Sunday, February 17, 2013

Trading (Blank) Spaces

Trade rumors need not be true to be revealing. Sportswriters rarely make them up anymore, a practice that was quite common when I began that trade in the '80s. These days, behind every rumor there's a source, an unreliable source perhaps, but a source with an agenda, and in that agenda, there's meaning.

Parsing the rumor that the Celtics and Lakers are talking about exchanging Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard is simple. There can be only meaning -- unless we are willing to accept that Danny Ainge has lost his marbles, which I'm not and no one else should be either. Yet another person in the Lakers' organization is heartily sick of Howard's act, and has found a creative way of making this known without leaving fingerprints.

Lakers sick of Howard is not exactly news. In the last month Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash have both publicly questioned Howard's commitment to winning or even showing up for work on a regular basis. Nobody outranks Bryant in the Laker table of organization, after all. But the Rondo rumor is more than a complaint, it's a cry of anguish.

"Dwight," it shrieks, "get this through your thick and self-absorbed head. We, a franchise full of old players and designed to win the title this year before franchise patriarch Jerry Buss succumbs to illness, are willing to trade you away for a guy who CAN'T play this year. That's how much we value your contribution."

This will likely make no difference to Howard. He will remain a tremendous talent who never quite fits in, is never quite happy with his lot in life and most of all never quite improves. But I'll bet seeing the rumor go public made the leaker feel much better. I'd be willing to take a little flyer at the right odds that the source of the rumor might be one K. Bryant. That would have given the Laker front office plausible deniability, while assuring the reporter the leak had maximum credibility. If so, nobody's too upset in Lakerland. A happier, less-stressed K. Bryant is good for business.

In his getting on for long tenure as boss of the Celtics, Ainge has shown a willingness to try anything, which has led him to both spectacular failures (those first seasons were rough) and even more spectacular successes. That reputation is likely why Boston was the other side of this rumor. Ainge's reputation made it more plausible, possibly even more plausible to Howard.

More plausible is not the same as just plain plausible. Aside from the Boston community of Rondo-haters, there can't be anyone who can think of a reason why Ainge would make this deal except for an accidental mescaline overdose. It's the oldest law of capitalism. An offer of something for nothing is always the most expensive transaction of all. This deal wouldn't be the Celtics borrowing trouble. They'd be renting it.

Celtics' ownership, a sensitive lot, used to think I had it in for Ainge when I was at the Herald. But at my most jaundiced moments, I had more than enough respect for Ainge to imagine that his thought process in this case would be anything but the following paragraph.

 The Lakers, fighting for the last playoff spot, are willing to trade me All-Star center Howard for my point guard they can't use? The All-Star center who STILL hasn't signed a long-term contract? The All-Star center L.A's Hall of Fame superstar thinks is a malingering dog? Ha, ha, ha, ha! (Repeat that sentence for thirty seconds) Boy, they must be desperate out there to come up with this story. Now, where did I put that cell phone number for the Clippers GM?"

There's a good deal of fraternization at All-Star weekend. Again, I'd be willing to bet that out of earshot of Howard, Bryant and fellow vet Kevin Garnett share a hearty chuckle. What else are rumors good for?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Endlessness Killed the Radio Star

Radio personalities have roughly the same job average tenure as baseball managers. Glenn Ordway lasted quite a long time before he lost his gig due to an inescapable dilemma built into its very nature. Many days there's really not that much to say about sports and he had to say it anyway.

I used to experience that dilemma at the Herald sometimes, albeit at a less intense level. It's ever so much easier to fake 800 words than it is to fill four hours of radio time, no matter how many commercials and co-hosts you cram into the space. So although Ordway never much cared for my work in the sports commentary racket nor I for his, and although I'm sure Glenn's entrepreneurial spirit will provide him a comfortable landing, his fall strikes me as a classical mini-tragedy, the hero laid low by what took him to the heights in the first place.

Ordway was very good at sports talk radio. You could even say he contributed to the aesthetic growth of that medium (or should I say fungus-like growth?). But for those who practice it, sports talk radio always, always contains the seeds of self-destruction, and they grow, too.

It can't be helped. On any given weekday, there are only so many sports topics that even the most devoted fan has thought about for a nanosecond. There are only X number of games and X divided by a big number of athletes, coaches, owners and administrators who've made asses of themselves. How much new stuff, really, has happened to the Bruins in the last week? And baseball (the sport that's got the most space on the calendar), is even worse. Any fan has experienced going on summer vacation out of daily touch with their home team and returning to find it just as much the same as their home. No wonder  Glenn made himself scarce every summer.

