Monday, December 03, 2012

On Andy Reid

When I read this morning about the behavior of assistant coaches Jim Washburn (defensive line) and Howard Mudd (offensive line) on Andy Reid's coaching staff, I was aghast.  The former, fired today, was openly disrespectful of then-defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, apparently calling him Juanita in front of his player.  The latter, apparently, hung out only with the former.

What kind of nuthouse was Andy Reid running?   Washburn should have been held accountable the first time.  And then terminated.  And Mudd should have been talked to about meshing with the coaching staff.  I don't care if he came out of a retirement and was a legendary assistant in Indianapolis. If you decided to un-retire, you come back and help form part of a team.  If not, don't come back.

As for Washburn, and Reid's tolerance of him, well, the wheels started to fall off the defensive bus when coordinator Jim Johnson passed away.  Then coordinator Sean McDermott struggled, and then Reid waffled on who would succeed him, apparently striking out on his former linebackers coach, Steve Spagnuolo, who helped the Giants win a Super Bowl while serving as defensive coordinator before struggling as the head coach in St. Louis.  But Spagnuolo went to New Orleands, and Reid was without moves.  So, fearing, apparently, risking Castillo to Tennessee (to whom he was speaking about their offensive coordinator position, has he had been the Eagles' offensive line coach for about 15 years), he promoted him to defensive coordinator, prompting a memorable headline from the Philadelphia Daily News ("WFT?" exclaimed the headline).  And that prompted bringing in Washburn, providing veteran ballast for Castillo's defensive ship, and Mudd to replace Castillo.

Now, coaching positions turn over, but why did Reid tolerate Washburn for so long?  Was it because he was out of moves?  Because either Joe Banner or Jeffrey Lurie compelled him to do so?  Or because he thought that the dissension helped make the team better?  And how could a disrespectful coach make the team better?

If the Eagles only had completed as many passes as Jeffrey Lurie has given Andy Reid, they'd be playoff bound.

But the players shouldn't rest easy, either.  For while the Birds need a new head coach, they also need some players who are leaders.  That seems to have been a problem for the past couple of years, too.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

And the Phillies' Possible Signing of B.J. Upton Makes Sense Because?

Probably because he's the best the they can do.

Personally, a guy who struck out 169 times last season with an on-base percentage of .298 is not someone I'd look forward to signing, because I think the numbers would suggest that he'll play to this pattern for the rest of his career.  And while wags might offer the Upton would be a great fit for the Phillies because of those numbers, he's precisely not what they need.

What they seem to need are more on-base percentage guys, guys with OBPs more like Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz.  Their Achilles' heel, at times, has been guys who strike out too much, who don't walk enough, and who fill up the base paths too infrequently, thereby creating additional pressure for the three-run homer.  Look, a lot has gone right for the Phillies since 2007, but given the lightning they caught in a bottle in 2008, we all would have thought that it would have been they or the Yankees with two world championships since then, and not the San Francisco Giants.

There has been a lot to cheer for in Philadelphia over the past five years, but the knowledge of the strike zone has decreased over that time period, or at least so it seems.  B.J. Upton has a lot of good aspects, too, and he'd help the team get somewhat younger, but there has been something missing from the team's offense, and his skill set wouldn't seem to be the one to fill it.

How Much Studying Goes On?

I wonder about this topic frequently, so I figured that I'd get it out there.  Forgive me because I'm writing this early in the morning before what promises to be a hectic work day, so i haven't had the energy to create links to other text.

The premise for today is that there is a lot of potential data out there, yet no one seems to study it in the detail necessary to help an organization or sport evolve.  You'd think that with the advent of a once-in-a-generation talent like Nate Silver, more organizations would use mathematical and economics models to predict overall outcomes, the way Silver did for Baseball Prospectus and now does for The New York Times (as his predictions for elections are very accurate).  Of course, I just sounded like a heretic or someone who has pulled a Rip Van Winkle, because there is a lot of data out there.  And people are using it.  All you need to do is read Moneyball regarding baseball, read stories of the long hours football coaches put in, and read the article that appeared a few years ago in The New York Times Magazine (written by Michael Lewis) about how statistics are transforming basketball.  No, I get all that.

And yet, we still see a lack of evolution.  Why are baseball players getting hurt more than ever?  Why are pitchers breaking down perhaps with a greater frequency than they did 100 years ago?  Why are there no longer four-man rotations in baseball?  Whatever happened to 30-game winners, "Iron Man" Joe McGinnity, who pitched both ends of a doubleheader?  And why haven't we done something about the life-threatening injuries that football players suffer as young men?  (As to the latter, we still send our young men out there for gridiron glory repeatedly).

Baseball is such a big business that you'd think there would be a think tank that would gather video images of pitchers, their physical measurements, the ages when they started pitching, the frequency at which they pitched before professional baseball (through interviews, high school and college data), etc.,  the types of weightlifting they did (as well as other conditioning drills) if not to predict outcomes, then at least to prescribe behaviors that could lead to longer, less injury-prone careers.  After all, we read many retrospective studies about Danes who drank two glasses of aquavit a day from the time they were 21 and how it projected living into one's 80's, the effects of secondary smoke on felines and the like, so it would appear that right now Major League Baseball prefers a "churn 'em" mentality to one that can help build a better and healthier product.   That's the science talking, perhaps.  The economists, or perhaps the finance people, would stress "return on investment" and wonder whether the funds required for that study would be better spent on providing a stadium hot dog that, when eaten with the right mustard, will eliminate the effects of drinking eight $9 beers so that the average fan can consume  more Budweiser or Miller Lite and then drive home safely.  The mathematicians, of course, can help us choose between these goals.  Or so I think.

Football presents a more compelling case.  What's happened and is happening out there is so frustrating and worrying that it's amazing that more isn't being done.  Americans love this game, spending billions on it, and yet there doesn't seem to be anyone studying in great detail better techniques and better equipment.  Yes, there are those studying concussions and the effects of head trauma, and state laws have been passed to protect high school athletes in all sports, not just football.  Compounding the concussion problem is the mojo of the average competitive athlete, who will do everything in her or his power not to come out of a game.  But, in football, the constant pounding seems to take its toll, not just on brain functionality, but also on joints.  And it's also unnatural for lineman to put on so much weight that they look obese.  Finally, why hasn't someone taken the technology that's given us parachutes, that's given us bullet-proof vests, that's given us airbags in cars, and that's given us UnderArmour, and tried to combine it into a full-length body suit, with special protection around the lower spine, neck and head, that can deflect the most serious of blows and significantly reduce the impact of hitting?

The scientists would be most interested.  The finance people would look to the return on investment and wonder whether opening up new markets with the same dollars would make more sense.  The economists and mathematicians would do all sorts of calculations to predict outcomes.  The players?  They might be intrigued, but the gosh-darn thing had better feel comfortable, not weigh them down, not make them lose too many fluids, etc., or else they won't like it and it won't be, well, football.  But it might prevent them from forgetting their wife's name when their 47, from not being able to get out of bed without help when they're fifty-two and suffering from dementia when they're fifty-seven.  Again, the careers of pro football players are so short that perhaps the NFL has a "churn 'em" philosophy too.

What we fail to realize in all of this is how profound a sense of loss can be.  We're dealing with people here, not with assets that have depreciable lives and can be replaced.  We cannot and must not treat our young athletes as though they are disposable, the way we do our office computers once they slow down after four straight years of running constantly, picking up viruses and having too much stuff on them.  Yes, players are replaceable, but I'll repeat it, they are not disposable.  They are someone's children.  They are you and me.  And when they can no longer continue -- and when a piece of them is lost that they cannot regenerate because human biology does not permit them to -- they are a different person.  Diminished, wounded, more isolated, all because they are not who they used to be.

Now, there is a certain amount of assumption of the risk here, and there are certain pressures that some of these young men assume when they take on certain jobs.  I am not looking to add regulation or mandate to those who run organized sports what to do, except so far as we're protecting our children from overzealous associations and coaches that put the egos of the people who run them above the welfare of the kids.  What I am saying is that perhaps we're not approaching repetitive problems with brains and creative thinking commensurate with the level of attention our society otherwise pays to them.

That's odd.  That's unfortunate.  That doesn't make sense.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Take a Bow, San Francisco Giants!

I tweeted the following last night:  After the 2008 season, if you would have predicted that any Major League team would win two World Series by 2012, who would you have predicted?  The Phillies?  The Yankees?  The Giants?

The Giants' rise is amazing for several reasons.  First, they survived some disastrous signings.  They inked CF Aaron Rowand to a long-term deal after some heroics in Philadelphia, only to have him prove that without Philadelphia's then-young studs in the lineup to protect him, he was just a journeyman (even at $12 million per year over 5 years).  Then, they won the Barry Zito sweepstakes, spending a Croesus-like fortune and outbidding, among others, the Mets.  And you have to remember that many fans lamented that their team couldn't land such  prize as Zito.  That said, had then-Mets GM Omar Minaya inked Zito, he would have lost his job a few years into the deal.  Brian Sabean, the Giants' GM, didn't meet such a fate (and long-term deals are more and more proving to be bad for the teams who agree to them).  This year, they lost their closer for the season, the NL's #2 hitter to a steroids suspension (and went further by telling him to hit the road, period) and saw the continued decline of a young pitcher inked to another long-term deal (only to see him resurrect himself marvelously in the post-season).

