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Chin Music: Pigskin or Cowhide, Bama’s Ball Country

30 Dec

Alabama.

The name itself has its origin in the Choctaw Indian language, then reflecting Spanish, French and English influence from exploration & settlement beginning around the mid-1500s. It’s meaning is not entirely clear but linguists think it translates roughly to “clearers of the thicket (13)” or “herb gatherers (18-19) (See; Wikipedia notes).”

.............Bama.Theatre.CM.Highsmith.2010thmb

Introspectively, the State’s name will conjure up stark images and strong, if not entirely justified beliefs, about the region and its culture.

Historically, it was cotton fields, plantations and slavery, the heart of Dixie, Jim Crow, segregation, Governor Wallace and Civil Rights marches from Selma to Montgomery.

.............Cotton.Steamer.AL.RN.Dennis.wc.cca.thmb

Today, desegregation and equality are not just the law but the norm in form and feeling of the mass of Alabama’s residents, even as the State flag still holds the Confederate bars in this rock-solid Red State.

Weather-wise, winters are generally mild, hurricanes can happen, hot & humid in summer and in certain locales the subtle scent of camellias hangs in the air (State flower).

.............camellia.3.3.13.hungda.wc.thmb

Northerner Stephen Foster (PA, 1826-64), one of America’s earliest and most prolific song writers, etched Alabama indelibly into the minds of music lovers from New York to California with his classic, “Oh! Susanna.” It’s most memorable line: “♫ Oh I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee ♫ (Wikipedia).”

In contemporary times, it was Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd who popularized the region in their now legendary poli-ballad of Southern pride, “Sweet Home Alabama,” while upbeat country crossover group “Alabama” softened the State’s image in cranking out hit after hit throughout much of the 80s and 90s.

Ever since tumultuous merriment swept the nation post-Civil War, the yellowhammer state (woodpecker) has said one thing and one thing only to sport fans: football.

.............B.Jackson.wc.2.1.04.JC.Dillard.USAF.Asia.thmb

No major professional team currently resides in Alabama, though, two football operations of note did field franchises in Birmingham: the Stallions of the USFL (1983-86)), and the Americans of the short-lived World Football League (1973-75) who won the only World Bowl championship, 22-21 over the Florida Blazers on December 5, 1974.

But while absent the higher profile pro game, Alabama’s two marquee college programs have more than made up for it by way of national notoriety and a 100+ year history of holding one of the biggest gridiron grudge matches on the continent: the Auburn University Tigers versus University of Alabama Crimson Tide (Tuscaloosa).

When New Years rolls around, it often means one or both schools are in play.

..............UoAL.MDB.M.Tosh.wc.9.11.10.thmb

With the UofA currently ranked #1 in the AP and slated to take on Ohio State, excuse me, The Ohio State Buckeyes on January 1st in the 2nd CFP semifinal game (Florida St v. Oregon @ 5:00), the State of Alabama is once again in the national sporting spotlight.

What folks don’t realize when they hear the name Alabama is that it’s also been a “victory garden” for growing baseball players, some of the best ever seen.

Alabama’s baseball country. Believe it.

A short list of notable ball-players born in Alabama, courtesy of Baseball-almanac.com:

Former MLB notables & greats

Henry Aaron: Mobile, 2.5.1934
Tommie Agee: Magnolia, 8.9.42
Lyman Bostock: Birmingham, 11.22.50

..............H.Aaron.wc.7.27.13.C.Evans.thmb
Jeff Brantley: Florence, 9.5.63
Clay Carroll: Clanton, 5.2.41
George Foster: Tuscaloosa, 12.1.48
Oscar Gamble: Ramer, 12.20.49
Shovel Hodge: Clayton, 7.6.1893
Monte Irvin: Haleburg, 2.25.19
Bo Jackson: Bessemer, 11.30.62
Cleon Jones: Plateau, 8.4.42
Jimmy Key: Huntsville, 4.22.61
Frank Lary: Northport, 4.10.30
Heinie Manush: Tuscumbia, 7.20.01

...............H.Manush.Goudey.1933.wc.cca
Carlos May: Birmingham, 5.17.48
Lee May: Birmingham, 3.23.43
Lee Maye: Tuscaloosa, 12.11.34
Willie Mays: Westfield, 5.6.31
Willie McCovey: Mobile, 1.10.38
Don Mincher: Huntsville, 6.24.38
Amos Otis: Mobile, 4.26.47
Satchel Paige: Mobile, 7.7.06

..............S.Paige.Bowman.1949.thmb.wc
Juan Pierre: Mobile, 8.14.77
Joe Sewell: Titus, 10.9.1898
Luke Sewell: Titus, 1.5.1901
Rip Sewell: Decatur, 5.11.07
Ted Sizemore: Gadsden, 4.15.45
Ozzie Smith: Mobile, 12.26.54

..............O.Smith.J.Mena.wc.cca.1983.thmb
Riggs Stephenson: Akron, 1.5.1898
Don Sutton: Clio, 4.2.45
Andre Thornton: Tuskegee, 8.13.49
Virgil Trucks: Birmingham, 4.26.17
Billy Williams: Whistler, 6.15.38
Willie Wilson: Montgomery, 7.9.55
Early Wynn: Hartford, 1.6.20
Rudy York: Ragland, 8.17.13

Some current Alabama MLB’ers

Matt Cain: Dothan, 10.1.84
Craig Kimbrel: Huntsville, 5.28.88
Corey Kluber: Birmingham, 4.10.86
Jake Peavy: Mobile, 5.31.81
Alex Rios: Coffee, 2.18.81
David Robertson: Birmingham, 4.9.85
Josh Rutledge: Cullman, 4.21.09
Josh Willingham: Florence, 2.17.79
Adam Warren: Birmingham, 8.25.87

Yes, college football reigns king in the country of commodities & aerospace.

And Texas, California, the Asian Rim & Latin America will all keep crankin’ out ball, bat & glove men like so many widgets.

But “as long as the grass grow, wind blow and the sky is blue,” Alabama can pride itself on the vital part it’s played in contributing to America’s national pastime.

