Monday, August 30, 2010

US Open – still awed by the world’s best, taking my annual trip today; Thanks for the suggestions

Today I make my annual trip to The U.S. Open. That’s tennis and when I say annual I mean one day and one day only. I’ve actually been to every Open since 1980, but in recent years I’ve limited my trip to one day, except a few years ago when I was researching, ‘Vanishing Act,’—my second kids mystery—and spent a couple of extra days so I could refamiliarize myself with the grounds again.

I go now really more out of habit than for any other reason. I go to see Bud Collins and Mary Carillo; my former Tennis Magazine colleague Mark Preston—who now works for the USTA; my old pal Tom Ross (described in ‘Vanishing Act,’ as MY agent—actually he was Bobby Kelleher’s agent in the book but Bobby and I have a fair amount in common) and a few other tennis people I’ve known through the years.

If I get the chance, I’ll wander to the outside courts and try to find a match or two away from the madding crowds that I can watch quietly from close-up. I’m still awed by the skill of the world’s best players and enjoy watching them for a while from the close proximity you can have at some of the outside courts, but it has become harder and harder to find space out there through the years because the USTA will sell a ticket to anyone who might be wandering by on The Grand Central Parkway.

This is where I always get into trouble with the tennis geeks. (Geek is not a putdown word, I consider myself a sports Geek with a capital G; to me it just means you live and breathe something). I have been saying for years that tennis is a sport that has, for all intents and purposes, killed itself with horrific mismanagement.

Years ago, you couldn’t get anywhere near the U.S. Open unless you knew someone or had big corporate bucks. The number of media covering the Open (and Wimbledon for that matter) was well beyond the number covering ANY golf tournament and TV ratings, especially when the big boys or girls played one another, were superb. The Davis Cup was a huge event in this country and around the world and it seemed like there was tennis on network TV every week.

Quick, name this year’s Davis Cup semifinalists.

Now? Have you checked the money the USTA spends on trying to sell tickets these days? If the USTA had turned its advertising budget over to the banks or the car companies no bailouts would have been needed. Just check Sunday’s New York Times sports section for one small example of how much money gets spent. Oh sure, the USTA will announced ‘record crowds,’ when the tournament is over—it does every year—but those ‘records,’ are built on the sale of grounds tickets (a good idea which the USTA finally copied from Wimbledon a number of years ago) because, as I said, the USTA never limits those sales and, at least for the first week, those tickets are a great deal.

Arthur Ashe Stadium is much too big. The seats upstairs might as well be on Mars. Other than the outside courts, the best place to watch a match is still the old Grandstand Court, where you can practically sit on top of the players.

Here’s how far tennis has fallen: Saturday night, I was flipping around trying to get some quick scores before going to bed. I stopped on ESPN News because their crawl is usually a little less annoying than the other ESPN crawls since it contains less blatant advertising. As luck would have it, they were showing highlights of the Pilot Pen Finals from New Haven. Out of that, they went to a graphic showing the top four women’s seeds at The Open.

Serena Williams was listed as the No. 2 seed. Huh? She only withdrew two weeks ago and if she HADN’T she would have been the No. 1 seed. No, they didn’t accidentally put Serena’s name where Venus’s should have been because Venus was listed as the No. 3 seed. Since most of the ESPN News anchors can barely do more than read, the anchor blithely read off both Williams sisters names as the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds.

Shame, of course, on ESPN. But seriously, do you think the guy would have noticed if, say, Tiger Woods had been on a graphic as playing somewhere when he was out injured? Or Phil Mickelson?

(While I’m doing my ESPN-bashing thing, one of their radio update guys, I think his name is Kevin Winter, opened a Sunday morning segment by saying, “Four weeks until the end of baseball season…” PLEASE look at a calendar will you? October 3d is five weeks from yesterday.)

Back to tennis. Last year I dragged Tom Ross to an outside court to make him watch John Isner because I’d never seen Isner play up close. Ross, who has trouble sitting still UNLESS one of his clients is playing, was miserable, but I made him watch for two sets because I was enjoying myself.

There are certain things about covering tennis I truly miss. I loved wandering the outside courts the first week at any major looking for a match that would be a good story. I always loved being at Centre Court at Wimbledon. I loved the fact that there were no night matches in Paris or London.

What I didn’t love is what keeps me from making any kind of serious attempt to go back and cover it now: the lack of access to the players. Years ago, the one tennis tournament where you could walk into the locker room and talk to players was the U.S. Open. No more. That went away a few years ago. When my pal Pete Alfano and I were President and Vice President of the tennis writers, we tried desperately to open up access to players at tournaments. We even told the various people running tournaments that someday tennis might not be as popular as it was; that McEnroe and Connors and Lendl and Evert and Navratilova and Graf wouldn’t play forever.

The attitude of most people in tennis was summed up by an ATP Tour drone named Weller Evans, who managed to convert a Princeton education into a career as a glorified-racquet carrier: “It’s OUR locker room,” he said. “We’ll decide who goes in and who doesn’t.”

I said it then and I’ll say it now: “Weller, it’s guys like you who will kill the sport. It’s not YOUR locker room, it’s the player’s locker room yes, but it’s also the public’s because the only reason your players are making the money they make is because the public cares about them. For both better and worse we (the media) represent the public.”

Of course tennis has gone down the chute in the last 20 years even though there have been some truly great players: Federer, Nadal, the Williams sisters and others. People care about four weeks a year: Wimbledon, the Open and the last weekend (maybe) of The French and The Australian.

It shouldn’t be that way. Tennis at its best is wonderful to watch. I’m looking forward to getting the chance to watch up close for a few hours today. But when I leave tonight, it will be with no regrets. I’ve never liked trying to talk to athletes in interview rooms. Most of the time in tennis, that’s about all you get.

*****

I want to thank everyone who wrote in with suggestions for people to talk to for the new book. You brought up some very intriguing names and gave me a lot to think about. Dinner with Ivan Lendl, by the way, was great fun. I also watched him play for a little while that day and, even at 50, he can still crush the ball.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sports, for me, is a companion; Ivan Lendl; Working on new book – reader suggestions on it are welcome

The other night while I was watching the Cubs—minus Lou Piniella—maul the Nationals—minus Stephen Strasburg—my wife walked in, glanced at the television set and said to me: “Is there ever a day in your life where you say to yourself, ‘I just don’t want anything to do with sports?’

The question was semi-rhetorical but I got the point. Here’s the answer: No. Some might call it an addiction. Others might point out—correctly—that I need to track sports on a daily basis because of my job. But that’s really not it. In fact, in my 20s when I didn’t cover sports, I probably went to more games and watched more games than I do now. (Children are a factor in that too).

Sports, for me and I suspect many others, is a companion. On almost any day, regardless of the time of year, no matter what else might be going on in your life, sports is there. Sometimes just checking scores can provide escape from either the dullness of everyday life or the pressures of everyday life. As I’ve written before, I still vividly remember how happy I was to be able to watch Mets-Brewers highlights on the day of my heart surgery (even though the Mets lost) in part because I was alive to watch them but in part because they were a reminder that there were going to be games to watch during my recovery period at home.

I needed to know that. So perhaps I am addicted.

If so, there can be worse addictions. I don’t gamble on sports; never have and never wanted to. I get emotional about sports but not so much about who wins and who loses but who has a story worth telling. I guess in that sense, given what I do, I am different than a lot of people. That’s not to say I don’t care at all about ‘my,’ teams anymore. I still roll my eyes at the mediocrity of the Mets (not to mention their doctors) and, as history has proven, I can get wound up about Navy football. Army football too, as a matter of fact.

More often though, it is about individuals. That’s why I laugh when others in my business claim to be ‘objective.’ I make no such claims. Those posters who rip me every time I criticize Tiger Woods are right about one thing: I don’t like him. What they’re wrong about is when they speculate that it has something to do with him not talking to me (he doesn’t talk to anyone one-on-one except on TV to promote himself in some way or if he’s being paid—as Golf Digest does—for the time). Tiger has a perfect right not to speak to me. I was the first guy to criticize his dad publicly and he took that personally. As I’ve told him, I get that. What I don’t like about him is the way he treats people—whether it is kids seeking autographs; my colleagues asking reasonable questions or anyone NOT doing something FOR him. (That’s an Earl lesson by the way, do nothing for free).

That said, I almost gagged yesterday when a gossip columnist from The New York Post asked him TWICE if he still loved Elin. First of all, the question is irrelevant. Second, when he clearly ducked it (legitimately) the first time why the hell ask it a second time?

He started out this morning in his first round—first guy on the tee at 7:10 am because of his FedEx Cup ranking—by birdieing four of his first seven holes. That will start the, ‘Tiger’s back,’ stories again. He might very well win this week. Heck, he might even win the FedEx Cup. But it will still be a lost year in his mind because he didn’t win a major.

Anyway, back to individuals I’ve liked and disliked. Tonight, I’m having dinner with Ivan Lendl, who I covered extensively when I was The Washington Post’s tennis writer and when I wrote, ‘Hard Courts,’ back in 1991. I’m starting research on a book that will be keyed to the 25th anniversary of ‘A Season on the Brink,’ and I’m going back to talk to a lot of the people I’ve met along the way who I found either interesting or fun or challenging. The number one test for me in deciding who to track down is simple: How many times have people said to me, ‘so what became of ------.’ (If anyone has ideas or suggestions I’d love to hear them).

That means Chris Spitler, the unofficial hero of, ‘The Last Amateurs,’ will be in the book and so will quite a few players from ‘A Civil War,’—among, I hope, many others.

