Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Jim Thome gets my Hall call, and so do 7 others - including one previous 'reject'

^
Because of fairly recently changed rules that mostly affect lifetime Baseball Writers Association of America members - in other words, old guys like me - I'm not sure how many more years I'll be allowed to vote for the Hall of Fame. 

It's a shame that many former long-time journalists are being pushed aside, as most of us have remained active observers of the game. Thanks to technology, I follow the sport every bit as closely now as I used to, even though I haven't actively covered baseball for more than 7 years. I believe us oldsters provide nice balance to the voting process. I take my responsibility as a Hall voter very seriously.

But hey ... nobody asked me what I think. And one of these years, I'll be told, "Thanks, but no thanks. Now go try to find your car keys."

I had many of these same thoughts a year ago, and one thing that kept going through my mind was this:

At the very least, I hope I get to vote for the Class of 2018, because I really want to check the box next to the name of JIM THOME.

Jim Thome: Great guy, great hitter.
(Photo from nbcsports.com)
I covered Thome for a long time. I like "The Pride of Peoria" as a person and I admire what he accomplished as a ballplayer. He finished with 612 HR (8th most all-time), 1,699 RBI (26th), and a .956 OPS (18th). And he did all that without be stained by steroid allegations. 

Thome played the game hard, he played it right, and he should be a slam dunk for the Hall.

Another obvious choice in his first year on the ballot: CHIPPER JONES

His credentials are so good that I don't feel like wasting my time or yours reciting them here.

Chipper Jones delivers again for the Atlanta Braves.
(Photo from newyorkmetsreport.com)
Thome and Jones were 2 of 8 former stars to earn check marks on my ballot, and I'll talk about the others in a second. First, a few words about some of the ballot newcomers who did not get my vote ...

++ Omar Vizquel ... A slick-fielding, slap-hitting shortstop in the mold of Ozzie Smith ... except he wasn't quite as good as Smith. Advanced stats doom Vizquel's candidacy. As stated in a recent article by MLB.com's Jordan Bastian:
Separation comes into play when considering the context of the eras in which they played. Vizquel has an 82 OPS+, which means he was 18 percent below the MLB average over his career. Smith, even with very similar rate and counting statistics, posted an 87 OPS+. Vizquel rated as above average in two of his seasons, while Smith had four such campaigns.
Among the 135 Hall of Famers with at least 4,000 plate appearances, Vizquel's OPS+ would be tied for last with Luis Aparicio and Rabbit Maranville.
Using Baseball-Reference.com's calculation of WAR, there was not only a considerable gap offensively (47.8 oWAR for Smith, compared to 32.2 oWAR for Vizquel), but also defensively (43.4 dWAR for Smith and 28.4 dWAR for Vizquel). This is not to say Vizquel's defensive WAR is subpar. In fact, it would rank eighth among all Hall of Famers. Smith's dWAR was just otherworldly, ranking first among all Hall of Famers regardless of position.
++ Andruw Jones ... A precipitous falloff after a torrid start to his career. Frankly, I don't think his numbers are as good as Jim Edmonds' were - and Edmonds got such little love from BBWAA voters two years ago that he immediately fell off the ballot.
++ Scott Rolen ... During Rolen's prime, my friend Ron Santo often said Rolen was the best 3B in the game. He was a superior fielder and a good (but not great) hitter, but I'm afraid he'll probably meet the same lack-of-love fate that Edmonds did. I was tempted to vote for him just to try to keep him on the ballot past his first year, but that's really not the best reason to vote for somebody.
++ Chris Carpenter ... Not enough wins, too high an ERA.
++ Johnny Damon ... It's cool that he won World Series with both the Red Sox and Yankees, and he compiled a lot of stats over a long career. But he doesn't rank in the top 50 in just about any important hitting or fielding category. 
++ Jason Isringhausen ... Just another in a long line of good relievers who aren't Hall material.
++ Carlos Lee ... A good run-producer and terrible outfielder whose numbers fall short.
++ Hideki Matsui ... The second-best Japanese import in MLB history, he lacks Ichiro's Hall resume.
++ Jamie Moyer ... The guy pitched for 25 years and made one All-Star Game appearance. Nuff said.
++ Johan Santana ... Kind of the Andruw Jones of pitchers. Awesome start to his career, then fell off a cliff.
++ Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano ... The former Cubbie hurlers follow each other alphabetically on the ballot, and I assume they will follow each other off the ballot after one year. Both had tremendous promise, especially Wood, but injuries and other woes kept both from reaching their potential. Although Wood pitched one of the greatest games ever (20 strikeouts, 1 disputed hit) and Zambrano threw a no-hitter, they also will be known as participants in one of the most infamous choke jobs in baseball history. Wood even used the word "choke" to describe his performance in Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS.
As for those who have been on the ballot for multiple years, I discussed my reasons for excluding them in last year's The Baldest Truth post
One player I have not voted for in the past who is getting my check mark this time:
EDGAR MARTINEZ.
Edgar Martinez gets ready to take another mighty cut.
(Photo from SI.com)
I have tried to be consistent during the decades I have voted for the Hall, but every once in awhile I have had to adjust on the fly - as was the case this time with Martinez.
So many baseball people I respect are making such strong arguments for the former Mariners star - mainly through advanced stats such as WAR, OPS+ and JAWS - that I felt compelled to make him one of my choices this time. SI.com's Jay Jaffe makes one such case that traditional stats don't tell the whole story about Edgar.
See, you can teach an old BBWAA voter new tricks!
My other five selections are holdovers from last year and were discussed in previous editions of The Baldest Truth.
Here are the 8 players who received my check marks for the Hall of Fame Class of 2018:
Barry Bonds
Roger Clemens
Vladimir Guerrero
Chipper Jones
Edgar Martinez
Mike Mussina
Curt Schilling
Jim Thome

