Thursday, November 19, 2015

Criticizing Cam is a lot easier than beating him; also - my undefeated Eagles

I know it's been more than a month since I've posted. I'm a busy man! Well, maybe not all THAT busy, but busy enough that writing for free is not my first priority. OK, enough about not writing ...

The big story here in Charlotte is that Cam Newton celebrates too much.

Newton has led his Panthers to a 9-0 start. Barring an epic collapse, he will be taking his Panthers to their first back-to-back-to-back playoff appearances ever. While Tom Brady almost certainly will be the NFL MVP again, Newton is in the discussion. He has improved markedly at every phase of quarterback play while remaining a lethal weapon as a runner.

Did I mention the Panthers were 9-0?

And yet thousands of folks here think he celebrates too much.

I guess they'd rather have Jimmy Clausen, who in his lone year as Panthers QB certainly didn't celebrate too much. Because QBs don't usually celebrate when they throw interceptions or get sacked.

Just the other day, I had this conversation with a fellow Panthers fan:

Him: "Who do you root for?"
Me: "The Panthers, of course!"
Him: "Yeah, they're doing great. But I don't really like Cam."

I've had versions of that conversation with many others, too. I had almost that exact conversation with a guy at a Panthers game this season. One they were winning. One in which Cam already had two touchdowns. It's the damnedest thing.

I wonder if there would be a backlash if Cam celebrated with the Discount Double Check or by sprinting downfield with his arms out -- to cite the most recent Green Bay stars at the position.

Guys who also happen to be white.

I mean, are there any Patriots fans who don't like Brady because he's often seen cursing profusely on the sideline? Are there Texan fans who don't like J.J. Watt because he celebrates his sacks?

I know, I know, I'm playing the race card with no proof. But sorry. I just think there's some racism involved, and that's sad.

What I don't hear fans say too often is what a great leader Cam has become. How when WR Philly Brown dropped a bunch of passes this preseason and was booed mercilessly for it, Cam was the first guy to embrace him and tell him to hang in there. Brown, by the way, hasn't dropped a single pass during the regular season. Coincidence? Maybe.

I also don't hear fans talk too often about Cam becoming a big-time positive contributor to the community here in Charlotte, about his many dealings with children, especially those less fortunate.

Yes, Cam makes the first-down signal when he runs for a first down and he dances when he scores and he hands the football to a little kid in the stands after a Panthers touchdown. Ipso fatso, he is too brash and lacks humility. Riiiight.

Anyway, I've really enjoyed watching Cam and the Panthers this season. It's fun to root for a team -- something I didn't do for decades as a sportswriter. And it's been extra fun because I really did start following them closely well before they started winning big. It's cool to see a player like Cam and a team overall grow up before my very eyes.

I'm not counting on a 19-0 run through the Super Bowl -- heck, the Panthers might lose to the Scalping Savages this Sunday. But I do think there's a legitimate chance they get to the Super Bowl and maybe win it.

And if they do, I plan to dance!


Speaking of unbeaten teams, my Scholars Academy Eagles are 2-0 going into our Thanksgiving break. The girls have soundly defeated our first two opponents, but I think they realize those teams haven't been very good. We will get severely tested in our next two games against the only two teams that beat us last season.

Even though we lost our top three scorers from last season -- all great kids and leaders, too -- I am really liking this team's personality, experience and combination of skills. We are fortunate to have several eighth-graders who have been with me for two or three seasons, and it shows in the way they work together on the court and have fun with each other off the court.

My first-year point guard (second year on the team, but she was exclusively a wing last season) has been outstanding, and our center has been dominant. We have a lot of nice role players, as well. Mostly, we still play with great aggressiveness and passion, and that's the best way to win at this level.


It's not the same as being undefeated, but my latest article on financial site Seeking Alpha marked my 17th consecutive "Editors' Pick" dating back to April.

It's always nice to get a thumbs-up.


I promise I won't go another month (or more) without posting again. Next week is Thanksgiving, and that of course means my annual Turkey of the Year countdown.

I know the tens and tens of you reading this now can't wait!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Oct. 13: Birthday Of The Stars (and a certain bald schlub)

An early Happy Birthday wish to my former Marquette classmate Glenn Rivers (now universally known as Doc), who was born Oct. 13, 1961, exactly one year after I was.

And while I'm at it, early Happy Birthday wishes to ...

Jerry Rice, the greatest receiver ever to lace 'em up.

Marie Osmond (even though, unlike her, I'm a lotta bit rock 'n' roll).

Paul Simon, who still can get me feelin' groovy.

Dark comedian Lenny Bruce (RIP)

Sacha Baron Cohen, who no doubt will celebrate by making sexy time.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who hasn't won a lick since naming himself GM.

Clutch hoopster Paul Pierce (and far-less-clutch hoopster Jermaine O'Neal).

Nancy Kerrigan, one of sport's all-time victims.

Kelly Preston, Jerry Maguire's squeeze.

Kate Walsh. Is there any TV show she hasn't been mediocre in?

Sammy Hagar -- The Red Rocker.

Margaret Thatcher -- The Iron Lady. (RIP)

Ari Fleischer, who as Dubya's press secretary had the dubious assignment of making his boss sound intelligible.

"Foolish" songstress Ashanti.

Trevor Hoffman, who saved 601 games even though his fastball could be measured by a sundial.

Wow ... what a great list of October 13 birthdays!

And while I'm at it, an early Happy Birthday To Me!

For yours truly, it's double-nickels -- a term I'll always associate with Michael Jordan's 55-point performance at Madison Square Garden shortly after his first un-retirement in 1995.

