Saturday, July 30, 2011

The other side of the story

Sometimes I hate learning the full story.

Eric Lindros might have been my least favorite player in the NHL at one point. He had a bad reputation as an enfant terrible during his junior days; the negotiations between the Lindros family and Sault Ste. Marie are the stuff of legend. Then he sat out a year instead of signing with the Quebec Nordiques, who drafted him first overall -- in Buffalo, no less. Lindros wouldn't even put on a Quebec jersey.

Lindros orchestrated a trade to the Flyers. He was big, tough and good, especially by 19-year-old standards. But injuries didn't allow him to live up to his potential, and his exit from Philadelphia wasn't a pretty one.

In other words, he was a tough guy to admire.

Then ... I read a story about how he got his number, the distinctive #88.

It seems that Lindros played junior hockey with the son of John McCauley. For those who don't know their referees, John McCauley was one of the classiest guys in the National Hockey League. He was an official for a while until he was assaulted by a fan after a game in the Soviet Union and had to give up his main job in 1979. He moved on to the league office, and eventually became the Director of Officiating for the league in 1986. He stayed in that spot until his death in 1989.

I worked for the Sabres in those years, and it was always nice to see John in Buffalo during hockey season.

It turns out McCauley served as something of a mentor for Lindros in the early days of the player's career. Lindros wanted to return the favor by using the number McCauley had on his back as an official -- eight. But that number was taken on the junior hockey team. So Lindros paid tribute to McCauley by doubling up his uniform number to 88.

It's really hard to hate a guy like that. Darn.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Dumb, dumber, dumbest

We continue to inch closer and closer to a train wreck in the form of not raising the debt limit by next week's deadline.

And most of us outside of the Beltway wonder why.

Because how did this gala argument start? Over bookkeeping. We've always passed these increases in the debt limit before, because it was a simple matter of living up to our obligations.

Not now, though. Now Congress has decided to attach some strings, and the result is a battle that sets new standards for a lack of common sense.

Let's outline a few facts here:

* There was absolutely no need to do this now, and risk defaulting on our bills and sending the economy down the cliff. If Washington had done this during budget-making season, when we usually talk about such matters, no one would have had a philosophical problem with it. By doing it now and threatening a default, when the economic recovery (and there is a recovery going on, albeit a slower-than-hoped-for one) is fragile, is downright irresponsible.

I'm the first to argue that balancing the budget is a fine idea, and we need to take big steps in that direction while having a good philosophical discussion about it.

* The Republicans have basically won this argument. Higher taxes are off the table, so it's just a matter of cutting government expenditures. That's in spite of the fact that historically taxation as a percentage of GDP is quite low. So, GOP members, take your gains, get a bill that everyone can live with, and move along.

* Anyone who says he or she won't vote for a debt limit increase under any circumstances must not have taken Economics 101, and doesn't seem to have the best interests of the country in mind. This means you, Michelle Bachmann, but I'm sure there are others who think they are scoring points with the Tea Party. They may be doing just that, but they aren't doing the rest of us any favors.

* There's plenty of blame to go around here. President Bush took a budget that was in good shape in 2001, and then ran two wars and cut taxes during his years in office. When the economy tanked, expenditures suddenly were far higher than revenues. And while President Obama can make a good case for trying to pump some money into the economy to create jobs, he also did have a laundry list of programs he wanted to fund when he was running in 2008.

* Speaking of elections, I am forced to laugh (and cry a little) when politicians say that a vote means endorsing his or her entire platform with no exceptions. There are two main choices in the general election, and we pick the one that comes the closest -- in some cases without much thought. In other words, many voters last November said no more than "the economy stinks, I'm voting for the other guy" with their ballots.

* Attention, lawmakers: There is nothing wrong with compromise. It's the way we get things done.

I remain hopeful that a little sense will appear in the next few days, and a deal will get done. But if it doesn't, I get the sense that everyone involved will be pouring a giant can of gasoline on their chances for reelection, and there will be a long line of people waiting to light a match.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Two sides of the coin

Those of us in New York State today received all sorts of news reports about the gay marriage law going into effect. A mass wedding was held in Niagara Falls, as 46 couples tied the knot. Apparently plenty of tears were shed, and not just by a small group that was protesting.