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo credit: W.Mays, wc.cca, BaseballDigest, 9-1954; Bama.theatre, CM.Highsmith, 2010, wc.cca; Cotton.Steamer, AL, RN.Dennis, wc.cca, 1869-1910; camellia, wc.cca, hungda, 3.3.13; B.Jackson, wc.cca, JC.Dillard, Asia, 2.1.04, USAF; UofAL, MDB, M.Tosh, wc.cca, 9.11.10; H.Aaron, 7.27.13, C.Evans, wc.cca; W.Mays, Greene, WT&S, 1961, wc.cca; S.Paige, Bowman, wc.cca, 1949; O.Smith, wc.cca, J.Mena, 1983;
Posted: 12.30.14 @ 2:22am EST

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CFP: A Matter of Caliber

15 Dec

When it comes to most sporting playoffs, the post-season net is cast far & wide. The fatter the field grows, the more glims gander and the more moola is made.

But money’s not the only motivation towards inclusiveness.

A small respect goes out to regionalism as well as a tip o’ the cap to quality by assuring the best team is included and gets crowned the year’s champion.

In football, the NFL and college differ slightly in their respective playoff picture. Both, like NCAA b-ball, are single-elimination, but the party’s noticeably bigger in the pros.

NFL punches 12 tickets, six in each conference (AFC / NFC) with four division winners and two wild entrants, while the new College Football Playoff system seeds four schools.

Since someone started awarding college football’s national championship, retroactively selected by Mr. Parke Davis (‘33 (Princeton)) who generously started the list running from 1869 (Wikipedia)), the title has most often been decided on a two-team tussle.

As a myriad of competing pollsters sprang forth over the decades, sometimes that meant dueling title match-ups over the holidays, where the two winning schools could simultaneously hold the winner’s cup and rightly call themselves national champs.

And it worked out pretty well. There were some rightful grumblings (1970), but all in all, it pleased the nation on the whole.

Then greed worked its way into the picture (80s) and a push for a playoff began.

.............UTx.wc.cca.Johntex.05.thum

I favored the duel polling-system (AP / UPI) over the BCS. It was a unique operation. Where else but boxing and college football could you have two, legitimate champs and hardly anyone squawked?

As the CFP rolled out its first final four selection this week, the Committee took heat for passing on two 11-1 schools in TCU (6) and Baylor (5). But given the narrow parameters within which they selected, they have to be commended for, overall, doing a fine job.

The problem: Committee’s action was half-measured. A 4-team field’s too small.

If the changes that took us from a duel polling system, to BCS and then the CFP, were suppose to promote one thing virtuous beyond working their money-makers, it was that every championship caliber team would make the playoff.

Popular opinion would say TCU and Baylor both possess the same CC as do selectees defending champ Florida State, Ohio State, Alabama and Oregon, though, those same folks would be hard-pressed to bump any of the chosen four.

Some sports put on a big playoff bash: NBA, NHL, NCAA b-ball, hockey and baseball, too. The pool is diluted in early rounds but whomever runs the gauntlet, survives the long arduous journey will leave little doubt they are the best team in the land.

Other venues like NFL and MLB have expanded their playoff franchise and the results are mixed. Not infrequently, the hottest team, not necessarily the best, will take the trophy.

The College Football Playoff Committee certainly understands the multiple goals they’re entrusted to pursue in their mandate, things like $$$, quality of competition and fairness, as well as the practical limitations in holding a gridiron playoff during holiday season.

But at some point the CFP field will likely have to be expanded to eight teams.

Every year you can count on anywhere from 2 to 8 clubs who are, by regular season’s end, clearly in possession of something special. In pigskin play, the field of top talent is small. Some years, one team may stand slightly taller than the rest, but there’s always at least a few more who qualify as possessing the championship wherewithal.

..............TxTech.K.Mericle.wc.cca.6.7.07.thum

Two teams tangling for the title is what we had. Four, in most seasons, won’t be enough. Six won’t work, so it’s gotta’ be eight. That means another week of playoff. And there in may lay the crux of the problem.

The truth behind the Committee’s decision to forego an eight-team, expanded field and the additional week of playoff it would require, may never be fully revealed.

Not likely it was an academic conflict a bigger playoff might’ve posed for players as could be inferred. Concern over studies from the greed-meisters of College Enterprise, Inc.? Fat chance.

More likely it was a competing financial interest(s).

Expanding the playoff pool has potential of diluting the quality of competition.

Again, some season’s there’ll be only 2 or 3 top-talent teams to test. Other years, like 2014, it may be as many as 5 or 6. But better to be inclusive (8) than exclusive (4) and leave out some serious contenders and the title’s worth in doubt.

That means the grumblings will grow. That was bearable 20 years ago but with today’s information highways in social media and the internet, the rumblings could prove grizzly.

Events like these prefer to be settled, predictable every year so money-makers can plan accordingly, but maybe a flex-format is a route to consider. Leave the Cmte the option of expanding or retracting the field each year, depending on the caliber of teams in that particular season of play.

Whatever the reason(s), they best get it corrected soon or the squawk-meter will red-line with complaints every December and “Remember the Alamo” will turn into ‘Remember Baylor -TCU.’

Steven Keys
Brass Tacks
Photo credit: NCAA official football, Wilson; UTx, wc.cca, 2005, Johntex; TxTU, K.Mericle, wc.cca, 6.7.07
Posted: 12.15.14 @ 5:37; edit 6:51pm EST

NFL14 Cherry Picks W9: Contender Poor

1 Nov

The Great Pretender(s)

You might’ve heard Carl Sandburg’s famous line, “Sometime they’ll give a war and no one will come (The People, Yes (‘36)).”

Not as serious but in that same vane: What if they held a playoffs and “no one” showed?

Unfortunately, everyone invited will make the NFL‘s post-season party, even though at midway point in this 2014 season it’s looking like serious contenders are in short supply: Denver, New England, Arizona, Philly and a few borderline.

Where have all the contenders gone?

Packers and Cowboys, clubs on the rise and media darlings of week 8, both looked ready to rule the roost and then proceeded to lay an egg with loses against New Orleans (3-4) and Washington (2-5), respectively, two teams who had looked pretty tepid in 2014.

Ravens and 49ers were also making their cases for contendership but recent slip-ups reminded football fans that rumors of their ascension to serious status were slightly exaggerated.

............Rivers, J.Beall, wc.cca, 1.12.14, thumb

Two of last season’s more memorable playoff performers in Super Seattle and AFC dark horse San Diego started where they left off but have since showed some chinks in the armour and appear not quite the same teams.

