Monthly Archives: September 2010

The race card

I don’t know how race relations are perceived by everybody, because it’s such a tricky area. But it seems like a stretch for LeBron James and his manager, the aptly named Maverick Carter, to claim that race was a big part of the way the media and the public perceived and reacted to James’ departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat during the summer.

Being a 55-year-old white guy, I’m sure there are nuances of race that escape me. Yet I don’t understand how in this case race has come into play. My reaction – negative, for sure – was based on James’ decision to leave Cleveland the way he left – during a one-hour ESPN special that came across as terribly unfair and a blow to the gut of the fans of the Cavaliers, who had long supported James. I empathized with their feelings, even if I did think some went too far.

James is free to do what he wants to do; I just thought he could have done what he did in a classier way without dragging Cavaliers fans through the mud. I didn’t see the need for an ESPN special, even if one of the reasons was to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club. I thought it wreaked of self-promotion and self-worth and, in case James doesn’t know, that’s not something most people are behind.

We like our athletes great and humble. Those are rare qualities to mix. One reason the masses loved King James was because his massive amount of talent didn’t overtake his good sense or his fondness for his roots. We related to him in that he loved the place where he grew up and embraced the fans who were wild in their support for him.

Stop me when race enters this picture.

It never crossed my mind that my negative feelings for James in the wake of “The Decision,” – see what I mean about self-importance? – came about because he’s black. I never thought once about the color of his skin.

To use this society’s race issues as a reason for the negative response to James is more about race than any feelings I – and I suspect, you – had about this in the first place.

Race is such a serious issue, and to throw it around irresponsibly is shameful. There are so many serious cases of racism in American society that to attempt to create a racial issue where it doesn’t exist creates even more tension. While it’s true racism can’t always be seen, and that many of its elements are subtle, we have to be careful as a society not to treat it frivolously. That’s what James and his manager are doing here, in my opinion. Especially since neither is willing to expand on the issue, to tell us specifically what they have deemed to be racial in James’ treatment since “The Decision.”

I’m not sure Corey Pavin is going to work out as the team captain for the United States in its Ryder Cup competition against Europe.

Already, Pavin is making a curious decision by sitting out Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan for Friday morning’s opening matches. Furky just won the FedEx cup and more than $11 million while Mahan was 5-0 in the last Ryder Cup and didn’t sit out any matches.

Ken Burns is a master filmmaker. His “10th inning,” a continuation to his excellent series “Baseball,” made 16 years ago, is just as fascinating. Covering the past 20 years of Major League Baseball, Burns deals fairly with baseball’s Steroids Era without condemning it, but sticking with the facts.

The facts are damning enough. Let’s just say that Barry Bonds, the poster child for the era, comes across as looking out of touch and naive. So do Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and others highlighted in Burns’ documentary.

It’s must-see TV, yet another reason why Burns is one of the country’s greatest story tellers and historians.

A sports writer’s memories

I got my start in newspapers at the Derby Daily Reporter, which ceased publishing a few years back. I’m told it had nothing to do with me.

I was a kid at the time, around 17 or 18, and one of the things I remember most about being the sports editor is that one of my duties was to cover Derby High School athletics, including the baseball team. Well, I was a member of the baseball team, a star pitcher. OK, “star” might be a little strong, but I’m the sports editor.

I remember writing about myself a few times, which was awkward, surreal and generally wonderful. I didn’t have to worry about being ripped in the paper because I was the one doing the writing.

My best game as a senior was a 5-0 shutout of Campus. I was brilliant – again, the newspaper’s word – and the Colts, of course, were Derby’s biggest rival.

Isn’t it ironic that all these years later, here I am, still writing about myself?

Can patriotism help Tiger?

If you’re like me, your opinion of Tiger Woods isn’t close to what it was a year ago. Not professing to being a choir boy, even I was dismayed by his philandering ways and have rather enjoyed his descent into mediocrity – or a tick above – on the golf course this season.

That said, Tiger has a chance to help his cause with the naysayers this weekend in the Ryder Cup, where he’s representing the red, white and blue against the Europeans in Wales. Europe is the favorite in this event, partly because it will be held on its soil and partly because its team is loaded.

But the USA has Tiger, and we know from past experience that he can be at his best in head-to-head competition. And now that he’s been backed in a corner because of a humiliating year on and off the golf course, he’s doubly dangerous.

Woods

Woods

Already, a flap has ensued with Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who had the audacity to say that he’d like to

McIlroy

McIlroy

get a shot at Tiger because he hasn’t been at the top of his game. It’s created quite a flap in the days leading up to the Ryder Cup, which goes to show reporters who have been dispatched to Wales don’t have much to write about.

But it all got me to wondering about a potential Woods-McIlroy match-up. Who would I be for?

Turns out to be a troubling question.

I am an American and as proud as the next American to be able to say so. There is no greater country.

But I gotta tell you, I think I’d pull for McIlroy in such a match. I like the kid. He’s so young and so good and he has all that curly hair flowing from underneath his golf cap. I’ve challenged myself to watch a lot of golf this season, much of it without Tiger. In doing so, I’ve taken to some of the game’s younger stars, including the USA’s Dustin Johnson and Hunter Mahan.

The game survived without Tiger Woods. I wasn’t sure it could. I’m kind of done with Tiger. I hope he takes a few more licks in Wales. Please, please, don’t think less of me, fellow countrymen.

If you thought ESPN shoved the Brett Favre saga down your throats, get ready for the Miami Heat training camp.

