Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tuesday Night Update

We checked in with John's brother Bob this afternoon at the hospital. He said "John is getting back to his normal cranky self. He is out of ICU and has seen family, has had a few visitors and is on the road to recovery."

Thanks to all of you who have left your best wishes with John. The Doctors will probably not allow him to get on the computer for a few days, but we will make sure that he sees all of your comments. We'll update you again tomorrow, as we try to continue to fill this space in our pinch-hitting role, while John is on the DL. We hope he is back and swinging from the heels soon.

---------“Feinstein on the Brink” Staff

*****Surgery Update******

We wanted to give an update on John’s status coming out of surgery…..John made it through successful bypass surgery and is recovering well. Please check back for updates on his condition as the week progresses – we should have news on his status periodically.

In addition to updates, we will take this time to link to John’s other work at The Washington Post, The Golf Channel and Golf Digest. Keep coming back to the site over the next few days to catch some topics you might have missed.

--“Feinstein on the Brink” Staff

Monday, June 29, 2009

An Unexpected Monday – Heart Bypass Surgery

This will be, I’m sorry to report, my last post for at least a few days. The reason is simple: on Monday morning (I’m writing this Sunday) I will be undergoing bypass surgery.

It started with a routine thalium stress test last Wednesday. When I had my annual check-up in February, my doctor suggested that, given that I’m over 50 and there is a history of heart disease in my family, a stress test would probably be a good idea. So, we scheduled it for the week after the U.S. Open—the first real break in my schedule.

I did well on the treadmill—went almost nine minutes before my heart rate got to 150—which surprised me because I’m not in great swimming shape right now and I’m more overweight than usual. The doctor said my swimming, even when not in great shape, was probably the reason for that.

The next day though he called—right after I’d worked out—and said there was a “spot,” on one of my arteries that might be a blockage. He wanted me to go in for an angiogram and said I might as well do it the next day since I had a busy week coming up with the PGA Tour in town at Congressional and the fact that I was supposed to move on Tuesday.

“It’s really no more of a big deal than a trip to the dentist,” he said.

Not exactly.

The angiogram showed “four to six,” blockages in my heart—one of them 100 percent. The doctor who did it said there was really no option other than bypass. I asked how could that be when I had not had a heart attack or even chest pains and my cholesterol level was 162.

He smiled. “First, you’ve been lucky,” he said. “Second, your heart is strong thanks to your swimming. It’s your arteries that are screwed up.”

After I got through freaking out I asked if it could be done right then and there. The surgeon came in and said, “look, my team and I have already done three today. Yours will take a little longer (four hours or so) because there are so many blockages. We’ll put you down for first thing Monday morning.

And so, I’m on the schedule for 7:30 Monday morning.

I am, of course, scared. I know these guys do this surgery all the time (three times on Friday) but the old saying goes that routine surgery is surgery performed on someone other than you. I know, having talked to others who have been through bypass that the recovery isn’t easy but you do come out on the other end feeling a lot better.

That’s what I want now—to come out on the other end.

Everyone is telling me I’m lucky because it was caught this way, not with a heart attack. My heart muscle is un-damaged. I am, besides the damn arteries, healthy so I should be able to get through the surgery okay and recover okay.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t feel too lucky Friday afternoon.

The weekend has been anxious and uplifting all at once. I want to get in and get this over with—obviously—but all the calls and e-mails and offers of help and support from friends has been amazing. You do find out a lot about yourself in a lot of ways at times of crisis and that’s been wonderful.

What I want right now is to be able to sit at this computer in a few days and rip David Frohnmayer again or celebrate something cool that happens this coming week in sports. Of course the first thing I want to do is wake up in the recovery room and get to hug my kids a little while later. Then I can begin to deal with what comes after that.

The doctor did say to me that once this is over I’ll need to consider a lifestyle change. I’m guessing he was talking about the four or five steaks a week and the tendency to steer into McDonald’s when I’m on the road. Okay, I get it. My question is this: does anyone know a bartender who makes a good, low-fat Margarita? God, I could use one right about now.

