I didn't know what to do Wednesday night. There wasn't an NBA or NHL playoff game on TV.
It wasn't the first weeknight in the last two months that that had happened. It was the sixth. But it felt like the first. I introduced myself to the people living in my house -- turns out they're my wife and kids -- and, turning to the Internet, discovered there's a baseball season going on.
The biggest baseball stories at midweek are Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen using a homophobic slur to insult Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti, then sort of apologizing, and Roger Clemens returning to pitch in the big leagues.
Clemens makes his first start of the year for the Houston Astros Thursday against the Minnesota Twins, something that'll be more interesting to talk about, I think, after it happens.
Guillen's slur allowed Mariotti, who has long feuded with both Guillen and the Sox, to take the high road in Thursday's column, pointing out along the way that he was the only Chicago writer to take Guillen to task last year when he jokingly equated homosexuals and child molesters.
Guillen's act seems to be wearing a little thin. He's starting to cross the line from refreshingly colorful figure to insulting crank. I think if he were a white American, he'd have been suspended or heavily fined by now for some of his more outrageous statements. In his non-apology apology Wednesday, he fell back on not being a native English speaker, though he admitted that's not an excuse.
In which case, why'd he mention it?
There have been calls for Guillen to be punished this time, but it's not exactly an unmistakable drumbeat.
I'm not a fan of punishing people for things they've said. It doesn't seem to improve anybody's attitude -- was John Rocker transformed after his suspension? -- and it gives certain folks an excuse to get their back up and defend the offending statement in the name of the supposedly noble fight against political correctness.
I'd like to see the White Sox, as Guillen's employer, put some real pressure on him, and I don't mean by docking his pay, or by issuing a weak institutional public-relations apology every time he insults some segment of the customer base.
How about teams using such incidents as an excuse to do something positive for the insulted constituency? If the manager insults gays, the team should do something positive for the gay community. If the club doesn't already host a "gay day at the ballpark" -- the Sox do -- then start one. If it does, do something else. And make the offending bigot participate as part of his ongoing sensitivity training.
Will it transform someone like Ozzie Guillen into an enlightened, sensitive soul? Oh, probably not. But it'll have a better chance of bringing him around than suspending or fining him will, I bet. If you were a millionaire, as most such offenders in sports are, would you rather cough up a five-figure fine that you'll never really feel or spend a whole free afternoon at some event you'd rather skip?
I suppose you could argue I'm still arguing for punishment, which would likely have the same chilling effect on speech and lack of effect on attitude as a fine or a suspension. I'm OK with that.
For one thing, the bigot in question might actually learn something in spite of himself. But at the very least, the people who were offended in the first place actually get something out of the incident, not just a halfhearted apology. Maybe it's not win-win, but tie-win is better than what we have now.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
World Cup scoring update [PERMALINK]
As you settle in to watch the United States play Ghana -- just kicking off as this column hits the Web -- in a must-win and then hope-for-help game Thursday, here are some updated goal-scoring numbers, so you'll be armed with information when the first goal is scored and ESPN flashes a graphic saying that teams that have scored first are 25-5-5 in the 2006 World Cup.
First of all: Teams that have scored first are 25-5-5 in the 2006 World Cup, but you knew that, didn't you?
Second, and I want you to notice how elegant it is that this is the second point: Teams that have scored second have a better record than teams that have scored first. Once again, every team's rallying cry should be, "Let's get out there and score second!"
Teams that have tallied the second goal are 21-3-5.
Here's the record for teams that have scored each goal in World Cup games through Wednesday, with winning percentages presented for comparison, ties counting as one-third of a win:
1st goal: 25-5-5, .762
2nd goal: 21-3-5, .782
3rd goal: 12-3-2, .745
4th goal: 8-0-2, .867
5th goal: 2-1-0, .667
6th goal: 2-0-0, 1.000
Just to reiterate the important discovery that ESPN's first-goal graphic led this column to the other day: If you're hoping to win a World Cup soccer match, scoring a goal is a really good idea. I hope I'm not getting too soccer wonky for you here.
Of the 97 goals that have been scored so far, 71 of them, 73.2 percent, have been scored by the team that won the game. Twelve of them, 12.4 percent of all goals, have been scored by losing teams. The other 14 goals, 14.4 percent, have been scored in tie games.
World Cup teams are averaging 2.43 goals per game, combined, so a team that puts one in the net has scored 82.3 percent of the expected goals for an average offensive team.
Teams that have scored at least one goal are a scorching 30-10-10. Shockingly, teams that have been shut out have yet to win a game: They're 0-20-10.
And there's little prospect of improvement for that bunch.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Who? He did what? [PERMALINK]
Startling headline of the day, courtesy of the ESPN Soccernet World Cup home page:
"Milosevic hangs up his S&M boots."
Turns out striker Savo Milosevic of Serbia and Montenegro has decided to retire from international soccer and won't be on the new Serbia team when the country splits into two.
Oh. Right. I knew that's what it meant.
Previous column: Heat win NBA title
- - - - - - - - - - - -