Thursday, April 7, 2016

Murderous CEO gets slap on wrist - what else is new?

^
Here's an article that made me sick to my stomach:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-wp-blm-blankenship-50cb4360-fc1b-11e5-813a-90ab563f0dde-20160406-story.html

29 miners dead, the direct result of the CEO going for every last dollar at the expense of safety, and all he gets is a year in a cushy prison before he gets out to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars he "earned."

He also shows zero remorse and plans to appeal.

Here, in italics, are a few passages from the article. The bold-faced parts are my observations.

Donald Blankenship, who presided over his coalfields from a mountaintop castle, was sentenced Wednesday to a year in prison and a $250,000 fine, the maximum punishment after his misdemeanor conviction for conspiring to flout mine-safety rules. In December he became the first chief executive officer in U.S. history found guilty of a workplace-safety crime, prosecutors said.

Incredible, and scary, to think that he is the first CEO ever punished like this given how many incidents of negligence have led to deaths over the years. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised, though, as these guys have the money to buy judges and politicians (as is later documented in this article) and of course to buy the best defense. So while U.S. prisons are filled with poor mopes serving life sentences for crack possession, these guys face next to no legal accountability for their heinous crimes. 'Merica!

Blankenship, 66, stood stone-faced Wednesday as U.S. District Judge Irene Berger handed down the sentence and then denied his request to remain free on bond while he appeals. The former Massey Energy CEO, who didn't testify at trial, denied Wednesday that he masterminded a scheme to evade mining regulations and speed-up coal production.

"It's important for everyone to know that I am not guilty of any crime," Blankenship told Berger. "There's no direct evidence that I committed any crime."

The courtroom was filled with family members of the deceased. If there is a hell, there should be a special place there for him. Sad to say, but the fact that guys like this are allowed to do what they do -- ENCOURAGED to do what they do, even -- makes me wonder what God is doing with his time.

A blunt taskmaster who bullied underlings and controlled virtually all of Massey's operations, Blankenship turned the mining company into the U.S.'s fourth-largest coal producer. 

Nice guys finish last, I suppose.

Blankenship, a Republican, spent heavily to back politicians and judges friendly to the coal industry, according to state reports.

There's a shock.

He spent $3 million in 2004 to support a candidate for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. The winning judge later helped overturn a $50 million jury award against some of Massey's units.

A rich CEO using influence to get richer and buy more influence? There's another shock.

In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the judge shouldn't have participated in the case.

Now, that ruling from the Roberts court really IS a shock!

A state panel concluded that Massey managers forced miners to ignore basic safety measures, such as controlling coal dust and ensuring the mine had proper ventilation, as part of a push to increase production. The company operated the site in a "profoundly reckless manner," the panel said.

But what we really need in this country is less regulation. Damn gubment, always getting in the way of job creators. So what if the jobs created kill the employees? At least the jobs were created, dammit!

The disaster should've sparked reforms on mine safety, said Phil Smith, spokesman for the United Mine Workers of America in Triangle, Virginia. But if changes didn't come within weeks or months of the deaths of the miners, Smith said he doesn't expect them to come now.

Darn union leaders. They think it's important to keep their members alive. What jerks!

At trial, prosecutors presented evidence showing that in 2009 alone Blankenship made more than $18 million. He stepped down as Massey's top executive in 2010 with a $12 million retirement package.

"Mr. Blankenship gambled with the lives of miners all for the sake of money," Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby told Berger Wednesday.

I am stunned to hear that a CEO would do something like this! Stunned, I say!!

Even though Blankenship didn't take the witness stand during his trial, his own words came back to haunt him as jurors reviewed internal memos and listened again and again over seven weeks to recordings he secretly made of telephone conversations.

Blankenship said Massey managers should keep quiet about safety issues and focus on what "pays the bills," according to one memo. Their job, he said, was simply to "run coal."

Although I am not in favor of the death penalty, I would be tempted to make an exception for this murderous prick. But hey, at least he has to spend a whole year in a country-club prison at taxpayer expense!

It is likely the Bureau of Prisons will assign him to a minimum-security facility because of his short stay, said Larry Levine, who served 10 years in federal prisons and now advises on how to survive time behind bars.

Each day will start at 6 a.m. as a loudspeaker blares, "The Compound is Now Open!" Levine said. Blankenship will probably be assigned a demeaning job and may not get to pick whether he sleeps on a bottom or top bunk bed, the consultant said. Meals will feature beans, rice and tortillas.

Awww, poor baby! A demeaning job? Like what? Shoveling coal in a mine that's about to explode? ... He might not get his choice of bunks? Oh, the humanity! ... He'll have to eat Mexican food? Nooooo! If Trump finds out about this, he'll tear down that prison wall to save his fellow power broker!

I could go on, but I'm already ill. Have a nice day, everybody.
^

Monday, March 7, 2016

Greatness calls, and my Eagles answer

^
Our Eagles dared to fly high … and we kept soaring till we reached the mountaintop.

By early December, I was pretty sure our Scholars Academy middle-school girls' basketball squad was the best team in the Charlotte Gastonia Athletic Association. We showed it by going 16-2 during the season, and we clinched it by dominating our three playoff opponents. The combined score of those three victories: 103-37.

One year after going to the championship game for the first time in school history – but losing – we took care of our unfinished business. We won Scholars’ first regular-season conference title and then, on Tuesday, March 1, we captured our school’s first tournament championship.



Naturally, we celebrated on the court after our historic, satisfying victory. It was spontaneous and beautiful and even more joyous than I had imagined it would be. Hugs, high-fives and handshakes were plentiful as the 11 girls, their parents, their siblings, several students and many faculty members basked in the thrill of victory. The girls and I posed with the trophies as moms and dads snapped hundreds of pictures.



