Streetwise Professor

October 23, 2016

They Did It, Dad

Filed under: History,Sports — The Professor @ 8:59 am

Last night the Chicago Cubs beat the LA Dodgers 5-0, to win the National League Pennant. It is literally true that I have been waiting for this all my life.

Baseball generally, and the Cubs in particular, were one of the most important things to my dad, as indicated by the fact that my first crib toys were a baseball bat rattle and a plush baseball. My dad lived and died by the Cubs, which meant dying, mainly.

There was a glimmer of hope in 1969. I attended opening day at Wrigley Field that year. I was there with my mom, because my dad couldn’t get off work. I waited patiently before the game and got Ernie Banks’ autograph–on a comic book, because my mom was too cheap to buy a program. (I was visible in a picture on the front page of the Tribune the next day, along with Banks and others waiting for his autograph.) Though Don Money hit 2 homers for the Phillies, Ernie Banks answered with 2 for the Cubs. The game went into extra innings when Willie Smith ended it with a pinch-hit homer. That seemed to be an omen, and the Cubs started off great, eventually building an 8.5 game lead. Yes, there were stumbles, like Don Young dropping two fly balls in a game against the Mets, but it looked like this was the year that would end a mere 24 years(!) of futility.

Then it all went wrong. An old team with thin and overworked starting pitching collapsed. My most vivid memory is Randy Hundley (my favorite player) jumping up-and-down protesting a close play at the plate involving Tommy Agee. (Would things have been different with replay?)


Eliot wrote that “April is the cruelest month.” In 1969, April was the most joyous month for Cubs fans. It was September that was cruel beyond words. (Not that April hasn’t been cruel to the Cubs. April 1997 being a particularly acute example.)

The 1970s were miserable–I mean, if Dave Kingman is the most memorable thing about an entire decade of baseball, even “miserable” seems an inadequate description. The aging players of the 1969 team faded rapidly, and the skinflint ownership of the Wrigleys stinted on the farm system, meaning the team’s player development was abysmal.

The 1980s brought a glimmer of hope after a bad beginning. Dallas Green built a very good 1984 team, only to watch it all go for naught when an easy grounder went between Leon Durham’s legs in San Diego. (Ironically, the man Durham replaced, Bill Buckner, was the goat the same year when he infamously let a grounder go between his legs to give the Mets a victory. This was the living proof of the “ex-Cub factor.”)

In the Pirrong households there was much anguish.

The 1990s–another largely lost decade.

Things looked bright again in 2003. But again, the season ended in failure. It is hard to describe the gloom in the motel room in Franklin, Tennessee when my dad and I watched the Cubs lose game 7 to the Marlins the night after the infamous Bartman game. (We were in Franklin on our annual Civil War battlefield trip.)

2003 pretty much snapped it for me. I’d invested a lot emotionally with the Cubs since I could remember, only to experience repeated frustration and disappointment. Family, work, and other things pressed, and I paid only glancing attention to the Cubs until a couple of years ago, when there were glimmers of hope. Even then, I will admit that my commitment was somewhat tentative. Too many Charlie Brown moments had left their mark.

Not my dad, though. He soldiered on, loyally. (Loyalty being one of his many admirable traits, even though that loyalty had often been unrewarded–worse, actually–in his professional life.)

Here, in baseball as in work, his loyalty did not receive its reward. He passed away at the very beginning of the Cubs renaissance. Almost literally at the beginning. We put on the Cubs game in the room of the hospice where he lay dying. He passed away almost exactly at the first pitch of opening day of the 2014 season.

My dad was a second-generation Cubs fan. His father had been an intense fan too, and could claim (reasonably) to have seen the Cubs win a World Series game in a year when they won the World Series–1908. My grandfather grew up in the neighborhood near the old West Side Grounds at Polk and Wood where the Cubs played in the first decade of the 20th century. When my grandfather was an invalid, watching the Cubs on Channel 9 was one of the few joys in his life, even though that was during the nadir of post-War Cub fortunes (he died in September, 1968).

To give an idea of how big baseball was in the Pirrong family, my grandfather would routinely take my dad to see Negro League games in Comiskey Park. In my father’s memory, they were the only white people in sight, and my dad–a North Sider–grew up thinking there were no white people south of Madison Street. My dad was so obsessed with baseball that his ambition was to go into management. After getting his MBA at Northwestern, he left my pregnant mother to attend the Baseball Management Academy in Florida. It was money well spent: he realized that in that era, only family members of ownership had a shot at real responsibility. As he put it, an outsider would be lucky to be put in charge of the peanut concession. So he put his baseball dreams aside and became the picture of a 1960s-1970s middle manager in corporate America.

