The Blog Squad

Friday, February 29, 2008

Rocket Malfunction

America is a forgiving nation.

Do wrong. Admit to fault. Ask for compassion.

Anything short of the most atrocious crimes, Americans will exonerate the guilty--even embrace them if they are willing to accept responsibility and punishment.

This is a fair nation.

Pete Rose knows that now. If only he had admitted to gambling when he was accused, he not only might be in Cooperstown, but he probably would be coaching and regarded as the best combined player and coach who ever lived.

Instead, he acknowledged fault years later and has never been forgiven. He cheated. Then he lied about it. Then he kept lying about it when there was clear evidence to the contrary.

That sort of deception is never forgiven.

Pete Rose turned from American sports legend to old and pathetic.

Flash forward to today and Roger Clemens, who is arguably the greatest pitcher in history. Clemens was named in the Mitchell Report, a 409-page document released Dec. 13 that spans the history of illegal performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball.

The report claims Clemens used steroids and human growth hormone at least 16-21 times from 1998-2001. The basis of the allegation comes from Brian McNamee, Clemens’ former personal trainer, who testified that he injected the pitcher with the illegal substances.

Clemens went on the attack early to defend himself. He appeared with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes and insisted he would never go for the “quick fix.”

“I’m angry that, that what I’ve done for the game of baseball and as a person, in my private life … that I don’t get the benefit of the doubt,” Clemens told Wallace. “The stuff that’s being said, it’s ridiculous. It’s hogwash for people to even assume this. Twenty-four, 25 years, Mike. You’d think I’d get an inch of respect. An inch.”

Just a day after appearing on the CBS show, Clemens staged a press conference and released a 17-minute audiotape of a conversation he had with McNamee three days earlier. He also filed a defamation suit.

Clemens brought a knife to a gunfight and later released a statistical report that he says rebuts allegations that his career rebounded about the time he was accused of using performance-enhancing drugs.

Meanwhile, McNamee turned over vials, syringes and gauze pads to federal investigators. The samples were reported to have Clemens blood and illegal drugs mixed together.

Jump forward again to Feb. 13, when Clemens and McNamee testified at a congressional hearing on drug use in baseball. Clemens continued to deny all allegations despite his best friend, Pettitte, testifying in a sworn affidavit to Congress that “The Rocket” confessed he did use human growth hormone.

Now the FBI is involved and is investigating whether Clemens lied to Congress. He could face perjury charges very soon.

Yes, Clemens is innocent until a court decides otherwise.

I’m just wondering here. If evidence should surface showing Clemens lied, won’t we all wonder: With all his millions, with his connections to some very smart people, why didn’t anybody just suggest he tell the truth? I mean, his buddy Pettitte did when he admitted what McNamee said about his usage of HGH in the Mitchell Report was true.

Won’t we wonder why Pettitte didn’t simply remind Clemens about Rafael Palmeiro or Mark McGwire? Palmeiro wagged his finger at the same committee on March 17, 2005, and denied all allegations. McGwire said nothing.

Five months later, Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days for steroids use.

Today, neither player is seriously considered for the Hall of Fame, though each has the numbers to earn a spot. As far as the voters and the public are concerned, they lied and continue to lie. Therefore, they are cheaters.

In the meantime, Pettitte is preparing for another season. He’s faced the questions. Some have even praised him. I wouldn’t go that far. He did cheat the game. But I do forgive him.

However, if Clemens joins the list of proven cheaters, I hope he never enters the Hall of Fame. Sure you can shout there’s no conviction, just like Barry Bonds. But I ask you: does a court have to say so for us to believe it?

Besides, the Hall of Fame should be the farthest thing on Clemens’ mind. He’s dealing with the feds now. You don’t play around with those folks. Just ask Michael Vick.

OUT AT HOME: Hoisin sauce. — it makes every noodle dish, including Ramen, taste restaurant-quality. Try it.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Perhaps the greatest sports photo ever?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Your Rams Are Better Than Mine

I’ve held off writing about the Virginia Commonwealth University men’s basketball team because I didn’t want to jinx them. I’m ridiculously superstitious and told myself “when” the Rams won their 20th game, I would blog something.

It happened on Wednesday.

VCU beat Northeastern, 66-62, to improve its record to 20-6. It’s the first time the Rams have had consecutive 20-win seasons since 1983-84 and 1984-85. VCU needs one more Colonial Athletic Association victory to clinch the No. 1 seed in the upcoming conference tournament.

I’m beaming with pride.

When I attended VCU from 1990-95, we had a heck of a men’s basketball program. Kendrick Warren, Sherron Mills, Marc Jackson, George Byrd, Kenny Harris, Terrence Gibson, Tyron McCoy, Rodney Ashby, Eric Atkins balled at the Richmond Coliseum. Oh yeah, I can’t forget Konstantin Pepeliaev, the first 7-footer and Russian to play for VCU (I believe).

I would argue that those teams had more talent than the Rams under the current head coach, Anthony Grant. Warren is the school’s all-time leading scorer. Mills was selected in the second round of the NBA draft. Jackson played in the NBA long enough to earn a pension. McCoy is a top 10 all-time scorer.

But the Rams of my era never sniffed the NCAA Tournament under Sonny Smith. Instead, VCU lost in the first round of the NIT in 1993 to current rival Old Dominion.

Those Rams teams disappointed me every year.

So what’s the difference?

Coaching is definitely the biggest reason. But more on that in a bit.

The Rams did themselves a favor when they moved to the CAA in 1995 from the dissolved Metro Conference. VCU had very little chance of winning the automatic bid against schools like Louisville, UNC Charlotte, Southern Mississippi and Tulane. And unfortunately for the Rams, they never jelled well enough to be seriously considered for an at-large bid.

