This is Matt Harvey. Accept it and move on.

MLB, Uncategorized

Matt Harvey pic

Matt Harvey is trying to have a life comparable to that of Derek Jeter and Tom Brady sans the on-field production. With his latest foray into the gossip columns occurring simultaneous to his on-field future being in flux, it’s time for the Mets to accept that this is what Harvey is. There won’t be an awakening that he needs to focus primarily on his pitching and making as much money as he possibly can in his rapidly approaching free agency. There won’t be a more subdued off-field lifestyle. And there won’t be a “new” Matt Harvey in any way but as a statement that sounds good.

This is not to imply that he should stay home and watch TV, never leaving the house; but the intentional attempt to get his name and face in the gossip columns was growing tiresome when he was at his peak. Now that he’s trying to regain some semblance of what he lost, it’s growing offensive. The attention he gets from the images kissing models and partying late into the night is not a matter of circumstance. It’s intentional quid pro quo. Someone – whether it was the public relations representatives of Adriana Lima, Harvey or both – contacts the columnists and makes sure that the date will garner the desired attention and buzz. This is a fundamental reality of the trade-off between a famous person and the paparazzi. Harvey, however, does not need this type of attention just now. While spring training is essentially meaningless for a veteran player who is just trying to get in shape for the season, for a player – particularly a pitcher – like Harvey returning from a serious injury and two years away from free agency, it minimally behooves him to just show up, stay out of the limelight, do his work and party without the glare of the flashbulbs and the viral media attention endlessly shared in a hollow attempt to play the rock star when it’s unknown as to whether he can hit the same cords he once did.

Harvey has courted drama and the wrong kind of attention for much of his major-league career. The Mets looked the other way and shrugged because of his excellence on the field and that he was the clear star of their universe, for better or worse. Now, though, he’s their fourth starter behind Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz. Should Zack Wheeler prove himself healthy enough to start, Robert Gsellman replicates his surprising 2016 performance and Seth Lugo shows his workmanlike production, Harvey could find himself behind all of them.

The time for granting him passes, laughing and shrugging is over. He wants to be Jeter, but is turning into Bo Belinsky: someone whose fame is due to off-field pursuits rather than as a natural result of on-field performance. To make matters worse, Syndergaard has taken over as the man about town and is doing so in a more media savvy and salable way for himself and the organization.

Eventually, it gets to a point where the drama is no longer self-created as means to an end, but is just who he is. From the Scott Boras demands for Harvey’s innings limits to missing team workouts to the spate of injuries and talk-talk-talk of how he wants greatness but still pops up in the front of the newspaper rather than the back, the Mets are not motivated to placate Harvey or Boras any longer. Protecting him is not in their best interests because signing him to a long-term contract is not happening. He is not the type of person in whom a long-term, $100 million-plus investment is a wise one and every team that considers him will ask itself the hard question of whether he’s going to take the money and lose interest in being a baseball player. By now, it’s clear that the team that does it won’t be the Mets. With that, they need to wring him out, get what they can from him and move forward. Whether that parting of the ways is achieved through a trade or allowing him to leave as a free agent depends on his performance. Either way, he can be someone else’s distraction. It’s enough already.

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Tom Brady, cheating, the NFL, and the American way

MLB, NFL

The decision by the NFL investigators that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Bradyprobably” cheated is a line-straddling concession similar to a civil court case in which the criteria is that the issue at hand “more likely than not” occurred. They don’t have proof beyond a reasonable doubt, so Brady still has plausible deniability even though he seems to have lied when he said he had nothing to do with the amount of air in the footballs for the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts.

The important question isn’t whether or not he did it and if his legacy and the fourth Super Bowl he and the Patriots just won is tarnished. Nor is it whether or not he’s guilty. The important question is whether or not this is a scandal compromising the game’s competitiveness or an integral part of the game.

Cheating in sports has always been a nuanced and indefinable. Some believe that all is fair. It’s fine if there’s a certain of cheating going on as long as no one’s life is put at risk because of it and the integrity of the competition isn’t compromised by an intentional attempt to lose. If gamesmanship occurs, it’s generally perceived as acceptable in the context of professional competition. Most sports aren’t combat-related where an incident such as what happened between Luis Resto and his trainer Panama Lewis as padding was removed from Resto’s gloves and he battered Billy Collins, Jr. Lewis and Resto went to jail and Collins spiraled downward until he committed suicide. Resto later admitted that not only were the gloves tampered with, but his hand wraps were soaked in Plaster of Paris. That was criminality, not competitive gamesmanship. There’s a certain level of trust that competitors won’t go as far as Resto and Lewis did and cause severe injury even in a sport like boxing where injury is the defined intent. Although it’s a violent sport, Resto and Lewis went beyond negligible propriety of head butts, elbows and other acts that are generally accepted as part of the terrain in boxing.

Where does that put football, baseball and other sports? Is there a line between Brady (probably) having had the footballs deflated and a clever offensive lineman holding on every single play and getting away with it? What about in baseball were little tricks are used in every game – most of which are not within the confines of the rules – to gain an advantage? Gaylord Perry wrote a book called, “Me and the Spitter” based on his reliance of a career-saving spitball. He’s in the Hall of Fame. Don Drysdale pitched 58 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in 1968 and it was only stopped when he was caught and warned without being sanctioned for throwing a spitball. Mike Scott salvaged a dying career with a scuffball. No one cared. It was shrugged off.

In some cases, the league itself takes part in the “cheating” by allowing it to go on or tacitly encouraging it for the greater good. Major League Baseball easily falls into this category with the performance enhancing drug explosion. To imply that no one in MLB’s regulatory body was aware that players were not having a career renaissance based on hard work is the combination of naïve and idiotic.

In football, Brady’s success is part of the problem with this latest scandal. If it was discovered that Jay Cutler had a certain, rule-bending way he wanted his footballs prepared, he’d be the target of ridicule on talk radio, social media, mainstream media and in bars. “Heh, heh, heh. Better figure out a new way to keep your balls so they don’t end up in the hands of the other team, Jay. Heh, heh, heh.”

