Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fool Michael twice, shame on him

You're a multizillionaire, you famously like to play the field and you lost a small fortune to your previous wife in a divorce settlement.

If you're Michael Jordan, why on earth would you want to get married again?

Love? Please. You can be in love without having to put your name on what has become a meaningless piece of paper.

You'll make this one sign a pre-nup? Big deal. There are lawyers who do nothing else for a living other than beat pre-nups.

I tell you this: If my Roberta ever dumps my sorry behind, I won't ever get married again.

And I only have about half the money MJ does.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Today's High Five: Bad News Bears, Tebow's Troubles, Hall of Fame & More

5. Well, Josh McCown wasn't awful against the Packers. And people say I'm negative about the Bears!

Actually, McCown was significantly better than anybody could have thought he'd be, given that he was an assistant high school football coach down here in North Carolina just a few weeks ago. His first interception was RB Kahlil Bell's fault and his second came on a heave with the Bears hopelessly behind.

All this makes me believe that if Jerry Angelo had given Lovie Smith a decent backup QB -- or if Smith had recognized earlier that Caleb Hanie was a lost cause -- the Bears might have won a couple of those games they lost and might not be playing next week just for funsies.

As for Bell, yes, he looked good running the ball against the Packers. But for those who think the Bears would have beaten the Broncos if only Bell had gotten the ball instead of Marion Barber ... you must have very short-term memory loss.

In addition to failing to block Clay Matthews (resulting in the aforementioned INT), Bell fumbled twice against the Packers, including once on the goal line. In other words, very Barber-like screwups.

Put it all together and it's pretty obvious that the loss of Matt Forte, not Jay Cutler, was the more fatal blow to a team that had little margin for error.

4. Got the presents I wanted: brass knuckles and nunchucks. Now I can go beat the hell out of people to steal their new Air Jordans. Happy Holidays!

3. I'll really be impressed with Chris Paul if he can lead the Clippers past the first round of the playoffs ... because it will mean he will have overcome Vinny Del Negro's coaching.

In other NBA news ... if you thought the Heat looked unbeatable in their season-opening smackdown of the Mavs, just wait until they get Eddy Curry healthy!

2. Finalized my Hall of Fame ballot: Barry Larkin, Tim Raines and Jack Morris.

My reasoning on Larkin and Raines was detailed in my previous post. As for Morris, I know he's borderline but I've voted for him in the past because of his performance in the 1980s and his postseason record, so I'm not going to deprive him now that I'm starting to think more about his shortcomings.

1. With his long wind-up, telegraphed deliveries, uncertainty in the passing game and extended stretches of horrid play, Tim Tebow still looks like more of a novelty act than an NFL quarterback.

John Elway's initial feeling that the Broncos wouldn't be able to build around Tebow was spot-on. If he follows through on his more recent, more emotional statements that Tebow is the long-term answer, Elway will regret it. As will Denver fans.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Mulling Hall choices

I'm in the process of sorting out my Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. It's the calm before the storm, so to speak, a year after Bert Blyleven finally got in and a year before a bunch of juicers hit the ballot.

There aren't any slam-dunk choices such as Robbie Alomar from last year. I'm considering only 8 former ballplayers -- there will be no Mark McLiar or Rafael Palmeiro on my ballot -- and each offers about as many cons as pros.

JEFF BAGWELL was a very good player for a very long time. His .948 OPS ranks 22nd all-time. But 449 HRs don't seem like quite enough for a first baseman, especially one from the Steroid Era, and he had poor postseason numbers for some talented Astro teams that might have made some noise had their best player come through. When I look at 1B stats, how do I choose Bagwell but not choose Fred McGriff? And I'm not choosing Fred McGriff.

BARRY LARKIN is one of the best shortstops I've seen: good glove, tough out, nice pop in his bat, extremely efficient baserunner, and by all accounts a good leader and solid citizen. Among SS from his era, he ranked in the top four in most offensive categories (along with Jeter, A-Rod and Ripken). Judged as a SS, he belongs in the Hall. Judged by numbers relative to all players, he falls short. He's a great example of a borderline case.

EDGAR MARTINEZ was a DH just about his entire career. That alone doesn't eliminate him in my book but it means he must be exemplary otherwise. His career numbers pale in comparison to those of, say, Frank Thomas. Throw in the steroid rumblings, and I'll pass.

JACK MORRIS was the best pitcher in the 1980s, a nasty sumbitch who ate up innings and mostly excelled in big games. But he had neither a spectacular winning percentage nor an overly impressive ERA. I have voted for him in the past and now wonder if my coverage of the 1991 World Series weighed too heavily on my decision. Serious reconsideration going on inside my bald dome.

