Friday, February 27, 2009

Today's financial tip: Avoid newspaper stocks

"Hey Mike, miss you in the State Journal-Register," wrote Springfield-area reader Gary DeCourcy in an e-mail I just received. "What's goin' on?"

I've been getting about five letters like this every week, Most (but not all) have come from long-time loyal Central Illinois readers, who at first thought I was taking an extended vacation but gradually started realizing something was amiss.

I explained to Gary what I've been explaining to everybody: GateHouse Media, the cash-strapped company that owns the SJR and nearly 100 other newspapers, eliminated the Chicago sports columnist position and made me an official government statistic.

Unfortunately, GateHouse never let me write a farewell column. Also, the Springfield and Peoria papers, two of the largest to publish my stuff these last 11 years, were instructed by the corporate suits to reject a letter-to-the-editor I had hoped to write; I had planned to thank the readers. Heck, those newspapers weren't even allowed to print a paragraph explaining to readers where I went.

Shhh. Maybe if they could pretend I wasn't canned, nobody would notice.

Readers aren't stupid, though. And those who hadn't heard through the grapevine and who aren't regular The Baldest Truth readers started writing to ask me what I'd been doing.

Well, one of the things I had been doing was trying to self-syndicate my column. Based partly on the overwhelming support I have received from readers, I thought that if I could get enough newspapers to agree to pay a bargain-basement rate for my work, I'd do a couple of columns a week and syndicate them to papers around the state.

Because there is so little money available in newspaper budgets nowadays, however, that effort appears to have hit a dead end.

Truly, a sign of the times.

Just as Obi-wan Kenobe felt "a great disturbance in the Force" when the Death Star blew Alderaan to smithereens, I felt a great disturbance in my industry Friday, when Denver's esteemed Rocky Mountain News printed its final edition. 

I fear that scenario will be repeated over and over again in 2009 - and beyond. And, frankly, I'm a little worried about what it will mean for our country. Even with newspapers policing them, our politicians run amok. What will happen when most of our papers are blown to smithereens?

But hey, I don't want this edition of TBT to end on such a morbid note, so ...

I've decided to concentrate on helping those who are less fortunate, especially those who are having difficulty making ends meet in these troubling times.

That's right, I'm talking about Manny Ramirez.

Come on, Dodgers, cough up the dough. I mean, how is a man supposed to keep his braids looking good with deferred money?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

If only Tiger had lasted as long as the guy in the tub

The Bald Truth

Well, we sure enjoyed that match-play tournament for the entire two days it mattered. Thanks, Tiger!

I think the thing I'll miss most are those wonderful Cialis commercials airing every 8 minutes. I mean, nothing says intimacy like a man and a woman sitting in separate bathtubs.

The Quote

"He's having a peep at his bag. That's cheeky! Did you see that? I can't imagine he needs to look in Tim Clark's bag to see what Tim's hitting." - Nick Faldo, accusing Tiger of spying.

The Balder Truth

Though I joked about the match-play tourney no longer mattering after Tiger's ouster, I suspect I will spend much of the weekend watching the event.

I love golf and I especially love the match-play format. There is so much strategy involved and it becomes almost as big a mental test as a test of golf skills.

Tim Clark refused to be intimidated by Tiger Woods, and that factored greatly in his victory.

Of course, it didn't hurt that he made a putt that started in Phoenix. 

Bald Dude of the Day

From here on in, pretty tough for a guy like me not to root for Stewart Cink

The Quote II

"Get in the hole!" - some moron, a nanosecond after Tiger hit his drive on No. 15 about a mile out of bounds.


The Bulls have exactly one great player. And if Vinny Del Negro really thinks they are better with Derrick Rose on the bench in the final minutes of close games, John Paxson should act like a GM, show a little mercy to fans and fire this sorry excuse for a coach right now.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sweet Lou, the Sweet Shrink

The Bald Truth

Anybody who thinks Lou Piniella is slowing down upstairs must have missed the way he totally played Carlos Marmol the last week or so.

Sweet Lou gently "joked" that it would be all well and good if Marmol chose to play in the World Baseball Classic ... but new Cubbie Kevin Gregg would be back in Arizona throwing 98 mph BBs.

