Can’t Defend Charlie Weis Anymore


It was a little more than two weeks ago that I spent some time defending Charlie Weis. At the time, I suggested that the feelings of the players on his team ought to be taken into consideration.

And of course, he certainly was not causing the Irish the kind of embarrassment a previous hire had brought upon the school.

But then came the last ten days and well, even a New England Patriots fan would have to have some concerns. Yes even those crooning on the Boston blog sites that it was time for Weis and Romeo Crennel reunite with Master Belichick.

First, there was the incredible comments attributed to Weis that were apparently uttered regarding USC’s Pete Carroll. An interview transcript from the site IrishIllustrated.com quoted Weis as taking this shot at Carroll.

Let me ask you this question: You guys know about things that go on in different places. Was I living with a grad student in Malibu, or was I living with my wife in my house? You could bet that if I were living with a grad student here in South Bend, it would be national news.

He’s doing it in Malibu and it’s not national news. What’s the difference? I don’t understand. Why is it OK for one guy to do things like that, but for me, I’m scrutinized when I swear. I’m sorry for swearing; absolve my sins.”

Weis insisted that the comments were taken out of context and according to news sources, he called Carroll to apologize for the misunderstanding.

Taken out of context or not, the statements were scathing and hurtful. And there could be no doubt as to who Charlie was talking about.

Then came the latest, the press conference with Golden Tate and Jimmy Clausen, the one where he went on record as endorsing the two were ready for the NFL. Maybe he was trying to support two guys that had his back earlier, but the press was quick to note that the loss of the Irish two best players certainly would make it harder for Weis’ replacement to experience any initial first year success. So was Charlie supporting his guys or helping throw the program under the bus for having dismissed him. Clearly, his presence was a severe conflict of interest and he should not have put himself in such a position.

I still don’t know who the Irish will wind up with as a coach – I can’t see the likes of Stoops or Meyer heading to a school where entrance requirements are significant and graduating players is as important as winning.

But I can no longer defend Weis, even if the players did have his back, even if he did what colleges are supposed to do, graduate young adults. I understand now why those who would want to stick a fork into the guy had no problems doing so.

Tom Hanson is the editor for OpenEducation.net and a frequent contributor to CollegeScholarships.org and GoCollege.com.

One and Done – NBA Rule a Disaster for Colleges

Once upon a time basketball players could opt for the NBA upon completing high school. In fact, some of the game’s biggest stars: Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James took exactly that route to the NBA.

But back in 2006 the NBA instituted a new policy, one that prevented teams from selecting players directly out of high school. Now, those eligible for the NBA draft must be at least 19-years-old and one year removed from high school.

And while the NBA is calling the change a success, the world of college basketball as an amateur sport has taken yet another step backward. The rule change has led to a posse of players opting for college without the slightest intent to earning a degree, a move that further makes a mockery of the NCAA’s position that these individuals are somehow to be described as student-athletes.

A Disaster

The problem with the rule has been on full display in two high profile situations, that of now NBA guards O.J. Mayo and Derrick Rose. Both previously would have opted for the NBA directly out of high school but could not under the 2006 rule.

So they went to school, sort of, for the one year they were required to do so before bolting. In the meantime, reports have it that about $30,000 in cash and benefits went to Mayo so that he would make his one and done choice the University of Southern California while Rose may have found some other person to take his SAT test to gain entry to Memphis.

Clearly these young men had little to gain from attending any respective school. The concept makes a mockery of the term but unfortunately the money and the publicity that goes with even one year of tournament prowess will continue to reek havoc on college athletic departments.

Alan Hauser, president of the Faculty Athletics Representative Association says it best:

“A university is a place for education, not for merely showing off athletic wares and then leaving. That makes it like a minor league sport where a (player) reads a book now and then.”

In true terms, these athletes are committing to just one semester, the fall, then bolting before earning a single spring credit. Because there is no real reason for a young man to develop a tie to a school or institution, there is no real investment by the student. And without investment, there is far less reason to abide the rules set forth by the NCAA.

