Sports Outside the Beltway

Joe Niekro Dies at 61

Joe Niekro has died.

Former major league pitcher Joe Niekro, Houston’s career victory leader, died Friday, Astros president Tal Smith said. He was 61.

The two-time 20-game winner suffered a brain aneurysm Thursday and was taken to South Florida Baptist Hospital in nearby Plant City, where he lived. He later was transferred to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where he died.

“It came as a real shock to us,” Smith said. “He was a great guy. He had a real spark and a great sense of humor.” Smith said Niekro did not have an active role with the Astros but kept in contact with many of his former Houston teammates.

Niekro, father of San Francisco Giants first baseman Lance Niekro, won 221 games in his career but never became as well known as his Hall of Fame brother, Phil.

Like his older brother, who won 318 games, Joe Niekro found success after developing the knuckleball and pitched into his 40s. They had a combined 539 major league victories, a record for brothers.


Niekro won a franchise-best 144 games in 11 seasons with the Astros from 1975 to 1985, when he was traded to the New York Yankees. He was an All-Star in 1979, when he went 21-11 with a 3.00 ERA and followed up with a 20-12 record in 1980. He beat the Dodgers in a one-game playoff that clinched Houston’s first postseason berth in 1980. Seven years later, in his 21st season, he finally appeared in the World Series with the Minnesota Twins.

“You are always in shock when you hear something like that, mainly when it hits close to home, a teammate who you have spent a lot of years with,” Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, a former teammate of Niekro’s, told Houston’s KRIV-TV. “It certainly surprises you when it happens to somebody who has kept themselves in shape and lives a very active life. The last time I saw Joe he looked like he was a picture of health,” Ryan said.

Niekro was born Nov. 7, 1944 in Martins Ferry, Ohio. A third-round draft pick of the Cubs in 1966, he broke into the majors in 1967 and appeared in 702 games, including 500 starts, in 22 years with the Cubs, Padres, Tigers, Braves, Astros, Yankees and Twins. Niekro, who once was suspended for getting caught on the mound with a nail file in his back pocket, pitched his final game in April 1988 — at age 43. He finished 221-204 with a 3.59 ERA, including 144-116 with a 3.22 ERA for the Astros.

Truly a shame.


Tiger Woods Skips Tour Championship

After a season that included eight wins, including the British Open, and the death of his father, Tiger Woods has decided he needs some down time and has withdrawn from the Tour Championship.

Tiger Woods is skipping the Tour Championship next week for the first time in his career, saying he is mentally and physically tired from a hectic stretch through the Ryder Cup. “I’m confident that this extended break will help me to recharge my batteries for the 2007 season,” Woods said on his Web site.

Woods’ decision is a huge blow to the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake, the PGA Tour’s version of an All-Star game for the top 30 players on its money list. Masters champion Phil Mickelson previously has said he is done playing for the year, and with Stephen Ames out with a back injury, the 27-man field will be the smallest since the Tour Championship began in 1987.

It also raised questions about whether players will buy into the tour’s new FedExCup competition that begins next year. Under a revamped schedule that features a points race throughout the season, players will be expected to compete in three straight events leading to the Tour Championship if they want to capture the $10 million prize.

Woods, one of the strongest voices behind the change to a shorter season, made it clear that he is eager to take part in the FedExCup. “I want to stress to everyone that missing the Tour Championship for the first time in my pro career is in no way a reflection of my feelings toward the event,” Woods said. “I am extremely excited to compete in next year’s FedExCup and inaugural PGA Tour playoffs, including the Tour Championship.”

I’m sure Tiger would play this year, too, had he not gone through the trauma of losing his dad. Of course, if the Tour Championship were considered a Major, he’d be there this year.


Clemson’s Tommy Bowden Hit in Head with Liquor Bottle

Tommy Bowden was hit by a glass liquor bottle thrown from the stands Thursday night.

Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said Friday he was hit in the back of the head with a mini glass liquor bottle while standing on the sideline during Thursday night’s 24-7 loss to Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium. Wendell Flinchum, Virginia Tech’s interim chief of police, confirmed Friday a fan was ejected from the stadium for throwing objects at the Tigers coaching staff. Flinchum said the man wasn’t arrested and wouldn’t release the man’s identity.

Flinchum said he didn’t know whether the man was a Virginia Tech fan or Clemson fan and wasn’t completely sure the man ejected was the one who threw the bottle at Bowden. Fans are prohibited from bringing alcohol into Lane Stadium.

