Friday, August 31, 2012

GREATEST DUGOUT DEMOLITION I EVER SAW

Byrce Harper is a baseball prodigy. His awe-inspiring talent defies someone who is just
19-years old. Harper was labeled as "The Chosen One" by Sports Illustrated when he was
just 16-years and made it to the Major Leagues three years later. In his rookie season,
Harper became an All-Star for the Washington Nationals.


The game has allowed the teenager to showcase his talent, but it has also exposed
his immaturity and temper. He has broken bats over his knee, slammed them, as well as
helmets, to the ground, and argued with umpires over bad calls. Harper can launch
baseball's 450 feet, but baseball has caused him to erupt like a volcano, at times.


The game can do that to a player. They experience failure far more often than they do
success. The best hitters in the game fail 70 percent of the time, if a player does that over
a 15-year career, he's a Hall of Fame. If a quarterback does that, he's far worse than
Tim Tebow. If a shooter does that in basketball, he'd be out of the game quicker than
Antoine Walker blew through his $100 million fortune.

During the course of a baseball season, which lasts from February to October, failure is
everywhere. Combine that with the stress of the game and playing for your livelihood,
tantrums like the one's Harper has exhibited, and dugout demolitions we've seen highlighted
by ESPN when guys like Carlos Zambrano erupt. It's baseball. It happens.


In August of 1988, one of the greatest dugout demolitions in the history of the game
happened. I was a member of the Lynchburg Red Sox and we were in pennant race
against their fierce division rivals, the Salem Buccaneers. The affects of a long and
stressful season were wearing on all of us. In the minor-leagues, you travel on rickety
buses, make little money, and get handed a per diem of just $12-a-day, which wouldn't
be enough for three extra value meals at McDonald's. It's anything but glamorous.

On this steamy Virginia night, all the stress and failure resulted in the perfect storm for
a dugout demolition of epic proportions. Jim Orsag was our power-hitting first basemen,
who also happened to be in a race with Bernie Willaims for the Carolina League batting title.
Williams, who would go on to a spectacular career with the New York Yankees, was just
19-years old at the time, and his style and demeanor was far, far different than that of
Orsag.

A third-year pro out of the University of Illinos, Orsag was half-Seabiscuit, half-
Schwarzeneggar. He was 6'3" and a magnificently sculpted 225 lbs. He ran like a
Thoroughbred coming down the stretch at the Kentucky Derby with nostrils flaring
and scary, intimidating sounds emitting from his lungs. The ground shook beneath him
and there wasn't a second baseman in baseball who wanted to have to turn a double-play
with Orsag bearing down on him. He played the game with the intensity of Ray Lewis
and seemed far better suited for playing football on Sunday's than trying to make it
to Major Leagues. With his spiked hair and physical resemblance to Arnold Schwarzeneggar,
Orsag was our "Terminator."


Orsag was hitting .328 when he stepped in to face Scott Ruskin in his first at-bat of the night.
Ruskin was a left-hander who wasn't overpowering, but was very smart and could locate
the ball well, while baffling hitters with his hard-biting curve ball. Ruskin went on to play
five years in the big leagues with the Pirates, Reds, and Expos.

On this night, Ruskin had Orsag's number, striking him out in their first three confrontations.
Slowly making his way back to the dugout, you could see the steam starting to come out of
the ears of Orsag. He was a prideful man who took his job and career seriously. With the
game in just the 6th inning, Orsag already had the "Hat Trick", a three-strikeout performance.


The only thing worse than that, is the "Golden Sombrero", a four-strikeout game which
no hitter wants any part of. Orsag picked that up the very next inning and that's when you
could see the volcano inside of him begin to simmer. It didn't help that a fan, an elderly
woman, who  was probably never missed a game in that venerable, old stadium, shouted to
Orsag, "Hey, it's  going to be a cold winter and I need some kindling wood. You don't
seem to be using your bat, can I have it?"

Players avoided Orsag the way they do when a pitcher has a no-hitter going. We stayed as
far away from Orsag as we possibly could. This was just a bad night, which every player
experiences from the minor to the major leagues. He had that look in his eye that said,
"Don't talk to me and don't come near me." Nobody did. Orsag was in a hitter's hell and
the best thing to do was stay away from him and be ready for when the volcano
erupts.

Mount St. Orsag erupted in the top of 9th inning. Ruskin had been replaced by Rick Reed,
another pitcher who carved out a nice career in the big leagues with the Pirates and New
York Mets. He was a pitcher that threw up "tossed salad", an array of off-speed pitches
that drove power-hitters like Orsag nuts. He struck out Orsag to lead off the inning. Five
at-bats, five strikeouts. A golden sombrero plus one.

When Orsag arrived after the long walk back from home plate, it was as if time stood
still. The stadium got quiet, real quiet. I was halfway between the bat rack and the end
of the bench wearing my catcher's gear. I slowly put on my catcher's mask for my own
protection. I knew what was coming next.

Using the bat he had just struck out for the fifth time, Orsag whacked the bat rack shattering
his Louisville Slugger in two. But he wasn't done. Far from it. He shattered another, then
another. He was picking bats randomly out of the rack and turning them into kindling wood
for that little old lady in the stands. Jim Bibby, who was our pitching coach and one of the
largest human beings I've ever seen, just watched in amazement.


Bibby was a 12-year major league veteran who had witnessed a lot of meltdowns in his
career, but nothing like this. "Holy Mother F*@#king S*^%!" was all Bibby could say
as he stared at Orsag's performance. This was legendary. After Orsag had destroyed the
fifth and  final bat, he just sauntered back to his spot on the bench as if nothing happened.
Players on the other team watched it all in utter amazement. The umpires looked on
incredulously. Fans choked on their popcorn.