Of one and done, Arizona’s athletic director Jim Livengood had this to say.

“It becomes disruptive for the individual. It becomes disruptive for the team. And the biggest thing, in my opinion, is it really becomes disruptive for the institution, for your faculty, for your administration. We’re really doing a disservice to our institutions, to our programs and to the young person. I’m not smart enough to figure it out, but there’s got to be a better way.”

NBA Wanted Two Years

At the time the rule was enacted, the NBA wanted a two-years-out-of-high-school rule. But they could not get it past the players’ association.

So they settled for what they could get, one year. There is little doubt the NBA stills see the step as a positive one even if two years had been better.

But had the NBA some interest in how the rule would impact colleges, they would have sought to match baseball’s rule. Baseball players, once in college, are committing to playing at that level for three years before being eligible to be drafted.

At least those athletes have to develop some academic track record to be eligible to play ball for their school. Instead the NBA only asked for two years and settled for one.

The unwillingness of the NBA to seek to do what is best for both parties’ interest is particularly troubling given that the NCAA has become the real farm system for professional basketball.Meanwhile, the NCAA, under the guise that it promotes amateur athletics, is now caught in the crosshairs of yet another bow and quiver that further splits the terms student and athlete.

Yet, in an amazing perspective, NCAA President Myles Brand sees great benefit in the rule.

Of the notion that kids must now attend college first before opting for the NBA, Brand states: “hundreds, maybe even thousands, of young men each year who are now taking their high school studies more seriously rather than thinking, ‘I can blow off high school and go right into the NBA.’ That’s going to put them in good stead for their lives.”

Of the negatives of one and done, Brand goes on to add:

“I think it misses the point about what’s really important: the value of the education that (other) young men (are getting) even if a few game the system.”

Sorry Perspective

Brand is clearly deluding himself if he thinks the rule is having such an impact on that number of high school kids. And the idea that athletes are getting any real educational value from one partial semester of college goes beyond being simply an enormous stretch.

But given that the NCAA is now a big business and big money, there is no other position that Brand could take. Otherwise, we would see more Brandon Jennings, those athletes who say to hell with giving some school a year of their potential earnings and opt to play overseas.

One has to wonder what such actions might do in the long run to the billion dollar industry that was once the home of amateur athletes.

So we continue forward with one and done and the absurd notion that the NCAA is about promoting academics as well as athletics.

Flickr photo courtesy of shundaroni.

Coming Out Party for a Southern Gentleman

The storyline was set for Lefty but by the time the mud settled at Bethpage Black journeyman and Southern gentleman Lucas Glover stepped in to grab the U.S. Open title.

The great players execute at crunch time and for the South Carolinian his performance over the final three holes was something to behold. A gorgeous iron into 16 then rolling it dead center for birdie gave Glover a two stroke advantage with two to play.

The winner of just one tournament would then close the door by hitting each shot where he had to, closing with two final pars to earn the title over fellow journeyman Ricky Barnes, the resurgent David Duval, and fan-favorite Mickelson.

Lefty would make a charge, his incredible eagle at 13 drawing him even with Glover at four under. Mickelson was all over the flag with his approach from about 230 yards out.

Later, when Glover missed a birdie putt on the 12th hole you had a sense it just might be Phil’s for the taking. But just as he did at Augusta, after making his run, Lefty stubbed his toes, a bogey at 15 and another at 17 his undoing.

For Mickelson it was his fifth second place finish without a title at the U.S. Open.

Like Phil, Tiger Woods also had to be disappointed. For the game’s best, it was a frustrating week with the putter, a total of 120 strokes in all.

And though he managed to tie for sixth, Woods never really got into contention after his uncharacteristic stumble in round one when he finished double-bogey, bogey, par, and bogey. Four over on the last four holes only to lose by four, well the math is easy to do.