“Had I turned and had it hit me in the eye, it would have killed me,” Bowden said. “It was glass. That’s what scared me. Those plastic ones, it wouldn’t go that far.” Bowden said he gave the bottle to Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips, who was standing on the sideline. Bowden said officials made an announcement warning fans not to throw objects on the field. “I really was afraid after that because had I turned and been hit in the eye, I surely would have lost the eye,” Bowden said. “And then we lost the game. So it wasn’t a good night.”

The loss seriously damaged No. 10 Clemson’s hopes of an at-large berth in a Bowl Championship Series game and essentially left the Tigers (7-2, 4-2 ACC) two games behind Boston College in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. The Eagles are 3-1 in ACC play and have a tiebreaker over Clemson because of their 34-33 double-overtime win over the Tigers on Sept. 9.

Idiot liquored up fan. Perhaps a relative of Mike Vanderjagt?


Cowboys Coach Sues McDonald’s Over Salad Rat

Between getting yelled at by Terrell Owens, watching his quarterbacks throw four interceptions in prime time, and now this, it’s been a bad week for Todd Haley.

Dallas Cowboys passing game coordinator Todd Haley is suing a suburban [Dallas] McDonald’s after claiming his wife and their family’s au pair found a dead rat in their salad. The lawsuit filed Thursday in state district court seeks $1.7 million in damages, The Dallas Morning News reported on its Web site.

In addition to Haley, who got in a well-publicized shouting match with Terrell Owens earlier this month, the suit was also filed on behalf of his wife, Christine, and the family’s live-in babysitter, Kathryn Kelley.

The dead rodent, believed to be a juvenile roof rat, was about 6 inches long and was found on its back with its mouth opened, Scott Casterline, a spokesman for the family, told The Associated Press.

He said the women didn’t find the rat until taking the salad home to eat, and that a manager from the McDonald’s “didn’t offer any comfort” after driving to their house to see the rodent. The suit was filed after the restaurant didn’t follow through on promises “to make things right,” he said. “The family needs closure,” Casterline told The Associated Press. “It came to a point where you have to draw a line.”

Of course, if Haley were held to the same standards as he holds minimum wage workers at Mickey-D’s, he’d have been sued for all the dropped passes, interceptions, and bizarre Red Zone play calling that he’s subjected Dallas Cowboys fans to this season. Where do we get our closure?



T.O.’s Dropped Balls

John Clayton points out that, for all the rightful criticism of Drew Bledsoe and the offensive line, we’re missing just how poorly Terrell Owens has played this year:

One of the things that did help Bledsoe’s cause in keeping his starting job until the second half of Monday night’s 36-22 loss to the Giants was his completion percentage. Bledsoe completed only 53.3 percent of his 169 pass attempts. Part of his downfall was Terrell Owens. Even though Owens creates more single coverage for Terry Glenn and tight end Jason Witten, Bledsoe watched his average drop throwing the ball to T.O. Only 28 of the 56 attempts toward Owens were completed, according to Stats Inc., and only eight of those passes were considered bad throws. He had four drops, including two Monday night. He also slipped on a play against the Giants and was on the ground as the ball sailed by him. Owens keeps talking about how he’s always ready when his number is called, but his stats and play haven’t backed that up this season.

True. He’s a tremendous athlete and I expect he’ll return to form. But these are damning stats.


ShopRite LPGA pulls plug over scheduling conflict

From Golf World-

The ShopRite Classic, a fixture on the LPGA schedule for 21 years, has ended its ties with the tour in a dispute over when the tournament would be played. In a strongly worded statement released Wednesday that never mentioned LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens by name, tournament chairman Larry Harrison accused the tour of ignoring a commitment ShopRite Classic organizers say they had from previous tour leadership guaranteeing its date through 2008. The decision apparently ends an event that was one of the most popular among players because of its proximity to the Jersey Shore and the casinos of Atlantic City.

The standoff turned nasty in July when the tour slotted a new tournament in South Carolina — the Ginn Tribute — for June 1-3, one week before the McDonald’s LPGA Championship for 2007. Harrison says that week was promised to him. The tour disputes that claim and offered several other dates, none of which were acceptable to the ShopRite organizers. Last month, the LPGA discussed the 2007 schedule at a players’ meeting at the Long Drugs Challenge. On that draft schedule was an event listed only as “Atlantic City” slated for Labor Day weekend.

“In effect, there has been no true negotiation with the Tour, and no direct communication with the Tour commissioner or her staff throughout this process,” Harrison said in his statement. “Rather, the tour, through its outside legal counsel, has simply offered a few undesirable and/or unworkable dates, of which only one was even remotely acceptable.”

In a tersely worded statement Wednesday night, the LPGA challenged the accuracy of Harrison’s version of events and hinted at legal action. “Harrison’s statement is full of falsehoods and incorrect accounts,” the LPGA statement said. “We’ve directed our legal counsel to contact Mr. Harrison’s attorney and have him rescind the statement.”


