Atlanta Braves' Jeff Franceour, left, can't field a hit by Philadelphia Phillies' Miguel Cairo as first base umpire James Hoye, right, signals "fair ball" in the ninth inning of a baseball game Sunday May 10, 2009, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr.)

Friday mailbag

From Jay (yes, it's me)

Did you see one of your all-time heroes died Thursday? Keep up the great work, you fat-faced racist liberal media/conservative jack wagon.

Gang — 

I need a moment

The sports world lost one of the last great story tellers. Dan Jenkins died Thursday night. He was 89.

I met Mr. Jenkins — and if anyone ever earned the Mr. tag out of respect it was Dan Jenkins (cue the scene from Goodfellas)  — a few times. He was always gracious, especially he being a legend and me being, well, me. He was a sportswriting God. Plain and simple.

He was right there with the best ever — for my money Jim Murray of the LA Times was the best columnist, Lewis Gizzard was the funniest, and Jenkins was the GOAT because he was some of all it and better than the rest. In fact, in a time when the only pictures you had were the couple of snapshots in the newspaper or magazine and the mental imagines crafted in your mind, Jenkins painted with words better than everyone else who has done it.

Want proof? Well considering he was the foremost voice on college football and golf — two pretty fun gigs back in the day, no? — check out the tributes across social media. 

And sample some of these from his keyboard:

From At the Majors: "If I wanted to be a brain surgeon and take the time to study that, I could". Greg Norman.1996 US Masters Sunday. (Jenkins' reply:) "Maybe so, but he wouldn't operate on this cowboy — not on Sundays, anyway." 

From various articles in various times of his life, check out some these great lines, like his 10 stages of drunkenness, from his book "Baja Oklahoma" and he said after that was published that he spent the rest of his life becoming famous for something else. Here are the 10 stages: 1. Witty & Charming 2. Rich and Powerful 3. Benevolent 4. Clairvoyant 5. (Bleep) Dinner 6. Patriotic 7. Crank up the Enola Gay 8. Witty & Charming, Part II 9. Invisible 10. Bulletproof.

When asked why he was always so kind to young writers, he said simply: "I like people who like me." 

His favorite topic, in the end, was the writing itself. And this from his Ownself (capitalized because it's in the title of his 'semi' biography "Life Its Ownself) about the best lead to a story ever written. In Jenkins' mind it was from John Lardner, who wrote: "Stanley Ketchel [the middleweight boxing champion] was 24 years old when he was fatally shot in the back by the common-law husband of the lady who was cooking his breakfast."

"That, in a sentence," Jenkins would tell and retell to everyone hanging on every word, "is the great American novel." And it had to be "lady."

I could go on. And on.

He was that great at his craft and with people. I could post hundreds of zippy one-liners and countless sentences that I wish I could have crafted — and know this, there is no compliment a writer can pay to another than, "I wish I had written that." It's the ultimate tip of the visor, a mixture of acknowledgement, being impressed and a tinge of jealousy. And Jenkins was the MJ of "I wish I had written that."

But beyond all the humor, there was a clarity, both in style, purpose and, above all else, direct and honest factuality.

So, despite the one golf legend who did not kiss Tiger Woods' ring at the height of his powers in the 2000s, the last line I will share from one of my idols was this from Jenkins, not long before Woods snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against Y.E. Yang.

"Only two things can stop him," Jenkins wrote of Woods, "injury or a bad marriage." 

Rest easy Mr. Jenkins. The world was better — more enjoyable, funnier, you name it — because of you were here.

(Late addition here. From Sportsfan, a regular around these parts who also was a big fan or Jenkins' work. Spy, feel free my man.) 

From Jules

But all the talk lately about sports commentators, have you been surprised about how good Jeff Francoeur is with the Braves? Baseball is different from the rest bc I only want to hear the hometown guys that love Atlanta so I'm biased bc he loves Atlanta but he has been very good.

Jules —

I think Francoeur is going to be excellent. So good in fact, that Braves fans better enjoy him while we can.

Dude will go national and network sooner rather than later. (Not unlike how Smoltz hit the big time rather quickly.)

And here's a sneaky great edge that Francoeur brings — his stories and his connections to the game are still current.

If I had to hear Joe Simpson tell one more Tommy Lasorda story I was going to throw my shoe at the TV. It was time for Joe to fade away, and in truth, hie bitterness had become his calling card.

And that bitterness was during the Braves playing exceedingly well. 

