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Rangers Shouldn’t Need the Russell Wilson Sideshow

Marc McLemore surely did not mind when the Rangers gave the No. 3 he had worn for years with the club to Alex Rodriguez, given what was expected of A-Rod when he came to Texas in 2001.

But you have to wonder what he feels of the person currently wearing that number in Surprise, AZ, right now.

The Rangers Spring Training facilities have suddenly become home to a media circus, with reporters from ESPN and the MLB Network and thousands of new fans in droves. But are they there to see the Rangers’ new acquisitions, or even the international star that is Yu Darvish?

No. All they care about is someone who’s chances of playing at Globe Life Park are beyond nil – Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who the Rangers acquired in the Rule 5 Draft last December.

The throngs in Surprise Stadium with footballs, not baseballs, to sign, made it clear they didn’t give a crap about the actual baseball players. One even showed up with a sign reading, “Sorry Rangers’ Fans, We’re Here For Wilson.”

“Hopefully, the Dallas fans won’t get too mad,” Wilson told USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale.

Consider this one Rangers fan more than a bit perturbed.

This is not what should be getting the Rangers a front-fold sports story in The Nation’s News.

Instead of focusing on whether Prince Felder will turn his career around now that he’s in new territory or whether Shin Soo Choo will live up to expectations, this Rangers’ preseason has been overtaken with the question of whether the current NFL champion will become the next Bo Jackson.

Really? Does anyone really think that’s going to happen? Forget whether someone who so far has a .229 average in two years at the lowest level has a snowball’s chance in You-Know-Where of making a team with an infield of Fielder, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar – do you really think the Seahawks will allow their golden QB to take the field in another sport?

And there are definitely some within the baseball ranks not happy with Wilson taking up a Spring Training spot, like Giants pitching prospect Andrew Carignan, who Tweeted, “Hey, .230 hitters in A Ball, you want to go to a big league camp? Win a Super Bowl.”

The more I look at this, the more I get a bad gut feeling this has Ray Davis and Bob Simpson written all over it and that now that a certain strikeout king is no longer in North Texas, they feel free to churn out any sideshow-like activity that will draw the fringe media out there rather than actually let the club focus on the game itself.

General manager Jon Daniels is doing nothing to diffuse this situation, saying things like, “If we can just get Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Timberlake out here, we can take it to another level.”

Why? Why does a team that was in the freaking World Series less than three years ago and supposedly won this past off-season (which quite a few people seem to take stock in) need to send a sideshow from another sport in order to garner attention?

It seems the only one who is currently maintaining any sanity is Ron Washington, who has refused to allow Wilson to play the field or take batting practice.

Wash should get another year on his contract just for that decision alone.

He used the politically correct response of “Man, I can’t just do that. We wouldn’t be able to sleep the night on the half-percent chance that something would happen.”

I can’t help but wonder what the people in Seattle think of this. You would think they would be in an uproar that their meal ticket to football dynasty is even considering playing another sport. If so, it may be the first time Seattle fans and I ever agreed on anything. (Well, that and the fact that they got screwed out of their basketball team, but that’s another story.)

And before you accuse me of just being a whiner because of my well-known dislike of American football, let me ask this: What would you think if LeBron James showed up at Cowboys training camp in pads?

Do you think the Yankees or the Red Sox or the Dodgers would allow a sideshow like this to take over their preseason? This sadly goes to show once more, how little the Rangers are respected as an Organization and the lengths they must go to in order to garner attention.

That attention will all go away in a week or two when Wash is able to put that red card in Wilson’s locker (Do they still do that like they did in Major League?) signaling has being cut from Spring Training.

The good news: The real baseball players can get back to preparing for their season.

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Fixing Football

Well, I’m sure you all know my stance on football. If you haven’t seen it, you can check it out in detail here.

However, I am not the type who just up and declares why something is rotten and just leaves it at that. I am actually willing to give my take on what can be done to fix the problem.

