Monthly Archives: October 2011

La Russa and the great managers

After Tony La Russa announced he was retiring as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday morning, and presumably retiring from managing altogether at the age of 67, I started looking at some managerial history.

Tony La Russa speaks to the crowd at Busch Stadium on Sunday at a celebration honoring the World Champion Cardinals.

La Russa is one of only 10 managers in baseball history to win 2,000 or more games. He’s third on the all-time list with 2,728 victories, behind John McGraw (2,763) and Connie Mack (3,731).

Sports fans are always eager to quantify where an athlete, coach or manager stands among the all-time best. In this case, you can’t just look at wins. I would say La Russa is one of the five or six greatest managers in baseball history. Consider that in his 16 seasons in St. Louis, the Cardinals had only three losing seasons. They finished first or second in the National League Central 10 times and were in the postseason nine times, including eight of the past 12 years.

La Russa’s 16 seasons with the Cardinals coincided with the greatest stretch of St. Louis baseball in history, in my opinion. Before La Russa arrived in 1996, the Cardinals had made it to the postseason three times in the previous 28 years. And all of those came under Whitey Herzog – in 1983, 1985 and 1987. The Cardinals went to the World Series in each of those seasons and won a world championship in 1982.

Here are some facts about the other nine managers in the 2,000-win club:

Connie Mack (53 years), 3,731-3,949 (.486), nine pennants, five World Series champions – Mack was able to hang around so long with the Philadelphia Athletics because he was also the team’s owner or part-owner for most of his managerial career. Mack finally retired in 1950, when he was 87 and 20 years after his last world championship. His last team, by the way, was 52-102.

John McGraw (33 years), 2,763-1,948 (.586), 10 pennants, three World Series champions – McGraw managed most of his seasons with the New York Giants (1902-32) and was a player-manager for the 1905 Giants team that won a world championship.

Bobby Cox (29 years), 2,504-2,001 (.556), five pennants, one World Series champion – Cox had the luxury of sending Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine to the mound for much of his career in Atlanta, but the winning percentage is impressive. The one World Series title isn’t.

Joe Torre (29 years), 2,326-1,997 (.538), six pennants, four World Series champions – Torre failed to distinguish himself as an elite manager with the Mets, Atlanta and St. Louis before taking over the New York Yankees, where he won four world championships. As you’ll notice, quite a few of the game’s most successful managers padded their resumes with the Yankees.

Sparky Anderson (26 years), 2,194-1,834 (.545), five pennants, three World Series champions – It was impressive to see Anderson win a championship with the 1984 Detroit Tigers after winning two with the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati during the 1970s, managing some of the finest teams in major league history.

Bucky Harris (29 years), 2,158-2,219 (.493), three pennants, two World Series champions – Harris won a world championship as a player-manager with the Washington Senators in 1924. Twenty-three years later, he won a title as manager of the Yankees.

Joe McCarthy (24 years), 2,125-1,333 (.615), nine pennants, seven World Series champions – Simply amazing success. But it was mostly with the Yankees, although McCarthy did lead the Chicago Cubs to a National League pennant in 1929. Still, he was 1,460-867 while managing some great Yankees teams from 1931-46.

Walter Alston (23 years), 2,040-1,613 (.588), seven pennants, four World Series champions – One of the most underrated managers in history, probably because of his laid-back style. The Los Angeles Dodgers were a consistent force under Alston.

Leo Durocher (24 years), 2,008-1,709 (.540), three pennants, one World Series champion – “The Lip” jumped around quite a bit during his career, but he was always colorful and almost always successful with the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Chicago Cubs and, for just more than a season, the Houston Astros.

Nine other managers reached the 1,500-win plateau:

Casey Stengel (25 years), 1,905-1,842 (508), 10 pennants, seven World Series – Stengel did most of his winning as the manager of the New York Yankees from 1949-60. With the Yankees, he was 1,149-696, a .623 winning percentage. In 11 seasons combined with Brooklyn, the Boston Braves and the New York Mets, Stengel was 756-1,146.

Gene Mauch (26 years), 1,902-2,037 (.483), no pennants. A native of Salina.

