Sunday, May 23, 2010

Blackhawks make hockey matter again

A mere three years ago, the Blackhawks were less relevant in Chicago than snowplows in July. During most games at the United Center, entire sections were empty. I didn't know a dozen people who would admit to being Blackhawks fans - and I knew (and continue to know) a lot of hard-core, big-time sports fans.

Now the Hawks are in the Stanley Cup Finals ... and people who used to make fun of hockey are waxing poetic about the penalty-killing unit, growing playoff beards and getting misty-eyed just thinking about a Dustin Byfuglien forecheck .

Ah, winning. Cures apathy every time.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hoping LeBron fans don't get Zonked

The other day, my wife and I went to a Chicago club to listen to some music. On these occasions, I have two shirts I like to wear. One is a Minnesota North Stars jersey that actually was worn (and, I assume, brawled in) by late-1980s era goon Link Gaetz. The other is a genuine replica Larry Csonka Miami Dolphins jersey.

I got the Gaetz jersey, with fight straps intact and everything, because I thought it was cool. I mean, the dude was known as The Missing Link! I bought the Csonka shirt on eBay about 10 years ago because, as a kid, I was a Dolphins fanatic and Zonk was by far my favorite athlete.

So anyway, Roberta always gives me crap when I pull on one of those shirts. "You wearing that again?" is a pretty typical comment. And I always defend my choice by saying I love those shirts - and I'm not the only one. The event the other night proved my point so solidly that even my bride can't argue with me anymore.

I chose Csonka for this particular show because we were going to see a tribute band that was doing one-hit wonders from the '70s.

We get to the venue and, as we're looking for a seat, one of the ushers comes up to me and says, "Great shirt! Larry Csonka, right?"

About 5 minutes later, another guy who works at the place says, "Csonka ... nice!"

OK, so a couple people noticed. Big deal, right?

About 15 minutes later, some guy comes up to me, tells me how much he loves the shirt and asks me if I know where he could get a Paul Warfield jersey because the former Dolphins receiver was his favorite player. I suggested eBay, and then we chatted a little about those dynastic Dolphins. As the guy and his wife walked away, the woman turned and said her husband had "major shirt envy."

By now, my wife is ready to admit that, yes, it's a pretty cool shirt. But wait ... there's more!

A little later, a guy comes up to me and is gushing about the jersey. He asked if I wore it because it's a 70s night and when I said yes, he stuck out his hand. As we shook hands, he said: "Zonk was the best. That's really a great shirt. Thanks so much for wearing it."

When it comes to wife-and-husband "discussions," I don't win many. But I won that one.

And in a related subject ...

I totally get the angst Cavaliers fans are going through regarding LeBron's future.

After the 1974 NFL season, the two-time Super Bowl champion Dolphins - my team - lost a classic playoff game to the hated Raiders on a heartbreaking, last-second TD. Then things got worse.

A new league, the WFL, had formed and was raiding NFL rosters. The Memphis Southmen - yes, the Memphis Bleepin' Southmen - stole Csonka, Warfield and Jim Kiick from the Dolphins.

Looking back, I believe Zonk's departure was one of the major reasons I became such a cynical sports observer.

The WFL folded the following year, but the damage was done. The Dolphins no longer were contenders. When Csonka came back to the NFL, it was to play for the New York Giants. And I was never the same fan.

Cavs fans might say: "Yeah, like Larry Csonka is even in LeBron's league."

As an athlete, of course not. But Csonka was a one-of-a-kind bulldozer of a fullback, a Hall of Famer, a two-time champion and a franchise icon. James only wishes he had the kind of impact for a championship team that Zonk did in the '74 Super Bowl.

