Thursday, March 31, 2005

Can St. Louis Withstand the Scrutiny?

I'm as happy as the next guy that the NCAA Final Four is being staged in St. Louis this weekend. We are given to believe that this will not only be a fantastic event and bring much needed attention to the Gateway City as a convention site, but it will also be an audition for the NCAA reps who will decide whether we get the 2012 Final Four.

I have no doubt that our sports facilities are top shelf. There is no problem there. The people who will run the show here are certainly as good as anybody else. What I wonder about is how the muckety-mucks who will make the decision to come back in a few years will view the overall appeal of the downtown area. Fun, Clean, Attractive, Safe??

The city has come a long way toward re-establishing itself as a destination. There are more restaurants, nightclubs, quality apartments, and fun places to be (i.e. casinos) than there were just five years ago. But, and I think it's a big but, there are still a lot of eyesore and vacant buildings around that will not cast the downtown area in a favorable light. Intelligent out-of-towners will see past all the camouflage. And let's be honest, the dome is very close in proximity to a part of the city that is seething with violent crime. We can't go through a week without a handful of North St. Louis murders making the news. One wrong turn in the rental car by some visitor unfamiliar with the lay of the land and he, or she, could be staring into a pistol. If, heaven forbid, there was a violent crime committed against some out-of-town fan this weekend, we can kiss that 2012 return visit good bye.

St. Louis, and it's downtown area in particular, are on the upswing. But, during an audition you have to be able to present your "A game". I'm just not sure we measure up to the Chicagos and New Orleans' of the world yet. I hope I'm wrong.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Suddenly Underdogs

All of a sudden the University of Illinois basketball team...number one in just about everybody's mind all the second choice of the Las Vegas oddsmakers. Many a pundit in the media has also now jumped on the North Carolina bandwagon.

The miraculous comeback to beat Arizona was apparently accomplished by a team that suddenly is incapable of living up to its expectations. Were fatal weaknesses exposed that hadn't been there before? Did Deron Williams suffer a season-ending injury? Did Bruce Weber's screachy voicebox stop working altogether? Did Billy Murray's presence at the game in Chicago cast them as "Caddyshack" loveable losers? Did North Carolina pick up Shaquille O'Neal for the rest of the tournament? You know the answer.

So, what's different? I guess the Illini came too close to losing Saturday night for the betting crowd. Being down 15 with 4 minutes left certainly shows a capacity to come out on the losing end of a score. But, at the same time, they didn't come back to beat the St. Mary's 7th grade girls team. They did it against Ari-freakin-zona!! If North Carolina had pulled a similar comeback against Wisconsin would the shoe be on the other foot? The Tar Heels haven't exactly been blowing out the opposition in this tournament either.

Don't get me wrong, I totally understand the whys and hows of Vegas investing. Many are moving their money to what they consider a more secure place. I don't bet on such things. So I'm certainly more comfortable with my heart in the Illini corner. For the sake of Bruce Weber, and other nice-guy coaches everywhere, I hope the Fighting Illini are cutting the nets down at the Jones Dome Monday night.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

NCAA Acting Tournament

I don't have the time to pursue it...or the I'm throwing out this idea for anyone who wants to run with it. A combination of the NCAA tournament and American Idol...but with a twist. The competition won't be for will be a tournament featuring the best theatre/drama departments at the NCAA schools...and will follow the same format as the basketball tournament.

This idea occurred to me the other day when I was watching the fantastic excitement provided by this weekend's games. I thought about my son acting major at the Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago. I thought...Gee, wouldn't it be great if other kids in college could experience the same type of national attention, and the thrill of competition, that the sports kids do.

So, here's what needs to happen. We get the NCAA to put together and sanction a tournament in which member schools would be invited to present a 10-minute play featuring their best actors, directors, playwrights, set-designers, and all the other behind-the-scenes people necessary to produce a top-notch show. I would suggest that it be a "sit-com" competition. heavy dramas, no Shakespeare...after all, we're trying to get everyone to watch "the game" on TV. And, we're trying to give these kids a vehicle they can ride to future employment.

There would be regional competitions just like in the basketball tournament. You get a panel of acting/entertainment experts, similar to Randy, Paula and Simon on "Idol" to judge the whole thing. Maybe you could get some of the "unemployed" cast of Friends to judge. (David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry and Lisa Kudrow don't seem to be too busy these days). You tape the regional auditions...make shows out of them just like "Idol". (Play up the good...Play up the bad...have some fun with it).

