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From the Bleachers

Our bloggish take on the world of sports ...

JUNE 2007:

Defending Sheffield ... sigh ...

Gary SheffieldResident in San Diego, we got to see Gary Sheffield's surliness up close during his time with the Padres. We don't count ourselves as particular fans of Shef –` yet the media outrage directed his way strikes us as far more indefensible than what the Detroit Tigers' outfielder actually said. Sheffield said he believes Major League Baseball is pushing players from Latin America at the expense of black American players because the foreign Latin players are "easier to control." The expected knee-jerk charges of "racism" were tossed his way, with the talking heads on ESPN and San Diego's XX Sports Radio arguing that his comment was derogatory toward Latinos. But what Sheffield actually said in his interview with Esquire magazine was that he felt the suits at MLB were able to use their control over a foreign player's residency status to squelch any dissent, something they couldn't do with American-born players. But that kind of sophisticated argument went right over the heads of the empty suits who pass for sports analysts these days, and Sheffield finally found himself forced to apologize to MLB. Now, we at Turbula.net certainly don't know whether Commissioner Bug Selig or any team owners have acted as Sheffield said – his allegation of a conspiracy didn't carry much weight with us, to be honest. But what his argument was not was racist toward Latin players ...


Flutie the improbable

Doug FlutieThe most surprising thing about the New England Patriots' season-ending game against the Miami Dolphis wasn't Doug Flutie being the first player in 64 years in the NFL to kick a dropkick, it was that it's been since 1931 that anyone's seen coach Bill Belichick smile in public ...

Where's the imagination?

USCThe University of Southern California prides itself on the quality of education in offers its students. It seems to see itself as a sort of Ivy League school stuck on the West Coast, with only Stanford and, perhaps, Cal Tech, able to stand alongside it.

This delusion of academic grandeur is what made the recent arrest on battery charges of a Trojans football player so distressing to those of us who care about higher education: Coach Pete Carroll said the young man was distressed because his father has been having health issues.

That's it? That's the excuse for punching someone in the face? Dad's sick?

All that prestige and academic hauteur, and that's the best they can come up with? Sad ...

AUGUST 2005:

Palmeiro's shame

A few weeks ago, there was a debate raging over whether Rafael Palmeiro's numbers were enough to make him a first-ballot hall of famer.

Rafael Palmeiro Now, the question is whether the Baltimore Orioles star belongs in the Hall at all.

The sudden turn-around is due to the fact that Palmeiro was caught with steroids in his system. He claims he's innocent – that while steroids may have been in his blood or urine, he never intentionally took them. That they must have been in some over-the-counter supplement he took.

Which may be true – and if it was a member of our local rec league team, we might even slough it off.

But professional athletes, getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars per year – or, in Palmeiro's case, millions – don't get that kind of excuse. You make that kind of money, you can afford the best advice and direction available. You have an obligation, at that level, to know exactly what's in everything you put in your body. If you're not sure what's in a supplement, then don't take it.

Palmeiro's entire career accomlishments are now called into question – how many of them were earned, and how many came from being juiced?

How people who have so much can so cavalierly throw it away remains beyond the scope of our workaday existence in Turbula Nation ...

SUMMER 2004:

Gone too soon

Ralph Wiley

Ralph Wiley was on our very short "must-read" list here at Turbula nation. A regular on ESPN.com's Page 2 and a longtime presence in Sports Illustrated, Wiley wrote with a wit of an edge not seen in American sportswriting since the heydays of Hunter S. Thompson and the late George Plimpton.

Only now Wiley has joined Plimpton at the great Toots Shor's in the sky – dead of a heart attack at age 52. It's not fair, it's not just, but he's dead, Jim, and what are you gonna do?

Fifty-two? The faithful among us will try and trust that God needed Ralph's wit at home; those of us with less faith will try to appreciate the words he left us in his time on Earth. (And if you weren't acquainted with his work, treat yourself to a couple hours perusing his archive at ESPN.com.)

Fifty-two? We should have had another quarter-century of reading Ralph Wiley, of hearing him opine on matters of sports and sportsmanship and, well, life.

The obits on Wiley all note that he was a famous African-American writer; that in addition to his splendid sportswriting, he also wrote books on race relations.

But to label Wiley an African-American writer is to put him in a pigeon-hole, to limit the scope of his impact, to diminish what he brought to American letters. Wiley was far closer to Hunter S. Thompson in his approach to writing than anyone else; he dove into a story, immersed himself in it. And he wrote with a power of observation that most of us ink-stained wretches only find in our dreams.

Ralph Wiley was a great American sportswriter, and while academics may pooh-pooh such a declaration, we get the feeling that Wiley would know what we're trying to get at ...

Bonds still has no class

Rickey Henderson
Gifted by the good Lord with talent most of us can't even imagine, Barry Bonds nevertheless shows all the grace and class of a playground bully.

After breaking Rickey Henderson's all-time career walks record, Bonds told the media that Rickey should give up his ongoing quest to make it back to the majors.

Last year, Rickey toiled in an independent minor league until the Dodgers called him up. He's back this year, too, still playing the game he loves, still in better shape than most kids half his age.