I am not so blind as to not consider the possibility that something like American football could be a safer, more civilized game not infested with abusive monsters. Therein perhaps lies the biggest issue I have: The fact that there are almost no people, at least among the fans and media who see that there are serious problems in their game that need to be dealt with.

This is why I admire someone like Jason Whitlock. The former Kansas City Star and Fox Sports writer, about to begin his second stint at ESPN, isn’t afraid to point out the massive problems of thug-like attitudes in the game of football. Whitlock says the hip-hop culture invading the game is to blame, and has received massive flak from fellow African-Americans for doing so.

While Whitlock makes good arguments there, I can’t help but think other factors are at work as well – mainly, SportsCenter and the Madden video game series. These have greatly glamorized the most violent aspects of the game and thus encouraged more players to be that overly vicious type. Now, I would never say the solution is to eliminate highlight reels or video game; the real issue comes from parents and coaches not drilling this attitude out of their kids.

Which brings me to this list. Back when Richie Whitt was on the air waves, he decided to make a list of things he though soccer needed to do to improve the most popular game in the entire world. Some had validity to me (like keeping time on the scoreboard) while others not so much (One point for a shot and three for a goal? You want to turn soccer into horseshoes?). So I feel I have the right to present my own list of what the most popular game in America needs to do to fix its problems. Some of these are to clean up other issues not relating to the problems of violence and abusive behavior, but don’t worry, we’ll get to that soon.

1. Start the clock up sooner. No sport wastes time like American football, especially the NFL – though admittedly the NBA is getting close. Do we really need to drag an hour of game time to nearly four times that in real time? There is just too much time when the clock isn’t running, and there’s an easy way to remedy that. Any time the officials have to stop the clock, start it back up once they spot the ball. Why exactly does the clock have to remain stopped from the time a pass hits the ground until the moment they snap the ball again? Heck the only reason the clock stops on an incomplete pass at all is because 100 years ago they had to wait for the lone old guy they had for an official to reclaim the only ball they had. (Yes, I actually did some research on the history of the game.) Totally outdated. Let’s get the game moving.

Of course, every time an organization has tried that, they caved in to pressure. The NCAA tried a similar rule a few years back and dropped it after one year because people like Mike Leach complained that they were unable to run as many plays per game. Wasn’t that kind of the point?

2. Punish for going out of bounds. Outside of the violence aspect, this might be the most frustrating thing about the game. Why is American football the only sport in the entire world that rewards you for going out of bounds? Every other sport, you lose the ball altogether for doing that.

Again, easy to fix: If a player steps out of bounds without having been physically forced out by the defense – no gain on the play, loss of down, ball goes back to the original spot. Make the game stay within the boundaries of the field like every other game is.

3. Actual punishments for excessive violence. Now for the big ones. What can be done to get rid of so much abusive play and subsequently abusive people in the game? Can anything be done to eliminate things like another Bountygate scandal? Maybe not completely, but there is definitely something that can hamper it from being effective. And it lies within the rules of the “other” football.

In soccer, disciplinary action is simple: A player gets a “yellow card” warning for a major infraction and a “red card” ejection for a second offense in a game or extremely serious offense. An ejection or too many yellow cards accumulated leads to a suspension. Such a system can be implemented in the American game; An automatic 1-game suspension for a player getting ejected or racking up too many personal foul penalties. I see 50 yards worth of penalties over a season being fair enough for a first suspension with subsequent ones coming every 30 yards.

The fines the NFL levies for excessive hits is chump change to these players. Make it much more likely that such actions will affect the team, things might start changing.

4. If it’s not a tackle, it’s not legal. People overseas like to call our football “a game for gentlemen played by animals” while rugby is vice versa. The logic being that even though football has more rules and protective gear to try and prevent injury, its participants still try to cause such injury – while trying to get on ESPN in the process.

