Thursday, June 25, 2009

Caught in the Draft


The great thing about the NBA Draft is that you never know who’s going to be the bust. Okay, you knew Michael Olowokandi was going to stink, A) Because the Clippers chose him and B) Well, they’re the Clippers. There may be those out there who were sure Darko Milicic was going to be a colossal mistake and who insist they could predict that Sam Bowie’s gimpy feet would make Portland look like idiots. But with few exceptions, each year’s Draft is, as new Sixers coach Eddie Jordan put it Tuesday, like Christmas. Only the nice packages aren’t labeled, so you don’t know which one contains the home colonoscopy kit and which houses the home edition of Megan Fox’s Slap-and-Tickle Workshop.

Tonight, the NBA teams play talent roulette once again with a crop of imperfect, largely undertrained and unpredictable prospects, hoping that weeks of interviewing and auditioning have led them to find someone who can help their team win. With the specter of Benoit Benjamin hanging over the proceedings, it’s possible to imagine the person who has the NBA’s antacid concession getting a beach house out of this year’s Draft.

Every single player available has some big-time questions haunting him. Even Blake Griffin, everybody’s number one pick, has his faults, particularly on defense and when he’s asked to do something with a basketball in his hands from further than a foot away from the rim. Each of the 62 point guards vying for first-round spots has his liabilities. Stephen Curry may never guard anybody. Ty Lawson can’t get it done in the halfcourt. Tyreke Evans doesn’t shoot. All the big guys measured shorter than they thought they were. And all the Europlayers are stained by the failures of many of their brethren who stumbled before them.

But let’s face it; the NBA isn’t built on 19-year olds. The Lakers and Magic had a combined one rookie on in their rotations during the Finals. With few exceptions, newcomers don’t bring playoff prosperity. The Draft is for the great unwashed. It’s a chance for Minnesota to accumulate as many picks as possible, despite not having a coach and with an owner who knows nothing about basketball. Look at what happened in the summer of 2007. The Celtics had stunk like old fish but had been hosed in the Lottery. So, they traded the fifth overall pick and some baggage to Seattle for Ray Allen and then dished former first-rounders to Minnesota for Kevin Garnett. Hello, world championship. Meanwhile, the T-Wolves are a shambles and may be trying to pin their future on a teenage Spaniard who will owe the IRS in his country $8 mil when he signs and NBA deal. (His club has accumulated so much in back taxes that it transferred the kid’s onerous buyout to the Feds.)

So, when the Raptors select DeMar DeRozan, or whatever unlucky soul gets to play with Chris Bosh for a season before watching him walk in free agency, Tronno residents shouldn’t start setting aside dough for playoff tickets. Despite all the hype by the NBA and its propaganda partners, the Draft doesn’t promise prosperity. More than likely, a high pick this year is a harbinger of more misery to come.

Nope, it’s the trades that make champions, and in today’s economic climate, the NBA is turning into league with a caste system that could soon have owners sporting bindis. The two big deals that have been consummated so far have allowed wealthier teams to acquire big-name talents in return for the expiring contracts of B and C-Listers that Kathy Griffin might even scorn. San Antonio was able to add Richard Jefferson, a 20-a-night wing that will rejuvenate its sagging offense and help the team get younger, in return for aging Bruce Bowen, complementary piece Fabricio Oberto and Kurt Thomas, whose value to a team now is more as a stock analyst than interior factor. Two days later, Cleveland acquired the Big Everything from Phoenix, which was once a showpiece franchise but is now on a cost-cutting binge. By acquiring Sasha Pavlovic’s attractive contract and The Ghost of Ben Wallace, the Suns save about $10 million and maybe more, if they can buy out Wallace. Cleveland, meanwhile, gets a Tweeting fool who can play 25 minutes a night, attract double teams and amuse locals with his hilarious comedy routine. And if he actually tries, which wasn’t always the case in Phoenix, Shaq could help the Cavs win a title. Given that this is the last year of his contract, Cleveland might actually expect maximum effort from its new road grader. Most of the time.

The lesson is clear: NFL teams may build through the Draft, but NBA powers load up by fleecing poor teams in the kinds of deals little brothers make with their older siblings before Mom or Dad vetoes the swap. Hey, Johnny, why don’t you give me your iPod for this cool rock? Sure, Ricky. You’re the best. Look at this season’s finalists. The Lakers didn’t quite give Memphis a bag of magic beans for Pau Gasol, but it was close. The cash-strapped Grizzlies single-sourced the trade with L.A., much to the dismay of every other team in the league, who would have surrendered more for the big man. Orlando, meanwhile, convinced Houston that it was a good idea to give the Magic Rafer Alston in a three-way with Memphis. At least the Rockets got Kyle Lowry out of the deal. The Grizz ended up with a whole lot of nothing, which fit in well with the rest of its roster.

