Friday, July 31, 2009

Time for Players Union to Decide to Out the Rest of the List, They Owe it to Non-Cheaters

I had hope this morning to write about my friend Paul Goydos. Yesterday marked the 16th anniversary of the day we met during the first round of The Buick Open. Paul was a tour rookie—and so was I—I’d just started researching, “A Good Walk Spoiled.” He shot 66 on Thursday afternoon and was brought to the interview room because his was the only low score among the late starters. Bored, killing time before I met someone for dinner, I wandered into the interview room.

The first thing I had head Paul say was, “I’m sure most of you have never heard of me. There’s a reason for that: I’ve never done anything.”

The next 15 minutes were filled with dry, self-deprecating one liners. “I play best when I get my slice going. I know on the PGA Tour you’re supposed to call it a fade but if you hit a seven iron and it goes 20 yards to the right, it’s a slice.”

Since I was looking for players at all levels who had stories to tell, I introduced myself to Paul when he was finished and explained that I was writing a book about life on the tour. “I’ll give you all the time you want,” he said. “But you’re wasting your time doing a book on golf. No one’s going to buy it.”

We still joke about how fortunate I was that he wasn’t my agent.

There’s more—he’s been a fascinating character to know and follow since then—but I have to save it for another day. Like everyone else in sports I’m trapped today (again) by the subject of baseball and steroids.

To say, ‘here we go again,’ doesn’t begin to describe how completely out of control this whole mess is—and has been for a good long while now. The latest revelation is one of the good guys, David Ortiz. The New York Times also nailed Manny Ramirez yesterday for testing positive during the so-called ‘secret,’ testing of 2003 but that’s now old news since Ramirez has already been suspended this year.

As I’ve said before, everyone’s guilty in this and yesterday was evidence of that once again. There was union chief Don Fehr once again wanting to shoot the messenger, expressing anger at the fact that Ramirez and Ortiz’s names were leaked. I’ve always respected Fehr but on the issue of drugs he has done massive damage to baseball by taking the approach that this is a privacy issue. It’s NOT. There are some jobs in the world—airline pilot, law enforcement official to name two—where drug-testing in today’s world must be mandatory. Is it constitutional when we’re all practically strip searched trying to get on an airplane? Hell no. But it is absolutely necessary.

The same’s true in professional sports. Drug use is epidemic in every sport you can possibly think of and, unless you just want to throw your hands up and say, ‘go ahead and cheat AND jeopardize your health,’ you HAVE to drug test. In fact, pro athletes need to be blood-tested because I guarantee you HGH (Human Growth Hormone) is now the drug of choice because it can’t be detected by urinalysis.

While Fehr was spluttering the TV talking heads gathered to cluck and shake their heads and wish this wouldn’t happen. But they STILL won’t take on the players. There was my pal Tim Kirkijian on ESPN saying, “I don’t think one positive test necessarily proves you’ve been doing it your whole career.”

Come on Timmy, one thing we know is that one positive test means for damn sure that the player—whomever it was—didn’t try the drugs ONCE. NONE of these guys and I mean none of them should be allowed to set foot in The Hall of Fame. Ramirez sits there and arrogantly says that he and Ortiz are, “mountains,” and that, “we’ll just keep hitting.” You do that Manny, but I swear you shouldn’t be allowed into Cooperstown even if you buy a ticket. You and the rest of the cheaters.

The fans are guilty too. Everyone is against steroid use EXCEPT if it’s one of their guys who is producing for them. Barry Bonds was cheered in San Francisco until the day he finally went away. (He’s never retired as far as I know). Thursday in Boston Ortiz got a curtain-call standing ovation after a three run homer. Then he put out a strange statement saying he was “surprised,” to learn he’d tested positive. Who is this guy Inspector Renaud in Casablanca? He’s SHOCKED to learn he’s been taking steroids?

Baseball needs to release the remaining names among the 103 who tested positive in ’03. For one thing, it isn’t fair to Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, David Segui (a really bad guy by the way) Ortiz and Ramirez that their names have been leaked and not the others. Other names will continue to dribble out and we’ll have endless speculation on who did and did not test positive until the names are released.

