Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sports in Crisis

Believe it or not, July is known in American sports circles as a slow month. Basketball and hockey are long finished, football training camps are yet to begin, and baseball is in mid-season with pennant races still far enough away that the games still seem irrelevant. So July is a slow month.

Except, of course, this disastrous July of 2007.

Let's check in:

In the NFL, Michael Vick is about to report to court in Richmond for Federal indictments alleging unthinkable cruelty as the head of an interstate dogfighting ring.

In baseball, a BALCO chemist responsible for designing untraceable steroids has named Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield as users, this with Bonds two home runs shy of tying Hank Aaron.

Think those two are bad? They're nothing. The NBA is facing the single worst possible scandal in sports: the corruption of officials. Referee Tim Donaghy is under investigation by the FBI for fixing games to pay off a gambling debt to the mob.

The latest on Vick is that the Falcons were planning to sit his butt for four weeks, and had in fact already drafted the letter informing him of his suspension when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (whom I love more and more every day) interceded, ordering Vick not to report to training camp so that the league can hold their own investigation. I'll say this: Vick is done with the Falcons, and maybe with the NFL. Even if he's found innocent, dog lovers are always going to pick Fido over Vick.

It wasn't so long ago that Michael Vick was hailed as the future of the NFL, not just as a corporate face but as a style of play. Now the face is cracked, and it's been clear for a few years that a smart pocket passer will always be more successful than Vick's freewheeling style. Honestly, if Michael Vick ever plays in the NFL again I will be genuinely surprised. That's how bad this is.

The latest on Bonds is just now breaking. BALCO chemist Patrick Arnold invented "the clear," a steroid designed to be undetectable and coincidentally introduced around the same time sluggers' bodies began inflating like balloons. The link between Arnold and Bonds isn't direct, but runs through Victor Conte, BALCO's founder, whose defense in the face of evidence is just to deny, deny, deny. No one believes Conte and no one believes Bonds. This news naturally broke overnight as commissioner Bud Selig attended a Giants game just to observe Bonds potentially tying or breaking Hank Aaron's record.

What a mess this is. I don't believe that steroids in baseball are the be-all and end-all of scandal that they are presented as; pitchers are getting just as much advantage by juicing, and it takes much more than big muscles to hit home runs. However, the two most hallowed records in baseball (with apologies to Joe DiMaggio) are Maris' 61 and Aaron's 755, and it's clear that steroid users have already eclipsed the first and are on the verge of breaking the second. I don't believe in asterisks, but I don't know what baseball should do. Perhaps anyone who tests positive for steroids, corks a bat, etc. should have their records completely excised. One strike, you're out of the record books. Maybe that's the only penalty that fits the crime of compromising the game's integrity. Of course, neither Bonds nor Mark McGwire have ever tested positive. Much like Michael Vick has never been found guilty of operating a dogfighting ring.

But Bud Selig actually has it easy in comparison to Goodell and, particularly, his NBA counterpart David Stern.

An official fixing games on mob orders is the nightmare of all nightmares. The Black Sox scandal is a joke in comparison. I can not imagine a worse sports scandal than this. I feel terrible for Tim Donaghy, and hope he has loved ones near him to talk him down from the ledge, possibly literally, because he's clearly a victim of gambling addiction. This doesn't absolve him of responsibility for his actions, of course, but I feel tremendous sympathy for him. He is the most miserable man on the planet right now, and it's only just beginning.

Now every game Donaghy officiated over the past few years is under suspicion. Every championship comes with a question mark. This is the worst thing ever. It's going to hang over the NBA for years. If one ref can be fixing games, why not more? Bad calls that used to come with good-natured jeering of "Bought!" or "Fix!" now come with real and justified suspicion.

July really is a slow month in sports. The only big-league games going on are in baseball. But the sports pages still have column inches to fill, and the broadcasts have minutes to occupy. This is the worst imaginable time to have a scandal in your league, because it's going to be completely and totally exposed for the simple fact that there isn't much of anything else to talk about.

So where are we gonna go? Hockey? They shut down for a whole season a while back and can't even get on ESPN6 at this point. What are they on, OLN? I'm not even sure. All three above beleaguered leagues are in far better shape than the gasping, grasping NHL.

I recommend the Arena Football League, which has its championship game this weekend. AFL football is a blast, especially if you can see it live. But for pure sports bang-for-the-buck, most of America lives within an hour's drive of a minor-league baseball stadium. The Richmond Braves provide a really fantastic pure sports thrill 70 days a year. If you can find a single-A team to watch, that's even better. These guys are young and hungry, and the hot dogs are cheap.

If all this bothers you, I suppose you could watch the Tour de France, where half of the racers started late yesterday to protest the doping scandals that have made their sport more irrelevant than the WNBA.



(For the record, I like the WNBA.)

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8 Comments:

  • At 7/25/2007 2:11 PM , Blogger Scott Wichmann said...

    Props to you for giving Donaghy some compassion. Sure, what he did is absolutely unacceptable, but there is a human story there that needs to be told, just like Vick and Bonds and every other guy who caved in to fear and pressure to earn some money at the expense of their integrity (or in Vick's case, basic humanity).

    I am glad, however, to know that the Celtics suck. Why? Because they never even sniffed an NBA finals (except for the 2002 Eastern Conference finals when they came roaring back from 35-points down against Jersey-- I'll have to check the referee crew now-- thanks, Tim) and as a result have nothing to defend. aThey never have to wonder if they won it all with help.

    Nope.