Lendl certainly qualifies. We had a very combustible relationship. I was very hard on him at times. He had a tendency to lose from ahead in big matches early in his career—particularly against John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. He turned that around completely when he came from two sets down against McEnroe in The French Open final in 1984 (McEnroe got into a fracas with the umpire in the third set and let it get to him) to win. From that point on he became a great competitor in big matches.

We battled often. When George Bush (the first) was pushing as Vice President to waive the five-year waiting period for citizenship so Lendl could play Davis Cup for the U.S. I was very much against it and said (wrote) so. Lendl saw it as a shot—which it really wasn’t, I just didn’t think you pushed aside the law in the name of winning a tennis competition—and we had it out a few times.

One night, after he had won a tight match from Connors in Washington, he was asked about a third set incident in which he had slammed his racquet.

“Well,” he said. “I figure no matter what I do John Feinstein is going to rip me so why not slam my racquet?”

It was a funny line but he wasn’t being funny. Eventually, because Lendl is at heart a good guy, we talked things out, agreed to disagree and, if you read, ‘Hard Courts,’ you can tell he cooperated with me on the book. When I tracked him down (with the help of one of the blog’s regular posters, so who says doing this is a waste of time?) for this book he said: “I just have one question. If you want to write about the most interesting people you’ve met, why are you calling me?”

I look forward to catching up with him tonight. Maybe someday I’ll do the same thing with Tiger. Then again, maybe not.

****

A brief note to a couple of angry posters: I didn’t rip Tiger for criticizing the greens at The PGA—it was at the U.S. Open. Hard to tell those two events apart I guess. Here’s a quote from that tournament after he called the greens, ‘ridiculous,’ the first day when he failed to make a birdie: “He’s whining. He needs to stop blaming the greens for his failures and go out and play golf.”

Pretty harsh, huh? There I went, Tiger-bashing again, huh? One problem: That line came from Tiger’s good friend Notah Begay. I was sitting next to him when he said it. Yes, other players were frustrated during the week as the greens got worse in dry weather. But they all said the same thing: this is what you get with poa annua greens. That’s what Tom Watson was saying on Sunday talking about how tough they were to putt.

And to the person who posted in regard to my referencing my own mistakes: “Um, the Duke soccer players?” Um, I believe you’re talking about LACROSSE players?

This week's radio segments (The Sports Reporters, Gas Man)

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week. Among the topics discussed was Elin Nordegren, The Barclays Classic, and the concern level around Stephen Strasburg.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters
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Also, I joined The Gas Man show on Wednesday evening in my normal 8:25 ET spot. In this segment we discussed the Jim Furyk situation, among other things.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man
.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why is it so hard for people in sports—and in life—to simply say, “I blew it?”

I was in my car on Sunday morning en route to my first swim meet since the heart surgery (I was very pleased with my butterfly swims; not so happy with my god-awful freestyle) and I happened to come upon a local golf show here in Washington hosted by Steve Czaban, whose weekday show I appear on once a week.

As luck would have it, Czaban and his co-hosts—local golf pros—were interviewing a guy from The Middle Atlantic PGA about—you guessed it—the ending of The PGA. If I remembered his name I’d used it, but I don’t. The guy was basically blathering The PGA’s company line about how David Price did nothing wrong in not making sure Dustin Johnson knew he was in a bunker on that fateful 18th hole at goofy Whistling Straits nine days ago.

I’m not here to go over that whole mess yet again. I’ve made my position—which is backed up by most professional rules officials—clear and I’ve tried to clear up a lot of the factual inaccuracies that have been bandied about since the incident occurred: that rules officials aren’t supposed to give players warnings about potential rules violations (wrong); that not all groups at the PGA have rules officials walking with them (wrong) and that there was no change in the PGA of America’s approach to those bunkers in 2010 from 2004 (wrong, many were designated waste areas in 2004. That was a mistake repeated by this rules guy on Sunday).

My point here is this: Why is it so hard for people in sports—and in life—to simply say, “I blew it?” I make mistakes all the time. I have a bad habit, because I have a good memory, of not double-checking facts I THINK I know and sometimes I get it wrong. But that’s not really the kind of mistake I’m talking about. You CAN’T argue when you get the facts wrong. If I say Alfonso Soriano hit the home run to put the Yankees up 2-1 in game seven of the 2001 World Series in the ninth inning when he hit it in the eighth inning (as I once did, I would have SWORN it was the ninth) I’m wrong—no ifs ands or buts.

The kind of mistake I’m talking about is the one Price made. Or, on a much broader level the kind Roger Clemens made—not just screaming he’d never used steroids but swearing under oath he’d never used steroids. You see umpires in baseball do it all the time: they blow a call, they KNOW they’ve blown the call and so they overreact when someone argues and toss the guy from the game—making their mistake even worse. Recently I saw an umpire toss Ryan Zimmerman for throwing his bat down after striking out swinging. Zimmerman never looked back so he didn’t ‘show up,’ the umpire but got tossed anyway. Why? Because the ump, apparently reading Zimmerman’s mind, knew Zimmerman was upset about a 3-1 pitch he thought was ball four.

I still remember when I was researching, ‘Living on the Black,’ seeing an umpire named Tony Randazzo miss a call at first base by a full step—a much worse call than the one Jim Joyce made earlier this year to cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game. When Mets manager Willie Randolph came out of the dugout, largely to keep Tom Glavine from getting tossed from the game (Glavine, who might have argued five calls in 23 years) he said to Randazzo, “look Tony, just tell me you missed it and I’ll go back in the dugout.”

Randazzo began screaming at Randolph that he had NOT missed it and ended up ejecting Randolph. The next day, knowing Randazzo would have had the chance to see the replay, I knocked on the door of the umpires room and asked to speak to Randazzo. He wouldn’t even come to the door to talk to me.

That’s the opposite, as we all know, of the approach Joyce took. He saw the tape and instantly said he’d blown it, even went to find Galarraga to apologize. So what happened? Joyce almost became a heroic figure for simply saying, “I got it wrong, I’m sorry.”

Sure it’s tough to look in the mirror and know you’ve screwed up—especially in public—but admitting it is always the best way to go. My worst public mistake, as many if not most people know (God knows I get reminded about it enough) came during a Navy-Duke football game five years ago. The officiating was brutal—so bad that Navy Coach Paul Johnson after WINNING the game chased the officials off the field) and I—inexcusably, regardless of the circumstances, muttered ‘f------ referees,’ after an especially bad call, somehow forgetting I was on the air.

As soon as I realized what I’d done, I pulled myself off the air, found Eric Ruden, who runs the Navy radio network, told him what happened and offered to go on the air and resign. Both Ruden and Navy AD Chet Gladchuk said absolutely not, so I compromised and went back on and apologized. That was not—as Eric and Chet had said—‘the end of it;’—they had to fend off calls from some in the media that week wanting to know why I wasn’t going to be suspended.

“John made a mistake, he offered to resign and then he apologized on the air within minutes of the incident,” Eric told the AP that week. “We don’t need to do anything more.”

For the most part, people said and wrote that I should be given credit for instantly apologizing. To me, it was the only thing to do. Saying the refs were brutal would have just been excuse-making. It didn’t matter. I was un-professional.

How would people have reacted if Clemens had admitted what he’d done and said he was sorry the day after the Mitchell Report came out in 2007? They would have ended up cheering him for being man enough to admit he had behaved badly. Heck, look at how Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez have been treated for ‘confessing.’

In 1993 a freshman Navy kicker named Ryan Bucchianeri missed an 18-yard-field goal in a driving rain at the buzzer that would have won the Army-Navy game. He didn’t hide from the media when the game was over, he stood up and said, ‘I lost the game.’ He refused excuses offered him—wet field, wet ball, rain in his face. He became a national hero to the point where Sports Illustrated did a nine-page story on him the next fall.

On the other hand there’s the newly-single Tiger Woods, who stalled and hid and then refused to take questions when he finally made a public appearance almost three months after he piled his car into a fire hydrant. Everything he’s done this year in public has been part of a strategy to get sponsors back. If you think you’ve seen any genuine remorse or sorrow, you’re just wrong. He’s sorry he got caught and that’s it. The public knows that which is why there might be many who want to see him be a great golfer again but there are few who sympathize with him on any level. If he’d REALLY been sorry and said so and acted that way—rather than blaming everyone else most of the time—people would not have condoned what he did but would have been more forgiving.

The same goes on a totally different level for David Price and The PGA of America. If Price had said when it was all over, “you know hindsight is 20-20 but I wish I’d said something to Dustin—especially given what happened,”—that would have been pretty much the end of it. The mistake would still be there, but Price would be remembered for grace under pressure (like Joyce) after an officiating mistake. Now, as the PGA and guys like the Middle Atlantic PGA guy continue to make mealy-mouthed excuses, the entire PGA looks bad.

From bad can come good. But not until you admit to your mistake.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Wide-ranging morning ---- Haynesworth, Strasburg, Zack Bolno, US Open tennis, Arjun Atwal, and the last note on rules officials

There was a lot going on this past weekend in sports. Lou Piniella retired. Vin Scully did not. (Thank God). Stephen Strasburg felt a twinge in his arm and everyone in Washington writhed in pain. Roger Federer won a tennis tournament. Serena Williams and defending men’s champion Juan Martin Del Potro withdrew from the U.S. Open. Fred Funk won an alleged major on The Senior Tour. (Are there any events on that tour that AREN’T ‘majors?’). Arjun Atwal, who was involved in a fatal accident in Florida three years ago won on The PGA Tour, the first player since Fred Wadsworth in 1986 to come through a Monday qualifier just to get IN to the tournament and then win.