When my grandfather was failing, my dad would say “I hope the Cubs win a pennant before dad dies.” Then for years he would say about himself “I hope the Cubs win a pennant before I die.” He skipped over me altogether. When my girls were young he told them “I hope the Cubs win a pennant before you die.”

Sadly, his hopes for himself were not realized. He–we–reveled in the Bulls championships of the 1990s, and especially in the Blackhawks wins in 2010 and 2013. But those things would have paled in comparison to a Cubs pennant, if they had been able to achieve it. (He always said “pennant” rather than “World Series.” I’ve been pondering why in recent days.)

But alas, that was not to be. I am trying to share it with him, vicariously, through memory. I remember the first time we went to a game together–Cubs-Reds, 1967 (the Cubs won.) I remember his uncanny ability to turn on the car radio at the very second that the pitcher was winding up for the first pitch. (Even when we watched on TV, we listened to the radio because my father detested Jack Brickhouse. Not that the radio duo of Jack Lloyd and Lou Boudreau were much better: dad called them “fumbles and mumbles.”) I remember his intimate knowledge of the game–pitch selection, pitch location, positioning, calling hit-and-run plays, etc. And yes, I remember him waving his hand and yelling “BULLSHIT” at the TV in response to a bad call or a bad play or a bad managerial move. Because he was into it. (And no, the apple did not fall far from the tree.)

I know there are many Chicagoans who can tell similar stories right now. Because, after all, there have literally been generations of futility. It’s only a game, and it’s only a team, but a particular team playing a particular game have had a profound impact on many people. And the most profound impact has been to forge memories of shared experiences between parents and children–fathers and sons, especially (though they have contributed to shared experiences between me and my girls, too). So last night, being in the moment actually meant scrolling through myriad moments past.

In a few weeks, the 2016 season will fade from most people’s minds, regardless of what happens in the World Series. Life presses. New seasons begin. But it will leave behind the residue of memories, and some future event will bring those memories flooding forth. It would be a blessing to the rememberers if the recollections that do come are as intense and poignant as the memories of my dad that I experienced last night.




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June 22, 2016

Sometimes Hooligans are Just Hooligans

Filed under: Politics,Russia,Sports — The Professor @ 8:12 pm

The UEFA Euro 2016 has seen the usual hooliganism. What would soccer–football, excuse me–be without it? (Isn’t it interesting how the “beautiful game” routinely sparks violence while a game denigrated for violence–American football–seldom does?)

Nothing new about that. What makes Euro 2016 somewhat unique is the focus on Russian hooligans, and the attribution of malign political motives to them, and most importantly, direction from the very top.

The English mixed it up with the Russians in Marseille, and got the worst of it. The English press was whinging about the unfairness of it all. Apparently, as opposed to being fat, drunken louts like proper English hooligans, the Russians were hard, sober toughs. That’s not cricket!

Englishman Tim Newman–whom I’m honored comments periodically here–was having none of it:

You’ve got to love the British press:

England fan fighting for his life and dozens more injured as English fans and Russian thugs clash at Euro 2016 in Marseille

The English were fans.  The Russians were thugs.  Presumably no Englishman in Marseille last night displayed thuggish behaviour, and no Russian showed the slightest interest in football.

. . . .

But what I never heard, in all my time in Phuket or indeed ever in my life, was a story told to me by non-Brit complaining of getting into a fight with another non-Brit.  For whatever reason, Frenchmen don’t seem to end up fighting Spaniards in beach resorts and Germans somehow manage to rub along all right with Italians on holiday without kicking the shit out of one another.  The common element in all the fighting in beach resorts across the world, particularly the Mediterranean, is the presence of young Brits.  Little surprise then that the only trouble seen thus far at the Euro 2016 tournament features the same demographic.

There were battles involving other nationalities pretty much everywhere matches were played. It’s what those oh-so-civilized Euros do.

It may well be true that the Russians were fitter, better trained, and more organized, and kicked ass as a result. It may well also be true that members of the Russian security forces and veterans of the Donbas were among the Ultras. But to claim that this is part of “Putin’s special war” is beyond idiotic.

