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Much to ponder: The Kessell deal, NFL triage, and Ichiro

Several things to thrash over while waiting for Boss Belichick to admit he may have over-reached when he opted for a radical, instant, make-over of his veteran Patriot team when a more subtle transition might have been both more efficient and politic.

Not that we’ll hold our breath, mind you. But was cashiering Richard Seymour after chasing away a core cadre of old pros over the off-season really necessary? Or did the mighty Boss, in a burst of beguiling hubris, simply out-smart himself. It happens.  

And, while on the subject, did it not seem that Coach Bill’s obligatory exchange of post-game salutations with the exuberant Jets’ skipper Rex Ryan had all the warmth, charm and wit of Churchill’s greeting to Stalin at Yalta?  No one can look the other way while he shakes hands with an adversary with quite the graceful disdain of our Foxborough football dean.

Of Harry Sinden and Phil Kessel

It’s interesting to speculate how the dowagers of jock journalism would have dealt with the Phil Kessel fiasco if Harry Sinden were still calling the shots for the Bruins. The guess here is that the more shrill of the local divines – especially those who have not actually attended a hockey game in at least six years – would have hung Harry out to dry had he not capitulated to the spoiled Kessel’s ridiculous contractual demands. But the critics are easier on Peter Chiarelli who is, after all, a Harvard man and therefore enjoys a willing suspension of disbelief in this curiously hung-up enclave.

Kessel would not have been a Sinden favorite. Indeed, Harry probably wouldn’t have drafted him given that the kids’ distaste for the physical demands and need for grit in his game was well established when he was but a teen.

Kessel is a soft player and while sometimes they change, he isn’t likely to. He will always be a stylish breakaway threat and dangerous sniper but he’ll never be close to a complete player. Some teams can live with that. But the Bruins have never been able manage that rather oxymoronic compromise. It’s in the blood lines, something Sinden deeply appreciated. It’s interesting that Chiarelli, though hardly a product of the black and gold culture, also understands all that clearly. There was no way he could roll over for the likes of Kessel. Even in these hyper-inflated times, 27 million bucks for 36 goals and an endless reprise of Ice Capade routines is absurd.  

Tougher to take is the return Chiarelli got. It would have been a much better deal if he landed the solid defenseman and 7th pick in the draft he thought he’d get when he first talked trade with the Leafs in June. This is not the NFL. Draft choices lower than the first 10-12 picks in Round One are very chancy in hockey. For further affirmation, check the Bruins draft history.

What they finally got for Kessel (two No. 1s and a No. 2) might be acceptable if Toronto remains an NHL doormat the next two years. But with Brain Burke now in charge of the Leafs, I wouldn’t bet the ranch on that. The Bruins could end up getting stiffed. Still it’s a deal that had to be done and it remains merely noteworthy that Chiarelli is receiving kudos whereas Sinden would have been mugged.   
Lighten up, ye lords of tennis

In a sporting world too often blighted by ingrates, delinquents and even felons, the polite canons of sportsmanship that are meant to govern tennis ought to be welcome and appreciated. Still, what happened at the U.S Open seemed a bit of a stretch. First Serena Williams and then Roger Federer – both perennial and worthy champions – got hammered for lapsing into some foul language while blowing their cool on the court. Tsk, Tsk.

Tennis is a tough game. In some ways, none is tougher. To stand out there often in the beastly heat for upwards to five hours mano a mano running each other ragged and giving no quarter is beyond grueling. The next wimp to emerge as a tennis champ will be the first. Among the great champions of all the games, tennis stalwarts, both male and female, rank among the most ferocious competitive tigers to ever play anything anywhere at any time. Which is why these quaint but oppressive tennis rules governing the niceties of deportment are silly.

The fuss made over the tantrums of Williams and Federer along with the fines and rebukes levied against them were ridiculous.  Were the lords of the game fearful New Yorkers would be scandalized by cusswords rising over the heat of battle? All this genteel folderol is a burden for tennis. The game should move beyond such trifles and place the emphasis where it belongs, which is on the sheer grit of the people who play the game well. Great athletes cuss. It’s admirable when they don’t, but they always have and always will.

Moreover, the rulings by officials that provoked the anger of Williams and Federer were truly outrageous. For a foot fault to be a huge factor in the determining of a championship – which is what ignited Williams – is like a balk ending a World Series. If it seemed technically correct at the moment, it’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

It’s the National Triage League

Let’s see, now: The Patriots lose Jerod Mayo and Wes Welker. The Bills lose three regulars on defense. The Bears lose three on offense plus franchise linebacker Brian Urlacher for the entire season.  All-stars go down: Chris Samuels in Washington, Walter Jones in Seattle, Donovan McNabb breaks his rib in Philadelphia, Troy Polamalu smacks a knee in Pittsburgh, while it’s an ankle that hobbles LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego. The Chargers also lose four other regulars indefinitely. Giants’ behemoth Chris Canty suffers a knee and misses his much-anticipated return to his former playground, Dallas.  He’s one of eight Giants’ regulars presently hors de combat.  The Colts have seven likewise disabled. They could be week to week or month to month or whatever.

And so it goes. This is only a very partial list of only the first week’s casualties. The National Football League, where it’s all about triage, is back and it’s bigger and better than ever.  

The wonder of Ichiro

The wonder of Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki was roused again the other night when the matchless Japanese hitting machine turned on a failed Mariano Rivera cutter and slammed a two-run, walk-off homer to jar the Yankees into a bit of a late season slide that has them shuddering as they enter the last fortnight of the regular season.
Ichiro’s dramatic blow happened after 1 a.m. EDT. It was seen by few east of the Rockies, made none of the morning papers east of the Great Plains, and promptly faded in the fever of another major football weekend. It’s what often befalls Ichiro’s great moments, which explains why few realize he’s probably the finest player of his time and one of the dozen greatest of the modern era.
With two weeks to go, he’s hitting .360 and has attained the unthinkable by surpassing 200 hits for the season for the ninth consecutive year, one of the greatest hitting feats of all time. In nine Seattle seasons he is hitting .335 while averaging 230 hits.
It’s stunning.

Ichiro is the Ty Cobb of his times. In fact, Cobb is the man’s only plausible yardstick. They seem to have much in common, including a fierce temperament. Ichiro has none of the nastiness, mindless fury, or eccentricities of the old Georgia Peach, but the supremely individualistic detachment, passion for perfection, and intense focus are similar. Like Cobb, Ichiro operates on another plane. In his hands, the bat is a magic wand and he is a sorcerer.
Also, like Cobb, he is sometimes derided as “mainly” a singles hitter. But Cobb used to say that when he set his mind to it ,and sensed the need, he could hit a home run any old time. And so, it seems, can Ichiro. Just ask Mariano Rivera.

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