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.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Stevie Johnson = clown; Caleb Hanie = dud

My favorite sports story from the weekend has to be Bills receiver Stevie Johnson catching a TD pass, doing a celebration that mocked convicted felon Plaxico Burress and then suffering the consequences.

First, Johnson was penalized 15 yards for his silliness, a penalty that directly led to a Jets TD -- by Burress, no less.

Then, with the Bills desperately trying to drive for the winning score, Johnson dropped a perfectly thrown long pass that hit him right in the hands.

Finally, with one last chance to redeem himself, Johnson failed to make what would have been a very nice play on a catchable ball in the end zone.

Karma is a bitch.

Oh, and Johnson later said that when he pretended to shoot himself in the leg, he really wasn't trying to mock Burress' infamous nightclub-gun-fun episode. Oy.

Look, I like TD celebrations. Many are fun and clever -- and most are no more disruptive or planned than the Lambeau Leap.

If you're gonna do them, however, you have to own them. You can't later deny your intentions. More than anything else, you have to be good enough to back up your actions with deeds on the field.

Little Stevie, as immature as his name suggests, failed on all counts.


And speaking of failing ...

For all those who really think the Bears would be better off without Jay Cutler, well, may I present to you ... Caleb Hanie.

NFL executives screw up sometimes. For example, nobody drafted Kurt Warner. Not many other QBs who weren't drafted at all even have played a down in the league, let alone been any good.

What I'm trying to say is that Hanie wasn't drafted for a reason.

I don't particularly like Cutler, one of the more overrated, overhyped guys in recent Chicago sports history. But at least he's got viable NFL quarterbacking skills.

Frankly, I'm amazed the Bears were able to stay as close to the Raiders as they did.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

It's Turkey Time!!

Politicians don't get to have all the fun. Jocks get to be turkeys, too, which is why I count down the top sports gobblers every Thanksgiving.

This tradition dates back to my first year as Copley Newspapers columnist, 1998, when Michael McCaskey had so mismanaged the Bears that his mommy took the team presidency away from him and demoted him to official Halas Hall gardener.

Since then, it's been one doofus, doper or downer after another: Jerry Krause (1999); Bobby Knight (2000); David Wells & Frank Thomas (2001); Dick Jauron(2002); Sammy Sosa (2003 and 2004, an unprecedented back-to-back showing!); Andy MacPhail, Jim Hendry & Dusty Baker (2005); Aramis Ramirez (2006); Charlie Weis (2007); Choking Cubbies (2008); Milton Bradley (2009); Mark McGwire (2010).

(You'll notice that from 1998-2009, most of those fine folks had Chicago connections. That's because I columnized and blogged mostly about Chicago sports during those years. Having moved to Krispy Kreme Kountry last year, the Turkey Countdown has a different look.)

As always, I dedicate this tradition to my absent friend, Gene Seymour, my Copley columnist predecessor and one of the great guys I ever encountered in journalism.

And now for the countdown ...

10. WILLIAMSES. Rough year for Stevie, Serena, Hank Jr. and Ken. Oh, and last we knew, Ted's head was still frozen somewhere in Arizona.

9. TIGER WOODS. Remember when he used to ... I don't know ... be really good at golf?

8. RON ZOOK. Who's got next? Somebody? Anybody? Please?

7. DALE EARNHARDT JR. & JR HILDEBRAND. On the very same May Sunday, Earnhardt and Hildebrand put on a clinic on how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. With the checkered flag just seconds away, Hildebrand crashed into the wall, making a winner of Dan Wheldon at the Indy 500. Hours later, a half-mile from the finish line at the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, Earnhardt ran out of gas as Kevin Harvick claimed victory.

6. ADAM DUNN. Arguably had the worst offensive season in baseball history. The only reason I say "arguably" is that the White Sox stopped playing their $56 million man the last couple of months, keeping him from putting up some truly eye-popping failure numbers.

5. JIM TRESSEL. Really? You really have to cheat to win football games at Ohio State? I mean, I'd understand it if Zook did it. But Tressel?

4. LeBRON JAMES. Selfish and clueless, he is a perfectly good representative on this list for all the millionaire players, owners, agents and lawyers responsible for shutting down the NBA. (Oh, and we're still waiting for him to start delivering those seven titles after taking his talents to South Beach.)

3. CARLOS ZAMBRANO. He's been a few cards short of a deck for a decade now, but the dude I call Cra-Z completely lost his mind when he threw at Atlanta batters because he couldn't get them out. Once just a bit quirky, Cra-Z has joined Milton Bradley, Phil Nevin, Kent Mercker, Dave Kingman and a select few others on the list of least cuddly Cubbies of the last 40 years.

2. JOSH BECKETT, JOHN LACKEY & JON LESTER. Booze-swilling baseball buddies put the "club" back into clubhouse. And the choke back into the Red Sox.

And now -- drumstick roll, please -- the 2011 Turkey of the Year ...


JoePa quietly passed the buck upon learning that a sexual predator was molesting kids right in his locker room.

When the allegations finally came to light years later, thousands of students protested -- not because kids had gotten raped on JoePa's watch but because Penn State fired the old ostrich who had stuck his head in the sand.

I'm not sure if this says more about our deification of coaches, our societal woes or the value of a Penn State education.

All I know is that JoePa is a doting father and grandfather many times over ... and if he had received word that one or more of his progeny had been molested, he wouldn't have just told his boss and then moved on.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Herman Cain, we hardly knew ye

So I'm reading the McClatchy Newspapers account of Tuesday's GOP debate -- the 406th of 874 scheduled debates, I believe. And I'm reading about the foreign policy opinions of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul and Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman. And then I get to the final paragraph:

Businessman Herman Cain and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum also took part in the debate.

Kind of reminds me of the time I flew from Oslo, Norway to Goteborg, Sweden on a small prop plane with members of the 1994 U.S. Olympic hockey team. The player in the seat next to me was sweating out the bumpy ride when I turned to him and said: "At least people will cry about the loss of you and your teammates. The newspapers won't even mention me until the final paragraph: 'Also perishing was a sportswriter from Minnesota.'"

Yes, Mr. 9-9-9 has reached that level of insignificance. It takes a special kind of incompetence to fail so miserably in that field of knuckleheads.