Thursday night, you’re going to hear a lot about the great futures of those drafted and how much the league’s untouchables helped themselves by selecting a point guard with many questions about his game. Disregard that and pay attention to two things: Which contenders are conning economically-challenged rivals into surrendering valuable players in return for detritus, albeit cost-effective detritus? And which clubs are trying to dump salary in the hopes of having enough cap room next summer to make runs at the unprecedented bonanza of talent expected to hit free agency? By the time Friday dawns, the cast of Clean House will be able to pick about 10 of next year’s Lottery participants, and the short list of candidates for the Larry O’Brien Trophy will be established. That’s what “happens” in the NBA right now, and it’s not the best news for fans of the league’s cellar denizens.

It’s even worse for Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin. The Clippers are taking him.

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EL HOMBRE SEZ: Now that Maria Sharapova is out of Wimbledon, does the tournament still go on?...Cowboy Quarterback is down in Mississippi throwing to high schoolers. Sounds like he’s preparing to play for the Raiders, not Minnesota…Say what you want about the NHL and its follies, but the one thing the league does right is its Winter Classic. Pairing the Bruins and Flyers in Fenway Park on New Year’s Day is a genius move and will no doubt result in high ratings and a bonanza for ticket scalpers. Now, if the league could do something about its sagging franchises, stinky TV deal and the perception (mostly among Detroiters) that it favored Pittsburgh and Freddie Mercury in the Stanley Cup finals, everything would be fine…Here’s a shocker: The BCS rejected the Mountain West Conference’s proposal for a college football playoff. That means another five years of choosing college football’s national champion on paper. In a related story, the Red Sox were just named World Series champs because they have the best record in baseball right now…Congratulations to the U.S. soccer team for its landmark win over Spain Wednesday. Seems like the Americans specialize in these uprisings, only to return to hit-and-miss play afterward. The challenge now is for the squad to play well Sunday in the Confederations Cup final, build momentum through World Cup qualifying and then send a team to South Africa next summer that doesn’t lose to Ghana.

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YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? It’s time for Phillies manager Charlie Manuel to move Jimmy Rollins out of the leadoff spot for an extended period of time. Rollins hasn’t been the same player since his 2007 MVP campaign, and his inability to get on base is killing the Phillies’ offense. Rollins continues to swing at bad pitches, still tries to pull the ball, hits way too many fly balls and refuses to work walks and agitate the way a true leadoff man should. When Rollins is going well, he’s a tremendous weapon, but that hasn’t happened for a while. Manuel needs to drop him until Rollins starts hitting again, and more importantly, shows that he’s interested in doing the things to set the table for teammates, rather than trying to be a slugging shortstop. Make the move, Charlie. It’s time.

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AND ANOTHER THING: Is El Hombre the only one who sees the irony in the timing of Donald Fehr’s announcement that he is stepping down as the head of the players’ union? In a couple days, Manny Ramirez will be back with the Dodgers after his 50-day suspension for using a drug related to steroid use. Perhaps Fehr can serve as the emcee at Ramirez’s press conference, since it was in large part due to Fehr’s refusal to allow drug testing in Majoke League Baseball that the steroid era was able to blossom. Marvin Miller will always be remembered as the man who brought free agency to baseball, while Fehr’s legacy is one of aversion, avoidance and acrimony. Fehr, in concert with serial back-turner Bud Sellout, helped create a climate in which players abused performance-enhancing drugs for more than a decade and tainted the game’s reputation. Miller belongs in the Hall of Fame; Fehr shouldn’t get a vote. And to all those Dodgers fans who used to rail against Giants supporters who backed BALCO Bonds all those juicy years: You have become colossal hypocrites because of your undying support for a drug abuser and a lout.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Cost of Doing Bidness


Back in September 1986, when it seemed as if every Southwest Conference football program was under NC2A investigation or already on probation, earnest Ted Koppel and his “Nightline” team thought it wise to seek the sage counsel of one Daniel Jenkins on the matter. Koppel, like many football fans, was outraged at the wild-west climate that had taken hold in the SWC, which boasted eight teams from Texas and the University of Arkansas as its members. Payments to players, a rather laissez-faire approach to academics, and recruiting shenanigans too widespread to detail fully comprised the case against the programs, and that was just how the Christian schools were doing business. Even darker stuff was going on at the state-run institutions.