But it’s not a player who’s viewed as a sad sack loser like Cutler. It’s Brady. The winningest of the winners. The guy who married perhaps the most famous supermodel in the world. The guy who has the life many aspire to and didn’t have it handed to him as the first overall pick in the draft, anointed since birth. He was an afterthought sixth round draft pick who worked, studied, trained and made himself into one of the best quarterbacks in history.

The idea is that this taints Brady’s career in an exponential way because it’s not the first time that there have been allegations and proof of chicanery on the part of the Bill Belichick/Brady Patriots. Given the times they’ve been caught, logic dictates that there are probably twenty other incidents in which they’ve bent or outright broken the rules and gotten away with it. Back to the Cutler analogy, is it because the Patriots cheat more than other teams or is it because they’re simply better at football? This is in line with the PED use in baseball. Barry Bonds broke records and had the best years of his career at a time when he should have been in steady decline based on age and physical breakdown. Obviously, it was because of the drugs. But he was also better than the other players who were also using the same drugs. Doesn’t that, in a bizarre way, level the playing field back to how it was when everyone was clean?

Belichick and owner Bob Kraft have not been implicated in “deflategate.” Who knows whether or not either were aware of this? It’s doubtful that Kraft is so involved in the micromanagement of his team that he’d be aware of it, especially when he’s got someone so competent as Belichick as his football CEO. As for Belichick, it appears to be an intentional, “I can always say I didn’t know if I really didn’t know, but kinda knew” method of management that is far more common in successful companies that most are willing to admit.

Belichick’s managerial style is like that of any all-powerful dictator. The leader in a sustained dictatorship has a method with his generals and subordinates: if it works, great; if it doesn’t, you take the fall. Naturally, that won’t apply to Brady while he’s still of use to Belichick. But there will be others tossed overboard because they’re disposable. After all their years together and the amount of trust that Belichick puts in Brady as the conduit from the coach’s brain to the on-field game plan implementation, the quarterback presumably has autonomy to do whatever he needs to do including certain activities that push the envelope of the rules.

To settle the issue of how much the football is to be inflated and to satisfy the public, expect there to be a boxing-style pregame check by representatives of the opposing team similar to a boxer’s gloves being examined and marked. There will either be a range in which the balls can be inflated and deflated or the NFL will simply say, these are the balls; this is how much they’re inflated; deal with it. Brady will probably be fined heavily and suspended for a game or two. That will be it.

The NFL allowed this to happen. Do you believe the NFL became the powerful entity it is by following all the rules? They had their players as indentured servants until 25 years ago when nominal free agency came into being. Apart from the public image and financial ramifications, they still don’t really care about the players’ physical, emotional and mental condition in the aftermath of their careers as they’re addicted to painkillers, unable to walk and are wandering around with brain damage and no money to pay for treatment.

The NFL itself is very effective at theoretically promoting one code of conduct to satisfy its customers and quiet the media while bowing to expediency in practice. Like the domestic violence issue in which the NFL only took steps to dispense punishments that are deemed appropriate after a video of Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancée unconscious surfaced and they spun their own tale similar to Brady’s that they didn’t know anything about anything, they acted when they had no other choice. It was a business decision, not because it’s the right thing to do.

If Roger Goodell and the NFL are worried about this latest issue with the Patriots, it’s only because they want the fans to believe that the sport is on the up-and-up; that gamblers (who the sport won’t acknowledge either) are wagering fairly; and that the business dictates they act.

The United States didn’t become the world power it is by following rules that hinder achieving that end. The NFL sells itself as an American institution. Tom Brady is considered the All-American boy. They sure are. The underlying reality might not be the conveniently salable storyline, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

Johnny Manziel’s career Hail Mary: rehab

Football, NFL, Uncategorized

Given Johnny Manziel’s immaturity and complete lack of interest in committing himself to football instead of partying, his voluntary entry into rehabilitation for undisclosed problems appears to be a blatant attempt to throw a Hail Mary and save his career with the Cleveland Browns. In fact, considering his reputation, his entire career as a quarterback in the NFL is in jeopardy. For a Heisman Trophy winner and first round draft pick to have self-destructed to this degree in one season is hard to fathom. Somehow he managed it.

Are we to believe that Manziel woke up one morning after an especially rough night and realized that things had to change for his professional career to validate the “Johnny Football” nickname and not be used as a derogatory term of ridicule to be used in the same sentence with the phrase “Johnny Bust?” Or did he come to a different realization that being catered to, spoiled and babied while a schoolboy star in Texas wasn’t going to transfer to Cleveland as he began his pro career?

That the Browns are openly vacillating on his future made clear that something had to change. The key is whether it’s real. Rehab and perhaps converting to Christianity are the last, desperate measures that athletes, celebrities and politicians try to use to salvage their careers. Given the frequency of recidivism for drug and alcohol problems in general and with high-profile people in particular, it should be taken with a significant amount of hesitation before 28 days in a program is suddenly evidence that Manziel will be clean and sober and stay that way.

The personal problems and lack of dedication are one layer of what Manziel faces, but even if he was as clean-cut and determined as Tim Tebow, there’s still the looming question as to whether or not he’s good enough to be anything more than a journeyman backup in the league. In that sense, he’s like Tebow without the likability to get him chance after chance even if he doesn’t deserve it.

The hype machine and college success that created this image of Manziel as a future “star” doesn’t eliminate the obvious flaws in his game. Were he a prototype, 6’5”, 220 pound pocket passer with a rocket arm, he’d have the capital to act like a colossal jerk, party his brains out, alienate teammates, coaches, front office people, fans and media and get away with it.

He’s not a prototype and he’s not getting away with it. There are two layers to Manziel’s challenges in rebuilding his image and career: one, he doesn’t seem to want to work very hard; two, he might not be talented enough to be anything more than a bare minimum, game-managing starter even if he works 20 hours a day. That’s two strikes. The attitude is strike 2.2; the partying is strike 2.5; rehab is strike 2.8.

He’s running out of strikes.

When he was drafted, Manziel tried to mimic Tom Brady’s bravado by proclaiming his own future greatness, but he failed to do what Brady did and put in the work to make that a reality. Brady believed it. Manziel said it because it sounded good. There lies the difference between a Manziel and a Brady. Both have the bravado, but Brady had the ability and was, more importantly, willing to stay home at night and study his playbook in between workout sessions. Manziel’s eyes are apparently too bleary and bloodshot to read the top two lines of an eye chart, let alone a complicated Kyle Shanahan playbook. Shanahan’s gone now. While initially that appeared to be an accommodation to Manziel, it now appears that Shanahan simply didn’t want to deal with a player who couldn’t play and didn’t want to bother trying to maximize what limited skills he has.