There was a silent pause that seemed to last for a minute. Nobody moved and it was eerily
quiet. And then, as if starting the game all over again, the home plate umpire said, "Play ball!"
and the game went on again, as if nothing happened, except that one of the greatest dugout
demolitions did, and everyone who was there that night, has never forgotten it.


Orsag finished the season with a .324 average with an spectacular on-base percentage of
.434. Williams won the batting crown with a .335 mark. Orsag was the best teammate I've
ever had and a lot of players on the Lynchburg Red Sox will tell you the same thing. He
played the game hard on every single play on every single night. His demolition was the
stuff of legend and no way diminished his season or what he represented. Orsag was intense,
driven, incredibly hardworking, and quite simply, a great man and teammate.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

'CALL ME MAYBE' DEFINITELY HOT FOR ATHLETES


I never heard of Carly Rae Jepsen until last week and if she showed up naked at my
door, I wouldn't recognize her. Excuse my lack of pop culture knowledge but I just
don't get a chance to watch MTV much anymore. Is it even on these days?

Jepsen's song, "Call Me Maybe" seems to be on the minds of a lot of people,
especially athletes. From the U.S. Olympic swimming team to the Miami Dolphins
cheerleaders, "Call Me Maybe" is definitely the song everybody seems to want to sing
and do it in a video. The U.S. Olympic team, featuring Missy Franklin, has garnered
more than seven million hits on YouTube. The Harvard baseball team, riding in their


minivans, has recorded more than 15 million hits with their comical and creative
rendition of "Call Me Maybe." 15 million views is pretty darn impressive. The SMU
women's rowing team scored huge points for creativity in their parody of the Harvard
baseball team. Instead of punching the roof of the van with their fists, the girls did it
with their feet. That takes some serious talent.


I'm not sure how many people will even admit to liking or listening to that song, people
acted the same way about "Staying Alive" by the Bee Gees, but shockingly, they all
seemed to know the lyrics to the hit song from Saturday Night Fever. If you're old
enough to remember John Travolta as Tony Manero, then you know what I'm talking
about.

I had to YouTube Carly Rae Jepsen to see what she looked like and what her own,
"Call Me Maybe" video was all about. It was kind of weird seeing her go all goo-goo
eyes on the neighbor with the Floyd Merriweather shredded-like body. The music
videos by the athletes are much better. I searched YouTube for all the "Call Me Maybe"
videos and I saw a couple that had me LOL. The newest one features a spin off with a
few talented characters inserting their own lyrics debating why Adrian Peterson should
be taken high in the fantasy draft despite the fact the Minnesota Vikings All-Pro running
back is coming off ACL surgery. Classic.


Very creative. Very, very creative. That guy runs better than AP picks 'em and puts
em down after his off-season surgery. Somebody will make a star out of the lead
blonde, I'm sure. One of my favorite "Call Me Maybe" videos showed up on my
radar a few days ago. It features inmates in minivans copying the Harvard baseball team.
It looks pretty real, but the guards in the fake uniforms gives it away that it was all
a set up. Love the tattoos, the piercings, and the facial expressions in this version of
"Call Me Maybe".

Classic, classic stuff. We'll probably never hear from Carly Rae Jepsen again. Most
of these singers today are one-hit wonders. But if she never produces another hit, this
one will be remembered for a long time, especially among athletes...and inmates.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

PENN STATE DUMPS 'SWEET CAROLINE' AND MORE.


Penn State says it will no longer play "Sweet Caroline" during football games. Smart
move. A few of the lyrics from Neil Diamonds hit song include, "touching you, touching
me." After the Sandusky pedophile scandal, that was the appropriate thing to do.
However, officials at Penn State are saying that the removal of the song has nothing to
do with the case, just that it was time for the song to be left of the playlist. Really? Why
does Penn State have to lie? Just be honest and tell it like it is. You'd think they learned
something from the disaster that ruined the school's reputation and football program.

The Dallas Cowboys have instituted strict guidelines for Dez Bryant, their talented but
brain dead receiver. You see, the team's former number one pick is a magnet for trouble.
If there's trouble out there, Bryant finds it. The new rules for Bryant include no alcohol
or patronizing strip clubs. The Cowboys surely don't want Bryant to make it "rain" like
 Pac Man Jones once did, causing mayhem and death at a Vegas club. My favorite one
of the rules deals with Bryant only being allowed to visit nightclubs approved by the team.
Translation: Bryant can't go to any of them where Michael Irvin, Nate Newton, or Thomas
"Hollywood" Henderson are in attendance.

The Boston Red Sox may have rinsed away some of the toxins from the clubhouse with
the Gonzalez, Beckett, and Crawford trade, but that doesn't mean the Sawx are no longer
drama free. Alfredo Aceves, the team's closer went ballistic after finding out that Bobby
Valentine passed him and his 4.60 ERA over in favor of Andrew Bailey during  the
end of a recent contest. Aceves was suspended for three games by the team and the Red
Sox wouldn't let him board the team flight to Anaheim. Aceves had to get his seat
to California. Ex-peeeeed-ia. Daaaat.com

Josh Beckett made his debut with the Dodgers on Monday night. Wearing  61,
which is the number he broke into the big leagues with, not the figure for the people he
alienates on a daily basis, Becker gave up a home run to Tyler Colvin of Colordo, the first
batter he faced. Last Saturday, Adrian Gonzalez homered in his first at-bat. Weird. Must
be some kind of stat for that. I don't think two players in the same trade had such different
results in initial "efforts" for their new teams.

Tim Tebow will attend confession on Sunday at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.
ESPN will have wall-to-wall coverage, with expert analysis from the Pope, who will also
Tweet about the confession.

Can the people at the Little League World Series move the fences back, please?! Every
pop up is a home run and nobody wants to see 15-14 games. The distance of those fences
originally installed were made up way back when and long before kids started juicing like
they are today. Just kidding, lighten up.

