Monday, July 30, 2012

Neil Reed: ruined forever and ever by Bobby Knight

If you were known for only one thing in your entire life, how would you like that one thing to be this:

You were bullied by somebody famous.

That was the fate of Neil Reed, who back in 1997 foolishly put his throat in the way of Bobby Knight's vice-like grip.

Even though Knight was a bellicose boor -- and, by the late-90s, an out-of-touch geezer who had stopped winning NCAA tournament games as he ran a once-proud program into the ground -- many fans/apologists/lemmings never forgave Reed for his role in Knight's exodus from Hoosierland.

The incident, caught on tape that clearly showed Knight throttling the young basketball player, led to Bobby being put on double-secret probation by Miles "Dean Wormer" Brand. Another incident soon followed (of course), and Knight was sent packing.

Ridiculously -- but predictably -- the bully was deified and the victim was vilified. This, of course, is typical behavior of blindly loyal college sports lemmings (see: Paterno Worshippers, Penn State University).

With the pitchfork-and-torch crowd closing in, Reed had to bolt Hoosierland and ended up at Southern Miss. He eventually became a high school coach and teacher.

Neil Reed died last week at 36 of heart complications. I'm guessing that thousands of Hoosierland sickos were happy when they heard the news.

His obituary in every newspaper in the country identified him as the player choked by Knight. That's who Neil Reed was -- not only until his dying days but for all eternity.

Bobby Knight not only ruined Reed's basketball career and Reed's life, the bully also ruined Neil Reed's death.

How sad is that?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The GM who gave my career a boost

In 1987, the year the NFL played with replacement players, I called Vikings GM Mike Lynn to get his opinion on something. (I was the AP sports reporter in Minneapolis.) About 5 minutes into our conversation, he almost casually mentioned that the strike was over and the regular players were coming back. I asked a follow-up question -- basically asked him to repeat it because I couldn't believe my ears. 

We ended the conversation and I immediately called call our HQ in New York. As it turned out, this was news. Our sports editor and football writer whipped up a quick story and got it out on the wire, and TV and radio stations were quoting AP's story. Soon, the NFL and other teams confirmed the news.

I didn't get a byline on the story (nor should I have), but the sports editor -- a guy who rarely said nice things about anybody -- later sent out a note to the entire staff that praised me. Shortly thereafter, I started getting more national assignments, including the '88 Calgary Games (my first of five Olympics) the following winter.

I was 27 years old, one of the youngest (if not the youngest) full-time sportswriters in the company, and I was considered one of the "up-and-comers." Though my career trajectory was pointing up, I always felt that NFL strike story helped move things along more quickly for me.

Why am I writing about this now?

The Vikings announced Saturday that Lynn died. Obituaries led with his failed deal for Herschel Walker, which I suppose is appropriate. A year or so after the deal, when the jury was still out on it, Lynn said the trade probably would determine his legacy.

There was a lot more to Lynn than that trade, though. For one thing, he was a brilliant businessman and self-promoter. At one point, he negotiated a deal with team owner Max Winter that would bring him 10 percent of the suite revenue at the Metrodome forever. Yes, forever! Lynn collected on that for the rest of his life.

He also was a pretty good GM who got Cris Carter off the scrap heap and drafted numerous Hall of Famers and Pro Bowlers. Most of the players hated Lynn because he was a ruthless contract negotiator. He didn't care if players held out, because he knew he always was going to win in the end; back then, NFL players had zero leverage.

Like White Sox GM Ken Williams, Lynn was a "swing for the fences" guy who loved to make the big deals. For two decades, Lynn was ripped for the 1989 Walker deal, which sent a bunch of draft picks to the Cowboys; Jimmy Johnson parlayed those picks into the core of a Dallas team that would go on to win three Super Bowls.

At the time of the trade, however, many thought the Vikings got the better end of it. Walker's debut was spectacular and the team was in national headlines all season. Some pundits even thought Lynn had fleeced Johnson because the Vikings had landed a true game-changing superstar.

