Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Mad About Vlad For Hall Of Fame ... Plus: 'Roidz Boyz' Bonds & Clemens

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Even with increasing reliance on advanced statistics and technology, Major League Baseball often lives in the past. And that's usually grand, as I'm a 50-something guy with fond memories of eons gone by. Indisputable evidence of the old-schoolness of the game: The Baseball Writers Association of America only accepts Hall of Fame ballots sent via U.S. mail. That's right: No email, no faxes. 

What? They couldn't work out a deal with the Pony Express? Carrier pigeons are on strike?

As a 30-year BBWAA member and a 20-year Hall voter, I dutifully dropped my 2017 ballot in the mail this week, thereby beating the mandate that it be postmarked by Dec. 31. When's the last time you actually mailed something that required it be postmarked by a certain date? For me, it was last year's Hall ballot!

Of course, by necessity, the process of Hall voting also embraces the past. We voters were tasked with analyzing the records of ballplayers who have been out of the game for at least five years. And in the case of the two biggest names on the ballot - Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens - they have been retired for a full decade.

This year, for the first time, the Roidz Boyz got my vote.

Like 99% of intelligent baseball observers, I have no doubt that Bonds and Clemens were big-time juicers. I also have no doubt they were Hall-caliber players. I fully understand and respect why some of (maybe even the majority of) my voting colleagues will continue to ignore the Roidz Boyz. But for me, it's time.

Two years ago in The Baldest Truth, I explained my then-new policy for Steroid Era candidates:


1. If a player is the subject of completely unsubstantiated rumors (think Frank Thomas, who some thought "must be on steroids because he's so big"), I will tune out the noise and consider him as early as his first year on the ballot.
2. If a player is the subject of steroid whispers that conceivably might have merit (think Mike Piazza), I will not consider him as a first-ballot candidate to see if any new information gets fleshed out. If, after a year of additional scrutiny no new information is presented, I will consider him beginning in his second year on the ballot.
3. If a player likely was a steroid cheat but all available evidence showed that he had a Hall-worthy body of work before the juicing began (think Bonds and Clemens), I will consider him but only beginning with his fifth year on the ballot. I want to allow plenty of time before checking that box.
4. If I am convinced that a player could not have compiled his seemingly Hall-worthy stats without him having been a rampant juicer (think Mark McGwire), I will not vote for him because his entire career is a sham.

Simply stated, Bonds and Clemens were two of the best players I saw during my long career as a baseball reporter and columnist. That was the case even before they reportedly started taking steroids. Furthermore, for what it's worth, both have been publicly exonerated - Bonds by the courts and Clemens by Congress.

I suppose I could invoke the "character" clause to keep them off of my ballot. And again, I don't blame others who do just that. But lots of racists and drunks and scoundrels and druggies and cheaters and criminals have been enshrined. Should Cooperstown kick out Ty Cobb? Babe Ruth? Gaylord Perry? The dozens upon dozens of players who practically lived on greenies?

While the Roidz Boyz finally get my votes, a few other tainted former stars do not. I firmly believe that neither Sammy Sosa nor Gary Sheffield would have had Hall-worthy numbers had they not used their tushies like pincushions. As a bonus, Sammy also got caught corking his bat. Cheater, cheater, Flintstones Vitamins eater!

As ballot newcomers, Manny Ramirez and Pudge Rodriguez fall under Rule 2 above. Pudge was the best catcher I've seen and I'll consider him more thoroughly next year. I'm less excited about Manny's candidacy.

Before I reveal all of my choices, let me explain the reasons I didn't check the boxes next to a few other Hall candidates ...

Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith, Billy Wagner. Because the save is one of the most overrated statistics in the sport, it's not easy for a reliever to get my vote. He had to have been a transcendent figure (like Mariano Rivera), and/or had to have been a good starter at one point in his career (like John Smoltz), and/or had to have regularly recorded multiple-inning saves (like Rollie Fingers). None of the current candidates met any of those requirements. Hoffman has a decent shot at getting in this year, and I don't begrudge him the honor. This is Smith's last year on the ballot and he probably will fall well short. Wagner has only a slightly better chance at being a Hall of Famer than Joe Borowski does.

Jorge Posada. He was a leader and a winner for the Yankees, but he just doesn't have the stats. Other fine players who don't quite have HoF numbers include Jeff Kent, Derrek Lee, Magglio Ordonez and Larry Walker.

Edgar Martinez. Of those who didn't get my vote, he was the toughest omission because he was a heck of a hitter. However ...

His "similarity scores" on BaseballReference.com compare him to Will Clark, John Olerud, Moises Alou, Magglio Ordonez, Bob Johnson, Matt Holliday, Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, Lance Berkman and Ellis Burks. Those guys also were outstanding hitters, but there isn't a Hall of Famer in the bunch. I am willing to vote for a DH (as I showed with my first-ballot vote for Frank Thomas), but Thomas' numbers were considerably better than Martinez's. Edgar never won a pennant and only once did he finish in the top 5 in MVP voting. Mostly, his career stats just aren't strong enough for me; he doesn't rank in the top 120 in HR, RBI or WAR. 

So here are the 7 players who received my check marks on the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot:

Jeff Bagwell

Barry Bonds

Roger Clemens

Vladimir Guerrero

Mike Mussina

Tim Raines

Curt Schilling

I already have talked about Bonds and Clemens. Bagwell, Mussina, Raines and Schilling are repeat selections for me, and I discussed them in detail in my Dec. 24, 2013 post. (Read It.) This is Raines' final season on the ballot and he came pretty close last year, so I hope one of his generation's best table-setters gets in at the final buzzer.

Which brings me to Vlad the Impaler ...

After the ballot was released publicly, my son called to talk about a few of the new candidates. "How about Vlad Guerrero?" My knee-jerk reaction: "Maybe, but I kinda doubt it." That's usually my initial reaction unless a guy is an absolute lock, such as Ken Griffey Jr. last year. It's the classic, instant "does he feel like a Hall of Famer" feeling. After I look into the numbers more, though, a candidate's case sometimes becomes more compelling. Such was the case with Vlad.