This means fans, and perforce talk show hosts, go over the same issues again and again. Why human beings are willing to be placed on hold for hours to be the 17,487th caller in a week to offer an opinion on Rajon Rondo I do not know. I don't want to know those people, either. What I do know is those folks pay Entercom and CBS's dividends. A host can mock them or dismiss them. Ordway did both. He can't ignore 'em, and he has to talk about what they've talked about.

Repetition breeds boredom. Boredom for the listeners, which is very bad. Boredom for the talk show host, which is worse. Boredom breeds bad habits, habits that turned bored listeners into aggravated ones.

Self-plagarization and self-parody are every columnist's nightmare and an occupational disease few of us miss entirely. For sports talk hosts, they are virulent plagues. It takes next to no time for repetition to turn the host's approach to sports into Schtick, and less time than that for Schtick to become Self-Parody on the grand scale. Actors walk away from long-running TV series because they fear becoming their characters. Talk show hosts always DO become their characters. And since "controversy" is radio's Holy Grail, sooner or later the character is always named Provocateur, a French word meaning Jackass.

People don't like jackasses. But what they really don't like is hearing the same old shit every day on the radio. They seek options. 98.5 came along and gave people options to Ordway. My guess that Felger and Mazz, who knocked Ordway off, won't last a third as long as he did. My two former colleagues have reached a state of perfect jackassery combined with perfect predictability in what, three years?

If I had to predict, I'd say the national sports talk entities of CBS, ESPN and Fox will triumph even here in notoriously provincial Boston sports. Those shows get the big name guests, and said guests are all that break up the awful monotony of caller-driven radio. My God, even Tim Brando's SEC-centric talk show is less painful to the ears and brain than the local alternatives.

The bitter phrase cops back in the '90s had for what seemed to be the endless murders of the drug trade was "the self-cleaning oven." When I think of Glenn Ordway, that's the phrase that comes to mind right now. That; and the suspicion that whatever replaces him will be worse. Talk radio's circle of life always seems to spiral in a southerly direction.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

We'll See Who's Tabloid Tonight

Given their choice, I'd say the number of Americans who'd rather see live shots of a cornered desperado shooting it out with the cops on TV is larger than the number who'd choose to watch the State of the Union address by a ratio of approximately 90,000,000 to one, depending on the number of members of Barack Obama's family who're home this evening.

Let's look at the historical evidence to support my claim. Number of motion pictures which conclude with such a shootout: beyond counting. Number of movies concluding with a State of the Union address: One, the horrendous "The American President." As the Hollywood axiom goes, give the people what they want.

So it will be instructive in about an hour and a half, assuming the shootout hasn't come to its inevitable awful end by then, which TV networks, cable and broadcast, have the common sense and guts to at least give a picture-in-picture feed of the events near Big Bear Lake, California while showing us the pictures of the President of the United States saying what all the networks told us he'd be saying in their broadcasts earlier today.

If they did it for O.J. and the NBA Finals (which people care about oh so much more than another Washington speech), they damn well ought to do it in this case.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Why the Weekend After the Super Bowl Seems a Little Drab

All you need to know about U.S. sports in February is this: the lead story in the sports section of today's "New York Times" was about a huge controversy about possible conflicts of interest involving a prominent sports official -- a dog show judge. When it comes to calling the block or the charge on a German shepherd, this guy's the best known in the business.

In fairness to the Times, this was a much entertaining read than its obsessive pursuit of PEDs in every game this side of Scrabble. That's not setting the bar very high. Didn't they have some pictures of pitchers and catchers they could run?

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Super Moment of XLVII, Guaranteed

The Ravens and 49ers could play a 52-49 game that ends with a six-period overtime and it won't me the entertainment I got at 7 a.m. from a most unlikely source -- ESPN's telecast of the Mike & Mike radio talk show.

Mike and Mike had nothing to do with, well, almost nothing. The thrills and laughter were provided by Herm Edwards, explaining why he was a little late because, in the kind of accident that can happen to anybody, he had dropped the keys to his rental car down a storm drain.

Edwards didn't just say that and drop it, either. He told a long complex anecdote about the failure of his rental company to have another set of keys to the car and his subsequent triumphant recovery of the keys by fishing them out with a coathanger he'd hooked up to a broom. He was voluble, jolly, even exultant.

Of course, dropping the car keys down a storm drain is in fact the kind of thing that can happen in New Orleans the night before a Super Bowl. It does not, however, happen at dawn when driving to the studio for a hard day's specious commentating.

Here's where Mike and Mike earned their big bucks as entertainers. Any mediocre talk show host could have pointed out that Edwards' story might be somewhat off as far as its timeline and exact circumstances are concerned. Golic and Greenberg played it totally straight, their gentle ribbing based on the theme that this was the sort of wacky dilemma that their pal Herm encounters as a regular part of humdrum daily life.
My God, what if they were telling the truth?