May 16 | 3 p.m. ET
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May 14 | 2:30 a.m ET
I hope Bode Miller is back on the World Cup ski tour next year as an independent contractor. And I hope he has more fun than everybody else on the tour combined.
A couple of days ago, he announced that he was quitting the U.S. Ski Team. His reason was typically honest: It’s no fun having to stay in hotels and follow a lot of rules.
It’s a good reason for someone who titled his book “Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun,” a good reason for a man who totally bombed in the 2006 Turin Olympics but left town declaring that he had had a splendid time and had done some Olympic-class partying.
I was among the many who were critical of his performance and his attitude. I’m not apologizing for anything I said. Nor am I taking anything back. He was a member of Team USA then, and as such had an obligation to his team and his country to behave and compete in a manner that brought pride to all. When you’re a member of a team, you sacrifice something of your own ego for the good of all. You might even sacrifice a few beers to the common good.
I always liked the way he went about his sport. He didn’t follow anyone’s rules, never played it safe, never backed out of an event to save wear and tear on his body and maybe increase his chances of winning the World Cup, which he did in 2005.
He was and is the quintessential American individualist, raised in a cabin near Franconia, N.H. without indoor plumbing or electricity. Somehow, he grew to maturity without the benefit of television and the Internet. Imagine that.
Having been raised outside the herd, he never saw a reason to go along with it. So he traveled the European tour in his own motor home, keeping his own hours, making his own rules.
This year, U.S. Ski Team officials demanded that he move into hotels with the team and follow the schedules made up by the team coaches. He did it, but he hated it. So he did the only honorable thing — he quit.
I couldn’t support his independent ways as a member of the team. But now that he’s declared himself a free agent, I’ll be rooting for him. Not necessarily to win, although that’s always nice. But to have fun, to go fast, to enjoy the hell out of life.
Now, if he says satisfying himself is more important than winning, I can get behind him. He won’t be hurting his team anymore. And, since he sets his own standards, he won’t be hurting himself, either. If he wins, great. If he doesn’t, he’ll be able to cope. He never did judge himself by our standards anyway. Now, we can’t judge him by our standards, either.
He’s got a family tragedy to deal with right now. His cousin, Liko Kenney, shot and killed a New Hampshire cop and was in turn shot and killed by a motorist who came upon the scene. The story reads like a bad novel. Kenney and the policeman, Cpl. Bruce McKay, had been engaged in a running dispute and hated each other. There was so much bad blood between them that Kenney had the right to request another cop to come and arrest him if he was stopped by McKay. Last week, McKay stopped Kenney for speeding. Kenney fled and was stopped again. McKay pepper-sprayed Kenney, who then shot McKay.
It’s an awful story, and if there’s a moral to it, I’ve yet to find it. After it happened, Miller went home to Franconia to be with his family. He didn’t go to make speeches or blame people, but to help his family cope.
In my book, it makes him a pretty good guy. I wish him well.
May 11 | 4:15 p.m. ET
OK, so Ricky Williams has a little problem with marijuana, as in he can’t stop tokin’ to save his football career. He probably needs some help.
But don’t make him out to be a villain. If you must have some bad guys, direct your ire at Roger Goodell, his predecessor as NFL commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, and the NFL Players Association. They’re the ones who decided that marijuana should be a banned substance, because, like, you know, it really makes you play better, dude. Yeah, man, it’s like more awesome than ’roids.
And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything. Even the IOC, which decided to add marijuana to its encyclopedic list of banned substances because politicians think it looks good on their résumés, agrees that weed hinders performance rather than enhancing it.
Think about it. Steroids make athletes unnaturally bigger, stronger and faster. Human Growth Hormone does many of the same things. Amphetamines amp them up. Caffeine has a similar effect. Cocaine can have a short-term performance-enhancing effect, but in the long term it’s frighteningly addictive and destructive. These are the big, bad drugs that everybody bans.
Then there’s alcohol, which the IOC prohibits because target shooters found it can stifle their heart rates and blood pressure and help them hold a gun steady. But no American sport bans it. How can they when they rake in millions of dollars in beer sponsorships and sales?
Alcohol is a contributing factor in thousands of highway deaths. Domestic violence thrives on it. Bar fights wouldn’t exist without it. It’s physically addictive and enormously destructive. And the NFL and other sport leagues are just fine with it.
Marijuana has none of the adverse effects that alcohol has, and the government has spent untold piles of cash trying — unsuccessfully — to find them. The State of Florida undertook to compile the effects of drugs on death by examining autopsy reports. It found hundreds of lives taken by cocaine, alcohol and other drugs, but not a single one claimed by marijuana.
