Hey, what's the big idea?
By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

We've all heard the compliment "Good Idea." As it pertains to sports, anyway. So, who do you think has had a "Good Idea" lately? Would you even know a "Good Idea" if you tripped over one?

Sure you would.

You're up at bat at the company softball game, hitting righty, as is your custom, sacks drunk, outfield way deep, not because of you, but because they don't want to hurt themselves, or because they want to chat up some lissome, leggy lass behind the distant trees. You take your inside-out cut, stay behind the ball like Alfonso, rip it up the right-field line, sure two-run double, only to see the ball curve foul at the last second.

That's having a Good Idea. But, if you prang your hammy or break an ankle by eyeballing the softball's flight while rounding the unanchored first bag at the same time, like you do this for a living or something, while your girl, a know-nothing about sports, yells, "Good idea, honey!" -- Bad Idea.

Real bad.

You're playing pick-up hoop. As you drive soulfully to the hole, you peripherally see an opening for the sweet bounce pass to a wide-open mate at the elbow, his feet together. You flip him a perfect no-looker, only to watch in horror as your dime skids off his T-Rex-like claws.

"Good idea," some thug on the opposing side mutters. But, 'cause you're watching your teammate's misplay of your terrific feed, you also drift, leading with your face under the basket. Bad idea. Get eyeball-raked by the same thug. Going back on D, nose burning, eyes watering, your spazz of a teammate consoles you by saying, "Good idea ... say, you're bleedin', man."

If you've had a Good Idea about sports, you've shown an innate sense of how to make a play on the fly, to be creative, original yet basic, correct. Gretzky on Ice, Barry Sanders on Land, Magic on Wood. If you have a Good Idea, you show a sixth sense we all claim to have, after we've seen the play, when we're on the couch, scarfing grub, gargling suds and cursing Barry Bonds, just for the hell of it.

We all think we have a Good Idea, or know one when we see it.

So who in the name of sports has had a Good Idea lately? Who has had a Bad Idea? Of the latter, far, far too many nominees to count, but we must soldier on.

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To the Augusta National Golf Club: Good Idea

Tiger Woods
Anybody who thinks they're going to beat Tiger at Augusta had better get a new idea.
Lengthening the course. Good Idea. Look, that course is Tiger's chew toy, no matter what. He's the daddy there. Ironic, taking it all around. Tiger knows how and where to hit irons to those perfectly madcap, undulating oceans they laughably call greens. On top of that, once on, Tiger can roll it.

The learned golfing opinions of Sir Charles Barkley notwithstanding, Jack Nicklaus already told us, years ago, back when he played the famous practice round with a very young El Tigre and Arnie at Augusta. Jack snorted and said Tiger would win more green jackets than he and Arnie put together -- and they have 10. People assumed Jack was exaggerating. The only thing is, nobody had ever known Jack to exaggerate before. If you've forgotten any of this happened, I assure you that Brandel Chamblee and all of them haven't.

Lengthening the course actually adds to Tiger's Masters legend. No ping (small p) hitters need apply; Scott Hoch had his shot. Talk about The Masters as an exclusive club, it's exclusive in the true sense now -- only 10 or so of the best deep-to-real-deep hitters will have a shot to win, most years. Also, the 18-under Tiger threw up there in 1997 is the tournament record until the return of Halley's Comet, which might be renamed Tail of the Tiger by then. 10-to-1 Tiger designs first course on the moon.

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To Ernie Els and Vijay Singh at The Masters: Bad Idea

Ernie driving it down the left side near trouble, going for it from jail on the par-5 13th, taking a snowman for his trouble, was bad enough. But Vijay, taking a 9 on the 15th, the easiest hole on the track? That's not just a Bad Idea. That's un-live-downable.

Vijay Singh
How bad was Vijay Singh's idea at No. 15? Bad enough for a quadruple-bogey.
(Phil Mickelson had a Good Idea at No. 4 on Sunday. That pin might as well have been on a pool table. Still, Phil went for it. If he lands it five feet shorter, that's three birdies in the first four holes, and he's looking at 69, 10-under at least. As it was, the ball went a little long, and Sidewinder took bogey. Phil will get his. Against El Tigre, the only way is to be long, creative ... have a Good Idea.)

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To Carl Jackson, Masters caddy: Good Idea

Carl caddied for Ben Crenshaw in 2002. Ben didn't make the cut this year. Carl also caddied for Ben in 1995, when Crenshaw had that emotional victory after his mentor, Harvey Penick, died. That's Carl Jackson you can see on the videotape, cradling Crenshaw's pipe-stem arms in his large hands, as Crenshaw breaks down crying after the last putt.

