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Thursday, November 20, 2008

NFL clears 'Pacman' Jones to return to the Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones has been cleared to return to the team Monday, but won’t play in a game for another two weeks, owner Jerry Jones said this afternoon.

“I think he has done what he has been asked to do,” Jerry Jones said after a news conference in Arlington to announce the new Cowboys stadium as host site for the 2014 NCAA Men’s Final Four. “If anybody understands the kinds of things you deal with to get better, it’s probably going to be an ongoing thing. I do know that he has a good sense of where he is and how he got there.”

However, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league has “nothing to report on it at this time.”

Pacman Jones, who will return to practice Monday, will be eligible to play on Dec. 7 when the Cowboys play at Pittsburgh, Jerry Jones said.

“I have been working this week on the procedure of having him back. It’s just a matter of the commissioner’s decision and the commissioner has made his decision,” Jerry Jones said. “He [Pacman] will be at our complex this week under some circumstances, but he won’t be practicing or conditioning with the team the next two or three days.”

Pacman Jones was suspended by commissioner Roger Goodell on Oct. 14 for at least four games after another violation of the league’s personal conduct policy. Goodell said at the time that he would review Adam Jones' case after the Washington game on Nov. 16.

After review, Goodell has essentially tacked on two more games to the suspension, making it a total of six games. Jerry Jones said there is still some conjecture about what Adam Jones will be allowed to do this week before returning to practice on Monday. However, he said Adam Jones will continue to be on a short leash as far as the league is concerned. The Cowboys are just hoping he truly gets it this time.

The latest suspension came a week after he was involved in an alcohol-related altercation with one of his bodyguards at the Joule Hotel in Dallas. The incident came six weeks after he was reinstated from a 17-month suspension for repeated violations of the NFL's personal conduct policy.

Jerry Jones also said that Pacman Jones, who completed an alcohol rehabilitation program in Boston last week, will no longer have the services of the club’s bodyguards.

"I have had a bite of that," Jerry Jones said. "My own man [let me down]. I am going to try something different."

Jerry Jones said he understands the risk the team is taking by bringing Pacman Jones back and chancing him letting them down again. He said he is impressed by how Pacman Jones handled his recent suspension. But he said that "he's got a long way to go before he has clear sailing."

Still Jones said it's on Pacman Jones to turn his life around this time and keep it that way.

"You can draw your own conclusion," Jerry Jones said. "But the answer is absolutely."

Some of Pacman Jones’ teammates were already anticipating his return.

“I support Pac. I talked to him on the phone frequently,” nose tackle Tank Johnson said. “I talked to him actually after the game Sunday. He’s just champing at the bit to get back and come back and be successful. … Our team hopes he does [return]. He knows we’re all with him and we’re never going to turn our back on him. As soon as he gets back, it will be business as usual. I can’t wait to have 21 next to me in the locker.”

Quarterback Tony Romo emphasized what Jones has done on the field.

"When he was here he worked very hard and he helped us,” Romo said. “He’s a good football player and I don’t see why you wouldn’t welcome a guy back that works hard on the practice field."

New Yankee Swisher hopes to find a home at first

Nick Swisher has been a first baseman for 31 percent of his career in the majors. He has spent 29 percent of his time in right field, 22 percent in center and 18 percent in left.

The juggling act was frenetic with the Chicago White Sox last season. Swisher started most of his games in the outfield but also played 56 games at first. He played more than one position in the same game 17 times.

One of the reasons the Yankees acquired Swisher from the White Sox last week was for his versatility. But during a conference call with reporters yesterday, he sounded wistful when asked about the idea of focusing on one position.

"It would be fun to see what that would be like," he said.

He could get that chance. General manager Brian Cashman said last week that the Yankees believe Swisher can replace Jason Giambi at first base and that the winter would be devoted to acquiring starting pitchers.

To that end, the Yankees have extended offers to Derek Lowe and CC Sabathia and will soon make an offer to A.J. Burnett. But they have not yet bid on free-agent first baseman Mark Teixeira.