For example, I always thought of him as a free swinger who struck out a lot. Well, he was a free swinger ... but he never struck out even 100 times in any season and he fanned significantly less often than all 10 of his BaseballReference.com "similars" - including Hall of Famers Willie Stargell, Jim Rice, Billy Williams and Duke Snider. Meanwhile, his on-base percentage was better than the first three and only .001 lower than Duke's. His .931 OPS ranks 34th all-time.

His 449 HR (38th most in history) are the exact same as Bagwell's total and more than the totals of Rice, Williams and Stargell. His 1,496 RBI put him ahead of Rice, Williams and Snider. Guerrero played 16 seasons - the same as Rice, fewer than his other comparables and one more than Bagwell.  - and he didn't go long past his prime. 

In 2010, his next-to-last season, the 35-year-old Guerrero batted .300 with 29 HR, 115 RBI and an .841 OPS to help the Texas Rangers reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history. He was 11th in MVP voting - the eighth time he finished at least that high. He won the award in 2004 with the Angels and had four other top-6 finishes (two with the Expos, two with the Angels).

Those who say that he was an error-prone (albeit strong-armed) right fielder and that his career batting stats make him a borderline Hall of Fame candidate ... I can't argue too strongly with them. 

It says here, however, that his statistics give him a solid HoF resume - and drop him on the right side of the border. 

Vlad Guerrero gets my check mark, and I will be very curious to see how my BBWAA peers treat him.
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Friday, December 23, 2016

Not Bowling For Dollars (and other stuff)

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Unless they are playoff games that lead to the national championship, college football bowl games are glorified exhibitions. Always have been, always will be.

So bravo to Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, LSU's Leonard Fournette and a few other college stars for opting out of their teams' meaningless games so they can take a positive step toward what just about every student's goal is: getting a good job after college.



Almost immediately, some coaches, media mopes and other idiots started whining about these athletes' "selfishness."

Funny, I didn't hear that Tom Herman was "selfish" after he bolted Houston to take the Texas coaching job. Herman's move came only a few weeks before the Cougars were to play in the Las Vegas Bowl. Oh, and he left Houston only months after having signed a $3 million per year contract to stay there through 2020.

McCaffrey and Fournette don't have eight-figure contracts to fall back on.

Despite making billions of dollars for their universities, college athletes don't get paid. If one of them suffers a career-ending injury in the TaxSlayer.com Bowl, he goes from being a multimillionaire to being a zero-aire in the blink of an eye. Even more likely: a concussion. And if a player suffers a bad enough concussion to make NFL teams question his long-term health, it would cost him big-time.

So any coach who is outraged or even slightly miffed by the actions of McCaffrey and Fournette is just a run-of-the-mill hypocrite. What else is new? Hypocrites are everywhere in college sports, especially in the coaching fraternity.

Some are predicting that this is just the start and that, in coming years, more and more future pros will skip non-playoff bowl games.

Well, if this is the beginning of the end for the Quick Lane Bowl and the Poinsettia Bowl, so be it. Somehow, America will survive.

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And now we go from smart jocks to one who should be smart enough to know better ... but apparently isn't.

What's the deal with Grayson Allen? The dirty Dookie got caught tripping an opponent for the third time in 10 months. Coach K at first wasn't going to suspend him but, after public pressure built, he decided to suspend his best player "indefinitely."



After watching this latest incident, I'm pretty certain Allen needs some psychological help. I am not saying this with the least bit of sarcasm.

He leg-whipped Elon's Steven Santa Ana and then glared at his fallen victim -- as if Santa Ana had been the one who had done something wrong. Assessed a technical foul and taken out of the game, Allen pounded the bench with his hands, screamed and started wailing. I almost felt sorry for him -- almost.

There already are yahoos saying the reason Allen is being suspended is that he is a white kid from Duke and people hate the likes of Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and J.J. Redick.

Here we go again ... poor Whitey just can't get a break in this country! Just ask President Tweety.

Face it ... had Allen been a black player at, say, Miami, he'd be called a "thug" and a "punk" -- and many of those defending Allen now might be screaming, "Lock him up!"

I hope Coach K keeps Allen off the court until the kid can undergo several counselling sessions. Allen needs to come to terms with why he keeps doing this and needs to come up with ways to stop.

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And speaking of President Tweety ... here's hoping McCaffrey's pro football career begins and Allen's tripping tendencies end before the world gets blown up as a result of Arms Race 2017.

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My Scholars Academy Eagles have reached Xmas break with an 8-1 record. We were unbeaten before losing our last game before break by 4 points to one of our conference rivals. A similar thing happened last season; not long after the regular-season defeat, we beat them in the playoffs en route to our championship, so I'm not sweating it too much.



Since the game, we had a fun team party and then said our goodbyes for two weeks. I hope the girls don't forget how to play basketball!

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I had been so busy with basketball that I hadn't done much writing for Seeking Alpha. I finally got around to doing an article a couple of weeks ago, and I followed that up with my latest piece on the Dividend Growth 50 portfolio that I created and funded.

Feel free to check it out HERE. With every click, I get a penny. And if I make enough pennies, I can buy some fashionable, made-not-in-the-USA Trump ties.

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I have 8 days to mail in my ballot with my Baseball Hall of Fame votes. I plan to give it a lot of thought over the next few days, and that will be the subject of my next TBT.

Till then, Merry Whatever You Celebrate. (Hopefully, life itself).
^

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Loosen your belt and enjoy the Turkey of the Year Countdown

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It's Thanksgiving. So naturally, while Roberta is relaxing blissfully in the kitchen (something about getting dinner ready), I am doing real work: putting together my 18th annual Turkey of the Year Countdown.

Lest I end up on this list myself, I do hope everybody knows I'm joking. Robbie is working hard in that kitchen. As she should, being a woman at all. (That's for you, President Trump!)

Anyway, on with the task at hand - "honoring" the sports year's losers, lame-os, louts, haters, hypocrites and hacks.