Bill McKechnie (25 years), 1,896-1,723 (.524), four pennants, two World Series champions. McKechnie won with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1925 and the Cincinnati Reds in 1940.

Lou Piniella (23 years), 1,835-1,713 (.517), one pennant, one World Series champion. I’ll bet he’d like to forget his three seasons in Tampa Bay.

Ralph Houk (24 years), 1,619-1,531 (.514), three pennants, two World Series champions. A native of Lawrence.

Fred Clarke (19 years), 1,602-1,181 (.576), four pennants, one World Series champion. Clarke, who spent some of his life in Winfield, was a player-manager on a Pittsburgh team that went 110-42 and won a championship in 1909.

Tom Lasorda (21 years), 1,599-1,439 (.526), four pennants, two World Series champions. Followed Alston in style and continued the Dodgers’ winning ways.

Jim Leyland (20 years), 1,588-1,585 (.500), two pennants, one World Series champion. Still managing with the Detroit Tigers.

Dick Williams (21 years), 1,571-1,451 (.520), four pennants, two World Series champions. Won twice in Oakland with some of the most colorful teams in baseball history.

Final Cardinals thoughts (for now)

On the drive to Manhattan today, which took longer than normal because of extensive road construction, the St. Louis Cardinals crossed my mind once or twice.

On Friday night, the Cardinals won their 11th world championship and their fifth since I’ve been alive. In order, I’ve celebrated in: 1964 (I was 9, so the celebrating probably wasn’t very intense); 1967, 1982, 2006 and 2011. I didn’t do a lot of celebrating last night, either. I stayed up with my wife, Debbie, and we watched all the post-game stuff on Fox. Then we turned over to Fox Sports Midwest and watched more Cardinals coverage.

I didn’t even have a drink.

It was important to soak it in. So that’s what I did. I didn’t go crazy. On the last out of the game, I sat still in my chair and watched everything I could watch on the television. I soaked it in.

Last night, on Facebook, I posted about how much the Cardinals have meant to me in my life. They have been a constant for me since I was eight. I became a St. Louis fan during Stan Musial’s final season with the Cardinals and I have been a Cardinals fan ever since.

I will be a Cardinals fan on the day I die. It’s as much a part of me as my hair – what little I have left.

It’s because of my late father, Ray. He was a Cardinals fan, to the point of listening to many games on his transistor radio. His love for the Cardinals rubbed off. It was our biggest bond. My father was like so many fathers, I believe. He wasn’t always sure what being a dad was all about. He was almost 44 when I was born and I was his only kid.

So when we talked, we talked about sports. When we interacted, we interacted around sports. The times we felt most comfortable around one another were the times we discussed sports.

That changed as I got older. My dad and I developed a great relationship in all facets of life. He struggled to share his emotions when I was a kid, but as I got past college and into the work force my dad had no trouble expressing his pride in me. We even used the word “love” quite often when we talked to one another.

I’m just sorry I was only 30 when my father died in 1986. My last visual image of him is of being in his car, a Renault, with my son, Jeff, standing in the passenger seat. Yeah, I know, it was dangerous. I’m not sure there were car seats in those days.

I’m so happy that my son was born before my father died. Jeff was only three when that happened, but he was one of the joys of my father’s life. And it’s through my father’s love of baseball that my son was also taken by the game. It has been passed down through three generations, at least – I’m not sure whether my grandfather paid much attention to baseball; I don’t remember my dad ever talking about that.

Every Cardinals game I watch – and I watch a bunch – is three hours spent with my dad. That, as much as anything else, explains why they mean so much to me. And why they always will.

