Sunday, July 29, 2007

Setting the record straight

Well folks:
I've been purposely trying to avoid the subject because I'm not quite sure how I feel about it, but with Barry Bonds on the precipice of breaking Hank Aaron's career home run record (by the time you read this, Bonds may already be the new King of Swing) I feel it's my turn to chime in.
I would be the first to admit I have no personal knowledge of whether Bonds did or did not take steroids -- although the evidence surely points to it -- nor do I feel (like so many others) that when he does break the home run mark it would mark the end of civilization as we know it.
Before allegedly taking steroids Bonds was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And he would have still been recognized as one of the all-time greats.
I will not, however, look at the record the same again the same way I've never looked at the single-season home run mark after Mark McGwire then Bonds broke the record.
Instead, I choose to remember those whose marks are no longer considered the gold standard.
I'm not old enough to have seen Aaron or Roger Maris play. My only visions of the two are the video clips of Aaron rounding the bases on his home run that broke Babe Ruth's mark and the movie "61" about Maris and Mickey Mantle's quest to break Ruth's single-season record.
From all accounts, however, the word most used to describe both Aaron and Maris was classy.
It's a real shame that there will always be an imaginary asterisk associated with the all-time home run record the same way there has been one in recent years with the single-season mark. So let's remember those great sluggers of the past who hit home runs when hitting home runs meant a whole lot more.
Until next time, take care and God bless.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Bringing out the strange in all of us

Ok gang:
I was watching an interview recently with a pro athlete (he wasn't a Yankee, so I forget who he was) and he was discussing superstitions and it got me to thinking how sports makes most of us a little bit strange.
And I'm not just talking about us as athletes.
How many of you out there have that lucky chair you just have to sit in when watching your favorite team? Or, is there anybody out there like me who won't change the channel on the television if your favorite team is winning?
Do you find yourself eating the same food, wearing the same clothes when your team is on a winning streak?
Many times I joke with my sister Debi -- another diehard Yankee fan -- that she is bad luck when it comes to the Yankees because they always seem to lose when she gets the opportunity to watch them on television.
In thinking more about this, I really begin to laugh when it gets to all of my superstitions as a coach.
When we coached travel softball, my good friend Jim and I must have been two of the most superstitious guys the sport has seen in quite some time.
A few examples:
-- Right before opening pitch of every game, I had to offer Jim either a piece of gum or a breath mint (whatever I had on hand that tournament). It couldn't be a minute before first pitch or right after. And, if I had gum that game, it was gum the entire tournament.
-- When sitting on the bench, Jim had to sit on my immediate right and one of our pitchers to my immediate left. Another certain player had to sit to Jim's immediate right. I remember shooing kids away to make sure the right player was sitting in the right place.
-- Of course, I had the luck hat and the lucky sneakers, which after several years of coaching had little to no tread left.
-- If our scorekeeper, usually Jim's wife Mary Grace, was using a certain pen or pencil to keep the book, I'd make sure she used that pen or pencil until that good mojo ran out.
-- After a game, win or lose, Jim and I would shake hands and get in line in the same place behind the same players every time.
It's funny because that kind of behavior is more than acceptable in sports. Come on, you all know we all have our certain quirks. Elsewhere in the real world, people would think that behavior is more than strange.
But maybe most folks think that about me anyway.
Until next time, take care and God bless.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The reason we play