For Duval, the 882nd ranked player in the world, it was his best finish since winning the British in 2001. Once the game’s topped ranked player, Duval has been insisting his game is getting close to old form and he proved it with a solid performance over five long days at Bethpage.

With his win, Glover also took home a five-year exemption on the PGA TOUR. The presentation of the trophy by the USGA revealed why so many call Glover one of the classiest of Tour players, his incredible humility a breath of fresh air.

Foreign Noises: Rory McIlroy shot 68 in the final round to finish at 2 over in his U.S. Open debut. By finishing tenth the young Irishman qualified for next year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. With five top tens now on the year McIlroy has he sights on the British Open next month. And 28-year-old Englishman Ross Fisher demonstrated why he is currently ranked fourth on the European Tour. He finished alone in fifth at Bethpage after posting four steady rounds, 70-68-69-72, becoming the only other player in red figures over the five days.

Flickr photo courtesy of Jeff Wallen.

With Win, Two Lakers Seal their NBA Legacy

Let’s face it, this was not the NBA Finals we anticipated. Early on, as the season began, the entire focus was on a Lakers-Celtics rematch.

Then as the year progressed and LeBron continued to grow as a player, leaving no doubt as to who is now the best in the NBA, the thoughts turned to a King James versus Kobe showdown for all the marbles.

Unfortunately, what we got was Lakers-Magic. It was a not so great series as the phenomenal storyline that was the Orlando Magic shifted tragically when it came time to perform on the biggest of stages.

Orlando fans can only hope that Hedo and Superman can somehow shake off their performances at crunch time in game four. And that Stan Van Gundy can shake off game two and four and the what might have beens.

Otherwise, this may have been the one chance for the Magic to make their mark.

Proving their were outmatched, the Magic fell with a thud in game five. The 4-1 Lakers series win was culminated by an exclamation point, 99-86 victory to clinch.

Despite it being a lackluster series, the 15th Laker title did seal the legacies of two of the all-time NBA greats.

First, it was the 10th title for coach Phil Jackson, moving him past Red Auerbach and into sole possession of most titles won. While he has not necessarily proven he can win with average talent (note, Red didn’t either), the guy sure knows how to handle NBA egos and the game’s biggest stars (first Michael, now Kobe).

After last year’s finals and the poor showing of the Lakers many had begun to wonder if the Zen master had lost his touch.

He hasn’t. And he clearly now must be considered the best to ever coach the game at the professional level.

Then there is Kobe, who finally proved he could win without the big fella, Shaq. Their breakup was ugly and seemingly detrimental to all parties until Kobe wrestled some game points this year.

By winning that first title without Shaq and earning Finals MVP status in the process, Kobe has matched Phil in earning his legacy. Bryant may have lost the title of best player to LeBron, but he now has his fourth title while the King has yet to win his first.

Flickr photo courtesy of compujeramey.

The Story Line Set for Bethpage

On Sunday, Tiger Woods announced to the world he was back. PGATour.com said it thus:
“Two holes, two towering shots, two clutch birdies.”

A Golden Performance

They came on 17 and 18 on Sunday at Jack’s Tournament. At Muirfield, a course that featured such lightning fast greens and punishing rough that it turned every wayward shot into a bogey or more.

In his final round charge, Woods would manage to hit every fairway and for the first time this year, add in some iron shots and a few putts. The result: a blistering 65 that moved him from four strokes back to the top of the leaderboard and his second win of the season.

Again, we turn to PGATour.com, who had this to offer about Woods: “suddenly, he silenced the skeptics who wondered if he was ready to defend his title in the U.S. Open in two weeks at Bethpage Black.”

Woods and a Few Challengers

So come Father’s Day weekend Woods will begin pursuit of his 15th major championship as he looks to defend his Open title. And while he now looks ready, there will be a couple of other competing story lines.

First, there will be the emotional welcome for Lefty who will put aside his concerns for his wife to give competition a whirl. The fans will be thrilled and his welcome could just help him compartmentalize the concerns he carries regarding his wife Amy.