Predictions

College football (home team in bold)

Oklahoma 31, Kansas State 17

Texas 54, Kansas 25

Michigan State 27, Nebraska 24

Texas A&M 34, Missouri 21

Oklahoma State 50, Baylor 28

Florida 27, Georgia 24 (in Jacksonville)

Penn State 28, Illinois 22

Texas Tech 39, Iowa State 24

Stanford 34, USC 20

Clemson 35, Georgia Tech 21

Wisconson 30, Ohio State 20

NFL

Tennessee 31, Indianapolis 12

Baltimore 24, Arizona 7

Houston 30, Jacksonville 20

New Orleans 38, St. Louis 13

New York Giants 31, Miami 7

Carolina 27, Minnesota 21

Detroit 27, Denver 14

Buffalo 30, Washington 17

Cincinnati 24, Seattle 16

San Francisco 28, Cleveland 14

Philadelphia 24, Dallas 20

San Diego 27, Kansas City 17

Pittsburgh 28, New England 24


Friday musings

What a terrible week it’s been for the good folks in Garden Plain. It was nice to see the Owls’ football team beat Halstead on Thursday night and advance to the Class 3A playoffs. Nothing against Halstead, but Garden Plain needed that.

* Is there a better high school football coach in our area than Andale’s Gary O’Hair. From an 0-5 start to a 4-0 finish. Good stuff. Wouldn’t want to mess with the Indians in the 4A playoffs.

* I hope my alma mater, Derby, can hang with unbeaten Heights tonight, down in Derby. I have my doubts.

* I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s Oklahoma-Kansas State game. I’m going to make my weekend picks later today, but on radio this morning I picked OU to cover a 13 1/2-point spread and win by 14. I want you to know that every time I’ve picked Kansas State not to cover a spread this season, I’ve been wrong. Take comfort in that, Wildcats fans.

* There’s always something special when Bill Snyder matches up with Bob Stoops, his former assistant.

* There should be a movie made about Snyder. Or at least a documentary. But I’m on board for a movie. Who would play Bill Snyder in “The Bill Snyder Story?” Alan Alda? Michael Caine? Sir Laurence Olivier would have been fantastic, but he’s no longer with us. Maybe Dustin Hoffman? What do you think?

* The “J. Edgar” movie trailer looks fantastic. Is Clint Eastwood, who directs this film, the biggest movie icon ever? I’m just asking. I’m also big on the trailer for “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Definitely another must-see for me. Like I go to a lot of movies. I used to. I really used to.

* Three of the best actors on weekly television are Eden Sher, Charlie McDermott and Atticus Shaffer, who play the Heck children – Sue, Axl and Brick – in the ABC series, “The Middle.” Tune in sometime. Very funny stuff.  Sher should be nominated for an Emmy.

* I want to like “The Office,” as much as I always have. I really do. But it’s just not the same to me without Steve Carrell. Still good. I still watch every week. But there’s a void.

* Another of my favorites in television is Ron Offerman, who plays Ron Swanson on “Parks and Recreation.” Dude is funny. And yes, I’m a 56-year-old man who just referred to someone as a “dude.” Remember, I’m operating on short sleep here thanks to last night’s baseball game.

* Collin Klein is getting better and better as Kansas State’s quarterback. I wonder whether he’ll hit a wall against Oklahoma’s defense. Then again, the Sooners’ defense wasn’t much during last week’s loss against Texas Tech. I think OU-KSU is the most intriguing game of the week in college football, whether ESPN’s “Game Day” agrees or not.

* Kansas plays at Texas tomorrow. That’s about all there is to say about that game.

* So Bruce Willis, who is my age, is expecting a child with his young wife, Emma Heming Willis, who is 35. Good luck with that, Bruce. Personally, I’m at an age where I would consistently forget where I put a child. Perhaps Willis isn’t at that point yet.

* Kelsey Grammar can continue playing any role he wants. He’ll always be “Frasier” to me.

* I’m worried that the Intrust Bank Arena isn’t ever going to draw the kind of acts – rock and roll acts – that appeal to me. You can have the country stuff. It appears we’re just recycling the same country shows through town. Not what I expected.

* I briefly toyed with the notion of watching tonight’s World Series Game 7 in public. That would be a disaster, much like me having a child at this stage of my life.

* The Tim Tebow thing fascinates me. Why are people so emotional about this guy? If he can play, he’ll stick as the quarterback of the Denver Broncos. If he can’t, he won’t. Time will tell. Let’s just give him a chance. I don’t understand why some analysts are so harsh about Tebow. He seems like a good guy with strong values who is beloved by his teammates. Aren’t those the kind of athletes we should be rooting for?

