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Up the Middle with Skitch Hanson: The Terrible Waste of Aaron Hernandez

Scratchbomb hands over the reins to nationally syndicated sports columnist Skitch Hanson, as we’ve done many times before. You may know Skitch as the author of the highly popular syndicated column “Up The Middle.” You may have read his best-selling books Roar No More: Tiger Woods’ Epic Fall From Grace and Roar Once More: Tiger Woods’ Epic Return to the Top. He’s also a frequent guest on ESPN’s sportswriters panel show Mouth-Talkers! 

Aaron_HernandezAs a sportswriter, I find myself shaking my head quite often. I’m pretty good at it, if I do say myself. In fact, I teach an intensive course at the community college on the practice, with some extra pointers on finger wagging and one-sentence paragraphs.

But even an experienced head shaker such as myself could scarcely figure out how best to shake my head at the news that former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez had been arrested for murder. Should I go for the stern paternal head shake? Or the sympathetic but disappointed head shake? This was a conundrum that I wouldn’t wish on any of my fellow sportswriters, one that no class could truly prepare you for. Although I will speak to the dean about adding such a class to next semester’s docket, assuming he’s not still mad at me for destroying three rows of bleachers in the gym. (Long story short: I accidentally spilled an entire thermos of my special blend of Diet Mr. Pibb and puréed Suzy Q’s, which apparently does a real number on lacquer.)

In the end, I determined that Hernandez deserved some completely new sort of head shake, one that has yet to be invented. (Note to self: Attempt to invent it, then feel out dean for third class?) Because what he did goes beyond inexcusable. Aaron Hernandez destroyed something that no person has the right to take away from from anyone: an NFL season.

Each of us is given a fragile, wonderful gift in this world, and that is 17 weeks of regular season football, plus three more of playoffs and two glorious weeks for the Super Bowl. No matter what “beef” Aaron Hernandez had with this other person whose name escapes me, he can not take it upon himself to play god and say “I will determine whether the Patriots’ season lives or dies.”

Now, New England is bereft of a tight end. Two, maybe, if Rob Gronkowski can’t be ready for the start of the season. Even if Belichick pulls things together and crafts a winning season out of this wreckage, he and his staff will have to answer constant questions about murder and other things that have nothing to do with football. If Hernandez had taken a moment to consider this, he might have thought twice about killing a man in cold blood.

It’s not up to mere mortals like Aaron Hernandez to take away something so precious as a tight end from the NFL. Determinations like these must come from something more ethereal and unknowable, something beyond ourselves. Call it God, or fate, appearing the form of a 350-pound linebacker out of his mind on painkillers.

We’ve all been in situations like these, where we were so filled with rage we contemplated doing something rash. I remember when I heard Twinkies were discontinued, the thought of a world without Twinkies filled me with such a burning nihilism that I hurled a brick through one of the front windows of my local Publix. But as my lawyer explained to me, sometimes things have a way of working out for the best, even if we can’t see how this could be possible at the time.

As it turned out, my lawyer was right! Now Twinkies are back and only several thousand people lost their jobs. My lawyer also advised me that Publix had nothing to do with Hostess’s bankruptcy, and I would probably be better off not driving around with loose bricks in my car. (I would if I could, but I need that ballast to deal with the wonky rear differential in my Kia.)

So to Aaron Hernandez, I can say I’ve been there. I too took the law into my own hands, and as a result I almost deprived the world of my column and my weekly guest spots on Dish Nation. I was able to keep my freedom thanks to many hours of community service and a carefully crafted apology letter. In the end, I learned that it’s not up to us to make our own justice, whether that involves hurling bricks through plate glass windows or an execution-style shooting in an open field.

It’s possible that Hernandez may have to endure harsher punishment than I did. But in truth, his crime is the kind that punishes us all, because it deprives each and every one of us of seeing an NFL team perform at its best. And it reminds us of the true fragility of a football season, of how easily it can be taken away from us. I hope everyone one of you hugs your pocket schedule a little tighter tonight. I know I will.

Some may say a transgression like this can never be forgiven. They are entitled to that opinion. I’m not quite willing to go that far, but I will say that forgiveness can only follow a true act of penance, like beating the rap on a technicality and coming back to the NFL to perform at peak levels again. This crime can not be redeemed by the halfway contrition of a man like Michael Vick, who returned to the game but has only occasionally played well since coming back.