Because we had tied for the regular-season title and then lost a coin flip, we had to play the game on the road, and it was surreal celebrating our victory on “foreign soil.” There our opponents were, in their home gym, and they had to watch us carry on. I stole a few glances at the Countryside Montessori players, and I remembered the empty feeling we had a year earlier when we were the ones who had to force smiles as we posed with the runner-up trophy.

The 11 girls and I took a brief break from the on-court merriment, going into a conference room to celebrate in private. That, too, was a fun, rambunctious scene of table pounding and hoots. One of our captains, Olivia, interrupted the hollering with: “Guys … guys … I have something to say!” For a moment she got a serious look on her face and then she smiled and whispered: 

“We won the championship!” 

And everybody yelled and screamed and pounded the table again. Too much fun!!

We then went back onto the court to celebrate some more. Finally, players and families started filtering out of the gym.

My son Ben was visiting from Chicago, and he, my wife Roberta and I drove to a nearby restaurant. I had trouble winding down from the excitement, even as I enjoyed a craft beer from – appropriately enough -- Victory Brewing Company. Ben, who specifically timed his visit in hopes of seeing us in the title game, talked about the team and the season with me for about an hour. It was special to share this culmination of three years of hard work with my loved ones.

The warm glow of triumph continued for several days of congratulatory emails, texts and Facebook posts. Finally, on Saturday, we had our team party.

Compared to the wild post-game celebration, the party was relatively tame. Our gracious hosts (parents of our standout guard, Ritika) served up food and soft drinks. As the girls enjoyed hanging out together at their final team function, I chatted easily with their parents. Because I have been the coach since the 2013-14 season, I have gotten to know many of the parents quite well; three of their daughters (Ritika, Olivia, Celeste) were with me for all three years, and three others for two years (Sholeh, Beijul, Charlotte).

Then it came time for my annual post-season speech. I said something about each girl, recapping her contributions to the team, and also handed out the awards.



Our Heroes

Celeste, an 8th-grade tri-captain, had the “monster season” I had predicted she would have. Tall and very athletic – a rare combination at this age – she developed a practically automatic 10- to 15-foot jumper from the high post. She led us in scoring in each playoff game and she dominated the championship contest, finishing with half of our 28 points. She was a rock on defense all season, routinely registering double-digit blocks and rebounds. Celeste scored 168 points, 100 more than in either of her first two years, and was our co-MVP.

Sholeh progressed rapidly from ex-soccer-playing basketball neophyte as a 7th-grader to All-Conference performer as an 8th-grader. Once she decided she loved basketball, she worked tirelessly to improve. She developed a picture-perfect jumper and outstanding layup form; the latter was especially useful because her aggressive defense at the top of our 2-3 zone created numerous layup attempts. Scholars doesn’t keep individual athletic records, but it’s hard to believe any previous girl had scored more than Sholeh’s 212 points this season. A tri-captain and co-MVP, she fought through a bad cold to score 8 points in the championship game.

Olivia, another 8th-grader, has gracefully grown into her height. She sported a nice outside shot and became a reliable interior defender and rebounder. Mostly, though, she was our calming influence on offense. Whether I used her at wing, on the high-post or at point, she had a knack for sizing up the defense, making good passes and minimizing turnovers. Because she made her teammates better, she had a major impact even when she didn’t score much herself. Olivia was our Offensive Player of the Year.

Charlotte, another 8th-grader, was a tiny but tough player two years earlier, and she thankfully returned to the team after taking a one-year break from basketball. She improved, oh, a bazillion percent from 6th grade and was no longer tiny. She was as good a defender as I have coached, equally comfortable playing man-to-man, hassling the opposition at the top of our zone or defending the baseline. Particularly lethal at the point of our devastating 1-2-1-1 press, Charlotte was an obvious choice as our Defensive Player of the Year.

Ritika, a third-year player who joined the program as a 5th-grader, is the best 3-point shooter in the league by a mile: 20 made treys the last two seasons. She also has become an outstanding defender with quick hands and a nose for the basketball. And she plays both wing and point guard equally well. Unselfish almost to a fault and respected by her teammates for her tenacity and intelligence, she received the Coach’s Award for Leadership.

Deirdre, a 5th-grader I call “Rookie,” was only supposed to be the team manager but she earned a promotion in December and quickly moved up the depth chart. She finished as our highest scorer off the bench, and I am very excited about her future … but I’ll probably have to come up with a new nickname for her next year!

Eighth-graders Beijul and Soenika and 7th-graders Kaylee, Emma and Jackie were valuable reserves. I gave everybody plenty of playing time during the regular season, but I did explain to them that the starters would get most of the court time in the playoffs. I asked them to be ready to give us short bursts of energy when they got into playoff games, and I’m thrilled to say that’s what each of them did.



At our party, I reminded the girls and their parents that we had lost our three leading scorers from the previous season, so we needed our returning players to improve dramatically. And did they ever!

Celeste, Olivia and Ritika each scored more points this season than they had in their first two years combined. And Sholeh, our top returning scorer with 72 points in 2014-15, nearly tripled her output. Add in the return of a vastly improved Charlotte and the outstanding work by our reserves, and we had so much going for us that not even the coach could screw things up! We outscored our opponents 706-279.

Not bad for a bunch of “highly gifted” kids at a small charter school that is tucked inside a business park down the block from Costco. We have only a small practice gym and play our games at a church several miles away. My first year, the top returning scorer quit the day before our first practice because she decided to join the Mock Trial team instead. In 2014-15, one player missed practices because of her involvement in Science Olympiad, and another missed games this season to compete in Robotics tournaments. All schools claim academics come first; at Scholars Academy, they really mean it.