* West Virginia to the Big 12? Never in a million years would I have imagined that. But with conference realignment teetering on the brink, it barely raises my eyebrow. Welcome aboard, Mountaineers. I assume you know what you’re doing.

* My condolences to the family of Dennis Rinehart, a guy I didn’t know well but whom I often ran across at one of my favorite hangouts, “Side Pockets.” He and his wife, Judy, played pool out there every day, as far as I can tell. Good guy, always had a kind word.

* Thanks, everyone, for reading. Check my blog later for my weekend football picks. Have a fantastic weekend.

About that game . . .

* I was up until nearly 2 a.m. last night/this morning because . . . well, you know why.

I wish I had been in the middle of this last night.

* I ‘m sure I’ve never seen a better baseball game. Or a better football game, basketball game, golf tournament . . . you name it, I’ve never seen a better game of anything.

* Now the St. Louis Cardinals have to win Game 7, right? If they don’t, last night’s incredible comeback, comeback, comeback, comeback win will soon be forgotten.

* There’s no way that after that incredible, tough, resilient performance Thursday night that the Cardinals lose tonight. Is there? Please tell me there’s no way.

* David Freese, a St. Louis kid, hits a game-tying two-run triple in the ninth inning and a walk-off homer in the 11th. Guess who just became a Cardinals legend? Provided, of course, St. Louis wins tonight.

* I yelled so loud after Freese’s triple in the ninth that I became dizzy. I actually had to sit down. Between me and my wife, there was some crazy stuff going on in the Lutz basement last night.

* I uttered the following words after Texas took a 7-4 lead in the seventh inning: “I think the Cardinals have hit a wall.” I am ashamed of myself.

* My phone blew up with text messages last night. I’ve always wanted my phone to blow up with text messages and it finally happened.

* Don’t forget the four hits accumulated by Daniel Descalso and John Jay when you start handing out plaudits for last night’s heroics. They were the first hits of the World Series for both guys. Simply incredible.

* I’m in love with Lance Berkman. How does that $8 million off-season investment look to you doubters now. Berkman is a pro’s pro and the official spokesman of the Cardinals. He’s pure class.

* When the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton answered the Cardinals’ ninth-inning rally with a two-run homer in the 10th, that was it. It had to be it. Right?

* But then Descalso and Jay singled to start the bottom of the 10th, allowing what could have been a terrible situation – a pitcher coming to the plate for what could have been the final out of the World Series – to become natural. Pinch-hitter Kyle Lohse, who was pinch-hitting for pinch-hitter Edwin Jackson, who was pinch-hitting for pitcher Jason Moote, laid down a bunt. It wasn’t a good bunt. It was a good bad bunt but it moved the runners into scoring position.

* Ryan Theriot then bounced out to third baseman Adrian Beltre, who could have chosen to throw out Daniel Descalso on a tag play at home. Instead, he went to first base, allowing Theriot to score to make it 9-8. The Rangers then intentionally walked Albert Pujols before Berkman’s two-strike hit against Scott Feldman tied the score.

* Wow. Wow, wow, wow!

* I still feel light-headed. And I don’t think I’ve slept more than three hours.

* So we’ve got to go through this again tonight? Better than the alternative. I”ll go ahead and order an 8-2 Cardinals win, thank you.

* Thanks for reading. I’ll check back later with some more Friday musings and my regular football predictions for the weekend.

Moneyball

Went to see “Moneyball” last night, finally. Being a baseball guy, I’m ashamed it took me so long.

I judge sports movies a lot on their authenticity. Do the people in the film look like athletes? Do they perform like athletes? When an actor or his stand-in swing a bat, do they look like plausible big leaguers.

The real Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletics.

“Moneyball” passed the test for me on that level. And the producers and director obviously paid great attention to the historical detail. Good stuff.

The movie, of course, is about baseball’s change, more than a decade ago now, to a more computer-based, analytical way of identifying talent. A lot of clubs use that style now to help with drafting players, making trades and deciding on what potential free agents they will or won’t pursue.