“We went up against the men’s Open once before and it was a total disaster,” he said. “No gallery, no press.” July 4th weekend on the Jersey shore would be impossible because of the lack of reasonable hotel room rates for the players and the lack of availability of casinos for the two parties during the event. “And what kind of field would I get if we were between stops in California and Mexico?” Harrison asked.

The ShopRite Clasic is the second LPGA event to break its ties with the tour in a dispute over scheduling dates. The Wendy’s Championship for Children near Columbus, Ohio, an event since 1999, pulled out when its late-August date was given to the Safeway Classic in Portland, Ore. The tour has also lost stops in Atlanta and Las Vegas this year, while adding the South Carolina event as well as stops in Alabama, Arkansas and Thailand.

“Putting together a schedule is like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube, when you think you have one side solved you turn it over and see that another piece is out of place,” LPGA chief operating officer Chris Higgs told Golf World when Wendy’s left the tour. “We have to consider what’s best for the tour overall and those decisions are not always going to make everyone happy. We don’t want to lose events, but we do need a certain level of cooperation.”

This is an utter fiasco but I wasn’t surprised by this news. It is just the latest in a long series of incidents involving tournament sponsors and LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens since she took over running the tour in 2005. The LPGA players need to see to Ms Bivens firing and soon. If not, there may not be a US Ladies pro golf tour in 5 or 10 years.

See Previously-

17-year old Kiran Matharu denied trip to LPGA Qualifying School
LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens has to go
LPGA + McDonald’s + The Golf Channel= A ‘Major’ Disaster


Fumbles, Interceptions, Fire?

The Miami Dolphins 2006 season has been almost all bad news, but who would have predicted this?

A fire completely destroyed the office building that houses Miami-based Dolphin Digest, the Dolphins team publication, early Tuesday morning.

No one was injured.

Curtis Publishing, which also publishes Steelers Digest, Eagles Insider, (Florida) Panthers Insider, as well as entertainment publications – Live on Stage and Unrestricted – has chronicled the Dolphins since 1972.

Cohen, a Plantation resident, said that he is looking for a new permanent site, but a few of his employees have temporarily relocated to the BankAtlantic Center.

It’s good no one was hurt, but do you think this fire should make the Dolphins’ highlight film for the year?


Tony Romo Cowboys’ New Starter Over Jerry Jones’ Objections

Tony Romo is going to get a shot to be the Dallas Cowboys’ new starting quarterback.

As much as the owner didn’t want to see it, when Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe was benched Monday night it wasn’t just for one quarter or one half. According to a source, Tony Romo will be the starter when the Cowboys play the Panthers on Sunday night in Charlotte, N.C. It would be his first NFL start. The source said Romo will be with the first-team offense when practice begins today.

But the move is one that makes Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones uneasy. “I’ve thought the best chance for us to be where we wanted to be, contending in the playoffs, was to go with the experienced quarterback in Drew, and I don’t know if I’ve changed my mind there at all,” Jones told reporters while he attended the NFL owners meetings in New Orleans on Tuesday afternoon.

Jones said he did not know who would start Sunday. “But we have to win games,” he said. “We have to give ourselves every opportunity. There is no question Romo has mobility and he can mitigate some of the problems we have with Drew’s mobility. On the other hand, you saw [against the Giants] we give up some good stuff experience-wise. It’ll be a tough decision.”

Bledsoe declined an interview request Tuesday. Clearly, though, he’s ticked off, and believes he’s the best man for the job. Bledsoe has said he would never again be a backup, but it’s doubtful he will retire on the spot. He showered as coach Bill Parcells talked to the team after Monday night’s 36-22 loss to the New York Giants and left quickly. The last thing he was heard saying on Monday night was, “It was a very bad decision.”

Jones is almost certainly right that Bledsoe is the better quarterback right now, despite his lack of mobility and propensity to make bad decisions. He’s still got a great arm and has fifteen years experience as an NFL starter.

Still, Romo has the physical ability to overcome the problems caused by a mediocre offensive line and has more upside. If nothing else, this will let the team learn whether they need to take a quarterback in the first round of the 2007 draft and/or sign a free agent.

More from ESPN:

Bledsoe left New England and Buffalo because he didn’t want to be a mentor or an insurance policy. He’s hinted that Dallas is his last stop and has indicated that if he’s not starting, he’d rather be home playing with his kids.

Of course, what Bledsoe wants matters little to Parcells. All the coach wants is the QB who gives the Cowboys the best chance of winning. That can still be Bledsoe, as evidenced by his six touchdown passes and one interception in Dallas’ three victories. But those have all been against teams with losing records. Against playoff contenders Jacksonville, Philadelphia and the Giants, he has one TD and seven INTs.