We, as fans, love the Munson homerisms or even the Skip Caray angst when our teams struggled. When our teams are winning, Joe, we want to celebrate and not be talked down to about the Dodgers disrespecting the game by wearing shorts to BP.

Francoeur is going to be a joy to listen to this summer. We need to enjoy him while we can.

some text Tennessee guard Jalen Johnson (13), forward Yves Pons (35) and guard Jordan Bone (0) react to a 3-point shot by guard Brad Woodson during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Mississippi State on Tuesday, March 5, 2019, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 71-54. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

From Jess

I have been reading your morning blog for a while and wanted to ask you how would you change college basketball? It has been a fun year but how would you make it better?


Jess —

Interesting question, because, yes it has been a fun season, and yes it could be better.

We'll start here, and I didn't notice it until I watched some of the Lady Vols on Thursday for the first time all season. The women's game has better rules.

I like the ability to advance the ball to midcoast after a timeout. 

I like the quarters and the team reset of the fouls better than halves and the not-so-uncommon occurrence of each team getting in the bonus after five minutes and shooting 25 free throws in a half. 

And I love the fact that the officials in the UT-LSU women's game — even as a tournament game — did not assume the crowds and the cameras were there for them.

That leads me to an issue that needs to be addressed, in more ways than one.

The officiating is a deal now. Say what you want about more camera angles, more media coverage and a more predisposition for everyone to complain and moan and look for conspiracies than ever, and all of that has merit.

But the truth is the officiating is worse and it needs to be addressed.

Referees need to get younger. Referees need a review policy that has teeth. And for both of those things to happen, there needs to be more money for the officials. And more respect given.

The pool obviously is not very deep, because some of the very worse — hi, TV Teddy Valentine — are recycled year after year. Plus, if there were more and more candidates looking to call high-level games for high-level pay, it would raise the level of production of the current officials, too.

Also, and this has bugged me for a while. We hold players to such an insane and lofty standard of sportsmanship and respect and control, but we let the coaches run around like crazy people with a license to show their tuchuses like spoiled 5-year-olds. 

I think that needs to stop sooner rather than later. A coach making $3 million a year acting like a petulant child on the sideline does not mean he's into the game. It means he's into being a jackwagon.

Sorry for the tangent. Excellent question.     

some text Army's Tommy Funk, left, and Duke's Zion Williamson (1) chase the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

From Ernie


One of my very close friends lost his only granddaughter to a grueling, horrid, year-long battle with leukemia.

She lived a year from diagnosis to death.

She was a really special kid, and not because of the disease, in spite of the disease.

She attended Spartanburg Day School, and she and Zion Williamson were good friends. I don't know what the timing of this friendship was as it related to her illness. She died on Jan. 25, 2018 and her memorial service was on Feb. 3 She was 17.

I attended her memorial service and Zion and his teammates were the ushers and honorary pall bearers. She chose cremation.

She completely planned her memorial service and it was most special. 

I am sending you this because her family loved Zion, and he was a real friend to her.

He was a gentleman at the funeral and any parent would have been proud of him.

I just have a snippet of knowledge of him, but I believe he is as genuine as he appears. And yes, I got to shake his hand.


Thanks so much for sharing. And yes, I know this is not a question, but I wanted to share Ernie's brush with young Zion.

We all-too-often hear the bad stories about these kids and the professional stars. It's cool to hear stories about them being genuine and kind, too.

Thanks again.

It also leads us to our Rushmores, because Zion, as long as that knee is not seriously hurt, looks like he's on the path to crack this first one.

Rushmore of athletes that delivered on impossible expectations: James, Tiger, Jabbar/Alcindor, Griffey Jr. 

Rushmore of TV anchors: Ron Burgundy, Ted Knight from Mary Tyler Moore, Jeff Daniels in The Newsroom, and of course the dude who was mad as Hades and not going to take it anymore from Network.

Rushmore of 'Fat' (and remember Fat Albert is ineligible since all Bill Cosby items are stricken from the books): Fat Lever all-around great and wickedly underrated Denver Nuggets star who was one of the first to re-popularize the triple double, Fats Domino, "Are you going to eat your fat," said by Spalding in Caddushack, and former Smyrna all-time burner/chili dog join named Fat Boy's. And if you disagree on that last one, well, either a) you never went or b) you are looking for a fight.

Rushmore of John Candy vehicles: He's one of my all-time favs, and while he was a great stealer of scenes, we did not think that his turn in say Home Alone or even the original Vacation had enough screen time to rate. So there's that. Uncle Buck and Planes, Trains and Automobiles are no-doubters. All-timers. He had enough of a role in Stripes so that makes it. There are a lot of other contenders, but since the question asked for 'vehicles' we'll go with the SCTV in the final spot.