Manziel may not have the ability and clearly expects everything to be as easy in the NFL as it’s been throughout his life. His commitment is wanting. He’d like to have the fringe benefits of being a football star without having to actually perform. If you told Brady that he could have the star status and a faltering career or a superlative career without the star status, he’d take the latter. That’s why Brady just won his fourth Super Bowl and why Manziel’s career might end before it starts.

Fans and media love a rise, but they love a fall even better. Manziel puts forth the impression that he doesn’t understand the difference between being on a big screen TV in an arena and being an exhibit in a zoo. He had every opportunity to win the starting job in training camp and didn’t. He got a chance to play late in the season, was atrocious and got hurt.

A minuscule amount of that is why the Browns are presenting a laissez faire attitude regarding Manziel. It’s his off-field behavior that’s the problem and that an offense will have to be tailored to what he can do, placing the team in a position where they’re drafting and signing players to cater to him and perhaps setting themselves back for an even longer period than they would if they cut ties with him or found a replacement, keeping him as a sideshow on the sideline wearing a baseball cap and holding a clipboard.

From the Browns’ perspective and contrary to prevailing sentiment, it won’t be a huge disaster if they have to move on from Manziel so quickly into his career. He wasn’t the first overall pick in the draft. He wasn’t even their first overall pick. For a 22nd pick in the first round, it’s easier to shrug, chalk it up to experience and move on rather than lament a massive mistake and make it worse by not accepting the truth: he might not be able to play and he’s definitely not invested in his on-field career.

So we come to the entrance into rehab. Seeing the situation deteriorating and the Browns basically telling him that he needs them, not vice versa, he or someone close to him decided that he had to take the tack of contrition instead of doubling down on bluster. Like everything with Manziel, it might be another shallow attempt at pretense. If that’s the case, his career is headed in the direction of other notable players who were famous for being famous and faded out before they realized the opportunity they’d blown. Then he’ll really begin to spiral. Then, it’s likely that he’ll really need rehab.

The Costas Factor

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I’ll preface this by saying I agree with Bob Costas’s premise that the overt celebrations in baseball when there’s a walkoff of any kind, especially a walkoff homer, have gone so far over-the-top that it appears as if a relatively meaningless game in June is the seventh game of the World Series. We’re not that far away from players gathering at home plate on a first inning home run like they do in college and high school. It’s bush league, amateurish and ruins the specialness of games in which there should be a legitimate celebration: no-hitters, perfect games, milestone achievements, post-season clinchings and series victories.

When presenting the afternoon’s baseball highlights, however, Costas gave a mini-editorial with smiling disdain while calling the Mets’ celebration after winning in walkoff fashion on Kirk Nieuwenhuis’s home run “another indication of the ongoing decline of Western civilization.” The clip is below.

The truth of the matter regarding these celebrations is that everyone does it. Costas’s snide comment regarding the second division Mets and Cubs is accurate in the overriding silliness of the act, but the “classy” Cardinals and Yankees do it as well. Prince Fielder celebrated a walkoff homer with teammates by acting as if he was a bowling ball and knocking over the pins (his teammates) and got drilled for it the next year. Kendrys Morales, then of the Angels—a club that took their cue on stoicism and professionalism from manager Mike Scioscia—severely damaged his ankle leaping onto home plate and lost a year-and-a-half of his career because of it. They’re not going to stop doing it no matter how badly Costas wants to go back to 1960 with players celebrated by shaking hands like they’d just had a successful meeting at IBM.

Frankly, I couldn’t care less what Costas says. As he’s aged and his status has grown as a crossover broadcaster whose opinions on a wide range of subjects are given weight, he’s turned increasingly crotchety, preachy, smug and obnoxious. He’s almost a likable Bill O’Reilly with a smile—sort of how Bill O’Reilly was when he was hosting Inside Edition and when The O’Reilly Factor first started before market dictates and egomania forced him to lurch far to the right and put forth the persona of screaming in people’s faces as an omnipotent pedant. Costas has the forum and gets away with it because he’s Bob Costas, therefore he does it and this will happen again unless his bosses tell him to can it.

This is only a small blip in comparison to his halftime op-ed regarding gun control the day after Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher’s murder/suicide last December. That clip is below.

Speaking of the decline of Western civilization, the conceit that is evident everywhere stemming from the me-me-me attitude that has been exacerbated with social media, easy fame and its trappings has led to a rise in pushing the envelope to make one’s voice heard over the din whether it’s the proper forum to do so or not. Would a Costas commentary on gun control be given airtime anywhere if he didn’t blindside his employers by interjecting it during an NFL halftime show? Would anyone listen to it if there wasn’t a captive audience of people gathering to watch the game who were suddenly inundated with Costas’s political rant?

The NFL halftime show is meant to be talking about Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Robert Griffin III, not going into a long-winded diatribe directly challenging the beliefs of a massive constituency of the NFL—conservatives who believe in the right to bear arms. If Costas has these little vignettes planned on the state of sports and the world in general, perhaps he should save it for a time in which people who are tuning in would expect it and make the conscious choice to hear what he has to say on the variety of off-field subjects and negligible behaviors that he’s made it a habit of sharing his feelings on. But then, maybe no one would tune in because they want to hear Costas talk about sports and would prefer if he saved his personal feelings for a time when it’s appropriate, not when viewers looking for sports and highlights have to endure his arrogant and high-handed opinions.

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Rays and Orioles: Early Season Notes

Books, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, NFL, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays were one of the few teams with a “surplus” of starting pitching. So they dealt James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals and signed Roberto Hernandez (AKA Fausto Carmona) as insurance and to vie for a role in the rotation. Jeff Niemann’s season-ending shoulder surgery put a damper on the depth and they’ve gotten off to a rocky start as Hernandez has pitched poorly and Jeremy Hellickson—who I’m not a fan of anyway—has been inconsistent.