Oh, and Albert Haynesworth is whining—which was apparently enough reason for the Washington Redskins to fire their PR guy on Sunday.

What a world.

Let’s start with the ridiculous—which is always the NFL team here in Washington. The Redskins should have conceded the folly of signing Haynesworth before training camp even started. It’s not as if Haynesworth was the first god-awful Dan Snyder free-agent signing, he was just the most recent and the most expensive. The minute Haynesworth refused to show up for mini-camps (or OTA’s or whatever the NFL calls them) that should have been a clear sign that he learned nothing from his embarrassing season a year ago, could care less about his teammates and was going to try to battle Mike Shanahan’s authority. Last I looked, Shanahan has pretty good credentials as both an authority-figure and as a coach.

We all know what’s gone on since. Haynesworth couldn’t pass the conditioning test he was required to take when he finally showed up for camp. He finally passed and began working out—occasionally. Then last week he didn’t work out, refused to speak to the media and the team said he had headaches. After he didn’t play until the second half in Saturday’s exhibition game, he whined that the team wasn’t telling the truth about his headaches and that he should have started the game.

I have two words for Haynesworth: SHUT UP. I have two words for the Redskins: CUT HIM. Sure, they’re going to take a huge financial hit but there’s an old saying about being penny-wise (okay in this case $21 million-wise) and pound foolish. The Redskins are trying to be good again; trying to get past all the embarrassments of recent seasons. This guy is a pox, who is likely to be unproductive. The sooner the Redskins get rid of him, the sooner the team can move on and focus on the future.

In the meantime, after Haynesworth mouthed off on Saturday, Redskins PR director Zack Bolno got fired on Sunday. For the past two years, most people who have to cover the team will tell you Bolno has been a voice of reason and (gasp) cooperation in a sea of stonewalling built by Snyder, former GM Vinny Cerrato and martinet-bully PR guy Karl Swanson. Cerrato and Swanson are finally gone but Bolno is being made the scapegoat for SOMETHING and it is clearly the team’s loss. Of course if the team wins, no one other than the people who know Zach (I got to know him when he was the Wizards PR director) will care.

The other Washington story is, of course, Strasburg. When he clutched his arm after pitching 4 and one-third shutout innings in Philadelphia on Saturday, you couldn’t help but go, ‘Oh God no, here comes surgery.’ It is now likely that bullet has been dodged but the Nats are also likely to shut him down for the rest of the season. After all WHY take any risk with him? The team is going nowhere, he’s proven he can pitch very well at the big league level already. The only reason to pitch him at all would be ticket sales and the Nats are smarter than that. If you pitch him now and God Forbid something happens, you will regret sending him out there forever.

On the tennis front: I think there’s a very good chance Roger Federer is going to win another U.S. Open. Del Potro has been hurt most of the year, so his withdrawal is no surprise. Rafael Nadal, as always seems to happen this time of year, is struggling on U.S. hard courts. Andy Roddick has had a so-so summer at best. In fact, the hottest player on tour this summer has been Mardy Fish, who lost a very good three set match to Federer in Cincinnati yesterday after beating Roddick for the second time in the last few weeks in the semifinals. For once, the Open is wide open. Someone like Novak Djokovic could get hot or Roddick could get on a roll in front of the New York fans.

As for the women, I don’t know, I think Chris Evert is the favorite now. Maybe Martina Navratilova or Steffi Graf? With Serena Williams out—foot surgery after she stepped on some glass—Venus Williams having been invisible all summer, Maria Sharapova who-knows-where with her game, Justine Henin out hurt (again) and defending champion Kim Clijsters looking shaky ANYONE can win. Billie Jean King maybe. Now that would be a story.

Arjun Atwal is a remarkable comeback story—sort of. Certainly coming back from injuries that caused him to lose his PGA Tour card and to go through a Monday qualifier—players call it a ‘four-spotter,’ because there are four spots in the field open, often with more than 100 players trying for them—to win his first tour event is remarkable.

But Atwal’s story is a little murkier than that. He had made a very good living playing around the world after leaving India as a teen-ager and had moved to Orlando, where he often played at Isleworth with Tiger Woods. On a March afternoon in 2007, after playing nine holes with Woods and John Cook, he was driving home on county road 535 when a car—driven, as it turned out by another Isleworth resident—fell in behind Atwal.

The police believe to this day that Atwal and the man began racing. Apparently CR 535 was infamous for street racing. Atwal has admitted to going 85 miles per hour. The police say it was more like 94. The other man apparently got up close to 100. Both lost control on a curve. Atwal lived. The other man did not. Police wanted to charge Atwal with vehicular homicide but the Florida attorney general decided that making a case in court that Atwal was the CAUSE of the accident would be difficult.

There seems to be little doubt that Atwal was guilty of stupidity and was incredibly lucky to live and not go to trial—or to jail. He has told other reporters that as bad as he feels about what happened he knows he “did nothing wrong.” Maybe he’s talking—as instructed by his lawyers—about the death of Mr. Park, the other driver. Clearly he DID do something wrong based on the speed he was going so it is difficult to make his win on Sunday as much of a feel-good story as it might otherwise be.

I mean, good for him, hanging in through the injuries and the Monday qualifiers and the guilt he must feel after the accident. But, on a wholly different level, like his friend Woods, Atwal must bear some responsibility for the difficulties he went through after his accident. Totally different story—obviously—in fact one far more tragic.

*****

One final note: I couldn’t help but notice that some posters STILL think that there are waking rules officials only with SOME groups at majors championships. That is flat out wrong: At the U.S. Open, British Open and the PGA every group for all four days is assigned a walking rules official. The Masters does not assign a walking rules official to ANY group because of its tradition that no one goes inside the ropes except caddies, players and TV camera and sound men. Dustin Johnson had NO advantage over anyone on the golf course last Sunday. In fact, he had a disadvantage because David Price, his rules official, failed to warn him he was in a bunker as a good official would have done. I am really tired of hearing the apologists say he wasn’t ‘obligated,’ to do so. No he wasn’t. Often in life what is right is not what you are obligated to do it.

Even if you disagree with that opinion, let’s keep our facts straight. Everyone had a walking rules official that day. Johnson just drew the short straw when he was assigned Price.

Friday, August 20, 2010

More insights on Clemens, the steroids issue; Follow-up on the comments on the PGA Championship

Tom Boswell’s column in this morning’s Washington Post is worth reading because he makes important points about great athletes believing they will always be believed—no matter what they say—and about how often he saw Roger Clemens do good things during his long (too long as it turns out) Major League career.

I didn’t know Clemens as long or as well as Boz did but my experiences with him were similar. The very first time I met him was in the visiting clubhouse at Camden Yards in Baltimore in 1992. I was working on my first baseball book and I was on crutches because I had torn my Achilles heel. A few minutes before Clemens showed up in the clubhouse, I’d been sitting on a chair up against a wall so I wouldn’t be in anyone’s way while I waited for Clemens to arrive—I’d been told he was coming on the team bus, unusual in itself for a superstar—with my crutches standing against the wall next to me.

Jody Reed, then the Red Sox second baseman, walked by, glanced at me and the crutches, and said, “You better make sure those things don’t fall and trip someone.”

Feeling fine Jody, thanks for your concern.

A few minutes later Clemens arrived and walked to his locker. I stood up, grabbed the crutches—which somehow had not fallen and created the havoc Reed envisioned—and hobbled over to introduce myself to Clemens.

“What happened to you?” he asked as we shook hands.

I told him it had been one of those fluke old guy injuries—I wasn’t THAT old at the time but what the heck—and he nodded, took a few steps to his right and grabbed an extra chair. “Sit down and tell me what you need,” he said. As I did, he took the crutches and put them behind him in his locker.

When I told him I was doing a book on baseball and wanted to chat with him at some point he shrugged and said, “sure, no problem.”

To make this long story a little shorter, we talked for a couple of hours the next day, then resumed the conversation in Boston a couple of weeks later. On that day, when it was time for the clubhouse to be close to the media, Clemens walked me outside the clubhouse and sat on the back steps for another 45 minutes so we could finish up. (I was off the crutches by then, much to Jody Reed’s relief no doubt).

I never once encountered him over the next 15 years when he wasn’t cordial or available if I asked. When he came back to the Yankees in 2007, I was working on my book on Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina and he jokingly asked if I’d chosen Mussina because he knew so many big words.

In short, like Boswell, I like Roger Clemens.

But I wasn’t the least bit surprised—nor was anyone else in baseball—when his name showed up in The Mitchell Report in 2007. To quote one of his former teammates, “if he’s not taking steroids then he must be from another planet.”

His numbers were just too outrageous to be believed—not unlike Barry Bonds, except for this: Clemens was in decline when he left Boston in 1996 at the age of 34. He’d thrown a lot of innings and dealt with a lot of injuries. That’s one reason the Red Sox let him leave. Then, as we all know, Brian McNamee came into his life and he miraculously turned his year around in 1998. In 1999—without McNamee—he had a mediocre year in New York. After that, McNamee was hired by the Yankees and the miracles began—a 20-3 record in 2001 at the age of 39 and then, most unbelievably an ERA of 1.87 in 2005 in Houston the summer he turned 43.