Oh, and speaking of turkeys ... tune back in tomorrow for my annual Turkey of the Year countdown. More fun than a trip to Plymouth Rock!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Today's High Five: Tebow, Tiger and (who?) Sveum

5. This whole Tim Tebow thing is pretty amazing. I'm not sure I've ever seen a situation in which a QB can play so consistently bad for so long and then somehow rally his team at the end.

But here's the deal Tebow's giddy worshippers might not get: This can't last. It just can't.

Either Tebow will develop at least some true quarterbacking skills, or he will not be able to play long-term in the NFL.

While acknowledging that Tebow has been impressive (in his own weird way) so far, I am at least a year or two away from admitting I'm wrong when I say I doubt he will be a standout NFL QB.

There's a reason the likes of Bobby Douglass and Tarvaris Jackson and Kordell Stewart didn't succeed over the long haul while Steve Young and Roger Staubach and Randall Cunningham did.

Either you learn to be an NFL quarterback and use your mobility to enhance those skills, or you become just another guy destined for those "remember him?" stories.

4. Tiger Woods isn't anywhere near "back," so I wish commentators and reporters would stop saying it every time he makes a spectacular shot or has a decent round.

We'll know Tiger is back when he wins a major. Period.

He judges himself by how he does in majors. Why should the rest of us judge him any differently?

3. Big win for my Lady Bucs, as we rebounded from our season-opening loss to handily defeat one of our archrivals, Providence Day.

Our defense was impenetrable in the second half, when we didn't allow a single point.

As I told the girls afterward: Nobody ever has lost a basketball game when shutting out the opponent.

2. Interesting that both the White Sox and Cardinals hired former players with no managing experience to replace World Series-winning skippers. Robin Ventura and Mike Matheny are born leaders, so it does make some sense.

It's a cool trend, and I hope it works.

1. In his first big move as new Cubbie Savior, Theo Epstein did something very different from his predecessors.

Jim Hendry and Andy MacPhail, feeling pressure from media and fans, always hired a big name -- a.k.a. "the best manager available": Lou Piniella, Dusty Baker, Don Baylor, Jim Riggleman. Each man had some good times but each ultimately failed.

Epstein could have pleased many fans (and followed the White Sox-Cardinals trend) by tabbing Ryne Sandberg. Instead, he went with a relative unknown, the beautifully bald Dale Sveum.

Then again, this being Cubbieland, does it really matter? They all come in full of life and they all go out in a figurative body bag.

After he fires Sveum in 2-3 years, I'll be curious to see who Epstein goes with next.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

No lockout for Coach Mike

Rough start to the season for my Lady Bucs of Charlotte Country Day. I'm the assistant coach of the 8th grade girls basketball team, meaning I've moved up a grade and have most of the same kids from last year (but a different head coach). We played without last season's leading scorer, who is just now recovered from a concussion -- darn soccer! -- and we weren't quite able to overcome our turnover-filled, first-game jitters.

I do like this team, though. Plenty of good athletes who are very willing to learn and just a lot of fun to be around. They keep me young. Or maybe I should say youngish. (OK, I'm old. Leave me alone.)

Anyway, I know I hadn't posted in a while. I've been busy counting my money from all the income the blog brings me. Let's see ... where was I? ... oh yeah ... zero.

Which means I'm making as much in my writing career these days as most NBA players are.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

JoePa had to go

Has any college coach in history done more for his institution than Joe Paterno has done for Penn State these last five decades?

The school became famous during his tenure, he made "Nittany Lions" synonymous with success, he ran a clean program and he donated millions of dollars to the academic side of the university.

And yet ...

Under his watch, a heinous act took place repeatedly: an assistant coach's predatory sexual behavior. Because Paterno passed the buck instead of directly addressing the problem, numerous youngsters were scarred for life.

So when the truth finally came to light, JoePa had to go.

I applaud the Penn State trustees who summoned the courage to fire Paterno, denying the 84-year-old legend the kind of feel-good farewell tour that would have taken place over the next two months had he been allowed to resign at season's end.

As for the Penn State students rioting in the streets in protest of the trustees' decision, I wonder how they would feel if their little brothers or nephews or cousins were among the molestation victims. Grow up, kids, and learn an important life lesson: Everyone -- no matter how tall one's stature in the community -- must be held accountable for one's actions (or in JoePa's case, inactions).

Though we shouldn't dismiss the wonderful things Paterno did for Penn State and for college football, the sad truth is this:

He lost his chance to go out on his terms when he knowingly failed to protect defenseless children from harm.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Today's High Five

5. It's never been more obvious that the NFL MVP is Peyton Manning.

How would you like to be paying big money for Colts season tickets this season?

And please ... I don't want to hear anybody say the Colts should try to lose to secure the draft rights to Andrew Luck. The Colts don't have to try to lose. They are quite accomplished at it.

4. Were I voting for guys actually playing this season, my midseason MVP ballot would read: Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Rodgers and Aaron Rodgers.

Followed (in no particular order) by Frank Gore, Calvin Johnson, Matt Forte and Matthew Stafford.

And then, finally, Aaron Rodgers.

3. Fox ran a graphic chronicling Tom Brady's comebacks when the Patriots have trailed or been tied late in games.

Um ... if the game was tied, how is that a comeback?

2. If you're like me, you're on pins and needles with this whole NBA lockout thing.

1. LSU coach Les Miles is right: His team's win over Alabama doesn't "prove" anything other than the fact that the Tigers have the upper hand in the SEC West.

The victory certainly doesn't prove LSU is the nation's best team. With the current system, there is no way to determine that. And, given the extreme limits of the BCS, there won't be any way to measure it come January, either.

It's just an opinion.

No matter who plays in the season's final game, it will be for nothing more than the mythical national title -- just as in the days when sportswriters and coaches chose the "champion" in polls.

At least back then, smart people didn't pretend something actually had been decided on the field of play.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Did Steve Carell take all the writers with him?

Not a single chuckle, chortle or tee-hee-hee. And certainly no guffaws.

What the hell happened to The Office, which now just might be the least funny show on TV?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Kardashian dumping Humphries ... how gay!