Here's hoping that the BBWAA lets me cast a ballot next year for Mariano Rivera - not that the most dominant closer in baseball history will need my vote to crash the Hall.
^

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Ardrey Kell's Lady Knights take over Wilmington

^
A few photos from Ardrey Kell's 50-40 victory over two-time defending champion Hoggard High School (Wilmington, NC) in the championship game of the Leon Brogden Holiday Basketball Tournament at Wilmington's Laney HS ...


The 2017 Leon Brogden Tournament champion Ardrey Kell Lady Knights
Front: Riley Littlejohn, Deniyah Lutz, Journey Muhammad, Stephanie Sherril
Back: Ast Coach Mike Nadel. Head Coach Jeff Buseick, Ast Coach Queen Smith,
Kennedy Cash, Michelle Ojo, Shy Booker, Meghan Rogers, Evan Miller,
Emerson Harding, Shonti Lutz, Nia Griffin, Lucy Vanderbeck.

When our standout senior Shy Booker boxes you out, you stay boxed out!
Shy has signed a national letter of intent with Austin Peay.

Our senior captain Journey Muhammad is our best 3-point shooter and
offensive engine, but she also is a fine defensive player.

Senior Deniyah Lutz puts suffocating pressure on a Hoggard player.
Deniyah, bound for Wofford College, also is one of our offensive stars.

Our bench looks on intently in the first half.

Fourth-year Coach Jeff Buseick has taken the AK program to new heights,
and we are off to a school-record 13-1 start this season. 

Yours truly joins some of our reserves as we listen to
Coach Buseick during a time-out.

The long and short of it ...
Journey and Shy made the All-Tournament Team.
Shy, who scored 11 fourth-quarter points in the
title game, was named Tournament MVP.

It's always great to line up for post-game handshakes
with another big victory on our record!
(All Game Photos Courtesy of Rodney Williams Photography.)

The tournament was held at Laney HS, most famous for being Michael Jordan's alma mater. Not surprisingly, the school has taken advantage of the link to one of the most recognized athletes in the history of mankind. We played our first game, against Wilmington's Ashley HS, at "the old gym," which is called Michael Jordan Gymnasium. Note the large photos of Jordan to the upper left and right, and his iconic Jumpman logo behind the basket.



We played our second game, against Wilmington's New Hanover HS, and the title game in the school's recently opened new gym, part of the Michael Jordan Sports Complex. If you look closely at the floor behind our team in first photo in this post, you can see the Jumpman adorning center court.

Below is a photo of the new gym's lobby display case, featuring MJ's Laney jersey and prototypes of every Air Jordan shoe.



All in all, it was a wonderful weekend. In addition to beating three Wilmington schools en route to the tournament title, we had a fun bowling outing, a great team dinner, and the opportunity to get to know each other even better. The latter was especially valuable for me, the newbie to the program.

With the holiday break just about over, I'm looking forward to getting back to what we all hope will be a State Championship season.

Go AK!
^

Monday, December 25, 2017

Sports-A-Plenty dominate busy December

^
I've enjoyed watching the Panthers put things together after a terrible loss to the terrible Bears dropped Carolina's record to 4-3.

