Monday, December 1, 2014

Play to win ... and you just might do it!

^
My favorite play of this past NFL weekend was not a spectacular catch or an amazing run. It certainly wasn't either of the TWO punts the Panthers had blocked for touchdowns in their miserable loss at Minnesota.

It was this:

The Packers were leading the Patriots by 5 points with 2:28 to go when New England called its final time-out. Green Bay faced a third-and-4 at its own 43. If the Packers make the first down, it's game over. If they don't, they have to punt.

If Packers coach Mike McCarthy lets Aaron Rodgers attempt a pass and the ball falls incomplete, the clock will stop, giving Tom Brady more than enough time to break Packerland's collective heart.

Most coaches, even those with star QBs, would have run the ball, figuring: "If we get the first down, great. If not, the clock goes all the way to 2 minutes, we punt and they probably have to go more than 80 yards in less than 2 minutes with no time-outs. And they need a TD, not a field goal. It's the smart, safe play. Nobody can second-guess that decision."

McCarthy didn't do that. He trusted the best quarterback in the NFL to complete a pass. Whereas most coaches would have played not to lose, McCarthy played to win. He played with the intention of not letting Brady get his grubby hands on the football again.

Rodgers threw a perfect pass to Randall Cobb for a 7-yard gain. The cameras zoomed to Brady on the New England sideline and showed Mr. Perfect screaming the same four-letter profanity three times.

After the 2 minute warning, Rodgers took a knee three times, and Packerland partied as if it were 1967 (or at least 2011).

+++++++++++++

After a long Thanksgiving break, my Scholars Academy Eagles are back in action this week.

Last season, we lost a total of nine times to four teams. We got revenge against one of those teams in the playoffs, coming back for a thrilling victory against St. Michael's. In our second game this season, we got revenge against the team that beat us three times in 2013-14, thrashing St. Anne's 36-18. Our next two games (Tuesday and Thursday) are against the other two teams that owned us last season, and I'm looking forward to seeing where we stack up.

Unfortunately, our All-Conference center Celeste sprained her ankle during the Thanksgiving break and can't play Tuesday. She will be very difficult to replace, but we are a stronger, deeper team this year and I'll be leaving for practice in a few minutes to prepare the team to play without her.

If we score a monumental upset, it will be because the girls rose to the occasion.

If we don't ... fire the coach!
^

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gobble! Gobble! Time for the Turkeys of the Year!

^
For 16 years now, I've used Thanksgiving week as a time to reflect upon the year's losers and liars, miscreants and maniacs, scammers and sleazeballs, chokers and cheaters, bigots and boobs. There's nothing quite like a holiday tradition, eh kids? So it's time once again for the Turkey of the Year Countdown.

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).

Sharp readers will notice that up until 2009, each of those turkeys did their gobbling in or near Chicago. That's because I worked 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.

So grab a plate, put on your bib and dig in ...

10. LUIS SAUREZ. Channeling his inner Mike Tyson, the Uruguayan soccer star took a bite out of an Italian player during the World Cup. As if that wasn't bad enough, he complained that his request of red wine was denied. I mean, white wine with human shoulder? What an outrage!

9. BARACK OBAMA. I'm not talking politics here. (If I wanted to add a non-sports Turkey to this year's list, it would be Nevada rancher/lawbreaker/racist Cliven Bundy, who went from Fox News hero to douchebagga non grata faster than one can say, "The Negro was better off as a slave.") No, I'm talking about POTUS' sporting side. Obama whiffed on three-fourths of his Final Four picks, and despite earning the monicker "Golfer In Chief," he still has trouble breaking 90. As Michael Jordan says: "He's a hack."

8. DAVE GETTLEMAN. The Carolina Panthers' GM celebrated a rare division title by cutting the best player in franchise history (a still-effective Steve Smith). Gettleman then tried to go cheap on the offensive line, in the defensive backfield, on special teams and in the receiving corps. Surprise, surprise ... the Panthers won't come close to matching last season's 12 victories, but they do still have a decent shot at 12 losses.

7. U.S. RYDER CUP TEAM. Oh wait ... I think the Europeans just won another match.

6. BILLY BEANE. The "Moneyball" mastermind traded Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland's best offensive weapon and clubhouse leader, in a desperate attempt to prove he could run a championship team. The A's completely collapsed, blew a huge division lead, barely held on for a playoff spot and lost to K.C. in the wild-card game. If only Jonah Hill had been around to save Beane from himself.

5. LAMARR HOUSTON. The Bears' lineman suffered a season-ending knee injury while celebrating a sack last month. He was one of two NFL dopes to pull off the trick, joining the Lions' Stephen Tulloch on the DL. At least Tulloch's sack-dance-collapse combo came in the first quarter of a big divisional victory over the Packers. Houston's slick move occurred in the fourth quarter against the Patriots -- with the Bears losing by 25 points. "I probably shouldn't have celebrated while they're blowing us out, but it happens." Yeah ... to narcissistic idiots.