When Walker turned out to be anything but a superstar -- he spent the rest of his career with several teams as a supporting-cast kind of guy -- Lynn took the heat. By the early 90s, he was out of the Vikings' front office.

While most remember Lynn for that deal, I remember him as an ideal GM from a reporter's perspective. He loved the limelight and was always reachable -- even when there was bad news, such as the many drunk-driving arrests that plagued the team back then.

He once told me he never wanted to see a line in a newspaper saying he "could not be reached for comment" because that made it sound like a person was trying to hide something. I always thought it would be great if every GM, coach and athlete saw it that way.

And I of course remember Lynn for that NFL strike "scoop." It would be a leap to say it launched my career, but it certainly helped move it along.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Heimlich Maneuver, please!

I've witnessed many chokers over the years. Now I know how the Cubs -- and the rest of them -- felt.

My softball team, the Blue Thunder, lost in the playoffs Tuesday night. That's bad enough. We had become a really good team, as good as any in the league, so it sucked to have our season come to an end.

You know what sucks even more? Being the goat. A choker.

We were down 6-5 going in the top of the last inning. I was in right field. There were two outs, bases loaded. The next guy hit a line-drive between me and the right-center fielder. I got a late jump but I was there. Got my glove on the ball. Couldn't make the catch. Three runs scored. 9-5.

We got the final out and came to bat. You know how announcers always say, "It always seems like the guy who made the great play leads off the bottom of the inning"? Well, sometimes, the guy who choked and committed a three-run error also leads off the bottom of the inning. And then that guy gets to choke all over again, grounding out to shortstop.

We ended up scoring one run so we lost by three. The difference was the three-run error by the choking right fielder. 

When he blew Game 7 of the NLCS against the Marlins, Kerry Wood looked a roomful of reporters in the eye and said: "I choked." He was man enough to admit it, and so am I.

I know I'm being awfully hard on myself. As many of my teammates later said as they tried to console me: If you only score six runs in softball, you can't win. I suppose that's true. We had been hitting the hell out of the ball, but just about everybody struggled in this one.

Still, if the right fielder makes that catch ...

OK. I've bloodied myself enough. It's a great group of guys and we'll be teammates again in the Fall League. In a day or three, I'll shake this off ... I think.

Until then, I'll wallow in self-pity a little. That's what chokers do, no?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Trying to remember how to have a ball

Aside from the obvious -- my kids and my close friends -- the thing I miss the most about Chicago is baseball.

When I came to that realization, it surprised me a little. After all, I'm neither a Cubs fan nor a White Sox fan ... and, in fact, I spent the a good part of my 16 years there making fun of both teams.

(OK, I made lots more fun of the Cubbies. For 100-plus obvious reasons. But that's besides the point.)

Looking back, there was something cool about waking up every summer morning knowing there was going to be a game in my town that afternoon or evening. And as one who made a living chronicling the adventures of Ozzie, Sammy, Paulie and Gracie, it truly was comforting, too.

Here in Charlotte, we don't have baseball. Even the Triple-A team plays in a suburb across the border in South Carolina. I'd call the Knights an afterthought, but that would be insulting afterthoughts everywhere.

Fortunately, I can follow baseball pretty easily. On any given night, there are a half-dozen games being aired on some combination of ESPN, MLB, WGN and the various regional sports channels on my cable package.

Oh yeah, there's that InterWeb thingy, too. That comes in handy.

So anyway ...

This being the All-Star break -- and with another of Bud Selig's thrilling This Time It Counts All-Star Games in the books -- I thought I'd take a quick look at what we've seen to date and what we'll see in the season's second half.


5. The Angels' season has been saved by a rookie (Mike Trout) who makes roughly a zillionth as much money as the guy who was supposed to save them (Albert Pujols).

4. The NL East has become the Bizarro Division, with the Nationals rolling to a 4-game lead over the Braves ... and a 14-game lead over the Phillies.

