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Madden: Schmidt finally shows some grit

Saturday, June 30, 2001

How many ways can you say the Pirates aren't very good? How many times can you wonder what the Penguins will get for Jaromir Jagr? How many refreshing sports notes will it take to fill this space? Let's start typing and find out.

Lloyd McClendon stealing first base after being ejected from Tuesday's Pirates game was funny, endearing and reflective of his fierce competitive nature. But he should never do it again. What McClendon did was reminiscent of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Funny once, boorish thereafter.

Jason Schmidt has always had the stuff to win consistently in the big leagues, but he's sub-.500 on his career because he lacks focus and determination. Considering that, his complete-game 6-2 victory over Milwaukee Wednesday was huge. Schmidt not only had good stuff, he also battled his way out of some jams instead of asking for bullpen help by way of gazing into the dugout.

John Rocker made homophobic and racist statements more than a year ago. Nobody has forgotten that, mainly because the media won't allow it. Were Rocker's statements more harmful than Wil Cordero beating his wife? More harmful than Kevin Henry carrying a gun? More harmful than Ray Lewis being involved with a double murder? No, no and no. Yet those incidents have gone away. Why is Rocker still a cause celebre? Leave him alone. He's no Einstein, but he's no threat to anyone.

Has Tony Gwynn really been that good? His amazing lifetime batting average of .338 going into yesterday's play guarantees him a Hall of Fame spot, but the roly-poly Gwynn has been basically a slap hitter with minimal power who topped 100 RBIs only once and 100 runs twice. He has never really produced runs, and runs are what baseball is all about. Dave Parker, who will not get into the Hall of Fame, was a much more effective player than Gwynn.

The Penguins are reportedly shopping defenseman Darius Kasparaitis, which isn't surprising. His second round-winning overtime goal against Buffalo aside, Kasparaitis had a lackluster season and he wants too much money. But if defenseman Bob Boughner departs via unrestricted free agency, the Penguins really can't deal Kasparaitis. If the Penguins lose Kasparaitis and Boughner, every forward in the NHL will charge the Pittsburgh net with great impunity. Andrew Ference will have to play 60 minutes, all of it in his slot. Not every defenseman on a team has to be tough. But more than one does.

Jagr is miffed because the Penguins, the club that gave him hefty paychecks for 11 years, have the temerity to trade him on their schedule, not his. The Penguins, however, shouldn't be surprised by Jagr's attitude. After all, the Penguins have given Jagr his way on almost every matter since the day they drafted him in 1990. Why wouldn't Jagr have expected the team to cater to his final whim, namely to be traded before the draft? The Penguins created this particular Frankenstein.

The New York Rangers are still front-runners in the race to acquire Jagr. Memo to Craig Patrick: Unless the Rangers include Tomas Kloucek, tell them no deal. Despite having had knee surgery that will keep him out for the first few months of the 2001-02 season, Kloucek is exactly the kind of defenseman the Penguins need. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder is a powerful skater who plays strong in traffic.

Does Jagr's sports bar in Prague have blackjack and baccarat tables?

Unless David Priestley gets hurt this season, Rod Rutherford will never start at quarterback for Pitt. The QB job will pass from Priestley to Pat Hoderny to Tyler Palko. Pitt insiders still refer to Rutherford as an "athlete." Which means he's not a quarterback.

Palko will not only bring considerable talent to Pitt, he'll bring a lot of charisma. Is that important? Not really. Yeah, it will help Palko be a leader. It could make other top recruits follow him to Pitt. And it might make people buy tickets and watch Pitt on television. But other than that ...

If I were the father of an 18-year-old who had been picked in the first round of the NBA draft, I'd be excited. But I'd be worried about my son having all that cash, all that time and all that temptation. The NBA should allow teams to draft players and retain their rights while they play college ball. The NCAA should let those players be eligible. That would allow college hoops to maintain an optimum level of play, and it would allow kids like Kwame Brown to play regularly until they're truly prepared for the NBA. Kobe Bryant was certainly ready to go to the NBA right from high school. But what about the kids who aren't? As for the money that gifted young players might lose by spending time in college instead of going pro, perhaps the NCAA could put a million bucks in a trust fund for each of those players. The NCAA sure makes enough money from top collegiate athletes. Couldn't the NCAA give some back?

Mark Madden hosts a sports talk show from 4 to 8 p.m. weeknights on WEAE-AM (1250).

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