4. ROY WILLIAMS. Ol' Roy wants us to believe he didn't know a dadgum, ding-dong-dilly thang about the fake courses that kept North Carolina's 2005 NCAA title team eligible. Aww shucks ... he cain't believe his freckle-faced lads were steered into "independent study" classes that included no study and no classes. Said Ol' Roy: "Well, Jiminy Cricket, it waren't my fault!"

3. DONALD STERLING. Hey, he's got no problem with coloreds ... as long as they're shining his shoes.

2. ADRIAN PETERSON. How about this for cajones the size of cantaloupes: He beat his 4-year-old son bloody with a wooden switch and then cried about the NFL disciplining him too harshly. Peterson should be jailed for felony child abuse -- or even worse, traded to the Jaguars.

AND NOW ... THE BALDEST TRUTH'S 2014 CO-TURKEYS OF THE YEAR:

RAY RICE 
and 
ROGER GOODELL

Back when I used to do a lot of public speaking and radio shows, I often would get asked if Athlete X or Coach Y was a "good guy" or a "bad guy." I usually would say something like, "He seems nice but we don't really know what kind of person he is when he's not in public," or "He seems like a jerk but he might be a real sweetheart when the lights aren't shining on him." Truth is, I usually didn't know.

I'm pretty sure I know about Ray Rice. A guy who beats the crap out of his fiancee in an elevator and drags her limp body out into the hallway is pretty much by definition a Bad Guy.

I'm glad the Ravens, after initially defending him, bowed to the politically correct police and fired him. I'm glad Rice no longer has a job in the NFL and I hope he never does again. I wish he were behind bars, sharing a cell with Adrian Peterson. Maybe they could each be given a wooden switch and be told to go at each other, Hunger Games style.

The Rice incident set the stage for a crazy year for the NFL. Crazy, as in bad. Several other cases of extreme violence and lawlessness have come to light.

This has thrust Goodell, the NFL commissioner, into the spotlight. He hasn't handled it well.

Hell, the only way he could have handled things worse would have been if he had curled up in a ball in the corner of a room and muttered, "This isn't fair! This isn't fair!" over and over.

First, he barely slapped Rice on the wrist with a laughably soft two-game suspension -- this after giving major punishments to pot-smokers. When a graphic video of Rice's beatdown of his fiancee surfaced, a video that had been dropped off at NFL HQ for Goodell to view, he finally caved in to public pressure and brought down the hammer.

According to an ESPN report, Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome testified having heard Rice tell Goodell that he had hit his fiancee in the elevator. Goodell repeatedly had said details of what had transpired in the elevator were "ambiguous."

Goodell later admitted he "didn't get it right." He often doesn't get it right. His disciplinary process often seems arbitrary. His league's brand has suffered because of it.

Goodell likes to think of himself as the Law And Order Commish. He's the judge, the jury, the executioner and the appellate court judge. I don't know how NFL Players Association leaders can look their constituents in the eyes after recommending a collective-bargaining agreement that gives one man such sweeping, unchecked powers. They would be wise to make it a major -- maybe even THE major -- issue when it comes time for the next CBA.

But I digress.

All year long, the National Felons League has been the butt of jokes ... and Goodell has been the crack of the butt.
^

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thursday: Win-win-win for the Nadels-dels-dels

^
It was a great Thursday for the Nadels.

My beautiful wife aced the exam she took to test out of a psychology prerequisite and now is on target to earn her Bachelor's of Nursing degree in a few weeks. Way to go, Robbie!

She then accompanied me to my season-opening basketball game and witnessed my Scholars Academy Eagles' 29-13 smackdown of our opponent. It was 21-2 at halftime, and after the game the coach of the other team thanked me for calling off our press early in the third quarter. That's me -- Mike the Merciful!

Everybody played, almost everybody scored, my girls played tough and aggressive and hustling basketball -- which is what we have to do to win. It's great to start my second season as a head coach with a victory, and we learned a lot about what we need to do to improve before we take on the defending league champs next week.

After a fantastic meal at one of our favorite Charlotte restaurants, Robbie and I had a nice long telephone conversation with Katie, who was celebrating her 28th birthday. While it's almost impossible to believe I have a 28-year-old kid, I am so proud of what a wonderful person Katie has turned out to be. With her in Seattle and us in Charlotte, that's a lot of miles between us and we miss her all the time, but I think we talk more often with her now than when she was in college not all that far away. Funny how that works. Happy birthday, Katie!

As for Ben, well, I'm guessing he spent Thursday curing Ebola or brokering peace in the Middle East. Not quite as impressive as coaching middle-school girls to a season-opening basketball victory, but not bad.
^


Friday, October 31, 2014

Wacky, wild, weird, wonderful, woeful: What a week it was!

