Friday, January 29, 2010

Still in Florida for interviews....

STILL SOMEWHERE IN FLORIDA – This is another one of those days on the road, and for a technologically challenged writer who leaves his house two days earlier without a power chord, it’s even tougher. After a long day of draining interviews, and prior to a scheduled early start this morning, he phoned lamenting the fact that he has no idea how he could get a typical days writing up on the site as his computer ran out of juice Thursday morning.

Immediately we threatened to write as a ghost writer for John, but decided that if an entire college’s fan base was going to be up in arms about John’s words, it’s probably best that they really are his words. Then we threatened to dock his salary, but remembered there is no salary. Therefore, for those of you who did visit on this Friday, we decided to give you a few links to previews we like for the upcoming sports weekend along with one of our favorite posts John has written.

A few articles previewing the sports weekend:
Australian Open - Andy Murray vs. Roger Federer
PGA Tour Farmers Insurance Open - Piercy resting easy with lead, fewer distractions's college basketball - Seth Davis' weekend picks

The post below is John’s first post-surgery on the reminder of why sports is important. His health scare aside, it also shows how very quickly some things change (Tiger) and some stay the same (Federer in another grand-slam final this weekend).

One thing John wanted to relay is that this isn’t him ‘punking out,’ and he’ll find some way to make it up. Enjoy.

FOTB Staff


From 7/5/09

Well, I’m back.

I don’t know if I’m any wiser but I sure am grateful—grateful the blockages in my heart were discovered during a routine stress test and not after a heart attack; grateful to my friends and family who rallied to my side during the past week and to everyone who posted here or sent good wishes in one form or another. I know when people get sick they talk later about how overwhelmed they were by the kindness of people but it really is true. I am overwhelmed by it all.

I am very lucky to have the family I have and the friends from so many walks of life that I have. I sit here feeling lucky to be alive, to be able to hug my kids and to be able to write a week after septuple bypass surgery. (Friends have kidded me that I’m so competitive I had to have seven, not just three or four).

One thing I was reminded of during my hospital stay was one of the reasons sports IS important. It isn’t that crisis puts sports in perspective it’s that sports gives us a much needed diversion during crisis. On Monday night, while I was still in the ICU I was able to watch some television. Even hearing the stale sportscenter one-liners was a relief. Hearing Tiger Woods claim that his learning center in California has helped TEN MILLION people made me laugh out loud and made me think the drugs must seriously affecting my brain. Did he say ten million? Yes, I learned later, he did say ten million. Even watching the Mets do their Keystone Kops act was better than staring at the clock.

So, Thank God for sports—the good, the bad, the ridiculous.

On Sunday, we saw something that was better than good. I almost never regret my decision 15 years ago to focus on covering golf rather than tennis. Not only have I greatly enjoyed reporting and writing about golf but tennis is by far the most frustrating sport there is to cover because of our lack of access to the athletes and the mind-numbing lack of organization in the sport.

One day a year I miss covering tennis. It’s always the day of the men’s final at Wimbledon. With all due respect to the greatness of The Williams sisters a best-of-three match that often last less than 90 minutes simply can’t have the drama of a five set marathon in which both players are still hitting winners four hours after the match has started.

There is also the uniqueness of Wimbledon. There’s no tennis venue anything like it—even with the new sliding roof—and very few sports venues that are comparably dramatic. Plus, there are no thanks to corporate sponsors during the awards ceremonies. Can you imagine with the score 14-all in the fifth set, Ted Robinson saying, “let’s go courtside to Jimmy Roberts who is with the CEO of AT+T.”

Jimmy: “Mr. CEO, another great Wimbledon, you must be so proud.”

CEO: “Jimmy, on behalf of all of us at AT+T we’re proud to be associated with Tiger and this great event.”

Whoops, wrong sport.

Wimbledon finals produce unique drama. Once a fifth set begins, you never know when it will end. Unlike the U.S. Open, where the fifth set can be decided in a tiebreak, someone has to break serve to win. Tiebreaks can be dramatic but, as difficult as it was for Andy Roddick to lose, he did not lose the match without losing serve. He lost it once—the 38th time he served.

Roger Federer is one of those athletes you just don’t root against. He’s brilliant, he’s a superb competitor, he has class and dignity and he now has 15 major championships—more than any man in history.

But if your heart didn’t go out to Roddick on Sunday, you have no heart. (Mine is working just fine, thank-you). Here’s why it’s truly sad that Roddick may never win Wimbledon: he could easily be mailing it in by now. He won the U.S. Open in 2003, he’s made millions, his wife is a gorgeous model and he could put his career on cruise control at 27, say that Federer and Rafael Nadal are just a little too good and be a top ten player for another five years.

But he hasn’t taken that route. He’s changed coaches and training regimens. He’s lost weight and worked on his ground strokes. He’s gotten tougher mentally as he proved in the semis when he outlasted Scotland’s Andy Murray in front of a crowd that would have made Cameron Indoor Stadium feel like a walk in the park for a road team.

He was SO close against Federer. He had four set points for a two set lead in the second and blew them all. He had two break points in the fifth and couldn’t convert. Federer kept hitting winners; Roddick kept answering. The number of times Roddick HAD to come up with a first serve and did was almost uncountable. It was great, great tennis.

And, in the end, Federer was a little better, a little tougher.

Roddick couldn’t have handled it with more grace. He apologized to Pete Sampras for not preventing Federer from breaking his all-time record for major wins. He thanked the crowd—which had pulled so vehemently against him two days earlier. And, when Federer said something about knowing how Roddick felt after his five set loss to Nadal a year ago he smiled and said, “no you don’t, you already had five (titles).”

It was all special stuff and when you saw the tears in Roddick’s eyes you really couldn’t help but hope there’s somehow a Wimbledon title out there for him in the future. He deserves it.

I was glad to have the chance to see it. REALLY glad.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Piecing together the documentary; Under normal circumstances, today would be start Woods’ PGA Tour season

SOMEWHERE IN FLORIDA—I’m a little bit dizzy this morning since this is a four-stop trip to try to start piecing together the documentary based on ‘Caddy For Life.’ Yesterday was spent with Bruce’s parents, Jay and Natalie and his aunt, Joan Walsh. To say it was an emotional and draining afternoon (especially for them) is an understatement. This afternoon will be spent with Tom Watson and I expect that experience to be similar. Tomorrow morning is Marsha, Bruce’s wife.


After I got finished reading the stories this morning about President Obama’s state-of-the-union (I heard it in the car and was impressed but then everyone knows where my political leanings are) I picked up the sports page of USA Today and there was a cover story on all the financial issues facing The PGA Tour in what is now being called the, “Tiger Recession.”

Under normal circumstances today would have been Woods’ first official round of the year since he usually launched his season at Torrey Pines in San Diego, a place where he’s won seven times on tour—this tournament, which has a new corporate name with Buick gone (I like to think of it as The Andy Williams Invitational. I liked it when the celebs had their names on tournaments rather than corporations. Of course if the tour did that today there would probably be an ESPN talking head invitational) and that classic U.S. Open back in 2008.

If you think about it, that Open was Woods’ last truly great moment in golf. Yes, he came back and won six times last year and was voted player-of-the-year on the grounds that he was clearly the best player. I would have voted for Y.E. Yang only because if you gave Tiger a choice between his six wins and Yang’s two—one being The PGA Championship in which he caught Tiger to win on Sunday—there’s no doubt he’d have taken Yang’s year in a heartbeat.

Those six wins are all overshadowed now by the ongoing Tiger soap opera, “As The Eldrick Turns.” If you think ‘Lost,’ is keeping its outcome a secret, you’ve never met Woods or his band of not-so-merry-men. It is remarkable, if you think about it, that Woods has been able to basically drop out of sight for two months when every paparazzi on earth has been stalking him. Clearly his talents go well beyond golf. He can become The Invisible Man whenever he chooses to do so.

Until he comes back— like most people, I’m still guessing Doral or Bay Hill—there are going to be lots of stories like the one in USA Today this morning. Sales are down in San Diego without Tiger; TV ratings are down for tournaments he never played in anyway, apparently because people are depressed about Tiger’s absence. The Tour is worried about its future because there are currently 10 tournaments that do not have title sponsors for next year.

I have a message for all those people: lighten up.

Does the tour miss Woods? Of course it does. Has the NBA missed Michael Jordan, who last played a meaningful game in 1998? Does football miss Brett Favre? Oh wait, he hasn’t retired yet—although he may sometime in the next 15 minutes in an exclusive ESPN report that will be replaced an hour later by another exclusive report that he’s might play next season and, the network has learned from his agent, WILL watch The Pro Bowl on TV on Sunday.

Woods is, without question, the most transcendent star golf has ever had. Arnold Palmer is still the most important player in the history of the game because he brought TV and corporate America to the table in the 1950s and 1960s when calling golf a niche sport was being kind. Jack Nicklaus is still the greatest player until the day Woods goes past his 18 professional major titles.

But because of the era in which he has played and because of his ability to absolutely dominate at a time when people were claiming golf had too much depth for anyone to dominate, Woods is that rarest of athletes in that he brings people who are not fans of his sport to the table. They know who he is and care about how he’s doing even if they can’t name a single person he’s competing against. The only other athlete on earth who currently fits that description is Michael Phelps.

So, when Woods isn’t playing golf, the audience for golf drops precipitously. We’ve known that for years. The “Tiger Effect,” usually causes everything to double: corporate sales, TV ratings, media coverage. I’m one of the few guys in the business who—the majors aside—is just as happy, if not happier, to cover a tournament without Tiger. It isn’t as if we’re going to have a long sitdown in the locker room. Following him on the golf course, which I do at times during the majors, is always a headache: So many people, so much security, so much scrambling for position to actually see a shot hit. My job’s easier when Tiger’s not playing at the weekly tournaments. My job’s more fun when he’s playing in the majors.