I concluded my speech by saying this team had set a standard that future generations of Eagles will be hard-pressed to match. And I got a little choked up when I noted how strange it will be to look out on the court at our first practice next season and not see Soenika, Beijul, Charlotte, Sholeh and, especially, three-year starters Olivia and Celeste.

After I was done with my (too) long soliloquy, Olivia's mother Jen, our "Team Mom," presented me with a framed, signed team photo and said several nice things about how lucky Scholars was to have me. Obviously, I have been every bit as lucky, and more.

This is my first head-coaching job, and I was as green as most of the players back in 2013-14. I like to think they have learned a thing or two from me, yes, but I know I have learned a ton from them. We grew together, which is why reaching the mountaintop with them was such a special, emotional experience for me.




While I believe I will return for a fourth season at Scholars Academy, I honestly can't say with 100% certainty what the future holds for me in this crazy profession. I almost left for a high school JV job last fall, but the voice in my head said to stay with the Eagles and take care of unfinished business. I have zero regrets.

As for the six 8th-graders who have done so much for our program, I am supremely confident they will be stars in life and will contribute amazing things to society. It makes me feel good that we shared a mutual basketball experience none of us ever will forget.

Still, I admit I also feel a tinge of sadness. I am proud of my Eagles, and I am honored to have been their coach, but I hate having to say good-bye to these incredible champions.

I know that’s how life works, especially in sports, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
^

Monday, February 8, 2016

Cam doesn't suck, and other Super thoughts

^
Some Super Bowl thoughts on a less-than-super night for my Carolina Panthers ...

CAM

Don't judge a jock by how he reacts in front of the media. I was a skeptic when the Panthers drafted Cam Newton back in 2011 because of his checkered past, but he has been nothing but an amazingly solid citizen in Charlotte. He gives big money and countless hours to altruistic causes -- way above and beyond what is publicized. He is especially fantastic with kids.

Cam also has grown to become an outstanding team leader. One example: During the preseason, when fans wanted WR Philly Brown to be sent to Siberia because he dropped a ton of passes, it was Cam who very publicly embraced him on the sideline after one particularly horrendous drop. Cam later publicly endorsed Brown. And Brown went on to have a very productive season, crediting in great part the faith his QB had in him.

In response to the one question Newton answered in full after the game, he talked about the team's many mistakes and included his own prominently in the statement. He didn't try to sidestep the blame.

There are many athletes who are very slick in front of the media but who are total scumbags. Newton is a notoriously sore loser. It is something he needs to get better at dealing with, but I would caution anybody against making knee-jerk judgments about a person's character based upon his deportment minutes after probably the most disappointing 4 hours of his life.

As for his play in the game, Cam obviously needed to take better care of the football under duress and he needed to at least try to recover that late fumble -- a play that no doubt will give a lot of fuel to his detractors for years to come. But considering how many passes were dropped, how poorly his line blocked, how many penalties his teammates committed, how his receivers couldn't get open and how poorly the running game did, I thought he did pretty well to account for 310 yards -- pretty much the team's entire total.

His fumbles occurred after complete blocking breakdowns, and his interception came on a pass that went right through Ted Ginn's hands, costing the Panthers a sure FG and possible TD.

Hell, if Jerricho Cotchery simply catches the early pass he bobbled, the Panthers have the ball near midfield and the Broncos' ensuing sack/fumble/TD almost surely never happens. It's a totally different game. 


Cam has become a lightning rod, in great part because of his celebrations during the season. I happen to have enjoyed them. They helped make a fun season even more fun for a Panthers fan. His giving footballs to little kids easily surpassed the Lambeau Leap for "cool factor."

But, as others have said -- and I have said myself -- if you are going to be so demonstrative in victory, you really should handle defeat with more maturity. And you absolutely have to expect to be mocked and derided when you fail.

Cam and his teammates dared opponents to keep them from celebrating: "If you don't like it, all you have to do is stop us." Well, the Broncos stopped them cold (when the Panthers weren't stopping themselves). Now Cam & Co. have to deal with the fallout.


COTCHERY NON-CATCH

Cotchery bobbled Newton's pass but then appeared at first to have hauled it in, only to have the officials call it incomplete. Coach Ron Rivera challenged the call, and I don't blame him. However, after seeing just one replay, I thought the call would stand b
ecause the ball appeared to have touched the ground when Cotchery first went down and then appeared to have shifted slightly before he could gather it in.


At the Panthers-watching party Robbie and I hosted, I was the lone observer among the 8 of us who thought the call would be upheld. That was based upon how I have seen the rules interpreted over the last couple of years. 

It was one of those deals where if it had been called a catch, the evidence wouldn't have been good enough to overturn it ... but because it was called a non-catch, the evidence wasn't compelling enough to change it to a catch. Rivera made this exact point during his post-game interview.

The rule sucks at it is written and interpreted, but the rule is the rule and everybody has to play by it. I actually get a lot more upset about the blatant interference and holding that refs let defensive backs get away with. Refs have no clue how to call interference, and they often are the biggest plays in games.

Finally, for all of my fellow Panthers fans whining about the call, all Cotchery had to do was make a clean catch of a perfectly thrown pass and we wouldn't be having this discussion. 


When the Panthers signed Cotchery before the 2014 season, my first thought was, "Why are they bringing in this fossil?" He actually became one of my favorites because he was the one receiver (along with TE Greg Olsen) who rarely dropped passes. 

Well, he had three drops yesterday, and each was huge. It was kind of a microcosm of the game for the Panthers -- just about everything that could have gone wrong did.

