Saturday, January 31, 2009

A prediction, and other Super Bowl observations

The Bald Truth

If you're wondering why I haven't posted for a few days (and even if you're not wondering), it's because I'm in Phoenix for a little R&R. As Blago would say, being unemployed can be exhausting!

Anyway, as a detached, objective observer, it's been fun - and more than a little strange - watching Arizona Cardinals fans behave.

Yes, Cardinal Fever has swept across the valley like so many tumbleweeds, but it's hard to take it too seriously. The guy driving in front of me in the Chevy Suburban - a road behemoth that was decked out in Cardinals red and featured no fewer than a half-dozen Cardinals flags - almost surely was not so feverish about his heroes just a few months ago.

The fans here aren't much like Steelers fans (or Bears fans, Eagles fans, Giants fans, etc., etc., etc.). Fans of those teams had little choice. Their fathers and grandmothers and uncles and older sisters worshipped those teams, so they simply had to worship them, too. Through good times and bad, they were Steelers fans (and Bears fans, Eagles fans, Giants fans, etc.) ... period.

Cardinals fans? Most grew up in other parts of the country rooting for other teams. And most kept rooting for their favorite teams after moving to the Valley of the Sun - all but ignoring Bill Bidwell's unlovable losers.

Indeed, fans here had Cardinal Fever only in the sense that they were sick of having to watch that awful team Sunday after Sunday, season after season, when they would have rather been watching their Jets or their Packers or - gulp! - even their Bengals.

This is just a generalization, of course, because I'm sure there are some diehard fans of Arizona's pro football franchise. Just not many.

Now, well, the bandwagon overfloweth.

Perfect weather and a Super Bowl team for a bunch of Cardinal Come Lately fans? Somehow, it just doesn't seem fair.

Scrawl-Line Cubbie Blues

About 1,000 times a day, ESPN runs a little bottom-of-the-screen line stating that the Cardinals franchise's 61-year championship drought is the second-longest in major professional sports.

The Balder Truth

I was dead-wrong about Kurt Warner.

Several years ago, when the Bears were looking for a QB to back up future star Rex Grossman, I wrote that Warner would be the wrong choice. He was too old. He seemed washed up. His wife, Brenda, was a bit of a pain in the posterior. He wanted to compete for the starting job and it would do the Bears no good to stunt Grossman's growth as a QB.

Blah blah blah. I had reasons galore ... and, in retrospect, pretty much every one of them was foolish.

My only solace: I wasn't alone. Bears honchos Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith, who were paid slightly more than I was to be right about such things, also gave Warner the big thumbs-down. Warner was rejected by numerous other GMs and coaches, too.

What a bunch of dopes all of us were.


So now here it is ... prediction time.

I really, really want to pick the Cardinals because they are such a cool story. You have Warner, one of the NFL's all-time underdogs. You have a defense that came out of nowhere to become formidable. You have dozens of players who are anonymous to fans outside of Arizona (and, methinks, to quite a few fans in Arizona). You have Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin; it's pretty easy to envision those world-class receivers dancing repeatedly in the end zone.

Plus, there's the whattayagottolose factor. If I pick the Cardinals and they win, wow, what a great upset call. And if they lose, hey, it was worth a try.

Having said all that ...

I can see the Steelers' defense making life absolutely miserable for Warner, smothering him, taking away his passing lanes, roughing up those star receivers, making the Cardinals one-dimensional by completely shutting down the running game.

I also can see Willie Parker running wild against the Arizona D and, as a result, Ben Roethlisberger connecting on game-changing deep passes.

From top to bottom, the Steelers are the better, more experienced, more fundamentally sound team. They are far and away the better defensive team, and defense wins championships, right? As romantic as it is to say "Anything can happen" - the Cardinals' presence in Tampa is evidence of that - the best team usually does prevail on the biggest stage.

And so ...

Steelers 27, Cardinals 17.