This is one time when Bud Selig needs to get in a room with Fehr, much the same way he did in 2005 after the embarrassment of the McGwire-Sosa-Palemeiro-Schilling-Canseco Congressional hearing and say, ‘Don, we’re drowning here. Enough with the self-righteous right-to-privacy crap,’ He needs to shout this to the highest roof tops and he needs to do one other thing: pressure the players to tell the union to release the names.

Right now the players who are clean—who are still a majority—should be losing their minds that this is still going on. They should be screaming at Fehr and the rest of the union, ‘OUT THEM ALL. ENOUGH. WE'RE DONE WITH THIS!”

That was a big part of the problem when all this began. The non-users, the good guys, let the bad guys go free because they let Fehr and Gene Orza make this into a privacy issue rather than an issue of CHEATING. How can any of them now in good conscience sit back and say, ‘yeah we’re upset this got leaked,’ rather than saying, ‘this needs to end NOW. Out ‘em all and let’s try to move on from there.’

I still remember the day the Mitchell Report came out. I was finishing writing, “Living on the Black.” I had talked to both Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina about steroid use during the season and they had each estimated that at least 25 percent and maybe a lot more of the guys they’d played with had used performance-enhancing drugs at some point. Of course they couldn’t go on the record and name names.

Now, names had been named and I called them both. Neither expressed surprise about any name that was on the list. In fact, Glavine said this: “I’m more surprised by some of the names NOT on the list than by the names ON the list.”

That says it all doesn’t it? For all the names that has been revealed, we’ve probably only hit the tip of the iceberg. And, as long as people stonewall or cluck about how this doesn’t prove all that much or cheer cheaters because they’re producing, it’s just going to go on and on and on.

And I’ve got so many funny Paul Goydos stories to tell.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Yesterdays Post Sparked a Question - Greatest College Player Ever Seen

Keith Drum, a close friend of mine who is a scout for the Sacramento Kings, called me yesterday.

“Did you really write that Michael Jordan was the best college player you ever saw?” he said. “Tell me you didn’t write that.”

Well, I didn’t write that exactly. I wrote that I told Pat Riley he was the best college player I’d ever seen—which I did, in part because I was angry, in part because I was making a point and in part because it wasn’t entirely untrue. Jordan, as a North Carolina junior, was an absolute sight to see.

“Come on,” Keith pointed out. “You saw David Thompson.”

True, I did. And Thompson was, without doubt, a more dominant offensive player while at North Carolina State in the 1970s than Jordan was while at Carolina in the 80s. Part of that had to do with Dean Smith’s offensive system which rarely allowed one player to dominate the ball. But Thompson WAS an extraordinary college player.

Jordan went on to have arguably the greatest NBA career in history while Thompson’s career was short-circuited by drug problems. I think you could argue Jordan-Thompson no the college level in a lot of different ways. Certainly Thompson’s offensive numbers were better. Without question, Jordan was a better defender although Thompson’s block of Bill Walton in the 1974 Final Four is still one of the most amazing plays I’ve ever seen. Both had a lot of talent around them and both won a national championship. Certainly there would be a lot more spectacular Thompson highlights if the dunk had been legal when he was in college.

Having said all of that, I don’t think either Jordan or Thompson was the most dominant college player I ever saw. That would have to be Lew Alcindor (aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). His UCLA teams were 88-2 and easily—I mean easily—won three straight national titles. It would have been four if freshmen had been eligible. Think about that for a second: if Alcindor had been eligible as a freshman the famous Texas Western-Kentucky game never would have happened.

I first saw Alcindor play when he was in high school. In those days, there was often a high school game played in Madison Square Garden prior to Knicks games and I saw Alcindor play for Power Memorial High School several times. He simply couldn’t be guarded, not just because he was 7-1 (listed, I think he was more like 7-4) but because he was so athletic and quick around the basket. He didn’t have the sky-hook then but he didn’t need it.

When he went to UCLA I was disappointed because there were stories in New York that he was going to stay home and go to St. John’s. He DID come back to New York as a senior to play in the Holiday Festival in the Garden. In those days the festival was truly a big deal: eight teams—four games the first day, four games (two consolation) the second and a tripleheader the third.

That year—December 1968—UCLA played as did North Carolina, Villanova, Princeton (which was a national power) St. John’s and Holy Cross—which was coached by Jack Donahue, Alcindor’s high school coach.