This season is beyond saving, but perhaps his example will prevent other players from making the same, tragic waste in the future, and remind them that every season is equally precious.

Up the Middle with Skitch Hanson: Shoebox Greetings for the Hall of Fame

Scratchbomb hands over the reins to nationally syndicated sports columnist Skitch Hanson, as we’ve done many times before. You may know Skitch as the author of the highly popular syndicated column “Up The Middle.” You may have read his best-selling book Why Eckstein Matters. He’s also a frequent guest on ESPN’s sportswriters panel show Mouth-Talkers! You can follow Skitch on Twitter here. Without further ado, here’s Skitch.

I apologize that my Hall of Fame column came later than usual this year. I actually handed in my ballot at the last minute. I was searching all over the house for it, then my wife told me she lost it. And while she told me she lost it, she lit the ballot on fire right in front of me. I told her tampering with a Hall of Fame ballot was a federal offense. She said it wasn’t at all and that she was leaving for Ibiza for two weeks with her special friend Marco.

Luckily, I was able to send my choices in by teletype. It’s good to know that the BBWAA still uses the latest technology. Do you know it took me forever to find a teletype machine in my newspaper’s office? And when I did, it was covered in dust, banana stickers, and somebody growing a potato in a jar. When I started in this business, we used teletype to send info back to the newsdesk, and as far as I’m concerned, no machinery has improved on it since. You can keep your Blackberrys and iPans and whatnot. Also, my editor won’t let me get one because the last time I was issued a company cell phone, I gummed up the keys with Mallomar residue.

When Jack Morris failed to get into the Hall of Fame yet again, I poured out a bottle of Yoo-Hoo in his memory. In truth, I knocked over a bottle of Yoo-Hoo onto the hood of my editor’s car, but I retroactively dedicated it to his memory. That and the sizable repaint bill, which is coming out of my paycheck. I had no idea Yoo-Hoo was so caustic.

It’s too bad that we’re letting so many people vote for the Hall of Fame that didn’t watch some of the eligible candidates play. If you look at Morris’s pure numbers, of course he doesn’t belong within a mile of Cooperstown. In order to understand his greatness, you had to have seen him in action, and then remembered that action many, many years later, when most of the finer details are rather hazy in your memory and mixed up with other things you’ve seen on TV. I, for one, will never forget that time I saw Morris pitch a 15-inning complete game and knock in the winning run to save an inner city rec center, aided only by his grit and determination and most of the Harlem Globetrotters.

I truly believe that you can only judge a player if you’ve actually seen him on the field, preferably from a press box view, while ingesting a Skitch Special. That’s when you anchor two hot dogs and a hamburger together with a shish kebab skewer, then drop it into a deep fryer. Some stadiums were better than others in making it for me. The guys at Wrigley were the best; they’d always have two Skitch Specials waiting for me when I showed up at game time, along with a fully charged defibrillator.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite players was Jimmy “Shoebox” O’Leary, backup utility man for the Senators. No one really knows how he got that nickname; some say it’s because he was born in a shoebox, others say it’s because he lived in one. I can’t tell you now why he was my favorite player back then. His batting average always hovered around the Mendoza Line, he couldn’t field worth a lick, and he got a nosebleed every time he ascended the dugout steps.

Still, I thought he was the greatest player in the world when I was six, and to honor that memory, I vote for his induction into Cooperstown every year. My fellow writers keep telling me I’m insane, that he’s not on the ballot, and that they’re going to drum me out if I don’t stop doing this and also bringing my homemade scrapple to the meetings.

If I’m disappointed that Morris failed to get in, that’s how pleased I am that Jeff Bagwell was also denied. As I’ve discussed before, there’s no hard evidence Bagwell ever did steroids, or soft evidence, or even some sort of evidence-mist. However, he did play at a time when many other people may or may not have done steroids at some point or another, and the fact that he didn’t speak up about it is a mark against his character. If someone was around that much cheating at that time and said nothing, they’re just as guilty as those who committed the act. If there’s anything I’m sure of after spending most of the last 30 years in locker rooms, it’s this.

I’m not looking forward to next year’s ballots, full of proven cheaters like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, cheaters by association like Mike Piazza…now that I think about it, it will be easier to vote than ever before. I’ll just draw a huge frowny face on my ballot, check off Morris, write in Shoebox, and be done with it. More time for homemade scrapplin’.