Carl also caddied for Gary Player, when he finished second in 1971 while playing under death threats. Somebody didn't want to see a "furiner" win the old Masters. Player's first assigned caddy bailed when he got death threats, too.

Carl doesn't make the Good Idea list for helping Player, or for holding up that day, even though the Secret Service followed them all day. Carl makes it for saying this: "I try not to make enemies out of rich folk." Good Idea, Carl.

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To Sir Charles, noted golf architectural/social critic: Bad Idea

Maybe Charles was just trying to stir the pot, but his Chicken Little approach to Hidden Racism damages the people who are actually suffering from it.

Note to Chuck: If Tiger Woods is suffering, give me some of that.

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To Ugie Urbina, short reliever, Boston Red Sox: Good Idea

Ugueth Urbina
Ugueth Urbina, left, needs to rely on other ideas now that he's lost his fastball.
A short time ago, Ugie Urbina was the most feared reliever in ball, except Mariano. There were guys, like Trev Hoffman and Nen, who could get you out; Ugie would flat embarrass you, blow up your hands, break your bats, shame you. But luckily for the rest of the National League, he was in Montreal, and if he came on to save a game, it was only the one game in three Montreal might salvage, so big deal. Ugie ... everybody wanted him, once. He damaged his arm in time, putting all that torque on it, overthrowing, because he liked stinging hands, breaking bats. Bad idea? Not back then.

But he had a Good Idea in saving six games for the Red Sox this year, in spite of looking eminently hittable. His best Good Idea came in last Monday's game with the Yanks at the Fens. John Vander Wal up, two away, runners at sec and third, one-run Sox lead. Ugie's 2-2 in the dirt. The 3-2 looked like a slide-screw-slingball, Lord-please-get-me-out-of-this-mess prayer. Caught a corner, all right. Caught a corner of the batter's box, is what. Pitch had no relation to the plate whatsoever.

But since it started out coming near the plate when it left Ugie's hand, and since Sox fans were at full throat, the ump's hero-to-wuss ratio was chemically altered. Hey, it happens, a good pitcher knows you can get an ump into a rhythm just as well as you can can get a hitter out of one -- easier, even. Ump punched Vander Wal out on a pitch that wasn't close. It was a ball, but it got an out, so it was a Good Idea for Ugie.

Ugie will need to have some more of those. Soon.

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To the 2002 Cincinnati Reds: Bad Idea

Letting Pokey go. As Pirates have learned, the Pokester can pick it.

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To the 2002 Cleveland Indians: Good Idea

This Good Idea shout-out award goes to GM Mark Shapiro, who shipped off long-time run producers Gonzo, Robby, Lofton to save cheese. This threatened to make him as popular in Cleveland as Art Modell. Nobody wants to preside over a good-franchise-gone-bad story, but sometimes execs have to take them to get in, which does not endear them to a fan base.

Bartolo Colon
With Bartolo Colon and their young pitchers, the Indians are resisting the idea of rebuilding.
Ask the people in Pittsburgh about one Cam Bonifay, who is not a bad guy, and a decent baseball man, but no less discharged of his duties. The Pirates are doing OK now, a year down the road, with some of his guys.

The Indians, believe it or not, have one of the most loyal and far-flung national fan bases going. Once I saw a game at the Oakland Coliseum where the displaced Indians' fans, banging drums like they do in "Major League," outnumbered the A's Dockers-backers.

Shapiro went forward, no doubt thinking of his own Good Idea, having and relying on starting pitching, and mostly young pitching, at that. Colon (somebody wrap him in cotton, and keep him away from the pastry cart), Big Cat Sabathia (ditto), Chuck (Mr. Tawny) Finley, Ryan (Babe Ruth) Drese. Kept or improved the D, with Omar, Fryman, EDiaz (are all the really good defensive catchers Latino now?), Uncle Miltie Bradley in center. They'll catch hell keeping White Sox and Twinks at bay, but Good Idea anyway.

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To the 2002 Texas Rangers' pitching staff: Bad Idea

Do they pour gas on any dying ember of a rally by the opposition, or what? They are the C-4 of starting staffs, the Molotov Cocktails of middle relief, the Nitroglycerins of closers. They can't hurl, but they make the Rangers' fans and GM John Hart want to. Hart left the Indians for this? So far, Bad Idea. Key here being the phrase, "so far."

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To Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner: Good Idea

Trade worked out, didn't it? Took the Mavs from the upper tank of NBA Western Conference contenders to the biggest threat to the Lakers. I'm not saying they'll beat the Lakers. I'm saying, I don't know. Six months ago, you knew. Everybody knew.

