A baker’s dozen

Tying up loose ends as we mark the unofficial end of summer. Here’s a bakers’ dozen such points:

I

A year-plus later the truth is affirmed. You’ll recall that in last year’s World Cup finale, France’s gallant Zinedine Zidane sacrificed his country’s last gasp shot at the Cup when he inexplicably assaulted Italy’s Marco Materazzi and got banished. While it was obvious Materazzi had provoked Zidane’s spectacular meltdown with some sort of stealthy and questionable ploy, that hardly diminished the Frenchman’s disgrace. Meanwhile, Matterazzi -- the winner -- was being lionized.

Now, in the inevitable book for which he’s been handsomely compensated, Materazzi reveals precisely what he said to send the fiery Zidane into orbit in the heat of battle. It was: “I prefer the whore that is your sister.” Unquote! So, who now looks like the hero, and who the bum? Or, are their no rules of civility left in the games?

II

Baseball’s spurious “Save” rule never looked sillier than last week when a Texas relief pitcher got credit for “saving” a game his team won by 27 runs. Wes Littleton of the Rangers pitched the last three innings of their hideous 30-3 pasting of the Orioles, a record-setting achievement of dubious worth for a dog of a team that’s a perennial celler-dweller. Littleton technically qualified for a save because his stint ran longer than the usual three-outs and over. Texas scored 16 runs while he was pitching, easing the stress no doubt. But then the score was 14-3 when he entered the game. It’s so dumb. Rules not rooted in common sense are worthless. Baseball has too many of them.

III

Is it my imagination or has Manny Ramirez’ recent lack of hustle never been more glaring or contemptuous? One only wishes the pampered and spoiled Ramirez had played for a Dick Williams or Billy Martin. He might not have survived. But if he did, he would have been a better ballplayer. And maybe a better man too.

IV

Mark me as one chap who will sorely miss Bill Parcells. His long and tempestuous coaching career appears to have ended short of Hall-of-Fame distinction. History is sure to rate Bill Belichick, his foremost disciple, higher; maybe much so. But I’ll take Big Bill’s bombast over Little Bill’s cunning any day of the week.

V

And while faintly on the subject, can we not also agree that his off-season peccadilloes have at last succeeded in de-mystifying Tom Brady? In the end, they all have feet of clay. That’s important to remember.

VI

He never had the chance. Not with the new regime. But Pat Quinn, ex of the Leafs, would have made a bolder and more interesting choice to skipper the Bruins than the anonymous and twice-failed Claude Julien. Quinn is no kid and decidedly from the old school, but he always seemed a natural fit with the Bruins. Although it could be argued that the historical Bruins as we have always known them simply no longer exist.

VII

Maybe it’s time to re-think the importance of hitting 500 homers in a big-league career. That’s long been a Hall-of-Fame yardstick. Meet it and you’re automatic. But when a Rafael Palmeiro does it you have to wonder. Even with his glittering statistics Palmeiro was a soft Cooperstown candidate. And that was even before his steroid problems rendered the question moot. Crash landings in the ‘‘500 club’’ are becoming commonplace. Soon to arrive is Jim Thome, whose mighty cuts are matched only by his mighty whiffs. Is Thome a Hall-of-famer? Not in my book.

VIII

You know another local college sporting season is about to get underway when some Boston College athletes get in a bit of trouble with the law for some sort of “boys will be boys” pranks. But this year’s example of the art form -- as precisely reported by the Globe’s Bob Hohler -- would seem a little more serious than the usual stuff.

According to Hohler, one of the more studious sports reporters in town, four of BC’s finest gridiron warriors, including a co-captain, have been cited with criminal complaints stemming from a classic barroom tiff in a Boston nightspot that allegedly left one of the chaps who brawled with the football players with a broken neck. Yet another of the alleged injured is a young woman. Two of the players have been charged with assault and battery; not a casual matter.

Court proceedings have been scheduled during the season, which had been touted as one of the most promising in memory. According to Hohler, BC sporting officials were quick to proclaim that all four of the players charged “remain in good standing on the team.” But of course! They always do. Might one of the accused be majoring in Chaucer?



IX

In his ongoing and furious effort to minimize the damage, NBA Czar David Stern has imposed a gag order forbidding referees, team officials, and league management from commenting on basketball’s ongoing gambling crisis. He would gag the players too if he could get away with it. The message, however, has reached the players. Few are risking his wrath. Penalties for defiance are said to be severe.

Stern’s very undemocratic behavior suggests two possibilities. Either he’s a tyrant, or he’s scared out of his wits.

X

There may have been no more admirable performer for the Red Sox in this rollicking season than Mike Lowell, the distinguished third baseman. One of baseball’s premier “class-acts,” Lowell projects to a stunning season of 20-plus homers and about 120 ribbies to go with a batting average that presently sits at .323. All this along with his usual sterling defense and the outstanding leadership qualities that have long made him one of the game’s most respected gentlemen.

And what can he expect at the end of this rainbow? A swift, sweet “goodbye.” That’s the conventional wisdom at least. Now 33 and amply paid, Lowell can be easily replaced, the brain trust reportedly believes. These are not sentimental characters who run your ball club these days, and that’s the way you like it. What good did sentiment do us in the old days when it was plentiful? Sentiment is for suckers. Right?

So watch for Lowell to follow other noble characters who served the cause brilliantly only to be quickly and efficiently jettisoned as soon as they lost a half step and got a bit too pricey; Martinez, Mueller, Millar, Damon. The list grows long. It is, of course, smart. But it ain’t pretty.



XI

Here’s a question for you to ponder. How can Czar Stern reasonably argue his NBA has been vigilant in warding off the evil intrusions of gambling and yet allow the owners of the Sacramento Kings to also be the owners of a posh Las Vegas Casino? Is that somehow inconsistent or am I just being too technical?

XII

Nice to see that Michael Irvin, a chronic offender of his game’s ethical bylaws, got swept into the NFL’s Hall of Fame on his first try. Irvin was unquestionably a terrific player but he’s been in trouble since the day he first donned a uniform. Now a TV guy, he’s on probation with his employer for an incident having to do with -- what else -- drugs.

Give the NFL credit for not pretending its Hall of Fame is some sort of pantheon for saints alone. Pete Rose, Mark McGwire or even that luckless pariah, Palmeiro, would have been rubber-stamped for immortality if they’d been pro-footballers.

XIII

Omar Minaya, the Mets Latino GM, interviewed with seven teams before getting hired. Willie Randolph, the Mets Afro-American manager, got turned down 12 times before getting his chance. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like 60 years have passed since Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby arrived on the scene.

And a Happy Labor Day to you too, comrade.

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