One of the main pieces of “evidence” that have been trotted out to suggest official complicity are the Tweets of Duma deputy speaker Igor Lebedev: “I don’t see anything bad in the fans fighting. On the contrary, well done guys. Keep it up!” and “I don’t understand those politicians and bureaucrats who are now denouncing our fans. We need to defend them, and they’ll come home and we’ll sort it out.”

Deputy Speaker of the Duma. Sounds pretty official and important, right? Except that (a) the Duma is merely a Potemkin legislature, and (b) people like Lebedev (who is a member of Zhirinovsky’s party) are in the Duma precisely to provide an outlet for the nationalist loons: better to have them inside the Duma where they can be watched and controlled and do no harm, than out on the streets making trouble.

It’s actually embarrassing to cite someone like Lebedev as a barometer of official Kremlin (i.e., Putin) policy. It’s a case of those who are talking don’t know, and those who know aren’t talking.

And really, you have to pick a narrative. Those pushing the story that  Russian soccer hooligans are conducting special warfare in Europe also  portray Putin as a mastermind playing chess, and dominating ineffectual and overmatched European and American leadership. But these claims are almost impossible to reconcile.

At the very time that Europe is vacillating about maintaining sanctions against Russia, and there are deep divisions within Europe about whether to confront Russia more forcefully (moves that German FM Steinmeier called “saber rattling”), the soccer hooligans are an irritant in the Russian-European relationship. No, Putin is not about be all warm and fuzzy, but he has no reason to engage in provocations that alienate the German and French governments, but which produce no tactical or strategic benefit.

In the realm of sport in particular, this couldn’t come at a worse time. Russia’s reputation is already at rock bottom due to the doping scandal which has resulted in the banning of Russian track and field athletes from the Olympics, and could conceivably result in the barring of Russian participation from Rio altogether. Hardly an opportune time to cast Russian sportsmanship in an even worse light.

It would be incredibly short sighted and unproductive for Putin stoke soccer violence. What could he gain? Nothing that I can see. However, it is easy to see what it costs him: it increases the likelihood that sanctions will endure, and provides an argument for those advocating a more muscular approach to Russia.

Yes. Maybe Putin is that short-sighted and capable of cutting his nose to spite his face. But if that’s the case, he’s the antithesis of a strategic genius. He would be nothing more than a mouth-breathing numb-nuts like Lebedev.

Conversely, if  you choose the “Putin is a chess master” narrative, the Russian soccer thuggery suggests that the vaunted power vertical is not all encompassing, and that Putin does not exercise the complete control that is often attributed to him–perhaps not even over the security services. (His reorganization of those services supports this interpretation: why reorganize something that is completely at his beck and call?)

My take on all of this is that there are indeed a lot of obnoxious, violent Russians–just like there are a lot of obnoxious, violent Euros from any nation you care to name. Soccer hooliganism has become a Euro tradition, and the Russians are joining in: chalk it up to their integration into Europe! But as for broader political implications, if Russian soccer hooligans have official sanction, Putin isn’t very clever: indeed, he would have all the strategic acumen of the criminals in Fargo. And if they don’t have official sanction, Putin isn’t as omnipotent within Russia as he is widely portrayed.

Sometimes hooligans are just hooligans. Putin no doubt finds that hooligans have their political uses, but stirring trouble in Europe at such a fraught time isn’t one of them.

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June 6, 2015

The Russian World Cup Bid Was So Clean They Just Had to Destroy Their Computers

Filed under: Politics,Russia,Sports — The Professor @ 6:17 pm

Russians from Putin on down are freaking out about the possibility that the FIFA corruption scandal will cause the 2018 World Cup to be wrested from them. But never fear. The head of Russia’s organizing committee, Alexei Sorokin, claims that the Russian bid was “clean”:

The head of the organising committee for the Russia 2018 World Cup has insisted that the bid was clean, transparent and “done in accordance with all the practices that are in place in Fifa”.

Well that’s sort of the problem, Alexei. A “clean and transparent bid done in accordance with all the practices that are in place in Fifa” is an oxymoron. The practices in place in Fifa are dirty and opaque.

And of course, it was precisely because its bid was so clean, transparent, etc., that Russia destroyed the computers its committee had utilized:

But it was the lack of evidence provided by the bid team which was of most concern, according to the author of the summary, Fifa’s head judge, Hans-Joachim Eckert.

He wrote: “The Russia 2018 bid committee made only a limited number of documents available for review, which was explained by the fact that the computers used at the time by the Russia bid committee had been leased and returned to their owner after the bidding process.