During the third place game between Carolina and Princeton (St. John’s had upset Carolina in the semifinals) the UCLA players, all in jackets and ties, sat in the stands and watched during the first half. I got every autograph—including that of a young broadcaster named Dick Enberg—finishing with Alcindor. Do I still have any of them? Nope. If I hadn’t lost all the autographs I collected as a kid I probably could have retired at 40.

I never rooted for Alcindor’s teams—especially in college. I didn’t dislike him or anything, I just preferred underdogs. I still remember seeing Houston and Elvin Hayes beat UCLA during Alcindor’s junior year when Alcindor was playing with blurred vision because he’d been poked in the eye.

Many years later, after Abdul-Jabbar retired, I needed to talk to him for the book I was writing on Kermit Washington and Rudy Tomjanovich (The Punch) since he had been involved in the initial skirmish that led to Washington almost killing Tomjanovich.

I called Abdul-Jabbar’s production company several times, left messages and heard nothing back. Finally, I got lucky: I ran into Josh Rosenfeld, who had been the Lakers PR guy when Abdul-Jabbar was there. “Let me give him a call,” Rosenfeld volunteered.

The next day the phone rang: It was Abdul-Jabbar. He was very forthcoming and honest about the incident and how he felt about it. I was grateful. I was even more grateful when the book came out and he called again. Usually when you get a call from someone who has been involved in a book or a story it’s to complain.

“I thought you did a very good job with a tough story,” he said.

Class act, I thought.

And, looking back, with all due respect to Jordan and Thompson, the best college basketball player I ever saw. He wasn’t a bad pro either, come to think of it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Phelps Trapped by Technology and Marketing; Other Notable Tidbits from Yesterday’s Headlines

I’ve written often in the past about how amazed I am by Michael Phelps. Of course that’s a little bit like saying I’m amazed by the earth, the moon and the stars because one doesn’t have to know anything about swimming to know that Phelps is the greatest swimmer of all time.

And yet, as an old swimmer, even though I never came within light years of Phelps, I always felt that if it was possible, Phelps didn’t get the credit he deserved. He was always measured against Mark Spitz’s seven gold medals at the Munich Olympics and if he had ‘only,’ won seven golds or, God Forbid six, in Beijing, most people would still have believed that Spitz was the best.

Which isn’t even close to true. Spitz did two things: he swam butterfly and sprint freestyle. He was absolutely fabulous at both—unbeatable in the 100 and the 200 in both strokes. Phelps can do just about anything you ask him to do in a swimming pool. He can sprint and he can swim distances—he’s never tried the 1,500 but I would bet serious money if he ever trained for it he’d blow everyone away. He’s the greatest butterflyer who ever lived and he’s one of the three best backstrokers in history. He’s even made himself a very good breastroker which is why he’s so unbeatable in the individual medley, the event that definitively proves a swimmer’s versatility.

Now, unfortunately, Phelps is trapped by both technology and marketing. You probably read in today’s papers—or online—about Phelps getting hammered by a previously unheralded German in the 200 freestyle. Much of the story is about the fact that the German, like a lot of swimmers, is wearing a suit that has already been declared illegal by the international swimming federation—except that the suit hasn’t been banned just yet because FINA (the initials for the federation since French is the officials language of international sport) doesn’t want to upset the manufacturer’s too much by banning their suits right this instant.

This reminds me a lot of the ongoing battle between the U.S. Golf Association and the golf manufacturers over equipment. On the one hand, the USGA doesn’t want to see great golf courses completely obliterated by how far players can now hit the ball. On the other hand, it doesn’t want to upset its key business partners to much.

Phelps can’t wear the latest and greatest suit because it is made by Arena and he’s under contract to Speedo. Personally, if I were Speedo, I’d tell him to wear whatever he wants if that’s what it takes to win on a short term basis. Everyone knows they’ve fallen a step behind in the suit wars for the moment whether Phelps is wearing their stuff or not.

In my opinion, Phelps hasn’t gotten a lot of help from the non-swimming people around him. It’s fortunate that most of his career has been shaped by his mom (Debbie) and his coach (Bob Bowman). But he was badly let down by his so-called management team at Octagon during bong-gate last fall when they decided the best way to handle the photo of him taking a hit from a bong at a party was to try to bribe the British tabloid that had the photo. Now, the Speedo people, who could look both smart and magnanimous by telling Phelps to wear the fastest suit allowed—regardless of label—have gone underground.