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It's been an interesting week, to say the least ...

Losing With ... Um ... Style?

My old-man softball team, which won the regular-season fall title, lost in the second round of the postseason tournament. It wasn't your run-of-the-mill defeat.

After a hit by our opponent early in the game, our shortstop took the relay and tried to throw the runner out at third, but our third baseman wasn't on the bag. Our shortstop yelled at our third baseman, who took umbrage and yelled back. The two moved closer to each other and jawed for a couple of minutes while players from both teams watched in bemusement. After the inning, the third baseman walked off the field, said, "I've had enough of this shit," and left the ballpark. Amazing.

We didn't play well and trailed 18-10 going into the bottom of the sixth. But we rallied gamely, scoring 5 runs that inning, giving up one run in the top of the seventh and scoring 3 in the bottom of the seventh to pull within 19-18. We had the bases loaded and two outs. Our batter scratched out an infield hit to tie the game, but our runner at second tried to come all the way around to score and was called out on a very close play at the plate. The umpire's emphatic call led to much whining (and more than a little cussing).

So the game went into extra innings ... and we lost. On the final play, our baserunner went into second standing up and made contact with the opposing second baseman. Tempers flared and much shouting ensued. Shortly thereafter, our left fielder -- who earlier in the season had almost brawled with our first baseman -- somehow got into it with the umpire. The two were wrestling like a couple of ancient polar bears; in the process, our left fielder pulled the umpire's shirt over his head, hockey-style.

Yep, we're a bunch of codgers but we still have fire in our ever-expanding bellies!

Losing With Consistency

The Panthers, my adopted team, pulled off the rare feet of losing twice at home within 5 days. In so doing, they went from having a fairly commanding lead in the NFL's worst division to having little chance to repeat as NFC South champs.

The Panthers have never had back-to-back winning seasons. Yes, that's never as in NEVER EVER. And it certainly looks like the streak will continue. The team's decision to go cheap in the defensive backfield, at wide receiver and on the offensive line has created too many weaknesses to overcome.

As is usually the case in sports, a team gets what it deserves.

Love The Ump!

I had an assignment at one field and then had to hustle to a completely different facility to umpire another game. The first game went into extra innings, so I didn't get to the second game until the bottom of the first inning was just ending. They had started the game with one of the dads calling strikes and balls while standing behind the pitcher's mound.

At the end of the inning, I walked onto the field. The coach who saw me first smiled broadly, shook my hand and said something most umpires never hear:

"Thank God you're here!"

Only The Best For The Cubbies

After yet another awful season, the Cubs are ready to hire ex-Rays manager Joe Maddon to finally get them to the promised land. Nobody denies he is the "best manager available."

If I were a cynic -- and we all know I'm not, right? -- I might point out that Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker each unquestionably was the "best manager available" when hired to rule over Cubbieland. If memory serves, the same even was said about Don Baylor and Jim Riggleman.

Yeah, optimists might say, but things will be different this time. The Cubs actually have a management plan. In Theo Epstein, they have a president with a proven track record of building World Series winners.

Oh, that is different. It's not as if Andy MacPhail had ever built a winner before coming to Cubbieland.

All I know is that nobody under the age of 106 ever lost a cent betting against a Cubs championship.

Eagles Are Flying Again

The Scholars Academy Eagles -- the middle-school girls' basketball team I coach -- held our tryouts and our first practice of the season this week.

Our team is deeper, taller, more experienced and, I believe, more talented than we were last season. At our first practice last year, we had trouble making layups. Layups? What am I saying? We had trouble making a single layup! Yesterday, we were making most of them ... and some jumpers, too.

Both the athletic director and executive director (that's right -- charter schools have executive directors, not principals) already have commented how good the team looks. Great. I was just thinking I need a little more pressure in my life!

I think I'll wait until we've played a game or three before I declare us a juggernaut-to-be. We still will be smaller than most opponents, still will have to scrap and fight for every win.

We also still have to show we will have the same kind of chemistry last year's team did.

The first game is Nov. 13 ... and I'm already nervous!

A Giant Among Giants

So many are praising Madison Bumgarner so much that this is where the voice-of-reason in me usually says: "Slow down. He isn't really the best World Series pitcher ever."

But you know what? He might be.

That last relief outing, with Bumgarner pitching 5 shutout innings in the Giants' 3-2 Game 7 win over the Royals ... wow!

When Joe Buck asked after the eighth inning: "How can Bruce Bochy take him out of the game?" I actually screamed at the TV: He can't!

Kudos to Bochy for not thinking he needed to do more managing. It was similar to Ozzie Guillen's understated managing during the White Sox's run to the 2005 title. Ozzie, you'll remember, let four straight starters pitch complete games in the ALCS.