I’m going to ask my pals Terry Hanson and David Stewart who put the blog together every day to post something when they know I’m through the surgery. My hope is the news will be such that all of you will feel free to disagree with me vehemently again in the very near future.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Why I Still Follow Soccer

It doesn’t happen very often but there will actually be people paying attention to soccer this weekend. The timing is actually perfect: The U.S. Open was last week; the Wimbledon finals aren’t until next week and the days when Yankees-Mets or Cubs-White Sox were actually a big deal are long past.

So, when the United States plays Brazil on Sunday afternoon in the championship game of something called The Confederation’s Cup, there is actually a chance people will be watching. That’s because the U.S. pulled a stunning upset in the semifinals on Wednesday, beating Spain, which is a true power in world soccer.

Now, let’s be honest about this: this isn’t The World Cup. It’s one of the gazillion soccer tournaments played around the world ever year. There are so many different tournaments that teams in The MLS break off from their schedules in mid-season to play in them. It can be dizzying.

So, this was not as a colleague of mine tried to claim, “one of the great upsets in history.” What makes it significant is that it may bode well for next year’s World Cup. If the U.S. beats Spain THEN it’s a big deal. If it beats Brazil on Sunday it’s also a big deal because Brazil is the Yankees of world soccer. They don’t always win but when they don’t win, well, heads roll.

Now, your first question as you read this, especially if you are a soccer-nista is, what the hell do I know about soccer?

Look, I’m not George Vecsey, my friend whose New York Times columns are always peppered with soccer references because it is easily his favorite sport. But when I was a kid reporter at The Washington Post my first beat was covering the old Washington Diplomats in the now-defunct North American Soccer League.

Covering the Dips—as they called themselves, “Get Your Kicks With The Dips,” was their slogan—was a blast. The NASL had actually become fairly popular in the late 70s and early 80s after Pele came to play with the New York Cosmos followed by superstars like Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia, The Cosmos often played to sellout crowds in Giants Stadium in those days.

The Dips actually averaged more than 24,000 fans a game playing in RFK Stadium in 1980. The draw was Johan Cruyff, the Dutch superstar that ownership—Madison Square Garden believe it or not—brought in to bulk up attendance.

I’ve said this often but to this day Cruyff is my all time favorite athlete among those I’ve covered. Johan would say ANYTHING. This was a typical post game Cruyff analysis of a loss. “We lost because the coach is an idiot, the players don’t know what they’re doing and no one is listening to me. If they don’t listen to me we will never win.”

I would write that and the next day Johan would scream at me for writing it—I would point out I was standing there taking notes while he was taking—and say he would never speak to me again. Then, after practice, he’d walk up and say, “where are we going for dinner?”

I look back at my days covering soccer in today’s era of athlete websites and interview rooms and shake my head. I often joked that the soccer people were so cooperative that they’d come to your house to be interviewed and I wasn’t exaggerating by much.

In 1981 the so-called “Soccer Bowl,”—the NASL championship game—was being played in Washington. The league’s biggest star at the time was Chinaglia. On the Sunday before the game I was covering a football game at Giants Stadium when my boss called me. “As long as you’re up there, why don’t you stay over until Monday and see if you can talk to Chinaglia,” he said.

Okay, fine. It took me about five minutes to get Chinaglia’s home phone number from a Cosmos PR guy. When I called his wife he was asleep but would take a message. Sure enough, an hour later The Washington Post’s press box phone rang. (No cell phone in those days).

As luck would have it, Tony Kornheiser was closest to the phone. He answered it, got a funny look on his face and said, “John (no he didn’t call me Junior back then) there’s an Italian guy on the phone for you.”

It was Chinaglia, a little stunned that someone didn’t know who he was. I told him I was hoping to talk to him the next day.

“Where are you staying?” he asked.

I told him. He said. “I have to go into the city in the morning for a meeting. I’ll pick you up, we’ll drive in and have breakfast. We can talk in the car and at breakfast. Is that okay?”

I probably should have asked why he wasn’t inviting me to the house for breakfast but I said that was fine. When Kornheiser, listening to the conversation, heard the plan he began shouting all over the press box: “Giorgia Chinagli (he did know the name) is going to be Feinstein’s chauffeur tomorrow.”