Jeesh ... was that really 20 years ago? How time flies when you share a birth date with Ari Fleischer!


And in other less-important news ...

++ Of course Chase Utley's slide was dirty. The rent-a-Dodger was practically past second base when he wiped out Ruben Tejada, breaking the Mets shortstop's leg. Kudos to MLB executive Joe Torre for suspending Utley. It's worth noting that Torre, who has as much integrity as any man in baseball, used to manage the Dodgers.

++ "These things are scripted, I guess, and I wasn't in the script this time." -- Anirban Lahiri, International team golfer, after he missed a short putt to lose to Chris Kirk and cost his team a tie in the Presidents Cup. Hey man, if you want to believe God chose Kirk instead of you and the Americans instead of your team as a rationale for your choke job, go for it.

++ I keep thinking the Seahawks are going to start dominating games again, but they keep avoiding doing so. I hope they delay it at least another week, as they face my Panthers next Sunday.

++ Oh, and one more early birthday shout-out to Phil Arvia, my good buddy and fellow former Chicago sports columnist. Phil has traded in his laptop for a bass guitar, and he's just more proof that there's life after the newspaper biz. I am still waiting for him to invite me on stage to sing, though. You haven't rocked or rolled until you've heard my rendition of Del Shannon's "Runaway"!

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Art of The Scoop -- Remembering Ozzie & Others

What is a scoop? Everything from getting the tiniest fact before a competitor to bringing down a president through months of exhaustive research -- a la Woodward & Bernstein -- has been labeled "scoops."

In these days of Twitter, Vine and other miracles of the interwebs, it's muddled even more. If Reporter A finds out that Joe Quarterback has stubbed his toe 20 seconds before Reporter B does, is it a "scoop"? (Sure. Why not? It's at least a mini-scoop.)

Many stories labeled as scoops developed from interviews -- the subject tells something newsworthy to the reporter, who becomes the first to chronicle it. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 100% of the scoops during my newspaper days were of this variety.

I'll discuss this a little more in a bit, but first, here's the impetus for me thinking about this right now:

It's is the 10-year anniversary of what was probably my final "scoop" as a journalist.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen believed he was being mistreated by fans and was so distraught he told me he would seriously consider quitting ... but only if his team went on to win the World Series.

For those who might not remember, here is the column I wrote for the Copley Newspapers and its news service ...


September 22, 2005

Feeling so stressed out that he regularly vomits and feeling unappreciated by Chicago's boo-first fans, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen says he might quit after the season if his team wins the World Series.

"I've got (championship) rings already and I'm proud of them, but if I win here, if I help the White Sox do this, it will give me a chance to walk away if I want to," an emotional Guillen told me before Wednesday night's 8-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians.

"I will think about it. I will think about it twice. The way I'm thinking right now, I will tell (general manager) Kenny Williams to get another manager and I'll get the (bleep) out of here. I'll make more money signing autographs instead of dealing with this (bleep)."

I have heard Ozzie say some wild things during his two seasons as Sox skipper, but this one floored me.

Here's a 41-year-old, second-year manager who has guided a modestly talented team to the American League's best record, a guy who in just a few weeks could be the first Chicago manager in 88 years to spray championship champagne, a former White Sox All-Star who gets misty-eyed when discussing his love of the organization ... and he is seriously contemplating his grand exit.

I wanted to make sure I heard him correctly, so I asked him repeatedly to clarify his comments. And he kept saying the same things, often raising his voice to accentuate certain points.

"I'm not kidding, not at all," Guillen said. "I want the fans to be able to say, 'Hey, we finally did it!' I want to make them proud. I want to win the World Series, and then maybe i'm gone. I'll even help Kenny look for someone else.

"I don't give a (bleep) about the money; I've got all I need. The thing is, I'm stressed every day.

"Do I have the best job in the world? Yes, because I'm managing the team I love. I'm managing my team. But every time we lose, I feel sick. I (vomit) sometimes. I get mad. I throw things in my office. It makes me crazy.

"I went to the World Series as a player (with Atlanta) and won one as a coach (with Florida). If I can do it as the manager here, I can say: 'Everything I want to do in baseball, I did it.' Then I'll make my decision."

Frankly, I doubt Guillen will have to worry about winning the World Series.

Although Wednesday's loss reduced their one-time 15-game AL Central lead over Cleveland to 21/2 games, I still think the Sox will make the playoffs (perhaps only as a wild-card team). I simply don't believe they have enough firepower or pitching to advance beyond the first round.

The Indians are so much more talented it's ridiculous. Travis Hafner alone is as good as any three White Sox. Nevertheless, with the division lead dwindling, many fans are taking out their frustrations on Guillen.

A half-hour after telling dozens of reporters that he didn't mind being booed at U.S.Cellular Field - even joking about "the 30,000 managers helping me out" - Guillen showed his vulnerable side during our long conversation.

"It makes me sad when they boo me," he said. "Sometimes I think they don't appreciate me. They should, because I played my (bleep) off for them and now I'm managing my (bleep) off for them.

"You know how many managers are dying for 91 wins right now? And we have that and they don't appreciate that? It makes me wonder what happens if I only have 71 wins, how are they gonna treat me? I mean, they treat me like (bleep) when I'm winning 91.

"My kids are here at the ballpark and they ask me later why I'm getting booed. I say it's part of my job, but deep down inside, it hurts. If I was doing a (bleep) job, sure, go ahead and boo me, but I think I'm doing pretty good."