Previous "winners" (and by that, I mean losers):

Mike McCaskey (1998); Jerry Krause (1999); Bobby Knight (2000); David Wells and Frank Thomas (2001); Dick Jauron (2002); Sammy Sosa (2003 and 2004); Andy MacPhail, Jim Hendry and Dusty Baker (2005); Aramis Ramirez (2006); Charlie Weis (2007); Choking Cubbies (2008); Milton Bradley (2009); Mark McGwire (2010); Joe Paterno and the Penn State Enablers (2011); U.S. Ryder Cup Team (2012); Alex Rodriguez(2013); Roger Goodell and Ray Rice (2014); Derrick Rose (2015).

Sharp readers will notice that up until 2010, each of those Turkeys did their gobbling in Chicago or the Midwest. Because I columnized for the Copley newspaper group in Chicago, where the annual countdown got its start under my predecessor and friend, the late, great Gene Seymour, I naturally favored that region. (The Cubs were particularly well-represented, taking the "honor" six times in a 7-year span in the aughts ... but that obviously isn't the case this year!) Since moving to North Carolina, I've expanded my Turkey-choosing horizons. Still, as always, I dedicate this in memory of Gene.

OK, enough appetizers. Time to get to the main meal ...

12. JIMMY HASLAM. Since buying the Cleveland Browns in 2012, they are 19-56 - including 0-11 so far this season, when they will miss the playoffs for the 14th straight year. Haslam already has shot through four coaches and three GMs, and he doesn't even have a GM now because he hired a baseball guy to focus on Moneyball-type analytics. Good luck with that. Can't LeBron buy the team?

11. NICK KYRGIOS. Tennis is the only mainstream sport in which even high-ranked competitors routinely tank games: Player is losing 5-1, so he or she barely moves to save energy for the following set. The enigmatic Kyrgios took tanking to an absurd level in a Shanghai Masters loss to Mischa Zverev: He literally didn't try almost the entire match, tapping serves barely over the net, walking away as Zverev returned shots and saying out loud that he just wanted to go home to Australia. Fans, who had paid hundreds for tickets, booed - and Kyrgios cussed them out. Nice guy.

10. TIGER WOODS. I faintly remember him being a pretty fair golfer. I've won as many majors as he has the last eight years.

9. CHRIS SALE. Flipped out not because the crappy White Sox became laughingstocks in Cubbieland but because he didn't want to wear an alternate jersey the team was promoting. Apparently oblivious to the fact that such promotions help pay ballplayers' astronomical salaries, Sale went comically ballistic, cutting uniforms to shreds in the clubhouse. It probably was the first step in Sale's eventual departure from the team. Hmmm ... maybe he knew exactly what he was doing all along.

8. COLIN KAEPERNICK. I have no problem with him declining to stand during the national anthem as a protest against police violence against blacks. (Nor do I have a problem with those who dislike him for it.) But when Kaepernick wears socks depicting cops as pigs, when he says something idiotic like Trump and Hillary are equally racist and when he decides to not even vote ... well, he undermines his own cause.

7. TONY ROMO. The Cowboys finally seem ready to contend for the Super Bowl, and their snakebit QB - injured yet again - gets "Wally Pipped" by Dak Prescott. Romo is healthy enough to play now but can't get his job back. The classy Romo has said Prescott should stay in the lineup, so this Turkey mention is more about his doggone bad luck.

6. RYAN LOCHTE. First, he swam in Rio as if he had an anchor tied around his neck. Then he lied about being robbed at gunpoint. Then he came back to America after the Olympics and staged a pathetic apology tour. I'm not sure what's worse, athletes who dope, or dopey athletes.

5. BRIAN KELLY. It isn't easy to make Notre Dame football completely irrelevant, so Kelly deserves special congratulations for that. Oh, and the team just had to forfeit 21 wins for academic malfeasance under his watch. Predictably, he says he had no knowledge of the situation. Either he is lying or he is ignorant; neither speaks highly of the man in charge. Touchdown Jesus is mortified.

4. CAM NEWTON. The year started great, as the NFL MVP passed and ran and dabbed the Panthers into Super Bowl 50. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to go but down. Getting little help from his teammates, he didn't play especially well in the big game, and he deserved the grief he caught for not even trying to recover a late fumble that sealed Carolina's fate. He then demonstrated how not to conduct a post-game press conference. This season, he has been only OK and the Panthers likely will miss the playoffs. He also got himself concussed when a defensive player blasted him at the goal line after Cam slowed down instead of simply running into the end zone. I'm a Panthers fan - and a Cam fan - so I hope this was just one of those years and he'll come back strong in 2017.

3. HOPE SOLO. The U.S. soccer goalie gave new meaning to "poor sportsmanship" - and to "Ugly American" - when she reacted to an Olympic quarterfinal loss to Sweden by calling the Swedes a bunch of cowards. What got Solo so perturbed? Did the Swedes play dirty? Did they call U.S. players names? Did they spike the U.S. team's Gatorade? No ... they had the temerity to employ a slow-down strategy that helped them win in a shootout. Of course, the U.S. could have won the shootout had their goalkeeper made more saves ... but it's easier to lash out than to look in the mirror.

2. DRAYMOND GREEN. Who knew that the statistic that would have the biggest bearing on the NBA Finals would be not points or assists or rebounds or turnovers but crotch shots? Green, one of the Golden State Warriors' best players, turns out to also be one of basketball's dirtiest. He started kicking opponents in their man-zones earlier in the postseason and kept it up in the Finals. Finally, when Green changed things up a bit by using his hand to swat LeBron during Game 4, NBA commissioner Adam Silver had little choice but to suspend Green for Game 5. The Warriors had a 3-1 series lead but lost without Green. He then played poorly in Game 6 as the Cavs won again, setting the stage for Cleveland's remarkable, entertaining and historic win in Game 7. For Draymond Green, that must have been quite a kick in the, um, teeth.

And now, friends and fans, the 2016 Turkey of the Year ...

N.C. GOVERNOR PAT McCRORY

What? Am I suddenly making this a political "award." Well, only kind-of.

McCrory almost did the impossible. In a state that decisively elected Trump and pretty much every other Republican on the ballot, McCrory seems to have managed to lose his job as governor. (I say "seems to" because a recount appears to be in the offing, but the odds against him winning remain very long.)