MANNING'S LEGACY

"Legacy" is one of the dopiest cliches in sports. Peyton Manning's positive legacy already was assured based upon his many achievements and his one championship. He didn't "need" this nearly as much as he "needed" the Super Bowl win over the Bears in 2007. 

He did next to nothing to help the Broncos win this game. They would have done no worse with backup Brock Osweiler or any of a dozen other NFL backups. Frankly, Newton had a far better game under far more adverse conditions. 

So kudos to Peyton for getting a second ring, and I highly recommend he get the hell out before he gets killed.

DENVER'S D

When my Panther buds and I talked in the days leading up to the game, I said my two biggest fears were that the offensive line wouldn't be able to keep Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware off of Cam and that the receivers would revert to their pass-dropping ways. 

Unfortunately, both of those fears came true. 

Couple those problems with the multitude of other mistakes -- Mike Tolbert's fumble, Graham Gano's missed FG and the team's stunning failure to tackle a punt returner who was standing right next to 3 tacklers -- and the Panthers basically committed sports suicide.

Obviously, though, the Broncos' D deserves big-time credit, and Miller was an extremely deserving MVP.

RON RIVERA

The man is an absolute class act, and I'm thrilled to have him as Panthers coach. 

Since dumping Rivera so he could promote his incompetent buddy Bob Babich to Bears DC, Lovie Smith has been fired twice to cement his "legacy" as a loser. Karma's a bitch.


PANTHERS' FUTURE

Led by Newton, Luke Kuechly, several fine defensive linemen, WR Kelvin Benjamin and many other outstanding performers, the players who make up the Panthers' core are either young or in their prime. I like to think they'll be back, hopefully as soon as next season.

Still, one never knows in sports.

Eons ago (it seems), I was a huge Dolphins fan. My boys lost their first Super Bowl in 1972 but Larry Csonka, Bob Griese and the No-Name Defense came right back to win the next two -- including the one that capped the only undefeated championship season in major U.S. pro sports history. 

A decade later, Dan Marino followed up his record-setting second pro season by losing the Super Bowl to the 49ers. The loss stung, but Dolphin fans were sure Marino would lead them to many future titles. Reality: Marino never even got to the Super Bowl again.

So while I happen to think the Panthers do have a championship in them, they still have to prove it and, obviously, still have to improve.

As I have gotten older, I have become much better at enjoying the journeys rather than obsessing about the destinations. I try to remind myself of that with the basketball team I coach as well as in several other facets of life, and I definitely did enjoy this Panthers season. 

I have faith they will keep pounding. But even if it turns out that this was as good as it gets for this particular group, the 2015 Panthers gave me many memories that I will recall fondly for the rest of my days.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Two super teams, one Super prediction

^
In late December, after the Panthers lost to the Falcons to fall to 14-1, my son Ben asked who I thought would lose next: the Panthers or the girls basketball team I coach, the Scholars Academy Eagles.



"The Panthers," I said.

Ben was surprised by my response. I'm a huge Panthers fan and a second loss would knock them out of the playoffs. Did I really think that would happen before my team, which was only 5-0 at the time, would lose?

"Yeah," I said. "I'm guessing the Panthers will lose one game next September or October before my girls start our 2016-17 season."

Even my son, a tough critic, had to admit that was a pretty good answer.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be the wrong answer.

On Tuesday, we put our 12-0 record on the line and pretty much got run out of the gym by a quicker team. It was the same team we had defeated in last year's semifinals, but this time our outstanding center, Celeste, was home sick with a cold. Without our shot-blocker -- not to mention one of our best shot-makers -- we wilted in the second half.

Of course, I'm not certain we would have won even if we had Celeste, as we did lose to that team by a single point last season. We are a very good shooting team for this age group but made hardly anything Tuesday, and that very well might have doomed us even if our center had been healthy.

+++

Meanwhile, the Panthers have not lost again since their setback in Atlanta. They ended the regular season by crushing the Bucs -- sending Lovie Smith into the coaching abyss -- and then scored impressive victories over the Seahawks and Cardinals, teams many regarded as the two most dangerous in the league.

All of that good work has put the Panthers into the Super Bowl against the Broncos. Oddsmakers have established my heroes as 5 1/2-point favorites ... and although I won't place any bets, I certainly would side with the Panthers if I did.

Yes, I'm a fan, but I'm pretty objective as fans go. (Three decades of sportswriting does that to a guy.) I simply see Carolina as the superior all-around team: far more dynamic and balanced offensively, and every bit as impressive defensively. While Cam Newton has matured into being the best quarterback in the league, 106-year-old Peyton Manning hopes to keep his body in one piece for one last hurrah.

The Broncos' strength is their outside pass rush, but even that could end up working in the Panthers' favor. If DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller get caught a little too far upfield trying to get to Newton, he will run wild into the middle of the field. If the Panthers can do a decent job of keeping those great linebackers off of Cam -- and I think they will -- it could end up being yet another lopsided Super loss for the Broncos.

+++

As for my Eagles, we got to experience one of the things I really like about sports: the quick turn-around.

Wednesday, one day after having a less-than-stellar performance and suffering our first loss, we played extremely well in a dominant 36-10 victory.

Celeste was back to anchor our defense, our leading scorer Sholeh found the touch that had abandoned her the day before, our top outside shooters Ritika and Olivia each swished a 3, and our defense was active and effective.

Plus, the 5th-grader we affectionately call "Rookie" had her best game -- stealing the ball several times, setting some great picks and scoring on three confident, aggressive takes to the hoop. On the third, she used a hesitation dribble to beat her defender, drove, scored and got fouled for an "and-1." The girls on the bench went wild, not just because Rookie made such a nice move but because we had worked on hesitation moves just two days earlier in practice. Which made the bald, old coach pretty happy, too!