Milton Friedman, the nonagenarian former head of the Federal Reserve Board, is a true conservative, which is to say one who believes in minimal government interference in private life and not a neo-con, who want to control everything individuals do. He was the lead signature on a document signed by 500 captains of industry imploring the government to decriminalize marijuana. If Friedman, a Reagan just-say-no conservative, can’t find anything wrong with it, why should the NFL?
I know why. Because marijuana is illegal and linked to them dirty hippies, and the NFL still thinks players ought to be banned for not coming to work in crew-cuts. The league is playing to the fears of its patrons and presenting itself as a defender of truth, justice, apple pie, mom, and the American Way. Why, marijuana is illegal. Isn’t that enough?
No, it’s not. In a lot of jurisdictions, possession of a joint is treated as a violation, like a speeding ticket. DWI, on the other hand, is a misdemeanor — a crime. Do it twice, and it’s a felony in a lot of states. But if a player collects a DWI, he’s not suspended for four months, as a player caught with marijuana in his system would be. Why not?
Don’t bother answering, because it’s impossible.
Cheating on your taxes is illegal, too. The NFL has no rules against that. None. Yet tax cheats are like shoplifters, they’re stealing from every honest person in the country. But that’s not a problem, not to the NFL.
Marijuana can be psychologically addictive, which may be where Ricky Williams is. But is that something the NFL needs to be concerned about? For some people, sex is psychologically addictive, too. Should the NFL be testing people for that?
Williams did nothing to harm the game or change his ability to play it. Yet he’s probably out until September and may be out forever because of a policy that makes no sense.
May 6 | 11:30 p.m. ET
As Tim Dahlberg too admirably points out, rumors of boxing’s death are — as they were 30 years ago — exaggerated. As long as there is a kid somewhere growing up with a load of charisma and a dearth of options, there will be fighters like Oscar De La Hoya and opponents — okay, so he’s a little shy in the charisma department — like Floyd Mayweather.
And don’t worry about the supply of such kids. As long as America allows kids to grow up in crime-infested inner cities where sometimes it seems as if every child is left behind, there will be boxers dreaming about being crowned champion of the world.
But while Saturday night’s De La Hoya-Mayweather bonanza confirmed that there is still life in the sport’s battered body, it doesn’t mean that it’s all beer and skittles — whatever that is — for the sweet science.
As with horse racing, which is having its annual three weekends in the sun while celebrating new hero Street Sense, a sport needs more than one or two moments a year to do anything more than survive. To thrive, it needs vibrant young stars about whom people care.
And for that to happen, boxing needs one governing body and one championship. There are at least five organizations that claim to regulate international boxing. (Scroll down to the bottom of this page to get to the links.) They are the World Boxing Association, the World Boxing Council, the International boxing Federation, the World Boxing Organization and the International Boxing Organization. Every one of them crowns its own champions, and every one of them does everything in its power to prevent the champs from meeting unless there’s a lot of money in it for the people who hold the sport hostage.
This isn’t anything new, but it’s worth revisiting now, when the nation is still talking about the fight that people actually paid attention to. Without the sort of single oversight that the International Olympic Committee provides for its member sports, boxing will soon enough sink back into its sump, only to emerge for the next superfight.
It is, of course, all about the money. Boxing federations aren’t in it for the sport. They’re in it for the enrichment of the feudal lords who run them. As long as they’re running things, there will be no health care for fighters, no pensions, no support system. There also won’t be many matches we can care about.
It’s got to start with each nation taking control individually. In the United States, every state runs the sport as it likes. Some have no discernible standards or ethics. Others do it with a high degree of professionalism. But every one does it its own way. Much as I hate to see Congress try to run athletics, that’s where it has to start — with a national law.
That can’t be. There has to be one standard and one governing body. And it has to have the ability to refuse to sanction matches that aren’t in the best interest of the sport or its athletes.
Of course, one country doing it alone won’t work. The pirates who run the alphabet organizations will simply move to other countries with more compliant officials. Only as countries band together can order be enforced.
But it’s a golden opportunity that boxing has had handed to it, thanks to De La Hoya and Mayweather. Much is made of the fact that the mixed martial arts — the UFC and the like — are regularly drawing big pay-per-view audiences. But no-holds-barred fighting also has multiple governing bodies. Kickboxing alone has at least a half a dozen. (Listed at the end of the page.)
Give those sports enough time, and they’ll be in the same position boxing is — too many cooks and not nearly enough broth.