Go ahead, Kurt Warner. Prove me (and about a zillion others) wrong one more time.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tiger & The Pussycats

Since Tiger Woods last touched a golf club in competition, there have been two majors, two dozen PGA Tour events, the Ryder Cup and the tour's so-called "playoffs."

Nevertheless, looking at the World Golf Rankings, one wouldn't even know Mr. Wounded Knee has been out of commission since last June.

Tiger's rankings average is 10.75. In second place: Sergio Garcia at 7.95.  There's a bigger spread between Woods and Garcia than there is between No. 5 Vijay Singh and No. 17 Stewart Cink ... but that's not even the craziest stat

The spread between Woods and the world's No. 6 golfer (Geoff Ogilvy) is greater than the margin separating Ogilvy and No. 1,382 Pablo Abumohor.

That's right: THE Pablo Abumohor.

The NFL doesn't "need" Peyton Manning and Brian Urlacher. MLB doesn't "need" Albert Pujols and CC Sabathia. The NBA doesn't "need" LeBron and Kobe. The NHL doesn't "need" Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby

Sure, those leagues benefit greatly from the popularity and skills of those players, but it's not the same kind of relationship the PGA Tour has with Tiger Woods. 

The tour needs Tiger more than he needs them, and that knowledge can't make PGA honchos feel very comfortable at all.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bowling you over with Super story lines

The List

Angles, angles, angles. The media - from Internet bloggers to MTV airheads and from radio yakkers to good old-fashioned newspaper types (yes, there are a few left) - will be offering up every possible Super Bowl angle from Tampa this week. 

Or will they?

The top five Super Bowl story angles that probably never will surface:

1. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will reveal that next year's Super Bowl, originally scheduled to be played in Miami, instead will take place at Wrigley Field - where everything (even hockey) is magical (except the Cubs).

2. The most popular interview subject at Tuesday's media day will be Jesus, who will explain he has no time to deal with disease, famine, war, genocide, dirty governors and other inconsequential stuff because he's too busy taking care of Kurt Warner.

3. Displaying his altruistic side, Edgerrin James will take his once-famous gold teeth out of storage, turn them in for cash and use the money to feed 12,000 needy Phoenix-area families.

4. Deciding to settle the "who's the best safety?" argument once and for all, Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu will stage an interception contest ... with Rex Grossman as the designated quarterback.

5. Eager to give Pittsburgh a top-flight pro sports team all year 'round, Steelers owner Dan Rooney Sr. will announce that his squad will replace the Pirates at PNC Park from April to October. "Really," Rooney will say, "would the Pirates win any less with Big Ben pitching to Hines Ward than they did with Ian Snell throwing to Ronny Paulino?"

The Bald Truth

Rookie Bulls coach Vinny Del Excuse can't whine enough about injuries to role players such as Drew Gooden and Kirk Hinrich.

What will his excuse be if the team finishes behind the Bucks, who will spend the rest of the season dealing with the absence of All-Star and Olympian Michael Redd?

The Balder Truth

Chicago baseball fans should circle April 13 on their calendars.

One week after First White Sox Fan Obama will have thrown out the season's ceremonial opening pitch at U.S. Comiskular Park (at least the Sox hope so), Cubbie Lover Blago will do the same at Wrigley Field.

Unless, of course, he's in handcuffs.


Obviously, I'm very pleased my Marquette Golden Warrior Eagles - the No. 8 team in all the land! - went into the Joyce Center and took down Notre Dame.

As impressed as I was with Jerel McNeal and the rest of the lads, though, I came away even more amazed by Irish center Luke Harangody.

An all-but-unstoppable bruiser under the basket, the guy has developed an outstandingly accurate - albeit highly unorthodox - jump shot. He also is a rebounding machine.

He'd get my national player of the year vote today. There certainly isn't anybody who can convince me he's anything less than the best big man in college basketball.

It's close, but he's even better than Blake Griffin - I'm talking as a collegian, not as a pro prospect. As for Tyler Hansbrough, who does less than Harangody despite getting far more help from his teammates, it really isn't very close.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Call 'em the DePaul Droopy Demons

One is DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright. The other is cartoon legend Droopy Dog. Won't say which is which, but both have the same number of Big East victories this season.

