Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hysteria Loosening Up in the On-Deck Circle

Call it a failure of moral imagination. Try as I might, I cannot think of a single reason why the news that some ballplayer tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003 should affect me or any other baseball follower in any way given the fact that today's date is July 30, 2009.

In fact, the New York Times report that unnamed lawyers have risked disbarment to unethically leak information that David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez did just that back in the day has prompted an opposite reaction of extreme emotional violence. I'm at a loss for words, at least for nice words, to describe my feelings.

This blogger tries to avoid cuss words, since this is a family Internet, but profanity and obscenity are in the English language for a reason, and there are times when nothing else is "le mot juste." Ergo, the following paragraph contains what is now the permanent stance of Michael Gee on the burning issue of drug use in baseball.

I don't give a shit. If it's possible to give less than a single shit, that's what I give about news of drug use that took place in the increasingly distant past.

As a matter of policy, I will not discuss the issue beyond this post. There's no need. Baseball now has an official drug use policy, and if players fail test, they are penalized. Right, Manny? I'm a lot less judgmental than in my reckless sportswriting middle age, so these reports will not affect my personal opinions of the players in question at all. Barry Bonds was an antisocial egomaniac long before he heard of human growth hormone. I always liked Ortiz as a person when I covered the Red Sox, and I see no reason to change how I feel.

I have a Hall of Fame vote. Several years ago, I came up with an unscientific but satisfactory method of accounting for PEDs at election time. I discount a player's stats from the Steroid Era (roughly 19993-2004), by approximately 20 percent as raw numbers. The continuing increase in evidence that users outnumbered users by a 10-1 margin during that period may, if anything, make me reduce the discount. If a 'roided-up slugger takes a 'roided-up pitcher deep, what exactly was his competitive advantage?

In short, my policy is more or less amnesty. If everyone's cheating, nobody's cheating, because cheating only makes sense if you're doing something your opponent isn't. I'm sure we're just days away from a report that some undernourished specimen like David Eckstein tested positive, too. It's only logical. If the stars were taking PEDs, the benchwarmers, middle relievers, and September 1 call-ups would have had to be either puritanical or daft not to be taking even more PEDs than the big fellas.

I would like to address the last portion of this post to Red Sox fans. Two basic points. First, if anyone tries to tell you your pleasure in the memories of the 2004 season should somehow be damaged by today's report, that person is feeble-minded. Ignore them.

My second point is more personal, since I have reason to believe it is addressed to a group that includes both close friends and possibly family members. Ortiz was/is a popular player (Consider how a similar slump to Papi's 2009 debacle would have been treated if the slumpee was Ted Williams. Ortiz is getting off easy). That's understandable, as Ortiz has been a very productive player and is a very likable man. I know that many of his fans view the issue of PEDs differently than I do, and are currently sad, disappointed, and a little angry at their hero.

I sympathize with that position. Really. It's far more pleasant to think of one's baseball idols as not possessing cleats of clay. Drugs of any kind upset some people a great deal. Disillusionment hurts whether you're seven years old or 70.

So I say this as kindly as I can. Grow the fuck up, will ya?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pre-Preseason Preview. Say It Fast Three Times

Rookies report to Patriots' training camp today, thus beginning the NFL season, more or less. The pro football season has more beginnings than most sports, what with the draft, mini-camps, etc. No wonder the league has never been able to market its actual Opening Day with its accustomed success.

Accordingly, pro football has many more season previews than most sports. ESPN has been running previews of the 2009 season on a near-hourly basis since the wrapup of its Super Bowl post-game wrapup. This despite the fact preseason previews are more worthless in football than in any other game, as what happened to Tom Brady last season ought to have proved once and for all.

(It didn't. Previewers in all media have merely taken their Pats' 2008 season preview, added the phrase "if Brady's knee is fully recovered" and reprinted them, saving time and originality.)

But what's a commentator to do? Let me take a bold stance and assess New England thusly: The Patriots Super Bowl chances are as good as anyone's and better than most. That ought to stir up some hate click-throughs, don't you think?

Actually, there IS something worth noting about the 2009 Pats before they formally come into existence down at Foxboro this week. What they are attempting to do is historically unique. Should New England win Super Bowl XLIV next February, they will set themselves apart from all of the previous dominant teams known slightly inaccurately as "dynasties." To a certain extent, they already have.