And if Henderson was early in his career guilty of the same arrogance and stand-offish behavior with fans that Bonds is, at least Henderson outgrew it – learned to appreciate what life had brought him.

If there's a little record-chasing to Henderson's continuing efforts to play baseball beyond age 40, there's a lot more joy of the game that he still plays very well.

And then there's this: As a lead-off hitter with speed, Henderson earned his walks. Nobody wanted him on first, because as the all-time steals leader, Henderson was a good bet to end up on second and then score. Unlike Bonds, who has had most of his walks handed to him of late, Henderson got his walks through plate discipline ...

The NHL's blind eye

Steve Moore
Steve Moore
If there's anything more disgusting than the kind of overt on-ice thuggery that Vancouver's Todd Bertuzzi showed in breaking Steve Moore's neck in March, it was watching Bertuzzi cry at a press conference after, expressing his remorse. Remorse at losing his fat paycheck maybe. Remorse at being arrested and getting a cellmate named Big Bubba, yes.

Of course, the NHL is complicit in the violence that's ruined a perfectly good game. Here at Turbula, we live for Olympic hockey – it's a beautiful, graceful sport combining speed and power into one of the best things going in the Winter Games. (And it made "Miracle" one of the best sports movies in recent memory.)

But pro hockey – at least in the U.S. and Canada – is so senselessly brutal that it sickens us to watch.

If the NHL is serious about broadening its fan base (and the TV ratings for the just-concluded Stanley Cup finals ought to make it serious), then it should follow NASCAR's lead and clean up its act.

For decades, word on the street was that it was the violent, often deadly crashes that filled the seats at NASCAR's tracks. And yet, NASCAR was always a poor second cousin to racing's elite open-wheel Indy cars and Formula One. It wasn't until the stock car racing circuit began instituting safety reforms in both equipment and rules that its ratings began their climb to total domination they now hold.

A lesson to be learned if anyone at the NHL is paying attention ...

Spring 2004:

So long, Marge

Marge SchottMarge Schott, as we mention at the top of The Smoking Section, was not an easy woman to like – at least not from a distance, not through the media's unforgiving lens.

But in noting her passing in early March, we at Turbula can't help but note that everyone who actually knew her has only good things to say – even African-Americans, who presumably were most hurt by some of the dumb things she said.

Hometown favorite and likely Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, for instance, said, "I think people are remembered for the good things they do when they're gone. Now that she's gone, they will remember the parties she had to raise money for kids, her involvement with the zoo, her giving to minority programs. She gave to minority programs before her racist comments came out."

And former Reds pitcher and current broadcaster Rob Dibble (a man who knows something about a big mouth getting you into trouble) wrote, "The Marge Schott who I will remember dedicated countless hours to numerous charities, helping raise money (and donated plenty of her own) to children's hospitals, inner-city school programs, the Cincinnati Zoo, organ donation and the list goes on."

While not excusing the dumb things Marge said, what kind of "journalist" calls a sports owner out of the blue and asks her her views on Hitler? That's nothing more than digging for dirt with no larger purpose. As Dibble pointed out, Marge's biggest mistake may have been in being born a woman in a man's world. When Major League baseball suspended her for her comments, the question that was never asked that we were most curious about was this: If a male owner had said something dumb, would you have suspended him?

Because if so, one wonders how Ted Turner kept control of the Braves for so long ...

Venturi's vintage whine

Arnold Palmer
Arnold Palmer
TV analyst and erstwhile golfer Ken Venturi is making headlines, and not for his swing.

Venturi has renewed allegations in a new book that golfing legend Arnold Palmer cheated during his 1958 Masters win.

This isn't exactly news – Palmer's decision to play two balls while appealing a denial of relief was covered at the time.

But Ken Venturi isn't exactly a household name – not going to sell too many copies of a book by an author most people haven't heard of.

Throw in a little dirt on a man who helped make golf the popular sport it is, though, and now you might sell a few thousand more copies.

Of course, Venturi – who has made far more money talking about golf on the tube than he ever did playing the sport – would never have had the opportunity to make a living as a golf announcer if not for the fact that Palmer so resonated with the public that golf became popular enough to support TV broadcasts ...

Winter 2003:

This is justice?

Miami Hurricanes football helmetHere at Turbula, we're no fans of the University of Miami Hurricanes. That school's football program has a well-earned reputation for classlessness that makes us fans of whoever is playing the Hurricanes next.

Yet what Florida law-enforcement officials are doing to the Hurricanes' top football recruit is so utterly without either heart or fairness that we're on the cusp of being pushed into the Hurricanes' camp.

Willie Williams is on parole for a felony burglary conviction. Hey, the kid shouldn't have done whatever he did to get busted and convicted.

But now he's facing five years in the slam for a parole violation because he allegedly shot off a fire extinguisher and hugged a woman at a party without her permission! Hugged a woman – not groped, not sexually assaulted, not raped. Hugged.

Now, as anyone who's ever had a Great-Aunt Mildred or the equivalent can attest, an unwanted hug can be an uncomfortable experience – particularly when followed by a couple of cheek pinches, a pat on the head, and a "My, haven't you grown."

But what that experience was not was criminal.

And while emptying a fire extinguisher is, technically, a crime, it's also a fairly common college prank. Take a poll around the Florida attorney general's office and see how many there never pulled that prank at their college frat house.