The movie cast old-school scouts – scouts who relied on stopwatches and intuition – as generally out of touch. One of those scouts, Grady Fuson, nearly came to blows with Brad Pitt’s character, Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, in one of the movie’s scenes. Fuson was fired after cussing out Beane.

Interestingly, Fuson rejoined Beane and the Athletics as a special assistant to the general manager a couple of years ago.

I’m torn on the whole Moneyball premise. I think it’s probably valuable to break down a player’s worth by analyzing statistics. But I’m not sure the game needs spreadsheets as much as it needs good, solid players who understand how to play the game. And is it easier to find players like that with a computer or with a scout’s feel for the game?

A lot of teams use a combination of both, which is probably the right way to go about it. The Oakland A’s, even, didn’t close down the scouting department during the Moneyball era.

Statistical analysis can be comprehensive and, I suspect, tell general managers and scouting supervisors anything they want to hear. It’s based on a runs-produced theory and emphasizes on-base percentage. Taking pitches, working counts and drawing walks is an important factor in the Moneyball premise.

But didn’t most of the good players already know that?

The whiz kid of the movie was Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill. Peter Brand is really Paul DePodesta, currently vice president of player personnel and scouting with the New York Mets. DePodesta didn’t want any part of the movie; thus his name was changed. He was formerly general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The movie was centered around Beane, but also about Beane’s relationship with DePodesta (Brand), who assumed a great amount of power immediately after leaving the Cleveland Indians to join Beane in Oakland.

At one point, Beane was offered a $12.5 million contract to leave Oakland for the Boston Red Sox, but he ultimately turned down that opportunity to remain near his young daughter in Oakland.

The book on which the movie was based was released in 2003, in the midst of an incredible Oakland run. Although the Athletics have not made it to a World Series since Beane became GM in 1998, they did make the playoffs in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2006. From 2001 through 2003, Oakland won 102, 103 and 96 games, respectively.

Beane’s star has faded of late, though. The Athletics haven’t been a contender since ’06 and are 47 games below .500 since the 2007 season. It’s been a strange dry spell for a general manager who cornered the market on the ability to be successful without the financial resources of big-market teams.

Portrayed in the movie as ultra-competitive, I wonder how Beane is handling mediocrity?

Good movie. Glad I finally got to see it.

Here we go again

People tell me this has been a great World Series.

Lots of drama, they say. Plenty of excitement. Big hits, tough pitching at times, interesting, shall we say, strategy.

When your team is playing in a World Series, though, the quality of the Series isn’t  important. It’s about winning. And the Texas Rangers – not the team I’m pulling for – have a 3-2 advantage over the St. Louis Cardinals going into tonight’s Game 6 in St. Louis.

I woke up this morning in an iffy mood and I’m sure it’s because there’s another World Series game tonight. Tuesday was just a fantastic day. I doubt it’s a coincidence that it was a travel day for the Series, a day after a 4-2 Cardinals loss just about did me in.

Tuesday night, my wife and I caught up on some of the shows we had recorded: “Modern Family,” “Law and Order: SVU,” and “Homeland,” which is quickly becoming one of our favorite shows. It was a stress-free evening. I think I even smiled once or twice. Very relaxing.

But tonight it’s back to the grind. I’ll be tensed up watching the Cardinals play what could be an elimination game and my wife, Debbie, will be pleading to the TV. That’s what she does during these games; she talks to the TV.

“Come on Albert.” Or, “Blast it Lance.” Or, “Good at-bat.” Or just little sounds, such as “Hmmm,” or what sounds like a tongue click when something is happening that she’s not sure about.

It’s much better when the Cardinals are winning, although not really. I’m not sure why I wrote that – perhaps to make myself feel more normal. It’s not good no matter what the score. Maybe an eight- or nine-run lead gives me some breathing room, but Debbie has not been able to relax since the Cardinals gave up a huge lead late in a game last season against the Colorado Rockies. She has no faith in relief pitchers.