So do I. With his boundless energy, confident personality, brutal honesty, zany (and often profane) sense of humor and aggressive style, Guillen convinced a completely retooled team - one many preseason prognosticators predicted would finish in fourth place - to believe it could accomplish anything.

The White Sox have blown most of their 15-game lead largely because the starting pitchers have slumped these last seven weeks. Just when it seemed the Sox were ready to choke completely, Guillen led them to a series victory in Minnesota.

Then came the first two games of the Cleveland series, in which the Indians kept taking leads and Ozzie's resilient Sox kept battling back. If the White Sox do qualify for postseason play, credit Tuesday's stirring comeback. Guillen's forceful, can-do attitude played a huge role in that triumph - and in the team's other 32 one-run victories.

Though it's easy to quibble with in-game decisions, the true measure of any manager is his ability to steer his ship through both smooth and choppy waters. That's why he's often called a "skipper."

Ozzie Guillen has been a superb skipper. If White Sox fans don't realize that, they don't deserve him.


A few interesting things (hey, at least I think they're interesting) about this column on its anniversary:

++ The genesis of it was this: Guillen was talking to a couple dozen reporters before a game, as managers routinely do. Unlike most managers, Ozzie had absolutely no filter and would say anything anytime. This particular time, he was grousing about the fans, and he felt he was being treated unfairly. After about a 2-minute discussion, the subject changed to something else. (Probably about Jay Mariotti being a jerk.) But as I stood there, I couldn't help but think that Ozzie really was deeply hurt by fans booing him, and I decided that if I had an opportunity to follow up with him about it, I would.

++ On some occasions in the past, my instincts had been wrong. Either the subject didn't feel like discussing a situation in greater detail or there simply was nothing there. This time, though, I happened to be right. About a half-hour after his session with reporters, I pulled Ozzie aside near the back of the batting cage and asked him a question. He went on a 3-minute, stream-of-consciousness rant that would form the basis of my column. When he said he was so upset about the perceived mistreatment that he "pukes sometimes," I knew I had something worth writing. I asked a couple of follow-up questions and he kept going, his voice rising. Friends up in the press box could see Ozzie making exaggerated hand gestures as he talked. Because Ozzie sometimes spoke in broken English and because he often was a jokester, I asked him several times if he was serious; I didn't want to report something only to be told later I hadn't gotten the joke or I hadn't understood. He assured me he was serious and he continued to talk.

++ The result was the column. By the next morning, it was the "water-cooler topic" in Chicago sports. I was asked to go on several radio shows to discuss it. Many newspapers that had nothing to do with my employer mentioned it, as did ESPN. That afternoon, before the White Sox's next game, Guillen again met with the media. My column was the main topic of conversation.

++ To his credit, Guillen never claimed he was misquoted, never tried to back away from what he said and never claimed to have been taken out of context. (The "out-of-context" lie has become the preferred lie of public officials everywhere, as they know they can't say they were misquoted because reporters all use recording devices now.) I liked Ozzie well before this interview, but this situation helped cement his status as one of my favorite people I have covered.

++ A couple of my Chicago sports journalism colleagues tried to say it wasn't a story at all because Guillen had jokingly made similar claims in the past. I don't blame those folks for being dismissive or trying to come up with an excuse, because it's never fun to get "scooped." My fellow columnists at the Tribune, the Southtown and other publications stuck up for me, which was nice.

++ In the ensuing weeks, everybody from USA Today to the Christian Science Monitor made references to Ozzie's remarks to me. In a book he wrote about the 2005 White Sox, Tribune reporter Mark Gonzalez devoted a few pages to it. For a reporter, having written something that kept people talking for weeks or even months definitely was satisfying.

++ I was dead wrong about one thing in that column: my assessments that the Indians were "so much more talented it's ridiculous" and that Guillen wouldn't have to "worry about winning the World Series." The White Sox caught fire again just in time -- in great part because of Ozzie's motivational skills and his handling of the pitching staff -- and Ozzie became the toast of the town.

++ I never really thought Ozzie would quit, and not just because I doubted they'd win the Series. I was quite sure he was just reacting -- some would say over-reacting -- to a perceived slight. Ozzie often was guilty of being "very human," the classic example of the cliche, "he wears his emotions on his sleeve." He often got in trouble because of his knee-jerk emotional reactions.

++ I'm pretty sure most intelligent observers agreed with me that there was little to no chance of Ozzie quitting. But that wasn't really the point. The column opened a window into the soul of a major sports figure in Chicago history. I mean, the man was so distraught about the fans booing him that he regularly puked! It was news.


Three more favorite scoops:

1. As a 23-year-old reporter for AP in Madison, I interviewed Badgers forward Cory Blackwell, the Big Ten's leading scorer and rebounder that season. During the course of a long interview, he told me he was planning to leave after his junior season to go pro.

That was news enough because it wasn't all that common in 1984 for players to leave early for the NBA, especially if they weren't shoo-in superstars. Even more telling was the way he said it: He played in Chicago summer leagues against the likes of Isiah Thomas and Doc Rivers, and he schooled them! During the course of the interview, he also ripped Badgers coach Steve Yoder.

It ended up being a great read. And of course, the next day, Blackwell denied it all, said he was misquoted, yada yada yada.

After he spoke to the other reporters, pointing at me and calling me a liar, I confronted him at the end of the court, about 60 feet away from where the other reporters were gathered. It must have been a hilarious scene, as we weren't exactly talking quietly and our hands were moving in exaggerated gestures. 

The next day, the Wisconsin State Journal took Blackwell's "side." The Milwaukee papers also were skeptical of my article.