There will also be superb competition from some other big names that are definitely on their games. There is Jim Furyk who nailed a 20-footer for birdie on Sunday to finish runnerup to Woods.

The man with a hitch in his swing and six top tens already this year acknowledged the obvious. He beat everyone else not named Woods with an equally solid four-day total of 11-under par. Furyk also went on to add his thoughts about those in the media wh have been wondering aloud about Woods.

“I just wish you all would just quit (ticking) him off … so he has to come back and keep proving stuff,” Furyk said. “I think he answered a lot of questions today.”

Then there is the likes of Ernie Els who tied for eighth at Muirfield Village. The Big Easy has been threatening to get off the snide the last year and a half.

Els proved he was getting closer and closer to returning to top form. He led the field this last week in greens-in-regulation. If he makes a few putts, well…

Add the superb Aussie, Geoff Ogilvy, with two wins on the season and a tenth at Jack’s tourney and it is clear that the best in the game are on their game heading to Bethpage.

Make no mistake about it, Woods is primed and the stage is set for a remarkable Open.

Flickr photo courtesy of Keith Allison.

NBA Finals Are Set

The best advice I ever got regarding errors:

When you make a mistake, acknowledge it and take full responsibility. Then be sure to learn from it so as not to repeat it.

In regards to the NBA playoffs we were a sorry 0 for 4. Not only were we hitless, the Eastern Finals had to go down as a pair of strike outs on three pitches.

Looking.

Out West, well all we could manage was a pair of meek pop ups to shallow center field.

Eastern Conference

We, like so many others, anointed the Cavaliers – picked them not only to win the East, but to dominate it, and then go on to win their first-ever NBA title. Against the Magic, we gave Cleveland the series in five games, figuring the Cavs would hold serve on their home floor and split a pair, at worst, in Orlando.

Instead the Magic shocked the Cavs in game one, held serve in Florida then closed out the Cavs when they returned home for game six. Throughout the series, the Magic made the Cavaliers look extremely average.

Superman Dwight Howard, held somewhat in check by Kendrick Perkins of the Celtics, demonstrated the importance of a dominating big man in the NBA. It was only fitting that he would throw down 40 in the final clincher.

LeBron also demonstrated yet another NBA fact. You don’t win at the professional level simply because you have the best player.

There is this thing called chemistry. There is another aspect called teamwork. And a third called coaching.

Those three elements are critical to overcome what is often referred to as playoff adversity. After dominating the first two rounds, the Cavs faced their first playoff adversity when Orlando took games one and three.

They responded miserably.

The Magic, don’t forget, were down 3-2 to the C’s and had to play game seven in the Garden. Talk about handling playoff adversity.

Western Conference

We picked the Lakers in six provided a certain scenario transpired. The Lakers had to hold serve at home in games one and two.

If they didn’t, it was our assessment that such a result meant that the Lakers had not learned from their prior adversity: the loss in the finals a year ago and the near failure in round two against Houston.

We stipulated that the key for Denver was to grab one of the first two games in LA – that would be a sign the Lakers didn’t get it and that Denver could take the series.

We had it going seven if Denver did earn one early with the Nuggets prevailing. Only if the Lakers swept the first two would it be the Lakers in six.

Sadly for Nuggets fans the upstart Western finalists could have easily won the first two in LA, probably should have for that matter. And had they done so, well things would have been vastly different.

But a failure to execute in the fourth quarter, at crunch time, separates the men from the boys in the NBA. And the Lakers were the team to execute.

And when the Nuggets faced real serious playoff adversity for the first time, game six, it was a complete and abysmal failure. The Nuggets looked almost disinterested when it mattered most.

So, though we offered a scenario for the Lakers in six, we go this one wrong also.

Admit, Move On, Don’t Repeat

So there! We have admitted our mea culpa’s, openly.

We underestimated the talent of the Magic and overestimated that of both the Cavaliers and the Nuggets. And the Lakers proved they did get it, even if it did take them a loss on their home floor to take that step.