It’s not just the losing. Excepting the 1972 Dolphins and 2007 Patriot, teams are gonna’ have their ups & downs in the course of a 16-game season. It’s when and how teams choose to falter that makes contender such an ephemeral tag in the pro set.

After starting 0-2 w/loses to heavy-hitters in DEN & PHI, Colts went on a five-game win streak and had the ranking-set all a flutter. Then they ran into AFC rival Pittsburgh (W8: 34-51) and have prognosticators scratching their heads. But when one considers how Indy got spanked by NE in 2014-PS (22-43), this recent shellacking is no shocker.

Former early hopefuls the Bears, Falcons, Texans, Panthers and Giants have all been knocked to the canvas and show little sign of rising for the bell, let alone raising the belt.

............Eli.1.15.12.wc.cca.M.Morbeck.GB.thumb

There’s still time for turnarounds & tune-ups. Someone’s gotta’ fill these playoff slots and it’s looking like 8-8 could fill one in both conferences.

And there are positive signs.

Pre-season hopefuls KC, Cincy, Pittsburgh and New Orleans are building back w/recent impressive wins, surprise squads in Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit are hanging tough while nobody’s pre-season pick to challenge for a playoff spot outside of Floridians and this writer, Miami, is proving Bullygate did not destroy this franchise while the early, frequent calls for Mr. Tannehill’s head (62.3 C%) have faded to silence.

Where have all the (hopefuls) gone, long time passing…
Oh, when will (we) ever learn,
Oh, when will (we) eeeeevvveeer learn (Seeger ‘55)?

Swing Time

It might be the new betting craze: in lop-sided NFL games, plunking down money on the high likelihood of a massive swing in 2nd-half momentum where the team trailing turns the tables and snatches victory from the lollygagging leader who shockingly goes flat.

It’s a lock.

One might suspect skullduggery to explain these inexplicable flips in on – off (player performance) switch, from one half to the next. But that’s quickly dismissed by the near impossibility in pulling-off such a dastardly deed with the vast loyalty-factor it’d require.

..........Astaire.RKO.1936.Follow.thumb

Swings in momentum are nothing new.

Sometimes they’re attributable to weather, injury, turnovers or even adjustments.

But what goes on today is more frequent (See; SB47), predictable, sustained & staggering to chalk up to something as simple as a few turnovers. There’s a pattern here

Watch for the next lopsided score. One team’s up 14, 21, 24, and like clockwork, they’ll squander every last point, while the riser, who couldn’t seem to tie their shoes the previous half, are an unstoppable juggernaut in the second round.

And is there a fan in 2014 who doesn’t anticipate just this same super swing in momentum when they peruse the halftime scores and spot a blow-out? Not bloody likely.

Crazy as it sounds, you’re almost better off not going up big in half-one, for if you do and you‘re not fully prepared, the swing-back in momentum will knock you out cold.

If not orchestrated, what then the explanation?

Adult Attention Deficit Disorder?

A concentration that can hone in like a heat-seeking, missile, then dissipate as quickly as it came about. On the other side, one that lays dormant, unable to formulate but later, somehow, coalesces in the locker-room at half.

Latest case-in-point: NFL’s showcase game at London’s Wembley Stadium last Sunday morning (EST), between Detroit Lions and designated home team Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta jumps out 14-0 (1Q), then parlays a 21-0 commanding lead to go intermission.

The savvy gambler would have, if permitted, laid down a wad on Detroit to roar back, expecting the birds radar to go on the fritz as they fly straight into a plate-glass window.

Swing time.

............Astaire. Rogers.Flying.RKO.33.wc.cca.thumb

And that’s just what happened as the teams returned to the field, the roles completely reversed and Detroit squeaked out a 22-21 victory.

So here’s a team (DET) that hadn’t a clue how to play football in first half, then, during the break, figures out how to ‘split the (pigskin) atom,’ on both sides of the ball, mind you, as the hot shots from Hotlanta seemed to’ve mis-laid their playbook.

The same thing happens on the college scene where defending champ Florida State fell down 0-21 to host University of Louisville Thursday night (7-21 H), quickly tied it in the 3rd, held the now flat-lining Cardinals to 10 points and won away, 42-31.

Some call these shocking turnarounds, rallies. I’m not sure what to call em, but they ain‘t rallies. Equal parts resurrection from the dead and sinking of the Titanic.

Maybe this is one for the psychology folk.

Today’s player may simply be given to powerful mood swings (PEDs), the highs too high, the lows so deep they’re like quicksand from which you just can’t extricate yourself. Coaches & captains try to keep things even keel, balance the emotional scale but just can’t control the widespread tendency.

Whatever’s going on, it making for some pretty sorrowful football.

Curious Quotes

NFLN’s Brian Billick commenting on Tom Brady’s bodacious numbers compiled against the woeful Bears in Patriots huge win on Sunday (51-23):

............Billick.8.8.07.wc.cca.k.Allison.thumb

“If that (30-35 / 354y / 5td) is not (deserving of) a perfect quarterback rating, what is? The (QB) number is the most useless rating in the history of this game (Billick).”

When it comes to saber-think, Brian (QBR, WAR, etc.), ours is not to reason why, but to simply, obey. So they demand.

Wardrobe Dysfunction

Sunday NFL Countdown sought to fill morning air-time last game-day with a cutesy kids segment to honor the festive spirit of Halloween. It was called “Da Pumpkin Patch” as Mike Ditka handed out pumpkins & candy to youngsters dressed in their favorite team’s garb. All nice, all in good fun.

What wasn’t nice was the fashion statement in person of the female hostess (?) haunting the segment.

............ESPN.Jkinsocal.wc.cca.2.1.13.thumb

With advent of the new, hip-hop, flashy, noisy, hi-techy, stand & deliver ESPN, the “worldwide (monopoly) in sport” has seen fit to fit their female anchors with the latest & greatest in club-wear. The men remain in standard suit & tie.

This kid’s segment featured the hostess in high-heels and skin-tight leather pants. Inappropriate for any sport segment unassociated with TMZ and the like, but certainly poor style for a Sunday morning kid show.

I suspect the wardrobes of anchors and analysts are corporately directed. That means ESPN President John Skipper’s hand may be the one guiding the style or the hands of those that do “da” selecting.