The Giants are a great combination of factors.  Patient ownership, a persistent General Manager who keeps on finding gems among players who are much less than big names, pitching, pitching and more pitching, a few key hitters, good leadership and a great, yes, Hall of Fame, manager.  While the cognoscenti offer the view that managers don't make that much of a difference, they very much do so when asked to cobble together a contending team with the likes of Gregor Blanco, Brendon Belt and your cousin Joey from Valdosta.  It's relatively easy to win when you can sign the big-name free agents year after year with the money that your TV network generates.  It's another when you're based in a Bohemian town more prone to attract 60,000 to a concert in Golden Gate Park than to your refrigerator of a ballpark (where people where scarves and drape fleeces over themselves in August) and tend to go to baseball's flea markets to find key cogs of the turbocharged pod racer of a team that would make Anakin Skywalker proud.

That's not to say though, that the Giants don't have stars.  Matt Cain is one of the best pitchers in baseball.  His catcher, Buster Posey, is one of the best position players.  And the third baseman, Pablo Sandoval, demonstrated his vast ability by hitting three homer runs in Game 1 of the World Series and sending a message to Detroit that while it may be the Motor City, San Francisco is the Mojo City.  I've sometimes thought that at the kids' league and high school levels, teams can win games in warm-ups by showing the opposition how disciplined they are.  Well, the Giants might have won the Series in Game 1 through their great display, too.  They just didn't care that the Tigers' have baseball's best starting pitcher, Justin Verlander, or the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, Miguel Cabrera.  In the post-season, the slates get wiped clean.  A Verlander can turn into a Steve Blass, a Gregor Blanco into Frank Robinson.  They also figured out that as MLB cracked down both on amphetamines and steroids, that pitching would matter more than it had in decades.  And they've proved it.

As for the Phillies and the Yankees, both teams got old fast.  The long-term deals that excited fans as recently as a year or two ago now seem like one hundred-pound Kettle bells duct-taped to the necks of their General Managers, who perennially are compelled to do a high-wire act.  They have a lot of money at their disposal, they're expected to fill the seats, and they're expected to contend for a title, all the while not depleting the farm system.  Yet, they do the latter, and they aren't winning titles.  The Yankees have 6 years left on A-Rod's contract, at least four on Mark Teixera's, and the Phillies saw Roy Halladay get old and injured this season and Cliff Lee flounder at times.  They are not young teams, they look weary in their dugouts, they look burdened by expectations, and, well, they don't look like they are having fun.  The Phillies' crew in '08 looked like it was having the time of its life; ditto the Yankees' in '09.

Two titles in three years?  From a San Francisco team that hadn't won a World Series from 1954 to 2010?  From a San Francisco team without a Mays, McCovey, Marichal?  From a San Francisco team after Barry Bonds retired?  

Let's give credit where credit is due.  Bruce Bochy might be the best manager baseball has seen in decades.  He's won without the talent of an Earl Weaver, Dick Williams, Sparky Anderson, Tommy Lasorda, Joe Torre and Terry Francona (and, yes, also Tony LaRussa).   Brian Sabean might not get the publicity of Theo Epstein, any disciple of Billy Beane or Brian Cashman, but he's fared better.  

They play Moneyball in Oakland, right across the bay.  Last time I checked, Moneyball hasn't gotten the A's to the World Series, let alone won them one.

They play a rich stew of Microball (finding pieces at MLB's version of yard sales, turning another's junk into their joy) and Mojoball (where chemistry really matters).  And it works.

Moneyball is a great book and was a good movie.

But the money team is 11 miles to the west, on the water.  

And for two of the past three seasons, they've walked on it.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Dollar-Cost Averaging, A Theory of Baseball Rosters and Cranky Cousin Jim

My cousin Jim and I have had a great back-and-forth over e-mail over the past five years, enjoying each other's company and focusing solely on the fate of our hometown Philadelphia Phillies.  We got drunk (figuratively) on their success in 2008, frustrated with the supernova-like rise and fall of Raul Ibanez in 2009 (that Brad Lidge perhaps eclipsed with a flameout that outdid his superlative performance in '08), the addition of Cliff Lee, the trade of Cliff Lee, the signing of Placido Polanco, the long-term deal for Ryan Howard, the trade for Roy Halladay, the depletion of the farm system, letting Jayson Werth go in free agency and the overall decline of the team from its peak in '08 until now.

Among the topics we discussed have been the decline of the bats since the Mets discovered that bullpen coach Mick Billmyer was spying on hitters, whether certain players were on steroids, whether the prospects who were traded were any good, why they traded Lee in the first place, why they signed Ibanez and Polanco, why they signed Howard to the long-term deal when they did and a whole host of other issues.  When you review the performance of the team, you realize that they have declined each year since 2008.

2008:  World Champions.
2009:  Lose in the World Series to the Yankees.
2010:  Survive major injuries, lose in NLCS to Giants (and Pat Burrell, who won a second WS ring before either Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay won their first).
2011:  Lose in NLDS to Cardinals.
2012:  Barring a major miracle, will not make the playoffs.

In short, their performance has diminished with each succeeding year.  Now, had a) Brad Lidge had a halfway decent year in 2009, had each member of the Giants' pitching staff not turned into Sandy Koufax in the post-season and had the team not stopped hitting in '10, had Cliff Lee and his megamillions been able to hold a 4-0 lead after one inning in game 2 of the NLDS, well. . . perhaps the hometown nine might have managed one additional World Series victory (as asking them to have won four in a  row is just way too much).

That said, though, over a lengthy back-and-forth, cranky Cousin Jim has focused on what he perceives to be bad individual decisions by GM Ruben Amaro, while I have focused on the overall theory behind the decisions.  We both agree that Amaro is bold, but we summon a comment my father once made (as told to him by a friend who was a retired Air Force general):  "There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots, but there is no such thing as an old, bold pilot."  Neither of us quarrel with Amaro's decisiveness in going to get what he wants.  It's just that crusty Cousin Jim doesn't like some of the wants (for example, when they inked Cliff Lee, he wondered why they would go long term on a pitcher without a real "out" pitch whom the Indians had left off their post-season roster in 2007).  We also both wondered why the Phillies would invest so much in pitching in the post-steroids era, where bats seemingly are increasingly hard to find (witness that home run numbers are way down).

My big issue centers upon my focus on two theories -- demographics and what happens to players when they age (they are more injury prone, they can get heavier, and family matters can distract them) and a concept that you cannot have $10 million players who are the same age at each position and expect that model to be sustainable without hitting a plateau and fizzling.  Both Cousin Jim and I agree that long-term deals are toxic, as outside Derek Jeter, most players will outlive their usefulness after the first couple of years (and it's hard for any person to stay hungry when the money is guaranteed and they get to buy the Maybach for their summer and winter homes regardless of whether their OBP is .297 or .374).  The Mets learned this lesson with, among others, Tom Glavine and Billy Wagner, the Yankees are learning it with A-Rod (who at 36 has six years to go on his deal), and the Angels and Tigers will learn this painful lesson with Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder respectfully.  Yet, many a GM thinks that he'll withstand the gravity pull towards long-term declines and opts to gamble on the "missing piece" that can help the team transcend.  Put simply, the Nats' honchos must rue the day they signed Jayson Werth to his seven-year, $126 million deal.

The demographics piece is easy.  The Phillies were healthy and motivated in 2008, on the way up, and they were relatively injury free (and fielded a pitching staff that was much less formidable then -- with Brett Myers as the #2 starter) than in subsequent years.  The core of the team -- Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Werth -- all were in their late twenties, they were hungry, they were eager, and a few were without long-term deals (Howard, Victorino, Werth, and Utley and Rollins were, relatively speaking, bargains).  The problem that some of us foresaw was that they needed to establish some of the younger players in order to sustain their excellence, and we thought that in catcher Lou Marson, infielder Jason Donald and a few others (OF Michael Taylor, OF Domonic Brown) they would have some room to bring up younger players once either Howard or Werth left in free agency and the team figured out that Pat Burrell was almost done.

So, in 2009, instead of promoting a younger player or combing the free-agent market for a younger missing piece who could at least play some of the time in left, they opted for thirty-six year old Raul Ibanez at $11 million a year.  At the time, both Cousin Jim and I thought this was a bad decision.  The team got older, not younger, and, of course, all Ibanez did was go out and have a monster first half of the 2009 season that made him a fan favorite at the Bank.  But then a funny thing happened -- his performance fell through the floor, and in the last two and a half years of his deal he played a shaky left field and had an OBP below .300.  That's an OBP, not a batting average.  And he was expensive.

In 2010, the Phillies finally decided that after years of enduring David Bell, Abraham Nunez, Wes Helms, Greg Dobbs and Pedro Feliz at third base, they needed a bona fide third baseman.  So they inked free-agent infielder (as he had played a Gold Glove 2B in Detroit) Placido Polanco, then 34 and with a history of injuries, to a three-year, $24 million deal.  There was an irony and a problems with this.  The irony was that a few years early, in a quest to build their bullpen, they traded the same Polanco to Detroit for Ugueth Urbina, who right now languishes in a Venezuelan prison after being convicted of attempted murder.  The Polanco trade did make room for Chase Utley to play every day, though.  That said, once again the Phillies got older.  In fairness, Polanco's OBP was in stark contrast with that of Feliz (who had the worst OBP when the Phillies signed him as a free-agent, thereby exacerbating a team problem, which was at that time they had too many players who struck out too often and did not walk enough) and Ibanez.  The problem was that he couldn't stay healthy.