What's especially interesting is that North Carolina has created jobs during McCrory's tenure and even has a budget surplus. The state is growing, as newcomers pour in. Formerly a popular Charlotte mayor, he won easily in 2012, getting millions of votes from Democrats. As the incumbent, he should have cruised to victory - and if there had been any doubt, he could have ridden the coattails of Trump, whom he supported vocally. Instead, he trails Democrat Roy Cooper, the attorney general, by about 8,000 votes.

How did this happen?

There might have been a few reasons. He is perceived by many Republicans as too moderate and by most Democrats as exceedingly right-wing. He is seen as a feckless leader, bullied frequently by legislators from his own party. He refused to take a stand against toll roads that will cost North Carolina commuters dearly. But perhaps the overriding factor was a piece of legislation called House Bill 2.

HB2 - or Hate Bill 2, as detractors call it - strips antidiscrimination protections away from LGBT residents. It prevents counties, cities and towns from raising the minimum wage. And, most famously, it mandates that transgender people use bathrooms that correspond with the gender on their birth certificates.

Almost immediately, corporations scrapped plans to bring jobs to North Carolina. Bruce Springsteen and other high-profile entertainers canceled concerts. Large groups moved their conventions to other states.

And - here's where the sports comes in - those in charge of professional and college leagues expressed serious doubts about whether they wanted to hold major events here. The NBA gave N.C. leaders a few months to try to rectify the situation, but when the state refused to back down, the league pulled the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte.

The ACC followed, taking its championship football game out of Charlotte. Greensboro was supposed to host two NCAA basketball tournament rounds - but not any more. Numerous other college sporting events pulled up stakes to go elsewhere.

In addition to being embarrassing, all of that activity is costing North Carolina hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity. McCrory and his people keep trying to downplay the losses and to blame those who are moving the events. The soon-to-be-ex-governor does everything but take responsibility for his own mess.

HB2 was rushed into law during a one-day special session and signed within minutes by McCrory, who since has admitted that he didn't know some of what was in it. McCrory has defended it as a common-sense law that protects women and little girls from sexual predators. This despite the fact that there have been zero instances of transgender people committing deviant crimes in the hundreds of cities that allow them to use the bathrooms of their choice.

Besides being pretty much unenforceable, the law actually requires transgender men - who look like men, act like men and might even have facial hair (think Chaz Bono) - to use the ladies room. Why? Their birth certificates say they are female, so they have to pee in stalls next to the little girls McCrory purports to protect.

Oh, and McCrory supported Trump, who has bragged about going into locker rooms at beauty pageants, many of which involved teenage girls. If only HB2 had banned Agent Orange!

It is so much hypocrisy, all in the name of hate and exclusion. It has cost North Carolina the NBA All-Star Game, thousands of jobs and considerable humiliation. And now it apparently has cost McCrory his governorship.

Channeling his inner Hope Solo, he is refusing to concede. Channeling his inner Trump, he is alleging voter fraud despite there being no evidence that wide-spread fraud cost him the election. But the more votes that are being counted - all by Republican county election boards - the further behind McCrory is falling in the race. Classic.

It's a performance well deserving of the highest honor in the land, The Baldest Truth's Turkey of the Year.
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Friday, November 11, 2016

A bald take about Trump's victory ... and a search for the bright side (such as: No More Clintons!)

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The Bald Truth

Hillary Clinton lost the presidency because she was a horribly flawed candidate and because she couldn't energize enough minorities and women to vote for her.

She lost because she made some terrible mistakes - if they even were "mistakes" - with her infamous email server. 

She lost because America is sick of the Clintons and the rest of the political establishment. 

She lost because the vast majority of Americans considered her untrustworthy and unlikable.

The Balder Truth

Donald Trump won because Americans wanted change for change sake.  


He won because a large swath of America is uneducated, gullible and desperate.

He won because he did a brilliant job of appealing to the "deplorables" ... as well as plenty of non-deplorables who simply were tired of the status quo. Many good people voted for him, but they are naive to think he is going to bring back jobs in the steel mills and garment plants; the man's own clothing label is from far-flung destinations. They are naive to think he gives a rat's rump about them; he has spent decades stiffing the Average Joes who have worked for him, attended his "university" or thrown craps at his now-defunct casinos.

He won because he was right about the election being rigged; he was just wrong about the "rig-ee." The combination of the Russian hacks being leaked through Wikileaks and Comey's outrageously awful handling of the email situation -- all in the campaign's final two weeks -- made things very difficult for Clinton. Of course, those situations wouldn't have existed had Clinton not committed her multiple faux pas. 

He won -- thrilling the KKK, the alt-right and the millions of others who want to Make America White Again -- because rampant, overt racism is very much alive in the Land of the Free. 

Think about our president-elect. In his very first hour as a candidate, he cast Mexicans as rapists and drug-dealers. The leader of the Republican Party, Paul Ryan, said Trump's comments about a Mexican judge represented "the textbook definition of racism." To cement this, Trump hired an avowed bigot as his campaign CEO. And now Ryan has become an enthusiastic supporter.


And that's just the start. Agent Orange is an admitted sexist, an admitted sexual abuser, an admitted pervert who bragged about being able to watch 15-year-old Teen USA contestants in various states of undress. 

Can you imagine if Barack Obama boasted about being so famous that he could grab women by their hoo-has and kiss them against their will? It would have been Superfreakin' Blackageddon!

Trump has almost no knowledge of anything beyond our borders and little intellectual curiosity. He brazenly refused to show his tax returns. PolitiFact said that more than 70% of what he said during the campaign was either "mostly false," "false" or "pants on fire." He wants to spread nukes around the world and has threatened to use them. He has offered few detailed policies. He is exceedingly vindictive; it will be interesting to see how he engages with the many Republicans who repudiated him.


In the end, more than half of America was bamboozled by a racist, sexist, bombastic snake-oil salesman. How embarrassing. We are the laughingstock of the world.

Over the next four (or - yikes! - eight) years, I'll be curious to see if the Dems in Congress have the cajones to wage the kind of stonewalling, obstructing and fillibustering that the Republicans did against just about all of Obama's initiatives. My guess is that the Dems will have neither the will nor the political courage.

Meanwhile ...