I watched, like everyone else, in awe and wonder. As usual, there were people who used the, “no one works out like Roger Clemens,” excuse—the same one heard about Bonds and Sosa and McGwire and other miracles of human nature. No one doubts that. But there’s a REASON why players approaching 40 can continue to push their bodies so hard and, unfortunately, it isn’t Gatorade.

The day Clemens testified before Congress along with McNamee in 2008 was painful. As committee chairman Henry Waxman said in conclusion: SOMEONE was lying. And, while you might have chosen Clemens over McNamee given McNamee’s sleazy background and the fact that he’d provided information only to stay out of jail, you weren’t going to choose Clemens over his pal Andy Pettitte. If Pettitte was ever going to lie it would have been to protect Clemens. But he didn’t. He told the committee Clemens had told him he had taken HGH.

Game, set, match.

I don’t believe Clemens will go to jail. Neither will Bonds, who seems to have found his way to a judge in San Francisco who is going to rule out any testimony that might convict him. But in the big picture it doesn’t matter. They’re both disgraced forever in the eyes of the public. In all likelihood, neither will ever be in the Hall of Fame and they will always be looked upon as cheaters. The sad thing is both had Hall of Fame careers before they got involved with steroids. They just wanted more.

In the grand scheme of things, baseball’s nightmare just goes on and on. Bud Selig and the players’ union (and the media—we aren’t innocent in this either) buried their head in the mid and late 90s when it started to become abundantly clear that players were growing at alarming rates and singles hitters were hitting opposite field home runs on a regular basis. It’s smaller ballparks, better workout regimens, better lights, lousy relief pitching. There were enough theories to fill Yankee Stadium.

None were true. Here’s what was true and I know I’ve told this story before but it is so apt it bears repeating. Ron Darling remembers arriving in Oakland after a trade in 1991 and being struck by how different the clubhouse was after games there than it had been during his Mets days in the mid-80s.

“With the Mets we came into the clubhouse after a game and went right to the food,” he said. “Then we showered, got dressed and went out for the night. In Oakland, guys came in, changed into shorts and a T-shirt and went to the weight room. Every night. After a while it occurred to me that it was just about impossible to work out that hard, that often in-season without some kind of help.”

We all know now what kind of help those A’s, led by McGwire and Jose Canseco, were getting.

I like Roger Clemens. I like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro—and no doubt plenty of other steroid users. But they cheated the game. They damaged themselves. And they have left a taint on the sport that won’t go away anytime soon.

*****

I try to read the posts on the blog at least a couple of times a week because they are often smart, informative and funny. Sometimes I disagree with them but that’s fine too.

That said there were a few posts in response to the blog Tuesday about the fiasco at The PGA Championship that simply made no sense to me. To begin with, some people clearly didn’t READ what I wrote. I didn’t exonerate Dustin Johnson at all, I said he was ultimately responsible (for those of you who need help with vocabulary that means final) for his fate. I also said that AFTER TALKING TO OTHER RULES OFFICIALS it was clear to me that David Price should have said something to Johnson about being in a bunker. His defenders say he was not OBLIGATED to do so. They’re right.

There are two kinds of officials in sports—pro-active ones who try to prevent athletes from committing penalties or violations—simple example as mentioned by one poster when a basketball referee tells a player, “you can’t move,” before an inbounds play. Does the player know that 99 times out of 100? Of course. The official is trying to avoid the 100th time. The same is true when football officials warn players they’re close to getting called for holding. Or even when a good official—unlike short-tempered baseball umpires—says to a coach or manager, “that’s enough,” before he tees him up or tosses him from a game.

Price chose not to be pro-active as every rules official I spoke to told me they would have been: “Dustin, you know under local rule you’re in a bunker.” That simple. As one very experienced official said: “there was nothing bad that could come from him saying that.” Plenty of bad, as we know, could come from not saying it, from saying, ‘I’m not obligated to say anything.’

To the guy who wanted to lecture me on the job of USGA officials: those were PGA of America officials out there. To the guy who has played in ‘high-level,’ competition and thus knows more golf than I do—call me when you’re in the last group of a major. In the meantime, ask real rules officials what they would have done in that situation. They’ve done it in a lot higher competition than you’ve played in. And finally to the guy who says I’m a ‘disgrace to sportswriting,’ for taking Price to task—really? Are you his brother, dad, son—or wife? If thinking David Price screwed up Sunday is the most disgraceful thing I ever do as a sportswriter I will have had one hell of a career.

And for those who want to write in today and say, ‘gee John, aren’t you being sensitive today,’—maybe. I have no problem with anyone disagreeing with me or with pointing out when I’m wrong—which is often. But at least read what I’ve written before you go off.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Washington Post Op-Ed: Roger Clemens's indictment continues baseball's sorry saga

The indictment of Roger Clemens on Thursday for lying to Congress about alleged steroid use isn't the end of this saga. It's just another sad chapter.

Every few weeks, it seems, baseball is embarrassed yet again by news that a superstar cheated the game and lied about cheating the game. The news emerges in different ways: Alex Rodriguez, who recently became the seventh player in major-league history to hit 600 home runs, was outed in a book in the winter of 2009, then went on television to explain. Mark McGwire, the first player to hit 70 home runs in a season, tearfully admitted his drug use this past winter because he wanted to work again in Major League Baseball (as the St. Louis Cardinals hitting instructor). Pitcher Andy Pettitte, winner of 240 games in the major leagues, fessed up before spring training in 2008 after being named in the Mitchell Report on steroid use.

And so the list goes on.

Click here for the rest of the column: Roger Clemens: Another fallen giant

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

Thursday morning joined Tony Kornheiser for his newest version of The Tony Kornheiser Show at 11:05 ET.  Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week. Among the topics discussed was the story of me flying back to DC between the French and Wimbledon tournaments back when I worked for The National, and this week we were able to get on tape Tony agreeing with me on the PGA Championship wrongs.

Click here to listen to the segment (starts approx 10 mins in): Tony Kornheiser Show

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Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's).   This week we started out with a discussion on the Redskins, and their past head coaches, and this years 'new' Redskins, and obviously we discussed the various wrongs that were made on Sunday at Whistling Straits.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

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Also, I joined The Gas Man show on Wednesday evening in my normal 8:25 ET spot.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

As the world goes ‘round – Favre, LeBron back for headlines

So Brett Favre and LeBron James are back in the news today. Sort of.

I mean let’s be honest, Favre deciding to play football this season ranks up there with the sun rising in the east and ESPN trying to claim that tomorrow being Thursday is an exclusive story when it comes to being newsworthy.

The funny thing is I never really pictured this guy as the world’s biggest diva until the past few years. He was always the rugged quarterback who took every hit, got up and kept playing. Now he’s still rugged and takes hit, he just likes to have people fawn over him and plead with him not to retire each offseason. He craves attention the way I crave John’s Pizza. (New York City, the best there is. Okay, now I’ve made myself hungry).

This time three teammates actually had to fly to Mississippi to go to Favre’s farm on bended knee and beg him to come back. Are you kidding me? Look, I don’t blame the Vikings. Favre was a major reason—Adrian Peterson might have been a factor too although that’s often overlooked—they were about two plays from reaching the Super Bowl last year. The other quarterbacks they have on the roster might get them to the playoffs because Peterson’s still there and the rest of the team is very solid, but they aren’t going anywhere in the postseason without a quality quarterback—which Favre probably still is even at 41.

But the diva act really rankles. As with Tiger Woods, Favre clearly isn’t getting very good advice. He’s gone from being one of the most respected figures in football to a punch line (for reasons, obviously, entirely different than Woods). The whole Hamlet thing wore thin a couple of years ago and yet he’s continued it with no sign of any real self-awareness about it. Yes, he did do that commercial where he pokes fun at himself for indecision, I give him credit for that. But, not surprisingly, what did that involve: getting attention and making money. Clearly, that’s what Favre is all about.

Of course as long as he performs few people are going to care. That’s how divas get to be divas. They’re so good at what they do that they’re allowed their foibles because the price paid for putting up with them is worth it. Certainly all the garbage Favre put the Vikings through last summer proved worth it once he got on the field. Clearly they are counting on the same thing happening this fall.

Favre better be aware of one thing though: If he doesn’t perform, whether because of an injury or age finally catching up with him, he’s going to get jumped on. Years ago Bob Knight said this to me: “I know as long as I win, people around here will say I’m eccentric. If I ever stop winning, they’ll say I’m an embarrassment.”

Knight stopped making Final Fours at Indiana in 1992. By 1999, he was vulnerable enough that Myles Brand could get away with firing him. If he’d been to a Final Four in, say, 1998, Brand wouldn’t have dared.

So Favre better crank up the arm and win a bunch of games or he might find himself booed off the stage.

The same is going to be true of James. If by some chance the Miami Heat aren’t dominant, if he gags in the playoffs the way he did the last two years in Cleveland, he will be a laughing stock around the country—except of course on ESPN where Stuart Scott will no doubt still pay homage to The King at every turn—and he won’t be The God of South Beach.

Whether he wins or not, it was certainly amusing to read one quote from the interviewed release by, I think, Gentleman’s Quarterly yesterday. In it, James shoots back at Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who ripped him after he left for Miami. Look, James is entitled to shoot back, Gilbert got after him in a way I have never seen an owner go after a player. While I sympathized with Gilbert and everyone in Cleveland, James is certainly entitled to tell his side.

But when James says, “I don’t think he ever cared about LeBron,” how can you not crack up?