The reality TV wedding of talentless Kim Kardashian and NBA benchwarmer Kris Humphries earned the bride 18 million bucks. It also earned the groom endless humiliation, what with Kardashian having filed for divorce after less than 2 1/2 months of wedded bliss.

All I can say is thank goodness it wasn't a gay wedding!

Because that would have been a crime against the sanctity of marriage.

Monday, October 31, 2011

La Genius smart enough to go out on top

I know several Cardinals fans who never took to Tony La Russa -- even though he won, won and won some more.

Even after delivering two World Series, La Russa was considered, by some, to be too brusque, too I-invented-basebally, too I'm-not-lovable-like-Whitey-Herzoggy.

Well, La Russa must be laughing at those folks now, at least a little bit.

La Russa announced his retirement just a few days after winning his third Series as manager ... and he has to know he'll be one tremendously difficult act to follow.

There simply is nobody in his league. Period.

He was among my least favorite managers/coaches to deal with during my years as a sportswriter. He took far too much offense at even basic questions. He always seemed pissed off at something or somebody. And his defiant streak -- such as when he refused to believe the body of evidence against cheating juicer Mark McLiar and then made McLiar the team's hitting coach -- was legendary.

Still, were I a GM, I can't say there is one man I'd hire ahead of La Russa should he decide to come out of retirement.

I don't particularly like him, but I like winning. And nobody in modern times has done it better.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Eleventh heaven for Comeback Cards

Congratulations to the Cardinals, who now have won 11 World Series since the Cubbies last won one.

Oh, and six since the Cubs last appeared in one.

Not that anyone's counting.

Then there's this: The last two years have brought championship rings to Mike Fontenot and Ryan Theriot, the erstwhile DP combo of Lou Piniella's 0-for-the-postseason Cubs. They joined the likes of Mark Grace, Greg Maddux and countless others who only needed to escape Cubbieland to win the World Series.

But enough about what the Cubs aren't -- and haven't been for more than a century.

The Cardinals showed that if you have any amount of talent at all, it is a crime against your fans and all of Major League Baseball if you start selling off your ballclub piecemeal.

Jerry Reinsdorf should be jailed for larceny or treason or something for the way he quit on the White Sox in July 1997 ... and that is one of just dozens of examples.

It's a curious thing. Every season, every team that falls five or eight or 10 games out is urged by their own fans to trade top talent -- even though more than a third of the season still must be played.

Why? For the future.

We are a culture that hates quitters. Yet somehow, we try to frame this as: It's OK to quit today if it might help tomorrow. Weird.

Yes, in many cases it is justified. For example, the Pirates' annual salary purge makes sense because they simply don't have enough talent to overcome a deficit.

All too often, though, a team gives up way too soon -- depriving its fanbase of any shot at the kind of stirring comeback pulled off by these Cardinals, as well as this year's Rays, the 2007 Rockies, the 1978 Yankees, the 1969 Mets, etc.

It was a great World Series ... and I thank the Cardinals for making it possible by not joining the long list of quitters and losers.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Series worth staying awake for

The problem with the Cardinals and the Rangers is their games are so doggone boring!

And how 'bout that David Freese? After he dropped a popup that every Little Leaguer catches 100 out of 100 times, my wife turned to me and asked: "What the hell? Is the fix in?"

Nah, Freese was just setting himself up to be the hero two hours later. He trumped God, who apparently told Josh Hamilton he was gonna homer in the 10th inning. I wonder how much dough God lost on this one.

Oh, and for the record ... in the ninth inning, I thought the Rangers should have pitched to Albert Pujols instead of to the hottest hitter in the world. Lance Berkman made Tony La Russa's decision to bat him fourth look absolutely brilliant. Before we give La Genius too much credit, though, it should be noted that it took him six games to come to his senses and finally put Berkman in the Pujols-protecting spot in place of Matt Holliday -- who has killed the Cards with his bat and glove all Series.

I'm looking forward to tonight's Game 7. I just hope that FOX somehow can be convinced to show a few shots of Nolan Ryan in the stands. I mean, we've hardly seen any of those so far.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cardinals in 7 still a real possibility ... if history is an accurate guide

The last two times the Cardinals went this deep in a World Series, I had the honor of covering both.

In 1982, I was a puppy in the profession, just out of Marquette, working in Milwaukee and trying to nail down a full-time gig with AP. I had the great fortune of that being the one year the Brewers went to the World Series. What an assignment! The Brew Crew took a 3-2 lead, sending the Series back to St. Louis, where the Cards won two straight to take the title.

In 1987, I was still a relative youngster -- still had a rather robust head of hair, even -- and was the AP sports guy in Minneapolis. The Cardinals won Game 5 at home to take a 3-2 lead but in the visitor's clubhouse, the Twins were farting and drinking and acting as if they were in some kind of Beer League. It was their way of dealing with the stress and staying loose. They ended up going home and winning two straight at the Metrodome to take the title. To this day, I've never heard a louder crowd than the throng at the Metrodome when Kent Hrbek hit a go-ahead homer in Game 6.

So, if history repeats, the team going home down 3-2 wins whenever the Cardinals go this deep in a World Series. Which, this time, would be the Cards.

Once the rain stops, let's see if Tony La Russa doesn't out-think himself, if his pitching can hold up for two more games and if Albert can start earning the bazillions he is about to get on the open market.

Of course, the Rangers might have something to say about all of that, too.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I've got nothing against Tim Tebow, just the Tebow Hype Machine

I was watching ESPN the other day and one of the talking heads (can't remember which one) asked another (again, can't remember) why so many people want Tim Tebow to fail.

That got me thinking ...

I often have poked fun at the incredible, cult-like loyalty Tebow's followers have for him and the amount of hype he receives. It's a stretch to say I want him to fail, but it is true that I always have disliked hype run amok.

I like to think I haven't taken those feelings out on Tebow himself. It's not his fault people love to love him and hate him and talk about him ad nauseum.

When I say Tebow doesn't have the skills to be a successful NFL quarterback, it's not because I don't like him. It's simply the same thing as when I said Dee Brown wouldn't be an NBA point guard.

Those are opinions based on my years as a paid observer. I get some wrong, too be sure, but that goes with the territory. A lot of NFL GMs -- who are paid handsomely to get 'em right -- get 'em wrong. That's why Tom Brady didn't get drafted until the 6th round, you know?