Dynasties (which we will define here as a multi-championship team with the same head coach and quarterback) have followed an invariable pattern. They are created, they dominate, they fall. Once a perennial champion becomes an ex-champ for more than a season or two, it stays an ex-champ for a very long time indeed. Dynasties don't reload, and most often don't rebuild, either. Consider the following list of conventional wisdom approved dynasties.

1940s Bears: Won 4 titles between 1940-1946. Didn't play in another title game until 1963.
1950s Browns: Won 3 titles between 1950-1955. Didn't win another until 1964, by which time Otto Graham and Paul Brown were long gone.
1960s Packers: Won 5 titles between 1961-1967. Vince Lombardi leaves. Wins next title in 1996.
1970s Steelers: Four Super Bowl wins from 1974-1979. Next win, 2006.

1980s-1990s 49ers: Here's the closest analogy to the Pats. The 49ers won 4 Super Bowls through the 1981-1989 season, then won again in 1994. But they changed quarterbacks from Joe Montana to Steve Young in that period, too. Was it the same dynasty? Would it have been the same Pats team if Matt Cassel had led them to the title last year? Beats me? For purposes of argument, I'll say no. The 1994 Niners were Young's team, with all the baggage of replacing an all-time great he carried. Of course, Young was an all-time great, too.

That, obviously is the crux of the dynastic pattern. Historic teams are composed of historic individuals, who, by definition, aren't easily replaced, especially coaches and quarterbacks. Football's violence insures entropy functions more ruthlessly than anywhere else in the known world of physics. To me, the strongest argument to be made that the 49ers were the greatest team in history (which otherwise is not wholly convincing) is the single sentence "We were smart enough to be able to replace Joe Montana."

Which brings us to the Patriots. They won three NFL titles in the four seasons between 2001-2004. There have been four seasons since, and the Pats still have the same coach and quarterback (2008 excepted). In all respects but one, they have fended off entropy more successfully than any previous dynasty. New England's record, playoffs included, in 2005-2008 is 54-16, which is almost the same as its 2001-2004 record of 57-16. Almost.

The difference, we need hardly point out, is in those three extra wins. They represent the Super Bowl victories of the true dynastic years in New England. Since then, the Patriots have been a dominant team That Can't Win the Big Ones. Don't laugh. The only teams I found that came close to winning as often without winning a title over multiple seasons as the Pats have since 2005 were the Raiders of the early 70s and the Colts of this decade before their Super Bowl win. And what did people say about them?

The Patriots from 2001-2004 resembled all past dynasties. Since then, they have stood alone. They have no parallel in NFL history (for reasons stated, I reject the 49ers comparison). Dominant teams do not slip to a sustained period of close but no cigar. They slip, and then they fall right down the basement stairs. In an odd but very real way, what the Pats have done while NOT winning titles that is the best evidence for their claim to stand first among the great teams of history.

It's not a claim they're likely to make. I can just picture Bill Belichick's face if I was to run this essay past him in person. But it would, or should, make a 2009 NFL championship the sweetest one of his career, and that of every other person associated with the franchise. It would, to quote Bum Phillips, "kick down the damn door" in Canton, Ohio. It'd kick down every damn door in pro football history.

Edit: What is history without footnotes? I should add the Steve Young 49ers to my list of dominat teams accused of Not Being Able to Win the Big Ones, since I am counting them as a different team that the Joe Montana 49ers, and since they sure as hell got that label from football pundits everywhere.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Is It August 1 Yet? Please?

The two weeks after the All-Star break always seem to be a difficult period for the Red Sox, dating at least back to when Darrell Johnson was fired in 1976. Things go wrong. Teammates fight or get weird (Manny Ramirez, 2008), the club goes into a nasty slump (2004, 2009), and a general unease/panic hangs over the franchise.

I have come to the conclusion this may be for marketing purposes. A team with late-July woes is a team looking to made deals by the trade deadline, and I can't think of anything Red Sox followers love more than trade deadline furor, unless it's straight-line projecting a Single A farmhand's hot streak into an Interstate to Cooperstown. Boston's recent batting difficulties insure that the next six days will include a pleasant frenzy of irrational speculation about possible swaps by the firm of Henry, Lucchino & Epstein.

