MANZIEL = JACKASS, NOT REBEL

Cleveland rookie QB Johnny Manziel gave the finger to the Washington bench during preseason action Monday night. Real cute.

Anyone who thinks that’s cool – or even remotely acceptable – is a bigger jerk than Johnny Football. And that takes some doing.

It’s rare when someone comes along who inspires instant and absolute disdain on my part. Manziel does.

I like a rebel. I consider myself a rebel. Manziel isn’t a rebel. He’s just a jackass.

Ex-NFL QB Boomer Esiason predicts a dire result if Cleveland decides to start Manziel Week 1 at Pittsburgh.

“Manziel will get his [butt] kicked if he starts vs. the Steelers,” Esiason said. “He is not even remotely close to being ready. If he opened as the starting quarterback in Pittsburgh in Week 1, he would get his [butt] kicked. And his [butt] would be driven into the ground. Other teams hate this guy. Hate him.”

Esiason sure does talk about Manziel’s [butt] a lot.

Esiason continued: “Those linebackers for the Pittsburgh Steelers are just praying to God that [Manziel] plays in Week 1. And if I were [Browns head coach] Mike Pettine, I would have to have my head examined to put that kid on the field. He is not even close to being ready.”

Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has a 17-2 record against rookie QBs. It hard to imagine an arrogant know-it-all like Manziel beating LeBeau. It takes a bit more intelligence and humility than Manziel happens to possess.

NO MORNEAU = MISTAKE

The Pirates’ biggest mistake since last season is not retaining 1B Justin Morneau.

The Pirates’ first-base situation is DIRE. Morneau, who signed with Colorado, is second in the National League in hitting at .324. He’s hitting .319 on the road, so Denver’s altitude isn’t doing all the work. He also has 65 RBI, 11th-most in the NL.

Morneau’s contract is a BARGAIN: $12.5 million over two years. Some say Morneau hated Pittsburgh and didn’t want to stay.

So offer him $8m per year. That’s still cheap. But for that bump, I bet Morneau would join the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce.

Sooner or later, if the Pirates really want to win, they have to overpay some people.

C Russell Martin is in the final year of his deal. He reportedly wants $40m over four years. That’s high. But he’ll be the No. 1 free-agent catcher on the market. That’s what Martin will get. The Pirates need him. He’s their backbone.

Tony Sanchez will catch if Martin leaves. Sanchez is a minor-leaguer. Period.

Good teams overpay selected guys in pursuit of winning. That’s just how baseball is. The Pirates aren’t going to change that.

ESPN GETS WORSE AND WORSE

ESPN is a bloated joke. Here’s two examples culled from just 30 minutes of watching:

*The cause of Andrew McCutchen’s injury was misidentified. It was credited to the HBP Aug. 2 at Arizona, not strain caused by swinging the bat in the subsequent game.

*Jemele Hill had this to say about the Ray Rice incident: “We don’t know what happened in that elevator.” Right, because the possibility exists that Mrs. Ray Rice transformed into a super ninja while out of public view and it was everything Mr. Ray Rice could do to fend off serious bodily harm.

ESPN just stinks. There’s zero quality control. ESPN thinks everything it says/does is right because it’s ESPN. Absolute power corrupting absolutely.

*Since we’re on the topic of media, Deadspin.com takes frequent shots at sports talk radio, likening it to a “dumpster fire.”

Guilty as charged. But let’s not pretend Deadspin.com doesn’t drink from the same cesspool.

I like Deadspin.com. I liked it a lot better when it was in on its own joke.

For every news story it breaks, Deadspin.com posts thousands of items designed to embarrass and titillate, if I may paraphrase Buzz Bissinger. There’s a place for that. But the New York Times, Deadspin.com ain’t.

POLANCO AND PEDRO

Some Pirates fans complain because RF Gregory Polanco is hitting just .246 after going 0/5 yesterday. He’s 12/74 since June 26.

That’s OK. Slumps happen. Let Polanco play through it.

Travis Snider is not a better option. Would you put Josh Harrison in RF full-time? I know: Trade for Marlon Byrd.

The Pirates shouldn’t do to Polanco what they’re doing to 3B Pedro Alvarez.