But I’m the exception. Everyone else wants Tiger out there. He moves the interest needle like no one else. That said, there WAS a golf tour before Tiger came along and my guess is there will be one after he’s gone.

If, for some reason, Tiger is out for a long time (unlikely) there will be all sorts of doom-saying surrounding the sport. Let’s say for a minute that the tour was forced to make corporate deals for next year that brought about a 20 percent drop in purses. That’s highly unlikely, but if it did, the players would still be playing for $4 to $5 million a week. The winner this week in San Diego would have to settle for an $800,000 first prize. The 125th ranked player on the money list might make only $600,000 for the year.

That’s still triple what golfers were making on tour when Tiger arrived in 1996 and it is a lot more money than most Americans are making today. No business wants to go through a recession but golf can survive one. What’s more, there finally does appear to be some seriously talented young players coming along to challenge Tiger. Note the word challenge. I’m not saying any of them is the next Tiger because in all likelihood there is no next Tiger. But the sport will survive without him whenever the day comes that he walks away.

What will be interesting to see is, once the initial surge of interest that will come with his re-entry (which will be huge) has passed, if he remains as popular as he once was. My guess is he’ll still get screaming galleries but his days as a truly iconic figure OFF the golf course have passed. Once he’s back and winning again, there will be those—starting with Tiger and his team—who will talk about all he has “overcome,” to win again.

That’s when I’ll switch over to watch The Nationwide Tour. I will be perfectly happy to watch Tiger Woods the golfer perform his magic again. But I don’t want to hear one word ever again about how tough a life Tiger Woods the person has had.

I spent yesterday with a family that dealt with real tragedy, whose son dealt with the greatest adversity of all without every complaining. I don’t ever want to hear from Tiger Woods how tough it is to be Tiger Woods. I also don’t want to hear how golf is going to die because he’s gone for a while. It won’t. If fewer people want to watch, so be it. Those who really care about the sport and not just a celebrity will be tuned in this weekend. I’ll be one of them.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Updated -- This week's radio segments (The Sports Reporters, The Gas Man, Tony Kornheiser Show):

Today I joined The Sports Reporters' Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment  focused on Gilbert Arenas and his suspension and college basketball.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters


I also made my regular appearance on The Gas Man at 5:25 PT on Wednesday. In this segment, we spoke about the 'Caddy For Life' Golf Channel documentary I am working on and player exemption scenarios for this year's US Open at Pebble Beach.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man


On Thursday I joined the newest The Tony Kornheiser Show in my normal Thursday slot.  We talked about golf today (the documentary, Phil Mickelson's brief words on Tiger, Rocco Mediate) before transitioning to Maryland basketball.

Click here to listen to the segment (starts within 1st minute): The Tony Kornheiser Show

Controversy growing for Super Bowl commercial

There was a discussion on the radio today while I was in the car about an ad that a pro-life group wants to run during The Super Bowl. The ad involves Tim Tebow and his mom, who was apparently encouraged to get an abortion when she was pregnant with him while doing missionary work in, I think, the Philippines. If my facts aren’t 100 percent correct here, forgive me, I’m going off what I heard on the radio.

Obviously Tim’s mom didn’t get an abortion and the baby turned out to be Tim Tebow and the world is a better place as a result. Not surprisingly, several pro-choice groups are upset about the ad and are urging CBS to refuse to run it. This is going to be a hotly debated issue regardless of what CBS decides.

To me, there’s no issue here: The first amendment guarantees a pro-life group can run an ad like this as long as it doesn’t libel anyone in the ad or perpetrate some kind of fraud. If the ad says that Tim Tebow’s mom chose not to have an abortion and in the opinion of those paying the $2.5 million for the 30 seconds, this is proof that pro-life is the right way to go, there’s not a single reason not to run it.

There would also be no reason not to run an ad paid for by pro-choice advocates that brought forward the mother of a convicted murderer to say that she wanted an abortion when she was pregnant but couldn’t get one or couldn’t afford one and this is proof that Roe v. Wade needs to be broadened or there needs to be more funding for unwanted pregnancies.

Where do you draw the line? Well, if the Klu Klux Klan wanted to take an ad saying that the white race was superior to all others, that ad should be rejected not so much because it is offensive but because there isn’t a shred of evidence to support what the Klan would be claiming is fact.

All of this gets into the two areas where you can’t win an argument: politics and religion. Every time I catch myself getting into a political argument—which I do every single Tuesday at the Red Auerbach lunch with Chris Wallace who might be less conservative than Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh but not by much—I say to myself, ‘why are you wasting your breath?’

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve argued with people on the issue of gun control and the one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty is this: I have never changed one person’s mind nor has anyone ever changed my mind. On certain issues, probably most issues, we are all so ingrained in the way we think it is almost impossible to make any of us change. Why do you think the smallest percentage of voters in any election are those who are undecided? Most of the time about 90 percent of the electorate has made up its mind—at least in general elections—before a single dollar is spent on a campaign.

Think about it: How many of you switched from Obama to McCain or vice-versa after the conventions last year? Of course the reason so much money is spent on campaigns is that in a close election the 10 or 12 percent that are undecided will decide the election. That’s why The Supreme Court’s decision last week to do away with any limits on campaign financing for corporations is so dangerous. It may mean that corporate America’s dollars will make the difference in many close elections in the future. And don’t—as Wallace tried to claim today—tell me that union money will balance corporate money. That ship sailed years ago (Wallace even semi-conceded the point before the egg rolls had been served while still insisting I was an idiot).

Abortion is not an issue where anyone changes their mind. That’s why, even though I will defend the right of the pro-life group to buy the ad during The Super Bowl, I honestly believe they are wasting their money. Maybe—MAYBE—the ad might convince a few pregnant teen-agers to think twice about an abortion and maybe that is its purpose. But it certainly won’t change the politics of the abortion issue one tiny bit.

That being said, the pro-choice groups are playing right into the pro-life’s group’s hands by demanding that CBS reject the ad. Would anyone have been talking about the ad today if not for the demand that it be turned down? No. Everyone would have been trying to decide when Brett Favre was going to announce his next retirement or un-retirement. Instead, this is now a story and it will continue to be a story and, as a result, the ad will get about 50 times more attention than it would have if the pro-choice groups had kept their mouths shut. Sometimes the best way to win an argument is just to be quiet. (Okay, you can make the case that’s a lesson I’ve never learned)

I feel sorry for CBS on this one. If the network turns down the ad it will catch hell from the right. If it runs the ad it will catch hell from the left.

I have always taken the position that I wish athletes would leave religion out of sports. I don’t like it when athletes claim that God somehow played a role in a victory and I would rather not see them putting biblical passages on their eye black. That said, I think they have an absolute right to do it until and unless someone passes a rule that says NOTHING can be written on your eye black. Of course a very strong case can be made that if you can’t write on your eye black why should players be allowed to display tattoos that have writing on them? Good question.

There’s always been a part of me that wishes athletes would be more politically active. The problem with that is simple: About 95 percent of them care about one issue: money. Their only question is, “which candidate is going to lower my taxes the most?”

When I was writing “Living on the Black,” (which has nothing to do with eye black) a couple of years ago both main subjects, Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina, had been very active baseball union members. In fact, Glavine had been one of THE union leaders during the 1994-1995 strike.

He and Stan Kasten, then the president of the Braves, spent hours screaming at one another about baseball politics even though the two of them are now friends. When I was working on the book, Kasten said to me one day, “Why don’t you ask Tommy how he can be so pro-union, so pro-workers rights and so Republican all at the same time?”

I repeated the question to Glavine who smiled and said, “He makes a good point.”

Perhaps that’s true but the question didn’t change Glavine’s view of the world one bit. In fact, when he and his wife Chris adopted a baby last summer I got a note from Glavine: “The world’s newest Republican has arrived.”

Fortunately for me this was shortly after Arlen Specter had changed parties so I wrote back: “I guess that evens things up for Arlen Specter.”

And the debates—without resolution—roll on and on.

Note from FOTB Staff: We apologize for the downtime this morning....there was an issue with server bandwidth usage, something we obviously didn't pay close enough attention to (yes, we are taking the blame and not passing it off -- cough, cough). From what we understand, it is a good problem having to do with more readers coming to the site.  So, we'll pay more attention and thank you for continuing to visit John's blog!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Working on a documentary for ‘Caddy For Life’; Notes on the comments, including good McEnroe story

On Friday, I didn’t have time to write because I had to go to Philadelphia. This afternoon, I head to Florida for four days. The reason is Bruce Edwards.

It is difficult to believe that almost six years have passed since Bruce died of ALS—Lou Gehrig’s disease—after a remarkably brave fight that began only 15 months earlier when he was diagnosed at The Mayo Clinic in January of 2003.

Bruce, who caddied for Tom Watson for most of 30 years beginning in 1973, was literally the first person I ever talked to at a golf tournament. It was at The Memorial in 1981 when I had been sent there for the week to, “find some stories,” (to quote my boss George Solomon) to write the next week when The Kemper Open came to Washington.

The first afternoon I was there I spotted Bruce sitting on the putting green. Watson was the No. 1 player in the world at the time so I instantly recognized him, the guy with the easy smile who was always stride-for-stride with Watson walking down the fairways, Watson’s bag looped easily over his shoulder. I introduced myself and we sat and talked for more than two hours about his life, about other caddies and other players. A friendship that lasted until the day he died was born that afternoon.

If you’ve read, ‘Caddy For Life,’ you know that the story I just recounted is how the book begins, so forgive me if some of this seems familiar.

