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Bad Performances Prompt Questions

THE WASHINGTON POST

Our first question today comes from a D. Johnson, who writes, “I’ve been out of touch for a while, working on raising money for my wife’s favorite charity. How are the Orioles doing?”

Funny you should ask. They have a chance to become the Hindenburg.

Not since “Heaven’s Gate” has anybody spent so much money and received so little in return as Peter G. Angelos has on this year’s Orioles. The only way Angelos could look dumber is if he’d proclaimed every Friday as “Hooligan Night.”

The Asbestos King not only made a suicidally stupid move by pushing Davey Johnson over the cliff--which led directly to Randy Myers bolting--but he compounded it by tossing good money after bad players: Joe Carter, who is done, Doug Drabek, who is well done, and Norm Charlton, who is burnt. Someone might inquire why The Great Gillick enjoys a spotless reputation, when, with an unlimited budget, he chose to rescue these drifters.

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While injuries to starting pitchers have walloped the Orioles, the most infuriating gap is in their bullpen. Despite all the Florida happy talk by Gillick and Ray Miller about having a “closer by committee,” by dropping the “c,” you’ll see what they actually have is: “loser by committee.” It’s worth noting the Yankees managed to stay afloat after John Wetteland bailed out. (Oh, and let’s not make Terry Mathews into Stalin, okay? Getting rid of him isn’t going to turn this team around any more than getting rid of the cook would have saved the Titanic.) I don’t blame Miller for all this. And no one should. But if Miller hadn’t been so willing to go to lunch with Angelos once a week it’s possible the manager would be dining alone now, in another city.

What’s Angelos thinking when he says it’s “almost time” to trade for younger players? When exactly will it be time--next week, when half the Orioles qualify for AARP benefits? Look at this team. It’s older than “The McLaughlin Group.” Carter is 38, Eric Davis 36, Harold Baines 39, Cal Ripken 37, Charlton and Drabek 35, Jesse Orosco 42. With old goats like that they could trade for Milton Berle and still get younger.

Our next question comes from a J. Harkes, who writes, “My TV broke. Can you catch me up on what happened with the U.S. World Cup team, and their charismatic coach, Steve Sampson?”

Funny you should ask. They did become the Hindenburg.

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For all you soccer apologists out there who believe people expected too much from the U.S. team -- would scoring more than one goal in three games be too much? Would finishing, say, 25th out of 32 teams be too much? Because the U.S. finished dead last. In soccer, where giving up one goal is often one too many, they were knocked on their backs quicker than Michael Spinks. They were disorganized, disjointed and dismembered.

Sampson made the fatal mistake of antagonizing too many veteran members of his team. If he didn’t want the geezers, he should have dumped them before the tournament started--then they wouldn’t have been around to do their backbiting. Plus, after playing one system for a whole year, Sampson installed a new system just as the World Cup began. That’s lunacy. That’s like a figure skater picking new music the day before the Olympic long program.

Sampson did the right thing by resigning Monday. He did a terribly wrong thing over the weekend by trying to fine players who had been critical of him. It was petty and vindictive. Maybe Sampson had been in France too long, and he had forgotten that in America even benched soccer players retain their First Amendment rights. Early in the game Sampson set himself up for this fall by publicly eviscerating John Harkes. Sampson made it clear his philosophy was: “My way or the highway.” It’s ironic that he now finds himself in need of transportation.

Our next question comes from an M. Wilbon, who writes, “I know in the past I’ve said that Michael Jordan would retire. But I’ve only said that for reverse psychology -- in the hope that he wouldn’t retire. It’s like when I write that I think the Bulls will lose, and what I mean is that I hope they’ll win. But now I’m worried Michael will actually retire. God, I love the Bulls. They’re the greatest team of any kind in the history of sports. (Except the Bears.) Do you think he will retire?”

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I hope he plays. I think all the writers and players who have urged Jordan to quit because he would be going out on such a perfect note should quit their jobs today, and go out on the same high note. They should all go out and sell shoes. Everyone has feet, you know.

Our last question comes from a J. Naismith, who asks, “How can you have a Basketball Hall of Fame and not put John Thompson in it?”

You can’t.

Thompson should be in the Basketball Hall of Fame for coaching reasons, for historical reasons and for social and cultural reasons. He is a giant in the sport. Yet, unbelievably, Thompson has now been denied election for the second time. Why? Because he has won 589 games, and been to the Final Four three times and won one national championship? Because he’s a past president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches and a former U.S. Olympic coach? Because he built Georgetown into one of the most respected and feared programs in the country? Because he’s intelligent, outspoken, fascinating and controversial? I know! Because he can be a contentious pain in the rear sometimes. Oh, please.

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There is simply no legitimate reason to keep Thompson out. Personality is not a legitimate reason. (Just as it wasn’t with Bob Knight, who wasn’t elected until his second year on the ballot--which was absurd. There weren’t three coaches better than Knight.)

I don’t want to denigrate any of the coaches--college or pro--who have been voted into the Hall of Fame. Alex Hannum made it this year, and he’s certainly deserving, having won titles in both the NBA and ABA. But Thompson is a no-brainer. The 24 members of the secret committee that elects people to the Hall should be identified and asked what credential Thompson lacks.


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