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.