Had Tony La Russa been San Fran's manager, you know damn well that he would have felt compelled to use a half-dozen relievers  -- and not one of them would have been half as good as Madison Bumgarner!

Riding A Writing Hot Streak

I just completed a three-part series for financial site Seeking Alpha about excellent Dividend Growth Investing opportunities. (Read Part 3 here.) The first two parts have combined to draw some 40,000 pageviews and 1,000 comments, and each of the three was designated an "Editors' Pick."

It's almost as if I used to be a writer or something!
^

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Hating my "favorite" college football team

^
What a  decision I had to make Saturday night:

Root for my favorite college football team (which, of course, is whatever team is playing Notre Dame in any given week) ... or root for whichever team was playing against Jameis Winston and other assorted Florida State miscreants (which this week happened to be Notre Dame).

In the end, the notion that Notre Dame could go into college football's new playoff system unbeaten was too much to take, and I had to side with the FSU Felons.

The Seminoles won a very exciting game, so I guess I'm ... um ... happy?
^


Monday, October 6, 2014

Way to bear down, Panthers!

^
Sunday, Robbie and I went to our first Panthers game.


Yep, that's me rockin' the Keyshawn Johnson
jersey I got on eBay for 16 bucks!

We were joined by Ben, who was in town from Chicago to root on his Bears. Ben and I made a bet: If the Panthers win, he would have to wear my Panthers shirt when he "guest coaches" my middle school basketball team at Monday's practice; if the Bears win, I'd wear his shirt to practice.

He'll look good in black and Panthers blue, baby!

For much of the game, it seemed I'd have to wear his "Ditka is God" t-shirt, though, as the Bears took advantage of a bunch of Panthers mistakes to race to a 21-7 lead.

But when Robbie Gould shockingly went wide-right on a 35-yard FG late in the first half and then Cam Newton marched the Panthers downfield for a TD pass to Greg Olsen seconds before halftime, I began to think my adopted team had a chance.

As it turned out, it was just a matter of waiting for the inevitable screw-ups by Jay Cutler & Co. A horribly thrown pass by Cutler with about 6 minutes left was intercepted and led to a FG that tied it at 24. On Chicago's very next offensive play, Matt Forte fumbled and the Panthers recovered. Newton and Olsen connected in the end zone again, and the Panthers had the lead with just over 2 minutes to go.

The Bears' last hope ended with Cutler getting sacked and fumbling. The stadium was rocking, with Panthers fans out-shouting the thousands of Bear backers who showed up.

Up in Section 535, we were surrounded by Bears fans - including the guy in front of me who for some reason decided to wear his Olsen #82 jersey. Really, this yahoo wanted to be reminded about the awful trade that gave away one of the NFL's best tight ends? In an interview last week, Jerry Angelo finally admitted the trade was a bad one.

Thanks, Jerry! No wonder you're now an ex-GM.

I wasn't surprised the Bears imploded - especially Cutler, who has won one playoff game in his entire career and whose job title should read "Coach Killer Extraordinaire." I was a little surprised by the screw-ups of Gould and Forte, two of the few reliable Bears.

I am happy for good-guy Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who spent his entire playing career in Chicago and, as defensive coordinator, helped the Bears reach the 2007 Super Bowl. This season, Rivera has beaten both his former team and Lovie Smith, the now-Bucs coach who inexplicably fired Rivera after the Super Bowl so he could hire his incompetent buddy, Bob Babich. Hey, Rivera was too good for Lovie the Loser, anyway!

While the Bears prepare to fall to sub-mediocrity, "my" Panthers are alone in first place in the NFC South ... at least for a week. The brutal upcoming schedule includes these next three games: at Cinci, at Green Bay and home vs. Seattle.

So playing the Bears at home represented a must-win situation. And thanks in great part to the Bears' largess, win the Panthers did.
^

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

MLB Picks, Least Valuable Players and A Fond Farewell to a South Side Star

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I believe I heard 649 announcers say Derek Jeter's game-winning hit in his final Yankee Stadium at-bat was the "perfect ending" to his career.

Hmmm. I'm pretty sure the perfect ending would have been a World Series-winning hit, but whatever.

And now that we've got Jeter in our rear-view mirror, we can concentrate on a baseball games that actually matter.

TRULY BALD PROGNOSTICATIONS

I will admit that, after being skeptical, the extra wild-card spots have grown on me. Interest in the race was high and the baseball was exciting.

The A's almost suffered a choke of Cubbian proportions but managed to hang on by the length of a Canseco syringe. Oakland genius Moneyball Beane gave up his most feared offensive player (as well as his clubhouse chemistry) to land Jon Lester, and it almost cost the team a playoff spot. Tuesday night, Lester can reward Beane by beating the Royals, who send "Big Game" James Shields to the mound.