Several years ago, I heard a lengthy discussion of possible trade deadline moves by the Sox on WEEI. The date was April 10, and much as I have mocked the radio station, this wasn't their fault. The callers brought the subject up. There is a subset of Sox fans whose anxieties are so severe, they self-medicate by envisioning scenarios wherein the team's roster is so strong it could never lose. As George Steinbrenner can tell them, that is a futile dream.

My opinion on the trade deadline is that anything Steve Phillips enjoys has to have something wrong it. And I will acknowledge that the Sox have made spectacular, risky, well-worth-arguing about deadline deals in the recent past, the Nomar Garciaparra swap in 2004, and the Manny trade last year. The former worked out far better than could have been hoped, the latter as well as could be. Dumping a big star is fraught with peril, and the Sox filled their hand on the river each time. Yay for Theo!!

This summer, however, the Sox aren't looking to get rid of a big name with issues. They are approaching the market from the other end, as a team seeking to address a current weakness at the cost of future strengths. This is far more stressful, not to mention difficult. The construction of the 2009 roster makes it unsuitable for trade purposes. Boiling it down, the only deals the Sox can make that might help them significantly in 2009 involve sending away players who are likely to make the trade look very bad come 2012.

So much to Peter Gammons' disappointment, it seems unlikely the Sox will generate much deadline heat next week. There will be noise, however. There always is.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Economics -- Sociological Aspects

Took a quick cyberstroll among the Web sites and blogs devoted to finance and economics today. Started as work-related, then quickly spun into Friday afternoon clock-killing. Came to a conclusion, or rather, to two possible conclusions, based on studies of the reader messages posted after a number of articles.

Either loud libertarians compose approximately 70 percent of the American electorate, OR, the unemployment rate among libertarians is well over 70 percent. Because those boys (and you just know they're boys), if they're not a majority, have got some serious time on their hands.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sweat Equity

My old colleague and friend Bob Ryan said a very strange thing on ESPN yesterday. Competing in the sprint-shout event in "Pardon the Interruption," Bob declared that if Tom Watson, 59 (born three months after yours truly) were to win the British Open, it would be "bad for golf."

I've been trying to get my mind around that statement ever since. How in the world would the most astonishing individual feat in a sport's history be bad for it? After lengthy consideration, I came up with a possiblity. If Watson goes on to win, then millions of less-gifted golfers around his age (not me, I assure you) will insist they can still hit from the back tees, lengthening the time of everyone's average public course 18-hole round to approximately 13 hours.

But of course, Bob didn't mean that. While I have become much less omniscient since leaving columnizing, and now hesitate to read minds, I have known Ryan a long time, and am fairly sure that his point was that if a senior citizen were to win the most prestigious event in golf, millions of sports fans would then conclude that golf was an easy game, wholly lacking in the athleticism required to make it a real sport for manly men. Brock Lesnar won't be winning anything at 59. He probably won't be breathing.

The old "that's not a sport" wheeze. It saddens me to think that Ryan, with whom I've watched several very strange sports at various Olympic venues, would fall that ancient canard. With the exception of multiple sixth-inning pitching changes, no element of sports makes me as angry as the insistence by fans of sport A that sport B isn't a real sport, because it involves different physical and mental demands than THEIR favorite game.

I have always had a simple answer for people who make that claim. Not a sport? OK, you do it Auto racing doesn't have enough aerobic exercise to qualify? Here's Matt Kenseth's number 17 DeWalt Ford. Matt called in sick today. You'll be starting in 10th position at Martinsville. Good luck!

Golf not a sport? Let's see. You have a 7:45 a.m. tee time at the Open Championship. The forecast is a little iffy, what with those 40 mph winds and the rain. Or, we'll make it simpler still. 15 foot downhill putt at the 72nd hole at Oakmont for the U.S. Open. It's only for a million bucks. Just draw the club back nice and easy and make a smooth stroke now. Any old codger can do the same.

What's really most aggravating about the "not a sport" crowd is that most of them, and all of the most insistent ones, are baseball fans, or rather, baseball snobs. Talk about projection! In terms of the physical stress it places on the participants, baseball, one of the most wonderful sports ever invented, and one I've loved my whole life long, isn't exactly the decathlon.
Here's a tip. When a baseball snob starts ripping some other game for its effete lack of real exercise, work Mickey Lolich into the conversation as quickly as possible.