“The owner has confirmed the computers were destroyed in the meantime. The bid committee also attempted to obtain access to the Gmail accounts used during the bidding process from Google USA. However, the Russia bid committee confirmed Google USA had not responded to the request.”

The head of Russia’s 2018 organising committee, Alexey Sorokin, told Sky Sports News: “We rented the equipment, we had to give it back, then it went back – we don’t even know where it went – to some sports schools, so quite naturally other people used it.

“Whatever we could supply, everything we could supply to the investigation we did. But we have to bear in mind that four years have passed since then, so some of the information we could just forget, naturally.”

Sorokin’s response there is priceless, isn’t it? It reminds me of the punchline to Steve Martin’s How to Make a Million Dollars and Not Pay Taxes bit. 1. Make $1 million. 2. Don’t pay taxes. 3. When the IRS confronts you, say (theatrically) “I forgot.” Presumably the Russians will react to an indictment or a revocation of the WC with “well excuuuuse me!

Perhaps the Russians destroyed the computers because definitive documentation of their clean, transparent and honest dealings would ruin their reputations.

No doubt the Russians are hoping that others who sent or received emails from them were as solicitous in their document non-retention policy as Russia.

What’s more, with all the arrests and indictments, those involved are threatening to talk. Most notably so far, Trinidad’s Jack Warner threatens to unleash “an avalanche of secrets” implicating Blatter.

I am far less interested in learning about the payees of the bribes, than the payers. Eventually someone, or someone’s computers, will blab. And that’s what has Putin (and Russians generally) losing it.

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May 29, 2015

The US Nails Fifa, But It’s Putin Who Howls

Filed under: Politics,Sports — The Professor @ 5:56 am

Wednesday’s indictments of Fifa board members and others generates a great deal of schadenfreude. Fifa is a corrupt and loathsome institution, and it’s about time for its comeuppance. Hopefully the IOC will get its soon as well.

There is much comic gold to mine here. One nugget is Fifa president Sepp Blatter’s statement that it was he would lead the effort to restore Fifa’s reputation:

“We, or I, cannot monitor everyone all of the time,” Mr. Blatter said. “If people want to do wrong, they will also try to hide it. But it must also fall to me to be responsible for the reputation of our entire organization, and to find a way to fix things. [Note to Sepp: We know very well you are a fixer, but not in the way you use the term.]

We cannot allow the reputation of FIFA to be dragged through the mud any longer. It has to stop here and now.

Yeah. That we police ourselves thing worked so well with the Garcia Report.

Another hilarious aspect of this is that the decidedly un-athletic American who became an informant, the improbably named Chuck Blazer, who motors between huge meals on a scooter, looks like Mr. Creosote in the flesh. Don’t give him a mint!

But by far the best part of this is watching Vladimir Putin totally lose his sh*t over the arrests, and the parallel Swiss investigation of the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia (as well as the 2022 WC to Qatar):

President Vladimir V. Putin sought to transform the burgeoning scandal over corruption in soccer’s international governing body into an extension of the confrontation between Russia and the West on Thursday, accusing the United States of global overreach while invoking the fates of Edward J. Snowden and Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder.

Most world leaders remained mum, apparently waiting for more details to emerge, but Mr. Putin went on the offensive immediately.

He used the moment to again portray Russia as under siege — in this case threatened with the humiliating loss of the right to host the 2018 World Cup, a move considered unlikely.

Mr. Putin called the arrests of top FIFA officials in Zurich on Wednesday “another blatant attempt by the United States to extend its jurisdiction to other states,” according to a transcript of an overnight news conference posted on the Kremlin website. Mr. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified information about global surveillance programs, and Mr. Assange, whose website published United States military and diplomatic documents, have both eluded American prosecution by taking refuge in other countries.

Note to VVP: idiots who use American banks to launder money and arrange corrupt transactions on American soil are most decidedly in the jurisdiction of the US.

But come to think of it, it’s precisely the fact that Putin knows that all too well which explains his howling like a scalded cat. It hits very close to home. It demonstrates a  vulnerability of which he is all too aware of, and neuralgic about.

Putin also conveniently overlooks the fact that it is the Swiss who have announced that they are examining specifically the awarding of the World Cup to Russia. The US said nothing about that, and indeed, the US embassy in Moscow said the indictments have nothing to do with Russia, so cool your jets, Vlad. Though, of course, Attorney General Lynch’s statement that the investigation is not over clearly looms over Putin and Russia. But the fact that the Swiss are involved makes it harder to make this a purely evil American plot.