Unless there's more to this story than is being reported, this heavy-handed treatment of a troubled young man is the sort of thing to add to the already soiled reputation of Florida's judicial system. Turbula seriously doubts that were Williams a middle- or upper-class white kid that the courts would be hammering him for emptying a fire extinguisher and hugging someone ...

A perfect imperfection

The whining in the sports columns and on TV has begun again – that we need a college football playoff so we can know which team is really the best in the nation.

FootballAs the 2003 regular season ends, the writers rank the University of Southern California first in the nation, while the computers of the Bowl Championship Series have Oklahoma playing Louisiana State for the national title.

Which means – horror of horrors – that we might have two different national champions crowned. And so we'll have disagreement and argument.

Turbula agrees wholeheartedly that should USC beat Michigan (and if ever there were a game with no team worth rooting for ...), that Southern Cal will probably be voted the No. 1 team in the land by the sportswriters who make up the A.P. poll. As the BCS poll is contractually bound to vote for the winner of the Oklahoma-LSU tilt, we will likely have two national champs this year – just as we have in past years.

But our reaction is "So what?"

So what if there are two teams both claiming to be national champ? It's college football, for goodness sake. Why does everything have to be cut and dried?

Replacing the current messy, political and imperfect bowl games with another sterile playoff system would rob college sports of much of its romance. And to what end? So that sportswriters have one less thing to argue about?

That would even make our morning breakfast read a little less interesting.

Stick with the bowls ...

A fine little tournament

Turbula's publisher spent most of his summer writing a software manual he didn't really want to write – but the pay was good, the company was run by friends, and he wanted to take his kids to Maui.

Maui Invitational To Maui in November, actually. Thanksgiving week, to be exact.

For the Maui Invitational basketball tournament.

The specific reason for this desire isn't necessary (it had to do with weird but positive karma involving the teams playing this year) – what does matter is our ability to report that this is as fine a college hoops event as you'll find.

The games are held in the Lahaina Civic Center – a community rec center on the southwest side of Maui, next to the post office and police and fire stations. This little civic cluster is actually about a half-mile down the road from Lahaina proper, up on a hill off the coastal roadway running from the harbor to Lahaina.

Which is to say it's pretty much as far removed from the typical college basketball environment as you can get – and perhaps about as close to the roots of the game of basketball as is possible.

When the Maui Invitational isn't in town – about 51 weeks out of the year – it's a local rec center. Which means that the vast majority of basketball played in this gym, which is what it is, is done by kids and old farts.

Kind of the way James Naismith envisioned it when he nailed a couple of peach baskets up in a college gym way back when.

And so seeing San Diego State and Dayton, Ohio State and Villanova, Santa Clara and Central Michigan, Hawaii and Chaminade (the host school) playing in a gym smaller than many high schools have provides one a view of elite college players you just don't get in most university venues.

The volunteers and staff were unfailingly helpful and friendly, the weather warm and inviting, the basketball stellar. Tiny Chaminade upset Villanova in the first round, the various schools' fans chanted like the high schoolers they were decades ago, and the whole experience provided for a Thanskgiving glow that a New England postcard town would be hard-pressed to match ...

Autumn 2003:

No class

Barry BondsIt seems likely now that Barry Bonds will indeed pass Hank Aaron one day in the next couple of years for the major league home run record.

And while not to diminish the remarkable combination of talent and effort required for such a feat, it's not really asking too much to wish that Bonds were a more likeable figure.

When Aaron broke Ruth's record, there were threats against him and his family from racist idiots who didn't like the idea of a black man holding such a prestigious record.

But Aaron's self-effacing modesty and innate decency won over the vast majority of the public, and if a quiet champion in the years since, he's never been less than a wonderful ambassador for the game.

Bonds' stand-offish attitude makes him more oaf than hero; he displays little loyalty to a game that has made him wealthy beyond most folks' wildest dreams, and has spared him the necessity of finding a job.

His accomplishments deserve our full respect and acknowledgement; the game, however, also deserves a bit more from Bonds ...

Summer 2003:

Rickey in blue

Rickey HendersonRickey Henderson has the Turbula staff in the unfamiliar and even uncomfortable role of actually rooting for a Dodger.

See, we're in San Diego – and if we've adopted ex-Dodgers like Fernando Valenzuela and Steve Garvey, it was because at the time they were Padres.

Of course, most folks outside San Diego think of Henderson as an Oakland A or even a Yankee, given his long and repeated stints with those teams. But his two terms with the Padres were fond ones for local fans – and presumably for Henderson, too, seeing as he collected his 3,000th hit with the team.

Besides all the local times, Henderson has a place in the Turbula pantheon for his example that one can learn grace. Early in his career, Henderson was a brash, arrogant braggart – a man who showed up the great Lou Brock when he broke his all-time stolen bases record.

But while with the Padres, Henderson regularly deferred to fellow future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, gave his teammates full credit for his success, and reacted with what was almost modesty when he broke Babe Ruth's all-time walks record and got his 3,000th hit.

And if you press us, we might admit to one more reason to rooting for Rickey. Most of us who help produce Turbula are, after all, on the distaff side of 40 – seeing one of our own still competing at the highest levels of athleticism warms our middle-aged hearts no end ...

