Steroid guys gaining ground on baseball's Hall of Fame

Steroid guys gaining ground on baseball's Hall of Fame

Yes, Tim Raines, "Pudge" Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell were voted into baseball's Hall of Fame Thursday. But did you notice that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens -- implicated steroid users -- are picking up steam among Hall of Fame voters?

In most cases, their rise in the voting is due to new people becoming eligible to vote and those new voters seem more forgiving of steroid use than many of their predecessors. That's obviously true. But if I had voted this year, I'd certainly give a thought to another factor.

The veterans committee is inducting former commissioner Bud Selig this year and that matters to me. Selig oversaw a big increase in baseball revenue and overall prosperity -- but he did it on the back of all those PED users. It was Selig turning his back on obvious steroid use while Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa brought baseball back to prominence with all those tape-measure home runs.

Selig was the gatekeeper. He was the one giving his tacit approval to PED abuse by acting as if it didn't exist. If he can get into the Hall, why can't the players who took advantage of the situation?

I will also add, as I've mentioned before, that my time as a clubhouse attendant for the Triple-A Portland Beavers and as a beat reporter covering that team many years later, there was rampant abuse of amphetamines throughout recent baseball history and that was cheating, too. Cheating that helped a lot of the sanctimonious old-timers now complaining about the steroid abuse.

Will Clemens or Bonds ever gather enough votes in their remaining five years of eligibility to get into the Hall of Fame? I doubt it. But they're going to continue to gain more support.

Willie Taggart starts his tenure at UO with the wrong kind of publicity

Willie Taggart starts his tenure at UO with the wrong kind of publicity

If you haven't read the story today about three Oregon football players being hospitalized after a series of off-season strength and conditioning workouts, you should.  It's getting play all over the country.

Rhabdomyolysis is nothing to be trivialized. And neither is pushing players to such physical danger zones about eight months before their next football game. I thought that kind of stuff went out in the 1960s -- coaches pushing players beyond limits just to "toughen them up."

Obviously, the strength and conditioning coach here should be questioned about his methods. All players should be evaluated by physicians before starting such programs and allowances have to be made for every single player's level of conditioning or special physical problems. I have no idea what was done in this case but three players landing in a hospital is an indication that something was amiss.

And it all falls on the shoulders of Taggart, who as the head coach is responsible for everything in the program. I saw this story discussed on four different national sports shows of various ilks Tuesday and all of them put the program in a negative light.

Taggart has some work to do.

 

Some NBA opinions about what's wrong with the enigmatic Trail Blazers

Some NBA opinions about what's wrong with the enigmatic Trail Blazers

A very convincing win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. A shocking loss to the Orlando Magic. A disapppointing rout by the Washington Wizards.

That's the Trail Blazers this season. Up and down, good and bad, encouraging and disappointing. Through it all, woeful on defense and continuing to stay positive in the locker room -- to the point that it's driving people to think they aren't upset enough by their own play to do something about it.

Why is this happening? What's causing this team that was so promising last season to nosedive this year? I've spent the last month asking people I know in the NBA -- scouts, assistant coaches, front-office people -- what they think of what's happening with the Trail Blazers this season. They were promised anonymity, of course -- it was the only way they'd comment. And so here you are; feel free to pick and choose what you agree with and what you don't agree with:

  • "They all got paid. Too many of their players either got new deals for this season or guaranteed extensions that kick in next season. I've seen it before -- when you get that big contract, you can't help but relax a little. You don't think you're doing it, but you are. And you get a whole team full of guys like that you can lose your edge."
  • "They may have overestimated how good they were in the first place. Last season was a crazy one in the West. The games they won (44) got them a lot better seed in the playoffs than it usually would. And then they got past the Clippers because of those injuries (to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin). That wasn't a second-round team but that's where they ended up. It probably gave their front office, their players, their fans and the media a false impression of how good they really were."
  • "The way they play may lend itself to unpredictable outcomes. They are 'equal-opportunity shooters.' They encourage anyone who is open to shoot the ball. It works out well sometimes. But on our team, we have people who shoot and others who don't. They are giving a lot of three-point shots to players who have not proved themselves as three-point shooters. That could lead to inconsistencies, especially with the number of threes they take. And honestly, I don't understand that philosophy. Yes, some guys get better as shooters when given an opportunity. Most don't, though."
  • "Trying to play defense with starting guards who can't keep people in front of them is very difficult. It puts too much pressure on their interior defenders -- and let's face it, (Mason) Plumlee isn't exactly a premier shot blocker. Their defense is horrible."
  • "Teams have caught on to what they're doing. We just try to take their guards away from them and they have nobody left to score. And then we attack their guards at the other end. By the end of the game, they're worn out."
  • "Their roster doesn't make a lot of sense. They've spent a lot of money on their backcourt but up front they are starting players who have never before been starters -- and may never again. They do a great job of milking all they can from those guys up front, but I'm not sure there's much more upside there."