+++

So I was wrong about which team would lose next. But if you ask me the question again ... I'll STILL say next season's Panthers.

I'm not a big believer in an undefeated team "needing" to lose in the regular season to be more psychologically prepared to win in the playoffs, but I do agree with my athletic director that sometimes a loss will re-focus a team.

We have 7 games to go -- 4 in the regular season and then, hopefully, 3 in the playoffs -- and I'm confident this group will run the table.

And the Panthers ... well, a loss Sunday ain't gonna happen.

Yes, I know most of America is rooting for Peyton Manning to go out a champion, but he's got his ring. The Bears helped assure him of that. It's our turn, now.

Panthers 30, Broncos 16.

KEEP POUNDING, BABY!!!
^

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Super Panthers, Super Bowl!!!

^
I'll keep this one short and sweet ...



KEEP POUNDING, PANTHERS!!

Soon-to-be Super Bowl 50 Champions!
^

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Don't blame me for Griffey not being a unanimous Hall of Famer or for Edmonds being off the ballot

^
Ken Griffey Jr. was named on the Hall of Fame ballots of all but three Baseball Writers Association of America voters -- giving him the highest percentage ever. I'm still trying to figure out how those three justified omitting perhaps the greatest center fielder ever -- not to mention one of the very best players of an entire generation, and an icon with a squeaky-clean reputation.

Oh well. There's no exact science. I mean, it took Joe Freakin' DiMaggio four tries to get enshrined.

A couple of weeks ago here, I discussed why I voted for Jim Edmonds. It's a shame he didn't get enough votes to stay on the ballot for next year -- my check mark was one of only 11 he received, and he needed exactly twice that many.

Edmonds was twice the ballplayer Jeff Kent and Fred McGriff ever were, yet they got significantly more votes and will stay on the ballot. Edmonds was as likely to save a game with a great defensive play as he was with a clutch hit, something Kent and McGriff certainly couldn't say.

I guess it doesn't really matter, because Kent and McGriff will never get named on 75% of the ballots (as is mandated for enshrinement). Neither will Lee Smith, Larry Walker nor Edgar Martinez, other very, very good big-leaguers whom I didn't rate as worthy as Edmonds.

Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds remained well short of the votes they needed but they did get a higher percentage than they did previously. I am 95% certain I will vote for both of them next year, their fifth on the ballot. I discuss my reasoning in earlier posts here on TBT.

Aside from Griffey and Edmonds, I also voted for:

Mike Piazza, who will join Griffey as the only two BBWAA-elected players in this year's class; Jeff Bagwell, who finished 15 votes short; Tim Raines, who missed by 23 votes; Curt Schilling, who was named on 52% of the ballots; Mike Mussina, 43%; and Alan Trammell, a great guy and very good ballplayer who didn't get in on his final year on the ballot.

The Hall of Fame, in conjunction with the BBWAA, has changed rules to weed out some voters. I will be one of those eventually weeded out because I'm no longer an active baseball writer. But I pay attention, I take it seriously, and I sure as hell didn't leave Ken Griffey Jr. off of my ballot.

+++

Tuesday was my favorite day of 2016 so far.

First, my Scholars Academy Eagles played one of our better games in my three years as coach, easily vanquishing our opponent to improve to 6-0 on the season.

Our team motto is Work Hard! Play Right! Have Fun! and the "Play Right" part is always the most elusive. My girls work harder than anybody and they are a great group that has a lot of fun. But they are 11-to-14 year old girls, and it's not always easy for them to play "right." Even in some fairly decisive wins, we have been error-prone.

On Tuesday, we minimized our mistakes and really did a great job of moving the basketball. It was a pleasure to watch. Three times, I drew up plays or made suggestions, and they executed each of them, so they were very coachable, too.

We play again Thursday, and I'm really interested in seeing if we can do it again.

Later Tuesday, a small Charlotte contingent of Marquette alums got together with a small group of Providence alums to watch the Marquette-Providence game. We were 0-2 in the Big East with two pretty bad losses, and Providence was ranked No. 8 in the country. Plus, the Friars were the hosts. Honestly, I didn't give my lads much of a chance.

But Marquette outworked and outplayed Providence most of the game. Most impressively, after Providence rallied to take an 8-point lead with about 6 minutes to go, the young Marquette team fought back, took the lead in the final minute and held on to win by a point.

It was the "signature victory" so far for Marquette under second-year coach Steve Wojciechowski, who starts three freshmen and a sophomore.

After the final horn sounded and the Warrior fans exchanged high-fives, I didn't do too much trash-talking to our friends from Providence.

A little, but not too much!
^

Friday, December 25, 2015

We laugh at winter in Charlotte!

^
I wore shorts and a t-shirt to walk Simmie today. It was 71 and I think I got a little sunburn.

To escape this Dec. 25 heatwave, Robbie and I went to see The Big Short. It was quite an entertaining -- and sobering -- look at what caused the 2007-09 financial crisis.

The most sobering part was the warning that it could easily happen again. Time for me to sell everything, stick all the cash in a big pickle jar and bury it in somebody else's backyard.

(What? You think I want people digging up MY backyard?)
^

Monday, December 21, 2015

Mike's Hall Call: Griffey (obviously), but how 'bout Edmonds and Hoffman?

^
Seven of my 10 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot slots were easy to fill.

There are the six guys I voted for in the past who are still trying to join baseball's most exclusive club: Jeff Bagwell, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling and Alan Trammell. You can read the cases I made for them in previous years here and here.

There is this year's no-brainer newcomer: Ken Griffey Jr. He is such an obvious Hall of Famer that I won't waste my time and yours explaining why.

Beyond that, I had a lot to think about.