Marmol, who desperately wants the glory and cash that go to top big-league closers, made the wise decision to skip the idiotic WBC. He opted to work for the team paying his salary and to compete head-to-head against Gregg.

Now, if only Piniella could have convinced Alfonso Soriano to play in the WBC, which would have let somebody else win the leadoff job ...


I've probably walked 50 rounds with Tiger Woods while covering him over the years, so I can just imagine how daunting it must be to golf with (and against) him.

Writers and photographers are tripping over each other. TV cameras follow his every move. Hundreds (or thousands) of fans start walking away after Tiger finishes a hole ... even as the other golfer is trying to concentrate on making a putt. All of the positive crowd energy is focused squarely on Tiger. If interviewed by the media after a round, the opponent is expected to talk only about Tiger.

In other words, Tiger always has a major home-course advantage.

Now, multiply the circus atmosphere times 10 Wednesday because it was Tiger's first round in eight months.

Put it all together and Aussie Brendan Jones deserves several large cans of Foster's for the way he competed in his match-play loss to The Greatest of All Time.

Greg Norman: Share the wealth (as long is it's not mine)

The Bald Truth

Ever willing and able to take the lead, Greg Norman says PGA Tour pros should show some "sensitivity" regarding the world's economic plight by voluntarily taking a collective pay cut.

Funny ... Norman didn't conclude by saying he'd happily take lesser profits on his clothing line, golf-course construction company and other businesses.

But what did you expect? The man never was much of a finisher. 

The Balder Truth

You see Pat Knight getting all p.o.-ed at the refs and wonder: "Now where the heck did that come from? The kid was raised better than that!"


Back in 1988, when I was a 20-something reporter for AP in Minneapolis, the Vikings signed Mossy Cade, a talented ex-Packers cornerback who had just been paroled after serving a 15-month term for rape.

Cade had served his debt to society and the Vikings needed a good defensive back, so I applauded GM Mike Lynn's decision to give Cade a second shot at an NFL career.

Immediately, public outcry was so loud and severe that Lynn, who rarely gave a rat's rear what others thought, buckled under the pressure and cut the player. Cade never played football again.

I bring this up because soon, dog-abuser Michael Vick will be out of prison and looking for a job. Some NFL owner will sign the former Pro Bowl QB ... and immediately PETA and other groups will go crazy.

Here's hoping the owner who signs him won't buckle.

Yes, what Vick did was horrible. But you know what? That's why we have prisons. He served his time. He apologized for his sins. He has been rehabilitated, which is the entire idea of the system. 

It's time to move on.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Of Oscar errors, stupid rules and Joe the Twin

The List

Ten random observations from the weekend that was:

1. Not rooting for the Twins to beat the White Sox (or for the White Sox to beat the Twins, for that matter), but I hope good guy Joe Crede has a healthy, productive season for his new ballclub. 

2. To the press-conference inquisitor who got Jim Calhoun all hot and bothered: Successful major-sport college coaches deserve every penny they are paid. Nobody at any university - and that includes the school president - works harder or faces more scrutiny than the head basketball or football coach.

3.  Interviewing is easy if one can do it in the setting in which Baba Wawa always gets to ask questions - one-on-one with the subject, with the camera rolling and with millions of viewers watching (or about to watch). She'd impress me a lot more if she got anything substantive out of an angry jock in the corner of a crowded locker room.

4. Late in Sunday's Bulls-Pacers game, Stacey King identified 17 games the Bulls "should" win before season's end (including Sunday's contest). His team promptly lost. Hey Stacey: The Lakers or Celtics are good enough to say they should win a game; the Bulls aren't. Fact is, opposing teams - including the Pacers - think they should beat the Bulls every time.

5. As outstanding as Sean Penn was in Milk, even he gave a shout-out to deserving Best Actor winner Mickey Rourke. I'd like to thank the Academy ... for missing the obvious.

6. Rutgers receiver Kevin Britt told reporters at the NFL Combine that he wants to be drafted by the Bears so Devin Hester can be his "mentor." That's a good one. Were Britt at receiver for the Bears, he'd have to tell Hester where to line up on half the plays.

