Tuesday, May 31, 2011

So Why Hasn't Tijuana A&M won the BCS Every Year?

If the gang at the Onion went out drinking with the folks from South Park and they started thinking about college football, they could never have come up with a crueler, more accurate, more hilarious satire of college football than the "scandal" at Ohio State which resulted in the resignation of coach Jim Tressel.

Try to say this sentence aloud without laughing. Players were trading in memorabilia for tattoos. Now add the following sentence. That's a serious NCAA rules violation. Cap off the paragraph with this one. Tressel KNEW that, and tried to cover up the misdeed.

Can't do it, can you? You shouldn't worry. There is no other possible reaction but derision and scorn, the just laughter normal humans have at the expense of the pretentious and foolish (so often one and the same). What stronger evidence can there ever be that everyone in college football -- players, coaches, administrators, college presidents, Lee Corso -- is at bottom an idiot? Or rather, is someone driven idiotic by greed and hypocrisy.

You traded something of cash value for a tattoo? Dude, don't they have finance classes at OSU? A tattoo has got to be the ultimate nonliquid asset. I have respect for guys who ignore NCAA rules to get their hands on money or a sweet ride. At this point in 21st century America, getting an under-the-table tattoo is about like getting an under-the-table necktie. Limited imagination is a terrible thing to waste a mind with.

Mr. President, Mr. AD, Coach: You covered up THIS crime? Wasn't this the one to throw to the NCAA wolves so that the stories about the cars, cash, and the infinite number of violations everyone knows but couldn't prove Ohio State had done never saw the light of day? Here was a gift from the god of thieves, a set of patsies and scapegoats made to order. The nature of the violation itself has America thinking, "Gosh, these players are dumb." The nature of your actions has our nation thinking "not as dumb as the adults in Columbus, though."

As for the NCAA, laughter has been the only alternative to weeping for many decades. Imagine being a grown man whose job in life is worrying about where some tackle got that dragon on his buttocks. Imagine being at the meeting where tattoos were defined as an illegal payment. Didn't anyone say, "if kids are dumb enough to trade jerseys for tattoos, let 'em." It surely falls into what the great 19th century Tammany Hall leader George Washington Plunkitt called "honest graft." Nobody gets rich off of GETTING a tattoo.

Of course, the way the Ohio State deal has been going, maybe players were shaving points for tattoos. Which would be even funnier.

I like college football. I like college basketball. What helps me most to like is the fact I know it's all crooked, and I don't care. The leaders of men molding student-athletes. They've all got their hands in each other's pockets looking for the wallets. It's morality as slapstick comedy.

The stuffier the shirt, the funnier it is when its wearer falls into the open manhole. Doesn't come any stuffier than Ohio State. Or Jim Tressel.

I wonder. Does the sousaphone player in the marching band who dots the script "i" before every home game have any tattoos? And if so, how'd he get 'em?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Thought During Several Memorial Day Marathons

Does Turner Broadcasting Systems Inc. still pay cash residuals to Dick Wolf, or has it reached the point where they've run so many reruns of so many episodes of all the Law & Order series that it's most cost and tax-effective for both parties just to give Wolf more and more stock in the company?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Less Self-Interested Scheduling Note

The Sox played the Indians in a day game in Cleveland yesterday. This afternoon, they played a day game against the Tigers in Detroit.

When, one wonders, was the last time Boston (or pretty much any other team) played back-to-back weekday regular season day games, let alone in two different cities on a road trip? I'm guessing Pinky Higgins had to be the manager when it happened. Or maybe Ted Williams caught the game on the radio at his air base in Korea.

Truth to tell, I wouldn't be surprised if both those guesses are way off, and the last time it happened, Lefty Grove started the second game.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hoist on My Own Programming Petard

Sportswriters grudgingly accept night baseball games as a precondition of their employment. They dislike Saturday night baseball games, and positively loath the Sunday night games created by ESPN.

The reasons for the latter two are not hard to guess. Nobody much cares for the three-to-midnight shift in any line of work, and on the weekends, it's really no fun, with the added fillip of early Saturday night deadlines for Sunday editions thrown in. Saturday-Sunday day games evoke memories of childhood trips to the old ballpark. Saturday-Sunday night games evoke the unpleasant truth one is a particularly minute cog in the vast and ever-expanding sports marketing machine.