It's nice to see K.C. back in the postseason. I was a Yankees fan as a teenager and I still get chills when I see the grainy video of Chris Chambliss' series-winning HR in 1976. Kansas City used to be a great baseball town, so it will be fun to see the ballpark hoppin' on Tuesday.

I'm thinking the Royals will win if Shields can match Lester and let K.C. get into the Oakland bullpen.

Over in the NL, I'm digging Wednesday's San Fran-Pittsburgh matchup. The Pirates have the better team but the Giants send the better pitcher to the mound. Here's another great baseball town of the 1970s that fell on hard times, but it's two straight postseason appearances for the Pirates and I think Andrew McCuthen & Crew will find some way to beat Ross Bumgarner.

After that, however, I don't like the Pirates' chances against the Nationals. Meanwhile, the other NLDS should be a great one, with Clayton Kershaw leading the Dodgers against the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright in Game 1. The only pitching matchup that might turn out better than that one in the entire postseason would be if the two go at it again in Game 5. It seems the Cardinals always find a way, but of course how true is that? I mean, they don't win the pennant every year. Kershaw and Zack Grienke ... that's a lot of pitching to overcome.

I'll go with the Dodgers to beat the Nats in the NLCS, too.

Back to the AL ... I gotta go with the stacked Angels over the A's-Royals winner. The Tigers-Orioles series is compelling given that Detroit has spared no expense in putting together a dream rotation. The Orioles have relative no-names on their staff but also have one heck of a lineup. But how can I pick against all that Detroit pitching - plus Miguel Cabrera, one of the best hitters of this generation? Turns out, I can't.

Tigers vs. Angels in the ALCS: Lots of star power and power pitching and plain ol' power. The Tigers' pitching depth wins out, as long as their bullpen doesn't implode. (Which is no sure thing.)

So that gives us a Dodgers-Tigers World Series. In the olden days, when Kershaw would have been able to pitch three times in the series after only having had to win one or two other playoff games, this would have been an easy choice. That's no longer the case, though, so the best pitcher in baseball most likely will only pitch twice when it matters most. Because of that, I think I'll go with the Tigers. Their offense can get hot and, again, they have so much front-line pitching - especially if Justin Verlander is right.

All of which probably means the Tigers will lose in the ALDS.

BALD AWARD PICKS

MVP: Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout. After a little bit of consternation for a spell, these turn out to be slam dunks. Kershaw had one of the great seasons ever for a pitcher. Trout had a one-month lull but was outstanding the rest of the year. Both helped their SoCal teams overcome big early-season deficits to win their divisions going away. Frankly, I don't think it should be close in either league.

Cy Young: Kershaw - duh. In the AL, Felix Hernandez seems the obvious choice despite peeing down his leg in the season's final week when his team desperately needed him. If I liked any of the other solid candidates enough, I'd give Felix the thumbs-down, but I don't.

Manager: I'm opting for the beltway duo of Matt Williams and Buck Showalter.

Rookie: Jose Abreu is a 27-year-old former Cuban star, so it almost doesn't feel right picking him. But he is eligible, so he's a total no-brainer selection. In comparison, the NL rookie class is so lame that I'm not even going to bother.

LVP! LVP! LVP!: These aren't really the least valuable players in the sense that many others actually had worse seasons. But given their hype and their salaries, it's hard to top Joe Mauer and Ryan Braun. Mauer needed a late surge to get to 50 RBIs and the Twins are stuck for four more years at $23 million per for a mediocre first baseman who can't hit the ball out of the park and doesn't drive in runs. His biggest impact this season was helping get Ron Gardenhire fired. As often happens to juicers, Braun has become injury-prone. And no longer able to take his slugger's little helpers, he hits a lot of warning-track flyballs. Oh, he's also a pathological liar and a convicted douchebag. Pity the Brewers, who are on the hook for well over $100 million more through 2020. Ugh.

FOND FAREWELL TO THE NON-JETER

While my former employer, AP, and so many other media outlets were fawning over Jeter - and, to be fair, they probably should have done exactly that given all he had accomplished - Paul Konerko bowed out relatively quietly.

It was fitting. Konerko, a rock-solid ballplayer and a fine gentleman, never sought the limelight while giving the White Sox everything he had for 16 years.

I had many great conversations with Paul over the years, and I will always appreciate that, in good times and bad, he stood in front of his locker and dealt with media mopes like me.

Konerko was both understated and underrated. He had 439 HR and 1,412 RBI. He had six 100 RBI seasons (plus years with 99 and 97). He also was instrumental in the city of Chicago's only World Series triumph of the last 97 years.  He was named MVP of the 2005 ALCS but immediately (and correctly) said the award should have gone to the pitchers.