There was another “Skipper” awhile back whose look was a tad mundan, for sure (See; Gilligan‘s Island), but at least Alan Hale’s wardrobe fit the deserted isle theme. As for “Ginger,” well, formal evening wear’s alwyas ship shape.

.........Cherries.on.cloth.thumb

Cherry Picks Week 9: Who Want’s It?

Cards (6-1) @ Dallas (6-2): 11-2 Fox 1:00 EST (GOTW2): AZ wins
Eagles (5-2) @ Houston (4-4): Fox 1:00: Philadelphia wins
Chargers (5-3) @ Miami (4-3): CBS 1:00: San Diego wins
Broncos (6-1) @ New England (6-2): CBS 4:30 (GOTW): Pats win
Ravens (5-3) @ Pittsburgh (5-3): NBC 8:35: Steelers win
Colts (5-3) @ New York (3-4): ESPN 11-3 8:35: Giants win

Record: 43 – 23 – 1

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credits: T.Romo, 9.26.10, wc.cca, A.Guel, 2m; P.Rivers, wc.cca, 1.12.14, J.Beall; J.Cutler, 11.1.09, wc.cca, M.Schadle; Astaire, RKO, Follow, 1936, wc.cca; Astaire & Rogers, Flying, wc.cca, RKO, 1933, wc.cca; B.Billick, wc.cca, 8.8.07, K.Allison; ESPN-HQ, Bristol, 2.1.13, Jkinsocal; cherries, wc.cca, 6-11, picdrome
Posted: 10-31-14 @ 11:58pm; edit 11-1 @ 10:43am EST

Chin Music’14: Yostest with the Mostest

12 Oct

Return of Royalty

I could’ve gotten on baseball-reference.com, boned-up on KC’s stats and tried to sell a familiarity, but who needs another numbers cruncher anyway? I wouldn’t have dropped WAR into it, I‘ll tell ya‘ that much, baseball’s version of the QBR.

To be honest, I’m pretty much an empty vessel on these 2014 Kansas City Royals. And I’m not alone. Besides those who reside in the 816 and 913 area codes, most national sport observers are equally deficient on the topic. And why not?

............Royals.wc.cca.5.24.11.K.Allison.thumb

Like most fans I’ve not paid much mind to the goings on at Kauffman Stadium since their glory days passed. Those would be the mid-70s (Herzog – Fry) up to 1985 when they won their only World Series (STL) under Dick Howser who died just a few short years later.

Winning ways don’t just forgive faults and cure the blues, they grab headlines, always have, always will. A perennial loser? They’re for the dedicated followers (35% +/-).

Not many predicted these Royals to make this MLB post-season, let alone advance to the cusp of a World Series.

These are the number nuggets on Team Royal:

The team hitting tallies here are not so much the home in the run (95 / AL-15th) as it is the runs on the ledger (651 / 9th), and then the means used to put ’em there (BA .263 / 2nd; SB 153-1st). As for the pitching, the ERA tells the tale (3.51 / 4th).

If you know anything about manager Ned Yost you might’ve been one of the few to see this coming back in March.

Ned works a 5-year plan which fits in fine with ownerships who tend to tug tight on the purse strings. I’d say he’s slightly ahead of schedule, no?

Yost’s first managerial gig was Milwaukee (See: above), where in 6 seasons (‘03 – 08) he compiled a 457 – 502 mark, making the playoffs his final turn and losing NLDS (3-1) to eventual Series champs, the Phillies. Shortly afterwards, Brewers cut ties and Yost landed in KC where he’s followed the same, steady pattern of gradual gain in the wins column.

That leads us to here.

This time Ned’s trip into the second season is proving more memorable, to say the least.

KC unexpectedly won their wild-card play-in game over the A’s, unexpectedly swept the best-record boasting Angels in the ALDS (3-0) and have now unexpectedly taken a 2-0 lead in the ALCS over Eastern rivals, the Orioles, and home-field with it.

............Showalter.wc.cca.4.4.11.K.Allison.thumb

Royals took the opener Friday night for a record 4th straight extra-inning playoff win, in a tenacious effort where small-ball turned muscly in clouting 3 dingers, Moustakas 2-run shot in the 10th the deciding blow, enroute to a 8-6 win, then carried it forward to top the hosts again on Saturday in another barnburner with Cain‘s 4-5 night setting the pace.

Only a handful of big name players remain in this years title tourney but the managers in Matheny (STL), Bochy (SF), Showalter (BAL) and Yost are plenty big to fill the void and keep things interesting. You’ll get no argument amongst aficionados in describing all four as some of the best baseball minds in the business today.

Besides the clash between bats, arms, fingers & feet, the battle of wits could be intense.

7th Inning (Poll Tax)

Baseball’s had its share of poor traditions, no doubt. Segregation, reserve-clause servitude and betting scandals top the list.

But there’s a new custom being forced upon fans at some MLB ball-parks that may constitute the worst undertaken since those pernicious promotions in the 70s like “10 cent beer night” (CLE 6-4-74) or “disco demolition” at old Comiskey Park (7-12-79).

In fairness to the promos, remember what founding father Franklin quipped; “Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy,” maybe just not that happy. As to the records, glitter rock was on the outs and the Sox (and their aged stadium) were scuffling pretty good, too, as I recall in my days of youth.

The new practice: force fans to stand at attention in 7th inning stretch to test their allegiance to a rendition of “God Bless America” with its unmistakable religious-political overtone. And this after the game-opening, always welcome, “Star-Spangled Banner.”

Even as GBA’s introduction into ball-parks in 2001 seemed to take advantage of our national state of mourning in wake of the 9-11 tragedy, I could stomach the politicizing of baseball to unify the nation and honor the dead, wounded and emotionally traumatized.

But while the memory stays strong, the mood has changed and so too should the music.

It’s performance now feels singularly conservative in campaign, much in the same way left-leaning politicos & corporate shills jump the anti-Redskins bandwagon to profess a feeling for something they cared not enough to publicly address for decades.

............penny.wc.cca.usmint.2013.thumb

As MLB profits mightily in its ancillary operations (TV / merchandise), it struggles just as greatly to put bodies in stadium seats, competing with so many other entertainments, the lingering ill effects of the PED plague and the deterring high cost of attendance.