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And now it’s time for Some Things I Think About Things I Think!

  • Tim Tebow has brought joy back to the NFL. Anyone who says something bad about him should be caged.
  • In this strike-shortened season, the play in the NBA has really fallen off, based on what I assume from not having watched a single game so far.
  • Love him or hate him, Shia LeBoeuf is here to stay, folks.
  • I’ve started an online petition to keep egg nog lattes at Starbucks all year round. I have 12 signatures, each from someone named Mike Rotch.
  • Alex Ovechkin is going to have to do a lot more to get my attention. Like play a sport other than hockey.
  • I don’t care for that “Partying Rock” song by L.S.M.F.T. Give me the Little River Band any day of the week.
  • Albert Pujols’ decision to leave St. Louis for the glamor of Hollywood is truly selfish, as it means I will probably have to drive from LAX to Anaheim several times this upcoming season.
  • Insider’s tip: Take a bag of microwave popcorn, poke a tiny hole, pour M&Ms inside, and seal it up before you pop. The result is a delightfully gooey mess and it tastes a bit like metal.
  • Have you guys heard about radishes? Crazy!
  • Stayed up late last night to watch a few old episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati. I really think that show holds up, and the roaring laugh track really helped mask the sounds of Marco and my wife upstairs.
  • Treat yourself to some fried spaghetti this week. You’ll thank me.

Up the Middle with Skitch Hanson: NFL, I Can’t Stay Mad at You

Today, Scratchbomb once again hands over the reins to nationally syndicated sports columnist Skitch Hanson, as we’ve done many times before. You may know Skitch as the author of the highly popular syndicated column “Up The Middle.” You may have read his best-selling book If You Can’t Fix It, Don’t Break It, and Other Homespun Aphorisms I Heard My Mechanic Say. He’s also a frequent guest on ESPN’s sportswriters panel show Opinions! You can follow Skitch on Twitter here. Without further ado, here’s Skitch.

When you say “summer,” some people think of sandy beaches, crashing waves, little drinks with umbrellas in them. But for me, when I hear someone say “summer,” first I wonder why they are just saying one decontextualized word; it seems odd, if you ask me. But then I think of the glory of NFL training camp. 350 pound defensive tackles running around in tiny shorts, glistening with sweat. Coaches screaming expletives through the blazing heat, while also wearing tiny shorts. Fans standing around and squinting. If you can think of a better way to spend a 97 degree August afternoon, I’d like to to hear it!

So when the NFL lockout dragged through June and July, I feared this summer would be a complete loss. I wasn’t having a great summer to begin with. First, my editor wanted a feature on the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates, but I haven’t been welcome in that locker room since that time I accidentally broke Andy Van Slyke’s kneecap with a fungo bat. (Long story short: I thought a saw a moth land on him.) Then, we had a bit of an ant problem at the Hanson household, which all started when my special fridge in the basement conked out, thus inviting the critters inside to feast on all the melted stores of frozen brownie batter I saved over the winter. All of this came on the heels of those trying two weeks when my wife locked herself in the bathroom with 12 boxes of Franzia and ordered one amulet after another from QVC.

No matter. All that’s in the past now (although my wife still is holed up in the washroom). The NFL is like that girlfriend who treats you badly, but you’ll always take her back when she bats her eyes and says she’s sorry, because…well, we all know why, right, fellas? That’s right, because she makes a killer pot roast. Of course, in this case, “killer pot roast” stands for “exciting grid iron action,” served up with a side of “Hail Mary passes” and a bowl of “thrilling playoff matchups” for desert.

Even though I’ve been covering the NFL labor situation since day 1, this sudden lockout resolution really took me by surprise. Granted, for the last month I’ve been covering it from a Day’s Inn out in Lawrence, Kansas. My editor said I should cover the ongoing negotiations between the owners and the players’ union from here. I tried to explain that none of the talks were happening anywhere near here, but he said it was the best place for me. So I can’t say I’ve had a bird’s eye view of the process, but I did get to see the historical site where William S. Burroughs first tried heroin.