Not now. Or did you see Nicky Van X dropping 27 on the Kings at Arco the other night as the Mavs toasted those 60-win King-sized buns? Raef LaFrentz, 7 feet, double-digit boards, 3s from deep? Avery Johnson, schooling Nashie-poo on how to get a ring? Nash/Nicky in the same backcourt -- Derek Fisher will have to guard one of them, and I'm telling you now, that ain't gonna work. Shaq and Kobe might prevail, if they get past 'Sheed and them, but they are going to have to put in overtime to do it.

On top of that, Cuban even took one (actually, two) for the other teams, took Juwan Howard's monster contract off Jordan Wizards' hands, just to be a good guy, then slid Juwan over to the Nuggets, but took Abdul-Wahad's over-priced sticker off Kiki Vandeweghe's brow. Trade turned Mavs into the 21st century version of '80s Celtics.

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To Jared Jeffries, young hooper, Bloomington, Indiana: Bad Idea

Jared Jeffries
Jared Jeffries entering the NBA draft is a bad idea ... very bad.
Yo, Jazzy Jeff: Kept saying Bad Idea to myself during recent NCAA title game in ATL when Maryland won, sort of by default over baby-faced IU. Yes, Jeff, you are 6-10, can handle, somewhat, play facing, somewhat, shoot from deep, somewhat ... if you get time to load up, and don't get put in against grown men, and the bombs aren't going off around you, and you aren't on your fourth game in five nights, in some dark, dank Batman-like Gotham you've never been before, all while thinking about the new babe, not knowing she was once the common-law wife of one Charles Oakley. This confluence of circumstances will sober a man up, and wobble his j.

Jeffries was shown up by Lonny Baxter. You can rightly imagine what the Wallace boys, Ben and Rasheed, or the Davis boys, Dale and Antonio, or DC or Swamp Fox Marion might do to him.

Still, Jeffries is a smart, likeable kid, who is being led -- not necessarily astray, just led. Oh, well. Live and learn. Jeff happened to cost himself some money, because he played like what he is, unfinished talent, in his last moment on a national stage, at least as an "amateur." If he came back for one more year, matured, tracked, then he's either the No. 1 or 2 pick in next year's draft.

Is his coming out really a Bad Idea? Depends on who takes him. If Pacers or Wiz get him, he's a hoop savant, and I apologize. But for now, all I remember is that NCAA title game, and saying, over and over, "Bad Idea ... Bad Idea, kid."

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To NFL owners: Good Idea

With everything happening this weekend from the start of the NBA and NHL playoffs to the early touts and rollout for the Kentucky Derby, there is no question what most people are interested in:

The NFL draft.

NFL draft is not only a Good Idea, it's a near-genius idea. You're a good six months out from your regular season, and yet all people can talk about is what kind of haul their favorite team will make.

Plus, there's no competition for the league. It gives the illusion of a grand carnivale of free enterprise -- actually, it's a pure, ballyhooed, wonder-working monopoly. Why do you think a new league comes along every few years? Rich guys want in, is why.

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Donte Stallworth
Donte Stallworth wasn't even the best receiver on Tennessee's roster.
To NFL teams believing Donte Stallworth actually ran a 4.20 40, and thus believing he has more of an upside than fellow Tennessee Volunteers wide receiver prospect Kelley Washington: Bad Idea

Drafting is an exact science these days, and NFL teams know more about the psychological profile of players than we do, unless we are named Mel Kiper Jr., speaking of freaking helmets. But unless Kelley Washington is some kind of nut case (see Terry Glenn), there is no way he won't be a more versatile and effective NFL receiver than Donté Stallworth, despite the swifter receiver's classy name.

If you could have all great wides named Stallworth or Washington in their primes -- John Stallworth, 49er Gene Washington, Viking Gene Washington -- you could even satisfy Steve Spurrier's pass-happy gluttony. And if Spurrier had these two rookies to go with his own ex-Gators Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell ... well, he doesn't have them, so there's no sense speculating.

He doesn't have them yet, at least.

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To Arthur Ashe the tennis player (posthumous): Good Idea

At the Wimbledon finals in 1975, Arthur Ashe was considered over the hill. The No. 1 in the world by far was Jimmy Connors. Had more power, hit harder.

Ashe refused to play power against power, gave Connors nothing to feed off, sliced his serves wide, hit drop shots, generally out-managed, out-thought Connors, won. Hall of Fame Good idea. Man, I miss Arthur Ashe the tennis player.

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To anyone forgetting Arthur Ashe or Dick Schaap: Bad idea

I really miss Arthur Ashe and Dick Schaap, as pros, and as men.

Look around. Don't you?

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."



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