It’s also hilarious to see that Gazprom assured Fifa that it would not terminate its sponsorship. So good to know that Fifa still lives up to Gazprom’s high standards for corruption.

Putin’s raising the issue of the “persecution” of Snowden and Julian Assange is also beyond parody. For Putin to credit Snowden as a hero for revealing secrets nearly simultaneously with Russia’s passing a law that makes information regarding the deaths of Russian servicemen on “special operations” during peacetime a state secret is particularly outlandish. To defend  the Pale One at anytime is bizarre. (Perhaps Vlad sees his fate when he looks at Assange-hiding out in a friendly embassy, dependent on a sun lamp for his Vitamin D.)

The statements of the Russian sport minister are also amusing. “We have nothing to hide.” (Who said you did? And if you have nothing to hide, why did you destroy the rented computers on which contained all of the Russian bidding committee’s correspondence and work product?)

The best: “I see no threat to Russia.”

If this is no threat, why is Putin freaking out? His over the top reaction betrays a deep fear that Russia and everyone involved in the WC bid, including Roman Abramovich and Putin himself) will be implicated. So many people arrested have an incentive to sing like birds. So many computers to search (including Fifa’s, which the Swiss are doing presently).

I am actually somewhat surprised at Putin’s reaction. He has been rather relaxed lately. The old cockiness has returned. The insecurity and paranoia of late-2014 and early-2015 had apparently vanished. He would have been much better off had he played this cool, and ignored the issue altogether. By making such a big deal out of it he looks guilty as hell. Which he doubtless is, but he could have fooled a lot more people had he just blown this off. A public fit screams a deep concern that he indeed very much has something-or somethings-to hide.

The next weeks and months should be rather enjoyable, watching  Blatter and Putin rant and squirm. And maybe, in the end, the world’s football-I mean soccer!-fanatics will be spared the torture of visiting Russia in 2018.

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January 24, 2015

Farewell, Mr. Cub

Filed under: History,Sports — The Professor @ 6:07 pm

Ernie Banks, AKA Mr. Cub, passed away last night on the cusp of his 84th birthday. He was a great ballplayer, and the kind of man who was rare at the time and almost non-existent today.

Banks was my first childhood sports idol, growing up as I did in a bleed blue Cubs household. His greatest years-and they were great-were centered on the year of my birth, so I didn’t see him at his prime. In 1958-1960, he lead the league in RBIs twice, home runs twice, and in one of those years (1958) led in both. He won back-to-back MVPs in ’58 and ’59. This was a remarkable achievement for two reasons. First, other all time greats, including Mays, Aaron, and Frank Robinson were active and in their primes, so the competition was intense. Second, the Cubs were horrible. It’s rare for a player on a last place team to win an MVP. He did it twice.

Although Banks was known for his hitting, he was also a Gold Glove winning shortstop with a good arm and decent range. He was truly a rare player, manning the most difficult defensive position while hitting for power. A Rod without the steroids (Ernie was rail thin, but man, those wrists and hands).

By the time I was cognizant of baseball, Banks had moved to first base because he had lost range at shortstop. He had become a complementary player, with Ron Santo and Billy Williams playing the leading roles on the team. He still hit for power, but didn’t put up the monster numbers like he did in the 50s.

I got Ernie’s autograph twice. The most memorable time was opening day, April 8, 1969. Along with many other kids, I leaned over the dugout with a comic book, believe it or not (because my mother was too cheap to buy a program!), and Ernie signed it. (Mom did buy me a Frosty Malt, though.) This was memorialized in a photo on the front page of the Tribune the next day.

Although Banks was a great between the lines, what made him exceptional was his carried himself outside them. Despite playing on horrible teams, and suffering through a crushing disappointment when the best team he played for, the ’69 club, collapsed in September, he was always ebullient. “Let’s play two!” “It’s a beautiful day for baseball!” Even when Leo Durocher treated him badly in the clubhouse, he didn’t let it show. He didn’t blast Durocher. He didn’t try to undermine Durocher. He didn’t demand a trade. He always had a smile and a kind word for everyone.

I defy you to name a single star player today that has Ernie’s attitude.

So farewell, Mr. Cub. A player such as you will likely not be seen again soon, if ever.



