Thursday, February 19, 2009

How Dare He?


With so much going on in the world of sports, from the negotiations to broadcast NASCAR’s weekly drama on the Soap Opera Network, to the contrived excitement of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest and Sheriff Buford T. Justice’s inability to make drug charges stick against Snoop Phelps, there was absolutely no reason to join the hysterical media chorus about Alex Rodriguez, his young and stupid cousin and their Cream of Cheat. Why not talk about how NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock is going to go nuts over some offensive lineman’s hip drop at this weekend’s Scouting Combine? Or whether Texas Tech actually thinks it can fire its wildly successful head coach and still lure 50,000 people out to the west Texas scrub every other Saturday.

That will all have to wait, and all because of an e-mail sent to me by an esteemed national radio host. Attached to it was a blog post by a Milwaukee talker with the sporting eye of an 80-year old double-cataract myope. This genius has decided that he is the smartest guy in the country, because he has defended Bud Sellout all along, and now he has been vindicated. This is a transparent case of Bratwurst City brotherhood, since Sellout is a former snake oil salesman, er, car dealer from Sudstown. And even though anyone who can honestly say the steroid mess in baseball can be blamed on everybody but the man in charge, is clearly in need of a refresher course on logic, El Hombre is steamed.

Looking for villains in this mess is like trying to find evidence of Mickey Rourke’s hard life and bad career decisions on his battered face. They are everywhere. And blaming Sellout for the whole mess is unfair. Without the strong supporting work of union goons Donald Fehr and Gene Ozra, baseball’s drug mess never could have erupted like the acne on Jose Canseco’s back. Without the willingness of players to risk their long-term health by taking everything from testosterone to infertility drugs to pills designed to fight narcolepsy, the game wouldn’t have been soiled like the Suleman octuplets’ diapers. And without a hero-worshipping group of fans and media, who marveled at the long-ball numbers being cranked out by power-hitting laboratory mutants, the game’s credibility wouldn’t be suffering worse than Joaquin Phoenix’s.

The word is conspiracy, and we were all in on it, at least for a while. And if we’re all guilty in some way, then Sellout is especially culpable, because he was in charge. There was a lot to dislike about Uberfuhrer Steinbrenner during his rein of terror atop the Yankee organization, but he got one thing right from the start: If you want to be the boss, you have to make the difficult decisions and stand by them. That’s what people in charge do. They face down the tough situations, choose to act and then withstand the inevitable criticism. They set the pace and then remain strong when others launch bombs at them. What do you think would have happened in London during WWII if Winston Churchill had remained sequestered in a bunker, when Nazi bombs were pelting every house and pub night after night? There would have been chaos and despair. Instead, Churchill surveyed the wreckage daily, promised things would change and endured the barbs of those who insisted it was his mismanagement that allowed the mess to take place. That’s leadership.

What we have now from Sellout is a cowardice that worsens daily. The commissioner has decided that he is not only innocent of all charges being brought against him in the court of public opinion, but that he needs to convince us that everybody else is guilty. There hasn’t been a leadership breech this grotesque since Neville Chamberlain decided Hitler wasn’t such a bad guy after all and surrendered much of Europe to the tyrant in a quest for “peace in our time.” Sellout is in full sprint, dashing away from his responsibilities as a leader, one of which is accepting the blame for previous mistakes.

The worst part of Sellout’s recent defense strategy is his outrage. How dare he take offense at those who accuse him of ineffectiveness and complicity during the past decade-plus? Where was his voice when the McGwire/Sosa love fest was “saving the game” in 1998? Where was his outrage in the ensuing years when home run totals piled up faster than Andruw Jones’ excess pounds? Why wasn’t he saying then that the union refused to implement a testing program? Why wasn’t he fighting with the same tenacity he is showing now to keep the sport he ran from becoming a cesspool of drug addicts and freak-show performers? Sellout said Monday, “I don’t want to hear the commissioner turned a blind eye to this or he didn’t care about it.” Oh, you don’t? Well, then buy some of those high-priced earplugs rock musicians use, Bud, because you’re in for a crapstorm.

Sellout punked out with BALCO Bonds, refusing to take a stand either way on his pursuit of Hank Aaron’s record. He partied like a rap star as McGwire and Sosa injected their way to long-ball heaven. And only when the evidence became too overwhelming to ignore did he get serious about instituting a drug policy. Funny how the players’ association became a lot more malleable once it saw the public was irate over the steroid use. Think testing would have arrived earlier had Sellout pointed some bloodhound journalists to the smoking syringes back in the late ‘90s? You betcha.

So, stop with the outrage, Bud. Don’t tell us how far the sport has come, because it started in a performance-enhanced abyss created by your lack of leadership. For once during your tenure, have the cajones to admit you were wrong about the whole thing. Then again, since Sellout was part of the whole steroid era, it’s possible that part of his anatomy shrunk, just like those of the juicers he worked to protect.

Then again, maybe he didn’t have any in the first place.

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EL HOMBRE SEZ: Great work by Me-Mac, allowing news of his season-ending knee surgery to get out through Stephen Naismith, rather than the Rockets. He is seriously injured, but once again the man came up small, just as he has repeatedly during the post-season. He thinks he’s an elite player in the league, but he’ll find out in ’10 that the market for selfish, injury-prone gunners isn’t too robust…Michigan’s Fab Five has announced it will reunite at a Detroit casino as part of the Final Four in April. Wonder who came up with the appearance money for them, now that Ed Martin isn’t around anymore…The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled last week that cheerleading is a “contact sport,” and that participants who are hurt cannot sue teammates whose actions lead to the injuries. In a related story, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the WNBA has been reclassified as a narcotic sleep aid…In an effort to cut runaway costs, the Ohio State football team is considering traveling to at least one game by bus this season. To make up for the horrible inconvenience, Buckeye administrators have promised the players won’t have to go to class that week. Oh, wait. You mean? Never mind.

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YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? It may not sit too well with the legions of McNabb haters out there, but the Eagles are showing good judgment and surprising long-view thinking by opening negotiations with Donovan McNabb for a contract extension. McNabb is not perfect, and his lack of a signature, big-game comeback clouds his legacy in town, but he is light years beyond Kevin Kolb and far better than any other quarterback available right now. The Eagles need to re-sign him and then get to work on upgrading the other parts of their offense – O line, running back depth, big-play receiver. The onus remains on McNabb to lead the way and prove he is a championship passer, but throughout his Eagles career, he has proven to be a consistent winner and big producer. That may not be enough for some, but it’s plenty for those who understand that throwing away quality with no reasonable upgrade in sight is bad business. By the way, the list of NFL QBs better than McNabb is pretty darn short: (in no particular order) Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner.

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ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD: Tiger Woods’ caddie Steve Williams took time off from lobbing cheap shots at Phil Mickelson to predict that his boss might be back on the links as early as a “few weeks” from now. That’s great news for the PGA, which has become as relevant as biathlon during Woods’ recuperation from knee surgery. If you want to see the most compelling argument against Woods as the undisputed greatest golfer of all time, check out the leader board at this week’s PGA event in Los Angeles. You half expect to see Judge Smails and Ty Webb near the top, because the rest of the crew is so weak. Not quite what Jack Nicklaus had to deal with when Tom Watson, Gary Player, Lee Trevino and the like were challenging him. Still, expect Woods’ media cheerleaders to chart his comeback with breathless enthusiasm and continue to stoke the legend machine of their hero.


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