7. Wow ... 70 points for the Illini. Just like a big-boy team!

8. Not a single day will go by in 2009 without one of the New York papers coming up with some dirt on A-Roid.

9. Smart of Phil Mickelson to squeeze in a victory before Tiger returns to the tour.

10. The Bulls have told all recent acquisitions that they're still enforcing their no-headband mandate. Brilliant rule! Very important to a team's success! Thank goodness they won't let a headband-wearing loser like LeBron join the team when he becomes a free agent next year.

Friday, February 20, 2009

It's Slumdog vs. four wannabes

Here's how I handicap the race: Slumdog Millionaire vs. four films that barely merited spots in Oscar's starting gate.

In other words, Secretariat vs. The Field. 

It's that lopsided ... or at least it should be.

Of the five films nominated - the others being The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Reader, Frost/Nixon and Milk - only Slumdog exceeded the considerable hype surrounding it.

A brilliant concept executed brilliantly on the screen, which is the very definition of a great movie.

Ben Button? Zzzzzzz. I could have edited out 45 minutes. The Reader? Kate Winslet was so good she almost saved it. Nixon was fun, but aside from Frank Langella as Tricky Dick, the acting wasn't noteworthy. Milk was a nice biopic - and nice shouldn't be good enough to win an Oscar, especially when up against something as grand as Slumdog.

I'm a little sad - only a little, because it's only the movies - that four of the five best flicks I saw weren't nominated.

The Wrestler was my favorite, full of great acting and funny scenes and emotion. Doubt, the superbly acted movie about a priest gone bad (we think), was a superior drama to The Reader. In Bruges, a hilarious buddy/caper movie, was as enjoyable as anything to hit the screen. And Let the Right One In, a charming Swedish film about a 12-year-old vampire girl - that's right: I said charming, Swedish, 12-year-old, vampire and girl in the same sentence - was an absolute delight.

Heck, if you throw in Man On Wire, The Dark Knight and Wall-E - and you certainly could - that would be seven films better than the four non-Slumdog entries.

So it really is hard to fathom Slumdog not winning a deserving Oscar. I mean, Secretariat didn't break his leg down the homestretch of the Belmont.


As for some of the other main categories ...

ACTOR (Richard Jenkins,  Frank Langella, Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Mickey Rourke):

Aside from Pitt, any of them are deserving. Langella absolutely nailed Nixon, Penn was as solid as ever and Jenkins was special in The Visitor. Still, I'm pulling for Rourke, who took a wonderful role and made The Wrester memorable.

ACTRESS (Anne Hathaway, Angelina Jolie, Melissa Leo, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet):

I didn't see three of the films, but the majority of experts seem to be siding with Winslet, who was excellent. In a head-to-head matchup, though, I'd go with Streep, who as the pushy, old-school nun in Doubt kicked Philip Seymour Hoffman's priestly butt.

SUPPORTING ACTOR (Josh Brolin, Robert Downey Jr., Philip Seymour Hoffman, Heath Ledger, Michael Shannon):

Everybody says Ledger should and will win. Everybody is right.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS (Amy Adams, Penelope Cruz, Viola Davis, Taraji Henson, Marisa Tomei): 

As good as Tomei was during her "hey, I'm still around" turn in The Wrestler, this actually happened: After Davis finished her amazing, powerful, 12-minute scene with Streep in Doubt, I turned to my wife and whispered: "Wow. She should win the Oscar." Nothing has happened to change my mind. 

And last but not least ... 


The Cubs' thorough incompetence during their second straight postseason collapse was so incredibly realistic ...

But no 97-win team could have been so completely inept on the big stage, right?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tiger's back and there's gonna be trouble

The Bald Truth

Tiger Woods is coming back next week, and you know what that means.

Time for the rest of the world's top golfers to genuflect, kiss the king's ring and get back to the task of competing for second place.

The Balder Truth

Nice to see and hear Charles Barkley, the best studio analyst in all of televised sport, on TNT again. 

Let's take him at his word that the next time he ties one on, he'll let somebody sober drive him home.


Illini Land denizens are aghast that their heroes managed only 33 points against Penn State, but I've seen that kind of thing dozens of times.