I’ll always have a warm spot in my heart for those days. Which is why I still follow soccer even though I haven’t covered it for years. And I’ll be watching Sunday.

Follow-Up Note on BCS

Quick note from yesterday’s comments page. I’m not going to make a habit of responding to people’s posts because as far as I’m concerned that should be the reader’s forum to say whatever they want to say—short of profanity of course. That’s my bailywick but only on radio.

If you saw a comment from “John’s Friend,” on the BCS you should be aware of who my friend is: He’s Bill Hancock, one of the very best people I know, a truly wonderful man. As luck would have it, Bill is also the spokesman for—you guessed it—The BCS. Thus, it is his job to defend the indefensible. He’s too good a person to try the ridiculous, “it would affect our academic calendar,” route the Oregon President tried the other day so he went the, “most meaningful regular season in sports,” route.

Bill—please. You don’t think college hoops has a meaningful regular season when every single game the last three weeks is analyzed for its meaning in regard to seeding, to bubble teams, to who is in and who is out? There’s nothing like it. It would be the same with a football tournament. But I know you are paid to find a way to defend these guys so I forgive you and our next meal is on me. Unless you bring David Frohnmayer with you.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Time for Congress to Challenge Hypocrisy, Only Money Matters with the BCS

I mentioned the other day that, more often than not, I enjoy the people I encounter while doing my job. There are notable exceptions to that rule. High on that list would be college presidents in general—with a few exceptions and presidents of BCS colleges—with no exceptions.

I swear these people must have to pass a rigorous test in pomposity and hypocrisy before they are sworn in. Here’s the oath they take: “I David Frohnmayer promise to lie, obfuscate and say anything that comes into my head to defend the BCS, regardless of what might be right for the so-called ‘student-athletes,’ representing my school.”

David Frohnmayer, if you don’t know, is the president of the University of Oregon and is currently the chairman of something called the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee.

Yesterday, Frohnmayer put out a statement after the latest meeting of the group AGAIN defending the BCS and AGAIN saying there’s no reason at all to change the system. Maybe Chrysler and GM can hire this guy to put out statements saying that everything is just fine in the automobile business.

What is SO aggravating about guys like Frohnmayer and his BCS partners in crime is their extraordinary arrogance. Consider the following paragraph from Frohnmayer’s statement: “In the last six years I’ve read pundits, hear the pronouncements of broadcasters and collected several cubic feet of e-mail printouts from advocates of an NFL-style playoff system. Even those that go beyond sound bit certitude share two intertwined and fatal deficiencies: they disrespect our academic calendars and they utterly lack a business plan.”

Okay let’s break this down. Not first that Frohnmayer refers to an “NFL-style playoff system.” That’s his way of saying he would NEVER want the game professionalized. Oh God Forbid the BCS, which is completely underwritten by corporate America, should be professionalized. How about a Division 1-AA style playoff system? (Forget the NCAA’s silly new names). Or a Division 2 or a Division 3 playoff system? The D-3 schools, whose kids have NO scholarships and have to be serious students have a playoff system—like 1-AA and D-2 that runs right into December. How much you want to bet the graduation rate of the schools that make the D-3 playoffs is a LOT higher than the BCS’s top ten schools?

But that’s the least of it. The comment about disrespecting the academic calendars makes me want to throw something at this guy. How about the academic calendar for the basketball tournament? That’s in MARCH and APRIL, right near the end of the school year! A playoff could easily be held in January, mostly between semesters. STOP SAYING THIS IT IS A COMPLETE LIE. If Frohnmayer made a statement like this before Congress he would be—and should be—held in contempt. I certainly hold him in contempt. If he made it in a courtroom he would be charged with perjury.

Finally, the business plan. Give me a call Dave, I can put a business plan together for you in about 15 minutes and I know ZIP about business. Are you kidding me? By the way is President Obama a pundit or a broadcaster?