In the end, I'm guessing he will have been just good enough to be have been not quite good enough for the Hall of Fame. But he should be proud of his outstanding career, and I am thankful I got to cover his first dozen years on the South Side.
^

Monday, September 15, 2014

I wasn't too distracted to write this

^
"Distraction" is a media invention. A player or team is faced with some kind of off-the-field issue, and, through their line of questioning, writers and broadcasters immediately look to give the player or team an out.

"Coach, are you worried your guys will be distracted by ... "

What a crock.

Yes, it will distract them if they are weak-minded losers. If they are strong-willed winners, however, the situation at hand actually will serve to motivate and unite them.

The Ray Rice drama played out in Baltimore for months, with the three-time Pro Bowl tailback and fiancee abuser finally getting cut one week ago. For the next three days, coaches and players were incessantly asked about how the situation would distract the Ravens on Thursday night, when they were to play the Steelers.

Well, the Ravens crushed the rival Steelers. Rice's replacement, relative unknown Bernard Pierce, rushed for 96 yards.

As the Rice episode unfolded, here in Charlotte folks were concentrating on All-Pro defensive end Greg Hardy, who was convicted by a judge for assaulting his girlfriend. Hardy has appealed and his case eventually will be heard by a jury. Neither the NFL nor the Panthers suspended him because they said they felt they should let the legal course play out.

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson got all choked up as he spoke publicly about his strong stance against domestic violence, but Hardy remained on the active roster for yesterday's game against Detroit. "How much of a distraction is this?" was the most-asked question at team HQ.

Finally, the day of the game, the Panthers decided to deactivate Hardy. They then went out and throttled the Lions, holding one of the NFL's most explosive teams to 7 points. Hardy's replacement, Mario Addison, had 2 1/2 sacks.

The Ravens and Panthers refused to be distracted. They refused to cave in to the perception that they couldn't live without star players. Whether or not one likes the way Ravens and Panthers management handled the situations in the days and weeks leading up to their decisions regarding Rice and Hardy, one has to be impressed with the way players and coaches responded once the ball was kicked off.

As Thomas Davis, one of the Panthers' defensive captains, told the media after the game: "We've got to continue to come to work and do what we're paid to do."

Remember these results the next time your favorite team takes the media's bait and plays the distraction card.
^

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Today's High Five: A wonderful time of the year!

^
Man (and woman), do I love this time of year! So much going on in the wide world of sports - and that's a very welcome distraction with what's going on in the wide world of non-sports.

5. OLD MEN AND THE SEE-I'M-NOT-DECREPIT-YET

My old-dude softball team, the Sons of Pitches, is 4-0 in the fall league after beating the other previously unbeaten team last night.

We not only won, we won by slaughter rule ... and we won with style, baby!

In the top of the second inning, we turned a TRIPLE PLAY. Yep, a triple-freakin-play! Runners on first and second; the batter hits a sinking line drive to right-center; the runners take off, certain they will be scoring on the play; our RCF Wayne makes a running catch; Wayne throws to SS Tom for Out No. 2; Tom fires to 1B Bob for Out No. 3. Yowsa!

We then come up in bottom of the inning and celebrate by scoring the maximum 5 runs, with Pat - our coach, pitcher and Penguin-run-alike - hitting a three-run homer. Way to go, Ron Cey! (Or is it more like Burgess Meredith?)

We have such a fun group of guys it will be sad when the season ends - and our two-year run as a team ends with it. There will be a new draft next spring and our guys will be cast about the league.

But we still have a lot of fun to go this season. It really isn't even fall yet, we're undefeated, and we have a championship to win!

4. CHICAGO'S HOPELESS

The Cubs are in last place, 16 games out. The White Sox are in next-to-last place, 15 1/2 games out. And the Bears found a way to lose their season opener at home to the Bills.

All of which can only mean one thing:

It's September in Chicago!

Fans from my former hometown at least can celebrate that Derrick Rose, who is playing for the U.S. National Team, is experiencing no knee problems.

Yet.

Meanwhile, my Panthers kicked butt and took prisoners in their opener at Tampa Bay, even without the injured Cam Newton.

The Panthers aren't a great team, but I think they're pretty darn good. I don't like talking much about Fantasy Football because people who play it never shut up when they start talking, but if Kelvin Benjamin happens to still be available in your league, you'd be wise to snag him. He's well on his way to being a stud.

3.  PAIN ... AND NOT MUCH GAIN

The last Little League game I umpired, on Sunday, I took a foul ball to my right shoulder. The pain was so intense that I thought the ball must have somehow gotten under or over my chest protector's shoulder-pad attachment. But it hadn't. The ball just was hit hard and caught me in the "perfect" spot.

The next inning, I was hit by a pitch when the left-handed catcher didn't quite reach across his body enough to catch a ball that was barely out of the strike zone. The ball hit me just below the middle knuckle on my left index finger, an area that is now a lovely shade of purple.