Though I accept the NFL’s return with open arms, I still have to give a wag of my finger to those greedy players. If they had accepted the owners’ terms months ago, we would have never gone through this ordeal, and I wouldn’t have had to pitch potential articles to curling magazines as a fall-back plan. (I’ve read more about brooms than one man ever should.) This is not France or China or some other country where we go on strike every time the government takes away your fifth coffee break, fellas. This is America, where you do whatever your boss tells you to do, because the thought of losing your job and your health insurance fills you with a primal, bone-shaking terror.

Do you think I wanted to cover that bungee jumping competition in Death Valley? Or that cow-pie chucking contest in Bismarck? Of course not. I didn’t like doing these things any more than I liked walking into my office and finding the boss urinating on my treasured autographed picture of Angela Lansbury. But the boss makes the rules, and we all have to abide by them with gritted teeth, even when those rules are expanded to allow him to pee on your most beloved possessions.

Who am I kidding? I can’t stay mad at the players! I can’t stay mad at anyone right now! Not even my wife, though I found an empty bottle of Grey Goose and several open condom wrappers in her car. For the NFL is back and all is right with this part of my world!

* * *

I’ve received many letters and emails in the last year or so, asking why I stopped doing my “some things I think about things I think” feature in my column. To be honest, at some point I just plum forgot! When you write so many columns and drink as many diet sodas as I do, the mind just doesn’t retain information as well as it used to.

But since at least 12 of you have asked for it, here is the return of Some Things I Think About Things I Think!

  • Brett Favre: You’ve done this act countless times over the past few seasons, and I think I speak for everyone when I say, Keep it up! Can’t wait to see you in Philly or Indy or whichever team will have you next!
  • A note to the girls in Bridesmaids: You don’t have to work “blue” to be funny. Just ask Vicki Lawrence. 
  • Broccoli rabe: Sorry, don’t get it.
  • Asdrubal Cabrera is having an amazing season, but there’s something about that name I still don’t trust.
  • Call me crazy, but that Ashton Kutcher is gonna be a star.
  • Heard some Montgomery Gentry from a gas station PA system, and I have to say I was impressed.
  • Who has been better than Jamey Carroll this season? I would say several players have been.
  • Do they still make nail clippers?
  • What is going on with Congress these days? Could somebody tell me? I don’t watch the news too often.
  • Of all the high priced free agents who never won a World Series, Carlos Beltran never won one the most.
  • Finally saw that show Breaking Bad. I think it’s a little too intense for a program about a chemistry lab.
  • My wife just kissed some muscular, dark-haired stranger and left the house with him, arm in arm, as if I wasn’t even here. Must be Tuesday.
  • I often wonder what Christopher Cross is up to.

Skitch Speaks

Last week, on his way to Dallas for the Super Bowl, Skitch Hanson seemed to have landed himself in some kind of sticky situation. I didn’t hear from all weekend and I started to worry. Worry sick, I tell you.

Slowly, we are getting some dispatches from Skitch, who seems way over his head, as you can see below (read from the bottom up, dummy). If you want to keep on top of his thrilling adventures, tune into his twitter feed, @skitchhanson.

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Skitch Hanson’s Big Adventure

I was hoping to get Skitch Hanson to write a post on the Super Bowl, like he’s done for this site for several years running. Unfortunately, it seems like Skitch has taken the proverbial wrong turn at Albuquerque on his way to The Big Game. According to his Twitter feed in the last 24 hours or so, he’s gotten way off course, as you can see below.

I sure hope he gets out of this pickle okay! But if you want to see if he does, you should probably catch Skitch on Twitter here.

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Skitch Hanson: Vick of it All

Scratchbomb hands over the reins to nationally syndicated sports columnist Skitch Hanson, as we’ve done many times before. You may know Skitch as the author of the highly popular syndicated column “Up The Middle.” You may have read his best-selling book Mr. November: How Derek Jeter’s Home Run in the 2001 World Series Healed a City I Don’t Particularly Care For. He’s also a frequent guest on ESPN’s sportswriters panel show Opinions! You can follow Skitch on Twitter here. Without further ado, here’s Skitch.

vick.jpgLike many football fans, I couldn’t help but be amazed by Michael Vick this season. I thrilled as he wrested the starting quarterback job from Kevin Kolb. Marveled as he regained the form that once made him the game’s most dynamic player. Was floored when he engineered an improbable comeback against the Giants. I had hope that Vick could put his sordid past behind him.

Unfortunately, his collapse in the playoff game against the Packers shows that he still has a long way to go in order to redeem himself for what he’s done.

