Catching up

Here’s a little of this and a bit of that as we endeavor to catch up after a two-week sabbatical on the beach.

Wimbledon

And if you caught only one sporting event in the entire precious interlude let’s hope it was that magnificent men’s finish to this year’s timeless tennis festival at Wimbledon. It was not just the stunning performances of Brothers Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer but their elegant stage presence and sportsmanship that made it a match for the ages.

When tennis is played at such a level with such intensity and for such stakes, there is no greater exposition of sport, nor better expression of its genuine meaning. At such moments, I would argue no game is more difficult to play or demands more stamina, fierce commitment, and sheer grace under pressure. This year’s climax was a glorious example, to the point where it became almost criminal that there had to be a loser. But then who could have handled that awkward role with more élan than the Swiss gentleman, Roger Federer. Nor did the loss diminish his claim to being, arguably, the greatest player in the history of this very old game.

In the international sporting boom of the last decade, tennis has lagged. But this one match, commanding fabulous ratings to go with its rave notices, might have turned all that around. It gives hope that the glory days of the ’70s when the game was exploding and every final seemed titanic might be reprised? And yes, an assist goes to the Williams sisters, whose sibling showdown in the Lady’s finale could only have been topped by the epic that the men produced.

It was jolly grand fare, made the more so by the magic of Wimbledon, still unique among all the sporting venues.

Yankee follies

Meanwhile, at the other end of the sporting spectrum, we have the ongoing A-Rod follies in New York that increasingly bring the potential for disgrace to the once vaunted Yankee pinstripes. They have cleverly managed to make their oddly flawed third baseman the face of the franchise, their flagship as it were. They’ve backed that up with an investment of more than $300 million, which guarantees they’ll have Rodriguez with his bizarre make-up and perverse need for starring roles in the raciest tabloids wrapped around the franchise’s neck like an anvil for a full generation.

The man’s immense talents are becoming overwhelmed by his witless fondness for gutter-level “off the field” pranks. It begins to cast him as a bit of a sick puppy, yet he seems oblivious. Corny and even hypocritical though it’s seemed to some, the Yankees value stately behavior and sincerely preach “class.” Laugh all you wish, Boston, but they take their precious image seriously.

In that complex context -- highly regarded by the volatile Steinbrenner clan -- A-Rod is a gathering disaster, no matter his numbers “on the field.” More to the point, it’s doubtful the Steinbrenners enjoy being made to look like fools, which their naïve embrace of the man and all his colossal baggage begins to suggest. And don’t bring the Yankee’s illustrious playboys of their brilliant past -- including the fabled likes of Ruth, DiMaggio, and Mantle -- into the discussion. Their times were different, and so were they.

On the local ice

How is it that the other NHL teams have plenty of room under their salary cap but the Bruins never have any? How come the Red Wings -- the Stanley Cup Champs brimming with high salaries on the league’s best roster -- can afford to sign brutish forward Marian Hossa, the season’s premier free agent, for almost eight million bucks? How can the Rangers sign three hefty priced free agents every year and still entertain the outrageous contract demands of Jaromir Jagr? How can all the contenders already loaded with pricey stars make such moves every summer while the Bruins can only afford to sign a journeyman winger named Michael Ryder?

Maybe it has something to do with the mysteries of the salary cap. Maybe it has more to do with the fact that the Bruins don’t know how to manage the salary cap. Maybe it further verifies that the Bruins have never adjusted to the new way of doing things in the National Hockey League, which may mean they remain doomed to mediocrity.

As for Ryder, his signing was widely dismissed as highly questionable and too costly. He had a couple of decent seasons in Montreal but ended up in Habs’ Coach Guy Carbonneau’s doghouse. He was a healthy scratch in seven playoff games while scoring only 14 goals this past season. For this the Bruins pledged all their available cap space amounting to $12 million over the next three seasons.

It’s been said Claude Julien wanted him and after his fine work in his first season as Bruins coach Julien should get what he wants, within reason and Ryder is faintly within reason. But it’s not encouraging.

And furthermore...

Do you think Baseball Czar Bud Selig has any problem moaning about runaway salaries for the players of his game when he is grabbing $14 million annually, which is roughly 10 times what his predecessor was paid? Just wondering.

Here’s one more reason why the Yankees will not snare another trip to the playoffs with another garrison finish; 33 of their last 52 games are on the road. Does seem a bit nasty of the schedule-makers, though, to send them packing the last week of the season when the gates close at old Yankee Stadium, don’t you think?

Their protestations not withstanding would you be surprised if Barry Bonds ends up with the Mets? Just one more injury might make it happen.

Only eight newspapers in all of North America sent a reporter to cover the Stanley Cup Finals, and three of them were from Canada. How the mighty have fallen!

Word from Gainesville, Florida, self-proclaimed “hub” of the sporting universe, reveals that Austin Rivers, son of Celtic Coach Doc Rivers, has “orally committed” to become “a Gator.” He does so at the end of his sophomore year while still only 15 years old. Guess he won’t have to worry about his SAT’s. It’s unclear whether the University of Florida will still honor the admission if he fails to graduate high school. Probably depends on his PPG’s.

Which reminds me of one of the best sports stories I’ve heard lately; one that got no attention. Back in the ’80s, Joe Dumars bailed out of college while a sophomore and joined the Pistons. Like thousands of other kids he promised his parents he’d finish what he started some day. Sure! This May -- 23 years later -- he received a degree in business management from McNeese State. Not that he needed it. After a fabulous playing career ending at the Hall of Fame, Dumars has become Detroit’s very able general manager. He’s been a huge success on and off the floor without that degree. But he had, you see, promised! We need more such basketball stories.

In case you didn’t notice, Jumbo Joe Thornton had another crummy post-season.

I know Josh Beckett is a premium pitcher and he’s excelled here and you love him. But don’t you think if the Red Sox had it to do all over again they would hang on to Hanley Ramirez, now widely proclaimed the best player in the National League?

After voting Jason Varitek and his .218 batting average -- while mired in a 15 for 118 slump -- onto the All Star team, major league players forever forfeited their right to gripe about the way the fans vote, as they have been doing for 75 years. Not that Manny Ramirez deserved to be on the team. But Mike Lowell sure did.

On the other hand, look at it this way. Maybe A-Rod and Madonna simply deserve each other.

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