Alvarez was the National League HR king last season. His power is down. Pedro is having trouble throwing the ball. He wears his hat funny. EARS OUT!

But for the Pirates to maximize what they do, Alvarez needs to get going.

So far this month, here’s how Manager Clint Hurdle has tried to jump-start Alvarez:

*By batting Alvarez seventh in 11 out of 15 starts. He hit fifth once, sixth three times.

*By not letting Alvarez finish seven of those 15 starts. He got pinch-hit for twice, subbed out on 2-for-1 switches three times and just plain substituted twice.

Is that putting Alvarez in a position to succeed? Is Alvarez being given confidence? Or is his psyche being undermined?

You can’t baby Alvarez, you’d probably say. He’s hurting the team. Everybody needs micromanaged.

Well, not everybody is being micromanaged. 1B Ike Davis regularly bats ahead of Alvarez, and Davis’ statistics are clearly worse.

If the goal is to get Alvarez back to where he was last season, this isn’t working and won’t work. I have rarely seen worse management of a player who deserves better. Alvarez should play third and bat sixth EVERY DAY.

IN WITH A CHANCE

The Pirates just finished a disastrous 2-5 road trip to St. Louis and Cincinnati. NOT GOOD.

Andrew McCutchen’s game-tying and game-winning HRs at Cincinnati Saturday might have saved the Pirates’ season in the psychological sense. Great throw by Gregory Polanco, too. Great tag by Russell Martin.

The Pirates’ “competition” in the NL Central might be saving their season in the practical sense. Despite losing five of seven to division rivals, the Pirates are just 3.5 games out of first place.

St. Louis C Yadier Molina may be out for the season with a thumb injury. P Jaime Garcia will miss the rest of the campaign. P Michael Wacha is on the DL.

Cincinnati 1B Joey Votto and 2B Brandon Phillips are both disabled.

First-place Milwaukee has lost nine of 11.

The opportunity is there. Should the Pirates make a big acquisition? No deal would offer any guarantees.

San Diego closer Huston Street is available. Getting Street would move Mark Melancon and Tony Watson up an inning. The bullpen would achieve a familiar balance.

Some say Street isn’t the answer.

OK, but when do you ask the question? When do you go for it? It’s not long before free agency chips away at the Pirates’ current nucleus. When does the future arrive?

YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR

Yinzers on Twitter are up in arms because Penguins captain Sidney Crosby concealed a wrist injury in the wake of his disappointing playoff performance.

Why do you need to know?

I give Crosby credit for not making an alibi. He’s having arthroscopic surgery on the afflicted wrist. It’s not said to be serious.

But Yinzers are gonna yinz. One twit on Twitter believes he has a right to know based on his status as a consumer. He buys tickets and merch, by God.

That’s just dumb.

When you purchase a ticket, you own “the right” to see that game. When you purchase a jersey, you own that jersey. You are not entitled to a constant flow of truthful information from the parent corporation.

You get what you pay for. And only what you pay for.

This same dolt on Twitter also said, “My opinion matters as much as yours.” That phrase defines how Twitter has warped the self-importance of insignificant jerks.

If Crosby had discussed his injury after the playoffs, he would have been accused of masking his poor showing with an excuse.

With the stupid, Crosby just couldn’t win. So he said nothing. I got no problem.

NOT GOOD ENOUGH

The U.S. is out of the World Cup. They went 1-1-1 in group play, then lost 2-1 to Belgium in the round of 16.

That’s just not good enough.

The U.S. played four games at the World Cup, and won just one. They got badly outplayed by Belgium, and only the heroics of goalkeeper Tim Howard (16 saves) kept the score from being humiliating.

It was not a “good try.” It was a debacle.

The loss to Belgium 1s validation that U.S. soccer is not where it needs to be. The U.S. couldn’t even possess the ball. All those MLS players just can’t raise their skill level as needed.

Trying hard can only accomplish so much in soccer. YOU NEED THE BALL. The U.S. were lucky to take Belgium to extra time. Despite Howard’s heroics, Belgium scoring (and winning) always seemed inevitable.

The U.S. still could have stolen victory.

