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Saturday, 6 a.m.
Of the 4 major professional sports, which one do you think has the most competent officials? The least competent? Considering, obviously, the degree of difficulty with the calls they have to make.
I think a fan thinks the least competent officials are the ones calling the games that matter the most. The better the season your team is having, the more the refs can drive you crazy.
I fluctuate to be honest. A few years ago, I would have said baseball, but replay has proven that umpires get a silly amount of calls wrong. It also drives me crazy when umpires declare "their own'' strike zones, as if they get to twist the rule book.
I guess I would say that pro football has the best, despite replays and despite the fact that no one knows quite what a catch is. I know some think the NFL needs fulltime officials, but no one quite knows what they would do during the week. Replay shows that refs miss a lot, too, but it seems to be a good appeals court.
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I'd say baseball is second. It helps that umpires aren't on the move. A first-base ump, for instance, just has to call a small square. But there is so much missed at second and home.
Hockey and the NBA are both susceptible to the small differences between what is legal and what is illegal. I'd have them third.
I think soccer is a terribly officiated game out there because the limited number of referees means being out of position too often. What's wrong with another ref?
The worst, of course, is pro wrestling. Why can't the guy see a guy is using a folding chair? He's got a foreign object, ref! Kidding, of course. But sometimes, each of the other sports makes you long for Frank Drebin of Police Squad!
Who is currently the best starting pitcher on the Tampa Bay Rays?
For most of the season, you'd be talking about a drag race between turtles, wouldn't you? Lately, though, the pitching staff is starting to play the way it should have all along. We've seen nine straight quality starts. That's not great, but it's better than we've seen.
I'd say, right now, the best pitcher is Matt Moore. He's got a string of quality starts going. Hey, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Even when he's nearsighted.
For most of the season, it's been the most disappointing part of the Rays. We knew they wouldn't hit for much average. We knew they wouldn't steal a lot of bases. We knew there would be places where the defense was challenged.
But we thought the starting pitching would be okay. Until lately, it hasn't been. Moore has been the best of a sad lot. He hasn't pitched an unacceptable game since June 24. You'd take his last nine starts and not blink.
So is this the starting staff finally waking up? Or is it just a brief burst of good? We'll see.
Now that training camp has started for the Bucs do you think there is good reason for optimism of a winning team this year or are you taking a wait and see approach?
Larry, after the last 10 years, how can you help but wait and see? You can believe in Jameis Winston, and you can think Noah Spence is the real deal, and you can think Gerald McCoy will have his best year. But to think this will be a playoff team? That's going to take some proof.
I will say this. I think the team is trending up. It finally has its quarterback. It's filled a lot of holes. But it still lacks great speed, and I don't think it matches up with the top tier teams. I think it has a shot at a .500 season. Maybe a game or two better than that.
But most of the national critics still have this team third or fourth in its division. Like those guys, I prefer to see this team as better but still not quite there.
Whats the time frame on J.R. Sweezy and Louis Murphy getting onto the practice field?
I wish I could pin it down further for you, Nick. The Bucs are being intentionally vague, which to me, hints that it could be a while. A knee is a valuable thing to a wide receiver such as Murphy, and no one ever seems to know about an offensive lineman's back.
If I had to guess, and it's just that, I'd guess the sixth game for Murphy. He was injured in the sixth game last year, and that would give him a year.
I'd guess Week Four for Sweezy. If it was a matter of days, the Bucs would just go without him. I'd guess the Bucs are hoping for opening game, but it might be a month longer than that.
If it gets to be more, you can question whether Sweezy is doomed to be the latest failed signing.
One happy note: The TB Rays are in second place of 4 teams in the .300 winning percentage club. Bonuses for all concerned?
Everyone gets to keep their hat. But if the team can be first of final four, everyone gets to bring home a Vincent J. Naimoli bobble-wallet!
Seriously, who do you think wins the race for the No. 1 draft choice? Atlanta has won only three of its last 10 (going into Friday's games), so they're taking this seriously. I don't know if even the Rays can catch them.
With the return of Dee Gordon to the Marlins' lineup last night, the discourse about PEDs is once again front and center. I think I know your views on the matter quite well, but doesn't there seem very little difference between chemical enhancement of performance and surgical enhancement of performance? (I'm sure "the Mick would have loved a couple of bionic knees!). Also the natural genetic enhancement apparent from generations past to now, as well as training methods, science, physics, video and others? Isn't it also not verifiable how much the chemicals help. Most were fine athletes prior to PED use. Shouldn't the real reason for the elimination of these drugs be the unintended negative long-term health issues?
Richard, you bring up a familiar, and terrific, viewpoint on PEDs. A lot of people forget that, after surgery, doctors prescribe certain steroids to help with healing. And, yes, there are a lot of surgeries that are performance-enhancing. Tommy John, for instance. Even something as common as lasik if performance-enhancing.
In my mind, and I know I could be wrong, there is a difference between surgical procedures and pumping yourself with high-test the way Lance Armstrong or Alex Rodriguez have done.
Think of it this way: Most of those who did steroids knew they were breaking the rules. Why hide in the bathroom to inject a needle, for one thing?
I've said this a lot. If there were a pill that you could take that would make you write better and faster, I'd probably taken it even if was against the rules. I understand the temptation, especially when you're convinced the guy you're competing with is taking the same steroid. Still, it's cheating. It's a willful breaking of the rules.
I'm not a doctor. I don't know what they do to a human system. But I can read a rulebook, and I know a violation.
How about Roddy White? The Bucs desperately need a third receiver. I know White says he wants to play for a contender, but I don't see them lining up.
Depending on how long Sweezy is going to be out, I'd look around for an offensive guard. I don't think much is left, but maybe there is a stopgap.
Who lasts longer in Tampa Bay: Kevin Cash or Dirk Koetter?
Good question. I think the Bucs are trending upward more sharply than the Rays with Winston and McCoy. But I think the Rays' ownership has been far more patient with his coaches. So it's a race.
I'm going to say Koetter lasts longer. He's got his quarterback. He's got a chance at defensive playmakers. He's got his running back. On the other hand, how does Cash's team get significantly better? Pitching? Hitting? Defense?
I don't blame Cash for the construction of the Rays. But a lot of managers have been fired from messes that weren't their making.
Do you think that the whole Russian team should have been banned at the Olympics?
I don't. I know there is so much cheating by Russian teams that the temptation is to throw them all out. But I know from covering the U.S. delegations that most teams operate on their own. You wouldn't throw out, say, one of our gymnasts because the cyclists used PEDs, or one of our basketball players because a track star tested positive.
I do find it amusing that Vladimir Putin is acting as if Russia is getting picked on when 115 of its athletes have tested positive, weightlifters and cyclists and track stars. I find it humorous that Russia acts as if holding its own competirion would be the same thing. I get a chuckle out of Putin saying that the Games are going to be devalued because of a Russian track runners missing the Games. Who is the last Russian runner you can remember?
Imagine if it happened here. We'd be irate with the track federation. We'd demand answers from the weightlifters.
Still, it seems as if steroids are being given out like Pez. So you have to think that any Russian athlete who trains for four years, and then stays clean, should get to compete.
In this country, a steroid user is thought of as a villain. In Russia, evidently, they throw them a party.