Every time LeBron James or Dwyane Wade takes a breath, ESPN cameras will be there. The Heat are THE BIG THING in the NBA this season, for obvious reasons. LeBron chose to play in South Beach, after all. And the Heat also added another big free agent, Chris Bosh.

It’s going to be Heat, Heat, Heat for the next nine months.

But after the Big 3, what does the Heat have?

I checked out their preseason roster and found that it was full of guys who don’t quite carry the household names of

Hasbrouck

Hasbrouck

LeBron and D-Wade. The rest of the Heat’s roster includes: Joel Anthony, Carlos Arroyo, Da’Sean Butler, Mario Chalmers, Michell Gladness, Kenny Hasbrouck, Udonis Haslem, Eddie House, Juwan Howard (he’s my age), Zydrunas Ilgauskas, James Jones, Jamaal Magliore, Anthony Mason, Mike Miller, Dexter Pittman, Shavlik Randolph and Jarvis Varnado.

Of those 17 players, I’ve heard of 11. And I suspect that’s better than average.

Five are rookies. Several are hanging on. A few – Chalmers, Miller, Haslem, House – should play key roles.

But in signing three free agents to monstrous contracts, the Heat is forced to pay the remaining players on the roster relative peanuts.

I’ve been a big LeBron fan all along. I also like Wade. Together, though, I’m not sure I’ll be on board. In fact, I’m rooting for some other team in the Eastern Division to keep Miami out of the NBA Finals.

Who might that be? Chicago? Boston? Atlanta? Orlando?

One development of the baseball season is that I developed a strong sense of hatred for the Cincinnati Reds, as apparently today’s blog is all about the people and teams I don’t like.

Sorry for that, but the Reds are easy to dislike, and not just because they beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central.

This is a brash team with a lot of guys willing to open their yaps, led by the verbally effusive Brandon Phillips. But as much as I don’t like the Reds, I consider them a serious National League challenger. Don’t get me wrong, Philadelphia looks like a clear-cut favorite. But I think Cincy can go toe-to-toe with the Phillies. The difference is pitching; the Phillies have Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. I’m not sure the Reds have a counter.

My Facebrook Friend

Kim Taylor

Kim is my buddy, a private practice radiologist who knows sports so well she’s been a co-host on our radio show, “Sports Daily.” Here’s what she had to say about our deep Facebook friendship:

“Oh Bob, I can barely contain my excitement! I feel so special. Let’s see, about me… Well I’m a Chiefs fan – need I say more? LOL. About myself, well my secret desire is to be a bartender in St. Thomas but I can’t quit my day job. Actually, I am now on the board of directors for the WSU Alumni Association and SASO, in addition to all my booster activities – so probably my biggest claim to fame is a big Shocker supporter. I can multitask and can save lives while listening to your radio show – even calling in. Hobbies include music and a good beer.
“Why are we Facebook friends? Well, I’m naturally attracted to wit and sarcasm – I find it without looking. Without being too serious, we have a mutual appreciation for sports and apparently good mexican food (I last saw Kim at Margarita’s-BL) … LOL. Oh, and we are both very important people around town, so how could we not be Facebook friends?”

As always, thanks for taking the time to check out my blog. I’m having fun with it.

A solemn day, forever

The date – Oct. 2 – is forever different at Wichita State. It’s the day, in 1970, that a plane carrying members of the Shockers’ football party – players, coaches, boosters, air personnel – crashed into a mountain in Colorado, killing 31.

It’s a day, then, for quiet perspective. That’s especially true for this year, which marks the 40th anniversary of the crash. Family members and survivors will gather at WSU for weekend ceremonies and a special remembrance Saturday morning.

So why is Wichita State holding its annual Rockin’ the Roundhouse event Saturday night at Koch Arena. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great event and a lot of fun. Proceeds go to WSU students, alumni and student-athletes. Food and drink are served in abundance.

But it should be held on a different day. Oct. 2 should be reserved to honor those killed in the crash, and to express consideration to the survivors and family members of those who died. An event called “Rockin’ the Roundhouse” should not be held on the most tragic date in a university’s history.

Doing so puts everyone in a bad position. This event should have been scheduled for a different date.

Tampa Bay Rays players Evan Longoria and David Price chided the team’s fan base – what little fan base there is – for not turning out in bigger numbers Monday night for a game in which the Rays could have clinched a playoff spot.

Instead, only 12,446 showed up at Tropicana Field, the worst venue in the big leagues, to watch Tampa Bay lose to the Baltimore Orioles.

Longoria was especially harsh toward fans, saying it was “embarrassing” that the team hasn’t elicited more of a response, considering its World Series appearance in 2008 and its outstanding season in 2010.

The players are right to feel embarrassed. But who is there message intended for? Obviously, the people in Tampa Bay either aren’t enamored with this team, which has averaged only 23,000-plus in a 37,000-seat stadium, or they don’t want to sit in a dingy ballpark in a bad location.

The customers ultimately determine the success of a product, and the Rays will be slashing payroll from an all-time high of $71 million this season to less than $50 million – maybe quite a bit less – in 2011.

Free agents Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and Rafael Soriano will be on the move and it’s doubtful the Rays will be able to lock up their abundance of young, talented players to long-term deals. Sounds like Longoria and Price won’t be crazy about staying around when they become free agents.