Frohnmayer, showing his rapier wit, jokingly said he had heard from fans at Auburn and his own school, Oregon who thought their teams belonged in past BCS championship games. No mention of Utah or Boise State. I guess they don’t exist, right Dave? Riddle me this Mr. BCS oversight chairman: How do you go UNDEFEATED in any sport and not even get a chance to compete for a championship?

What a jerk. I will say this one more time: This is one time when President Obama and Congress need to intervene in athletics. They need to tell these pompous hypocrites that if they don’t set up a playoff NOW the IRS is prepared to investigate whether they should retain 501C3 status. You see with the BCS presidents once you get by the “sound bit certitude,” only one thing matters: MONEY.

Clearly they’ve never been caught in a truth in the past or in Frohnmayer preposterous statement.

Okay, I got that off my chest. But I’m still mad. I think I’m going to find a picture of Frohnmayer, get my daughter to put together a Frohnmayer doll and throw things at it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

“First Love, Baseball; Initial Assignment in College and Coach Enos Slaughter”

One of the questions I get asked a lot is this: What sport do you enjoy most? Most people expect the answer to be college basketball or golf. As it happens, I love both and enjoy covering both although I know I’m on a short list of people who would rather cover The Patriot League championship game than the ACC championship game.

But the sport I love the most, strictly as a fan, is and always has been baseball.

Maybe it’s because it was the first sport I played as a kid or maybe it’s because the very first sports even I went to was a Yankees-Indians game at Yankee Stadium. My mom took me to that game but by the time I was in fifth grade I was riding the subways to both Shea and Yankee Stadiums.

While I love walking into a packed gym on a cold winter night, there’s nothing quite like the aesthetics of a baseball game, especially on a pretty spring day or a comfortable summer night. I like the way it FEELS.

My ex-wife once made the comment that baseball is ubiquitous. She meant it as a putdown as in, “why the hell can’t I get away from it for five minutes.”

To me it is that ubiquity that makes it so much fun. Baseball is there pretty much day and night from March through October. I still haven’t come into the 21st century and gotten satellite radio but when I’m in the car at night here on the east coast I can pick up ballgames from all over the place: The Mets and Yankees are on 50,000 watt stations and so are the Phillies and Red Sox (WTIC in Hartford). Often I can get the Indians, sometimes the Pirates and of course the Nationals and Orioles when I’m near home. On clear nights the White Sox are an easy get and I can also get the Reds and Cubs.

I DO have the baseball package on TV which is great except that the ability to flip from game to game has cut back on my keeping score. When I was a kid I kept score of almost every Mets game when I was at home. Before we were married I showed my wife what cleverly called, “My Baseball Records,” folders of every game I’d kept score of through the years. She went through with the marriage anyway. She can’t say she wasn’t warned.

To this day, I can honestly say there are few things in the world I enjoy more than sitting in a ballpark keeping score. Now, as when I was a kid, there’s no purpose to it, I just like doing it. I find it relaxing.

I have to say this though: I just can’t wrap my arms around the College World Series. I’ve had friends who have covered it say it’s a great event and I know the players are good and the competition’s terrific.

I just can’t deal with the metal bats. Every time I hear that pinging sound my first throught is, “this isn’t baseball.” Maybe that’s a reflection of my age or my inflexibility but it just doesn’t feel real to me.

It isn’t as if I don’t pay any attention. I know Texas is playing LSU tonight for the championship and I can probably tell you the eight teams who made The World Series. I’ve even figured out how the regionals and super-regionals work.

When I was in college, one of my first assignments as a freshman at the student newspaper was to cover the Duke baseball team—which was awful and has been awful for a long time. (This year was a breakthrough because the team qualified for the CONFERENCE tournament).

The coach was Enos Slaughter, the great “Country Enos,” Slaughter best known for his dash from first to home in game 7 of the 1946 World Series. He was a great guy but, well, kind of past his best days at that point.

One afternoon, I was leisurely watching Duke lose again when someone came charging out of the Duke dugout.

“Is there a doctor in the house!,” he screamed. (Seriously, that’s exactly what he said). “We need help down here!”

There probably weren’t 100 people at the game but someone was a doctor and he jumped up and headed for the dugout. My first thought was: “Oh My God, Coach Slaughter’s having a heart attack.”