DALE MURPHY was a two-time MVP with good career numbers, but he falls short when compared to others of his era. He didn't dominate as long as Jim Rice, wasn't as good all-around as Andre Dawson, wasn't as intimidating as Dave Parker, didn't hit 400 HRs despite playing in a bandbox, batted only .265, and was decent-to-lousy statistically in his final six seasons as he hung around and compiled relatively meaningless career stats.

TIM RAINES is an interesting candidate because of his unique status as one of the best leadoff men ever. He was not Rickey Henderson, to be sure, but most of his stats are better than those of Lou Brock. I love this from ESPN's Jayson Stark: Raines reached base more in his career than Tony Gwynn did and had an almost identical on-base percentage; every eligible player who reached base as many times as Raines did and had as high an on-base percentage is in the Hall. I didn't vote for him in the past but I've really taken a close look at some of his more detailed numbers and am giving him more consideration this time.

LEE SMITH had lots of saves. But when you think of dominant relievers, you just don't think of him. Maybe it's because he put up his numbers just as saves became less-meaningful, one-inning stints ... or maybe it's because he played on lots of bad teams. Any closer I vote for must be in the Gossage/Fingers/Sutter/Rivera mold ... and Smith wasn't.

ALAN TRAMMELL was to the '80s what Larkin was to the '90s. Larkin has the edge in most stats, however, including pretty decisive edges in OPS, SB, batting average and runs. If I'm choosing only one SS on my ballot, I can't see how I'd choose Trammell over Larkin.

I'm leaning strongly toward putting check marks next to the names of Larkin and Raines. I'm less enthusiastic about Morris, but haven't eliminated the possibility. The others weren't Hall of Famers in my book.

I'm going to think this through a little more over the weekend before sending in my ballot.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My contract demands would be too high anyway

Josh McCown was an assistant high school football coach until just before Thanksgiving, when the Bears -- desperate after Jay Cutler got hurt -- called him, auditioned him and signed him.

And now, due to Caleb Hanie's abject failure as Cutler's replacement (once again, everybody loves the backup QB until he actually has to play!), McCown is Chicago's starting quarterback.

McCown's first assignment is merely a Christmas night game in Green Bay on national television against the NFL's best team. He'll be playing behind one of the league's most porous offensive lines and without several injured teammates, including stud tailback Matt Forte.

Given a similar situation, I would have to think twice if some NBA team wants to pluck me from the ranks of assistant junior-high basketball coach.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Back after 8 days (plus 1) in paradise

Just spent 9 days in the U.S. Virgin Islands with Mrs. Baldest Truth (yep, that's what it says on the wedding license). It was supposed to only be 8 days, but one of the engines on what was supposed to be our airplane home was D.O.A., so we got an extra day of vacation on U.S. Airways' dime.

Although it was pretty stressful having to stick around on somebody else's schedule -- not to mention having to extend puppy-sitting for Simcha and my wife having to miss a day of work -- I must admit there are worse places to be stranded than St. Thomas.

We spent most of our trip on St. John and would highly recommend it as a fun, relaxing, beautiful vacation spot.

Highlights included two days snorkeling at numerous wonderful beaches; a stunning (and tiring) hike that ended on a hilltop from which we could see an endless expanse of the Caribbean Sea; a day soaking in the sun at St. Thomas' magnificent Magens Bay; some outstanding food; and lots of laughs and relaxation.

Oh, and it was sunny and between 81 and 85 pretty much every day.

The lowlight: I caught a cold that sidelined me one day; we just hung around the pool and beach at our hotel.

As fun as the trip was, it was good to get home (even if it was 24 hours late). And it was especially great to pick up our pup, who was very happy to see us. It's nice to be missed!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Maybe I should have mentioned the Gipper

Going into our last game before winter break, my Lady Bucs had a three-game losing streak. We were starting poorly almost every game, and while we were showing a lot of fortitude by rallying most times, we still were a disappointing 2-4.

Something had to change.

Just to try something different, I asked our head coach if I could give the speech before our game against Charlotte Latin. She said OK.

It was my first-ever inspire-the-troops opportunity, and I had no idea if I would get another. So I went for the gusto.

In my most forceful voice and looking each girl in the eye, I talked about the Country Day-Latin rivalry. I talked about the need for each girl to be able to look herself in the mirror after the game knowing she had left everything on the floor. I talked about how we were going to swarm them with our press right from the start, leave them dazed and take control immediately. I told them that our 3-game losing streak was history and this would be the start of a long winning streak. I told them how proud I was of them. I told them this was their time.