As noted, I have covered some very strange sports at the Olympics. I became a figure skating expert for three weeks (Nancy-Tonya). I spent an afternoon dealing with synchronized swimming. Did I become a fan? No. But I did learn an appreciation of the skills and physical demands these unusual pursuits place upon their athletes. The ice is hard when you fall. As an experiment, try holding your breath for over 60 seconds, a routine demand on synchronized swimmers. It's cool to ignore those sports, or even say they are weird to you. But they are sports, and to insist otherwise is to reveal ignorance.

One of golf's most abiding glories is that a golfer can play until the day he or she dies. My father's 89 now, and he still gets out for nine holes with a cart four or five times a week. If Watson has already validated that glory. The fitness truck is all very well, but fairways and greens don't how old you are, or your body type. If Watson wins (very unlikely), the community of golf will rejoice. Anyone who doesn't is an outsider, even if they play every day.

Unfortunately, if Watson wins, the next time I play with my younger brothers, they'll MAKE me hit from the back tees.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Talk Is Cheap, So Why Does Listening Cost Souls?

As a business proposition, it is unclear if Boston needs two large sports talk radio stations. As an aesthetic proposition, one seems like way, way more than enough.

(We pause here for WEEI to go full metal smug and assault me with its wallet. For a successful business enterprise, that institution has a remarkable set of twelve-story tall rabbit ears. It's one of the station's most unlovely attributes, although not it's only one.)

CBS Radio, a large corporation which presumably knows what's it doing, has decided to turn some FM station over to the sports talk format, and has hired my former colleague Michael Felger, who's just mad for radio start-ups, as proof of its intentions. As a sports fan and American, I like competition, so I hope the new station will actually provide some.

Oh, who am I kidding? I have no hope of that at all. I expect imitation of WEEI, not competition. Like many other human enterprises, radio broadcasting admires innovation and daring only when it's practiced by other people. I look for the CBS entry's programming to diligently follow the very lowest common denominators of 'EEIs approach. It will field familiar names beating familiar dead horses, present self-love as its primary emotional attribute, and take calls from the class of fans who think the Blue Jays will be delighted to take Julio Lugo for Roy Halladay and are certain Giselle Bundchen is why the Pats will go 8-8 this year.

Of course, if the new station does that, it will fail, and quickly, too. Why listen to an imitation when the real thing is available. What WEEI does is, to be polite, not to my taste, but God knows they're good at it. The thing about hack work is, you can't fake it. You have to truly think it's valuable.

I'll give CBS the benefit of the doubt I do not have, and assume they'll actually consider offering up a different approach to sports talk in the belief that's how they can make a buck off it. In that spirit, I have a few suggestions.

None of these suggestions involve personnel. It is my belief that sports talk as a genre renders the identity of the individual talkers more or less irrelevant. Four hours (the standard show length) is a long time to talk about anything, let alone sports, which people like because of action, not words. Put Socrates, Einstein, and Thomas Jefferson in the booth 20 hours a week, give them a topic like the NFL draft, and before the third hour of their first show, all three guys would be making hilarious factual errors and plugging restaurants. It's the nature of the beast.

But within the all-powerful format, there's some tweaking that might help CBS lose money more slowly on this station before they convert it to Afro-Pop or Christian rock, or better yet, get Clear Channel to take it off their hands. Nothing radical, just simple common sense, which is revolutionary.

1. Keep your *%#@$ voices down!!! A random car radio button push to 'EEI has a 99 percent chance of finding either yelling, guffawing, or both yelling and guffawing. You're talking to people who're less than a foot from your voice, not shouting imprecations from the last row of the upper deck. Sports generates passion, and sports talk should recognize that, but there has to be an acceptable conversational tone somewhere between NPR report on environmental problems in some country I never heard of and total Glenn Beck nervous breakdown.

2. Try talking about sports. Oddly enough, that's why your listeners tuned in. They have other outlets for knowledge on celebrity scandals, prime time TV, and, above all, politics. The competition for that all-important audience of angry white male ribbon clerks who are terrified of the entire world is already fierce. You won't win it. Trust me.

3. Interviews. This is a more serious suggestion. Get every player, coach, and front office type who'll return your calls and schedule them early and often.

Mike Francesca is an insufferable jerk on the air. But he gets the guests. A few years ago, driving in the New York area, Francesca had the general manager of the Mets, the GM of the Jets, and then-Yankee cleanup hitter Gary Sheffield on as guests-in one hour. Glen Ordway is actually a good interviewer. It's too bad the Big Show is so in love with the sound of its own voices that it has few guests. That blunder is your opportunity.