In the regular season, Vick was an explosive power, a one-man dynamo, one for which few teams were prepared. His arm seemed to finally catch up with his legs, and his mobility threw opposing defenses for a loop all year long. He singlehandedly guided Philadelphia past the Giants into first place in the NFC East and a home playoff game.

But then he squandered that opportunity with a less-than-stellar performance against Green Bay. The numbers speak for themselves–three sacks, only eight rushing attempts, and a defeat-sealing interception in the game’s final moments. Such a lackluster outing dashes all hopes that he was fully rehabilitated for his heinous crimes.

When training camp opens next summer, Vick will find himself back at square one. He will still have to prove that he is the kind of field general who’s capable of carrying his team deep into the playoffs, and is therefore a changed man. Otherwise, he’ll just be the prototypical flashy QB who is all style and no substance, which would also mean he still needs to atone for his misdeeds.

If Vick wants a role model, he need look no further than another player with a checkered past who played on Sunday: Ray Lewis. Eleven years ago, Lewis was involved in a fight that resulted in a man being stabbed to death, and the linebacker found himself indicted for murder. Some thought Lewis would never be able to make up for his role in such a deadly encounter, but he showed them wrong by remaining a defensive force to be reckoned for the next decade.

On Sunday, Lewis captained the Baltimore defense and stifled Matt Cassell all day, resulting in a dominant 30-7 Ravens win. One can only hope that Vick someday learns how to show such remorse.

Up the Middle with Skitch Hanson: Skitch vs. The Fact Zealots

Scratchbomb hands over the reins to nationally syndicated sports columnist Skitch Hanson, as we’ve done many times before. You may know Skitch as the author of the highly popular syndicated column “Up The Middle.” You may have read his best-selling book Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry: How Winning Lots of Football Games Made Them Good Human Beings. He’s also a frequent guest on ESPN’s sportswriters panel show Mouth-Talkers! You can follow Skitch on Twitter here. Without further ado, here’s Skitch.

blyleven.jpgEver since I published my Hall of Fame column last week, I’ve been getting tons of email, and I’m heartened to know that many of you support my decision to keep the likes of Jeff Bagwell and Bert Blyleven out of Coopersville. However, many more of you disagree. About seven times as many, according to my math. Granted, math was never my strong suit in school. Same goes for science. And English. And shop class. And homeroom.

First of all, I want to apologize if I’ve been slow to respond to your letters. Back in 2005, while checking my work email, I clicked something bad or pressed the wrong key, and it caused a server meltdown at my newspaper. And when I say “meltdown,” I mean that the paper’s servers literally liquified themselves. The IT guys said they’d never seen anything like it. Several of them wept openly.

After that, my boss has tasked one intern with printing out all of my email and reading it out loud to me. I tried to convince my editor that I could read a printout all by myself, but he didn’t want to take any chances. I also told him that doing this every day would leave me a lot less time to write, and he said he was perfectly fine with this.

For the last few days, I’ve had to sit in my office while a 19-year-old college student recites extremely insulting emails. Needless to say, this made me very uncomfortable. Not so much for myself, but for the delicate sensibilities of the young man doing the recitation. Some of the language you people used was so vile, it almost caused him to retch. At first I thought he might be covering up laughter, but the intern assured me he was merely trying to contain his nausea.
Continue reading Up the Middle with Skitch Hanson: Skitch vs. The Fact Zealots

Up the Middle with Skitch Hanson: My Job as Hall of Fame Executioner

Scratchbomb hands over the reins to nationally syndicated sports columnist Skitch Hanson, as we’ve done many times before. You may know Skitch as the author of the highly popular syndicated column “Up The Middle.” You may have read his best-selling book I Wish They All Could Be David Eckstein. He’s also a frequent guest on ESPN’s sportswriters panel show Mouth-Talkers! You can follow Skitch on Twitter here. Without further ado, here’s Skitch.

bagwell.jpgI always hate the very end of the year. It’s so bleak and depressing. You have to put away the Christmas decorations and box up all the
packages your presents came in. The ground is covered with huge banks of dirty snow. The guy who usually plows your driveway can’t do it anymore, because he ran off to Cancun with your wife.

