Looking backward to look forward

Stray observations and gratuitous wisecracks for you to chew on while waiting for that sweetest of seminal sporting moments: first results from the Grapefruit League.

And with the allegedly hottest starting rotation this side of the legendary Feller, Wynn, Lemon, Garcia, Newhouser axis of the '54 Indians why is Red Sox Nation obsessing about its relief pitching? With $66 million per annum invested in your top three starters having to fret about the bullpen seems a touch manic, even by the Nation's shaky standards. But then GM Dombrowski needs something to spare him from boredom.

Talk of your cakewalks! Early predictions of pundits have the Red Sox winning the AL East by a minimum of five games with the Yankees no better than 17 games behind. But it won't be easy for your Town Team to face the long season without a plausible excuse should they muck it up.

Otherwise, looks like a lock! Play Ball!

But it's still hockey season

And wacky is what it's become. The twist that unjustly made Claude Julien scapegoat of the Bruins three-year drift only for him to land the crown jewel of hockey posts, has to be one of the more delicious ironies in the game's recent annals. Much as he loved Boston -- and he clearly did -- for a French-Canadian gentleman of Julien's elegant style and breeding to emerge from such turmoil coach of les Habitants borders on divine intervention.

Some suggest the Bruins were nuts to release him thereby risking him haunting them down the road. But you like to think they did it because it was the right thing to do and not just to save a few bucks. Hockey is that kind of game and the Bruins have always played it that way.

With the chastened Bruins suddenly sizzling and winning four-straight under Butch Cassidy hopes raise for a B's-Habs Stanley Cup-joust and can you imagine the drama Julien's return here this season would rouse. Alas, that prospect obliges genuine divine intervention to materialize. We should be so lucky.

Flying out of Rio

The international newsagency Reuters has offered a terrific analysis detailing what's become of the multi-billion dollar Rio De Janeiro Olympics facilities since the Games merrily skipped town last summer to a Samba melody we might politely call, "Serenade to Saps."

You'll recall Olympics' officials loftily promising the venues Brazil provided at such staggering costs would magically remake deeply impoverished Rio, rife with the slums that accommodate most of its 20 million residents. There were assurances the venues would be promptly converted into civic treasures like parks, playgrounds, leisure centers, municipal swimming pools, gyms, courts, and ball fields.

Surprise! After only six months, Reuters finds venues abandoned and unpoliced, swimming pools brimming with stagnant water, parks and water sites and golf courses pad-locked, buildings without air or electricity rapidly decaying, soccer patches sprouting weeds and looking like gravel pits, no grounds in use, no kids playing anything anywhere. Nothing has been converted to the public domain or seems likely to be. Meanwhile, the government has collapsed and the poor have gotten poorer.

Looks like the joke's on Rio. But there's nothing new about this miserable tale. Leaving only the question, how do the Olympics poohbahs get away with this madness again and again and again?

Pats well heeled

The most remarkable thing about the Patriots is not so much how they pulled off their latest coup but how it leaves them even stronger than ever. In this way, they defy the physics of modern sport.

In today's heavily regulated scenario -- with its iron-clad salary-caps topping a glut of financial restraints and roster controls -- parity is relentlessly promoted and dynasties deplored. It is so in all the games. All the Commissioners pledge, "No more Yankees, Celtics, Canadiens dominating entire leagues for whole generations." But here we have the Patriots sneering at all that while seizing their niche high among the true tyrants of yore.

They've won again with one of the NFL's lowest payrolls, fewest long-term financial commitments, and best draft-situations while now having only a few quite manageable contract issues. Most teams that win big must pay big by having to face draconian contract, free-agent, and payroll issues. Not these guys. No team in any sport gets more bang for its buck. Roughly a third of the roster was drafted in either the last three rounds or plucked from the waiver wire. In other words, they get their talent "Cheap." It's amazing.

Boss Belichick receives all the credit, nor does he deny it. But one suspects his scrupulously low-profile director of player-personnel deserves some at least. Stand up and take a bow, Nick Caserio.

Impossible Dreaming

A sub-theme of this coming Red Sox season -- at least for the more sentimental -- will be the celebrating of the 50th anniversary of the 1967 season. Whatever nostalgic excesses it generates are much deserved. There was never a better or more important sports story in this town; not in my lifetime.

Having been there for that magic carpet ride the last wild weeks of the season and on through the World Series, I'll be claiming the right to bore you with some wistful re-telling in the coming weeks. You've been forewarned!

- Clark Booth is a renowned Boston sports writer and broadcast journalist. He spent much of his long career at Boston’s WCVB-TV Chanel 5 as a correspondent specializing in sports, religion, politics and international affairs.