As a pro QB, Tebow was a great college QB. I still say he won't be an NFL star. Maybe in a few years, he will have proven me wrong.

Either way, I'm not rooting against him. I'm too busy rooting against Notre Dame!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Albert's other 3 games. Also: ESPN announcing follies

The Bald Truth

Albert Pujols is one of the best hitters of any era. Any team would love to have him.

That being said, his World Series has consisted of one monster game ... and three others in which he went a combined 0-for-10. His Cardinals lost two of those three while scoring four total runs.

So let's be content with calling Albert merely great, and let's hold off on the comparisons to Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Joe Montana, OK?

The Balder Truth

The Fraudulent Illini started the season 6-0 ... and very well could finish 6-6. But hey, at least they're bowl eligible! Time to extend Ron Zook's contract another five years.


It would be hard to find a more entertaining sporting event than Saturday night's Michigan State-Wisconsin game, which featured numerous amazing plays and ended with a desperation TD heave that required several minutes of replay reviews before the Spartans were declared victorious.

The game -- especially the finish -- was so fantastic that it's a shame normally outstanding announcers Brent Musburger and Kirk Hirbstreit fell flat at the end.

Musburger kept calling the winning play a "miracle," as if he knew firsthand that God was getting Sparty and the points over Bucky Badger.

And Herbstreit offered this meaningless drivel disguised as analysis: "It comes down to a battle ... to see who wanted to win the game more."

Does Herbstreit really think Michigan State wanted the game more? Do people really think the Rams wanted to win the 2000 Super Bowl more than the Titans but didn't particularly want it two years later when they lost to the Patriots?

Such a declaration supposes something nobody possibly could know. While meant to praise the winner, it's a ringing indictment of the loser: If only he (or she or they) had just wanted it more.

It's a cliche, it offers no insight and Herbstreit knows better.

I mean, how many championships did he win as Ohio State QB? What's wrong? Didn't he want it badly enough?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Letting his bat do his talking

Bingo ... bango ... bongo. I guess this means Albert Pujols is forgiven for misplaying a cutoff throw and then not talking to the press.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Today's High 5: World Series & more

5. If the Rangers win their three home games to take the World Series (or, for that matter, if the Cardinals win three straight on the road) and if Albert Pujols then leaves St. Louis as a free agent ... his final act in Cardinals white was his failure to handle a routine cutoff throw, a screw-up that cost his team Game 2.

4. As Pedro Martinez might say: Allen Craig is Alexi Ogando's daddy.

3. Once again, Tony La Russa used every reliever this side of Jason Isringhausen, Dennis Eckersley and Ed Farmer. This time, his mechanizations didn't work. Once again, Ron Washington spent the entire game standing on the top step of the dugout, constantly smacking his lips on something or other. This time, his Rangers prevailed. Managers, schmanagers. It pretty much always comes down to the players either doing their jobs or not.

2. The other day, TV picked up on Jay Cutler telling Mike Martz to go fornicate himself. Where was Cutler when John Shoop was running the Bears' offense?

1. Still light years apart on the main issues, the NBA's billionaire owners and their locked-out multimillionaire players have suspended negotiations -- jeopardizing the entire season. Basketball fans will be fine; college hoops is far more entertaining anyway. I'm much more worried that Cristal and Bentley sales will crater, dealing yet another blow to our fragile economy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mr. Prediction strikes again

Cardinals in 7.

Which, given my track record this postseason, probably means Rangers in 5.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fun with the Nadels

Today was bittersweet: It was the end of the long weekend spent with Katie and Ben, who returned to Chicago after five wonderful, sunny days here with us in the Charlotte area.

Here we are at a music festival in suburban Pineville. (We're not claiming the gentleman behind us who seemed a little too happy to be in our family photo!)

One of the few negatives to living in North Carolina is that we don't get to see Ben and Katie often enough. So we have to make sure we spend lots of quality time with them when we are together!

Here's our 8-month-old puppy Simcha, who chilled in the back of our car after spending an hour running around with canine peers at a local doggie park. Lots of our family fun centered around our pooch, who really dug her "sister" and "brother."

We all get caught up in our favorite sports teams, the politics dividing our nation, the crud on TV, the drama at work, etc. All that really matters, of course, is family.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Welcome to Cubbieland, Theo Epstein!

Andy MacPhail built two World Series winners in Minnesota, came to Chicago as the Cubbieland Savior and oversaw an absolute trainwreck before he was run out of town.

Jim Hendry was lauded for rebuilding the Cubs' minor-league system and then, when he succeeded MacPhail as GM, for pulling off remarkable deals. However, few top prospects amounted to anything, he banked too heavily on the likes of Milton Bradley, Aaron Miles and Carlos Zambrano, and he's now an ex-GM.

Lou Piniella, Dusty Baker, Don Baylor and Jim Riggleman were widely regarded as the best available managers at the time the Cubs hired them. That was especially true for Piniella and Baker, men with big personalities who had been big winners at previous stops. In short order, all four were sent packing -- not as Cubbieland Saviors but as miserable losers.

Rudy Jaramillo, often called the best hitting coach in the world, arrived in Cubbieland before the 2010 season. He has been a big part of two horrendous campaigns, and many of the hitters under his tutelage have regressed. Meanwhile, the Texas organization he left behind has become a juggernaut in his absence.

And all that happened only during my 16 years covering the Cubs.

For more than a century, Cubbieland Saviors have arrived with brilliant credentials and sterling reputations. And they have left with the baseball equivalent of toe tags.

OK, Theo Epstein ... you've got next.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Today's High Five - Lockouts and Lions and Bears, oh my!

5. Now that's the Albert Pujols I remember.

4. How embarrassing for Jerry Angelo. The Bears GM makes Jay Cutler the centerpiece of his offense and then surrounds the QB with so many bad players Cutler doesn't stand a chance.

The Bears have had one of the league's worst offensive lines for years -- and this might be their saddest group of matadors yet. And if you google "mediocre receiving corps," the first 10 pages are about the Bears. (OK, that's hyperbole. Only the first 9 pages are about the Bears.)