Soon after he was diagnosed, I talked to Bruce at The Masters. The disease was already beginning to ravage his body: he was thin, he admitted that walking the hills at Augusta was tough on his legs and his speech was slurred. He told me that a number of people had suggested he do a book on his experiences as one of the first truly professional caddies on the tour; on his relationship with Watson and on what he was going through. He asked me if I would do the book.

As I’ve said before, I was hesitant at first for a purely selfish reason: I didn’t want to watch a friend die from up close. Make no mistake about ALS. It kills you and it kills you in an awful way, your body collapsing while your mind stays intact. But after about 60 seconds of trying to think of a way to say no, it occurred to me that I had to say yes. Bruce had been a good friend for 22 years.

What’s more, this wasn’t the kind of vanity book people often brought up to me. I swear to God every coach who has ever been fired believes his life story is the next, ‘Season on the Brink.’ I had a coach call me once who had been involved in a major recruiting scandal. I didn’t think his story was close to being a book but, trying to be polite, I said to him, “There might be some interest in your story regionally and there are guys who could write it for you that I know. But if you tell the truth about everything that went on, it might make it impossible for you to coach again.”

There was silence on the phone. And then: “You’re misunderstanding me John. I’m not going to talk about any of that. I just want to write about the highlights of my career.”

The highlight of his career had been reaching ONE sweet sixteen.

Bruce had a real story to tell. I saw it as a three part love story: his love affair with caddying and golf; the love between he and Watson that had grown through the years and the love he and his wife Marsha had for one another. They had dated in the 1970s, gone separate ways for almost 25 years and then re-united shortly before Bruce was diagnosed.

I wrote the book and I’m very glad I did as painful as it was. Bruce and I were scheduled to do a book-signing together in Augusta on April 3rd, 2004 but he never made it there. He died the next morning—the first day of The Masters.

The book ended up being a bestseller and there was a lot of talk about a movie. In fact, ABC was fired up enough about doing it that it commissioned a script. David Himmelstein wrote it and I can tell you it was GREAT. When I read David’s opening scene, which was a description of Bruce and Marsha’s wedding in Hawaii, that was attended by—among others—Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player (Watson was the best man)—I called David and said, “This first scene pisses me off.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because I didn’t think of the idea to start the movie with it.”

To make a long story short, the head of ABC Entertainment loved the script. Matt Damon’s production company was going to produce the movie with Damon (a huge golf fan) as executive producer. The movie was going to be co-paid for by ABC and my pals at ESPN, since they would re-run it early and often after it aired on ABC.

But it never happened and, if it wasn’t so damn sad, the reason would be funny: At the start of 2007, Disney slashed ESPN’s movie-making budget because the movies made by ESPN Original Entertainment had been so bad and had lost so much money. The first movie ESPN had made? ‘A Season on the Brink,’ which was absolutely god-awful. When I said it was god-awful at the time the ESPN people went nuts. I got a letter from one guy saying the reason the reviews were so terrible was because I had ripped the movie. If only I had such power.

So, ‘Caddy For Life,’--the movie--never happened.

But now, The Golf Channel is planning to turn it into a documentary, one that will air the week of this year’s U.S. Open—which is at Pebble Beach, the site of Tom and Bruce’s greatest moment, the 1982 Open.

I am, of course, thrilled. TGC has pledged to make a large contribution to, “The Bruce Edwards Foundation,” and after the movie airs Watson will come on to talk about ALS and the desperate need for research money.

That’s why I was in Philly Friday, to interview Bruce’s sister Gwyn and his old caddying buddies, Neil Oxman and Bill Leahey. On this trip I will do on-cameras with Bruce’s parents and his beloved Aunt Joan in addition to Watson, Gary Crandall (another caddying pal) and finally, Marsha, who still lives in the house that Bruce built with the money he made during his brief time caddying for Greg Norman. He always called it, “The Norman House.”

Friday had a number of emotional moments and I know the next few days will too. But hearing Bruce stories always makes me smile and the cause is certainly a worthy one. Plus, I think the documentary can be very, very good and it would be nice to see one of my books turned into something on screen I can be proud to have taken part in.


Two notes on recent postings: Someone pointed out yesterday that Brett Favre answered every question postgame on Sunday and ducked no one and no issue in the wake of the Saints win over the Vikings.

I have mentioned in the past how much I respect athletes who do that after a crushing defeat, the best example in my experience being Bill Buckner after game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Favre deserves a lot of credit for being a stand-up guy when standing up literally wasn’t easy for him. A lot of athletes in his situation would have used their injury—in this case his left ankle—as an excuse to, “get treatment,” in the training room and duck the media or at least squeeze them since most guys were on tight deadlines with the game ending so late.

So, good for Favre. And, has anyone noticed it took about an hour for ESPN to come out with its first, “ESPN has learned that Brett Favre says, ‘it is highly unlikely,’ he will return next season.

First of all you don’t ask ANY athlete about retiring in the wake of a loss like that because they just aren’t thinking straight. And Favre? What do you think the over-under on the, “ESPN has learned,” updates between now and March 1 is. If you make the number 12, I’ll take the over.

Someone else asked recently if I had any stories about Katherine Graham, the legendary publisher of The Washington Post, who was still very much running the paper when I first got there.

I have quite a few but for now, here’s the most memorable. In 1985, I was sent to Europe to cover The French Open and Wimbledon for the first time and spent that summer covering a lot of tennis. On the morning of the U.S. Open men’s final between Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe, I was in the press box at the National Tennis Center when I heard Bud Collins say, “John, you have a guest.”

I looked up and here came Mrs. Graham, who played a lot of tennis and was a big tennis fan—one reason why the tennis beat was a big deal at The Post.

“John, I just had to come up and see you before the match,” she said. “I wanted to tell you how much I have LOVED your tennis writing this summer.”

“Well, Mrs. Graham, thank-you, I’m really glad you like it…”

“And what I especially like is the way you write about John McEnroe. I can tell you like him. I do too. Deep down, I think he’s a good guy.”

(I had written a long McEnroe profile during the Open).

“Well, thanks. I agree. If you get to know John he really IS a good guy.”

We talked for a few minutes. Needless to say I was thrilled that Katherine Graham (!!!) had taken time to find me and compliment me on my work.

A little while later the match was ready to start. I was sitting downstairs near the court with my pal Pete Alfano, then of Newsday, later The New York Times. Everyone was seated. McEnroe was getting ready to serve. The umpire called, “play.”

There was one small problem. There was one spectator who hadn’t quite made it to her seat courtside just yet. McEnroe was giving her, “the glare,” which meant he was just about to say something that would no doubt not be polite. I looked at the spectator and gasped: It was Mrs. Graham.

My entire career passed before my eyes. “Yes Mrs. Graham, John’s really a good guy…”
I grabbed Alfano’s shoulder. “Oh my God, I’m done, I’m finished,” I said.

McEnroe was now bouncing a ball off his racquet, waiting and glaring. Mrs. Graham had no clue what was going on. The crowd began to murmur. Finally, after what felt like about an hour, she got to her seat. A few people clapped sarcastically. John—God Bless him—never said a word.

Then he lost in straight sets. A few years later I asked him if he remembered that moment. He did. “If the match had already started I probably would have said something,” he said. “You’re lucky I wasn’t in a bad mood yet.”

Oh God was I lucky.

Monday, January 25, 2010

This week's Washington Post columns:

Below are today's, and Sunday's column for The Washington Post - Brett Favre and Gary Williams are the focus of the articles. -------

Perhaps the best way to describe the football career of Brett Favre is to say that he has come to embody Hamlet, Shakespeare's greatest and most famous character.

There is no doubting that Favre is heroic. That was never more evident than in the fourth quarter of Sunday's NFC Championship game, when he hobbled in and out of the Minnesota Vikings' huddle but somehow managed to keep back-pedaling and scrambling away from pass rushers to throw laser beam passes while getting knocked down by the New Orleans Saints again and again.

He is also tragically flawed -- the word "tragic" being limited to the context of football. For all the spectacular numbers Favre has put together during his remarkable career, he has won as many Super Bowls as Mark Rypien and Doug Williams and played in as many as Joe Theismann. Oh sure, Peyton Manning's numbers are exactly the same at the moment, and Dan Marino never won a Super Bowl. But none of them ever failed as dramatically as Favre has the last two times he reached the brink of a Super Bowl.

Click here for the rest of the column: Brett Favre: the hero without the happy ending


Ninety minutes before he would walk onto the court at Comcast Center on Saturday evening, Gary Williams sat in the coaches' conference room that adjoins the Maryland locker room. As always on a game day, his face was filled with tension even though his dry humor was as firmly in place as his game face.

As he prepared for his 1,000th game as a college basketball coach at the age of 64, he didn't feel all that different than he felt just before coaching his first game in 1978 at the age of 33.

"When you stop looking ahead to the next game, to the next season, to the next thing -- whatever it may be -- that's when you stop coaching," he said. "I think I can honestly say I've never done that. When the day comes that I don't want to do that anymore, then it'll be time to stop."

Looking ahead most of the time doesn't mean he can't look back on occasion, because after 1,000 games there are a lot of memories.

Click here for the rest of the column: After 1,000 games, Maryland coach Gary Williams has plenty of good memories

Peyton Manning was too good, the Favre Achilles heel; Notes from the last few days

I’m brooding just a little bit this morning. To be honest, it’s tough to feel THAT bad about the Jets loss to the Colts. Peyton Manning was just too good. I think if his wide receivers were Don Maynard and George Sauer Jr.—today, not 41 years ago when they were catching passes from Joe Namath—Manning would find a way to get them the ball. He’s just that good.

Although I’ve now seen all the highlights, I heard a lot more of the game on the radio than I saw on television. I had to drive to the eastern shore of Maryland yesterday for a funeral. Pat Hughes, the wife of former Maryland Governor Harry Hughes, passed away on Thursday after a long, difficult battle with Parkinson’s disease. They had been married just a little less than 60 years. Governor Hughes gave an emotional, touching eulogy, revealing something that he said even his children didn’t know: he and Pat had secretly gotten married when she was 19 and still in college almost two years before their, “wedding.”