Because television ratings are higher at night than in the daytime, because the Red Sox are popular and largely own their own cable network, and because ESPN is located in Bristol, Connecticut, I covered my unhappy fair share of weekend night games -- thinking dark thoughts about television broadcasting companies every moment from the sixth inning on the final out, with added extra dark thoughts on the drive home. No harm done. One good thing about misanthropy as a world view. Random events don't get you down too much. You're already down.

Unknown to them, the mass media moguls were planning their revenge for my effrontery. This weekend, the Sox were at home at Fenway against the Cubs. This weekend, my daughter graduated from BU. Many of her relatives were in town for the occasion. A full two days of activities on the BU cement, I mean, campus were on the schedule for each afternoon.

I figured the most convenient thing was going to be parking at, oh, Worcester and taking public transportation from there. Then I checked the MLB Web site. The Sox and Cubs were playing night games both on Saturday and Sunday.

Since of course the games were sellouts, there was only one, or rather two, explanations from my delivery from parking and directions-giving hell. And I owe them a public (if you call this public) expression of gratitude. I must write words guaranteed to turn to ashes in the mouth of any sports fan, let alone any sportswriter, former or previous.

Thank you, Fox Sports. Thank you, ESPN.

God, I feel so soiled.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Belated Thoughts on an Early Exit

In the final 29 minutes of their next-to-last game of the 2011 season, the Boston Celtics scored 37 points. In the final 4:29 of their last game, the Boston Celtics scored no points at all.

So can we please, please, please stop hearing about Kendrick Perkins? Granting that the Celtics would be marginally better with him then without him, are there any sentient carbon-based life forms that think Perk could have addressed the problem indicated in the first paragraph of this post?

I (and many others) underestimated the Miami Heat because I (we) did not give them enough credit for their defense. Won't make that mistake again. But scoring collapses of the magnitude suffered by the Celtics are always murder-suicide pacts. The Celtics could neither execute their half-court offense (see end of regulation, Game Four) nor could their Hall of Famers create individual scores when the Heat asserted themselves down the stretch.

Well, the Hall of Famers are getting old. And Rajon Rondo was playing with one arm. But we know for sure that the Hall of Famers will continue to get old, and it is foolish in the extreme not to expect that an NBA team will reach the playoffs without at least one important starter either out with or limited by an injury.

The Celtics WILL reach the playoffs next year, if there is a next year in the NBA. If Danny Ainge does nothing at all this summer, the Celts will win 50 plus games and the Atlantic Division. It is a rule of both international relations and sports that great powers in decline take longer to decline than most folks expect. Look West and gaze upon the Dallas Mavericks, a power considered washed up by one and all is doing quite nicely, thank you, in 2011.

So the "doom is nigh" riff on the Celts strikes me as premature. Apparently it struck Doc Rivers the same way. While I do not subscribe to the theory that Rivers' presence as coach will make free agents eager to enlist with the Boston franchise (players influence other players, and pretty much no one else does), I do not think Rivers would have re-enlisted himself if he thought he was signing up for a five-year waterslide ride at the Lottery Land theme park.

Return to paragraph one. It shrieks that what the Celtics need to remain a legitimate championship contender, which they were, Heat loss and all, is a player who will provide one more serious individual scoring threat to compensate for the gradual decline of the Big Graying Three. This was, of course, supposed to be Jeff Green, but so far, the problem with the Kendrick Perkins trade hasn't been so much that Perkins isn't in Boston anymore, but that Green is.

So the search will begin anew. And it is a search that is likely to start and end in the riskiest form of NBA talent acquisition there is -- riffling through the discard pile. The Celtics' best shot of acquiring a player of real value lies in choosing from the players other teams have given up on -- the coach-haters, the guys who tweet mean things about teammates, the players with a knack for late-night beefs with the law.

I'd make the odds at such a pickup working for the Celts as very, very long. But not prohibitive. After all, the guy who has been hands down the best performer in the 2011 playoffs, Zach Randolph, is like the computer-generated composite sketch of just such a hard case, available to whatever franchise was willing to risk working with high explosives in the locker room.

If there's one NBA coach who might be very good at ascertaining which of those fallen souls can be redeemed, and who could get through a season without losing his sanity if said soul achieved only partial redemption, it's Rivers. We note, however, that he demanded and got top dollar to participate in the Celtics of Tomorrow. For a high-risk investment of time, he wanted his high reward up front.

Saturday, May 07, 2011


Seve Ballesteros, who died last night at the age of 54, was, hands down, the most enjoyable professional golfer to watch in my lifetime.