I ended up doubling down -- getting a source to confirm Blackwell's intentions. And, naturally, he DID go pro. He was Seattle's second-round draft pick but played in only 60 NBA games. Maybe he dominated Isiah Thomas in the summer leagues -- riiiight! -- but he wasn't good enough when the games actually mattered.

2. During my time as AP's sports guy in Minneapolis, I used to joke with my newspaper friends that they should be fired immediately if I ever got a "scoop." After all, their entire job was to closely follow the ins and outs of their teams, while I had to cover four pro sports, a major university and even some preps.

But of course, sometimes scoops "just happen." That was the case in 1991 when, near the end of a difficult season, I interviewed Timberwolves coach Bill Musselman after practice. Even though the T-Wolves actually had exceeded expectations their first two years in the league, Musselman was being criticized by some for not giving young players more court time. Mostly, he was accused of stunting the development of 1990 top draft pick Gerald Glass; the ultra-intense Mussleman wanted Glass to actually earn playing time.

Not long into the interview, Musselman started expressing the belief that even management was against him. Just as I knew I had a great column about Ozzie when he mentioned puking, I knew I had something with Musselman when he said Timberwolves president Bob Stein "hates me."

There were denials all around. Musselman, who had always been a straight shooter with me, disappointed me by claiming he had been taken out of context. Stein denied there was a rift. Everybody tried to put on a happy face.

Of course, a month later, Musselman was fired.

And Gerald Glass? He was a soft player who refused to play defense and was soon out of the league -- Musselman had been right about him.

3. A year after Michael Jordan came out of retirement the second time (to play for the Wizards), I had heard from some "friends of friends" that he never really wanted to retire after the 1998 season but felt he had to when Jerrys Krause and Reinsdorf insisted upon pushing out Phil Jackson and bringing in college coach (and Krause buddy) Tim Floyd.

So I began asking around and several sources confirmed that, despite saying he was gone if Jackson left, Jordan would have stayed had the Bulls promoted assistant coach John Paxson or maybe even hired Bill Cartwright, another trusted former teammate. Then, on Dec. 31, 2002, I had a great conversation with then Trail Blazer Scottie Pippen, who said on the record: "I know Michael would have played for Pax."

With that, I knew I had a decent column, but it really came together two days later when a source extremely close to Jordan told me: "Michael would have loved playing for Pax. John Paxson would have been the perfect solution."

It was great to have the truth come out: Reinsdorf let Krause convince him he could rebuild the team quickly by dumping all the big-money players who were starting to get up there in age -- even Jordan. The Bulls would draft early (hello, Eddy Curry and Marcus Fizer), would sign big-name free agents (Tim Duncan! Grant Hill! Tracy McGrady!), and Floyd would guide the Bulls back to prominence.

As Rick Perry would say: Oops.

The Bulls stunk for years and, soon enough, Floyd and Krause were unemployed. Ironically, the man Reinsdorf chose to replace Krause was Paxson.


A couple of final thoughts about scoops ...

In 2005, when the Ozzie situation happened, the Internet was becoming a powerful tool -- but Twitter did not yet exist and Facebook, mostly a college curiosity, was in its infancy. When something happened on Sept. 22, it wasn't until it appeared in the newspaper on Sept. 23 that its impact was really felt -- which had been the case for more than a century.

Within a year or two, that was no longer true. Scoops happen fast and furiously, often several in a day. Now, there are what I call SCOOPS and mini-scoops.

It's hard for me to get excited about a mini-scoop -- a relatively minor story that's broken at 10:33 a.m. only to be matched by another outlet at 10:35 a.m.

I'm more impressed than ever by actual SCOOPS, though. There is so much competition and so much immediacy. Also, public figures are so guarded. So to actually "work it" and have an interesting and/or important story come to fruition ... I really respect that.


Lastly ...

I hope people don't read this as bragging. The mere fact that I can remember so few scoops so clearly is evidence that I wasn't exactly a "scoop machine." I fully admit that I fell into at least a couple of them.

Having said that, it definitely was a rush when an instinct played out and resulted in a legitimate story.

Real scoops are like no-hitters. If they happened all the time, they wouldn't be special.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Kasich was reasonable and Fiorina was fiery, but only one GOP name seems to matter (Spoiler alert: It isn't Marco Rubio)

The debate opened with CNN's Jake Tapper asking Donald Trump to comment on a negative comment Bobby Jindal had made about him. So, naturally, Trump responded by blasting Rand Paul.

So you knew it was going to be a fun night.

Before it was over, John Kasich -- the closest the Republicans have to an actual adult male in this whole shebang -- was admonishing his colleagues for their childishness, Paul was calling Trump sophomoric and Jeb Bush was loudly demanding that Trump to apologize to his wife for some perceived slight.

Mike Huckabee's explanation for his defense of the thrice-divorced, homophobe, whack-job Kentucky clerk was ridiculous, but then again he's just trying to land a better TV gig because he knows he has slightly less chance at the presidency than my dog Simmie. Chris Christie, who knows he will never live down hugging President Blackie McBlackerson during the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, failed to impress. Marco Rubio made a cute little joke about his hydration situation but was stiff and overly intense whenever he talked about policy. Scott Walker, my fellow Marquette alum (although he's the one who didn't graduate), is such a lightweight.

Bush, Walker and Paul tried to go back at Trump, but he swatted them away as if they were insects and he was an orange-haired beast.