To be fair, Phelps isn’t the swimmer this summer he was last summer. His time in the 100 free leading off the winning U.S. relay Sunday (by the way, do the French surrender at EVERYTHING, including relays?) was slower than his split in Beijing. His 200 free on Tuesday night was more than a ½ second slower than his world record swim at the Olympics. All of that’s understandable. He took off six months from training and decided (mistakenly) to try to re-invent his freestyle stroke.

Again, this reminds me of golf: Padraig Harrington wins two straight majors and decides he needs to change his swing. Tiger Woods is almost constantly trying to reinvent his swing.

In the long run, Phelps is going to be fine. FINA will eventually figure out what to do about the supersonic suits—the key in the end is that everyone is using the same equipment one way or the other—and Phelps will be swimming in a level pool in London in 2012, which, as he pointed out, is the only meet he’s really pointing to at this point in his life.

One other note that has nothing to do with the suit controversy: After finishing third in the relay on Sunday, the French ducked out on the post-race press conference. Gee, what a surprise.

OTHER THINGS WORTH NOTING TODAY: So Brett Favre decided in the end not to un-retire again. Thank God we can all now focus on Michael Vick, huh?...

If I were Omar Minaya, the Mets general manager, I wouldn’t apply for a new mortgage on my house. A day after his embarrassing attempt to somehow blame New York Daily News reporter Adam Rubin for the fact that he had to fire his pal Tony Bernazard, Minaya received a decided non-vote of confidence from team owner Jeff Wilpon. Even the Mets broadcasters on SNY—the one thing the Mets do have going for them is their broadcast team of Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling—blasted Minaya.

Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador are ripping one another publicly. Thus begins 49 weeks of hype leading to next year’s Tour de France…

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I Rarely Root for ‘Laundry’, Story on First Time I Met Pat Riley (Jordan Draft Talk), and Mets Should Fire Minaya Too!

For the most part, I stopped—to quote ‘Seinfeld,’—rooting for laundry years ago. A lot of that, no doubt, is the result of what I do: I get the chance to know quite a few people in sports on a personal level and my instinct is to want to see those I like do well, regardless of who they happen to play for, coach or manage.

I grew up in New York a rabid Mets fan. But anyone who has ever known Joe Torre for 15 minutes can’t actively root against him. I enjoyed the success he had with the Yankees. Throw in the fact that I worked with Mike Mussina on a book in 2007 after knowing him for years and you can bet I wanted the Yankees to do well every time Mussina pitched.

On the other hand, it is probably fair to say the Mets couldn’t lose enough when they employed Vince Coleman in the 90s and I really never got excited about the Bobby Valentine-managed teams, even the one that made it to The World Series in 2000.

I still laugh when people assume I’m always pro-Duke (ask the people at Duke if that’s true) just because I went there. I do like and respect Mike Krzyzewski very much but I don’t think you need a Duke degree to feel that way. I feel the same way about Gary Williams and there’s never been anyone I’ve respected more than Dean Smith.

I’ll come back to that on another day.

In spite of all that, you never completely get over boyhood memories. There was never a period in my life more thrilling than 1969-1970 when the Jets stunned the world in The Super Bowl; the Mets came from nowhere to win The World Series and the Knicks won their first NBA title. I was at Shea Stadium when the Mets won game five of the World Series from the Orioles and in Madison Square Garden when Willis Reed made his dramatic entrance before game seven of the finals against the Lakers.

No one loved Willis Reed more than I did and there’s no doubting the impact he had on that game just by showing up to start. But it is kind of amusing when people call that “The Willis Reed game.” Willis had four points—he hit two jumpers to start the game. Walt Frazier had, if memory serves, 36 points, 19 assists and 13 rebounds.

I gave up on the Knicks years ago, not so much when they were bad but when Pat Riley was the coach. Riley is, quite simply, a bad guy—ask Stan Van Gundy, among others—and I simply couldn’t pull for a team he coached.

The first time I met Riley was at a dinner in September of 1984. He had flown into New York to watch the U.S. Open tennis for a couple of days and I was invited to dinner by my friends Dick Stockton and Lesley Visser along with Riley and Bud Collins. Stockton knew Riley well because he was the lead voice on the NBA at the time for CBS.