And neither could Rollins, Victorino, Howard and Utley in '09 through '12, particularly the latter three in '10 (where at one point the Phillies' lineup had Dane Sardinha, Wilson Valdez and Juan Castro hitting 6, 7 and 8).  Utley's injuries are well-chronicled, but Rollins and Victorino had leg problems during those periods too.  A testament to the team's grit and leadership, in fairness, was how well the team fared amidst all the injuries.  There is some merit into having a veteran team -- they know what it takes to win and they did what it took to keep the team together when injuries beset it.

But the injuries did come, the team showed its age, and gradually went on its slide.  In fairness, most fans still would settle for the 2008-2011 years of the Phillies, even if at times the team under-delivered given its talent and potential -- the park was packed, the team exciting, and the performances very good.  Who could forget Roy Halladay's perfect game in Miami or his no-hitter in the NLDS against the Reds, among many other memorable moments?  Let's be clear -- it was a great run and it was fun to watch.

It's probably too much to ask for your team to sustain excellence year after year.  The Yankees can do it because they have so much money and can eat mistakes the way no other team can.  But problems exist when the team ages, when the team has a lot of long-term contracts (see Phillies, Red Sox and perhaps now the Dodgers, who didn't learn much from the first two) and farm systems aren't chock full of up-and-comers.  Atop that, scouting is still a woefully inexact science (witness that twenty or so teams passed on the Angels' Mike Trout in the draft a few years ago, presumably because he is from New Jersey), among other blunders.  Now, some genius will figure out some way to select and develop players in a matter that much more accurately predicts success, but even if the process remains disappointingly inexact, there is still a way to avoid the "everyone got old at once" problem (Branch Rickey figured it out decades ago, and somehow the theory fell by the wayside).  Long-term deals will remain an issue under the current structure, and there is no way to protect teams against themselves, but at some point if teams have a decent enough pipeline and remember not to get too old at once, they'll have a chance to sustain excellence over longer periods of time.

Okay, so I just introduced a bunch of variables -- the need for more accurate recruitment and development and a need to avoid long-term deals (goodbye, Barry Zito and Vernon Wells, who somehow should go down in baseball history the way the Edsel has in the manufacture of automobiles), and we can put them in the parking lot for now.  The key theory that I would like to describe is to apply the investment theory of dollar-cost averaging to how to run a team's roster.

Dollar-cost averaging is something that Vanguard advocates as does Burton Malkiel, professor emeritus of economics at Princeton.  Basically, you are instructed never to time the stock market, but to a) invest in low-cost index funds by putting the same amount each month into them and b) to reinvest the dividends.  Malkiel proved that over time this was the best way to get the best performance out of one's portfolio (as opposed to timing the market).  (I recall a conversation with a relative about Berkshire Hathaway in 1986; she had $5,000 to invest in an IRA, and I suggest buying 5 shares at $1,000 apiece.  The response was "Well, it's expensive, I'll wait until it does down."  I haven't checked the share price recently, but at one point a single share went for over $120,000 in the past three years).  Look, we all can miss out on things like that, but the point is that if you invest constantly and similarly, you will do reasonably well.  Most recently, in a way, the Phillies timed the market by having a portfolio of investments that all came due at the same time.  Put different, they bet long on the entire core when they should have hedged, shorted or sold some of it and rebalanced the portfolio.  Again, I'm not an investment expert, so perhaps I'm mixing concepts, but at the end of the day, you want to keep rebalancing your portfolio.

It's easy to say that when you're not in the GM's shoes and you have the benefit of hindsight.  But it's clear to most fans that at a time when they needed to get younger and healthier, the Phillies inexplicably got older.  They went for the labels of performers whose best days were behind them, instead of facing the reality of aging players with declining skills.  They should have worked hard a) to lower their average age and b) to sign some starters whose salaries were closer to the Major League minimum and who weren't eligible for arbitration for a while (or who were simply lower-cost players) than to sign more expensive ones.  Yes, they inked Lidge to a three-year, $36 million deal in the middle of '08, when he was very hot, and that deal turned out disastrously, too.  That type of mistake each team can tolerate occasionally, but the signings of Ibanez and Polanco represented an errant philosophy.  And while we can debate whether signing both Lee and Halladay to long-term deals was wise, we cannot debate that both guys were well past 30 when they signed them.  That the Phillies had the oldest starting lineup in the Majors going into this year (according to Baseball Prospectus) was no accident.  That they are performing accordingly likewise is no surprise.

Cousin Jim and I are frustrated.  Very grateful for what we watched, but frustrated with what could have been, frustrated with the decline in the bats post-binoculars, and frustrated overall with occasional positive tests for steroids that continue to stain the game.  We're frustrated with poor performances under long-term contracts, and we're frustrated with decisions that we thought were bad at the time, that we were powerless to change, and that are showing the poor results we predicted.  That's not to say that ownership shouldn't be applauded for spending more than they ever have or that they are not well-intentioned.  It's just to say that they need to spend more time on planning and a theory for long-term sustainability that transcends throwing money at problems and long-term deals.  They need to examine baseball history, they need to plan, and they need to develop players (they haven't developed a star position player in about 10 years, since Chase Utley joined the team -- that's a long time).

So, as the Phillies' brass re-groups after a disastrous season -- poor performances from starting pitchers, an awful bullpen, a poor attitude at times from Jimmy Rollins and apparent dishonesty from Chase Utley as to his physical condition -- they need to did a little more deeply, come up with a longer-term game plan and stick to it.  In a way, it's a high-class problem, but it's a critical time to do something differently.  The temptation will be there to spend greatly on aging stars to try to eke out another Series victory, but the price could be very great -- a failure to spend on the farm system, poor drafting decisions, and a continued aging of the roster that will cause more future lean years than fewer.

It's time to dollar-cost average, balance the portfolio, and develop younger players.

Before we return to the days of having right fielder Glenn Wilson imitate Rambo in the team's ads and having the team's president lament the team's fate because it's a small-market team.

Been there.  Done that.

It isn't pretty.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Thoughts on Summer Events: Olympics, Baseball, Football

Hi everyone:  I've been tweeting quite a bit, so if you open a twitter account, you can get various thoughts from me during the day.  I have found Twitter to be an interesting way to get thoughts and news.  I try to limit myself to following not more than 300 people or news organizations, and, so far, so good.  It takes some work to limit thoughts to 140 characters, but I'm managing.  After all, there are more than 140 characters out there in the world of sports, from amusing people like John Kruk to vain people like Usain Bolt, to impossible people like Sean Payton, to bold people like Melky Cabrera to hypocritical people like Mark Emmert to blunt and good-for-sports people like Jay Bilas (whose tweets are among the best out there, even though I am a Carolina fan and he played for Duke).

I have a bunch of thoughts on various topics, so I'll take them in order that they come to my mind.

1.  Why didn't the IOC honor the Israelis who were butchered at the '72 Olympic Games with a moment of silence?   

I could offer up many answers, so here's a multiple choice quiz:

a) because the IOC remains corrupt and gutless, even if Juan Antonio Samaranch is long gone;
b) because the IOC is afraid of world demography, and fearful that all Arab countries would boycott if such a moment of silence were given, and there are many more Arabs in the world than Israelis, so life is demographics after all;
c) because the IOC is hypocritical, getting on the same Arab countries' backs to pressure them to permit women to compete, even if somehow 11 murdered athletes don't really register on their radar screen;
d) because the IOC wants as many nations as possible to come to the games, even if it permits some of those same nations to offer lame excuses for their athletes to withdraw lest they are asked to compete against Israelis;
e) the IOC and/or a majority of its members are anti-Semites; or
f) the issue of murdered Olympic athletes who weren't properly memorialized just isn't a big deal.

And a shout out, while I'm at it, to NBC's Bob Costas, who recognized the injustice and provided his own moment of silence.

2.  Will USA Basketball Make an "Out of the Box" call and let Doug Collins coach the 2016 Olympic basketball team?

Yes, Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers are next in line, and, yes, both are outstanding coaches.  You will get no argument from me if either is selected.  Both would excel.  But there is something dramatic and romantic in permitting Collins to man the conn of USA Basketball and get redemption, of sorts, from the all-time screwing the '72 Olympic team got in the final against the former Soviet Union.  That was one of the worst things I ever witnessed, and, as a young boy, gave me an inkling as to how people can cheat and how politics can permeate games (we used to joke in gym when someone slipped and fell "And the East German judge gave it a 5.2, and all other judges gave it a 6").  I know, history experts, the refs were from other countries, but they failed miserably.

Pick Doug Collins, let him fire the team up, and we'll all have a great story featuring a wonderful guy.  Poetic justice would be if they could kick the crap out of Mother Russia, especially if strongman/bully/gangster Vladimir Putin is still in office.  Which leads me to the next question?

3.  Given what's going on in Russia, will David Blatt elect to remain as coach of its national team or find another squad to coach?  

I love Dave Blatt, knew him back in the day, and he's an awesome coach.  Look, most governments aren't so pretty if you get too close, but will he remain with Russia or find a different challenge.  In Twitter parlance, #manyothercountriesareavailableandmoreworthy.

4.  Given the world's problems, which nation has its priorities straight -- 310 million plus U.S., which led the medal count, or 1.2 billion India, which won 6 medals, none of them gold, and doesn't seem to care.