I think that's actually a pretty good cross-section of possible explanations for what we've seen. What do I think? Well, this team is 18-25 and showing no signs of turning things around. You are what your record says you are. The players on this team are having a lot of trouble coming to grips with that record (and how poorly they've played) but at some point they're going to have to own it.

And do something about it.

NBA referees vs. Mark Cuban -- if fines don't work, suspend him

NBA referees vs. Mark Cuban -- if fines don't work, suspend him

If you haven't read about the latest shots fired in the war between the NBA and its officials, you need to go here to check it out. Already irked about the league's "last two minute reports," referees are up in arms about all the harassment they're taking from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. A letter from the officials' association's counsel details several examples of Cuban's mistreatment of officials and the impact it may be having:

In a recent letter to Byron Spruell, the NBA’s president of league operations, NBRA general counsel Lee Seham outlined what the union considers to be a lengthy pattern of documented violations by Cuban of the NBA constitution and “undue influence of the league’s management of its officials.”

“We consider the threat to the integrity of NBA basketball presented by Mr. Cuban’s misconduct to be real and growing,” Seham wrote on Dec. 9.

Cuban's public harassment of officials has been documented in the past and anyone who has watched Dallas games frequently has seen examples. He is not shy about showing them up -- conduct league owners are not supposed to engage in.  The problem is, like a lot of NBA owners, the league cannot influence Cuban's behavior with fines. He is too rich. He mocks them. I believe at some point the NBA is going to have to start barring him from arenas or from the vicinity of the court if it wants to deter him.

At the same time, if the league's officials are being intimidated by his antics, they need to take inventory. His behavior should not impact them any more than fan reaction to their calls. In fact, I would assume his antics would push the average official into making more calls against Cuban's team. In the old days of rogue officials, that stuff happened all the time in the NBA with players. Referees held grudges and never hesitated to show it.

I don't want that day to ever return. But I also believe that in order to recruit and maintain the best officials in the world -- which the NBA has -- they must be treated properly by everyone associated with the league. If fines don't stop poor behavior, suspensions must be next.

 

 

Los Angeles Chargers? A big move for the other NFL owners

Los Angeles Chargers? A big move for the other NFL owners

This, of course, is the way owners of sports teams have always operated. And if you don't want to pay their price, you're often out of the game.

Dean Spanos announced that he's moving his NFL Chargers out of San Diego and into Los Angeles. No surprise. There had been very heated negotiations between the Chargers and the city of San Diego for quite a while about building a new stadium for the team. You might think that zillionaires who own teams ought to build their own stadiums, but the fact is, it usually doesn't work that way. Portland got lucky with the Trail Blazers and San Francisco was fortunate with the Giants but for the most part, if you want in the big-league game you have to pay to play.

Is it worth it? Many cities would tell you that it's worth every penny because those teams have become such a part of the culture of the area. The Chargers, for example, were well supported in San Diego for 56 years. Is any of this, by the way, beginning to sound familiar to fans of the former Seattle Sonics?

I've always felt all the leagues love it when a team actually backs up its threat to move by actually leaving for another market. The Chargers vacating San Diego and Sonics leaving Seattle provides leverage for every other pro team seeking civic aid in constructing a new venue. Other NFL owners had to appreciate that their threats will now be taken more seriously. And it's always seemed that one franchise actually has to make good on a threat to move in order for all the rest to be taken seriously.

The lesson is, "Teams Will Leave." Even well-supported ones who have been in the area for decades. Is that fair? Of course not. But it's always been the way it works. The Dodgers and Giants left for the west coast in the 1950s and hearts were broken. And it continues to happen.

If you want to be a big-league town, you have to pay up.

