Streetwise Professor

November 3, 2016

Jesus Just Left Chicago

Filed under: Sports — The Professor @ 7:03 pm

Last night occurred the greatest World Series game in modern memory. The good guys won.

My dad used to say “I wouldn’t stand in line to watch Jesus Christ pitch for the save in the 9th inning of the 7th game of the World Series.” (He never indicated whether that statement was conditional on the Cubs being in the World Series. Perhaps he thought that was a set of measure zero, and not because he didn’t believe in the Second Coming.) I guarantee that he would have stood in line for last night’s game, Jesus or no Jesus.

And speaking of The Savior, it looks like Jesus just left Chicago, after having performed a miracle. The Cubs did not make it easy, either in the series as a whole, or in the deciding game. They fell behind 3 games to 1. Then after a dicey win in game 5 and a semi-blowout in game 6, they got a 4 run lead in game 7, only to watch it fall apart with two outs in the 8th. After an agonizing rain delay, they raced out to score two runs in the 10th, and hung on to win. A truly miraculous comeback.

For my part, I was fairly laid back throughout the playoffs. This was, in retrospect, a psychological defense against yet another disappointment. But by the middle innings of game 7, what had appeared a remote prospect only a few days before seemed a real likelihood. I was no longer laid back, but instead hung on every pitch and watched with rising anticipation only to be crestfallen when the Indians tied it in the 8th. I sweated through the bottom half of the 9th, exulted during the top half of the 10th, and then hung on for dear life through a shaky bottom half.

Although I slept in late this morning, I awoke exhausted. I felt like I had played all 10 positions–including DH!–for all 10 innings.

It didn’t have to be that hard. Their defense–which some claim is the best in baseball history–had some breakdowns. I am loath to criticize Joe Maddon, given what the Cubs have achieved under his managing, but some of his moves in the last 2 games put me on edge. I couldn’t understand leaving in Chapman to pitch the 9th inning in game 6 with a 6 run lead. I figured they were very likely to need him in a tighter situation in game 7, and worried about him having little left in the tank on Wednesday after pitching extended stints in consecutive games. And so it was.

I groaned when he removed Lester in the 8th inning of game 7. He had retired the first batter on a routine grounder, struck out the next batter, and the hit he then surrendered was a weak infield grounder. He was still in command–leave him in until the tying run was at the plate, at least. They used to call Sparky Anderson Captain Hook for his haste in yanking pitchers. Madden makes Sparky look like a piker.

Then Chapman’s pitch selection freaked me out. Nothing but fastballs, even though Cleveland was not swinging and missing. I don’t care if you throw 100+: if you don’t change speeds major league hitters will eventually catch up with your fastball, and the Indians did. As my friend Tom Kirkendall pointed out, this might have been an indication of fatigue: tired pitchers are worried about hanging the breaking ball. But I seriously believe that it would have been better to throw an 89 MPH spinner than to throw only fastballs when hitters are sitting on them. (He got strikes on the 3d out in the 8th with his slider, and threw some good ones in the 9th as well.)

At the plate, I was mystified that Heyward–a double play waiting to happen–wasn’t bunting with a runner on first, especially since Maddon is usually fond of the bunt. Then Baez (on his own?) tries to bunt with two strikes and the lead runner on third.

I shudder to think what my blood pressure was at this point.

But all’s well that ends well.

Ben Zobrist drove in the go ahead run on a piece of excellent two strike hitting, and was named series MVP. Other than that hit (which is a big caveat, I know) he didn’t do much, so I don’t think he deserved it. If Chapman had held on, he would have won it in a walkover. But, as we know, he didn’t. I would have given it to Kris Bryant, who hit consistently and played an excellent third base. But he arguably won game seven with his legs: how often do you say that about a third baseman? He scored on a short fly ball to left, and from first on a Rizzo double. Those were not routine runs. They were truly difference makers in the game, but were sort of lost in the extra inning drama. And the smile on Bryant’s face when the game ending ground ball was hit to him will be an enduring memory.

What is perhaps most remarkable about the series is that a very young team came through in the clutch time and again. One would normally expect that a young team–and the Cubs are extremely young–would buckle after falling behind in the series and being on the schneid for the entire middle games, and especially in game 7 after surrendering a decent-sized lead. But they rallied in adversity. I can’t think of any parallel in recent baseball history. You couldn’t expect a veteran team to do what a collection of young players did.

One of the indications of youth throughout the series was a tendency to expand the strike zone, and to refuse to go with the pitch even though it was apparent that the Indians were intent on keeping it away, and even when a single would have been big. But last night, two of the biggest culprits–Contreras and Baez–drove the ball the opposite way on outside pitches and drove in runs, Contreras with a double, Baez with a homer.

When these guys mature and become more disciplined at the plate, the Cubs could have Murderers’ Row II.

I said at the outset that the good guys won. This is not to say that the Indians were bad guys, either in personality or performance. To the contrary. They were worthy and admirable adversaries. They didn’t lose. The Cubs won, and barely. The Indians played well, played hard, and have nothing to hang their heads about.

The Indians’ main weakness was depth in starting pitching. Kluber was excellent, but you can’t expect a pitcher to dominate the same team three times in a week. Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, but it does tend to breed hits. The Indians’ other deficiency was outfield defense. A slip in right field in game 2. An Alphonse and Gaston routine in game 6 that allowed 2 runs to score. A high throw on the sac fly that Bryant scored on. When in Wrigley, Cleveland outfielders played the wall like it was covered in poison ivy, as if they were channeling old time Cub Lou “The Mad Russian” Novikoff.

“Wait ’til next year” was a recurrent theme in the Pirrong household, and in many other Cub fan households for literally decades. I will look forward to next year, but the waiting is over. After more than a century of futility, they have finally won it all. After years of looking forward to next year, 2016 is a year that all Cubs fans will look back on with fondness, for decades to come, even if success becomes the norm, rather than the extreme exception.

I know that there are many families like mine, for whom the championship came too late for a life-long Cubs fan to witness. I’ve already written about my dad and grandfather. A Naval Academy classmate wrote me that the experience was bittersweet, because his grandparents weren’t around to see it. I know there are many more like us. But I will rejoice not just for me, but for my dad. And my daughters (who have also become avid fans) will not have to regret that their dad never saw the Cubs win the World Series. For that I am deeply grateful.

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November 2, 2016

God Exists. QED.

Filed under: Sports — The Professor @ 11:09 pm

He has just been testing my family’s faith for 108 years.

Fly the W. That has never happened when the season’s last out has been recorded.

w_flag

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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?)

hundley_agee

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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