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Rounding the bases with some musings, ramblings, and wisecracks for you to munch on while awaiting one of the year’s choicer feasts, the college football draft.
And there is first the question, “Does the NFL’s new craving for law, order, and a whiff of respectability alter many draft plans?” Roger Goodell, the new boy in the NFL’s catbird seat, launched a cannon shot across the bows of every team in the league when he banished the Titans’ Pacman Jones for a year for what might be politely termed, the Pacman’s chronic recidivism.
Immensely talented but deeply troubled, Jones has been a terror both on and off various fields of play since his Little League days. In the league only two years, he’s been either arrested or charged by law enforcement a half dozen times; the latest having to do with a gunfight at a Las Vegas strip club that made the hijinks at the OK Corral look tame. Of course he is hardly alone. Nine Bengals’ players accounted for a dozen arrests last season and the Chicago Bears’ defense in the most recent Soupeybowl was anchored by a pair of gun-toting sociopaths.
Goodell’s predecessors --
going all the way back to the sainted Palmer Rozelle -- have blithely turned their collective back on the so-called “character issue.” A supine football media-corps that is essentially in the tank allowed them to get away with it. There’s a “boys will be boys” yardstick that’s applied to pro-football. Meanwhile, baseball gets hammered whenever one of its progeny gets socked with so much as a parking ticket. The double standard is ludicrous.
Some expect Goodell to cave with Pacman returning by Halloween. After all if the new commissioner gets carried away with this crusade, teams like the Ravens, Bengals and Raiders may have to disband. Moreover, you’d need a regiment of Wyatt Erps to clean up this game.
But the hunch here is that Goodell is both serious and wise. He understands that it’s only a matter of time before Congress gets shamed into doing unto football what it has been so gleefully doing unto baseball. Whatever the case, it’s not an issue that will much affect the Patriots. No team in the game prizes “character” more.
That was a nice display of theatrics on the part of the Townies in crashing four consecutive homers en route to a rollicking sweep of the arch-foe Bombers. Four runs are four runs, whether delivered with one swing of the bat with the bases juiced, or by a succession of squeeze bunts, wild pitches and sac flies. But it’s the symbolism of the thing that edifies the addled masses of Red Sox Nation. No amount of humiliation visited upon the Boys from the Bronx is ever quite enough.
It reminds me of a comparably raucous moment that I was privileged to witness from the old and much friendlier Fenway pressbox exactly 30 summers ago. One night -- I believe it was in July -- they slammed four “taters” -- not quite in a row -- but in the one and same inning. As I recall, George Scott led the assault with a shot that must have landed in Stoughton. Other swipes came (I believe) from the likes of Fred Lynn, Butch Hobson and probably either Brothers Rice or Fisk. Again the Yankees were the victims with the Red Sox padding their grip on first place. Still more to the point, the blows were smote not off a dutiful whelp like Chase Wright but on a certified pro and future Hall-of-Famer, Jim “Catfish” Hunter.
Though only 31, Hunter was already worn out and over the hill having averaged 290 innings and 21 wins a year during his superb seven-season (1970-76) run with the A’s and Yanks. It was a brutal display with the ever-classy denizens of Fenway punctuating the carnage with a savage mocking of Hunter. One of the finest characters of his time, the Catfish laughed it off. ‘‘The winds turn around here come September,’’ he drawled.
They do indeed. Both literally and figuratively! Sure enough, come October the Red Sox were dispersed to the golf links while the Yankees were dispensing with the Dodgers in the World Series. There is no hint of prophecy in this anecdote; only a gentle reminder of the force of déjà vu in Red Sox history.
Still more to the point, there is this advice; beware of making too much out of anything that happens in the game of baseball in the month of April. And that goes for the homerics of A-Rod too.
On the subject of teams that have a fondness for hitting the links early we have the Bruins.
May we at last have an apology from those working hockey scribes who, when the Bruins signed Sean Donovan as a free agent last summer, had the audacity to compare Donovan to Terry O’Reilly? This nonsense bordering on heresy was widely espoused by folks who cover the Bruins.
But the scribes can’t be blamed for the Zdeno Chara miscalculations, which may prove to be monumental. It was reasonable to argue that Chara when graced with a huge contract at the height of his career would mature into a dominant, possibly even franchise-quality player. And he got off to a reasonable start for the first 10-12 weeks of the season. Whereupon he disintegrated into the least intimidating, six-foot-nine inch, 260-pound defenseman you’re ever likely to see. By season’s end he was just another Hal Gill. What happens to hockey players when they come to this town nowadays? Don Cherry used to love to say that just pulling on the Bruins’ colors made a player twice as good. Now it apparently makes them half as good.
How else to explain the phenomena of Joe Thornton who floated through a half-dozen seasons here grossly underachieving as an amiable oaf then turning into a tiger when dispatched to that legendary hockey town, San Jose. And if you think I’m exaggerating ask Pat Burns and Mike Keenan, admittedly the only two decent coaches Thornton had when he was here. Maybe that’s the problem. Don’t look to Dave Lewis to rectify it.
Not that we can look to the Celtics for relief. The latest Sebastain Telfair fiasco underscores the serious questions about Danny Ainge’s judgement that rear as the Celtics approach a critical twist in their vaunted and endless rebuilding program. This is the moment -- cresting with the draft on the 22nd of May -- when the Celtics must strike big time if this storied franchise is to be revived in our times. What evidence supports the notion Ainge is equal to it?
You’ll recall the acquisition of Telfair was Danny’s stroke of genius last summer. While he’s been a wretched disappointment on the court, his antics off the court are more disturbing. In the latest and most embarrassing incident we have the spectacle of the young man being paraded off by the gendarmes at 4 a.m. after being nabbed for driving some 30 miles over the speed limit on a Yonkers Parkway with a .45 caliber handgun under the car seat. The New York tabloids had a field day.
This is not Celtic pride at work, Danny. On the 50th anniversary of the launching of the dynasty you need to get a grip on the character issue, my man. It was Red’s highest priority.