The fighting sport that organizes under one banner world-wide is the one that will have the edge. Boxing once had that and gave it up. It can have it again.
May 3 | 1 a.m. ET
If they can ban 14 alleged fans from ever buying a ticket to a NASCAR race again, why can’t they ban them all?
That’s a joke. A dumb joke, but too obvious for me to pass up, not after Grant Lynch, the president of the Talladega Super Speedway banned a baker’s dozen plus one from his race track for the crimes of hundreds — if not a couple of thousand — at Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 race.
Lynch was outraged that fans of his sport would react to a victory by Jeff Gordon over local hero Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by showering the track with beer bottles and other debris during the final lap, which was run under a caution flag.
According to the news reports — I wasn’t there, but Talladega has always been someplace I’d like to see live some day — Lynch knew his customers could get ugly. Their favorite driver was Dale Earnhardt, Sr., who won 10 races at the Alabama track. When he was killed in the Daytona 500, they switched their allegiance to Little E, who’s pretty good at making left turns at high speed, but not as good as his old man. That’s not a knock; nobody’s as good as the driver of the No. 3 car was.
I’m more a fan of open-wheel racing, and I never even knew that if I was a fan of one driver, I was supposed to hate another one for beating him. It doesn’t make sense. The car, after all, has as much to do with winning as the driver. Luck plays a big part, too. It’s not like football or baseball, where you can work up a healthy dislike of a rival team. Each guy’s running his own race.
But that seems to be the deal in NASCAR, at least among Earnhardt fans. They hate Jeff Gordon. Hate him enough to bombard the track and everybody around it with hurled missiles. For more on the reasons, read Mike Harris’ piece on the ugly afternoon. He was there and he knows the sport.
Lynch knew there might be trouble, because there has been before. So he said he beefed up security. Even so, only 14 malefactors could be identified. Hundreds more could not. Still the 14 get the lifetime bans. The others presumably resume their training to be British soccer hooligans.
Lynch is also trying to get the owners of other tracks to also ban the Talladega 14. Forever. That’s the same amount of time Pete Rose was banned from baseball for breaking the game’s unbreakable rule.
I’m not arguing with pulling someone’s tickets. If those who run stadiums, ballparks and arenas pulled more tickets, we’d have something approaching decent behavior, which would be welcome. I am a little concerned about the arbitrary nature of the action, though. Lynch probably has the right not to give known troublemakers access to the building. But he’s also randomly singling out a tiny fraction of those whose mothers didn’t tell them that throwing things at live people and moving race cars is a bad idea. The few are paying for the sins of the many.
I also think that forever is a long time. Just this week, the Mets excommunicated fan Frank Martinez for shining a high-powered flashlight in the eyes of Atlanta players during a game at Shea. He did it during the game, which was not being played under the yellow flag, which made it exceptionally dangerous. But the Mets decided to put their faith in redemption and rehabilitation, and banned Martinez not forever but for three years.
It’s not that I feel sorry for the fans; I don’t. They behaved reprehensibly and recklessly, and their thinking was obviously fogged by the consumption of too many adult beverages. The fact that they threw good beer away when they could have been drinking it speaks to their powers of judgment. The sport won’t be hurt by the absence of 14 people who chose to behave like idiots.
Still, forever is a long time. I’d like to think they can reform and maybe have another chance after several years spent on the sidelines. I have to think that they’ll find some lawyers who will share those thoughts.
We haven’t heard the last of them.
April 30 | 3:30 a.m. ET
It’s rare that Derek Jeter really speaks his mind. Usually, he says something innocuous and cliché-ridden — just enough to give the writers a quote, but not to really tell them anything.
So it’s noteworthy that Jeter spoke at length and with passion in defense of his manager, Joe Torre. After a recent seven-game losing streak dropped the Yankees to last place in the AL East with a 9-14 record, there’s been increasing talk that George Steinbrenner is ready to pull the plug on Torre, who is in his 12th season at the Yankee helm. The previous 11 have ended in playoff appearances. This one isn’t going so well.
If you’re registered with The New York Times, the bill of particulars against Torre is laid out very well by Tyler Kepner. Or, you can read Don Amore in the Hartford Courant, who goes over the same ground.
Firing Torre isn’t going to make everything better. The Yankees are in last place because their starters are averaging less than five innings a game — the worst in the majors — and Torre had used more relief pitchers than any other manager. You can argue with his in-game decisions and his penchant for wearing out relievers — he’s already well on his way to wearing out Luis Vizcaino and Scott Proctor. But the starting rotation he’s been given has been wracked by injuries and he’s already used nine different starters. He genuinely can’t help it if no one can pitch — including his closer Mariano Rivera.