The Question

Were those really Bo Ryan's usually fundamentally sound Wisconsin Badgers who kept committing shot-clock violations even though they trailed Illinois by double digits with less than 10 minutes to play?


Always a friend of the referees, Bobby Knight said officials would do a better job if they worked fewer games each week because they'd be less fatigued.

I suppose. And coaches might not be so stressed out if they didn't eat, drink, walk and talk basketball 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. 

If a coach takes more down time, though, he might lose an edge because other coaches wouldn't. Which could cost him his paycheck. And if refs only work three times a week, it would affect their standard of living.

Everybody would like more time to just chill ... but it isn't always practical now, is it?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cubs sold; McGwire sold out

The Bald Truth

Word is, the super-duper-rich Ricketts family is set to buy the Cubs for $900 million.

And for only $900 million more, they could buy another 818 pitchers every bit as good as Michael Wuertz!

(See, Wuertz just signed for $1.1 million, so you have to do the math and ... OK, they can't all be worthy of Comedy Central.)

The Balder Truth

I thought frequent TBT commenter Doug Nicodemus had a valid point when he said I should have included Rod Carew as one of the five best second basemen of my lifetime in yesterday's blog.

Then I looked it up: Carew actually spent more time playing first base than second.

So let's compromise and say he's in the top 5 1/2.

See how calm and rational life is under a new president?


First, it was Jose Canseco saying he used to inject former "Bash Brother" Mark McGwire in the keister with steroids.

Now, it's Jay McGwire saying in what he hopes will be a tell-all book that he used to inject big bro Mark in the keister with steroids.

There's nothing quite like brotherly love, huh?

Hey, even if BBWAA voters never send Big Mac to Cooperstown, he's got to be a lock for the Pincushion Hall of Fame.

Marinelli's not so tough

The Bald Truth

First, Rod Marinelli was beaten by every NFL coach he went up against in 2008. Then he was beaten up by a girl.

The latest Lovie Smith BFF to join the Bears' staff, Marinelli, of course, is best known for ingeniously guiding the Lions to the only 0-16 record ever. Earlier this week, he brushed off several male Detroit reporters at the Senior Bowl by saying: "Goodbye, ladies."

Jenni Carlson, a columnist at The Oklahoman and the president of the Association for Women in Sports Media, complained to the NFL.

I know Jenni and I think she overreacted a little. But whatever ... she won. And any victory over smug Lovie and his lads is a victory for media mopes everywhere!

Properly chastened, Marinelli issued this apology:

"In attempting to avoid being interviewed, I understand that my comment was inappropriate and wrong. I want to assure you that this tone and this choice of words will not occur again in response to questions from reporters."

That's right. Next time, he'll just say: "Get the hell out of here. I'm not talking to media scum like you."

And nobody will consider that inappropriate at all.

The List

No second baseman has hit more home runs than Jeff Kent, who on Thursday was scheduled to announce his retirement, but that doesn't mean he was the greatest ever at his position.

The top five second basemen I've seen:

1. Robbie Alomar. There's no stat for this, but I doubt any 2B ever made more amazing plays than he did. He also was a great hitter and base stealer who, according to Ozzie Guillen, is the best Puerto Rican ballplayer ever - Roberto Clemente included. Alomar might not be a first-ballot Hall of Famer next year because some voters will punish him for hocking a louie into the face of umpire John Hirschbeck ... and it's hard to find fault with that stance.

2. Joe Morgan. Before he became one of the most annoying announcers on the airwaves, he was a little stud for The Big Red Machine.

3. Craig Biggio. A great team player who stole a bunch of bases and had surprising pop. Started his career as a catcher and willingly moved to center field nearly two decades later when the Astros asked. Also had 3,000 hits. A Hall lock.

4. Ryne Sandberg. He fielded everything hit to him, was a great baserunner and was a dynamic hitter. Having a power guy at 2B let the Cubs more or less get away with having slap-hitting Mark Grace at first.