But one thing brightens my day during this season: Hall of Fame voting. It is truly an honor and a privilege to decide who will be enshrined in the hallowed halls of Coopersville. To know that those immortal plaques that hang upon the wall hang there because of you. It’s an amazing thing to behold. At least it will be when I actually get to visit. I tried to go once, got off at the wrong exit, and accidentally spent three days in York, Pennsylvania. Had a great time, but my editor was not pleased by my 5000-word column on the majesty and grandeur of the Weightlifting Hall of Fame.

There’s some truly deserving candidates on this year’s ballot. I think Roberto Alomar is a shoo-in, and I have no problem voting for him now that he’s had a year of eligibility to think about what he did.

I’m hoping this is the year Jack Morris finally gets in, since he was inarguably the greatest pitcher of the 1980s. Of all of his accomplishments, perhaps his biggest is keeping his greatness confined within one decade, rather than straddling several like Bert Blyleven did, which makes it much easier for me recognize said greatness.

Speaking of Blyleven, I always struggle about whether I should vote for him or not. He did have some fantastic years with the Twins and some other teams (can’t remember which ones, exactly). But according to the BBWAA rules, we can only vote for him or Morris. A bit unfair, perhaps, but rules are rules. If I vote for both, they take away my $10-per-flight per diem, and I can’t be caught off guard if I get on a place without complimentary Nutter Butters.

Morris and Alomar are the only people I feel comfortable voting for. We are now at the point where these Hall of Fame ballots include so-called players whose careers flourished in the infamous Steroid Era, which will forever be known as the most sinister, unspeakably dark time in baseball history. Sure, there were decades when black people couldn’t play the game and players were little more than chattel to the owners. But all those things happened many, many years ago, which automatically makes them not as awful as the era of performance enhancement.

So I can’t vote for anyone I suspect of having done steroids. Who do I suspect? I can’t tell you. Why do I suspect them? I’m not sure. What exactly did they do? The answer to that is murky. Where was I when I began to suspect them? Probably at a Perkins, since that’s where I do most of my serious thinking.

Call me old fashioned, but I think the Hall should only welcome in the purest players. And by “pure,” I mean completely unsullied by accusations of PED use. I realize that’s difficult, because nearly every player who ran on a major league field in the 1990s and 2000s has been accused at one time or another, even if in only the most cursory way.

For instance, I once heard Buster Olney say in the press booth, “Hey, I heard Jim Edmonds did steroids…ha ha, just kidding!” Kidding or not, I have to take every accusation seriously, and that’s why you will never see me vote for Edmonds for the Hall. In fact, if I see him walking down the street, I will cross to the opposite side and spit while I do so.

That’s how seriously I take this. I’m sure Buster would agree, if he were still speaking to me. (We’ve been on the outs since we roomed together during the All Star Game one year. He didn’t appreciate giving up his bed to accommodate my vintage white noise machine.)

Certainly, some players are more guilty than others. I’ll never forgive Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa for putting on a phony home run show back in 1998. Back then, we were so much more innocent. At the time, I was a mere 20-year newspaper veteran! Mark and Sammy’s longball contest made me feel like a kid again.

When I found out it was all a scam, that made me feel like a kid again, too, but more like the time Tommy Flanagan down the street stole my GI Joe doll, wiped himself with it, and shoved it under my nose. Some wrongs you can never erase from your memory. Some smells, too.

And don’t get me started on Rafael Palmeiro. That fraud lied in front of Congress about taking steroids, and he still wants us all to believe that he never did them. I can’t believe he would think we’re all so gullible, just because we in the press didn’t catch on to him for several decades.

Now, I’m not completely doctrinaire in my opinions. You won’t find a bigger Andy Pettitte fan than me, except perhaps for his mom, and Yankee fans, and Astros fans, too, I guess. But after all those people, there’s me.

I’m fully aware that Andy Pettitte initially lied about steroid use, then said he only used them to recover from injury. Normally, I think there’s no excuse that can pardon steroid use, and yet I believe and forgive him. The deciding factors for me were the fact that he finally came clean after nearly a decade of lying, and he also won several World Series, which I believe proves his character is above reproach.

I admit I had a long internal debate about whether I should vote for Jeff Bagwell. I did my usual Internal Debate ritual, where I lock myself in my study, with only a notepad and seven boxes of Mallomars. I make sure my study does not have any reference materials or internet access, because I don’t want stats or detailed facts to interfere with my arguments. Then I make a quick list of pros and cons. In Bagwell’s case, here’s what I came up with.