I'm not saying that I am going to move to India, but with the exception of men's field hockey, I don't think that India cares about Olympic sports.  That's not to say that they care about all of their people, either, as India has major issues with its caste system, poverty and corruption.  So, you don't see an exodus of Americans moving to Mumbai or Calcutta.  That said, with about 16% of the world's population, India just doesn't give a rat's rear end about the Olympics.

And, while many of us like the spectacle and respect the job that NBC did given that we all can get current results on-line right when they happen, the games are different from what they once were.  In our youth, the competitors from the U.S. and the democracies were amateurs.  The Soviet bloc athletes were full-time athletes, using army service as an almost unveiled veneer to cover their professionalism, and the East Germans doped it up big-time in order to create a master Communist race.  Sure, there was more tension because there was an evil empire, but the days of Gerd Bonk, the Belgian librarian who was a heavyweight weightlifter and whose story was one of many that legendary broadcaster Jim McKay told so well, are for the ages.  And that's a shame.

These are professional games.  And, no, the current hoops team couldn't have beat the '92 dream team, which would have been up 25 on Spain after 3 instead of giving us too much to worry about.  Also, do you really care that the U.S. men's team can beat Nigeria by the GDP of North Africa in a seeding round, or that the U.S. women won by 36 in the gold-medal game?

5.  What happened to boxing?

About 1/3 of a century ago, we focused on men's basketball, track and field, swimming, gymnastics and boxing and little else.

Boxing is gone.

6.  Is major college football a big joke on all of us, or what?  

NCAA President Mark Emmert and investigator Louis Freeh condemned Penn State's "football-first culture."  I've frequently been critical of the "beer and circus" (thanks, Murray Sperber) culture at many major universities, and have offered that I don't want my kids to go to any school where a coach makes more than the university president.  That said, for many, it's the best option and the most affordable one, but I think that we owe our kids more.  To be frank, most BCS schools have "football first" cultures.  Just read this week's Sports Illustrated, which has an article about how all BCS programs are tying to emulate what Nick Saban has accomplished at Alabama.  Just follow the money and look at the priorities -- you have more football coaches, trainers, tutors and the like for the football team than you probably have for the rest of the student body, combined, and at some of these schools you have 120 young men in a football program and 40,000 students in every other.  Sorry, but football-first cultures exist everywhere.

7.  There will be 5-10-15 scandals that will emerge at BCS schools where coaches pressured administrators and professors to cover things up to help enable the football program.  What will Mark Emmert do then?  

Probably good not to be the first one to suffer the NCAA's wrath, because all subsequently discovered transgressors will have figured out a way to defend themselves.  Jay Bilas is very eloquent on this topic, and I'd encourage him to write lengthy pieces on the subject.  The NCAA put itself in a box here, and I think that the BCS schools ultimately might withdraw in order to create a bigger paper-tiger regulator who will respond as follows when the big-money schools say "Jump!"  "How high, out which window and how would you like me to splatter?"

Watch the stories, watch the headlines -- what a mess.

8.  ESPN's Elite 11 quarterback program coverage was good, but why did those who run Elite 11 trot out Pete Carroll as the featured speaker?  

Sure, he has a full head of hair and sounds good, but was he just a bystander while at USC?  Perhaps he was, perhaps he wasn't, but to trot out a coach whose program vacated a lot of victories because of Reggie Bush doesn't seem to send the right message.  And, besides, his QBs haven't exactly torn it up in the NFL, either.  Speaking of which. . .

9.  SI's article on USC quarterback Matt Barkley is good, but he provokes an eerie parallel to thus-far NFL flop Matt Leinert, another USC alum.

In his final season, Leinert took only one course in the fall semester.  Barkley is taking only one course now.  So why is he in college, exactly?  And that's not evidence of a football-first culture.  Really?  The NFL hasn't been kind to USC quarterbacks.  See, Carson Palmer, Matt Leinert and Mark Sanchez.

10.  The Astros fired manager Brad Mills, who has managed a team playing .320 baseball.  

Why  Joe Torre, Joe McCarthy, Earl Weaver, Whitey Herzog, Tony LaRussa -- none of those guys could have done any better.  They should look into their front office, their talent evaluators and their talent.  As Herzog once said, "If you have great talent and a horse bleep manager and bad talent and a Hall of Fame manager, I'll bet on the horse bleep manager every time."  So why did they fire Brad Mills, exactly?  And before the end of the season, too?

11.  How cool is it that Uganda is at the Little League World Series?

Very.  My guess is that the concept of helicopter parents and overwhelming travel parents is lost near Lake Victoria.  Among others, Jimmy Rollins' Foundation helped fund baseball in Uganda.  And a shout out to the parents of the Indiana team, who raised a lot -- in money and clothing -- for the Ugandan kids.  That's what the games should be all about.

12.  Will the Melky Cabrera scandal stain baseball further?

Doug Glanville has written a lot about this.  I think that MLB has lost a ton of credibility.  He was the 2nd leading hitter in the NL at the time he was suspended and was the MVP of the All-Star game (which the NL won and now the NL team gets home-field advantage).  What this means is that the testing program permits cheaters, because a) not everyone gets tested during the regular season and b) the rules allow for a multiple of "normal" testosterone levels in a player before they hit various thresholds of scrutiny.  What this seems to suggest is that a) people having career years might be getting some help from bottles and needles and b) players are still cheating and will continue to do so until everyone is tested routinely.  Sure, the MLBPA is the most successful union in the history of the entire world labor movement, but the owners have to fight harder before the game goes the way of boxing.

Look for most flunked tests and more vents and disgust.

Thanks for listening.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Penn State: Tragedies Have No Winners, and the Games Should Not Go On (Not Now)

Much has been said and written since the Freeh report issued and the NCAA punished Penn State.  I have a friends who are Penn State alums, am a native Pennsylvanian and live here now.  Those facts, perhaps, give me a different perspective from someone who works in Indianapolis, lives in Centre County, Pennsylvania, went to Penn State, writes for a national media organization or plays or coaches major college football, among other things.  So, here goes:

1.  There are no winners here.    We all ache for the victims of Jerry Sandusky and at the fact that many more victims could have avoided their fate if senior, responsible adults who should have known better did the right thing.  We ache for the victims and their families, first and foremost.  As a Pennsylvanian, I also am sad for my state, and for friends and neighbors with strong ties to Penn State (I have none other than being a lifelong resident of the state).  I am sad for the kids who are there now, whose institution now suffers from a long-term, indelible stain, the roots of which began perhaps as long ago as before they were born and took root when some of them were in pre-school.  I am sad for those community members, faculty, students and alums who had nothing to do with the culture, and I am sad for those who did -- they fell into the gravity pull of golden-calf worship, poor priorities and forgetting what the purpose of a university education is -- to educate every student and impart a solid set of values that they will carry back to their communities and jobs and help make the world a better place.  Many of them do just that in their daily lives, but they enabled a culture of hero worship that ultimately led to a lack of accountability and awful harm to innocent young boys.

2.  Penn State should not be playing football this year.  I have vacillated on this point because of my proximity and because of compelling (at times) arguments that current players (who, likewise, had nothing to do to cause this tragedy) should not be punished, but at the end of the day, I keep on coming back to what I believe was a bad culture in State College.  Judge Freeh (and NCAA President Mel Emmert) got it right when he discussed a "football first" culture (although Penn State is far from the only place to suffer from this problem).  This culture had permeated Pennsylvania and elsewhere since I can remember.  There were too many who elevated Penn State football (because it played high-level football and was a "clean" program) and its coach, Joe Paterno, to a perch that neither deserved, not even before the Sandusky affair and the tragedy of the young victims surfaced.

I am also not sure if they should be playing football for a while.

Sure, there's the argument that the current kids had nothing to do with this, and that's absolutely true, they did not.  But, by the same token, we must not let that argument eclipse the tragedy and the larger issue -- which was that Coach Paterno and the football program had way too much influence at Penn State and that the overall culture was terrible at its worst and out of balance at its best.  I know from experience how far that culture permeated, through talking with alum after alum who, rightly or wrongly got off on the fact that they had some identification with Coach Paterno and football games.  That's probably not unique at BCS schools, but Paterno had way too much influence (so much so that he refused to retire and made a mockery of the succession planning process).  The bottom line is that a tragedy occurred because of football, and Beaver Stadium should lie fallow this year as a result (even if the entire team were to transfer).  The emptiness -- and silence -- should stand as a reminder for everyone of when a culture ran amok and young, innocent kids got hurt.   That's the least the NCAA and Penn State could have done -- to set an example that nothing is more important than the safety of our children.

There are things, after all, that are more important than football.

3.  The NCAA might think it took a strong action, but it set a lot of expectations for itself in meting out punishment to Penn State so quickly.  A columnist in the Philadelphia Inquirer got it right (I think it was Bob Ford) when he wrote that the NCAA, which has been under withering criticism for providing toothless remedies) got a free swing at Penn State and took it.  That's true, and while I believe that Penn State deserved to be whacked -- and hard -- I think that the NCAA might have misstepped in acting so quickly.   Here's the thinking -- suppose the next scandal involves an SEC school (and all of them have football-first cultures except Kentucky, which has a basketball-first culture, and Vanderbilt, which has an academics-first culture).  Suppose it's bad (if not as egregious and shielding a child abuser), but that it involves gang bangers or drug dealers or sexual harassers (and depending on the degree, egregious to just as egregious), some or all of which get protected because heaven forbid that a national championship be put in jeopardy.  Will the NCAA mete out analogous punishment?  And, if it doesn't, what will happen to the authority of the NCAA, moral or otherwise?  Look, the NCAA wasn't in an easy spot, but I think that President Emmert, through his words and actions, wrote some checks that this oversight body will not be able to cash.  And if it can't mete out similar punishment in the future, what authority will it really have over its members (and what could prompt the big-revenue schools -- as previously predicted -- to bolt the NCAA anyway, seeking to answer to a lesser, less powerful authority?).