As a 14-year-old worshipper, I was every bit as crushed by Csonka's departure as any Clevelander will be if LeBron leaves. And believe me, I wouldn't wish that feeling on anybody.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Take Z Out to the Ball Game

Long relief, set-up man, starter ... the Cubs should stop messing around with Carlos Zambrano and give Cra-Z the one role that matters most in Cubbieland:

Permanent seventh-inning stretch singer.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Cure for ailing Buccos: Play the Cubs

The Bald Truth

On May 3, the Pirates had allowed 100 runs in losing 10 of 13 games. Then they got to play the Cubs, who scored only five runs in three games and got swept out of Pittsburgh.

On May 13, the Pirates had scored 10 runs in losing 5 of 6 games. Then they got to play the Cubs, whose pitchers served up 14 runs in two losses at Wrigley Field.

Finally, the Cubs rallied to win 4-3 Sunday, pulling within a half-game of The Mighty Buccos. What a team.

And what a division, now that the Cardinals have blown a chance to run away and hide from the Cubbies and everybody else.

The Balder Truth

Lou Piniella has been in an ornery mood lately, and it's hard to blame him. He got all bent out of shape over a couple of innocuous questions before Sunday's game. Here's a LINK to the story I wrote for AP.

Can a cap-stompin', base-throwin', bleep-bleep-bleepin' good time be very far off?


As promised, here's a LINK to Teddy Greenstein's "18 Holes With Steve Stone" piece in Sunday's Tribune. Yours Baldly was mentioned in there - for better or worse. (Worse, methinks!)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Just the latest pregnant pause in Cubs Dynasty

A very pregnant woman sat at Wrigley Field on Saturday with a bikini top ... and her huge belly exposed for all the world to see. A red-and-blue Cubs symbol was painted on her stomach. Honest. I couldn't make that up.

It was quite a sight, with Len and Bob trying their darnedest to avoid cracking up - and to avoid saying anything insulting - during the broadcast.

Sources say the unborn child already is being heralded by Cubbieland as the replacement for Starlin Castro down the road. Mark my words: After 122 championship-free years, Ryne Fergie Ernie Durocher (we hear that's the child-to-be's name) will be leading the Cubs to glory in 2030!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hey, Tiger! I'll coach you up!

I read with great sadness news of Hank Haney's split with Tiger Woods. I mean, what other indignities must poor Tiger endure? Injuries, marital woes, wayward drives, an inflamed neck joint, addictive behavior, lost endorsement deals, paparazzi, missed cuts, camera clicks in his backswing and now this?

Well, I finally have some good news for Tiger: I'm available.

Only a fool would pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn the subtleties of the golf swing from a master.

I have a keen eye for swing mechanics. For example, I've noticed that Tiger far too often misaligns his body when he uses his driver. He needs to do what I do and play for the big draw. Sure, it occasionally leads to a snap hook into some hazard on the left. Or to a bombastic push two fairways over to the right. But the 30 percent of the time when it turns out just right? A thing of beauty! (OK, it's more like 10 percent. Don't be a wise-ass.)

Few are more imaginative than me, too. During my most recent round - last week at the wonderfully redesigned Flossmoor Country Club, one of my favorite courses in Chicagoland - I wowed playing partners Steve Stone, Teddy Greenstein and Phil Arvia by announcing that I would do what many considered impossible: an intentional power fade on a severe dogleg right.

So what if I still scored a double-bogey? It's all about style points, baby!

(And so what if I finished with a 109? It's not as if Stone doesn't see dozens of ineffective swings every time he calls a White Sox game.)

My irons have been a tad off recently. (By recently, I mean the last couple of decades. And by a tad, I mean ... fore!!!) But hey, it's nothing some new equipment can't cure. Fortunately for Tiger, he has access to all the Nike equipment he needs, so he can experiment with new gear daily to fix his swing. Why, he has so much stuff lying around the house that Elin was able to experiment with a 9-iron on the back of the Family Truckster.

Wedges ... OK, I'll acknowledge that Tiger might want to consult with Dave Pelz or some other short-game guru. My chipping yips have become so yippy that I just stole the pitching wedge from my left-handed son and put it in my bag. Maybe if I start from scratch left-handed, I actually will have a chance to learn and apply good chipping mechanics. If that works for me, I'll share my findings with Pelz so he can teach Tiger. Prediction: Team Eldrick will work together at least as well as John Paxson and Vinny Del Negro did.