Back to the Red Sox. Do you think they regret not signing Adrian Beltre? The Rangers third
baseman is an MVP candidate with major power numbers and a gold glove. Let's see, the
Sox gave $142 million to Carl Crawford and $87 million to John Lackey, both were always
hurt,and when they did play, they stunk. Same goes with Dice-K and the $105 million they
spent on him and his 4-hour pitching performances.

Terelle Pryor, a third-string quarterback with the Raiders said the suspension he received
at Ohio State "screwed him" in terms of his progress as a quarterback. Really, Terelle? You're
guilty of taking illegal benefits leading to a scandal that results in the Buckeyes getting put on
probation and YOU got "screwed?" Good Lord.

Ryan Lochte as "The Bachelor" on ABC? Man, that would be both painful and comical.
Saw an interview where he was asked how much seven times four equaled. Lochte said 21.
It's all good.

Monday, August 27, 2012

TIGER, T.O., AND CALL ME MAYBE


Amazing how Tiger Woods has turned into a house of cards. With the exception
of his three wins, the guy has been playing psycho golf over the last 36 holes of
tournaments and just falls apart. His drives are all over the place and he's become
Scott Hoch from 3-feet out. Tiger used to be automatic from within five feet.
Now he looks like a nervous wreck and every tap in is an adventure. One of those
strippers must still be in his head.

T.O. gets cut in Seattle. I'm crushed. Perhaps, the New York Jets will give him a shot.
The Jets are a circus and every great one needs a freak show. T.O. could be it.

I wonder what Chad Johnson is doing these days?

Have you ever seen three guys be happier to get out of Boston than Adrian Gonzalez,
Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto. They packed their bags before the trade was even made
official and were pictured on Twitter flying the corporate jet the LA Dodgers sent for
them. Beckett, was grinning from ear-to-ear, his first smile of any kind in about two
years.

Jim Irsay, owner and GM of the Indianapolis Colts, took a lot of heat for sending
Peyton Manning on his merry way. But after watching Andrew Luck in preseason, I
don't think anyone in the state is complaining about his bold decision. Luck is a
stud and is far better than Manning ever was in his rookie season.

I'm wondering if the Dodgers woke up the day after the big trade with the Red Sox
and said, "We took an injured Carl Crawford and his entire $100 million contract? What
the hell were we thinking."

Thank God the Hope Solo tour has taken a breather. I couldn't keep track of all the
coaches, dancers, and teammates who shoved, scratched, or harassed her.

Bobby Valentine will have gone another year without having won a division title in
his 16 seasons of managing. Yep, Bobby V., smartest man in the history of the game.

Diana Nyad just got stung by another jellyfish.

The Washington Nationals are one of the best teams in baseball. I'm wondering what
Jim Riggleman is thinking. He quit managing the team just over a year ago because
the GM wouldn't talk to him about an extension during the middle of the season.
He walked out on a $700,000-a-year job. Good thing he's a man of principle.

I know you all hate Roger Clemens, but I loved watching him pitch at the age of
50 on Saturday. He will be taking the mound for the Houston Astros in the Major
Leagues soon, even if they aren't a major league team. Clemens is still trying to
prove to Dan Duquette that he's not in the "twilight of his career."

Paging Lolo Jones, paging Lolo Jones. Where are you?

Lance Armstrong's foundation has raised almost a half-a-BILLION dollars for
cancer research, which is by far the most of any athlete charity in the world. I think
that's far more important than the seven Tour de France titles Armstrong was stripped
of. By the way, Armstrong still hasn't failed a drug test. He got taken down by
"witnesses", those who were teammates that actually failed tests and lied about it.
Yeah, and witnesses never lie.

Roger Clemens is working out this morning. ESPN is live on the scene.

Put big money down on me today. I'm playing the Chinese Badminton team
before lunch.

Few things can be worse in life than having to live with Stephen A. Smith.

Red Sox owner John Henry will probably barge into a Boston radio station this
morning, uninvited as usual, and claim that he never wanted to trade Carl Crawford,
Josh Beckett is the godfather of his new child, and Adrian Gonzalez only texted
to tell him about the video the team made featuring the song, "Call Me Maybe."


Saturday, August 25, 2012

RED SOX AND 'THE IMMACULATE TRANSACTION'


The Boston Red Sox had been swimming in their own cess pool. The players
complained about a snitch, only to go behind the back of their manager with
text messages to ownership trying to get Bobby Valentine fired. Team czar,
Larry Lucchino, the man who hired Valentine, blamed a lot of  the negativity
on the media, and John Henry e-mailed everybody to say everything was all
good. This was the mother of all reality shows and if legendary television producer
and part-owner of the Red Sox could find a way to package this one up and
sell it to Fox, he'd dwarf the amount of money  he made off, "The Cosby's."


Drama is not always a bad thing in baseball, though. The Oakland A's hated
each other but won three consecutive World Series titles in the mid-70's and the
New York Yankees had enough controversy during the latter part of the
decade to earn the "Bronx Zoo" label. But they put all that aside to win two
championships.

Trouble with these Red Sox, they play with all the passion and heart of
the Chinese badminton team exhibited during the London Olympics. The Red
Sox only showed fire when it came to tossing the manager under the bus or
throwing strikes in Josh Beckett's bowling tournament. Only four of them
bothered to show up to Johnny Pesky's funeral earlier that day, but they were
out in full force to roll their balls down then lanes that night. The chicken wings
and beer must have sealed the deal to get them there. Playing in "America's
Most Beloved Ballpark", the fans saw a team on the field they had come
to hate.