Debbie and I have been watching games together for three seasons now, after meeting in February, 2009. If I had to pick, I would say it’s wonderful to have someone to watch Cardinals games with. Especially during the regular season, when a game is just a game. Sure, I would prefer winning all 162, but a loss in the regular season doesn’t stay with me.

These postseason games – and tonight will be the Cardinals’ 17th of 2011 – are killers. Before I met Debbie, I watched Cardinals’ postseason games in my basement with the lights out.My language was straight out of a Richard Pryor performance.

Tonight, Debbie and I will be side by side in our love seat. We’ll have our feet up, holding hands while she softly rubs the back of my head. It’s heaven. Except for the baseball.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

I pick on Missouri a lot because it’s my job. Really.

When I file my tax return, I list my occupation as: Missouri antagonist. I’m becoming very good at what I do because the material is never-ending.

Missouri fans don’t like me very much. But it comes with the job.

Missouri, in case you haven’t read, is still considering leaving the Big 12. The university’s administration will get around to making a decision at some point, I’m sure. It’s not like anyone is in a hurry.

It would be shocking, in the end, if the Tigers don’t head for the SEC, where they will eventually do battle with the likes of South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt in the East Division. The combined distance from Columbia, Mo., of Athens, Ga., Columbia, S.C., Lexington, Ky., Knoxville, Tenn., Gainesville, Fla., and Nashville is 4,121.8 miles. Does anyone in college athletics know how expensive gasoline is?

If you think that’s crazy, though, how about West Virginia apparently being on the cusp of joining the Big 12. A trip from Morgantown, W. Va., to Lubbock, Texas, is 1,465 miles. That’s not exactly an over-nighter to Grandma’s house.

So what’s going on here?

More of the same, unfortunately. Athletic conferences are in a state of panic and disarray as threatened universities and their administrations look for the best deal available, even if the deal isn’t very good.

Missouri to the SEC? I’m still waiting for a logical explanation. Could it be that Missouri believes its headed for the ACC and there’s just a communication problem, like in the St. Louis Cardinals’ bullpen last night during Game 5 of the World Series?

My crack research staff points out that Missouri has never won much of anything in the Big 12. Now the Tigers are going to up the ante – in football, especially – and try to win in the SEC?

If this weren’t all so crazy, I would be laughing. Missouri has always been able to make me laugh.

The Tigers are abandoning one of the great rivalries in college sports – with Kansas – to go and play Georgia and South Carolina? It’s possible Missouri could form a rivalry with Arkansas in the SEC, except Arkansas will be in the West Division and won’t play Missouri in football that often.

I just don’t get it. But the folks at Missouri aren’t asking me.

Meanwhile, the West Virginia Mountaineers look to be headed toward the Big 12, where a mountain hasn’t been seen since the Paleozoic era. I wonder how many Big 12 football players would be able to point out West Virginia on a map? Heck, I wonder how many Big 12 football coaches would be able to point out West Virginia on a map? I’m almost sure Texas Tech’s Tommy Tuberville could not.

As football schools go, though, West Virginia is a notch ahead of Missouri. The Mountaineers have played in two BCS bowl games, two more than Missouri. And West Virginia will re-unite former Kansas State basketball coach Bob Huggins with the Big 12 following his one season in Manhattan with the Wildcats.

Yes sir, West Virginia is a perfect fit for the Big 12, the same way Ashton Kutcher is a fit with Demi Moore. But hey, they’re somehow making it work in Hollywood. And the only bright lights in the Big 12 are those that go on when there’s a show on the Longhorn Network.

On a serious note, I want to give my regards to Missouri and wish it well in the SEC. Congratulations on all the Frequent Flier miles you’re about to accumulate and give my best to the ol’ ball coach at South Carolina. I’m sure your fans won’t mind the 431-mile drive to Nashville – the shortest trip you’ll be making inside the SEC East, by the way – to watch your teams play.

Just remember, it’s a little different in the South. The people talk kinda funny. You’ve had an aristocratic view of yourself during your time in the Big 12. Well, you better wipe that smirk off your face or the football teams in the SEC will wipe it off for you.

The Chiefs have risen

Todd Haley has his swagger back – if he ever lost it – and it shows in the way the Kansas City Chiefs played Sunday in Oakland.

