Sampling of columns of note from the past week
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
TIM KAWAKAMI, San Jose Mercury News, on 49ERS’ BEHAVIOR WOES:
According to an NFL source, Chris Culliver was with Aldon Smith in the Southwest terminal on Sunday, same flight, but was not involved in any of the trouble. Culliver is not presumed to have been spending time with Smith in LA. It’s possible Culliver just happened to be there and was flying back on same flight.
But the source did allow that it is a wild convergence that the two 49ers players currently under felony charges were together when Smith was detained in another potentially very serious incident. Just that kind of offseason.
Right to the point: My view, after talking to several sources involved with the 49ers’ decision-making, is that troubled linebacker Aldon Smith hasn’t only lost the benefit of the doubt, he probably won’t play for the 49ers in 2014.
That doesn’t mean the 49ers will release him any time soon — remember, he almost certainly will face NFL punishment, it probably won’t be lenient, and the 49ers will probably wait through the legal and NFL processes before making any final conclusion.
They also are on the hook for a guaranteed $3 million-plus to Smith and have time to see how this plays out before dumping him and throwing away the money (and letting him have the money for nothing, by the way).
But there is a weariness and frustration over Smith’s behavior that I’ve never heard involving any recent 49ers player. Until this week.
BILL PLASCHKE, Los Angeles Times, on DODGERS’ YASIEL PUIG:
LOS ANGELES — Seemingly from the moment Cuban refugee Yasiel Puig showed up at Dodger Stadium out of nowhere, arriving last June unwilling to discuss his unknown background, the talk behind the batting cages has been rife with unprintable rumors.
There were rumors Puig was smuggled out of Cuba by members of a Mexican drug cartel. There were rumors he still owed the smugglers money, and that his life could be in jeopardy. There was talk about Puig being essentially owned by a Miami businessman with a criminal record who hired those smugglers in exchange for 20 percent of the ballplayer’s future earnings.
Who knew that all those rumors could actually be true? According to a richly researched and chillingly written story by Jesse Katz in the May issue of Los Angeles Magazine, Puig’s journey to Los Angeles was even more harrowing than realized, and continues to be more frightening than imagined.
In an account featuring on-the-record interviews and court records, Katz details how, in June 2012, Puig was smuggled to Mexico by members of the Los Zetas Mexican drug cartel, his trip funded by a Miami air-conditioning repairman named Raul Pacheco who was on probation for attempted burglary. The smugglers held Puig in a seedy Mexican hotel for more than two weeks while attempting to extract increased payments from Pacheco. Eventually Puig was taken from the hotel by a gang organized by Pacheco and soon thereafter joined the Los Angeles Dodgers by signing a $42 million contract.
The stunning timeline doesn’t even scratch the surface of a compelling tale that recounts Puig’s humble childhood in a tiny rural village, how he was dropped from his Cuban league team for disciplinary reasons, reports of his failed defections, and accusations that he turned in potential defectors to the Cuban government while planning his own escape.
MIKE BIANCHI, Orlando Sentinel, on THE MASTERS EFFECT:
Bubba lives in Tiger’s old house.
Bubba parks in Tiger’s old spot.
Bubba practices at Tiger’s old course.
And now Bubba is winning the old green jackets that Tiger used to win all those years ago.
The question is can Bubba carry Tiger’s flickering old torch and become the face of golf?
Bubba Watson, the man who bought and moved into Tiger Woods’ old house in Isleworth and has won two of the three Masters he’s played in since, is the tour’s best hope of at least helping professional golf weather the nuclear winter of a potential Tiger-less tour. No, it won’t happen just because Bubba has won a couple of Masters, but it would and could happen if he could ever harness his incredible natural ability, become more consistent and start overpowering other courses the way he does Augusta National.
First things first: If we are indeed entering the post-Tiger Woods era in professional golf then the sport is obviously in trouble. The good ol’ boys at Augusta National may have tried to Tiger-proof their course at one time, but they surely couldn’t Tiger-proof the TV ratings last week when Tiger and his aching back skipped the Masters for the first time in two decades.
Many of the golf purists scoffed at me last week when I predicted that Masters ratings would be down at least 25 percent without Tiger in the field. “Bianchi, you need to stick to football and basketball because obviously you know nothing about golf,” one reader wrote. “People watch the Masters because of the beauty of Augusta National and the tradition of the tournament, not because of Tiger Woods.”
PETER SCHMUCK, The Baltimore Sun, on MICHAEL PHELPS:
BALTIMORE — We should all be so fortunate to retire at age 27 and embark on an international quest to experience a world full of fun and privilege, but Michael Phelps, predictably, has come to realize that living the good life isn’t going to be enough to keep him entertained.
That’s because there’s a reason he spent all those years getting up in the dark to swim all those endless laps. There’s a reason he’s the greatest swimmer in history and the most decorated Olympian of all time. And it is not because he was driven toward wealth and fame and all the perks that come with being a jet-set athlete.
He certainly used all that as the carrot on the stick as he was grinding through his last Olympic cycle. He wanted to play golf and go to Las Vegas and sit down with the sharks at the World Series of Poker. Who wouldn’t?
Well, now he’s played a ton of golf and figured out he’s not going to make it to the Masters. He has seen his share of river cards in Texas hold ‘em. He is set for life with a number of endorsement deals. He’s got his hometown aquatic complex and is in a good place with his personal life.
And it’s not enough.
Maybe this is presumptuous, but here goes, anyway: Phelps has gotten the itch to swim again for some very basic reasons — first and foremost, the fact that he is a fierce competitor who has spent much of his life competing at the highest level. He traded all those brutal mornings in the pool for the kind of adrenaline rush that the average human cannot even imagine. If he didn’t miss that, he wouldn’t be superhuman.
It was clear during an appearance at the FINA World Aquatics Championships in Barcelona, Spain, last July that Phelps already missed the camaraderie and competition, which prompted speculation that he would not stay retired for long. And who among us would want to walk away from the sheer coolness of being Michael Phelps.
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