4.  How many other scandals will surface at BCS schools now that the NCAA meted out such strong punishment for Penn State?   As a native Pennsylvanian, I am saddened, shocked and horrified by what happened.  To be blunt, I never really cared for Paterno because of his deification (and the fact that he not only let it happen but seemed to enjoy it) and got skeptical about all BCS-type schools (because I truly believe that academics should come first and that students should really focus on building their skill sets as opposed to identifying -- too much -- with their schools' teams).  That said, I've always thought of Penn State as a good school that offers excellent opportunities and that turns out very fine graduates.  I don't share that view about other BCS schools, many of which do not hold themselves (otherwise) to the standards that Penn State does.  And no, not everything at Penn State was or is awful because of the Sandusky scandal -- it's not fair to paint the entire school, its academics and its graduates with the unfortunate actions of a few (even if people in the community participated in a culture that had skewed priorities).  But do you mean to tell me that coaches never pressured professors at other schools, covered for habitual gamblers, sexual harassers or even drug dealers?  Or kids who en masse violated rules?  I predict that 5-10 scandals will surface in the next 18 months that represent cover-ups at other schools.  If that's the case, what will the NCAA do?  Cancel football at those schools?  Provide Penn State-like punishments?  It should, and if it doesn't, then why should it exist?

5.  Joseph Paterno is not Josef Stalin.  The former suffered from a lack of humility, skewed priorities and too much false pride.  But he also made sure his kids went to class, got (meaningful) degrees and graduated.  He and his wife donated millions to his university.  Most coaches cannot claim that.  Yes, he was tragically flawed, and there's no doubt about that.  He wasn't the guy that his enablers and elegizers wanted us to believe he was.  But he wasn't Jerry Sandusky, either.  Penn State students, fans, alumni and community members never should have put him on the pedestal that they did.  And he shouldn't have let them.  But he did a bunch of good things, even if he's getting excoriated now.  As for the latter, how many millions died because of his policies?  50 million?  Joe Paterno was human, and, yes, more so than most of the rest of us.  But that doesn't make him one of history's major villains.  What he did -- or did not do -- was terrible, yes, but as with many things, it will take a while for the furor to die down and for the professional observers to reflect on his strengths and weaknesses.  By the same token, those who played for him, many of whom had deep, personal connections, shouldn't blindly defend his image, either.  That's not right, and it certainly won't help the healing, either.

6.  Hopefully some good can come out of this across the board.  First, all universities should have clear rule as to how to report the types of activities that Mike McQueary and others witnessed.  Second, all universities should make it clear that it wants/needs that type of conduct to be reported quickly and that if there were any retribution, those who retaliate will be gone, even if they won 409 games in their careers.  Third, the BCS schools need to change their cultures -- no one there should eclipse the institution, period.  No coach or team, and that goes for Coach K at Duke and John Calipari at Kentucky and anyone else you can name.  The welfare of all community members -- neighbors, employees, students, alumni -- should come before the compensation and ego of any coach and the record and opportunities of any team.  As importantly, the education of all students must be paramount, period.  All students deserve more.

7.  Should they have stripped Joe Paterno of victories dating back to 1998?  Whew.  Outside a request from an attorney in Grambling, Louisiana (home of Grambling University and its legendary coach, Eddie Robinson), I didn't hear much about this until the NCAA did this.  I wasn't expecting it, and I think that what motivated the NCAA was to make the punishment personal to Paterno, whom it believed could have and should have done more to report Sandusky and make him persona non grata at Penn State.  Then again, the players on those teams most likely witnessed nothing, had nothing to do with Paterno's decisions and did nothing to cause the scandal.  The need to punish Paterno personally created collateral damage -- to hard-working kids, class-attending kids -- who, at least in their minds if not more -- now are victims too.  I'm not sure whether this is the right result -- or not.  It certainly knocks Paterno off any pedestals that might remain after his death.  That it does do.  No one wins in a tragedy.

8.  Should Penn State have taken the statue of Joe Paterno down?  Absolutely.  Heck, it never should have gone up in the first place, and while I do not like to use the words "always" and "never," "never" applies here.  Who on this earth lets a statue of them be constructed while she/he is still alive?  Who lets that happen?  First, it's not humble.  Second, it's hubris (and rubs the person's fame into the faces of others and also sets a standard of behavior -- tantamount to the qualifications for sainthood -- that the person will be held to).  Third, it's just ridiculous (and just as ridiculous as letting your likeness be painted on a mural -- with a halo over your head).   With that as background, the answer is easy -- of course it should have come down, and there shouldn't have been any debate over that.  The whole root of the problem was the glorification of football and the coach of the team -- straight out of the Freeh report and the NCAA's response.   I know that this hurts some people who really looked up to Joe Paterno -- but those people should re-examine why they did and why that statue is so important to them (and that's not to say that Joe Paterno didn't do great things for some people -- I am sure that he did -- but that doesn't mean he warranted a statue while he was alive).   As Diane Henriques wrote in her book about Bernie Madoff, commenting on why Madoff's scam lasted for so long, "the biggest lies are the ones we tell ourselves."  Among them are a) that Penn State football is more important than anything else in my life and b) Joe Paterno was a saint.  Admitting that those aren't true flat out hurts.

9.  The future for Penn State will be difficult, across the board.    The fine will hurt the school, and not just the football program.  Yes, fans will rally behind the current seniors and perhaps fill Beaver Stadium this year, but in year three when the team is depleted and not landing top recruits and ends up 3-9 and losing to the likes of Temple, who knows  Some will argue that this is a small price to pay when an over-emphasis on football led to what it did.  And if football were the only thing that were hurt, that wouldn't be so bad, at least for a while.  But revenues from football help fund other sports at BCS sports, and Penn State is no exception.  So, other athletes might get hurt.  Then again, many BCS schools over-emphasize all sports, so if all sports were to get hurt, I am not as concerned, either.  The reason I say this is that we need a greater emphasis on the education of all kids, and their positive experiences should extend far beyond the classroom and six fall football weekends.

But that's the easy part.  Penn State might not have insurance for the types of lawsuits that it will get hit with from victims, and if it has insurance the carriers might try to deny coverage.  The university might not have the funds to pay all the victims, especially if there are jury trials and if the plaintiffs ask for punitive damages (which may not be covered by insurance anyway).  The financial ramifications could be pretty awful.

10.  Conclusion.  Penn State is a wonderful institution with terrific programs and outstanding students and alumni.  It really is.  That said, it had a tragic flaw, one that it will have to take great measures to repair, and one that will take time to repair.  What the institution must do, however, is to move forward with its football program without further lament from current players or former players, most of whom are dismayed to disillusioned to devastated, but none of whom will help the process by arguing about the penalties the school incurred or Coach Paterno's legacy.  The jury has spoken in the Sandusky case, and the Freeh report speaks for itself.  Unless there are tremendous flaws which strike at the root of the findings, the school -- and its alumni -- need to move on.  The school also needs to adopt many of the suggestions of the Freeh report, change its culture and honor the best the the school and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania -- have to offer.  Ultimately, some good can come out of this tragedy -- about preventing child abuse, about cultures of accountability, about making sure that academics always come first, even at BCS schools.  But it will take some time.

Tragedies have no winners.

And no, the games shouldn't go on, not now, not for a while.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Penn State: Say It Ain't So, Joe.

I wrote this piece in November.  I suppose that I did not doubt what Judge Freeh's investigation would conclude.  I also think that it still holds today.  You can read this piece, called "The End of the Innocence" here.

Once in a while I have spoken with my wife about not wanting to send our kids to any institution of higher learning where any program or department or person seemed to be greater in importance than the institution or where any coach made more money than the university president.  The root of that comment is found, in part, in the whole Penn State tragedy.  The football program and its coach became larger than the university.  And therein began the problem.

Identity with the football program and, by extension, its coach, the Ivy-educated Joe Paterno (who eschewed law school to coach at Penn State) became more important than the university itself.  And, so did Coach Paterno.

And a funny thing can happen to great men.   On the way to their transcending excellence, they develop a vision and a philosophy that drives them.  What can distinguish them from the rest of us is their drive and their self-confidence.  Many of us don't push ourselves as hard, have difficulty filtering all of the advice we get, perhaps listen to more of it than the great men, and then bog down in that advice and settle for lesser roles (correspondingly, we also might not share that ambition, might want a more balanced life, and might not want to "do what it takes" to get to that high a perch -- so this is by no means a condemnation of most people, who don't become household names but who do contribute to forming the core of their communities).  We also might be kinder, because to achieve that kind of excellence involves making the kinds of decisions that can hurt people -- telling a kid who's played football his whole life that he's not good enough, pushing the athletic director hard for more resources, getting an academic dean to back off the star position player so he can remain eligible, firing an assistant coach because he cannot recruit.  In essence, being very tough -- and sometimes mean -- to other people's children.  Greatness, then, has its costs.