The best from the regionals are then invited to Hollywood...where else? compete live on TV for the title of NCAA National Theatrical champions. Each week the playwrights, actors and crew from the schools would have to come up with an entirely new and fresh production. Once the competition gets down to the Elite Eight, the national TV audience would vote for their favorites, again just like on "Idol". On the final night of competition, the remaining schools would each produce and perform a 23-minute show...just like a real sit-com.

The winners...and losers...would get some great exposure for their schools, theatre/drama programs, and everybody involved could make some money. The kids would get exposed to the world as the talented individuals that they are. I think there's a chance for this because we're talking about "entertainment". After all, how could you do a tournament that was interesting and fun to watch while trying to pick the national chemistry champs...or the best paleontology school?

Just send me 2% of the profit when the idea gets picked up by one of the networks.

Monday, March 28, 2005

March Madness...And How!!

Occasionally I wonder why I'm such a total sports fanatic. Then comes along a weekend like the one we just had and I understand all over again.

Could anyone...other than fans of Arizona, West Virginia, Kentucky and Wisconsin...believe that this wasn't the best weekend of sports entertainment in many, many years? Even the followers of those programs have to admit that this weekend's NCAA games were awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping spectacles that will be hard to top at The Dome in St. Louis this coming weekend.

I actually thought Louisville had a chance to come back to beat West Virginia like they did because they never seemed to be out of time. But, if anyone reading this says they didn't give up on Illinois when they were 15 points down with 4 minutes left on Saturday night, they are being less than truthful. I even went back to work on my "honey do" project about then, feeling embarassed for Bruce Weber and his team that they would bow out so uncharacteristically. But then I began interrupting my project to take an occasional peak at the game. The peaks turned into stares...and the stares turned into a long, heart-pounding, living-room jumping, shout-out-loud, sports thrill that I will never forget.

Let's be honest, that thrilling finish in Chicago could only happen in college basketball. High school kids don't have the overall skill to make something like that happen. Pro players are too skilled, used to the pressure, and blaze' to allow it to happen. That's the big reason the college game, especially in the NCAA tournament, is so much more fun and entertaining than the NBA. The NBA guys are showing up for a paycheck. The college kids are playing for their schools, their teammates, their coaches, their families, their hometowns, and all of the things for which athletes should care.

Can Illinois go ahead and win the whole thing? Sure, they could. But, at the very least, their season has now been validated by making it to the Final Four. It looks to me like the Arizona team gave them the toughest match-up problems they will encounter in the whole tournament. But, they still have to play Louisville...and if they win that one...either Michigan State or North Carolina. The biggest irony would be if they played a team from their own conference (Michigan State), a league they dominated all year, in the championship game... and lost. Oooh.. that would be another NCAA power-drama that would be hard to forget. I'm not predicting it....but I'm half-way expecting them to meet in the title game.

No matter what happens, this NCAA tournament, with it's finals scheduled for here in St. Louis, has to be one of the most unforgettable and enjoyable sports experiences this nation has put itself through in decades. And the NCAA tourney might have finally put itself right up on the same shelf with the World Series and Super Bowl in the ranks of our country's most important sports events. I know it has with me.

I guess some people were playing bingo...or watching a Kevin Bacon movie on some other channel...but look what they missed.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Fickle Coverage

Funny, how when they're just another team, the Illinois-based university basketball and football programs barely get any mention on St. Louis TV sportscasts. The strategy normally seems to be--"only those central and southern Illinois hayseeds would be why bother". Give us more Mizzou. Give us more SLU. Give us more of anything in Missouri.

But, now that they're the number one basketball team in the nation, all of a sudden the Fighting Illini are "our boys" in St. Louis. They dominate the sportscasts. All the local stations have someone doing a live stand-up in front of the buildings where they play to make sure everyone knows the station is claiming ownership of U of I sports coverage in St. Louis.

I understand that it's a battle for ratings...and the the Illini are the hottest thing going...and that the Final Four is going to be in St. Louis...but how two-faced and transparent can they possibly get? I just don't understand how these station people can look at their marketing area and the pattern of their broadcast signal and regularly be convinced that the one-third of the population on the Illinois side of the river doesn't merit routine coverage.

The only thing more hypocritical than the current level of "Illini" home-cookin' the disgusting pandering to Saluki sports fans when SIU-C made their run in the NCAA tourney. Suddenly it was "The Dawgs" and "our boys from C-town". It was enough to gag a maggot. The SIU football and basketball programs have been dominant in the last 5 years or so...certainly much more successful than Mizzou. But I guarantee you won't see or hear another mention of SIU sports until something else enormous happens. If Gary Pinkel or Quin Snyder get a sore throat though, you can bet you'll get a full medical report from the Surgeon General.