Chris Wondolowski shanked a point-blank chance at the end of regulation. Clint Dempsey should have tied the score near the end of extra time. Those misses and Howard’s excellence enable U.S. soccer patriots to label the game a close call.

It wasn’t. But what the public thinks doesn’t matter. Anyway, the U.S. public won’t even be thinking about soccer again until 2018.

FLUKE, OR THE REAL DEAL?

Josh Harrison had a monster game Saturday: 2-4, a home run and three RBI. Pirates win, 5-3. He had the game-winning RBI yesterday. Bucs win, 2-1.

Harrison is hitting .306 on the season. His OPS is .825. There’s no disputing that Harrison is performing at a high level.

There’s also no disputing that we’re talking about a small sample. Harrison, 26, has never been a major-league regular.

If the Pirates trade Pedro Alvarez and install Harrison at 3B, it won’t be because Harrison is a permanent fit. It will be because Alvarez is struggling and the Pirates know they can’t keep Alvarez long-term anyway. Harrison just provides PR-friendly depth to the reasoning.

Harrison may turn out to be the answer.

Or, he may turn out to be Mike McKenry. A torrid stretch, then Harrison flashes back into the pan.

Pirates fans should root for Harrison because he’s the only alternative, soon to become the only choice.

But trusting an otherwise unproven talent based on a short hot streak doesn’t often turn out good.

DESJARDINS IN, GRILLI OUT?

Refreshing sports notes make the perfect late-night snack. YEE-HAW!

*Willie Desjardins, the coach of the AHL champion Texas Stars, has not had a face-to-face interview with the Penguins. It would be very unusual if Desjardins got named Penguins head coach before that happened.

*GM Jim Rutherford said on my program that the Penguins’ new coach must have a presence in the dressing room. Would a minor-league coach bring that presence?

*Perhaps ex-Penguin Rick Tocchet will provide that presence. Tocchet seems likely to be associate head coach no matter who is hired to be head coach.

*Desjardins’ boosters point out that he has won wherever he’s coached. Great. Would a legit candidate for a high-profile coaching job like this one be somebody with losing smeared all over his resume?

*Coaching isn’t just about resume. It’s about philosophy, and about fit. There will be no guarantees, good or bad, no matter who gets the job.

*If Desjardins signs a two-year contract, those “Mike Babcock to the Penguins in 2015-16″ rumors won’t go away. Eating a contract for one season is no problem.

*Jason Grilli gave up two ninth-inning rockets in his last two outings. He’s faced 23 straight batters without a strikeout. He’s serving up grapefruits. How can Manager Clint Hurdle possibly keep using Grilli as the closer? But I bet he does. Grilli should have to add a new chapter to his book: DFA. He’s done.

*Banjo-hitting Jordy Mercer pinch-hit for Pedro Alvarez in the eighth inning. Hurdle was playing righty-lefty. Mercer is hitting .286 against left-handed pitchers, Alvarez .213. Was it worth kicking Alvarez when he’s down to try utilizing that slight edge? Alvarez didn’t think about the splits when he got yanked. He had to be embarrassed. PS: Mercer flew out.

*The Pirates are setting up the context to trade Alvarez. They are masters of fan psychology.

FOUR RINGS: HIS LIFE’S WORK

Chuck Noll never won NFL Coach of the Year.

How the FRIG did that happen?

Noll was the greatest football coach ever, and had four rings that proved it. Noll is the only coach to win four Super Bowls and will probably remain so.

Vince Lombardi was a caricature. Bill Walsh was a technician. Tom Landry was a hat. Noll was coach of the most ruthlessly efficient team in football history.

There was nothing sexy about the Steelers of the ’70s. They just kicked your ass. Time after time. Again and again. It wasn’t pretty. It just happened. There wasn’t much you could do about it.

Noll made that happen. That was Noll.

It’s hard to believe there’s no statue of Noll adjacent to Heinz Field. There should have been one outside Three Rivers Stadium.

But a statue would embarrass Noll. Too individual.

Noll’s passion was how the working parts came together. Proper tribute to that can’t be sculpted.

If “experts” feel another coach was better, fine. It can’t be proven. Noll provided a fistful of evidence. Anything else is mere debate.

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