The 2012 season is a disaster and the near future was about as bright as
Chad Ochocinco's. Several bad contracts would tie hands and close the checkbook
for years. Bad people (Beckett, Lackey, Gonzalez) would poison the clubhouse
for quite some time. Fans were souring on an ownership group that seemed to
care more about soccer, NASCAR, and selling as many pink hats as they could,
than the Red Sox. If image was everything, this team was on the verge of
having nothing. They needed a miracle. The Red Sox got it on Friday, August
24, 2012.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were awarded a waiver claim they put in on
Adrian Gonzalez. The Red Sox were hoping that someone would take the bait
and reel in their albatross. The Dodgers took it. A new ownership group with Magic
Johnson is obsessed with star power and they had a bunch of them near the
Boston Harbor there for the taking.


They saw the the Los Angeles Angels, a Bubba Watson tee shot away from their
home, sign Albert Pujols, CJ Wilson, trade for Zack Greinke, and have Mike Trout
develop into an MVP candidate. That star power was raiding the Dodgers fan base
and cutting into their television ratings. Magic Johnson knows about star power and
he saw the Lakers , his former team, acquire Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to go
along with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. The new ownership group, with an expected
mult- billion dollar television contract with Fox Sports Net, wanted to put a stamp
on their team and create a buzz. The team was still in the hunt for the playoffs and
this was a chance to strengthen it, as well.

Adrian Gonzalez was the big fish they wanted to hook. Playing in the same division
for years, Gonzalez had put up phenomenal numbers with the San Diego Padres and
with his Mexican heritage, the ownership group knew what happened the last time
the Dodgers had a Mexican star. Fernando Valenzeula turned Los Angeles upside
down and helped fill the seats and attract an untapped demographic. It all translated
into more ticket and merchandise sales, not to mention higher television ratings.


They wanted Gonzalez and they'd do almost anything to get him. Anything included
taking Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford and what was left on his mind-boggling $142
million dollar contract. In their wildest dreams, the Red Sox never believed they could
get anyone to take an ornery player like Beckett, the remaining $36 million on his
contract AND Crawford. W.C. Fields once said, "There is a sucker born every
minute." In baseball, there is a sucker born every 30 seconds. Tom Hicks, the former
Rangers owner is still a laughingstock throughout the league for giving A-Rod a $250
million contract when nobody else offered more than $180 million. Scott Boras got
the Red Sox to give J.D. Drew a contract worth $75 million when nobody else
wanted him.

The new Dodgers entered this world with their heads clearly stuck up their ass.
The  Dodgers  took three players the Red Sox couldn't wait to get rid of and took
on nearly  $260 million in future salary. In addition, they chipped in James Loney
and four pretty good prospects. Most teams, when taking on huge contracts, usually
send back a bag of baseballs or a year's supply of soda for the clubhouse, only
because they have to make it appear like it was an actual trade instead of a salary
dump. This trade is a miracle,  the "Immaculate Transaction".

The Red Sox had made some god-awful mistakes by giving Crawford a contract
worth $142 million to a guy who had never hit 20 home runs or drove in 100 in
his career.  He couldn't handle Boston and looked more afraid of taking the field
(when he was healthy)  than former Red Sox legend, Edgar Renteria. Beckett
turned into pure poison, more interested in playing golf than pitching. He had to
go. The Red Sox won't miss Gonzalez. Yes, he can hit and play defense. But he
was turning into a prima dona of Brett Favre-like proportions. He had the leadership
skills of Sarah Palin and his home run production  s dropping. 15 home runs this
year? Skip Bayless should be outing AGonz as a previous steroid cheat. Who
averages nearly 40 home runs in his career and then drops to 15? Ridiculous.


The Red Sox ownership group should warm up the Duck Boats and plan a
parade around Boston for Monday. In one day, they flushed a lot of the toxins
and  bad contracts that were crippling them, down the toilet. I can hear Larry
Lucchino  now, "Are you  kidding me? We got somebody to take Carl Crawford
who just  underwent surgery and  can't play until next May and has a contract
worth $100 million. We should have asked if they wanted John Lackey, too."
They must be doing high-fives, low-fives, fist bumps, chest bumps, and giving
each other pats on the back.

This is one of the greatest trades in major league baseball history. But it's not
because of what the Red Sox got, but what they got rid of. In a season where
everything has gone wrong, this is so right for them. It's close to a miracle. It should
be known as the "Immaculate Transaction."

Friday, August 24, 2012

I WAS WRONG ABOUT LANCE ARMSTRONG


I was wrong about Lance Armstrong. Did I think he used performance-enhancing drugs
to become the best rider in the history of his sport? I'm not naive. I've covered sports
for nearly 20 years and have seen the list of drug cheats grow a mile long. I played
baseball in the minor-leagues during the late '80's and saw teammates use steroids to
add 5-miles-an hour to their fastballs and hit prodigious home runs on their way to
to the Major Leagues.

The sport of cycling has long been dirty, far dirtier than baseball ever was even during
the "Steroid Era." Floyd Landis, Alberto Contador, and Todd Hamilton were just a few
of the stars of the sport who were outed and disgraced as drug cheats. Perhaps, Armstrong
was far smarter than all those who got busted, maybe his masking system was more
complex than the others. But Armstrong took hundreds of anti-doping tests and never
got caught. If he did, this case would have been over a long, long time ago.


The U.S. Government chased Lance Armstrong and couldn't catch him. They spent two
years and millions of dollars trying to prove he was a fraud. After whiffing on the
Barry Bonds case, the U.S Government waved the white flag and packed it in on trying
to nail Armstrong. The International Sport of Cycling couldn't expose Armstrong either.
Oh, sure, they had heard all the rumors about Armstrong for years, listened to his
teammates try to bring him down, and there was a test that showed Armstrong had
used a corticosteriod but Armstrong provided a doctor's prescription for that one. Other
than that, they had nothing truly damning against Armstrong that would destroy his
reputation and legacy.