PROS
Amazing offensive production for an extended period of time

CONS
Vague, undocumented whispers of PED use
The goatee

Because of this, Bagwell did not get my vote. The case against him as a steroid user is far from airtight. In fact, I can’t remember any serious evidence against him, really, just little rumors here and there. But the fact of the matter is, someone somewhere sort-of and perhaps not entirely seriously accused him. It may be vague and completely unfair, but it’s enough for me. Well, that and the goatee.

I’m aware that Bagwell has denied using steroids many times. But I’m also pretty sure that’s exactly what someone who used steroids would say. I won’t believe him until he says he used them. And then I’ll be forced to never vote for him, because he did steroids.

Are flimsy accusations enough to convict someone of cheating? Certainly not in a court of law. But in the court of Hall of Fame, all players are guilty until proven innocent..Because if you think about it, putting someone into the Hall of Fame is like giving them a death sentence. If you are not absolutely sure they are deserving of such a fate, you can not in good conscience vote for it. And in my book, only the purest of pure deserve 50,000 volts of bronze.

Up the Middle with Skitch Hanson: I’d Like to Know Where You Got the Potion

We welcome back Skitch Hanson to the Scratchbomb pages. You may know him from his nationally syndicated sports column, “Up the Middle”. You may have also seen him on the ESPN roundtable discussion show, The Loudeners! Or you may have read one of his 107 books, such as Everything You Know Is Right. Without further ado, here’s Skitch to talk about Derek Jeter’s free agent talks.

Thumbnail image for jeterhero.jpgI’m not an excitable person. Just ask anyone who knows me–my kids, my editor, that one guy at the newsstand where I get my USA Today and orange Tic-Tacs. It takes a lot to get me riled up. If I get the wrong order at Taco Bell, I roll with the punches and just eat whatever’s in the bag, even if I get a hard-shell taco. (Crunchy foods make me uncomfortable.) I didn’t even raise a fuss when that strange man showed up in my house and said I couldn’t sleep in my own bed anymore. Oh, I thought about making a scene, but then my wife said he was with her and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. Boy, my face would’ve been red if I’d tried to kick him out!

But when I heard about what the Yankees were doing to Derek Jeter, that was enough to send me off the deep end. I’ve been quite cranky and snapping at people all week. Although it may also have to do with the small amount of sleep I’ve been getting lately. The Barcalounger in the den is not too comfortable to sleep on, and it’s hard to nod off with all the noise coming from my bedroom upstairs.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, or sleeping on a recliner, here’s the latest chapter in the Derek Jeter Free Agency novella. (Presumably, it will soon be a saga, but I think only qualifies as a shorter work of literature right now.) Word leaked out on Monday that the Yankees think their beloved shortstop is asking for too much money and needs to “drink the reality potion” before negotiating with them any further.

Derek, let me give you a piece of friendly advice: Don’t you dare drink that reality potion! Or truth serum, or factual elixir, or any other sort of mystical beverage that will alter how you perceive this universe. I don’t think we could bear it!

Instead, keep quaffing deeply of that heady brew that makes you think you’re worth a $25 million/6 year deal. As for you, unnamed Yankee front office person, perhaps you’re too quick to drink that Reality Potion. This isn’t reality we’re talking about. It’s baseball, where men get paid millions of dollars to hit balls with sticks. If we all dealt in reality, we’d all be horrified that the Jeters of the world are billionaires and teachers are on food stamps. Do you want to live in a world where we are cognizant of this terrible truth? I sure wouldn’t!

Sports are so wonderful because they keep us from having to drink Reality Potion. Potion? Yuck, sounds too much like medicine. I’d rather eat a big bowl of Hero Sauce, which I imagine looks and tastes a lot like rocky road ice cream. (One of my weaknesses! That and collecting vintage airline pillows.)

If I drank too much Reality Potion, I’d know Derek Jeter is not as quick as he used to be and he’s coming off one of his worst offensive years ever. But that potion’s not the kid of late night snack I crave when it’s 3am and I have to turn the fifth rerun of SportsCenter up extra loud to drown out certain sounds.

I prefer the tasty, calorie-rich Hero Sauce that tells me Derek Jeter is forever young, making spinning catches and getting clutch hits and rescuing a kitten from the Yankee Stadium rafters. I’m not sure that last part actually happened, but as long as I stay away from Reality Potion, I can believe it did.

