By DERON SNYDER
Attention: Major League Baseball umpires are human like the rest of us, susceptible to the same flaws and failings found in folks who don’t call balls and strikes for a living.
In case we forgot, Lenny Dykstra is glad to remind us.
“Their blood’s just as red as ours,” the former Mets and Phillies said Tuesday in an interview with Fox’s Colin Cowherd. “Some of them like women, some of them like men, some of them gamble, some of them do whatever.”
Sports fans – not to mention league commissioners – get nervous when “umpires” and “gambling” are used in the same sentence. No one wants to believe that calls might be swayed by the spread. If the final score is influenced by which team an official took – or which gambler got next to him – that’s worrisome.
Dykstra said he hired private investigators to dig up dirt on umpires and used the info for an advantage in the batter’s box. “It wasn’t a coincidence do you think that I led the league in walks the next two years, was it? Fear does a lot to a man.”
So does greed. Dykstra’s overwhelming desires in life led to his steroid use and a prison stint for bankruptcy fraud and grand-theft auto charges.
Ethics isn’t his strong suit. Accuracy isn’t high on the list, either, considering he led the league in walks once (129 in 1993), not twice. In fact, Dykstra didn’t come close to leading the league any other year. His second-best season for walks was 89 in 1990.
He probably thinks fudging the truth isn’t a big deal, especially since he’s writing a book. Juiced body and juiced stories, they’re all just part of the game.
“I said, ‘I need these umpires,’ so what do I do?” Dykstra told Cowherd. “I just pulled a half-million bucks out and hired a private investigation team.” He said he shared the findings at the plate.
By DERON SNYDER
No one in the NFC East has anything to brag about.
The first-place New York Giants lead the way with a middling 4-3 record. The Philadelphia Eagles are 3-4, struggling to prove that Chip Kelly really is a genius. The locals have yet to win twice in a row this season and face New England in their next attempt.
But at least none of those teams are like Dallas. The Cowboys not only miss their star quarterback (0-3 without Tony Romo), they have to justify their controversial defensive end (0-1 when Greg Hardy goes berserk).
Believers in karma have a new Exhibit A as evidence. In March, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones signed a great talent in Hardy, who already has three sacks in two games played. There’s no question that the 6-5, 280-pound rusher is a disruptive force on the line and a menace to QBs.
However, he previously has been a menace to women and a disruptive force within the Carolina Panthers.
Hardy was convicted in 2014 of domestic assault and communicating threats in a case involving a former girlfriend, who said he threw her on a bed covered with guns and threatened to kill her with one. She was a no-show for his appeal (reportedly paid off) and the charges were dropped, as Hardy was suspended for all but one game last season and the first four games this season.
He has wasted no time drawing negative attention to himself and his new employer, making insensitive comments about “guns a-blazing,” speaking inappropriately about Tom Brady’ wife and, the latest, acting out indefensibly during Sunday’s loss against the Giants.
By DERON SNYDER
LANDOVER, Md. – With two minutes and 24 seconds remaining, 80 yards from the end zone and needing a touchdown to win, Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins was calm as he stepped into the huddle. He had been in this position at FedEx Field three weeks earlier – although with much more time on the clock before – when he led the game-winning drive against Philadelphia.
But history wasn’t on his side, not recently or overall. Washington hadn’t won since the comeback against Eagles, with Cousins’ propensity to throw picks playing a role. And the franchise had never overcome a 24-point deficit, which it faced midway through the second-quarter.
None of that fazed Cousins. Not Sunday’s first half against Tampa Bay. Not the two weeks of ridicule he faced locally and national ridicule. Not the team’s turmoil and voices calling for his benching.
The only that mattered getting down the field and across the goal line. And that’s what he did, triggering an 11-play drive that ended with a 6-yard TD pass to Jordan Reed for an improbable 31-30 victory.
“If there’s a sense of panic in the huddle we’re in trouble, Cousins said of the decisive drive. “So I hope there calm and confidence at all times.”
Maybe on the field, but everyone everywhere else is a long way from feeling assured.
By DERON SNYDER
Coach Rick Pitino is in a hopeless situation if self-described escort Katina Powell is telling the truth about services she provided for Louisville basketball recruits and players.
Whether he was totally clueless or fully aware, Pitino should be fired if Powell indeed rounded up dancers who did more than strip. Signing off on such parties would be egregious. Being ignorant of the festivities would be an indictment itself.
The worst part if it happened and the head coach didn’t know? An assistant felt comfortable enough in the environment to hire strippers for the cause. Bringing sex workers to the athletic dorm would attest to the culture within Pitino’s program.
Even as he denies any knowledge of the alleged parties, Pitino must know that Powell’s claims make him damaged goods as much as former assistant Andre McGee. This is the second sex scandal during Pitino’s tenure, which includes one he couldn’t deny. He dragged down the school in 2009 when we learned of his restaurant romp with a woman who later extorted him … after he paid for her abortion.
Pitino survived that public shaming and the woman is still serving an 87-month sentence in federal prison. According to Powell, the sex parties began just one year after the tawdry revelations, perhaps not coincidentally as archenemy Kentucky was leaving Louisville behind in terms of profile, victories and recruiting.