Key parts of the lineup haven’t hit. Some, like Yunel Escobar and Matthew Joyce, will. Others like James Loney and Ryan Roberts might or might not. In the end, they’ll score enough runs to win…if the pitching is good enough or David Price and Matt Moore carry the load for the shakiness of the back of the rotation.

This should’ve been expected of a team like the Rays who run their club making trades and signings with an eye on saving money, spending where they can, and hoping to hit at the roulette wheel with the likes of Hernandez and Loney. Amid all the hits such as Fernando Rodney and Casey Kotchman, there are also misses like Pat Burrell and Matt Bush. Some have been costlier than others.

There are calls to bring up Wil Myers to boost the offense and, in some manner, justify having traded Shields and Davis to get him. Inside the Rays clubhouse there are expressions of pained understanding as to why the Rays traded Shields and Davis, with the unsaid wishing that they were still there to help in the now.

The Rays front office isn’t concerned about what the players think. No winning organization is. They may listen to a point in order to placate the stars, but in the end, it’s the organization’s decision. Few sports figures exert as much influence over their club as Tom Brady does with the New England Patriots and even he had his knuckles rapped by club owner Bob Kraft over Brady’s overt displeasure at Wes Welker being allowed to leave. “I don’t answer to Tom Brady,” Kraft said.

Nor should he.

Bending to pressure, inside and out, would betray the entire reason the Rays made the trade in the first place; in fact it would contradict the entire foundation of the rebuilding of the Rays into a team that wins in spite of payroll constraints. Myers was acquired because he’s a top-tier prospect, cheap and will have value for them when they can no longer afford some of the players in their lineup who are expected to be significant offensive contributors now, like Joyce. If and when Myers is recalled, it won’t be until it’s financially and practically beneficial to the Rays, not before.

In general, veteran players will provide what’s expected of them and what they’ve historically done barring injuries or an age-related decline in skills. This is why there’s no need to be concerned about Escobar and Joyce and there is need to be concerned about Hernandez and Loney.

This is the situation the Rays face on an annual basis. Maybe it’ll work out and maybe it won’t.

Baltimore Orioles

To GM Dan Duquette’s credit, he didn’t make the mistake the Mariners did under Bill Bavasi and equate an overachieving 2007 season of 88-74 into an idea of “all we need is one more pitcher” and trade a large chunk of his system to the Orioles—including Adam Jones and Chris Tillman—for Erik Bedard.

(Interestingly, Mariners current GM Jack Zduriencik did pretty much the same thing in trading for Cliff Lee after a similarly overachieving season that was based more on luck than reality in 2009. Yet he was referred to as a “genius” for doing what Bavasi did. He’s not being called a genius anymore, but that’s another story.)

The Orioles of 2012, unlike the Mariners of 2007, made the playoffs. They bounced the Rangers and shook the Yankees before losing in the ALDS in 5 games. The Orioles, having won, are no longer viewed as a last resort location for old and declining players to get a last paycheck. The temptation to use the new street cred among marketable players willing to join the Orioles must have been great, as must have been the offers for the likes of Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy. Duquette did a tweak here and a tweak there, but mostly stood pat in spite of the Orioles having reason to say they were going for it in 2013, even though that would’ve been a mistake.

They’re around .500 now and the “experts” in the media had them taking a dramatic fallback to, at best, .500 for the season.

That doesn’t mean they’re going to stay there. Currently relying on the same template as last season with a deep bullpen, a power-hitting lineup and pedestrian starting pitching, the situation looks the same as in 2012, but is actually subtly different.

If his elbow stiffness subsides and he’s pitching in the minors soon, the Orioles can expect Bundy to help them in the second half of the season; Machado will be with the team all year. If they’re hovering around .500 and still in contention in a parity-laden AL East at mid-season, they’ll be very dangerous down the stretch.

I don’t see people referring to Duquette with starstruck, agenda-driven awe as they did with Zduriencik, but Duquette’s the one with the past success, courage of his convictions, and is a better executive.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide is now available on Amazon, Smashwords, BN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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Yankees Belt-Tightening, Part I—A Cranky Fanbase Grows Crankier

All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Football, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, NFL, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

To gauge the short-term, “what have you done for me lately,” nature of sports fandom, you need only look at the absurd demands of fans of the New York Giants football team calling for the firing of coach Tom Coughlin and replacing quarterback Eli Manning less than eleven months after they won their second Super Bowl with Coughlin and Manning. Not only have they won two Super Bowls, but in both games they beat the Patriots with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, supposedly the best quarterback/coach combination since the 49ers had Joe Montana and Bill Walsh.

But the Giants are 8-7 and suffering through a second half slump that has left them on the outside looking in at a playoff spot, needing a win on Sunday against the Eagles and significant help from other teams to squeak into the playoffs. It has also put Coughlin and Manning in the crosshairs of angry fans’ venting.

Of course they’re greedy, but what’s happening now with the Giants pales in comparison to what’s going to happen with the Yankees in 2013 if their ancient veterans aren’t able to conjure one last run and make the playoffs with a legitimate chance at a World Series win. The same fanbase that booed Derek Jeter and referred to him as “Captain Double Play” among other, worse epithets, now reacts like a mother bear when one of her cubs is in danger should anyone say one negative word about Jeter, even if it’s true. His performance since he notched his 3000th hit has been a renaissance to the player he was a decade ago; that’s why he’s back to “untouchable” status.

It’s a fleeting loyalty especially with the nouveau Yankees fan who began rooting for the team at some point between their 1996 World Series win and their 1998 114 win claim to being one of the best teams in history. Like the newly rich, there’s a gaucheness combined with a lack of comprehension as to the reality of how difficult it is to win and maintain as the Yankees have. They want the team to just “buy stuff” and fill the house with gaudy showpieces and expect to find themselves admired and respected for their taste. But it’s not taste to buy a Picasso just because it’s a Picasso. It helps to understand the significance of the piece and it doesn’t have to be expensive to be of value. The same holds true with players. Fans wanted the Yankees to buy the most expensive pieces on the market and since 2000, that’s what they’ve done to maintain this level of play. Their cohesiveness and home built charm has suffered as they transformed into little more than a band of mercenaries without the on-field camaraderie that was a subtle and imperative portion of the four championships between 1996 and 2000. The pieces that once fit together no longer do.