Instituting a polarizing ritual that simply promotes one poli-religious view to one segment of the audience, while disenfranchising those who feel the opposite, is contra-indicated for what ails our national pastime and the public purpose in attendance: to enjoy baseball and its accoutrements, have fun and above all else, feel welcome.

Fans are not coinage to be imprinted as they pass through turnstile with political notions as expressed through slogans (“In God We Trust”) and songs. Enough is enough.

If we must be denied the choice of exactly how we choose to use our 7th inning break and must partake in add’l public chorus (ugh), best that owners retire GBA in favor of “Take Me Out to the Ball-Game” or “America the Beautiful,” a song whose sentiment is unmistakably neutral, hopeful and unimposing of test.

Cyberdyne Alert

While champagne was pouring elsewhere, the whine was flowing from Dodgers locker-room in wake of their series loss to St. Louis earlier this week (See: Kemp & Mattingly). Strike-zone was the issue, or its location, to be exact. But the boys in blue had no one to blame but themselves. Lesson for Matt in ‘15: If you’re two in the hole and it looks like a strike, you aught swing away.

............Kemp.4.20.13.wc.cca.K.Allison.thumb

More significant than the moaning & groaning from the vanquished was the fodder it provided the Xbox® kids who clamor for the umpires to be replaced by machines.

How do you explain the essentialness of the human element in sport to those who were nurtured on video games, fantasy and sabermetrics? Difficult task.

Take balls & strikes away from the umpires, who do a pretty good job, even as their work is scrutinized like no others, excepting NORAD and air-traffic controllers, and baseball stops being baseball. Who knows, maybe the players would be next (See: Honda).

So remember, Matt, next time you feel it important to vent-at-length, consider you might be the tipping-point for a BIG change (See: “Miles Dyson”).

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo credit: N.Yost, 5.25.11, wc.cca, K.Allison; Royals, 5.24.11, wc.cca, K.Allison; B.Showalter, 4.4.11, wc.cca, K.Allison; penny, USMint, 2013, wc.cca; M.Kemp, 4.20.13, wc.cca, K.Allison
Posted: 10-12-14 @ 1:58am; edit @ 12:00, 2:04pm EST

NFL’14 Cherry Picks W5: Field Generals & Super-Chiefs

4 Oct

Born to Quarterback

Article III, Sec. 2, Clause 1., US Constitution states, in part:

President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into actual Service of the United States.”

The War Powers clause adds another twist (A1.S8.C11). No one ever said checks & balances would be easy. Nothing worth having ever is, eh?

..........Brady.wc.cca.12.18.11.J.Beall.thumb

NFL quarterbacks don’t bear the burdens of our Chief Executive, to be sure, but he is often referred to as a field general, marshalling his offensive troops in a Patton-esque, forward-moving campaign to gain territory and vanquish the opponent.

And it’s also fair to say that the President rarely, if ever, has to bear the weight of a 300 lbs lineman flopping on his person as does Joe Quarterback. The Kennedy clan was big on touch football (Jack was JV at Harvard) but none of ’em ever saw anything like Jared Allen or Justin Tuck bearing down with nothin’ but bad thoughts on their minds. Ouch.

In truth, QBs and C-in-Cs are pretty much worlds apart in the duties department. They do have one thing in common: as big kahunas, both get credit with a win, blame in a loss.

So in honor of all those who bear the lonely burden of leadership, I list those fifteen Presidents and c. 2014 quarterbacks who presently bear the burden best.

America’s Best Signal-Callers

1) Tom Brady, Patriots, pocket-passer;
FDR: His economic vision prescribed emergency medicine and took policy beyond simply feeding the greed, then he undertook to save the world;

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2) Peyton Manning, Broncos, pocket-passer;
Lincoln: Made the union whole, more human and gave his life in the process;

3) Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers, mobile-PP;
Washington: iconic leader who led world’s first revolt against imperium slavery since Spartacus (d.71 BC), gave the new office stature and then the nation a serious start;

4) Aaron Rodgers, Packers, mobile-PP;
Jackson: First non-elitist President who fought Indians, British, banker thugs and brought the people and democracy to DC;

5) Eli Manning, Giants, manager-PP;
Wilson: Professor President w/steely courage to make America a world leader in war (WW1) and peace (LoN), whose 2nd wife Edith (Ellen) co-ruled after his stroke (‘19);

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6) Drew Brees, Saints, pocket-passer;
JFK: Saved the Earth (Cuban Missile Crisis) and then lost his life in the battle against entrenched power;

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7) Joe Flacco, Ravens, manager-PP;
Cleveland: Should’ve been first 3-term President, designing a template for modern-era “government of the people, by the people, for the people;”

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8) Phil Rivers, Chargers, pocket-passer;
Jefferson: Crafty Purchase (Louisiana) doubled the nation’s size, decades after he drafted America’s creed of independence (DoI ‘76);

9) Russ Wilson, Seahawks, mobile-manager;
LBJ: mis-policy in foreign war (Vietnam) did not derail efforts of this legislative juggernaut in making civil rights reality and honoring America’s seniors;

10) Alex Smith, Chiefs, manager-PP;

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Polk: Pragmatic, fiscally sound and productive, James was Mr. Manifest Destiny, adding 13 States, in whole or part, to United States’ territory. Died 3 months post-term;

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11) Matt Ryan, Falcons, pocket-passer;
Truman: The plain-talking, former farmer, WWI major and haberdasher proved critics & premature press-men wrong with a strong, spirited and common sense administration;

12) Tony Romo, Cowboys, pocket-passer;
Teddy: “Big Stick” buster of trusts, builder of Parks, a celebrity turned progressive;

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Rounding Out Top 15:

13) Andrew Luck, Colts, mobile-manager / James Madison;
14) Andy Dalton, Bengals, pocket-passer / Andrew Johnson;
15) Carson Palmer, Cardinals, pocket-passer / William McKinley

Note: Quarterback Cues (no QBR):

Games started (longevity & mettle measure); career regular-season W-L; Clutch factor (post-season W-L & GWDs (See: Eli & Wilson), titles (SB / Conf.); Comp-%; TD-Int. ratio; sacks-suffered (See: Rodgers, Brady & Smith (highs), P. Manning (low)).

