Jeff Pearlman

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Monthly Archives: December 2009

One legacy of 9/11

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So Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, has been catching a lot of heat for saying “the system worked” after a would-be terrorist was stopped from blowing up an airplane a few days ago. And, indeed, she deserves the flogging. If “the system worked” means you got very, very, very lucky, well, the system worked.

Truth be told, despite millions upon millions of dollars being poured into airline safety measures after 9/11, we still seem wide open to some guy blowing up a plane with a device stashed in his undies. In fact, if there’s one thing we were sadly reminded of last week, it’s that the skies are not 100 percent safe; that the government can’t fully protect us; that there will be other terrorist attacks, that people will probably die.

However, another legacy exists, too. And it’s an important one.

Before 9/11, people occasionally hijacked airlines. They waited until the plane was in the sky, screamed “Bomb!” and told everyone to remain calm; that they were taking the plane to [FILL IN THE COUNTRY] until [FILL IN THE GOVERNMENT] delivers either some political prisoner or lots of money. Everyone sat and waited, scared, concerned, but, ultimately, believing they would get out alive. And usually, it’s safe to say, they would.

Those days are over. Think of the shoe bomber. Think of a few days ago. From now on, if a group of people try and hijack/blow up an airplane, they will get the living s*** kicked out of them. Maybe the plane will still go down, maybe it won’t. But there are no more free lunches for terrorists. You so much as pull out a wire with a beeping sound, someone in a neighboring seat will club you with his forearm.

In other words, while it’s important to have the government protect us, perhaps it’s most important to have, well, us protect us.

Word.

In search of a new sport

Photo on 2010-12-29 at 09.39

I’m 37-years old, and I think I need a new sport.

For three decades, I’ve been a runner. Ran my first 10K at age 8, and have probably competed in, oh, 500 road races. Partook in high school and college (badly) track and cross country. Have run 11 marathons. Always thought of my legs as indestructible, because I’ve never been badly injured … never broke down.

Now, to my great sadness, I’m breaking down. My left knee is a big bony lump. It hurts whenever I try and run, whether it’s a jog or a sprint; whether it’s grass or pavement. I’m extremely down, because running has brought me so much joy. But I don’t want to be one of these guys, 50-years old and limping around, trying to dig out one last marathon before breaking out the cane.

So, I ask, what can be my new sport? I play hoops every Thursday night, but I’m looking for something else. Something fun, something that doesn’t destroy knees, something that relieves stress and gives a guy time to think.

Anyone …

Xavier Nady & Damaso Marte to the Yankees

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Based upon the staggering number of responses I’ve received to my most recent post about the Pirates, I’m thinking of re-naming jeffpearlman.com piratereport.com. Unfortunately, that’d decrease my readership (hanging strong at about 2,000 per day) to, oh, 150 clicks. Maybe 155 if the Pirates win two straight.

Ah, I kid. I’ve enjoyed receiving so many Pirate-related comments, and very much dig the passion. I don’t even take offense to people like “B” (“You’re far too generous and immodest calling that a ‘mediocre column’ Free Tank had you pegged”) and “W.K. Kortas” (“Did you mail in the SI column? Absolutely.”). If you write sports in the 21st century, you accept that you’ll get hammered. And hammered. And hammered. When you’re right. When you’re wrong. When you’re off. When you’re on. Whenever.

All that being said, I want to make a point that I consider, without question, indisputable: Pittsburgh’s July 26, 2008 trade of Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees for Daniel McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens and Ross Ohlendorf was absolutely, positively terrible. A horrible swap for the Pirates, sans debate.

The Pittsburgh loyalist—an odd breed who gets punched in the head repeatedly (by his loved one, no less) while screaming, “More! More! More!”—looks at this deal 1 1/2 years later and says, “Not bad.” Nady, after all, has been injury prone and, when healthy, only moderately productive. And, before his dazzling World Series showing of two months ago, Marte was pretty much a Yankee bust—a 5.40 ERA in 25 games last season, a 9.45 ERA in 21 games this season.

To look merely through the lenses of hindsight, however, is an ignorant way to view a deal. In the summer of 2008, Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte were hot properties. A. Neither man made an outlandish amount of money; B. Marte was a proven lefthanded reliever who was about to appear in at least 60 games for a seventh-straight season; C. Nady, while hardly Albert Pujols, is a 20-homer, 80 RBI type of hitter who can play multiple positions and is known as one of the game’s better clubhouse influences. If you were a contending team in 2008, you could use both guys. That’s why both the Mets and Yankees were interested; why the eyes of those covering the Major Leagues were, at last, focused upon Pittsburgh. They had players other teams craved, and they were willing to deal.