I know I’m not the only one on this issue. I remember a former co-worker, who played the game, watching Super Bowl and complaining, “No one’s tackling. They’re standing around looking for the chance to make the big hit.” I also remember a former coach on a national radio show brushing off the accusations of kickoffs being too dangerous by saying, “The problem isn’t the kickoffs; the problem is that kids today don’t know how to tackle.” So just flat out make anything other than an actual wraparound tackle illegal – which may be what the NFL is gradually doing anyway. Yes, fans will continue to whine that the manliness is being taken out of the game. Their predecessors did the same whining when helmets were mandated because people were actually dying on the field.

There simply should be no reason for anyone to have to try and break a running back’s spine in two with a headfirst spear. If you’re not good enough to stay in front of the guy with the ball so you can get both arms around him and bring him down the right way, maybe that guy deserves to get around you and take it to the end zone.

5. No Felons Allowed. Playing any sport for a living is a privilege. An NFL job is not protected fully by the U.S. Constitution like your citizenship is. There are several jobs out there that pay a lot less where you can get fired for a lot less than being accused of rape of murder. And I don’t care how good a player you are, no one’s that good, someone is out there that can take your place. Ben Roethlisberger isn’t so much better than everyone that he should be excused for multiple rape allegations. It’s being reported that one NFL player, Kerry Rhodes, is being blacklisted under accusations of being gay, but Michael Vick can’t get blacklisted for abusing dogs?

While it looks like the New England Patriots knew about Aaron Hernandez’s past and took a gamble on drafting him out of Florida, at least Robert Kraft said the right thing when they did cut him before he was even arraigned on his murder charges, saying Hernandez putting himself in such a position was enough that they didn’t want him representing them. The NFL would have a much better image as a whole if everyone followed such a policy: You get accused of a felony, you’re out.

Does what I say sound unfair to claim football needs such stricter conduct rules compared to other sports? Maybe. But the inconvenient truth is that football is an extremely violent sport and thus attracts extremely violent people. Every game will unfortunately have people committing deplorable acts; see only Chad Curtis for proof of that. But when you have a “game” that glorifies the act of severely hitting and injuring people, harsher steps must be taken to ensure the participants be civil within the sidelines and even more civil outside them.

Otherwise, certain sports fans and bloggers have the right to be very afraid of a football player getting within 500 yards of his sister.

Suspensions Allow Many to Reveal Their Ethics and Sanctimony

Have you ever fudged on your taxes? Cut in front of someone in line? Done a few miles per hour over the posted speed limit?

If so, maybe you should think twice before condemning Nelson Cruz or any other member of the Biogenesis Bunch, branding them as worse human beings than Charles Manson.

The decision has gone down, and Cruz is among the dozen players reluctantly accepting to be suspended for the rest of the year (It’s either 50 games or 50 days; I’ve heard both and still am not sure which) for nothing more than being linked to a lab distributing performance enhancing drugs and not failing a single drug test. Expect the owners to be making plans to blacklist these players over the final two months to ensure none of them get a contract again as MLB continues its crusade against the unforgivable evil of performance enhancing drugs – the ones whose effects led to their coffers getting filled 15 years ago.

Already the fan base is split and crying, as this was a no-win situation for Nellie either way. Accept the ban, and he’s walking out on his teammates as they rush to catch the A’s in the standings. Appeal like A-Rod, and he refuses to “be a man” and admit his mistake.

Cruz, for what it’s worth, has issued a defense. According to KRLD’s Mike Young, Cruz suffered from a serious illness following the 2011 season that caused him to lose several pounds. At the suggestion of his agents, he obtained medication from Biogenesis. He has now fired those agents.

Personally, I trust Young as a journalist, so I see no reason to doubt this. But I know a bunch of holier-than-thou fans refuse to accept this and fully believe he was shooting himself up with a pint of steroids a week. They want any reason to castrate a professional athlete in order to make their own miserable lives look better, and this is prime fodder for them.