While acknowledging that it's a long way from the start of spring training and that the roster could change, Swisher lobbied for first base, saying it is the position he plays best.

"Defensively, yes, although I really haven't had the opportunity to play there very much," Swisher said. "If that would happen, I'd be very excited to see what I'd be able to do for a full season over there."

Swisher was primarily an outfielder with the White Sox last season and hit leadoff for the first time in his career. He never got comfortable and had the worst season of his career, hitting .219 with 135 strikeouts and only 69 RBI.

The Yankees believe that season was an anomaly and that Swisher will have a high on-base percentage, hit for power and be an upgrade defensively. The switch hitter, who turns 28 later this month, believes he will rebound.

"All those tough times I went through, I know in my mind I not only grew as a man but as a player in general," he said. "In most situations you only grow through the tough times and I definitely went through some tough times. Last year was a very humbling year for me, and I learned a lot from it. I do know that all that stuff's behind me and I'm really looking forward to this year.

"Obviously last year was a rough one. But, hey, sometimes that's going to happen. ... It made me a better player, I'll tell you that."

Swisher did not go into detail about his 2008 season, saying there was no one factor that led to his poor performance. But hitting first in Ozzie Guillen's lineup did not suit him. He had only six extra-base hits in 105 at-bats while hitting first. That experiment lasted only until May, but the effects lingered throughout the season.

"I did a lot of things that I was not used to doing," Swisher said. "(Leading off) was a little bit of a change."

The news Swisher wanted came last Thursday when he and minor-league right-hander Kanekoa Texeira were obtained from the White Sox in exchange for backup infielder Wilson Betemit and two pitching prospects.

Swisher has since spoken to Alex Rodriguez and swapped text messages with hitting coach Kevin Long while pondering where to live in New York. He's also hoping to get a tour of the new Yankee Stadium.

"It's a dream come true," he said. "I think every little kid in America, at one point or another, dreams about playing for the New York Yankees. Lucky for me it's coming true. I couldn't be more excited."

Swisher is a friend of Sabathia but has not spoken to the left-hander since the trade. His enthusiasm won't outweigh the $140 million the Yankees have offered Sabathia, but it could bolster the recruiting pitch.

"I've known CC for a couple of years now. Just a great guy," Swisher said. "If all works out everyone would be super ecstatic if we can pull him out of Milwaukee and get him. We're going to have to see what happens."

Mark Cuban's Cubs bid uncertain after insider trading charge

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's allegation of insider trading against Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban could stall the billionaire’s bid for the Chicago Cubs.

So says Phillip Stern, an attorney with the Chicago-based law firm of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP. The civil lawsuit filed against Cuban in federal district court in Dallas could impact the deal for the Milwaukee Brewers' rival to the extent that it causes parties involved in the negotiations to question the person’s integrity, he said.

Stern, who spent 10 years with the Securities and Exchange Commission, says the allegation against Cuban is particularly sensitive since he's dealing with an image-conscious professional sports league.

The agency alleges that in June 2004 Cuban sold 600,000 shares of a Canadian Internet search engine called Inc. based on information about an impending stock deal that hadn’t been made public. Cuban avoided a loss of more than $750,000 by selling his shares before the company’s stock offering, the SEC alleges. Cuban liquidated his stake in the company less than four hours after he was told about the offering, the complaint charges.

Stern said the $750,000 value of the alleged offense is significant enough for the SEC to investigate, adding: “Market integrity is important to the SEC. I’ve been involved in cases as low as $3,000.”

“His view was that he was not aware that the information was confidential and was not aware of it,” Stern said of Cuban. “If he can demonstrate that he did not have reason to believe the information was nonpublic or that it was not permissible for him to trade on that information, he could win the case.”

Girl, 16, who throws knuckleball, drafted by Japanese pro team

The knuckleball -- the fluttering, hard-to-hit pitch that's rare in the major leagues -- is propelling a 16-year-old girl to the pros in Japan.