Carly Fiorina emerged as the star of the debate. She zinged Trump good once, had all of her talking points lined up neatly in a row, drew raucous applause for her takedown of Planned Parenthood, showed some emotion when talking about her stepdaughter who died of drug addiction and had the best answer on the throw-away "woman on $10 bill" question. (The latter wasn't really fair, as she was the only one who could correctly label it a token gesture without getting in trouble for disparaging women.)

She also was one of the many loud voices in the Obama Is Wrong About Iran Tour.

I actually like Fiorina, but she has a pretty big problem: As the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, she oversaw a financial trainwreck. Years after the company sent her hewlett packing, it is STILL laying off tens of thousands employees. And she's supposed to be the one with the business acumen?

Trump was Trump. After getting called out for his offensive remarks about Fiorina's looks, he was at his patronizing best by saying she has a beautiful face. Big "ick" factor there. He tried to bully Bush, Paul, Scott Walker and even those who weren't there. He offered nothing of substance, as usual, and came across as an arrogant jerk, as usual.

So you know what will happen, right? He'll shoot up another 5% in the polls.

The Trumpster could call the Pope's robe "a stooopid gown" and could follow that up by urinating on little Scotty Walker's head, and he'd probably move up 10% more! It's the damnedest thing, no?

Ben Carson continued to play the role of the anti-Trump: soft-spoken, understated, calm. But he does share one thing with the Trumpster: He has no realistic plan on any issue. Of course, in this Year of the Outsider, he's running second in the polls.

As a pacifist who really hates getting involved in every other country's wars, I happen to agree with most of Paul's stances on that subject. But Republicans love a good war or two or 10 or 100, so he has no freakin' chance. (He actually has no chance for many reasons, but that's a biggie.)

Kasich remains the one Republican I'd consider voting for. He actually answered questions he was asked, talked about his many accomplishments, displayed great restraint on the Iran situation and discussed some of his goals and ideas.

The Ohio governor, who almost surely would win a state the GOP will need to recapture the presidency, again sounded intelligent, reasonable, confident and competent.

All of which probably will work against him in this crazy race.


I had an interesting softball game Tuesday.

First, I thought it started at 7:45 and got there at 7:15. I went to the schedule to see which field we were on, only to see that our game actually was at 8:45. So I had a LOT of time to warm up.

One of the things I did while warming up was take the bat out of our manager's bag, swing it a dozen or so times and then put it back. I later found out that I put it in the wrong bag, and so far it still hasn't been returned to Pat. Slick move, Mike.

Also before the game, I told Pat that this would be my last appearance for awhile because I am undergoing hernia surgery next week. He did a nice job of telling me how much I'll be missed, even if he had to make it up!

Once the game started, things went well. We went up 3-0 and, even after we messed up some in letting our opponents go ahead 5-3 in the bottom of the inning, we came right back to tie it at 5 in the second. I had a line-drive hit up the middle and scored in that inning.

As the game went on, though, we played quite poorly and ended up losing 18-10. Playing second base, I made a diving stop of a grounder and a decent scoop of a low throw by the pitcher, but I also didn't pursue a pop-up behind first base aggressively enough and it fell for a hit. I got an RBI single to right and drew a walk, but I ended the game by taking Strike 3.

Yep, I started the game by losing my manager's bat and ended it by not swinging the bat I was using. Ugh.

Here's hoping that Pat gets his bat back and that the Sons of Pitches get back to our championship form before I come back in 4-6 weeks.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Vinci over Serena: Upset of this century (so far)?

'Nova over Georgetown? Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson? Team U.S.A. over Russian hockey's Big Red Machine? Eli's Giants over Brady's Pats?

I don't think it's exaggerating at all to put unranked Roberta Vinci's stunning U.S. Open semifinal victory over No. 1 Serena Williams on the short list of Greatest Upsets In Modern Sports History.

Williams, probably the greatest female tennis player ever, came in needing to win only two more matches to become the first Grand Slam winner since 1988 -- a fact that made Friday's action (and outcome) all the more riveting.

While Serena spent much of the match screaming at herself -- usually her trademark, "Come on!" -- Vinci remained almost unbelievably calm. However, she did provide one magically emotional moment midway through the third set.

It was 3-3 with Serena serving at 40-30, one point away from finally taking control of the match. She fired one haymaker after another, and Vinci kept returning the ball. Vinci made a nice cross-court shot that Williams chased down, leading the New York crowd to cheer. But Vinci followed with a great play to win the point and make it deuce.

With the crowd still roaring, Vinci put her hand to her ear. She then raised both hands and pumped her arms, as she repeatedly said, "What about me? What about me?"

In other words: Enough with Serena and the Slam. I'm here, too, and I'm not going anywhere!

And she wasn't. She ended up breaking Serena's serve and then holding hers to go up 5-3. After Williams held serve to make it 5-4, Vinci calmly served out the match.

As was the case most of the final two sets, Vinci just kept putting the ball in play and letting the overanxious Williams make mistake after mistake after mistake. I swear, I would have easily returned a few of the second serves Vinci lobbed in there, but Williams kept firing the ball into the net or beyond the baseline.

When it was over and she had received a quick handshake from Serena, Vinci sat down and buried her face in her hands. She was overcome by the enormity of the moment.

Eventually, she agreed to talk to ESPN in an interview broadcast live in the stadium. I will say it is one of the most stirring, most honest interviews I have heard in many a year.

Take a listen HERE if you haven't heard it already.

One of the great parts of it was Vinci admitting that, before the match, she never thought she could possibly beat Serena Williams.

This is why we love sports, folks, especially championship-level sports. Anything really CAN happen.


