Monday, October 31, 2011

Washington Post column: Maryland football's accountability needs to start at the top

Here is the newest article for The Washington Post -------

Let’s give credit where credit is due: Maryland football coach Randy Edsall is learning.

“Ultimately,” he said Saturday after the Terrapins’ latest embarrassing loss. “I am the guy who is responsible for this.”

If his team isn’t progressing on the field, at least Edsall is making some slow progress off the field.

Someday, Maryland fans may look back at the miserable scene that unfolded inside Byrd Stadium two days before Halloween 2011 and talk about the 28-17 loss to Boston College as the moment when the football program hit rock bottom before its turnaround began. Of course, a lot of people thought the 38-7 loss to Temple in September was that moment.

Temple is a much better football team than Boston College. The Eagles are flat-out bad, a team that hadn’t beaten a Football Bowl Subdivision team all season and had lost at home a few weeks back to Duke.

Click here for the rest of the column: Maryland football's accountability needs to start at the top

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Back after the 'Morning Drive' experience; Thoughts on the goings on -- World Series, Moneyball, BCS, Stern and Gumbel, and Notre Dame

I took last week off from the blog for the simple reason that I was waking up at 4:30 each morning in Orlando to co-host ‘Morning Drive,’ on The Golf Channel and I found it difficult to do the show, spend some time out at Disney (for the golf tournament not for Mickey Mouse—sadly) and THEN sit down and write. Twenty years ago I probably could have pulled it off; maybe even 10 years ago. Now, not so much.

Actually I had a choice most afternoons: I could swim or I could blog. I opted to swim. That probably worked out best for everyone.

Life’s back to normal now—or at least my definition of normal—and I have a number of thoughts on all that’s going on in sports, which is a lot.

Let me start though, with the ‘Morning Drive,’ experience. The 4:30 wake-up calls sucked (I’m one of those people who always wakes up before the alarm or the call regardless of the hour. I’ve always wondered how that works, but I swear to God I rolled over in bed at exactly 4:25 each day) but the rest of the experience was fun. Everyone I worked with could not have been more welcoming and I like the way the show sets up: the hosts talk a lot. I like to talk.

If you’ve ever watched the show you know the hosts dress casually, no jacket and tie. I was told to wear whatever I wanted but NOT Golf Channel gear. So, the first day I showed up in a Richmond basketball shirt that Jerry Wainwright gave me years ago after I spoke at the team’s pre-season banquet.

The Richmond shirt got far more attention than anything I said all morning. Kevin Streelman, who is a Duke graduate, was an in-studio guest. “What’s with the Richmond shirt?” he asked on-air.

Fred Couples, who came on to respond to Greg Norman criticizing his pick of Tiger Woods for The Presidents Cup team, answered my first question about what Norman had said this way: “Didn’t you go to Duke University?”

“Yes,” I said. “They gave me a degree if I promised never to come back.”

“So why are you wearing a Richmond basketball shirt? What’s your connection to Richmond?”

“Duke never sends me stuff,” I answered.

I thought wearing an Army shirt two days later would get a lot more comment than the Richmond shirt but it didn’t. I guess people DO know my connection to the military academies even though it isn’t what it used to be.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience. I wish we’d had more time with Kelsey Grammer, who was doing a satellite tour to promote his new show and undoubtedly looked at his schedule and said, ‘Golf Channel, why the hell am I doing Golf Channel?’ I still watch Frasier most nights when I’m home and I still think Niles is one of TV’s all-time funny characters. Trivia: Did you know that Frasier was originally created for a six-show stint on ‘Cheers,’ and was supposed to be written out after Diane left him at the alter? The producers liked the character—and Grammer—so much they kept him in the show and he ended up playing Frasier for 20 years, winning Emmys for playing him on THREE shows—he won one as a guest-star on ‘Wings,’ in addition to ‘Cheers,’ and ‘Frasier.’

Okay, enough of that. On to some real stuff.

--The World Series. Riveting. Four games out of five have been terrific and the one blowout had the Albert Pujols three home run performance. I truly hope that Pujols stays in St. Louis. Great baseball towns deserve great players and Pujols is clearly that. For the record though, Tony LaRussa’s explanation that no one told Pujols that the media wanted to talk to him after his gaffe in game two doesn’t hold even a little water. No one wanted to talk to him after game 2 of the World Series? Seriously? Oh wait, maybe it’s that he’s not an important player. No. That doesn’t work either. Come on Tony, you’re better than that.