“I have a feeling if her dad had known he wouldn’t have sprung for the party,” Governor Hughes said, drawing laughter in the packed church. He choked up on a couple of occasions, pausing once to say, “I’m going to get through this,”—and did. It was typical Harry Hughes: clever, funny, touching, genuine and classy.

The respect people have for him was evident: Martin O’Malley, the current governor, was there and so were both of Maryland’s U.S. Senators—Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski. Steny Hoyer, the Majority Leader of the House was there and so was former Senator Joe Tydings along with—as you might expect—many members of the state legislature, which is where Governor Hughes began his political career. I believe I was the only sportswriter in attendance but there needed to be one since Governor Hughes signed with the Yankees out of college and had a brief minor league career.

“No signing bonus,” he noted in the eulogy.

I had driven down with my old friend Tim Maloney— a former House of Delegates member—and, after we’d stopped by the house for the reception, we headed home. The Hughes house is on The Greater Choptank River (the governor corrected me when I called it The Choptank River) a couple of miles from the Harry R. Hughes Bridge that crosses the Choptank. Pretty cool, I think.

It was halftime by the time we were back in the car and the key moment of the game—the Colts late second quarter drive—had just taken place. With the margin at 17-13 I wasn’t optimistic about the Jets chances. Mark Sanchez had played very well in the first half apparently but I knew the Colts defense was very solid.

We all know what happened in the second half. I honestly don’t believe the Saints can beat the Colts in The Super Bowl but upsets do happen. Maybe the Colts will turn the ball over five times. One thing I’m about 99.9 percent sure won’t happen is Manning making a mistake like the one Brett Favre made at the end of regulation, a mistake so heinous that even see-no-evil ex-quarterback Troy Aikman had to call it, “a cardinal mistake.”

Look, to do anything but respect Favre’s grit is simply stupid. He took a hit on his ankle and knee that would have had most quarterbacks in the locker room and never missed a snap. He could barely walk to and from the huddle, yet every time he took a snap and dropped back, you were pretty certain the ball would be on target. Even after the Saints went up 28-21, Favre brought them back and had them one play—plus a successful field goal—from winning.

I’m not sure who screwed up when the Vikings came out of the time out with 19 seconds left with 12 men in the huddle, but one way or the other, that’s on the coaching staff. My God was this game full of bad plays: the turnovers, the penalties—I didn’t think the officials had such a good day either—the fumbled snap (Drew Brees) on a key third down. Was it just me or did it seem as if every single play of the last hour was a bobbled pass, a questionable call or another dreaded booth review. I’m surprised there wasn’t a booth review of the coin toss before overtime.

And yet, in that final minute of regulation, Favre had the Vikings at the Saints 33—then the 38 after the penalty. There he was, rolling right on third down with acres of yardage in front of him and no reason not to run since he had a timeout left. Maybe it was the pain in his leg that caused him not to run. Worst case, he’s going to pick up five yards and Ryan Longwell is going to have a long, but makeable (especially in a dome) field goal.

But the old Favre Achilles heel kicked in at the worst possible moment and he threw across his body and across the field right into an interception. Like the one two years ago against the Giants, that’s one Favre isn’t going to be able to get out of his mind because it was his last throw of the season. He had talked all week about this opportunity being a chance to redeem himself after that Giants game. He was thatclose to that redemption. Unlike in the Giants game, where he played poorly all day in frigid conditions, Favre was heroic on Sunday until that last pass.

Even if you felt badly for Favre—how could you not?—you couldn’t help but feel the joy of New Orleans. When players and coaches warble on about how great their fans are after a victory I usually roll my eyes: all fans are great when a team is good. But this was different. These were fans who had been to hell and back and almost lost their team after Hurricane Katrina because owner Tom Benson was ready to ride right out of town to San Antonio or Los Angeles. They truly deserved a moment like this. I have a feeling though that it will be their zenith. We’ll see when they play The Super Bowl, which is in about six weeks. At least it will feel that way once all the hype and chatter are finally over.


A few notes from the last few days. My friend Bill Brill e-mailed me on Friday to say my “Duke,” blog on Thursday had caused all sorts of talk on the Duke Basketball Report site. I checked it out and found it interesting.

There were, as you might expect, some loyalists who were angry at me: I’m a bitter person because my friend Tom Mickle didn’t get the Athletic Director’s job. (Damn right I’m bitter because he was SO clearly the right choice and Nan Keohane intentionally picked Joe Alleva for just that reason). I have a lot of nerve implying I belong on the list of ‘distinguished Duke journalists,’ over a woman who was a ‘Survivor,’ finalist. (Guilty again, I really do think my resume is a tad better than hers). The most interesting ones were from people who defended Mike Krzyzewski’s decision to coach the Olympic team again. Some sort of missed my point: I didn’t write that because Duke lost to N.C. State—nor have I changed my mind because it beat Clemson—I felt that way last summer and told Krzyzewski that, not that he does care or should care what I think. What’s more I was NOT against him doing it once because it is—and should be—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was the second time around that he didn’t need in terms of time or energy or ego. He’d done all that. (Note to guy who pointed out that Jim Boeheim is an assistant coach and doing fine: Being an assistant is wholly different. Not only is Krzyzewski giving up time, his entire staff is involved in the effort. Plus, coincidence or not, Syracuse missed the NCAA’s two years in a row right after Boeheim became an assistant).

Anyway, the big defense was, “being Olympic coach has energized him.” Really? Being the Duke coach doesn’t provide enough challenge or energy? I would think going 3-7 the last five years against his good friend Ole Roy while not coming close to a Final Four would be enough to energize Mike Krzyzewski…

And finally, from the category of why it is often tough to take women’s sports that seriously: Two Georgetown women’s players and one Louisville player were suspended by The Big East after a pre-game brawl nine days ago. When the league announced the suspensions it refused to identify the players even though it would become apparent who they were the next time the teams played. Okay, that’s just plain ridiculous.

Then, on Saturday, after Kenya Kirkland (a tri-captain) and Tia McBride were absent from her team’s win over DePaul, Georgetown Coach Terry Williams-Flournoy said this: “I think there’s a privacy right that those kids should have. They’re kids. They’re children. Their names shouldn’t be put out there like that.”

Huh? They play COLLEGE basketball and are old enough to vote. People are asked to pay money to watch them play which means anything they do in that public domain is public. Children? They made a mistake, they were suspended. It happens all the time. Claiming some ludicrous right to privacy just makes everyone involved look stupid…

And then there was this: During the Maryland-North Carolina State men’s game Saturday night, the PA Announcer at the corporate-named Center that replaced Cole Field House pleaded with fans to buy tickets for the next night’s Maryland-Duke women’s game. “Come see the best rivalry in women’s college basketball,” he said.

There aren’t many rivalries in women’s college basketball that anyone not in uniform or related to those in uniform cares about. In fact there’s one: Connecticut-Tennessee. That’s the list.

Then, after Duke had won a close game on Sunday, Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said this: “This proves we can play with anyone.”

Really? Her team loses at home to a team that lost at home earlier in the week BY THIRTY-THREE to Connecticut and this proves her team can play with anybody? Sometimes I think coaches—in all sports—just throw stuff out there and figure it will go un-challenged because often it does. If Duke and Maryland combined forces they would lose to U-Conn by 20. NO ONE in the women’s game can play with Connecticut right now—which is a problem for the women’s game.

Maybe Frese should have insisted on not making public the names of the women on her team who missed shots. You know, they’re just children. They have a right to privacy.

Friday, January 22, 2010

First post redux; Quick question

Readers – as you know from time to time, the hands on the clock speed by quickly in the morning. Well, today was one of those for John, as in ‘Woops, I forgot what my day was like….I’m walking out the door to take Danny to school, to do an appearance at a school and driving to Philadelphia for interviews.” Therefore, there will be no original blog post today – if not the first occurrence on a work day, a rare one indeed. In its stead, we thought a post that many have not read would be his inaugural blog post, and you’ll find it below. In the meantime, if there are any topics on the top of your head that you want to get into over the next couple of weeks, feel free to post in the comments section as he reads and enjoys all the comments and emails. He'll be back posting on Monday.....have a great weekend.

FOTB Staff


There are a number of phrases in the English language I honestly thought I would never find myself writing. Among them would be things like, “the warmth and humor of Barry Bonds.” (Remember him?). Or, “The modesty of Phil Jackson.” (More on that on another day).

But the number one phrase I thought I’d never write is this one: “Welcome to my blog.”

I learned to read by grabbing The New York Times before my parents woke up and working my way through stories on the Mets and Jets and Knicks and Rangers. I’ve worked for newspapers all my life and still do—proudly—even in these very difficult times for our business. When people ask me what I do I usually say, “I’m a reporter.” That means I deal in facts, often laced with opinions when I write columns, but not in rumors. You will never read on this blog, “I hear that…” We all hear things and in today’s world, in the world of the blog in particular, anything is apparently fair game.

Not for me.

What I hope to do here each day is write about something that’s on my mind. It may be something that’s funny like yesterday when one of the cops at Bethpage told me he didn’t think my credential let me into the clubhouse (it did) but it was okay with him if I went in because he knew I was, “a Long Island guy.”

Some days I may get on a soap box on the hypocrisy of the BCS or how foolish the Atlanta Braves look forcing Tom Glavine into retirement because they didn’t want to spend a million bucks to bring him up to the big leagues. Other days I might just tell stories—old ones, new ones. Occasionally I may rail about the internet not working in a hotel—as was the case this morning. It’s amazing how the world has changed. In the old days all I needed in a hotel room was a bed, a working TV and an air conditioner that didn’t make noise. Now the first thing I check is to see if the internet is working.