Since then, Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly & Co. have gone 7-1, and they've clinched a playoff spot for the fourth time in the last five years. It's been a nice bounce-back - not only since Week 7, but also from last season's injury-ravaged, 6-10 showing.
The Panthers barely beat the banged-up Bucs yesterday. First, they converted a fourth-down by about an inch to keep their winning drive alive; then, Newton recovered his own fumble and dove into the end zone for the go-ahead TD. 
Panthers QB Cam Newton scores the winning TD in the final seconds to beat the Bucs.
(Charlotte Observer photo)
Had either play not gone the Panthers' way, I'd be lamenting another terrible loss to another terrible team!
My lads will have to play a lot better in the playoffs to reach the Super Bowl again. Given that they've beaten the Patriots, Lions, Vikings, Falcons, Bills and Packers (with Aaron Rodgers) this season, they definitely have it in them.
Off the field, everybody in Charlotte is buzzing about the alleged sexcapades of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. In the wildest allegation, he reportedly called female employees into his office and asked if he could shave their legs!
He has announced plans to sell the team after the season, and everybody is hoping the Panthers go to somebody who will commit to keeping them in Charlotte - where they have incredible support and have sold out every game for years and years.
As an aside ...
Isn't it crazy that just about every powerful man in the country has had to face consequences for sexual misconduct except for the single most powerful (and single most orange) man?
Meanwhile ...



My Ardrey Kell Lady Knights are No. 1 in the Charlotte metro region, thanks in great part to exciting victories over the No. 2 and No. 5 teams.

Charlotte Observer Sweet 16 Girls Basketball Poll

Rk.
Team (Class)
Rec.
Prvs.
1
Ardrey Kell (4A)
10-1
1
2
Mallard Creek (4A)
10-1
2
3
Hickory Ridge (4A)
7-1
3
4
Gastonia Ashbrook (3A)
8-0
4
5
South Mecklenburg (4A)
10-2
6
6
East Burke (2A)
11-0
7
7
Monroe Parkwood (3A)
12-0
10
8
Providence Day (IND)
9-4
11
9
Rock Hill (5A)
10-2
12
10
North Iredell (3A)
9-2
5
11
North Mecklenburg (4A)
8-2
14
12
Berry (4A)
8-2
15
13
Salisbury (2A)
8-0
NR
14
Morganton Freedom (3A)
6-2
9
15
China Grove Carson (3A)
9-1
NR
16
Maiden (2A)
8-0
NR

I've had a lot of fun and learned a ton so far this season ... and I think the No. 1 lesson has been about how much more I have to learn!
We have had a little time off for December break, but we go back at it Thursday, Dec. 28, when we take part in the Leon Brogden Holiday Tournament in Wilmington, N.C.
Another great test for our talented team.
And In College Hoops ...
My Marquette Golden Warrior Eagles finished the non-conference schedule with a 9-3 record. 
We've had no "bad losses" (important when it comes to NCAA Selection Sunday) and several fine victories - including wins over VCU and LSU in the Maui Invitational, and a resounding 19-point road beat-down of the hated Wisconsin Badgers.
Marquette's Markus Howard, one of the nation's top shooters, drives and scores over Wisconsin star Ethan Happ.
(USA Today photo)
We're fun to watch because few teams in the entire country shoot as well as Marquette does. We have three of the best 3-point gunners anywhere in Sam Hauser, Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey
We're young, pretty small and don't play much defense, however, so the outcome usually comes down to if my heroes are draining 3s.
Marquette opens play in the rugged Big East on Wednesday night with a home game against Xavier, the nation's No. 6 team. Major challenge right out of the gate!
I'm also looking forward to our Jan. 12 date at Butler, the only game I'll be able to attend this season.
And Finally ...
I just sent in my completed Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, and that will be the subject of my next edition of The Baldest Truth later this week.
^

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Here's hoping this year's Top Turkey doesn't choke on his candied yams

^
This is my 20th annual Turkey of the Year Countdown, and it would have been easy to choose America’s orange-hued dear leader for the top spot.

After all, Donald Trump engaged in Twitter wars with (among others) Steph Curry, Roger Goodell, LeBron James, Draymond Green, and about half of the players in the NFL. And that’s in addition to the Pathological Liar-In-Chief’s many non-sports-related bouts of incompetence, ignorance and hubris.

However, I want to keep this about sports, not politics. That’s especially the case given that I gave my 2016 Turkey “honors” to ex-North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, whose decision to back the infamous (and since repealed) “bathroom bill” cost his state the 2017 NBA All-Star Game and numerous other sporting events that would have brought millions of dollars to the economy. Ultimately, that unwise move cost him his job.

So unlike 2017 voters who used Trump’s presence in the White House as a rallying cry to spit on just about every orange-endorsed candidate, I’ll give our dear leader a pass here.

+++

Before I begin this year’s Turkey Countdown, let’s review the 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); Pat McCrory (2016).

