Randy Johnson's career in New York is off to a ring-a-ding start. I always thought he'd fit in beautifully there.
On his way to a physical Monday in Manhattan, Johnson, who was to be introduced as a Yankee Tuesday, got into a beef with a cameraman from a local TV station. The physical was part of the process of Johnson's trade from the Diamondbacks, which has been in the works for most of the last century. The Yankees sent Javier Vazquez, Wally Pipp and Red Ruffing to Arizona.
The cameraman's offense was -- get this -- trying to take pictures of Johnson as he walked along a sidewalk. Johnson reached out and covered up the camera's lens with his hand.
"Get out of my face," he said, which was odd because he'd had to stretch out his very long right arm to grab the camera. "I don't care who you are," Johnson said in response to the cameraman identifying himself as being from WCBS-TV in New York, "don't get in my face."
Jerry Laveroni, the Yankees director of security, was with Johnson. "No cameras," he said. Please note, everyone: The Yankees have decreed no cameras on the sidewalks of New York.
"I'm just taking a picture," the photographer said.
"Don't get in my face," Johnson said again, "and don't talk back to me, all right?"
Don't talk back to me? It's no secret that baseball players have an exaggerated sense of self-worth, but "Don't talk back to me"? Who says that to another grown-up, much less a professional in the course of plying his trade? Good grief. Johnson has the worst nickname in sports: "Big Unit." Big tool is more like it.
He issued an apology later in the day, saying, "I hope that everyone will understand that the past few days have been a bit overwhelming and I wish I had handled the situation differently."
The funny thing is, there was no situation to handle. Someone was taking his picture as he walked around in public, which is the kind of thing that happens in New York if you're a very famous person, like a ballplayer for example. It kind of goes with the job. The only "situation" going on was that Johnson got mildly violent and laughably petulant with a photographer.
Johnson was notoriously prickly -- this is a nice way of saying he was a flaming jackass -- when he was playing in the media backwaters of Seattle, Houston and Phoenix. It's going to be fun to have him in New York. He's scheduled to appear on the David Letterman show Tuesday night, where he'll no doubt be charming in a self-effacing, aw-shucks way. Funny how the media isn't so evil when it's offering millions of dollars' worth of free publicity.
I have March 8 in the "Randy Johnson's next public meltdown" pool.
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Randy Moss, continued: The readers write [PERMALINK]
I got a bunch of interesting letters about Randy Moss' pantomimed mooning of Packers fans at Lambeau Field Sunday and related subjects, including the fact that, once again, I typed "David Rivers" when I meant "Philip Rivers." I have no idea why I always type the name of this obscure former Notre Dame basketball player when I mean to type the name of the Chargers' rookie backup quarterback. Please bear with me. I'll probably do it again. I also always type "here" when I mean "hear" and vice versa, even though I know the difference.
But we were talking about Randy Moss.
Dave Smith: I am a Vikings fan. What the media members and talk show callers can't seem to figure out is that Randy Moss is simply a dick. No amount of writing, talking or even visits from three ghosts are going to change the guy's attitude.
What I get a kick out of is all these guys at Fox taking the moral high ground. "That was classless and inappropriate behavior. Now stay tuned for scenes from 'Pimp My Soccer Mom.'" Same goes for ESPN/ABC/Disney. At least the Moss display was spur of the moment and done in the heat of the game. The networks calculate their delivery of filth.
Greg Thrasher: How about reporting the complete story regarding the Green Bay fans and their verbal attacks on Moss. How about giving your readers some background on the type of racist fans in Green Bay. You know, the ones who attacked the Packers for lowering the flag for Reggie White but said nothing when the flag was lowered for Brett Favre's father.
Then again it is easier to join the herd and slam Moss instead of those good ol' Green Bay fans whose verbal attacks on Moss have been relentless and who deserved what Moss gave them.
King replies: Local veterans groups around Green Bay had objected to the lowering of the American flag in honor of White, who was black, after the former Packers great died. Those who objected made a point of saying they weren't objecting to White being honored but to the violation of flag protocol.
"As much as I appreciated Reggie White, not only for his football playing but his character off the field, I don't believe the U.S. flag should be flown at [half-staff] for anyone unless it is authorized by our government," said Bob Sager of the Fox Valley Vietnam Veterans Association. "It sort of denigrates the service of those in Iraq and Afghanistan who have lost their lives."
However, it can't be denied that no such objections were raised over the years when the Packers made the same gesture in honor of white Packers greats such as Ray Nitschke and Don Hutson, not to mention Irv Favre. Packers president Bob Harlan, in announcing that the team would in the future lower a Packers flag to mourn former players and employees, noted that lowering the American flag was a "practice we've followed for years."
I don't know if race played a part in the objection to the flag lowering, and I can't speak to the alleged racism of Packers fans. It is interesting that the objection was raised this time, though.
But here's another thing about those Packers fans that's interesting, especially in light of attitudes like the one expressed by Sports Illustrated's Peter King, who wrote that fake-mooning the customers at Lambeau Field "is like mooning the Mormon Tabernacle Choir."
Really now. Well, never having covered or been to a game in Green Bay, I learned something Monday from Colts coach Tony Dungy, who said he found Moss' pretend mooning "kind of funny." Green Bay fans have a tradition of mooning the visiting team's bus after the game if the Packers win, Dungy said. Real mooning, not pantomime.