“All I Really Need to Know I Learned (on the Playground)”

A play on the title of Bob Fulghum’s 1989 best-seller (“…in Kindergarten“). The read? Never quite lived up to its nifty title. Short on reality, though, the billion copies likely printed-up made plenty o’ real cash for its producers. But I thank Bob for the segue.

Grade school on the whole was enlightening: teachers, the topics, most my classmates were friends. Those were the good years. After that, competition & cliques. Ugh.

But then learning isn’t confined to a classroom. There’s also the classroom of recess where “playground justice” was doled out by the kids in charge.

What we learned there wouldn’t fill a book (didn’t stop someone else), but it did start us young’ins on that all important pathway to self-socialization.

One of the biggies in recess: the tit-for-tat rule. Translation: what goes around, comes around, i.e., “He started it!” If you’re pushed first, you can push back w/ reason.

The NFL and NFLPA apparently don’t care much for that standard, but then those are the same blokes who usually sat things out on the playground battlefield (“Puff!“).

NFL’s goal: keep it simple, contain the problem. That’s great for them, and the chucklehead fan who thinks his, or her ticket (See; finger-fan woman @ J. Noah, AA Arena ‘13 ) gives a license to verbally abuse. But for players, not so great.

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Case in point: Jets QB Geno Smith who, after suffering home loss (17-24) to the Lions last Sunday, then suffered verbal attack of a self-important licensee (fan) and did what any self-respecting person would do, he responded in kind. That got him $12,000 fine.

Gino apologized the next day but then had royal salt poured into his wound when one of the Manning princes (Eli) from on top his high horse chided the 2nd-year signal caller: “If they’re yelling at you, you probably deserve it.” Thanks, friend.

The word ‘fan’ is short for fanatic, originating in 1880s St. Louis when a writer tagged the very boistrous baseball game attendees who took it all very seriously. How seriously? You don’t wanta’ know.

Cat-calling of players and officials is a time-honored tradition in sport attendance. But there is a line you don’t cross, physically and verbally.

In these times, no person, no man, woman or child, millionaire player nor fan, should suffer the verbal hostility of another person, ticket or no ticket. It’s high time the NFL, NFLPA and press backed up players (and nearby normals) on this point, giving these guys some room to move when confronted w/the beer-swilling, venom-spewing chucklehead.

“No (pizza) for you,” Eli. “Come back, one week!”

Thankful for Small (NFL) Favors

Consider it one of those rare pleasures: NFL fans not having to endure the ludicrous uncorking of bubbly and donning ski goggles in shower of champagne after every playoff round victory, as the kids in MLB do on cue and with reckless, boyish abandon.

After winning what really amounted to a play-in game, wild card winners Royals and Giants got all wet in wild & wacky celebration, as if they’d just won the title or successfully landed rover on Mars. But boys will be boys.

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Cherry Picks Week 5: “Nothing to fear but fear itself”

Bears (2-2) @ Panthers (2-2): 10-5 Fox 1:00 EST: Cats win
Falcons (2-2) @ Giants (2-2): Fox 1:00: Atlanta wins
Texans (3-1) @ Cowboys (3-1): CBS 1:00: Dallas wins
Bills (2-2) @ Lions (3-1): Fox 1:00: Detroit wins
Ravens (3-1) @ Colts (2-2): CBS 1:00: Indianapolis wins
Cards (3-0) @ Broncos (2-1): Fox 4:10 (GOTW): DEN wins
Chiefs (2-2) @ 49ers (2-2): CBS 4:30: Kansas City wins
Bengals (3-0) @ Pats (2-2): NBC 8:35: New England wins

Record: 26 – 10

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Photo credits: LBJ & M.Hammer / Vietnam ’66 (DSC) / Y. Okamoto / wc.cca; T.Brady / wc.cca / 12.18.11 / J.Beall; FDR / 1933 / E.Goldensky / wc.cca; Wilson / 1912 / Pach / LoC / wc.cca; D.Brees / Kuwait – 07 / wc.cca / T.Day; Cleveland / USNARA / wc.cca; A.Smith / wc.cca / M.Bragg / 1.31.14 – ProBowl; J.Polk / 1849 / wc.cca / LoC / Brady; Teddy / wc.cca / LoC / 1919?; G.Smith / 8.11.13 / eltiempo10 / wc.cca; Cherries / wc.cca / Spain / Hispalois / 7.2.12

Posted: 10-3-14 @ 10:52pm EST

Chin Music’14: Exit Jeter, Enter A-Rod

30 Sep

Mood Swing

They’ll feel the breeze clear over in Jersey, once that change in mood starts swingin’ across the great Metropolis.

As Derek Jeter, newest member of the vaunted pinstripe pantheon, exits stage left for golf, girls & good food (go easy, DJ (See; Thomas & Maddux)), and Alex Rodriguez of the tarnished reputation (‘14 PED susp’n) re-enters stage right and re-rosters with the New York Yankees, the change in the air will be palpable. And that’s not all bad.

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The mood (& pitches) may’ve been groovin’ in Derek’s NYC farewell (v BAL) but Yanks captain was running near empty most of ‘14. Alex just may have some gas left in his tank.

Though, if I had my druthers, the 39-year old A-Rod would never be rostered again in the majors, i.e., banned-for-life, w/legal prejudice. Of course, you’d need monarchical-power, backed by a strong, well-compensated military alliance to pull that one off.

Today’s sport union is a powerful entity, advocating for its player membership seemingly at all costs, sometimes to the great detriment of the game’s integrity (PEDs), the fans trust and even the players themselves (long term health).

The same could be written of the owners and their Commissioner advocate (See; Silver & gambling push), but then cufflinks, apart from the rare case (J. Irsay), don’t send a bad message to kids on drugs & alcohol and are minor leaguers compared to players major league skill-set for criminal misdeeds.

Fear is the great motivator.

Were collegiate and pro athletes banned-for-life after one positive PED test result (no shortage of notice), a rigid standard like that proposed for domestic abuse and other serious crimes in the NFL, the use of performance-enhancing drugs would plummet.

As it stands today, the sliding stigma that attaches for the first failed test and resultant susp’n, is small deterrent to drug cheats when millions ($) are to be gained in risking violation of what are still half-measured, substance abuse policies.