Maybe not since my daughter was playing seventh-grade hoops, but dozens of times.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New Lee-doff hitter for Cubs?

The Bald Truth

My son Ben looked up from the Tribune - and his breakfast - to say: "Hey, here's something you're not gonna believe."

My response: "What? That somebody too young to run for president actually is reading a newspaper?"

"No, it's Derrek Lee saying he'd be willing to bat leadoff for the Cubbies."

Ben was right. I didn't believe it.

Less than one year ago, I ran the numbers and concluded that Lee was the Cubs' best choice to bat leadoff. When I presented my theory to him - complete with several pages of supporting evidence - he practically laughed in my face. 

"For the good of the team," he said, "I've got to bat in the middle somewhere, right?"

He then yelled out to Lou Piniella as the skipper walked through the spring-training clubhouse: "Hey, Lou! He wants me to hit leadoff!"

"What?!?!" Piniella shrieked, sounding as if he had just seen Erin Andrews stroll through the clubhouse wearing only a thong and a smile.

Yeah, it was a big joke back then but now the Cubs are so desperate to get more production out of the leadoff spot that they're willing to consider anything. 

Even putting a high-on-base-percentage guy at the top of the order.

Imagine that.

The Balder Truth

Actually, Lee probably wasn't offering to bat leadoff. He was just making a point that he'd happily hit anywhere.

Alfonso Soriano, who is just about the worst leadoff option on the team but has some strange psychological bond to the spot, also said as much ... with a caveat.

"If they want to move me, I'd like to stay in one spot and not switch," he told reporters in Arizona. "I'd like to concentrate on one spot."

Absolutely. Because Alfonso "Swing, Baby, Swing" Soriano brings different approaches to the plate depending upon where he bats in the order, right?


Poor Bristol Palin. She had to sit there, in front of Fox News' Greta Van Susteren and the far-right-leaning folks who hang on the network's every word, and admit that abstinence, while a swell concept for birth control, is "not realistic at all."

As we used to say when I was 18: 


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A-Roid's really stupid if he thinks we believe him

The Bald Truth

Nicely done, Alex Rodriguez: The Young and Stupid Defense

At his first press conference since being nailed for being a needle-in-the-keister juicer, A-Roid applied that defense to any question he didn't feel like answering. 

It was kind of like listening to a drunk driver saying he didn't know what he was doing because, well, he was drunk. 

Of course, unlike the Billion-Dollar Ballplayer, the drunk driver is punished for his crime.

The Quote I

"I didn't think we were taking steroids. That's again part of being young and stupid. It was over the counter. All these years, I never thought I did anything wrong."

Perfect. That explains why A-Roid kept his juicing secret "all these years" and repeatedly lied whenever asked about it.

The Balder Truth

Really, Alex? It was your unnamed "cousin" who got you the crap and shot you up with it? 

That's splendid. And when I was 12, I had a beautiful girlfriend who lived in California.

And really? A-Roid didn't know if he was taking drugs properly or if they were benefiting him at all, but he kept doing it for three years as he piled up the stats and the money?

This guy's a pistol.

The Quote II

"I knew we weren't taking Tic Tacs."

Yeah, I thought I was shooting up Altoids. That's how young and stupid I was.


During his press conference, A-Roid said nothing to make us believe his claim that he didn't start juicing until 2001. Nor should any intelligent observer accept his assertion that he hasn't taken HGH or other hard-to-detect performance enhancers since he saw the light in 2003.

Hey, I'm not outraged by anything A-Roid says or does. (Or, for that matter, anything the hundreds of other juicers this last quarter-century have said or done.) Through their willingness to support their teams at any price, fans have shown they don't care what their heroes do off the field, so why should I or any other media mope be outraged?

All I'm saying is the man is a proven liar and cheater, and that's all the information anybody needs about him as a human being.

Bottom line: 

One would have to be pretty young and stupid to believe a word the man says.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Jobless but hardly hopeless

Well, it's been one month since I officially became part of a statistic reflecting the nation's dire economic status, and the only thing that worries me is that I'm not especially worried.

Oh, and I feel a little guilty about not feeling even the least bit depressed.