All the rumors were out there. Teammates said that they took part in an elaborate PED
scheme where Armstrong was the ring leader. The wife of a teammate allegedly overheard
Armstrong tell doctors during his treatment for cancer that he used steroids, EPO, and
other PED's that were out there at the time. If Major League Baseball suspended players
on rumors about steroid use, players like Bonds, Piazza, Bagwell, Pujols, Brett Boone,
and about 500 other ones, would have been suspended. There was no positive drug test.
That's the bottom line.

That wasn't the bottom line to the United States Anti-Doping Agency. They didn't have
a fool-proof, katie-bar-the-door positive drug test they could use against Armstrong. They
had the rumors, the testimony from teammates, and some blood test that "may" have
shown spiked levels of testosterone. But as I said before,  if somebody had a guaranteed
positive drug test from Armstrong, this whole thing would've been over long ago.

Armstrong tried hard to stop the USADA's case against him from going forward. He
tried to have it thrown out of court in Austin, Texas, where Armstrong is considered
a God. The judge wouldn't do it. The case appeared headed to arbitration where Armstrong
felt he didn't have a fair shot or a chance to prove his innocence, calling it an
"unconstitutional witch hunt." It never got that far. Armstrong waved the white flag
and surrendered.

I found this out at 3:45 this morning during another bout with insomnia. I lit up the
computer and the first story I saw had a headline that read, "Armstrong to be stripped
of Tour de France Titles." I was wrong about Armstrong. I never thought he would
give up. He had fought the accusations for more than a decade and always came out
on top.

This was his name, his reputation, his legacy, and his career. I thought he'd fight it just
the way he did when he was on his death bed kicking and screaming against
cancer. He didn't. Lance Armstrong said forget this, I've had enough. But he wanted
to point out that he still won all those titles, all seven of them, and everybody knew
that he won them. But now, just about everyone in the world will
know that he cheated to win them, positive drug test or not.


The sport of cycling as we know it, is finished.  Armstrong's reputation is destroyed.
All the positive work he did in raising money for cancer research won't be enough to
wipe away the stain that engulfs him. It's a sad day, a really sad day. The sports world
is a royal mess with cheating, cheating, and more cheating all around it. I was wrong
about Lance Armstrong. I never thought he would be taken down. I never thought he
would quit. He didn't fight until the end to try to prove his innocence and save his
reputation. I was wrong. I was really wrong.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

JIM JOYCE MAKES THE PERFECT CALL


On June 2, 2010, Jim Joyce, a longtime and well-respected umpire, saw his life
change forever, or so he thought. Joyce, manning his position by first base,
was on the verge of being part of baseball history. Armando Galarraga of the
Detroit Tigers was one out away from pitching a perfect game. In one of the
biggest moments in the history of the game, Joyce choked. He blew the call
at first base that would've sealed a perfect game and baseball immortality for
Galarraga.

Joyce became a villain to the Tigers and baseball fans across the country. He
was the umpire who screwed up the perfect game. After watching the replay,
Joyce tearfully said, "I cost the kid a perfect game." Time heals all wounds but
the stain of botching a call couldn't be rinsed away. Joyce knew what Bill Buckner
felt like when that ball rolled through his legs. He felt the same pain Scott Hoch
did after gagging on a 2-foot put that would've made him a Masters champion.
In one of the biggest moments of his career, Joyce blew it.


Not many in life get a second chance to rectify a blown opportunity. Buckner
certainly didn't, neither did Hoch. No matter how successful they were later in
their careers, there was no way to make the pain or that bad moment go away.
They were tagged with that failure for the rest of their lives. Joyce, who is
considered one of the best umpires in the game, was sure to take that moment
to his grave, a part of his obituary and history forever.


But 809 days after that painful night in Detroit, Joyce got a chance to do something
that rinsed away the stain and all the suffering. Before working a game in Arizona,
an employee of the Diamondbacks, Jayne Power, suffered a seizure and collapsed
near Joyce. Unlike the near perfect game just over two years ago, Joyce did not freeze,
nor did he choke. Attending to someone who has just fallen in front of you is not
as easy as one might think. There have been many people who have just blanked out
and failed to help someone in need. The adrenaline, the anxiety, and the seriousness
of the moment can stop a lot of people in their tracks.

Jim Joyce was not one of those people. He administered CPR to the woman and
helped save her life. Joyce never panicked. I'm sure his heart rate went through the
roof, but he stayed calm and kept a woman from dying.


God works in mysterious ways. He challenged the strength and resolve of Jim Joyce
and then put him in a situation that was far more important than calling a baseball game.
In this day and age of Twitter, Facebook, and ESPN, people hate quicker, damn a
person forever, and seem happy to make others miserable. Joyce had to live with
a lot of hate and anger for more than two years. He had an impeccable career damaged
by one bad call.

All that doesn't matter, after all, it's just a baseball game. Jim Joyce saved a life and I
really can't think of anything that trumps that. He save a precious life. He kept a family
and countless friends from experiencing searing pain they surely would've felt if that
woman had passed away. That was the biggest moment of Joyces' life and it certainly is
his greatest accomplishment. He might not have made the right call two years ago in
Detroit, but he did the right thing in Arizona and he is a hero today, and forever.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

ROGER CLEMENS AND HIS ADDICTION


I was hardly surprised when I read that Roger Clemens was going to be pitching
for some team called the Skeeters in some league that most of you have never heard
of. The former 7-time Cy Young award winner and accused drug cheat is 50-years old
and hasn't pitch in a game since 2007, but he will be firing fastballs against a team
of has beens and wannabe's on Saturday night.

Like Brett Favre, Clemens is addicted to attention. It's his drug, or one of them anyway,
and he needs his fix. He had gone too long without hearing his name mentioned on
"SportsCenter" or seeing it in two-inch headlines in USA Today. I recall how
odd it was seeing Clemens mingling with fans in the Green Monster seats in Boston
just two days after he was acquitted of perjury charges in Washington, D.C. in May.
He was shown on NESN and ESPN and he loved it. He got his fix for attention and
he was intoxicated by it.