The U.S. Open begins tomorrow morning. I’ve probably done 40 radio interviews in the last three days, most of them connected with the book I wrote with Rocco Mediate about his life and last year’s remarkable Open which is called, “Are You Kidding Me?” which is Rocco’s description with one word missing (rhymes with ducking) of that week. All the interviewers ask about whether Rocco has a chance to make another miracle run here (Yes he can though it isn’t likely. He hasn’t been playing real well but this is his kind of golf course).

They then ask the same two questions: What about Tiger and what about Phil?

Do I have any brilliant insight into either one? No. For one thing Tiger doesn’t let anybody inside his life although he’s great at making it SOUND like he’s telling you a lot. I do know he was very unhappy when people were whispering that he wasn’t the same player after his knee surgery.

He was right. I mean the guy wins once and doesn’t finish out of the top NINE in five stroke play events and people are questioning him? That’s like the Republicans I know who started questioning President Obama halfway through his inaugural address. Tiger is still Tiger. He’s going to blow past Jack Nicklaus and keep going because he wants to put the record so far out there it will be almost impossible for anyone to come and get it.

Curtis Strange, who won two U.S. Opens made a great point last night: “If you were to write down the 10 greatest shots of all time in major championships, Tiger’s probably hit eight of them. He then went on to say that the chip-in Tiger pulled off on the 11th at Memorial on Sunday, “can’t be done. You can NOT do what he did.”

So enough about Tiger slipping.

As for Mickelson, all you can say is that he and his family are going through a nightmare millions go through. I’ve been through it in my own family. BEST case scenario it will be a nightmare for Amy and for him and those around him. I would think the waiting until July 1 might be the worst part of it all. At least once you get started you feel as if you are moving towards what you hope is the finish line.

It will feel like a Rangers playoff game in Madison Square Garden this weekend if he somehow gets in contention.

Okay, that’s it for today. I have now written my first blog. I hope there will be many more to come but I do feel right now as if I should go take a shower.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Duke – my relationship with the school, and the slipping standards of the program

For some reason Wednesday was one of those days when I couldn’t seem to escape my alma mater.

My relationship with Duke is, to put it in polite terms, an interesting one.

Let’s start with the good: I’ve known Mike Krzyzewski since 1976. I met him when I was a Duke senior and the basketball team played in New York against Connecticut in Madison Square Garden. The day before the game I flew in with then-Duke Coach Bill Foster and then-Duke star guard Tate Armstrong to attend the weekly basketball writer’s lunch at Mamma Leone’s Restaurant. I’d always read about the lunch as a kid so actually getting to go was a thrill.

Foster was kind of a returning hero at the lunch since he had coached at Rutgers. Afterwards, he introduced me to three young New York area coaches I was familiar with: Tom Penders of Columbia; Jim Valvano of Iona and Mike Krzyzewski of Army. He made me do my Dean Smith imitation for them and I told Penders and Krzyzewski how much I’d enjoyed going to games at their schools as a kid and Valvano how vividly I remembered Rutgers’ run (with Foster as the coach) in the 1967 NIT.

Obviously I got to know all three much better as they moved up in the business after I graduated from college. Often, when I talk about what a good guy Krzyzewski is or even what a good coach he is (gee, he’s only won 848 games) people start claiming I’m a “Duke apologist.”

That’s where the story gets funny. You see, even as an undergraduate, I was extremely critical at times of the school and the athletic department. My senior year Athletic Director Carl James only scheduled four home games in order to make the football team into a cash cow—the first three non-conference games were at Tennessee, at South Carolina and at Miami. The next year it was at Tennessee, at Michigan. I wrote a column prior to the first home game in the fall of 1976 (game 4 of the season) in which James flew to Pittsburgh—that was the first home opponent led by Tony Dorsett—to protest the actual playing of a home game. I also had Coach Mike McGee going to the campus police department asking for directions to Wallace Wade Stadium.

The administration loved me for that.

But I was also a big fan of Foster’s and was delighted when he turned the program around and took the team to the national championship game in 1978 after four straight last place finishes in the ACC during my undergraduate years. And I’ve always admired Krzyzewski as a man and a coach. I make no apologies for that.

That said, he and I had a minor falling out and Duke and I had a major falling out when Duke President Nan Keohane named Joe Alleva to succeed Tom Butters as athletic director. I’m not going to go through the details AGAIN but this was one of the all-time stupid decisions made by any college president—which takes in a lot of ground. Anyone and I mean ANYONE who has been around college athletics for more than 15 minutes knew that Tom Mickle should have gotten the job. Keohane didn’t hire Tom for one reason: he had IDEAS, real ideas, about how to fix football and how to fund under-funded non-revenue sports better.

Let me quote Gene Corrigan, the former commissioner of the ACC, also a Duke grad who hired Mickle as his No. 2 man in the conference office: “I was the beneficiary of Tom Mickle’s brilliance. I never met anyone smarter in collegiate athletics.”

Keohane didn’t want Mickle because Mickle was too smart. She wanted Alleva because she knew he’d just ride Krzyzewski’s coattails and never bother her with an idea. She thought sports were too important at Duke and Krzyzewski too powerful. She didn’t want sports to get better, she’d have been happy if they got worse. (Which, amazingly, football did under Alleva’s watch).

I was angry at Krzyzewski in the aftermath of the Alleva hiring because he kept quiet during the hiring process. He played racquetball with Alleva and felt he owed it to Alleva to not line up against him. I’ve always admired Mike’s loyalty but I told him back then: “your loyalty is misplaced here. It should be to DUKE. You owe it to Duke to make Keohane pick the right guy and you know it’s Mickle.”

Years later he finally admitted that of course it should have been Mickle. But by then it was too late. Tom died in 2005 of a heart attack at the age of 55.

To say I was critical of Keohane—who told me in a phone conversation that if she hired a “Duke person,” (the school had hired one of those dopey headhunters that had no interest at all in recommending the best person, just someone it could take a bow for ‘finding.’) it would, “of course be Tom Mickle,” is an understatement. When I publicly called her a liar my relationship with the school sort of went downhill.

As in, I ceased to exist. The alumni office ordered local alumni groups to NOT ask me to speak—in fact it forced the local chapter here in Washington to cancel an appearance I’d been asked to make by (of all people) Tate Armstrong. The President of the club at the time called me to say, “well, um, we can’t get a room the right size.” I told the guy not to worry, I understood, but next time he should come up with a better story.

Keohane mercifully left and was replaced by Richard Brodhead, who appears to be a perfectly nice guy. Unfortunately, Brodhead has the leadership skills of an amoeba. He completely blew the entire lacrosse situation and in spite of one embarrassment after another actually gave Alleva a new contract a couple of years ago. When I sent him an e-mail saying, “WHAT were you thinking?” he wrote back and said, “Joe has some weaknesses, yes, but he also has strengths.”

I replied: “Can you please name ONE for me?”

I’m still waiting on an answer.

The Alleva era finally came to an end when a different dopey headhunter actually recommended him to LSU. Kevin White, a nice guy who seems perfectly competent (but is no Tom Mickle) was hired in his place. I’m still pretty much persona non grata at Duke outside the basketball office perhaps because I keep calling Brodhead, “Mr. Chips,” perhaps because I ripped the football team for failing the basic courtesy test of shutting up while the Navy band played its alma mater after the game in Durham two years ago.

If you think I’m exaggerating pick up a Duke media guide and look under “distinguished journalism alumni.” My classmate, Sean McManus, President of CBS Sports, is listed—as he should be. So is one of my mentors Bill Brill and several other distinguished journalists—Judy Woodruff being another. There’s also a woman who was a finalist on ‘Survivor.’ Seriously. Me? Nowhere to be found. Does that make me laugh? Yes. Does it piss me off? Being honest, of course it does.

All of which brings me (finally) to yesterday. I got a call from a woman on behalf of my friends at the alumni office. Apparently I was invited to some cocktail party in town next week—gee, think they’re asking for money?—and hadn’t RSVP’d. She was hoping I could come. Actually I COULD come but, no thanks, I’ll take a pass. Maybe they could invite the woman from ‘Survivor.’ Did I get a kick out of that?

Yes, guilty.

Then, during my regular radio appearance on WTEM here in town one of the hosts, Andy Pollin, accused Jim Calhoun of “abandoning his team,” because he’s taking a medical leave of absence. I told Pollin that was patently ridiculous and he shouldn’t make a comment like that without knowing any of the facts.

At which point his co-host, Steve Czaban—who comes from the view of a Maryland fan, Krzyzewski is the root of all evil club—asked about the ‘rumors,’ that Krzyzewski had left his team in 1995 because it wasn’t any good and he didn’t want to be saddled with a bunch of losses.

As it happens, I know how sick Krzyzewski was that year and I know his doctors practically had to strap him to a bed to keep him out of the gym and told him if he tried to coach again that season he might not ever coach again. I also know where the ‘rumor,’ started—two North Carolina grads who more or less posed as journalists for a long time who hated Krzyzewski for making Duke good again. So, I did my, “Duke apologist,” thing and defended Krzyzewski.

Then I watched N.C. State blow Duke out later that night and couldn’t help but think—again—what I’ve thought since this summer: Mike shouldn’t be coaching the Olympic team again. He’s won his gold medal, he’s done his bit for the country, he’s proven he can coach NBA players. He needs to hunker down and make his last run at Duke and not have his apologists—not me in this case—running around saying, “30 and 7 and the sweet sixteen is a very good year.”

For a lot of teams, most teams, it is a very good year. It just isn’t up to the standards Mike Krzyzewski set. I remember in 1997 when he was still rebuilding after the ’95 disaster when his team lost a close game at Maryland. A couple days later with Carolina in town, Dick Vitale came into the locker room prior to the game and was giving a Vitale pep talk: “You guys’ll be fine,” he said. “You’ll win your 20, you’ll be in the tournament.”