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February 8, 2014

Because, Of Course, Only Putin is Allowed to be Photographed Half-Naked

Filed under: Politics,Russia,Sports — The Professor @ 12:50 pm

February 7, 2014

What Matters More? Shoving Leaflets Under Doors, or Shoving Cash Into IOC Member’s Grasping Hands?

Filed under: Politics,Russia,Sports — The Professor @ 10:01 pm

The Winter Olympics have begun.  The Olympic flame was lit by a contingent including a tennis player (and full-time Florida resident), an anti-American racist (who at least won a gold medal in a winter sport), and Putin’s alleged girlfriend (who won a gold medal in a faux sport at a summer Olympics).  It would have been so fitting had they played Light My Fire when Alina Kabaeva was doing her thing-with the torch, I mean-but alas, that will have to be left to some wit on YouTube.

But to hear Putin tell it, this glorious moment for Mother Russia almost never came to pass due to the nefarious plotting of evil foreigners who tried to play “dirty tricks” in Guatemala City where the IOC was meeting in 2007 to award the games:

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a documentary aired late Friday that a rival nation vying to host the 2014 Winter Olympics ran a dirty tricks campaign in an atttempt to derail the eventual winning Sochi bid.

In the documentary, which was shown on state television channel Rossiya 1, Putin said Sochi 2014 promotion leaflets were shoved under doors of hotel rooms occupied by members of the International Olympic Committee on the night before the final vote in 2007.

Under IOC rules, campaigning is strictly prohibited during the run-up to the vote.

“Do you know what saved us? CCTV cameras in hallways recorded that it was done by our rivals posing as us. It didn’t help them,” Putin said.

I find this hilarious.  What, exactly, would the CCTV reveal?  How would it demonstrate that those shoving the promotional leaflets were not in Russian employ, but were dirty tricksters?  Did those caught on tape wear signs saying “We are not Russians but evil foreigners playing dirty tricks on sainted Russia”?  And if they did, how would you know it wasn’t  Russians doing this to try to show how they were being victimized by evil foreign plots? And if they did, how would you know . . . well, just think of the whole Moriarity on the train thing.

But what is even more hilarious is the idea that IOC officials that would have been so horrified by someone shoving illicit leaflets under their doors that it would have caused them to resist the large sums of cash Russia shoved into their grasping mitts and Swiss accounts.

But the most hilarious thing at all is that Putin tells this ludicrous story on national television with a straight face, knowing that he will get away with it–and being right about that.

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June 15, 2013

Putin Grabs the Ring. Literally.

Filed under: Politics,Russia,Sports — The Professor @ 7:50 pm

Vladimir Putin has done some outlandish things, but I think this takes the trophy.  Or the ring.  The Super Bowl Ring.

You might recall that Kraft in 2005 joined a cadre of businessmen to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg. The Patriots owner walked into that meeting with a jewel-laced Super Bowl XXXIX ring on his finger, but left empty-handed.

“I showed the president my most recent Super Bowl ring,” Kraft said at the time, per The Boston Globe. Putin “was clearly taken with its uniqueness … at that point, I decided to give him the ring as a symbol of the respect and admiration that I have for the Russian people and the leadership of President Putin.”

Not so fast. Kraft now admits Putin nabbed the ring — worth upwards of $25,000 — without his consent.

“I took out the ring and showed it to (Putin),” Kraft said this week, per the New York Post. “And he put it on and he goes, ‘I can kill someone with this ring,’ I put my hand out and he put it in his pocket, and three KGB guys got around him and walked out.”

That’s the head of the Party (and State) of Crooks and Thieves: leading by example!

The only thing that is worse than Putin’s in-your-face thievery is the Bush administration’s craven response:

Kraft kept his wits about him and complied with a call from the White House, in which a George W. Bush handler told him: ” ‘It would really be in the best interest of U.S.-Soviet relations if you meant to give the ring as a present.’ “

FFS. No wonder Putin thinks he can get away with about anything when dealing with the US.  Because he can. I think he tries this stuff to see what he can get away with.  He gets away with it . . . so he pushes it even more.  He’ll keep pushing until someone pushes back.

Here’s my idea.  Have Ray Lewis let Putin hold his Super Bowl ring, and pray that Putin tries to pocket it. And we can make money off this by putting it all on pay-per-view.

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December 1, 2011

Remind Me Again: Who Are the Russophobes?