5. Jeff Kent. Had little range and a mediocre glove. Seemed like kind of a jerk, too. But it's hard to argue with all of those HRs and RBIs. Probably not a first-ballot Famer but he'll eventually get in.


Newspapers couldn't print enough editions after Barack Obama won the election in November. And the same was true Wednesday, the day after the new president's understated, low-budget inauguration.

It seems millions upon millions of people wanted keepsakes of history being made ... and a print-out of an Internet story simply wasn't going to cut it.

Hmmm. I think we've stumbled on the solution to the newspaper industry's woes:

Elect or inaugurate Obama several times a week.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Here's hoping ...

Man, am I ever hopeful now!

I hope President Obama is as much substance as he is sizzle. America needs a lot of the former and none of the latter.

I hope Bud Selig realizes how outrageous it is that he'll again make an eight-figure salary this year while just cut the pay of its recent-college-grad summer interns from $500 per week to zero.

I hope the economy can get fixed so that, in 10 years, all of our investments will at least be worth 75 percent of what they were six months ago.

I hope Mickey Rourke wins a well-deserved best-actor Oscar for his amazing work in The Wrestler.

I hope for peace in the Middle East - and I hope nobody thinks I'm insane for even suggesting it's possible.

I hope to see LeBron vs. Kobe in a seven-game NBA Finals.

I hope our new president and the rest of our leaders can figure out a few ways to remedy the credit and housing crises that don't involve saddling our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren with several quadrillion dollars of debt.

I hope Tiger comes back healthy; if he doesn't, why even bother having a PGA Tour?

I hope that one of these nights, ex-Decider Dubya wakes up in a cold sweat, having finally realized he was manipulated for eight years by puppetmaster Dickie Veep.

I hope the second season of True Blood will be as entertaining as the first.

I hope everybody realizes that once most newspapers are out of business, there will be nobody to expose the crooks we elect.

I hope "wounded pride" is the only injury any ballplayer suffers in the utterly unnecessary World Baseball Classic.

I hope people stop losing their jobs. I don't need the company.

Monday, January 19, 2009

What? No chitlins?

The Bald Truth

On the eve of Barack Obama's inauguration, this just in via e-mail from my daughter Katie, a senior at Lawrence U. in Appleton:

"I'd just like to mention that for dinner tonight, Dining Services served fried chicken, collard greens and watermelon. All in honor of MLK. Good thing he wasn't fighting to eliminate racial stereotypes or anything."

Thankfully, the black person in Wisconsin wasn't too offended.

The Balder Truth

The Orioles have signed Nick Markakis to a six-year, $66 million contract extension.

To recap:

Nick Markakis ...

Six years ...

Sixty-six million simoleons.

And if you think that seems like a lot for a fourth-year outfielder who hasn't even sniffed All-Star status, just imagine what Baltimore would have given him if not for the economic crisis.


Albert Pujols reports that he is "100 percent healthy" ... and just in time! He'd hate to suffer through another awful season like he had in 2008.

I mean, he didn't hit .360, he fell short of 40 HRs, he missed the 125 RBI mark and he wasn't even the unanimous MVP choice. What a bum.

Still, there are people out there who actually think the man is one of the best hitters ever.

Are those people out of their minds? Or are they just confusing him with Nick Markakis?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Arizona has the horses ... for now

The List

Five random thoughts from the NFL conference championship game:

1. Yes! The Arizona Freakin' Cardinals! Just as most of us predicted back in September!

2. Were the Super Bowl a horse race, I'd start handicapping it by saying the Steelers represent a major move up in class for the Cardinals. Sure, Arizona has won $10,000 and $25,000 claimers and a nice $50,000 allowance. Let's see how the Cards do in a $1 million stakes race. The one advantage they have - super-accurate Kurt Warner throwing to Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin - figures to be counteracted by Pittsburgh's defense. Of course, I said the same about the Eagles' defense, which was whipped soundly and sent to the glue factory by the Cardinals.