So what did the Pirates receive for two craved medallions? Daniel McCutchen, who at best will be a fourth starter for a bad team. Jeff Karstens, a non-roster invitee for 2010 who will likely wind up in Triple A for somebody. Ross Ohlendorf, a No. 5 starter or long reliever for 90 percent of Major League teams (but, in Pittsburgh, a key component of the rotation). And, last but not least, the mighty Jose Tabata, a 21-year-old outfielder and the key to the deal for the Pirates. Tabata’s skills have beeCookie+Stealer+AA0911_0053n compared to those of Manny Ramirez, and he was Baseball America’s 12th best prospect in the Eastern League. But, of late, Tabata has been, well, mediocre. In 93 games split between Double A and Triple A last year, he hit a whopping five home runs, to go with 35 RBI and a .293 average. To suggest Tabata has fallen off the Top Prospect list is going too far. But in Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates have a can’t-miss slugger just waiting for a chance. Tabata can miss. An increasing number of people seem to think he will.

That’s why this trade irks me. The Pirates could have done better. The Pirates should have done better. And the under-performances of Nady and Marte change nothing. It actually reminds me of the 1989 NFL Draft, when my New York Jets (I used to be a huge fan) used the No. 14 pick of the first round to select Jeff Lageman out of Virginia. The green-and-white clad fans rightly booed, and continued to boo throughout Lageman’s productive six years with the team. Why were they never satisfied? Because the Jets could have selected Lageman in the second round, and maybe even the third. Meanwhile, they passed on players like Steve Atwater, Andre Rison and Carnell Lake.

Like the Jets, the Pirates blew a precious opportunity to get significantly better. They left chips on the table, settling for lesser value. And if Tabata becomes the next Cameron Drew, fans will look back at July 26, 2008 at one of the greatest lost opportunities in franchise history.

PS: And to compare Nate McLouth and Lastings Milledge is ludicrous. McLouth is a proven Major Leaguer who, while far from perfect, will have a solid 10-year career. Milledge has now been discarded by two different organizations.

Did You Hear About the Morgans?

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It is rare that one sees a movie so bad … so terrible … so ridiculously flawed that he actually enjoys the film for those very reasons.

Enter: Did You Hear About the Morgans?

Put simply, it was an honor and a privilege to sit through what will likely go down as a historic cinematic achievement—the worst movie ever made, combined with the worst acting ever, combined with the worst casting.

To begin with, the movie. Did You Hear About the Morgans? is the story of two New Yorkers, Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant, who get divorced after he cheats on her with a woman in Los Angeles. That she lives in California is completely irrelevant, as is the fact that he cheated at all. The two go out to dinner to hash out their differences, witness a murder and are shipped off to Wyoming in a witness-protection program.

Wackiness ensues!

Hugh Grant cracks one-liners that, accompanied by a British accent and his tilted grin, are downright hilarious!

Sarah Jessica Parker makes comments about loving New York, and missing New York, and needing New York.

There’s even a small role for Wilford Brimley, doing his best work since the Liberty Medical commercials.

You’ll be shocked to know that, after their early resistance to Wyoming, Hugh and Sarah come to realize that their love is real. They are moved by the simple lifestyles of others. They attend a rodeo and (get this!) a bull rams Sarah in the ass. Hugh shoots himself with bear repellent and makes funny faces. The town doctor is the town’s only doctor, so he makes jokes about that sort of craziness. Funny, funny, funny!

I would write more but, thanks to Did You Hear About the Morgans?, I’m having trouble thinking. Is it write or right or rite? Did someone steal my pen caps? I want to eat pork. Lots and lots of pork. But maybe I don’t. Mommy! Mommy! Can someone tell me where Ken Oberkfell lives? I have his cat. Mud! Mud! Plud! Thud!

PS: Kyle Smith of the New York Post wrote, “The cast is in such fine form that everything seems funny.” Kyle—you’re fired.

Urban Insanity

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In yesterday’s Palm Beach Post, Urban Meyer said that when Nicki, his 18-year-old daughter, learned that he was stepping down as Florida’s coach, she hugged him and yelled, “I’m getting my daddy back!”

“I saw it as a sign from God that this was the right thing to do,” Meyer said of his daughter’s reaction. “I was worried about letting people down. I was feeling so awful and concerned about my health. That was among several other signs that said it’s time to back away.”

Uh … yeah.

Now, Meyer has changed his mind. He’s not stepping down. He’s stepping back. He’ll take a leave. A few weeks. Maybe a month. Will he coach the team in 2010? Almost certainly. Why? Because, well … ahem … eh … that’s what college coaches do. They coach. They win. They ignore their families because they owe it to a bigger family … a more important family: The Team!

“I owe it to our players and our staff and my family and the University of Florida to get healthy and coach,” he said.

Pathetic.

Absolutely pathetic.

I have regularly used this blog to condemn big-time college coaches, and I will continue right now. They are the worst kinds of snakes; the worst kinds of people. They go into the homes of young men and promise the world. They lie and cheat and urge and break rules … and for what? To win games. Games!? Pathetic. Sad.

