Monday, January 26, 2015

Ex-Cubbie Ted Lilly... A Felon?

Ted Lilly made more than $80 million during his 15-year MLB career. Nevertheless, rather than reach into petty cash to repair his damaged RV last year, the former Cubbie left-hander allegedly tried to scam Progressive Insurance Co. out of $4,600.

As detailed here, Lilly has been charged in California with three felonies: filing a false insurance claim, filing a false statement in connection with an insurance claim, and concealing a material fact in connection with an insurance claim. He faces a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison -- which would be even worse than his 3 1/2-year sentence in Cubbieland.

No matter how the case turns out, however, Theodore Roosevelt Lilly will not be remembered for this. Not by me, anyway.

On Oct. 4, 2007, in the second inning of Game 2 of the NLDS, Lilly gave up a three-run homer to Arizona's Chris Young. As the ball cleared the fence, Lilly ripped off his glove, spun around on the mound and whipped his mitt to the ground. It was a classic Tanner move from The Bad News Bears.

Sitting in the press box on that warm Phoenix night, I laughed my arse off. And every time they showed the replay, I laughed harder.

It was funny and goofy and dopey and oh-so-Cubbie.

The Cubs went on to lose that game and get swept in the series. They won the division the following season but got swept out of the playoffs again, this time by the Dodgers. They haven't been to the postseason since, and Lilly was traded midway through the 2010 season.

And now, Ted Lilly is accused of being a felon.

Apparently, it isn't any easier to sneak a bogus claim past the folks at Progressive than it was to sneak a mediocre fastball past Chris Young.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Today's Top 10 - NFL Edition ... Plus A Dad-In-Law Update ... Plus My Next Big Game

10. Was that the Genius Bill Belichick leaving Tom Brady in to get clobbered by a Colts pass-rusher while trying to throw a deep TD pass with 6 minutes to go in a 45-7 game?

I never root for guys to get hurt, and I actually really like Brady, but if ever a coach deserved a negative fate, it is that cheatin' jerk Belichick.

Makes it even easier to root for Seattle in the Super Bowl.

9. The Seahawks couldn't have played much worse, especially on offense, in the first 55 minutes of the game. But they sure knew how to capitalize the 10th time the Packers all but begged them to steal it.

Champions find a way to win even when they suck.

8. Early 2015 Turkey of the Year candidate: Brandon Bostick.

The backup Packers tight end was supposed to block so that Jordy Nelson could field the onside kick. Instead, Bostick tried to make the play only to have the ball go through his Crisco-covered hands and into the waiting arms of Seattle's Chris Matthews.

Paraphrasing the amazing words once uttered by former Twins great Gary Gaetti:

"It's hard to catch the football when you have both hands wrapped around your throat."

7. As bad as Bostick's play was, the Packers still might have won had they knocked down the highest-thrown 2-point conversion pass in NFL history ... and/or had they managed the clock better after taking possession with 1:19 left in regulation and all three time-outs.

I guess Pack coach Mike McCarthy was saving his last two time-outs for next season.

6. Some pretty horrific playoff performances by elite QBs Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton and Joe Flacco.

Russell Wilson was no great shakes, either, but at least he came through with the game on the line.

5. New Bears coach John Fox missed out on the Jay Cutler Denver Experience so now he'll get to enjoy the Jay Cutler Chicago Experience.

Hey, Fox got to a Super Bowl with Jake Delhomme and won a playoff game with Tim Tebow, so could Cutler be any worse?

Never mind. I won't answer that question.

4. Brady might already be the greatest QB ever. But if the Patriots win this Super Bowl, there isn't a shred of doubt in my mind. Of course, I said that each of the last two times he got to the big game, too.

At least he doesn't have to face the Giants this time.

3. Seahawks fans are so self-important, crowning themselves as the best in the world. Well, the best fans in the world don't leave a winnable game in the closing minutes.

I'm glad those "12th Man" dopes missed one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history.

2. I hope injured Seahawks DBs Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman can play near peak ability in the Super Bowl because I always want both teams to be as healthy as possible.

Brady vs. the Seattle secondary figures to be an epic battle.

1. How ridiculous that Ohio State tailback (and future NFL star) Zeke Elliott can't go pro because he's only been at college for two years.

Yeah, let's make an NFL-ready kid who already has reached the pinnacle of college football go back out there and take 250-300 handoffs -- and crunching hits -- for free. What a system.


And in non-football news ...

Two weeks in, my father-in-law Frank and I are getting on just fine. We just got back from Aldi -- or as he hilariously calls it, "Aldis" -- where he insisted upon buying 4 yogurts even though he hadn't touched the 3 yogurts he wanted last week.