I can't say unemployment is similar to or different than what I expected, because I didn't really know what to expect after cash-strapped GateHouse Media laid me off from my column-writing gig on Jan. 15. I mean, I had been a working stiff since I was 15, so I had no experience with the situation.

One indisputable fact: There is significantly less money coming into the family coffers - yes, even with the trillion dollars or so of unemployment benefits I'm receiving.

(That's right, folks: What your president and other elected officials didn't tell you was that the entire stimulus package would be going to me. Thanks, everybody!)

Though I've had my people (that would be me) talk to a few management-type people about possibilities in journalism, I can't say at this point that I'm very optimistic about staying in the business. Like so many industries, ours is in financial distress. There are few decent jobs available, and those that are available draw precisely 9,144 applicants each.

So why am I not worried or panicked or depressed? Because I'm working hard at keeping things in perspective.

For one thing, my wife Roberta is a registered nurse who will have a good job with good benefits for as long as she wants. While it's difficult to support a family on an R.N.'s salary, it does provide a nice safety net. We have been renters for most of the last two years, meaning we aren't stuck in a home we can't afford and/or can't sell. I feel so bad for those who are trapped in real-estate hell. We will be making the last college payment for our daughter Katie in one month. My son Ben is 21 and mostly independent. And we are not extravagant folks; give Rob and me a couple of tall iced teas and an episode of 24, and we're pretty content.

In other words, financially, I am much better off than many in my shoes, and I am grateful.

Beyond that, I simply know things will work out. I don't even know exactly what that means, but I feel in my gut that it's true. Somewhere out there, my next calling awaits. I just have to figure out what it is and pursue it.

Getting all stressed and crazy won't help, so I refuse to let it happen.

Once again, I thank the many, many, many people - readers, journalism colleagues, family and friends - who have taken the time to write or call with kind thoughts and encouragement.

With so many folks pulling for me, feeling sorry for myself is not an option.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Northwestern? Never!

The Bald Truth

Now that Northwestern has blown a 50-point lead in the last 2 minutes (or something like that) against Illinois, can the inexplicably hopeful Chicago media corps please stop suggesting that this might be the year the Mildcats finally make the NCAAs?

The List

Five things that will happen before Northwestern makes its NCAA hoops tourney debut:

1. America will elect another black president. And a female president. And a Jewish president. And an Albino president. And Blago president. And ... well, you get the idea.

2. The Cubs will celebrate their sixth straight World Series championship, breaking the record of the 1949-53 Yankees.

3. Phil Mickelson will beat Tiger Woods on the first playoff hole at Augusta.

4. Saying "Why bother fighting it any more?" Bud Selig will announce new rules requiring every ballplayer to take steroids, HGH, greenies and Flintstones Vitamins.

5. Everything and anything. Because Northwestern will never make the NCAAs. Never, ever, ever. OK, I'll stop trying to sugarcoat this: NEVER!

The Letter

From Wally Boller of Galesburg, Ill.: "I would like to go on the record with this prediction: Thirty minutes before the New York Jets' first game next fall, Brett Favre will drive up in a taxi, in full uniform, run out on the field and announce that he has decided not to retire after all."

And 30 minutes after that, ESPN will report that he might or might not retire after the season.


Forget all the A-Roid stuff. In what had to be the wildest baseball story of the offseason, an ex-girlfriend of Robbie Alomar filed a $15 million civil suit alleging that the likely Hall of Fame second baseman demanded unprotected sex with her for four years despite showing obvious signs that he had AIDS. Alomar has called her a liar.

I won't question the woman's sincerity because I don't know her or the circumstances, but I do wonder why she stuck around for four years.

I mean, it took abused ump John Hirschbeck only about four seconds to realize he never wanted to see Alomar again.

By the way, if my fellow BBWAA Hall of Fame voters are going to use the integrity, character and sportsmanship clauses to dismiss A-Roid and other juicers, shouldn't they give a big thumbs-down to Alomar when he becomes eligible for the next election class?

Or is inserting a syringe in one's own posterior less sportsmanlike than spitting in an umpire's face?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Juicers Hall of Fame

Got a call the other day from USA Today, which was polling BBWAA Hall of Fame voters about A-Roid Rodriguez. The question:

Will I or won't I vote for him when he becomes eligible five years after he retires?