First, there are Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Last year, I wrote this:

If a player likely was a steroid cheat but all available evidence showed that he had a Hall-worthy body of work before the juicing began (think Bonds and Clemens), I will consider him but only beginning with his fifth year on the ballot. I want to allow plenty of time before checking that box.

This is Year 4 for both and I actually considered voting for them after Bonds' obstruction of justice conviction was overturned. But I decided my heart wouldn't be broken if they had to wait one more year, and I'm sticking to my five-year rule.

So the two players whose candidacies are really rattling around in my mind are ballot newcomers Trevor Hoffman and Jim Edmonds.

Hoffman is an interesting case. The only thing he really has going for him is the save statistic -- he had 601, behind only Mariano Rivera -- and most of us know how flawed that stat is. You come into a 5-2 game with nobody on in the ninth inning and you get a save? Whoop-de-do.

Hoffman was a classic "stat-compiler." He pitched forever, so he had lots of saves. He racked up 119 saves during his final four seasons pitching not so great (3.51 ERA, 1.118 WHIP, 12-20 record) for lousy teams. Unlike truly dominant relievers such as Goose Gossage or Bruce Sutter or Rollie Fingers or Rivera, he rarely was asked to get more than three outs. Unlike Dennis Eckersley and John Smoltz, Hoffman couldn't hack it as a starter.

I have read articles that convincingly argue that Billy Wagner, another first-timer on the ballot, was the better reliever. And I'm not voting for Wagner, either. Hoffman is a borderline case, and he's not crossing my border this year.

Now let's go to Edmonds.

When a friend asked me a few weeks ago about Edmonds, my knee-jerk reaction was "no way." But then I remembered all of his amazing catches and I decided to look into his career more closely.

He ranks in the top 60 all-time in slugging percentage, OPS and HRs. He was a hard-nosed, valuable player for some outstanding Cardinals teams, including the 2006 champions. At age 38, he was still an extremely valuable player for the division-winning Cubs, driving in 49 runs in only 250 at-bats after they picked him up during the season.

I believe ballplayers deserve recognition for the long, outstanding stretches of their careers. For me, Edmonds gets plaudits for his 11-season stretch with the Angels and Cardinals in which his WAR was third in all of baseball behind only Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. And unlike Bonds and A-Rod, there were no serious steroid allegations. During those 11 seasons, Edmonds averaged 30 HRs, slugged .554 and won eight Gold Gloves.

Oh, and in 64 postseason games, Edmonds, had 13 HRs, 42 RBIs and a .513 slugging percentage.

And you can't talk about Edmonds without spending plenty of time talking about his all-out, life-or-limb defense at an important position. Did any center fielder who played in the '90s and '00s produce more highlight-reel catches? He was on SportsCenter more than Chris Berman was. Among CFs since 1954, he ranks in the top 20 in assists, putouts and double plays. His "Ultimate Zone Rating" was eighth all-time among CFs, and his arm was rated second-best ever at the position. But if you spent any time watching him, you didn't need all those new-fangled metrics to know you were watching an amazing outfielder.

If we can enshrine Ozzie Smith mostly because of his defensive prowess at shortstop, we can't give Edmonds serious props because of his defensive prowess in center field ... AND his 393 HRs AND his .527 slugging percentage and his .903 OPS?

Despite all of that, I have a feeling that Edmonds will not get much love among my BBWAA voting peers, and I simply think he was too good a player to be 1-and-done. So I feel doubly good about giving him my vote.

Here, then, are the eight players who received check marks next to their names on my 2016 Hall of Fame ballot:

Jeff Bagwell

Jim Edmonds

Ken Griffey Jr.

Mike Mussina

Mike Piazza

Tim Raines

Curt Schilling

Alan Trammell

---

And speaking of the Hall of Fame ...

I agree wholeheartedly with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred's decision to keep Pete Rose out of the game. Rose gambled on baseball when he was the Reds' manager, lied about it for years and years, finally admitted to doing some of it but still lied about the depth of his gambling activity, and only begrudgingly admitted more about it after being caught in lies again.

For a long time, I believed that Rose should be kept out of baseball for his gambling as a manager but that he should be eligible for the Hall of Fame because there had been no credible evidence that he had gambled as a player.

Earlier this year, however, ESPN's Behind the Lines did produce credible evidence that Rose did bet on baseball during his playing days.

Given that I have every reason to believe the ESPN report and no reason to believe Rose -- a pathological liar and self-promoter -- I am very glad he has never eligible for enshrinement.
^

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Dad is "homeless," Marquette is back, Panthers are No. 1 ... and other interesting tidbits

^
This week's High Five ...

5. FRANK-LY SPEAKING

My father-in-law Frank is officially "homeless" after the sale of his suburban Chicago townhouse was completed Friday.

Robbie and I worked like dogs -- and I'm not talkin' about chihuahuas but more like border collies -- getting that place ready to sell, so it was nice to see it go so fast after hitting the market. In addition to making several trips from Charlotte to clean it out (look back at the July 6 TBT to remind yourself how crazy that experience was), we had to arrange for new carpet and paint, hire a realtor, arrange for a new garage door, etc., etc., etc. ... with the emphasis on the "etc."

All the while, Frank kept asking to go back to the place so he could sort through his things -- things that weren't there any more. (We kept him informed every step of the way, but being nearly 90, his short-term memory isn't what it used to be.) Now that it's sold, he has nothing to worry about, and that means less pressure on Robbie to deal with him worrying.

Frank is staying with his niece in Chicago through the New Year and then the plan is to make him an official North Carolina resident. Frankly, it's quite a relief.