I charged down to the dugout and sure enough he was flat on his back, the trainer kneeling over him as the doctor came running up to help.

“What happened?” the doctor asked, rolling up his sleeves.

“He swallowed his chaw,” the trainer said.

Sure enough, the old baseball guy’s chewing tobacco had somehow slipped down his throat. Enos was white-faced and pretty sick for a few minutes but he was fine soon after that.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Seldom Felt Mixed Emotions, Open Monday in Recap; Mickelson

Anyone who has known me for more than five minutes can tell you that I rarely have mixed emotions about anything. I’ve said for years that the notion of ‘objective journalism,’ is a complete myth. We all have biases. The key to doing the job right is understanding those biases and doing the best you can to not let them interfere with your judgment or fairness.

Watching the final holes of the U.S. Open on Monday—during a break from the audio-taping session I was in most of the day—I had mixed emotions of every possible kind.

My instinct is almost always to root for the underdog in almost any situation. Maybe it has something to do with growing up as a Mets fan prior to the Miracle of 1969. Ninety-nine times out of 100 I would have been pulling for David Duval, someone I’ve known and liked for years to win the Open or, if not Duval certainly Ricky Barnes or even Lucas Glover.

Certainly I wouldn’t want to see Phil Mickelson win. It isn’t because I don’t like Mickelson—I do. He and I have always gotten along and he’s always been cooperative with me when I’ve needed to talk to him. Very cooperative in fact.

Like everyone else in golf I occasionally get tired of the Eddie Haskell routine, the sheepish, ‘gee whiz folks,’ persona which isn’t really Mickelson at all. He’s got a sharp-tongued sense of humor which is actually a lot more endearing than the ‘I’m just so happy and honored to play for Captain Nicklaus,’ bit that he does when he plays on Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup teams.

A few years ago, after one of my golf books had come out, Mickelson walked up to me in the locker room and said, “Hey, I see you have a new book out.”

“Yes I do,” I answered.

“Where’s mine?” he asked, smiling.

Since the book was on Qualifying School he hadn’t been involved. I DO try to give books to guys I interview during a book but it isn’t as easy as you might think. By contract I receive 25 books. That’s it. So, for this book, Phil wasn’t on the list.

“At Barnes and Noble, right down the street,” I replied.

Without missing a beat he drew himself up and said, “Perhaps you forget. I’m a member of The PGA Tour. We do NOT pay for anything.”

That was the real Mickelson, a needler with a sharp sense of humor.

Which is why, in spite of my underdog instincts, in spite of the fact that I actually grew a bit tired of the screeching crowds at Bethpage Black (they reminded me a little bit of the Duke students who do their Cameron Crazies bit more to draw attention to themselves than to help their team win) and in spite of the fact that the TV people would have turned a Mickelson victory into the U.S. hockey team at Lake Placid on steroids, I had to root for Mickelson.

It wasn’t so much that he’s going through the hell millions go through with his wife Amy facing surgery for cancer although how could you not be thinking about that? It was more the fact that he’s a truly great player—three majors, 36 tournament wins—who has been overshadowed by Tiger Woods through most of his career and has lived through more near misses than any golfer since Greg Norman.

Mickelson is eminently more likeable than Norman. This is a guy who schedules 45 minutes in his day EVERY day he’s at a golf course to sign autographs. I know other players roll their eyes and say that’s all part of the “act,” but the fact is he DOES it. I mentioned that to someone who works for Tiger Woods last week and got the, “if he signs for 100 people, the 101st person is going to be upset.” Do you think there isn’t a 101st person waiting for Mickelson every day? At least he makes the first 100 happy. Those numbers add up after a while.

Of course we all know now Phil couldn’t close the deal on Monday. Glover made a brilliant birdie on 16 and Phil, as he has done in the past, missed a couple of critical short putts down the stretch. It was his FIFTH second place finish at The Open. During a week of biblical rains, Mickelson was Job at the Open—again.