My answer was a reluctant yes.

And not only for A-Roid but for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and, starting next year, Mark McGwire, for whom I hadn't voted his first three years on the ballot. (Sammy Sosa is a tougher sell, because he was caught corking his bat, too.)

What's starting to sink in for me is that the use of performance-enhancing drugs was so widespread from 1985 (and maybe earlier) through 2005 (and maybe later) that I probably either have to vote for every deserving ballplayer or no ballplayer at all, regardless of his stats.

It's obvious that we can't trust any of them. For example, Frank Thomas has denied ever taking steroids and was among the first players to welcome random testing. Then again, he was huge, he was muscular, he was moody and his body broke down, all tell-tale signs of juicing. Now please, I'm not saying The Big Hurt was The Big Syringe. All I'm saying is that we can't be sure.

So do we exclude only the guys named in the Mitchell Report? (Don't forget: McGwire and Sosa were barely mentioned.)

Do we exclude only the Mitchell guys and those whose names are about to be made public from the 2003 testing procedure? (That's what sunk A-Roid, thanks to great reporting by Sports Illustrated's Selena Roberts.)

Do we exclude only the Mitchell guys, the 2003 guys and those we're pretty darned sure took steroids?

Do we exclude only the Mitchell guys, the 2003 guys, the pretty-darned-sure guys and the guys we now suspect are taking HGH and other hard-to-detect enhancers?

Do guys who admit and apologize - even if their admissions and/or apologies are as unsatisfying as A-Roid's was - get dibs over guys who deny? What if the deniers are telling the truth?

Do we throw out two decades of candidates - every darned one of them, from frauds like A-Roid to choir boys like Jim Thome - because even if they weren't users they surely knew juicing was going on in their clubhouses and they chose to ignore it?

Or do we say this:

"Hey, there was the Dead Ball Era, the Live Ball Era, the greenies era, the nearly century-long era that didn't let black men play big-league ball and, from 1985-on, the Steroid Era. The Hall of Fame always has been about how players stacked up against their peers ... and McGwire had to bat against Clemens, Andy Pettitte had to pitch to A-Roid and so on."

The latter is where I'm leaning.

Now excuse me while I go take a long, hot, cleansing shower.

Monday, February 9, 2009

To Barack, from George

The List

Top 10 pieces of advice Dubya gave The New Guy after watching Monday's presidential press conference:

1. Make up nicknames for reporters. Call Helene Cooper Soul Sister. Call Jake Tapper Skippy. Call Michael Fletcher Specs. Call Helen Thomas Toots. Call Sam Stein Blogger Boy. That way, you'll be making it clear that you're the only serious player in the room.

2. What's with all of those well-thought-out answers, complete sentences and real words? When you interrupt yourself constantly and sound like an uneducated hick, it confuses the media mopes. Besides, making up words is just plain fun!

3. I'll tell you this once and only once: It's nuke-u-lar!

4. Don't promise transparency within your administration. Americans don't really want to know how their money is being spent and how their government is being run. Secrecy lends an air of importantuity to the operation.

5. Offer prayer as a solution. I'm proof that it works. For example, thanks to prayer, I won two elections I had no business winning.

6. Don't poke fun at your vice president. Every president should have a healthy fear of his veep.

7. Wear a bigger flag on your lapel. Everyone knows that the size of a politician's flag represents the level of his patriosity.

8. Call America's opponents "evil." That's the first step to scaring the bejeepers out of the public. And a scared public is a public that's willing to be manipulerated.

9. When you use a word like "stool," giggle like an 11-year-old.

10. Stop making eye contact with reporters. Unless, of course, they're pretty.

If A-Roid outrages, it'll be a first

A-Roid ... A-Fraud ... Ste-Rod ... where does baseball go from here?

At least pro rasslin' is honest about being make-believe.

Seriously, are we supposed to accept as fact any statistic compiled by Alex Rodriguez? Are we supposed to accept any stat by any ballplayer who played from 1985-2005?

Even the guys who contend they're "clean" are guilty - if not by deed than by association.

When Jose Canseco turns out to be the conscience of baseball, the sport is in trouble.

Or maybe not.

