Thursday, January 7, 2010

Review of a six item news morning – Arenas, Hall of Fame, Redskins, Cornell, PGA Tour and the Islanders

News Item 1: David Stern finally gets mad—justifiably—and suspends Gilbert Arenas indefinitely.

News Item 2: Andre Dawson is voted into The Hall of Fame—good job by the voters. Robert Alomar is not—he should have been but will be next year. Bert Blyleven is not for the 13th straight year. I just don’t get it.

News Item 3: Mike Shanahan is introduced as the new Redskins coach. He deftly ducks questions about who will be in charge and does everything but kiss Dan Snyder on the lips during his press conference. Of course for $35 million most of us would kiss almost anyone on the lips.

News Item 4: Kansas comes from eight points down AT HOME to beat CORNELL. I was a little stunned at game’s end based on the way the fans were acting in Allen Field House that they didn’t storm the court.

News Item 5: The PGA Tour begins the 2010 season today on Maui. Hallelujah. It might be possible to talk about golf for at least a sentence or two without using the words Tiger Woods.

News Item 6: The Islanders come from behind in Colorado, then blow a lead but beat the Avalanche 3-2. They are now at .500. Okay, this may only be a news item to me but what the heck. I went to bed happy.

Now, to review.

Item one--I have no doubt that David Stern would have preferred to wait for the legal process to move further along (he is, after all, a lawyer) before taking action on Gilbert Arenas. But after Arenas’s idiotic behavior on Tuesday in Philadelphia, he had no choice but to act.

The photo of Arenas pretending to ‘shoot,’ his teammates with his fingers—while they all stood around laughing—may have been the most damning moment in this entire debacle. Arenas then made it worse (if possible) with his postgame comment that, if he felt as if he’d done anything wrong, then he’d apologize.

There are some guys in sports who need John McEnroe following them around repeatedly saying, “You cannot be serious!.” (Quick aside: Years ago I was in a hotel room with McEnroe after a match. Mary Carillo was also there as was a friend of McEnroe’s whose name I honestly can’t remember. Room service had been ordered and hadn’t shown up after 45 minutes. McEnroe finally told his friend to call and find out what the hell was going on. The friend picked up the phone and said to McEnroe, “do you want me to just ask what’s going on or, you know, give them the ‘You can NOT be serious,’ bit?’ McEnroe opted for the latter. The food showed up about five minutes later).

Once Stern saw the photo and the quote he had to get Arenas off the court right away. If he hadn’t, he would have looked foolish. Flip Saunders looked pretty bad not taking action right away in Philadelphia but Stern seems to be covering for the Wizards and their inaction by saying he had ordered them not to take action until he did.

My guess is Arenas doesn’t get it and isn’t going to get it. He still thinks his mistake in bringing guns into The Verizon Center was akin to forgetting to slow down in one of those camera speed traps—pay the 40 bucks and move on. It’s pretty clear his teammates haven’t gotten it yet either even though they tried to act as if they did in Cleveland Wednesday night. Still, you could hear them clinging to the, “when the truth comes out it won’t be so bad,” line.

Wrong. This is already really bad and, in all likelihood, the more truth that comes out the worse it is going to be for Arenas.

It’s truly a sad story because this was a guy who lit up a bleak sports skyline when he first came to Washington. And, as if so often the case, the reaction to the mistake has been at least as costly as the mistake itself. If Arenas had instantly thrown himself on the mercy of the court of public opinion and said, ‘My God, what was I thinking, I’m so sorry,” and NOT twittered jokes and NOT shrugged it off as no big deal and NOT still been playing it off as a joke the day after his lawyer released his clearly insincere apology, people would be saying by now, ‘hey, leave him alone, he made a mistake and he acknowledged it.’

Now, even the perpetual jock-defenders are shaking their heads and saying, ‘what was he thinking?’

We all know the answer to that question.

Item Two: I’m happy Andre Dawson made it to the Hall of Fame. In the years that I voted, I always put him on my ballot. (The Washington Post no longer allows writers to vote for Halls of Fame which I think is silly but, hey, they’re writing the checks and I’m cashing them so I don’t vote). He was a great two-way player for a long time, a superb base runner who had a long, productive career. I think his batting average (.279) held him back but all his other numbers were so good—including eight gold gloves—I thought he was deserving.