Those are our mistakes.

I assure you we will not repeat them.

So for the finals we will not make the mistake of underestimating the Magic. We will also not make the mistake of underestimating the Lakers.

Leaving us, regretfully, to acknowledge we would be best to keep any of our current thoughts to ourselves.

Flickr photo courtesy of Keith Allison.

Paul Casey on the Move

The PGA news this week focused on the sad news that Amy Mickelson was battling breast cancer. Less than six months after the return of the game’s number one player Tiger Woods, the world’s second best player, Phil Mickelson, announced he would put his competitive schedule on hold to be with his ailing wife.

While Rory Sabbatini was offering some stellar play to earn his fifth career title on the PGA Tour, across the pond Englishman Paul Casey quietly continued his run up the world ladder. A remarkable up and down from the bunker on the eighteenth and final hole helped Casey win one of “The European Tour’s” flagship events last weekend, the BMW PGA Championship held at the storied Wentworth Club.

With the win, a one stroke victory over yet another emerging star, fellow Englishman Ross Fisher, Casey slipped past Geoff Ogilvy to the top of the European Order of Merit, The Race To Dubai. The win also helped Casey continue his phenomenal climb up the world rankings.

Beginning the year 41st overall, the now ten-time winner on “The European Tour” has climbed to number three in the world, vaulting past Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Geoff Ogilvy with yet another win in 2009.

The win was his third of the season. Casey previously had one on each tour, the Shell Houston Open on the PGA and the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship on the European.

Just as importantly for the Peter Kostis’ pupil is his performance relative to number of starts. He has played in only six events on American soil, but a win, a second (at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship) and three other top twenty finishes (11th at the Verizon Heritage, 14th at The Players Championship, and 20th at the Masters) has him in 8th in both Fed Ex Cup points and in earnings on the PGA Tour. remarkably, both numbers top that of Woods who has played the same number of events.

In ranking first in Europe, Casey is now given credit for nine starts (the Masters and the two WGC events count for both tours). He owns seven top twenty performances overall though he ranks first ahead of Ogilvy, in large part, due to the Aussie’s having only four credited starts across the pond.

Still, while most are unfamiliar with Casey, his string of strong play has actually been going on for quite some time now. In 2007 he was one of only seven players to make the cut in all four majors and in 2008 he had eight top tens world wide. Those performances come on the heels of finishing second on the European Order of Merit in 2006, the year he would win The European Tour Golfer of the Year award.

And heading back just a wee bit further, while Casey was honing his skills at Arizona State University, he demonstrated his potential for stardom while still in college. He became the first player to win three successive Pac-10 Championships and in the 2000 Pac-10 Championship he broke the scoring record held by none other than Tiger Woods.

As the world found out a year ago with one Kenny Perry, when a golfer gets hot he can ride the flame for many a week. Casey right now is about as hot as it can get.

When the year began, the thought was that Lefty might be the one to knock Woods from the number one slot.

Now, folks may want to turn their attention to this 31-year-old from Esher, England.

Photo courtesy of PocketWiley.

Final Four, NBA Version

The NBA season runs so long that you can’t come up with a phrase like March Madness. But the pros are now down to the final four even if May Madness will run into June.

Eastern Conference

Orlando put an end to the Celtics reign in dominating fashion, crushing the C’s in the fourth quarter of a game seven on the defending champs home floor. Boston was of course done, as in not going to repeat, the moment it was revealed that KG was not returning to the fray.

And quite frankly, most Beantown sportswriters seem to think taking the Magic to seven games represents a solid achievement given the injury. But count me among those that felt the Celtics should have been back in the Eastern Finals even if they would have been whipsawed by the Cavs once they got there. Losing to the Magic is a step in the wrong direction even without KG – given how tired Pierce and Allen looked it seems that the three year window for the big three may in fact be already over.