Maybe, as I suspect, the vast majority of the paying, viewing, listening and reading public doesn't care who juiced, who didn't and who still might be enjoying the benefits of HGH and other hard-to-detect performance enhancers.

Did the Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens allegations convince even 10 people to stop following the exploits of their favorite ballclubs? Five? Didn't think so.

I certainly have difficulty whipping up a good case of outrage when the people who pay these guys' salaries line up to buy tickets and souvenirs and beer. I mean, Sammy Sosa corked his bat and took "Flintstones Vitamins," yet Cubbie fans paid seemingly any price to go to games at the Wrigley Brewtap back then, and they're paying even higher prices now.

So which is it now that A-Roid - the likely all-time home run king before his career ends - probably took slugger's little helpers? Outrage or shoulder shrugs?

Rasslin' with sticks and baseballs ... hey, if everybody's accepting it, I guess it must be OK.

And who knows? Maybe Mickey Rourke can play A-Roid in the movies someday.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Thank you, Michael Phelps

The Bald Truth

When Tiger Woods uses profanity in front of thousands of fans, it's not necessarily a bad thing. The same is true of Sammy Sosa corking his bat, Mark McGwire declining to talk about the past and Michael Jordan slugging a teammate.

As for Michael Phelps getting photographed firing up a bong, it could be considered a very good thing ... for us, if not for him.

These cases confirm that our sports heroes aren't gods - and that's rarely bad.

But, some ask, what do we tell our kids?

Well, how about this crazy idea:

The truth.

For example, rather than moan about Phelps sending the message that smoking dope is cool, we can use this as an opportunity to talk to our kids frankly about drug use.

If we're lucky, they might even listen.

The List

Five teaching points provided by the foibles of Phelps (and others):

1. Phelps isn't a god. He's a human being and he's subject to the same human frailties as the rest of us.

Yes, he's very good at what he does - just like millions of others are very good at what they do. He simply happens to do his thing on a public stage. And when he screws up, that takes place on a public stage, too.

2. Actions have consequences.

In Phelps' case, he has lost millions of dollars in endorsements and he suddenly has to repair a once squeaky-clean reputation.

Sounds even worse than getting grounded for a week.

3. Very little in life is black and white. Shades of gray are everywhere.

I often am asked, "Is (insert famous athlete's name here) a good guy?" And I usually answer: "I really don't know." The brief experiences we have with jocks during interviews or autograph sessions tell us little about what kind of people they are. Like the rest of us, they are complex individuals; they do many fine things but they also mess up sometimes.

Few people are all bad, and fewer still are all good.

4. If you think you won't get caught, you're probably wrong.

Cellphone cameras are everywhere. Employers can (and do) monitor workers' e-mail. College recruiters check out YouTube. Everybody's out to make a buck, and they don't care who gets hurt in the process.

Oh, and Moms and Dads have pretty good built-in lie detectors.

5. Smoking dope (or cheating or cursing or fighting or fill-in-the-blank) is wrong.

We won't hurt our kids' sensitive souls by being up-front with them about this kind of stuff. And we might save them some embarrassment (or even their lives) down the line.

The Balder Truth

To recap:

Anytime we can demystify these supposed dieties - and I'm talking about actors and musicians, as well as jocks - it's a good thing.

In an ideal world, all famous people would be ideal role models. But the world isn't ideal, and the people our kids really need as role models are us.


Regular readers know I rarely sermonize like this. But when USA Today gives valuable space on its editorial page to an "expert" who links Phelps' toking to the actions of insidious creeps such as Mike Tyson and O.J. Simpson, it gets me all fired up.

Clearly, I need something to help me chill out.

Hey, does anybody out there have Michael Phelps' phone number?

Friday, February 6, 2009

It just gets better and better

On the same day our Mac died, which probably will force us to buy a new computer we didn't account for in our shrinking family budget, my Marquette Golden Warrior Eagles lost to a South Florida outfit that never had beaten a top-10 team.

Jeesh. When is Obama gonna make things better already?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The B's have it


Miscreant. Juicer. Liar.

And, sources say, not a very good Scrabble player.


Isn't it nice that Mr. Spice saved American pro soccer before bending it back to Europe for good?

