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Meandering the world of sport


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We have here some stray items looking for a place to land. It's a bit of "disa and data," as the long-gone but unforgettable Bud Gillooly used to term the stuff back when he was the lead sports columnist for the irascible Record-American. It seems like only yesterday.

If you too have also been following the Clemens trial you may agree that the possibility of the erstwhile Rocket ending up in jail has probably evaporated. Guessing what juries will do is always folly. But vibes from the courtroom after two weeks of choppy give and take suggest the government will be lucky to get a split decision resulting in no more than a rap on the knuckles for Clemens.

This much is for sure. After the Barry Bonds fiasco followed by the clumsy Clemens caper the government will be getting out of the business of hounding ballplayers for abusing steroids thus enabling the gumshoes of the Justice department to return to the task of probing legitimate crime and chasing genuine criminals.

Speaking of folks who don't get it there is the recurring example of Rex Ryan, the incurably voluble headmaster of the New York Jets. In his latest oafish indiscretion Ryan vigorously asserts he has no concerns about his teenage son continuing to play football after the youngster was grounded by a concussion sustained during his high school season. "I'm proud my kid plays the game," Ryan declared to the New York press in a free-flowing dissertation on football's soaring head-injuries controversy.

Never one to waffle, even when it would be most wise to do so, Ryan says concussions go with the territory and terms his support for his son plugging on in the game to be "absolute." No one expects a coach to denounce his game let alone declare it too dangerous for his own kid. But Ryan's remarks seemed flip and even cavalier given that they were uttered two days after Junior Seau's suicide further elevated fears about the long-term effects of concussions. There are no easy answers nor does anyone have them but Ryan just can't recognize that sometimes the best answer is no answer at all.

Maybe that is grounds for better appreciating the taciturnity of Bill Belichick. Mind you, I said, "Maybe"!

With the chase for the grand and glorious Cup pounding down the back stretch, it begins to look like the historically irrelevant Los Angeles Kings, a punching bag for 45 years, is the team to beat. It's a notion that would have seemed preposterous just three weeks ago. But no team has been anywhere near as impressive. In smacking the Canucks and Blues -- the teams with the best records in the league -- the Kings have won eight of nine games outscoring both handily while suffocating both with a defense that's a thing of beauty.

The key, as ever, is the goalie. Jonathan Quick is a modest, mild-mannered, rather bookish-looking kid who has more the manner of a pre-med student than a rink-rat. Little known a year ago, Quick is now acclaimed as the world's best goalie although you may get an argument in New York where adoration of the Swedish artist, Henrik Lundqvist, runs high. A Lord Stanley final round featuring NYC and LA, for which the league devoutly prays, would settle this argument. Go with the Kings, says I.

On the other hand, the Broadway Blueshirts must first survive the Washington Capitals and we hereabouts understand that's no casual matter. It's time to pay respect to this gritty Washington team. It was not so much a case of the Bruins ''losing'' that opening round as it was of the Caps ''winning'' it. They out-played the defending champs and if the margin was mighty thin it was no less palpable.

It's not easy to give that legendary guttersnipe Dale Hunter the credit he already clearly deserves. He was one of the downright dirtiest blokes in the NHL's modern history and some of his more spectacular rants -- including a notably nutty playoff meltdown some 20 years ago -- might have gotten him banned for good in these much more strict and sensitive times. But in only a half season of coaching, Hunter has these Caps playing a grittier, more tenacious, and much more disciplined game than they've ever played in their entire history and that is quite an achievement.

One wonders if Rajon Rondo for all of his obvious talents could have played for that immortal taskmaster Red Auerbach, who had little tolerance for sophomoric antics. The answer is probably "Yes," although Rondo would have to have already become an even better player, or else be gone.

Also worth wondering is this. Might the much touted and overly sentimentalized Andy Pettitte comeback be destined to be a huge and embarrassing flop? His tune-ups in the low minors the last three weeks have hardly been awe-inspiring, with the latest effort for the Yankees' Scranton farm team being especially messy. Given the run of rotten luck they've been lately experiencing in the Bronx, Pettitte may be prepping to serve as the next pigeon.

The Angels, wallowing in last place, made merry sport of Albert Pujols finally breaking his home run drought after 29 games, 17 of which were losses, with Albert getting 139 at bats featuring too few hits, too many of which were singles. When he finally smacked one, his mates made a joke of it. But does it amount to so much whistling by the graveyard?

Everyone slumps sooner or later but this swarthy and obscenely high-priced slugger's abysmal debut in Anaheim featuring (as of the writing) a .194 batting average has this usually unflappable organization quivering because 10 years is a long time and a quarter of a billion bucks is a lot of money. As never before, long-term contract madness is under heavy scrutiny. The Angels only hope they'll not prove to be "Exhibit B," the Yankees having already secured "Exhibit A" status for an eternity, thanks to A-Rod.

And is it too early to wonder what precisely the Red Sox are chained to in their bondage which they freely entered into a year ago with the vaguely detached Adrian Gonzalez?

"Yes," it is early and, "yes," we've been down this road before. But might it not be fair to at least consider that the Baltimore Orioles with their best in the Majors record after five weeks could actually be for real? Those who correctly look at their lineup and see lots of holes need to understand that the American League East ain't what it once was, old Sport, and if you're looking for ''holes'' try the bottom half of the batting order your beloved Town Team has been lately posting, as they bear on in this so far rather rocky centennial.

When the O's whacked both the Yankees and Red Sox in five straight games on the road the first week in May they may also have -- at a minimum -- officially announced that the olde order has officially changeth. If so, you are going to remember the last of those five games -- that would be the wild and wonderful 17 inning pratfall -- for the next 100 years.

Lastly, this is about how we in this business never learn. Every year a young player emerges whom everyone pronounces "immortal" before the kid gets a dozen at bats or throws a dozen pitches and before most have even seen him play.

Two years ago it was Jason Heyward of the Braves who was summoning intense comparisons with the young Hank Aaron. After hitting .227 his sophomore year there's no such resemblance his third season. After his dazzling debut last year, Tampa's prodigy Matt Moore was being called ''unhittable.'' At the moment, he has one win in six starts and an ERA of 5.71.

Now comes Bryce Harper, teen-phenom of the Nationals. Rave notices rage. Sports Illustrated's baseball columnist terms Harper's arrival "historic." Yet another savant describes the kid's "immense arsenal of skills" as being "incomparable."

I say young Harper should skip the career and go straight to Cooperstown.

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