On Saturday, Robbie had "The Talk" with him, telling him we want and expect him to stay with us for the foreseeable future. She had spoken with his Chicago-area doctor a couple of days earlier and the doctor agreed Frank can no longer drive or live on his own.

He of course wanted to know what was going to happen to all of his stuff -- his townhouse, his two cars (including the one we drove from Chicago to N.C.) and the 700 tons of mostly useless crap he has accumulated over the years. We told him we're not worrying about that immediately.

He has been amazed at all the things I can do on the computer, especially being able to pay his bills without having to write a check, stick it in an envelope, lick a stamp and send it via snail mail. He also has been amazed by my grocery-shopping acumen.

"You only paid 2 bucks for all that?"

Mostly, he has accompanied me here, there and everywhere ... as if he were the octogenarian sidekick in some kind of buddy sitcom.

For one thing, he has gone with me to every basketball game AND practice. At practice, he just sits in the corner and minds his own business. Probably just enjoys being out of the house and surrounded by activity.


And speaking of my team ...

My Scholars Academy Eagles play our biggest game so far this season Tuesday when we meet the "1" in our 10-1 record: Back Creek Christian.

We obviously want to win -- the girls are super-stoked to avenge our only defeat, and I have put in a few new wrinkles -- but the fact is that whether we win or lose, it is highly likely that we will be playing Back Creek again in the championship game a month from now.

So I need to find the right words to let the girls know that a victory guarantees us nothing and a loss doesn't ruin our season in any way.

Hmmm ... those are pretty good words right there, aren't they?

Go Eagles!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Busy start to what figures to be an interesting, funky and hopefully fun-filled year

If the first week of January was any indication of how the next 51 are going to go, 2015 is gonna be a pretty eventful year.

It started out with Robbie and me arriving home from our Chicago visit, accompanied by her dad, Frank. He is going to be staying with us for, as we told him, "a few weeks." Now, I'm not saying yet that he'll never go back to Chicago to live by himself, but let's put it this way: We had his mail forwarded to us here in N.C., we turned off his cable service, we cleaned all the expired foodstuffs out of his fridge and cabinets (meaning pretty much nothing is left), etc, etc. You get the idea.

Frank is almost 89 years old and is in amazing physical health, but he no longer can live by himself. So it's either us or an assisted-care facility, and we're trying to make this work for at least a spell. We'll see how it goes.

By the way, I'm not too worried about him reading this given that he has never used a computer.


Last Saturday, my new(ish) hometown faves, the Carolina Panthers, scored a resounding playoff victory over the Arizona Cardinals. We went to a sports bar to take in the game with like-minded fans and it was a lot of fun watching Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly and the rest of our boyz hold the Cardinals to the lowest yardage total in NFL postseason history.

It should be a similarly festive scene this Saturday night when the Panthers take on the Seahawks ... although I'd like "our" chances a lot better if the defending champs would play their third-string QB the way Arizona had to!

Seriously, though, the Seahawks and Panthers tend to play close, low-scoring games, so an upset isn't out of the question if Cam Newton takes care of the football and the D bottles up Russell Wilson.

Two pretty big ifs, I admit.


Meanwhile, my Scholars Academy Eagles went directly from Xmas break to a game on the very first day back to school. We started horribly, fell behind St. Anne's immediately and still trailed 21-10 early in the fourth quarter.

For those unfamiliar with middle-school girls basketball, an 11-point lead with a few minutes to go is the equivalent of a 30-point lead in men's college basketball. In other words, it usually is money in the bank. The girls stayed after it, though, and we whittled into the lead. We turned up the heat on our press, and the shots we had been missing all game suddenly started falling. A layup from Margaret here, a short jumper from Sienna there, a 3-pointer from Ritika here, two free throws from Ruta there. All of a sudden, it's a 2-point game and there's still 2 minutes on the clock.

The St. Anne's coach called time-out and I spent the minute reminding our girls to stay calm and to just keep playing the great basketball they'd been playing the previous several minutes. And how 'bout this for crazy ... they actually listened!

It was 23-23 with 15 seconds left when Olivia, Margaret and Sienna teamed to break St. Anne's press. Eventually, we got the ball to Ruta for the winning layup with 3 seconds to go. Wow! It was the best quarter of basketball in my 2 years as coach, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

The next day, we played again. This time, we rolled to a 51-6 victory in a game we could have won by 100 if I hadn't called off our press in the second quarter. Hey, I'm nothing if not compassionate.

We're now 8-1 at the season's midway point, and that's one more win than we had all last year.

Pretty exciting stuff for a school with zero basketball tradition -- other than the tradition we're building right now!


I also had my 50th personal finance article published on Seeking Alpha.