    My Celtics are in 'the clear'... they needed no 'offical help' when they were tanking games down the stretch in the hopes of landing Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. (The lousy Ray Allen trade is what we in Buddha-Land call a case of 'Instant karma.')

    As for Bonds, I'm tired of the wait. Part of me thinks he's gonan pull a Hanley Ramirez and separate his sholder on a check-swing while one HR away from 755. Wouldn't that be something?? I'm not one to wish an injury on anyone, but what drama that would create, huh?

    Congress should compel Mark MGwire to be there when Barry Breaks the record. Him and Sosa and Sheffield and Giambi and Canseco and Clemens (ohhh, right, he's off-limits) and Brady Anderson and and Jason Grimsley and Bud Selig and Don Fehr and Manny Alexander and the Ghost of Ken Caminiti. All there to welcome Balco Barry as he rounds third and heads for home.

    That would tie the steroid era up with a nice, big red bow.

     
  • At 7/25/2007 10:45 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    Well guys, it's finally come to this sad event: Without true sports heroes like Larry Bird or Johnny Unitas or Gale Sayers or Mark Spitz to emulate, we're left with gangstas and cheaters all around. When even CYCLING is full of cheats, sport truly IS devoid of genuine heroism.

    My God, what will we do? I guess we'll just have to celebrate the decency and quiet bravery in unknown citizens in our communities. Good Lord, what have we become???

     
  • At 7/26/2007 12:50 PM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    I was just invited to join ArmChairGM.com, and when the profile asked for my favorite athlete, I of course put "Darrell Green." What disturbed me was that I had a very hard time thinking of current football players who I would consider as among my favorites.

    Baseball's easy: Schill, Ryan Howard, J-Roll, Dice-K, Jermaine Dye.

     
  • At 7/26/2007 12:58 PM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Scott sez:

    Congress should compel Mark MGwire to be there when Barry Breaks the record. Him and Sosa and Sheffield and Giambi and Canseco and Clemens (ohhh, right, he's off-limits) and Brady Anderson and and Jason Grimsley and Bud Selig and Don Fehr and Manny Alexander and the Ghost of Ken Caminiti. All there to welcome Balco Barry as he rounds third and heads for home.

    That would tie the steroid era up with a nice, big red bow.


    Yeah, yeah, you liberals your big-government solutions to everything. "Congress should compel." Sheesh. ;)

    Don't forget Luis Gonzalez, a genuinely nice guy with a suspicious season of 57 homers.

    Perhaps now is the time to confess that I had Bonds on my fantasy team the year he hit 73. Ah, my tainted championship...

     
  • At 7/26/2007 4:47 PM , Blogger Scott Wichmann said...

    HAH!! I love it!!

    Congress would have an easier time getting Harriet Miers or Josh Bolten to throw out the first pitch!!

    Frank, as much as Larry Bird is my absolute favorite athlete of all-time, he was kind of a douchebag to his daughter. She was born out of wedlock when he was in college, and he spent like 18 years avoiding her. Doctor J, highly regarded as an NBA model citizen, had a similar situation with a daughter he barely knew.

    My other favorite athletes include Walter Payton, Doug Flutie, Darrell Green, Danny Ainge, Reggie Lewis (RIP) Cam Neely and Pedro (Even if he was kind of a jerk, but then, so is Schill sometimes when he pops off in an interview about streoids, then says 'nada' when he sits before Congress).

     
  • At 7/26/2007 5:39 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    Good point Scotto. I didn't know about that. But hey, at least Bird-man didn't get it on with like 10,000 chicks, a la Wilt!

    But guys, if you need a positive story to lift the spirits, check out today's USA TODAY (traveling back from Indy I took my hotel copy along). Nice article about Bob Feller, who spent three of his best years in the Navy during WWII (you guessed it - he volunteered), and still ended up with 266 career wins. At 88, he still keeps his pitching arm in shape in case someone asks him to throw out the first pitch at a game. He'll be in Cooperstown to see Cal Ripken inducted...the modern day Gehrig himself.

    Well, at least baseball has SOMETHING to be proud of.

     
  • At 7/27/2007 3:19 PM , Anonymous Philip Hamm said...

    So where are we gonna go? Hockey? They shut down for a whole season a while back and can't even get on ESPN6 at this point. What are they on, OLN? I'm not even sure. All three above beleaguered leagues are in far better shape than the gasping, grasping NHL.

    The NHL has been getting national NBC broadcasts for two years I think. They look great in HD, too!!

    It's not all bad in sports. I can't remember a baseball season with more monumental acheivements. Biggio hit his 3000th. Glavine's closing on 300 wins. Smoltz got win 200 to go with his prodigious saves. A-Rod, the man who will surely shatter Bonds' home run record barring a career ending injury is going to hit 500 hrs this year. Cal Ripkin, one of the greatest players ever, is going to the Hall of Fame. "The Big Hurt" hit his 500th home run. I'm sure I'm missing some. What a great season!

    Too bad the Falcons aren't going to Cleveland to play the Browns this year.

     
  • At 7/27/2007 3:20 PM , Anonymous Philip Hamm said...

    Congress should compel Mark MGwire to be there when Barry Breaks the record. Him and Sosa and Sheffield and Giambi and Canseco and Clemens (ohhh, right, he's off-limits) and Brady Anderson and and Jason Grimsley and Bud Selig and Don Fehr and Manny Alexander and the Ghost of Ken Caminiti. All there to welcome Balco Barry as he rounds third and heads for home.

    You forgot Rafael Palmeiro.

     

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