At some point during dinner, the subject of Michael Jordan came up. Jordan had just led the Olympic team to the gold medal in Los Angeles and was getting ready to start his rookie season in Chicago.

“The Portland Trail Blazers, “I said rather loudly (I’d been drinking) will now go down in history not only as the team that took LaRue Martin with the No. 1 pick in the draft but as the team that took Sam Bowie ahead of Michael Jordan.” (I didn’t kill the Houston Rockets for taking Hakeem Olajuwon because while I would have taken Jordan it was clear Olajuwon had the potential to be great. Bowie, it seemed to me, had the potential to be injured a lot).

Riley gave me one of those condescending looks he’s so good at. “You see,” he said, “this is the problem with you media people. You just don’t understand basketball. Did you know that when Jordan was measure he was only 6-4 and a half, not 6-6 the way he’s listed?”

I looked back at Riley, trying to look condescending. “I don’t care if he’s FIVE four,” I said. “He’s the best college player I’ve ever seen. He’s going to dominate your league.”

I was probably shouting. Back then, I had come to really like Jordan personally and I thought he was beyond amazing on the court.

“You know something,” Riley said, pointing a finger. “You’re young and you’re loud.”

Well, he had me there. I was definitely both. I was also right.

Anyway, that’s not why I dislike Riley, but it’s part of it I suppose. This is all a long-winded way of saying how disgusted I was to read this morning that Omar Minaya tried to turn his press conference yesterday announcing that the Mets had FINALLY fired the despicable Tony Bernazhard into some kind of a referendum on Adam Rubin, a very hard-working and talented reporter from The New York Daily News.

Rubin is not, by any means, the only reporter—or person—who found Bernazhard to be a really bad guy. “He is a very, very bad man,” was the quote from Newsday’s Ken Davidoff on the radio a few days ago. Because Rubin had asked Minaya and team owner Jeff Wilpon about getting into player development a couple of times in the past, Minaya tried to claim Rubin had been trying to get Bernazard fired so he could get a job.

Oh please, that’s simply ridiculous. To begin with, it’s been a mystery to people in the Mets clubhouse—not the media—for several years how Bernhazard kept his job. He stabbed Willie Randolph in the back repeatedly and was generally a snarly, nasty guy.

What happened here is simple: at a press conference where he basically had to admit he’d made a mistake by hiring and hanging on to Bernhazard, Minaya tried to deflect the blame (somehow) onto Rubin. To be honest, if the Mets had any guts, they’d fire Minaya. They could have already fired him for doing a lousy job (how’s that Oliver Perez signing working out?). Now they should fire him for being a lousy guy.

The Mets playing poorly never makes me happy but when the people running the team act like a bunch of jerks, it’s just disappointing. At least the Jets have hired a mensch in Rex Ryan to be their coach. In that, I can take some comfort.

Monday, July 27, 2009

All Over the Board Today - Lance Armstrong, WNBA, Favre, Halladay, Mets and Much More

I’m not exactly sure where to begin this morning. Part of me wants to point out just how remarkable Lane Armstrong’s third place finish was in The Tour de France. There’s a tendency among all of us, particularly here in the U.S. to skip over this phrase: “During the 2,150 mile tour…”

In fact, it is apparently so insignificant it wasn’t even mentioned n the story in today’s Washington Post. The Tour de France is as grueling as any event in sports. For Armstrong to come back at 37 after four years off the bike and finish third is amazing, almost as amazing as what Tom Watson did—in a completely different context of course—when he just about won The British Open eight days ago. (And no, I haven’t gotten over that one yet),

I don’t really understand how the tour works with riders from teams helping one another out or exactly why it will be so different next year when Armstrong and Alberto Contador ride on different teams but apparently it will be very different. It wouldn’t shock me at all if Armstrong wins again. He’s one of the most remarkable athletes of our time and I really don’t want to hear any more about the drug allegations until someone has proof.

That concludes the serious portion of today’s blog. I should note briefly though that I passed through Connecticut this weekend and picked up The Hartfort Courant, a very good newspaper. I couldn’t help but note that amidst the stories about the Yankees and Red Sox there was about two pages of coverage of the WNBA All-Star game which was taking place in Connecticut on Saturday.