Equally embarrassing: Offensive mastermind Mike Martz has absolutely no clue how to craft plays that actually might give Cutler a chance.

You know, if Cutler wasn't so unlikeable, I'd feel sorry for the guy.

3. It's mid-October. The Lions are undefeated. What are you gonna tell me next? That a black guy is one of the leading GOP presidential candidates?

2. All the great black and Latino personalities involved in baseball, and TBS honchos can't find a single one of them to put on their pre- and post-game show?

1. Unable to come reach a new collective bargaining agreement with its players, the NBA canceled the first two weeks of the season. Tens of fans howled in protest.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cardinal Nation puts Albert's picture on side of milk cartons

Hey! Whoever kidnapped Albert Pujols and replaced him with Alfonso Soriano:

The Cardinals very much would appreciate Albert's safe return to the middle of the lineup.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Taking a baseball mulligan

I was 2-2 in my first-round baseball predictions, picking the Tigers' upset of the Yankees and the Brewers' triumph over the D-Backs but not the Cards' stunner over the Phils. I also missed on my Rays-Rangers upset choice. Time to reload for the next round ...

I'm kind of glad the Rangers won Game 1 of the ALCS because now I won't appear to be a frontrunner when I pick the Tigers to win the series in 7 games.

Meanwhile, things already have gotten interesting in the NLCS, with Brewers Game 1 starter Zack Greinke calling Chris Carpenter a phony and the Cardinals criticizing the Brew Crew for being too demonstrative after every hit or good pitch. Carpenter likely will seem all-too-real on the mound, so the Brewers might want to wrap up the series before Carpenter can start a seventh game. It says here they will: Brew Crew in 6.

Gotta go now and eat some more after having fasted for Yom Kippur -- or as one of my gentile friends used to call it: "Instant Lent."

Ciao. Or in my case ... chow.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Today's High Five: Michael Jordan, Quitter Palin, Brett Favre, Steve Jobs and more

5. Back in 1998, NBA owners thought they had a deal with players in time to save the entire season. Then an influential block of players -- mainly, those controlled by Michael Jordan's "superagent," David Falk -- nixed the deal. The lockout continued until a desperately negotiated agreement was followed by a sham 50-game season.

Flash forward to 2011. NBA owners, saying they are losing so much money it would make Mike Tyson's head spin, again have locked out their players. Once again, the start of the season is in jeopardy. Once again, prominent agents are threatening to scuttle any chance of an agreement.

This time, though, it is Jordan -- now the Bobcats owner -- who is crying poor. He says he and other owners of small- and mid-market franchises can't accept any new deal that doesn't include major concessions from the players.

Hmmm. I wonder what MJ the player (and his bobo, Falk) would have said about such a demand from MJ the owner?

In a related note ...

My son Ben, a Bulls season-ticket holder, is thrilled the league has canceled its entire exhibition season because now he'll get a full refund for those fake games.

The way the NBA, NFL and NHL force fans to buy tickets to make-believe games is borderline extortion.

Of course, nobody (not even Gilbert Arenas) held a gun to Ben's head, forcing him to buy season tickets.

4. Too bad Sarah Q. Palin, queen of the cash grab, formally announced she isn't running for president.

She had as much chance of getting elected as I do, and the comedy value of her bid would have been priceless.

3. Rather than congratulating Aaron Rodgers for leading the Packers to the championship and becoming one of football's best QBs, Brett Favre told an Atlanta radio station that Rodgers "just kind of fell into a good situation" and should have won a Super Bowl sooner.

This from a guy who, despite having outstanding talent around him most of his career, won all of four playoff games in his last 13 seasons. (Rodgers won four playoff games last season alone.)

Now that you've finally gone away, Brett, please shut the hell up.

2. I'd consider joining the Charlotte branch of Occupy Wall Street if I could figure out exactly what Occupy Wall Street stands for. Seriously.

1. Steve Jobs, the Apple founder who on Wednesday succumbed to pancreatic cancer after a long and brutal fight, was one of the world's most innovative men. One of the wealthiest, too. Even with all that money and fame, however, he couldn't stay alive.

He was only 56 years old.

Rich or poor, famous or anonymous, brilliant or stupid, happy or sad, beautiful or ugly, funny or serious, good or evil ... Death simply doesn't care.

Death gets all of us, whether or not we "deserve" to be gotten.

I think I've been trying to live life to its fullest, but maybe I need to try a little harder.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hank Williams and ESPN honchos share award for dummies of the week

Hank Williams Jr. is a moron. His attempt to link Barack Obama with Adolph Hitler was so sad it was laughable.

That being said, what does his Monday Night Football intro song have to do with his politics? Does ESPN screen all contributors for their political views? If somebody at ESPN linked Rick Perry with Lucifer, would that person also be punished?

There is a time and place for political correctness. In this case, ESPN just looked silly.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Today's High Five - Weekend Edition

5. Two impressive wins for Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder ... a ridiculous romp for Aaron Rodgers & Co. ... Bucky Badger delivering a most inhospitable welcome to the Big Ten for Nebraska.

'Twas one helluva weekend in Cheezland.

4. Ron Rivera will be a good coach for the Panthers. But really ... shouldn't the former Bears assistant have known better than to kick the football to Devin Hester?

Plain and simple: You do that, you deserve to lose.

3. I am sooooooo glad Dexter, the smartest and most fun show on television, is back.

2. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday, Curtis Granderson, representing the tying run for the Yankees, swung at a Jose Valverde pitch and hit a sky-high foul pop. It appeared the game was over. But with Tigers 3B Brandon Inge standing only a few feet away, catcher Alex Avila slipped on the on-deck circle and fell ... and the ball dropped harmlessly to the ground. Granderson ended up walking, bringing clutch hitter extraordinaire Robinson Cano to the plate as the winning run.

With rain cascading down, Valverde got Cano to hit a routine grounder to 2B -- and Ramon Santiago made the play, ending the game and sending the series to Detroit tied at a game apiece.

Had the Tigers been the Cubs ...

Santiago would have booted Cano's grounder, Valverde would have given up a walk-off double to A-Rod, and both dopey fans and media mopes would have blamed not Inge, Santiago and Valverde but a billy goat, a curse and a fan in the stands.