At last, the Blazers chalk up a significant win this season

At last, the Blazers chalk up a significant win this season

There was so much to like in the Trail Blazers' 102-86 romp over the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night in Moda Center. Let me touch on just a few of them:

  • First, it's important to note that Portland fans had to work very hard to get to the game and a good many of them made it. I was very surprised how full the arena was on a night of such dicey travel. The attendees were rewarded with their team's best game of the season. I wasn't surprised the NBA so obviously forced the teams to play on an iffy night -- it's been NBA policy to do that for decades, even when the home team is not in favor of it. Especially when a one-night delay of the game would probably force some sort of issue between the league's TV partners, ESPN and TNT.
  • The Trail Blazer defense was intense and connected. I loved the way it collapsed and covered in the basket area (the Cavs had just 24 paint points and went a woeful 12-39 in the paint) when necessary. That takes coordination and effort -- and it was there all night.
  • At the same time, the Blazers were still able to contest three-point shots. Cleveland made just 30 percent of its attempts from three-point range.
  • The Cavaliers were not real interested on defense in the first quarter and Portland got off to a very good start on offense. But in the second period Cleveland began to tighten up its defense and went to another level. What I liked about that is that the Trail Blazers kept at it, through some rough possessions, and had an eight-point halftime advantage.
  • There were so many contributions from so many players but if you're a Trail Blazer fan you have to be excited about the ongoing confidence and emergence of Allen Crabbe. He has been almost unworldly over the last few games and the squad has needed another consistent shooter from long range.
  • Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu were terrors on defense, as usual. There can be no denying how important their presence on the court is to the Blazer defense.
  • Evan Turner had a tough shooting night but had 11 assists and eight rebounds while taking some turns at defending LeBron James. My sense has been that Turner fears no man. He took on James and gave as much as he took in a physical battle. His rough edge is very important to this team.
  • CJ McCollum continued his hot play on offense -- he's in a zone right now. A very hot zone. And four blocked shots? He's engaged at the defensive end.
  • Terry Stotts had his team very well prepared, which is saying a lot considering the Blazers' busy travel day on a back-to-back game.
  • There was a different vibe Wednesday night. The Trail Blazers looked much more like last year's confident bunch than they have all season.
  • What can we expect moving forward? I'd like to think Tuesday night's game, when the Lakers' DeAngelo Russell "poked the bear" -- confronted Damian Lillard and woke him and his teammates up -- was a turning point and that the Wednesday night triumph over the Cavs was Exhibit A of a major sea change for Portland. But there is still a lot of work to be done. The Trail Blazers have buried themselves in the conference standings and climbing out of what is still an 18-23 hole won't be easy.

Unsportsmanlike conduct? What about those raging coaches?

Unsportsmanlike conduct? What about those raging coaches?

The cameras Monday night at the College Football Championship Game were constantly drawn to the head coaches of the teams. Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban were certainly an attraction, for sure -- especially when a call went against them.

We watched them both screaming at officials with very animated, ferocious and even threatening displeasure. It was stuff you'd never see on the sidelines of a college basketball game or on the field of a college baseball game without some sort of punishment or ejection. Why football? Why are football officials so reluctant to throw a flag on a coach who is so obviously showing them up, impugning their integrity or just plain using them as an emotional punching bag?

I have no idea. But with all the lip service the NCAA pays to "student-athletes" and all the lessons they learn from college football, that's not exactly the behavior you'd wish to be projected by high-profile people in a leadership position. I was embarrassed for those guys in stripes, having to stand there and take that guff without any penalty.

But I will say that the astute observer I was watching the game with had the line of the night on Clemson's last drive. It was when an Alabama lineman was caught doing something illegal to a Clemson player.

"Unsportsmanlike conduct..." the referee began.

To which my friend added, "... it couldn't be worse than what we've seen the coaches doing."

And I agree. On college football's biggest stage, you don't need to showcase a couple of psycho adults blowing up on the sidelines without any punishment. And in the days of young players being penalized for merely celebrating their success, I would suggest that misbehavior by their coaches should be severely punished.

Tuesday's game in LA vs. Lakers now looms big for Blazers

Tuesday's game in LA vs. Lakers now looms big for Blazers

When the Trail Blazers visit the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night in the Staples Center, there will be added pressure on Portland. Consider:

  • Portland Coach Terry Stotts designated this game as the final one of three he felt his team had to win in order to built momentum toward a playoff push. But that's already been blown up by Sunday's double-overtime loss to the Detroit Pistons. Which makes this game even more important.
  • Resiliency has always been a hallmark of this team, going back to last season. But that will be tested after what must have been a gut-wrenching loss to Detroit. The Trail Blazers must put it behind them in a hurry and take care of business against a Laker team they beat in Moda Center last week. A loss in this one would be devastating.
  • The Trail Blazers have played better of late on defense but not quite enough to turn losses into wins. They are playing very hard, which probably makes the losses even tougher to take.
  • The battle for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference is going to be a free-for-all. The Trail Blazers have 23 losses and no team in the West has more than 26 -- which means that at this point it would be hard to eliminate any of those teams from contention for that final playoff spot. And out of the seven teams below Portland, you have to believe that at least one of them will catch fire in the second half of the season and make a push.