Tampa Bay is a great baseball story, but unfortunately the city doesn’t much care. Which is why commissioner Bud Selig should look into helping the Rays move to another city where they would be more of a draw. Perhaps Charlotte, Las Vegas or Portland would be a logical place for the Rays.

It’s not working in Tampa, though. And when it gets to a point where players are calling out fans, it’s a point of no return.

Looking forward to the book “Death to the BCS,” in which Yahoo writers Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter and Jeff Passan offer more compelling reasons why the BCS is the worst thing about sports, let alone college football.

Here’s what ESPN’s Pat Forde has to say about the book, which comes out in mid-October, just as the first BCS rankings are unveiled:

The book smartly offers a compelling alternative — a 16-team playoff — early in the narrative. Then it gets back to skewering the system, using financial statements from schools to point out that many schools lose more money than they make — even on the high-dollar bowls. (Virginia Tech’s expense summary from the 2009 Orange Bowl shows more than $3.8 million in expenses, including $1.77 million in a shortfall of selling tickets the school and ACC agreed to buy as the price of playing in the game.)

Sounds like a must-read, doesn’t it?

It’s time, once again, for another edition of “Who Is the Opinion-Line Caller?”

Here’s an Opinion Line contribution from Tuesday’s Wichita Eagle:

We can waste a trillion dollars and thousands of lives constructing buildings and roads for people in the Middle East who hate our religions and our free, tolerant society. Yet we didn’t have enough money for our own schools or a grocery store to serve the center of Wichita.

Our own tolerant society? Not sure what society this person is living in, but it doesn’t appear to be ours. Anyway, this person is 57 or 58 and thinks a lot about grocery stores. Who wouldn’t compare the lack of a grocery store in downtown Wichita with the construction of buildings and roads in the Middle East? It’s so obvious. This Opinion Line caller is a man with three cats and shag carpeting and blinds he rarely opens. His wife is somewhere in the house.

See you here tomorrow. Have a good rest of the day.

Mighty mites

The Kansas City Chiefs are getting unbelievable production so far from their class of rookies, two of whom are 5-foot-9 and among the shortest players in the National Football League.

Of the 255 players chosen in the 2010 draft, Dexter McCluster and Javier Arenas are two of only eight who stand 5-9 or shorter. Former LSU player Trindon Holliday, at 5-5, was the shortest player taken in the draft.

McCluster and Arenas, both second-round choices, have made a huge impact on the Chiefs, whose 3-0 start is among the NFL’s biggest surprises. Fellow rookies Eric Berry, a starting safety, and Tony Moeaki, an emerging tight end, also have come up large for KC.

McCluster and Arenas have invigorated the Chiefs’ return game and McCluster was a huge weapon as a receiver during Sunday’s surprisingly-easy win over the San Francisco 49ers.

Don’t look now, but the Chiefs might be for real. I mean, really real, as in real enough to win the AFC West and get a home game in the playoffs. Think I’m crazy? First, you’re not alone. Second, check out Kansas City’s schedule. I’ve been talking about how soft it is for weeks now and if the Chiefs can maintain confidence after a bye week and road games against Houston and Indianapolis, the season is there for the taking.

Matt Cassel looked like a real NFL quarterback Sunday against the hapless 49ers. Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles are the perfect complementary running backs because of their different styles. And who cares if Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers aren’t the best wide receivers in the world; McCluster and Moeaki are more than picking up the slack.

I was sad to read about the death of NFL Hall of Famer George Blanda, whose career really takes me back to the early days of my interest in football.

Blanda, incredibly, played from 1949 through 1975 and not once did he do a Wrangler jeans ad or hold his team hostage while he mulled over his future – for the umpteenth time.

Yes, that’s yet another blow to the body of my favorite quarterback, Brett Favre.

Blanda was the Favre of his day, without all the indecision.

This from the Associated Press:

blandaBlanda is remembered most for his heroics in the 1970 season when at age 43, he threw three touchdown passes and kicked a field goal in the Raiders’ comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In that same season, Blanda also kicked a 52-yard field goal to defeat the Cleveland Browns, threw a winning touchdown pass against the Denver Broncos and booted a last-minute field goal to defeat the San Diego Chargers. The Raiders ended up losing to the Baltimore Colts in the 1970 AFC title game, but Blanda became the oldest player ever in a title game.

What a truly amazing player from a totally different era. There is no one like Blanda today and there never will be. He’s the truest of throwbacks to another era.

There are 25 unbeaten teams remaining in college football as we continue to learn where this season is headed.

Right now, it’s Alabama and Ohio State who are on a collision course to play in the national championship game, but one or both have plenty of time to falter. Boise State is poised to step in should one of the favorites fall. And Oregon – the Ducks – are right there, ranked No. 4 with a huge game this Saturday against No. 9 Stanford, in Eugene.

The winner of that game is a serious national championship contender. And it’ll be part of a great Saturday of football viewing pleasure for yours truly.

It’ll start at 11 a.m. with Kansas at Baylor, a highly-intriguing match-up. Kansas really needs this one in its quest to get to six wins. Then again, so does Baylor. And the Bears are at home, which gives them at edge. KU is treading water at best, even after a good showing Saturday night in its easy win over New Mexico State, one of the worst teams in the country.

There are still more questions than answers when it comes to the Jayhawks.

At 2:30, I’ll watch Texas-Oklahoma, although some of the shine is off that game thanks to the Longhorns’ complete meltdown at home in their loss to UCLA. If Texas wants to be the king of the new and restructured Big 12, then Texas needs to not lose games like this at home. The king isn’t exactly dead, but its in critical condition.