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One can assume NYY top brass have swept most the bad feelings arising from A-Rod’s 2014 Biogenesis susp’n under the proverbial rug. Yanks are contractually bound to Alex for near $60M (3y) and, with tepid team tallies (84-78; BA .245 (#11-AL)); OB% (14); runs (14) hit (13)) bringing up the League rear, the Steinbrenners, GM Brian Cashman and Mgr Joe Girardi are hoping the former MVP still has enough spike on his cleats and speed in his swing to add some much needed punch to a low-impact New York line-up.

Now it’s A-Rod‘s team, for better or for worse.

“Decline and (near) Fall of the (2014 Athletics)”

A baseball funk is like quicksand, the harder you try to get out, the more it pulls you in.

Funk is what the 2014 Oakland Athletics have been experiencing since mid-summer but managed to pull themselves out Sunday night, clinching the remaining American League wild-card spot on last day of the regular season in besting the Texas Rangers, 4-0.

The Swing-less A’s were in serious danger of becoming this season’s sad collapse story, having comfortably led the AL-West for two-thirds the season. Then GM Billy Beane of Moneyball (‘11) fame made major pick-ups in the all-important pitcher department, chiefly, Jeff Samardzija (Cubs) and playoff patina’d Jon Lester (BOS / 11gs – 2.11 (3-0 WS)), hoping to cruise to the division title. But nobody booked it and Oakland went in a tailspin for the next six weeks, just barely pulling out at the last minute.

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Most opinionators lay blame at doorstep of Mr. Beane, godfather of sabermetrics, for choosing to part w/ former A’s slugger, Yoenis Cespedes in acquiring Lester. While it’s true the Athletics’ team batting average (#9-AL) made hitters a premium pre-trade (162g #13 / .244), in his four seasons on the Bay (‘14: .256 / 17 hr / 67 rbi), most of Yoe’s biggest moments seem to’ve come in the home run derby (2x champ).

Besides, gotta’ admire Bill’s boldness in breaking with recent A’s tradition of playing it cool at trade-time and instead, taking the plunge this year in obvious effort to break with their other contemporary trend of bottoming-out in the post-season. Sensical.

A’s (Lester) will fly to KC to take on 2nd-half wunderkinds, the Royals (Shields) Tuesday night, who make their first playoff appearance since days of Brett & Saberhagen (‘85).

Oakland’s playoff birthing wasn’t exactly a breech presentation, more like collapsing w/ finish tape in hand. It won’t make ‘em favorites but in Athletics’ favor is knowledge that all you need do today is make it into the 2nd season (PS) and ANYTHING can happen.

The sporting gods love determination and surprises (See: FLA ‘03 & STL ‘11).

Legacy Planner

Joining Alex in the Butterfly Club (nerves) this spring will be rookie invites hoping to “show,” along w/ baseball’s newly appointed Commissioner, Rob Manfred.

Rob, like other Commissioners before, has a long association with baseball, having served in some legal capacity since ‘87, including his current post as COO. He’s a veteran of the lawyer league but an unknown to fandom and maybe most in media as well.

Hopefully, Manfred’s given serious thought to what imprint he’d like to leave on MLB, whether that’s simply the mark of money (owners & affiliates), or something bigger like restoring integrity and a broadly felt excitement to the national pastime that goes beyond transitory gimmicks (HRD / IR) and fads (drag pants, bunny hops & sugar-water baths).

Rob’s should do list:

1) Affirm lifetime ban on Pete Rose

Unclear message on gambling we don’t need, Rob (i.e., MasterCard Rose invite). No player nor cult of personality is bigger than the game;

2) Close window tight on PED cheaters

Add an in-season blood draw to the half-measured spring sample, from every player or institute cutting-edge biological passport stratagem, then watch the typical player weight drop from 210 to 190 in a year’s time;

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3) Keep designated hitter rule in AL or eliminate all together

Time to bury the trite DH debate that arises each year from quarters seeking to expand it into the Senior circuit but who likely get as much thrill from baseball as they do from their Law & Order re-runs. Those who love the game and pass it down WANT the League distinction and DON’T want more homogenization (inter-league). American devotees favor a power game while DH-free National disciples live for the strategy-based play. It’s called allegiance, Rob. Mess with it because of faux-fans (saberheads) and watch NBA move into #2.

4) Fix MLB record book. Asterisks, strikes, whatever, but do it soon. Bedrock stuff;

5) Daytime World Series

A necessary part of becoming a Restoration Commissioner, putting back into baseball that which the past four Czars took out, those special elements that made it America’s favorite pastime for over a 100 years. Not every game need be day-light. Can’t expect greed to be bridled. Like Godzilla (pre-‘64), you can’t stop it, just hope to submerge it for a time. One game would be sweet. And it won’t be the Super Bowl (thank god), but just might become the best thing: a national Series Skip Day (work & school / 2:00 EST). Be bold.

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo credits: A.Rodriguez / 9.29.07 / wc.cca / K.Allison; A.Rodriguez / 8.26.11 / wc.cca / K.Allison; B.Beane & DePodesta / 9.9.11 / wc.cca / GabboT; B.Cashman / 6.26.09 / wc.cca / jimmyack205; R.Manfred / wc.cca / 7.15.14 / A.Pardavila
Posted: 9.30.14 @ 1:21pm EST

LeBron James’ Lego® Legacy

1 Jul

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To bump the World Cup off the anchor desk teleprompter in late June, well, such a story had better be one bodacious bit of breaking news.

That’s what happened in the AM last week Tuesday. Care to guess what it was?

A beloved star’s unexpected retirement announcement? Not this time.

The sobering, sad news on the passing of a sport icon? Not that either.

Report of a celebrated sport figure having spent time in custody of local police with sketchy details on the circumstance? There were none.

Another wind-gauging politico just announced they’ve come to a belief, after giving tacit approval in silence for decades, that the NFL’s Washington franchise has a racist motif and then proceeded to board the anti-Redskins bandwagon? Nope, not last week.

Rich Sherman contacted Jon Manziel about working part-time crowd control on his front lawn, w/ Leer jet ride included, to occupy the throngs of on-lookers invited to his King County estate by the Seattle Times, so Dick can come & go peaceably? No, didn’t happen.

The big news: announcement that current Mr. NBA LeBron James had invoked the power to conclude his 6-yr. contract w/ Miami and opt for quasi-free agency (7-1), passing on the remaining 2-years of scheduled salary at $21M (avg) yearly.