So, “Nightline” visited chez Jenkins and trained a camera on the white-haired veteran journalist, who just happened to be an alumnus of TCU, an esteemed conference member. Jenkins had made a living chronicling – often in hilarious fashion – the excesses and vanities of the football world, and seemed to understand that people under pressure to succeed will often do just about anything to achieve that goal. Being a Texan, he had a little different view of football than did the England-born, Stanford-educated Koppel. For Jenkins, everything was fine once the ball was in the air, and the chicken-fried steak gravy was suitably thick.

Had Koppel and his research staff done their due diligence, they would have known that the last thing Jenkins was going to do that September night was pillory the SWC. They expected a bobblehead that would validate their fury. What they got was a well-traveled cynic who had created characters like Big Ed Bookman and T.J. Lambert in order to lampoon those who insisted that college athletics be 99 44/100 percent pure. Anyone who knew Jenkins understood that things weren’t going to go Koppel’s way from the moment the writer appeared on the TV screen, wearing his trademark black blazer, with a Winston cooking in the ashtray next to his easy chair. And was that a glass of young scotch iced up next to him?

By the time the interview was over, Jenkins had turned Koppel inside-out, ripping the NC2A for its “stupid rules” and basically letting the folks screaming for SWC blood know that a little bit – or in the case of SMU, a lot – of cheating was merely the cost of doing football business in Texas. Koppel was outraged. Jenkins was amused. And anyone with a sense of humor was entertained.

It may be time for “Nightline” to pay another visit to Jenkins, if they can get him off the golf course, that is. Since Koppel is no longer in the anchor chair, the show can use any of the three anchors it currently employs, since each looks earnest and priggish enough to express the necessary indignation were Jenkins to take a long swig of the youngster and provide some insight into today’s college sports world. It certainly isn’t a scenic vista, but it’s not much different than it was 20-plus (and more) years ago. Still, Tuesday’s news that USC basketball coach Tim Floyd quit doesn’t improve the view. The official reason for Floyd’s resignation was that he “no longer had full enthusiasm for the job.” No, Floyd’s level of interest in coaching the Trojans remains pretty high. It’s his threshold of dealing with the allegations that he had paid a “representative” of O.J. Mayo $1,000 in hundies on a SoCal street corner that had dropped. Of course, at ‘SC these days, unless you’re under investigation for something, you’re not really doing your job. Just ask Pete Carroll about that.

Or, you can check in with Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin, who is piling up “minor” violations in Knoxville the way the Vols have hoarded losses – early and often – of late. Hey, Kiffin’s just being aggressive, like spending 800 large since taking over the program on recruiting, at a time when the school is cutting $11 mil from the books. Why not ask the folks at Memphis about how they can still consider themselves a legitimate institution of higher learning when they granted admission to a basketball player whose second round of SAT scores were more than 500 points lower than his first? Worse, Georgia dropped the kid after the discrepancy, and when you’re taking kids that SEC schools won’t touch, you have problems.

It goes on and on. As college athletics continues its descent into the world of professionalism, Jenkins’ observations more than 20 years ago still stand. Many of the NC2A’s rules are still stupid, and coaches and administrators will do just about anything to win ballgames. Lest you think this is something new, keep in mind that football in the first couple decades of the 20th century featured eligibility tomfoolery that made today’s academic and transfer transgressions seem minor by comparison. And remember Bud Wilkinson, whose Oklahoma teams tore off 47 in a row without a loss during the ‘50s? Well, if you believe Jim Dent’s book, “The Undefeated,” the Great White Father had a predilection for acquiring talent in creative – and sometimes expensive – ways and for stewardesses.

The NC2A has recently created an “ethics panel” in men’s college hoops, the better to provide guidance and structure to coaches who live in the gray area of recruiting rules. Its goal is to clean up the image of coaches, who are generally cast as masters in the art of deception when it comes to selling their programs to talented high school players. Good luck with that, fellas, because for every 50 guys who do it right, there is a Tim Floyd, and everybody wants to know about him. Worse, the cesspool of “grass-roots” basketball is filled with conniving, greedy sleazebags who care little about the players they pimp and only about what finds its way into their pockets. In that sewer, rules mean nothing. If you want some kid who has been flown to AAU games since he was 11 and has more gear than most college equipment rooms, you had better be ready to get some dirt under your fingernails. Otherwise, it’s the NIT for you, buddy.