Sports literacy

Hal McCoy Dayton, Ohio, must have something in the water to produce so many great sportswriters. This year, Hal McCoy was elected to the Writer's Wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame, joining the late Si Burick, also of the Dayton Daily News, and Ritter Collett, who wrote for the morning Journal Herald and later the Daily News.

Turbula's publisher was a paperboy the summer McCoy first began covering the Cincinnati Reds for the Daily News – and to this day blames daily exposure to Collett, Burick and McCoy for his own tragic inability to escape the newspaper bug. And the truth is, most years Dayton readers have had better coverage of the Reds and Bengals than folks in Cincinnati.

And so now McCoy joins the Hall of Fame, enshrined alongside such sportswriting legends as Ring Lardner and Damon Runyon, Shirley Povich and Red Smith and Grannie Rice. (And if you don't know who they are, you've no business calling yourself a sports fan ...)

Congrats, Hal. And thanks ...

Sammy So-So?

Sammy SosaIt was as if Cal Ripken admitted to hiring body-double stand-ins during his incomparable run, or if Michael Jordan had really invented and used Flubber – popular power-hitting Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs got caught hitting with a corked bat.

The point that's been made repeatedly throughout the media bears repeating here: It was so stupid because it was so very unnecessary.

Sosa corking his bat is like Dolly Parton padding her bra. It can be done, of course, but the appeal will be limited to those with a seriously morbid turn of curiosity. Sosa has forearms the size of Earl Campbell's thighs; he hardly needs to cheat in order to hit more home runs.

Besides, corking increases bat speed but significantly reduces a bat's overall kinetic energy – meaning you have better bat control but less power. Sammy ain't hitting for average – corking undermines his whole offensive game.

All of which lends some credence to Sosa's claim that he accidentally grabbed a batting practice bat instead of one of his regulars.

Regardless, one of the most popular players in a game of steadily declining popularity now sees his reputation sullied, and the game's along with it ...

Bigotry on the greens

Annika SorenstamWith all the hullaballoo over Augusta National Golf Club not having any women members (although they let women play as guests), you'd think Vijay Singh might have known enough to simply keep his mouth shut.

When sponsors of The Colonial offered a spot in their golf tournament (which is, after all, an invitational event) to women's champion Annika Sorenstam, Singh angrily announced that he hoped she would miss the cut and that if placed in her group, he would refuse to play.

When those comments became – rather predictably, really – a major media flap, Singh then withdrew from The Colonial: wanted to spend more time with his family, you see.

Sans Singh, Sorenstam played well, but missed the cut (along with a bunch of men, by the by) – and yet, became hugely popular not only with women, but with men as well. Anyone who appreciates gumption and courage can't help but be swept up in the Sorenstam craze. Unlike Singh, she had the pluck to put it all on the line and see where she stood.

Singh may now be a folk hero to the rednecks, the same folks who don't really want Asians (among others) on the PGA Tour, but we imagine things are a bit dicier with the women in the Singh household ...

Spring 2003:

Ephedra and the MLBPA

Steve BechlerIn the weeks since the death of Baltimore Orioles' pitcher Steve Bechler (right) during spring training, Major League Baseball has banned the use by minor leaguers of the legal but dangerous stimulant ephedra – which was found during an autopsy to have played a role in Behcler's death.

Major League Baseball has been unable to issue a directive to those players with Major League contracts, however, because all such behavior is governed by the collective bargaining agreement.

And Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Donald Fehr has talked as much about players' rights to take ephedra as he has about the dangers of it. The most the Major League Baseball Players Association has done is issue a warning to avoid ephedra – stopping well short of endorsing the commissioner's call for a complete ban.

Fehr doesn't seem to worry so much about the health or lives of the ballplayers he is paid to represent as he does about his own reputation.

Accepting a management-initiated ban on the dangerous drug might make Fehr look weak. Might hurt his reputation.

Or at least what's left of it after this shameful episode ...

Jordan's last run

Michael JordanAs Michael Jordan leads the Washington Wizards through what is surely his last run at the NBA playoffs, here in the Turbula offices on the other side of the country we're hearing an increasing number of comments that it's just time for Jordan to go.

Most of the complaints make the argument that at age 40, Jordan isn't the player he once was; that it's a shame to see him continue to play with dimished skills.

Others seem to feel that Jordan's continuing to play into his middle years is somehow holding back the next generation of players from reaching their potential.

Both arguments miss the point: As long as Jordan is good enough to compete, why should he be denied the opportunity?

Perhaps he isn't as skilled as he once was; anyone want to argue that he knows less about the game today?

How many players will score 40 points in a game this year? A handful at most – and Jordan, at age 40, was among them. Heck, there are dozens of players in the NBA in their early 20s who can't shoot their own age.

Turbula is tired of the carping – it ought to be enough to sit back and watch one of the game's all-time greats without whining about it ...

The best little sports town in the Midwest

They take their sports seriously in Ohio, as anyone who watched Ohio State's national football championship or the University of Dayton's victory in the Atlantic 10 basketball tourney knows.

In fact, an Ohio town with no major league sports teams now has three of its sportswriters in the Baseball Hall of Fame writer's wing.