And the next inning, a kid fouled one back off my right shoulder - again. The ball got me within an inch of the previous injury, and I was seeing stars for a few seconds. Ever the trooper, I shook it off and continued. That's why I get the big bucks.

I guess all that punishment was payback for joking around after I had taken a relatively innocuous shot off my shin guard in the first inning. A coach asked if I was OK, and I responded:

"I'm fine. My wife hits me harder than that!"

2. AND SPEAKING OF RAY RICE ...

Why is being fired by the Ravens and suspended the NFL an appropriate punishment for treating a woman like a punching bag?

Why isn't this guy in jail?

OK, I know why he isn't in jail. He is rich enough to afford a good lawyer. That being said, Rice clearly is a bad human being, he can't control his temper, he is super strong, and he almost surely is armed. You can't convince me he is not a threat to society.

Those who know me well know that I'm a softy - and a big believer in second chances. But this criminal should have to sit in a small cell for at least a few months before he gets his second chance.

1. VALUE = VICTORY

The NFL season is underway. So is the college football season, and now that there's an actual playoff system waiting at the end, I might even watch a few games. Tennis just played its U.S. Open and golf's Ryder Cup is just around the corner. Soon enough, NHL teams will report to training camp, NBA teams will do likewise and college basketball teams will hold their Midnight Madness sessions. And in soccer "friendlies" all around the world, guys with one name are pretending they were shot in an attempt to draw penalties against opponents who didn't touch them.

Things are so sportarific in September, and baseball is the sportarificest of all.

One of the things I miss most about Chicago is that I no longer live in a town with big-league baseball (or whatever it is that the Cubs and White Sox claim to play). With the Internet, ESPN and the MLB Network, I can keep up with the game pretty well, but it isn't quite the same as having not just one but two teams right in the city.

I have been enjoying the division and wild-card races, but mostly I have been thinking about the MVP awards in each league.

In the AL, the best offensive player has been White Sox rookie Jose Abreu, who came from Cuba and started hitting the second he set foot in Comiskular Park. But you know what? If I had a ballot this season, he wouldn't even be one of the first five guys I'd vote for. He might not even be in my top 10.

For me, an MVP candidate has to be on a team that at least contends for a postseason berth. He has to have come through in games that have meaning - either early- and mid-season games that have helped his team to a big division lead, or late-season games that have given his team a chance at the playoffs.

How can Abreu be the Most Valuable Player in his league if his team hasn't played a game "of value" since May? Yes, he has value to the White Sox. Yes, he deserves Rookie of the Year in a runaway. MVP of the entire league? Please.

Mike Trout seemed a lock for the award at midseason but he slumped pretty badly in August. Still, he leads the league in RBIs, he has helped his Angels roll past the once-dominant A's while compiling the league's best record, and he is dynamic both in the field and on the bases. He's still the choice over Detroit's Miguel Cabrera and Baltimore's Nelson Cruz.

Things are even more interesting in the NL, where the absence of a hitting superstar on any winning team has put a pitcher atop the MVP heap.

And what a pitcher. Clayton Kershaw has had several outstanding years, and he's now having one for the ages: 18-3 with a 1.67 ERA. He is in Koufax/Gibson territory, and he is the main reason the Dodgers overcame a slow start - Kershaw missed April and it took him most of May to shake off the rust - to surge past the Giants in the NL West.

Valid arguments can be made that a pitcher who makes 30 starts shouldn't win an MVP award ahead of everyday ballplayers, but Kershaw has been so dominant and has so obviously lifted the Dodgers, that he is an example of why it should be rare but possible.

For stat-heads who like advanced metrics, Kershaw leads all MLB players in Wins Above Replacement, and the guy in second (somewhat surprisingly, Oakland's Josh Donaldson) isn't very close behind.

The Marlins don't even have a .500 record and they are only on the fringes of the wild-card race, but if they can make a legitimate push over the last couple of weeks, Giancarlo "Don't Call Me Mike" Stanton could make it a two-man MVP race. Stanton leads the league in HR and RBI and he's a great all-around player. He's put up his numbers not in a Rockies-style thin-air-aided bandbox but in Miami's spacious, pitcher-friendly ballpark. Very impressive.

Stanton's best chance is if the Marlins make a big move in the next two weeks and if Kershaw loses some votes to teammate Adrian Gonzalez, who has been hot of late and is right behind Stanton in the RBI race. I suppose Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen could go wild down the stretch and steal the award, but I don't see it happening.

Right now, Kershaw is a pretty easy choice for MVP, Cy Young and, hell, let's make him governor of California, too. Jerry Brown can't have more than another decade or three in office, right?
^

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hey Tiger: Hire me as swing coach!

Tiger Woods
Former Majors Champion
The Woods Compound
Orlando, Fla.