When Vitale left, Krzyzewski turned to me. (I was there working on my book on the ACC that season). “I don’t care about winning my 20 or being in the tournament. We’ve let the standards slip around here. I want this team and this program to play to MY standards, not anyone else’s.”

During the next seven years, Duke went to three Final Fours and won a national title. Since then: no trips beyond the sweet sixteen. The standards have slipped. Mike needs to re-think HIS standards again.

Of course he doesn’t need me to tell him how to coach that’s for sure. He can always consult with the woman from, ‘Survivor.’

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

This week's radio segments (The Kornheiser Show, The Sports Reporters):

Today I joined the newest The Tony Kornheiser Show on Wednesday instead of my normal Thursday spot.  Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment on a variety of topics, including Jim Calhoun's situation and Tiger Woods along with others on the PGA Tour, all after starting off talking about concert halls.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Tony Kornheiser Show


I also made my regular appearance with The Sports Reporters' Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's) this evening.  Today we talked on great topics, including Kurt Warner and his retirement talk, Tiger Woods, the early season on the PGA Tour, and Jim Calhoun's leave of absence.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

Tennis - a niche sport with the inmates (players) running the asylum; ESPN is at it again

There was a brief story in this morning’s New York Times about Serena Williams complaining following her first round match at The Australian Open about the $92,000 fine she received after last year’s U.S. Open for screaming at and physically threatening a lineswoman during her semifinal loss to Kim Clijsters.

If you want to know why so few people in this country care about tennis anymore this is EXACTLY the reason why.

Think about it: In any other sport if an athlete threatened an umpire, a referee or any official the only question would be how long they would be suspended for not IF they would be suspended. The Grand Slam Committee, which administers tennis’s four major championships took months to even make a decision about how to punish Williams and when it finally did she was, for all intents and purposes, let off the hook.

The ONLY way to get the attention of a multi-millionaire athlete is to take away the one thing that matters from them: the ability to compete. Tiger Woods had been fined more than any golfer in PGA Tour history for his profanity, for his club-throwing, for the behavior of his caddy. Not only have the fines not been a deterrent on any level Woods has actually defended his caddy for throwing people’s cameras and screaming his own profanities at people he thinks aren’t behaving properly in the presence of King Eldrick 1.

To fine Serena Williams $92,000 wasn’t just a wrist slap it was a light wrist slap.

Just to review what occurred: A lineswoman called a foot fault on Williams when she was serving to stay in the match in the second set. It was, without question, a critical call and the kind of call rarely made at such a moment. I have yet to see a replay that shows one way or the other whether the foot fault was so blatant that it shouldn’t have been called.

Regardless, Williams went completely ballistic, screaming at the lineswoman while walking towards her menacingly holding a ball in her hand and threatening to shove it down her throat. For this she received (properly) a warning that involved a point penalty. Since the foot fault put her at match point that was it—match over.

It was a terrible way for a great match to end. No one seems to know if it was a good call, a bad call a borderline call. Doesn’t matter. There was no excuse for Williams doing what she did. To make it worse she was, for all intents and purposes, un-apologetic for two days. She issued a non-apology/apology on Sunday that was so un-gracious and insincere (nice work by her agents there, huh?) that she had to issue another apology on Monday for the apology.

The ONLY way to punish her was a suspension. But it wasn’t going to happen. She’s the best female tennis player in the world and she and her sister Venus are still the two top draws in the women’s game—especially on television. Williams and her arrogant agents knew this, they knew she wasn’t getting suspended under any circumstances because the people who run the four Slams would go crazy if she was suspended for any one of them and the TV people would go crazier.

So she was fined what amounts to a token amount of money for someone in her tax bracket and given one of those stern, “don’t do it again,” warnings. As in, “if you do this again we’re REALLY going to get mad.”

Then, having been let off the hook, Williams turns around and whines she was fined too much money. She even said she thought the fine might have been as high as it was because she’s a woman. PLEASE, I’m begging you, SHUT UP. If The Grand Slam Committee had any backbone at all, the would say, ‘okay, that’s it, we let you off without a suspension contingent on good behavior—this isn’t good behavior, you’re out of The French Open.’

That, of course, will happen the same day that I’m inducted into The Duke Sports Hall of Fame. (For those of you who don’t know my relationship with Duke that would be on the Twelfth of Never).

This is why tennis has become a niche sport with TV ratings slightly higher than hockey—or maybe not quite as high during non-Grand Slam events. There are no rules for the stars. For years appearance fees were supposed to be against the rules and the rules were never enforced. When Marshall Happer was chairman of the now defunct Men’s Tennis Council he tried ONCE to enforce the rule on Guillermo Vilas and basically got himself fired for his trouble. Now, the rules are such that most tournaments are allowed to pay appearance fees that basically make tennis into a never-ending exhibition season except during the four majors.

The players are so spoiled by promoters and so coddled by their agents that it is almost impossible to like them. Roger Federer is a good guy but when his business buddy Woods showed up at the U.S. Open final a couple years ago for what was, in truth, a Nike photo-op, he disappeared into a private room with Woods for 45 minutes after the final and no one had the nerve to go in and say, “Roger, you just won the U.S. Open how about coming in and spending 10 minutes with the media.” (which by RULE every player is supposed to do when requested).

Nope, can’t do that, can’t ask one of the stars to simply follow the rules.

Every time I bring this up the tennis people go crazy. The people running the game, including my friend Bill Babcock who runs the Grand Slam Committee, start telling me how popular the game is in Europe or in Australia. Guess what Bill that makes tennis into soccer—a niche sport in the country that matters most in sports. That may sound chauvinistic but it’s true. And please don’t cite U.S. Open attendance figures to me either. The USTA is practically flagging people down on The Grand Central Parkway (okay, I’ve use that line before) to get them to buy tickets prior to the final weekend. Once upon a time you couldn’t beg, borrow or steal an Open ticket.

Heck, The Davis Cup, which is often the most dramatic event in tennis, isn’t even on live TV (The Tennis Channel doesn’t count folks, it is watched by the same 14 people every day) anymore.

Tennis at its best is still great to watch. Federer-Roddick at Wimbledon was absolutely one of the sports highlights of the year. But the people running the game—or, more accurately not running it—have turned it into a niche sport where the inmates (the players) have been running the asylum for years.

Which is truly a shame.


I know I take shots at ESPN a lot (usually with good reason) but seriously how much hubris does it take to do something like this hokey, ‘announcer swap,’ they’re doing tonight? I mean seriously WHO CARES?

ESPN honestly believes who their announcers are a bigger deal than the games being played. What difference does it make if Dick Vitale is screaming about the NBA or the NCAA—or for that matter women’s basketball which he was doing the other night. So Mike Breen is calling a college game and Dan Shulman—who calls NBA games a lot anyway, right?—is calling an NBA game.

Please. Next thing you know they’ll have college coaches begging their fans to show up for their let’s-hype-ourselves every Saturday show. Oh wait, they’re already doing that.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Rules need to be enforced, and changed, to shorten length of games

Can we talk this morning about how long it takes to play games these days?

As someone who has spent most of his adult life dealing with deadlines while covering games I’m always aware of how long a game is taking even when I’m sitting at home half-watching while I’m reading something.

It’s truly gotten ridiculous.

I kind of went around the bend on this eight days ago when Louisville and Villanova played a game in which something like 90 free throws were shot and a 7 o’clock tipoff ended (in regulation) at 9:45. Even Brent Musburger, who was doing the next game in the doubleheader couldn’t resist commenting when he was doing an update that, “I hope your game ends before ours does fellas.”

There were about two minutes left in the first half of Oklahoma State-Oklahoma by the time Louisville-Villanova finally ended.

Last Saturday I spent the day at home with games going on from 11 a.m. on. Not one game I watched all or part of ended inside the two -hour window that TV plans for a college basketball game. Most didn’t come close. There are now NINE TV timeouts in every game—and by the way is there some way to stop calling them, ‘media timeouts'? I have never asked for nor been given a time out in my life. They exist for TV and, occasionally, for radio. One of those timeouts is the first called time out of the second half, which is “technically,” a 30 second time out but “becomes,” a full timeout.

Utterly ridiculous. Here are some other things that delay games: the mindless halftime interviews with the coaches. Understand that when the breathless sideline reporter is asking the coach what went wrong/right in the first half and usually getting gems like, “we have to rebound better,” or “I thought we shot the ball very well,” the halftime clock isn’t moving. It’s frozen until the coach pulls free—which Wake Forest’s Dino Gaudio almost literally had to do on Sunday night because the reporter insisted on asking him what he planned to do to rebound better (gee, I don’t know go out and recruit taller players the next 15 minutes?)—and gets to the locker room.

There are also times—especially on ESPN—where coming out of commercial the producer will insist on getting the ‘talent,’ on camera for 30 seconds to say something brilliant like, “What a great atmosphere here tonight,” while play is held until they’re finished.

Wait, I’ve got more: There are two rules changes that need to be made: 1. Once a player is handed the ball to shoot his first free throw he can’t have contact with his teammates until the second shot is out of his hands. All of this slapping hands after the first free throw— they do it make or miss nowadays—is silly and if you add it up over a course of a game adds five to ten minutes. 2. When a player fouls out this bit with both teams running to the bench for an impromptu time out needs to stop. Coaches do not need 30 seconds at that point to decide who to sub. They know who they’re subbing and if they don’t—tough. Give them 10 seconds and tell the players to get lined up at the free throw line in the meantime.

Another thing: Officials need to be far more vigilante about getting teams out of their huddles. This deal with coaches having to stand on the court and talk to one another before they talk to the players is ridiculous. To quote Red Auerbach: “You’re getting paid millions to be the head coach you damn well ought to know what to say to your players during a time out.”