City of Dayton Hal McCoy, who has covered the Cincinnati Reds for the Dayton Daily News since Turbula's editor was delivering the News some 30 years ago to make money to buy baseball cards, was recently selected the winner of this year's J.G. Taylor Spink Award – which confers membership in the Hall of Fame.

McCoy joins the late Si Burick and Ritter Collett in the Hall. Burick, like McCoy, wrote for the Daily News; Collett spent most of his career writing for the competing morning Dayton Journal Herald before the papers merged in the 1980s to form the modern Daily News.

Burick and Collett were both better known than McCoy, but they also wrote general sports columns in addition to covering the Reds. Burick was a pal of New York sportswriter Red Smith and San Diego's Jack Murphy – Collett once admitted he always felt like the new kid in Dayton compared to Burick, even after several decades on the job.

But McCoy is their equal as a beat writer, not only covering the Reds as competitively as any of his colleagues at the Cincinnati papers, but treating baseball with respect. Sure, it was McCoy who earned Marge Schott's wrath for his reporting on her peculiar views of race, but he also makes every game story read like a feature. Even in seasons when the Reds have been bad, really bad, the quality of McCoy's writing has reading his stories worthwhile.

Maybe Dayton doesn't have any major league teams. Heck, maybe it isn't even a major league city.

But for whatever reason, three generations of Daytonians have had the pleasure of reading major league sportswriting the equal of that read in any city ...

The front row

Perhaps we're a bit more sensitive to the issue, having our corporate headquarters based in San Diego, but here at Turbula we're a bit flummoxed as to Jerry Coleman's inability to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame's broadcasters wing.

Bob Uecker Passed over this year in favor of comedian and play-by-play man Bob Uecker (left), Coleman is one of the great voices in the game. Further, he's a genuine hero – having given up his baseball career twice to fly combat for his country.

Jerry Coleman

Now, we're not swayed by the argument that Coleman – an All-Star second baseman for the Yankees – should get more consideration for the Hall than Uecker due to his better playing career. This isn't about selection as a player, and good as Coleman was, he didn't have a Hall of Fame career on the field.

Nor do we think that Uecker is unqualified or doesn't belong in the Hall. To the contrary, Uecker's humor-tinged everyman approach to calling a ballgame is one of the best there is. He is modest, funny and most importantly, knows the game as only an ex-catcher can.

But Coleman (right) is also a treasure – and one we want to make sure those outside San Diego know about. Coleman's long years calling the game of the week on CBS radio have exposed him to nearly as many fans as Uecker's TV network gigs, but radio doesn't always get the same attention.

His famed "Colemanisms" are the stuff of legend – as funny as Uecker's punchlines, if inadvertently so.

But three decades of calling baseball games, including more than two decades for the Padres, have made Coleman one of those voices who are immediately and forever associated with baseball. If not now, then soon, very soon, Jerry Coleman belongs in the Hall ...


Padres owner John Moores needs to grow some thicker skin.

John MooresAfter a student wrote a commentary critical of him in the campus paper, Moores angrily announced he'll no longer have anything to do with San Diego State.

This from the man who almost single-handedly rescued the school's Divison I-A status – donating the funds to build a new football training facility and a top-flight on-campus baseball stadium.

What gives with the overreaction? It only lends credence to the theory that the falling stock market has left Moores with no more money to give – but too much ego to admit as much.

Besides, if you're trying to hurt the student, ignoring him would be the far better approach. You've just turned a 20-something dweeb into a national celebrity – young males live for attention. There's nothing Moores could have done that would have made this student happier.

By reacting in such a childish manner, Moores pulled off the unlikely feat of making the student look mature by comparison ...

Winter 2002:

Celebrating Jack Murphy

If you've not heard of Jack Murphy, you may during Super Bowl week. If so, consider yourself lucky.

Murphy was the one-time namesake of San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium — before the city sold the naming rights to make stadium improvements demanded by the NFL to earn the privilege of hosting the current Super Bowl.

More importantly, Murphy was one of the best to ever take up the business of writing about sports. One of Turbula's editors grew up in Dayton, Ohio — reading Ritter Collett in the morning Journal Herald and Si Burick in the afternoon Daily News. You could look them up, as Jack Paar is found of saying — they're both in the writers' wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

And so when we moved from Dayton to San Diego in the late '70s, and ended up reading Murphy each morning in the San Diego Union, well, didn't every city have a columnist like Murphy, Burick and Collett?

It was simply assumed that everyone got to read writers like these three each morning. When Murphy died shortly after our relocation to SoCal, however, it became clear that master wordsmiths are somewhat more rare than we had thought. L.A.'s Jim Murray filled the gap for awhile, but Murphy's books of his collected columns ("Damn You, Al Davis" and "Abe and Me") were needed to tide us over some mornings. Coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice just weren't the same without Murphy's column. The man was a giant of journalism, along with Max "I Cover the Waterfront" Miller one of the two greatest writers San Diego ever had.

What brings this all up is Super Bowl week in San Diego, as the city dedicated a new statue of Murphy at the stadium he led the effort to build in the mid-'60s.