That little factoid, which certainly gives some context to Moss' gesture, went absolutely unreported by the TV talking heads Sunday. I can't believe that the Fox announcers and studio crew -- Joe Buck, Cris Collinsworth, Troy Aikman, James Brown, Jimmy Johnson, Howie Long and Terry Bradshaw -- didn't know about this tradition.
Aside from all of them covering games there over the years and just being around people who would have experienced the mooning, Johnson lost a game in Green Bay as coach of the Cowboys in 1989 with Aikman as his quarterback. Aikman lost another game in Green Bay in 1997, and Howie Long's Raiders lost one there in 1993. Surely they have first, uh, hand knowledge of the mooning tradition. How many games do you think Peter King has covered at Lambeau over the years? And yet he wrote about Moss, "After the game, no one could figure out why he'd done it."
If that's true, then I have to lower my opinion of the collective intelligence of the press box.
Jordan Steele: The only drawback to Moss' actions on Sunday was that they provided yet another opportunity for the sports media to avoid talking about the real story of the game: how Brett Favre choked once more. How long will it take for the mainstream media to accept the fact that their loverboy Favre is washed up?
King replies: Favre did have a lousy game, highlighted by four interceptions, which I think should have been five but for a bad call, and that ridiculous, key penalty he took for throwing a pass near the goal line when he was four yards past the line of scrimmage. I don't know that the sports media has avoided this subject, though. I've seen and read a lot about how Favre is considering retirement, but isn't sure he wants to go out on such a lousy game.
Favre is in definite decline and is not the great player he once was, but "washed up" might be a bit strong. He's still probably in the top third of the league. He was tied for 11th in yards per pass this season and fourth in touchdown passes. He was only sacked 12 times -- once fewer than Peyton "Never Gets Sacked" Manning -- and was intercepted 3.1 percent of the time. That's a fairly high figure, but not outrageously so: It's more than Manning but comparable to Trent Green and better than Ben Roethlisberger.
The NFL's nonsensical passer rating had him 10th in the league, as did the far better Football Outsiders rating system. Tenth in the league is nothing special -- it's non-All Pro, Brian Griese territory -- but it's better than what 22 NFL teams have.
But I do agree with another reader who pointed out a different story that I think the media has underplayed, the coaching screwups of perennial postseason underachiever Marty Schottenheimer, coach of the Chargers:
Colin Devenish: I'm surprised a nation of second-guessing scribes has let Schottenheimer off so easy. On the day he was named Coach of the Year, he made two of the bigger bonehead coaching moves I've ever seen.
1) Getting flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct for walking onto the field. About as rookie a move as you can make and from a guy who's been a mediocre coach in the NFL for 20 years. It put the Jets in business first-and-10 at the Chargers 37 and in good position to score, which they did. [That touchdown tied the game 7-7 in the first quarter.]
2) This one was the whopper. Chargers get the ball back in overtime, they're moving it easily, get a first down at the Jets 22 and Schottenheimer decides to bang LaDainian Tomlinson into the line for three straight plays, which in essence is him saying, on a muddy field, with a rookie kicker: a 40-yard kick is a gimme. Not so much.
Why not a little play-action? A swing pass to Tomlinson? A short dump-off to Antonio Gates? They had all the momentum in the world going for them against a tired Jets defense and it was like Schottenheimer decided, "We're close enough. Let's not make it easy. Let's keep the pressure on us." I think this one is just below Mike Martz's Meltdown in the annals of dumb playoff coaching moves.
Joe Haas: Joe Buck getting on his high horse over what I thought was a mild incident was more offensive to me than Moss' action. Who does Joe Buck think he is?
Jeff Alexander: I, too, was taken aback by the vehemence of Joe Buck's reaction, and it occurred to me how strange it is that Eric Barton's cheap shot on Drew Brees is only called "a stupid penalty" while a dumb gesture to the crowd by Moss is worth a sermon from Joe.
Here's my take: A guy makes a late hit to the head of a defenseless quarterback as he is falling down. As the desperation pass left Brees' hand the game -- the QB's season -- was presumably over, so even the most cynical interpretation, that Barton was trying to knock Brees out of the game, makes little sense. Rather, it was a gratuitous, cheap attempt to hurt another athlete to no purpose. But were we treated to shocked admonishment from the commentators?! No, this was seen as a tactical error, not a demonstration of the worst type of sportsmanship and underhanded play. Doesn't this strike you as weird?
Jerry Gale: Here is what is sad about the whole Randy Moss situation. Daunte Culpepper is a great guy and a great competitor. Matt Birk is a great guy and a great competitor and even a graduate of Harvard. They should be getting attention and not Randy Moss. But our society is so screwed up, we give the attention to the stupid kid with an attitude. Just remember that Moss' jersey number  is higher than his I.Q. and you will have a good idea what is wrong with Randy.
Glenna Altizer: Thank you for some much-needed perspective on the Randy Moss mooning. I have been thinking I was the only person who found it funny. America has lost is collective mind over what is broadcast over the airwaves. I expect an FCC investigation any day now. It will be interesting to see how Randy's fine stacks up against Jake Plummer's for his gesture in Denver a few weeks ago.
Note: Plummer, the Broncos quarterback, made an obscene gesture last month to the home crowd, which was booing him after an interception. The league fined him $5,000.
Mike Clarke: Can sports broadcasting pay attention to the actual sport they are covering for five freakin' minutes for a change? I doubt it. I'm tired of taking moral instruction from loudmouthed yahoos.
Previous column: Moss and the wild-card playoffs
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