That was a beat-down. That was a mismatch. That was a quarterback debacle for the Raiders, who have to wondering if they should

Chiefs coach Todd Haley deserves credit for his team's three-game winning streak.

have their heads examined for trading what is potentially two No. 1 draft picks to the Cincinnati Bengals for Palmer last week.

Wow.

Replacing Kyle Boller in the second half Sunday, Palmer threw three interceptions. That was after Boller was picked three times in the first half. Credit the Chiefs, and especially linebacker Derrick Johnson and the secondary – for playing a whale of a game. But boy, Oakland suddenly has some big-time issues.

After the game, Raiders coach Hue Jackson obviously wanted to have a little chat with Haley, whose Chiefs lost their first three games of the season, two in blow-out fashion. I’m guessing Jackson wasn’t crazy about KC throwing the ball down field late in the game.

But instead of stopping to listen to what Jackson had to say, Haley swatted at Jackson’s hand and proceeded to the Chiefs’ locker room without engaging his counterpart.

I’m with Haley on this one. This is big-boy football, Coach Jackson, and your team’s abysmal performance should be the only thing you’re focused on. The Chiefs, suddenly and out of nowhere, are back in contention in the deflating NFC West. Why wouldn’t Kansas City continue to throw the football and work on its offensive attack? If that’s why you wanted to bend Haley’s ear, then you were in the wrong.

San Diego lost. Oakland, obviously, lost. The Chiefs, 3-3, are at home next Monday night against the 4-2 Chargers, who have to be reeling after letting a game get away against the New York Jets on Sunday. The Raiders are still 1/2-game ahead of KC at 4-3, but the Raiders have big-time issues at quarterback. Carson Palmer? Doesn’t seem like nearly the slam dunk it did just 24 hours ago, does it?

The Chiefs-Chargers game looms large. Very large.

If Kansas City can get that one at home, then beat Miami and Denver at Arrowhead the next two weeks, the Chiefs get to 6-3 heading into the five-game juggernaut of: at New England, Pittsburgh, at Chicago, at New York Jets, Green Bay.

If the Chiefs can beat San Diego to run their winning streak to four, it’s likely they’ll get it to six before that cover-your-eyes stretch of games. What looked like a lost season based on terrible performance and key injuries has been found. At least temporarily.

And doesn’t Haley – the guy so many Chiefs fans wanted to run out of town after a terrible preseason and two blow-out defeats to start the regular season – deserve the bulk of the credit?

He has resurrected his team, especially defensively. After allowing an average of 36.3 points in the first three games, the Chiefs have given up just 13.7 points per game in the past three. Yes, those games have been against Minnesota, Indianapolis and a quarterback-less (for now) Raiders team. Still, it’s a marked improvement.

Quarterback Matt Cassel isn’t trying to do too much and still has that mojo with wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, one of the best in the league. Running back Jackie Battle (who?) has stepped in for injured Jamaal Charles to rush for 350 yards. He’s a weapon.

I’m not saying the Chiefs are going to win the AFC West. They have deficiencies, including being ranked 28th in total offense. And those five games against playoff-caliber teams will be daunting, no matter how KC does in the next three weeks.

But Monday night’s game is huge. Arrowhead will be rocking. A team left for dead after two embarrassing losses to start the season is very much alive.

Friday ramblings and predictions

* What gives Bryant Gumbel the right?

* Comparing NBA commissioner David Stern to plantation owners went way over the line. There are two sides to the NBA lockout story. But NBA players make, on average, more than $5 million per season. There are no slaves here. Gumbel should apologize.

* I’m no Stern apologist. But as commissioner, he does work for the owners, I believe. The players have a union that represents its best interest. The two sides mediate and negotiate until a deal is struck. This particular work stoppage has been pretty nasty, but I blame Stern no more than I blame the owners, the players and the union.

* My fantasy football team has tied two weeks in a row. Has that ever happened? Do you think I can get on Bryant Gumbel’s show, “Real Sports,” to talk about it?