Here's hoping he at least paid his taxes during his brief time here. Otherwise, he runs the risk of being named to Obama's Cabinet.


The Fighting Creaners win one Big Ten game and the town is up for grabs.

Why, folks there haven't been this thrilled since the last time Bobby Knight cursed out a 19-year-old student newspaper reporter.


Hey, Kobe ... I'll see your 61 points and raise you a 52-point, 11-assist, 10-rebound triple-double.

See, the Knicks can be defensive laughingstocks even without Eddy Curry.


Four wins in five road games for Vinny Del Excuse's crew.

A few more streaks like this, and they'll be a .500 team by the time he's fired.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Of pot-bellied Bobby and pot-puffing Phelps

The Bald Truth

Well, of course Bobby Knight is interested in coaching again, be it at Georgia or elsewhere.

Rivers to cross, mountains to climb, sophomores to choke and all that.

The Question

How is next year supposed to be the year for the Cubs now that they've traded both Rich Hill and Michael Wuertz?

The Balder Truth

And to think ... a year ago at this time, the Cubs wouldn't even think of including The Great Rich Hill in a deal for Brian Roberts, the leadoff hitter they've lacked forever.


You gotta love the way we media folks keep saying Michael Phelps was "photographed inhaling from a marijuana pipe."

After all, it would be unethical for us to say an American icon was smoking dope through a bong.

Phelps might have been inhaling asthma medicine. Or maybe he was chilling out with some kind of Zen incense he got from Phil Jackson. Or maybe he was indulging in a fancy hookah pipe.

The mainstream media avoided the word "pot" ... and so did Phelps in his apology:

"I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment. I'm 23 years old, and despite the successes I have had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner that people have come to expect from me. For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public - it will not happen again."

That's right. Next time he's about to fire up a bong, he'll make sure there are no cellphone cameras or video recording devices in the room.

Please don't interpret any of this as some old codger tsk-tsk-tsking Phelps. I might have tried pot once or twice myself during my youth. On the heinous behavior scale, a 23-year-old smoking dope ranks somewhere between picking one's nose in public and rolling one's eyes at one's parents.

Doesn't mean I won't poke fun at Aquaman about this whole deal, though.

It was super!

The List

Seven observations from the Steelers' extremely entertaining Super Bowl victory over the Cardinals:

1. Still trying to figure out how Santonio Holmes made that winning catch for the Steelers one play after not making what should have been the winning catch for the Steelers. I guess he just needed a higher degree of difficulty.

2. Can't say enough good things about the ref for having the cajones to call the Steelers for holding in the end zone, resulting in a safety late in the game.

3. Can't say enough bad things about the officials for declining to order a booth review of Kurt Warner's fumble that clinched Pittsburgh's win. Maybe it wouldn't have been reversed, but it was close enough to an incomplete pass to at least merit a review. Why even bother having a replay system if you don't use it on a close play in the final seconds of a Super Bowl?

4. Throughout another great season, Warner showed why his story is one of the most incredible ever authored by an NFL player. Still, he made enough mistakes Sunday - enough huge, huge, HUGE mistakes - to remind us what the knock against him has been: Put enough pressure on Warner and he messes up. Compare that to Ben Roethlisberger, who kept at least a half-dozen big plays alive because of his ability to deal with pressure.

5. Here's hoping columnists, bloggers and TV yakkers can resist calling the Steelers a dynasty. They're not. I mean, shouldn't you have to win at least two straight titles to be a dynasty? Shouldn't you have to win more than two titles in three decades to be a dynasty? The Steelers of the '70s ... now that was a dynasty. For now, this Pittsburgh team will have to settle for being merely great.

6. As great as Larry Fitzgerald and Warner were in the second half, had the Cardinals won, my MVP choice would have been defensive lineman Darnell Dockett. He pretty much set up shot in the Steelers' backfield.

7. I watched the game with a bunch of Cardinals fans at a house party in Scottsdale. They were having so much fun - until Holmes' TD, anyway - that it made me a little sad that I'm not a fan of any pro team. Then, of course, came their heartbreak at the end. And, again, I was glad I root for great plays, great games and great entertainment instead of individual teams.