I don't think my old co-worker Michael will mind when I say I'm more interested in Tom Brady's thoughts about the Patriots than I am in his. I'm more interested in Brady's thoughts on the Pats than I am in my own, too.

Best of all, guests can, on occasion, MAKE news. News your rival will have to report-and credit you for.

See how simple it is. Talk sports, don't be jackasses on the air, conduct interviews with the people in the games as often as possible. It probably won't work. But "probably" is better odds than CBS will get with copycat radio.

In the interests of science, I promise to tune into the new station at least once. CBS, I'm warning you. I'd better not hear guffawing when I do.

Or Frank from Gloucester.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Reason Why

Tim Petrovic is a reasonably typical PGA Tour golfer. He's made a bunch of money (over $6 million in 7 plus years on the Tour) and very, very few sports fans have ever heard of him.

I have, although only through happenstance. I've covered Petrovic at a few tournaments, and in an interview at the 2001 U.S. Open, we discovered a bond. Petrovic, a Connecticut native, is a serious Red Sox fan and was delighted to discover I was not an admirer of the general managership of Dan Duquette.

Ever since, I've sporadically followed Petrovic's career, which involves much more Google searching than Sunday afternoon television watching. But I got home from a trip yesterday evening, turned on the tube, and lo and behold, there was Petrovic, in the fairway at the 72nd hole of the John Deere Classic (the tee markers are sculpted in the shape of earth-moving equipment).

Petrovic's situation was as follows. He was in second place, trailing leader Steve Stricker by two shots. The 18th hole location was the elemental sucker pin, on the far left of the green hard by a lake. Petrovic had two options-play for the par, put it safely on on the right side, and accept the 99.999 percent possibility of second place, which carried about $350K in prize money and, oh yes, qualified him for the British Open this week. Or play, not for the win, but just for a better chance of a win. Take the risk of firing at the flag in the hope a good shot would a) set up a birdie putt and maybe put enough pressure on Stricker so he'd bogey and force a playoff. Best guess: That scenario upped Petrovic's win likelihood percentage from .0001 to .0006.

Petrovic did not mull the matter long. He set up left, fired at the flag, and pulled the ball in the lake. Hello, double-bogey. Goodbye, Open Championship and about 200 large. Petrovic made a face. Me, I was quietly proud to have made his acquaintance, brief though those occasions were. An unknown guy in a sport many people don't think is one had displayed the whole point-why sports are worth playing, and why they're worth watching.

To cite a famous quote; "Hello? You play to win the game."

Herm Edwards was not a brilliantly successful NFL head coach, and that one statement was almost surely the only insight Edwards ever made in public.

As insights go, however, it's a mighty profound one. And many of us go through life without insights of any kind, public or otherwise.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Midsummer Classic Night's Coma

MLB Network has only one real value-showing old baseball films and videos. The past month, it has been broadcasting years and years of packaged All-Star Game highlights during its many hours of non-prime time programming.

Like many fans, I'm almost as happy watching old sports on TV as live action, so I've been checking those films out in my many hours of non-prime time living. Many of the films bring back vivid memories of watching that particular All-Star Game in real time. Many of them, however, do not. And there's a point in the time line of my life where the memories simply drop away. On a graph, it would look like the stock market last October.

When the All-Star films showed games from the 1950s, '60s, and 70s, I splashed in a warm bath of nostalgia. After about the 1979 game (Dave Parker's throw from right field in the Kingdome), my recollections got a little spotty. I recall watching Fred Lynn's grand slam in 1983. There was the game at Wrigley Field in 1990-I watched that at my friend Charles Pierce's house and we laughed at John Kruk refusing to deal with Randy Johnson. I can remember all of the 1999 game at Fenway Park, the tribute to Ted Williams, Pedro's strikeouts, the whole thing. That doesn't count. I was there. I covered it. I'm not so far gone I don't remember events I attended-yet, anyway.

After that judge, it all goes blank. I know the American League has won every All-Star Game this decade except for that stupid tie, but how or why, no. A film of the 2004 Game was as much news to me as a cosmic preview of the 2009 Game would've been.