Finally, I’ll be watching Stanford-Oregon. That’s a good Saturday, folks.

My conference power rankings as of this moment are:

1) SEC. I’ll get back to you when this changes. Alabama, Florida, Auburn, LSU and Arkansas all are ranked in the top 15.

2) Pac-10. Who would have thunk it? But with Oregon and Stanford leading the charge, this conference is showing well. Arizona (14) and USC (18) also are ranked.

3) Big 10. Ohio State is the conference’s only top 10 team, but five schools – Wisconsin (11), Iowa (17), Michigan (19), Penn State (22) and Michigan State (24) are making noise.

4) Big 12. Did I mention how Texas really blew it? Nebraska is for real, I think. But Oklahoma has not put it all together.

5) ACC. Two ranked teams, Miami (Fla.) and North Carolina State, neither of which is guaranteed to stay.

6) Big East. Or, as I call it, the Small Least.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow with “Who Is the Opinion Line Caller?”

Mary had a little . . .

Here’s part of the note that awaited us in the Kansas State football press box as we arrived this morning:

Welcome! The Kansas Sheep Association is happy to host today’s press feed brunch before the K-State football game. Representing Kansas sheep producers, the association provides educational opportunities for producers through seminars and tours across the state and promotion of lamb and wool to consumers.”

lambIn other words, we were served lamb, which I suppose is OK if you cover it up with enough barbecue sauce. But picky eater I am, I didn’t chance it. Instead, I contemplated why it is I’m so agreeable to dig into a big chunk of meat, from a cow, but so reluctant to take a bite of lamb, one of the sweetest animals in the petting zoo.

Perhaps that’s it. Maybe it’s that my emotional connection with sheep and lambs is so strong that I cannot bring myself to eat the stuff. That’s what I’m going with; it’s the best explanation I can offer.

Ominous clouds surround us at Bill SnyderFamily Stadium, but so far no rain or wind. Enthusiasm for Kansas State football is running high, but I think most people understand the game against Nebraska on Oct. 7 (a Thursday cloudnight nationall televised affair), will be telling for the Cats.

So might today’s game against a Central Florida team that was 8-5 last season and is coached by George O’Leary, who previously coached at Georgia Tech.

I expect Kansas State to win today, but it might not be easy. Some fans, who don’t know about Central Florida, will expect it to be one-sided. I’m most curious to see what the Wildcats can add to their offensive repertoire, which so far has included senior running back and very little else.

Eventually, Carson Coffman and the passing game are going to need to be a threat. I think some quality receivers are in place; now it’s a matter of consistently getting them the ball so they can make plays.

Here’s a weather update: The K-State vs. Central Florida game has been suspended because of lightning. And because of some of the weirdest looking clouds I’ve ever seen.

Scary cloud

Scary cloud

At left is the cloud – the very bizarre, alien-like cloud, that is producing the lightning that postponed the game. Those of us in the press box are keeping a wary eye on this thing. Some are calling loved ones.

My fiance (soon to be more) and I watched “Glee” for the first time this week. Why we skipped last season, I’m not sure. I never got caught up in the hype.

We went into this viewing with caution, both unsure of whether we would like what we saw. Well, we both loved what we saw and now have to find time to add another show to our lineup, which already includes more shows than I care to mention.

I’m a TV geek, I suppose. Debbie wasn’t, at least before she met me. But now she’s getting more and more hooked. We’re totally stoked for the Sunday night Season 5 premiere of “Dexter,” which we’ve watched on DVD previously. This time, though, I ordered “Showtime,” specifically so we could watch the show from week to week. I’m also curious about

Buscemi

Buscemi

“Boardwalk Empire,” the new HBO series starring Steve Buscemi and produced by Terence Winter, who also produced “The Sopranos.” I’d say that’s a pretty solid resume.

Martin Scorsese directed the first episode and is one of the executive producers.

I’m a National League guy, but because of that I don’t really like many NL teams because they compete all season with the St. Louis Cardinals.

So in the postseason, I’m often pulling for an American League team – except for the Yankees and Red Sox. I never pull for the Yankees or the Red Sox.

This year, I’m torn. I like Tampa Bay and I like Minnesota. I think I’m going with the Twins, a franchise I greatly admire for being competitive with a mid- to small-market budget.

Incredibly, Minnesota is 47-21 without injured first baseman Justin Morneau, who went down in early July with a concussion. His return is doubtful; Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has said he’s planning a postseason sans Morneau.

It shows the depth of the team and the strength of the organization that the Twins have been able to withstand the loss of a former Most Valuable Player.

It’s another interesting week in the NFL; lots of juicy games. Some picks, home teams in bold:

Pittsburgh 20, Tampa Bay 14

Houston 31, Dallas 21

Kansas City 20, San Francisco 17

Minnesota 27, Detroit 21

New Orleans 28, Atlanta 21

Miami 21, New York Jets 17

Chicago 24, Green Bay 21

My Facebook friend

Lori Linenberger

Lori is a features editor at The Eagle (responsible for our Go! section) and one of the finest journalists I know. She’s done a little bit of everything during her long, long career, including a stint with UPI (United Press International). If that gives away her age, I apologize.

Linenberger

Lori

We’ve been friends a long time and try our best to go to lunch once a week just to catch up. Lori is smart and opinionated and she loves television and movies. She’s deeper than me, but who isn’t?