"Who is going to dive to the floor for loose basketballs?" I asked.

"We are!" they shouted.

"Who is going to crash the boards and grab every rebound?"

"We are!"

"Do we want this game?"


"Do we want this game?"


At the end of the 4-minute speech, the girls gave a rousing cheer and stormed out of the locker room with a fire never before seen.

We then fell behind by 8 points after one quarter and by 12 at halftime before rallying to lose by 7.

We actually didn't play all that poorly, just couldn't make any shots in the first half. Layups, short jumpers, put-backs, free throws ... we missed them all.

Which goes to show that no matter how pumped up athletes are, they still need to execute and the coaches still need to strategize and the shots still need to fall and, well, a little luck wouldn't hurt, either.

So now we have a four-game losing streak and a 2-5 record. Come Jan. 4, we'll try to do better.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Be careful what you ask for, Prince Albert

It's easy for me to say -- because I'm not the one looking at all of those zeroes and commas -- but I like to think I would have accepted outlandish money to be a hero in the baseball bastion that is St. Louis rather than gone for ultra-outlandish money to be a mercenary in the mall-land that is Anaheim.

Nobody should begrudge Albert Pujols his millions. If any ballplayer has "earned" a $254 million payday, it is this man, one of the great hitters of this or any generation.

Still, when you're going to get some $200 million over 10 years, as the Cardinals reportedly offered, it's hard to imagine why that extra $54 million really matters to one's bottom line.

I mean, if your best friend buys you a $2.00 present, are you going to dump him because some other guy tried to buy your friendship with a $2.54 gift?

One might say it's not the same but I say it's exactly the same. Once you get to $100 million or $150 million or $200 million, every million might as well be a penny. Especially when you've already raked in well over $100 million, as Albert has so far in his career.

You can't spend it in 10 lifetimes unless you're an idiot or Michael Jackson.

Bottom line:

If you love St. Louis as you say you do, if you cherish your teammates as you claim, if you are comfortable with management as you insist, if you can win championships as you obviously can given 2006 and 2011 ... why not settle for a mere $200 million and emerge as the altruistic hero who sacrificed money for love?

Why sell yourself to the highest bidder and start all over again in a city where Mickey Mouse is king and baseball is a shoulder shrug?

As for the Cardinals, they eventually might be thanking their lucky stars that they didn't sign a 32-year-old man to a 10-year contract.

They now have a lot of money available to plug a lot of holes. Or they don't have to spend all that money as long as they have their typically solid 25-man roster ... and then they don't have to raise ticket prices for the self-appointed "greatest fans in baseball." Crazy thought, I know.

Had Albert Pujols continued to excel for a few years in St. Louis and then gradually faded as he aged, fans there would have forgiven him and kept applauding him for his past exploits.

Just look at Mark McGwire.

As his body broke down from all the 'roids he ingested over the years, Saint Looie fans still paid to see him take his hacks, still cheered every time his name was mentioned. After he retired, when pretty much everybody knew he had been a juicing cheat, Cardinal Nation stuck up for him. And when Tony La Russa brought him back to be the hitting coach after he had been exposed, all was forgiven. McLiar was treated like St. Louis royalty.

Believe me, he wouldn't have been forgiven so easily in southern California.

Maybe Albert figures that extra 50 million bucks will buy him a nice shield from any future scorn. Not to mention a few of the giraffes, zebras and unicorns that might still be grazing at Neverland Ranch.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Today's High Five: The Donald, Santo's Hall Call, "LeBron" Buehrle and Blago's plight

5. Just the other day, I turned to my wife and said: "The only thing that could make this GOP presidential deal into any more of a dog-and-pony show would be if Trump put himself back in the thick of it."


4. My old friend, Ron Santo, finally got the Hall call. Obviously, it's several years too late, but there is something comforting knowing that now, he really is immortal.

3. Of course, that now means the 1960s-era Cubs had four Hall of Famers (and numerous other outstanding players) yet still somehow avoided even sniffing an NL pennant. Pretty amazing.

2. Pretty surprising that Mark Buehrle didn't use an hour-long ESPN special to announce he was taking his talents to South Beach.

1. Any time I'm feeling a little down, I'm just gonna think about Blago behind bars, looking effin' golden to his fellow inmates.

If that won't cheer me up, nothing will.