Dear Mr. Woods:

It has come to my attention that you need a new swing coach (again), and I am sure I would be perfect for the job. Here is my resume:

1985 -- Underwent back surgery to repair a herniated disc. After that, my golf game only improved over the years ... to the point where I often break 100 on public courses now. I'm sure I could improve your game every bit as much as you deal with a bad back.

1996 – Demonstrated great motivational technique while on a Michigan golf junket with former Copley columnist Gene Seymour.

Gene (standing over 3-foot birdie putt): This is just like the one I missed yesterday.

Me: That’s a great thought to put in your mind. Just shut up and make the putt. (He did!)

1997 -- Covered the Western Open at Cog Hill, and my mere presence inside the ropes obviously inspired you to victory.

1998 – Became a columnist and took advantage of the spare time I suddenly had to revamp my swing, turning my fade into a draw. OK, so it really was turning a banana slice into a duck hook, but it still showed an openness to explore different styles. That fall at Mistwood, I used my new form to make 7 pars in an 11-hole stretch, as witnessed by Tim Cronin. You, too, could enjoy that kind of consistency.

1999 – Made a downhill 25-footer to birdie Medinah No. 3’s famed second hole on PGA Championship media day. Had the ball not gone into the cup, it probably would have ended up in the lake. Later parred 12 and 17 - all part of my nifty 101. You have to admit, not many pros are capable of shooting a 101.

2000-08 – Regularly contended for third place in weekly golf games organized by myself, Phil Arvia and Teddy Greenstein. As a bonus, I got to drive back to Chicago in rush hour. Those 2-hour slogs built my character and proved my resolve.

2000 – Birdied consecutive holes at The Merit Club during U.S. Women’s Open media day. Given that I didn’t make anything better than a bogey on the other 16 holes, this showed my ability to rise to the occasion.

2001 – Playing the 16th hole at Mill Creek Golf Club in Geneva, Ill., with three fellow golfers on the tee box and four more standing near the green, I yanked my tee shot into the water. I then re-teed and hit a big hook that landed on the far right side of the green, bounced several times and went into the cup on the left side of the green for that rarest of shots: a hole-in-3! Although one of my playing partners, Gene Chamberlain, carded a birdie - meaning I didn't even have honors on the next hole - this demonstrated my ability to respond to adversity.

2003 -- Beat Nick "Woosie" Pietruszkiewicz by a stroke on the front 9 at Buffalo Grove Golf Club. So what if he beat my by 13 strokes on the back 9? I showed that for a couple of hours, if I'm playing my best, I can outplay a good golfer playing his worst.

2005 -- Playing Pelican Point in Gonzalez, La., the day after a Bears-Saints game - and less than three months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans - I scored an 81, my personal best for a "grown-up" course. I started with four 6's but then went par or better on 10 of the next 12 holes. The stretch included a career-high six straight pars. It also included a chip-in birdie; those familiar with my short game might argue that was rarer than my hole-in 3 back in '01. Even though I finished bogey-bogey to ruin my bid to break 80, I don't know how you or any pro could look at such an achievement and fail to be impressed.

2006 -- Birdied No. 18 at River Oaks (a.k.a. Fuddruckers National) to win several dollars - more than 1, less than 10 - off of Arvia and Greenstein. I know you like to gamble when you play, and I definitely will give you a run for your money ... if you give me enough strokes ... 18 per side should do it ... or maybe 24.

2007 -- Played 108 holes in 72 hours in Michigan with Tony Pellikan and Tom Chodzko. Talk about toughness and resilience!

2009 -- On consecutive days while golfing in Phoenix, I saw a coyote, a roadrunner and Alice Cooper. You, too, could benefit from my keen powers of observation.

2010 – Following my move from Chicago to Charlotte, I began a three-year stint working in customer service at country clubs - first River Hills, then Ballantyne.

During this time, I practiced hard to get rid of my trademark draw/hook. Now, I have no idea which direction the ball will go once it leaves my club, which speaks to my spontaneity and sense of humor.

I also routinely gave playing tips to members and their kids, the most effective being: “If you want to be any good at all, watch me and then do things the exact opposite way.”

2011 -- Started drinking beer again, a must when dealing with the likes of you.

2012 – After cutting the corner with a long drive and dropping a 5-iron within 2 ½ feet, I made the putt to eagle the 490-yard 11th hole at Ballantyne CC. This tale of my only career eagle surely would inspire any golfer to greatness, so I will be happy to recount my heroics weekly. Or even daily, if you insist.

2014 – Stopped working at Ballantyne CC to concentrate on landing a job as your swing coach because I knew it would be only a matter of time before you blamed Sean Foley for your problems.

So how about it, Mr. Woods … hire me, employ my proven What Not To Do swing techniques, and start winning majors again!

Sincerely,

Mike