This is a big game.

Portland rumored to be chasing Tyson Chandler... but is a rim protector the answer?

Portland rumored to be chasing Tyson Chandler... but is a rim protector the answer?

ESPN is reporting that veteran Phoenix center Tyson Chandler is being targeted by the Trail Blazer for a potential trade.

Chandler, 34, is a 15-year veteran in the league who is known as a dependable shot blocker. With the impending restricted free agency facing Portland center Mason Plumlee following this season, I would expect the Trail Blazers to be window shopping all the available centers in the league.

But there's one thing a lot of people are missing right now: Plumlee is having a terrific season and Portland's most urgent defensive issues are more on the perimeter than at the rim. The Trail Blazers this season have been one of the best teams in the league at defending within six feet of the basket. But opponents are getting too many attempts inside because of the leaky perimeter defense. So should Portland go all in on a rim protector when the real problem may be with perimeter defense?

Sometimes I think that chasing a rim protector is treating the symptoms of the Blazers' problems rather than the disease.

What sort of overhaul would it take to cure the Trail Blazers' perimeter defensive problems?

It's maybe more than a one-player solution. There are certainly defensive issues to be dealt with in Portland -- but it doesn't seem as if they're concentrated near the basket. Would it make more sense to find a defensive specialist who can defend at the guard position?

 

Go ahead and feel free to call that Blazer loss to Warriors a moral victory

Go ahead and feel free to call that Blazer loss to Warriors a moral victory

OAKLAND -- Professional athletes and coaches aren't much interested in moral victories. You win or you lose, but not many times do you feel good about losing.

But the Portland Trail Blazers had every reason to feel good about their 125-117 loss to the Golden State Warriors Wednesday night, if for no other reason than it was a 37-point improvement on their performance the last time, they played the Warriors in Oracle Arena. That game was a debacle at the Oracle -- a 45-point loss.

But Wednesday the Trail Blazers played physically, energetically and stubbornly. They weathered a couple of Golden State knockout punches -- scoring runs that often take opponents out of a game -- and came back for more. And they played a decent defensive game.

Yes, they did.

You're going to look at those 125 points and the Warriors' 50.5 percent shooting and wonder how it could be said they played a decent defensive game? But I'd have to tell you they were playing a juggernaut of an offensive unit, a team that has now shot more than 50 percent in four straight games and came into this game averaging 49.8 percent from the field for the season. That's a product of their sensational passing game, which led to 31 assists Wednesday night. It was the 25th time this season Golden State has reached 30 assists. No other NBA has had more than six 30-assist games.

"I was really pleased with the way we competed," Portland Coach Terry Stotts said. "Obviously, we played a much better game than the last time we were here. We withstood a lot of their runs, particularly in the first half and even in the second half. We made a good game of it."

The Trail Blazers, as they've been of late, seemed much more physical on defense than they were earlier in the season.

"I hope so," Stotts said. "That was part of what we wanted to do going into the game. ... We tried to be more physical, we tried to keep the tempo up. To beat Golden State, you've got to be able to score and we did a good job of that."

Particularly in the first half, when the Trail Blazers racked up 71 points, the most the Warriors have allowed in any half this season. CJ McCollum was terrific in the first half, posting 26 points, six rebounds and three assists. But in the second half, the Warriors -- not having to worry about Damian Lillard (still out, nursing a sprained ankle), they were able to load up on McCollum and double-team him on pick-and-rolls.

"We just got more physical," said Golden State Coach Steve Kerr. "The first half, I felt like he was getting anywhere he wanted before and after he got the ball. We did a better job in the second half of running him off of his routes and just tried to be more physical with him. We were a little quicker and a little more alert."

McCollum still finished with 35 points, nine rebounds and five assists -- and a lot of admiration from the Warriors' Kevin Durant.

"CJ McCollum is a hell of a player," Durant told ESPN's Chris Haynes after the game. "Amazing player. One of the best players in our league."

The Blazers finished up a 44.9 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from three-point range while making 25 of 28 free throws -- marksmanship that will usually win games. They also won the rebound battle 44-39 and turned 17 Warrior turnovers into 21 points.

It was encouraging. And if the players and coaches couldn't bring themselves to call it a moral victory, I believe you and I certainly have that right.

 

 

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