Now, VCU is in a conference with similar schools. The Rams can compete against programs like George Mason, James Madison and Old Dominion.

But like I said before, Grant is the difference maker. He has developed a culture of winning, and that still translates well with a young team.

I’ve watched perhaps a dozen Rams games. I’ve only seen them play their best two or three times. In other games, VCU struggled offensively — shooting poorly, committing way too many turnovers and not having a reliable third scorer.

But in the 12 games or so, I’ve only seen them lose once.

Three reasons why.

One, VCU plays great defense. The Rams get after it and put constant pressure on the ball. They can transition quickly from defense to offense and that leads to many easy baskets. VCU is holding opponents to 58.7 points per game, 38.7 percent shooting and just 27.5 percent from behind the arc. Those are impressive numbers.

Two, the Rams have a pair of go-to-guys who can score when the team needs a bucket. Everybody knows Eric Maynor, who leads the team with an 18.2-points scoring average and 135 assists. However, more notable are his 140 trips to the free-throw line where he’s shooting better than 78 percent. That means when Maynor needs to score, he’s taking it to the basket and getting rewarded. The other threat is Jamal Shuler, who is a good complement because he can hit the three when the team needs a big rally.

Three, VCU never seems to hesitate or appear nervous when holding a narrow lead or trying to come back from a deficit. This demeanor is a product of Grant and the run late last year. The Rams believe they can win every game despite the scoreboard.

I truly believe if VCU finds a consistent third scorer, even if it’s a different person every game, the Rams will again go to the NCAA Tournament. And depending on the matchup, I think it’s reasonable to expect a victory in the first round.

VCU has an important contest tomorrow morning at Akron in ESPNU’s BracketBuster game. This is not a must-win, but is probably needed if the Rams fall to at-large status.

And, folks, trust me — Grant is just getting started. The VCU program is going to maintain this level for a decade even if he leaves.

OUT AT HOME: I love the television show Lost. I watched it last night and predicted the identity of the baby before he was revealed. I do have so many questions. So if you’re a Lost expert, please leave a message. I need some answers.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Keeping with the theme of singing kids, here’s one that made me smile. I love the accent!

Friday, February 15, 2008

I Look Good in Cardinal Red

I start a new job Tuesday and feel energized and hopeful for the future. That wasn’t the case the past several months when the old job was taking its toll, wearing me out and making me feel lost.

With this new start, I decided to incorporate other beginnings in my life. For example, I will bring my own bags to the grocery store to do more for the environment. I will complete the chores on my to-do list on time and without grumbles. I will throw away the microphone to stop cursing at “kids” who beat me in online video games.

But perhaps my biggest change will be switching NFL teams. I have been a Washington Redskins fan since I asked my dad about football in 1976. Even my Vietnamese grandfather adopted the team when he moved to this country and Reston, Va.

“I love Doc Walker,” Hung Gui Cung would say. “He from UKLA.”

“No, grandpa,” I would reply. “He’s from U-C-L-A.”

Every time John Riggins or Gerald Riggs would plow through an opponent, my grandpa would roll on the floor laughing his dentures off and snorting rice out of his nose.

“John Riggo, he a character,” the Hungster would say.

Indeed, so many good memories.

But it’s time for a change. Just like my old job that left me tired, the Redskins under Daniel Snyder have worn me out. It’s an uphill battle every day to be a fan of this team. It’s like a constant fight. I yell and yell and yell that what they are doing is wrong, but Snyder never listens to me.

Let’s go back to this past season only. When Sean Taylor died, the fan base pulled together and the team bonded. Snyder was beloved for doing all the right things. The Redskins surged to the playoffs. There was hope for the future.

Then Joe Gibbs retired. The consensus feeling was that the organization and its fans wanted to keep the team intact and see how far they could take Gibbs 2.0. It turns out 2.0 was measured in inches and not Super Bowls.

From the beginning of the coaching search, Snyder did things that baffled experts. He held interviews at his mansion, and the candidates usually spent the night. He spoke with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams four times without success. Snyder revved up Redskins 1 and had a secret rendezvous with Jim Fassel that made no sense to anyone. The former Giants coach had not been linked to a top job in years.

Then Snyder fired Al Saunders, meaning that quarterback Jason Campbell would have to learn another offense. He hired Jim Zorn, who previously had never held a position higher than quarterback coaching. Zorn brings in the West Coast offense, which some have said is a system that is completely opposite of Campbell’s strengths.

Snyder also fired Williams and hired his assistant Greg Blache. On the outside, it would seem cruel treatment of a man who had the players’ support and had given the franchise three pretty solid years.

When this happened, the thought was Fassel was going to get the job. He had links to Zorn and Blache. But apparently enough outraged fans spoke up and changed Snyder’s mind.

Anyway, now Zorn is the coach. I have no idea if he’s ready. I’m sure he’s motivated, but that might not be enough in this circus. The search has turned the Redskins from an endeared team after the Taylor tragedy to once again being the laughingstock of the NFL.

I’m exhausted.

And I was ready to collapse after hearing the Redskins want to trade first- and third-round draft choices for old and selfish wide receiver Chad Johnson. Why? Haven’t they learned that good teams build through the draft? Enough of the old ways that didn’t work.

This team leaves me pooped.

So I figured my new team should be the Arizona Cardinals. They are close in color scheme. They have never won anything significant, so I can’t be accused of bandwagon jumping. And they have Russ Grimm, an old guard from the glory days.

Hello, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald!

OUT AT HOME: The best thing about being unemployed is spending the day with my daughter. The worse thing is deciding what is an appropriate salary requirement. Hate that question.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: I’m biased of course, but there’s nothing cuter in the world.