Now, Clemens is making his return to "professional" baseball with the Sugar Land
Skeeters in his home state of Texas. The only thing professional about it will
be the fact that the players, including Clemens will get a tiny paycheck. Workers
at McDonald's make more in a week than most of the players do as members of the
independent league. This isn't about money for Clemens, but rather  the attention.
This return to baseball ranks right up there with the futile attempts of Dennis "Oil Can"
Boyd to become relevant again and prove something to world long after anybody
really cares about them.

Clemens will get a lot of attention from ESPN over the next few days and will probably
lead off the second block of "SportsCenter". He'll say that he's doing it for the "love of
the game", but it's rather obvious that he's doing it for the love of himself and the attention
that goes with it. His agent, one of the Hendrick's brothers, is spewing the hype as if
he's trying to get his client a contract with a playoff-bound team starting on September
1st. He says Clemens is throwing "87-mph and has all his pitches working." 87-mph
wouldn't get me out, much less major league hitters. But this is all part of Clemens
agenda.

The "Rocket" also feels he has something to prove, as if anybody in this Twitter-Facebook
world really cares. He was raked through the mud by the Mitchell Report and smeared
in court for his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. We all thought Clemens had
defied the odds and old age when he was throwing 95-mph hour fastballs at the age of
45, but when Brian McNamee outed him as a drug cheat, we just lumped him in with all
the other baseball players who used the needle to cheat the game and all of us.


Clemens might think we "misremembered" all of that, or hopes we do, anyway. Clemens
probably thinks that after he strikes out eight players we've never heard of, we'll all say,
"Hey, maybe he wasn't on the juice after all." SportsCenter will probably go live to
Clemens for his post-game comments and this little charade of Clemens will go on for the
next few weeks as he tries to get us to believe that he can pitch in the major leagues again
at the age of 50. Perhaps, he's just hoping some desperate team that's just as addicted to
attention as he is, (see the Miami Marlins) will take a flyer on him for a few starts to fill
the ballpark

Perhaps, Clemens is hoping that a major league team will sign him so he can push his
eligibility for the Hall of Fame back another five years. He's probably hoping that by then,
the baseball writers will "misremember" that he was outed as a drug cheat or at least hope
they are a little more forgiving.

Rest assured, Clemens is loving all of this. He's a junkie who just got his fix for the
attention that he craves. Like Favre, Clemens has a hard time being away from the spotlight.
He's addicted to attention and there doesn't appear to be any rehabilitation for it.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

'IF YOU'RE NOT CHEATING, YOU'RE NOT TRYING'


When I played in the Boston Red Sox minor-league system, we had a pitching coach
who would teach his pitchers how to scuff a baseball so it was dart, dance, and dive
through the strike zone. Defacing a baseball is illegal, but the former major league
player who once was a teammate of Rich Rhoden, a notorious scuffer (cheater), would
finish his sessions by saying, "If you're not cheating, you're not trying."

In the past few weeks, when the headlines were filled with players, current and former ones
along with coaches who got busted for cheating the game and even their friends, I often
thought of that quote. Eddie Murray, the Hall of Fame first baseman, was charged by the
Securities and Exchange Commission with insider trader, taking a tip from former teammate,
Doug DeCinces, to help line his pockets with an extra $350,000. If you're not cheating, 
you're not trying.

Jim Donnan, the former Georgia football coach and Hall of Famer, was charged with
running an $80 million ponzi scheme. He fronted a "liquidation" company and convinced
his closest friends, many of whom are still in the coaching profession, to invest with him.
Donnan even schmoozed one of his former players to drop $800,000 into the company
and said, "Daddy will take care of you." Daddy took care of himself and now Donnan
faces the possibility of spending the rest of his natural life behind bars. If you're not 
cheating, you're not trying."

Melky Cabrera sure tried hard, didn't he? The journeyman outfielder of the San Francisco
Giants was hitting .346 in a contract year and was looking to hit it big with a monster
season. Cabrera was on his way to earning a contract that would have set him up for life,
but now, he'll go through the rest of it being labeled as a cheat. He tested positive for
testosterone and it was revealed that he tried to set up a fictitious web site where he claimed
he purchased something that led to a positive drug test. Give Melky points for the effort
because after all, "if you're not cheating, you're not trying."


Cheating seems to be getting out of control these days, even the badminton team from China
dumped games to try to get a better seed in the Olympic tournament. Badminton? Are you
kidding me? Cameron Van Burgh of South Africa won a gold medal in the 100-meter
breaststroke and admitted that he cheated, taking extra butterfly kicks on turns to gain an
advantage. Van Burgh's reasoning was that if he didn't do it, his competitors who were also
doing it, would beat him.

The art of cheating seems to have increased in the sports world because the rewards have
become so great. There are better contracts, more endorsements, and greater fame for all
those who come out on top. One great year at the right time can provide security for an
athlete and his family for their rest of their lives. Cabrera was in line for a huge contract
and was having a phenomenal season. Then he got busted. Most of the dumb ones do.


It's high risk, high reward. And if athletes do get caught, they always feel they can get
away with it because they've basically gotten away with everything throughout their
lives because they were star athletes and received preferential treatment.

If that doesn't work, they feel usually blame it on somebody else. Rafael Palmeiro
blamed his positive drug test on his teammate, Miguel Tejada, who Palmeiro alleged,
gave him a B-12 shot that was tainted with steroids. Ryan Braun pointed the finger at a
Fed Ex delivery man who failed to send his urine sample into the lab within 48 hours.
Alberto Contador, a Tour de France champion, stated that a tainted piece of beef was
the reason for his failed drug test. Tainted beef, really? Cabrera went to a whole new
level of lying when he bought a web site and tried to tell MLB that the product he
ordered from it was laced his high levels of testosterone. Comical, purely comical.

