With the end of the fiscal year approaching (why do they always bang out in July?) it’s time to clear the decks of last stray bits and pieces. Like for example:
• Has the folly of leaping hilariously to rash conclusions – a common contemporary malaise on the sports pages of America – ever been better demonstrated than in the madcap NBA conclusion yielding the Cavs as champs? This after the Warriors, their foppish foils, were being widely and radiantly proclaimed “the greatest team in NBA history” midway through the finals. One prominent outlet even conducted a poll that lovingly embraced that conclusion, a silly rush to judgment that consumed the media pack as the San Francisco poseurs strutted to a 3-1 edge.
It was, of course, the Warriors’ chilling romp through the essentially meaningless NBA regular season that fueled such delusion. There’s no appreciation for the fact that the league’s woeful imbalance (roughly half the teams being veritable deadbeats) guarantees some teams will cakewalk.
Still, you’d think the savants would have had enough sense to hold off until S.F. clinched. On the other hand, it’s always joyful to see alleged experts make fools of themselves.
• With but a handful left, it was another brutal week for the forthcoming Rio Olympics. Two of the world’s most celebrated athletes led the latest defections. The drug-control system for the participants was proclaimed inoperative. Brazilian police authorities concede security preparations are dangerously inadequate as simultaneously it’s revealed that Brazil’s capital-crime rate has reached all-time heights.
Let the ‘Games’ begin!
• The NHL expansion fee for the forthcoming Las Vegas franchise is an insane $500,000,000. In its desperation for the alleged legitimacy having a major jock franchise allegedly brings, only Vegas would have capitulated to such a shameful shakedown. The price tag for hockey’s last franchise awarded 16 years ago was $60 million, nor hardly has the NHL enjoyed smooth sailing since.
Licking their lips, the owners have rewarded Commissioner Gary Bettman, orchestrator of the monumental coup, with what’s effectively a lifetime contract they’ll surely live to regret. The lodge Brothers carve up a half billion bucks but there won’t be a red cent for the players or their association, who obviously must play a critical role in the caper. Watch for this to become a huge sticking point when NHL contract renewal talks soon begin. You may recall what happened last time the NHLPA got really miffed.
• And while we’re on the subject of spectacular “cons,” it’s worth noting – on the odd chance you missed it – that LeBron James’s lush new deal with Nike is worth more than One Billion Bucks; that’s ‘illion’ with a ‘B’, old Sport.
Three things stand out on this deal, seems to me. How can a product as low-brow as a sneaker command such a premium? How much does LeBron’s cut add to the price misguidedly adoring kids all over the globe must pay for these things? And how can an athlete who purports to be a man of the people and is otherwise handsomely compensated beyond all reason justify such an arrangement in his own heart of hearts?
Here’s betting none of these questions ever gets answered.
• There’s no quibbling over the stunning farewell season David Ortiz is authoring so far. It likely rubber-stamps, if it roughly sustains, his swift elevation to baseball’s Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible. If that was no lock at season’s start, so flashy an exit will overwhelm lingering qualms.
Yet no matter how it turns out this important question remains: How does Ortiz’s case differ from that of Rafael Palmeiro, whose statistical credentials are at least equal, with Palmeiro further enjoying a huge edge on defense, at which he excelled. The Ortiz edge is in post-season where he has been brilliant. But how much can you penalize Palmeiro for having the misfortune of playing for mediocrities and rarely reaching post-season.
They are about as equal as it gets. But Palmeiro has already been banned from consideration, an outcast for the ages branded a steroid cheat for having been posted on that infamous blacklist of original suspects –right alongside David Ortiz! No further proof has been levied against either and both have issued fierce denials.
Truly, they are equals. Yet one is ticketed for immortality and the other for disgrace. How is that fair?
Lastly, an anniversary looms that is not likely to get much attention, although it should. It was precisely 40 summers ago that an amiable rube from Worcester soared briefly but beautifully pitching near eerily for the Tigers while charming the nation for a few sweet weeks with his innocence and good nature. If you were there for it, you can never forget how very special was Mark “The Bird” Fidrych.
In retrospect, there was little chance Bird’s flight could have been other than meteoric. At the risk of sounding corny, he was simply too good to be true, which made the irony of his ultimately tragic end all the more bitter. There was not an ounce of guile in Mark. He was always a pleasure. No player-of-games ever handled fame’s fickle burst with more grace.
But please know you are remembered, Bird. And remembered well!