* Sunday has become my favorite television viewing night of the week, barely nudging ahead of Wednesday. The new seasons of “Dexter” and “The Walking Dead” are off to great starts and Showtime’s new series “Homeland” has me hooked. As for back-to-back comedies, nothing beats ABC’s “The Middle” and “Modern Family” on Wednesday nights.

* I have stopped going to movies. This bothers me immensely because I love movies. I love going to movies. I’m not sure what it is that has made me stop. Strange. I have to deal with this.

* I don’t want to talk about the World Series right now. I’ll get back to you.

* We (me, my wife, my son and his girlfriend) saw Don Henley in Tulsa last Friday night. The next night, we saw Joe Walsh at the casino in Newkirk, Okla. I have had a lot of Eagles experiences over the past 35 years, but that was one of the best. I can’t wait for 2012, when my favorite band celebrates 40 years with all kinds of neat events, including what I’m sure will be a big tour.

* Tom Petty is 58 today. That’s another one of my favorite musicians. It’s hard to believe how old these guys are getting when I’m staying so young.

* Can someone please explain why I am so enamored by Facebook. I would not think social networking would appeal to me in the least. What am I missing about myself?

* I like 11 a.m. football kickoff times except for the part about getting up at 6 for the drive to Lawrence.

* KU’s Memorial Stadium is one of my favorite places to be on a Saturday late-morning, afternoon for football. It bewilders me that the Jayhawks have not been able to sustain any success over the years.

* Albert Pujols should have stayed around to answer questions last night after the Game 2 loss. Disappointed that he didn’t.

* I hear all the national pundits talk about how they can’t imagine Pujols not in a St. Louis uniform going forward (have you heard he’s a free agent after the season?) Well, I can’t imagine it, either. But I think it’s a real possibility. I’d put it about 50-50.

* I don’t really like to drink wine. And I think people who say they do are just trying to be hip. I suppose I could be wrong.

* Give me a cold beer any day. Or a bottle of Crown Royal.

* Why do people smoke? I’ve been alive for more than 56 years and nobody has given me a good answer. There’s no way that can taste good.

* Suddenly, I have become preachy.

* Good luck with the Cubs, Theo.

* I totally get the Occupy Wall Street protesters. I just wish there was an end game. I’m not sure what they’re hoping to do except enhance awareness. But the issue they’re trying to enhance awareness for is already pretty enhanced, isn’t it? Still, I think what they and others around the country are doing can’t hurt.

* I haven’t downloaded a song on my iPod in weeks. Sad. I don’t want to become detached from my pop culture roots. But as an old guy, it’s hard to stay on top of things the way I used to.

* No, 56 isn’t that old. My wife tells me that all the times. “Fifty-six in the new 46,” she tells me.

* I love writing as much as ever. I love doing radio just as much. Radio allows me to be me without filters. Not that’s a good thing for you. But for me, it’s great.

* I got to spend some time in Winfield last week. What a beautiful town. And my birthplace, by the way. I spent the first two years of my life living on College Street near Southwestern College before my parents moved to Derby so my dad could be closer to his job at Beechcraft.

Predictions

College (home teams in bold)

West Virginia 32, Syracuse 24 (tonight)

Kansas State 41, Kansas 17

LSU 37, Auburn 17

Texas A&M 34, Iowa State 17

Georgia Tech 31, Miami (Fla.) 30

Alabama 40, Tennessee 12

Notre Dame 31, USC 21

Oklahoma 55, Texas Tech 20

Wisconsin 35, Michigan State 21

Stanford 41, Washington 20

NFL

Carolina 24, Washington 20

Detroit 21, Atlanta 17

Denver 20, Miami 14

Tampa Bay 27, Chicago 21

Tennessee 26, Houston 21

Cleveland 20, Seattle 17

Pittsburgh 31, Arizona 14

Oakland 24, Kansas City 20

Green Bay 37, Minnesota 14

Dallas 35, St. Louis 14

New Orleans 35, Indianapolis 14

Baltimore 31, Jacksonville 7

San Diego 28, New York Jets 20

Have a great weekend. I’ll be columnizing from the Kansas-Kansas State game on Saturday.