I realize that cheating is nothing new in the world of sports. After all, we've seen Bill
Belichick and "Spygate", college football has provided a recruiting scandal every year
for the last 50. Danny Almonte blew away hitters in the 2001 Little League World Series


with 80-mile an hour fastballs and a knee-buckling 73-mile an hour slider. Trouble was,
he and his coach lied about his age. He was 14-years old after stating he was just 12.
NASCAR crews always try to push the envelope by suping  up engines to provide an
unfair advantage.

Will this epidemic of cheating stop anytime soon? I seriously doubt it. With so much
money to be made, athletes and coaches will continue to cross the line and cheat the
games, themselves, and the competition. As long as their are scholarships, big contracts,
and the drive to get on ESPN,  cheating will continue to plague the sports world. After
all, if you're not cheating, you're not trying.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

RED SOX: DIVAS ARE US


Every two weeks, Adrian Gonzalez rips open an envelope that contains a paycheck
worth nearly $2 million dollars. During a six-month season, Christmas Day comes
to the Red Sox first baseman and every other major league player, 12 times. Gonzalez
should be bouncing off the walls with happiness, but he's not. He doesn't like his boss
and it's making his life miserable. Gonzalez was so unhappy about it that he texted
principal owner, John Henry, to complain about manager Bobby Valentine. And thus
began  another chapter in the Red Sox soap opera: "Divas Are Us."

There were meetings, more meetings, and meetings about the meetings. Red Sox GM
Ben Cherington confirmed as much after Yahoo Sports broke the story about the mutiny
on Boston's not-so-good ship lollipop. It was reported the team discussed the human
sheet of sandpaper that is Valentine. They didn't like him or the way he managed them.
If there was a poll taken in the real world, I'm sure 95 percent us would have the same
complaints about the people we work for. That's just reality. But these are spoiled,
pompous, entitled players on the hit reality show, "Divas Are Us" and its so much more
juicy than some housewives in New Jersey who are engaging in cat fights, debauchery,
and despicable behavior that would make Tiger Woods cringe.


When confronted about the report stating the players wanted Valentine out as manager,
Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia, who was also named in the article, pretty much said,
"Problem, what problem? We love Bobby V." Henry responded with an e-mail to the
media saying that nobody wanted Valentine fired and it wasn't even discussed. That's
right, Gonzalez just texted his owner to find out the size of the owners new baby so he
could purchase a nice little outfit for her. Please, the spin control is laughable, but then
again, just about everything coming out of the empire on Yawkey Way is laughable,
these days.


All the fun (and misery) started as soon as Valentine was hired by team president Larry
Lucchino last December. And make no mistake about it, it was Lucchino who forced
Valentine down the throats of GM Ben Cherington and everybody else who drew a
a paycheck from the organization. Lucchino thought Valentine was the perfect guy to
clean up the culture of the Red Sox chicken-eating, beer drinking clubhouse. That's
because Valentine wouldn't stand for that type of behavior.

If Lucchino had done his homework, he would've seen that Valentine never really had
a handle on his clubhouses in New York. During game 6 of the 1999 NLCS against the
Atlanta Braves, Rickey Henderson and Bobby Bonilla were back in the clubhouse playing
cards while the rest of the team tried to stave off elimination. They had tuned Valentine
out just as most players who've been around him do after awhile. That's no secret, it's
been well-documented.

However, as most of us know, employees still have to perform whether they like their
bosses or not. Gonzalez and a lot of the other Red Sox are having trouble doing that
and need a scapegoat for all their struggles and misery. And Bobby V is public enemy
number one. They didn't like the way Valentine used the media to call out Kevin Youkilis,
or the way he uses the microphones to demonstrate his worldly knowledge of the game.
They didn't like the way Valentine left Jon Lester in the oven on slow roast only to get
overcooked by a Toronto team that punished him with four home runs and 11 scored.

The 2012 edition of the Red Sox have more frivolous, man-made theatrics than the
TNT Network, who's slogan is, "We know drama." There isn't a tent big enough to
cover that three-ring circus. Perhaps, that's just the way the ownership likes it
because when the team is bad, it'd be impossible to sell all those pink hats, keep the
sell-out streak alive, or draw big numbers and advertising rates on NESN.

But as most reality shows find out, people get sick of seeing the same obnoxious,
childish, and despicable behavior over and over again. This reality show produced
by the Red Sox is getting old and unwatchable. Good thing there is only six more
weeks before it goes off the air.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

RED SOX MASTER THE CRYING GAME

The Boston Red Sox did it. They became the first team to crack the code.
Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, and probably a few others took a sledge
hammer and shattered the saying, "There is no crying in baseball." With
diapers secure and cell phone in hand, a text message was sent to the ownership
group demanding a meeting to discuss the toxic lightning rod that is manager
Bobby Valentine.

Valentine has not pitched a ball, booted one, or dribbled one into an inning-ending
double play. He has not walked a batter, given up a walk-off home run, but has
always walked to the beat of a different drummer, and that appears to be rubbing
millionaire ballplayers wearing a Red Sox uniform, the wrong way. They didn't
like the way Valentine criticized Kevin Youkilis through the media and many
weren't happy when V left Jon Lester on the mound to simmer after giving up
four home runs in a game against Toronto recently.

According to Yahoo Sports, the players told ownership during a meeting in New
York City that they didn't want to play for Valentine anymore. They may not have
said the same thing last September about Terry Francona, but the players sure as
heck laid down on Terry Francona, costing him his job and leading to the reality
show that is the Bobby V and the Red Sox.