Our VP-elect, Mike Pence, doesn't believe in basic science. He's a bible-thumping evolution denier who thinks God actually created the world in six days, and did so only a few thousand years ago: the classic "Jesus rode dinosaurs" guy. Disavows anything to do with climate change. Wants to deny women control of their bodies and futures. In some ways, he is more dangerous than his boss.

The Lowest Bar Ever

Every time Trump went on TV and didn't say something ridiculous, insulting or incendiary, he was hailed as being "presidential." So it was no surprise that his followers went ga-ga over his vanilla declaration of victory, in which he urged us all to do the kumbaya thing as a nation.


Just a few weeks ago, Agent Orange was threatening, if he lost, to repudiate our political process by refusing to accept the results. Now he's all for the peaceful transfer of power. Shocker that he would be for whatever suits him.

THE BALDEST TRUTH

Hey, as long as Trump doesn't start World War III because Kim Jong-un tweets an insult about his small hands, this probably won't affect me much personally. I'm white, I'm male, I'm straight, I'm financially comfortable and I've got a Sugar Mama. 

I sure wouldn't be comfortable being anything other than a straight white male under a Trump presidency, though, especially with the GOP retaining control of the Senate and almost surely about to take back the Supreme Court. Trump not only has the title, he has the backing. Scary. Fifty-plus years of work on women's rights, black rights, gay rights, etc., are in jeopardy of being flushed down the toilet.

Hey, I did all I could do - even held my nose and voted for Hillary - so now I'll be a big boy and live with it. It's not as if I have a realistic choice. Despite Roberta's declaration that we're moving to Canada ... we're not. 


We probably won't even leave North Carolina, which since our arrival six short years ago has erased a century of progress to become a haven of backward thought. That my quiet, leafy, suburban neighborhood was thick with Trump signs surprised me at first; it shouldn't have.

So this registered Independent is going to try to look at the few silver linings:

1. I like to think we have seen the last of the Clintons. In 2008, Hillary couldn't beat an unknown rookie whose name sounded like Osama. And eight years later she couldn't beat one of the most unpopular people on the planet -- a guy with even higher "unfavorable" numbers than her's. She's toast, and so is Bubba. When all this started 18-plus months ago, the betting money was on another Clinton-v-Bush showdown. Now, both political families are afterthoughts. 

2. This should open the Dems' eyes to see that they can't just throw any old retread on the presidential ballot and rely upon the minority vote to save them. They need to tap into their pool of younger potential stars -- people that progressive whites, minorities, women, Millennials and others can rally behind. My kids were thrilled to vote for Obama in 2008; they and the rest of their generation (and my generation, too!) need candidates they can get excited about, or they simply won't turn out to vote. It will be interesting to see how the Cory Bookers, the Julian Castros, the Eric Garcettis, etc., progress as political figures.

3. This totally exposed the religious far-right as the hypocrites they are. Has there ever, ever, EVER been a less-Christian, major-party political candidate than Donald Effen Trump? And yet millions upon millions of Christians couldn't wait to make a thrice-married, lecherous, foul-mouthed, uncharitable, money-obsessed, boastful casino operator the most powerful man on the planet. 


Here in North Carolina, the GOP passed the infamous "bathroom law" known as HB2 because, they said, it would prevent perverts from spying on their daughters in locker rooms. And then, for president, they backed a pervert who literally bragged about spying on teenagers in locker rooms. Bravo!

All right. End of screed. I'll hang up and listen now while Agent Orange makes America great again.

^

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Another fantastic finish for the Sons of Pitches, another super start for my hoopin' Eagles

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Election aside (I'll save my musings on that subject for another time), Tuesday was a wonderful day for a beginning and fantastic evening for an ending.

First, my Scholars Academy Eagles girls basketball team won our season opener. Although we lost a lot of offensive weapons from last season's championship squad, I was thrilled to see that our trademark "outwork-'em-to-death" style is back in full force.

We had trouble scoring early, but we were relentless on defense and just wore down our opponent to pull away in the second half. Our captain, 8th-grader Ritika, has been with me for all four of my years at the school. She controlled the game at point guard and, as is her custom, she nailed a dagger of a 3-pointer to break our opponent's back. She got strong support from Deirdre, our talented 6th-grader who matched Ritika's 8 points, and the rest of her aggressive, hard-working teammates.

It's always nice to start off with a win. You can't go undefeated if you lose your first game!

After my Eagles wrapped up the victory in Rock Hill, S.C., I jumped in my car and drove 35 minutes to Charlotte, where our Sons of Pitches won our second Carolina Senior Softball championship.


We tend to like to do things the hard way, and we outdid ourselves this time. Due to injuries, absences and, yes, a little bit of bad, old-fashioned poor play, we only had a 4-6 record in the Fall season. So we entered the postseason tournament as the No. 9 seed -- meaning that if we were going to win the title, we would have to do win four straight games as the visitors.

We opened the tournament with a 19-3 thrashing of the No. 8 seed. We then took out the No. 1 seed, a team that had only lost once, advancing to Tuesday's Final Four.

In the semifinal, we faced the No. 4 seed, Orange Crush. We proceeded to crush the softball all game long and rolled to a 19-13 victory. I had a couple of hits but most notably got a lot of exercise shifting from right-center field to left-center field and back again.

Our regular LCF, Rick, is one of the best outfielders around. Meanwhile, I'm primarily a catcher who has trouble seeing flyballs at night; I was needed for the outfield because one of our players was out of the country and another was hurt. So when there was a right-handed hitter batting, Rick would play LCF and I would play RCF, as he was more likely to get a ball pulled to him. And when there was a left-handed hitter up (or, in a couple of instances, a righty who liked to go to the opposite field), Rick would shift to RCF and I'd move to LCF.

Our inventive manager Pat devised this strategy and, unlike some of his strategies, this one actually worked - ha! I didn't get a single fly all game, Rick got several, and I think it messed with our opponents' minds to see us shifting constantly.

That win put us in the championship game against the same team that had thrashed us a few months earlier in the Spring title game, the Raiders. Unlike Al Davis' old Oakland Raiders, this time these Raiders didn't "just win, baby." Our bats stayed hot, we jumped on them for 3 in the first and 5 in the second (capped by yours truly's "mini-walkoff hit"), and we led from beginning to end in our 18-11 victory.