Tiger often whines that his putter costs him tournaments. Well, putting is one of my strengths, so problem solved there. As regular playing partners Teddy and Phil will attest, I occasionally choke from 3 feet when a buck is on the line ... but that doesn't necessarily mean I'd be unable to teach Tiger how to nail 8 footers with the PGA Championship at stake. After all, Tim Floyd couldn't play big-time hoops, but he did a helluva job rebuilding the Bulls Empire, no?

Oh, and here's the best part: I'll work for 75 percent - no, make that half - of Hank Haney's fee. Nobody can say I'm insensitive about what the economy (and a pissed-off wife) has done to Tiger's finances.

(Side Note: Greenstein will be writing about his round with Stone in this Sunday's Tribune. They were having some pretty deep conversations - sometimes during my backswing, the only logical explanation for my 109 - so it'll be a good read. I'll provide a link here in TBT when the time comes. Or better yet, plunk down a couple of bucks and buy the paper if you live in town. You're welcome, Teddy.)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ah, remember the Starlin Castro glory days?

Well, Britney Spears' 55-hour marriage in 2004 to some dude named Jason lasted about 53 hours longer than Starlin Castro's 2010 honeymoon with Cubbieland.

Funny what three errors and an inexplicable lack of hustle will do to a relationship.

Talkin' about Starlin/Cubbieland, though maybe that's what ended it for Britney/Jason, too.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bullish on Jax, less so on Pax

Let's take a look at the Dynastic Bull Scorecard, shall we?

10 - Phil Jackson, already with 10 NBA titles as a coach and 2 as a player, is closing in on the baker's dozen.

9 - Steve Kerr's Suns finally beat those dastardly Spurs and advanced to the Western Conference finals.

8 - B.J. Armstrong became an agent and quickly landed Derrick Rose as a client. Last month, B.J. sold his Highland Park mansion to new Bears savior Julius Peppers. Ca-ching, ca-ching, ca-ching!

7 - Scottie Pippen soon will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

6 - Bill Cartwright, cast aside by "buddy" John Paxson 7 years ago, is an assistant coach for the high-flying Suns.

5 - Michael Jordan's Bobcats scrapped their way into the playoffs but promptly got swept out.

4 - Luc Longley is a rich, happy, 7-foot surfer dude in Australia, mate.

3 - Bill Wennington is the only coherent member of the ex-Bulls big men announcer troika that also includes Stacey King and Dickey Simpkins.

2 - Dennis Rodman occasionally still finds some dupe to give him money just for being That Wacky Old Worm. When he's not being hauled off to jail for copping a feel at some Vegas bar, that is.

1 - Jerry Krause has been hired as an international scout by the White Sox and, sources say, is closing in on Dominican baseball's Dragan Tarlac.

0 - John Paxson turned the Bulls into laughingstocks, went into hiding and then crawled out from under his rock just long enough to make a martyr out of Vinny Del Negro.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Can't spell Starlin without the s-t-a-r

As I meant to say in my previous post, Starlin Castro might turn out to be the best shortstop ever and the Cubs might not lose another game.

Friday, May 7, 2010

All hail new Cubbie savior Castro

You know you're a cynic when the first thought that pops into your head after hearing the Cubs just called up shortstop savior Starlin Castro is: "Well, now a lineup that was too right-handed before gets even more right-handed. Good luck with that."

I enjoyed watching Castro when I was in Arizona covering spring training. Other than apparently being allergic to drawing walks, there were few things he didn't do well. He has annihilated the ball at Double-A - think lots of singles and doubles, kids, not home runs - and he obviously has tremendous tools.