There it is folks, the prototype 21st century athlete, talking about himself in the third person and criticizing an owner for not CARING about him? If you want to say, “I didn’t think Gilbert’s comments were fair to ME because of ------“ (you fill in the blank) that’s fine. But owners don’t care about athletes, they pay them to win. I’m always amused when I hear players and owners talk about how close they are to one another. They should talk to Knight because he’ll straighten them out. As long as the player performs the owner will ‘care,’ about them. As soon as he stops, the owner will talk about how much he cares about him while he’s cutting him or trading him. And if another owner wants to show a player how much he ‘cares,’ about him by giving him a better deal, the player will be gone the next day. He may or may not stage an infomercial to announce it. (One question: Has anyone figured out why James put on his act in Greenwich yet? Did he feel safe in a community that has lots of people in his tax bracket? Haven’t figured it out yet).

I wonder how much the Wilpon family ‘cared,’ about Francisco Rodriguez before he tore up his thumb punching out his girlfriend’s father last week? Right now they care so much they’re trying not to have to pay him ever again. They aren’t wrong to be as angry as they clearly are but I don’t think K-Rod should tell someone, “I don’t think the Wilpons ever cared about K-Rod.”

Actually maybe he should—because he’d be right.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Unfair to Kaymer, but he is not the story of the week – it’s the course, rules official and Dustin Johnson

Honestly, I don’t mind the driving—as I’ve said before I kind of enjoy it—but it can make the return trip feel pretty long when you have a lot to do when you get home. But I’m at last home from Whistling Straits.

Let me pause here to mention Martin Kaymer, the PGA champion, a guy who has a chance to become a real star. I mention him here because that’s the last time I’m going to mention him today because, unfairly, he’s not the story of the week.

Anyway…On Sunday night I left a message for Frank Nobilo and Brandel Chamblee, my colleagues at Golf Channel (since I wasn’t on the postgame show except for an essay): “I told you it was a goofy golf course!”

Brandel, Frank and I had spent a good deal of time arguing about Whistling Straits during the week. It wasn’t as if they loved it, but they defended it on the grounds that it brought all sort of different players into the mix. My friend Paul Goydos said this about that: “Any golf course can bring different kind of players into the mix. The difference is, on most golf courses today, the bombers have more margin for error and can recover from mistakes more easily.”

I also pointed out that no one on earth thought much of Valhalla as a golf course and it produced one of the great PGA finishes ever: The Tiger Woods-Bob May playoff in 2000. You couldn’t find two players more different but there they were. Did that make Valhalla a great golf course? No.

My complaint with the place has always been the same: Herb Kohler told Pete Dye to spare no expense to create a golf course that looked like Scotland or Ireland in Wisconsin. Fine. Except it doesn’t play anything LIKE a links. It plays like a regular old American target golf course. When both the USGA and PGA of America began looking at it as a possible site they were both told there was one major potential problem: morning fog. So why was ANYONE surprised when the first two days were delayed by fog. Heck, from what I was told by the locals—the ones in Sheboygan were very friendly—they were lucky not to have fog every day given the heat and humidity (not to mention the mosquitoes. The local Target ran OUT of bug spray by Wednesday).

And then there were the goofy bunkers. Kohler, who has an ego the size of Wisconsin, wanted more bunkers than anyone had ever built on a golf course. Well, you can only put in so many that are actually in play unless you simply create a beach with tees and greens at either end for each hole. So, Pete Dye put in bunches of bunker way right and way left on most holes—essentially out of play but not ALWAYS out of play.

The only way for spectators to get around the golf course at all was to walk THROUGH the bunkers. In 2004, the PGA made some of those bunkers waste areas, others bunkers. It created confusion, especially when Stuart Appleby thought he was in a waste area when he was, in fact, in a bunker and committed two violations—laying his club down and grounding his club. So, to be consistent, the PGA this time around said they’re ALL bunkers. It posted that fact on the local rules sheet in the locker room—I remember reading it Wednesday and thinking, ‘jeez, I’d hate to see someone land in a footprint with the tournament on the line,’—and even made that comment on-air at one point.

In fact, that didn’t occur. Something worse did. Let’s briefly review who screwed up after Dustin Johnson blew his tee shot to the right at the 18th hole on Sunday: How about everyone?

There’s no excuse at all for Johnson not having read the local rules sheet. Or at the very least for his caddy not to have read it and have it in his bag. Local rules sheets are not only posted in locker rooms every week, they’re on the first tee when players show up to play. The starter puts out a table that usually has tees on it; pin sheets; snacks AND the local rules sheet. In fact, if there’s something new or unusual—like a new water hazard on a course that might be staked in a way that could be confusing—the starter might make a point of saying, ‘be sure to read the rule about the new hazard on No. 12.’

Johnson and his caddy messed up by not having read the sheet. Ultimately, a player is responsible for knowing the rules and if he has any doubt there are rules officials who can answer any questions.

Which brings us to David Price. Just for background here is how rules officials work at major championships (other than the Masters) that’s different than a regular tour event. At tour events, there are anywhere from eight-to-ten fulltime rules officials who roam the golf course in carts. If someone needs a ruling, they get a call on the radio, drive to the spot and help the player out. The players trust them implicitly about 99 percent of the time because this is what they do for a living.

At The U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship, there is a walking rules official with each group. At the U.S. Open on the last two days the last 10 groups also have an ‘observer,’—also a rules official—whose job it is to stay ahead of the play to warn the rules person that there may be a problem. If he sees Tiger Woods’ ball lying on a TV cable, he will radio back to say, ‘Woods’s ball is on a TV cable,’ so the rules official knows he needs to go there to tell Woods his options. Or he might let him know someone’s ball is in a hazard or out-of-bounds.

The walking rules official with the Johnson-Nick Watney group on Sunday was Price, a club pro from Texas. Most of the rules officials at the majors are NOT fulltime rules officials. They’re men and women who have other jobs, who have passed a rules test and who take off three or more weeks a year to work at golf tournaments.

Through the years I’ve met a lot of them. I liked most of them. They’re golf nuts, who love the game and love to tell stories about the work they’ve done and the people (players) they’ve met through the years. They’re volunteers at this so all credit to them.

Price is both experienced and respected. He’s co-chairman of The PGA of America rules committee along with Mark Wilson and he’s walked with the last group on Sunday at the last six PGA’s. It is fair to say he knows his stuff.

And he blew it on Sunday.

On Monday, I talked to five different rules officials I know well. Here’s the synopsis of what they all said: “Officiating 101—when a players hits a ball into a crowd you go there RIGHT AWAY. You have to establish the state of the ball. Did it hit someone? Did it get stepped on? Is it on someone’s lap? Under someone’s chair? In a hazard?.” Next step: “Make sure the player knows you’re there. His mind can be anywhere at that moment. Let him know you’re there to help AND if he’s in a hazard, REMIND HIM.’ Usually those last two words apply to water, where a spot might be red-staked but it is a little more than a ditch and a player’s ball may be on dry land but still in the hazard. “Usually what you say is something like, ‘now you know you’re in the hazard,’ said one—‘even though 99 times out of 100 they know. You don’t want the 100th time to become a disaster.’

In this case it was even more important for Price to say something to Johnson. He was intent on many different things: clearing space so he could play a shot; getting a yardage; figuring out what the best play was; trying to calm himself down with a chance to win the PGA. When Johnson asked Price to help get the crowd moved ALL Price had to do was say, ‘you’ve got it Dustin. By the way, remember under the local rule here, you’re in a bunker even though people have walked there and there’s no rake.”

That’s ALL he had to do. But he didn’t do it. He just walked away. On Monday, Price told ESPN-Dallas (I hate to credit them but fair is fair) that Johnson had asked him a couple of bunker-related questions (involving bunkers INSIDE the ropes) earlier in the round and, thus, he didn’t feel the need to remind him he couldn’t ground his club.

“All he had to do was ask me,” Price said.

That is, to put it very politely, a bunch of hooey. All HE had to do was tell him. Johnson’s knowledge of the rules in a hazard wasn’t at issue his knowledge that he was IN a hazard was at issue. Question for the self-righteous Mr. Price: What damage would have been done if you HAD taken five seconds to tell him? The damage done by NOT telling him is there for all of us to see.

Price should thank God—or whomever he prays to—that Johnson didn’t make his par putt. As it is this is only the worst golf debacle since Roberto DiVincenzo signed for the wrong score knocking himself out of a playoff with Bob Goalby at the 1968 Masters. Goalby, by the way, never thought he was treated with the respect due a Masters champion. But then he was pretty crusty to begin with. Kaymer is not but he has to know more people will talk about the Johnson/Price blunders—and Price needs to be in the sentence—and Bubba Watson going brain dead on the 18th hole during the playoff, than about his victory.

Which is unfair. But the whole thing was unfair: Goofy golf course; bad local rule; HORRIBLE officiating and a big-time mental error by a player on the verge of what would have been a remarkable victory after his meltdown at Pebble Beach.

The PGA is back at Whistling Straits in five years. I doubt if anyone will miss me if I’m not there.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Note: John's PGA Championship roundup coming tonight or tomorrow morning

Quick update – after yesterday’s debacle, John is traveling today and will post his recap of Sunday's final round, and other tidbits from the weekend, late tonight or tomorrow morning. Everything from the PGA Championship is pent up and after what happened yesterday, there is sure to be much discussed and a few (I can think of one) controversies to have an opinion on. The topics are sure to include the PGA of America, Herb Kohler, Pete Dye and more....