If anybody should be fired, it’s the man who keeps building these dysfunctional pitching staffs — general manager Brian Cashman. Anybody should have known going into the season that Carl Pavano, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Chien-Ming Wang and Kei Igawa weren’t going to get the job done. They’re either too old, too young, too untested, or too injury-prone. But Cashman saw that staff — there’s not a pitcher there who’s a legitimate No. 1 starter — and said that it was good.
Firing Torre won’t help the pitchers. On the other hand, Torre should never have been extended after losing in the first round to Detroit last year. The problem with the Yankees over the past six seasons has been a lack of heart in the playoffs. Once one thing goes wrong, they collapse.
It could be that they’re way too comfortable with Torre. They know him, like him, and know he’s not going to annoy them with locker-room tirades or unreasonable demands. He expects them to go out and play like professionals. That’s a fine attitude to have, and his quiet confidence in the team has seemed to work — at least during the regular season.
But if Steinbrenner is going to make a change, it may as well be now as any other time. It won’t necessarily make anything better, but it won’t make it worse. And the truth is that Torre, after a long and successful run, doesn’t fire up his troops anymore, if he ever did. He’s also not very good at handling that fragile pitching staff.
Steinbrenner should have made the move last year after the Detroit debacle. He should have sent Cashman packing, too. He didn’t, but this is a case where it’s better late than never.
April 25 | 6:30 p.m. ET
The good news, said Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry, is that Mark Prior should be able to come back next season. Hendry said this after the injury-plagued pitcher had his pitching shoulder reassembled by James Andrews, the orthopedic surgeon to the superstars. And if you’re a Cubs fan, you had to be saying, “He can’t be serious.”
Prior is down and out and Kerry Wood, who hasn’t started a game this year, is on the DL with tendonitis. And it just may be that the best part of the Cubs’ season was back in early February, before pitchers and catchers reported to camp and new manager Lou Piniella was ready to flog the newly fortified team to its first World Series since 1945 and maybe its first title since 1908.
Forget it. A team can’t lose its number one and number two starters, spot the rest of the field a big early lead, and then lope to victory in August and September. And anybody who says they didn’t see this coming isn’t being honest.
I understand Hendry saying his encouraging words. It’s what he’s supposed to do. And the alternative, which would have been to say, “I am never penciling him into my rotation again,” would have been cruel to a kid whose only sin was to be born with bazillion dollar talent housed in a ramshackle body.
Andrews didn’t say that. Instead he said that Prior was born with an inherited looseness in his shoulders. Maybe he should have been a gymnast, where that sort of construction helps.
We can assume Andrews tightened things up — a nip here, a tuck there, a couple of tight knots. And maybe he did. Prior is, after all, just 26 years old. He could go on like this for another 10 years.
He could even become a great pitcher. But if you’re the Cubs, can you afford to wait and see? Since 2003, when Wood and Prior carried the Cubbies to within a Bartman of the World Series, that’s what the Cubs have been doing — waiting for Wood and Prior to carry them to the promised land.
Instead, they’ve found themselves waiting for the two great talents to both be healthy at the same time, and to stay that way for more than two or three weeks at a time. And every year they wait is another year they don’t end what is now 99 years of frustration.
At some point, you have to pull the plug, reload with people you can rely on, and start life without them. It’s not easy to do. Both pitchers are enormously talented, and you’d hate to let them go only to see them resurrected as stars someplace else a couple of years down the road.
But the Cubs have no choice. They’re in exactly the same position as a football team that drafts the next can’t-miss quarterback, only to discover that the thing he can’t miss is the hands of opposing defensive backs.
It’s worse in football, because a blown call on choosing a quarterback can set a franchise back a minimum of three years and usually longer. In baseball, free agency allows teams to reload a lot more quickly.
But the Cubs can’t reload until they get rid of the guys who are always penciled into the rotation, but never written on the line-up card in ink.
It’s happened before to other teams. Just think back a decade to when the Mets were ready to dominate the National League for the next decade behind three guys who were going to be the best rotation anyone had ever seen. But Bill Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen and Paul Wilson never lived up to their billing as starters, and only Isringhausen achieved real success — as a reliever for the Cards after years of failure as a starter. As with Prior and Wood, it wasn’t too little talent but too many injuries that did them in.