By watch, I mean be there in person and follow around for 18 holes. TV didn't come close to capturing what Ballesteros did. The reason golf commentators are always saying "this is a really difficult shot" when on the tube it appears a golfer is maybe three feet off the fairway or green is that they can see the difficulty, and television can't show it. Maybe 3-D will change that someday.

But walking with Ballesteros, even when he was winning tournaments, was to see a golfer confronting difficulty, make that impossibility. Thanks to driving the ball no more accurately than any 15 handicapper, a walk with Seve was a tour of parts unknown. He had to be the best golfer ever at hitting shots that can't be hit, since he was the best golfer at creating those impossibilities in the first place.

Exhibit A of course is the approach shot Ballesteros hit to make a birdie in one of his Open championship victories after his drive landed in one of the parking lots. For those of you who've never been to a golf tournament, they put the parking lots a very long way from the playing field. In a documentary on Ballesteros recently shown on the Golf Channel, Tom Lehman recalled his singles match with Seve in the 1995 Ryder Cup at Oak Hill. Ballesteros had nothing that day in terms of a swing. He failed to hit a fairway off the tee for his first nine holes. He was also even after nine, however, stealing pars with that most seldom-used of human attributes, creative imagination.

My own recollection is of walking part of a round with Ballesteros at the 1988 U.S. Open at the Country Club. Like all Open courses, it was set up on the principle that missing the fairway should equal missing par. More often than not, Ballesteros wound find his ball in parts of Brookline that could've been designated National Wilderness Areas. That's when the fun began. The spectator began to think "What's he gonna do now?" The spectator couldn't help identifying with Ballesteros as he attempted to deal with potential disaster. The spectator had been there before.

Almost nobody who watches golf doesn't also play golf. Most golfers, me most especially included, suck. It's a hard game. One of the reasons we suck is that we keep hitting the damn ball in the places Ballesteros did. The shots he faced are the shots that hackers ruefully remember after each round. That's because they then go on to put a snowman (8 for you nongolfers). Ballesteros made pars. He mastered disaster better than any golfer before or since.

Watching the latest Oklahoma State dropout on Tour hit 340 yard drives and short irons into the greens on par 5s is impressive. It's not, to me anyway, especially entertaining. And it surely doesn't make one identify with the athlete. Quite the reverse. We hacks know that's a different sport than ours.

I don't want to exaggerate here. Ballesteros hit the ball a long way. Ballesteros had all the dull technical merits of his trade. He was a pro, playing that different sport. But more often than any of his peers, Ballesteros had to come down from Olympus and play the goddamn, baffling, hateful sport we hacks play if he was going to win. And that was when he was his very best. He was a Genius Hack, if you will. He was not just a champion, he was in a very real way THE champion for all the poor suffering devils out on the world's driving ranges beating their souls against the implacable impossibility of golf.

Add good looks and a winning personality and it's no wonder Seve was a star beyond his considerable accomplishments. Those include, BTW, being the person most responsible for turning the Ryder Cup from an afterthought into the delightfully cutthroat high-stakes popular success it is today. Gamesmanship was a club in his bag, and while golf frowns on its practice, it's pretty much universally in play in every weekend foursome.

Golf of all the sports takes itself the most seriously -- a pity, since it's so much fun to play. Ballesteros made it fun for spectators, which when you get down to it is one of the primary job skills of any professional athlete. I do not wish to violate his memory by dragging a little too much heaviness into what's meant to be a happy memory to mark a very sad occasion.

But I can't help saying that if real life shares one thing with golf, it's this. Both feature a great many trouble shots. May we all find a touch of Seve's imagination when addressing the ball, wherever it lies.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Opinion, Not Fact

Without making a formal prediction, let me just say I will be very surprised if the Celtics do not eliminate the Heat in their playoff series, and somewhat less but still surprised if the series goes the limit.

Close study of Miami's opening-round victory over the 76ers reveals that the Heat's end-of-game problem remains critical. When Miami needs a basket, it still also needs a clue. Dwayne Wade and LeBron James spend precious and interminable seconds staring at the defense deciding which of them will go one-on-one against three guys, while their teammates just stare, occasionally throwing up the odd (in both senses) three-point attempt to remind themselves they're still on the court.

As a formula for failure against a capable defensive team, that one's tough to improve upon. And I haven't even gotten to Rajon Rondo yet.