Alomar is a lock Hall of Famer. The only reason he came up just short this time (73.7 percent of the votes when 75 percent is needed) is because some voters are still punishing him for the 1996 John Hirschbeck spitting incident (Hirschbeck BTW has forgiven him and endorsed his candidacy) and because there are some guys who will not vote for a guy his first time on the ballot.

The second reason is a joke: You either are a Hall of Famer or are not a Hall of Famer. I had this argument with Bill Conlin, for whom I have great respect, when he didn’t vote for Nolan Ryan the first (and only) time he was on the ballot. I’ve always believed that if a voter leaves certain players off the ballot for any reason—like a Cal Ripken or a Tony Gwynn to give two recent examples—he should lose his vote for the next year. Seriously, who died and made any of us God?

The Hirschbeck incident is different. The ballot DOES say that a player’s actions as a person can be taken into account. Alomar—surprise—was initially unrepentant when the incident occurred in 1996. In fact, one of the sadder scenes I’ve ever seen was the first game of the playoffs that year when Oriole fans, normally among the best in baseball, booed the UMPIRES when they came on the field because Alomar was going to be suspended to begin the next season.

That was Alomar’s one truly bad moment and you don’t wipe out an entire career for that. (Steroids is another story entirely).

Blyleven is the mystery to me. He came up a little shy of 300 wins—287—but had some other great numbers, notably the fact that he pitched SIXTY shutouts. Just as one means of comparison, that’s more shutouts than Tom Glavine had complete games (57). Sure, different era, but not THAT different—Glavine was in the big leagues for several years before Blyleven retired.

I’m not picking on Tom—obviously—and he is and should be a lock Hall of Famer since he won 305 games. But sixty shutouts? Are you kidding? Blyleven pitched on a lot of bad teams but on good ones too. There are parts of his record you can nit-pick but overall? He should have been in years ago.

For the record, this isn’t personal at all. The couple of times I dealt with Blyleven as a player he wasn’t especially pleasant. I remember in 1992 when I was doing my first baseball book trying to set a time to talk to him when he was pitching for the Angels. I was in Anaheim for three days and asked if he could give me some time on any of those days since he had just pitched the day before. “I’ve done my media for the week,” he said. (He had done Roy Firestone’s show the day before).

So, I went instead to talk to Jim Abbott, who you may remember became a solid big league pitcher even though he was born without a right hand. “I’ll make you a deal,” Abbott said. “I’ll talk to you for as long as you want about whatever you want if you tell me everything you know about Steffi Graf.” (I’d just written ‘Hard Courts.’)

Jim Abbott is a Hall of Fame guy. Blyleven is a Hall of Fame pitcher.

Item three: Shanahan arrives. Building of monument begins. There’s not much to say about this except that everyone knows if Dan Snyder doesn’t get out of the way it won’t matter how good a coach Shanahan is. When Shanahan was asked who was in charge he answered the question as if the issue was whether he or Bruce Allen had final say. Good answer even though that wasn’t the question.

He also kept saying over and over that he had never met anyone who was more enthusiastic about the Washington Redskins than Dan Snyder. Wow, that’s out on a limb. It’s a little bit like saying you’ve never met anyone more enthusiastic about my books than me. Then he said Joe Gibbs had told him no one had been more supportive of him than Snyder. Last I looked Jack Kent Cooke gave Gibbs everything he could possibly want to help him win three Super Bowls AND chose him in a power struggle with Bobby Beathard—which was probably a mistake. Then again, Snyder did FINANCIALLY support Gibbs better than anyone ever did.

Oh, one more thing: Word today is that Jerry Gray may become the defensive coordinator. What a surprise, the guy Snyder used to get around The Rooney Rule, who stood there and stonewalled for three weeks not only keeps his job but gets promoted. So unlike Snyder.

Item 4—I wrote here last week that Cornell is really good. The Big Red came very close to becoming national darlings last night but couldn’t quite hold on against the No. 1 ranked team in the country. ESPN correctly switched to the late stages of the game from a desultory Duke-Iowa State game and I swear I thought I was watching Kansas-Texas the last five minutes based on the crowd reaction to the rally.