The Floyd imbroglio is the latest headline torn from a long list of ugly stories about college athletics dating back more than a century. As long as there is money to be made and victories to be chased, there will be rules “violations” and unethical behavior. Those who express outrage should ask whether they are ready for the only true solution: an end to the big-time sports model and a nationwide embrace of the Ivy League mentality. If they’re not, then stop worrying about who’s paying whom and enjoy the game.

That’s how Jenkins does it.

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EL HOMBRE SEZ: America continues to be held hostage by the ridiculous Brett Favre saga. The latest bit of hilarity is the report that members of Cowboy Quarterback’s gang booked 30 hotel rooms in Green Bay the weekend of the Vikings-Packers game. Let’s hope we find out what they order from room service. All of this over a washed-up QB who played like a rookie free agent during the last month of the ’08 season. Stunning, even by espn’s standards…Here’s hoping Phil Mickelson’s return to the links is successful. But Lefty would probably choose to miss the cut in every tournament for the rest of the year if his wife will conquer cancer…The United States is considering visiting Iran for a soccer “friendly” this fall. Winner gets a trophy and a metric ton of yellowcake uranium. Negotiations are expected to be tough, since Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants the game played in Great Satan Stadium. That could be a problem…Joe Montana’s son, Nick, has committed to play football in 2010 at the University of Washington. The good news is that the quarterback has no pressure on him, since it’s not like his father accomplished anything on the football field.

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YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? On the one hand, it’s easy to feel sorry for Phillies’ leftfielder Raul Ibanez, who this week was accused by a blogger of fueling his fantastic start with products from the BALCO Bonds line. Ibanez has never failed a drug test and has volunteered to provide any type of bodily fluid or output (no, thank you) to defend his honor. On the other hand, Ibanez is part of a union that has fought drug testing at every turn and continues to refuse to provide blood samples so that Majoke League Baseball can test for HGH. Like it or not, every player whose numbers inflate beyond previous performance levels is liable to be suspected of cheating, simply because the past 10-plus years have featured so much chicanery, obfuscation and outright lying. Ibanez may be completely innocent, but the company he keeps – MLB ballplayers – makes him vulnerable to speculation and accusation. It may not be “fair” to him, but after everything that baseball and its union have allowed since the mid-1990s, it’s a fact of life. If Ibanez and others want to eliminate the finger-pointing, they should agitate for an iron-clad drug-testing program that conforms to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s highest standards. Otherwise, great accomplishments will continue to trigger speculation.

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AND ANOTHER THING: If the ipecacuanha plant ever disappears from the earth, and its dried rhizome and roots are no longer available to create the well-known emetic, parents will still be able to induce vomiting among children who swallow household cleaning products by letting them watch tapes of coverage of the ’09 NBA Finals. The absolute obsession with Kobe Bryant’s quest for a fourth title has set new standards for overdramatizing athletics. Bryant has been no help and has gone so far as to create a new sneer for the occasion, a ridiculous reverse-overbite that emerges at crucial times, as if on cue by espn/abc directors looking for a symbol of his intensity. In the world of television sports, it matters little whether a team wins, or a game is great. There must be a compelling storyline, and this year’s is Bryant and his “obsession” with winning another title. We are reminded repeatedly about how much “he wants it,” what it means for “his legacy” and how “it will cement his greatness.” If this isn’t enough to make you root for the Magic, then consider yourself gone from the ranks of sports fans who care about the competition and get ready for NBA on Broadway.

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ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD: El Hombre y la familia will spend a week at the Nygard Cay Beach Resort in the Bahamas, so the next dose of truth and justice will be administered June 25. Have a happy Father’s Day.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Let Manny Play


Back when the BALCO Bonds Traveling Medicine Show was rolling into big-league parks, Dodgers fans used to rage (as much as anybody from L.A. can rage) about the lab creation’s steroid-infused body. They couldn’t believe how those rubes up the coast could support such a human abomination. Bonds was a walking, slugging example of the game’s performance-enhancing drug problem, and the Giants fans who rooted for him were head-in-the-sand rubes who would have begged for a curtain call from Stalin had he ever hit a game-winning home run for their diamond heroes.

The anger was exacerbated by the teams’ rivalry, which was born in New York and moved west in the early 1960s. It was fueled by Juan Marichal’s use of John Roseboro’s head as a piƱata, numerous pennant-race showdowns and the natural NoCal-SoCal antagonism. But Los Angelinos, like most other MLB outposts, ridiculed the Giants for their support of one of the sporting world’s biggest cheaters.

