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As a journalist (spare me the chuckles), I'm expected to be an impartial observer when it comes to sporting events. But every once in a while I can't help but root for or against a team. And I couldn't be any happier about the Braves not being a part of the National League Championship Series.
Actually, I don't have a problem with the Braves. What I do have a problem with is the fact that Rafael Furcal batted .381, stole three bases and hit two big home runs in the Division Series against the Astros. Furcal had no right to be walking the streets, let alone taking major league at-bats. Furcal was on probation from a DUI conviction in 2000 when he was pulled over last month going 88 mph in a 55 zone. He blew a 0.127 on the Breathalyzer and proceeded to tell the cops, "I play for the Braves. Can you give me a chance? I play for the Braves, please. I've got one already."
The cops, god bless 'em, didn't cut him any slack. State Court Judge David Darden was a different story. Darden sentenced Furcal to 21 days in jail, but saw it in his heart to let Furcal finish the season first. There were various provisions: Furcal couldn't drive or drink and he had to make himself available for some sort of elaborate monitoring at his own expense. Do that, said Darden, and you can play baseball until the season the Braves' postseason is over. Yeah, that'll teach him.
At SI we get tons of letters from people lamenting the fact that athletes are given preferential treatment in society. Think about it, though. Who's to blame? For the most part, it's society. Can you blame Furcal for not wanting to go to jail? No. The reason he was on the streets is that Darden saw fit to give him a break. Darden is a publicly elected official. How the elections for state court judges in Georgia work is beyond me. I have no idea when Darden's term is up, but if anyone feels like running against him when it is, I've got 100 bucks for your campaign fund.
According to www.alcoholalert.com, drunk drivers killed 529 people in Georgia in 2002. That might not sound like a lot, but I'm guessing if you knew one of those 529 people, it's significant. And State Court Judge David Darden, by letting Furcal take care of his baseballing responsibilities before answering for repeatedly driving drunk, disgracefully trivialized that fact. The 26-year-old Furcal clearly needs help. Darden can't fall back on "it was a youthful indiscretion" as an excuse. He's a state judge, and his job is to fairly and evenly apply the laws of Georgia. I seriously doubt that if you or I found ourselves in front of him he'd be as accommodating as he was for Furcal. He had a chance to send a message that what Furcal had done should be taken seriously, and he blew it. And that's pathetic.
Not much better is NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Jamal Lewis pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in a scam to sell a whole lot of coke. He was suspended for two games. Nice message, Paul. Use drugs and ruin your own body, that's a four-game suspension. Conspire to sell drugs, which will presumably ruin the lives of others, and that's only a two-gamer. Gutsy move, that.
The whole world is riffing on the Sox-Yankees series, so I'll keep this brief. A few thoughts:
Mariano Rivera is amazing. Can you think of another pitcher who relies less on the element of surprise? The guy throws the same pitch virtually every single time, and no one can hit it. (I know Bill Mueller took him deep in July, so don't bombard me with emails.)
Al Leiter will be the best color guy in the business one day.
As a long-suffering Indians fan, I know of what I speak when I say this: Manny Ramirez is not a good outfielder. He just never looks like he's running hard.
There's no way Curt Schilling is anywhere near healthy. Tough to root against that guy, though. What a heart.
Saw a preview for Racing Stripes, in which Jeff Foxworthy plays an animated rooster in a movie about a racing zebra. Hey Jeff: If you've ever played an animated rooster in a movie about a racing zebra, you might be a redneck. And you might want look for a new agent.
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Blogging on Wednesday makes it tough to riff on The Apprentice. But allow me to say this: I can't believe The Donald fired Pamela last week. The rest of the women on the show are ridiculous: all they do is backbite. They're setting the women's lib movement back decades. They gang up on someone new every week -- it's so obvious that they're trying to convince The Donald that anyone they can't get along with must be insane. It's more girly than Mean Girls. It's how they got rid of Stacie J., and it's hot they got rid of Pamela. Granted, Pamela was a little brash. But now who are the ladies left with? Stacy R.? Come on. That's poor. Ladies, you're better than that.
One thing sticks in my head about Ken Caminiti. A few years ago I went to see the Astros in spring training to write a scouting report. Caminiti had just signed with the team, and I had read somewhere that he owned a petit basset griffon vendeen named Charmaine, who finished second in her group at the Westminster Kennel Club. It struck me as kind of funny, this gruff looking guy owning a fluffy pooch. I thought if I could get him talking about the dog I could use it as the lead of the scouting report -- kind of making fun of him, but not in a mean way -- so I asked him about it and, to his credit, he knew exactly where I was going. He just smiled and basically told me, No dice, man, I'm not going to play along with this ruse. All I could really do was say, Well, I had to try. (As I recall, I still based the whole scouting report on the fact that this tough-looking guy was actually the owner of a petit basset griffon vendeen.)
For some reason it was one of the more real connections I've had with an athlete. He was just a normal guy who liked dogs, among other things. ("That dog has attitude," he eventually conceded.) He had signed with the Astros to be near his daughters and his two best friends, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, a reminder that underneath it all he was just a guy who wanted nothing more than to be near people he cared about. It's too bad the rest of his life couldn't have been that simple.
Because I say so: Yankees in six, Astros in seven.
Mark Bechtel covers NASCAR for Sports Illustrated and SI.com.