Not many sportwriters have the clout needed to create a political movement, but Murphy was uniquely connected to San Diego. Not even his good friend Red Smith ever owned New York the way Murph belonged to and owned San Diego. And so it has been a week of remembering Murphy in San Diego — the man who lured the Chargers south from Los Angeles, prompted Major League baseball to give San Diego an expansion team (the Padres), and even helped bring a couple of NBA teams to the city (Rockets and Clippers).

Nick Canepa, Murphy's one-time protégé and eventual successor as lead sports columnist in San Diego, penned a wonderful paean to his former mentor the Tuesday before the Super Bowl — writing of how much Murphy is missed.

And indeed he is. But as mentioned, Turbula's publisher cut his milk teeth on two hall of fame sportswriters, and arrived in San Diego in time to learn to appreciate Murphy — who, it turned out, was good buddies with the above-mentioned Burick from Dayton.

And so Turbula feels we possess the authority to say the following: Murphy's greatest contribution was not in making San Diego a major league sports town — it was in nurturing younger writers.

His most lasting gift?

It's the fact that Canepa, whom Murphy took under his wing, has grown as a writer to the point that he can fill Murphy's shoes, that in Canepa Southern California can again lay claim to one of the top scribes in the business, a writer who matches a passion for sports with a passion for words. A writer in the tradition of Grantland Rice and Jim Murray and Red Smith – and even Si Burick and Ritter Collett.

And, yes, Jack Murphy ...

The decline of Monday Night Football

Is Ray Lewis really the best ABC TV could do?

Lewis was the subject of a glowing halftime feature on Monday Night Football on Sept. 30.

By all accounts (even his own) Lewis was involved in the killing of two African-American men on Jan. 31, 2000, following the Baltimore Ravens' victory in Super Bowl XXXV.

While prosecutors never alleged Lewis actually stabbed the victims, he was involved in the fight outside an Atlanta bar in which they died. And, in order to save his own neck, Lewis turned state's evidence midway through his own trial, copping a plea to obstruction of justice and agreeing to testify against the two friends he originally lied to protect.

Being cleared of legal culpability does not lift the moral cloud over Lewis; while he has a legal right to his freedom now that his probation is complete, that hardly makes him the kind of role model deserving of a profile on national prime time TV. Surely there are better role models for a television network to promote to the nation.

So now Ray Lewis is sanitized, his celebrity status restored — while Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar remain as dead as the night Lewis and his friends attacked them ...

The classy Jerry Rice

Everything bad that Ray Lewis represents is countered by the ever-classy Jerry Rice. While it's hard to cheer for a team like the Raiders that has elevated thuggery to an aesthetic statement, one can still root for a gentleman like Rice.

Oakland Raiders

Two years after the San Francisco 49ers cut Rice loose to make room under the ego cap for Terrell Owens, Rice shows he remains the greatest receiver in professional football.

Terrell's numbers may be gaudier, but the Raiders are a more potent offensive team. And Owens doesn't have a Tim Brown to share receptions with, either (not that he would).

And while one could say that the 40-year-old Rice now has the experience to survive on his wiles, it doesn't appear he's lost much speed to the years. When the man gets open in the flat, good luck catching him.

So as Owens pouts his way through another statistic-laden season of team disappointment, Rice and the Raiders appear poised to make another run on the playoffs ...

The spirit of MNF – on radio

Those who've noticed that Ray Lewis is the least of Monday Night Football's current problems — who miss the old days of Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford and Don Meredith — might want to check out the radio broadcasts of MNF.

Howard Cosell and Marv Alpert
With all their money, why were Howard Cosell (left) and Marv Albert unable to purchase decent toupees?

Marv Alpert is as close to Cosell's manic genius as we've got in sports today — a man who not only knows more about sports than even the most hardcore junkies, but isn't afraid to let us know he knows it. And Boomer Esiason provides a Dandy Don-like foil to Alpert's Cosell.

During a boring Eagles-Giants game the last week of October, Esiason was mocking Alpert's scarf, the halftime guest, and generally acting like an idiot. Given the lowly caliber of the game, the lunacy was wonderful.

But as with Cosell, Alpert knows how to keep control when the game demands it — how to put the focus back on the field.

While the TV crew of Al Michaels and John Madden are both among the best sportscasters in the nation, they don't have much chemistry between them — not nearly as good as Madden had with Pat Summerall all those years. The brief experiment with comedian Dennis Miller was clever, but never provided the sense of a grand Event that the old crew had.

Cosell and Meredith simply had an air of show biz about them — that the party was wherever they were.

Alpert has that same sense of braggadocio about him, which is why here at Turbula's offices we tend to turn the TV sound down and pipe in the radio broadcast instead.

If only we could get Esiasion to poke at Alpert's toupee like Meredith did with Cosell's ...

Brouhaha at Augusta

Woman golferWe at Turbula count ourselves in the feminist camp. Perhaps even hard-core feminist. Those of us of the double-X chromosome variety were even out there burning our bras with the best of 'em. But for the life of us, we don't understand this Augusta National Golf Club business.

In comparison to single moms who are working two minimum-wage jobs in order to put pasta and beans on the table daily, moms who are greatly worried because the public schools are not teaching their kids how to read or what the capital of Nebraska is, moms who can't find affordable day care and whose kids may be arriving home after school to an empty apartment and a TV the whole women at Augusta thing seems, well, silly.