The Mets decided to move all of them and start again. It’s taken a while, but they’ve been to the World Series back in 2000 and narrowly missed getting back last year. This year, they’re one of the favorites to take the National League.
It wasn’t easy for the Mets to pull the plug. But it was the right move. It’s a lesson that Hendry had best not ignore.
April 18 | 3:30 p.m. ET
Start the pool now on Charlie Manuel’s firing date. Just to get it going, I put the over/under date on the future former Phillies manager at June 15.
Manuel’s team lost another game – their ninth in 12 outings – Tuesday night, and then Manuel just lost it. Fed up to here and beyond by the heat he’s taking from WIP, the local sports radio station, he challenged a radio reporter to a fist fight.
Believe me, when you start inviting radio reporters to go outside, it’s all over. It’s not that members of that species are the exemplars of decency and decorum, but, thanks to Don Imus, we already knew that. It’s that if you’ll let someone with a microphone get to you, you’ve lost control.
And in Philadelphia, that’s the beginning of the end.
Philly fans think of themselves of the best fans on the face of the earth. In a way they are – they’re certainly devoted. But they can also be vicious. Get on their wrong side, and they’ll cut you to ribbons. It’s not that they once booed Santa Claus, which they did. It’s that they also booed Mike Schmidt.
WIP didn’t invent the Philly mentality, but it hasn’t discouraged it, either. I’ve always found the personalities I’ve heard to be incapable of higher reasoning. They’re incredible homers – shameless cheerleaders when their teams are winning and brutal critics when they’re not.
Such is WIP’s stature in the local sports journalism fraternity, that The Philadelphia Daily News columnist Sam Donnellon didn’t even mention the name of either the station or the reporter Manuel challenged in his column on the incident. The subtext there is that the WIP guys aren’t fit to see their names printed in even a big-city tabloid.
The radio reporter’s name is Howard Eskin, as NBC10 reported on its Web site. I don’t know the man, but I know the station. From the published accounts, Eskin wasn’t being a journalist when he got under Manuel’s skin, but no one’s ever accused anyone from that station of ever committing journalism on the city’s airwaves.
It doesn’t matter. You don’t get into screaming matches with reporters – or even radio guys. It’s not quite up there with laying into the fans, as former Cubs manager Lee Elia famously did in 1983, when he observed that 85 percent of people work during the day for a living and the other 15 percent come to Cubs games. He said it a lot more colorfully, and if you don’t mind reading the mother of all American cuss words about a hundred times, read the whole thing here.
Elia was fired, as he should have been.
Unless the Phillies go on a tear and win 15 of their next 20, I don’t see how Manuel can keep his job. His team is playing terribly, and he’s picking fights with reporters. I’m giving him until June 15.
What do you think?
April 16 | 4 a.m. ET
Just over a month ago, on March 12, Knicks owner James Dolan gave his coach and team president, Isiah Thomas, a multi-year contract extension.
“In the last few weeks I’ve just become absolutely convinced and I think they’ve shown, they’ve done what we asked them to do. And I felt that now is the time to do it,” Dolan told the media at the time. The Knicks were a playoff team at the time, having won 29 games — the same number they won all of last year.
The Knicks have played 17 games since, and they’ve won three of them. They’re no longer a playoff team, but they did make the draft lottery, so I suppose that’s something. They’ve got two games left — the Nets today and the Bobcats on Wednesday. So they will end up with somewhere between 32 and 34 wins.
I wonder how Dolan feels about his decision now?
He had gone into the season saying that he wouldn’t decide Thomas’ future until the last game had been played. He demanded that the team show substantial improvement. Then, with 19 games yet to play, he decided a losing record was “substantial.”
At the time, I said Dolan is the world’s greatest boss. I think I also mentioned that he’s also one of the world’s worst owners. I forgot to add that he doesn’t know a thing about motivation.
The Knicks were playing hard when they thought Thomas’ job might be in danger. He’s a players’ coach, and they wanted to keep him on the bench. But they showed their character after they accomplished their mission. Once Thomas’ job was safe, they stopped winning.
And now Dolan — and the Knicks — are stuck with Thomas for another year. After buying Larry Brown out of the last four years of his contract, does he really want to throw away more money by dumping Thomas?
That’s his problem, not the fans’. Their problem is that under Dolan, the Knicks have been awful and continue to be that way. The Rangers, Dolan’s other team, have been a little better — just last week they won their first playoff game since 1997.
At Madison Square Garden, there was great rejoicing. It’s not that the fans think that glory days are here again. They just know that with Dolan in charge, you’ve got to celebrate while you can, because it isn’t going to last.