Two days ago, Urban Meyer’s daughter told him she was thrilled he was leaving his job.

He was overcome by emotion.

For a day.

Pathetic.

Shortsighted

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Spent the day with the wife yesterday. Ate Greek food at a restaurant called Opa (mediocre), read much of 1776 (terrific), saw two moves—Nine (dreadful) and Did You Hear About the Morgans? (A shameful piece of manure that rotted at least 800 of my remaining brain cells). Hence, didn’t have much time to watch football.

What I did see, however, annoyed the hell out of me. Passed a TV during the third quarter of the Jets-Colts game, with Indianapolis trailing behind a quarterback named … Curtis Painter. Curtis Painter!? In other words, as everyone knows by now, the Colts decided to ignore a legitimate pursuit of football immortality in the name of merely winning a Super Bowl and guarding health. This is not surprising, considering the generally conservative thinking that exists in the NFL. But it is foolish. You have a chance—a seemingly good chance—to go 16-0; to become the first team to ever go 16-0 and win a championship. It’d put you on the map forever; land you an exhibit in the Hall of Fame; have people chasing your ghost long after you’re gone. It’s immortality.

But, no. The Colts’ lone goal is winning a Super Bowl. Which happens every year. Which is forgotten as quickly as it happens. Hell, walk into any Marshall’s right about now, and you’ll find 2009 NEW YORK YANKEES WORLD SERIES CHAMPION T-shirts on sale for $7.99. And who won in 2008? In 2007? In 2006? Uh … not sure. Have to think about it.

Now the Colts will walk a similarly worn path. Yet another team winning another Super Bowl.

Meh.

Researching a book

Photo on 2009-12-26 at 23.50 #3

Before I unload here, I just want to state the obvious—My job is fantastic. I love writing books, and I recognize I could be digging ditches, making Big Macs, babysitting, working as a male prostitute, selling used CDs, so on and so on.

That said …

At certain times, researching a book can define tedium. Tonight I am sitting in a diner, going day by day through the 1980 NFL season. Daaaaaaaaaaay by daaaaaaaaaaay. Practices, injury lists, point spreads, highs, lows. It’s extremely boring, and I find myself kept alive solely by the warm apple pie (with a scoop of vanilla ice cream) that should be landing on my table momentarily.

I love researching, because I love finding stuff. But sometimes it’s just plain dull. And long. Like a walk across America through quicksand. That said, what’s the alternative? I suppose I could spend some dough and hire someone to do all this for me. But that’d feel like cheating, and I also think it’d be counterproductive. The more digging I do on my own, the more I’ll retain when it’s time to write. That’s extremely important—having this bank of recollected knowledge at your disposal when you finally sit down and begin churning out pages.

Anyhow, back to Oct. 25, 1980 … EAGLES LET GILLMAN WING IT

The sloppy, sweaty, nasty cheek kiss

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Generally speaking, I’m not an awkward person. I handle social situations well, can survive small talk (though rarely willingly), don’t mind shaking hands and exchanging banal thoughts on the weather in Cleveland this time of year.

But I hate kissing.

Not everyone. I’ll kiss my wife and my mom and my mother-in-law and longtime friends without problem. But what has always troubled me is that moment when you do or don’t kiss someone on the cheek. My mom’s friends, for example. The mothers of people I grew up with. Friends of my in-laws who, despite having met me once or twice, insist on slathering up my cheek. Really smelly people. I instinctively recoil, then realize quickly that I’m trapped in some sort of social vortex of hell. So I lean in, keep my lips as far away as possible from skin, make a slight puckering noise (solely for affect—or is it effect?) and hope for the quickest escape.

My wife and I continue to joke about our wedding nearly eight years ago, when a couple (neither of us particularly liked, for the record) damned us with the nastiest, sweatiest cheek smooches of all time. F***, I still feel the gooey saliva dripping down my face. Thing is, it makes no sense. With all the germs and nastiness out there, why do we still consider the cheek kiss a social staple? At the aforementioned wedding, I probably received, oh, 75 cheek kisses. If you think about it, that translates to my mother kissing my aunt kissing my best friend from college kissing the grotesque sweaty people we didn’t even like. Saliva meeting saliva meeting saliva. Why not a handshake? Or, better yet, an appreciative nod?

So … what to do? I don’t know. For years I’ve tried avoiding these sort of kisses altogether, but to no avail. I’m 37-years old, and probably about 10,000 regrettable kisses into life. If the madness hasn’t ceased yet, it never will …

Showtime Book
Love Me, Hate Me Barry Bonds Book
Sweetness Walter Peyton Book
The Bad Guys Won Book
The Rocket that Fell to Earth Book
Boys Will Be Boys Book

Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life