Summing it all up, the first All-Star Game I was old enough to remember seeing was the 1955 one. I was at my maternal grandparents house in Lansford, Pennsylvania. Stan Musial hit a homer in extra innings to win for the National League. THAT, I remember. The 2008 All-Star game. Under torture and sodium pentothal combined, I could not, this very second, tell you the final score. I must've watched it, the first three innings anyway, but as to what happened in them, there is no clue at this address.

There are two possibilities to explain this phenomenon. One is that I'm getting to that stage in life where the past is more vivid than the present, because it's a more pleasant place for the mind to reside. Readers may feel free to differ, but I don't think so. I remember most other major sports events I've seen on TV since I stopped being a sportswriter. If I can remember the 2006 PGA Championship, or games from the 2006 World Cup, why not the 2006 All-Star Game?

Possibility number two is that I can't remember All-Star Games because I've stopped caring about them in the first place. I think about them less and less during the first half of baseball seasons, and when I do, I generally think about how the All-Star Game pretty much sucks as both competition and entertainment. Then I think about how much I REALLY hate the home run contest the night before, a disgraceful parody of batting practice that like its twin brother the NBA Slam Dunk competition needs to be abolished for the good of sports civilization.

Devout seamheads like to argue that while the other sports' all-star games are terrible because they remove key elements of their sport (hitting in football, defense in hockey and basketball), baseball's unique nature makes its Game a splendid example of the sport at its best. Oh, sure. That's why Bud Selig came up with the World Series home field advantage to the winner dodge. Even Bud realized that as entertainment on its own merits, the All-Star Game couldn't keep the participants awake, let alone the audience.

Here's one sports thought I will attribute to age. The older I get, the more I think the Pro Bowl is the best all-star game of them all, because it's upfront about its pointlessness. Every NFL player thinks it's a great honor to be selected to play. Once honored, they immediately begin thinking of ways to get out of having to actually do so. The Pro Bowl is a sham, but it's a sham with integrity.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The 500-Channel Funeral Universe

Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, and Smokey Robinson were all Motown stars, just like Michael Jackson. Ross had more hits, and Wonder and Robinson were infinitely better musicians due to their amazing songwriting abilities. Smokey even had a higher singing voice than Jackson. As popular musicians, these four are a peer group.

When Ross, Wonder, and Robinson die it'll be big news. I and millions of others will be very sad. They'll probably have lavish funeral services in the best/worst of LA celebrity taste. But I'll bet they won't be at the Staples Center, or broadcast live on 15-20 different cable channels. Nobody at TMZ will get a bonus for video of the open casket, should there be one.

Jackson's death is big news. I am enough of a tabloid child not to say we should think of more important things all the time. The Romans, after all, liked bread AND circuses. But why, exactly, is Jackson's passing such BIG news? Why is he more of a celebrity than his fellow Motowners? Why was poor Jeffrey Toobin sitting on the CNN set in a parking lot under the Southern California sun?

Let's be blunt. Michael Jackson was news because he was a freak. He was, at best, a seriously disturbed person, at worst, a seriously disturbed pedophile. The people who knew and liked him personally (and there were a lot of them), never described Jackson without one thinking "that poor bastard." The kindest emotion Jackson stirred was pity-pity very hard not to mix with contempt.

Americans like freaks. Bite the head of a chicken, you'll draw a crowd, a paying crowd at that. The American Studies major in me thinks this is part of our borderline hysteria as a society that stems from fear and sexual repression. Funny how many words in that sentence refer back to Jackson's personality, isn't it?

Michael Jackson shouldn't creep us out. Our relationship to him damn well should.

Monday, July 06, 2009


Two quick forecasts for the 2009-2010 NBA season.

1. Rasheed Wallace will be a valued contributor off the bench for the Celtics and more than justify their investment in him-during the regular season. For the playoffs-no bet.

2. At least twice during the regular season, Wallace will pull rockheaded, hotheaded stunts that will cause Mike Gorman to use his long-suffering, very sad tone of voice he was able to mothball once the Celts got Kevin Garnett.

Friday, July 03, 2009

The Revolution May Be Televised; The Gentleman's Singles Semi-Finals, Not So Much

A random thought while not watchin Andy Roddick and Andy Murray.

The NBC Television Network will not be completely fulfilled and happy as an organization until it can broadcast the Super Bowl on tape delay.