OK. Then this afternoon I got the day's mail. One piece of mail was from the National Organization of Marriage. Referring to a recent State Senate vote on the subject, the flier says, "Senator Mark Grisanti sold out our shared principles in a betrayal reminiscent of Benedict Arnold's plot to surrender West Point to the British."

I love good apocalyptic language as well as the next person, perhaps more. In this case, I felt like writing back and saying, "Whose shared principles? You know nothing about me."

But why waste a stamp?

How did she do that?

Alex Morgan scored a goal for the WNY Flash that left even cynical sportswriters amazed on Sunday night. Here's how it looked, worthy of ESPN's #2 spot on the play of the day rankings:

Morgan and teammate Marta are quickly becoming known as the best athletes on a Buffalo team who never play in Buffalo. As I may have mentioned, they practice and live in Buffalo and play home games in Rochester because of a lack of a good facility here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

It's a new age

If you want proof that we are in an entirely new era when it comes to information-gathering, here's another example:

On Friday night, I covered the Subaru Buffalo Four Mile Chase, one of the area's most prestigious road races. I got back to the house at 8:45, and dashed off a story in nearly record time despite the fact that the men's winner was nowhere to be found after the race. (I have a suspicion he showed up for the check ceremony.)

I e-mailed my story to the office around 9:30 p.m. When I did so, I looked in the inbox and noticed I had gotten a Facebook message from someone I didn't know. Hmmm.

The message said, "Luke Wiles!"

Hmmm. Luke Wiles is an indoor lacrosse player. He was with Washington last season. In fact, I interviewed him after the All-Star Game at Turning Stone. Good guy. But what was the connection?

I did a quick Google search, and sure enough, there was news on a couple of websites that Wiles had been traded to the Buffalo Bandits for two draft choices. There were quotes from the Stealth general manager, which sure sounded official. But nothing from the Bandits.

I typed up a few paragraphs and sent it into the paper for inclusion in Saturday's paper. Then I sent a note to my new friend, saying I liked the deal a lot. Thanks, pal.

Oh, the Bandits released the story the next afternoon.

There are all sorts of ways to stay on top of things.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Pet peeve

It's been a pretty bad week for sports figures to rely on cliches when it comes to commentary. It may get worse on Sunday.

Last Sunday, the United States pulled out a thriller over Brazil in the Women's World Cup in one of the most dramatic games in recent history, especially considering the circumstances. The reaction to the game by the participants was pretty interesting. Here's a quote from a wire story:

"There's something about the American attitude," that kept the team going, said U.S. coach Pia Sundhage.

There were similar comments from the other players, and some of the analysis of the media followed that line. Now, I'm all for heart and teamwork and grit and all those other things. But most of all, I'm a big fan of talent. As John Wooden once said, not every team wins with talent, but no team wins without it. Somehow, talent -- not to mention what struck me, someone who is no expert in the game but who has watched some soccer over the years as a defensive breakdown -- got downgraded.

The Americans scored the tying goal in stopped time while short-handed. That's like tying the Stanley Cup's Game Seven while playing four skaters on five. Maybe harder, since hockey has less scoring. All credit to the U.S.A. for that.

Lots of credit should go to Megan Rapinoe. She launched a cross from, what, 40 yards?, with her wrong foot no less, to exactly the proper position. Abby Wambach was in that right spot, and buried the scoring opportunity. Is Rapinoe's pass something like an NFL kicker making a field goal from 40 yards away to tie the Super Bowl, except the goalposts are about five feet wide? Maybe.

Meanwhile, there was a replay of the goal that showed a defender and goalie from Brazil hurrying toward Wambach in a futile attempt to stop the play. Reviewing here, one of the best finishers in the world is in front of your net, and you leave her uncovered? Yeah, and let's give Michael Jordan an open jumper with the game on the line.

Here's, then, to the U.S. team that has some of the world's best players on it. Let's not forget to give them credit for that. They've earned it.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Sing a song

A college friend of mine sent me an odd e-mail Thursday night.

She said she was going to be in the hospital for surgery early Friday morning. She didn't want cards or flowers, but she did want to be remembered in a unique way. So she asked her friends and relatives to sing a song, preferably in public, between 7:30 and 10:30 a.m.