A friend of mine pointed out that with the Courant’s two pages of coverage that would make a total of three pages of coverage nationwide.

Which reminded me of a meeting I had years ago with NBA Commissioner David Stern, someone I genuinely like and greatly respect. I was interviewing Stern for the book I wrote on Kermit Washington and Rudy Tomjanovich (The Punch). When we were finished, Stern said to me, ‘okay turn off your tape recorder, I’m going to yell at you now.’

I turned off the tape recorder. He then lectured me about the fact that I tend to be a bit skeptical about the women’s game. “Don’t you understand,” he said. “The WNBA is one of the keys to the NBA’s future.”

“Well David,” I answered, “then I think you’re in serious trouble.”

Eight years later, The Hartford Courtant notwithstanding, I stand by that statement.

Okay, let’s now move onto the comedy portion of today’s blog, better known these days as, “The Halladay and Favre Show.”

The Brett Favre thing really has become gone beyond the realm of ridiculous. On Friday ESPN—which continues to be a pretty good comedy act on its own—was actually reporting that Favre’s agent had told Rachel Nichols that Favre, “hadn’t yet made up his mind.” (Let me pause here to say that Rachel’s an old friend from her days at The Washington Post and I am not making fun of her, she’s just doing what she’s told by the Bristol Boys).

Here are some other things Favre’s agent could have told Rachel exclusively:

--Tomorrow is Saturday.

--July is likely to end next week.

--Barack Obama, in spite of Republican claims that he doesn’t exist, is still President.

Or, to quote my friend Bob Carpenter (play-by-play man on TV for the Washington Nationals) “hey, have you heard, Lou Gehrig hasn’t been feeling well lately.”

Does anyone at ESPN realize what a complete parody of itself the network has become? Hey, I have a scoop too: The Vikings open camp Thursday. Sources tell me Favre will either be there or he won’t be there.

The Halladay thing is different because it is truly an important story and because it is a moving target. Offers and counter-offers are being made every day and, unlike Favre, Halladay isn’t milking the story he’s just waiting like the rest of us for an outcome. (Maybe he should announce his retirement and then demand to be traded to Minnesota).

It does get to be a joke this time of year though when every baseball reporter alive is scrambling to report every possible rumor—knowing 90 percent of the time there’s nothing to it but also knowing they have bosses screaming for news. When’s Jon Heyman told a guy on WFAN in New York on Saturday that it was entirely possible neither the Mets or the Yankees would make a deal, you would have thought he had said the franchises were folding. Sensing that Heyman began going on about how the Yankees COULD try to get Jarrod Washburn or the Mets MIGHT try to move Pedro Feliciano, if only to prove that he wasn’t asleep at the wheel.

He wasn’t asleep at all. It just is hard to create news when there is none.

That doesn’t prevent people from trying. If half the trades floated as possibilities happened in late July, every team would be re-making its roster. The one interesting notion is that there will be more movement in August because teams strapped for money will be less likely to make claims on guys being put through waivers than in past years.

We’ll see if that proves true.

Meantime, the best line I heard all weekend didn’t come from one of the so-called baseball, ‘insiders,’ but from WFAN’s Steve Somers (I was up there this weekend and in the car a lot so I listened) who has been funnier and smarter than anyone in sports talk radio for more years than I can count.

“The magic number for the Mets,” Somers said, “is two thousand and ten.”

He’s got that right.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Passing the Travel Test in My Recovery; Sports Talk Radio on 11 Hr Drive

I have passed the first major travel test in my recovery. In fact, I think I’ve proven I can handle almost anything after yesterday’s Odyssey.

My son Danny is at a camp in Vermont and this is parents weekend. On Wednesday my doctor cleared me to make the trip. He just told me to pull off and walk around if I felt tired. To be honest, if he hadn’t cleared me I probably would have gone anyway. But it never became an issue. A number of people tried to convince me to get someone to drive me or at least help me drive.

NO. Being alone in the car is the least stressful way for me to get someplace. If I want to talk, I pick up the phone. Most of the time I’m very happy with a ballgame, music or—depending on the city—sportstalk radio. I know I should get satellite radio. It’s just one of those things I haven’t gotten around to yet.