At the same time, hats off to Orlando, left for dead after trailing in the series 3-2. The won the two biggest games of the season despite their best player questioning the coach, the media questioning the coach, hell everyone questioning the coach.

Ultimately, the Magic will be over-matched against King James and the rampaging Cavaliers. The Cavs are better, much better, and they are also better coached (sorry Stan).

Given that Cleveland is 8-0 in the postseason thus far, it will be news if Orlando takes even one game. Still, it would seem that Orlando should be good for at least one win. After all this team won 59 games during the regular season and was a strong 32-9 at home.

Give Orlando one win on their home floor meaning it will be the Cavaliers in five.

Western Conference

As with the Cavaliers, everyone had the Lakers in the Western Finals. In fact, most had them winning the whole shebang, at least until the Rockets took them to seven games.

A depleted Rockets team no less. Is LA not quite so good?

Actually, in the key, game seven of the Rockets series, it was all Lakers from the get go. This team does in fact have another gear when it decides to reach for it. The question is whether they will reach for that gear consistently over the next few weeks.

Depending on your viewpoint, the Lakers weaknesses were either prominently exploited by the Rockets or the seven game series was necessary foil to remind the West’s most talented team that they did have to come to play. It could be that the Lakers take from this early challenge the necessary toughness to win it all, much as the Celtics seemed to do last year when they were extended by Atlanta in round one and Cleveland in round two.

Just as Orlando is a big surprise in the East, Denver was not seriously considered as a potential Western finalist. Most had the veteran Spurs reaching back in the second season to join LA in a showdown of mammoth proportions.

Instead it is Chauncey Billups and the upstart Nuggets on a big time roll, full of confidence and with the chip on their shoulder, the one that says this team has something to prove. It is hard to believe that this all came about because of the Iverson for Billups trade, one of the most one-sided in NBA history if you are interested in team chemistry and winning.

TheNuggets also have now won 16 straight home games.

But alas, there in lies the rub. The Lakers get four at home, the Nuggets only three. That fact has most picking the Lakers in seven, especially since LA last lost a home, game seven, in 1969.

Watch the first two games closely to see if LA holds serve. Those are the key – a tired, pushed to the limit Lakers just might be vulnerable. If Denver gets one of those first two in LA, this one is going seven and the Nuggets just could pull the upset.

But if the Lakers hold serve in the first two, then the Rockets taught Kobe and his mates a key lesson. In that case, take the Lakers in six.

A Week Filled with Hellacious Performances

Every week in the world of sports, we are witness to eye-opening performances – this past week the sports world saw several, what we just might call hellacious showings:

NBA West

How about those Rockets? Already playing without Tracy McGrady, they lose Yao Ming for the remainder of the playoffs. We are thinking, this team is dead. Then they go out and put a whupping on the Lakers, a thorough hammering on the team once thought to be the favorites for the NBA title. Just shows the difference between professional and amateur sports.

And now folks are wondering, can the Lakers even get by the surging Nuggets in the Western Finals?

NBA East

And how about those Cavaliers? Dominant is the word – treating their second round foe the Atlanta Hawks like a bunch of high school or playground upstarts. We knew Mo Williams would make this team better but no one in their right mind thought they would be this good. Mr. Brown can clearly coach and right now the Cavs have to be the favorite for the whole kit and caboodle!

In fact, right now we are almost thinking we might perhaps Lebron utter that famous Moses Malone prediction: fo-fo-fo.

The Players Championship

Sunday at the Players, most folks figured Tiger Woods would be too much of a presence for Alex Cejka to be able to maintain his form. Sure enough, Woods and the pressure got to Cejka who gave up a five shot lead. But playing on greens that were so hard and fast they matched cart paths at most clubs, Woods went by Cejka only to be passed by a number of other folks in the process.

As for the real performance, how about Henrik Stenson’s final round 66 in conditions that demanded play that was better than flawless – the world of golf truly is made up of a sterling group of players who make the game seem playable for us mere mortals.