Carbondale is a lot closer to St. Louis than Champaign...and about exactly the same distance from The Arch as Columbia, Mo. And there's a good contingent of SIU and U of I grads in the St. Louis area work force. Wake up you people in St. Louis TV. The schools in Illinois merit some regular coverage too. Don't just show up when the rest of the world does.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Observations on the Hagin/Helton Firestorm

I haven't met Cardinals broadcaster Wayne Hagin. I haven't met Rockies player Todd Helton. So my comments about the current steroid and media maelstrom involving these two come from afar. But often it seems the farther away one is from a situation, the more clearly one is able to see it. My attempt at a vision of the forest, and the trees, follows.

Observation 1: I can't believe Wayne Hagin could be so "un-cerebral" as to even come close to accusing a ballplayer, especially in the current climate, of being a steroid user. Whether he meant to say steroids or not...(which is still being debated)...Hagin shouldn't have even gotten close to the subject....particularly when talking about a specific individual.

Even Wayne, who seems like a very likeable and well-educated fellow, now admits that he "screwed up" in broaching the subject. With his extensive broadcasting experience, he should have known better than to allow himself to be "misunderstood" in an on-the-air, and on-the-record, situation that dealt with such a sensitive, and potentially flammable, matter. If he thought that because he was talking on a St. Louis radio station that the story wouldn't "go national", or get back to the people in Denver, he was not thinking clearly about that either.

Many times when you're the subject of questions in an interview situation, you feel the urge to be more than just a good guest. I've been there a few times. You're tempted to answer specific questions as honestly and forthrightly as you can. You want to provide "a nugget" that will make the listener "take notice". I suspect Wayne gave in to such a temptation to provide "some meat" in an otherwise ordinary interview situation.

OK...lesson learned. I'm sure his employers at the Cardinals have him on "double-secret probation" after an unexpected and unseemly PR problem. Would Hagin's predecessor have ever gotten himself into such a mess? I think we all know the answer to that one.

Observation 2: If Todd Helton didn't do anything wrong, why is he throwing such a big fit at an accusation that supposely doesn't hold water? He said...when told of the comments by Hagin...that he would never forgive him. Never forgive him? Excuse me, but a simple "The guy is wrong" would have been sufficient.

Let it go Todd. If you would have had a calm and confident reaction to the media, the whole thing probably would have gone away by now. But, because the media smelled smoke...they continue to look for the fire. You could have let Hagin explain himself to you personally and then put out the fire with a simple..."I understand what the man was trying to say...and I accept his explanation". But You won't take his phone call. You certainly won't admit that he is someone who used to cover your games on a daily basis and might have a clue about the situation. Your childish reaction to the whole mess...puts even more of a spotlight on you than apparently is comfortable. Will you hold up under the scrutiny you are now bringing on yourself with your thumb-sucking, elementary-school behavior?

"The lady doth protest too much, methinks"....William Shakespeare..Hamlet

Monday, March 21, 2005

I Got One Right..Let's Try Another

In a previous post, I predicted that Congressman Lacy Clay would try to "un-name" the Mark McGwire highway that runs through his district in north St. Louis. I can't say why I thought this would happen, other than it seemed like he made a point of bringing up the fact that McGwire was so honored during his questioning of the reluctant witness at last week's "Steroid Spectacular" in Washington.

Since the hearing, Clay has indeed suggested that the highway should revert to simply Interstate 70. Apparently people at the state level must sign off on such a change and at this point are unwilling and unlikely to do so.

McGwire seems to be in a position now where he will have to try some kind of public relations maneuver to re-claim his reputation. Even though he didn't admit anything at the hearings, his reluctance to claim any form...labeled him forever. Unless he makes an effort now to do some "damage control"...he likely won't be a first-ballot entrant into the Hall of Fame. He most certainly would have been before Thursday.

I will venture another prediction. (Let's see if this one pans out).

McGwire...through his attorneys, or agents...will in a few months let it be known that he's available for interviews. He will accept invitations to appear on talk shows...(Leno, Letterman, Today, all the usual places)...where he will answer THE QUESTION. He will say that he never used steroids and that his silence at the hearings was an effort to protect others which backfired.

He will say that his attorneys told him that in order to not name names of past acquaintances who used 'roids, he would have to avoid saying anything about his own past...and he took it to an unflattering and self-damning extreme.

