Pondering points

Here are some points worthy of comment while waiting for the big shoes of a fascinating free agent baseball sweepstakes to drop. Or might they be better-termed, “clodhoppers.”

Still Brady’s Bunch?

Beginning with the hefty question gaining momentum by the hour concerning the potential dilemma the Patriots face if Tom Brady mends fully while Matt Cassel continues to grow by leaps and bounds from week to week. At the current pace the intrigue will ripen at season’s end when the Patriots must decide how much money they can vest in one position; the quarterback.

Because in a masterpiece of good timing, Cassel, the rags to riches back-up rapidly warming to the starting job, will be a free agent looking for a humongous pay raise at the end of this season. As the Herald’s Ronnie Borges notes, every time Cassel comes up with a performance like his high wire act against the Jets he tacks another million bucks onto the asking price.

No one’s ready to argue that Cassel is Brady’s equal. He’d need to march his team to three Soupey titles in the next four years, lighting up the skies on and off the field, to give that argument merit. The more reasonable questions concern his ceiling and how much better he might get versus Brady’s shelf life and how much injury, age, and growing distractions have combined to reduce his game.

Is it reasonable to expect he’ll be the same player when and if he returns from the fairly devastating injury he suffered? Probably not. But then Brady is Brady; not the usual cat. It’s a potentially fascinating conversation. And it is only just beginning.

Mayhem continues

Doubtless you missed it, buried as it was in the fine print of the sports’ page. But in the NHL there’s been another of those nasty boarding incidents resulting in another serious injury and another ridiculously inadequate punishment. That makes three such incidents thus far and the regular season is scarcely a quarter gone.

The players involved in the latest atrocity are Tom Kostopoulos, a hard-edged Montreal forward, and Mike Van Ryn, a young Toronto defenseman. The incident was typical. Van Ryn was retrieving the puck, facing the boards with his back to the play therefore having no idea of his impending doom. Kostopoulos, a bit of a guttersnipe, hit him like a freight train with an old-fashioned crosscheck nailing him into the backboards.

Van Ryn suffered a broken hand, a broken nose, and a full-scale concussion. The medics initially estimate he’ll be out a month. But that’s what they said when the Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron was ambushed in much the same manner last year and Bergeron missed nearly the entire season.

But here’s the amazing, or -- depending on your point of view -- abysmal part of the story. On-ice officials socked Kostopoulos with a five- minute boarding penalty and a game misconduct for intent to injure, so the gravity of his offense was immediately established. Yet the hypocrites who run the league suspended Kostopoulos for only three games. That’s the same laughably puny punishment meted out to the Flyers defenseman who viciously strove to end Bergeron’s career.

Once again you have the misguided House of Bettman, that runs this notoriously backward league, having no true feel for their game. They routinely go into conniptions at the sight of the traditional rough but ultimately mild stuff that lends color and character to the games, yet brush aside the truly menacing and unsportsmanlike behavior that results in the ugliest violence and gravest injuries.

Three games on the beach for such a mugging is ludicrous. When cats like Kostopoulos commit such thuggery and the on-ice officials determine it’s malicious and deliberate they should be suspended until the injured player returns and if he never returns, neither should they. Period! That would stop this bush-league baloney in a heartbeat.

Holding the line?

It was with a lot of farcical breast-beating that the Red Sox grandly announced they will ‘‘hold the line’’ freezing ticket prices for next season. Thus they resist the temptation to soak their devoted following with the sort of quantum leaps that have become an annual custom under the new ownership. Statements from various team bureaucrats seconded by their apologists in the sporting press fairly dripped with piety as if the love of the Beloved Nation were the sole motivation.

Balderdash, says I. Their motivation is fear. The same fear that’s rattling the cages of every business in every industry in the real nation; the fear of all the voracious unknowns of a capsized economy. The smart guys who run the Red Sox realize their tickets are already hideously overpriced. They understand that makes them more vulnerable than most teams. Maybe not next year, with most of the ’09 gate receipts fully pledged and much of it already in the till. But after that, watch out!

In the meantime, they continue to command the highest prices for baseball entertainment in the universe. One keeps wondering how they get away with it. Can you begin to imagine the rage the Yawkeys would have bestirred if ticket prices had soared under their watch as they have in the John Henry regime? Do you think Haywood and Buddy would have gotten away with it?

The justification they offer is their stunning success on the field capped by two of the precious championships that eluded the Yawkeys for an entire lifetime and that’s a valid factor. They also cite the extensive and highly creative way they’ve remodeled and refined their antique of a ballpark, although past generations would have abhorred such embellishments as those rows of seats on top of the old wailing wall.

But above all, the new gang in town has been most brilliant at the art of public relations. It has been a work of genius. Methinks the Nation is brainwashed. If the faithful dutifully accept the notion that the team is ‘‘holding the line’’ out of the goodness of their hearts, that would be the ultimate proof.


Lastly, a word on a pair of vintage lefties who adorned the rich baseball scene of the fifties and lately departed us within hours of one another.

Preacher Roe was all guile and craft. He never threw a pitch over the middle of the plate nor one that didn’t dart, slurve, or flutter often with the help of gobs of spit. In the Dodgers’ repeated World Series misadventures against the Yankees it was Preacher who most excelled and gave the Bombers fits. The term ‘‘artist’’ never better applied to a mere thrower of baseballs.

Herb Score was Preacher’s diametric opposite; pure and awesome power. He was only granted two years of dominance, but the memory a half-century later lingers of something majestic, even unique. Nobody, not Koufax, Gibson, Seaver or, one strongly suspects, even Grove, Matty or the Big Train himself was more imposing.

He was to be the heir apparent of Bobby Feller and his success with the Indians was instant. And then one night in May 1957 the Yanks’ Gil McDougald, himself a great fellow, lined a shot back at Score who tried to duck. Then, for the longest time, he was lying on the mound and the public address announcer intoned ominously, “If there is a doctor in the house would he please report to the field.” Herb was a strong Catholic so the Indians also called a priest to his side that night. For briefly, there was doubt.

But he survived -- not to reach the heights he was destined for -- but as a solid baseball man broadcasting the Indians games for 34 years. He remained impressive; a big guy who had a tweedy look and was very polite and always seemed more like a college professor. He remained to the end a baseball symbol of what might have been save for fate’s whims. Baseball is not the only game of inches.