I wanted Serena to win because I enjoy watching history in the making. She didn't win the Slam, so now she'll go for it again next year.

One thing I am tired of hearing about, though, is "the Serena Slam" -- winning 4 straight majors over the span of two seasons. Even she calls it that and talks about how special it was. Tiger Woods did the same in golf and folks called it "the Tiger Slam."

Because those terms suddenly became common, it led some in the media to call what Serena was chasing "the Calendar Slam."

But please.

It's the Grand Slam. Serena might claim that "the Serena Slam" is every bit as special -- because she no longer can win the REAL Slam.

There was a reason she was as uptight as she was, and that's because she had a chance to make real history.

Calling something else "historic" doesn't make it equally historic.

Serena had a great run, but she fell short. There's no shame in that.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Nadel is back, Nadal is out

Softball players ... baseball players ... cricket players ... whoever:

One thing you most definitely do NOT want to do is copy this batting stance!!

But I do have the legs for those shorts, no?!?!

It took me 6 1/2 weeks and two tries, but I finally made my triumphant return from shoulder surgery a few days ago as our defending champion Sons of Pitches cruised to an 18-6 victory. I had a couple of hits, including a two-run single as we broke open the game.

I actually had returned one week earlier but we lost in extra innings, and I even struck out ... which isn't easy to do in slow-pitch softball. But hey, I had an excuse!

It's great to be back with the best teammates in the world, and we are now 4-1 in Fall League play.


In totally unrelated news, the U.S. Open just got a little less fun for me, as Rafael Nadal -- a.k.a. My Rich Son -- was eliminated by some Italian dude named Fabio Fognini in a stirring third-round match that kept me up until nearly 2 a.m. Friday.

Rafa had been 151-0 in majors when holding a two-set lead. He also had won at least one major title in 10 straight years. Both of those distinctions are now history.

Obviously, age has done more than creep up on my man. It has ambushed him and left him in the gutter.

Yep, it's no fun turning 29!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Fantasy Draft Party Tips

Hi Everybody. This post has been provided by my friends at Enjoy!

We are just weeks away from the start of yet another NFL season, and fans around the world are excited to say the least. Not only are they ready to root on their favorite teams, but a majority of fans are also preparing for fantasy football. More and more die-hard fantasy players are hosting actual parties for owners to officially kick off the season. What makes a fantasy draft party great? Here are a few tips.

The main thing any host should do is make this seem like an official kickoff party for the regular season. Maybe plan hosting the party during a key preseason game. Yes, it is preseason, but it gives a nice backdrop to the event. People can look over the 2015 fantasy football rankings while preparing for the season ahead. No one will really care if a bunch of third stringers are playing on the screen.

Obviously, this party is going to differ from a Super Bowl party, but they will share a lot of the same qualities as well. For starters, the fantasy owners are probably all close friends, so it is the same group. The food planning and layout will be similar as well. Remember, the more comfort food and seating, the better.

Finally, most fantasy owners aren’t afraid to be labeled a bit nerdy, so fully embrace the event to have the most fun. The host should have plenty of extension cords and outlets for people to charge their laptops, tablets and smart phones. After all, doing a couple of mock drafts right before the actual thing with strangers is totally accepted in these circles. Some hosts also encourage owners to allow their inner child to come out. Go ahead, wear that jersey of a player on your favorite team.

A person can look at all at the 2015 fantasy football rankings they want to, but at the end of the day this is supposed to be fun. Make sure the party is fun as well. Friends can argue about the real games during the actual season.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Prez "candidate" Scott Walker: "I love you, honey, but my government now says it's time for you to die."

Megyn Kelly:

"Governor Walker, you've consistently said that you want to make abortion illegal, even in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. ... Would you really let a mother die rather than have an abortion? And with 83% of the American public in favor of a life exception, are you too out of the mainstream on this issue to win the general election?"

Scott Walker:

"I'm pro-life. I've always been pro-life. And I've got a position I think has been consistent with many Americans out there in that I believe that is an unborn child that's in need of protection out there. And I've said many a time that that unborn child can be protected and there are many other alternative laws to protect the life of that mother. That's been consistently proven. Unlike Hillary Clinton, who has a radical position in terms of support for Planned Parenthood. I defunded Planned Parenthood more than four years ago, long before any of these videos came out. I've got a position that's in line with everyday Americans."

Wow. Where do we start with this?

So if the Wisconsin governor's own wife were on that delivery table and the doctor said, "Mr. Walker, we can deliver this baby but the process of doing so will in all likelihood kill your wife. What do you want us to do?" ... Walker would answer, "Well, she's been a pretty darn good wife and mother, but I pushed through and signed that law with no exception of the mother's life being in danger. So to paraphrase the crowd at the 2012 debate: 'Let her die!' Oh, and by the way, I'm proud of my stance!"

How about if, after 6 months in the womb, tests showed that the baby was badly deformed, had a hole in its heart and had a 95% likelihood of dying in its first week of life ... and that there was a 98% chance a normal delivery would kill his wife?

"Well, as you know, I fully believe all life is precious ... except, obviously, my wife's. I signed the law that says, 'Let her die,' so our hands are tied. As Rick Perry would say: 'Oops!'"

Talk about death panels!

How likely is either of the above scenarios -- not with Walker's wife but with anybody's wife? Obviously, highly unlikely in the second scenario, somewhat more likely (but still quite unlikely) in the first scenario.

But that's not the point.

The public perception is that this yahoo values the unborn child's life more than the mother's. More than that -- he would push for a federal government mandate telling every family that they also must value the lives of unborn children more than of mothers.