3. Statistically, two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum is the worst pitcher in the major leagues. Somehow, his Giants are in a dead heat with the Dodgers atop the NL West.

2. Pitchers great (Matt Cain) and not so great (Phil Humber) threw perfect games, and three other guys threw no-hitters, but it was a guy who could "only" throw a couple of one-hitters, R.A. Dickey, who knuckled his way into the headlines the most.

1. The Pirates are in first place. Repeat: The Pittsburgh Effin Pirates are in first place!!


5. Melky Cabrera. Batting .356 for a Giants team with nary another .300 hitter.

4. Carlos Beltran. 20 HR, 65 RBI for Cardinals. Albert Who?

3. David Wright. I thought the Mets would be anchored in last place by now.

2. Joey Votto. The Big Red Hitting Machine.

1. Andrew McCutchen. You did get the memo that the Pittsburgh Effin Pirates are in first place, right?


5. Mike Trout. Albert's Angels were wound too tight until the kid showed 'em how to have fun again.

4. Paul Konerko. Once again, Mr. Dependable on the South Side.

3. Robinson Cano. A swing of beauty for the Yankees.

2. Miguel Cabrera. After a slow start, the Tigers are right there.

1. Josh Hamilton. Duh.


5. I admit I was skeptical at first, but I'm loving the idea of the second wild-card team. There finally is real incentive to winning a division vs. being a wild-card team, and this situation sets up potentially incredible races between the Rangers and Angels; the White Sox and Tigers (sorry Indians; I'm not feeling ya); the Pirates and the rest of the NL Central; and, especially, the Dodgers and Giants. If I'm gonna criticize The Commish for his silly ideas, I have to praise him for his good ones.

4. Cubbieland needs to let Anthony Rizzo be the 22-year-old rookie and not ask him to be the next Tyler Colvin. Because ridiculous expectations didn't work out so well for the last Tyler Colvin.

3. I wouldn't bet against Pujols finishing with 30 HR, 100 RBI and a postseason berth. Someday before his contract expires, he'll be mediocre. Someday, however, is still lots and lots and lots of days away. (Meanwhile, someday seems to have arrived for Alex Rodriguez. Hey, nobody ever said life without HGH would be easy.)

2. Really looking forward to Robin Ventura matching wits with Jim Leyland down the stretch.

1. Nats vs. Pirates in the NLCS! Crazy? Impossible? Well, the Twins and Braves each finished in last place in 1990, a year before they met in the best World Series I've ever seen.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The eyes didn't have it

Why haven't I been posting lately? Two reasons:

1. Eye-eye-eye, have eye had problems!

I developed what the doctor termed an "ulcer" on my left cornea. It went from being a little uncomfortable to feeling as if somebody was poking my eye with a rusty nail. I lived with it for a few days, thinking that I just had something in my eye or that I had a small scratch. Finally, tired of hearing me whine, Roberta convinced me to go to the doctor, who made the diagnosis and prescribed some drops.

The drops have been working; at my follow-up exam today, the doctor said he was very pleased with my progress. I have no more stabbing pains and only a little discomfort, and my acuity is slowly returning in my left eye. (Thankfully, I have 20-20 vision in my right eye.) My dose has been reduced from 9 drops per day to 5, and I hope to be fully healed in a week.

The eye woes cost me an entire weekend of work at the country club, which obviously sucks. The situation also kept me from spending much time at the computer or in front of the TV, because the light from each bothered my eye greatly.

2. Straight cash, homey..

What little time I did have in front of the computer, I used to write something that actually will make me a little money: another financial article for Seeking Alpha.

It's about my desire to buy stock in oil companies. If you care a little about the subject, click away. If you don't care, still click away because I earn $$$ (or at least cents) per click!


I hope to post again sometime during the All-Star break with some baseball observations. No doubt, you'll be holding your breath in anticipation the entire time.