Alert readers will note that up until 2010, each of those Turkeys did his gobbling in Chicago and/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. Since moving to North Carolina, I've expanded my Turkey-choosing horizons. Still, as always, I dedicate this in memory of Gene.


+++

Without further ado, here are this year’s top dopes, douchebags, hypocrites, haters, chokers, cheaters … and plain old luckless lugs. Appropriately (and for the first time ever), we start with candidates from Turkey!

15. TURKEY YOUTH HOCKEY PROGRAM. That its representative in the European Youth Olympic Festival lost to traditional power Russia is hardly surprising. But how ‘bout this: The final score was 42-0. Again, folks, that’s hockey, not football!

14. MATTHEW FISHER-DAVIS. Vanderbilt’s basketball star thought his team was losing its NCAA tournament game by a point, so he intentionally fouled Northwestern's Bryant McIntosh. Unfortunately, Vanderbilt actually had been winning by 1. McIntosh made both free throws to give Northwestern a victory in its first-ever NCAA tourney game, and Fisher-Davis – who otherwise played superbly – joined Chris Webber and Freddie Brown in the kind of club (all-time boneheaded tourney playmakers) no athlete wants to join.

13. JOHN ELWAY. It's hard to be a brilliant team-builder when you haven't given your team a legit QB. Maybe Elway can come out of retirement. Hey, I hear Tim Tebow is still available!

12. JOHAN CAMARGO. The shortstop actually was having a decent rookie season for the Atlanta Braves until he hyperextended his knee while jogging onto the field in August. It happened while he was superstitiously trying to grab a small handful of dirt as he took the field. "I do the same thing every time," he said. This time, however, he admitted it was "bad luck."

11. JOEL BERRY. The North Carolina point guard broke a bone in his right hand when he slammed it into a door after suffering a video-game defeat. (Otherwise, it was all good for Berry and his mates, though. They won the national title and the NCAA inexplicably let them get away with massive academic fraud.)

10. KYLE SCHWARBER. The lovable Cubbie outfielder was the talk of the town in 2016 after he unexpectedly returned from injury to help his team break its 108-year curse. But reality took over in '17, as he had an almost impossible stat line - 150 K, 30 HR and 59 RBI in 422 AB - and the Cubs flamed out in the playoffs. Mad scientist/manager Joe Maddon even batted him leadoff for awhile ... and I can see why. After all, "Schwarbs," who has the blazing speed of a pachyderm, had a .315 on-base percentage, good for 353rd in the majors. But hey, at least he fields his position like a guy with 10 thumbs and 3 left feet.

9. JOE GIRARDI. The Yankees' manager failed to challenge a phantom hit-by-pitch in the ALDS, leading to a game-turning grand slam for the Indians. To Girardi's credit, the next day he admitted, "I screwed up," and his team rallied from a 2-game deficit to win the series. But after the Yankees blew a 3-2 series lead to Houston in the ALCS, he was sent packing. Given that the Yankees hadn't won a title since 2009 - his second season - I'm surprised he lasted that long. Had George Steinbrenner still run the team, Girardi would have been fired and rehired four times in that span.

8. CHRIS FOERSTER. He was forced to resign from his job as Miami Dolphins offensive line coach after a video surfaced showing him snorting coke through a rolled-up $20 bill. Cheapskate. I use hundies!

7. LOVIE SMITH. Heck of a job turning around the Fighting Illini football program. At this rate, they'll be contending for 12th place in the Big Ten in 2 or 3 years ... 4 tops!

6. CLAYTON KERSHAW. I really thought this would be the year that baseball's best pitcher would lead the Dodgers to that elusive championship. But he allowed 6 earned runs in the pivotal fifth game of the World Series, and the Dodgers couldn't recover. Unlike previous postseasons, Kershaw actually did quite well this time, but that performance will haunt him. It also was a rough postseason for several other star pitchers, including Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer, Dallas Keuchel and Chris Sale.

5. JERRY JONES. Months after voting to approve a contract extension for NFL commish Roger Goodell, the Cowboys' owner was threatening to sue the league over the extension. What possibly could have changed? Well, Goodell suspended Jones' star RB, Ezekiel Elliott, that's what. Jones threatened to bench any player who kneels during the national anthem ... but beat up women, as Elliott allegedly did and several former Cowboys also did over the years? Not a problem!

4. CHOKING WASHINGTON TEAMS. The government isn't the only thing that doesn't work right in the D of C. The Racist Name football team choked away a playoff spot; star Wizards PG John Wall spit the bit in a Game 7 playoff loss to Boston; the Capitals collapsed in the conference semifinals for the 6th time in 9 years; and the Nationals failed to get out of the first round of the postseason for the 4th time in 6 years (each time after winning at least 95 regular-season games). The Nats and Caps have never won a championship, the Wizards last won one in 1979 and the Racist Names have gone 26 years since winning the Super Bowl. Oh, and just a few days ago, the Racist Names had a 15-point lead with 3 minutes to go but still managed to lose to the Saints; at 4-6, put a fork in 'em again. 