1. OK, Roger Goodell ... cut the shenanigans and put the real Lions back in the league.

Friday, September 30, 2011

MVPs (Mike's Value Picks)

When the baseball writers decided to start giving out individual awards 80 years ago, there was a reason they opted to call it "Most VALUABLE Player" and not just "Player of the Year."

Anybody can look at stats and say, "This guy's the best." There is nuance in determining "value." I had absolutely no problem with Willie Stargell winning the 1979 NL MVP (actually, a tie with Keith Hernandez) even though Hernandez had significantly better stats. Voters decided that Stargell's value -- the way he willed the Pirates to a division title -- was more valuable than raw numbers. And they were right!

The BBWAA left it up to each voter to define value. I like that, too, because it nets a nice cross-section of votes. Some writers won't vote for pitchers. Some vote for the guy with the best stats. And many -- including yours truly -- believes the only possible definition of value suggests a player who brought both outstanding stats and outstanding intangibles to a contending team.

Despite their superior stats, I have a hard time accepting Jose Bautista and/or Matt Kemp as MVPs this season. While the guys I chose faced pressure every single day, Bautista and Kemp had the huge advantage of playing in few games that mattered in the standings. Their ballclubs stunk with them and their ballclubs would have stunk if they had suffered season-ending injuries in April. Where's the value?

The Bautista and Kemp backers often cite precedence: Alex Rodriguez, Andre Dawsonand Ernie Banks, among other players for non-contenders, are former MVPs. Hey, just because voters made a mistake in those seasons, it doesn't mean we should repeat that mistake now. Most years, my BBWAA colleagues have agreed with me.

Anyway, if I had a vote, here would be the MVP ballots I'd cast in 2011:

American League

1. JUSTIN VERLANDER. I know, I know ... he participated in barely one-fifth of his team's games. Well, this is why we can't just let stats dictate these things -- not that Verlander lacks amazing stats. Let's look past his sheer brilliance all season, especially in the second half as the Tigers ran away with the division title. Instead, let's look at the intangibles: Because Verlander saved the bullpen every fifth day, Jim Leyland had a full and rested relief corps at his disposal the rest of the time; psychologically, the team knew it would never have a killer losing streak because every fifth day a win was all but guaranteed; for the first two-thirds of the season, Verlander was the only starter who kept Detroit in the race; inspired by Verlander -- and relieved of the burden of carrying the team -- other Detroit starters finally came around and several went on to exceed expectations. And let's consider this hypothetical: If an average ballplayer (say, Coco Crisp) replaced Curtis Granderson in center field, would the Yankees have won their division? Almost surely. Now, if an average starter (say, Trevor Cahill) replaced Verlander in the rotation, would the Tigers have won their division? Please.

2. CURTIS GRANDERSON. Many associated with the team believe Robinson Cano actually is the straw that stirs the Yankees' drink. Still, Granderson had the stats of an elite player and benefited the players both in front of and behind him in the lineup.

3. JACOBY ELLSBURY. One of the few Red Sox who didn't choke down the stretch. Besides having 105 RBI mostly from the leadoff spot, Ellsbury steals bases and plays fine CF.

4. MIGUEL CABRERA. The AL's best all-around hitter had another banner season for Detroit.

5. ROBINSON CANO. His performance made up for A-Rod's injury-filled year and for Mark Teixeira's occasional struggles.

6. MICHAEL YOUNG. A big reason the Rangers survived injuries to Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltre.

7. JOSE VALVERDE. Forty-nine times, Leyland asked him to protect a lead. Forty-nine times Papa Grande came through. Pretty hard to ignore a guy with a 100 percent success rate.

8. JOSE BAUTISTA. Incredible stats, especially the first half. My definition of value, however, relegates him to this spot on my ballot.

9. CC SABATHIA. For much of the season, he had even less support in his rotation than Verlander did in Detroit's.

10. EVAN LONGORIA. While Adrian Gonzalez -- the midseason pick for this award -- was shrinking in the season's second half, Longoria was scorching: 24 RBI in August and 22 more in September, including the Rays' two biggest HRs in the wild-card clincher.

National League

1. RYAN BRAUN. I had a difficult time separating Braun and Prince Fielder. One could make a pretty good argument that with Fielder protecting Braun -- versus the likes of Casey McGehee protecting Fielder -- Braun saw far more hittable pitches all season. Still, Braun's statistical advantage in most categories gives him the edge.

2. PRINCE FIELDER. As I said, he helped make Braun's big season possible. Plus, he put up monster numbers despite opponents often pitching around him. He plays every day, hits the ball far and seems to have a lot of fun being the Brew Crew leader.

3. MATT KEMP. His Dodgers stunk, so I make no apologies for placing him here despite his great stats. You want precedents? Ted Williams batted .406 in 1941 and won the Triple Crown the following year; in neither season was he MVP ... and Matt Kemp is no Ted Williams.

4. ALBERT PUJOLS. His slow start contributed to the Cardinals having to play catch-up but he had 20 RBI in September to wrap up another impressive season and help the Cards rally to the postseason. There is no more feared hitter in the world.

5. RYAN HOWARD. I admit I'm not 100 percent sure he's even Philly's MVP, but he is by far the best run-producer on baseball's best team ... and that's gotta count for something.

6. LANCE BERKMAN. In addition to finishing with nice numbers, he carried the Cards while Pujols was all messed up and Matt Holliday was hurt. Slam-dunk Comeback Player choice.

7. ROY HALLADAY. Why Doc instead of rotation-mate Cliff Lee? Because Halladay is the tone-setter and acknowledged ace of a great staff.

8. JUSTIN UPTON. The top hitter on baseball's surprise team.

9. HUNTER PENCE. Did precisely what a guy going from a crappy team to a great one was supposed to do, taking advantage of more talented teammates by elevating his already high level of play.

10. JOHN AXFORD. Considered Jose Reyes here but he lost me when he took himself out of the season finale after one inning so he could preserve his batting-title lead. He might as well as told Mets fans who paid $100 a pop to go to h-e-double-Louisville-Sluggers. Instead, I'll give spot No. 10 to the Brewers' ninth-inning stalwart.