In addition, the more successful these great men become, the more they risk surrounding themselves with people who not only are not candid with them, but who also tell them what they want to hear and validate their every move, no matter how unthinking, how insensitive, or how unkind.   Why does that happen?  Well, for one, the great man starts to believe in his own publicity, and starts to believe that everything he touches must be golden.  Those who surround him bask in the aura of being affiliated with him and don't want to risk being frozen out or excluded if they were to take a stand.  So, sometimes, they compromise their judgments and stifle their views in order to keep an important part of their identity intact.   This phenomenon is the flip side to the talent of the great man and his professional accomplishments, which are not to be denied and are vast.  But it also seems to be the case that as the accomplishments peak, the flip side becomes more pronounced -- and sometimes can lead to the downfall of the great man.

The downfall comes because reason gets comprised and reality gets distorted.  In Penn State's case, you know the story.  Joe Paterno had become larger than life, and no one had the courage to say, "this is lunacy, Joe, we have to go as high as the President if we have to, but we have to report this and, also, take care of these kids.  Jerry has got to go, period, no compromises."  And if the response was, "how can you say that after all he has done for the university, the football program and me?' then the advisor -- anyone -- should have said, "the serious possibility of vicious felonies against children throws all of that out the window."  And, yes, everyone is entitled to a defense, and, yes, eyewitness accounts aren't always accurate.  I get all of that.  But when the smoke persisted, they had to do a lot more than they did.  And given Joe Paterno's clear position of authority and influence -- far greater than anyone else's in Happy Valley -- he should have set the example that no one is bigger than the university and that everyone had a duty to do the right thing.  He didn't.

And while to be great means that you might have to be tough on, even nasty or mean to somebody's child to get to your perch, you don't have to create a culture where another can do unspeakable things to somebody else's children and get away with it.  Therein lies the big difference between the regrettable narcissism that can accompany legends and the lack of accountability that pulls those legends back to earth and crumbles them on impact.

It was easy to oust those who were ousted, and they should have been ousted, Coach Paterno included.   But the entire Board should be replaced, too.  There are very good people on that Board -- excellent people -- but they also presided over a culture that put football and Coach Paterno on a pedestal and I am sure got enjoyment out of the fact that they were affiliated with such a larger-than-life legend as Joe Paterno.  Each of the Board members should ask themselves the question:  "Honestly, did I get off on the fact that Penn State had a great football program and that we were blessed to have such a great man as Joe Paterno leading it -- and every now and then more so than anything else about the university?"  And if the answer is yes, then he or she should resign, because then he or she enabled a culture that prioritized the wrong things and rendered Joe Paterno and the football program unaccountable and provided it with a disproportionate amount of influence.  The Board. lamentably, was a party to the enabling of the culture that led to the failure to report Jerry Sandusky's alleged actions.  As a result, it should be replaced.

That's a sad conclusion to draw, but a necessary one to honor the victims, change the culture and enable the healing.  The administration has turned over, the football coaching staff has turned over, and now this must happen too.  There doesn't seem to be any other way.

The detritus, the destruction, the barren landscape that can resulted from a catastrophe should help Penn State start anew and serve as a reminder for generations that the core values of human life far outweigh whether you go to a BCS Bowl and can contend for a national title.  And, perhaps, if Penn State were to suspend football for a season (or more), the quiet Saturdays at Beaver Stadium could serve as a compelling monument to a new culture that puts every member of the Nittany Lion community on the same footing, with clear mechanisms as to what to do if the predicate acts of the Sandusky affair were to come into their community again.  The lives of boys -- and in this case disadvantaged ones -- should take precedence over a boys' game.

These are sad times in Happy Valley, as they should be.  Times for reflection, times for soul-searching, times for transformation, times for cleansing and times for healing.   And, yes, the circumstances dictate that the landscape of those who were in power be reduced, relatively speaking, to the foundation and to the core.

And I, for one, don't care if they tear down the Lash building while they're at it, tear down the statue of Joe Paterno, or if they play another football game there for a long time.

Because college should be a lot more than identifying with a coach and a football program (and a coach, by the way, who was permitted to stay well beyond his prime because the authorities at the university let the coach become bigger than the institution).  After all, there are tens of thousands of kids at Penn State, 99+ percent of whom have NOTHING to do with the football program.  And they should ask themselves the following question:  what does the football program do for me?  Because, if they are honest with themselves, the answer really is a resounding "nothing" or at least a "not all that much."

And, in the process, they should demand more of the university and, correspondingly, of themselves -- in terms of programs, training, the building of skills -- yes, education and refortify the school's image as a place that not only prepares its students well for the job market (as PSU fared well in a survey among employers in a national magazine within the past year), but also for leadership within communities.

After all, universities should be about building better people. . . and not statutes of football coaches (and while they are still alive, at that) and football programs.

A lot more.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Will Football Become Extinct, Part II?

A school board member in the Philadelphia suburbs has advocated for the cessation of football in her school district, one of the largest in Pennsylvania.  Patty Sexton, a board member in the Council Rock school district (known for a blend of great academics and good sports), came out publicly to ban football in a school board meeting this past week.  Her "made to stick" quote was that the school district was in the business of developing brains, not destroying them.

Sadly and interestingly, her statement drew little reaction, except from a district athletic director who respectfully disagreed with her.

Don't expect this issue to go away, for a few reasons.

First, practical school district economics.  Football is expensive.  It requires a lot of coaches, a lot of equipment and a lot of insurance, all for say 100 kids per high school.  Sure, football aficionados will argue that other kids get involved -- band kids, the cheerleaders, what have you, but at the end of the day a disproportionate amount of the athletic budget gets allocated to football.  If you ask you, the only logical reason you'd get is because it's always been that way.  As public pension burdens grow and as the population ages, districts will have to make hard choices about funding extracurriculars.  While football has been somewhat of a sacred cow at the college level (especially at Division I, where it's a revenue generator and where schools have been more likely to cut wrestling or baseball), that's not the same in high school.  It could well be that some school districts -- particularly urban ones -- will put football in the crosshairs as budgets get tighter.

Second, injury.  The statistics -- numerical and ambulatory -- are hard to ignore.  Suicides, dementia, Alzheimer's and debilitating physical injuries of former football players are just too hard to ignore.  Parents are deluding themselves to use hope as a strategy, as in "well, that won't happen to my kid."  It's hard enough to raise kids with disabilities that they've inherited or arose at birth, but why would you submit your kid to constant collisions?  And before anyone argues, "well, you don't understand the comradery, the glory, you never played, it's hard to argue with empirical evidence.  The types of collisions that take place in football repeatedly from the time a kid is eight are harmful and have long-term consequences that have existed for a while but that are being studied closely now.  How long did a larger portion of the country smoke cigarettes before all of the data came out as to how harmful smoking is for a person?  Good, hard-working men have become severely disabled or have died because of the risks that they took playing.  How many would have willingly subjected themselves to the pounding and grinding had they known what their lives would be like after 40, 45 years old?   These facts are too hard to ignore.

I recently saw a TV news report on former Eagles' fullback Kevin Turner, who is battling ALS.  I hadn't seen Turner on TV since he played, and recalled him as a buzz-cut, chiseled blocker (who also could catch the ball) who looked tough as nails.  Today, he's a shadow of his former self, resembling not someone who experienced all the pageantry of Saturdays in college and Sundays in the NFL, but of someone who's suffered a major trauma from which he'll never recover.  He was a robust, vibrant young man once.  Not any more.

Sometimes, the biggest lies are the ones that we tell ourselves.  Frequently, the hardest thing for an individual or a society to do is to admit that the course they or s/he have/has been on is misguided or errant.  To admit that is to admit that a way of live to which so many subscribed was wrong, and many would prefer to steer their own ship into the iceberg because to change course would be to admit too many painful things rather than to change course, confront the anxiety that change brings and work hard to replace the discarded behavior with something newer and better.  (I personally would worry about what could replace the U.S. public's apparent need for gladiators, but that should be the subject of another column.  The key fact is that football -- and the constant pounding -- is dangerous.  There's no two ways about it.  Patty Sexton might be a lone voice today, but as constitutional scholars are wont to say, "today's dissents become tomorrow's law."

It would be interesting to read in ten to fifteen years (such is the dynamic and speed of change) columns like this one.  For many years skeptics questioned the increased offense in Major League Baseball, only to be ignored because the baseball press (including access-addicted lions such as Jayson Start, Buster Olney, Peter Gammons, Tim Kurkjian and many lesser names) ignored the increased size of players and the rumors that abounded about steroid use.  Yet, the skepticism built, people talked, and lo and behold a bunch of difficult facts came out -- namely, that the inflated records arose -- to some if not a large degree -- because of banned substances.  The difference here is that football is legal and sanctioned, but it's dangerous nonetheless, and as the evidence mounts it will become harder to ignore.

I don't think that football will vanish, but I do think that it will become more like touch football.  Players will wear more pads, hitting will be limited significantly, and flags will be introduced at some point.  After all, these are human beings -- people's children -- that we're talking about -- and we cannot continue to send them into this type of violence without more thought, more study and more care.  

Just ask the 2,100 NFL alums who are suing the league because of life-altering injuries that they sustained.

Or the many others who cannot be party to the suit. . . David Duerson, Andre Walters, Ray Easterling.

Because they died way too young.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Visit to Fenway Park

The family and I went to Boston last weekend, and one of our major stops was Fenway Park.  The kids have seen Fenway on television and have heard of its lustre, but it's one thing to see pictures and another to be there, especially during the 100th anniversary of this fabled stadium.  We had a beautiful day -- 79 and sunny -- to watch the hometown BoSox host the Washington Nationals.  Ironically, it's the visitors who have a hot hand and are the pleasant surprise of the year (at least to some, because for others their success is not a surprise), while the hometown nine have more payroll on the disabled list than almost any other team in baseball (and the payroll for which exceeds the entire payroll of several Major League teams).  In addition, Kevin Youkilis (who hometown fans near me derided for perhaps being the source of the "beer and chicken gate" story last year didn't start, and neither did Nationals' phenom Bryce Harper or highly paid OF Jayson Werth.

Here are a few observations:

1.  I had last been at Fenway about 20 years' ago, when Danny Darwin pitched 5 2/3 of no-hit ball before fading, and the magic remains.  We sat on the right-field line, watched a foul ball land two seats before us and saw Big Papi homer to right.  We had a good view of the scoreboards and, of course, the Green Monster, enjoyed our obligatory peanuts and the overall scenery.

2.  It's fun to take public transportation to the ballpark.  Hint when heading back from Fenway -- cross the street from where the crowd is going, walk toward the Barnes & Noble and then enter the T from that entrance.  There is no crowd (where there is a huge one on the same side of the street as the ballpark).

3.  The BoSox didn't play with a lot of energy.  They didn't have the customary bounce in their step.  Then again, they had some AAAA players in the lineup and, in many ways, are analogous to the Philadelphia Phillies.  The lineup doesn't particularly scare anyone, and Jordan Zimmerman of the Nats pitched very well, as did Jon Lester of the BoSox, who deserves better run support.  In contrast, the Nats plays with some zing and oomph.  For example, closer Tyler Clippard strolled into the game for a save opportunity as if he owned the place.  And then there was Bryce Harper. . .

4.  He didn't start, but he pinch hit in the top of the ninth with the game tied, working a walk in a great at-bat.  Then, running as if there were no tomorrow in a ballpark that cannot be considered cavernous, he scored from first on a double, showing a tremendous amount of hustle.  Ballgame over.

5.  Hard to see what the point was of Bobby Valentine's getting tossed by plate ump Al Porter late in the game.  Porter called a pretty decent game, and his ball and strike calls didn't determine the outcome for the Sox.  Perhaps Valentine asked to be tossed so that he didn't have to watch his relatively lifeless team blow a game and show little energy.  The irony of this is that the front office canned Terry Francona because the clubhouse lost its edge and its discipline, hence beer and chicken-gate.  But the team showed little energy under Valentine, which means either a) the manager isn't the issue, b) the team needs more and better leaders (read:  no one has replaced, among others, Jason Varitek) and/or c) the team just doesn't have enough talent.  In any event, chemistry is an issue in Boston, and the big-dollar signings so far look like major mistakes (John Lackey, Carl Crawford).

6.  I disagree with the fan who called Youkilis a snitch, if, in fact, it was he who outed the pitchers who seemingly were irresponsible during the Sox' collapse last September.  Someone had to say something, and organizations go to seed quickly if bad ethics or poor performance becomes the norm.  It is regrettable and that the leaders on the team didn't step up and clean up their own mess or that highly paid professionals didn't act that way, but who's to blame Youkilis if in fact he complained about an abject lack of professionalism and discipline at season's end.  The BoSox' collapse was historic in its magnitude.

7.  All in all, a terrific experience, worthy of going to an old-time ballpark with a lot of history.  I like the new parks, too, although Yankee Stadium seems corporate, Citi Field seems vertical, hotel-like and cavernous, and, very much relatively speaking, Citizens Bank Park seems a cookie-cutter copy of the other modern stadiums.  That's tough criticism in comparison, of course, but there is charm in Boston.  It's just a shame that the 2012 edition of the Red Sox seems destined not to make the playoffs.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Another Soccer Scandal in Italy

This time the Italian Prime Minister, Mario Monti, is offering his two cents' worth of commentary.

Which is that Italy should take a moratorium on soccer for several years to clear the air. 

Several years ago, referees were involved, and this time, it's the players.  Look, there is organized crime all over the world and people who want to fix matches in all sorts of ways.  Tennis matches, soccer matches, and, who knows, some of the World Cup officiating in South Africa was fishy enough to cast some suspicion over the integrity of the officials (sadly, some hail from the lesser-developed countries where the average incomes are pretty low and might have been more susceptible to taking a bribe).

Players and teams throughout Italy are implicated in this scandal.  And while A.C. Milan, Internazionale Milan, Juventus and AS Roma, among others, can field good teams, it stands to reason that the reason that Serie A in Italy does not get the attention of the English Premiership is either because a) it's not as good a league as the Premiership or b) the serious international soccer media does not believe in the overall integrity of the matches (when compared to say, other countries, such as England).

Popular demand and ecomonic reality (that is, soccer provides thousands of jobs in Italy) are such that it is unlikely that the Italian government can stop soccer or would want to.  But popular demand also should be such that teams outside the four I just named might have a shot to win the title in Series A.  Would that be too much to ask?  And would it be too much to ask that any team might be able to do so without money being exchanged in unmarked bills or unnamed bank accounts in banking havens? 

Yet another mess -- atop the economy -- in Italy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Jimmy Rollins is Doing the Right Thing

Jimmy Rollins' wife gave birth to their first child a few nights ago.  Per his contract, J-Roll is entitled to take 72 hours off.  Which, it appears, he will do.  He wasn't in the lineup last night when the Nats beat the Phillies, 2-1.  On my drive home tonight, a caller to 97.5 called the Phillies SS a "coward" because he could go to the hospital AND go to work.  This expert offered that he had twins, that his wife was in the hospital for weeks, and that he owned his own business and had to go to work and that's what leaders do (the expert owns his own business).

Not having anyone in the car with me, I kept my thoughts to myself, but here's what they were:  "Are you bleeping kidding me?  Who are you to judge any father regarding how much time he wants to spend with his wife and newborn infant? "  I also thought, "Good for J-Roll.  He will remember -- forever -- what he did around the time his first child was born.  He will forget, quickly, whatever happened in one of the more than a thousand Major League games he will have played in his career."

Cherish your family at every opportunity.   That's not to say that work isn't important -- it pays the bills and hopefully provides some fulfillment and sense of belonging and purpose.  But it's not your family, especially at such at important time in your family's existence.

The caller called into question Jimmy Rollins' leadership.  I would counter by saying that by doing precisely what he's doing, Jimmy Rollins is showing great leadership -- setting a great example for what one's priorities should be.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Will Football Become Extinct?

Great, thought-proving piece from Jason Whitlock by way of  You can read it here.

We can get into a mindset where nothing will change.  We can think that football will retain its preeminence precisely because it's on top now.  Yet, the business world is littered with the detritus of companies that failed because they made bad decisions when they were on top (you can read Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen's books on the topic). 

Boxing and horse racing used to be on top, and baseball has been dubbed the national pasttime.  Football right now is on top, per se, because of the revenue it generates.  Yet, what it does to the health of the participants suggests that either public laws or the plaintiff's bar could render this sport obsolete, because the argument that players assume the risk of suffering brain damage in middle age.  To his credit, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is trying to do something about football's problems.  To his credit, deep down he probably believes that football cannot continue at this pace with its current rules. 

It could be that football evolves out of existence.  Rationally, a better decision would be to make it a lot less violent, like lacrosse, where hitting is permissable within limits.  Which means no head shots, no leaping tackles, and, yes, perhaps a reversion to flags.  O-linemen will be able to hit, but only with arms extended.  Quickness will become preeminent, and everyone's children could be safer.  The violence, of course, would vanish. 

Because of the elimination of violent hits, clotheslining and the protection of quarterbacks, the violence has been reduced already.  The NFL has an opportunity to reduce it even further and figure out creative ways to enhance the quality of the game -- and give its participants the ability to talk about it into their 70's and 80's. 

All football is at a crossroads, because the risk of permanent brain injuries -- just like the risk of second-hand smoke -- is not acceptable.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Kevin Garnett Plays Dirty

Celtics' fans anger at the officials in Game 2 after an offensive foul call in the last 10 or so seconds is misplaced.  They should be angry with Garnett for his dirty play -- he all but hip checked Andre Iguodala into the boards with his alleged pick.  We all should expect more from a Hall of Famer.

That said, the 76ers interior defense isn't what it should be or what a team needs to win a series.  Were Moses Malone on this team, he'd have planted an elbow into Garnett's cranium and sent his skinny frame sprawling onto the floor.  Ditto for Wilt, Luke Jackson and others.  Give the Celtics credit -- they are the aggressor.

The 76ers are playing hard and have energy.  The Celtics seem to be able to run their plays better, and Rajon Rondo is the best player on the floor.  Lavoy Allen has been a real surprise for the 76ers.  They know that he's good, but he's showed up big in pressure situations, and that should earn him more money on his next contract.  He'll be in the league for a long time.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Great Finish in the Premiership

Reality TV has nothing on the English Premiership, which had Man U and Man City within a hair of each other going into the final game of the season.  Both teams had 86 points, with Man City leading, though, because of a greater goal differential over its opponents than Man U enjoyed over its.

Man U took a 1-0 lead in its game while Man City was 0-0 against Queens Park Rangers, which was fighting/hoping against relegation (depending upon what Bolton ended up doing).  Got all that?  Then Man City went up 1-0 and Ian Darke of ESPN noted succinctly, "Cue Bedlam."

