There are a number of topics to cover today so, as my good friends in television would say, let’s get right to it.
Derek Jeter I: Of course he should have gone to the All-Star game. Look, it isn’t worth killing him for making a mistake in judgment. On the other hand, it isn’t worth Commissioner Bud Selig falling on his sword for him either saying, “I would have done the exact same thing.” (If that’s true Commish aren’t you admitting this is just an exhibition game, not a game worthy of deciding World Series home field?)
To review: Jeter gets his 3,000th hit on Saturday in Yankee Stadium in remarkable fashion, going five-for-five in the game and hitting a home run for No. 3,000. Throw in the fact that he also got the game-winning hit and The Legend of Derek became even bigger than it had been in the past. All of a sudden, the .260 batting average seemed not to matter.
On Sunday he announces he isn’t making the trip to Phoenix because he’s emotionally and physically exhausted.
Look, no one doubts the last month hasn’t been difficult. The strain of his struggles at the plate; the injury that delayed getting to 3,000; the pressure of knowing he needed to get it last weekend or he would almost certainly get the magic hit on the road—everyone gets that.
But it would not have been THAT exhausting to get on a private jet on Tuesday morning, take a bow in Phoenix and perhaps play long enough to get one at-bat. Since the game started at 5:30 local time, he could have flown home that night and probably been in bed by 2 a.m. which isn’t a lot later than he probably goes to bed after a night game. Or, he could have flown Wednesday morning and had plenty of rest before the Yankees resume play Thursday.
Again, this is not that big a deal. Jeter hasn’t committed a crime against humanity. But he should have gone. He was voted in by the fans even though, based strictly on this season, he didn’t deserve to start the game. Take a deep breath and make the effort so the fans can cheer you and you can, in affect, say thank-you.
Jeter doesn’t make a lot of PR mistakes but when he does it is usually around The All-Star break. Missing Bob Shepherd’s funeral two years ago was also a mistake. That said, if that’s the worst we can say about him after 15 years in the searing New York spotlight, the guy has done pretty well.
Jeter II: The home run ball. There is no way I’m going to criticize Christian Lopez, the young man who caught the ball Jeter hit into the leftfield stands for hit No. 3,000 for wanting to ‘do the right thing,’ and hand the ball over to Jeter. If he’s a Yankee fan it is a way of saying thank-you to Jeter for all the pleasure he’s given him through the years. Heck, if he’s a baseball fan, same thing applies.
That said, I understand the people who are saying he should have been given 48 hours to decide what to ask for rather than being whisked into Yankee-land where just being in a normally restricted area AND getting to meet Jeter probably overwhelmed him. He may look back sometime next season when he’s no longer sitting in that luxury box and say, ‘what the hell was I thinking?’ My guess is he won’t be hanging with Derek at that point either.
So, what’s the best solution? Easy. Jeter should say, ‘listen Christian I REALLY appreciate the gesture. You are a mensch. (I’ll teach him the meaning of the word). But I want to do something for you and your family so I’m going to take $100,000 of the $17 million I’m being paid this year and establish a college fund for your future kids. If you have no kids, convert it to a retirement fund when the time comes. (That 100K should be worth a lot more in 20 years. At least we hope it will). This way everyone has done the right thing: Jeter’s got the ball, Lopez walks away knowing he did the right thing and so does Jeter. Maybe the Yankees can match Jeter’s 100K and start the fund at 200K.
Onto other things:
Socceristas: I know some of you are upset because I said on Washington Post Live on Monday that I have trouble taking a sport seriously when it decides a championship on penalty kicks.
Sorry, that’s the way I feel.
For the record though let me clear one thing up since my friend Mike Wise in his never-ending quest to create ‘good television,’ (people shouting) kept insisting I was being sexist since the question came up after the U.S. beat Brazil on penalty kicks in the women’s World Cup.
This has nothing to do with whether men or women are playing. I feel the same way, regardless.
You don’t decide Stanley Cup hockey games in shootouts. Regular season, fine, but when the championship is at stake you keep PLAYING HOCKEY. You don’t stop a postseason baseball game—or any baseball game for that matter—after 12 innings and have a Home Run Derby. You don’t have a free throw shooting contest at the end of the second overtime in a basketball game.