It makes us wonder if the overpaid suburbanites who run both the national media and the mainstream feminist organizations haven't perhaps lost sight of what's important ...

Father's Day every day

Being stationed in San Diego, Turbula is plenty tired of Matt Williams' bat. First with the Giants, of late with the Diamondbacks, Williams has spent far too many afternoons helping his teams beat the hometown Padres.

Matt Williams

But it still got our attention — and in a good way — when Williams recently nixed a trade to the Colorado Rockies so he could stay close to his children, of whom he has full custody.

Sure, he might have gone to court and gotten permission to move the children to Denver. Uprooted them, put them in new schools, denied them regular visits with their mother.

Now in the twilight of his career, Williams may have ended it by alienating management of the Diamondbacks, who wanted to move him to gain the younger Larry Walker.

But Williams doesn't seem to care as much about prolonging his career as he does protecting his children from the vicissitudes of adult life.

"I'm a dad first and a baseball player second, and I can only hope that the public can empathize with my decision," he said. "Baseball is what I do, not who I am."

No, Matt, baseball is not who you are. Who you are is a classy guy — and Arizona fans ought to appreciate how special you are ...

Sportstalk for those with brains

If you've not checked out Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornhiser on ESPN, you're missing out on perhaps the only sports talk show worth watching or listening to. That's mostly because there are no callers on their "Pardon the Interruption" — it's just the two Washington Post columnists going back and forth in a tightly timed series of discussion/arguments.

Turbula is admittedly old-school — Red Smith and Grannie Rice remain particular favorites in our pantheon of sports writers — but Wilbon and Kornhiser have the same passion for the game coupled to a love of words that earlier generations had. There's no dumbing down on their show, no obsequious cowing to sports stars.

Instead, we get clever turns of phrase coupled to bold statements. Love or hate their positions, you can't but come away thinking that Kornhiser and Wilbon are something quite special ...

Autumn 2002:

Asterisks all around

What with threats of contraction, the untimely deaths of several players and — could it be? — Minnesota in a pennant race, it's been an odd summer for baseball. In fact, the late summer talk of a possible strike was about the most normal part of the season.

Yet, perhaps the most dismaying development in a summer of discontent is the revelation of steroid use by some former players.

Almost as dismaying is the now widespread assumption that any bulked-up player must be on steroids. This sort of mentality, coupled to the strong herding instincts among members of the press, has led to talk among some sportswriters and broadcasters that Barry Bonds' impressive and growing home run records ought to have the proverbial asterisk placed beside them.

While Bonds has admitted to using legal and non-steroid muscle-enhancing supplements, many now assume that his recent bulking up has more in common with the admission by the recently retired Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco that they took steroids. Given the still-fresh memory of Mark McGwire's supplement-enhanced eclipse of Roger Maris' single-season home run record (itself since passed by Bonds), there are those who argue that the sanctity of the sport demands we differentiate these achievements from those posted in an earlier, more pristine time.

Here in Turbula's beachside offices where the only supplements we put into our bodies come in 6-packs, 12-packs and kegs, it seems to us that if we're going to place asterisks beside the achievements of Bonds, McGwire and Sammy Sosa, then certainly Cobb, Ruth and — yes — even the recently departed and quick-frozen Ted Williams ought to have asterisks placed next to their records as well. For Cobb's career batting average record, Ruth's once-hallowed career home run mark, and even Williams' sacred .400 season were all achieved against pitching made artificially inferior.

Baeballteam Done gasping? Ready to sputter out the usual inanities about today's "diluted" pitching? (More on that beloved myth below.)

Then consider this: Baseball's "glory years" are a lie — the competition was watered down all through the 1920s, '30s and '40s, and no-talent hacks who never should have risen above Double A made it to the Bigs only because black and Latin players were banned from Major League baseball.

Would Ted Williams have hit .400 if he'd had to bat against Hilton Smith or Satchel Paige or any of the other great Negro League pitchers a couple times a year?


What if he'd had to go against the best Latin pitchers of his day? They were also excluded from Major League baseball during his career.

Now, not only do you have to face the best white, black and Latin pitchers the United States, Mexico and Central America and the Caribbean produce, but increasingly you're up against the best Japanese and Korean pitchers as well. And how long before Taiwan and the Philippines are sending their best arms over here?

As Mickey Mantle pointed out in his high-living autobiography, "The Mick," during baseball's supposedly golden era you didn't have the high-powered closers you have today. Relievers weren't skilled specialists — but instead pitchers who weren't good enough to start or veterans who'd blown out their arms and survived on their wits.

Mantle argued that in his day if you chased the ace, you could pad your statistics on the has-beens and burnouts in the bullpen. Today, you chase a $15 million starter, they bring in a $20 million closer who kills your stats.

Fairness demands we admit to the fact that contemporary hitters have it tougher all around. That's why some of the game's best pure hitters — men like Rod Carew, Pete Rose, Tony Gwynn and Larry Walker — have been unable to hit .400 over the course of a season in the 60 years since Williams last did it.