Of course, many of these are the same people who likely would have loved to see Cruz die of that illness since his failure to catch that final out in the World Series so horribly ruined THEIR lives.

And no, I don’t buy the claim that: If Cruz really was just after medication, MLB would have gone easy on him, just like they did before with Gio Gonzalez.

Different scenario; MLB wants no leniency this time, as they are on a crusade to liberate baseball from this unforgivable evil and come off as the great shining white knights out to save the sacred game. Even though I wouldn’t put it past a few of these owners to have slipped in the drugs themselves in the 1990s. In fact, I’d bet that their leniency in Gio’s case led them to refusing to do so now, since they missed out on a chance to make a statement then.

But what’s worse is this: Nelson Cruz could possibly never play baseball again. Aaron Hernandez, on the other hand, could technically suit up for an NFL team tomorrow.

I know what a radical statement this is, given that the former New England Patriots player is currently behind bars awaiting his murder trial. But you can’t tell me that at least 10 to 15 teams haven’t at least considered going to a judge and arguing that signing him to a contract would give Hernandez the incentive to honor bail, thus allowing his release and giving said team at least one season with him as court proceedings drag out.

Now yes, Hernandez can’t sign with anyone without the commissioner’s approval; of course, no team can sign any player without that. And Roger Goodell is just the type of person that might just stamp his foot and prevent an accused murderer from being signed.

But why not just make it completely official and suspend Hernandez indefinitely? Why not take the stand Robert Kraft did, stating that Hernandez putting himself in such a situation is enough to make him someone the Patriots don’t want to be associated with, guilty verdict or no?

Of course, Goodell’s attempt to ban players from intentionally and seriously hurting each other on the field failed miserably. Michael Vick was allowed to return to the field after slaughtering dogs, and Donte Stallworth and Leonard Little were allowed to keep playing after killing people with their cars. It’s only a small step for the NFL players union to say “ you don’t have the right to deny someone’s ability to make millions just because he’s ACCUSED of blowing a guy’s head off!!”

And that’s the big thing here. There is a bit of a difference between taking drugs to improve your performance on the field and TAKING AWAY ANOTHER PERSON’s LIFE. I hope to never commit an act of violence against another person, which is why I have no issue being judgmental on Hernandez.

But sadly, as Cruz and A-Rod are being castrated in the media while other NFL players walk the streets wearing “Free Aaron” caps, it’s clear what we as an overall society think is worse.

It shouldn’t be too surprising, coming from a society that has glorified violence and death all the way back to the ancient Romans.

But it’s still a bit disheartening to think that in three years, Aaron Hernandez could be wearing a jersey again while Nellie Cruz may not.

Baseball’s Crusade May Get Backlash From the Union AND Fans

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The problem with preaching on top of the mountain is that there are a lot of people looking to knock you down. And that may be the problem those in charge of baseball may soon face.

ESPN reported yesterday that Major League Baseball plans to suspend more than 20 players they have been investigating for months in connection with the Biogenesis clinic supplying them performance enhancing drugs – after the All-Star Break, that is.

In other words, wait until after their Mid-Season Classic so nothing disrupts it and then throw under the bus the players it just triumphed during the game.

Okay, maybe that’s a cheap shot, especially since league spokesman Pat Courtney declared the report premature and would only say “We are still in the midst of an active investigation.”

Still, while Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun are definitely the two players MLB is targeting the most in this investigation, reportedly searching for a way to hand them 100-game suspensions despite them not being convicted a first time (Braun had a suspension overturned), Rangers fans are definitely eyeing this with fear, as All-Star Nelson Cruz is reportedly on the list.

So many baseball fans in North Texas are already declaring their season to be over (which they rarely need much of a reason to do anyway). But they might want to hold the phone on Mister Boomstick definitely being out for at least 50 games.