In these talk show settings...(where his shy, self-effacing personality will come through better...and he's not under oath)...he will be able to re-claim some of his lost face. People will see him state his case with some ease. They will also see him shed tears once again when he talks about the work he does...and has always done... for underpriveleged and abused kids. They will also find that he is the same "big kid" that they fell in love with in 1998. For his own sake...and the sake of any legacy he may yet leave behind....I expect he will do this. If his attorneys....or some of his close friends like Tony LaRussa (who is an attorney)...haven't suggested this to him yet...they are doing him a disservice.

The only thing potentially wrong with this prediction---He IS so shy and seemingly uncaring about his public personna, that he may just go into seclusion for the rest of his life and stay there. He could be trying to buy a tropical island with a 9-hole golf course right now.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Big Mac Pulls a Big Choke!

I don't know who Mark McGwire's legal advisors are, but he should seriously consider not paying them. They didn't do him any good at the steroid hearings in Washington.

If it was their idea that he not say anything about his past, they screwed up. If it was McGwire's idea that he not say anything about his past, they still screwed up. They should have told him to say one thing about his past...and one thing only. Just like Rafael Palmeiro...he should have looked straight at somebody and said...


Whether it was the truth, or not, for the sake of any legacy he has left, he should have said it. By not saying it...and not saying it...and not saying it again...I think in most people's minds he came off as an admitted 'roid user anyway. Was he that concerned about perjuring himself before Congress?? I doubt it. If somebody comes along later and wants to try to prove such a statement to be false, so be it. Someone likely will be trying to do that anyway. But his millions of fans...particularly the Cardinal fans who were thrilled by, and paid dearly to see, the homers in the late '90's... were yearning for him to claim some form of innocence.

Congressman Clay...of St. Louis...gave him the perfect opportunity. Clay's question to Mac didn't even directly ask about steroids. If I heard it correctly, he asked..."Can you say that you are honest, and your records were honestly achieved??" He was specifically asking about honesty. We know what he was referring to. But he didn't ask specifically about steroids! McGwire could honestly say he was an honest person...without admitting anything else. For instance, he could have done a Bill Clinton and asked..."What is your definition of honesty"? And then he could have said..."I believe I am an honest person". But we didn't even get that. Where were his attorneys when he had the chance to seize that opportunity? The old.."I'm here to talk about the future...not the past. I'm a retired player. Anything to help the kids" routine got old, evasive and disingenous after the first five minutes.

I know one thing. I will never have the same reverence for Big Mac and his achievements that I once did. I'll wager I'm not alone there. I'm also betting that Congressman Clay introduces a bill soon to "un-name" the Mark McGwire highway on Interstate 70.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

This Should Be Interesting

I see where the NHL and the players union are getting together this week to continue bargaining talks. Or maybe better re-start bargaining talks. Since the two sides are meeting at an undisclosed location, there may not be a lot of information available about how things are going. But, you can bet there will be a lot of tension in that room. be a fly on the wall.

I'm guessing the owners...having just cancelled an entire season...will be playing hard ball. I would also expect the players to "hold the line" against any sort of salary cap since that's been their "sticking point" all along. There's no real time pressure for the players. The only time pressure is for the owners to get a deal done....if possible...with the "real players" in time to mount some kind of marketing campaign prior to the fall when they say they will play one way or the other.

I would think if there ever was any danger of an all out "bar fight" between these two sides, it would be at this week's meeting. Maybe not a bar fight....but a "bench clearing brawl". Maybe that's what these guys need, to take the gloves off, have Bettman and Goodenow duke it out along with all of the other "lawyer types" who have screwed this thing up. Maybe the air would clear a little and they could get down to real business.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Too Close to Home

It's funny. We see murder and mayhem on the news all the time. But, when a crime comes a little too close to your own life, suddenly a different part of your brain kicks in. Wednesday's triple murder in Belleville is such an event for me.

While I wasn't close to any of the victims, I still have to wonder..."If this could happen to these that safe am I? Where do you have to live to be protected from someone who would do this sort of thing?" The answer...the Moon.

Any of us could walk into a crime like this...just as any of us could be killed by a drunk on the highway...or have a tree fall on us. Murder...particularly in this relatively safe area of a rare and unexpected event. There is no way to prepare for it. We can only be comforted by the fact that there are very professional...and very enforcement personnel doing everything to make sure it doesn't happen to us.

Belleville's police force is second to none. The so-called human being that did this crime will not be free very long.