The final out set off a nice little celebration that put an exclamation point on an amazing two-year run for the SoPs.

In the CSS, teams are re-drafted every other year, so the nucleus of teams are together for two years. That's four seasons: two Spring and two Fall. In that span, we won two championships (2015 Spring, 2016 Fall) and a runner-up trophy (2016 Spring). The only time we didn't at least reach the title game was Fall 2015, when bad weather canceled the entire postseason. Pretty darn impressive, no?

More important than the championships have been the friendships. We have a great group of guys who pick each other up and cheer each other on. We like to clown around, but we're all business once the games start. (Almost all business. When Pat or Bob shout, "Come on guys, one out at a time," my response usually is, "Screw that, I'm getting 2 outs at a time!")

Peter and Eddie, injury-replacement players who joined us most recently, shored up our infield and brought big bats (and great attitudes) to our team. "Good Mike" (as opposed to me, "Bad Mike") and Doug were the injured guys they replaced, yet both showed up for the final four, coached the bases and rooted us on. Bruce was our resident wise-ass, and also a good hitter and outfielder. Gary, our left fielder and cleanup hitter, has a lethal bat to right-center field. Rick is the ultimate table-setter, a leadoff man who got on base nearly every time and had speed to burn (for an old dude). Jerry, our shortstop, never met a pitch he didn't like; he was especially adept at crushing pitches over his head. Bob was the best first baseman in the league and a perfectionist who, um, "gently reminded" everybody else to do things right. O.K. and Mickey, our two most senior seniors, are still going strong even though 70 has been in their rearview mirrors for quite a few years. Wayne was a good clutch hitter who, importantly, was reliable when it came to going out for a beer. Pat was our No. 3 hitter who pitched superbly in the playoffs after excelling at other positions during the season. And I was the keep-it-loose guy with the big mouth who had a few decent moments at the plate (too few) and tried not to screw up too often in the field.

This was my third season with O.K. and Wayne, and my fourth with Good Mike and Bob, and I've been lucky to be around them for all these years.

And Pat ... we entered the league at the same time, all the way back in 2012, and were thrown together on a team of misfits. We've been together ever since, for five seasons, as he kept trading for me after he became a manager. He loves telling stories about how he traded a blind guy for me -- or was it a double amputee or a dead guy? I'm pretty sure he just kept bringing me along because he wanted to make sure he had a teammate who would be willing to grab a beer after games. As much as I (and many of our teammates) like to kid Pat, he's been a great manager and a true amico.

Lots of teams talk about camaraderie, chemistry and other hard-to-quantify intangibles, but it really, truly has been the case for this group. I've been involved with a lot of teams in a lot of sports, as a player, a coach, a parent, a writer, etc., and this one has been extra special.

Here's to you, Sons of Pitches: great champions, great guys, great friends.
^

Friday, November 4, 2016

Cubbies bring The Baldest One back

^
Yeah, yeah ... it's been forever since I posted here. Hey, I've been busy as heck. Coaching basketball again (we begin defense of our conference title next week), umpiring several days a week, writing for actual money for Seeking Alpha, golfing again (still mediocre at best), losing sleep as Hillary loses her lead in the polls, etc., etc., etc.

All it took was the Cubbies to win the World Series to get me going again. So here are a baker's dozen observations about that every-108-years occurrence ...

1. The Cubs were the best team all season, and it really wasn't very close. They were built beautifully by Theo Epstein, from the front office and manager on down. Very balanced: pitching, hitting, fielding, the whole nine yards. Seemed to have a very good "team personality," too -- guys liked each other, picked each other up when necessary, etc. This should serve them well for many years.

2. Joe Maddon over-manages sometimes, did so quite often during the postseason and really had a pretty crappy Game 7. It reminded me of Tony La Russa's occasional inability to keep his hands off. But, like La Russa, I'll take Maddon every day of the week. It doesn't take a genius to do a double-switch. The most important part of managing is dealing with the egos, and Maddon is wonderful at that.

3. Those who love the Cubs but hate domestic abusers had the perfect scenario in Game 7. Aroldis Chapman sucked so badly he actually was reduced to tears, but the Cubs still won.

4. The Indians had a nice lineup but their bench ... pretty suspect. The best pinch-hitters Terry Francona could come up with were Yan Gomes and Michael Martinez, who, to be charitable, are really bad. Gomes had a particularly terrible at-bat when the Indians had Chapman on the ropes in the 8th inning.

5. As soon as Chapman retired the side 1-2-3 in the ninth, I knew the Cubs were going to win. They had the heart of their lineup coming up in the 10th, and the Indians' staff was gassed. Jason Hayward's speech and some divine force causing a rain delay ... it's fun to talk about stuff like that, but it came down to a tired, good-but-not-great pitcher going against some outstanding hitters.

6. Kyle Schwarber ... now THAT'S a great story. And how fr
eakin' good is Kris Bryant? Yikes! I'll already say that he could retire as the best Cub ever.

7. As I said, I'm no Cubs fan. I really didn't care if they had won or lost. But as with the Cavs, it's nice to see something that never happens, happen. Also, Ben still lives in Chicago and is a huge Cubbie fan, and it's nice to hear my son be so happy.

8. It was an interesting series, and a great Game 7, reminding me of some faves from over the years. The best series I ever saw in person was Twins-Braves '91. That produced several amazing games, including the best meaningful game I ever saw in person - Game 7, the "Jack Morris Game." (I make the "meaningful" distinction because we've all seen a lot of great regular-season games in every sport; it's the great moments that happen when the stakes are the highest that we really remember.)

9. My first major sportswriting assignment was the 1982 ALCS (Brewers-Angels) and World Series (Brewers-Cardinals), so those have special personal meaning for to me.

10. The most incredible half-hour of sports that I have ever witnessed personally came in the 2003 NLCS, Game 6, 8th inning. Never had seen anything like it and almost surely never will again.

11. Otherwise, I've seen so many great World Series games on TV that it's hard to rank them. Certainly, the Carlton Fisk game in '75 was memorable. Diamondbacks over Yankees in 2001. So, so, so many others. Old-timers will say the "Mazeroski game" in 1960 - when Bill Mazeroski's 9th-inning homer gave the Pirates a huge upset victory over the Yankees - was the greatest ever. That actually took place the day I was born, Oct. 13, 1960, and I have a cool baseball card commemorating that game with the date highlighted.

