I had all sorts of topics to write on this morning ranging from the elections—I know some of you don’t like it when I write about politics but, what the heck, you can take the day off and it is MY blog—to the continuing Mike Shanahan/Donovan McNabb fiasco to (yawn) Randy Moss to how remarkably un-important Tiger Woods losing the number one ranking to Lee Westwood truly is.
Then I saw an item in this morning’s New York Times—if it was in The Washington Post I missed it. It said that Sparky Anderson had been placed in a hospice by his family. It also said that he was suffering from dementia at the age of 76.
Reading that made me think the other subjects weren’t quite as important. NOT that the election is un-important. It is and I happen to believe as disturbing as some of the results are and as tough as it is to listen to the crowing of my Republican friends, this will be a good thing for President Obama, much the way getting beaten up in midterm elections helped Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. I’m also one of those who thinks that history shows the country runs better when the parties share power. I happen to think this is especially true now since The Republicans can no longer sit back and blame President Obama for everything that has gone wrong dating back to The French and Indian War. And good luck to the Republican leadership controlling those tea party types who got elected. They will be more trouble for The Republicans than for The Democrats when all is said and done.
That ends today’s political message. As for Shanahan and McNabb, well, I’m actually not completely finished with politics because Shanahan really does sound like Richard Nixon when he tries to explain benching his quarterback with under two minutes to play on Sunday in Detroit.
Shanahan is a very good football coach and, in fact, the Redskins are clearly better this year in large part because of his presence. They’re also better because of McNabb’s presence; PLEASE don’t cite statistics to me. McNabb’s a player. Is he an elite quarterback ala Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Brett Favre when healthy and not sending text messages he shouldn’t be sending? No. Those are first ballot, no-brainer Hall of Fame guys. Drew Brees may get there or he may not. McNabb is a full level down but he’s been very good and he’s still in the top half of NFL quarterbacks—which is why I thought Andy Reid was nuts to trade him within the division. It’s already cost him one game and may cost him another a week from Monday.
Shanahan took McNabb out because he was angry that he’d made a poor decision when throwing an interception and he was hoping Rex Grossman might, somehow (having not taken a snap all season) get lucky and put together a drive so Shanahan would look like a genius. Instead, he looked like a dope because the immobile Grossman was instantly sacked, fumbled and gave up a game-clinching touchdown. One play, end of story.
All Shanahan had to do afterwards was say, “I got upset with Donovan, I took a gamble and it backfired. I made a mistake.”
If he says that it’s a one-day story. Coaches make mistakes in the heat of the game all the time just like players do and officials do. They’re human. But Shanahan isn’t built to admit mistakes. He’s MIKE SHANAHAN and he’s never wrong. So, he first came out with some hoo-ha about McNabb not knowing the two minute terminology. No one bought that for a second. The next day it was about his cardiovascular ability to call two plays at once. Oh, and he was injured too; might not have played Sunday. Except he’d spent 58 minutes dodging the Lions rush because the Redskins offensive line STILL isn’t any good and all of a sudden he was injured? Please. Shanahan did everything but say, “I am not a crook.”
He’s not. But he IS a liar and a raging egomaniac. That said, if McNabb plays well enough for the Redskins to beat the Eagles, everyone in Washington will forgive him. If I’m McNabb, regardless of what happens the rest of the season, I’m on the first bus (okay, chartered airplane) out of town when the season’s over.
Moss doesn’t really deserve any space here because he’s a jerk and, at this point in time, he’s not that good a football player anymore. That’s why Bill Belichick was willing to let him go—talk about a steal, he got a third round pick for him and the Vikings got an embarrassing tirade aimed at some poor guy feeding the team in return—and why the Vikings didn’t put up with his insufferable behavior.
What got me this morning was hearing Chris Carter—or “CC,” as he’s known to the morning pitchmen—saying this: “Randy Moss is a man of principal.” Really, seriously? Here’s what’s more accurate: He’s a jerk who once upon a time could REALLY play. “CC,” also said Moss just can’t tolerate coaches who are ‘wishy-washy,’ and ‘don’t take responsibility when things go bad.’ You can say anything you want about Bill Belichick but wishy-washy? Doesn’t step up when things go bad? One of the morning PM’s (guess which one) acted like Carter had just found a cure for cancer after this, ‘analysis.’ My God. While I’m at my ESPN-bashing it was amazing to see one of the Hasselbeck’s (Elizabeth perhaps?) actually claiming that ‘the Shanahan’s,’ weren’t happy with McNabb’s practice habits. Gee, wonder where he heard that—as if it is at all relevant. Is there ANYONE in the NFL these ESPN guys won’t be apologists for?
And, briefly on Tiger Woods and number one: It REALLY doesn’t matter. The World Rankings are bogus the way they’re calculated and all that matters is when Woods wins his next major. If he wins in Malaysia this week and goes back to No. 1, that’s fine. There should also be a rule that you can’t be No. 1 in the world unless you’ve won at least one major.
Last, but certainly not least: Sparky Anderson. I won’t claim to know him well but I spent a lot of time with him in 1992 when I was writing my first baseball book, “Play Ball.” Sparky was a modern-day Casey Stengel: a great manager; he won World Series in both leagues and managed two of the great teams of the last 50 years: the ’75 and ’76 Reds and the ’84 Tigers who started 35-5 and never looked back.
Sparky loved to tell stories, one of the things that makes it even sadder that he’s dealing with dementia at the age of 76. He was funny and he loved having people sit around his office so he could entertain them. In that sense he was a bit like Tommy Lasorda but Lasorda had a mean streak Sparky never had. In fact, Sparky liked going out of his way to point out good things about people.
Early in the ’92 season the Tigers came to Baltimore for a four game series and got swept, which turned out to be the beginning of an awful season. I had met Sparky during spring training and we had agreed to get together that weekend. When I walked in to his office Friday night, I wondered if he’d remember. He did. “How about two o’clock tomorrow,” he said. That early for a 7 o’clock game I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “You said you wanted some time, right?”
He was there right on the dot of 2 o’clock and talked for almost three hours. One person he brought up during the conversation was Johnny Oates, who was managing the Orioles.
“That kid, (Sparky called almost everyone kid) is a hell of a manager and a hell of a guy,” he said. “He had us way down last night. He’s got a young team, they probably want to pile it on. He wouldn’t do it. He’s up 8-1, he’s not running anybody, he’s just playing to get the game over. That’s a pro. He’s one of the good ones.”
I was lucky enough to get to know Johnny Oates quite well that season. He WAS a hell of a guy. And a good manager. Sparky was also a hell of a manager and one of the true good guys.