From Sam G.

Uh, I kind of owe you an apology maybe.

Last week I asked why you were still picking college hoops games. You even said that I could 'fade' your picks, and I did. 

I wish I hadn't. You had a good week. 

Got anything for the weekend? I could really use a winner if you know what I mean.

Sam —

No worries my man. It's the roller coaster of the rationale. It's the gambit of gambling. It's the eerie attraction of entertainment acquisition.

After last night's 3-0 mark — we had Indiana plus a bucket in a Hoosiers' runaway at Illinois, the under 141 in Wisconsin's 65-45 win over Iowa (easy entertainment, that one) and Temple plus-1.5 in an outright win at UConn — capped a pretty strong week. Since picking Quinnipiac last Friday and mixing in a Stoney Brook for good measure, we went 10-4 this week against the number and sit at 49-31-2 overall. That's 61.3 percent over the long haul, which is better than I expected to be honest.

We will have some this weekend, but just like we said last week, the great goal, as any entertainment hunter will gladly tell you, is 60 percent.

You can make a lot of hay at 60 percent consistently, because there are going to be a lot of times that you back the right side but Zion blows out a shoe, the point guard is dealing with a cheating girlfriend or the ball just bounces funny. 

Check back. Right now, I am leaning toward Brown catching 4 at Princeton. Hey, smart kids.

"You like apples Well I got her number. How you like them apples?" 

some text FILE - In this Aug. 21, 2015, file photo, former NBA star and current owner of the Charlotte Hornets, Michael Jordan, smiles at reporters in Chicago. Jordan is donating $7 million to at-risk communities in Charlotte to launch two medical clinics in troubled areas of the city. It’s the largest philanthropic donation ever by the former NBA champion. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

From Steve

Are you nuts even comparing that bum LeBron to Jordan? God, you media (bleep)holes suck up to whoever is the biggest star of the moment and ignore the truth.

That's why no one likes you.

Steve —

Good morning to you too.

And is this an either/or question, because could I still be crazy even if I was not directly comparing MJ to LeBron James. In fact, that made for ESPN conversation is really kind of boring if you ask me. Also, why does Kareem get so little love in that GOAT conversation?

And to be fair, I can line up several family members and even some casual acquaintances who may or may not owe me money who like me just fine, thank you very much.  

And while I understand the basis and the intention of your narrative, it's factually inaccurate here. 

First, I personally nor professionally have ever had an interaction with LeBron James. Nor Michael Jordan. 

I appreciate James' skill set — always have — considering he is the most physically dominating perimeter player ever and he still tries over and over again to play the game the right way.

Secondly, your narrative is missed guided on James — as opposed to a Brady or a Tiger or whomever else — in this regard: I can make a very hard argument that James has gotten more criticism and backlash for minor things that become huge talking points on every ESPN platform just because he is the biggest star in team sports in America.

And let's not even get started on how Michael Jordan is on the Rushmore with Ruth, Mantle and Arnold Palmer of the all-time all-timers who got a lifetime of passes and second chances from those in the media who were covering for them more than you know, actually covering them.

Jordan's locker room antics were borderline Richie Incognito and his womanizing was off the charts. Never mind the reports of the crazy gambling circles. What's the worst that LeBron has ever done? 

The "Take my talents to South Beach" thing? Voicing his political opinions? Compared to Jordan's "Republicans Buy Sneakers" catch phrase? OK. And considering what James overcame in his youth, well, let's just say his path to being a billionaire was hardly as gold-plated as Trump or Zuckerberg.

And again, I have never planted my flag on the James is the GOAT hill. MJ has a better resume. (That said, it's never made sense to me that anyone gets blame for losing in the Finals or the Super Bowl compared to losing in the AFC title game or the Eastern Conference semis.)

And maybe that's the saddest part of the changing tenor of our debates.

Look back on the GOAT conversations across all sports.

Was it really that long ago that we would try to win the debate by extolling the greatness of our champion rather than tearing down the other side's nominee?

Maybe that's too big-picture in someways, after all it's MJ vs. LeBron, two dudes who are all-timers.

Also, a lot of you have dropped questions about Will Wade and the wire tap stuff. I did not have time to get to it in this bag. I may revisit around lunch. Deal? Deal.

Enjoy the weekend friends. (And look for our hoops picks.)