Well folks:
-- An NBA referee being investigated in a point-shaving scandal.
-- An NFL quarterback indicted in a dogfighting ring.
-- Football players getting arrested left and right for off-field indiscretions.
-- Baseball players equally charged with taking on-field performance-enhancing drugs with the lead culprit on the verge of setting the all-time home run record.
It's enough to make you scream, "What the heck is going on here?"
There are times when I long for the days when I was a kid, playing baseball with my friends all day, pretending to be Graig Nettles at third base, or playing football imagining I was whoever the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys was that season. (It seemed like the Cowboys went through quite a few in a short period of time after the Roger Staubach era of the 1970s.
Is it just me getting older, or were things quite simpler (as I like to say) back in the day?
That should be one of the reasons why local sports should be more appealing to us these days. When you take away the big-money contracts of professional sports, or the lure of receiving those big-time pro deals at the major college level, you get to the pure joy of sports.
Spending a great deal of my life involved in sports in both the professional and personal level, I've seen both the good and the bad.
Although we tend to focus on the negative even at this level ("my child does not get enough playing time!" ... "the coach doesn't know what he's doing out there!" ... "why isn't this kid sitting on the bench?") the good far outweighs the bad.
Nothing made me happier than hearing about my nephew hitting his first-ever home run in travel baseball.
Why can't the pro athlete follow the example of our nation's youth and remember why it was they took up sports in the first place.
Is that too much to ask?
Take care and God bless.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A "sport" of cruelty

Hey gang:
As we all know sports provides a great escape from the real world. We can talk about whether A-Rod is worth $35 million a year as casually as we can talk about our neighbor down the street getting a raise at work.
After blogging yesterday about A-Rod, I was prepared today to write about the domino effect his contract situation would have on Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.
Then -- sitting at my computer at the Freeman -- I saw an AP news alert come over the sports wire -- Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick indicted for his alleged participation in dogfighting.
As I read about the alleged (I must use that word since he's innocent until proven guilty) things he was indicted for, I was horrified, mortified and simply outraged.
There is a large segment of society that loves boxing or who really gets into ultimate fighting -- a sport where basically two guys enter a caged arena and then beat the heck out of each other until you get a winner. I have no problem with that.
But watching ESPN today, I actually heard some people compare ultimate fighting or boxing to dogfighting and I thought, you got to be kidding. (Those of you who know me know there were a few expletives thrown in there as well).
Last I knew, grown adults were making the decision to participate in these sports. I don't think pitbulls had any input in whether they wanted to participate in dogfighting.
People sending their dogs in to try to kill the other, and then these people electrocuting; or shooting; or beating to death; the "losers" who survive, I mean, are you kidding me? Let's just call this what it actually is -- cruelty to animals.
I read where dogfighting is quite lucrative. Well, I hope those people who benefit from it sleep well knowing what they're actually doing.
This post is not intended to vilify Vick because we all know even Grand Jury indictments don't necessarily add up to guilt in the end. I think we've all seen that with the Duke lacrosse case last year.
But if indeed the Falcons quarterback is found guilty of these allegations I can only hope he serves what could be a potential 6-year sentence (although I doubt even if found guilty he'd ever see the inside of a prison) in doggie years.
That's it for now. Hopefully, I can get into more mundane stuff like my Yankees actually playing pretty well in future posts.
Until next time, take care and God bless.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A-Rod destined to remain A-Yankee