A few other awards:

CY YOUNG: AL -- Verlander (over Sabathia and Jered Weaver); NL -- Clayton Kershaw(over Halladay and Lee). Remember: Cy Young is best pitcher, not most valuable pitcher, and Kershaw was ridiculously good for the mediocre Dodgers.

ROOKIE: AL -- Mark Trumbo (over Ivan Nova and Eric Hosmer); NL -- Craig Kimbrel(over Freddie Freeman and Vance Worley). It wasn't Kimbrel's fault he was overused and had nothing left at the end.

MANAGER: AL -- Joe Maddon (over Joe Girardi and Jim Leyland); NL -- Kirk Gibson(over Tony La Russa and Ron Roenicke). Two obvious choices.

And before I wrap this up ...


AL: Adam Dunn ... by a landslide. He authored one of the statistically worst offensive seasons in baseball history: .159 BA, 177 K, .569 OPS. He was so bad that the White Sox -- who signed him to a $56 million contract -- benched him in favor of Triple-A kids in a desperate (and futile) effort to stay in the race.

NL: Derek Lowe. The diametric opposite of an MVP. Not only did Lowe lead MLB with 17 losses, he went 0-5 with an 8.75 ERA in September to make himself the one most responsible for Atlanta's historic collapse. All for only 15 million bucks. Now that's the true antithesis of value!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Who'da thunk it? Turns out that reality is the best Reality TV

Wow! What a night of baseball!

Just remember one thing: While you are ripping into the Red Sox and Braves for two of the biggest choke-jobs in the history of sports, don't forget to give a big thumbs up to the Rays and Cardinals for their amazing finishes.

See, this is why we don't need no stinkin' reality TV. Sports is the original reality TV ... and it's 100 times better than all of the pretenders.

Now where was I? Oh, yeah ...

How about those Red Sox and Braves? What a bunch of freakin' chokers!


And now the postseason predictions:

ALDS: Tigers over Yankees in 5 ... Rays over Rangers in 4. The AL has been weird all season, so why stop now?

NLDS: Phillies over Cardinals in 4 ... Brewers over Diamondbacks in 4. Going with chalk in the NL.

ALCS: Tigers over Rays in 6. Too much Verlander and Cabrera.

NLCS: Phillies over Brewers in 6. Classic matchup of pitching vs. pop, and -- surprise! -- pitching wins.

WORLD SERIES: Phillies over Tigers in 6. The best team prevails ... as long as the bullpen does its job.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ozzie, Marlins: Be careful what you ask for

So, how far into the 2012 season will Jack McKeon again become the Marlins' interim manager?

On another note, it's pretty hard to argue that Bud Selig was wrong about the wild card adding excitement to baseball.

Of course, I'm not saying those races are any more exciting than the Cubs' pursuit of a fourth-place tie with Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sox Nation deserves itself

A lot of Red Sox fans say they can't root for the Yankees even though, in the slog for the final AL playoff spot, the Red Sox desperately need the Yankees to beat the Rays.

A lot of Red Sox fans are stupid -- and deserve to be fans of a team that's on the precipice of one of the great collapses in sports history.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Random ramblings: Rosie O'Donnell's figure or Michele Bachmann's mind?

The last time the Brewers won a division title, I had just graduated from Marquette. As an AP intern in Milwaukee, I got to cover their run to the World Series. How long ago was that? Well, I had a full head of dark, thick, curly hair.

There are four unbeaten NFL teams. Three of them are the Lions, Bills and Redskins. Just as you predicted, right?

Mike Vick is accusing refs of treating him like a dog.

President Obama says all those doo-doo head Republicans have to stop the partisan bickering.

If Illinois is one of the nation's 25 best college football teams, Rosie O'Donnell is one of the nation's 25 sexiest women.

With Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant healthy again and reminding us how good they are for the undefeated Packers, the top sports story of 2011 had to be that Green Bay won the Super Bowl without them -- and a dozen other players who were hurt most of the year. Pretty much kills any excuse any team in any sport can make for having a lousy season. Forever.

If the president of the United States never had to think or talk, Rick Perry-Michele Bachmann would be just the ticket.

As impressive as the Cardinals' comeback has been, the Braves' choke job has been even moreso. It takes a special team to blow a 10 1/2 game lead in a month.

Tiger Woods has a new caddie. In less important golf news, Bill Haas won some tournament in which Woods didn't play.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Aramis Ramirez: good at compiling stats, money and losses in big games

Aramis Ramirez is down to his final week with the Cubs because he won't consider staying for "only" one more year at "only" $16 million. Were I a Cubbieland denizen, I'd be telling him not to let falling chunks of Wrigley concrete hit him on the way out of town.

The Cubs will miss his hot streaks and his occasional big hits. I still remember a home run against the Brewers that probably paved the way to the 2007 division title. Such hits gave him a reputation as a clutch performer ... but the cold, hard facts suggest otherwise.

Stolen from the Pirates in July 2003, Ramirez unquestionably was Jim Hendry's single best acquisition. Still, while Ramirez helped that team win the division title, he went 1-for-9 with zero RBI in the last three games of the history-making NLCS flameout.

The following year, he put up excellent numbers and helped the Cubs contend ... before going 4-for-25 with zero RBI during a final-week collapse that was amazing even by Cubbie standards.

Ramirez had 100 RBI seasons in 2007 and 2008 but choked like a dog each postseason: 0-for-12 with zero RBI as the Diamondbacks swept the Cubs aside in '07 and 2-for-11 with zero RBI as the Dodgers quickly dispatched the Cubs in '08.

The operative number is ZERO -- the RBI total for the Cubs' main run-producer in those clutch situations. Not even an accidental RBI by fielder's choice or sacrifice fly to go with his cumulative .105 batting average.

Add in the slow starts that condemned the Cubs to early extinction in several years -- and pretty much guaranteed the firing of Dusty Baker in 2006 and probably Mike Quade in 2011, and you've got a guy who merits a $16 million salary about as much as I merit a statue commemorating my golf exploits.

My friend Paul Sullivan, the outstanding Tribune baseball reporter, wrote in today's edition: "Despite nine mostly productive seasons on the North Side, Ramirez was never a beloved player for one reason or another."