I quickly forwarded the note around to other college friends. You have to know this woman to understand that such a request is in character. A couple of the chums responded by saying they had done spirited versions of "Born to Run" and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." My wife came up with "I'm a Little Teapot," which I don't recall being on the top 40 at any point in my life.

Me, for whatever reason the Carpenters' song, "Sing," came to mind. The lyrics start, "Sing ... sing a song ... sing out loud ... sing out strong ... sing of happy not sad ..."

The really discouraging thing was that I knew more words than I really should have known. There really should be a way to tell your brain to take such information and put it in the recycle bin, like a computer.

Cheryl's friend sent an update today, and her surgery went very well, so that was good. But also in the e-mail box today was a note from someone else, saying another friend had developed a potentially life-threatening form of leukemia. All of a sudden I'm afraid to turn on the computer.

You can bet this friend would not appreciate a Carpenters' song in public. Remind me to pick up a copy of some of Michael Jackson's lyrics. I just hope our singing has the same good effects on him as it did on Cheryl.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Bright idea

On our recent vacation, Mrs. Inquisitive Mind and I paid a visit to the leading tourist attraction in Middleton, Wis. I probably don't have to tell you that it's the National Mustard Museum.

I'm sure the hits on my travel website will start piling up now that I have a listing for it. This tribute to mustard is done with a great deal of humor, from the wonderfully silly postcards to "Mustardpiece Theater" in the basement.

The brochure is even funny, and it has an interesting concept. The Museum says it is on "the National Register of Hysterical Places." I took the time to do a quick Internet search for such a register, because anything's possible on line.

Sadly, there is no such list. But don't you think there should be?

The problem is that one person's hysterical is another person's curious. Is Disneyland or Disney World hysterical? Joyful, I guess, but maybe not hysterical.

I can think of three places that might qualify for some, but not for others. There's the House on the Rock, a very odd collection of items in Wisconsin. Then there's the New Jersey equivalent, Northlandz. And finally there's Carhenge in Nebraska.

Then there's the Jell-O museum, which is certainly fun but maybe not hystrical. There are plenty of other places I haven't visited, such as the Barbed Wire Museum.

It's a big task, but your nominations are welcome.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Smarter by the hour

The start of free agency in the National Hockey League has come and gone, and the Buffalo Sabres suddenly are big spenders.

They handed out $40 million to defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, and $27 million to Ville Leino. Add that to the acquisition of Robin Regehr back at the draft, and the Sabres suddenly have a new image as a big spender. Care to guess who the league leader in payroll is right now? Yup. It's like Jim Nabors putting out a rap CD.

What's more, Darcy Regier certainly is being examined by some in a new light. Remember the guy who dared to be cautious, who was afraid to make the moves that would change the image of the team? History. It seems the general manager of the Sabres has gained several IQ points in a matter of days.

Which raises the key point here -- sometimes things happen in pro sports in which we don't know the full story until well after the fact.

When I worked for the team more than 20 years ago, the Sabres came very close to acquiring Peter and Anton Stastny (one by trade, the other by free agent) at the deadline. General manager Gerry Meehan had the deal put together, but Sabres' management wouldn't spend the money to sign the two players. So the deal fell through, and Meehan took the blame for the team's lack of action at the deadline.

In another sport, then-Red Sox general manager Lou Gorman revealed in his book that sometimes he had to be the fall guy when management wouldn't take certain steps to help the team. He willingly took the blame for those actions, saying it came with the job.

Regier has suffered some hits in the past several years here, some of them deserved. But all of a sudden, it sure looks like he's had one hand tied behind his back for quite a while. Now with a new owner anxious to make an impact, Regier suddenly looks like Bill Veeck. I'm not planning a parade yet, but the Sabres acted aggressively and decisively at identifying and acquiring players. We'll see if their judgment is up to the task.

Regier always struck me a pretty bright person, and was at times a victim of some odd personnel moves instead of the perpetrator. He was rewarded for it with a large contract extension before the old ownership left, but his GM chair must have been warm if not downright hot at times. I'm not sure his image has been completely rehabilitated, but it sure took about four steps in that direction this week.