McGee played four seasons under Pitino, spent 2010-2012 as a graduate assistant and spent 2012-2014 as director of basketball operations. Pitino signed him as a player and hired him as a staffer, making McGee part of the Cardinals family that celebrated a national title in 2013.
Pitino professes ignorance if McGee paid Powell $10,000 to arrange 20-plus parties from 2010-2014 inside Billy Minardi Hall. “I don’t know if any of this is true or not,” Pitino told Yahoo Sports and ESPN Tuesday afternoon, his program reeling from explosive details in an “Outside The Lines” report that day.
OK. Let’s say he was unaware.
He’s still tone deaf if he doesn’t hear how crazy he sounds.
By DERON SNYDER
Dean Blandino has an unenviable job.
On any given Sunday, the NFL vice president of officiating has to explain the unexplainable and defend the indefensible. He has to convince us that our eyes are lying, our common sense is faulty and our comprehension is slow.
Like a crisis PR expert hired by a disgraced public figure, Blandino wore a slight “I-don’t-buy-this-myself” grin Sunday as he peddled dung to save his employer’s face. The veep was at his unbelievable best after an interception by the Chicago Bears was overturned via replay and converted to touchdown for the Detroit Lions.
Golden Tate caught a pass at the half-yard line and broke the goal line’s plane as a defensive back tugged on the ball. It popped out, was batted around in the air and landed in linebacker James Anderson’s arms. The play appeared to a classic case of the Dez Bryant/Calvin Johnson rule, which says some receptions aren’t receptions at all.
We’ve been conditioned by the numerous non-catch catches – Atlanta halfback Devonta Freeman had one for a reversed touchdown against Washington in Week 5 – so no one except Lions fans believed that had Tate scored. Officials on the field ruled the play an interception and a touchback. The game announcers agreed. Fox Sports’ Mike Pereira, formerly head of officiating for the league, thought it was obvious that Tate didn’t transition from receiver to runner and therefore needed to maintain possession until the play was complete.
But just in case the catch/not-a-catch rule wasn’t confusing enough, the replay official added another six layers by overturning the call.
Bring in the mouthpiece.
“This is different than the plays we’ve been talking about, the Dez Bryant play or the Calvin Johnson play,” Blandino said on NFL Network. “This is not a receiver who’s going to the ground. The issue here is, did he become a runner before the ball came loose? Did he have control, both feet down, and then time enough to become a runner after the second foot is down?”
Uh, not conclusively enough to REVERSE the call on the field!
By DERON SNYDER
Loving NFL football is easy.
So is hating the NFL.
The league that has everything – a chokehold on our consciousness, a multitude of billion-dollar revenue streams, a waiting list of eager partners and willing advertisers – is never satisfied. The NFL continues to pursue unconquered territories and fight nonexistent threats, almost daring the public to say “Enough already!”
Yet it marches on, the Nothing Funny League, a cold, brutish character that sucks the life from fans aside from the 60-minute contests. Personal seat licenses, unnecessary late games on school/work nights, the local “blackout” rule (suspended this season under pressure), regular ticket prices for irregular, exhibition games … there’s no limit on disdain.
Not even for a measly six seconds.
The NFL isn’t the only sports league to complain about GIFs and Vines, the popular snippets of highlights commonly posted on Twitter and elsewhere. Ultimate Fighting Championship, the Big 12 and the Southeastern Conference have voiced their objections, too. But commissioner Roger Goodell heads the biggest bully in sports, leading the way as Twitter suspended accounts for two high-profile sites Monday.
Deadspin’s Twitter account was reactivated Monday night but the account for SB Nation’s GIF handle was still suspended as of Wednesday evening. The NFL wants everyone to know it’s not at fault.
“The NFL sent routine notices as part of its copyright enforcement program requesting that Twitter disable links to more than a dozen pirated NFL game videos and highlights that violate the NFL’s copyrights,” the league said in a statement. “We did not request that any Twitter account be suspended.”
That wasn’t necessary. Twitter has a deal to distribute highlights and the social media company doesn’t want to upset its partner.
But there’s no reason for alarm on the NFL’s part. The prevalence of quick, video replays don’t dent the league’s bottom line. They don’t hurt The Shield or damage the brand. They simply enhance the experience for fans viewing a second screen – their computer or smart device – while watching the game.
GIFs and Vines create a sense of community for those who aren’t in the stadium. Sort of like the kinship among fans in attendance, minus the price gouging, long lines and drunken brawls.
By DERON SNYDER
When the University of Maryland tabbed Randy Edsall as football coach a little less than five years ago, athletic director Kevin Anderson envisioned the new hire taking the Terrapins from good to great.
There’s nothing wrong with ambition. But there’s also nothing wrong with being pretty good, either. That’s a more reasonable and sustainable destination for Maryland football.
The first step is winning consistently, which Edsall pulled off at UConn in going 8-5, 8-5, 8-5 and 9-4 before arriving at College Park. However, the Terps were headed toward their first two seasons under him, 2-10 and 4-8, halfway through this year.