--- FOTB Staff

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

PGA Championship -- Who is going to win if not Tiger? As usual, I haven’t a clue

HAVEN, WISCONSIN—Yup, that’s where I am right now. Haven is an unincorporated village near Kohler which is somewhere close to Sheboygan which is, I don’t know about 90 miles from Milwaukee, which is 80 miles from Chicago.

You get the idea. At least there’s a radio station up here that carries the Brewers so I could listen to a few innings of Bob Uecker last night while driving in. Did you know they’re having C.C. Sabathia bobble-head night in Milwaukee this weekend? Seriously. He pitched there for what, 15 minutes? (Okay, he did get them into the playoffs for the first time in 26 years, I’ll grant you that).

Anyway, I don’t want to say it has been raining here at beautiful Whistling Straits (they say it’s beautiful but right now I can’t see six feet in front of me when outdoors so it is hard to say) but I think I saw a guy rounding up animals by twos a few minutes ago. Last week they had seven inches of rain here. Today they must have had at least two more. Good luck to the PGA of America keeping the players from firing directly at flags tomorrow and Friday because even if the weather does dry up as predicted the greens are going to be softer than one of John Thompson’s non-conference schedules in the good old days at Georgetown.

(Wow, I’m on a roll today, huh?).

It may have to do with being in the middle-of-nowhere in the middle of a monsoon. It may also have to do with Herb Kohler, who owns Whistling Straits telling me at The Masters when I talked about what a hike it was going to be to get to the golf course every day that, “we’ve got a couple of great places to stay practically on sight. Get in touch with my staff, they’ll take care of you.”

So I did. I got a very nice note back from the first person I wrote to saying, “Oh yes, Mr. Kohler told me all about this. Write to (this person) and she’ll take care of you.” So I did. I got a note back cheerfully listing the media hotels in Milwaukee. Since I’m a little slow to pick up on a blow-off, I wrote back one more time saying I was trying to AVOID the commute from Milwaukee. “Oh yes, the hotels here are lovely,” I was told. “They’re booked. You might try the Sleep Inn in Sheboygan.”

I compromised: I’m in Oshkosh because if I’m going to have to drive an hour and 15 minutes each way each day I’m going to at least get Marriott points out of it—dammit! I DID get lucky though and find a really nice YMCA there just a few minutes from my hotel. You know you’re in Wisconsin when you walk into the local Y and the first sign you see directs you to the ice rink.

The pool was nice (though warm) but the weird thing was no one was very friendly. Aren’t people in Wisconsin supposed to be friendly? When I lived in Indiana for six months years ago it was literally an adjustment for me—New Yorker that I am—to people being as friendly as they were. Not at the Oshkosh YMCA. When I walked out I said to the woman at the front desk, “thanks very much.” Her response was, “yeah.” And she was BETTER than most people in the place.

So, I called my friend David Maraniss, born and bred in Wisconsin, a graduate of UW and someone who lives out here almost half the year. What’s up with that? I asked.

“Oh it’s Oshkosh,” he said. “The people there aren’t friendly.”

“Why not?”

“No idea.”

So, my first mystery of the week. I got completely soaked getting from the parking lot to the media tent—I mean SOAKED—AND I left my phone in the car. At least I THINK I left my phone in the car. I could go back for it but that will kill a good 20 minutes that I don’t have.

As I say to my children, “hardest life ever lived.”

Oh, the golf tournament. Tiger Woods has hired a new swing coach—sort of—a guy named Sean Foley who has worked successfully with Hunter Mahan and Sean O’Hair. This is clearly a tryout; Woods is going to see if Foley can help him before committing to him but this has been (my guess) in the works for a while. Remember, Tiger didn’t admit he had hired Hank Haney until about a year after he hired him. If he wins this week and thanks Foley in his acceptance speech, I would think Mahan and O’Hair might want to start looking for a new coach.

Now, you might think I’ve lost it writing the words, ‘if he wins this week.’ Certainly based on last week, missing the cut is a better bet than winning. But I don’t think you ever count the great ones out. I still remember Pete Sampras sitting on a chair on court two at Wimbledon in 2002 after losing in the second round while everyone talked about the end of his career.

Ten weeks later he won the U.S. Open.

That was different. Pete was 32, and WAS near the end. Woods’ situation is completely different but I really think he hit rock bottom last week. When things get so bad that you’re laughing at yourself that’s usually when they start to get better. I think Tiger will play a lot better here. Good enough to win? I don’t know, but as I said, I never count the truly great athletes out.

Heck, even A-Rod finally hit his 600th home run.

(There I go again).

Who is going to win if not Tiger? As usual, I haven’t a clue. For the record, I did NOT pick either Graeme McDowell or Louis Oosthuizen at the U.S. Open or The British Open but neither did anyone else. I’d LOVE to see Rory McIlroy win because I like everything about his game and his attitude. Steve Stricker winning in Wisconsin would be almost too good a story to hope for.

Speaking of Stricker—if I’ve told this before forgive me—years ago, in describing his parents to me he said, “they’re the classic Midwesterners, really friendly. Sort of the anti-New Yorkers.”


I need to go talk to him about Oshkosh.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Isiah Thomas – setting the Knicks idiocy aside, how can the NBA and NCAA allow this?; Quick notes on Woods, MLB umpire situation

The New York Knicks have hired Isiah Thomas as a consultant.

Sure, and Barack Obama has hired Bernie Madoff as Secretary of The Treasury.

I mean seriously, the Knicks have hired Isiah Thomas? What are they going to do next bring back Stephon Marbury as their point guard?

This just in: Dan Snyder has signed Jeff George to play quarterback.

You see, even SNYDER isn’t stupid enough to repeat absolute folly. That’s what James Dolan apparently wants to do. He is bringing back a man who brought complete shame to his franchise on and off the court; a man who has about as many friends in the world as, well, Bernie Madoff.

Isiah Thomas?

Already there’s a story in The New York Daily News that Donnie Walsh thought about quitting as team president and general manager and may yet do it. Maybe then Dolan can bring Isiah back as general manager. While he’s at it maybe he can hire Kiki Vandeweghe, who had so much success with the Nets this past season, as his coach. Or Bernie Madoff. I mean, why not?

There are so many questions that are un-answered about all this. The most obvious one is why? But there are others. For example, how in the world can either the NBA or the NCAA be okay with Thomas continuing as coach at Florida International University while being on the Knicks payroll?

Let’s look at it from the NBA side first. The league has very strict rules about contact with players who aren’t draft eligible—either by being college seniors or having declared for the draft. That means, every time Thomas talks to his team, he’s breaking NBA rules. It means every time he talks to a recruit, he’s breaking NBA rules. It means any time he talks to an opposing player—even to put his arm around him and say, ‘nice game,’—he’s breaking NBA rules.

More important though is how it can be possible that the NCAA can allow this. Remember, this is an organization that has about 426 rules that relate to ‘unfair advantages,’ in recruiting. In 1988 when I wrote, ‘A Season Inside,’ and related stories about going on recruiting visits with a number of coaches to player’s homes, the NCAA passed a rule banning any member of the media from making a home visit with a coach. Why? Because (I was told) it was considered an unfair advantage for a coach to be able to imply that he had more access to media coverage than another coach might by bringing a reporter along with him.

The NCAA also passed a rule several years ago which banned any member of the media—even one WRITING A BOOK--from being in a team’s locker room before, during or right after an NCAA Tournament game—UNLESS the locker room was opened to all members of the media. The reason: If a coach can tell a recruit that there is enough interest in his program to merit being part of a book, it is an unfair advantage.

I swear I’m not making this stuff up.

Given all that, how can the NCAA think for one second that this is NOT an advantage for a college coach to be able to say to a recruit, “you know I’m a paid consultant for an NBA team.” That implies a connection to the NBA that other coaches don’t have.

Now, you might laugh and say, ‘who the heck is Isiah Thomas going to recruit at Florida International who is even a long-shot NBA prospect?’ Are you kidding? Ninety percent of the reason he was hired by the school is because it thinks his name will attract higher-level recruits, kids who might have pro ambitions. (By the way, in high school, they ALL have pro ambitions).

Beyond that, you can’t say it’s okay for the coach at Florida International to be on an NBA payroll but not okay for the coach at Duke or North Carolina or Kansas or UCLA or Maryland—or ANYONE—to be on an NBA payroll. Coaches complain all the time that Mike Krzyzewski has an unfair advantage in recruiting because he coaches NBA players as the Olympic Coach. Imagine if The Washington Wizards hired Krzyzewski as a consultant. Do you think Gary Williams (or Roy Williams or anyone else) might have a problem with that?

Imagine if a college coach on a recruiting visit can say to a kid, “you know, the other day Pat Riley (or you pick a general manager) called me to talk about what free agents we should go after next summer.” Or if he said, “Phil Jackson was asking me who the top five college freshmen are going to be next year and I mentioned you right away.”

Okay, which is a bigger recruiting advantage: being able to drop a line like that or having some reporter sitting in the corner taking notes?


If I were an NBA owner, I’d be on the phone with every top college coach right now asking if he wanted to be my consultant. If I were a top college coach, I’d take the extra money and any recruiting advantage it might bring in a heartbeat. And just think, very few of these guys have been sued for $11.6 million for sexual harassment—and lost.


Jim Dolan is the absolute prototype of a trust fund kid who has never gotten anything right in his life and, sadly, never really needed to get anything right in his life. He’s made more stupid, arrogant moves than any owner this side of my guy Snyder. In fact, he makes Snyder look like Steve Bisciotti by comparison.

