Dog Days Diary: Stray bits and idle musings

Here are some stray bits and idle musings to consider while we slog our way through the Dog Days of August en route to a much ballyhooed titanic finish to the baseball season.

• You can bet the ranch that if the Red Sox finish first and the Yankees finish out of it, every tabloid hound dog in the Big City will clean Brian Cashman’s clock for having been thoroughly out-maneuvered by Theo Epstein at the summer trade deadline. Additionally, should Victor Martinez outplay Mark Teixeira down the stretch, hell will have no fury like the wrath of Gotham’s notorious second-guessers. It should make for fascinating sport.

• Be it August or otherwise, scratching your head about the direction of the Bruins is never out of season. They caught some breaks last season before having their deficiencies painfully exposed by a very average Carolina team in the playoffs. There are serious questions and the only answers have been the acquisitions of another journeyman forward dumped by the Canadiens – Steve Begin – and a much-traveled defenseman they didn’t need to over-pay – Derek Morris. Nor do potential stars loom on the farm. The Chiarelli regime seems consistently bedeviled by the salary cap. The Rangers devour pricey free agents every year yet find room for a Jagr. A better example is the perennially contending Red Wings who annually manage to have space for another stalwart on a championship roster. In this day and age, mastering the salary cap is crucial and the Bruins haven’t.

• In golf, Tiger Woods has led a charmed life both on and off the links. He’s been utterly above reproach from the get-go. But that may have changed, and rather dramatically. In a stroke that was the more stunning because it came out of nowhere, Rick Reilly – a star at Sports Illustrated before becoming an even bigger deal with ESPN and the Internet – clobbered Tiger in a recent column headlined, “Woods needs to clean up his act.” The ramifications are considerable. Reilly (for better or worse) may be the most influential sports columnist in the nation.

Reilly’s indictment was heavy and scathing, a very specific bill of particulars mainly centering on what Reilly deems Tiger’s lack of manners, foul mouth, vicious temper, and consistent violations of golf’s starchy but vital protocol. He essentially calls him a brat and a boor and he implicitly calls out the entire game for looking the other way and covering up for its best performer. It was, to put it mildly, a remarkable rebuke and you wonder how the unflappable Woods, who has so little experience with reproach, will handle it.

• It’s hard to understand how Lance Armstrong can have so many mortal enemies in his sport and not be guilty of something. Still, by whatever means he comes by it – legal or otherwise – the ferocity of Armstrong’s will is astounding. If next year’s Tour de France grudge match with Alberto Contador fails to convert American sportsmen to cycling nothing will.

• It’s no secret Red Auerbach fairly detested Phil Jackson, believing the lanky basketball guru was a self-promoting showboat which is roughly the sort of thing Red’s old enemies used to say about him. But Red was never guilty of the sort of strutting and preening that Jackson featured when he won his 10th championship this spring, thus at last surpassing his ancient adversary from Boston. Red was right about Jackson and Red remains incomparable.

• Many were charmed by Bill Russell’s memoir about his relationship with Boss Auerbach that came out this spring. Some even found it tender. But to me it seemed not so much a tribute to his mentor as a sly way for the big guy to nurse his ancient grievances still more, especially with folks who are no longer around to defend themselves. It’s clear Big Bill still has issues. Lots of them.

• All things considered, Brett Favre makes a mighty poor Hamlet.

• Count me as siding with those who are increasingly vocal about the clear inconsistencies in the relative treatment of pro-football malefactors Donte Stallworth and Michael Vick. Receiver Stallworth, ex of the Patriots, was deemed by both law enforcement and the court to be driving legally drunk when he killed a pedestrian. Quarterback Vick was convicted of the mindless and heartless slaughter of dogs. Stallworth’s punishment was 30 days in jail. Vick’s punishment was nearly two years in jail and he remains (as of the writing) confined to his home and obliged to wear an electronic monitor. No one in his right mind condones the savage abuse of animals and Vick’s insensitivity remains appalling. But this is not about that. It’s the vagaries of the law and inequities of justice that are at issue and sometimes they are inscrutable.

• We have more evidence that success and adoration has gone to Joe Torre’s head. In the wake of the exposing of Masters Ramirez and Ortiz as drug cheats, the ever media-friendly Dodger’s manager remarked that he deeply deplores the use of “unnamed sources” in bringing accusations of any kind against anybody. Torre was referring to the anonymous lawyers who bagged Ortiz and Ramirez without having the guts to attach their names to their charges. Conveniently, Torre overlooks the fact that much of the meatiest stuff in his controversial and vindictive book about his Yankees tenure, written with SI scribe Tom Verducci, was attributed to whom else but “unnamed sources.” There are no sources the contemporary media-world likes better and Verducci is a very contemporary media-world guy. Torre, who preached perspective when he managed the Yankees, seems to have lost it with the Dodgers. It’s happened before out in La La Land.

• While on the subject, it’s worth noting that Verducci, in his SI internet column, quoted an “unnamed” Red Sox executive as having suggested the “unnamed” lawyer who blew the whistle on the Red Sox star sluggers “must have been a Yankees’ fan.” Verducci doesn’t hobnob with underlings, so the supremely arrogant wisecrack must have come from one of the Ivy League hotshots who flourish in John Henry’s bloated chain of command. Makes you wonder if, for all of their credentials, the Fenway smart set may just not get it, nor adequately appreciate how serious the issue really is.

• The Herald’s Gerry Callahan, by the way, has christened Brothers Ramirez and Ortiz as “the testosterone twins” and that just may stick.

• Does anyone place any stock in the Mitchell Report, which was really nothing more than a rambling 400-page summation of investigative media reporting on the performance-enhancing drugs issue in baseball. The report has been termed “laughable” by such astute judges of the scene as Bill Madden of the N.Y Daily News? Major League Baseball, under Bud Selig’s peerless and enlightened leadership, paid tens of millions to George Mitchell and his bevy of young sleuths to assemble a case telling us very little that we didn’t already know while insisting the Red Sox were as clean as the driven snow.

Mitchell is the No. 5 man in the Red Sox hierarchy and a sitting member of their board of directors, so this was a convenient conclusion for him. They don’t come much more distinguished than the onetime federal judge. He’s also, of course, a former U.S. senator from Maine, a former majority leader, the man who claims to have brokered the peace in Northern Ireland, and the man now commissioned to unravel the intractable complexities of the Middle East and the eternal animosities of the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Maybe it’s just that baseball’s problems are even more complicated than all that other stuff.

• Lastly, maybe the drug problem in baseball is every bit as grave as Jose Canseco told us it was. But acknowledging him as any kind of prophet in this fiasco comes at too high a price to pay. A pigeon is still a pigeon no matter how right he may prove to be.


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