Funny how things change. In the most recent All-Star Game balloting, disgraced Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez is among the top five outfield vote getters and is within striking distance of a starting spot. This despite his 50-game suspension for using a steroid post-cursor/female fertility drug/party starter. Since most baseball fans are nauseated by the latest star player to be gunned down in the P.E.D. mess, it stands to reason that his overwhelming All-Star support is coming from Dodgertown, where fans pine for his return and start Twitter pages counting the days until he can continue his pathological ways on the field and in the clubhouse.

As you might imagine, the whole thing has spawned a cyclone of controversy over whether Ramirez should play in the game if he is elected. Dodgers manager Joe Torre says no, and he insists Ramirez would say the same thing. MLB commissioner Bud Sellout is watching the situation closely, hoping Ramirez doesn’t grab one of the top three spots and force the owners’ toady to take action. Since Sellout is still cleaning syrup out of his hair following his world-class waffling during Bonds’ heinous pursuit of Hank Aaron’s career home-run mark, you can imagine he doesn’t want anything to do with the Ramirez All-Star mess.

Not that there should be any debate on the subject. If Ramirez is elected, he plays. His suspension will be up before the All-Star Game, barring a wrath-of-God style spate of rainouts. (Then again, since God is probably an Angels fan, he might just stick it to the cross-town Dodgers.) That means Ramirez will be eligible to shamble onto the Busch Stadium field in his pajama-style uniform and represent the National League. And he should do it. Ramirez’s presence in the game will remind MLB fans of the sport’s two bigger shams – the steroid disgrace and the ridiculous practice of turning the selection of All-Starters into a popularity contest. You say Ramirez doesn’t deserve a spot in the lineup? Well, get in line, because ever since Majoke League Baseball started the fan balloting system, back in 1970, there have been dozens of unworthy starters. Ramirez just happens to be the latest in a long line.

Every year, worthy performers are pushed to the bench by the whims of the public, most of whom don’t know anything about the players for whom they are voting. A doozy is brewing this year, since as of Tuesday, Seattle’s Ken Griffey, Jr., he of the .222 batting average and six whole homers, was running fourth in the AL outfield voting, just 28,000 ahead of teammate Ichiro Suzuki, one of the game’s best. Should junior warm up a bit and show up on SportsCenter a few times, he could zip past Ichiro as a sentimental favorite, not to mention the choice of fans who still think it’s 1998. So Ramirez doesn’t belong? He has plenty of company.

As for the steroid angle, baseball would be getting what it deserves. Even though Sellout and his apologists try to make it sound as if the Manny suspension proves that the MLB has P.E.D. users on the run, it remains unwilling to confront the issues that have arisen (Hall of Fame eligibility, record-breaking debacles, sport-wide lack of credibility) due to the climate fostered by look-the-other-way owners and a truculent union. Forcing broadcasters to explain the whole mess as Ramirez digs into the batter’s box would be absolutely delicious and what the game deserves. And, should Sellout discover that he indeed has a set and prevents a fan-elected Manny from playing, he will contradict his previous simpering stances on how to deal with drug abusers and appear as if he is grandstanding. Simply put, it’s a win-win for those who are disgusted by the past 15 years of baseball history – except for last year’s glorious Phillies World Championship, of course. If Ramirez plays, it indicts the All-Star balloting sham. If he is banned by Sellout, it will make the commissioner look like a spineless hypocrite who hasn’t had the fortitude to deal with other steroid cheats.

For now, count on two things. First, the Dodgers fans will continue to become the biggest jokes in baseball by rooting for Ramirez on the heels of their boorish behavior in last year’s loss to the Phillies in the NLCS. And Sellout will have an army of lackeys punching out All-Star ballots in the MLB offices, in an attempt to out-vote the Ramirez apologists.

Meanwhile, the Giants fans will continue to pay the price for supporting Bonds by being tortured by a poor team.

Ain’t baseball great?