But he’s not the only one who is screwing the pooch on this one. David Stern must be on vacation. The NCAA is ALWAYS on vacation when it comes to common sense. Thomas must be somewhere laughing uncontrollably thinking, ‘you know what, you might not be able to fool ALL the people all the time, but as long as Jim Dolan is still around, I don’t need to fool anyone else.’

Amazing. Just amazing.

*****

Two notes from the weekend: Yes, I’m as stunned as anyone by Tiger Woods’ performance at Firestone. Sometimes though you have to hit rock bottom (this is a golf reference, not a life reference) before you head in the right direction. Woods may have hit it on Sunday. He was almost CHEERFUL talking to the media—after blowing them off two straight days—following his final round 77. Don’t write him off at Whistling Straits. You never write the great ones off and, whatever else he may be, Woods is still the most gifted golfer of my lifetime. And, thanks to Phil Mickelson completely gagging on the weekend (he shot one stroke HIGHER than Woods on Sunday) he’s still number one in the world.

And finally…Just happened to be watching The Athletics and Rangers on Sunday when Mike Maddux came to the mound to make a pitching change. He was stalling to give his reliever some extra time so—naturally—the home plate umpire came out to break up the mound conference. Only he never got the chance to do it really because Joe West charged over from FIRST BASE screaming at Maddux to make his move—waving his arms, yelling, the whole deal.

Question: Has anyone ever seen the first base umpire do that—WITH the home plate ump already on the mound? Second question: When will MLB crack down on umpires who think they’re God—West being the No. 1 offender? I mean please, who died and made Joe West into Doug Harvey? (whose nickname was God). Enough already.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Favre and ESPN made for each other; Tiger, Rodriguez talk

Brett Favre is like the scene of a car accident. You know you shouldn’t look, that you should just keep going, but you find yourself slowing down to see if it really is as bad as it appears to be.

Of course he and ESPN are the perfect team: ESPN will report ANYTHING as long as it can claim it as some kind of news—even embarrassing infomercials like, ‘The Decision,’ which will be parodied for years to come—and Favre craves that sort of attention. Poor Ed Werder and Rachel Nichols must be paying income taxes in Mississippi by now.

Favre has now retired more times than Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman and Evander Holyfield. What is most amazing is he has done it without ever missing a GAME. Think about that: he cries in March; waffles in July and shows up in time to play in September. Why anyone—even the poor ESPN drones—would think for one second that he’s not going to play this season is a mystery. Heck, if the Vikings throw in an extra million or two he might fly to Washington en route to Minneapolis and take Albert Haynesworth’s conditioning test for him.

What we know about Favre after all these years and retirements and comebacks is the following: he can’t stand not being the center of attention. When he does finally have to retire in 2027, it’s going to kill him. Because as anyone can tell you, doing games or studio work on TV can’t give you the buzz or the high or the adoration that playing gives you. The one and only exception to that rule might be Dick Vitale.

We also know that this is all about BRETT, not about anyone else. Whatever team he happens to play for is just a tool to add to the legend of BRETT. What he did to the Green Bay Packers, to a town that embraced him and worshipped him, was shameful. Every year he rolled out the Hamlet act, topped in 2008 by the tearful farewell in which he told the Packers it was time for them to get Aaron Rodgers ready to play. Which they did until Brett decided about 15 minutes later he was just kidding and forced a trade to the Jets.

What he did to the Jets would have been worse except he’d only been messing with their heads for one year. He retired—again—this time by conference call and the Jets were na├»ve enough to take him at his word (If Favre told me the earth was round I would be very careful about sailing very far to the east or west) and put him on the retirement list. That meant he didn’t even have to wait for a trade as with the Packers, he was free to sign with the Vikings and then start his Hamlet routine with THEM.

Why does the guy get away with all this? Simple: he can play. If you can play you can lie, cheat, steal, bully, do drugs—you name it. They cheered Alex Rodriguez in Yankee Stadium the other day, didn’t they? People still cheer for Tiger Woods, whose crimes against his wife and children are not only unspeakable but were repeated over and over again. Why? Because they loved watching him play at his best and they want to see it again. Have you noticed that lately Tiger has been playing the “father card,” claiming he hasn’t been able to practice as much this year because he wants time with his kids?

My God! Do people actually believe this stuff? The answer’s yes—there will be people today who will post on this blog that who am I to question Tiger’s devotion to his kids, that people change, blah-blah-blah and his personal life is none of my business, just let him play golf.

You see, that’s the point. I didn’t bring up his kids—HE did. I didn’t talk at length about how being a father changed my life after my first child was born when I’d just been in Vegas cheating on my wife and my new-born child.

And I haven’t stood tearfully in front of assembled media and retired; then done it again and again when I was just trying to manipulate the system to get to a different team for more money. Look, there is NOTHING wrong with Favre playing until he’s 50 if he can play. Last year he clearly could still play—even though the old Achilles heel, the really dumb pass at the worst possible moment jumped up and nailed him at the end of regulation in the NFC Championship game. Even so, if you didn’t know the background, you’d have watched Favre in that game and been amazed by his guts and toughness: clearly hurt, even wobbly, he limped out there and kept moving his team down the field.

The day after that game, I jokingly wrote that the over-under on the first ESPN report that Favre was going to retire again would roll in about Wednesday. I was off by 24 hours—it came on Tuesday. Favre, ESPN reported, was “leaning towards retiring.”

Yeah, sure and there’s a new Tiger Woods who has embraced Buddhism.

Personally, I look forward to watching Favre play this season. He is a freak of nature and he makes the Vikings a viable contender. To me, the NFC North is football’s most interesting division because of the traditions involved, because a late-season game at Lambeau or Soldier Field is throw-back football (I didn’t say I wanted to go, but watching on TV is always fun) and because each city has a fascinating football culture in its own way. Yes, even Detroit.

But please don’t wake me up to tell me he’s retired again or un-retired or is getting his ankle checked or is talking to Ed Werder on a tractor or is throwing to high school kids or texting teammates. He’ll be in camp in time for the third exhibition game, which is the one the starters play at least a half in. He might play a series or two in the last exhibition game and then he’ll play all 16 games unless someone knocks him into next week at some point—which hasn’t happened since he first came into the league in 1953 so why should it happen now?

And then, 15 minutes after his last snap of the season, ESPN will report he’s leaning towards retiring. ESPN is Charlie Brown. Favre is Lucy holding the football. If you aren’t old enough to get that reference, look it up. Good Grief.



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John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases

This Week's radio segments (Tony Kornheiser Show, The Sports Reporters, The Gas Man)

Thursday morning joined Tony Kornheiser for his newest version of The Tony Kornheiser Show at 11:05 ET.  Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week. Among the topics we discussed were the books I'm working on, the state of tennis (or lack thereof) in America, and various other topics.

Click here to listen to the segment: Tony Kornheiser Show

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Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's).   In it, we discussed Roger Goodell and the job he's done along with talk about the upcoming labor situation, Alex Rodriguez and a few things happening in sports.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

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Also, I joined The Gas Man show on Wednesday evening in my normal 8:25 ET spot.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Shanahan is loud and clear letting everyone know he is in charge of the Redskins

As most people know there are few things in life I find more boring than stories about NFL training camps. The other day on Washington Post Live, my friends Ivan Carter and Rick Maese were droning on about the Redskins receiving corps when I snapped out of my slumber and said, “enough already, let’s talk about Buck Showalter.” (Good hire by the way, the guy may be an insane micro-manager but he’s good. Tony LaRussa is insane that way too and he’s had some success last I checked).

Carter and Maese were both kind of stunned that I went completely off the TV-format reservation but I couldn’t stand it anymore. Thank goodness I’ll be out of town next week for The PGA Championship.

That said, it is impossible not to sit back and giggle at the whole Albert Haynesworth fiasco. There may be no one who defines the 21st century athlete better than Haynesworth: He is gifted, spoiled, defiant, could care less about his team and if I were a Redskins fan I would have trouble wanting to see him succeed. Of course those who still care about the Redskins have already sold their souls to the worst owner in sports history so Haynesworth is just another brick in the wall.

Haynesworth signed with the Redskins about 15 minutes after the free agency period began in 2009 for $107 million, $41 million of it guaranteed. The fact that the NFL could find no evidence of pre-free agency tampering (the deal was made at 5 a.m. on the morning when you could begin TALKING to free agents) is proof that their security department must be run by Inspector Clouseau.

Haynesworth proceeded to be an even bigger bust last season than the rest of the team, which was quite a feat given the Redskins 4-12 record that led to the firing of both their coach and general manager., not to mention the beat-up starting quarterback. He was never in shape, constantly exhausted and often-injured. At least for one season he was as bad a signing as Jeff George—another brilliant Dan Snyder move—and that is saying a lot.

But then Snyder decided that 11 years of playing Fantasy Football (badly) was enough. Someone finally got in his ear and told him that he had done the impossible: he had turned Washington against the Redskins in large part because people were sick of his ridiculous football moves; his constant gouging of his fans; the awful stadium experience they had to put up with every week and, perhaps most of all, Snyder’s arrogance.

Snyder’s a bad guy and he has surrounded himself with enough enablers that he no doubt blames the media for everything that’s gone wrong with his team. But he’s not a fool and when his security people had to start removing home-made signs from fans entering the stadium because not all of them were shout-outs to soldiers in Iraq, a bell went off in his head somewhere.