Filed under: Politics,Russia,Sports — The Professor @ 8:45 pm

I know that a trip to any ER or trauma center in the US hardly a walk in the park, but when a Russian hospital makes a heavily tattooed mixed martial artist (or would that be “artiste”?), who has seen and shed his share of blood blanche, that’s saying something:

Primitive conditions and equipment in a Moscow policlinic alarmed mixed martial artist Jeff Monson after his bloody defeat and Putin’s booing, but doctors say the size of their tools scared him.

. . . .

When Monson was taken to hospital afterwards he was appalled by the battered and bloodied patients he saw wandering the wards and the rough and ready approach he encountered, while full of praise for the doctors’ bedside manner.

. . . .

Many of Monson’s fellow patients were in a bad way, Monson said afterwards, “The hallways were full of wandering patients that looked like they were just out of a civil war battle,” he told Mixed Martial Arts news portal MMA Mania.

But what’s actually more sobering (an ironic statement that will become clear in a minute) is that the doctors basically said, “so what’s the big deal?”  That, and the reason they considered it no big deal:

The doctors at City Hospital No. 36 on Fortunatovskaya Ulitsa said he was probably just alarmed as he came in when there were lots of drunks, “You can indeed see an influx of patients everyday at around 6:00 pm with beaten up faces,” doctors told Moskovsky Komsomolets.

“About 40 – 50 patients will be like that, they are all local drunks or have been injured in domestic fights. They wait their turn to see the doctor in the corridor and by all accounts this is what Monson saw,” medical staff told the paper.

Six o’clock.  The drinking starts early, apparently.  That, and the domestic abuse. That’s normal, isn’t it?  What’s this American getting all riled up about?

Monson was also appalled by the Frankenstein stitch-up on his bloodied lip:

“I got 16 stitches on the inside and outside of my lip with a material that could of passed for chicken wire. It was so sharp it was making my gums bleed so I took them out myself,” he said.

Again, the doctors were dismissive:

But the hospital say that everything was perfectly standard and speculate that maybe it was the size of their instruments that gave him a fright, “Maybe, he had been given short-term anesthesia on previous occasions, so he hadn’t seen what size they were,” surgeons suggested to MK.

Anesthesia?  MMF wussie.  Man up, dude.  You’re in Russia now, son.  When we aren’t using these big awls to stitch people up, we repair shoes with them.

If you’ve been following the news, you’ll recognize Monson as the fighter who lost in the fight that Putin attended.  There was booing after the fight, when Putin was in the ring with the fighters.  There’s been a raging controversy whether the booing was directed at VVP.

The problem is, that the excuses intended to refute claims that Putin was the object of the cat calls tend to make regular Russians look bad.  One excuse is that the Russians were booing the battered Monson: this insult to Russian sportsmanship was offered by none other than Putin’s press flack, Dmitry Peskov.  Another, advanced by the Nashi trolls, is that the crowd was, uhm, just pissed.  Figuratively and literally.  Or, maybe it would be more accurate to say that they wanted to be pissing because they were pissed (in another colloquial use of the term):

Soon after the incident Kristina Potupchik, press-secretary for Kremlin youth group Nashi, mocked anyone who thought Putin was being heckled by the angry crowd. “Don’t you recognize a greeting?” She wrote on her Live Journal page.

She later conceded that the calls were scornful ones, but denied they were directed at the prime minister. “The occasional cries of ‘foo’ were caused by the stupid entry and exit system…That’s why some of the 22,000 bladders filled with beer started protesting,” she wrote.

“Foo”?  Really?  She should have said that the audience actually thought that they’d seen Dave Grohl in the crowd.  At least that wouldn’t have made the crowd look like unsportsmanlike boors.

So, just as the emergency room was filled with drunken brawlers, the audience for the actual MMA brawl was another bunch of drunks.

So Mr. Peskov and Ms. Potupchik: Congratulations for making ordinary Russians look so good!  I guess it’s better to slander your countrymen by the gross as drunken bad sports than admit even the possibility that people do not worship unconditionally the New Tsar.

I ask again: just who are the Russophobes?  Here, in one story, Russians in positions of authority–doctors, presidential shills, and “youth group” spokesgal–reflexively slag their fellow Russians as drunken, violent, louts.  Well done!

PS. But apparently some realize that this story hardly makes Russians look good.  I originally saw the story on RiaNovosti.  Then, a couple of hours later, the story wasn’t there.  Now it’s back.

