At the All-Star break, imponderables to ponder

Sitting here pondering the imponderable on Bastille Day – an appropriate occasion commemorating a moment when the world got turned upside down – you hassle with this vexing question: “When did sport become devoutly topsy-turvy and might the malaise be permanent?” Perched on the sideline for two weeks scanning in utter detachment the madness of the give and take offers a ripe education. Re-consider just a handful of the daunting issues a mere fortnight yields:

• Baseball’s on-rushing debacle revolving around the sleazy antics of a shuttered Miami anti-aging clinic. Is the relentless probe of Biogenesis and its (at least) 20 MLB clients the biggest nightmare this game has encountered since the summer of 1920 when a Chicago grand jury was probed the dumping of the 1919 World Series? It’s beginning to look like that, old Sport.

• The concomitant final meltdown of the chap who was once regarded a looming jock avatar and who might have been his generation’s biggest star. Has there ever in our crazed culture been a more thunderous collapse of a would-be demi-god than the mindless pratfall of Alex Rodriguez, now nearing its epic completion? Nor has there been one that’s stirred less sympathy, which only adds to the tragedy.

• Football’s gravest embarrassment. Ever! That it will crush what had become the game’s proudest and cockiest franchise while deeply tarnishing its fine achievements will only seem unfair to diehard adherents, of which there are – hereabouts – many. But that’s the price the Patriots will pay for having abandoned prudence let alone caution in the reckless pursuit of football glory.

The Aaron Hernandez disaster has only just begun. It will percolate many months, incurring much greater embarrassment while taking years to fully run its course, much to the humiliation of all concerned, especially the head coach, who (as of the writing) remains remarkably AWOL on this issue.

Oddly nobody is calling Bill Belichick on that. In the meantime, if I were Bob Kraft I’d avoid claiming I’d been “duped” when offering another mea culpa and, Bob being Bob, there will be more. But as a strategy, “duped” doesn’t work. Ignorance of the pertinent has never been an excuse, not even in football.

• In terms of gravity and impact, the Hernandez case is by far the most serious. But it’s noteworthy that the Patriots’ rogue tight end became the NFL’s 29th player arrested for crimes and misdemeanors since the league’s last certified gridiron event, February’s Super Bowl. For those scoring at home, here’s a breakdown of other offenses logged thus far, with thanks to the AP, which has relentlessly monitored this messy business:

Eight DUIs, two felony driving charges (high speed car chases with cops), three drug busts (all for marijuana), two unlawful gun possessions, three domestic batteries (one entailing child abuse), eight disorderly conducts with battery featuring fisticuffs (most occurring at nightclubs), one for stiffing a court date, one for cheating at a Las Vegas crap table (most unwise). In several such instances, resisting arrest charges were also lodged. Hey, football is a tough game and you gotta be tough to play it.

Amazingly, three more rocket scientists moonlighting in the NFL got pinched after Hernandez went down, including a Cleveland defensive back jailed for battering his lady friend and another distinguished Patriot, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, nailed once again by Nebraska’s gendarmes for driving too fast under the influence of too much drink and promptly jailed for violating probation.

Young Dennard was let off the hook only three months ago with a light rap on the knuckles in what seemed something of a sweetheart deal after he was convicted of assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest. However, Dennard’s re-match with Nebraska jurisprudence may not go so easy. It should pose a heftier challenge for Coach Belichick if he seeks to again rescue his promising – if rash – D-back. Doubtless, it also leaves Owner Kraft feeling double-“duped.” Life is so unfair!

• All of which NFL Czar Roger Goodell takes deep to heart although the shoddy behavior of miscreants in his lodge may be the least of the commissioner’s problems. In a story breaking during the fortnight that didn’t get the attention it deserved, the federal judge shepherding the massive law suit for injury indemnification filed by 4,200 ex-NFL players ordered the league and the players to begin mediating the case with court-appointed experts, and pronto!

Some wonder which side this latest ruling favors. But from here, it looks like another crucial victory for the players in their long, painstaking crusade to force the league to compensate injury claims, mainly but not entirely connected with concussions. The all-powerful NFL’s desperate efforts again failed to quash the suit. Every step it advances is another victory for the players.

And the implications are huge. Consider that the 4,200 plaintiffs constitute roughly one third of all surviving NFL alumni. They’re seeking billions in damages and if they win, awards would likely extend to NFL alumni not joined in the suit and even to kin of deceased players.

Small wonder the owners regard the potential impact as potentially catastrophic, thereby a graver concern than bad behavior even when it results in capital crime. NFL owners can live with their league’s image being compromised, but not with their profits being compromised.

• Then there are the Celtics. Did we think we’d live to see the day a highly esteemed and favored coach like Doc Rivers would dump this fabled Green team to coach the historically woeful likes of the L.A Clippers? Ah, the ignominy. Equally baffling was the trade dispatching two aging but certified Celtic legends for a half dozen marginal journeymen who offer little likelihood of contributing much, and a fistful of draft picks, none likely to be premium.

Such seemingly off-the-wall moves have been fashionable elsewhere (to mixed results), but never here where traditional approaches disdaining such flamboyance have ever prevailed. But in the Age of the Salary Cap, wherein payroll strategy becomes as crucial as coaching and development and scouting, tradition be danged.

People who know rather more about this subject understand the moves and accept them, however begrudgingly. “Danny Ainge knows what he’s doing,” you are told. No doubt! But somewhere in the hereafter you also know that Red is rumbling as only he can.

• Once upon a time baseball’s mid-summer night’s classic redeemed many failings and ills. The All-Star Game was the sporting calendar’s most fervent feel-good moment. Given its current shape it’s hard to appreciate how much it glowed and how seriously it was taken. Nowadays, all the all-star festivals suffer. Hockey’s and football’s have become ludicrous. But because baseball’s was once the shiniest, its decline is the most poignant. It has become pointless, irrelevant, and unnecessary. Even when played well and touched with excitement it’s a bloody bore. The party’s over.

Czar Selig’s bizarre contrivance – ordaining the outcome to determine the World Series home-field advantage – is an insult to baseball logic once solidly rooted in immutable geometrics and common sense. Selig’s silly ploy was actually the last straw.

But as a footnote not only to how much the event has slipped but also to how sharply the concept has withered, consider this: Of the 72 players on this year’s rosters, exactly two thirds – 48 players – get substantial bonuses on top of their hefty contracts for being selected. Wouldn’t you think that for the salaries these blokes command being named an all-star would actually be demanded, rather than some vaguely happy surprise?

So, this year we have Miguel Cabrera, Tori Hunter, Justin Verlander, and David Wright – averaging $20 million-plus in annual salary – each copping a $100,000 bonus for playing probably two innings. Another 24 players, including including your own Messrs Pedroia, Buchholz, and Ortiz will get $50,000 extra. What a great country!

Interestingly, baseball’s All-Star game originated as a charity event with participants getting a free lunch and a pat on the back. But that was once upon a time, which was a long time ago.  


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