3. LaVAR BALL. When LiAngelo Ball was one of three UCLA basketball players caught shoplifting in China, many were hoping he'd have to do hard time. Why? Not for any particular animosity folks have toward the kid. No, most of America hates Ball's boastful, narcissistic, boor of a father - which also is why so many NBA fans hope Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball fails. Just this week, LaVar whined that the Lakers don't know how to use Lonzo properly. He also ripped into Trump, who of course fired back on Twitter. Those two have so much in common, it's a shame to see them spat!

2. U.S. MEN'S SOCCER TEAM. All they needed was a tie against Trinidad & Tobago to qualify for the World Cup, but this motley crew couldn't pull it off, and so they will miss their sport's biggest event for the first time in decades. I'm 57 years old ... and I remember when I was kid ... and "everybody" was playing soccer ... and that was proof that the sport would overtake football, baseball and basketball in the hearts and minds of American sports fans. Stop laughing. Some people actually thought that was true! Of course, those are the same people who are enthralled by nil-nil friendlies between Kazakhstan and Luxembourg.

And now ... drumstick roll, please ... here is our 2017 Turkey of the Year:

KYLE SHANAHAN

After the Atlanta Falcons blew a 28-3 late-third-quarter lead to lose Super Bowl 51 to the Patriots, QB Matt Ryan said: "It's hard to find words."

Well, I'm always looking for ways to help, so here goes:

Chokers, dimwits, historic losers, chumps, turkeys ... shall I continue?

While he had plenty of company in the Turkey Dept. - from Ryan to head coach Dan Quinn, to inept offensive linemen, to ineffective defensive players, and so on - it was the Falcons' offensive coordinator, Shanahan, who ultimately made it possible for Tom Brady to complete perhaps the greatest big-game comeback in the history of major professional sports.

The Falcons still led 28-12 with only 8:31 to play when they faced a third-and-1 at their 36. If they get the yard to keep the drive alive, they almost surely win the game. Had they run the ball - as they had done well all game, averaging nearly 6 yards per carry - the very worst thing would have been getting stopped and punting 50 yards in the other direction.

But no. Shanahan - the "offensive genius" - called for Ryan to throw a bomb. As the slow play developed, Dont'a Hightower knocked Ryan into tomorrow, the ball came loose and the Pats recovered on the Atlanta 25. A blink of an eye later, Brady hit Danny Amandola for a TD, James White ran in for the 2-point conversion, and the Falcons' lead was down to 28-20 with 5:56 to play.

Now the Falcons had to try to move the ball, lest they turn it right back to Brady. And they did. A 39-yard screen pass got them going, and Ryan also hit Julio Jones, who made a great catch for 27 yards. With a first-and-10 at the New England 22, you almost can't lose the game. You run the ball three times up the middle, force the Pats to use their timeouts, and kick a 40-yard field goal for an 11-point lead. Done deal. Drop the confetti.

But no. After a first-down run lost a yard, Shanahan gambled with a pass play and Ryan was sacked for a 12-yard loss. On the next play, Atlanta lineman Jake Matthews was called for holding, Ryan's 3rd-and-21 pass fell incomplete - stopping the clock, so the Patriots still had 2 timeouts left - and the Falcons had to punt.

Brady got the ball back at his own 9 with 3 1/2 minutes to go. Were there 100 people in all of America who didn't think he would march the Pats 91 yards for the tying score? That's exactly what happened - with time to spare.

Predictably, after the Pats won the OT coin toss, the Falcons' offense never got to touch the football. Brady led New England into position, and James White capped the amazing story with a 2-yard TD run. 

That evening, at the team hotel, Shanahan reportedly admitted, "I blew it." (Later, he said: "I don't know if I used those exact words, but that sounds like how I talk.")

Shanahan's 2017 "fun" wasn't finished, though! He left Atlanta to become the head coach of the sinking ship known as the San Francisco 49ers.

Through Thanksgiving, the Niners were 1-9, and their offense ranked near the bottom in almost every category.

Sounds like the genius has earned an extra helping of giblets and gravy!
^

Friday, October 6, 2017

Apologies from Cam Newton - and from the reporter he insulted

^
Cam Newton apologized Thursday for his sexist remarks of the day before. As these kinds of apologies go, it was a pretty good one.