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December 4, 2010

So Long From Wrigley Field, Ron

Filed under: Sports — The Professor @ 5:10 pm

Ron Santo passed away yesterday at age 70.  He was an excellent ballplayer and an inspirational man.

My memories of Santo are anchored in the magical yet ultimately painful 1969 season.  I was at opening day at Wrigley in ’69, and followed the team to the bitter–very bitter–end.  The opening day game seemed an omen.  Ernie Banks hit two homers for the Cubs, only to be answered by two from the Phillies’ Don Money.   The game went into extra innings (the 12th, if memory serves): in the bottom of the last frame, pinch hitter Willie Smith drove a ball to the opposite field–left field.  I was sitting with my mom in the box seats near the Cubs’ bullpen, and watched Smith’s ball sail right past me into the left field bleachers.  This was a feat, because Smith never, ever, hit the ball the other way.  That seemed to portend something special.

Many of my other vivid visual memories of 1969 revolve around Santo.  As the Cubs won in May, June, and July, Santo was ecstatic.  He would click his heels while returning to the clubhouse after every Cubs win.  He was in the on deck circle when the Mets’ fan loosed the black cat onto the field at Shea Stadium.  I remember clearly him screaming in the dugout at hapless Cub centerfielder (there was no other kind in that era) Don Young after Young dropped a routine fly ball in a crucial game–again at Shea Stadium.

Santo should have made the Hall of Fame, but he was denied, year after year.  He was a perennial All Star.  He was a four tool player.  He hit for decent average, he hit for power (averaging 26 homers and 100 RBIs in an eight season stretch during which pitching was dominant), and he was a sparkling fielder with good range and an excellent arm: he won five Gold Gloves.  He lacked speed, to be sure: whenever  any two of Cub players Santo, Banks, or Hickman were on base together, my dad would say, ironically: “Thunder and lightning on the basepaths.”  But third base is a power position, not a speed position.

Yeah, I know the rap against Santo: he didn’t perform at a high level for long enough.  But please, the reason that he didn’t is all the more cause to admit him to the Hall.  Santo suffered from diabetes, diagnosed in 1959.  This at a time when the treatment of diabetes was not highly advanced.  For a guy to perform at such a high level for a decade with such a serious disease–a disease that cost him both his legs later in life–is admirable, and should have been taken into account by Hall voters.

This was also a time when physical conditioning was not nearly as advanced as today.  Now players making huge dollars have their own trainers and nutritionists; and a few years back,  in the cases of sleazes like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire and all the rest, their own performance enhancing chemists.

That wasn’t the case in Santo’s day.  Not by a long shot.  When I was a kid I saw Santo during the offseason working out in an exercise class with ordinary hoi polloi at the Leaning Tower YMCA on Touhy Avenue in Chicago.   There was Santo, in a white t-shirt and baggy gray gym shorts, doing jumping jacks and leg lifts with the usual assortment of Y members.  Yeah, like you’d see that today.

Despite his chronic and devastating physical problems (he had bladder cancer, which eventually killed him, in addition to his diabetes), Santo was an incurable optimist.  If you ever feel sorry for yourself, think of Ron Santo and how he dealt with his adversity and you’ll be a better person.

He also suffered insults with grace.  I remember watching a Fox baseball broadcast of a Cubs-Cards game a few years back.  Santo did a brief appearance with the appalling and annoying Joe Buck, who needled and insulted Santo and the Cubs repeatedly.  Classy performance there, putz.  (Did I mention I despise Joe Buck?  Can you tell?)  But Santo graciously overlooked Buck’s barbs, and focused on the positives of his career and the Cubs’ history.  (Yes, Santo had a temper: he once choked Leo Durocher in an argument in the Cubs’ clubhouse.  Knowing Leo, he probably asked for it.  Buck certainly did, but a mellower Santo restrained himself.)

Santo also endured the annual disappointment of failing election to the Hall of Fame with class.

It’s always sad to see the passing of someone who evokes such vivid memories from one’s youth.  It’s especially sad when that person is a true mensch, which Santo was.  Not to sound all old and curmudgeonly and like one of the Four Yorkshiremen, but there were few of his like in professional sports in his day, and even fewer today.  Santo gave all he had to baseball; would that Major League Baseball had done the same in return.

* After finishing this post, I came across this Chicago Tribune article listing the top 10 Santo memories–which include all of the ones I related above; the heel clicking, the black cat, Don Young, and the Leo choking incident.

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