What are we supposed to make of the Ryan Braun doping incident?
The give-a-dude-the-benefit-of-doubt and innocent-until-proven-guilty sides of me are happy that, if he really was innocent, he was exonerated.
The born cynic in me -- the one who is still mad at himself for letting down his guard and getting duped by Sammy Flintstone Vitamins and Mark McLiar -- can't help but shake the feeling that Braun got away with the juicing equivalent of manslaughter.
Mostly, I have questions ...
Given that some BBWAA voters didn't cast Hall of Fame ballots for Jeff Bagwell and Edgar Martinez on the mere suspicion of steroid use, will Braun be denied baseball's ultimate honor no matter how great his final numbers are?
Did an innocent Braun have to argue something that made him sound guilty -- a chain-of-custody screwup involving his urine sample -- because it really is impossible to prove one's innocence when one has been charged with doping?
Will his success at beating the charge embolden other ballplayers to try to cheat?
If Braun was guilty, why has he passed every other drug test he was given, including a follow-up test shortly after the one in question detected elevated levels of testosterone?
As with most issues, there are serious shades of gray. Opinions, however, are mostly black and white. Those who want to think Braun is guilty won't change their minds. Nor will those who want to think he's innocent.
Brewers fans will stick with him no matter what, the same way Giants and Cardinals fans who were deceived by Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire still cheer their heroes.
Braun has always seemed to be a decent guy. I want to believe him. It's not easy.
If college basketball success is measured by national championships, Illinois hasn't had a successful coach in the modern era. If, however, success is measured by Final Four appearances, Bruce Weber and Lou Henson have been the only successful coaches in the last six decades.
What else -- besides first names that, in good times, elicited "oooooo" sounds from fans -- do Henson and Weber have in common?
Despite a thrilling ride to the Final Four in '89, two other appearances in the tournament's second weekend and a dozen NCAA bids overall, Henson was run out of Urbana-Champaign by a pitchfork-and-torch-wielding mob that deemed him inadequate in his last few seasons.
Weber took the Illini to the 2005 NCAA title game and led them to six tourney bids in his first eight years. But Season No. 9 has been horrific and new AD Mike Thomas is ready to clean house -- much to the delight of a salivating, angry fanbase.
Contrast the departure of Henson and imminent departure of Weber to those of the two other Illinois coaches of the last 35 years: Lon Kruger and Bill Self.
Kruger hung around for only four years, leading the Illini to the second round of the NCAA tourney in three of those seasons, before bolting for the NBA's Atlanta Hawks.
Self stayed in Urbana-Champaign for just three seasons -- taking the Illini to the Elite Eight, Sweet Sixteen and second round -- before leaving for the college hoops nirvana of Lawrence, Kansas.
Self, who had said he envisioned a long career at Illinois, was ripped for being disloyal after he left. To this day, even though he recruited the outstanding players who helped Weber reach the '05 title game, S-E-L-F is a four-letter word in Illini Land.
Kruger was neither as popular nor quite as successful as Self, but he, too, was blasted for turning his back on the program.
Which brings us to the subject of loyalty.
Illinois fans are ticked off that Kruger and, especially, Self were disloyal. These same fans have had absolutely no problem being disloyal to Henson and Weber. Nor would those fans have worried about being disloyal to Kruger and Self had either of those men encountered a rough stretch.
I'm not saying this only happens in Urbana-Champaign. It happens everywhere, including my alma mater. I know Marquette fans whose blood still boils at the mere mention of Tom Crean, who left for Indiana four years ago. (My blood doesn't boil. I appreciated Crean for rebuilding the program but never thought he was a great coach, and I prefer his replacement, Buzz Williams.)
Point is: Fans are loyal only to the extent that their coach wins. Period.
Is that fair? Come on ... what is fair? It simply is.
Obviously, if Weber really could have had the Oklahoma job last year as had been rumored, he should have taken it.
To hell with loyalty.
It's far better to do what Self and Kruger did and beat the pitchforks and torches out of town, because loyalty is never a two-way street.
OK, I now can fess up: I hadn't been posting because Roberta and I were in Cancun, where we met our kids (who had flown down from Chicago). I don't like to advertise vacations before I'm taking them or while I'm on them -- better to keep would-be house-robbers in the dark!
Weather-wise, our trip was spectacular: low 80s and sunny every day. And it was so much fun to spend a week with Katie and Ben, whom we hadn't seen since October. Hopefully, it won't be so long next time.
We mostly enjoyed the weather, the beach, the pool and each other, but we did spend one day exploring the ruins of Chichen Itza and swimming in a "cenote" (kind of a watering hole/cave combination. Lots of good food and plenty of games of Scrabble, Boggle, cribbage, Catchphrase and Who-What-Where, too.
If I said posting at The Baldest Truth was what I missed most while I was gone, I'd be fibbing. When we picked our puppy Simcha up from the sitter last night, she acted as if we'd been gone a year. It's always great to be loved so unconditionally!
4. NEW KNICK SURE HAS KNACK
How 'bout that kid who is lifting the Knicks to greatness?
