Baffling, bemusing and befuddling

Here are more stray thoughts and random wisecracks on a gamut of sporting matters. Our cup runneth over these days there being no limit to the stuff that baffles, befuddles, or bemuses (with apologies to Lorenz Hart).

NBA befuddles

Beginning with the basketball lockout fiasco, clearly the most egregiously lame-brained issue of the moment. It may prove to be the luckless lot of the NBA and their wayward chattel to have officially exhausted the patience of America's sporting public.

There have been other sports' labor disputes that have nettled the body politic to its collective core. Some have been even more irrational and pathetically prosecuted. But none -- not even Hockey's infamous crash -- has tapped greater, deeper, more profound, or sweeping pockets of indifference than the basketball meltdown. Ringing across the Republic is the chilling verdict, 'We don't give a bloody hoot!'

Clearly, hoop junkies are content to await the NCAA March Madness for their jollies. Ticket holders are reveling in their refunds. The sanctity of Christmas Day will be less besieged absent the annual meaningless and mindless NBA double-header. The basketball industry has made the horrible mistake of allowing its customers to discover they can not only live without their product but can do so comfortably, even blissfully. The consequences are potentially ruinous.

Foxborough pets

One becomes accustomed (especially in this town) to the amusingly exaggerated responses stirred when a local teams stumbles, let alone flames-out. The emotional boundaries are boundless. "Passionate" is the term most often used to describe the camp followers of Boston's sporting foursome. "Shrill" is a much more accurate, precise, and appropriate term.

Anyway, the point is achieving fresh stature in the course of this roller-coaster ride of a Patriot season. The zealots screech for the cashiering of Boss Belichick after a loss to a Giants team that's every bit their equal then gloat in the proclaiming of a Super-Bowl berth after beating an overrated Jets team giving one of its dumber performances only a week later. The emotional swings border on the manic- depressive.

It's become the conventional wisdom (CW) of the fretful following that Belichick lost his magic touch when Scott Pioli, his aide de camp in charge of personnel back in the glory days, fled to Kansas City. In the brilliance of retrospection, Pioli's player procurement skills are raised to the level of legend. We'd have cornerbacks the equal of Mel Blount and Night Train Lane if good old Scottie were still in charge, the CW maintains. Apparently the espousers of the thesis fail to notice that under the Pioli regime in KC, the Chiefs who've been doormats the last generation remain doormats. One assumes he'd have drafted no better in Foxborough.

The Patriots will make the playoffs, barring an implosion even starker than the stunt the Red Sox recently pulled. And when they get there they'll be odds-on picks to get to Soupey, unless the Ravens come to play or Ben Roethlisberger's broken thumb heals in Pittsburgh. The prospect of a Houston or Oakland beating them remains improbable. But the prospect of them beating an NFC foe in the finale is even dimmer; there being at least six NFL teams that can beat them. Nor could Scott Pioli alter that landscape were he still on the premises.


Regarding the Red Sox and their efforts to fulfill the promise of a wonderful Hot Stove Season featuring still more pratfalls: hats off to a terrific start.

Shrugging off the defection of Jonathan Papelbon is so much whistling by the graveyard on the part of the Fenway Braintrust. Those who dwell on how he coughed up the final, fatal run of the Great Meltdown (while pitching on fumes) are better advised to acknowledge that nobody including the centerfielder performed more gallantly than the eccentric but iron-willed reliever over that entire last wretched month of play.

Any list of the top ten money players in this team's history should include this guy. To blink-off his departure when less dough than they're wasting on John Lackey might have retained him is the ragtime only the Red Sox might dare peddle. But doublespeak won't play in the long run. The loss of Papelbon will prove disastrous. Recall this, please, next summer as you watch Daniel Bard quiver under the burden Papelbon long and blithely handled so well.

Meanwhile, the search for a manger bears on. It took Stanley less time to find Livingstone. It says here the sudden infatuation with Bobby Valentine -- cresting on the brink of an actual date as this is written -- smacks of desperation. If the irascible Valentine is their beau ideal why did they wait seven weeks to go after him? He's only been available about five years. Only on the Red Sox!

MLB bemuses

Regarding the further revamping of Major League Baseball, a specialty of the Bud Selig regime. There's been more of it, you should realize, under Czar Selig in two decades than MLB endured over the previous ten.

But if change always comes hard to this hide-bound game the necessity of balancing the two leagues with 15 franchises apiece was long over-due. Transferring the Houston Astro's to the AL as the price of admission for their new owner became the convenient way to make it happen, although some still believe adding two teams -- thus creating two leagues of 16 teams -- would have made better mathematic sense, allowing for four, four-team, divisions in each league and therefore no need for a wild-card. But that was never going to happen, with further expansion having become unthinkable and most owners being, alas, deeply in love with the dang wild-card.

Overall, it's hard to quibble. But two points are irksome.

Jim Crane, who bought the Astro's, and Drayton McLane, who sold them, were gifted $70 million for accepting the re-alignment, even though they really had no choice. Having to assuage a couple of bratty billionaires to get a deal done with huge bucks is the stuff that justifies the wildest claims of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement. Talk of your sweetheart deals feathering the nests of unworthy plutocrats.

My second objection concerns the infernal wild-card. It's not only been perpetuated but expanded. There will now be two of them in each league, though it remains mere legerdemain; a bogus antic aimed at artificially pumping-up the pennant races in September. But requiring the two wild-carders to go head to head in a life-or-death playoff the day after the regular season ends will diminish the value of the wild-card and that is very important.

Unfortunately, they plan a one-game playoff when it absolutely should be a three-game playoff. The one-game gimmick is greatly favored by the TV networks which see sudden-death gripping all of America with monumental drama. It's mere theatrics. The potential for teams maneuvering around the one-game concept is considerable and it may turn out to be even less fair than the present system although without question, the premium for winning your division -- thereby avoiding the wild-card -- would be enhanced.

It should be two out of three and there's the chance reason will yet prevail. But TV really wants the one-game showdown; a potential ratings bonanza. And as we know, when push comes to shove Good Old Bud will always do whatever he need do to appease television.

Home field follies

Lastly there's the issue the moguls ducked in their realignment talks; Selig's hideous arrangement granting the league that wins the trivial all-star game home-field advantage in the World Series.

The Cardinals were a rag-tag team much of the year. They got hot late capitalizing on an unpardonable collapse by the Braves to squirm into the post-season with by far the worst record of all the playoff teams. You can't deny them credit for prevailing as they did. And you can't deny them having the home field for Game Seven with the Rangers was vital, crucial, maybe even decisive.

Did they deserve that? Should baseball history pivot on a silly gimmick? They are questions Selig won't even touch.