The only sport that changes the rules at all is college football when it places the ball on the 25-yard line to begin overtime. I’m not crazy about that either but at least they’re still playing football.
Anyone who has read this blog at all knows I LIKE soccer. I loved my time covering the Diplomats in the old North American Soccer League but I still support Johan Cruyff’s approach to hokey non-soccer endings. When the Diplomats opening game in 1980 ended in a 2-2 draw with The Tampa Bay Rowdies, Cruyff was asked by Diplomats Coach Gordon Bradley to take one of the ‘shootout,’ kicks—the shootout was the NASL’s version of penalty kicks.
“I don’t do shootouts,” Cruyff said walking away.
I’m no Johan Cruyff but I don’t do world championships that can be decided by penalty kicks. I didn’t like it as far back as The World Cup final in Pasadena in 1994 or in the women’s World Cup in 1999—still one of the most bogus endings ever to a major sports even. For Sports Illustrated to name that team the ‘sportswomen of the year,’ when they won the championship game without scoring a GOAL was a joke—and I don’t like it now.
Socceristas like my friend Steve Goff insist this is the only way to do it. Bologne—or some word like it. You do what they do in hockey: You play sudden death overtime after 90 minutes. More often than not someone will score within the 30 minutes allotted for extra time now. If not, play on. If it takes 100 more minutes for someone to score—fine, that’s the nature of the sport. Please don’t tell me it is unfair because the winning team will be tired for the next game. In knockout rounds in a world championship you always have at least two days off and if you can’t recover, well tough, win sooner the next time. That’s part of competition. You can’t on the one hand tell me soccer players are the best-conditioned players on the planet and then on the other say overtime has to be limited lest they get tired. Use your bench. Allow more subbing in overtime. But play SOCCER.
Briefly on the Navy radio flap: I was amazed at all the various emotions my decision seemed to stir up both in posts and e-mails and in long-time friends contacting me. To those who understand why this would bother me so much, thank-you. To the ex-Army and Navy players who are friends from ‘A Civil War,’ I can’t tell you how much your rallying around me right now means to me. To those who say they understand why I’d be upset but I should suck it up and go do the games I think you’re missing a point: I’ve done the games for years because I ENJOY doing them. I haven’t done them because Navy needs me—it certainly doesn’t—or because I owe Navy anything. If I’m going to dread going to the games—whether you think I should dread it or not—I shouldn’t be going. For those who think I’m setting a bad example for the kids at Army and Navy by walking away because of some adversity, perhaps that’s true. To quote Charles Barkley: I’m not a role model—particularly for those young men. And to the one guy who posted that he is glad to be rid of me: good for you. Enjoy the broadcasts. Why you wasted your time reading the blog or posting any thoughts at all is a mystery to me.
Finally some news on a couple of fronts: Several people have asked about my new book. It will be out around Thanksgiving and the title is ‘Best Seat in The House.’ It begins the night I asked Bob Knight about doing what became, ‘A Season on the Brink,’ and proceeds through my experiences in dealing with a lot of the people I’ve worked with since that first book 25 years ago. There is a lot on Knight. I had forgotten until I checked old notes and tapes how many stories about my experiences with him have gone untold. I don’t think he’s going to like this book either. (On another front: Simon and Schuster is bringing out a 25th anniversary edition of ‘Season on the Brink,’ at about the same time.)
Another radio note: As of next week I’m no longer doing my weekly appearances on WTEM—Sportstalk 980 in Washington. The other sports station—or should I say the newer one—106.7 The Fan made me the proverbial offer I couldn’t refuse to move over there. I’ll be on once a week with Mike Wise---looks like Wednesdays at 11:05--and once a week with The Sports Junkies—time and day TBA. I’ll miss Andy and yes, even Steve, but since the new gig may also include doing some hosting down the road, I couldn’t say no. And, after what happened with Tony Kornheiser’s show, it wasn’t that tough a decision.
And finally: My wife and son finally couldn’t take it anymore and they set up a Facebook page for me. We should have a link to it on the blog shortly. Please ‘like,’ me. I think right now I have about 14 ‘likes,’ and my wife says Mike Lupica has something like 12,000. I’d be more embarrassed if I actually knew what a ‘like,’ was.