+++

4. SOMEWHERE, AL McGUIRE IS SMILING 

1. I joined about 15 fellow Marquette alums at a Charlotte bar Saturday to watch our lads' impressive, exciting victory over one of the teams I especially love to hate, Wisconsin.


Marquette freshman sensation 
Henry Ellenson
drives past Bucky Badger

The game was in Madison -- the first true road test for our freshman-dominated squad -- and that historically has been a very difficult place to win. Marquette is 8-2, with seven straight victories since getting blown out at home by Iowa.

After a couple of downright depressing years to be a Warrior Eagle, it's nice to see the team going in the right direction again.

+++

3. THE WRITE STUFF

For nine straight months, every article I've written for Seeking Alpha has been an Editor's Pick. So while I'm not getting rich, I am getting recognition. Given that I have a typical writer's ego, that matters!

Here's the latest, which hit the site last week: Kinder Morgan: I Told Me So!

+++

2. FLY, FLY, FLY EAGLES!

My Scholars Academy Eagles go into the Xmas break at 5-0, and our margins of victory so far have been 38, 30, 32, 13 and 24 points.

We actually didn't play very well on offense in the first half of our game Thursday -- we really seemed to play down to the level of the competition -- but we "won" the second half 22-2. And I later sent the girls this text:

"Hi Ladies. The more I think about it, the more I believe we played pretty well after our slow start. We shouldn't be so worried about 'style points' that we forget to enjoy working hard, competing enthusiastically and ultimately scoring a decisive victory. Have a great weekend. Go Eagles!"


Our famed and feared, "Fly, Fly, Fly Eagles"
cheer, which is reserved only for after victories.

I just wanted the girls to know that I appreciate how hard they play and that it's unrealistic to expect perfection. I also have to remind myself to enjoy the journey as much as (hopefully) the championship destination.

At this age, it should mostly be about getting better and having fun, anyway. But yes, they do keep score ... so we might as well finish each game with more points than the other team. We're pretty good at that, too.

I'm already looking forward to January and February!

+++

1. CAM'S PANTHERS ARE NO. 1, FOLKS - DEAL WITH IT!

I am getting so tired of idiots who think they know something about the NFL calling the Panthers "the worst undefeated team" -- whatever that means -- and criticizing Cam Newton.

Well, after absolutely humiliating the Falcons on Sunday, the Panthers are 13-0 and are racking up one impressive victory after another. Newton laughed at the SI cover jinx, throwing for 600 yards and 8 TDs the last two weeks; most informed national football commentators say he is the league MVP.

In Newton, Greg Olsen, Ryan Kalil, Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, K.K. Short and Josh Norman, the Panthers have seven players who rank at or near the very top of their positions, and they also have some great role players.

It's stunning how little respect the Panthers have gotten most of this season. But hey, if that's been part of their motivation, I should stop complaining about it and hope the disrespect continues well into February.

And for opponents who think Cam is too cocky and don't like his celebrations ... all they have to do is stop him.

It hasn't happened yet in 2015.
^

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Thanksgiving's over, but there's always room for the Turkey of the Year countdown

^
For 17 years now, I've used the Thanksgiving holiday as an occasion to lob a few grenades at each sports year’s chumps, losers, lunkheads, criminals and clods. Because I was traveling last week, this Turkey of the Year countdown is, for the first time, being presented after we’ve all consumed our turkey, stuffing and pie. I’m looking at it as a heaping helping of luscious leftovers!

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).


Sharp-eyed readers will notice that up until 2010, each of those Turkeys did their gobbling in Chicago or the Midwest. That's 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. Since moving to North Carolina, I've expanded my Turkey-choosing horizons. Still, as always, I dedicate this in memory of Gene.

So grab (yet another) hunk of pie and enjoy ...

12. BO RYAN ... Bo knows winning -- and whining. After masterfully coaching his Wisconsin Badgers into the NCAA title game, he couldn’t resist taking shots at Duke, Kentucky and other programs that use "rent-a-players." He forgot to mention that he went hard after Kevon Looney -- a freshman at UCLA last year whom everybody knew would be 1-and-done -- as well as two of this season’s top frosh, Marquette’s Henry Ellenson and Maryland’s Diamond Stone. So what Ryan really meant was that he didn’t like the fact that Coach K and Coach Cal were able to land the kind of 1-and-dones who apparently want nothing to do with Coach Bo. Hypocrites make wonderful turkeys!

11. TED LILLY ... The former Cubs, Dodgers, Yankees, A’s and Blue Jays pitcher took out an insurance policy on his RV and then crashed it four days later, claiming $4,600 in damage. Routine stuff, right? Yeah, except the crash actually happened five days BEFORE he took out the policy. Once nabbed, he faced three felony charges of insurance fraud. He took a plea bargain to avoid jail time and received only a small fine, community service and probation. I can see why Lilly would try to get away with a $4,600 scam, given that he only made $80 million during his 15-year career. Of course, I’ll always remember Lilly for the way he slammed down his glove – Bad News Bears style – after giving up a home run in Game 2 of the 2007 NL playoffs. 

10. BRANDON BOSTICK ... As part of Green Bay’s “hands” unit in last season’s NFC title game, he had one job: Block for Jordy Nelson so that the Packers’ No. 1 receiver could catch the football if Seattle sent an onside kick in their direction. Instead, Green Bay’s third-string tight end tried to make the catch himself. The ball went off of his hands and helmet and was recovered by the Seahawks, who promptly drove for the winning touchdown. (As bad as that was, he didn’t deserve the death threats that came his way. What the hell is wrong with people?)