What happened with the Yankees and Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Joe Torre and the other foundational members of the dynasty is an extreme rarity. A club showing the ability to make it through three rounds of short-series playoffs and win a championship is far more difficult to accomplish than it was when the Yankees were seemingly in the World Series every year from the 1920s to the 1960s.

That dynasty came undone as the stars got old and weren’t replaced. The draft had been implemented and the Yankees were unfamiliar with having to wait their turn and battle with other clubs for the right to get players—no longer could they offer the most money in a bonus for a kid who wanted to join them because of Mickey Mantle and that they won every year.

They were a dilapidated afterthought from 1966 through 1976 when they made it back to the Fall Classic and that was three years after George Steinbrenner purchased the team and set about doing what it was the Yankees always did—spend money and demand results now. Sometimes it worked and sometimes Steinbrenner’s immediate success of returning the club to its prior glory within 5 years after buying it set them on the path they took in the 1980s with dysfunction, rampant managerial and front office changes, money spent on trash and an eventual decline to last place. It was when Steinbrenner was suspended that Gene Michael and Buck Showalter were able to rebuild, develop, keep their youngsters and do something novel in Yankeeland: let the young players play for the Yankees.

It worked.

Success demanded more success, however, and any thought of stepping back and shunning the biggest free agent names/trade targets was dismissed out of hand. Money spent can’t guarantee a championship and the Yankees have won one since 2000. It’s the way the game is played now. It takes a certain amount of good fortune to win multiple titles in a short timeframe. The San Francisco Giants are considered something of a dynasty now with two titles in three years, but that too was circumstantial rather than the result of a new template or dominance.

The Yankees’ situation is different. Faced with the demands of a fanbase that doesn’t accept anything short of a World Series forces decisions that wouldn’t normally be made. When they tried to scale back on paying ludicrous amounts of money for other team’s stars by building their own pitchers Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, they were rewarded with a missed playoff spot in 2008 and their strange and paranoid restrictions on the above pitchers resulted in all being disappointments.

They responded by reversion to what was with big free agent signings of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira. That worked in 2009 as they won the World Series, but the contracts were expensive and long-term. Burnett in particular was dumped after he pitched as he has in his entire career with customary mediocrity sprinkled in with flashes of teasing brilliance. The Yankees were somehow surprised by this. The belief that by sheer act of a player putting on a Yankees uniform, he’ll somehow evolve into something different than what he is has doomed the club before.

Teixeira is declining; Sabathia has a lot of wear on his tires at age 32 and is signed through 2016. That’s before getting to the other contracts such as that of Alex Rodriguez along with this new austerity that has culminated in a strange and unusual off-season for the 21st Century Yankees.

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Tim Tebow’s Sideshow Reaches Its Climax

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Tim Tebow was acquired by the Jets as a gimmick while thinking he’s a football player. When the Jets saw what a limited football player he was and that the packages they installed centered around him didn’t fool anyone, they used him in a perfunctory fashion with dreadful results.

While still in the playoff picture, they marginalized Tebow. To make matters worse for Tebow, the game against the Cardinals in which Rex Ryan had finally seen enough of Mark Sanchez to pull him, Tebow was injured with fractured ribs, so Greg McElroy entered the game and led a game-winning drive. In a dysfunctional manner only the Jets can muster, Tebow’s fractured ribs prevented him from playing in the week before’s Thanksgiving night humiliation at the hands of Tom Brady and the Patriots (complete with Sanchez’s buttfumble) even though he was inexplicably active. It was inexplicable since the Jets never gave a coherent explanation. He was inactive against the Cardinals in the McElroy game. Then, in Jacksonville, Tebow was the number two QB and didn’t play when Sanchez played poorly again, but not poorly enough to be yanked, especially with Tebow sitting behind him and not McElroy.

If this sounds convoluted and confusing, that’s only because it is.

Sanchez stayed in the Jaguars game and the Jets won again, through no fault or help from Sanchez. Would Ryan have pulled Sanchez if he’d had McElroy available? And why wasn’t McElroy available? Because Tebow was needed in uniform in the town in which he starred for the University of Florida; playing against the Jaguars team for whom he’s likely to play in 2013 (and I do mean play, not stand there as an owner’s show pony and object for him to tell his socialite friends, “Look what I bought.”), he was the second quarterback with, barring an injury, no chance to actually play. Period.

Was it naïveté on the part of Tebow to believe that the Jets had intentions for him other than the owner seeing dollar signs when looking at Tebow’s chiseled arms? Did he truly believe the whispered sweet nothings Ryan, GM Mike Tannenbaum and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano (the “innovator” of the Wildcat formation that was supposed to be Tebow’s forte)? Was he confident enough in his abilities or trusting to the point that he felt that he’d be an important part of the offense and see 20 plays a game when its logic and reason were nonexistent? Was he hearing what he wanted to hear? Did he look at Sanchez and say, “I can beat out that guy,”? (In fairness, Steve DeBerg might be saying that right now and planning a comeback.) Did he believe that his faith was directing him to the Jets for a reason?

Was it all of the above?

More importantly, was Tebow wrong to allegedly refuse to play in the Wildcat packages last Sunday in the Jets’ loss to the Chargers, leaving the Jets to use Jeremy Kerley in the package and Tebow to put forth the decidedly un-Christian like pouting and self-interest when he was asked to do something by the team and refused?

I understand why he did it as do the other players, but given what he believes, he should have done what he was asked to do. That they intended to use him as an attention-grabber the week after the team was eliminated from the playoffs and he declined to partake is ignorant of the reality that he was being used as an attention-grabber when they traded for him.

This is where the self-image and truth clash. Tebow thinks he can play; the Jets thought he’d sell some stuff.

Perhaps Tebow has had enough of the Jets and how they run things and would like to stay healthy and alive to join another club that’s not going to treat him so shabbily and openly lie to him to use his star power to sell some jerseys and garner attention for themselves. But he has to accept that his limits as a quarterback predicate that he’s going to be given an opportunity, in large part, due to his celebrity. If, as expected, he winds up in Jacksonville next year, it will be a similar situation for a Jaguars team that has no expectations and nothing much to lose by playing him.

With he combination of Tebow’s inability to play, the lack of respect as a player he has throughout the league, and his latest episode of refusing to participate in the game when asked, how can the Jets bring him back?

