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Madden: Blaming umpire for loss bad move

Saturday, May 31, 2003

Many dreams come true, and some have silver linings. I live for my dream, and refreshing sports notes, too.

First-base umpire Bill Hohn made a bad call that basically gave the Cubs three runs in the Pirates' 5-4 loss Wednesday at Chicago. But teams of character overcome bad calls. The Pirates, meanwhile, specialize in blowing late-inning leads. Hohn's call came in the second inning. The Pirates still had seven innings to play.

Manager Lloyd McClendon got ejected for arguing that call. My question is -- and always has been -- what good does a manager do by making a scene and getting tossed? Has a manager ever succeeded in convincing an umpire to change his call? No. Do such histrionics inspire a team to play better? Rarely, and certainly not Wednesday. A lot of players in McClendon's clubhouse have been more responsible for losing games than Hohn was. It would be more logical to yell at them. Even more, I mean.

Maybe McClendon should have chewed himself out after the game Wednesday. He sat Kenny Lofton, his hottest hitter, with the Pirates trying to finish a sweep at division-leading Chicago. Then, with two on and two out in the ninth, Lofton stayed on the bench as light-hitting Abraham Nunez grounded out to end the game. Lofton was supposedly "exhausted," but one at-bat probably wouldn't have necessitated an IV. McClendon obviously was protecting Lofton's 25-game hitting streak. A hitting streak more important than a winning streak? I don't think so.

The idea of Lofton needing a day off, especially before an off day for the entire team, is ludicrous. He plays baseball. In the real world, playing baseball is a day off.

I'm writing this column before the Pirates' game at St. Louis last night, but even if Lofton did get a hit, I don't think he's going to catch Joe DiMaggio. So why bother protecting Lofton's streak?

McClendon's biggest flaw as a manager is that he adheres to the old baseball cliche, "It's a long season." For McClendon, it's a short season. And it's getting shorter every day. He should be starting his best eight players until they drop. That's what is best for the team and what is best for McClendon's employment prospects. How the players feel shouldn't figure into it at all. They're employees, right?

If Lofton is "exhausted" in May, how's he going to feel in August?

There's a semipro baseball loop in Pittsburgh called the Federation League. A good Federation League team could beat the Washington Wild Things. Guys who play independent Class A baseball are just Federation League-caliber players who can't find legitimate day jobs.

If you want a "fun night out at the ballpark," the Wild Things aren't your best bet. The Pirates still are. At least it's legitimate pro baseball played at a high level. The Altoona Curve, however, is a solid alternative. The Pirates' Class AA team features tomorrow's Pirates today, including pitching phenom John VanBenschoten.

I once coached against Patrick Roy. Seriously. Roy used to play defense for a dekhockey team he organized in his hometown, Quebec City, and the team traveled to play in summer tournaments in the late 1980s and early '90s. Roy's team had several NHL players on it. Roy was just as passionate on the dek as he was on the ice, and he enjoyed mingling with the lowly opposition before and after games. No airs, no conceit. No. 33 was just another dekhockey player. And the greatest goalie in NHL history.

Former New Jersey Devils bench boss Larry Robinson will want more than the Penguins can afford to pay a head coach. Anyway, I always question whether a former superstar like Robinson has the patience and teaching skills to oversee a rebuilding process.

There's a rumor the Penguins will trade their first-round pick (third overall) and a player to Florida for the first pick overall, then use that pick to draft Quebec Major Junior Hockey League hotshot goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. That wouldn't be a bad move. A franchise goalie can enable a low-budget team to make the playoffs consistently. The bad news: Fleury probably won't be ready to play in the NHL for at least two years. The worse news: It could be longer. The worst news: What if he stiffs?

On Thursday, the Penguins held a question-and-answer session with season-ticket holders where virtually no questions were answered. So much for the idea of General Manager Craig Patrick losing power within the organization. But, hey ... there's nothing wrong with free beer.

Mike Tyson doesn't fade away for one reason: Because the public won't let him. People still want to see him fight on pay-per-view, and when Tyson makes an outrageous statement about wanting to rape Desiree Washington again, the fire only gets stoked. Tyson is everybody's real-life bogeyman. He's the car wreck everybody slows down to watch. Me, too.

I believe that Tyson believes he didn't rape Washington in 1991. From his standpoint, it was just sex. Animals, you see, have no sense of morality.

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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