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Around the leagues


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Here's a handful of stray thoughts, wistful observations, and nasty asides looking for a place to land while we await the happy conclusion of someone else's baseball season.

The local diamond beat

Beginning with the question, if John Farrell is indeed their top choice, as is so widely being asserted, what so strongly recommends him as the next babysitter-in-chief of what Joe Morgan used to call, "the Local Nine"?

Surely it's not his less than exemplary performance managing in Toronto. His predecessor, Cito Gaston, had the long foundering Jays up to 85 wins when he departed two years ago whereupon Farrell marched them backwards to 72 wins, escaping the AL East cellar only because your Red Sox graciously tanked the last week of this season.

Yes there were injury issues, although no greater than has become the norm all over the game in these fragile times, nor as grave as the Yankees endured yet still survived. More relevant were Farrell's personality clashes with players and uneven moments with the press. In a notably harsh indictment, the team's most respected veteran -- Hall of Fame bound Omar Vizquel -- complained that the Jay's promising core nucleus of young talent has learned nothing under Farrell. The team has been called, "the dumbest in the league."

Clearly, Farrell made friends in high places in Boston and got good grades as pitching coach here, but they were positive times and he was hardly on the griddle. You need only recall Joe Kerrigan to be reminded how a pitching coach can suddenly look rather different when he becomes manager.

Does a rebuilding team need a new field boss who has struggled with young players and whose teaching skills are questioned? They might consider that before they begin quibbling about how much it will take to pry him away from Toronto. In fact, if the Jays are willing to let him go that may be the surest indication that he's the wrong man for the job.

A season on ice

Regarding the NHL lockout, arguably "the dumbest labor dispute" in the history of sport, it's not too early to worry if it could last all season. Certainly if it grinds on beyond the first of the year and wipes out the annual New Year's Day outdoor epic that's become the NHL's signature event and biggest score, the odds on that grim prospect become surpassing.

It's widely suspected that upwards to a dozen hard-line owners -- most of them, of course, possessors of ill-suited, Johnny-come-lately, and entirely unworthy Sun-belt franchises -- would actually welcome such a travesty. Why men would buy into an elite entertainment lodge then exult in its ruin is hard to understand.

You'd think the traditional owners including the Original Six plus the 10-12 from profitable hockey hot-beds would be willing to thwart the upstarts but there seems no such disposition, leaving us to wonder how the owner of the Canadiens could revel in solidarity with the owner of the Panthers. Jacobs of Boston and Snider of Philadelphia, while ironically presiding over rich and thriving operations, appear to be both leaders of the traditionalist bloc and the most driven of hard-liners. Hard to rationalize, but then there's nothing about this mess that makes sense.

One remote ray of hope reared when Czar Bettman somewhat surprisingly huddled ad hoc with the Brothers Fehr, co-chairs of the Players' Association, and indicated a willingness to do so again. Minimizing the role of the likes of Jacobs and Snider at least softens the odds.

While Bettman is clearly the architect of the owners' apocalyptic lock-out strategy he may also be the best hope of compromise. If he's indisputably an arch anti-unionist he may also want desperately to avoid being forever remembered as the league commissioner who gleefully presided over the destruction of his own bloody league. In such madness may be found the only glimmer of sanity.

Could it be?

Worthy of much more attention than it got was the stunning fact that the bizarre NFL labor dispute with on-field officials was allowed to run wild until the gamblers got fed up and made known their intense displeasure. The final straw was that Monday night fiasco when an apparent Green Bay victory got handed outrageously to Seattle by blundering scab officials who were totally overwhelmed.

That single farce reputedly affected wagers totaling more than $150 million and Las Vegas bellyached mightily. Bingo! The thing turns around in 48 hours with the owners caving with hardly a whimper.

Gambling's cozy relationship with the NFL has always been a matter of discomfort for the league's moguls but one they've always been willing to live with as long as everyone remains discreet because they know well that nothing cements America's love affair with the NFL like the action that goes down on each and every game. The dispute with the officials was "indiscreet." Tsk, tsk!

The average cost of the increased wages and benefits won by the officials in the settlement was little more than $100,000 per team per year. Why would you run the risk of tarnishing the stature and efficiency of your multi-billion a year golden goose plus aggravate your dear pals in Vegas for what amounts to chump change while also drawing unwanted attention to a rather ''unholy'' relationship, about which all parties agree... the less attention the better? Never have the NFL owners been so dumb.

But they'll survive it. In the meantime, we can be thankful to this strange flap for having inspired one of the odder flip-flops of this endless political season. When the Packers got rooked the two Wisconsin politicians who were the most vocal in denouncing the NFL and demanding that the owners settle their grievances with the field officials were Governor Scott Walker, who had triumphantly busted the state's public service unions, and Congressman Paul Ryan, who had marched with him happily every step of the way.

Apparently, if you're a Wisconsin politician a hatred of unions can never be allowed to get in the way of your allegiance to the Green Bay Packers.

Some short takes

His mistakes have been well documented nor has he disputed many of them and maybe in the end there was no choice but to send him packing. But some of the complaints about Bobby Valentine were poppycock. It remains amazing that some players actually thought him ''insensitive'' for chiding Will Middlebrooks when the rookie butchered a couple of plays. Poor darlings! Too bad they couldn't have played for John J. McGraw, or maybe Ossie Vitt.

The boorish behavior of pseudo-patriotic American brats made the stunning European comeback in the recent Ryder Cup Classic seem like justice. The galleries all weekend were rife with fools willfully violating the protocol of championship events. Do they realize how they must look to the rest of the world? Rooting is one thing. Striving to alter the outcome with your antics, is quite another. Moreover, it proved counter-productive and a grave disservice to the American golfers. They were too polite to say so but the nonsense could only have inspired the Euros.

He was surely a curious character at times but you have to be a hard person to be unsympathetic to the considerable plight of Curt Schilling whose baseball fortune has apparently been drained away by highly publicized misadventures in business. For it to come down to him having to sell his bloody sock, however, seems irony beyond the cruel. If you have wondered about who would want to buy the thing, bear in mind that sports collectors will buy anything.

On the other hand, if you appreciate true and rare excellence you must be pleased for the Yankees' Ichiro Suzuki. Given the chance so late in his marvelous career to cavort on the big stage and play for the big stakes, Ichiro's response further illustrates the brilliance of an entire career played out with memorable dignity and class. The man deserves such a moment and it is mighty pleasing to see him have it.

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