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EL HOMBRE SEZ: Let’s hope that LeBron James has learned that sending a text message the day after snubbing someone who has defeated you is not good sportsmanship and that being a “competitor” does not prevent one from congratulating your conqueror. More important, especially to Cleveland fans, is that James is entering what could be his final year with the Cavs. He can opt out of his contract next summer, and if GM Danny Ferry doesn’t find someone else to score during the post-season crucible, James will be a Knick faster than you can say “Spike Lee has lost his fastball.”…The NBA Finals begin tonight, and since the league can’t jam the Kobe vs. LeBron angle down our gullets (that sound you hear is Uncle David Stern’s weeping), it will have to settle for choosing the best team on the planet. Horrors! Don’t worry, ABC/espn will try to manufacture a Kobe vs. Dwight Howard rivalry, the better to avoid focusing on the game itself. In case you’re wondering, the Lakers win in six…So, you take performance-enhancing drugs, Danica Patrick? That’s hilarious. Wonder if commentators would have been tougher on you if you didn’t look so good in a swimsuit. Try to think next time you tell a joke…Speaking of jokes, Titans QB Vince Young wants to start or move on to another team. Wait, now his agent says he doesn’t. When you’re a running back under center with little accuracy throwing the ball and have demonstrated some personality issues over the past year, it’s best to keep your mouth shut and work hard. When will professional teams stop believing the hype?...At a time when the home run continues to be celebrated too strenuously, Seattle outfielder Ichiro Suzuki continues his Hall of Fame career. His hitting streak stands at 27 games, and he is on pace to collect 256 hits this year. Ichiro has topped 200 hits in each of his eight big-league seasons, has scored at least 100 runs in all eight and has enough Gold Gloves for each of an octopus’ arms. He won’t reach 3,000 hits, because he didn’t enter the Majors until age 27, but he should be a sure-fire, first-ballot Cooperstown inductee…You have to wonder whether LifeLock, the company that has bought the rights to put its name on the jerseys of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, is long for this world. If you decide to spend your marketing dollars in this economy on a sponsorship deal that no one will see, you could be out of business pretty soon. In other sports business news, the Detroit Lions will now be sponsored by Alpo.

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YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? Morocco Mole checked in Monday with some big news from the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies: He had received an e-mail informing him he could still buy tickets to the sold-out Boston Red Sox series next week! Perhaps even more important is the fact that Yogi Berra is now running the Phillies’ ticket department. Let’s bring in the prosecutor for this one. Mr. Berra, are the games against the Red Sox sold out? “Yes, sir, they are.” Mr. Berra, can fans still get tickets to the sold-out Red Sox series? “Yes, sir, they can.” Prosecution calls Mr. Bud Abbott and Mr. Lou Costello to the stand. Of course, the doublespeak isn’t a mistake. The Mole and other fans can get tickets to the sold-out Red Sox series, provided they purchase tickets to three other games. Teams have been trying to entice fans to get tickets to games against relatively unsavory opponents for years by using the carrot of the opportunity to see more attractive rivals, but the Phillies have raised this to an art form. From February, they declare the games against popular Junior Circuit opposition “sold out,” and then spend months telling you how to get said ducats. The same goes for fireworks night and Salute to Scrapple Night. It’s their right to engage in such business practices, and it’s our right to laugh at them every time they channel their inner Yogi to tell us how to get tickets to sold-out games. Next up in The Mole’s e-mail box: An invitation next week to buy tickets to the sold-out Red Sox series, when the four-pack gimmick fizzles. The real kick in the pants comes the day after the sold-out Red Sox series, when the Phillies offer fans the chance to buy ticket stubs from the sold-out Red Sox Series.

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AND ANOTHER THING: University of Florida president Bernie Machen says Gators football coach Urban Meyer deserves a raise and should be the highest-paid boss in the Southeastern Conference. On the surface, that makes sense. The stoic Meyer has won two national titles in the past three years and is threatening to zoom past The Ol’ Ball Coach in terms of on-field success. (Meyer still doesn’t have a Heisman, though.) If this were three years ago, Machen would be well advised to give Meyer more dough. The trouble is, this is 2009, and UF has sliced $69 million from its budget over the past two years. Last Tuesday, the board of trustees approved another $42.2 million in cuts. Even though Machen argues the athletic department – fueled primarily by money raised by Big Pigskin – has given $6 mil to the school’s academic departments, he would be sending a horrible message to the rest of the university community by giving Meyer more money. And the coach, who already earns $3.25 million per, would look pretty greedy grabbing another three-quarters of a million, when programs, faculty and resources are being hacked away from the school. Worse, Machen’s actions could have a trickle-down effect at another SEC institution, LSU, which is suffering through its own round of cuts. Tigers coach Les Miles is the conference’s top-paid coach, at $3.751 large a year, and has an escalator clause in his contract that keeps him atop the list. So, while students deal with schools that are trimming back academic offerings, the football coaches could be engaging in a game of top-this. Nice job, Bernie. Here’s an idea for your next move: eliminate the Economics department but give Meyer a solid-gold desk.