Our great national nightmare is finally over…..for at least a year

The great national nightmare known as the Little League World Series is finally over….Thank you Baby Jesus.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Little League baseball. I love kids getting out on ball fields all over the country and playing America’s game. I love that kids get out of the house and play such a great game. I just have a problem with ESPN’s glorification of 11-12 year-olds and the picture they paint of these kids.

television ratings show I am in the minority when it comes to the televising and promotion of LIttle League baseball. Baseball fans eat this stuff up. But, as I watch the idolatry of 11-12 year-olds by ESPN, I have to think, no wonder we have a nation of children who feel entitled with egos the size of the Grand Tetons. I just don’t get why this is so popular.

Proponents say it is great seeing kids play the game on such a big stage. They also cite the purity with which the game is played compared to their big league brethren. All fine arguments. I just believe my argument against trumps that contention.

I think it is a horrible precedent to set when you have adolescents who are playing on a national stage when the games should be for the simple love of the game. There is a huge difference between playing baseball competitively at the age of 14 and playing it at 12. At 14, you are in high school, you are playing on a diamond that is 60’6 and 90 feet between bases. Its real baseball. Little League is where you learn the game, it’s not where you have possible life-alterning moments. I am not naive. I remember the days when the networks would televise the Championship Game. I have no problem with broadcasting JUST the title match-up. But, now we have ESPN televising the Little League Regionals. Think about that for a moment. A major network televising regional games from around the country for the right to play in the World Series. Its horrible. While the kids may have a blast with the television coverage I fear for that first child who has a Donnie Moore or Buckner-like moment and costs his team a chance to go to the World Series or costs his team a Championship. Picture it, a ball dribbles up the first base line and goes through little Johnny’s legs allowing the tying and winning runs to score and his team is eliminated. Little Johnny will not only have that memory, which is part of the game. But, he will also have it frozen in time, for all to see. It could be a life defining moment, and here he is at the ripe old age of 11.

I have called the broadcasting of Little League baseball on the networks a veiled form a child abuse, and I am sticking by this take. I think it is so wrong to put kids in this position. Let them live, have fun and enjoy the game without the bright lights and former major leaguers pontificating on how if little Harvey works on his slider he will be the ace of the Mets rotation in ten years. It’s just unfair to the kids.

I would venture not many people love baseball more than I do. Having broadcast Chico State baseball for the past 16 years and eating and sleeping the game, it is my passion. Let anyone who knows me tell you about my life’s obsession. But, what the mothership (ESPN) does to these kids is shameful. I always feel relief when a Little League World Series has come and gone without  a little kid having been fitted with goat horns, and having to live that down for the rest of his life. All because a bunch of suits in New York saw market share and an advertising fiscal bonanza.

The long national nightmare is over……The Little League World Series is over.


The complicated legacy of Barry Zito as a Giant

If legacies were determined based on championships in a tenure, then Barry Zito’s career as a San Francisco Giant would be a resounding success. Two titles in a three  year stretch and significant contributions during the 2012 World Series Championship run. But, as with everything concerning the mercurial left-hander, Zito’s legacy and how fans feel about his place in Giants lore is complicated.

While Zito was vital to the 2012 World Series, his sub-par performance for most of his stay in San Francisco has been one big disappointment. He signed a 7-year 126 million dollar contract in December of 2006. At the time it was the largest contract ever signed by a Major League pitcher. From the start it just didn’t seem like a good fit, While Zito still had his 12-to-6 curveball, he seemed to leave the velocity from his fastball on the Bay Bridge. He struggled with an 11-13 record and a 4.54 ERA in his first season with the Giants. There was a resounding feeling of  “we paid how much for THIS” among the fans. And, early on they let him hear about it. Zito said near the tail-end of the 2007 season that the contract put a lot of pressure on him and he was letting it affect him.