Anyway, Lori, who is from Great Bend and went to KU, is not just a Facebook friend, she’s a real-life friend. There is a difference, at least some of the time.

Here’s what she had to say about our Facebook friendship:

“I got to know you working nights at the Eagle almost 20 years ago because I thought you were so sweet and cute when you brought your little boy Jeff to work with you, after covering a night game. I’ve since learned that the words sweet and cute DO NOT intermingle with the words BOB LUTZ. And that is exactly why we have stayed friends. You are challenging, funny, sometimes maddening, but never boring. Why am I your Facebook friend? Because I go to FB to be entertained, and you are the headlining act! Now that you’re sufficiently buttered up, will you buy me lunch next week?

Playing with numbers

Albert Pujols is one of my favorite subjects. At least until he decides he’s had enough in St. Louis and is leaving via free agency, a possibility I’m bracing for but hope doesn’t happen.

alAnyway, for the 10th season in a row, Pujols is going to hit .300 or better, hit 30 homers or more and drive in at least 100 runs. He’s building one of the most incredible careers in baseball history and, if he keeps going at anything close to his current pace for 10 more years, it’ll be difficult to argue he’s not the greatest player of all-time.

Of course, projecting 10 more years is tricky. Pujols, like all players, will eventually slow down. Whether that’s in his early 30s, his mid-30s or into his 40s is anybody’s guess.

As of today, Pujols has 1,891 hits, 407 home runs, 1,224 RBI and has scored 1,179 runs.

Let’s say his averages in those departments decrease some in the next 10 years, assuming he plays 10 more years. For the sake of argument, let’s say he averages 175 hits instead of 190, 35 homers instead of 41, 100 RBI instead of 122 and 100 runs instead of 117. I think that’s reasonable.

If so, Pujols will finish his career with 3,641 hits, which would rank fourth all-time behind Pete Rose, Ty Cobb and Hank Aaron.

He would conclude his career with 757 homers, second to Barry Bonds’ 762.

Pujols would finish with 2,224 RBI; only Henry Aaron 2,247 would be better. Interestingly, only three players have Cap_Ansondriven in more than 2,000 runs. Two are easy: Aaron and Babe Ruth. Cap Anson (the dapper man pictured to the left) is the other. He drove in 2,075 runs during a 27-year big league career that concluded in 1897. Twenty-one of his seasons were spent with the Chicago Cubs.

And he would score 2,279 runs, second-most to Rickey Henderson’s 2,295.

Again, all of this happens only if Pujols remains healthy, which he has been able to do so far. Of the 1,610 games the Cardinals have played with Pujols, he has appeared in 1,549 of them. That’s an amazing accomplishment by itself.

Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners is another incredible hitter who is doing things we’ve never seen done.

Suzuki got his 200th hit of the 2010 season Thursday, the 10th straight season he’s topped that mark. Nobody in baseball history has accomplished that feat and Suzuki has done it in each of his big-league seasons. He came to the Mariners from Japan when he was 27, after being an All-Star caliber player in his native country.

ichiroSuzuki is one of the most outstanding leadoff hitters to ever play, but he’s the epitome of a singles hitter.

Of Ichiro’s 2,230 hits (including a record 262 in 2004, 1,813 (or 81.3 percent) are singles.

Pete Rose, considered the ultimate singles hitter during his long career, had 3,215 singles among his 4,256 hits.

Wichita State’s men’s basketball schedule was released recently and it’s solid. But only for road and neutral-site games. The home portion of the Shockers’ schedule leaves a lot to be desired.

I know you can’t load up everywhere, especially because wins mean so much in college basketball. But it’s a shame that season-ticket holders at WSU get to feast on the following teams: Texas Southern (17-16 in 2009-10); UMKC (12-18); Chicago State (9-23); Nicholls State (11-19) and Alabama A&M (11-16).

There’s also the return of the Wichita State-Tulsa rivalry. Those teams will meet on Dec. 21, likely at the Intrust Bank Arena. And that’s a high-quality game, especially since the Golden Hurricane are coming off a 23-12 season.

Otherwise, there’s just not much. Yes, the Shockers play in the Maui Classic, go to San Diego State and play LSU in Bossier City. There’s also a Bracket Busters game to be played at Koch Arena in February. All in all, a very good schedule. Just not crazy about five patsies at home.

By the way, I noticed Tulsa is playing Oklahoma State in the BOK center in downtown Tulsa on Dec. 8. Congratulations to those schools for putting that game together. And shame, shame, shame on Kansas and Kansas State – again – for not seeing fit to put Wichita State on their respective schedules. Some how, some way, that just has to happen. It’s ridiculous that it doesn’t.

College predictons

Kansas State 28, Central Florida 14

Kansas 31, New Mexico State 14

Alabama 30, Arkansas 21

South Carolina 24, Auburn 20

Boise State 34, Oregon State 21

Oregon 40, Arizona State 20

Shock Talk, the blog’s weekly brief and fun question and answer with a Wichita State athlete, will return next week. Why isn’t it here this week? Blame me, I suppose.

I’ll be back in this space tomorrow, blogging from Manhattan where I’ll be for the Central Florida-Kansas State game.

Vick’s schtick

I haven’t forgotten the reason Michael Vick was one of the most despised athletes – heck, people – in America just a couple of years ago.

But I’m sure and heck on the path to forgive him, and it’s not just because he has won the starting quarterback job for the Philadelphia Eagles.