Let the mothers die! Not the best campaign slogan I've ever heard.

I've seen better politics, too. This guy won't be the GOP nominee, but if he is, this would be too damn easy for the Dems to attack. He'd handily lose the woman vote -- and the votes of most other folks who have ever had a mom.

I love that he's all about small government, too -- except for women's private parts. The government pretty much owns them.

As for Walker's position being "in line with that of everyday Americans" ...

Legal abortion has the support of about 50% of all Americans -- and that's with no exceptions at all. More than two-thirds favor exceptions for rape and incest. And, as Megyn Kelly said, more than 4 out of 5 favor an exception for the mother's life.

Walker isn't just out of the mainstream on this issue, he is out of the stratosphere, possibly the universe. Every doctor's group out there believes he is dead wrong on this, too.

Oh, and Walker has never expounded upon the laws that supposedly would work to save the mother's life even as his anti-abortion law would condemn her to die.

Apparently, Republicans haven't learned from the past that this is a losing issue. Compared to the real problems facing the world, the abortion debate -- especially these little nuances of it -- appears minor. But as many GOP candidates have learned over the last few election cycles, this issue can cost them dearly.

I guess I can admire Walker's consistency and honesty. He said what he believes even though he is toast as a presidential candidate.


As for the rest of the GOP presidential debate field (in alphabetical order) ...

++ Jeb Bush sounded likable and positive, and he stayed away from saying anything that could hurt him too badly. So even though he said little of substance and all-out avoided a couple of questions, he still emerged as one the night's winners.

++ Ben Carson ... um ... thanks for showing up.

++ Chris Christie actually made some good points, but he defended the NSA spying program a little too vigorously. And his ideas on Social Security will never fly with the huge senior voting bloc. His best chance is to have his "people" shut down the roads on the way into the next debate.

++ Ted Cruz ... Ugh.

++ Mike Huckabee will always appeal to a small segment of society and will never appeal to most people beyond that segment. His audition to get a better talk-show gig is going well, though.

++ John Kasich seemed like the grown-up in the room. He might be a little too openly religious for me, but I still want to see and hear more from him. The Ohio governor looked, sounded and acted "presidential."

++ Rand Paul's long-shot candidacy? Ka-boom. He was punk'd repeatedly by his fellow candidates and had no real comebacks other than, "Oh yeah?"

++ Marco Rubio also stumbled a little on the abortion question, and he was a little too "canned" in some of his responses, but you can see how he has built a political career. When he isn't guzzling water during speeches, he is smooth. Maybe too smooth.

++ Donald Trump opened with characteristic bombast but was quickly booed for suggesting he'd run as an Independent if he didn't win the nomination. Shortly thereafter, he was slapped down by Kelly for treating women like dirt. He then spent most of the second half of the debate looking bored. As usual, he offered no real solutions for anything. I do hope he stays on top of the polls because he is fun to have around -- even if Jon Stewart isn't around to mock and lambaste him.


Word is that Carly Fiorina "won" the JV debate that took place earlier in the day. I admit that I didn't watch it. I was too busy doing important stuff, like picking lint out of my belly-button and counting how long I could hold my eyes open without blinking.

What I do know about Fiorina is that in six years as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, she ran that company into the ground and had a huge role in costing tens of thousands of people their jobs. So if the main thing on your resume is your business acumen and your main issue is jobs, and you ruined the biggest business you ran, well ... she has a slightly better chance of being president than my dog Simmie does.

Nevertheless, I'd like her to graduate to the varsity debate team next time just to see if she'll confront Trump half as effectively as Megyn Kelly did.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Looking forward to a big Thursday: My anniversary (Robbie's too), the big debate, Stewart's finale -- WOW!

Tomorrow -- Thursday, Aug. 6 -- is going to be quite a day. Fun at times, interesting at times, stupid at times, hilarious at times, sad at times.

Sometimes, it will be a combination of several of the above-mentioned emotions.

First and foremost, it is Robbie and my 32nd anniversary.

Hard to believe how quickly the time has flown by. 

I've tested her sometimes, and yet she's stuck by me. What did I do to deserve such a great wife, partner, friend and companion? (Not to mention such a great mom to Katie and Ben.)

Unfortunately, she will have to work all long day, and she already has told me she will be too tired when she gets home for us to go out and celebrate. So I will make her a nice dinner -- steak, shrimp, potatoes, salad -- and we'll go out to celebrate on the weekend.

That's fine with me. I missed many an anniversary during my working years because I was traveling. Robbie and I both agreed decades ago that "it's just a date," and we always enjoyed celebrating as often as we could on other days. 

It cracks me up when I hear about a wife or a husband who is furious at her/his spouse because the spouse had to make a living to put a roof over the family's head.

It's just a day, and people who love each other celebrate more than once a year!!


Tomorrow night, of course, is the first 2016 Republican presidential debate (not to be confused with the itty-bitty debate among the junior varsity earlier in the evening). 

If I'm Lindsay Graham or Bobby Jindal or one of the others who didn't qualify for the "Big Boy Debate," I'm saying something insane just for the publicity.

How about something like, "Mexicans are rapists and McCain is a loser for getting captured?"

Oh wait ... that one has already been used by some orange-haired mope -- and it was a smashing success among the knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing crowd.

In the Big Boy Debate, will the other nine fine gentlemen let Donald Trump bully them as if he's Bobby Knight and they're a bunch of Neil Reeds? I'm looking forward to finding out! It should be about as close to must-see TV as politics gives us these days.