The News Is Too Valuable For the Likes of You

Personally, I have never yet met a newspaper publisher so entrancing that I'd pony up a minimum of 25 grand to have dinner at their house, but some bright people at the Washington Post felt there was a big market for catered pomposity in their town, and they know the territory.

The Post was planning to host a series of intimate supper parties at the home of publisher Katherine Weymouth. Persons interested in health care reform legislation would pay the freight for gatherings of lobbyists, Obama administration officials, Congressional staffers, and oh, yes, Post reporters and editors, in which the topic of health care reform would be discussed in what was advertised as "spirited, but not confrontational" circumstances. And, it need hardly be added, off the record circumstances.

Only in our nation's capital would wonkery be considered a fitting companion for wine. But we assume that public spirited citizens with last names such as Merck and Pfizer were considered the target audience of this unique marketing effort.

The whole thing blew up yesterday when some lobbyist leaked the Post's idea to the Web site Politico. Even for Washington, even for LOBBYISTS, this deal was considered a bit over the top, ethically speaking. Within hours of their discovery by the public, the dinners were canceled.

As a former newspaper person, I'm laughing about this. It beats my alternatives, which are weeping and blind rage. It's a singular revelation, after all. The second-most influential newspaper in the U.S. is run by people who are a) totally corrupt and b) even stupider than they are self-dealing.

An old-fashioned newspaper might seek to uncover and disclose secret meetings between lobbyists and public officials about legislation affecting the lives of its readers. The Post was going to hold them-for cash on the barrel. Its reporters would be at the meetings not to find things out, but to facilitate discussions, presumably by disclosing information they had previously withheld from those readers.

In short, the Post decided that since the news business isn't making any money, it would diversify into the influence business, creating congenial settings for government to function without any of those pesky citizens barging in and spoiling things. A well-informed public may be the bulwark of democracy, but it isn't doing a damn thing for the stock price of Washington Post Co.

Look, anyone who thinks that newspapers haven't always been influenced by their business sides has dinner with the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus every night. Two of the biggest stories of recent history, the way U.S. automobiles went to crap in the '70s and '80s, and the housing bubble, received little coverage relative to their importance, because they made major advertisers unhappy. But there is a difference, however slight, between ignoring news for the sake of money and CREATING news for the sake of money which you then keep secret.

Before further delving into the evil of this idea, let's pause to consider its idiocy. Despite publishing a daily newspaper which runs many stories every edition consisting of anonymous leaks from axe-grinding sources, the management of the Post apparently never considered the possibility that someone would leak THIS story. As my old friend Ted Sarandis might say, Wow!

And of course, the dinner parties were canceled for good within hours after the Politico story hit the Internet. This only demonstrates that the Post KNEW it was up to no good. To their credit, the editors and reporters at the paper were horrified and indignant. Management was merely sad it got caught.

It oughta be. In marketing terms, the Post has urinated on itself. Any subscriber to the paper from now on should read every word in it, including the crossword puzzle, with two thoughts in mind. Who paid for this? How much? That's a terrible shame for the many honest, diligent reporters on the Post staff, especially the ones risking their lives in places like Afghanistan. But they have been compromised by the greed of their superiors.

I will never again work in newspapers. It's just a fact of economics combined with my age. But I still have emotional ties to the business. I don't want my former colleagues to lose their jobs. I believe newspapers serve an important role in society. For democracy to work, people need to know stuff. America is a large place. To find stuff out, you need large news-gathering organizations. In my time, the Herald was hardly a journal of record. It was still a pretty good read for less than a buck. Compare that to the monthly cable-Internet access bill.

But at the same time, I see things as a reader now. And the Post brouhaha is one of an increasing number of stories which shriek that newspapers deserve to die. They are being cannibalized by owners seeking an escape from their own wretched business decisions. They are devolving to the ignoble purpose of providing a forum wherein otherwise anonymous rich people get to shoot their mouths off and meddle in public affairs to benefit their wallets. They are, simply, less worth their modest cost than they used to be.

The old boast was newspapers published "without fear or favor." Nowadays, they publish with almost nothing else.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

A Sports Sign of the Climatological End Times

It is July 2. I just turned on ESPN2's coverage of Wimbledon so I could see sunlight. Wimbledon!!!
I imagine by December I'll be tuning into Packers games at Lambeau Field so I can watch fans sweating in Hawaiian shirts.