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Shortly after the report, Heat general manager Pat Riley stated he, the team, expected the opt-out and welcomes the opportunity to sit down and talk with their megastar.

Back in 2010 when Cavalier James (reads like 40s pirate flick) was at a career crossroads pondering whether to stay in Cleveland or find greener pastures, I thought he’d stay put.

He didn’t, of course, and has gone on to forge a formidable legacy in Miami.

James recent opt-out, while certainly a necessary prelude to a decision to move on, is more likely a first step to re-organization of, and re-vesting in, his Miami Heat venture.

Whether he re-signs with MIA or goes elsewhere he’s likely to get much the same deal: a yearly salary upwards of $23 million, for a term of 4 to 5 seasons.

It would be surprising, at this juncture in time, if James got the happy feet again.

He’s had a tremendous run in FLA: four Finals, back-to-back O’Briens and friendships formed. That he wants more (“max?”) moolah and a re-commitment from Heat owner Micky Arison (D1: Napier), is understandable.

Teammates Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem have reportedly followed LJ’s lead and also opted out of their Miami contracts to become free agents.

One view holds that their actions are designed, not to take full advantage of free agency but rather to create a status that allows restructuring of their deals, some paid more, some less, and make money available for Heat acquisitions this off-season. Team spirit.

Lending credence to that notion may be a realization that presently, it’s not exactly a bull market where Chris & Dwyane’s services are concerned.

Wade is in fade (knee / age), as ‘14 Finals evidenced, having seen his best days, and Bosh didn’t exactly distinguish himself, either, though, not many Heat did (Spurs: 4-1). It fuels speculation on to whom DW might pass the torch, making the C. Anthony acquisition a topic of talk. Carm’s top talent but hasn’t shown same floor savvy as Wade or Nowitzki.

Bolstering belief that Miami’s “Three Amigos” will sit-tite in S. Beach is the fact that, for those with a relocation bent, pickens for top-tier teams in today’s NBA are about as slim as the toy aisle day before Christmas, whether cap friendly or purse-string pursed.

That sparsity of opulent opportunities was likely one of the topics the Miami trio jawed Wednesday when they reportedly met for chow, two trying to keep one (LJ) in fold.

Side-bar: I’ve never liked the clique in Miami, preferring Alex Dumas’ team-take, “All for one and one for all (Three Musketeers).” But it did give me an idea for a TV commercial: McDonalds® drive-thru, Wade at the wheel, LeBron special ordering and Bosh in the back-seat rolling his eyes: ‘Just order already, big guy! It’s all good.’

Irrelevancy is reversible (See; Heat), knowing that ‘some assembly is required,’ but most of those w/payroll play (PHX, PHI, UTAH, DET, CLT & ORL), lack the lustrous lure.

Dallas: That dog won’t hunt. Mark Cuban has the cap-jack but has reportedly stated his Mavericks won’t be paying top dollar for traveling men this round-up;

Midwestern fare: It’s where LeBron’s roots lay, but you can’t go home (Cavs), not until the end game, and Detroit is too close. Besides cap crunch, Bulls limbo’d on Rose and no one wants in middle of Durant – Westbrook thing, not unless ‘dude space’ opens up.

East Coast Bias: Knicks & Celtics don’t have c-space but ‘where there‘s will there‘s a way,’ sometimes. Other Clevelanders have taken to the brightly lite stage that is NYC, i.e., Steinbrenner, and easy to appreciate what Jim Dolan (MSG) is trying to achieve in Jackson’s hire (Riley – MIA), but that world is not for country LeBron, not yet, anyway.

California Dreamin: Still Earth’s top destination, but only Lakers have loot for one of the celebrity & on-court caliber of Mr. James. The Minnesota transplant has become NBA flag-ship, topping Celtics, Spurs, Bulls, Knicks and Heat. Lakers are title laden (16) and Los Angeles world’s capital of all things entertaining. Sounds like James Country.

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And what about Kobe Bryant? It’s still his team.

Could the Lakers’ legend co-exist with the NBA logo that is LeBron? He did it before w/Shaq, and appeared willing with Dwight who proved a bird of a different feather.

And with a healthy Bryant(?), James would have again that which he must: a maestro.

LeBron, like Shaq, is not a natural born leader. Physically, a tremendous talent, he relies on a multi-skilled player like Wade to set a tone, feed the flow. What Wade at times lacks in maturity off the hardwood, he seems to have an abundance of on the court.

Question on Bryant and Wade: How long does that knee, the body hold up? Wade’s fade is why Miami did not three-peat against vintage Spurs. If LeBron set up shop at Staples Center, how long could he count on the current Lakers’ superstar?

It’s a dice roll in workman’s dungarees, were James to relocate again, which brings us to maybe the best reason he doesn’t leave Miami: his family. Florida is home.

LeBron James is still in his prime, and believe it or not, there’s room to improve, i.e., embracing inside presence. That can actually bode well for whomever signs the man.

If it’s Miami he favors, content with his life and having already forged a legacy of note, the Heat remaining viable is important. And in order to nurture that winning way to which James has come accustomed, Wade’s proxy is a big step.

It’s fair to assume Arison plans to keep the party-barge afloat ($) but he may already have memories to last a life-time (See; J. Jones). Don’t count those chickens yet, Heaters.

If by some chance James makes a change, he’ll need a tough exterior and building permit (team $$) to add the structure necessary (roster) to make his new House Beautiful®.

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There’s more than one way to skin a cat, or enhance a legacy, as it were:

1) You can go the usual route: stay put, make house (team) improvements, try to bring home the accolade bacon (titles / MVP) and build your on-court legend, or;

2) Be bold and go Lego®. It’s that rare player who takes on the challenge of helping draft a blueprint to construct a crown palace in a new setting. Ruth & Jabbar did it, Favre & Gretzky tried. Owners & GMs do it, coaches can, but a player, that’s rarified air indeed.

When James NBA story is written, his most telling chapter won’t be of his on-court prowess but instead that which details LeBron’s panache for building winners.

Steven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo Credit: Bausteine von Lego / 5.28.14 / R. Roletschek / wc.gnu.fdl;  Wade & James / wc.cca / K. Allison / 3.30.11;  L. James / wc.cca / 1.15.14 / K. Allison;  Lego-cube-heights / 11.24.11 / wc.cca / Andreasstoltz