Marquette saves my day

After my Lady Bucs were annihilated, our third straight loss, it sure was nice of my beloved (and undefeated) Marquette Golden Warriors to rally for a dramatic, thrilling, fun victory over Washington at Madison Square Garden.

Thanks, fellas. I needed that.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Today's High Five: Excuses are for losers ... and so is the BCS

5. I hate it when athletes, coaches and teams make excuses. I especially hate injury excuses.

The Packers won the Super Bowl last season despite a dozen important players being out with injuries. That being said ...

Aaron Rodgers wasn't one of the injured Packers.

It would seem there are injuries, and there are facts.

Fact is, the Bears are toast without Jay Cutler. Not because Cutler is a great QB but because Cutler sometimes plays great -- and because the only other option is a never-will-be named Caleb Hanie. (Which, naturally, is Jerry Angelo's fault for generally mismanaging the most important position in pro sports.)

And now, RB Matt Forte -- unquestionably the team's MVP -- is out up to a month with a knee injury.

The Bears were a flawed team with little margin for error. They managed to win 7 of their first 10 games thanks to defense, the kicking game and just enough offense led by Forte and Cutler. They are 0-2 since Hanie had to take over for Cutler, including Sunday's 10-3 home loss to a terrible Kansas City team.

OK, those are the facts. Even a skeptic such as myself should be able to differentiate between such cold facts and common, everyday excuses, right?

Well, that terrible KC team was being quarterbacked by a never-will-be named Tyler Palko because their starter, Matt Cassel is out.

Meanwhile, the playoff-bound Texans are 2-0 since starting QB Matt Schaub and backup Matt Leinert got hurt, with third-stringer T.J. Yates at the helm.

If the Bears can't beat a Palko-led Chiefs team at home, they weren't good enough to matter, anyway.

4. The notable thing wasn't Tiger Woods finally winning a tournament, because it was a limited-field event that he stages for himself and his pals. For me, the big thing was the camera shot of Tiger lining up the winning putt ... with TV viewers getting a clear view of his Ping putter.

Swoosh be damned!

3. Even when Rodgers and the Packers clearly aren't at their best, they are amazing.

They will win the rest of their regular-season games, and I see absolutely no way an NFC team beats them in Green Bay during the playoffs. That means New England, Pittsburgh or maybe Baltimore will have to do it in the Super Bowl.

2. Of course, the biggest victory of the weekend involving a team from the Land of Cheese and More Cheese was ...

Marquette 61, Wisconsin 54.

My wife and I watched the game at a Charlotte establishment with several other MU alums and it was a joy to behold.

Despite playing without their starting point guard and despite getting almost no production from standout forward Jae Crowder, who was in foul trouble throughout, our Golden Warriors dominated every aspect of the game and led almost from tip to horn.

This is the deepest, most athletically dynamic team Buzz Williams has had at Marquette, and I have a feeling I'm going to be thrilling (or boring) you many times this season with tales of their exploits. Deal with it!

1. For the sixth straight year, I will not be watching one second of any of the meaningless exhibitions masquerading as college football from now until early January.

I call it Boycott College Sham.

Not the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, featuring Illinois and UCLA teams that have a combined 12-13 record and have fired their coaches; not the Pinstripe Bowl, which will take place on what's sure to be a sunny Dec. 30 day in the Bronx; not even the Beef O'Brady's Bowl, which by name alone should humiliate participants Florida International and Marshall.

And certainly not the mythical championship game, in which LSU gets another chance to beat an Alabama team that has no more of a claim to this spot than any of a half-dozen other squads.

This is not to hate on 'Bama. It might be one of the top two teams ... and it might not be. We simply cannot know as long as the BCS is allowed to exist.

I know my one-man protest means nothing. Hell, it meant nothing even when I had a real voice as a newspaper columnist and enlisted a few followers.

It just makes me feel good not to be party to a system that rewards hypocrisy, stupidity, rigidity and mediocrity.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Over and out for the Cain Train

It was fun while it lasted but it's officially over for Mr. 9-9-9.

No, Herman Cain has not announced yet that he's ending his never-had-a-chance bid for the GOP presidential nomination, but he has said this:

"It ain't over till it's over."

Which, of course, is the death knell.

Ever since Yogi Berra said that (or at least was reputed to have said that), a zillion other underdogs have uttered that mumbo-jumbo.

Alas, a zillion out of a zillion times, there was no comeback.

Good rule of thumb: As soon as somebody says "It ain't over till it's over," you know for certain that it's over.

Herman was good for a laugh, but he can now return to reality. Which, he might tell you, is nowhere near Libya.