It’s because Vick has been a perfect team player since joining the Eagles before the 2009 season. He’s never complained. He’s gone about trying to re-establish himself as an NFL player and has never looked for short cuts.

He understood his role last season was to back up Donovan McNabb and to get a few snaps here and there. He understood he was rusty, unfamiliar with what it took to be a professional football player.

This season, he accepted being an emergency plan if Kevin Kolb got hurt or didn’t pan out. Well, Kolb went down with a concussion in Week 1 and Vick nearly led an Eagles comeback against Green Bay. He was fantastic in a Week 2 win over Detroit. And he’ll get the start for the Eagles on Sunday in Jacksonville, looking even better than the Vick of old, the troubled Vick whose life off the field could not have helped him prosper on the field.

Vick has a clear mind these days. He’s served time for his transgressions and emerged from the darkness as a better man and, less importantly, a better football player.

Who doesn’t root for that?

There should be no one among us who doesn’t forgive a man for doing wrong, provided he doesn’t repeat his mistakes. Vick has gone from being Public Enemy No. 1 because of his terrible mistreatment of dogs to being someone many of us can root for.

Not all of us, mind you. Some will never forgive Vick for the cruel nature of his crimes. It’s a hard line, but one I can understand.

I tend to be more open to the notion that people can change for the better. I don’t think it’s easy, and I’m not totally convinced Vick has seen the error of his ways. But judging from his soft-spoken manner and frequently-expressed humility, I take him at his word.

And I root for him to be successful. I think his message is a powerful one, especially because he is so beloved. I believe Vick can be a game-changer in life, far from the football field. His message has to resonate strongly with kids – especially black kids who used to gobble up his replica jerseys when he played for the Atlanta Falcons.

You wonder why other athletes who have broken the law or been in trouble don’t follow Vick’s lead. He could write a book on redemption. Meanwhile, people like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds struggle to find empathy.

I always appreciated Vick’s talents when he played at Virginia Tech and later with the Falcons, but I was never a fan. He came off then as a brash, spoiled athlete who had been given everything but returned nothing.

He has changed my mind. I hope he plays well this week and on into the rest of the season. I can watch Vick work his magic now and know that when the game is over, he’ll say the right things and act the right way.

Vick has won me over. Only a small slice of suspicion remains. And it’s getting smaller all the time.

I don’t see anyone beating the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League playoffs.  Not only does Philly have the best offense in the NL, they have Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels to throw in the first three games of a series.

By the way, when’s the last time a team had two ace pitchers named “Roy?”

The Reds’ pitching doesn’t match up. The Giants and Padres could be factors because of their pitching, but neither team can hit with the Phillies. The Rockies are a dangerous offensive team, but play a lot better at home than on the road. And the Braves showed earlier this week how they’ll do against Philadelphia.

In the American League, I’m for the Minnesota Twins. Their manager, Ron Gardenhire, married a Wichita girl and they used to live in town during the offseason until about 10 years ago.

The Yankees will be the favorite in the AL, but I think Tampa Bay has the best team in the league.

“American Idol” announced its judges lineup for the 2011 season Wednesday and I’m intrigued.

Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler is one of the new judges, along with Jennifer Lopez. They’ll join old stand-by Randy Jackson as AI returns to a three-judge panel, which is good.

It seems as if I’m constantly apologizing for being a fan of “American Idol,” and I’m sick of it. It’s a singing competition, for crying out loud, and I enjoy singers. And I get caught up in the competition and the competitors. So there.

It’s kind of pathetic to admit, but as I’m writing this blog entry I’m also keeping track of the St. Louis Cardinals’ game against Pittsburgh. The Cardinals have fallen off the face of the earth, but lead 6-0 today. Albert Pujols has hit his 40th homer and Matt Holliday has driven in his 100th run. And even though this team has disgusted me for more than a month, I’m happier when they’re winning.

Memories of a sports writer

In 1977, I won the Oscar Stauffer award, given out by the Kansas State High School Activities Association to the person they deem to be worthy of recognition.

I was 22 at the time, so awards were new to me. Since then, I’ve won thousands (he says, sarcastically).

award 2Anyway, I accepted the award (pictured here)  at Kansas City Kansas Community College during the Class 5A state basketball tournament. As I was ready to walk onto the court during halftime of a game to receive a plaque, the public address announcer mispronounced by name, saying “Luhtz” into of “Lootz.”

I’m not proud of my reaction. I yelled at the guy and said: “It’s Lootz, (expletive).” Remember, please, that I was young and, admittedly, clueless. And I don’t think he heard me.

Pain is hurtful and hurt is painful

Some NFL fans are booing hits from defenders that used to be legal, but aren’t anymore. Anything that leads with the head is going to get a flag and a 15-yard penalty. Anything that goes for the head of an opposing player is going to draw the same punishment.

It’s about time. The NFL says head injuries are at the top of its list of concerns. Rightly so. And if it means making the game less violent, so be it.

Injuries are always going to be a major part of football. Too much a part of football, if you ask me. But that horse left the barn a long, long time ago.

Equipment is always being improved, but the athletes who play football are bigger, stronger and faster than they were even 5-10 years ago. Football players are pushing their bodies like never before, and some of those bodies are breaking down.

Getting hit by a defensive back didn’t used to be that big of a deal, when defensive backs were 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds. Now that many of them are 6-1 and 210 pounds, the hits produce a lot more shock.