Tebow can’t use his status to continually get job after job and make a ton of money with limited skills and then complain when teams use him for the same reason they keep giving him a job. It’s possible that he can learn to be a competent quarterback or, at the very least, one who can manage a game. The Jets used him and he used the Jets. The only ones that benefited from this use/use relationship were the Jets off the field by selling some stuff. That didn’t last long. Owner Woody Johnson’s deep involvement in Mitt Romney’s failed presidential bid as the chairman of Romney’s New York campaign was repeatedly peppered with questions about Tebow and Johnson said while discussing his political activities that he “can’t get enough Tebow,” making clear where he stands in this messy situation.

As nightmarish as the scenario may be to Jets’ fans and Sanchez, with Johnson’s affinity for Tebow, he might be back with the Jets in 2013. Ryan and Tannenbaum are presumably dead-set against this and have to impress upon the owner the disastrous nature of a return engagement of Tebowing in 2013 is similar to the Republicans turning around and re-Romneyating Romney in 2016 expecting it to work better than it did the first time. Maybe Johnson would get that analogy and see past his own arrogance to comprehend that Romney 2016 and Tebow 2013 would be identically ludicrous and fail miserably. Maybe.

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The Skip Bayless, ESPN, Derek Jeter PED “Controversy”

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Let’s just say for a moment that a veteran, workmanlike shortstop named Jerry Deter was enjoying an unprecedented career renaissance and was playing in an all-around fashion at age 38 that he did at 28 after two years of noticeable and statistical decline. Deter, no star and certainly not a denizen of hot nightclubs, name restaurants and totem of fans, would be under scrutiny from all corners wondering how he did it.

Would he be under suspicion of using drugs to facilitate that comeback? Would he be accused outright? And would there be this righteous indignation for simply asking the question?

On a day when veteran righty pitcher Bartolo Colon, enjoying a career comeback of his own, was suspended for 50 games for failing a PED test, ESPN broadcaster Skip Bayless stirred the pot by suggesting that Yankees’ shortstop Derek Jeter is a possible example of a player who has rejuvenated his career in a similar fashion by using PEDs. There was a response of anger from Jeter fans who, by and large, don’t like Bayless to begin with or even know who he is. Jeter was asked about it and replied in with a prototypical Jeter head shake and trademark coolness. What’s lost in the story is that Bayless didn’t accuse Jeter of anything. All he did was ask the question as exhibited in the quote below:

“I am not saying he uses a thing,” Bayless said. “I have no idea. But within the confines of his sport, it is fair for all of us, in fact you are remiss, if you don’t at least think about this.”

The “How dare you question Derek!!!” dynamic is all tied in with what Bayless was trying to do. Jeter is still the smoothest guy in the place who’s equally at home with a roomful of grandmothers and old-school baseball men as he is in a nightclub surrounded by adoring women; the man who honors his mother and father but still has the sly smile of someone who knows something you don’t and may have just done something you’d like to do; who could craft a life in politics after his Hall of Fame baseball career; who plays every game like it will be his last and doesn’t comprehend those who don’t follow suit; and has had the ability to navigate and deflect controversy with a deft flick of his wrist and an easy sincerity that Alex Rodriguez was never able to muster. He didn’t start sweating or have the shifty, darting eyes of one who’s trying to hide something when asked about Bayless. No one would believe him capable of using PEDs; nor would they think he’d tear down everything he built in the interest of having a few memory lane years of what he once was.

I would be shocked if Jeter was caught using anything stronger than painkillers that have been okayed by MLB. But in this day and age when players are reverting to the bygone era when time was the great equalizer and players can’t perform as well or better at age 38 as they did at 28, is it crazy to wonder? No.

ESPN is at the point where they don’t care what their personalities say as long as it generates buzz, drives ratings and conversation. The main thing is not to get sued and Bayless didn’t say anything worthy of getting sued. With information available at the click of a button, the days of loyalty to one particular writer, broadcaster or website are over. Readers click randomly and haphazardly with a small percentage regularly searching for one particular thing. ESPN writes and discusses that which begets webhits and target the right demographics. This, in turn, allows them to sell advertising based on those factors. And they’re not alone. People want to read about Tim Tebow, Bryce Harper, Lolo Jones, and Tom Brady on a daily basis, so you’ll see stories about those people whether they’re warranted on that day or not; then there’s legitimate news such as Roger Clemens’s return to the mound, and the failed tests of Colon and Melky Cabrera.

The only evidence against Jeter is this sudden return to his glory days. Jeter’s never been one to complain about injuries nor has he used them as an excuse when he’s not playing up to his lofty baseline. There’s never been a statement of, “Oh, by the way, I was playing on a tender hamstring; badly twisted ankle; achy shoulder…” He just plays. Jeter could be healthy again after an unknown malady; he could be on a hot streak; or he could be doing something he shouldn’t be doing. We don’t know.

It would be a stupid thing to do after all these years and a shortsighted choice to make—a line that Jeter would not cross—but is it a fair question to ask as all players are under suspicion? Yes.

And there are peripheral reasons that Bayless did this because I don’t think even he believes, as I don’t, that Jeter is guilty of anything at all other than playing well at an advanced age for a baseball player.

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Did The Dolphins Sign Ochocinco For Hard Knocks?

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HBO’s Hard Knocks wanted to have the New York Jets on for a second straight season but after the loud mouth of coach Rex Ryan and the lax—at best—discipline and profound lack of team unity contributed to the team’s late-season stumble, they decided against doing the show. Of course HBO would’ve wanted the Rex whose bluster far outweighs reality; would’ve wanted the Tim Tebow sideshow; would’ve wanted the Mark Sanchez reaction as he tries to get past the fan vitriol and the media and fan lust for his less polished but far more likable backup; would’ve wanted to see what Santonio Holmes is going to do to rehabilitate his image with the team after his display in the final game of the season when he was essentially tossed off the field by his teammates.

But it wasn’t to be.

For the good of the organization, if not for the good of the viewing public and Rex-baiting media, the Jets are going to do things a bit quieter. Or as quiet as possible with Ryan, Tebow and company doing their thing.

We’ll see what happens with the Jets on the field and not on HBO.

HBO instead selected the Miami Dolphins as the star of their show.