Pujols should stay in St. Louis and Prince Fielder should stay in Milwaukee. The latter isn’t likely to happen. Fielder’s going to go where he gets offered the most money and one of the big-money teams will probably come in with a blow-away offer. Too bad. Milwaukee is also a wonderful baseball town.

--On another baseball note I saw, ‘Moneyball,’ on Saturday. It’s good theater. Michael Lewis is brilliant and Aaron Sorkin is a genius so that’s about as good a writing combination as you can have. That said, I’d recommend people read my friend David Maraniss’s op-ed in the Tuesday Washington Post because it sums up pretty well how I feel about the whole ‘moneyball,’ concept. In the movie, Miguel Tejada, Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder essentially don’t exist.

I’m not saying there isn’t merit to the whole ‘moneyball,’ way of thinking. I think the best organizations combine good scouting with all the Bill James stuff. I also think if Dave Roberts hadn’t stolen second base in game 4 of the ALCS in 2004, the whole concept would not be glorified the way it is. And the A’s and Beane haven’t looked quite so brilliant since the above-named players left town. Still, I enjoyed the movie just like I enjoyed the book although I couldn’t help but feel badly for Art Howe. (Philip Seymour Hoffman was great. He was also superb in ‘The Ides of March.’ I’m on a roll seeing movies of late).

--The BCS. Oh please. Or, as my good friend Bill Hancock said over the weekend, “good grief.” I’m hoping and praying for four undefeated teams so the politicians in two states can go ballistic when ‘their,’ teams don’t make the championship game.

--The NBA lockout, David Stern and Bryant Gumbel. The lockout is getting uglier by the minute. More and more people I talk to think the whole season is going by the boards. I’m still not buying it. I think both sides will cave after New Year’s; they’ll agree on something close to a 50-50 split on revenue and a harder though not totally inflexible cap. Stern is a tough guy to play poker against but he’s also smart enough to know he needs the playoffs on TV. Kobe Bryant isn’t getting any younger. For that matter, neither is LeBron James, believe it or not. I wonder how a second round pick like Maryland’s Jordan Williams, who hasn’t yet seen a penny and isn’t guaranteed a penny once the lockout ends, feels about leaving school right about now.

Gumbel is a very smart guy and you can bet he knew exactly what he was saying when he compared Stern to a plantation owner who is ‘treating men like boys,’ in his commentary on HBO’s ‘Real Sports.’ Gumbel knew what the reaction would be when he said what he said but he was clearly tired—as many people are—of Stern’s tactics and wanted to be SURE he got that message across.

I’m a Stern guy. I think he’s been a great commissioner. Can he be imperious? You bet. But I also know that implying in any way that what he’s doing has racial connotations is ridiculous. This is business, pure and simple. Stern’s been charged by the owners with getting them a better deal and he will do and say what has to be said and done to get that deal. Charles Barkley—of all people—brought up a telling stat: Since Stern became commissioner in 1984 the average player salary has gone from $300,000 a year to $5.1 million a year. And that’s in a league not nearly as successful as the NFL where there are STILL no guaranteed contracts. If Gumbel should have a problem with a commissioner or a group of owners for the way they treat their players he should focus on football.

Finally: Did Brian Kelly REALLY say the following when he was asked if he was concerned about quarterback Dayne Crist’s mental state after Crist fumbled a snap on the one-yard line with Notre Dame trailing Southern California 17-10: “No. I don’t have to worry about it he does.”? Seriously? He said that?

Wow. Talk about standing up for your players. Kelly also threw his whole team under the bus for a poor first half but refused to second-guess himself for his team’s preparation for the game coming off a bye week. Kelly cited his record coming off bye weeks the last 20 years as the reason he KNEW he didn’t do anything wrong.

So what’s his record coming off a bye week THIS year? Does this guy take responsibility for ANYTHING?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Washington Post column: BCS represents college football’s ongoing scandal

Here is my newest column for The Washington Post -----

Amid the morass of college football scandals that have unfolded in recent months, there is one man who loves the sport who has benefitted greatly from the ongoing debacles at Ohio State and Miami and North Carolina and USC.

Bill Hancock.