Of course, I'm talking about former Marquette star Steve Novak!
Like everybody else, I've been floored by all that Jeremy Lin has accomplished in his short stint as an NBA starter. I keep waiting for him to hit a wall; instead, he keeps knocking every wall down.
He certainly is the best sports story so far in 2012, and he already is on the short list of legitimate NBA MVP candidates.
Pretty amazing for a twice-cut kid from Harvard who couldn't get on the court for the Knicks until half the team was injured.
Whether in sports or in real life, sometimes all a person needs is opportunity.
3. MARCH TOWARD MARCH
My favorite thing about the opening of spring training is that it means one of my favorite sports months is only days away.
March Madness ... spring training ... NBA and NHL entering the stretch run ... and no NFL draft. What's not to love?
2. TEBOW OR NOT TEBOW?
Because both are young athletes with extremely strong religious beliefs who have energized downtrodden teams, Lin quite often has been compared to Tim Tebow.
Lin hasn't been awful for the first 90 percent of every game he has played. Game in and game out, opening tip to final horn, Lin has been the catalyst for a Knicks team that had been completely rudderless.
Contrast that to Tebow, who benefited from a fine Broncos defense that kept games close while he made mistake after mistake. Trying to protect late leads, opposing coaches then changed what they were doing and practically gave Tebow engraved invitations to rally the Broncos. To his credit, he accepted those invitations and succeeded.
As winter fades to spring and the Knicks try to make this season a special one, it will be interesting to see how opposing coaches adjust to Lin. It will be even more interesting to see how the Knicks adjust when Carmelo Anthony -- who is used to having the ball in his hands about 99.9 percent of the time -- returns to the lineup.
Tebow failed miserably the last few weeks of the season and the Broncos only backed into the playoffs because their division rivals were even worse.
How will Lin do in April and May? That's the question I want to see answered.
1. WHY SHOULD KATE UPTON HAVE ALL THE FUN?
That right ... if you look at that picture of me and Roberta carefully, you'll see that we obviously were airbrushed.
And just when you thought we couldn't possibly get any sexier!
The Cubs' new pitching coach is former Brewers right-hander Chris Bosio. He's come a long way in just a few years. In 2007, he was the pitching coach at Division III Lawrence University, where my daughter just so happened to be a student trainer assigned to the baseball team.
What did Katie think of Bosio?
"He NEVER let the boys swear around me ... that's pretty much my only memory of him. Oh, and the fact that he chewed approximately a bucket of seeds per practice. Two per game."
Sounds eminently qualified to me!
Regular readers will note that this is my first post of the week, and it might or might not be my last post for another week.
No real reason for the break. Just chillaxin' instead of bloggin'.
And you know what? The pay's exactly the same!
Be back eventually. I know you'll barely be able to stand each passing minute.
A month into the 1994 baseball season, I covered a no-hitter pitched by Twins enigma Scott Erickson. What made the feat especially amazing was that he had allowed the most hits in the major leagues the year before.
The most hittable pitcher in baseball throwing a no-hitter. It isn't easy to beat that for irony.
Well, Sunday night in a memorable Super Bowl, Wes Welker out-ironied Erickson.
From 2007-11, the Patriots' star receiver caught 554 passes, by far the most of any NFL player. In the season just concluded, he led the league with 122 catches -- 22 more than anybody else.
And yet there he was Sunday, with about 4 minutes to play, dropping a Tom Brady pass that hit him in the hands. NBC announcer Cris Collinsworth, a former All-Pro receiver, was stunned: "Welker makes that catch 100 times out of 100."
The catch would have given the Patriots a first down inside the Giants' 20-yard line. The Patriots already led by 2 points, so if they had proceeded to go in for a TD, it would have sealed the deal. Even if the Pats would have settled for a field goal, the Giants were down to one time out, there would have been precious little time left and a victory would have been difficult even for comeback king Eli Manning.
But Welker dropped the ball, the Patriots had to punt, and Manning, with plenty of time on the clock and needing only a field goal to take the lead, methodically marched the Giants to the winning score.
There were many things that did the Patriots in, including uncharacteristic penalties, an inability to run the ball and Brady being mortal.
Still, had the NFL's premier pass-catcher caught an eminently catchable pass, the Patriots almost surely would have won their fourth title.
The Giants appear to be better at just about every position -- even QB, given the way Eli Manning and Tom Brady have been playing lately. That leads many TV yakkers and other "experts" who should know better to wonder why the Patriots actually are favored.
Being favored has fairly little to do with which team the oddsmakers believe will win a game. Oddsmakers try to pick a number that will lead to the same number of bets on each team, plain and simple. If the Giants win, only a fool would call it an upset.
Now that I've wasted time, I guess I actually have to come up with a prediction.
I really, really, really hate picking against Brady and Bill Belichick. But I really, really think the Giants are a good team that is peaking at exactly the right time. The New Jerseyites' defense rates a huge edge over its Massachusetts counterpart, and defense still counts for something.
Giants 23, Patriots 20.
And they won't even need a guy to catch a pass with his helmet this time.