9. CLEVELAND FIREWORKS GUY & JASON PIERRE-PAUL ... Fireworks are fun, right? Pity the poor sap in charge of setting off fireworks after Indians home runs; he accidentally hit the button after Kansas City’s Alex Rios went yard and was last seen burying his head in his hands. And really pity Pierre-Paul, the Giants defensive end who damn near blew off his hand on the Fourth of July. Mom was right about not playing with matches!

8. PATRICIA DRISCOLL & ANNA HANSEN ... You can be forgiven if your reaction to both names is, “Who?” Well, Driscoll is the ex-wife of auto racer Kurt Busch, who testified in court that Driscoll is a trained assassin who has been dispatched on covert missions around the globe. And Hansen is the long-time girlfriend of Lance Armstrong; she claimed to have been driving the car when a drunk Armstrong drove into two parked cars after a party and then fled the scene. Armstrong, one of the most infamous pathological liars in history, let Hansen take the fall. You can’t make up stuff like this.

7. GREG ABBOTT ... After the Astros scored three runs in the seventh inning to take a 6-2 lead in Game 4 of the ALDS, the Texas governor sent out a tweet congratulating the ‘Stros for advancing to the ALCS. Problem was, the Royals came back with five runs in the eighth. They won that game and then took Game 5 two days later to capture the series. Oops! But hey, at least this Texas governor didn’t take the national debate stage and forget which federal agencies he’d eliminate. Nor did he proclaim “Mission Accomplished” a few months into an unnecessary, unfunded, decade-long war. In other words, there’s still plenty of time to REALLY embarrass yourself, Gov. Abbott!

6. ROGER GOODELL ... It was another tough year for the NFL commissioner, our 2014 Turkey of the Year. Tom Brady got away with cheating. Greg Hardy got away with beating the crap out of his girlfriend. Goodell’s nemesis, the Patriots, won the Super Bowl and he spinelessly skipped their banner-raising celebration. Goodell also got caught lying in the aftermath of the Ray Rice fiasco. And so on and so on. Why do NFL owners put up with him? (Hell, they don’t just put up with him, they pay him tens of millions of dollars annually!) Well, because he is good at making the league money, especially TV money. So maybe it wasn’t that bad a year after all for Goodell, who can count his bounty while he ignores his critics.
  
5. PETE CARROLL ... The Seahawks coach has taken endless grief for his decision to try to win the Super Bowl by having Russell Wilson attempt a second-down pass from the 1-yard line -- a pass that was intercepted by the Patriots’ Malcolm Butler. Some have labeled it the worst play call in NFL history. Most felt Carroll should have run Marshawn Lynch up the middle. Frankly, I don’t think passing in that situation was such a bad idea, but I’d have preferred Carroll give Wilson a run-pass option to the outside, a play that would have let Wilson easily throw the ball away if nobody was open and there was no running lane. Regardless of what one thinks of Carroll’s decision, though, there’s no question it began what has turned out to be a trying 2015 for him and his team.

4. DUKE-MIAMI GAME OFFICIALS ... I don’t know why anybody should be critical of
referee Jerry Magallanes and his crew. After all, t
hey only blew FOUR calls during the Hurricanes’ last-second, 8-lateral desperation play – a play that resulted in a ridiculous Miami touchdown that cost Duke the game. Miami finished 8-4 to Duke’s 7-5 and probably will get to play in a more lucrative bowl game, too. The sitaution was so bad that the ACC actually suspended the crew for two weeks -- and conferences HATE acknowledging officiating errors. While this boo-boo was especially amazing because the officials didn’t correctly use a replay system that was put in place to avoid just this kind of outcome, it was merely this season’s most egregious screw-up by college and pro football refs. Pass interference especially seems like just a “best guess” for these clowns. 

3.  LARRY BROWN & SMU ADMINISTRATION ... I understand the allure of Brown, who wins wherever he coaches. But he should stick to the pros, where he doesn’t have to cheat to win. Brown’s SMU hoops team was barred from the postseason and hit with other major sanctions after Brown was found guilty of academic fraud and unethical conduct. Brown, whose Hall of Fame career includes a long history of NBA success, has coached at three universities. All three – Kansas, UCLA and SMU – ended up getting punished for major violations under Brown. SMU, the only school ever to be hit with the “death penalty” for football violations a couple decades back, should have known better. But I guess Brown is just too darn irresistible.

2. CHASE UTLEY ... The dirty Dodger’s sinful slide in the NLCS ended the season of Mets SS Ruben Tejada. It was gratifying that the incident ended up fueling the passion that soon helped the Mets end the Dodgers’ season. Utley used to be a great player, but he has been declining for years -- and apparently this kind of douchebaggery is all he has left. Sorry, but those who argue it was just a guy “playing hard” are turkeys, too.

And now, for the 2015 Turkey of the Year, it's nice to return the "honor" to its Chicago roots ...


DERRICK ROSE 

After missing two-thirds of his team's games over the previous four seasons, what was the major topic the Bulls star wanted to discuss as the team opened training camp this year? His health? His excitement about getting back with his teammates? His desire to return to MVP form and lead the Bulls to the NBA title? Not quite. 

"This whole summer I had tunnel vision. My mindset was I was working out every day and spending as much time as possible with my son, making sure my family is financially stable. As far as you see all the money they're passing out in this league -- just telling the truth -- and knowing my day will be coming up soon. It's not for me. It's for P.J. and his future. So that's what I'm thinking about right now." 

It's important to note that Rose had been asked a question about an entirely different subject. Unsolicited, he brought up being a free agent -- something that's still two years away for him.

A reporter asked a follow-up question just to make sure that really was Rose’s main focus.

“Yeah … I’m preparing for it.” 

Hey Derrick, you know what really will help you make even more money than the $100 million-plus your current contract is paying you? 

How about playing most of your team’s games and, you know, actually accomplishing something in the postseason?!?!