Even though he kept calling him "Starling" (and, a couple of times, "Sterling"), Lou Piniella fell in love with Castro in Mesa. Lou and Jim Hendry felt they had to do something after watching their Unlovable Losers score 5 runs total during a three-game sweep at Pittsburgh against the worst pitching staff in the majors - the same noodle-arms that served up 36 runs in a three-game series to the Brewers.

Calling up Castro, who just turned 20, sends a nice message ... but they didn't just do it for effect. He will play. Ryan Theriot moves back to second base, where he belongs.

My wife won't like it because lilliputian Mike Fontenot is her favorite player - he's the only professional athlete my 5-foot-3 bride can stare in the eye - but he clearly isn't an everyday big-league second baseman.

On the other hand, Fontenot was one of the few left-handed hitters Piniella could put in the lineup. Piniella now is down to one: Kosuke Fukudome. And Cubbie fans fooled by his good numbers must have forgotten the way The Fook turned hot starts into shockingly bad finishes each of his first two years in the majors. As the pressure mounts, expect lots of Fukudome's patented spin-a-rama whiffs.

The Cubs still miss Jim Edmonds, who was far more of a catalyst in 2008 than most want to admit. Legitimate contenders need a couple of left-handed hitters capable of taking the ball out of the yard - and capable of making the opponent have to pitch differently. Period.

I don't want to hear that most of the right-handed Cubbies traditionally do well against righty pitchers. Every manager, including Piniella, knows it's never good to let the opposing pitcher see nothing but righties one after another after another.

The lineup most days: Theriot ... Fukudome ... Lee ... Ramirez ... Byrd ... Soriano ... Soto ... Castro.

That's R-L-R-R-R-R-R-R. Good luck finding any championship team of recent vintage with so little balance.

P.S.: I know Lou has dropped Ramirez to sixth. But the simple fact is that if Ramirez and Lee don't start hitting, the Cubs are dead even in the unlikely event that a 20-year-old kid lives up to the over-the-top, Corey-Pattersonian hype.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Limiting Bulls to Van Gundys, Fratellos would be silly

We could start and end with Phil Jackson and our case would be made, but that would be no fun. So let's continue with ...

Gregg Popovich ... Rudy Tomjanovich ... Pat Riley ... Tom Heinsohn ... Bill Russell ... Al Attles ... Larry Costello ...

Yes, each of those coaches won a championship - many won multiple championships - for the franchise that gave him his first NBA head-coaching job.

And I'm not even counting Chuck Daly, who coached Cleveland to a 9-32 half-season record as an interim before the Pistons took a chance on him and were rewarded with two titles. Nor am I counting the many coaches who, while leading their first NBA team, led their franchises to the Finals but lost.

So for all of those who say the Bulls absolutely must hire a guy who already has been an NBA head coach - a.k.a. a retread - I answer only with a question:


Why have a knee-jerk reaction to the Vinny debacle, forgetting that he never had been so much as an assistant JV high school coach when John Paxson and Jerry Reinsdorf fell in love with him?

Why not consider all of the outstanding NBA assistants who are ready to take the next step?

Why limit the field by excluding guys who might turn out to be the next Phil Jackson or Pat Riley or Gregg Popovich?

OK, that was four questions. Shoot me with a Taser.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tase this

I am outraged - OUTRAGED! - about that Philly cop using a Taser to subdue that freckle-faced young lad who was just trying to have fun running around the field.

Taser? Really? I mean, the cop should be suspended for not using his Glock on this moron!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"Vinny, vidi, vici" again for brainless Bulls?

You might think John Paxson and Jerry Reinsdorf are as clueless as a couple of teenage virgins at a bra-unhooking convention, but believe me: The Bulls Braintrust does have a plan for this edition of the semiannual coaching search.

They will take forever ... they will interview everybody who even knows what a basketball looks like ... they will come close to hiring somebody competent but find all kinds of reasons not to hire him ... and they ultimately will settle on a guy who has never coached on any level, not even 2nd grade bitty-ball.

I mean, that plan worked to perfection last time, so what could go wrong?