No one seemed to understand why when the selection was made.

The Dolphins aren’t the annual championship contender they were under Don Shula. There’s no Dan Marino, Mark Clayton, Mark Duper combination to pile up points with a laser show aerial display. The larger-than-life football men that replaced Shula in running the club—Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells—aren’t with the organization. Longtime Dolphin Ricky Williams had spent his final season with the Ravens, but he’s remembered as a Dolphin and his quirky personality and existential musings are gone into retirement.

They have some flashy players in Reggie Bush, but he might’ve been more of a magnet if he were still dating Kim Kardashian. There’s rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but the jury is still split on whether he’s a true prospect or was a product of a high-powered college offense; he’s raw and will take time to develop in the NFL. New coach Joe Philbin comes from the Green Bay Packers where he oversaw the development of Aaron Rodgers and endured an unspeakable tragedy when his son drowned right before the divisional playoff game against the Giants that the 15-1 Packers lost.

Owner Stephen Ross has been somewhat out there in the media eye in an embarrassing fashion. In January of 2011 he met with then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh about becoming the Dolphins’ head coach without bothering to dismiss his coach at the time, Tony Sparano.

Harbaugh went to the 49ers and Sparano was given a contract extension as a way of apologizing for embarrassing him, but his time as Dolphins’ coach was coming to an end and everyone knew it. Sparano was fired with the team’s record at 4-9.

Interestingly, he’s now the offensive coordinator for the Jets and has to find some avenue to incorporate Tebow into his hard-nosed offense. Sparano was only the Dolphins’ head coach because he was a favorite of Parcells; had worked for him with the Cowboys; and would implement the Parcells-preferred method of running an offense. Once Parcells was gone, Sparano’s time was running out.

Even with Ross, Bush, Philbin and the other “name” Dolphins, there’s not much juice there apart from the cheerleaders and that they’re in Miami. With Brandon Marshall traded to the Bears, there’s an absence of people to watch and wait to see what they’re going to do.

That changed when the Dolphins signed Chad Ochocinco to a contract. But the question is whether Ochocinco was signed as a threat on the field or a ratings booster for HBO when there are few personalities with the Dolphins upon whom the show can be promoted.

There’s a perception that Ochocinco is a lockerroom malcontent who causes problems wherever he goes, but that’s not the case. He’s not Terrell Owens nor is he Randy Moss. He has been a good player and a good guy. The attention he’s generated has been somewhat like that garnered by the misunderstood types whose reputations were sullied by media dislike but weren’t the problems they were made out to be. It wasn’t a failure to assimilate to the attitude preferred by Bill Belichick in New England as was exhibited by Albert Haynesworth. Ochocinco didn’t fit in because the Patriots offense was centered around their two tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez; and quarterback Tom Brady’s possession receiver Wes Welker and his deep threat Deion Branch.

The Dolphins aren’t paying him a lot of money and didn’t give up any draft picks to get him, so he’s a “why not?” player who’s worth a look and might thrive in a pass-happy offense implemented by Philbin and run by Tannehill.

He can still play at 34 if he’s in the right situation. But he’s more of a signing that the old Cowboys would’ve made in the vein of veterans like Mike Ditka and Lance Alworth who had once known greatness and could help a team on the precipice of a championship win their title with a catch here, a block there, experience and leadership. The Raiders used to do it; the 49ers used to do it; and the Patriots do it.

In other words, he’s not a signing that the Dolphins would’ve made if they were looking for pure on-field use. Their planned appearance on Hard Knocks might’ve been the catalyst for the signing. Bringing in players for reasons other than what they can do on the field and how they can help is a mistake. Ochocinco won’t be dumped because he’s causing trouble or that he can’t play anymore; he’ll be dumped because the Dolphins are using him for HBO. Once the HBO-Dolphins marriage ends, so too will the marriage between the Dolphins and Ochocinco.

Hopefully, for his sake, Ochocinco is aware of this and prepared to look for work elsewhere if he wants to continue his career.

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Bounties vs Targets—the NFL and MLB

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The New Orleans Saints have been given harsh sentences for defensive coordinator Gregg Williams encouraging a culture of paying cash bonuses for his players on hard hits and knockouts of opposing players. Head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the season; GM Mickey Loomis for the first eight games of the season; and Williams, who was hired as the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams in January, was suspended indefinitely—NY Times Story.

On Sunday afternoon Peter Gammons, filling in for Jerry Remy on the Red Sox TV broadcasts, was talking with broadcast partner Don Orsillo about the NFL bountygate. Gammons said it was inexcusable and that if anyone in baseball did it, Bud Selig had told him that those involved would be banned for life. Period.

If it was a player, I’m sure the MLBPA would have something to say about that penalty.

In what was a conveniently timed sequence of events, Phillies’ starter Cole Hamels hit Nationals’ rookie Bryce Harper in the back with a fastball in Sunday night’s Phillies-Nats game in Washington and then inexplicably announced that he’d done it intentionally in an “old-school” method of initiation for an arrogant, hot shot rookie.

Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo called Hamels a series of names including “gutless” and said he was “opposite of old-school”. Ken Rosenthal said it was an overreaction on the part of Rizzo for a legitimate play from years gone by. Other sportswriters like Jon Heyman, admired the “toughness” of Hamels.

This is on the heels of Mike Francesa’s suggestion two weeks ago that the Mets, rather than give Jose Reyes a small video tribute on his return to Citi Field as an opponent with the Marlins, throw the ball at his head.

He said this twice.

It’s very easy to encourage these types of things when not actually standing in the box and facing the prospect of getting hit with a 95-mph fastball that can end a career or seriously injure the recipient.

I don’t have a problem with Hamels popping Harper; I do have a problem with him announcing it as if he wants credit for it. It was obvious to any longtime observer of baseball that it was done intentionally, but did the pleased-with-himself Hamels need to say, “Look! See what I did?”

In essence, because Harper is a former number 1 overall pick and is widely expected to embark on a potential Hall of Fame career starting now, he had a bulls-eye on his back and Hamels hit that bulls-eye.

We can debate the propriety of the decision by Hamels to throw at Harper just like we can debate collisions at the plate; umpires having larger strike zones for rookies to test them; or any other rites of passage that occur as a common hazing ritual for newcomers.

