Wanderings among the locals

Have several random thoughts to offer while waiting for Daisuke Matsuzaka, aka "Dice K," to unveil his allegedly unhittable "gyroball." If the stylish import from Japan has somehow disappointed you it may have less to do with his failings than with the exaggerated expectations set by people who raved about his pitching before they had ever seen him throw a pitch.

There may be a lesson in there somewhere. But why do I think it will not be learned, let alone appreciated? Too often the art of punditry -- be it focused on baseball, politics or whatever -- is premised on the pretense of prophecy.

In the borderline lunacy that passes for wisdom in Red Sox Nation, taking a little series against the Yankees redeems the folly of a six-game losing streak to start the season. The only notion dumber is the suggestion that being four games out of first place early in April has any kind of meaning to begin with. But both banalities cower before the logic that pronounced this Red Sox team to be better than the 1927 Yankees before a single exhibition-game was played.

To the question, "Will they never learn?" The answer is, "Yes!"

Hanging over the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- presently just starting -- is the specter of a disconsolate Sidney Crosby restricted to bed rest at his home. On the scale of one to ten, this blow to the NHL's image and stature is about a fifteen. It will be the dominant point of discussion upstaging whatever team survives the forthcoming six-week scrum.

A year ago the stylish Penguins' mega-star was hockey's undisputed poster-boy, proclaimed the game's "savior" after his hyper-dramatic overtime goal delivered an Olympic Gold Medal to host nation Canada. An errant elbow, casually if not maliciously tossed by a journeyman defenseman, has left him thoroughly addled and hors de combat for more than three months. His coach strongly implies we've seen the last of him at least this season.

One avoids the use of terms like "tragic" in a column about sports. Very little of what happens in the world of fun and games can be properly characterized as such. "Tragic" is what happened recently in Japan or what you may witness every day strolling the halls of Children's Hospital. But if Sidney Crosby's concussion proves career-threatening the consequences for his game will be as close it gets. The NHL will regretfully sacrifice a Marc Savard, if it must. Sidney Crosby is quite another matter.

With its latest NCAA basketball crown the University of Connecticut -- once considered both an athletic and academic backwater in New England's elitist climate of higher learning -- may think it can claim a special place in the annals of the region's sport. But only for those who can justify the antics of the Coach who orchestrated their "glorious" triumph. Jim Calhoun's serial recruiting violations and debased standards make his achievements mighty hollow.

If the NCAA had any guts, Calhoun would have been banned from the recent tourney instead of being allowed to pay for his latest indiscretions (for which the NCAA itself convicted him) at the beginning of next season, when he will be forced to miss only games that have little meaning against pushovers.

The whole thing is a mindless joke and Coach Calhoun -- being well qualified -- presides over it haughtily. If U-Conn considers that a distinction, they can have it. This observation has nothing to do with "elitism."

Just wondering! How many oblique injuries were suffered in the first hundred years of major league baseball? And how come concussions didn't become the reigning occupational hazard of the National Hockey League until after they made the players wear helmets.

In retrospect, Bruins phenom Tyler Seguin would have been better off remaining in Junior Hockey another year where he would have dominated. Few kids are ready to make the jump having just turned 19, although four did impressively this year, so it can be done. But not in Boston.

This Bruins team is decidedly not youth-oriented. Clearly the veteran coach is wary of unproven players. The lengthening list of young prospects dumped by the Bruins the last 3-4 years is proof enough of that. Where present upper management stands on all this is unclear. But with an aching need to win at long last thus satisfying the antsy bosses up in Buffalo the GM appears willing to go along, although possibly against his better judgment. For if this team continues to muddle along as an 'also-ran' they will have paid too high a price for the privilege.

Here's seconding the recent elevation of Tom Sanders to basketball's Hall of Fame with the highest possible enthusiasm. There was never a classier or more thoughtful gentleman associated with any of our games than the distinguished basketball scholar and eminent student of the world from New York University.

He was known as "Satch," a nickname hung on him when he was a kid because he had feet the size of gunboats, size 14 or so. With them he was able to plant his wiry frame in defensive poses that bedeviled some of the finest scorers in the game's history. Tom's "D" was not merely great, it was brilliant and it's always a joy to see a player honored for his defense, which is so hard to quantify yet so vital.

But it was his perfect manners and elegant attitudes that most set him apart in my book. He was priceless! Calling such an elegant fellow, "Satch," just didn't work for me. He had to be Tom; or better still, "Mr. Sanders."

And while on the subject of good fellows, have you noticed that Drew Bledsoe, now long retired and doubtless forgotten hereabouts, is making a bit of a name for himself as a wine producer and fine judge of the stuff out in Washington State, from whence he came. Bledsoe's winery is a huge plantation of delicately pampered grapes near Walla Walla and it is said that he knows what he is doing which is a good thing because it's also being said that he invested a heckuva lot of money in the venture, which can be highly risky.

Good for him. We've had class acts in the always high-profile QB role in this town beginning with Babe Parilli, who was a prince, and featuring Jimmy Plunkett and Steve Grogan, who were utterly first-class people, nor has the present incumbent, Mr. Brady, brought anything but credit to the role. In any such list Bledsoe, who took a lot of knocks without ever whimpering in his time here, richly deserves to be enrolled. You should wish him well.

With the Thrashers folding in Atlanta, where hockey never belonged, there is the near certainty that the franchise will be transferred to one of the three Canadian towns lusting for one.

Hamilton may be the most deserving but as long as the Toronto Maple Leafs are allowed to wage territorial tyranny over the process, it will never happen. Winnipeg is the most anxious but that Prairie town remains stuck in the middle of nowhere and has already failed once, rather mightily. Quebec also once had and lost a franchise -- the colorful Nordiques -- but the reasons for that were complex.

As one of the great cities of North America and a shining monument to what can be grand about winter, Quebec City should have a pro-hockey franchise. And the National Hockey League needs to be there. But the NHL also needs Hamilton and Winnipeg. Maybe Columbus and Miami would care to move?

Not sure the record for "save percentage" which Bruins Goalie Tim Thomas set this season has any meaning. He's credited with stopping 94 percent of the shots he faced all season, but no distinction is made between acrobatic gems and rebuffs he might have made in his sleep. That's the reason the NHL refused to consider the ''save'' as a legitimate statistic for a half century.

On the other hand, any honor that comes to Tim Thomas is deserved. All the players should be as gracious.

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