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While waiting for the spring cashing in


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Here are some bits and pieces and flotsam and jetsam, for you to chew on while awaiting the grand parade of the baseball free agents as they march along the glory road to the cashing of their riches.

Poor boys

And might there have been a touch of irony to the coincidence that found the Government’s Labor Department reporting that 533,000 folks had lost their jobs in November on the very same day that Major League Baseball reported the average salary of ballplayers had increased by the smallest margin since 2004. In fact it was with some consternation that MLB noted that the average salary had increased by only 3.6% to $2.93 million per player, per season; the smallest increase since ’04 and second smallest of the new millennium.

To what degree this disturbing trend affirms that the nation is indeed in a serious recession remains unclear. But it does verify that times are tough all over and that the baseball players are enduring hardships just like all the rest of us and are, indeed, ‘‘regular guys’’. It is expected this will be of some comfort to the great unwashed public, otherwise known in fast-lane sporting circles as, “the Guppies”.

The House that Bill built

That the Patriots could be alive and kicking in the playoff chase after being stomped by the Steelers and then barely surviving a miserable Seahawk team while having their entire linebacker corps decimated by injury, is the stuff of the Belichick legend. He’s still odds on to make the playoffs even if he has to summon Nick Buoniconti, Steve Kiner and Bull Bramlett out of retirement.

Of course that has as much to do with the genetic failings of the Jets, the reality of the Dolphins, and the fickle tides of parity than the brilliance of the Boss. The Jets had the thing in the bag, only to blow it by losing on consecutive weeks to chronic losers. Such are the limitations of vesting your hopes in the miraculous potential of 39 year-old quarterbacks.

Much is made of the House of Belichick’s horrible misfortune with injuries this season. But it’s really more a matter of the law of averages finally catching up with the boys from Foxborough. They’ve been uncommonly lucky in recent seasons. That was a matter of “luck” having little to do with the brilliance of the coach or the smartness of the program. In the NFL, where triage is the governing force, every team has its reckoning with the injury-reaper, sooner or later.

Yet Belichick remains upright and his battered brigade has a better than even chance of making it to what Bill Parcells liked to call “the tourney”. If he does, people may say it was his finest hour.

His greatest insight

Barack Obama said a lot of very smart things en route to the White House but his casual quip calling for a college football playoff system was not one of them.

The elaborate playoff concept, greatly favoring all the wretched excess and ethical abuse that abound in big-time college sport, has long been sought by the cheats and cads who dominate the field and have been permitted to grab pretty much everything that might amuse them from their own separate admissions’ policies to the personal fortunes that go with the territory. Now they want a convoluted series of playoff games that would reap more billions of bucks for a select handful of schools and TV networks, while dominating the national holidays and extending the season all the way to February, ending just in time to make way for basketball’s ‘‘March Madness’’. Is this the idea of a university? I don’t think so.

It’s a very bad idea and as the product of a sensible education at schools (Columbia and Harvard) where they don’t raise college football to the level of pagan idolatry, Mr. Obama should have known better. We can excuse him because he got ambushed into making the endorsement in the course of some otherwise inconsequential banter on ESPN on the eve of the election. Just why the candidates need to be reduced to the level of hobnobbing with Boomer Berman to grub for votes is another matter.

In a related issue, congratulations should be extended to Nick Saban and his Alabama football team for accomplishing the unimaginable. They made knights in shining armor and the people’s choice out of the Florida “Gators”, hitherto widely regarded as one of the most tiresome of the collegiate behemoths.

But then such is the sweeping dislike for Saban, who has never signed a contract he didn’t break, that much of the nation would have rooted for the University of Baghdad had it met ‘Bama with a shot at the championship on the line. By smacking the vaunted “Crimson Tide” and advancing to the championship thing, Florida spared us from having Saban falsely lionized. Perhaps some day the Gator kids will even get back to the library.

Meanwhile may we congratulate Boston College for needlessly extending its football season in order to perform in yet another meaningless, also-ran’s, runner-up bowl that will spark widespread indifference while only succeeding in keeping their players out of the classroom longer. How very smart!

Further to be congratulated is the University of Connecticut -- where the pursuit of basketball eminence has become the very signature of a Storrs’ education -- for having discovered a scholar in Tanzania who just happens to be seven foot three and a half inches tall and is gifted in the abstract geometrics of playing the pivot. How many other Tanzanian scholars have been extended full scholarships at U Conn to study history or government, chemistry or biology, art or music is unclear.

Apologies are in order, once again, for being unable to take big-time, over-hyped, grossly exaggerated, major college athletics seriously.

The elections

Hard as they try they can’t get it right when it comes to electing oldtimers to baseball’s Hall of Fame. Another laborious process yields just one new immortal, from the golden-oldie roster. He’s Joe Gordon, the hard-hitting and stylish second baseman of the pre-war Yankees and post-war Indians, long a favorite of baseball scholars and cognoscenti although his statistics are hardly over-whelming, being roughly comparable to Bill Mazeroski’s and not as strong as those of his archrival, Bobby Doerr.

Interestingly, Doerr was on the 12-man panel that chose Gordon, bypassing Allie Reynolds, Wes Ferrell and Mickey Vernon, in that order, while utterly snubbing the two most worthy candidates on the ballot, Carl Mays and Bill Dahlen. Reynolds missed by only one vote. That’s fortunate because his election would have been unfortunate. While he was truly a Yankee’s stalwart for a half dozen season and a post-season horse, he won only 182 games and a fair chunk of them came during the war facing inferior opposition. Do the guys they put on these committees know what they are doing? You sometimes wonder.

There should be no quibbling, however, about Gordon. A classy player loaded with intangibles, he gave up two prime seasons to the Navy during the war. Joe McCarthy, who also managed Ruth, Gehrig, Hornsby and DiMaggio called him, “The only perfect player I ever saw.” Fay Vincent, the ex-commissioner and a keen student of this business, recalls years ago asking Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams who they most believed ought to be in and both named Gordon. Fay also maintains Gordon deserves extra credit for being one of the very few Indians who staunchly supported Larry Doby when he integrated the American League in 1947 and I’ll second that motion in a heartbeat. Joe Gordon belongs.

But then so do Gil Hodges, Joe Torre, and Looey Tiant among the nominees on the post-war ballot who were totally snubbed. The electors in that category were the 64 living members of the Hall of Fame. They’ve had that honor since 2001 and have yet to elect a single person. You begin to wonder if these 64 old codgers are capable of agreeing that the sun is out.

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