It's also why Williams' entry in the record books as the last man to hit .400 for a full season may last longer than any of the other major offensive records — Bond's newly minted single-year home run tally, Rose's career hits total, Hank Aaron's home run total, even Rickey Henderson's still-growing career steals mark may all fall before another batter matches Williams' .400.

Give that man an asterisk ...

Diluted sportswriting, maybe

Here at Turbula's lavish offices in sun-sprayed California, we've noticed that one can hardly pick up a sports page anymore without reading that tired old cliche about the diluted pitching. How expansion has ruined baseball by creating a need for more quality pitchers than exist — allowing home run records to be shattered on an almost annual basis.

Of course, even we're bright enough to notice that it's on the sports page where we're reading this claim — not a mathematics journal.

For even a simple grasp of math (beyond most sports writers, it would seem) illustrates the point that because of both population growth and the racial integration of the sport, major league baseball pitchers today represent a smaller percentage of the population they're drawn from than in the 1930s.

That's the opposite of dilution — and helps explain the above-illustrated fact that no one has batted .400 in more than half a century.

In 1035, there were just over 125 million Americans. But about 10 percent of the population then was black, and unable to play in the white big leagues. With 16 teams then, and most teams using 13 pitchers a year, the ration of major league pitchers to white population base was 1:540,000.

Today, the U.S. population is 289 million — and every racial group is now welcomed into major league baseball. With 30 teams today, most carrying about 12 pitchers — but going through about 16 per year (the figure we'll use to answer the dilution crowd ahead of time), there are about 480 big league throwers over the course of any given season. That leads to a ratio of 1 pitcher for each 602,000 Americans — or fewer pitchers per population than in 1935.

So much for dilution.

And in fact, that's not really the most accurate number — it's actually even less diluted than that. Major league baseball today recruits heavily in many Latin American countries, including the Dominican Republic (8.6 million), Mexico (102 million) and Venezuela (24 million) — meaning their best players come here for the big money they can't earn at home. Add those countries' populations in, and you get a total of 423 million. We won't add in Japan or Korea since most of their best players still remain at home to play professionally.

But that leads to a true ratio of 1:881,000 — or a decline of more than 60 percent in the ratio since 1935.

On the other hand, if you want to talk about the dilution of sportswriting since the 1930s — if you want to ask where are the modern Red Smiths and Grantland Rices and Jim Murrays and Si Buricks and Jack Murphys ... well, we don't need a calculator to tell you that the caliber of sportswriting isn't what it once was ...

Saving the national pastime

Now that baseball's owners and players have managed — for the first time — to avoid a work stoppage during contract negotiations, the financial whizzes here at Turbula have some free advice for them.

The owners claim they're losing money, the players say they need more of the owners' money — and the folks who actually provide both sides with their money (that would be us) feel like we're being screwed by both sides.

Cash If the owners were serious about fixing the financial health of the sport, they'd offer each other and the players profit-sharing. They'd have to open their books for that, which being as secretive as most rich folks are they wouldn't much like, but on the upside they'd no longer have to haggle over money every couple of years.

Offer the players 40 percent or 45 percent of the game's profits — and in return, demand that the players sign a 10-, 15- or even 20-year contract. If the game does well, that 40 percent the players are getting will be worth more. Maybe the reality that performance and behavior impact their income might get even a Barry Bonds to quit behaving like a constant sore-head.

Oh, and if the owners really want to simplify their life, once you have a profit-sharing plan in place, you can stop negotiating with each individual player. Simply make out a check to the players' union each year, mail it off — and let them figure out how to divvy it up ...

Rating team owners

The ongoing spat between young, brash and bratty Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and longtime Browns/Ravens owner Art Modell is nothing if not silly.

Being the populists we are, though, Americans love to watch feuding millionaires. And so Snyder's attack of Modell's record as an NFL owner in Newsweek magazine in late August launched an equally rabid counter-attack from the Modell camp.

Now, Snyder, who has owned the Redskins for just three years, may have been out of line in criticizing Modell's winning percentage. Modell has won two championships in 40 years — not the greatest record, perhaps, but light years ahead of clubs like the Chicago Cubs or Boston Red Sox. And the Clippers are unlikely to win an NBA championship for another 400 years if Donald Sterling is still owner.

Snyder is loud, cocky and obnoxious. His rudeness to employees is inexcusable, his impatience costly. He had to pay Marty Schottenheimer millions to buy out his contract after only one season, replacing the proven NFL winner with the unproven Steve Spurrier from the University of Florida. (However, since Turbula's luxury skybox is in San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, where Schottenheimer landed with the Chargers, we're willing to benefit from Snyder's impetuousness).

Having said all that, here's our thought on ranking sports team owners: If 40 years from now, Snyder's Redskins are still in Washington — if he shows loyalty to the fans who have supported his team and thus him, then we'll judge him as superior to Modell and never mind the championships.

Modell's stock as an owner, and indeed human being, dropped faster than the value of Martha Stewart's stock holdings when he slinked out of Cleveland despite years of sold-out games and unflagging fan loyalty. Turbula has deep roots in Baltimore, and like many old-school Colts fans will never accept the Ravens as a legitimate replacement. What Modell did to Cleveland is no different from what the Irsay family did in moving the Colts out of Baltimore.

Some things remain more important than winning ...

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