Reality Potion must also be avoided whenever it looks like Brett Favre is on his last legs, or Michael Jordan might retire. Some might say Favre is already finished, and Jordan has really been retired for years. To those people I say, Why would you want to know what’s really happening? If you want a sour spoonful of Reality Potion, watch the news. If you want the delicious taste of Hero Sauce, you read me.

I found out long ago that when you write a nationally syndicated sports column, reality is usually not your friend. That may seem silly to you, but I didn’t wind up in the same number of newspapers as “Funky Winkerbean” for nothing!

For instance, the Yankees offered Derek Jeter a three-year contract at $15 million a season. Now, if I had Reality Potion with every meal, I might think that this was an insane amount of money, and that paying a baseball player that kind of money when so many people are starving borders on the obscene. And then I might also remember the time my son brought his own special friend named Steve home for Thanksgiving.

That’s why I feast on Hero Sauce, so I can remember that time Jeter flipped the ball to Posada. Hero Sauce tells me he’s worth every single penny the Yankees can spare. He’s worth every penny all of us can spare, and more! I have an old plastic water cooler tank filled with pennies in my basement, Derek. Sometimes I count them to distract my mind when it’s filled with too much Reality Potion, like my wife’s special friend walking through my house wearing only a towel, but you can have it, Derek. You’re worth every single penny in that bottle, which was 7,493 the last time I counted.

Don’t get me wrong: Reality Potion’s fine in small doses, like when I’m doing my taxes or writing a very special column about the dangers of t-shirt cannons. But sometimes you want to curl up with a big bowl of Hero Sauce and forget your troubles. Of course, sometimes “sometimes” turns into a potentially unhealthy length of time. If that ever worries you, you know what the best cure for worries is? More Hero Sauce! Works for me, as far as I know!

“Classic” Scratchbomb: Skitch Hanson on Instant Replay

Thumbnail image for galaragga_joyce.jpgYes, I took a cheap shot at umpire Jim Joyce, whose blown call turned Amrando Galarraga’s perfect game into a one-hitter. But that’s because I’m a jerk who has no pity or shame. The real ire should be directed not at Joyce, but Bud Selig, which has idiotically resisted replay against all technological advances and common sense.

Jim Joyce is considered one of the better umpires in Major League Baseball. We have no reason to believe Joyce would have sabotaged a perfect game to drive an agenda or for personal gain. There was absolutely no incentive for him to blow the call, unless he is secretly the world’s biggest masochist. After the game, he addressed the press (a pretty rare thing for any umpire to do under any circumstances) and sounded completely heartbroken about what had happened.

In other words, a top professional acting at in good faith and with the best of his abilities can still mess up very badly in a very big spot. And technology has advanced to the point where every single person watching the game immediately knows how badly he blew it. Which is why it makes less than zero sense to not have replay available in baseball.

In the absence of replay, everyone wonders how this injustice can be overturned while somehow retaining the game’s “purity”. Because going into a booth for one minute (which is how long it would have taken to overturn Joyce’s call) ruins the game’s magical mystical sepiatone Field of Dreams Wonderboy bullshit aura. By Bud Selig’s logic, a seatbelt ruins the mystique of driving, even if you’ll fly through the windshield without it.

What is truly “impure”: Having instant replay to correct officiating mistakes, like every other sport does, or asking the commissioner to wave a magic wand and declare that Galarraga pitched a perfect game, as if the blown call never happened?

Here’s how you institute replay:

  1. Issue one challenge per team per game. When used, the challenge is expended regardless of whether the team “wins” the challenge or not.
  2. Umpires have the right to refuse a challenge if it appears to be total BS. Otherwise, you’d have managers wasting them to allow a pitcher to warm up or just to be dicks.
  3. Challenges can only be used for fair/foul and safe/out calls. No strike calling.

You can argue on the particulars, of course. But after last night, can you tell me that replay would be any worse than what we have now? Because what we have now is essentially crossing our fingers and hoping everything works out okay. Why not just ask Santa Claus for no umpiring mistakes next year? It makes about as much sense.

However, in the interest of fairness, I felt I should have an opinion from the other side of the fence. So I point you to this op-ed longtime contributor Skitch Hanson wrote during last year’s playoffs, entitled “Making the Right Call on Wrong Calls”. Enjoy!