After watching Francona become an ex-manager, Lester, who had drawn on the
strength and support of Francona during his bout with cancer, said that it was perhaps,
"time for a new voice for  the team to listen to." Funny how things change. Now, all
those players who turned their backs on Francona have gone behind the back of
Valentine to try and get him fired.

With Valentine's history of being like sandpaper with his players, a lot of people
saw this coming and are hardly surprised. When Bobby V was named manager
of the Red Sox last December, a lot of players were not only shocked, but sour.
Many were thinking, "Anybody but Bobby V." Valentine has a reputation as someone
with a great baseball mind, but also someone who is all about Bobby V.


In this day and age of pampered and coddled millionaire dollar players, this represented
a bad mix. Players don't like to see a manager who tries to be bigger than the players
or the game itself. They will tune them out, and in the case of a few players on the
Red Sox, they will cry to management.

Players make a ton of money to play a kid's game. They travel first class and stay
in four-star hotels. No matter what the business or company, there are millions of
people who don't like their bosses or are dissatisfied by what they say, wear, and
the amount of the checks they desposit in their bank accounts. It happens. But most
deal with it.

The Red Sox dealt with it by having a "players only" meeting with ownership. How
brave. They get the floor to rip their manager behind his back. They get to talk tough
without him being in the room to defend himself. If I was part of that ownership group,
I would have said, "Hold on just a minute. I'm getting Bobby V and he's going to hear
what you have to say." I'm sure all those "brave" players would have changed their tune
with him in there to look straight into their eyes.

I applaud the ownership group for not giving into the players and their wish to have
Valentine fired. At the same time, I just wish they said what should have been said,

"We are paying you an obscene amount of money. We give you the best of everything.
We try to do everything we can to make you comfortable and do your job. But it's
time to shut up and play. Bobby Valentine doesn't hit, pitch, or throw the ball for you.
It's on you. If you strike out, it's on you, not Bobby V. If you give up a home run,
it's not because of him. He doesn't have a 5.67 ERA. He's not hitting .179 with runners
in scoring position. Just shut the hell up, quit complaining, and do your job. And if
you want to talk to ownership, don't text like a high school girl, be a man and call us
by phone, and be sure to invite Bobby Valentine so he has a chance to see that knife
you're trying to stab him in the back with."

JOHNNY PESKY: THE GREATEST BASEBALL MAN


A great baseball man. During my short, but wonderful journey through baseball, I'd
often hear that phrase tagged on someone in the game who was a baseball lifer, a man
who'd seen it all as either a player, scout, manager, or perhaps, all three.

Rocky Bridges was the first great baseball man I ever met. He played in the Major
Leagues from 1951 to 1961 and made the National League All-Star team in 1958. After
a brief  stint as third base coach, Bridges went back to manage in the minors where he
stayed for the next 21 years.

1989 was his last season in baseball, which  happened to be mine, as well. He managed
the Salem Buccaneers and I played for the Lynchurg Red Sox in the Carolina League.
Bridges was an old-time manager out of central casting with a large beer belly and a wad
of tobacco in his cheek big enough to stuff Chad Johnson's mouth for good. I fondly
remember strands of rinds aching to get out of his mouth as he talked and a jersey
peppered with tobacco stains. Bridges managed more than 2,000 games in the
minor-leagues but never got a shot to do in the big leagues, despite being considered
a "great baseball man."


With all due respect to Bridges, he wasn't half the great "baseball man" that Johnny
Pesky was. Pesky died on Monday at the age of 92. He had become part of the fabric
of the Boston Red Sox a long time ago, having played, coached, and managed the team
during a career that lasted more than 60 years. Think about that. Pesky spent nearly
his entire life in the game an became an iconic figure in New England as a man who
was a Red Sox, through and through. He was everything good about baseball and you
got the feeling that the only way you'd get the Red Sox uniform off Pesky was to hold
him down and peel it off. He loved being a member of the Boston Red Sox.


Pesky's longevity or playing ability didn't make him a Red Sox legend, his loyalty,
kindness, and character did. He loved, and I mean really loved baseball, the Red Sox,
and helping all the players in the game. Pesky had class, dignity, and grace. He became
as much a part of Fenway Park as the pole in right field that bears his name.

I first met Pesky when I was a minor-leaguer in the Red Sox organization in 1988. When
I covered the team 10 years later for a local station, there was Pesky sitting in the dugout
with his fungo bat telling stories about his days being a teammate of Ted Williams. After
fours years in Atlanta, I returned to Boston in 2004 to work for NESN, and there was
Pesky, still in his uniform and fungo bat, still very much part of the Red Sox.


EVERYBODY loved Johnny Pesky. The players, the fans, and the media. He was often
the first person anyone would ever see when they went to work at Fenway and it was
like seeing Santa Claus over and over and it never go old. Pesky wreaked of baseball history
and people would always make a point of getting closer to Pesky just to get a whiff of it.
This is a man who had been teammates with Williams, Dom DiMaggio, and the great
Bobby Doerr. If it happened in baseball, there was a good chance that Pesky had seen
it.

I'll never forget the image of Pesky pulling up the 2004 World Series banner during the
Red Sox home opener the following season. Tears had welled up in his eyes as he pulled
the rope that helped lift the Curse of the Bambino for good and bring pure joy to the faces
of everyone in New England who had suffered through 86 years of heartbreak. Nobody
was happier than Johnny Pesky, though. His team, his franchise, and his true baseball love
had finally won a World Series and he was as much a part of it as David Ortiz.


Johnny Pesky may have died, but his legacy will live on in Red Sox lore, forever. There's
the Pesky Pole, his number 6 has been retired, and those images of Pesky pulling up
the championship banner have been etched in the minds of Red Sox fans and will never
go away.

Johnny Pesky: A true Boston Red Sox and one of the greatest baseball men the game has
ever seen.