3. By the time he is finished playing, Donovan McNabb will have Hall of Fame numbers. But after watching his Eagles lose another big one, it's difficult to make an argument that he's a Hall of Fame QB. He has gotten to the NFC title game five times and has only won it once, and he lost in the Super Bowl the one time he got there. In several of those mega-games, he had the ball in his hands late in the fourth quarter with a chance to win or tie and he hasn't gotten it done. Sunday, he again had a chance to pull out a big game. And he again misfired repeatedly on his team's final opportunity. I know the losses don't belong to him alone - where was the great Philly defense Sunday? - but fair or not, this is how the best QBs are judged.

4. Steelers WR Limas Sweed dropped a long touchdown pass that couldn't have been any more perfectly placed had Ben Roethlisberger run down field and handed Sweed the football. Sweed then fell to the ground and pretended to be hurt. (For a second there, I thought he was a soccer player.) Later in the game, he caught a 14-yard pass and acted as if he had just brokered peace in the Middle East. What a clown.

5. I'm not sure I could name the other nine right off the top of my hairless head, but Kurt Warner has to be one of the 10 great stories in modern team sports history.

By the by ...

Hope you noticed the new-look to The Baldest Truth - including the fact that comments now can be posted. Please keep it clean folks. And that goes double for you, Mr. and Mrs. Blago!

Nice thoughts and bald predictions

The Bald Truth

I'm deeply touched by the letters I have received from so many readers - including many who never before had written me, such as Travis Truitt of Chicago:

Mike, As a longtime reader of yours, I just came across the bad news on your blog. I'm really sorry this has happened to you. I live in Chicago now, but I grew up in the Champaign area and started reading your columns in the News-Gazette. You are the only sportswriter my dad has ever really liked! For years, he called you "the bald guy from Chicago" before he finally learned your name. But you spoke a truth that appealed to him. I've never reached out to you before, but I figured if there was ever a moment to send a guy a piece of fan mail, this could be it. You're a talented sportswriter who speaks the truth in a clear and interesting way. You've made me laugh, and a few times you've gotten me all teary-eyed. You're better than anyone currently writing in the Tribune or the Sun-Times. I wish you all the best, and I'll be checking out your blog to see what happens next. Keep the faith and don't lose the hope.

Such kindness from complete strangers has been one of the many benefits of this job. I remember back in my first year as columnist in 1998, I wrote a piece after my father died. I received more than 100 letters and e-mails. These examples serve to reinforce what we already knew: People are basically good.

Here's a fun letter from Tom "tmad" Madigan, another reader who hadn't e-mailed me previously (that I could remember, anyway) but did post frequent comments on the previous incarnation of The Baldest Truth:

Mike: So Rob Marinelli has a job and you don't. WTF? Hope somebody at Comcast, ESPN, some mag - ANYTHING! - gives you a decent, well deserved shot. As Da Coach once said "This too shall pass." Wishing you and yours better days ahead.

Well, given my, um, close relationship with with a certain leggy ESPN sideline reporter, I'm guessing The World Wide Leader won't be calling anytime soon. And I'm not holding my breath on the others, either. These are tough times in our industry and jobs are few and far between. However, I did just learn that I have the inside track on the job of being Mr. Clean's stunt double.

The Balder Truth

So now we come to the sports portion of our show. Word is, there are a couple of fairly important football games Sunday. I'm 5-3 on my picks this postseason, which isn't all that great but is better than Chris Berman's 4-4. Sounds like slummin', but I'll take what little glory I can get.

EAGLES at CARDINALS: Denny Green's former team is about to reach that magic point where we can say: "They ARE who we thought they were!" If the Eagles' defense succeeds at making the Cardinals one-dimensional on offense, it could end up being a long day for Kurt Warner & Co. Meanwhile, I just have a feeling that Brian Westbrook, Donovan McNabb (or both) are going to come up huge for Philly. Oh sure, there's no home-field advantage in all of sports as traditionally wonderful as the one the Arizona Cardinals have been enjoying for, oh, 18 minutes, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say ... Eagles 27, Cardinals 17.