No doubt they were relieved at dodging what they thought would be an embarrassing loss. But really it wouldn’t have been that embarrassing: Cornell’s good. Of course now they will be everyone’s first round upset darling in March. That’s IF they can beat Harvard to win The Ivy League. And if you think the committee is giving the Ivy League an at-large bid you should apply for a job at The Fritz Pollard Alliance and oversee the Rooney Rule.

Item 5—I did my Golf Channel Essay this week on the start of the new season and the fact that it would be nice to be able to watch golf and talk about golf without Tiger coming up in every other sentence. I was trying to make the point that while Tiger is no doubt the face of the game to MANY, there are lots of us who liked golf before Tiger and will continue to like it without Tiger—however long that may be during his ‘leave of absence.’ I brought up the fact that when ‘A Good Walk Spoiled,’ reached number one on The New York Times bestseller list in 1995, the name Tiger Woods appeared once—for two sentences.

One of the better regular posters on the blog, Vince, accused me yesterday of being self-serving by bringing up the book. Maybe, but I honestly thought it tangibly made my point. He said if I’d written the book five or six years later with Tiger as a major character the book would have been on The Times list for three years instead of seven months. Again, maybe. But I’ve written golf books since then that featured Tiger and, while they’ve sold well, they didn’t outsell ‘A Good Walk Spoiled.’ And, for the record Vince, I was making fun of the 50 percent who only watch golf when Tiger’s playing when I said, “50 percent of us who watch golf do so with or without Tiger.”

Item 6—There was a Rick DiPietro spotting on the Islanders bench last night. He’s been out so long his 15 year contract may be up soon. Dwayne Roloson has been great all year but if DiPietro could actually come back healthy…No, not going there, too far out on a limb.


Silk32 said...

Somewhere former NBA Deputy Commissioner, Simon Gourdine, must be shaking his head right now. Not too long ago the NBA was considered “too black” and “drug infested” to ever reach mass appeal. Current players have reneged on their obligation to be ambassadors for a league built by Dr. Jr, Bird, Magic, and Jordan. For the best write-up of the Arenas situation go here:

Geoff said...

FWIW, I just bought a couple of your books after reading this blog reminded me what a good writer you are. (I read A Good Walk Spoiled a few years ago.)
Thanks for making them available on the Kindle.

MB said...

When it comes to the HoF, I believe in the Potter Stewart "I know it when I see it" approach, statistics (e.g. total wins) be damned.

In fact, I would argue that if you have to use statistics to bolster someone's case for entry into the HoF, that is the very reason why that player may not be deserving.

Now I must admit that I never realized that Bert Blyleven threw 60 shutouts in his career (that is an amazing accomplishment). But that's the problem I would have with putting him in the HoF -- although he racked up a lot of wins, and had a great curveball, Blyleven had no (or little) impact on the game itself.

Was he ever considered the best pitcher in baseball for any portion of his career, or even the dominant pitcher in his league in any one year? (No Cy Young awards.)

I can't even think of one memorable game that he pitched (unlike say Jack Morris), shutouts notwithstanding. I also don't recall opposing players ever lamenting that they were facing Blyleven that night (unlike say Nolan Ryan, or, for that matter, Tom Glavine).

287 wins is a great career, but based on my recollection (or more accurately, my lack of recollection) of Blyleven, it sounds to me like he's in his rightful place in the HoVG, alongside Jim Kaat (283 wins).

Dana King said...

I heard you on SportsTalk980 yesterday, and you mentioned PGA purses had increased fourfold since Tiger came on the Tour. He deserves full marks for this, just as Arnold Palmer does for putting golf on the TV map in the 50s.

It also shows no one should be considered indispensable to his sport. Even if Tiger never plays again (which won't happen) and purses dropped back to pre-Tiger levels (which won't happen), the average purse would still be about $1.5 million, with the winner getting $270,000. That kind of money isn't going to discourage talented kids from playing golf. No matter what anyone may think, not even golfers have competing occupations that will pay them 1/5 that much money.

ScottInMD said...