I could have done without the obligatory "if I offended" line - you DID offend, Cam - and it would have been nice if he had mentioned the Charlotte Observer reporter by name: Jourdan Rodrigue

Otherwise, though, he seemed genuine, he wasn't reading from notes, he was contrite, he said "the joke is really on me," he mentioned his own daughters and the opportunities he hopes they have to be treated equally, and so on. 

These day-late, dollar-short apologies almost always leave the listener wanting, but Newton did about as well as he could. He was in serious damage-control mode, with one sponsor having already bailed (something he mentioned during his 2-minute speech) and others unhappy. 

Cam Newton certainly isn't "cured" from being a sexist, but he's only 28, and maybe this incident will be the first step toward some enlightenment for him. Most people don't change, but some do.

+++

Meanwhile, in a unique twist, the reporter, Rodrigue, was discovered to have made some tweets 4-plus years ago that had overtones of racism. 

In two of the posts, she suggested that she was enjoying racist jokes her father was making. In the other, she quoted from a Twitter parody account in which the n-word was used. 

Obviously embarrassed given all that had transpired in the previous 24 hours, Rodrigue quickly apologized: "There is no excuse for these tweets and the sentiment behind them. I am deeply sorry."

Rodrigue was 21 when she sent those tweets. That's not an "excuse," just a fact. Most of us did many stupid things when we were only 21. Fortunately for those of us who are older than dirt, social media wasn't around to record everything we said and did or to tempt us into being publicly stupid. 

I mean, the most powerful person in the free world is a little older than 21 ... and he sends dozens of tweets per week that are falsehoods, moronic, sexist, racist, hypocritical, narcissistic, bellicose, or all of the above. Again, not an "excuse" for the reporter, as we all should strive to be better human beings than our dear leader is. (A low bar, indeed.)

Rodrigue has been reporting on the Panthers for about a year now, and I have been impressed with her work - and I am a darn tough grader. She is only 25, and I think she has a bright future. I am glad the Observer didn't overreact by disciplining her (or firing her!), and I hope this experience doesn't hurt her career. Like Cam, she can learn and grow from this.

+++

If I were going to use this as a teaching moment for my kids - or any kids, not to mention plenty of adults - I'd say: 


Do NOT tweet or re-tweet (or Facebook or Instagram or Snap or whatever) anything that could come back to bite you on the tuchis someday ... because it probably will!

 

I know I'm glad that it isn't easy to come back at me with verifiable proof of some of the stupid crapola I said or did when I was 15 or 18 or 21 or 25 or 28. 

It's bad enough folks can cite all the stupid crapola I said this week!
^

Thursday, October 5, 2017

It's far easier to defend Cam Newton, the QB, than Cam Newton, the sexist

^
Picture this:

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is at a financial conference with 30 other well-to-do potential clients. During the Q&A session, he asks one of the experts on the panel: "I am interested a little in I-Bonds for safety, but won't I get a lot more growth if I stay primarily with equities?"

As Newton mentions "I-Bonds," the panelist starts to grin. It's not a friendly grin, but a smug, condescending smirk. The grin only grows as Cam goes on. Finally, when Cam is finished with his question, the expert, smiling broadly, responds:

"It's funny to hear a black guy talk about I-Bonds." 

He chuckles a little and repeats: "It's funny."

How would that fly in our racially charged climate? Not well. Not well at all. Nor should it - in any climate.

So I hope Newton is not surprised by the vitriol being directed his way after he condescendingly dismissed a legitimate question (about one of his receiver's route-running skills) asked at a press conference Wednesday by Jourdan Rodrigue, a reporter who for the last year has been covering the Panthers for the Charlotte Observer.

“It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes,” Newton said, laughing to himself and then repeating, “It’s funny.”

(For more about the encounter, as described by Observer columnist Scott Fowler, read THIS.)


(AP Photo)

Sorry, Cam, the question wasn't funny; it was good. And your reaction wasn't funny, it was sad.

Later, given the chance to apologize in private to Rodrigue, Cam declined. As Fowler wrote:

"Newton said that maybe he should have said it was funny to hear 'reporters' talk about routes and that, if she actually did know about them, then she knew more than most reporters."

That's not an apology. That was as if our fictional financial expert, trying to save face, had said this after having insulted Newton:

"Maybe I shouldn't have said it was funny to hear a black guy talk about I-Bonds but rather it was funny to hear any dumb jock talk about them."

+++

Part of me is very disappointed in Cam Newton. In many interviews I've heard, he has been insightful and thoughtful. He usually is pretty careful and measured when he talks. He has sincerely expressed interest in playing a role in sensitive conversations about race. He doesn't seem like "a bad guy."