Hancock is the genial executive director of the so-called Bowl Championship Series, which is the ongoing scandal in college football that is still being perpetrated on players, coaches and fans alike much the same way reality TV continues to be a pox that simply won’t go away.

This fall, Hancock’s bosses — the BCS presidents — have conspired to keep the wolves away from his door. First, many of them have allowed their athletic programs to run completely amok. The two people who symbolize what the BCS stands for are, without question, Miami President Donna Shalala, who did everything but rename her school “Shapiro U” while currently jailed booster Nevin Shapiro was lavishing money on her and the one-time “U,” and, of course, Ohio State President Gordon Gee, whose two trademarks are his bowtie and his foot planted firmly inside his mouth.

It was Gee who made himself the Neville Chamberlain of college athletics last spring when he was asked if he would consider firing Jim Tressel as football coach and he replied with a straight face, “Fire him? I just hope he doesn’t fire me.”

The shame of it is that Tressel didn’t stay at Ohio State long enough to get around to firing Gee before Tressel left in disgrace. Of course, the NCAA, led by its top stooge, President Mark Emmert, has been so busy calling meetings and being shocked to learn that cheating is going on that it has yet to take any action against anyone — and will probably come down with a really hard wrist slap when the time finally comes.

Instead it has been left to Roger Goodell, who at last glance was running the NFL, to impose any discipline on Tressel and Terrelle Pryor, his oft-tattooed quarterback. Goodell suspended both for five games when they fled Ohio State for jobs in the NFL.

Maybe Goodell can do something about the BCS. You can bet that Emmert won’t at any point in this lifetime. All of which brings us back to Hancock and the BCS.

Click here for the rest of the article:  BCS represents college football’s ongoing scandal

Thursday, October 13, 2011

This week's radio segments (The Mike Wise Show, The Gas Man, The Sports Junkies)

Here is the link to this week's radio segments, including the new continuing appearance on The Mike Wise Show and The Sports Junkies. Click the permalink below, then the link to the audio links, for the newest available interviews.

Wednesday I joined The Mike Wise Show in my weekly spot at 11am. We spent much of this segment discussing the Washington Capitals in regards to what the team goals could be, and took at look at the pressure on Bruce Boudreau.   Then we moved on to baseball and the turmoil going on with the Boston Red Sox, which leads to opinions of the Cubs hiring of Theo Epstein, then finished up on talk about the Eagles' struggles and the Maryland football outlook.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Mike Wise Show


I joined The Gas Man, out of Seattle, for my weekly spot at 5:35 PT.  On a somewhat sore subject, we started out talking about the NBA, David Stern and the lockout situation. We followed that up discussing Steve Spurrier and what is happening at South Carolina this week, and finished off discussing the comments coming out of Boston College about ACC expansion.

Click here for the audio: The Gas Man


Last Friday I joined The Sports Junkies in my normal slot. This segment we spoke about Tiger Woods and his continued lackluster play and discuss why he doesn't play more before moving into talk about the Tigers and Jim Leland then finished off discussing Skip Bayless and ESPN with Chris Cooley.

Click here for the audio: The Sports Junkies

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Having a tough time watching Steve Spurrier this week, I expect more of him

There is probably no football coach I like more than Steve Spurrier. I first met the Ol’ Ball Coach (I know he is generally known more often as the Head Ball Coach) but my memory is that he referred to himself as the Ol’ Ball Coach years ago) when he was the offensive coordinator at Duke in the early 1980s and was primarily responsible for the development of quarterback Ben Bennett who—believe it or not—beat out Boomer Esiason for ACC player-of-the-year as a senior.

Bennett’s stats and Duke’s respectable record back then were due in large part to Spurrier. That wasn’t why I liked him though: it was his sense of humor, his irreverence and his honesty. The OBC told you exactly what he thought and he often did it in a way that made you laugh.

And he was very damn good at what he did. I’d make the case that his three years as head coach at Duke, when the Blue Devils went 20-13-1 and tied for an ACC title were as good a coaching job as anyone has done anywhere in college football in the last 30 years. If you don’t believe me just look at Duke’s record since he left.

He went on to fame and fortune and a national championship (1996) at Florida, then made the mistake of being tempted by the NFL after 12 seasons as head Gator. The mistake wasn’t so much wanting to see if he could succeed one level up as WHERE he went to find out: Little Danny Snyder land. Snyder was still a good eight years away from being willing to cede any control to a coach and the Redskins, in part because Spurrier was learning on the job, but also because Snyder was still making his coaches watch tape with him back then, were awful.