Eri Yoshida was inspired to learn how to throw the knuckler after seeing a video of Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield. On Monday, she broke the gender barrier by being drafted for an independent league team as Japan's first female professional baseball player.

"Hope I can see her pitch one day," Wakefield said in a message he texted to the Red Sox that was relayed to The Associated Press. "I'm honored that someone wants to become me. I wish her the best of luck. Maybe I can learn something from her."

Eri Yoshida

STR/AFP/Getty Images

Eri Yoshida wore her high school uniform at the news conference, but the next uniform she gets to put on will be that of a pro baseball player.

The high schooler was chosen by the Kobe 9 Cruise in the Japanese League, which starts its inaugural season in April.

The Cruise are a far cry from Tokyo's Yomiuri Giants. Making the squad is more like earning a tentative slot on a farm team than warming up in the bullpen for the Red Sox.

Even so, the 5-foot, 114-pound Yoshida has smashed the glass ceiling with her unorthodox, sidearm pitch in baseball-crazy Japan, where women normally are relegated to amateur, company-sponsored teams or to the sport of softball.

"I'm really happy I stuck with baseball," Yoshida said in a news conference after she was chosen with 32 other players in the new league's draft. "I want to pitch against men."

Yoshida is hoping to find enough success to one day challenge the likes of the long-established Central and Pacific leagues, home to the best and brightest Japanese players and increasingly a fertile ground for talent headed to the majors in the United States.

Yoshida said she wants to emulate Wakefield, who has built a successful major league career throwing a knuckleball, which is difficult to learn and even harder to throw with success.

Wakefield and Seattle's R.A. Dickey were the two most prominent pitchers who were primarily knucklers to appear in the major leagues last season.

Eddie Cicotte of the Chicago White Sox was the first highly successful knuckleballer and won 20 games three times in four seasons before he was kicked out of baseball following the 1920 season for his role in the Black Sox scandal.

Three Hall of Famers relied on the knuckler: Hoyt Wilhelm, Phil Niekro and Jesse Haines, and the pitch also was associated with Tom Candiotti, Charlie Hough, Joe Niekro, Steve Sparks and Wilbur Wood.

"It's funny that I've reached that point in my career that people want to emulate me," Wakefield said. "I'm glad I had people like the Niekros, Charlie Hough and Tom Candiotti that I could look up to. I am deeply humbled that it is me this time."

Yoshida started playing baseball when she was in the second grade, tagging along with her elder brother, now 19, and played first base on a boy's team in junior high school. She also joined her high school baseball club, but quit because the training was too tough. Then she joined a private club.

According to media reports, Yoshida was inspired to throw knuckleballs when her father, Isamu, showed her a video of Wakefield pitching. She thought that she could do it, too.

"She must be doing something right," said Dave DeFrietas, a scout in Japan for the Cleveland Indians. "She got signed. I hope it's because of the way she plays, and I wish her success."

Her manager agrees. "Her sidearm knuckleballs dip and sway, and could be an effective weapon for us," said Yoshihiro Nakata.

The news of Yoshida's signing -- she was chosen in the seventh round -- was met with some skepticism that the league might be trying to grab headlines by naming a woman. In that, they certainly succeeded -- Yoshida's photo was all over the morning news Tuesday, and she was featured in a profile in the prestigious Asahi, a major national newspaper.

"I think her recruitment is in part for the publicity," said Toshihiko Kasuga, the director of the Women's Baseball Association of Japan. "It would be extremely hard for women to squarely compete against men in any sport."

But Kasuga said Yoshida's success could encourage other female players, whose population has surged since little league teams opened their doors to girls about 10 years ago.

Baseball history in the United States has occasional examples of women taking the field with men. While pitching for the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees, Virne Beatrice "Jackie" Mitchell Gilbert struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in succession. In the last couple of decades, at least three women have pitched in independent minor leagues.