The other night I was at a game (honestly I don’t remember which one) and one team was lagging coming out of the huddle. When the official went in to get the players, the coach actually held up his hand to say, “give me a minute here, I’m not quite done.” The response to that should be simple: Signal the official who has the ball to start the 10 second clock and then put the ball on the floor and start counting to five. Remember when officials did that? People got out of the huddle then.

I know these are all little things but they add up. College basketball games shouldn’t be taking two-and-a-half hours. When we get to postseason they get longer: halftime on CBS goes to 20 minutes instead of 15 (plus the time for the silly coaches interviews); 30 second time outs become 45 seconds to get in extra commercials. At this rate it won’t be long before the national championship game ends at midnight on the east coast.

It’s also worth noting that the 20-minute halftime came about in 2003 when the war in Iraq started on the first day of the tournament. CBS asked for the extra five minutes to do war updates. Fine. But the next year the time outs were still 20 minutes and they’ve remained that way ever since, which certainly isn’t good for the players. I’ve been in locker rooms. By about the eight minute mark, everyone is getting antsy to get back on the court. When I brought this up with the NCAA basketball committee a few years ago someone said, “Well, you know when you’re in a dome it takes longer to get to and from the locker room.”

Five minutes longer? How about 10 seconds longer—if that.

This problem isn’t unique to basketball. College football is a joke. I’ve said for years the first down rule should be changed to stop the clock ONLY in the last two minutes of each half. The notion that you need to stop the clock on a first down with 13:47 left in the first quarter is ludicrous. Four hour games are just too long even if they have dramatic finishes. They may not seem so bad watching at home where you can keep clicking around to other games during the endless commercials but if you’re in the stadium those commercials are torture. Nothing is worse than a Notre Dame on NBC where some commercials last longer than the careers of a lot of college basketball players.

Baseball, especially in the American League or if Tony LaRussa is managing, can take days to play. There are two rules changes that need to be made: Trips to the mound should be limited not to one per inning per pitcher but to one TOTAL for the starting pitcher and one more TOTAL after he leaves the game. A catcher shouldn’t be allowed to go out to the mound more than once per batter. Learn how to change signals with a runner on second base in spring training.

Far more important is keeping batters in the box. We now have a generation of hitters who routinely step out after EVERY pitch. They re-adjust their gloves, tug on their helmet, kick at the dirt, take a deep breath and step back in. PLEASE. Simple rules-change: You can step out one time during an at-bat. The only way you can step out more than once is if you’re hurt or knocked down. While we’re at it, make umpires ENFORCE the 20-second rule on pitchers with the bases empty.

The NFL has gotten better although it is maddening when TV takes back-to-back time outs after a touchdown or field goal: team scores, extra point is kicked—commercial. Kickoff—commercial again. As I said, at home it isn’t so bad. In the stadium, especially when it’s cold—brutal. The NBA needs to make two rules-changes: teams get one time out in the last two minutes and no more and get rid of the move-the-ball-to-midcourt after a time out rule. In what other sport are you allowed to advance the ball half the playing field as a reward for calling time out?

Hockey’s pretty good overall although having the hockey package this year I’ve noticed there are a number of linesmen who think fans come to the arena to watch them drop the puck. I know they want it to be fair and get it right but for God’s sake drop the thing and let’s move on.

The biggest change though is still college basketball. I know I sound like I’m 100 when I harken back to my days as a kid when games were played in 90 minutes. Those days are gone and aren’t coming back but it is completely out-of-hand. I know TV needs its time outs but NINE—seriously NINE? Throw in a couple more commercials at halftime. We can live without the yammering studio shows anyway. Throw in a couple of simple, sensible rules changes and for the love of God get rid of the halftime interviews. The coaches hate them, the fans hate them, please tell me who likes them?

I’m guessing it must be some of the same people who, at the “urging,” of John Calipari are planning to fill Rupp Arena one Saturday to jump up and down in front of the cameras for ‘GameDay.’ My God, The Apocalypse really is upon us.

Monday, January 18, 2010

This week's Washington Post column (and bonus piece from the weekend)

The following is this week's column from The Washington Post on the Jets saving the playoff weekend followed by an article on UVA basketball and its coach, Tony Bennett ---------------

If these past two weekends were the best the NFL has to offer, maybe there's a chance for the USFL to make a comeback.

Six of the eight games were enough to make one think about switching to Dick Vitale calling a women's basketball game. Or Dick Vitale talking about calling a women's basketball game.

Wild-card weekend gave us Packers-Cardinals and three games that even fans of the winners would be hard-pressed to watch to the end. The Ravens-Patriots game was over before Bill Belichick had a chance to get his hoodie into position.

Surely the divisional playoff weekend would be better. Except it wasn't: It was worse. The winning teams were ahead by a combined 35 points at halftime Saturday and never looked back, and the only real suspense in the over-hyped Cowboys-Vikings matchup was when the "Can Wade Phillips survive?" talk would begin.

Click here for the rest of the column: Rex Ryan's Jets save NFL playoffs from tedium


This really wasn't the way Tony Bennett had it planned. It isn't that he didn't love basketball. The game has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember, which tends to happen when you're a coach's son. The gym is as much a part of your boyhood as your mom's kitchen table. Growing up while his dad, Dick, was coaching high school ball, then National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics ball and then Division I ball, he was the classic gym rat, the kid who makes himself a great shooter by spending hours and hours alone with a ball and a backboard.

Bennett would have been something straight out of "Hoosiers," if he had been in Indiana instead of Wisconsin. But coaching wasn't in his blood. Playing was what he was about.

"When I was a kid, the last thing in the world I thought I'd ever do was coach," he said, relaxing in the Virginia coaches' lounge at John Paul Jones Arena on Wednesday after the Cavaliers had upset 20th-ranked Georgia Tech. "I loved being a player. I guess in my mind I was going to play forever -- go from college to the NBA and just stay. I saw close-up what a roller-coaster ride coaching was for my dad and for my sister Kathi [who won a Division III national title at Wisconsin-Oshkosh and later coached at Indiana] and I said, 'That's not for me.' Then I got hurt and things changed."

Click here for the rest of the column: Finding direction on an unexpected path

The Jets move on, stories of this fan as a kid

As luck would have it, the first year my parents let me ride The New York subways on my own (I sneaked onto them to go to games on occasion before that) was 1968. I knew the system cold—at least the part of it that mattered to me. To get to Yankee Stadium I took the IRT number 1 train downtown from 79th street to 59th street and then went downstairs (free transfer) and took the IND D train to 161st and The Grand Concourse. The D was an express so it didn’t take very long.

Getting to Shea Stadium took a little longer. I still started on the number 1 out of 79th street and then made the transfer at Times Square to the number 7, which was a brand new route that had come on line when Shea’s opening in 1964 coincided with The World’s Fair. I knew every stop by heart and loved riding in the front car and watching the train wind its way from stop-to-stop especially after it became elevated in Queens.

You could always get a ticket to the Mets and Yankees—it cost $1.30 to sit upstairs in general admission for a Mets game and $1.50 for a Yankees game—a much better seat since Shea Stadium had an extra deck. You couldn’t buy Giants tickets. Every once in a while a friend of my dad’s who had season tickets would take me but most of my early pro football experiences were at Shea, watching the Jets and Joe Namath,

The Jets should have made the playoffs in 1967 but choked down the stretch and lost the AFL East to the Houston Oilers. I was furious. A year later, even though Namath threw five interceptions in two losses early in the season (I remember smashing a radio when he did it against the Bills) they finally made the playoffs. I saw six of the seven home games (it was a 14 game schedule then) buying $3 standing room tickets and then sneaking into a good seat downstairs. There were always some empty seats, especially once the weather turned cold.

The $3 ticket became a $6 ticket for the AFL Championship game against the Oakland Raiders. In those days the Jets offices were at 57th street and Madison Avenue and two of my buddies and I were there on Monday at lunchtime (we ducked out of school) to get our tickets. Then we watched Namath outduel Daryl Lamonica to get the Jets to the Super Bowl.

I had watched the first two Super Bowls and, being an AFL fan, winced when Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers crushed the Kansas City Chiefs and then the Raiders. I still remember the scores: 35-10 and 33-14. Most people expected a similar result with the Jets taking on the Baltimore Colts, who were anywhere from 17 to 19 points favorites, depending on who you listened to that week.

Here’s what I remember about that Sunday afternoon (in those days The Super Bowl was an afternoon game believe it or not). Earl Morrall threw an interception (on a deflection) on the goal line early in the game to stop a Colts drive. Then the Jets quietly dominated for most of three quarters. Namath was superb, the offensive line kept opening holes for Matt Snell and Emerson Boozer and the defense completely clamped down on Morrall and the Baltimore offense.

The entire time I paced up and down in front of the TV. It had become my habit. Pacing was good for the Jets, sitting was bad. Often I would stop and talk to the TV as if I was Weeb Ewbank coaching the team.

Snell scored on a sweep. Jim Turner kicked three field goals. It was 16-0 in the fourth quarter when two things happened: my dad came back from a concert and Johnny Unitas, who had been hurt most of the season, came into the game for Morrall.

“What’s the score?” said my dad, whose interest in sports never really went past asking for an occasional score.

“We’re up 16-0 I answered.”

“That’s a surprise isn’t it?”

“Um yeah dad, you could say that.”

Curious, he sat down to watch. I paced.

“John will you sit down, you’re making me dizzy with the pacing.”

“Need to pace dad, it’s good luck.”

“They’re winning 16-0, you can sit.”

I sat. About five plays later, Unitas had the Colts in the end zone. It was 16-7.

My dad and I looked at each other. “Go ahead and pace,” he said.