After two years, Spurrier decided he’d had enough and walked away from the remaining $15 million left on his contract. Once, when I brought up Snyder’s name to him and said I’d felt sorry for him dealing with the guy for two years, Spurrier laughed. “I don’t have anything against old Danny,” he said. “He paid me a lot of money to put up with all that s----.”

Yes he did.

Because he lost a lot of games and didn’t play coaches games trying to shift blame and because he just walked away, most of the media in Washington—many of them die-hard Redskin fans—made him an object of ridicule. (Still do). One radio guy who I consider a friend called him “pathetic,” when a story appeared in The Washington Post chronicling the fact that he had opted to stay out of coaching for a year so that his youngest son wouldn’t have to move as a high school senior.

Really, putting your son first is pathetic? Thinking that and saying it on the air—now THAT’S pathetic.

The good side of Spurrier is rarely talked about. He and his wife Gerry, who have been married more than 40 years, went out and adopted a new family after their own kids had grown. In 1997, I was trying to round up auction items for a charity and called Spurrier on a Friday morning to see if I could get a football autographed by his national championship team. His secretary asked if he could call back Monday since he and the team were about to leave for a road game. Of course.

Five minutes later the phone rang. It was Spurrier. This was before everyone had a cell phone.

“Isn’t the bus leaving right now for the airport?” I asked.

“You know, last I looked I was head ball coach of this team (he DID say head ball coach that time) and I don’t think they’re going to leave without me. What’s up?”

He didn’t send an autographed football—he sent two. There was a note: “See if you can bid this up a little and maybe do that trick where you say you’ll get two if the second bidder will match the first.”

I say all this because I’m having a very tough time with what is going on at South Carolina this week.

First, the school announced it was tossing Stephen Garcia off the football team once and for all. My guess is Garcia DID violate the terms of his FIFTH return from suspension to the team and, sadly, the internet rumor is that he may have failed a mandatory alcohol-test.

You know what? I don’t care. When Spurrier and the school still needed him to play quarterback, they kept bringing him back, saying he was a fine young man who deserved one more chance. Now, when he couldn’t produce in the final minute of the loss to Auburn two weeks ago and got benched, he’s off the team for good.

It just LOOKS bad. It looks like a classic case of, ‘we don’t need this kid anymore, so, as Athletic Director Eric Hyman said in his smarmy statement about ‘student-athletes,’ they wish him luck with the rest of his life and send him packing.

Seriously? That’s it? We were 100 percent behind you as long as you could win football games for us but now that your eligibility is just about up and a younger QB has taken your job, thanks for the memories? IF he failed an alcohol test, the school at the very least owes him help—whether it is counseling or rehab or both. Clearly, the last two weeks haven’t been good for him: he fails in the Auburn game; gets benched and then sees Connor Shaw, his successor, have a big game against Kentucky.

One thing I know for sure: Stephen Garcia won’t be an NFL quarterback—he’s the kind of guy who might get kept around to hold a clipboard EXCEPT that he’s had off-field problems.  The fact that he got his degree last spring would indicate he was at least TRYING to deal with his problem, all the more reason why he should be allowed to remain part of the team, regardless of whether he ever plays another down.

Just as the Garcia news was breaking on Tuesday, the OBC showed up for his weekly press conference. But rather than talking about the win over Kentucky (yawn) or this week’s game against Mississippi State (more yawns) the OBC launched into a diatribe against Ron Morris, a long time columnist for The State Newspaper in Columbia.

Repeatedly he called Morris a “negative guy,” and railed against a column Morris wrote in the spring about the decision of South Carolina point guard Bruce Ellington to also play football this fall. In the column, Morris wrote that Spurrier had been, “courting Ellington since the end of football season,” to join his team. Morris didn’t say Spurrier was wrong to court him or that basketball coach Darrin Horn was upset about it. He went on to discuss how difficult it is for any athlete to play two sports in this day and age and speculated that playing football would hurt Ellington’s development as a basketball player.

Sis months later, Spurrier walked into a press conference and declared he wouldn’t talk while Morris was in the room. He said this had been bothering him for months, that he had never recruited Ellington until after Ellington had talked to Horn about playing football and it was, “his right,” to not talk to a reporter who was, “trying to hurt our football team.”