Speaking of golf books, I spent the week between Christmas and New Years ready my newly recieved copy of "Open." Thoroughly enjoyed it.

I was curious if John had any contact with the folks from the book in and around last year's Open at Bethpage. Any follow up?

Paul said...

I must agree with mb on this. Yes 60 shutouts is amazing (as are Blyleven's 3700 strikeouts), but I think a good yardstick for measuring Hall of Fame careers would be to ask yourself if the player in question was a dominant force in the league for 10 years or more. This may eliminate some like Sandy Koufax, but Koufax was an anomaly and one can definitely make exceptions. Most Hall of Famers dominated in some fashion for at least ten years. I don't think one should ignore stats, but if statistics are the major argument to whether a player makes the Hall of Fame, then make way for Vinny Testaverde because he has thrown for over 46,000 yards. Anyone who saw him play for any length of time will tell you he was no Hall of Famer. He was serviceable at best. However it is conceivable (and I have actually heard people say this) that someone could say "yeah I know he was bad a lot of the time, but HE PASSED FOR OVER 46,000 YARDS! He should go to the Hall!"

I try to ask myself if they were a dominant player for ten years, and while not full proof, putting the player to that test usually turns out to be a pretty good way to measure a difficult-to-measure concept.

Love the blog. I have always loved your writing and as a matter of fact I am finishing The Punch right now (even though I have a lot of other much more boring reading to do as a Ph.D. student). Fantastic book.

Gordon said...

The problem with all the HOFs is that they are to political. Worse voters keep there votes.

When the late Dick Schapp asked Bill Conlin on the "Sports Reporters", why he had not voted for Nolan Ryan Conlin replyed "Because I wouldn't want Ryan pitching the 7th game of the world series. Everyone ,and John you might have been on the panel that day, just looked at Conlin and silently wondered if they had heard him right. How can anyone take Conlin seriously after that?

As for Rick DiPietro he will go into "The Bust" hall of fame along with Tony Mandrich and David Clyde. (Clyde was a can't miss pitcher who missed badly who was drafted by the Texas Rangers back in the late 70s). Charles Wang made a huge mistake signing him for that long. The reality is that it will take John Taravas entire career to get DiPietro off the salary cap.

charles pierce said...

John --
Just FYI, at lunch today, Ryan and I began putting together the two-bids-for-the-Ivies campaign.
You want in?

Mike M. said...

C'mon, Blyleven should be in for no other reason than having the best Sportcenter nickname of all time... Bert be home Blyleven.

Mark said...

Heck John, the reason I read your blog is because I have read all most all of your books. I love your references to them. The only one I considered a clunker was the one on Red Auerbach but what the heck, it was still a good read and worth the purchase. Thanks for the great blog!

Mr. X said...

It should almost be a DQ for the HoF if Berman ever gave the player one of his nicknames.

Geoff said...

The fact that writers select HOFers at all is a bit beyond me, but I realize that it's probably a necessary evil. If any writer had to face these guys, I would bet that each and every Bert Blyleven in this world would be first ballot HOFers. At least one HOF PLAYER agrees with me...

"It (his curveball) was nasty, I'll tell you that. Enough to make your knees buckle. Bert (Blyleven) was a terrific pitcher — a dominating pitcher." - Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson

cd1515 said...

the Hall is a joke and so is the whole "this guy didn't get in this year but he'll get in next year" routine.

is Alomar going to get more hits in the next 12 months.
is Blyleven going to win more games?

you're either a Hall of Famer or you're not.

Anonymous said...

Heck, maybe Texas should have consideration for #1 over Bama....without their main man, had the ball with the chance to take down the BCS champion. Sinces the polls are completely artistic views, I could argue Texas is better than Bama on most days.

Then again, I think Boise should be #1, but we know that can't happen.

wick said...

Let's See
Shaq is rumored to be texting Gil's girlfriend.
Gil has guns in his locker.
Shaq skips a fall road trip to the Verizon Center.

Yes, this could get much worse....

The Tinamou said...

Rock solid HoF thinking. No arguments.

Barry Larkin, however, belongs. A shortstop's shortstop.

As an aside, A Good Walk Spoiled delivered on it's own merits,but Tales From Q School captures real-world golf like no other.