I did. The Jets finished off their historic victory which started a euphoric 16 months for all New York sports fans: The Jets over the Colts; the Miracle Mets over the Orioles and the Knicks over the Lakers in the ‘Willis Reed game,’ in which Walt Frazier had 36 points and a triple-double.

Of course the Jets deal with the devil has been paid off in spades the last 40 years. They lost to the Chiefs in the first round of the playoffs a year later and Namath was never the same again. They have been in a couple of AFC Championship games but never another Super Bowl. They have been through coaches and quarterbacks and owners and have played in a stadium with another team’s name on it in New Jersey. Shea Stadium is gone. Namath failed miserably as a TV announcer after he retired.

But now, here they are again, as unlikely a team to reach a conference championship game as anyone has seen in a long, long time. And there I was on Sunday night pacing again, nervous as a cat after Shonn Greene’s touchdown run made it 17-7. (Actually my cat sat on a chair watching calmly while I paced). You see when you’re a Jets fan a 10 point fourth quarter lead doesn’t mean you have a good chance to win it means you have a good chance of finding a truly miserable way to lose.

But Rex Ryan isn’t a find-a-way-to-lose coach. There was no doubt in mind he’d go for the 4th and 1 on the last series and I was pretty convinced the Jets would pick it up.

What’s really fun about this is I LIKE this team, not just the uniforms. I got to know Rex when I did my book on the Ravens five years ago. Truly a good man with a terrific sense of humor. I still remember sitting in the Ravens draft room on draft day. The assistant coaches were across the hall. When the Ravens turn to draft came up I heard a loud “whooeee,” come from the room where the coaches were.

“Rex,” Brian Billick said. “He’s getting his man.”

Rex knew, looking at the 150 players the Ravens had ranked based on their scouting reports, that the next player on the list when the Ravens turn came up was defensive lineman Dwan Edwards and that Ozzie Newsome never veered away from the list.

When Rex took the Jets job he took Mike Pettine with him as defensive coordinator. Pettine was sort of a coach-in-training, an assistant to all the defensive assistants when I was in Baltimore. He’s certainly come a long way even if he took it kind of hard last year when I asked him how in the world Virginia (his alma mater) could lose to Duke.

“Embarrassing,” he admitted.

“Humiliating is more like it,” I said.

And then there’s Bob Sutton, who was the coach at Army when I wrote, “A Civil War.” There are few better men in sports than Sutton, whose firing by the worst athletic director in history (Rick Greenspan) was the start of Army’s 11 year tailspin, lowlighted by an 0-13 record a few years ago.

My favorite player during my Ravens year? Bart Scott. Back then he was mostly a special teams player, a kid who had come out of nowhere to become an NFL player. I still remember him arguing vehemently with virtually the entire offensive line in the days leading up to the 2004 election about why George W. Bush should NOT be re-elected. At one point he looked at Jonathan Ogden who kept saying, ‘the man (John Kerry) is going to raise my taxes,’ and said, “JO, can you for once stop thinking about your damn money!”

That cracked the room up. Ogden was famously cheap.

Now Bart’s a star. Now Rex is a media rock star in New York. I DID feel bad for Norv Turner because his team making The Super Bowl would have really been a nice payback for him to Danny Snyder, who still hasn’t found the right coach (unless Mike Shanahan is it) to deal with his Napoleonic personality since he fired Norv when he was 7-6 and in playoff contention nine years ago.

But seeing the Jets in the conference championship game with a lot of people I truly like involved is great. I know the Colts will be heavy favorites on Sunday and they should be. But I’ve got a warning for Peyton Manning: I’ll be pacing. That should make him a little bit nervous shouldn’t it?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Potential ramifications for decisions by Mets, Wizards on Beltran, Arenas

Carlos Beltran and Gilbert Arenas are both in the news today.

Arenas will be in court later today to accept a plea bargain that in all likelihood will keep him out of jail. I’m going to refrain from saying too much about this until it actually happens because there’s no point in ripping the prosecutors for copping out until I actually know they’ve copped out.

Beltran isn’t going to court or to jail but he won’t be playing baseball for a while. He had surgery on his arthritic knee on Wednesday and is likely not to be able to resume baseball activities for at least 12 weeks. My guess is he won’t be penciled into a Major League lineup card before May. All of which means the Mets have pretty much picked up at the start of 2010 where they left off in 2009.

But I’m not writing about Beltran to rip the Mets—although they are eminently rippable. They are so incompetent that they can’t even get a player they owe $37 million to over the next two years to go and see one of their doctors before having surgery. Then they whine about it and don’t even send their general manager to talk to the media about it. Apparently after some of his bang-up performances last summer (notably in the Tony Bernazard debacle) the Mets don’t trust Omar Minaya to speak in public. Which begs the question: If you don’t trust him to run a simple press conference how can you trust him to rebuild your broken ballclub?

As I said though, that’s another issue for another day. Today is about what Beltran and Arenas have in common. Which is this: The Mets are reportedly considering the possibility of refusing to pay Beltran while he is out of the lineup because he had the surgery without their formal permission OR even going so far as to try to void his contract. The Washington Wizards are reportedly thinking about trying to void Arenas’s contract—worth another $80 million after this season is over—on the grounds that he will have pleaded guilty to a felony even if he avoids jail time.

Chances are very good the Mets will back down. Chances are decent the Wizards will back down too and see if there’s any way to trade Arenas.

The reason neither team is likely to take any seriously punitive action has little to do with the players involved. It has to do with potential future players.

It really doesn’t matter that Arenas acted like a complete bonehead in this whole thing from the moment he put the guns in his car and drove them from his home in Virginia to The Verizon Center in Washington, committing a crime the minute he crossed the bridge into D.C.

It doesn’t matter that Arenas acted as if the whole thing was a joke until he was suspended by NBA Commissioner David Stern. It doesn’t even matter that he has said when this is over everyone will owe him an apology.

The Wizards are probably going to have to rebuild their entire team—again. Arenas has to be gone one way or the other and they will try to trade Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler because both players have considerable value, especially to teams in contention. The draft only has two rounds and if you get one truly outstanding player in a draft that’s a good year. That means you have to sign free agents.

Are there some players (and coaches) who will sign with the highest bidder, regardless of who it is? Absolutely. How else can Dan Snyder, whose reputation as the worst owner in sports always precedes him, continue to sign free agent players and big name coaches? If you believe Mike Shanahan when he says he took over the Redskins because of how much he likes Snyder, I have oceanfront land in Kansas I’d like to sell you. Shanahan’s friends are the checks for $7 million a year Snyder will be writing.

But if someone else had matched that $7 million, Shanahan probably would have been very good friends with THAT owner. And the Wizards will worry that if a free agent has a choice between their organization and another that’s offering comparable money, Arenas’s name will come up. As in, “you guys are the ones that voided Gil’s contract.”

Don’t think for a second that won’t happen. Before this is over—especially if the Wizards do void the contract—Arenas is going to be the victim here. There will be apologists pointing out athletes who have done worse things (there are) and pointing out that Delonte West was acting far more reckless than Arenas last fall when he was arrested on a motorcycle on the Washington Beltway carrying guns. That’s also true. It’s also true that West has kept his mouth shut and not tried to act as if the whole thing was a joke.

Reality doesn’t matter here. Athletes live in their own reality, one in which Tiger Woods’s agent can actually send an e-mail to a New York Times reporter saying, “Give the kid a break.” The kid being a 34-year-old, billionaire father of two who has been in the public eye for 20 years and crafted an image that has been proven to be totally false.

No doubt a lot of basketball players will think the Wizards failed to give Arenas a break. The Wizards know that. They know that voiding the contract (IF their action is upheld when the players’ union contests it) will save a lot of money short term and will give them a partial escape from this disaster. But they also know that anytime a free agent doesn’t sign with them, people will wonder if Arenas was part of the reason. And if by some chance a player comes out and says, “I wouldn’t sign with Washington because of what they did to Gil,” whether what they did to Gil was fair or unfair will be a moot point.

The Mets and Beltran are different. Beltran’s never been in any trouble at all and for a lot of the last five years has been the Mets best player. And yet—he’s been hurt a lot. He also has become for many fans the symbol of their frustrations in recent years. If you are a Mets fan (which as I always confess I am…sigh) it is pretty much impossible to forget the sight of Beltran with his bat on his shoulder while strike three went past him with two outs in the bottom of the ninth of game seven of The 2006 National League Championship Series.

Beltran’s had good moments since then but the Mets collapsed in September of 2007 and 2008 and in early June in 2009. Beltran, like a lot of his teammates (Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, J.J. Puetz; even David Wright) missed large chunks of the season. Now, after saying his knee felt fine all fall, he has surgery five weeks before spring training begins.

Beltran’s agent, the lovely and talented Scott Boras, insists that the doctor who did the surgery in Denver consulted with the Mets team doctor, David Altchek and got the go-ahead to do the surgery. Then—according to Boras—after Beltran was IN surgery on Wednesday, the Mets called again to say they wanted Beltran to see their doctors. If that version proves true not only do the Mets have no case against Beltran but they have pulled yet another public relations blunder by ripping a key player who did nothing wrong.

If that’s NOT the case and Beltran did the surgery without letting the Mets know he was doing it, then the Mets do have a case—certainly in terms of not paying him until he can play again.

But don’t bet on the Mets to do any of that. More likely they will come back and say it was all a big misunderstanding and everyone loves everyone. Minaya tried to blame the Bernazard debacle on Adam Rubin of The New York Daily News. Maybe the Mets will blame Adam for this too.

But you can bet they won’t take drastic action against Beltran. They’re going to need to sign free agents to rebuild again. And, while money talks, it someone else has money that’s also talking, a “reputation,” for not taking care of your players can quickly shut your money down.

What a world. And people wonder why I hang out at Patriot League basketball games.