One of the most honest press conference answers Mickelson ever gave in his life was in 2004 when he was tied for the third round lead at the Masters with Woods nine shots behind. Asked if it would help to have Woods not right in the rear view mirror on Sunday, Mickelson abandoned the, “I’m just playing the golf course,” cliché, smiled and said, “it doesn’t suck.”

Monday’s ending—with all due respect to Glover who is a good guy—sucked. And yet, it really isn’t corny to say the far more important event for Mickelson begins on July 1st. We can ALL root for him—and for Amy—then.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Change-Up' in My Plans, Charity from Coaches Gary Williams and Jim Calhoun

I’m writing today before the U.S. Open ends because I’m not going to get to see the finish—at least not live. Weeks ago, I scheduled an audio-taping session for this morning for my new kids book, “Change-Up,” which is coming out in August. I guess it wasn’t very bright to not anticipate either a playoff or bad weather at the Open but, to be completely honest, I was more than ready to get out of Bethpage.

There’s a couple reasons for that, the biggest one being the relentless rain that, unless Phil Mickelson wins the championship or Tiger Woods makes a miracle comeback, will be everyone’s enduring memory of this Open.

The other reason is more personal. Seven years ago, when the Open was first played at Bethpage Black, I had been researching my book on the 2002 Open for a year by the time the Open began. I felt as if I knew everyone involved from all the USGA officials, to everyone working inside the park to the volunteers and the players.

There are two things I really enjoy about researching a book: getting to feel as if I really know and understand a topic—whether it be a team, a league, a sport or a rivalry—and the people that I meet. In 99 out of 100 cases, they are people that I come to like and, in many cases, they remain friends long after the book is finished.

I know I come across as a cynic and a skeptic a lot and, on many issues I’m just that, but one thing I’m generally optimistic about is people. We all know there’s evil in the world (Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh come instantly to mind) but I think most people try to do the right things in life most of the time. I know I’ve found this to be true working on the two charity events I’ve been deeply involved in—The BB+T Classic, which raises money for kids at risk in the Washington area and the Bruce Edwards Celebrity Golf Classic, which raises money for ALS research.

Two stories about basketball coaches—who don’t happen to like one another very much—kind of sum up what I’m talking about.

When Peter Teeley, who was George Bush the first’s speechwriter and later his ambassador to Canada (he’s my Republican, I’m his Democrat) asked me in 1994 to become a founding member of the Children’s Charities Foundation, he did it for one reason: I know basketball coaches and the tournament he wanted to start was going to need basketball teams if it was going to be launched.

Holding a tournament in Washington, we needed local teams. Maryland and Georgetown were the two big name teams. I knew that Georgetown wasn’t going to play because John Thompson (the elder) simply didn’t get involved in anything he didn’t have complete control over. That meant we had to have Maryland to have any chance at all to launch.

I called Gary Williams and told him what we were trying to do. This was before Gary had established Maryland as a national power and I was asking him to commit to two non-conference games away from Cole Field House against (we hoped) quality competition.

This was Gary’s answer: “You get it up and running and we’ll be there. I promise.”

Which he has, through a lot of ups and downs, for 15 years. This December Maryland will play Villanova, not exactly an easy December game. The charity has raised close to $10 million. We wouldn’t have raised $10 without Gary.

The Bruce Edwards event is a mix of golf pros, basketball coaches and media celebrities. Lining them up each year isn’t easy. One coach who has always come is Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun.

Last year, several weeks before the event, I picked up a paper and read that Jim was having another bout with cancer, this time skin cancer. The paper said he would be undergoing daily radiation treatment. I called Jim to tell him I was sorry and that I understood that he almost certainly couldn’t make, ‘the Bruce,’ this year.

“My treatments are at 7:30 every morning,” he said. “If the doctor says I can come, I’m going to find a flight and get down there (to Baltimore) as soon as I’m finished.”

A week later he called. “The doctor says I can come,” he said.

“So you found a flight?”

“Actually no,” he said. “I’m chartering a plane. I’m not going to miss this.”

That’s what I mean about people being good. More on the golf tomorrow. By then I will have finished most of the audio and seen all the highlights. With any luck, there will be a champion by then.