The trip was supposed to take nine hours according to Mapquest. It took 11. There was lots of rain and lots of traffic. Delaware, as always, was a mess. Has anyone ever driven through Delaware without hitting construction traffic? The state needs to construct one of those one-way tolls because traffic always backs up both ways going into the Delaware tolls.

Before I got to Delaware though I got pulled over by a cop. Seriously. I wasn’t speeding and I wasn’t talking on the phone. My seatbelt was fastened. I was seriously baffled. “Are you aware,” the cop said, “that your expiration tags are on your FRONT license plate not your BACK license plate?”

I was absolutely not aware of that. Apparently, when I bought the car almost two years ago, the dealer put the tags on the front. I never noticed and, until yesterday, neither did anyone else. The cop, who was very pleasant about it, wrote me a warning.

“Just grab a screwdriver when you get where you’re going and change them,” he said. Sure. I’m Mr. Handy without an incision running down the middle of my chest. With an incision that’ll be no sweat.

There was more traffic in New Jersey. Here though I picked up WFAN coming out of New York. I am not a fan of Mike Francesa personally. He’s three of the most arrogant people I’ve ever met. But he does good radio and did good radio with his ex-partner Chris Russo, who I guess I’d know more about right now if I had satellite radio.

Francesa spent an hour of the show Thursday embroiled in some dispute between the New York Racing Association and Nassau County OTB over the fact that the latter had illegally streamed NYRA races earlier in the year. Now, the NYRA won’t allow them to televise races from Saratoga next week until they acknowledge that they did what they did.

Francesa was into the story because he thinks of himself as a horse racing expert (maybe he is for all I know) and likes to watch races from his home in Nassau County when he isn’t hob-knobbing at Saratoga—which is to horse racing people as St. Andrews is to golfers. The only interest I had in the story was that the head of the NYRA is Charles Heyward—who was once my publisher at Little-Brown.

After that, Francesa had on Charles Wang, the owner of the Islanders. I am among the several dozen people on earth who still cares about the Islanders. When I was a senior in high school and had just bought my first car, I frequently drove to the then brand new Nassau Coliseum to watch the Islanders, who went 12-60-6 that first season. I was a big fan of Billy Harris and Billy Smith.

The Islanders got good in their third year and won those four straight Stanley Cups starting in 1980. What was cool was I got to cover them quite a bit. In those days, The Washington Post had one hockey writer—Robert Fachet—who covered the Capitals. I always volunteered to help out with the playoffs after The Final Four. I covered the Islanders a lot and loved the fact that they were such good guys AND winners. I’m not sure I’ve met a nicer man in sports than Bob Bourne. Even Billy Smith, with his reputation (not undeserved) as a dirty player was a delight to be around.

Now, of course, the Islanders are brutal and Wang doesn’t just want a new arena he wants half of Long Island rebuilt around the Coliseum. The whole deal will cost at least $3.7 billion to complete. If the town of Hempstead and Nassau County don’t say yes, Wang is threatening to move to Kansas City. The interview didn’t assuage my fears.

WFAN actually was able to pick up the last out of Mark Buehrle’s perfect game, which was cool. By then I was on the New York State Thruway and—finally—out of traffic.

Francesa, who can get guests I’ll say that for him, then had on John Walsh from ESPN. I’ve known Walsh for years, always respected him. But I laughed out loud when he kept refusing to say ESPN made a mistake ducking the Ben Roethlisberger story for two days—why can’t these guys just say, ‘you know what, we missed on that one?’ He actually brought up Duke lacrosse as a reason to pretend the story didn’t exist which was downright silly. No one ever said Duke lacrosse shouldn’t have been covered they just accused some people (myself included) of rushing to judgment. It was comical listening to Walsh insist ESPN had done nothing wrong. Gosh, I wish I could be perfect like those guys in Bristol.

Thank God for WFAN’s signal because I was able to keep listening to Steve Somers, who can be fall down funny all the way through the two lane roads in Vermont.

“The Mets magic number,” Somers declared, “is two thousand and ten.”

He had that right. No Yankee game to listen to because of rain, they didn’t start until I was pulling into the hotel. As I checked in the woman at the front desk looked at me and said, “You look like you could use a room that’s a short walk from here.”

She had that right. But it’s all downhill from here. I hope.