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Mistakes were made? No, a sports columnist owns up in the active voice

On Albert Pujols, the Cubs, Joakim Noah, Tiger Woods and much, much more!

Albert Pujols became a free agent after the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011. The Cubs seemed like a good fit for him. He ended up with the Angels.
Albert Pujols became a free agent after the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011. The Cubs seemed like a good fit for him. He ended up with the Angels.
Ed Szczepanski/Getty Images

Seeing as how our world is currently devoid of . . . what’s the word I’m looking for . . . it’ll come to me . . . oh, yes, sports, it occurs to me that this might be a good time to confess my column sins.

It occurs to me mostly because it occurred to reader Ed, who suggested the idea to me. Ed thought it might be ‘‘interesting’’ if I wrote about those times I was ‘‘too critical or too easy on a team or player.’’

His ‘‘interesting’’ is my ‘‘painful,’’ but it’s OK. I’m here for you during this dry period for sports, when every one of us is trying to shake drops out of a dusty water bottle. So mistakes, inane thoughts, unfair criticisms, poor word choice and strained logic from yours truly? Oh, yes. All that and more.

I remember sitting in Theo Epstein’s spring-training office early in his days as the Cubs’ president. He was explaining to me why the answer to the franchise’s historic problems was in starting over, not in throwing money at big-name free agents.

‘‘You wouldn’t be referring to my Albert Pujols column from December, would you?’’ I said.

He smiled at the poor, clearly addled soul in front of him.

Here’s what I had written in a column campaigning for the Cubs to sign Pujols, who was the biggest free agent on the market after the 2011 season:

Pujols is the only player in baseball history to have at least 30 home runs, 100 RBI and a .300 batting average in 10 consecutive seasons. But because he dipped a bit in 2011 — while helping the Cardinals win a World Series — we’re supposed to believe the inevitable slide has begun. Me? I’ll go with those first 10 seasons rather than last season’s anomaly, which included a wrist injury. There are plenty of ballplayers who would sell their souls to have that anomaly of a season.

History has not been kind to me or to Pujols. Since signing a 10-year, $254 million contract with the Angels at 31, he hasn’t been close to the player he was with the Cardinals. And, as we all know, history adores Epstein, who took the Cubs from long-running national punch line to 2016 World Series champions.

There are whole columns I would like back, lines I wish I never had written and words I can’t get struck from the record.

Under the 2007 headline ‘‘You must be Joakim,’’ I wrote that the Bulls would regret taking Florida’s Joakim Noah with the ninth overall pick in the draft. I was so sure that Noah would be a bust, I vowed to drizzle salsa on the column and eat it if he ever became a success. Drizzle and eat I eventually did — in front of Noah, who would go on to be the 2013-14 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. It wasn’t as bad as you think. Could have used some cilantro.

Here’s the first paragraph from a 2015 beauty I wrote about a certain physically beat-up golfer:

Tiger Woods is dead. Well, not dead dead. Not dead-as-a-club-head dead. But the grandest idea of him, the idea of a man who can amaze on a golf course at any time, has died.

Weird. There was Lazarus at the 2019 Masters, raising his very-much-alive arms in victory.

Speaking of dead, I wrote that the Blues had no chance against the mighty Blackhawks in Game 7 of a first-round playoff series in 2016. As it turned out, the Blues made the most of their no chance, winning 3-2 and advancing. The citizens of St. Louis seemed to rise in one long stream of “Hahahahahahahaha!’’

On Facebook, a Hawks fan asked me every day for at least a month to own up to the mistake. I already had in print, but he would not be appeased. I unfriended him for the sin of having no sense of humor. That felt good. Everything else, not so much.

There have been times I’ve been reluctant to admit mistakes. Mea culpa? Youra culpa, pal.

I got abused last year for wondering in print whether the Bears were a better team with Chase Daniel than with Mitch Trubisky. The day before, Daniel had helped the Bears beat the Vikings in relief of an injured Trubisky. You can hear the unsubtle cry for a regime change in my writing:

One game is all it took to remind us that Daniel is so much more confident with the ball in his hands than Trubisky is. His throws are more accurate. He sees the field better. He looks at more than one receiver when he’s going through his progressions. The offense works better with him on the field.

Today’s wiser Rick would have counseled restraint to September Rick, something along the lines of, ‘‘Easy there, cowboy.’’ That Rick wouldn’t have listened. I put up a brave defense for quite a while, but I had gone too far. Trubisky might not be very good, but he’s better than a guy who hasn’t won a starting job in 10 NFL seasons. A perfect example of a poorly aimed opinion. Mitch can’t change what he is, but Bears general manager Ryan Pace should have seen his shortcomings. Pace is the target.

Rarely do readers tell me I’ve been too easy on someone. Often they tell me I’m an idiot. Sometimes they’re right.

On March 13, I wrote:

My thoroughly uneducated guess is that we’re overreacting to the coronavirus.

How about we make that one our little secret?