But you don’t announce it.

This all fits in neatly with Gammons’s discussion of the bounty program used by the Saints.

What’s missed in many of the analysis and commentaries regarding the Saints is that it wasn’t the program itself that got them in trouble. It was that the NFL told them to stop it, they said they would and didn’t.

And they got caught.

The NFL—conservative as a whole and run by Roger Goodell, whose father was a Republican U.S. Senator—is image-conscious and serious about their perception and disciplinary programs. Punishing the Saints is a combination of punitive measures and a message to everyone else not to do this.

Transferring one sport’s rules and regulations to another can be done in theory but is difficult to do in practice. There’s an overt failure to account for the differences between baseball and football. I’m not talking about the classic George Carlin comedy routine in which he declares the superiority of football to baseball—YouTube link. I’m talking about the fundamental differences between the two sports on and off the field.

MLB players have guaranteed contracts and 100% medical coverage. NFL players don’t. Because NFL players’ contracts are not guaranteed, there’s more pressure for them to play in order to keep those game checks coming in. They can be cut at anytime and be completely out of work. The NFL, such as it is, is a close-knit community and if a player is judged as not being willing to take shots and medications to get out on the field and play when he’s hurt, the rest of the league is going to know about it. It spreads like wildfire and affects their careers negatively or ends them completely.

For every star like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning who have the power to command their organization to make certain maneuvers, there are the rank and file players who have to adhere to the culture or else. It’s a brutal version of survival of the fittest and most resilient, rewarding the player who can live through the war of attrition in exchange continued employment.

This doesn’t happen in baseball.

When a player signs a $100 million contract in football, his stature as a talent predicates a large signing bonus which he gets to keep, but the rest of the deal isn’t guaranteed; therefore it’s not really $100 million even though that’s what the news reports say without full context of the disposability of the contract. We see situations where teams can’t cut a player they’d dearly love to be rid of (Santonio Holmes of the Jets for example), but can’t because of salary cap ramifications. But that’s due to overzealousness and a myriad of other factors such as arrogantly thinking “we’ll be able to handle this guy”. Historically when one team can’t “handle” a guy and gets rid of him based on that and that alone, no one—not the Jets; not the Al Davis Raiders of the 1970s and 80s—will be able to handle him for any amount of money. That’s a foundational error.

Contracts in baseball are such that when Albert Pujols signed a $240 million contract with the Angels last winter, it was guaranteed that he’d collect $240 million if he never plays another game.

How many MLB players do you read about committing suicide after their careers are over? Winding up in serious trouble with the law? Have debilitating injuries?

Just last week Junior Seau committed suicide and it was forgotten the next day because the “tragedy” of the day became Mariano Rivera tearing his ACL and being lost for the season.

Which is the true tragedy?

Both are future Hall of Famers in their respective sports; both were well-liked; but Rivera will collect his $15 million salary for 2012 and receive a similar contract for 2013; Seau was rumored to be having financial troubles and domestic squabbles and was entirely unable to adjust to the freedom, emptiness and depression of not having a season or game to prepare for to go along with the wear-and-tear of a 13-year NFL career.

You can call baseball a “contact” sport, but considering the uproar when a collision at home plate occurs and knocks out the catcher, it—clean or not—becomes the impetus for calls to outlaw the home plate collision entirely. It degenerates into a pseudo-contact sport. In football, the mandate is to hit hard—it’s inherent; in baseball, a hard hit is a rare, incidental and predominately unintentional byproduct.

In football, they’ve taken steps to reduce the injuries and number of hard hits because of the bottom line need for offensive production and the stars being on the field to keep the fans engaged and happy, but they’re still very large, well-conditioned men running into one another at full speed. People get hurt. If you can’t or won’t play through pain and the backup will, then your job and career are in jeopardy without any outlet for the aggression that led to an NFL career in the first place, nor the opportunity to make the kind of money they’re making once their careers are over.

Players don’t know what to do with themselves once their regimented lives as football players are done. The simultaneous addictions to the attention, painkillers, money, pain and the compulsive need to keep going in spite of the threat of long-term damage already in place is being exacerbated; irrationality and rudderless post-career lives are too often rife with financial missteps, legal entanglements, after-effects and early deaths.

Coaches and managers are not exempt from the urgency of their professions.

MLB managers and coaches are not working the hours that NFL coaches are. Rank and file MLB assistants are comparatively well-paid and their jobs are many times as a result of patronage, friendship, loyalty or payback. In reality, apart from the pitching coach, not many MLB coaches influence the team to any grand degree.

Not so with the NFL on any count.

NFL assistants work ridiculous hours and, apart from star coordinators, aren’t paid all that well and, like the players, if they don’t have friends in the league or a good reputation, they won’t have another job when they’re let go.

John Madden left coaching because of his ulcer and didn’t return because he replaced it by carving out a Hall of Fame broadcasting career. Jim Brown retired at the top of his game to go to Hollywood. Barry Sanders and Tiki Barber both retired while they still had a few years left in them, but also had their health.

How many other football players can say that?

Mostly they play until they’re dragged off the field knowing what awaits them in the aftermath.

The sporting ideal of competitiveness, honor and fair play doesn’t truly exist. Baseball players subsist in the bubble of individual achievement within a team concept. It’s one man against another when a pitcher and hitter square off. It’s not that way in football where no one player can function without the other ten men. Football players are warriors who know their time is short and every play could be their last with nothing to fall back on aside from a lifetime of pain and mounting bills for medical and family expenses. Baseball players are covered. Football players can’t just turn off that intensity and otherworldliness that allows them to ignore aches and pains that would hospitalize a normal man.

Baseball is languid; football is full-speed and frantic.

Comparing baseball and football is apples and oranges. They’re different. A bounty program wouldn’t specifically exist in baseball because how would it be enacted? A bounty program in football is easy because, in general, a player contract in the NFL is a bounty, but it’s a bounty the player places on himself. He knows when he signs it that one day, he’ll have to pay up with his physical and emotional well being.

Sometimes he pays with his life in quality and permanence.

They know that going in and, invariably, it gets them in the end.

The bounty a player puts on his own head is carried out by football itself.

And football is tantamount to the monolithic hit man that never, ever fails in its objective.

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