RAVENS at STEELERS: Ray Lewis could be wearing an evening gown and sipping tea out of a little cup with his pinkie finger extended and he still would scare the crap out of me. And as a guy who used to juggle shards of razor-sharp glass just for kicks, I don't scare easily. In the end, this one will come down to the QBs, as playoff games often do. Ben Roethlisberger was Joe Flacco before Joe Flacco was Joe Flacco, and Big Ben was better at it. And he is still better at it (as long as he's not riding his motorcycle on off-days). The Ravens will get to Ben some, but he'll still be standing in the end. Will Joe The Rookie be able to say the same after being folded, spindled and mutilated repeatedly by the Steelers? Perhaps, but I'm still saying ... Steelers 17, Ravens 13.

Proof Positive

It's Cubs Convention weekend, and thousands of folks who paid big bucks to wait two hours in line for Randy Hundley's autograph can't be wrong. Yes, just this once, Cubbie fans are blindly, crazily optimistic, so you know the championship is in the bag.


I'll post one last letter today, this from loyal reader and frequent e-mailer Drew Stout of Cary:

Mike, I’m sorry to hear about the layoff. I know from personal experience that those things never come at a good time. I remember having moved from Illinois to upstate New York right after getting my degree nearly eight years ago and then getting laid off a mere eight months after I started my new career. And to top it off, she delivered our older son on the very day the layoff happened! (Almost as strange as my wife meeting me because she dialed the wrong number, but just as true.) It was easily the most emotional day I’ve ever had.

Everyone I’ve known who’s been laid off has come out better off, provided they accepted it for what it was and didn’t take it personally.

I think I’ve probably written you three or four letters in the past few weeks that I ended up not e-mailing because I just didn’t think they were up to snuff. You’ve set a pretty high standard in your columns as far as journalistic integrity, and I really like to make sure I’ve got my ducks in a row before I hit the send button.

I had one recent unsent e-mail that I wrote defending the BCS, and I’d even laid out a nice statistical analysis in support of it. Then I thought about it some more and decided I needed to make absolutely certain that I wasn’t completely off base. So I dug deeper and realized that the BCS wasn’t an official NCAA championship like the others. I’m not quite sure how I missed that important point, but it blew my entire argument out of the water on basic principle, so I ended up not sending it. To me, that’s the standard you represent. That’s why I’ve enjoyed reading your columns so much. Even if I haven’t agreed with you, I knew I was always getting the same degree of objectivity every time. Your thoughts were always opinionated but fair.

I look forward to you keeping TBT online. I will still be checking in to see what you’ve got to say. And I hope you continue to say what’s on your mind.

Don't worry. You can't get rid of me that easily.

God knows, my wife has tried ... and I just keep showing up over and over again like some kind of bald penny.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

New Beginning

Not sure if you've heard by now, but my column-writing career is kaput. Like most of the newspaper industry (and many other industries these days), GateHouse Media is having major financial problems and it was determined that the one sure way to solve them was to eliminate my $4.6 million salary. So I'm gone ... and the company is saved!!

I had a great run and am looking forward to whatever I'm going to do with my life. I'm determined not to feel sorry for myself or to be bitter about what happened. My wife has a stable job with great benefits and my kids are older; we'll be making Katie's final tuition payment in March. We even have managed to stash a few bucks away over the years - though those few bucks are considerably fewer than they were six months ago.

What I'm getting at is that a whole lot of people are worse off than I am, so I'm grateful for what I have.

I will miss writing the column and, mostly, the many relationships I have forged with other journalists and with readers. Glad at least the latter can continue with The Baldest Truth.

Anyway, the blog site you've come to know and love will have a decidedly different look. I'm going as basic as basic can be for a bit until I figure out exactly what I want to do with it. As you might imagine, I have a few other priorities right now, including figuring out whether to have gruel or mud for dinner tonight.

So stick with me and check back soon. I promise I'll be back up and running.

There won't be any comments section, at least for awhile, so if you want to make a point about anything, my e-mail address is the same: