Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Are you fucking kidding me?

I can read the number on paper and say it out loud, but I can't wrap my head around the two billion dollar price tag for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Two billion dollars. For a baseball team. That's more than the annual operating budgets of most medium to large-sized cities. It's more than the gross domestic product of several small countries. It's even more than the combined net losses of the ten worst Hollywood box office bombs, including Cutthroat Island, Speed Racer and the Adventures of Pluto Nash. But just like making big budget movies is a hobby for the fabulously wealthy, sports franchises are toys for people with giraffe money, which is to say they have so much money the only thing they don't own yet is a giraffe.
NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson is the new face of the Dodgers, but the financial power behind the purchase is Mark Walters, CEO of the Guggenheim Partners investment firm, which has worldwide assets valued at no less than 125 billion dollars, making Walters uniquely qualified to overspend on a struggling but still iconic baseball franchise in hopes of putting the polish back on the jewel.
People who know more about business and baseball than I do say this is good for the Dodgers and the city of Los Angeles, but even if he can afford to lose it, Walters is going to want to make his money back, and the big question is what that means for the fans. There've been no assurances that the new owners won't try to recoup the purchase price by making the cost of attending a game so prohibitive that the Dodgers turn into a baseball version of the L.A. Lakers, and only the most well-heeled customers will be able to afford to sit field level beside Jack Nicholson, the Kardashian sisters and their giraffes.

Monday, March 26, 2012

They're dead, Jim

Following a long and half-hearted battle against indifference and inconsistency, the Montreal Canadiens' playoff chances passed away without a struggle Saturday night in Philadelphia. The Canadiens are survived - for the time being - by their lame duck coach, a deficient general manager and a loyal but increasingly frustrated and impatient fan base. Public visitation will be held at the Bell Center tomorrow night, next Wednesday and a week from Saturday before the Canadiens are interred at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, next to the New York Islanders. In lieu of flowers, donations to the "Buy Out Gomez and Kaberle" Foundation would be greatly appreciated...The frenzied applause and gushing media coverage that greeted Tiger Woods' first PGA Tour win since 2009 is all the proof anyone should need that the path to public forgiveness for massive characters flaws lies not in behavioral therapy, but in getting your putting game in order...If early season Formula One results are any kind of a harbinger, 2012 is going to be a lot more compelling than last season: two races, five different drivers and four different teams on the podium, and only one podium finish for Red Bull, which utterly dominated the circuit in 2011...My eyes are still readjusting from watching Saturday's Impact game against the Columbus Crew, who were head to toe in cornea-searing canary yellow, except their goalkeeper, who opted for a jarring shade of electric lime green...Apropos of nothing and submitted for your consideration, some baseball expressions that would also make good contemporary band names: First And Third, Caught Looking, Banjo Hitter, Chin Music, Can Of Corn and Toe The Rubber.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bettman, Selig could learn from Goodell

Whether or not you agree with the heavy-handedness of the fines and suspensions assessed by the NFL yesterday, there's no disputing the league's decisiveness and resolve. With team fines and individual salary forfeiture totalling millions of dollars and suspensions up to and including a full season for New Orleans head coach Sean Payton and a possible lifetime ban for former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was ruthlessly draconian in his response to a cash bounty system that rewarded Saints players for injuring opposing players.
By making everyone from the top down accountable, Goodell instantly changed the culture of pro football for the better, and in the process he made himself accountable by assuming the responsibility that comes with his position. He also provided a lesson in resolve for his comparatively indecisive hockey and baseball counterparts.
Gary Bettman has been vacillating for years on how to deal with excessive violence in hockey, and the best he's come up with is a policy for suspensions that's as inconsistently applied as it is half-baked. At least Bettman pays lip service to what ails his sport. Bud Selig actually looked the other way when chemically-enhanced baseball sluggers were setting artificial home run records, because he didn't want to derail the publicity and marketing gravy train.
If it hadn't already dawned on Bettman and Selig that the NFL isn't the most popular, successful and credible sports league in North America by accident, it should have yesterday, when the sanctions announced by Roger Goodell - though arguably unduly harsh - put the integrity of the sport ahead of everything else.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Justice denied in Graham James case

By definition, a judge is a public officer or magistrate charged with the administration of justice, based on a careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises. Presumably, anyone appointed to the bench is elevated based on courtroom experience, wisdom and an acquired understanding of what constitutes justice.
So how does that explain Catherine Carlson, the Manitoba provincial court judge who sentenced former junior hockey coach Graham James to two years in prison for sexually abusing players in his charge in the 1980s and 90s? That's an even bigger joke than the three-and-a-half years James was sentenced to 15 years ago for similar assaults on other players.
Carlson attempted to justify her leniency in part by noting that James had suffered extreme public scrutiny and humiliation for a prolonged period of time, and that he had made strides in learning to cope with his sexual deviancy. Well, huzzah for him. His victims should be so lucky in their recovery and rehabilitation, which we can only assume requires a significantly longer time period than two years, and doesn't include the benefit of day passes or early parole from the ongoing emotional torment of a ruthless betrayal by a trusted authority figure.
In presiding over a high profile case involving a societal scourge that requires a much heavier hand than the justice system has traditionally been willing to wield, Judge Catherine Carlson had an opportunity to send a clear message, and she did exactly that. Unfortunately, her message to pedophiles was "business as usual - carry on."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tebow haters tee off

For someone who's supposedly nothing special, Tim Tebow sure is a lightning rod for vigorous debate.
Four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning's reportedly imminent signing with Denver is at least as much about Tebow as it is about Manning, with various and sundry critics proclaiming that the beginning of the Manning era with the Broncos marks the end of Tebow's 15 minutes of fame.
The most revealing statement I've heard about Tebow is that he's proven nothing except that he can win. How's that for convoluted logic, and a measure of how much ill will there is towards a grounded young man whose greatest perceived faults are that he's an unorthodox quarterback and a devout Christian?
There's no question that Manning represents an upgrade over Tebow, but I wouldn't be too quick to write off a guy who took his team to the second round of the playoffs in his first full season as an NFL starter after winning two national championships and a Heisman Trophy at the college level.
What's disappointing to me is that people actually root for Tebow to fail because they're offended by his faith, but that says more about them than it does about him. I've said it before and I'll say it again: were Tebow a devout Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist athlete, he'd never be subjected to the kind of public mockery he faces for his Christian faith, because it would be deemed politically incorrect and socially unacceptable. Through all the overbearing scrutiny and harsh personal attacks, Tebow has never been anything less than a gentleman, while honing his craft with significant - if inconsistent - success at the highest level.
So tear him down as a person if it makes you feel better about your own spiritual vacuousness, but bet against him as a football player at your peril.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Expos, Impact, Bob Cole and jam recipes

Sometimes, it takes an outsider's perspective to see what's been in plain sight all along. Twice in the past two weeks, former Expo Warren Cromartie has publicly lamented the absence of any visible evidence that Montreal was home to a major league baseball team for three-and-a-half decades. Think about it. Nowhere in the city is there a material shrine to the Expos, who enchanted a loyal fan base for the better part of 36 seasons before cheapskate ownership ran the team into the ground, and conniving baseball executives partnered with a pair of carpetbaggers to run the franchise out of town. The Miami-based Cromartie is officially spearheading a movement to bring professional baseball back to Montreal, which in and of itself would be a tribute to the Expos. He's got his work cut out for him, but if passion counts for anything, there couldn't be a more qualified advocate leading the charge...It'll be interesting to see how large a crowd the Impact draws for their next game at the Big O April 7th against Toronto FC. The Expos used to fill the place for their home opener, but in their last several seasons, they were lucky to get 20 percent of the opening day crowd for their second game...The pressure is really on Aaron Palushaj now that he's tied with Jose Theodore for most career goals by a Canadiens player wearing jersey number 60. Sharing a scoring record with a goaltender is not the most desirable legacy...I envy drunk people because Bob Cole probably makes sense to them...Jennifer Botterill's hockey tips were back on Hockey Night in Canada Saturday, which made me giddy with anticipation for Cam Neely's jam recipes. Yes, I realize Botterill is probably a better hockey player than Neely is a jam maker, but in both cases, unless you're pushing an agenda, these are things better left to the professionals.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Debunking some myths about Manning

There's sports analysis, and then there's overanalysis, and there's been as much of the latter as there has the former since four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning became a free agent last week.
Here are some of the grander assumptions in the speculation over Manning's future:
- Manning won't sign with Washington or the New York Jets because he doesn't want to play in the same division as or be a crosstown rival with his younger brother, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
- He won't sign with Tennessee because the Titans play in the same division as Indianapolis and Manning doesn't want to play against his former team two times per season.
- Manning won't sign with the Broncos because it gets cold and snowy in Denver and he's used to playing home games in a covered stadium.
- The Dolphins and Cardinals have the inside track on Manning because Miami and Arizona have the best weather.
Are you kidding me? Do people think Peyton Manning is that much of a sentimentalist or creampuff? The guy's a proud champion and one of the fiercest competitors who ever stepped onto the football field. He'd push Eli down the stairs if it gave him a competitive edge, and there's probably nothing he'd like better than to stick it to the Colts twice a year. If he signs with Miami or Arizona, it'll be because he thinks one or the other gives him the best shot at winning a Super Bowl, not because he's excited about the early bird specials and the abundance of shuffleboard facilities.
Having been deemed expendable by the only NFL team he ever played for, Manning is probably more motivated than he's ever been, and anyone who portrays this year as the beginning of a de facto semi-retirement wasn't paying close enough attention to the professional pride and pursuit of excellence he brought to his first 14 seasons.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Staubitz a keeper (and other Monday morning musings)

One of the most important off-season signings for the Canadiens should also be one of the easiest. Brad Staubitz has made every other player on the team an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier since being claimed off waivers from Minnesota at the trade deadline. He gives the Canadiens their first legitimate enforcer since Georges Laraque, and say what you will about Laraque as an injury-plagued free agent bust - no one was taking liberties against the Habs on nights when Big Georges was healthy enough to suit up. The Canadiens can probably re-sign Staubitz for half of what they were paying Laraque, and it'll be money well-spent...Andrei Markov had good and bad moments in his first game in 16 months Saturday in Vancouver, but the boost his long-awaited return gave to the Canadiens' collective confidence was palpable. The potential downside to a Markov-led, late-season resurgence is that it's too late for the Habs to make a serious playoff run, but not too late to play themselves out of the draft lottery..Speaking of which, the Fail For Nail sweepstakes among NHL bottom feeders is on hold after number one prospect Nail Yakupov suffered a possible concussion over the weekend. Yakupov's uncertain status ahead of the draft raises a number of questions, not least of which is "what rhymes with Grigorenko?"...No one is realistically expecting the Impact to be a contender in their inaugural Major League Soccer season, but if they want to be lovable losers like the expansion 1969 Expos, they're going to need more guys named Boots, Coco and Mudcat.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ex-Islanders embarrassed in perpetuity

Is it just me, or was there a time not too long ago when the only living people with their own statues were narcissistic despots who commissioned sculptors under their rule to produce a suitably heroic likeness, and maybe - just maybe - they wouldn't be propped up in front of a firing squad?
Not that Hockey Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux isn't worthy of the statue unveiled in Pittsburgh yesterday, but wouldn't it be a bit creepy to walk past your own statue on your way to work every day? It's a sense of discomfort that Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur probably feel every time they walk past their own statues outside the Bell Center on the way to a Canadiens game. There's something to be said for being honoured in perpetuity, but it seems to me that immortalizing someone while they're still mortal is jumping the gun.
That's not even the most bizarre part of the Lemieux statue, which actually consists of three figures - the other two being Islanders defenceman Rich Pilon and Jeff Norton, whose hapless likenesses have just been turned inside out by Lemieux in a sculpted recreation of a photograph from 1988. Pilon says he's cool with the statue, but was it really necessary to honour Lemieux by presenting others in a less than flattering light?
Even if the Penguins couldn't wait until Lemieux was gone before casting him in bronze, they could have extended the courtesy to Pilon and Norton. Otherwise, it's a bit like the New York Mets commemorating the 1986 World Series by erecting a statue of Boston first baseman Bill Buckner booting Mookie Wilson's grounder in the bottom of the 9th.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Things my friend Mark says - Volume 5

My friend Mark is as funny and articulate as anyone in the blogosphere, but too lazy/humble/indifferent to start his own blog, so he just writes gold and sends it to me. His observations need to be shared, for amusement's sake if not for the betterment of mankind.


The term, "thrice-widowed" is reserved for mass murderers and Ben Cartwright. Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe were all born of different mothers on the 600,000 acre Ponderosa. (Plenty of room to create an "accident" or hide a body.) Odd premise for a western.

But here's what I've been thinking. Hoss's mother must have been a delicate, lovely woman, no? I can picture her in my mind, but words fail me. Fortunately we can fall back on Jim Bouton's description of one similar woman from his baseball classic, Ball Four. "'It's hard to say exactly what she looked like. She was kind of a Joe Torre with tits."

Exhibit A

My guess is that Hoss's mom was originally one of Ben's silver miners, who - as it turned out - could cook up a mean plate of biscuits and gravy. It was lonely out there in Nevada. How could Ben resist her?

In retrospect, "Ponderosa" was probably her given name - and the ranch was named in her honour after an unfortunate oven explosion that carried her away to Heaven - and about 40 feet beyond the stables.

Hard to blow up a wood oven. Hop Sing refused to discuss it.

This brings us to the late John Bateman - fat, ugly catcher for the expansion Expos - may he rest in peace. Trust me, this photo is very flattering...

Bateman finished his career as catcher for the great softball pitcher, Eddie Feigner ("The King and his Court"). Feigner broke Bateman's nose three times, which made him all the more beautiful.

Anyway, former Montreal Star writer John Robertson swore that he once saw Bateman approach a large and unfortunate-looking woman in a Crescent Street bar. Wishing to make a good first impression, Bateman paid her a thoughtful compliment. "Say! You don't sweat much for a big girl!" The old smoothie!

It should be noted that no harm was done, and the two of them left the bar together - happy, horny, and apparently resigned to their lots in life.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Scandal schmandal

For better or worse, it was always clear that Tiger Woods would ultimately be judged first and foremost by what he did on the golf course and not how he conducted himself as a husband and father. He's an even better golfer than he is an adulturer, and the womanizing - already a footnote to his athletic legacy - becomes ever more immaterial as Woods continues to rehabilitate his golf game, if not his public image. Yesterday's career-best, final round 9 under par 62 at the Honda Classic was vintage Tiger, and has fans, media and PGA officials drooling at the prospect of what Woods could bring to the Masters next month. Rory McIlroy is the new world number one, but Woods is still golf's number one attraction...There's no shame in hoping the Canadiens tank during the last month of the season to enhance their chances of landing a number one or two overall pick in the draft lottery. If the players can't summon the professional pride to bring their best effort on anything remotely resembling a consistent basis, why should the fans be obliged to care?...What a treat Saturday for members of the Montreal hockey media, who got to witness and enjoy Toronto general manager Brian Burke's open book persona at a Bell Center news conference to introduce new Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle. Burke's honesty, candor and intermittent bursts of Irish blarney are a welcome change from the robotic platitudes of Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier, on those rare occasions when Gauthier deigns to hold court for the ink-stained wretches of the fourth estate...If you didn't see Don Cherry owning both Burke and Ron MacLean on Coach's Corner Saturday, look it up on You Tube for an understanding why Cherry is still on TV. He was entertaining, he was relevant, and he was right...Being relieved of his duties didn't exempt outgoing Leafs coach Ron Wilson from having to make difficult choices Saturday, except that instead of having to choose between starting James Reimer or Jonas Gustavsson in goal, he had to decide whether to drown his sorrows at Bar Diana or the Cock and Bull. Either way, it's the worst of both worlds.