That is until we pick up a club.

MLB, Sans Steroids

Anybody been checking the numbers on this guy Albert Pujols – he has been putting up yet another incredible season, his umpteenth straight. First in Boston and later in LA, Manny Ramirez was often called the best right-handed hitter in baseball. Sorry ,but that moniker now belongs to the Cardinals best hitter.

And, being the fan I am, I am keeping my fingers crossed that maybe this is the guy that will put an end to the focus on steroids.

MLB, Steroids Again

Unfortunately, in a week of stellar performances, the media focus was once again on steroids, brought about by the suspension of the aforementioned Ramirez. A sad day, but what a performance by Ramirez, or should we say his handlers. Manny has never used the word physician in his life but he sure did his best to make it sound like an honest mistake. However, no one was buying.

Unfortunately for us in the Northeast, the news hit hard, putting a serious taint on the two Sox titles that supposedly broke the curse. Perhaps it was never broken, destined for the ultimate pull back based on being obtained with a cheater in the heart of the line up.

The 2009 Jays Are the 2008 Rays

Being from the Northeast, I remember the warnings from the Boston writers last year. Tampa Bay was vastly improved and they could be ready to make some noise in the American League East.

Now, to be fair, those writers didn’t have the Rays topping either the Sox or the Yankees in 2008, but at least they had them on the radar.

Now, one year after the Yanks went on another spending bender and the Sox did their fair share of throwing money around, the same writers were tossing out the name of another team.

The Blue Jays.

Those same writers that noted Tampa was on to better things in 2008 said the Jays would be vastly improved in 2009 and could be ready to make some noise (though they were likely still a year or two away from being legitimate contenders).

The New Rays

Instead, the Blue Jays appear to be the 2009 version of Tampa, young, hungry and wanting to prove themselves. Those attributes go a long way especially when you don’t have to face those dreaded expectations that come with winning every year.

And it starts with a great story, that of Cito Gaston. Despite having won two World Series titles, he could not seem to get anyone interested in giving him another managerial position.

After being fired in 1997 by the same organization, Gaston was rehired by the Jays where he had served in various capacities: hitting coach, scout and ambassador. He apparently would get interviews for managerial positions with other teams, after all he is black and there is the need to appear to be interested in minority candidates.

But no one would give him a chance to prove that he really could manage. Others would try Jim Leyland and Lou Piniella, and the Braves continued with Bobby Cox.

The insiders thought: black got him interviews. But those same insiders whispered it may have been his color that kept him from getting an offer.

Whatever the case, even though Gaston owned more World Series rings than Leyland, Piniella and Cox, he could not get the head bench job until the Jays brought him back in June last year.

While most folks paid little attention, the insiders noted that over the final 3½ months of last season the Jays had the sixth best record in baseball. It was the fact that it was only the sixth best that helped them stay under the radar coming into 2009.

But taking over in mid-season is tough and Gaston clearly had the team turned around by year’s end.

Kind Schedule

Today, they are probably the best hitting team in baseball. They have a legitimate stud in Roy Halliday, a true losing streak preventing starter.

And they have the best record in the American League. Not just in the East, but in the League.

The critics note that the early schedule has been kind.

No games with the Sox.

None with the Yanks.

And none with the Rays.

But they have won and winning of course breeds confidence. Remember 2008?

And the Jays are something like 69-47 since Gaston took the reins last June, a record that now puts the team fighting for the very best record over that period of time.

Great for Baseball

The emergence of Tampa Bay last year was great for baseball. The fact that neither Boston nor New York could buy their way past the Rays made the success of Tampa all the more significant.

It would be doubly ironic to think that the two perennial big spenders in the East felt they had to upgrade to somehow get past the upstarts from last year only to now see the 2009 Jays become the 2008 Rays.

And we must note that it is time to give those Boston writers credit. If things continue, they will be two for two when it comes to darkhorse candidates.

Even if they didn’t have either team quite ready for prime time during their breakout season.