12. If you're truly a long-suffering Cubbie fan who stuck by the Lovable Losers through thin and thinner, I'm happy for you. If you're one of the zillions of Cubbie-come-latelies who glommed onto this team this season ... meh.

13. Two years ago, if you had asked me if the Cubs could win the 2016 World Series, I would have responded:

"Yeah, sure. And Donald Trump can win the effen White House."

That's all for this edition of The Baldest Truth, folks. See you again in 2124!
^

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Six years of Chicago in our rearview mirror

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It has been exactly six years since Roberta and I bailed on Chicago. When we are sitting in the sunroom behind our suburban Charlotte home, enjoying the autumn breeze and a beer on a beautiful North Carolina night, I gotta tell you that we might as well be a million miles away from the Midwest.

Still, I miss plenty about Chicago, mostly the people we left behind. In honor of our six years away, here are a half-dozen people (and/or couples) that I dearly miss (in alphabetical order):

Phil Arvia ... My columnist counterpart (I was with the Copley Newspapers, he was at the Daily Southtown), Phil also eventually was chewed up and spit out by the brutal business known as newspaper journalism. He worked hard, he wrote wonderfully and he always had my back. Except when it came to golf. Then I was fair game, and he was quick to use his voluminous vocabulary to come up with ways to describe the delicate nuances of my game. (Shout-out to Tammy, as well.)

Darcia and Mike Brundidge ... They lived across the street from us on Bell Ave, their older son Troy was one of Ben's best friends, their younger son Chris used to shovel off our backyard basketball court so he and his buddies could play in the middle of winter. Good times. Even though the miles separate us now, we remain close to Darcia and Mike to this day.

Rick Gano ... My former AP Chicago colleague and one of my all-time favorite characters from the world of journalism. Funny, self-deprecating, poisonously sarcastic and far too hard-working (back when he was working). Also lovably neurotic. (Shout-out to Martha, too.)

Kristi and Jim Johnson ... I met Jim when I signed up to play softball in Minnesota about 1,000 years ago, and we became good friends. They moved to Detroit at about the same time we moved to Chicago, but eventually they came to their senses and joined us in the Chicago area. We didn't see them quite as often as we would have liked because they live in Grayslake, which I believe is just outside Winnipeg, but we do try to get together with them when we make the trip back.

Ben Nadel ... Yep, our little boy is still representin'. Except now our little boy is a fine 28-year-old man who makes us proud every day. He also has a great girlfriend, Sammi ... and if I'm not mistaken they're now past their 1-year mark together. Woo-hoo! What's extra cool is that Ben's presence in Chicago pretty much forces us to visit several times a year.

Zillions of Others ... I could have listed one more person, but then I would have been leaving out so many. And I'm too freakin' nice for that.

You also might notice that I didn't list a single Chicago sports figure. It wasn't my job to get close to the people I covered. I like to think most of us had mutual respect for each other. But for those who might not have liked me because of the stuff I wrote or the questions I asked ... to hell with 'em!
^


Saturday, July 30, 2016

One speaker the Dems forgot to invite ... and other DNC stuff

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Sure, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg, Bill Clinton, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Tim Kaine spoke at the Democratic National Convention. And yes, their testimonial speeches on Hillary Clinton's behalf were more than just OK.

And sure, also speaking in Philadelphia were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, numerous generals (including some Republicans) and Khizr Kahn -- the father of a slain Muslim U.S. soldier who challenged Donald Trump's patriotism and knowledge of the Constitution. In addition, Katy Perry provided the musical entertainment.

So yeah, the Dems flashed a little more "star power" than the Republicans had a week earlier, when the best the GOP could do was dig Scott Freakin' Baio up from under a rock.

But hey, if the Dems had any sense of humor at all, they would have located the troubled Erin Moran and let her speak for a few minutes.

I mean, I can't believe they missed the opportunity to counter Chachi with Joanie!

+++

Never able to control his worst impulses, Trump has lashed out at the aforementioned Khizr Kahn. He told ABC that Clinton's staff wrote Kahn's speech and said it appeared as if Clinton's people wouldn't let Kahn's wife, Ghazala, speak.

Kahn, a Harvard-educated lawyer, went on MSNBC on Friday to say Trump was lying -- which of course is Trump's default action. And Ghazala told MSNBC that she was too nervous to speak at the convention and she was still too emotionally shaken every time she thinks about her son, Humayun, a decorated captain who was killed by a car bomb in Iraq in 2004.

During his MSNBC interview, Khizr praised the patriotism of Republicans. He called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell "a decent human being" and a great leader, and also praised House Speaker Paul Ryan. But, Kahn added: 

"If your candidate wins, and he governs the way he has campaigned, my country, this country, will have constitutional crises. ... There comes a time in the history of a nation when an ethical, moral stand has to be taken, regardless of the political response. The only reason (McConnell, Ryan and others in the party) are not repudiating his behavior, his threat to our democracy, our decency, our foundation, is just because of political consequences."

I guess Hillary's people wrote that for him, too.

During the convention, Kahn ripped Trump for having never sacrificed anything. In his ABC interview, Trump responded: "I think I've made a lot of sacrifices," citing "millions of dollars" in donations for veterans.

About that ...

The Washington Post investigated those claims and found out that Trump hadn't donated a dime to charities for veterans. Shamed, Trump responded by finally cutting a check ... and banning Post reporters from receiving credentials to his events.

+++

The three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate this fall will be must-see TV. Trump warmed up for them two months early with more Twitter bluster, accusing Hillary and the Dems of booking some debates the same nights as NFL games.

The only problem with that accusation is that the debates were scheduled 10 months ago by the same non-partisan commission that has run presidential debates for three decades.

Eh, but since when did facts ever stop Trump?

+++

All the late-night comedians are razzing Tim Kaine for being boring, but I rather liked his speech -- especially when he was taunting Trump for punctuating his frequent lies with calls of, "Believe me!"