While he had some bright spots here and there over the next few seasons, most of Zito’s performances were less than stellar. And, with each season of struggle, Bay Area fans grumbled about the 126 million dollar bust. Here are his numbers after that initial 2007 season.

2008      10-17     5.15 ERA        1.60 WHIP

2009      10-13     4.03 ERA        1.35 WHIP

2010       9-14      4.15 ERA         1.34 WHIP

2011       3-4        5.92 ERA          1.40 WHIP

These were certainly numbers that are not be-fitting of a man who was making 126 million dollars. But, if you really dig deep into the courtship of Zito, it was common-knowledge that former owner Peter McGowan was dead set on bringing Zito over from the A’s. The man responsible for ushering in the Bonds era and beautiful AT & T Park made it clear he wanted Zito and instructed his front office to do what it took. So, the Giants offered him the huge deal. Reportedly tens of millions more than any other team was willing to offer. Is it Zito’s fault that he accepted a contract like this ? Absolutely not ! A player’s value is determined by the market forces at work. And, the Giants determined Zito’s value at 18 millon a year. Not Zito’s fault…..the Giants fault.

Even as Zito struggled on the field his work off the field is what garnered him accolades from players and fans alike. As the death tolls mounted with the country’s overseas wars, Zito  founded the charity, Strikeouts For Troops. The charity provides comforts of home and works to lift the spirits and morale of injured US Troops and offers support to military families. Tens of thousands of dollars have been raised to help troops in Zito’s name.

Zito’s struggles were expected by the Giant faithful entering the 2012 campaign, but something strange happened. While Zito’s “stuff” hadn’t changed, his execution had. He had somehow mastered the art of painting corners, mixing in well-located fastballs to go along with his change-up and curveball and soon the wins started mounting. Zito started to piece together strong performances and during the final two months of the regular season the Giants won 14 straight games started by Zito. While he struggled in his first post-season start, an elimination game against Cincinnati, the Giants ended up winning the game. Zito calls his Game 5 start against St. Louis in the National League Championship Series the “greatest of his career.” With the Giants trailing 3-to-1 in the best-of-seven series, Zito pitched an incredible 7.2 innings of shut-out baseball against a predominantly right-handed hitting team. It was a Zito gem, and was highlighted by a fan base that rallied behind Zito and had the #RallyZito hash-tag trending world-wide on Twitter. When the Giants won the NLCS in seven games, life-long Giants fans cited Zito’s Game 5 start as a turning point.

Zito would cap off a fabulous 2012 by winning Game 1 of the World Series against the best pitcher in the game Justin Verlander. Zito out-dueled the hard-throwing rightie, even banging out an RBI single to send AT & T into a frenzy. Unlike 2010 when the Giants won the World Series and Zito was simply a bit piece, he relished his contributions to the 2012 title. He was showered with adoration by appreciative Giants fans with signs that read, “We forgive you Zito.”

The problem was Zito never felt he needed to apologize for anything. He always tried hard, he always did the best he could. That, was never in question. And, as much as you want to criticize his performance, which was easy to do, it always pailed in comparison to the fans’ expectations with his huge 126 million dollar contract.

To put it bluntly, Zito’s 2013 season has been an unmitigated disaster. He is 4-8 with a 5.33 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP. His earned run average away from home hovers near 10. And, everyone seems willing to show the guy the door. But, before he leaves, lets look at the body of work. While the wins and stellar performances have been few, he certainly hasn’t embarrassed the San Francisco organization like some other players named Barry have. Zito has always given effort. He has given honest assessments of his short-comings. He has tried to adjust to become serviceable, and let us not forget 2012. The Giants do not win their second World Series in three years if not for Zito’s 16 win season and his shining performances in the post-season.

While his tenure will be remembered by some as a great waste of resources, there will be those that look at his entire body of work. Curse Zito if you will, but remember, some of you cursing him are also the same people who were thanking the man for saving your season on a mid-October evening in St. Louis.

Complicated indeed.