So he should be better than this. At the very least - and I mean the VERY least - he should have been smart enough to keep his sexist thoughts to himself and just answer the football question.

If he had shown that minimum amount of class (even if it had been feigned class), he wouldn't be getting ripped today on ESPN, on talk radio and in newspapers across the country. Even the NFL quickly condemned Cam's boorish behavior.

Part of me, however, is glad he didn't keep his thoughts to himself. We need to know who the ignorant people and sexists are in society, just as we need to know who the racists are. That's why, when the president of the United States actually cozied up to white supremacists, it was, in a strange way, a good thing. It was the leader of the free world confirming that he's a racist, as many suspected him of being. It's important to know that.

+++

On a personal note, I admit this does sting some.

For one thing, I have worked with dozens of outstanding female sports reporters - talented, intelligent journalists who are dedicated to their jobs of informing their readers, viewers and listeners. It seems outrageous that in 2017, we have to even have this conversation. I feel badly for them that there are athletes, coaches and others (including fans) who judge them purely on the basis of their gender.

For another thing, I have stood up for Cam repeatedly, and now I feel like I've been played a little.

Because of his on-field celebrations, his occasional mopey behavior, his perceived selfishness and, yes, his race, he has been a lightning rod for criticism since he entered the NFL in 2011. (Actually, he was a lightning rod before that due to some incidents during his whirlwind college career.)

I often felt he has been criticized more harshly because he's black. I mean, nobody seemed to mind celebrations by Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. I encouraged Cam's detractors to look at his entire body of work: his mostly fine play for the Panthers, his work ethic, his support of teammates, his charitable acts, his obvious love of children, etc.

Now, unfortunately, his body of work includes his neanderthal attitude toward women.

If Newton's "people" are smart, they will have him publicly apologize to Rodrigue and promise to work on his shortcomings. Cam's apology would sound insincere, of course, but at least he would be on the record as having said he was sorry - and that he aims to improve himself as a human being. A donation to a shelter for homeless women would be a nice touch, too.

+++

Hey, I am not naive. I covered big-money sports for three decades. I was in hundreds (maybe thousands) of locker rooms. So I witnessed all manner of crude, sometimes misogynistic behavior. That many athletes act like jerks toward or around women is hardly shocking.

Furthermore, when I'd go on the radio or have some other interaction with a large group of sports fans, one question I almost always would get was: "Is (insert player's name) a good guy?" I usually answered by saying something like:

"He seems to be, but I don't really know. Who knows what he does when he gets home? I don't know him, you don't know him, and he doesn't really want to get to know any of us too well. In the end, as good as he is at (insert sport here), he's just a human being, with the same kinds of flaws and frailties the rest of us have. Never forget that."

So I won't say this episode proves that Newton is a "bad guy." I don't know him well enough to know that. It doesn't make him any less charitable, any less good with kids, any less of a football player.

But one thing we do know now is that Cam is at best, ignorant; at worst, a sexist.

+++

Having said all that, I realize that there might be a few people saying: "OK Mr. Women's Lib, what about your take-down of Erin Andrews back in 2008?"

OK, what about it?

By using her position as a high-profile ESPN reporter to flirt with athletes in the locker room while dressed as if she were heading to the beach - stuff witnessed by dozens of Cubs players and media members on that July 2008 day - Andrews, in her own way, insulted female reporters as much as Cam Newton did.

Many women in the industry actually thanked me for writing that column, because they wanted to be taken seriously as journalists, not sex objects.

And to Andrews' credit, I have not seen her act unprofessionally since then.

Obviously I'm biased, but what I wrote about Erin Andrews is not even remotely relatable to what Cam Newton said about Jourdan Rodrigue.

+++

I moved to Charlotte in 2010, I have been a Panthers fan since, and I want "my" team to win. The only way the Panthers win big - as they did in 2015, when they went to the Super Bowl - is if Cam consistently plays as he did just a few days ago in the big victory at New England.

So as a fan, I'll still "root" for Cam Newton to play well. But I admit that I won't look at him in quite the same way I did only last week.

If I hear somebody make a racist remark about him (as I have in the past), I will still admonish the offending party. If somebody rips him for costing the Panthers a game when I feel other players or coaches were more responsible, I'll stick up for Cam there, too.

However, if somebody calls Cam a sexist - or even a jerk - it will be difficult, if not impossible, for me to leap to his defense.
^

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

New Adventure for Coach Nadel

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I have been a North Carolina resident for nearly 7 years now, and the single best thing I have done since moving here was agreeing to become the girls basketball coach at The Scholars Academy. It was an amazing 4 seasons, capped by the first 2 conference championships in school history, and I will remember my experience with my Eagles forever.