Well folks:
I don't know the last time one name has provided this much drama in recent New York sports history.
Jeremy Shockey, Plaxico Burress, Stephon Marbury ... you name them ... don't come close to the media attention Alex Rodriguez has received on a daily basis since he became a Yankee.
So, as the slugger many consider to be the best player in the game today (and I am one of the many) continues to have a monster season, the question have intensified, "Will A-Rod opt out of his contract at season's end? If he does, will the Yankees stand by their statement to not negotiate a new deal with him and if so, what uniform will he be wearing next season?
I don't know about you guys, but my head was spinning with the odds A-Rod would be a Yankee, or whether he'd be worth the $32-$35 million annually he's expected to command with a new deal.
Since everybody else under the sun has given their opinion, let me give you mine.
Call it blind loyalty or pinstripe pride, I expect to see A-Rod finishing his career as a Yankee.
OK, all you Yankee haters might want to stop reading now ...
For the rest of us Bomber fans, two things keep telling me he'll remain a Yankee. The first is strictly monetary. Anybody who knows his agent -- Scott Boras -- knows that A-Rod will go where the money is the best. A Boras client has traditionally gone for the money and I don't expect A-Rod to be any different.
That said, forget the rhetoric about the Yankees not negotiating with A-Rod if he opts out of his deal. How many times have we heard that from any team before? It wouldn't surprise me to see the two sides reach a contract extension before the opt-out deadline so the Rangers would still be on the hook for the money they still owe A-Rod on his existing deal.
The second reason is ... here come by Yankee bias ... A-Rod could conceivably break all sorts of records in another uniform but he wouldn't get 1/10th the recognition as he would as a Yankee. Just imagine an A-Rod plaque -- or better yet -- an A-Rod monument next to Joe D's or Babe Ruth's.
Don't laugh, if A-Rod breaks the all-time home run mark and goes down as one of the all-time greats wearing a Yankee uniform, would a monument be a ridiculous notion. Breaking the record -- being recognized as one of the best ever -- with any other team in the majors would simply not hold the same swagger as doing it pinstripes.
And don't think that notion hasn't crossed A-Rod's mind.
For all the drama that has surrounded his three-plus years as a Yankee, if the money is right, expect A-Rod to wear that interlocking A-Rod for many years to come.
That prediction and $2 will get you ... well, you know the rest.
Take care and God bless.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Back and blogging

Well folks:
Just when you thought it was safe to check out the latest Freeman blogs, look who's back.
I'd love to give an elaborate explanation for my absence these past couple of weeks, but in the end, while taking a much-needed vacation, well, I was just a bum and decided to give myself some time off from the world of sports, so to speak.
Geez, did I pick a bad time for that!
Where to begin?
-- Should I address the A-Rod contract saga, or the subsequent drama surrounding Jorge Posada or Mariano Rivera?
-- How about the Mets' coaching shakeup? Did respected hitting coach Rick Down have to get the axe in favor of adding Rickey Henderson to the coaching staff?
-- What about Gary Sheffield and his comments about Joe Torre and the fact that Kenny Lofton agreed with Sheff's assessments?
-- Who do the Mets and Yanks need as we head to the trade deadline? And who should each team be willing to give up?
-- And what about the Tour de France ... wait, just kidding with that one.
I have lots to say about all those subjects (except for the Tour de France) but I will wait and tackle each one over the next few days.
For now, I just wanted to take a quick second and let you all know I have not disappeared and I look forward to blogging to you all soon.
So stay tuned, and as always, take care and God bless.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Wrestling with real life

OK, gang:
It's time to step off the beaten path a bit and speak about something most, including myself, wouldn't even consider a sport -- professional wrestling.
Now, I must admit (hold your laughter) that I've enjoyed watching pro wrestling for nearly a quarter century. (You can thank my maternal grandfather for that). It has action, drama, comedy, and attractive women -- everything you'd want in a TV show.
Most semi-intelligent wrestling fans realize the stunts are carefully choreographed, the monologues rehearsed and the drama scripted. Most of us know enough not to take this form of "sports-entertainment" as the WWE calls its brand of entertainment too seriously.
Recently, however, real life nailed the scripted world of professional wrestling right in the eye. Popular wrestler Chris Benoit, in what many have speculated could have been a case of Roid Rage, killed his wife and 7-year-old son before killing himself.
The facts remain unclear on many levels, but it hasn't stopped the anti-wrestling establishment from giving the world of professional wrestling another black eye. Now I'm not here to pass judgment on wrestling or those who oppose its mere existence.
What concerns me is what affect this could have on children.
Pro wrestlers by nature are huge, chiseled specimens and you could wonder what role -- if any -- steroids played. Benoit, who by WWE standards would be considered one of their smaller superstars, would be larger than life compared to you and me.
He had the kind of physique that many would kill for. (PLEASE PARDON THE PUN!)
But we must now realize -- more than ever -- what affect steroids could have. Parents, please educate yourselves and talk to your kids about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs. It shouldn't have to take a grizzly murder-suicide (if that's what the facts support in the end) to put this all in perspective.
Until next time, take care and God bless.