Of course it’s his right. But he’s wrong. I’ve known Morris for almost 30 years since his days in Durham. He doesn’t make stuff up. SOMEONE told him Spurrier was “courting,” Ellington. Maybe it was the kid. Maybe it was Horn. Morris didn’t make it up, I promise you that. And he didn’t write it to, “hurt the football team.”

I’ve been in a lot of battles like this myself. Years ago, the Maryland football team, under orders from its coach, “voted,” not to speak to me because I’d written a three-part series, with every single quote on the record, about why the program had hit a ceiling and was slipping. Of course the way I found out about the “vote,” was that several players called to tell me about it. When I covered Lefty Driesell, who is now a close friend, we fought almost daily.

Several years back, Gary Williams was complaining to me about Josh Barr, who was then The Post’s beat writer covering his team. Barr was (and is) good and when you’re good (like Morris) and not a cheerleader you are bound to clash with any coach you cover because every team has things happen that a coach would rather not see come out in public—even the good guys like the OBC and Lefty and Gary.

When Gary complained about Barr I said to him, “you understand, if I’d ever covered you on a daily basis we’d have been screaming at one another most of the time? Sometimes you have to write a story even if you know you’re going to get yelled at by a coach for writing it.”

Spurrier said he didn’t mind being criticized (and I think through most of his career that’s been true) but he didn’t like someone writing something that wasn’t true. I’m sure he means that. That said, Morris blistered him after the Auburn game, holding him responsible for the failed last drive. The OBC is human. You have to wonder if that column reminded him that he was upset about the Ellington story six months ago.

Regardless, he should have handled it in private with Morris. Scream, yell, curse—whatever. But don’t make yourself look like a bully. The OBC is a good man who is good at what he does. So is Morris. They should sit down and talk this out. And then Spurrier should make Stephen Garcia a student coach for the rest of the season and make sure he gets whatever help he needs.

I don’t expect a lot from football coaches most of the time. I do expect more from the OBC.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Washington Post articles from the weekend -- Washington Capitals; Wake Forest and Jim Grobe

Here are my two newest articles for The Washington Post which ran on over the weekend --- 'Washington Capital's time for raising little banners is over' and 'Wake Forest's Jim Grobe achieves beyond the numbers.' ---

Shortly before they began their 38th season, the Washington Capitals unfurled a banner in the rafters of Verizon Center. It was another little one, the eighth among the nine they have raised that is a tribute to a regular-season accomplishment. The exception to the rule is the one that celebrates their Eastern Conference championship in 1998, the one year they have reached the Stanley Cup Finals.

The time for hanging little banners is over. Although opening night was hardly exultant, with the Caps pulling out a 4-3 overtime victory against the middling Carolina Hurricanes, this is a season that shouldn’t end until mid-June.

Win another Southeast Division title? Fine. A Presidents’ Trophy for the best regular-season record? Okay. But General Manager George McPhee didn’t go out this summer and add Tomas Vokoun, Roman Hamrlik, Jeff Halpern, Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer in order to win another division title or try to advance another round in the playoffs.

“I think if people think we’re good enough to win the Stanley Cup, we should embrace that idea,” McPhee said a few minutes before Saturday night’s game. “That’s where you want to be, in that handful of teams that’s good enough to win the Cup.

“That doesn’t mean you don’t go through the process of trying to do things right the entire season. But you do that to get to the point where you can be at your best in the playoffs.”

Click here for the rest of the column: Washington Capital's time for raising little banners is over


When the time comes for Jim Grobe to retire, the chances that he will be voted into the College Football Hall of Fame are probably somewhere between slim and none with slim having little chance of prevailing. Almost halfway through his 17th season as a head coach Grobe has an overall record of 99-94-1.

And yet, if any of those voting were to take a close look at Grobe’s accomplishments he might be voted in by acclamation.

Consider — for starters — some numbers.