But a few strange things happened en route.  QPR's skipper, Joey Barton, lost his cool, was red carded and then committed another foul after the red card that is sure to draw a big fine and suspension.  The Rangers scored 2 goals and were leading, 2-1, going into stoppage time (for the uninitiated, the time that gets added on because of time when play was stopped because of injury).

And that's when stranger things happened.  First, substitute striker Edin Dzeko scored on a header, and then Diego Maradona's son-in-law, Sergio Kun Aguero, another striker, scored a goal that in Man City's history will be akin to the father-in-law's famous "hand of God" goal in a World Cup over a quarter century ago.  3-2, Man City, and the Premiership Title to go with it.

Cue Bedlam, indeed!

Great game, great finish, QPR ended up not being relegated and Arsenal ended up clinching third overall in the Premiership, guaranteeing a spot in next year's Champions League despite losing Cesc Fabregas to a transfer and Jack Wilshere to an injury, and despite, also, a woeful start.

But the day belongs to Manchester City.

Great, great excitement.

76ers Need to Get More Physical

I watched the first game of the series between the Celtics and 76ers last night and observed the following:

1.  The 76ers' interior defense cost them last night.  Put simply, they need to get a lot more physical.  Coach Doug Collins needs to either instruct or encourage one of the bigs to take a few hacks, particularly at Kevin Garnett, or find someone at the end of the bench willing to mix it up, throw a hip, an elbow or land on someone and make a statement.  Put simply, Kevin Garnett is a dirty player, clandestinely so, extending a hip on a screen or throwing an elbow when the refs aren't looking.  This happened on several occasions last night, as did interior penetration when 76ers' big got danced around and didn't make a statement to the effect of "you just don't come into our lane and get away with this."  Moses Malone would have made such a statement, so would have Charles Barkley and many others, Wilt included.  To win this series, the 76ers have to be as physical if not more.

2.  Rajon Rondo is a special player.  He'll have his moments, but the key is not to let the Avery Bradleys and Brandon Basses beat you.

3.  The 76ers' biggest flaw is their shooting, not only making open shots but also shot selection.  How many times can fans endure air balls from Jrue Holiday and Spencer Hawes, both on poorly selected shots?

4.  Elton Brand disappeared last night.  Was he hurt or was he just ineffective?  I thought that Hawes was gassed by the end, and that had to tick off Brand, who barely made a difference and Allen, who played so well that he must have thought he should have been in there at the end.

5.  The 76ers need to work better to exploit the Celtics' age.  They need to run Ray Allen, Garnett and Paul Pierce, as well as Bass, to make them earn every defense stop and every offensive play.  The more they do that, the deeper they will go in this playoff series and the better they will fare.  They especially need to do this against a crafty, veteran team that is looking for one last hurrah before overturning its roster and falling back before surging forward again.  It's great to have a relatively young team.  To the 76ers' credit, they kept on answering the Celtics late in the game and did not fold.  To their detriment, their inexperience showed and they failed to finish off a beatable opponent last night.  That ability to close will come with time, but it's something the 76ers need to work on.

This should be an exciting series.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Princeton Tigers Win Ivy Men's Lacrosse Title

Normally I'm not part of the "late-arriving" crowd, but yesterday's activities -- chauffering kids to their own games -- had me get to Princeton late, have great pizza at Conte's, and then arrive with the Tigers up 4-3 early in the second quarter.  Class of '52 Stadium at Princeton was packed -- with the Tiger faithful (lots of beige in the parents section on a reasonable night -- no rain, low fifties, but chilly when the wind kicked up) buzzing, many high school, middle school and elementary school lacrosse players and a Cornell contingent of good size and vocals.  My guess is that risk management in Tigertown would have been a bit concerned -- the place was, metaphorically, packed to the rafters.

The hometown 10 had its "A" game on, and the visitors played with a great sense of urgency, in some significant contrast to games that I watched in the same stadium against a woeful Dartmouth team that seemed to be stuck in a low gear and a middling Penn team that ran out of gas after half time.  The game proceeded at a fast, almost brutal pace, with attackmen in high gear cutting and dodging, trying to gain an edge, while the Tigers' defensive three of Cunningham, Meyers and Wiedemaier (pardon the spelling) played with a tremendous combination of urgency and patience, always working to force Cornell attackers away from the goal.  And when the visitors got there they were met with some spectacular play from the Tigers' goalie Tyler Fiorito, who as part Stonewall Jackson and part Peking Acrobat.  All that plus solid movement on offense, and the Tigers won the game and the Ivy League by a score of 14-9.

It was a fun atmosphere at Class of '52 Stadium, high-end lacrosse, a nice night, gelato from the Whole Foods down the road afterwards to make the night complete.  That said. . .

The Ivy post-season lacrosse tournament -- for the Ivies' automatic bid to the NCAA tournament -- is at Princeton next weekend.  Cornell and Princeton are favored to meet in a re-match for the title, one with even higher stakes than last night's game.  The drama will build, it will be a revenge game for the Big Red, but if the Tigers show up as ready for that game (so long as they and Cornell don't look past their semi-final opponents) as they did for last night, they will be primed to put on quite a show.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

I Have Decided to Tweet!

Just plug in SportsProf and you can follow the tweets.

I figured that it's time to join the 21st century, so here I am.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Suggestion for Curing Cheap Shots in Hockey

Lacrosse has something called a non-releasable penalty. In a nutshell, if you hit someone in the head, you could get a one-minute non-releasable penalty. What that means is that the player stays off the entire length of the penalty, giving the other team a chance to score as many power-player goals as they can during the length of the penalty. Which means that a good team might be able to score 2 goals during that one minute.

So, translate this to the NHL, where if a player hits someone in the head (depending on the severity) you could have a two-minute or five-minute non-releasable penalty (or longer). If that were the case, a team could ramp its power play for a solid five minutes, perhaps scoring as many as three goals. Were that to happen, players would be careful about going for head shots, very careful, as they could cost their team the game.

Suspensions and fines might or might not work, depending on the severity. But putting a team in a position, game after game, to have the other team score a bunch of power play goals during a long, non-releasable penalty, just might.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Before Watching Hockey Fights, a Beautiful Walk

We took a long walk today on the Delaware Canal, and, en route, saw geese, ducks, big turtles, frogs, tadpoles and all sorts of fish. There were also people of all ages out there -- running, biking, walking dogs, plain old walking and getting exercise. Today was a gorgeous, unseasonably warm day in the Delaware Valley, about 76 degrees with a bright sun, and it was a great opportunity to take a break from chores, piles of paper, etc. to enjoy a terrific day.

Flyers-Penguins -- "They Started It!"

That's paraphrasing what kids say after a teacher or adult intervenes in a scrap, scolding both. So one usually says, "but he started it." Sometimes it's hard to tell who started it, but today the desperate Penguins, down 2-0 and playing in a hostile Wachovia Center, talked trash, cheap-shotted the Flyers and generally lost their composure en route to an 8-4 thrashing at the hands of the Broad Street. . . Flyers.

There was feistiness, there were rights, and there was trash talking, and among the biggest instigators/antagonists was uber-star Sidney Crosby, who was, depending on how you looked at it, dirty and profane or feisty and combative. I'm not a huge follower of hockey or a huge fan, but it struck me that the Penguins needed to play a lot smarter in order to take Game 3 and try to make this a competitive series once again. Instead, they came out too aggressive, and, in the end, the Flyers played with more poise and routed their cross-state rivals.

If the Penguins learned anything today, in hockey they should remember this -- if you start it, you better be able to finish it. But it was the Flyers who answered time and time again, finishing any scrap that the Penguins brought their way. It was surprising to see, to a degree, both the Flyers' keeping their cool, relatively speaking, and the Penguins' losing theirs.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

When All-Timers Get Grouchy

Pele contends that the young Brazilian striker Neymar is better than Argentina's (and Barcelona's) Lionel Messi.

The Brazilian legend also contends that the prolific Messi shouldn't be talked about in the conversation about who is the best of all time.

Sounds like the Brazilian legend is self-righteous, right or jealous.

What do you say?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Wasn't Ozzie Guillen Talking About Juan Castro?

As in the former utility infielder for the Dodgers and Phillies.

That must have been the ticket, or else why is the entire Cuban-American community looking for his termination or resignation. That must have been the case in South Florida, because the Marlins' skipper claims that he was misquoted. Yet, his explanation today -- in Spanish -- was so lame that he might as well have said that he admired Juan Castro. That comment might have been more believable.

On the one hand, the linked FOX Sports article predicts that Guillen will not last the season. On the other hand, it might have been an amazing publicity ploy. After all, Guillen said something so outrageous that the Marlins might sell out their tickets to a bunch of Cuban-Americans who willo want to maim Guillen at every turn. Think of all the ticket sales, the concession stand revenue, and Guillen and Fish owner Jeffrey Loria are evil geniuses. Diss the Cuban-American community in Miami and draw headlines for the remainder of the season.

Another possible explanation is that Guillen was under coercion, that the Hugo Chavez government in Venezuela, Guillen's home country, kidnapped Guillen's family and threatened to harm them if one of the most well-known Venezuelans didn't come out and publicly vouch for one of Chavez's main allies, Castro. So, it stands to reason that while either Chavez has Guillen on film doing embarrassing things or was threatening Guillen's family, Guillen had no choice but to publicly praise Castro.

In any event, this is a mess for Guillen and the Marlins. Just what they needed when they opened a new ballpark.