Human bodies aren’t made to play football. Pads help, but they don’t alleviate the problem. The game is based on blocking and tackling, activities guaranteed to produce a fair share of ouchies. Throw hitting into the mix and you have a game that needs to be closely monitored, which is what the officials, under the mandate of commissioner Roger Goodell, are trying to do.

Yet Goodell is sending mixed messages. He says injuries – especially those to the head – are one of his league’s biggest concerns, yet is pushing for an increase to an 18-game regular season.

Goodell can’t have it both ways. You can say it’s just two more games, but it’s a 12-plus percent increase to the schedule.

By pushing for 18 games, Goodell is undermining his expressed concerns with the game’s injury situation. More games aren’t going to cause fewer injuries. And at a time when the NFL labor agreement is up in the air, Goodell will try to use the 18-game schedule as leverage to avoid a lock-out.

I think 16 games is plenty. I’m sure most of the players and coaches do, too. The only people who want to see 18 games are the owners and some fans. The same fans who love helmet-to-helmet contact and players being carted off the field.

I was looking at a site today and it displayed logos for some college teams.

I really looked at the logos, studied them with an artistic eye. Previously, I never really paid much attention. But there is such a thing as a good college logo and a bad one.

michigan logoLet’s start with Michigan. I’m not sure why just the scripted M wasn’t good enough here and why “Michigan” was inserted. It detracts from the logo, in my opinion. I do like the colors and I love the “M.” That would have been sufficient. Grade: C-minus.

michigan state logoMichigan State. Although you really have to be a fan of logos to know that an “S” can be a symbol for Michigan State. It’s understated, almost cocky. The average logo fan – which I was before this undertaking – would be confused by this logo. It’s as if Michigan State thinks it can just throw an “S’ out there and take for granted that people are going to know which school it refers to. Grade: D

utah logoThis is Utah’s logo and although I’m sure there are some who don’t believe it’s politically correct, it’s one of my favorites. I love the feathers. I love the “U.” I simply love everything about this logo. Grade: A.

washington state logoThis is Washington State – the Cougars. There’s a cougar hidden in this logo somewhere. If I close my right eye halfway and look up at the right angle with my left eye, I can make it out. I see what Washington State was going for here. I do like the whiskers. Any logo that can adopt whiskers is a log I’m usually rooting for. But this one falls short. It looks like something you have to type in before you get access to a website. Grade: D-minus.

We’ll look at more logos at a later date.

My Facebook friend

Darcy Powers O’Neill

Oh, what can one say about Darcy. I’ve known her since she was a student at Wichita State, and she was dating Wichita State baseball player Jaime Bluma. Of course, everyone loves Bluma and Darcy was just as cool. When my son, Jeff, was 10 or 11, I hired Darcy to babysit when I was on road trips. She was dependable and Jeff seemed unscathed by the experience. Darcy is happily married now (not to Jaime) with two children. She loves Notre Dame football and Shocker baseball and is just a really wonderful person.

Here’s what Darcy had to say about our Facebook relationship:

Well, I would say we are friends because of Shocker baseball. Going to school at WSU and of course me dating Jaime put me in contact with you and thus I became the house sitter/babysitter for Jeff while you traveled.
I could say our mutual love of drinking beer and our love for the Eagles has been the foundation that has continued the great friendship over the years!

Tuesday musings

Who would have thought that two weeks into the NFL season, the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers – three stone-cold playoff locks according to many before the season – would all be 0-2? Or that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Bears would be 2-0?

What’s real and what isn’t after just a few games?

Dallas, which plays on the road at Houston this week, is in trouble. So is Minnesota. Brett Favre should not have returned for another season. The 49ers play in a weak division and will right the ship. They played a tough game Monday night against New Orleans before losing.

Tampa Bay has beaten Cleveland and Carolina. Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler looks like a different guy under new offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who still doesn’t get his due as an offensive guru.

Which brings me to the Chiefs, who beat San Diego during an opening-night monsoon at Arrowhead Stadium, then won on the road over the Cleveland Browns.

I believe the Chiefs will have a better record than anyone could have imagined. And by better record, I’m talking about 9-7 or even (gasp!) 10-6.

That doesn’t mean the Chiefs are a juggernaut. This is not an elite team in the class of Green Bay, Pittsburgh, New Orleans or the like.

It’s all in the schedule. The Chiefs have what appears to be a highly favorable schedule after playing road games in Houston next month.

Kansas City has a key game this week against the 49ers at Arrowhead. San Fran is reeling and will be nasty. But if the Chiefs can get that one, they go into their bye week at 3-0. Then they have to deal with the tough road games against the AFC South foes. They’ll likely be 3-2 after that.

Then, however, comes this stretch of 11 games to finish the regular season: Jacksonville, Buffalo, at Oakland, at Denver, Arizona, at Seattle, Denver, at San Diego, at St. Louis, Tennessee, Oakland.

Let’s be conservative here and say the only road wins the Chiefs get are at Oakland and at St. Louis. That’s 5-5. How many home games can the Chiefs win? Jacksonville? Buffalo? Arizona? Denver? Tennessee? Oakland?

Is 5-1 outlandish? I don’t think so. Which would give the Chiefs a 10-6 record and a potential playoff spot.

Again, if you’re reading this closely, you have not come across a point where I have referred to the Chiefs as a legitimate contender. Because they’re not. The process of rebuilding the team has only just begun.