And capping off the day will be Jon Stewart's final show. He has made me laugh so much over the years, and I am going to miss him. Heck, couldn't he have stayed around one more week just to poke fun at whatever dopiness takes place in the debate?

Stewart has been more than a comedian. He has been an important voice, especially for veterans, minorities, women and underdogs everywhere. 

I know I already used the cliche, "must-see TV," but if you missed Monday night's take-down of Fox News, go to The Daily Show's Web site and find it. It was fall-on-the-floor hysterical -- and, of course, it was dead-on true, too.

The Comedy Central combo of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert spoiled the heck out of viewers for years. After Thursday, we won't have either of them -- at least not as we came to know them.

Sigh. Stewart's departure will leave a major void in my daily routine.


After winning the spring/summer championship in dramatic fashion (see my previous TBT post), the Sons of Pitches opened the fall softball season Tuesday night with a more ho-hum 8-4 victory. We didn't hit much, but we played our best defense of the season. I can't wait to get my shoulder fully healed and join back in on the fun!


I never had an 11-game hitting streak in softball, but I do have an 11-article streak of having my work on the financial site Seeking Alpha selected as an "Editors' Pick."

The latest is about my purchase of Apple stock. Read it here.

So that's another thing I'll be doing tomorrow: responding to the tons of comments that will be streaming in.

Ah, the life of a retired sportswriter.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

We are the champions, my friend! (Cuz we kept on fighting till the end!!)

In the words of the immortal Johnny Drama:


Yes, our bunch of old men -- The Sons of Pitches -- turned out to be the best bunch of old men in the Charlotte Senior Softball League. On Tuesday night, we won our semifinal game 5-4 and then followed with a dramatic 18-17 championship game victory. Both times, we came from behind late to prevail.

What's pretty freaky is that in 14 innings of play over the two games, we had exactly two leads -- when Jerry hit the walk-off, two-out triple in the bottom of the last inning of the semifinal ... and when Rick delivered his bases-loaded deep fly over a drawn-in outfield in the bottom of the last inning of the championship game.

Going into the bottom of the sixth inning of the championship game, we were trailing 17-12. Pat, our coach/pitcher, gathered us together and shouted:

"This is something we are gonna remember for the rest of our lives. And most of you mother-bleepers are only gonna live another five years, so let's go!"

OK, it wasn't Rockne ... it was better! And funny, too. Obviously inspired by our fearless leader, we proceeded to score four times to make it a one-run game. We shut out our opponent in the top of the seventh and then scored twice in the bottom, with Moe, the oldest Son of Pitch, knocking in the tying run to set up Rick's winning hit.

Then, merriment ensued -- complete with a champagne spray from Pat.

We Are The Champions, My Friend!

Back Row: Rick, Mike (a.k.a. "Good Mike"), Bob, Jerry, Pat, Moe, Rich, Gary.

Front Row: Joe, Doug, Wayne, Bruce, Yours Truly.

I'm trying to remember if I had ever previously won a championship game in any sport at any level, and I'm pretty sure the answer is no. I'd remember, right? (I did mention I'm old, though, and the memory ain't what it used to be.)

You'd think there would have been a rec league title or an intramural win somewhere.

My freshman year at Marquette, our floor won the dorm touch football championship ... but we lost a heartbreaker to the frat team for the overall title. I played center and because the league used "everybody eligible" rules, I caught a few TD passes and PATs during the season. After we scored our only touchdown of the night, I was wide open in the end zone for the extra point, but out very good QB simply overthrew me by a mile. (I'd be happy to poke fun at my vertical leap, but LeBron wouldn't have caught that one.) It was 6-6 after regulation and we ended up losing in overtime.

And I think that's the closest I got to a title of any kind. I was kind of the Ted Williams/Dan Marino/Karl Malone of overweight, undertalented wannabe jocks -- I couldn't win the big one. Until Tuesday!

I got close as a basketball coach just last season, as documented in The Baldest Truth back in February, but my Scholars Academy Eagles lost to our archrival in the title game. Katie and Ben won a few youth sports championships, but I don't think I coached any of those seasons.

Pat and I (as pictured below, with Pat holding the champagne bottle) joined the senior softball league the same year, 2012, and we have been together since -- on three different teams.

We actually won a couple of fall league titles, and I guess those count, but neither of those were won through a gauntlet of playoff games; we simply had the best record during the season, and fall league is less competitive than the spring/summer version.

So I'm gonna go out on a limb and say this was my first championship ever as a player or coach.

I thought it would be a bittersweet feeling because I wasn't active for the playoffs. I had shoulder surgery a few days before our quarterfinal victory last week and won't be able to play for at least another month. I was worried I wouldn't really feel like part of the team. But that wasn't the case at all. The guys were genuinely glad to have me (and our other injured player, Rich) at the games, and we did our part. I coached third base and first base, Rich provided in-game scouting of the opponents' at-bats. And we were vocally encouraging at every opportunity.

When Rick greeted me at first base after his title-winning hit, we high-fived. I bounded over to Pat for a quick hug before we went through the handshake line. And I definitely enjoyed my swig (or two) of champagne!

Counting four spring/summer league teams and three fall league teams, Pat and I actually have been together for seven seasons over these 3+ years. Although we really have been fortunate to have had great teammates every time, this is a particularly special group -- and I would have said that even if our season didn't have such a special finish.

Great guys to play with, to hang out with at the bar, to shoot the shyte with, and, yes, to celebrate with.

Here's to The Sons of Pitches -- a great bunch of winners!