we wait and let the facts emerge (or not) in the legal system, but all newspapers frown on one sentence columns. I'd have been stuck. What would have wound up under my name and picture is the sort of column I hated writing most of all, and still hate reading.

I'm a civilian now. I don't have to read columns or stories I don't enjoy. No sane person could deny that the Moss allegations are news, big news. News, however, does not always lend itself to cogent, pungent, engrossing commentary. The list of known facts in this case is short. Ergo, the list of non-bullshit opinions to offer on Moss' beef with this woman is even shorter. I sure don't have any, except for "let's wait and see."

Columnists are not allowed to write "let's wait and see." Too bad that is exactly the correct reaction to about 98 percent of breaking news stories.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Patriots 31-Jaguars 20

"In my opinion, every time you kick a field goal, especially in the second half, you're closer to losing." - Steve Young, Hall of Fame quarterback, commenting on one of his 49er team's losses to the Cowboys in the playoffs.

Not giving up the big play is a worthy goal. As Tom Brady illustrated last night, however, it is also a NEGATIVE goal. It prevents quick scores. It does not prevent scores themselves. Sooner or later, a defense has to make a positive play to alter the game, or its team will lose. The Patriots defense was no great shakes last night, and David Garrard burned them on several blitzes, but the Pats maintained an aggressive posture anyway, because one defensive play can negate 50 or more yards of territory surrendered, or even a past touchdown allowed.

The Jaguars did what they wanted to do, and lost anyway. This indicates that there were problems with what their goals were in the first place.

No one is going to beat these Pats without accepting they need to take risks that create the possibility they'll lose both quickly and badly.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


I like the Pats comfortably over the Jaguars, the Packers over the Seahawks, the Colts by not as much as many think over the Chargers, and the Giants, in a hunch, over Dallas.

My lock? Look for American political journalists to continue to humiliate themselves. Honestly, if those twits were covering sports, they'd be lucky to get high school field hockey as a beat. Our democracy has become the real toy department of the free press.

Predictions are chancy, but people like to read them. Everyone who covers sports makes them. Everyone has what appear to be blinding flashes of clairvoyance, and everyone makes some disastrous, fans-never-let-you-forget 'em blunders. But any sports reporter this side of a high school paper knows enough to acknowledge the possibility they'll be wrong WHILE making the prediction. This basic CYA procedure acknowledges the reality that a football (baseball, hockey puck, golf ball, etc.) takes funny bounces and that the gap between victory and defeat in sports is both narrow and mysterious.

Those acknowledgements inform the predictor's audience that he/she has actually studied the question and that he/she is aware of the fundamental realities of human existence. They're also why you never see sportswriters on "Hardball."

In modern political reporting, certitude is all. God forbid a pundit should put any qualifiers before their forecasts of the future. This is baffling, because those forecasts are inevitably all the same. They are straight-line projections. What is happening today is what will happen tomorrow, only more so. Then these same dimwits will knowingly cluck "a week is an eternity in politics." Why do they say that, since they clearly don't believe it?

The facts about the race for the Democratic presidential nomination: Two well-funded, popular candidates split the first two contests for an almost infinite number of reasons, and anybody who thinks they know what'll happen next is silly.

The story as presented was a wild melodrama in which Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton reached deep into America's soul to reveal some pretty odd things about our racial and sexual attitudes, and where the Obama administration came into office for four days on the basis of notoriously unreliable New Hampshire opinion polls. When, as it always does, straight-line projection failed as a forecasting tool, political journalists were unabashed. It'd be way too hard to change their methods now.

Polls are tools. Tools are great, when you use 'em correctly. As used by the likes of Gwen Ifill and George Stephanopoulos, pre-election polls are akin to attempting to mow one's lawn with a chain saw. Things get cut down all right, but not the right things.

If possible, these savants are worse analysts than they are predictors. If there's one thing yours truly learned from Bill Belichick, it's what I call the "string theory of football" and by extension, all contests. It's all one. Every factor in a game, or election, is related to every other factor, and singling out any one element as the absolute explanation of victory or defeat is both meaningless and dangerously misleading. This is especially true in a 39-36 game, which happens to be the score of the New Hampshire primary.