Grobe is in his 11th season at Wake Forest. After his team’s 35-30 victory Saturday over Florida State, the Demon Deacons are 4-1 and Grobe is now 66-61 at Wake. That record might not sound overwhelming until you consider that he is the first Wake Forest coach to have a winning record since D.C. “Peahead” Walker retired in 1950 with a record of 77-51-6. The last four coaches prior to Grobe’s arrival combined to go 95-159-2 in 23 years. Those four — John Mackovic, Al Groh, Bill Dooley and Jim Caldwell — weren’t exactly hacks. All but Dooley went on to become head coaches in the NFL and Dooley had a record of 132-91-3 in 20 years at North Carolina and Virginia Tech.
Grobe’s first job was at Ohio University where he was 33-33-1 in six years. Again, hardly Hall of Fame numbers. But if you consider that in the 10 years prior to Grobe’s arrival Ohio had four separate losing streaks of at least 12 games, that record becomes a lot more impressive.

Click here for the rest of the column: Wake Forest's Jim Grobe achieves beyond the numbers

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

MLB playoffs- Yankees, Rays; Question for Red Sox fans

I know I’ve said it here often but I really do love baseball. And the best thing about the first round of the playoffs is that they actually play afternoon and early evening games—the kind you can watch to conclusion without worrying about being tired the next morning. Of course if you are a fan of the New York Yankees only a rain out is going to give you the chance to see your team play in the afternoon because they are locked into that primetime slot at 8:37 p.m. every night.

(Am I the only one who has noticed that in the MLB promo about memories being made in postseason about 90 percent of those memories involve the Yankees? I’m convinced if there had been the kind of video available in 1951 that we have today we would have seen the Yankees WATCHING Bobby Thompson’s shot rather than the home run itself).

The Yankees do provide almost unique theater—I say almost unique because the soap opera that is always the Red Sox is right up there. As of this morning, A.J. Burnett is now worth the $82 million the Yankees paid him because he managed to deliver 5 and 1/3 innings of one run baseball in Detroit last night. Sandy Koufax or Bob Gibson would have retired in disgust if they ever came out after 5 and 1/3 innings in a postseason game, but these days any pitcher who can go five innings without getting shelled is a future Hall of Famer.

What’s funny about Burnett’s performance is that if Curtis Granderson doesn’t make a catch that DOES belong on next year’s October promo with the bases loaded in the first inning, he probably doesn’t get out of that inning and may never be able to pitch again in New York. Seriously. That’s how close it was. It sounds funny to say about anyone who plays for the Yankees, but Granderson (who made another terrific catch in the sixth inning) is underrated. In fact, he and Robinson Cano are both underrated because there’s so much focus on Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and, to a lesser degree, Mark Teixeira.

Cano and Granderson are, without any doubt, the Yankees two best players—C.C. Sabathia and Mariano Rivera are in a different category as pitchers—and Granderson is, from what I can read and hear, the best talker in the clubhouse. Regardless, if the Yankees end up in The World Series, people can point to his catch as the reason. He saved their season.

One other Yankees note: I had to drive to Comcast SportsNet last night because Washington Post Live is now on at 10:30 p.m. (WAY past my bedtime) and, as I always do, I flipped on the Yankees broadcast because John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman crack me up. I like them both personally, but it is truly funny to hear the panic in their voices when the Yankees falter.

When Burnett gave up the home run to Victor Martinez in the fourth inning to close the gap to 2-1, Suzyn was semi-hysterical. “This is the problem with A.J. Burnett,” she said. “He’s like the little girl with the curl. When he’s good, he’s very good, when he’s bad, he’s very bad. In fact, he’s HORRID.” (The home run was the first hit Burnett had given up). Watching the replay, she added, “Uch, look at that. If you put it on a tee you couldn’t have laid it in there any better for him.”

She and Sterling spent the rest of the inning taking deep breaths as Burnett maneuvered through trouble. “Think he’s on a short lease?” Sterling said at one point. “You bet he’s on a short lease. This is an elimination game.”

Sadly, by the time I got back in the car after the show, the Yankees had the game in hand and Sterling was reduced to wondering if Joe Girardi might give, ‘Mariano,’ (he says it with about seven syllables and never uses a last name) an inning.

So, TBS gets a Yankees-Tiger game 5 and all the executives at Fox will be praying that the Yankees advance.

All four series have had some drama to this point—although I admit there was no way I could stay up for all of Milwaukee-Arizona last night.

I honestly don’t know how to feel about The Tampa Bay Rays. As Tyler Kepner, who writes so well about baseball for The New York Times, pointed out this morning, their seasons are almost always the same: they compete superbly because their front office is so good and because Joe Maddon is such a good manager, and they come up short at some point because they simply don’t spend enough money to get that extra key player—the way the Texas Rangers spent $80 million last winter to get Adrian Beltre.