But it’s a bonus to be rebuilding against such a soft schedule. All I’m saying is: Don’t be surprised if the Chiefs do a lot better than anybody anticipated.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the parking lot, the Royals continue their slide toward 100 losses. At 61-88 with 13 games remaining, Kansas City isn’t going to reach 100, which I suppose is a small victory for the franchise. But this was supposed to be a season – again – in which the Royals improved.

They haven’t.

Help, though, might be on the way. Royals prospects are being anointed everywhere you look. “Baseball America” put five Royals prospects on its minor league All-Star team for 2010. Third baseman Mike Moustakas was the minors’ player of the year after hitting 36 homers and driving in 124 runs. First baseman Eric Hosmer, catcher Wil Myers, starting pitcher John Lamb and reliever Tim Collins are the others on “Baseball America’s” list.

Small-market teams like Kansas City have to build through their system, and it looks as if the Royals are finally getting that. Their prospect list runs deep and a day is coming – it really is – when the Royals are going to be more competitive. Of course, not all prospects pan out. Others take time.

But better days are coming for the Royals. Finally.

I watched the terrific HBO series “Hard Knocks,” which this year followed the New York Jets through training camp.

While watching the series, I found myself becoming a bit of a Jets fan. But after a couple of regular-season games, I’m finding that I can’t stand the Jets and want them to lose every game.

Why the change?

The Jets are just too brash. Their fans are too brash. Their coach, Rex Ryan, feeds the brashness. So, while I like second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez and a few other Jets players, my dislike for players such as Braylon Edwards has tainted what I thought were positive feelings for the team.

If it’s Tuesday, it’s time for another edition of “Who is the Opinion Line caller?”

If they had left the divots in the golf course after last week’s hailstorm, everyone could have made a hole-in-one.

Because of the inadequacy of the humor, this person is over 60. Not that older people can’t be funny . . . but, really? It’s a man who plays golf four or five times a year, on public courses. Never private. He lives in a three-bedroom house and is diligent about conserving energy. His wife, after years of trying to remain engaged, now just ignores his attempts at humor and is thankful when he nods off in the evenings while watching Fox News.

I would like to get a bumper sticker saying, “Sorry. I just poke along at the speed limit.”

This is the same guy.


What’s Turner doing?

I listened to the first half of Kansas’ 31-16 loss to Southern Mississippi on Friday night and watched the second half.

Watching gave me a much different perspective on first-year KU coach Turner Gill, America’s most laid-back coach.

People have told me Gill has a different style of coaching. Ya think? As cameras panned to Gill on the Kansas sideline, he had the same stoic look. He adjusted his headphones occasionally but at least on the TV shots had no interaction with players and didn’t speak into the headset.

I became irritated as I watched this, especially in comparison to Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora, who was shown doing what football coaches do: talking to players, yelling, giving direction.

I don’t intend this to be an indictment of Gill. In fact, I hope Gill succeeds at Kansas. I think he’s a genuine guy who doesn’t feel the need – or even have the capacity – to rant and rave as he’s coaching a football game. He has said from the beginning that he believes in giving an inordinate amount of autonomy to his coordinators – in this case Chuck Long (offense) and Carl Torbush (defense). Both have proven themselves in those roles.

But this is different. Really different. And if Gill doesn’t win (it’s far too early to say whether he will or not at Kansas), his lack of apparent involvement on the sideline will start to be a hot topic of conversation.

Football is such an emotion-driven game and it’s strange to see a head coach who doesn’t display much of it on the sideline.

Another thought on KU. What are the odds on a team having two punts blocked in the first three weeks? And a couple of other punts were almost blocked, resulting in personal fouls on the opposition.

Given the hit-and-miss nature of Kansas’ defense – it was mostly miss against Southern Miss – KU needs to shore up its special teams. It’s not asking too much to be able to get a punt off without disaster.

Troy Tulowitzki is hot, in case you hadn’t noticed.

I’m sad to hear that Joe Torre has decided he’s had enough and will step down at the end of the season as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Torre is one of the best manager ever and his playing career is underrated. He’s a former National League MVP with the St. Louis Cardinals. In his MVP year, 1971, Torre batted .363 with 24 homers and 137 RBIs. He led the National League with a career-high 230 hits.

Torre didn’t rule out managing again, but strongly hinted that his days in the dugout are over.

Time for some quick NFL picks for Sunday’s best games:

Tennessee 20, Pittsburgh 17

Minnesota 27, Miami 14

Baltimore 19, Cincinnati 7

Dallas 28, Chicago 17

Houston 24, Washington 20

New England 23, New York Jets 14

And the Chiefs?

You’d think they’d have an easy time of it in Cleveland, considering the Browns blew a game last week against Tampa Bay and are in a serious rebuilding mode.

But road games are a different animal, so I’m picking the Brown, 21-17.

My Facebook friend

Jim Graber

I got to know Jim a little bit a few years back; he sponsors a softball team out of Kingman and I knew some of the players. But I’ve gotten closer to Jim in the past year or so because we’re both deluxe – yes, deluxe – karaoke singers.

Our styles might be different, but the results are the same. Women swoon when they hear our dulcet tones.

Jim and his wife, Peggy, join us for karaoke once a month or so.

Here’s what Jim had to say about himself and why we’re Facebook friends:

“What defines me?…well, I am pretty much un-defineable, Bob.
How did we get to be Facebook friends?…..neither one of us has much of a life, sadly.
Why do we stay Facebook friends?…so we can plan the next time we go sing karaoke.
Sports aneccdote……1964…..the year that I decided that I hate the Cardinals, and the year that Bob decided that he hates the Yankees.