I think Kaine was a very good choice for Hillary's running mate. The Dems didn't need a "superstar veep." They needed a person with proven credentials and unimpeachable character.

You know you've got a good one when numerous Republicans are testifying how good a guy Kaine is.

No, he's no Barack or Bill or Biden in the speech-giving department, but he'll find his footing just fine.

+++

Both Obamas were amazing at the convention. Michelle is a national gem. And if that was the president's last major speech in front of a national audience ... wow ... what a way to go out. 

Biden's passion practically jumped off the stage. His closing punctuation -- "Come on!" -- will be remembered for years. Booker's speech was outstanding but was overshadowed by Michelle's.

Still, I think my favorite convention yakker was Bloomberg, the Independent former New York mayor who is backing Hillary.

Bloomberg taunted, emasculated and humiliated Trump the way only somebody with MORE billions could. He called Trump a con man and a hypocrite, and explained with wit and energy why Trump isn't even a good businessman.

I don't agree with all of Bloomberg's policies from his three terms as mayor, but it's a shame we got the wrong Big Apple billionaire in this presidential race. I'm guessing Bloomberg would have defeated Hillary, and perhaps quite handily.

+++

From all of the above, it's obvious that I think the Dems did a better job at their convention than the Trumpsters did in hosting Fear & Fright Fest 2016.

Nevertheless ...

Although Hillary's speech was better than I expected, she did fall back on cliches quite often. And she never really tried to convince Independents, disgruntled Republicans, Bernie Sanders followers and undecided voters why they should trust her, given her trail of lies and deceit.

Also, I didn't think Bill Clinton gave one of his better speeches. I was bored midway through it -- which wasn't the case as I watched Kaine's, by the way.

And there's still plenty of healing to do between Clinton and the Bernie Backers. Yet another email scandal made the party (and, by extension, Hillary) look bad. It played right into the "Hillary can't be trusted" narrative that the Republicans have wisely crafted.

White males, especially uneducated white males, are decidedly behind the macho, race-baiting narcissist at the top of the Republican ticket. So Hillary needs the Bernie Backers -- and they need to get over themselves. They might not like Hillary, but a Trump victory ends their "revolution," period.

Hillary also needs to handily win the black, Latino, female and young votes. I think she will, but I take nothing for granted. I admit I was among the millions who totally dismissed Trump's chances to win the GOP nomination. 

I underestimated him -- and the naivete of millions of Republican voters.

+++

I'm trying -- and failing -- to understand why so many veterans and current soldiers seem to favor a draft dodger who belittled war hero John McCain for being captured and tortured.

+++

North Carolina is a swing state, and Hillary got a major bump when an appeals court struck down the state GOP's restrictive voter ID law -- a law that also would have reduced the number of early-voting days, eliminated a weekend of early voting, tossed out a tradition of pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds, etc. 

The three-judge panel correctly ruled that the law "targeted African-Americans with almost surgical precision."

The court ruled (and I agree) that Republicans who wrote and passed the law artfully got rid of all provisions that encouraged voting by blacks, other minorities and young people -- in other words, the Democratic base. When Pennsylvania powered through a similar law in 2012, one of that state's GOP leaders was caught on tape crowing that the law would give the election to Mitt Romney.

The courts have caught on, however. Just in the last two weeks, appeals courts have struck down voter-suppression laws in Texas, Wisconsin and now North Carolina.

The GOP laws in those and other states all were enacted in the guise of eliminating voter fraud. But the appeals court shot down the N.C. law as one that "imposes cures for problems that did not exist." Study after study has shown that in-person voter fraud is practically non-existent. 

For what it's worth, I thought the ID part of the N.C. law was about as close to fair as such a law could be. IDs would be free for those who couldn't afford them, and there was a chance to fill out provisional ballots for those who lacked ID. 

As usual, however, our wonderful state GOP couldn't stop there. They had to eliminate voting days, pre-registration for older teens, on-site registration, etc. They had to do everything possible to reduce voter turnout, because elections that have high voter turnout usually favor Democrats.

They targeted the black vote "with almost surgical precision" ... and now their own chances ended up in the sick bed.
^



Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Donald chats about Melania

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When Slovenia sends its women, they're not sending their best. They're sending women that have lots of problems. They're bringing daughters of Communists. They're bringing gold diggers. They're plagiarists. And some, I assume, are good people.

You have people coming in, and I'm not just saying Slovenians, I'm talking about people that are from all over that are plagiarists and college dropouts and they're coming into this country.

The Slovenian government is much smarter, much sharper, much more cunning. And they send the bad ones over because they don't want to pay for them. They don't want to take care of them.

Well, somebody's doing the plagiarizing, Don! I mean, somebody's doing it! Who's doing the plagiarizing? Who's doing the plagiarizing?

Sadly, the overwhelming amount of plagiarism in our major cities is committed by Slovenians.

^




Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Trump defends Melania: "Hey, we the people, in order to form a more perfect union ... "

^
Melania Trump obviously plagiarized two passages of her GOP convention speech from Michele Obama.

Predictably and hilariously, Trump and his people not only denied the plagiarism, they blamed the reaction to it on Hillary Clinton! (And, of course, the liberal media.)

Here's the main case of thievery. You be the judge.

     What Michelle said in 2008:

 "And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you're going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don't know them, and even if you don't agree with them.
"And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and to pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them."    
What Melania said Monday:

“From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect.
"They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily lives. That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son. And we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow. Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”


What's next? Trump opening his acceptance speech with: "Four score and seven years ago ..."?

Democrats are, of course, attacking with the same kind of gusto Draymond Green displayed whenever an opponent's groinal region was nearby. 

At the very least, the Dems say, Trump should acknowledge the plagiarism and do what he does best -- fire the speechwriter. The problem with that is this: Melania told Matt Lauer earlier in the day, "I wrote it, and with as little help as possible."

And we all know Melania is still at least a year or two away from being fired by Trump in favor of Young Wife No. 4.

Hey, as Trump-associated horrors go, this plagiarism thing ranks pretty low on the list. Besides, this is 'Merica, and freedom to do what we want is sacrosanct.

As I famously wrote just a couple of weeks ago ...

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

And I stand by those words, come hell or high water (another phrase I invented).
^