The Rays have now been in the playoffs three of the last four years—truly remarkable given that they play in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox, each of whom probably spends more on its postgame clubhouse buffet budget than the Rays spend on players.

What’s sad is to see fewer than 30,000 fans in the ballpark for a postseason game. The Rays drew less than 1.6 million fans this year. The ballpark is absolutely awful and that’s a big part of the problem. The other problem is that there are more Yankee fans living in the Tampa Bay area than Rays fans.

Major League Baseball never should have put a team in Tampa—not without a promise to build a stadium with a retractable roof, the kind the Marlins are getting next year after almost 20 years of playing in a football stadium that’s ALMOST as awful as the dome in St. Petersburg.

And yet, somehow, the Rays, after being truly terrible for 10 years, have made it work the last four years. It’s just a shame almost no one down there cares.

Finally, I have a question for any of you out there who are Red Sox fans: As soon as the last day of the regular season concluded, I was convinced there was a book to be done that would focus strictly on that final day, arguably the most dramatic in regular season baseball history. I thought—think—that if you go back to the eight teams involved in those four deciding games, focusing on the four teams fighting for the playoffs but also including the other four teams and get players, managers, coaches, broadcasters to walk you through that day in detail, you have one hell of a story.

My agent, Esther Newberg, who is one of those Red Sox fans who is STILL mad at Bill Buckner, says the story might be good but no Red Sox fan will buy the book even if you get really good stuff from Theo Epstein, Terry Francona, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz et al.

I understand that feeling. In 2008 when my book on Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina came out, I got a really nice note during spring training from Gary Cohen, the Mets longtime play-by-play announcer who is a good friend. Gary wrote that he loved the book, in fact thought it was the best one I’d written.

I wrote back, thanked him and asked him if it might be possible to come on for an inning or two one night to talk about the book, the process of writing it, why I chose Glavine and Mussina—typical promo stuff.

Gary’s answer was to the point: “John, I loved the book and you know I’d love to help in any way. But after the way last season ended (Glavine getting shelled for seven runs in 1/3 of an inning with the season on the line on the last day) there’s not a Mets fan alive who wants to hear the name Tom Glavine again anytime soon.”

He was, of course, right.

So, Red Sox fans, is Esther right on this one too?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Washington Post column: College Football Points and Views

Here is the newest weekly article on college football for The Washington Post ----

The college football regular season inched past the one-third mark on Saturday — five weeks down, nine to go before the Bogus Championship Series announces its matchups — and, while a number of questions have been answered, there are many more that no doubt will keep people glued to their seats or their TV sets between now and Dec. 4.

Here are some of the questions and answers, although many of the answers are still incomplete.

Question: Can Virginia Tech backdoor its way into the so-called national championship game courtesy of a soft nonconference schedule and being part of the ACC — which, if it were a baseball player, would have been nicknamed “Mr. August” by the late George M. Steinbrenner because that’s when ACC football traditionally has its best moments.
Answer: No. You don’t just replace a quarterback like Tyrod Taylor without some hiccups, and the Hokies’ offense was exposed by Clemson on Saturday. The special teams mistakes were surprising, but the biggest issue was the complete inability of the offense to get anything done. The Hokies might still end up in the ACC championship game but that’s a little bit like making the NBA or NHL playoffs for them. Yawn.

Question: Will North Carolina State Coach Tom O’Brien be at the very top of Wisconsin Coach Bret Bielema’s Christmas card list?

Answer: He should be. To be fair to O’Brien, he was in a tough position last spring when quarterback Russell Wilson told him he planned to skip spring practice to play baseball and was not sure he would return to football in the fall if he had a good summer playing in the Colorado Rockies’ farm system. O’Brien was caught in the middle because his other experienced quarterback, Mike Glennon, had told him he probably wouldn’t return to be Wilson’s backup.

O’Brien named Glennon his starter and Wilson left. He hit .228 in the low minors and landed at Wisconsin, where he was eligible right away because he had his undergraduate degree. Voila!—the Badgers are legitimate national contenders and Wilson is a Heisman Trophy candidate. Their toughest remaining game in the regular season should be at Ohio State, but the Buckeyes aren’t exactly the Buckeyes this year. They’ve already been tattooed with losses twice. (Sorry.)

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