Political analysts are, for some reason, not allowed to say, "you know, there are any number of reasons why Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama Tuesday." There has to be ONE reason, and by some amazing coincidence, that reason almost always relates to some topic on which the analyst has written extensively. If said analyst has published a book on U.S. politics, you can strike the "almost" from the last sentence.

Not that any do, but if the cream of the reporting crop reads this, they won't be mad, they'll be happy. Nothing bucks up political journalists more than criticism. They take it as a badge of pride. If the left hates us, and the right hates us, then by golly, we must getting things just right.

Circulation figures and Nielsen ratings offer a different interpretation. There is the possibility that, ideology aside, if everyone interested in the topic you're covering thinks you're doing a lousy job, you suck.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Boston-Visit Our Historic Grudges!

The following hot stove league dialogue took place at the coffee machine at my day job this morning. Guaranteed verbatim and submitted without comment.

Fellow Employee A: So, did you see Clemens on TV Sunday?

Fellow Employee B: Yeah. You know, I have no idea who's lying in that thing, but I sure hope it's Roger.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Jaguars 29-Steelers 28

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been in the National Football League since 1933. There have been great Steelers teams, there have been lousy Steelers teams, and there has been every degree of team in between. They have, however, shared one common thread, all 75 of 'em.

When the Steelers can't run, the Steelers can't win. Doesn't matter if their generous opponents try to give the game away in the last 15 minutes. A Steeler bunch that won't run for 2-point conversions or can't run for a game-clinching first down will lose, as it did.

Football justice was served. Jacksonville has played well enough this season to deserve a playoff win. And a win is all they're going to get, too. The Patriots don't even need to play a running back to beat the Jags. Shouldn't be close.

Baseball Preview, January Edition

Roger Clemens' interview with Mike Wallace will be shown on "Sixty Minutes" tonight. I'm unlikely to watch, because I'm pretty sure I know what it'll be like. The following viewer guide reflects almost 20 years of interviews I either did with or participated in with Clemens.

DON'T expect Clemens to look shifty as he denies using steroids. The man can lie like an angel. One long ago night in Oakland, Clemens shut out the A's on three hits. Attendance, as usual, was sparse, and the sound of Roger's fastball hitting the catcher's mitt was as if somebody had set off an M-80 in the press box. After the game, Clemens, his eyes shining with innocence, said he'd thrown maybe three heaters all game long, news that reduced Mark McGwire, not known for his sense of fun, to helpless laughter.

DO expect difficulty following the discussion. Clemens' battles with coherence are legendary, but they follow a pattern. Shooting the breeze on golf, travel, or some other neutral subject, Clemens is as articulate as you, me, or the late Lord Laurence Olivier. As a topic gets nearer and dearer to Clemens' heart, his adrenaline level rises, and the listener's comprehension level sinks accordingly. Since 99.9 percent of all my discusssions with Roger were about pitching, I was usually SOL.

Tonight's interview is the most important conversation of Clemens' life. I predict complete gibberish.

It would be remiss of me, however, not to also point out that Clemens' habit of losing the English language under stress should serve him very well in any testimony before the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

George MacDonald Fraser, O.B.E, 1925-2007

George MacDonald Fraser died January 2 in his home on the Isle of Man. He was the author of many books, and two screenplays. He is the creator of one of fiction's immortal characters, Brig. Gen. Sir Harry Flashman.

I will say little of the Flashman books except this: Go read them. Now, when they will promoted vigorously in the afterman of his death. I can think of nobody who wouldn't enjoy them. Ripping yarns, accurate history, and hilarious comedy, all at once. The news that Fraser did not live to actually write his account of Flashman's service in the U.S. Civil War (honored by both sides) is of deep personal sadness to me.

But hell, creating an immortal character is pretty good for any writer. Popular fiction, like sportswriting, is a somewhat denigrated form of writing. All it does is give others pleasure.

Not many better obituaries than that last sentence.