Edsall wasn’t leading Maryland to the next level; he was letting it slip to the subpar levels of old.
“We did not show signs of progress in the way we were losing,” Anderson said at a Sunday news conference announcing Edsall’s dismissal.
To be clear, the manner of defeats mattered as much as the number. Routs were too routine and tight games were spread too far apart.
The Terps have been vanquished by three or more touchdowns in four games this year. Four losses last season were by at least 20 points. In 2013, Maryland suffered five double-digit losses, including three blowouts.
Forget about being good. Being competitive was a struggle for Edsall’s Terps.
By DERON SNYDER
DraftKings and FanDuel couldn’t get enough exposure over the last few months. The leading operators in daily fantasy sports, they bombarded us with a multitude of ads, inundating the airwaves and cyberspace every waking minute.
Incessant commercials have done the job, making the websites’ connection to sports feel as natural as beer and pizza. Fantasy-related info has been incorporated into bottom-of-the-screen crawls, stadium scoreboards, TV show segments and even entire shows.
Yes, the industry has commanded a chunk of our consciousness. The leaders have drawn our attention, just as they intended. Congratulations.
Be careful what you wish for.
When you spend more than $150 million in three months on advertising alone, in a nascent arena that could rake $3 billion this year, with an unregulated product that some observers compare to illegal gambling, generating awareness is one thing.
But the last thing you want is scrutiny, especially from high places like Capitol Hill and State’s Attorney offices.
Daily fantasy sports was speeding along in its shiny new vehicle. Now it’s being pulled over, with flashing lights in the rearview mirror.
By DERON SNYDER
Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has done an excellent job in stocking the farm system and building a winning club at the major-league level. Few franchises rate as high as the Nats on both counts.
But when it comes to picking managers, Rizzo is 50-50.
Davey Johnson was a triple into the gap, leading Washington to respectability in 2012 with its first winning record and first division title. The team failed to meet Johnson’s “World Series or bust” proclamation the following season, missing the playoffs altogether, but the seasoned manager retired left with his fine reputation intact.
That’s when Rizzo hired Matt Williams. Although he led Washington to its second NL East crown and won Manager of the Year honors as a rookie skipper in 2014, Williams goes down as a strikeout for Rizzo.
“This wasn’t our best year,” Rizzo said Monday afternoon during a conference call with reporters after he fired Williams. “It wasn’t Matt’s best year and it wasn’t my best year.”
Rizzo had no choice but to part ways with the man he trusted to lead a championship-caliber team. The epic failure of a consensus World Series favorite sitting at home for the postseason isn’t entirely Williams’ fault. But there was too much stench attached to his strategy and communication skills and the situation stinks enough without him.
He didn’t construct the bullpen. He didn’t cause the injuries. He didn’t implode on the mound or fizzle at the plate. He didn’t instruct virtually every Nats player to perform below career standards.
But he also never grew in the position that Rizzo gave him on blind faith. On-the-job training wasn’t enough to make Williams better in relating to his players or developing gut instincts that could supersede by-the-book approaches when necessary.
“He had a steadiness, a calmness to him,” Rizzo said. “That was one of his strengths. He led by example and was extremely hard working. No one got to the park earlier, worked harder or cared more.”
Unfortunately for Williams and his tightly-wound ilk, working longer and harder can be the antithesis of working better and smarter. Baseball’s six-month marathon is enough of a grind without help from the manager’s office, especially when a team is expected to make a deep postseason run.
By DERON SNYDER
LANDOVER – The keys to Washington fans enjoying the 2015 NFL season are simple.
Manage your expectations. Realize the journey to respectability is arduous. Savor the bright spots in a half-full glass instead of lamenting what’s missing.
That was the mindset Sunday with 6:05 remaining as Washington began its final drive, needing a touchdown to beat Philadelphia. There had been some good, more bad and plenty of ugly at that point, which is actually an improvement. A couple of late scores often wouldn’t have made a difference in last couple of seasons.
This year has been different, with Washington showing more bits and pieces of progress while opening a 1-2. The team followed the same script through 54 minutes against the Eagles but had a golden opportunity – albeit 90 yards away – to pour some gravy by actually winning.
Fifteen plays later, 10 of them pressure-packed passes from quarterback Kirk Cousins, and Washington had managed a come-from-behind victory, 23-20.
“We said we can’t let this (losing) happen,” left tackle Trent Williams said in a joyful locker room. “This wasn’t a situation where we wanted come in and say, ‘Let’s learn from this.’ This was a situation we had to own.”
They did so in the most nerve-wracking fashion imaginable, depending on Cousins’ arm and decisions to cover the final 42 yards. We have been conditioned to fear the worse when he cocks his arm and fires, holding our breath and wincing on picks and near-misses.
Now the game was in his hands and he delivered. Washington passed on its final eight plays from scrimmage and the crowd at FedEx Field never let out a collective groan. Cousins completed five of those throws – including a couple where he jammed the ball into Pierre Garcon between two defenders. Garcon was in the end zone on the latter of those bang-bang plays, a 4-yard touchdown with 26 seconds left on the clock.