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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Passing Mark in Blathering 101

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In the statistic-saturated world of sports, milestones of longevity are among the most revered numbers. Leave it to the Observers to notice one of theirs only in hindsight.

Frank: Hey, remember how I was wondering when our epic 100th column would appear? I went to my files and pinned it down.

Artie: Great! When's the big event?

Frank: Last week.

Artie: Well, it saves on party expenses.

Frank: Even though this is Column 101, we can review some of the themes we've presented for almost two years.

Artie: Um, such as?

Frank: That everyone involved in running big-time sports seeks to move as much money as possible from our pockets to theirs.

Artie: Not original, but always true. Hey! I know another theme, but first we need to mark the passing of Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts, whom I saw a couple of times at County Stadium going against our Braves. That's Hall of Famer Robin Roberts, who had fewer career shutouts (45), a higher ERA (3.41) and one fewer win (286) than…

Frank: Devoted readers know what comes next.

Artie: That's right: Bert Blyleven, who amazingly remains a non-Hall of Famer!

Frank: But he was only five votes short in last December's voting. When he succeeds this year, it'll join a long line of our predictions to come true.

Artie: My memory's fuzzy again. What were some of those predictions?

Frank: Well, I know you predicted the Packers would play in the last Super Bowl.

Artie: And they darn near did, if losing in the first playoff round qualifies as "darn near."

Frank: The highlight of my brilliance came in deserting my own team, the Yankees, last season. I said they wouldn't make the playoffs, so of course they went all the way.

Artie: I sure hope that's not an omen for our joint prediction that the Brewers will march back into the playoffs this October.

Showing Some Sense

Frank: I know a recent example of our sage advice being accepted by a sports authority.

Artie: No kidding? Which advice was that?

Frank: The NCAA was thinking of pumping up the Division I basketball tournament to a whopping 96 teams. We said that would be crazy, devaluing one of sports' most exciting events with at least 25 undeserving teams.

Artie: We were OK with adding a handful of teams to the current 65. There are always a few teams that get screwed by the 31 automatic spots for conference champions—but only a few.

Frank: And what did the NCAA do? It added three teams to make it 68.

Artie: No need to thank us, NCAA. Sage advice is our business.

Frank: It's unclear how they'll fit 68 teams into six rounds. But we can only do so much; the muckety-mucks have to figure out the details.

Artie: The NCAA figured one out just fine. By opting out of the previous TV contract for the tournament, they got a new deal from CBS and Turner that's worth $10.8 billion.

Frank: Not that it's about the money.

Artie: Somewhere in that $10.8 billion they should be able to find a consulting fee for us.

Bowlfuls of Nothin’

Frank: At least holding the tournament to 68 keeps NCAA basketball from being the postseason joke that NCAA football is. There are more than 340 Division I basketball programs, so a 96-team field would have had about 30% of them reaching the playoffs. That would be nuts—but not as nuts as what happens in football.

Artie: You mean the endless, meaningless bowl games, ain'a?

Frank: There are only 120 Division I football programs. But the NCAA recently said there would be 35 bowl games next season—35! Which means 70 teams, almost 60% of the total, will get an extra game, and extra dough. But how many will deserve it?  Last season eight teams went 6-6 but got into bowls; now there's talk that even a couple of 5-7 teams might qualify.

Artie: Let ’em go ahead. I won't be watching.

Frank: The newest bowl is something called the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, which will be at Yankee Stadium.

Artie: That's the Yankee Stadium that's in the Bronx, where it tends to be cold in December? The Yankee Stadium that doesn't have a retractable roof?

Frank: True and true. This bowl will feature the third-best team in the Big East…

Artie: Cripes, do they actually have four football teams in that hoops loop? Seems like Marquette might be the fourth-best, and they haven't had football in 50 years.

Frank: The opponent will be the sixth-best team in the Big 12.

Artie: Holy cow, I might rethink this. Or not.

Morons, Beware

Frank: How about the great Taser incident last week?

Artie: I would love a Taser. Man oh manischewitz, do I ever have a list of candidates that deserve a good jolt.

Frank: I let that sit. But what about the teenager in Philly who called his father from the ballpark to say he wanted to run on the field. The dad said he shouldn't, so of course he did, and he got Tasered. Was that excessive force?

Artie: Not at all. When someone runs on the field, no one knows his agenda. Does he just want to make his buddies laugh or is he maybe packing a knife or a gun?

Frank: It hasn't happened yet in baseball, but a stabbing ruined Monica Seles' tennis career. Remember the father-son team of Chicago idiots…

Artie: You're being redundant.

Frank: …who pummeled Royals coach Tom Gamboa in 2002? And I was covering the Brewers in 1999 when another Illinois drunk jumped on Houston's Billy Spiers in right field. Gamboa and Spiers weren't seriously hurt, but they could have been.

Artie: Fans, stay off the freakin' field. There's another of our themes.

Granny Knows Best

Frank: And here's more good advice: Hitters, stay off Dallas Braden's freakin' mound.

Artie: That's the Dallas Braden nobody heard of until he picked a fight with Alex Rodriguez last month.

Frank: The Oakland left-hander got riled when A-Rod, jogging back to first base after a teammate hit a long foul, went up the mound and directly over the pitching rubber.

Artie: In other words, when A-Rod, for reasons known only to divas, did something nobody ever does in baseball.

Frank: Exactly. I know it sounds silly to talk about the "unwritten rules" of the game...

Artie: Remember Davey Lopes, when he managed the Brewers, yelling at Rickey Henderson for stealing a base late in a San Diego blowout in ’01?

Frank: Some fans called Lopes a crybaby for invoking the "unwritten rules." But I think he was right, if only because the guy involved was the self-obsessed Henderson, who was just padding his stats.

Artie: Self-obsessed, you say? I wonder who else fits that description.

Frank: A-Rod, even though he's on my favorite team. I know Braden was dumb to overreact, implying there'll be some future showdown, but when A-Rod said he didn't realize what he'd done I said, "Baloney." The Yankees were losing and he was trying to get into Braden's head.

Artie: Successfully.

Frank: Yeah, but he was just being a jerk. I heard some caller on a radio show claim that what A-Rod did happens all the time. That's baloney too. I've seen something like 1,000 major-league games in person and I've never seen it done.

Artie: A guy might run near the mound, but not up and over it.

Frank: Never. And by the way, the Yankees still lost.

Artie: Well, people know Braden for something else now—the 19th perfect game in big-league history.

Frank: After he dominated Tampa Bay on Sunday, A-Rod tried to make nice, sort of.

Artie: While Braden's grandmother said, "Let's forget it, uh-huh—and stick it, A-Rod."

Frank: Stay tuned. The Yankees return to Oakland on July 5.

Artie: If Braden doesn't bean A-Rod, his grandma might.