One reason might have been a perceived lack of hustle, as Ramirez often didn't run out routine grounders. Newsflash for Cubbieland: Albert Pujols almost never runs out routine grounders. I'm guessing fans will get over that character flaw should Prince Albert accept the golden throne at Clark & Addison.

The main reason Ramirez probably wasn't beloved: He has been not a winner but a "stats compiler."

At the end of every season, his numbers always have looked good. Such statistical compiling has contributed mightily to his personal compiling of dollars: more than $100 million in earnings (and counting).

And yet when the Cubs really needed greatness, when they needed their big-money run-producer to produce runs, where was Mr. Clutch?

He's 33, his body has been breaking down and he has a history of shrinking when the lights shine brightest.

I don't blame fans for thinking it's time for him to compile stats and money elsewhere.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Time for Ozzie to go - finally

It was six years ago today that Ozzie Guillen gave me one of the best stories of my journalism career -- telling me that if the White Sox beat the odds to win the World Series, he might celebrate by quitting. The stress was too much, he said, and he was sick of being unappreciated by the fans.

He didn't need the job. He could walk away anytime. "I'll make more money signing autographs," he said, "instead of dealing with this shit."

The next day, when the shit was hitting the fan because of his comments, he could have claimed he was misquoted or his words were taken out of context. That's the course of action of many public figures, cowards all. Ozzie didn't do that. He told waves of reporters that he said what he said and he meant every word. I'll always be thankful for that.

Well, as everybody knows, the Sox went on to give Chicago its first baseball championship since women earned the right to vote. And, as everybody knows, Ozzie stayed. I'm glad, because he's one of the most fun, colorful, interesting sports people I've known. Chicago baseball has been better because he's been a part of it.

In the years since our interview, Ozzie often has resurrected variations of that rant: When he gets fired, so be it; he doesn't really need the job and the hassles that go with it.

You know what? The time has come for him to leave the hassles behind.

Change is good. Eight years as a manager for one team is a long time, especially for a bombastic guy with absolutely no filter between brain and mouth.

Ozzie has one year left on his contract and wants assurances from Jerry Reinsdorf that he will be allowed to stay in Chicago beyond that.

If I'm Reinsdorf, I say no dice. Two division titles in eight years -- and two losing seasons the last three years -- hardly gives a manager leverage to dictate terms. Especially when that manager has spent this season overseeing a disgusting display of ineptitude by a team expected to contend.

I wouldn't think this would be a tough call for Reinsdorf, who coldly and unnecessarily imploded his Bulls dynasty after the second threepeat.

Ozzie Guillen has accomplished a lot and has stayed true to himself in doing so. He even has outlasted -- by several years -- columnist-turned-criminal Jay Mariotti.

It's not as if he would stay unemployed for long. The Marlins supposedly want him, and he loves Miami. (The Cubs could do a lot worse, too, but Ozzie probably needs the fresh start of another city.)

OK, so he wouldn't be going out on top, wouldn't be quitting just after a World Series triumph, but he'd be leaving a pretty nice legacy behind.

And if you don't think one championship is much of a legacy, you don't know anything about Chicago baseball.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Today's High Five - Weekend Recap

5. Syracuse and Pitt here, Texas and Oklahoma there ... more wild shuffling among major conferences and more talk of eventual "superconferences" of 16 teams or more.

It all seems rather silly because big-time college sport really needs only three mega-conferences:

Professional, Semi-professional and Amateur.

Sorry ... I know that's stupid.

As if enough schools could be found to fit the amateur category.

4. Lexi Thompson won the weekend's LPGA event. She was born in 1995.

Yes, 1995.

My electric toothbrush is older than she is. I'm serious.

3. Friday Night Lights had a nice run, and any sports fan -- or TV fan, for that matter -- who has yet to see show should rent its five seasons. That being said, Kyle Chandler, who was just fine as coach Eric Taylor, had absolutely no business winning the best dramatic actor Emmy over the likes of Steve Buscemi, Jon Hamm, Timothy Olyphant, Hugh Laurie or my choice, the amazing Michael C. Hall.

Even Chandler knew it, as he admitted when stunned by the victory. He hadn't bothered to prepare a speech because he felt he had no chance.

And while I'm on the subject ...

One thing we know for sure about the Emmys: At next year's Emmys, this year's Emmys won't win the award for best writing for a variety series. I actually felt sorry for the actors and actresses who served as presenters and had to deliver the pathetic, cliched, hackneyed, remarkably un-funny lines written for them. It was painful to watch.

2. The 2011 Red Sox seem determined to make the 2004 Cubs feel a little less choky.

1. On a day Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton earned exhilarating victories while Jay Cutler was pulverized in defeat, there are all kinds of NFL QB thoughts rushing through my chrome dome.

Cam Newton ... Wow! Another 400-plus-yard game. (And another heartbreaking Panthers loss.)

Tom Brady ... Ho-hum. Only a 400-plus-yard game. (And another routine Patriots win.)

Jay Cutler ... Called out his line after he got sacked six times. Hey Jay, it's not the linemen's fault they suck. You should have called out your GM and coach for giving you such sorry protection.

Tim Tebow ... The best darn blocking wide receiver on the Broncos' roster.

Aaron Rodgers ... Too good. Reminds me of Steve Young and John Elway after Young and Elway realized they could win mostly from the pocket. And no, I'm not the least bit uncomfortable comparing Rodgers to two Hall of Famers.

Kevin Kolb ... Please, please, please stop pronouncing your name "cobb." Or change the spelling.

Matt Ryan ... You don't think he's having a particularly good game; then you look up and he's got 4 TDs.

Mike Vick ... Spittin' blood like a pitbull on a bad day. (Sorry.)

Matthew Stafford ... How good can he (and his Lions) be if he can just stay healthy?

Drew Brees ... If he isn't the most fun-to-watch QB in football, he's in the team picture.

Tony Romo ... Finally comes through in the clutch, and with broken ribs no less. There's a good QB in there somewhere if those obsessed with America's Team will let him be more QB than soap-opera star.

Donovan McNabb ... Man, he got real old real fast.

Peyton Manning ... The NFL's MVP in absentia. With him, the Colts are championship contenders. Without him, they wouldn't win the new NCAA Professional Conference.