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

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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?!?!



Thursday, November 26, 2015

What a week!

^
Sunday, Nov. 22: While visiting our close friends Elizabeth and James in Easton, Pa., Robbie and I watched our undefeated Panthers crush the Scalping Savages of Washington.

Monday, Nov. 23: We traveled to Brooklyn's Barclay Center to watch our Marquette Warrior Eagles pull off a thrilling 81-80 upset of freshman sensation Ben Simmons and the LSU Tigers in the semifinals of the Legends Classic.

Tuesday, Nov. 24: After visiting the 9/11 Memorial Museum in lower Manhattan -- an incredible, interesting and sobering place -- Robbie and I watched Marquette rally to win the Legends championship with an overtime win over Arizona State. MU's own sensational freshman, Henry Ellenson, was tournament MVP.

Thursday, Nov. 26: Visiting my brother Al, his wife Sandy and her family for Thanksgiving in Philly, we watched the Panthers improve to 11-0 by destroying the Cowgirls in Dallas. Amazingly, the often-disrespected Panthers were 1 1/2-point underdogs in this game.

And that's how we spent our perfect sports week!

+++

In my previous post, I promised my Turkey of the Year countdown. Well, as you can see, I've been a little busy! It will be delivered soon as Thanksgiving "dessert."

So the tens of you will have to wait!
^



Thursday, November 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

Did I mention the Panthers were 9-0?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guys who also happen to be white.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And if they do, I plan to dance!

+++

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

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

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

+++

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

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

+++

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

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

Monday, October 12, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dark comedian Lenny Bruce (RIP)

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

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

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

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

Kelly Preston, Jerry Maguire's squeeze.

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

Sammy Hagar -- The Red Rocker.

Margaret Thatcher -- The Iron Lady. (RIP)

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

"Foolish" songstress Ashanti.

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

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

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

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

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

---

And in other less-important news ...

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

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

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

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