A midsummer foursome

We have for you four conundrums to hassle over on a midsummer’s night.

The Favre Follies

For such a certified, gum-chewing, good ole boy, the scraggly pride of Kiln, Miss., put on a weepy, whiny, self-serving performance worthy of “Days of Our Lives” in re-inventing himself, live and in color, day after day on ESPN. It’s hard to know what took the biggest beating in this fiasco: Favre’s image as a man’s man among quarterbacks, Green Bay’s image as the Brigadoon of sporting Meccas, ESPN’s editorial policies, or the Jets chances of making the playoffs which were, of course, nearly moribund to begin with.

From that standpoint it could be argued that the Jets had nothing to lose, and some are. On the other hand, even a team that’s going nowhere can find being held hostage to a fading and bloated legend is a miserable road to travel. The wistful “last hurrahs” of aging quarterback legends never pan out. Joe Montana came the closest in Kansas City but grown men still cringe when they recall the painful farewells of Johnny Unitas in San Diego and Joe Namath in LA.

Favre, of course, is healthier and more able than either Unitas or Namath were in their ill-fated reprises. None of which matters in light of the fact that the Jets are a mediocre team and not even Favre when he was 24 would have made that much of a difference this year. Only in the media does the quarterback play the role of Messiah. In the NFL, it is the team that makes the quarterback, not the other way around.

Favre can expect and enjoy the sort of celebrity rush only New York can mount. But it’s doubtful he’s prepared for the backlash that will follow if he fails to be downright miraculous. He’ll then discover that he’s not in Green Bay anymore and doubtless be moved to tears, once again. Count on ESPN to be there to cover it, 24/7!

On Manny Agonistes

Not that I spend a lot of time worrying about the mistakes made by the Red Sox front office, mind you, but is there any disputing the notion that the Manny Ramirez deal was the dumbest in the history of this franchise which, as every New England school kid knows by heart, has pulled some beauties in the last 105 years? It’s more one-sided than Red Ruffing for Cedric Durst, more ill-advised than Sparky Lyle for Danny Cater, more irrational than Babe Ruth for all that dough.

Given what they had abided from this silly fellow for eight years and all the pride they had swallowed in tolerating his act while gleefully accepting his prodigious batting feats, the explanation that they had finally had enough doesn’t wash. They had long ago conceded the right to be indignant over his behavior. There is more to this story; maybe much more.

There is muttering about an investigation by major league baseball and even conflicting reports that some sort of inquiry is already quietly proceeding. That’s doubtful. It’s not a hornet’s nest that Czar Bud Selig--whose nickname is not “Braveheart”--has any interest in wading into. The truth will come out some other way.

Meanwhile, if a contrite and well-behaved Manny continues to perform Herculean stunts for Joe Torre in LA and the Jayson Bay Bosox falter, the rage of the Nation should be something to behold. Watching this melodrama unfold could get amusing.

On the Yankees, as they sink into the sunset

Ordinarily it would be folly to write off the fading Bronx juggernaut when it’s but four games out of a wild card berth with seven weeks to go in the regular season. But this is plainly a dead team walking. There are plenty of reasons, most of them tiresome. But the one that’s particularly fetching has to do with the gross failings of their alleged star of stars. That would be Alex Rodriguez, the man routinely described as “the greatest player in the game today.”

Balderdash, says I. At first blush, his statistics, as ever, seem resounding, and no doubt the clever fellow will find ways to embellish them still more. Look for him to get torrid once the horse has completely left the barn and the Yankees are out of it. But he will fool few who have been paying attention. In the team’s latest make or break stretch, he was largely a no-show. But then that’s been his pattern as a Yankee. When the going gets tough, A-Rod takes a nap.

The man has a positive genius for compiling gaudy numbers that have limited meaning. But here are some A-Rod stats that are mighty meaningful. After 117 games, he had not delivered a single go-ahead run for his team after the sixth inning. His batting average with runners in scoring position and two out was .219. His overall batting average with runners in scoring position was .236. He had 26 homers, but 19 came with none on, which is hard to do when you’re batting clean-up and the three guys hitting in front of you have a combined batting average of about .300. To lend a bit of perspective, Johnny Damon’s batting average this season with men in scoring position is .380.

It’s not clear they appreciate it, but Rodriquez is a crucial factor in Red Sox history. The fact that they couldn’t obtain him when they desperately wished to turns out to be divinely inspired. They can now further thank their lucky stars that the Yankees have foolishly opted to burden themselves with this human anvil for another decade and they will have to absorb all of his off-the-field baggage too.

Alex Rodriguez is easily baseball’s most overrated player. Yes, he is very good in a routine sort of way. But he is not “great.” And that discrepancy qualifies him as “the most over-rated.” Here’s a question for you. Who would you rather have? A-Rod in his prime? Or Paul O’Neil in his prime? Surely, you jest.

Regarding the Olympics, ongoing

How bitter is it to realize that the legitimate aspirations of 1.3 billion people who have devoted so much blood, sweat and tears to a cause can be so grievously harmed by a single random act of isolated madness. That’s the only way to characterize the senseless murder of the American volleyball coach’s innocent kin. In a mad, mad world, in which the tail too often wags the dog, it could have happened anywhere. To blame China, its political system, or its people, is the weak reasoning of the agenda-driven.

And yet that it did indeed blight the otherwise brilliant opening of the Festival is unquestionable. The Beijing Games had to be perfect to appease the doubters; an impossible task. Still, the needless and incessant probing of the event’s alleged political purposes and geopolitical ramifications is off base. Even if it were appropriate, and it is not, the lions of the sports pages are neither qualified to engage such weighty stuff nor commissioned to pontificate about it. Too many of these wanna-be Red Smith’s are pretending to be Walter Lippman’s.

There has to be more appreciation for the simple fact that these are mere “games.” This quadrennial pageant has social and cultural dimensions but it’s essentially about “Sport” and the gifted and inspired young people who are devoted to competition. It is not a Constitutional Convention or the Congress of Vienna or a Papal Conclave.

As long as the rules and regulations of the Olympics are honored and there is no interference by the host nation, the policies of the given government have no bearing, the agonies of its history no relevance, the manners and mores of its leadership no place in the discussion. Is this too hard to grasp?

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