He FINALLY fired Vinny Cerrato, who as a general manager did his best work as a lousy talk-show host. He fired Jim Zorn, who was more an innocent bystander in the Snyder-Cerrato fiasco than anything else but clearly never had the authority or the cojones to lay down the law to slackers like Haynesworth—among others.

Then Snyder hired Bruce Allen, who at least had a legitimate resume in personnel and, finally, to no one’s surprise, he hired Mike Shanahan as the coach and to actually be in charge of the football operation. No more watching tape with the owner; no more comments like, “I’ll consult with Mr. Snyder about what to do next.”

There are some who will note that Shanahan only won one playoff game in Denver after John Elway retired. That’s a little bit like saying Joe Torre never won a World Series until he managed the Yankees. The best coaches and managers need players. It isn’t as if the Broncos were awful post-Elway, they just weren’t as good. Check and see how good the Colts are in the five years after Peyton Manning retires.

Shanahan made it clear from the outset that, if nothing else, the Redskins were going to be run like a real football team. He stopped all the silly talk that the offensive line was fine and used the No. 4 pick in the draft to take a left tackle—something Cerrato and Snyder never quite got around to doing even as their quarterback was getting pummeled on a weekly basis. Prior to that, Shanahan somehow got the Philadelphia Eagles to trade Donovan McNabb for a second round draft pick.

McNabb isn’t Manning or Tom Brady but he’s pretty damn good and a major upgrade from what the Redskins have had at QB in the Snyder era. IF the line blocks for him he will make plays.

Shanahan also made it clear he wouldn’t play any silly games with players who didn’t want to show up for mini-camps or OTA’s. You can call them voluntary all you want, if the coach says be there, you need to be there. Even Joe Gibbs played that game with the late Sean Taylor when he no-showed. So, when Haynesworth no-showed, largely because he was sulking about having to play in a 3-4 defense, Shanahan bided his time—knowing HIS turn would come.

And now it is here. Haynesworth has no choice but to be in training camp. The Redskins could void his $21 million bonus—paid this offseason—if he failed to show up. Shanahan has declared that anyone who missed the pre-season camps has to pass a conditioning test to practice. Everyone knows he made this up to humiliate Haynesworth who, even if he is 30 pounds lighter, can’t run across the street without huffing and puffing. So, Haynesworth failed the test twice. Now he says his knee hurts and he can’t take it again until it stops hurting.

And Shanahan just smiles. He knows Haynesworth is the ideal nose-tackle for a 3-4 defense because he’s huge, takes up space and can occupy two blockers per play. Haynesworth doesn’t like that idea because there’s no glory in taking two guys out of a play while someone else gets a sack or makes the tackle. But he’ll be good at it when he finally starts to play.

And he will play. The whole notion that he missed valuable time is hooey. The only thing more overrated than training camp is ESPN’s ‘exclusive,’ reporting on Brett Favre’s retirements and un-retirements. Even with a new system a player needs about a week to ten days to learn what he’s supposed to do on the field. This is NOT rocket science by any stretch of the imagination. Many veteran players hold out just to miss training camp. In his final season with the Giants, Michael Strahan insisted throughout August he was retired. He came back the week before the season began and helped the Giants win The Super Bowl.

There’s no reason Haynesworth won’t be ready on September 12th, which is the only time it matters if he’s ready. Shanahan knows that. Which is why he’s letting him know loud and clear right now who’s in charge of the Redskins. It isn’t Danny Snyder and it sure as hell isn’t Albert Haynesworth. If nothing else, it’s pretty entertaining stuff for the month of August.

Monday, August 2, 2010

All sports need balance, the time has come for MLB salary cap AND floor

On Saturday, as The Major League Baseball trading deadline came and went, the New York Yankees made three trades, picking up Lance Berkman, Kerry Wood and Austin Kearns. None of these moves was earth-shattering or even terribly significant. Berkman is an ex-All Star in the twilight of an excellent career. Woods is a former phenom who is now 33 and was pitching to an ERA of 6.30 in Cleveland on those rare occasions when he wasn’t on the Disabled List. Kearns is a journeyman outfielder who can catch a fly ball and throw out an occasional runner.

The Dodgers picking up Ted Lilly—although they may have made their move too late—is more significant. Certainly the earlier trades that moved Cliff Lee to Texas; Roy Oswalt to Philadelphia and Dan Haren (although that may be too late too) were far more significant than anything the Yankees did.

Of course the Yankees made these moves already having the best record in baseball. They were moves made because perhaps each of the three will win one game in the next two months or get one key hit or one key out in postseason. That would be enough because the Yankees didn’t have to give up an important prospect in any of the three moves. All they cost was money and for the Yankees, buying players like Berkman, Wood and Kearns is like buying one of the railroads on a Monopoly board. They’ll wait until this winter to buy Park Place—Lee—and keep on going from there.

This is not, by any stretch, a rant against the Yankees. Even though I’m a lifelong Mets fan I’ve never hated the Yankees and I actually sort of liked them when Joe Torre was the manager because I like Joe Torre. The current rules of baseball say the Yankees can spend whatever they want to spend and the Yankees business plan, brilliantly executed in recent years, makes it possible for them to spend whatever they choose to spend.

The problem is the system. It needs to be fixed during the next Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. For years, the baseball union has been adamant about not agreeing to a salary cap. Of course that same union was adamant for years about drug-testing and we all know now how that worked out for baseball.

I understand the principle of being opposed to a salary cap. I also understand the principle of opposing drug-testing when there is no evidence that someone has used drugs. It is a violation of one’s rights and freedoms. It is also, in 2010, an absolute necessity in the world we live in just as the humiliating experience we all go through anytime we get on an airplane is also an absolute necessity.

There are salary caps in football, basketball and hockey. I don’t see very many players starving as a result of them. The NFL is about to go through what will be an angry, protracted negotiation with its union because for the first time in a long time the union has a leader—DeMaurice Smith—who is more than willing to wade in and do battle with the commissioner and the owners. But no one is going to debate whether the salary cap should continue to exist. The battleground will be what percentage of revenues the players get and what percentage the owners get. Put simply, the owners want more.

Hockey is a better and more balanced sport since Gary Bettman was willing to sacrifice a season five years ago and it can be argued that the salary cap saved the NBA back in the 1980s although it now needs considerable tweaking with a CBA negotiation coming up there too.

The issue has never really reached the table in baseball. That’s because Don Fehr was smarter and tougher than any commissioner, any owner and any negotiator sent forth by ownership for many, many years. Every time the owners tried to play hard ball on any front, Fehr sat back and waited for the courts or an arbitrator to rule in favor of the players because they always did. Whether Fehr was the smartest lawyer of all time or the owners hired some of the dumbest lawyers of all time is hard to say, but Fehr and the union were undefeated.

That’s why they were able to hold off drug-testing until public embarrassments forced them to give in, first to limited testing and, finally, after the 2005 Congressional hearing—the famous Mark McGwire, ‘I’m not hear to talk about the past,’ testimony not to mention Rafael Palmeiro’s outright lying and Sammy Sosa forgetting how to speak English—more frequent testing.

That’s also why there’s never been any serious talk about a salary cap. Revenue sharing was the compromise agreed to years ago and it HAS helped. The Minnesota Twins, targeted for extinction by the owners nine years ago, are now flourishing in a wonderful new ballpark, contending every year and have a payroll of just under $100 million. They’ve even signed Joe Mauer to an extension that should keep him in Minnesota through the peak years of an already-great career.

The Tampa Bay Rays won a pennant in 2008 and are chasing the Yankees with great vigor right now. The Cincinnati Reds have one of baseball’s best young teams. The well-managed small market teams can contend. The poorly managed small market teams (Kansas City, Pittsburgh) don’t. The Orioles and Cubs are just poorly managed.

But it’s not enough. The Yankees can’t buy a championship every year, but they can buy contending. They’ve missed the playoffs once since the strike of 1994 and their payroll just keeps growing and growing—as do their revenues. The Twins can contend but win the World Series? It doesn’t seem likely. The Brewers made the playoffs a couple of years back but can they, realistically, win the whole thing? The Texas Rangers DID rent Lee and will make postseason this year but can they go deep into postseason? Where will they be next year when Lee is pitching for the Yankees and the Angels go out and pick up two key free agents?

All sports need balance. The Saints winning The Super Bowl was great for the NFL and the Chicago Black Hawks—a big market team, sure, but they hadn’t won a title in almost 50 years—winning the Stanley Cup was good for hockey. Change and variety are good.

No one is proposing that the Yankees be crippled or cease being a dynasty. Their popularity is also good for baseball: they sell tickets and move TV ratings, especially when they play the Red Sox, who just happen to have baseball’s second biggest payroll.

But the time has come for both a salary cap and a salary FLOOR. The Yankees should have to think twice not so much before signing Lee but before throwing an extra $10 million or so at three marginal players who might make them just enough better to win again this year. The Royals and Pirates should be forced to plow ALL their revenue-sharing money into payroll—ALL OF IT—and every team should have a minimum payroll that gives it a chance to compete. If an owner can’t afford that payroll, especially when aided by revenue sharing, make him sell the team. Owning a baseball team isn’t an inalienable right.

This is the time for the owners to make this move. Fehr has retired. The union has finally been dinged by the public embarrassment over drug-testing. The owners need to go public with this battle because for once they will actually be right. They will not just be trying to grab more money they will be trying to bring balance to their sport.

The time to talk about a salary cap and ring hands and blame the union is over. The time to do to it is here and now. It can be called, ‘The Austin Kearns Rule.’ Has a ring to it I think.