However, life is not static, and when opportunities present themselves, one must be ready and willing to seize them.

And so, I am excited and honored to have accepted the position of Assistant Women's Basketball Coach at Ardrey Kell High School.



Academically, the school in the south part of Charlotte is one of the best in the state. Athletically, it's one top-notch, too. The Lady Knights have won 4 consecutive titles in one of the most competitive conferences in the state (South Meck 8), and have advanced deep in the NC tournament in all 3 seasons under Coach Jeff Buseick, my new boss.

The Lady Knights won the Hoodie's House Hoops Classic
under Coach Jeff Buseick a few years back.
Coach Buseick is a dynamic, knowledgeable, young coach. I have seen him in action and have been very impressed with his grasp of the game, his passion for teaching and his ability to communicate with his athletes. I am looking forward to helping him any way I can and to learning a ton from both him and his players.

One fringe benefit of building a winning program is it leads to the coach getting a little attention. That's exactly what happened for me, as the hard work, dedication and success of my Eagles led to several high schools inquiring about my availability for next season.

I actually interviewed for a head coaching job at a very good school, but I came away from the experience believing I was not quite ready to take such a major step. Coach Buseick happened to have offered me the Ardrey Kell position just the night before, so I ended up removing my name from consideration for the other job and accepting the AK offer.

My long-term goal is not just to be a head varsity coach but to be a great one, and working with an amazing high school coach and outstanding young athletes will help me see if I have what it takes.

This will not be the first time I will have coached prep athletes. Several years back, I was the assistant softball coach at Charlotte Country Day. I mostly took that job as a favor to the athletic director back then, as I knew next to nothing about coaching softball. It was fun, and it showed me that, personality-wise, I could work with HS kids. But this will be an entirely different experience.

One thing I'll have to get used to: I had my middle-schoolers call me Coach Mike. At Ardrey Kell, they will call me Coach Nadel because that's simply the way things are done there.

Two years ago, I almost left Scholars Academy to be JV coach at Latin High School. It was a very good job at a great school, and I was honored to have been their choice. But at the last minute, I couldn't shake the feeling that I had unfinished business at Scholars and that, with only 2 years as a middle-school head coach, I might not be quite ready for the move.

As it turned out, staying at Scholars was the second-best thing I've done during my time in Charlotte. I don't regret the decision for one second, as these last two years were so rewarding and enjoyable. Those years were crucial to my development as a coach, as I feel I improved in every facet, from preparation to motivation to game situations. A huge bonus: The girls and their parents became like a second family to me.



Still, it was time for this big Eagle to flap his wings. I feel confident that, a few years from now, I'll look back on my decision to join Coach Buseick at Ardrey Kell as another of my best decisions.

Go Knights!

---

Last week, Jack McCloskey, the architect of the "Bad Boy" Pistons who won NBA titles in 1989 and 1990, died at age 91. He also had been the GM of the Minnesota Timberwolves - a team I covered during my AP days - and I got to know him fairly well.



Here's my "Trader Jack" story ...

On Jan. 13, 1993, midway through McCloskey's first season in Minnesota, I wrote a column about team management's general incompetence since being awarded an expansion franchise.

I said this in my 15th paragraph:
Finally realizing that they needed a 'basketball man,' last summer they hired general manager Jack McCloskey, who had helped build Detroit's championship teams. However, the 66-year-old "Trader Jack" was available partly because he had failed to stem the Pistons' slide from supremacy.
One of my duties as AP's Minnesota Sports Editor was that I ran the annual state meeting of newspaper sports editors. In that capacity, I had to line up guest speakers. Near the end of the T-Wolves' 1992-93 season, I called McCloskey's secretary to see if we could get him to join us.

Two days later, he called me, and here is how our conversation went ...

Jack: Thanks for thinking of me, but I have another commitment and I can't do it this time.

Me: Oh, I understand. It was worth a shot.

Jack: Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to get out of it. I'd really like to do it and I hope you'll ask me again next time.

Me: OK, great. I will.

Jack: And one other thing ... That column you wrote about me not being able to stem the slide was complete horse-(bleep). If the Pistons' owner had let me make the moves I wanted to make, we would have won three more titles!

Me: (Stunned silence, followed by ... ) Uh, OK, sorry about that. Bye!

Who knew an NBA general manager read my columns, let alone all the way down to the 15th paragraph?!?!?!

The next time I saw McCloskey, it was as if our conversation had never taken place. He treated me with respect, and vice versa.

He went on to draft Christian Laettner and J.R. Rider for the Timberwolves, but out of respect for the dead - and out of concern that he'll call me from the grave - I won't say a word about those choices!

R.I.P., Trader Jack.
^