It should be noted that NOTHING is definite at this point. While ESPN tries to break the story first (while possibly shilling for the front office of its MLB partners, because that’s what that network does), we have to constantly remember that no hard evidence has been leaked at all. We don’t even know if they have the same amount of evidence on every individual player other than a name on a list. Many just assume for now that MLB has all the dirt it needs to lower the boom, and when you ASS-U-ME…

But no matter what, it seems clear MLB more than ever is trying to set itself up as the holy savior of decency – but instead may be setting itself up for the same humiliation its football brethren suffered last year.

The NFL tried to take the same path when it laid the hammer down hard on the New Orleans Saints for the infamous “Bountygate” scandal, when Roger Goodell suspended coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely, coach Sean Payton for a year and numerous players for taking part in a “pay-to-injure” program. Goodell was hailed by many, including myself, for trying to bring humanity into a game that desperately needs it. And then he ended up with egg on his face as his own predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, declared he did not have enough evidence to convict the players and vacated those suspensions.

Thus it was established once again that in the modern age, a sports commissioner does not have complete autonomy. And that may come back to bite Selig here.

Selig and MLB are desperate to land a big win in their crusade against PEDs, especially after the U.S. Attorney’s office has repeatedly failed in nailing the likes of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and even wrestling czar Vince McMahon two decades ago. And if Selig isn’t careful, that desperation could be his undoing in this crusade.

No one has failed a drug test, at least not in reference to this current investigation, and that is key. While we don’t know who all the league office is talking to, the main sticking point is that the key witness in the whole thing, Tony Bosch, is someone they said months ago was a completely unreliable source. Yet now they have accepted his agreement to cooperate with them just as they were on the verge of buying the services of Biogenesis investor Porter Fischer to give them the dirt on Bosch.

Thus, if and when such suspensions come down, expect the players union to strike back with extreme ferocity. If it’s not written in stone in the collective bargaining agreement that MLB can definitely suspend players with just circumstantial evidence, the union will fight – and could very well win.

MLB’s best defense perhaps lies in the fact that 1. Definite proof wasn’t needed in 1920 when Judge Landis banned the Black Sox for life for fixing games, and 2. No official failed drug tests were needed for U.S. Cycling to strip Lance Armstrong of everything he had built. But the thing to remember here is that nether Armstrong or the Black Sox had a group as strong as the MLBPA behind them.

Some holier than thou experts might say if the union knew what was best, they’d throw these players under the bus for “the protection of others and the good of the game.” That’s not how a union works. The MLBPA’s job here is to ensure due process is upheld, or else a governing body like the MLB office can eventually flex its muscle and just discipline players with no real evidence whatsoever.

Think something like that wouldn’t happen in major sports? Just ask those who remember the late race car driver Tim Richmond, who NASCAR banned for a failed drug test that was completely bogus just so they could get an AIDS-infected person out of their sport.

But the biggest question in all of this is “Just how much do the fans care?”

Therein lies perhaps the biggest similarity between Selig and Goodell. They are putting forth all their efforts to supposedly “save” their sport for a fan base that doesn’t seem to want it to be saved.

If you approached a casual NFL fan on the streets and brought up the subject of players intentionally abusing and hurting each other, you’d probably get a shrug and a “So what?” After all, wanton violence and abuse is what almost everyone watches football for.

Meanwhile, as the baseball reporters with keyboards and microphones go on and on about the sanctity of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron’s game being destroyed, most casual fans continue to buy their tickets and high-priced beers and shrug it off with the attitude of “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying,” for lack of a better term.

We as an audience have long demanded that our athletes do whatever it takes to win. Wouldn’t it then be hypocritical for us to then chastise them for doing whatever it took?

It seems maybe, just maybe, a lot of fans get that. And if the union wins this fight, the majority of fans will likely be there tho throw the eggs at Selig. They usually stand by the players as long as they don’t go on strike.

Whether Selig can lower the boom on someone like Nellie Cruz has yet to be seen. But even if he can, it won’t stop him from likely receiving a standing ovation from the Ballpark crowd when Cruz is able to step in the batter’s box again.