My previous piece has garnerned more than 54,000 pageviews and 900 comments. To provide a little perspective, anything receiving more than 10,000 views is pretty darn good, and 100 comments is a lot. That article and a few other popular pieces before it helped me to my best quarter of freelance earnings since I started with Seeking Alpha about 2 1/2 years ago.

I didn't expect my latest article to approach that level ... and it hasn't. But it did give me the opportunity to unveil the new logo I designed, so check it out!


Oh, and here's one other cool thing: Robbie was the featured employee on the Levine Children's Hospital Facebook page this week.

So now she's famous for something other than being my Sugar Mama!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My Hall of Fame ballot ... and my new steroid policy

When I sat down to fill out my annual Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, I knew one thing for certain:

The 10th box I checked next to an ex-ballplayer's name would be merely a symbolic choice.

Each Baseball Writers Association of America voter can make only 10 selections in a given year ... and I have a better chance of shooting a 72 at Pebble Beach than any player I considered for that final choice has of getting into the Hall.

So it came down to this:

Do I vote for a guy who had a very good career and was considered a credit to the game, or do I vote for a guy who I'm pretty sure cheated? Or do I just stop at 9? (Voters don't have to vote for 10. Heck, we don't have to choose anybody, and several of my peers turn in blank ballots every year.)

Why do I know my vote won't really matter? Because after the top few candidates, none will come close to getting support from 75% of the BBWAA electorate. It's kind of like voting for the Libertarian or Green Party candidate -- you know he or she has no chance of winning, so you do it because it feels good or to make a statement.

My choices came down to Barry Bonds, who was convicted of obstruction of justice in connection with his long-time steroid use; Roger Clemens, who was named as a steroid cheat in the Mitchell Report but was found innocent of lying to Congress about his juicing; and Alan Trammell, a good guy and good player who helped usher in the modern era of offensive-minded shortstops.

Unlike some of my colleagues, I will consider Bonds and Clemens because I firmly believe they were Hall of Fame players even before they allegedly began juicing. However, in the absence of firm Steroid Era guidance from the Hall or the BBWAA, I recently established my own policy:

++ If a player is the subject of completely unsubstantiated rumors (think Frank Thomas, who some thought "must be on steroids because he's so big"), I will tune out the noise and consider him as early as his first year on the ballot.

++ If a player is the subject of steroid whispers that conceivably might have merit (think Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza), I will not consider him as a first-ballot candidate to see if any new information gets fleshed out. If, after a year of additional scrutiny no new information is presented, I will consider him beginning in his second year on the ballot.

++ 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.

++ If I am convinced that a player could not have compiled the stats that made him seem Hall-worthy without him having been a rampant juicer (think Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa), I will not vote for him.

So, under my steroid policy, Bonds and Clemens are ineligible for my serious consideration until I fill out my ballot two years from now.

That left me to decide between Trammell or no 10th choice at all.

I decided to go with Trammell. I know him, I like him and I respect the way he went to work day after day, month after month, season after season. He was a fine fielder whose bat had some pop, kind of a poor man's Cal Ripken Jr. He was the face of the Tigers franchise for 20 years. And he was the 1984 World Series MVP.

Let the record show that I have not voted for him in the past, and I'll say right now that I might not vote for him again next year, which will be his final turn on the ballot. I also will say that I could have voted for any number of other fine ex-ballplayers here, including Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Lee Smith, Jermaine Dye and Larry Walker. Like Trammell, none of them ever will get to 75%, either.

And so, here are the 10 players who received my check marks:

Jeff Bagwell

Craig Biggio

Randy Johnson

Pedro Martinez

Mike Mussina

Mike Piazza

Tim Raines

Curt Schilling

John Smoltz

Alan Trammell

Bagwell, Biggio, Mussina, Piazza, Raines and Schilling were holdovers from last year. Details about why I chose them can be found in my post from Dec. 24, 2013.

As for the three newbies -- Big Unit, Pedro and Smoltz -- I consider them to be such no-brainers that I don't feel it's necessary to justify selecting them. I can't imagine why any voter would leave any of them off his/her ballot.


In a related subject ...

One of my best friends in the business -- actually, like me, he is now out of the business -- decided not to cast a vote this year because he no longer felt he was qualified. I'm not going to name him because he didn't give me permission to do so. His reasoning, and I'm paraphrasing here, is that back when he was an active member of the media, he thought some voters who had become ex-sportswriters grew out of touch, and now he feared he would be that voter.

My response to him was that he would be that voter only if he let himself be that voter.

Speaking for myself, I still follow baseball closely and I still care about who gets into the Hall of Fame. In some ways, I can follow the game better now because I'm not almost exclusively watching Cubs and White Sox games.