Russians using old Soviet tactics to enforce new anti-gay law

The Olympics are supposed to be a time to celebrate athletic excellence. Nations competing in the spirit of sportsmanship, acceptance and world unity. But, with the Sochi 2014 games on the horizon, Russia is already projecting a divisive tone. We are seeing the old iron curtain using intimidation tactics as the Sochi games approach.

A recent law passed by the Russian government criminalizes public displays of support for gays and lesbians. The anti-gay laws were adopted in June of this year. IOC President Jacques Rogge says he was given assurances by Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko that the law banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” WOULD NOT be applied to visitors attending the Feb. 7-23 winter games in Sochi. It appears the Russians are applying old Soviet tactics as they are now backing off of that stance. This “revision” in policy is troubling for the IOC.


Rogge said on Friday he is, once again, seeking assurances from the Russians that athletes, and their families and friends will be safe from this Russian law. He says clarifications are needed so the Russians can uphold the conditions and practices contractually demanded of Olympic host nations.

On Monday Russia’s Interior Minister, who controls the police force, said that Russia will enforce its new anti-gay/anti-trans law during the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He said Russia will arrest any Olympic athlete and guests who run afoul of the law. The law is murky but by definition if an athlete is appears in public with their same-sex spouse they would be arrested. According to an article written by John Aravosis in the American Blog, “this means if an NBC reporter interviews an athlete, who does or says something “perceived” as pro-gay-for example mentioning their spouse or appearing in their home with that spouse during footage—that athlete will be jailed.

Mutko has said the law prohibits anything that is “pro-gay.” Well, who determines what is pro-gay? Since there is no specific definitions of pro-gay behavior in the law who will be the governing body determining such transgressions in the eyes of the Russians ?


This has turned into a huge mess for the IOC. They granted the games to Sochi years ago when such a draconian law was not on the books. Now that it is, it threatens the freedoms of every athlete that attends these Olympic games. This doesn’t just threaten gays, bi-sexuals and transgendered athletes. This is a law that infringes on the freedoms of expression that Americans and many countries around the world hold dear.

The Russians are acting like the old Soviet guard. Unilateral implementation of restrictive laws with an expectation that their supreme dominance will be respected and adhered to. This is heavy-handed Soviet thuggery at its worst. The threat is as good as imprisonment. They are  limiting expression in what has customarily been an event devoid of such restrictions.

It is clearly too late to move the games, although I get the feeling Rogge and the IOC would love to do just that. This is back-room treachery that would make Breshnev proud and now the IOC is scrambling, trying to get assurances that athletes, friends, family and fans will not be jailed because of their sexual orientation. Let’s make this clear, this isn’t a law that just outlaws gay-pride parades. This is a law, according to the Russians, that allows their police force to determine what is gay behavior. It allows their force to arrest people for what they “perceive” as gay behavior. It does this without any clear guidance. In essence, the law is by definition of  “broad” in scope.

The 2014 Sochi games are destined to turn into complete chaos. The Russians heavy-handedness regarding the new law, juxtiposed against freedom loving athletes and countries who don’t want to experience the old “hammer and sickle” during their most hallowed athletic moment. I fully expect athletes to march into the opening ceremonies with rainbow flags and pro-gay messages. If this happens, what do the Russians do? Do they storm the ceremony? Do they arrest athletes and hold them until their events and then jail them again? A mess I tell you, a mess.

Politically the United States and the Russians are already on shaky ground after Edward Snowden was granted asylum. But, it’s not only the United States, Great Britain, Germany and France have all chimed in saying a boycott isn’t the answer and it wouldn’t be fair to the athletes that have trained so hard. I certainly agree. Avoiding the controversy is not making a statement. But, for the competing nations to lay down and simply allow the Russians to run rough-shod over human rights and freedoms of expression isn’t the answer either.

Russia is slowly taking on that old Soviet look. Should it surprise us with an old KGB agent running the show ?