Romo arrived in Dallas in 2003 and has outlasted Jones-picked quarterbacks Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson and Drew Henson, mostly on ability but also with a mix of intangibles that Parcells admires. Jones believes in him, too, with a recent contract extension for next year serving as proof.

Mobility is Romo’s biggest selling point. That could be more necessity than luxury considering the way the line played Monday night. Romo also plays with a gunslinger mentality, which sometimes means throwing passes with an I’ll-cram-it-in-there bravado. Experience could help team him when he can and can’t. (For what it’s worth: Bledsoe’s never had a three-interception half for Dallas.) “I definitely would have liked to have performed better,” Romo said.

UPDATE: Todd Archer adds this statistical note: “Romo becomes the 10th different starting quarterback for the Cowboys since Troy Aikman retired following the 2000 season.” That’s something else.


Browns Fire Offensive Coordinator Maurice Carthon

The Browns have fired offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon, joining the Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens so far this season.

The one-win Cleveland Browns, among the worst offenses in the NFL the last two seasons, fired offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon on Monday night.

Browns owner Randy Lerner, general manager Phil Savage and former Brown great and team consultant Jim Brown spoke with head coach Romeo Crennel during Cleveland’s bye week about replacing Carthon, a source told ESPN Insider’s Jeremy Green. Crennel was opposed to a change and stuck with Carthon for Sunday’s home game against Denver. But after another dismal offensive performance and speculation that Crennel might indeed lose his job after the season if he did not acquiesce with the front office, the decision was made to dismiss Carthon.

Assistant head coach/offensive line coach Jeff Davidson will take over play-calling duties for now, with an assist from Crennel, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reports. Davidson is a former Patriots offensive assistant whom Crennel took with him to Cleveland.

The Browns will have no official comment until Tuesday.

Carthon was in his second season as the Browns’ offensive coordinator. He came to Cleveland after serving in the same capacity under Bill Parcells in Dallas for the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Under Carthon’s direction, the Browns’ offense has scored 88 points (fifth worst in the league) in six games and averaged an NFL-worst 245.2 yards a game. Cleveland finished last season last in points scored (14.5 per game) and 26th in overall yards.

The problem is that a season and a half is seldom enough time to turn around a team’s offense, especially if the team is as bad as the Browns. I have no idea whether Carthon was good at his job and didn’t even when he was with the Cowboys and I was watching every game; my guess is that the Browns management doesn’t either.


Stern: NBA’s New Ball is Staying

Even though many star players hate it, commissioner David Stern says the NBA’s new ball is here to stay.

“We’ve been testing it and retesting it,” Stern said. “And I think that some of the dramatics around it were a little overstated in terms of the downside and not enough recognition of the upside.”

The upside to Stern is that all the new balls, made of a microfiber composite, feel exactly alike. No two leather balls were the same. Stern said it was customary for referees to go through a rack of balls to select the best one before each game.

Still, some players preferred it that way. Some have said the new ball is too sticky when it’s dry; others claim it’s too slippery when wet. Shaquille O’Neal and Steve Nash are among those wary. O’Neal has said the new ball “feels like one of those cheap balls that you buy at the toy store — indoor-outdoor balls.”

“Within certain parameters of the way you want a ball to perform again and again and again, it is performing extraordinarily well,” Stern said. “It doesn’t mean it feels the same; it may not even bounce exactly the same. It may do all the things that everyone says it may or may not do, but it’s a very good ball and the tests continue to demonstrate that it’s an improvement.”

Stern was speaking at the NBA Store, where the league announced a partnership with the personal computer company Lenovo. But once that was done, it was back to what has been perhaps the biggest headache the commissioner has faced this preseason.

NBA officials have stressed that most players grew up playing with the microfiber composite, but they may have underestimated the preference players have for leather. That’s even after Stern said Spalding wanted to make the change more than a year ago. “We said no,” Stern said. “We want to go back and do more tests and confirm to us that this move will be pain free — which, of course, it hasn’t been.”

Stern said he has handled the new ball and doesn’t agree with the complaints that it bounces differently from the old one. “It may behave somewhat differently in some circumstance or another … but I will say that whichever ball you take out of the box, it’s going to behave in that way consistently,” he said. “Every leather ball behaves differently.” “That’s the trade-off we’re making,” he added. “And we think it’s going to make a great improvement.”

I agree with Stern that standardization is a good thing, purists to the contrary. Still, one would think the people who designed the new ball could have come up with one that feels and performs almost exactly like the median leather ball did. When someone has spent 15, 20, 25 years playing with a certain feel to get to the top level of the game, they don’t want to change.


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