Moreover, the guys who are coming up for vote now are the very players I witnessed first-hand during the prime of my career. I was there when John Smoltz dueled Jack Morris in the Game 7 of the the best World Series I've ever seen. I admired the brilliance of Pedro Martinez and the consistency of Craig Biggio. I didn't need to see the Big Unit in person to know he was a Hall of Famer ... but it didn't hurt.

Maybe, one day, I will feel I am too removed from the game to be an effective voter, but that day is a long way away.

I enjoy being part of what I consider a very effective process for choosing Hall of Famers. I take it seriously. And, frankly, I do a pretty darn good job.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

You hereby have permission to watch bowl games

I was looking for an old Copley Newspapers column I had written about Illinois basketball when I stumbled upon a 2004 rip-job I did on the Bowl Championship Series.

Back then, I vowed not to watch one second of any bowl game, including the mythical national championship game between USC and Oklahoma.

"The evening of Jan. 4, I will go to a high school basketball game, take my wife to a movie, play board games with my kids -- anything but watch a sham title game. I have been in this business for 22 years and have been a fan a lot longer than that, and I'm still waiting to hear one good reason why Division I-A football should be the only NCAA sport lacking an equitable way to crown a champion. And it's not just the title game. The entire system is a mess. A joke. A billion-dollar sham."

I concluded my diatribe with this:

"Don't watch bowls. Don't buy products sold by bowl sponsors. Show the sham artists exactly what you think by giving them the attention they deserve: none."

And with that, my Bowl Boycott began.

I'm not sure how many readers joined the boycott. Though a few claimed they would follow my lead, I know it's quite possible that not a single one did. But I was true to my word: For 10 years, I did not watch one minute of one bowl game. And I felt darn good about it.

Fast-forward a decade and here we are ... less than two weeks away from the start of the very first major-college football playoff. On New Year's Day, Oregon will meet Florida State in one semifinal at the Rose Bowl, followed by Alabama vs. Ohio State in the other semifinal at the Sugar Bowl. Eleven nights later, the winners will meet for the national title at the Dallas Cowboys' 100,000-seat Shrine To Wretched Excess.

We heard for more than a decade about how a legitimate playoff would ruin the regular season, undermine conference races and render league championships meaningless. We heard blather about "student-athletes" having to play too many games and about fans not being willing to travel for playoff contests. We heard that a legitimate championship would gut the entire bowl structure.

Not one of those excuses rang true at the time, and not one proved true in the end.

All the introduction of the playoff system did was make the regular season even MORE meaningful and make college football better than ever.

I still won't watch most of the three dozen bowl games that are little more than exhibitions. Really, unless one is a fan of North Carolina State or Central Florida, why would one watch the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl? Why, why, why?

But although I might not watch every minute of all three playoff games, I certainly will watch many minutes of each -- as will millions and millions and millions of others.

I'd have preferred an eight-team playoff, and I'm pretty sure there will be one down the line. Still, this four-team event is a darn good start.

Come Jan. 12, we will have the first-ever real (non-mythical), major-college football champion. Finally!

So from me to the rest of America, all I can say is ...

You're welcome!


Crazy as it seems, the Carolina Panthers, at 6-8-1, can make the playoffs by winning in Atlanta next Sunday. As a big-time Panthers fan, I actually thought for a second about going to the game, but I would have had to postpone my Chicago trip to do so.

Instead, I have put Ben in charge of finding a Chicago bar where we can watch the Panthers-Falcons game -- and, simultaneously, can watch that day's Marquette-Morgan State game (a.k.a "Most Definitely Not The Big One").

As tempting as it might be, meanwhile, I don't have great interest in watching Jimmy Clausen's second start for the mighty Bears against the mighty Vikings. Yeah ... I know ... it takes willpower to avoid that one.


My Scholars Academy Eagles won our last game before Xmas break by a 48-2 score. That's right:48-2! (As my son asked: "Hey, what happened to the shutout?")

The victory sent us into our nearly three-week layoff with a 6-1 record.

One thing I really love about my team is the camaraderie -- the girls genuinely like each other, pull for each other and pick each other up. We have more talent and depth than last year's team while still playing with our trademark aggressiveness and "want-to" attitude. These girls are winners.

The Eagles will be a force to be reckoned with in the second half of the season!


My latest article for the financial Web site -- It's New! It's Nifty! It's The Dividend Growth 50! -- has been incredibly well-received.

As I write this, it has 35,432 page views and 766 comments. Both are by far all-time highs for me.

Five of my last seven articles have been designated as "Editors' Picks," helping bring in a total of 3,273 followers.

Jeesh ... you'd almost think I was a writer or something!

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.



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!

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?