Today in sports: the deadline for the Rangers to sign the next (maybe) great Japanese pitcher is rapidly approaching, the NFL is not investigating the Kansas City Chiefs for allegedly bugging former coach Todd Haley's office, the St. Louis Cardinals (and Mark McGwire) go to Washington.

The Texas Rangers have until 4 p.m. CDT today to strike a deal with Japanese phenom Yu Darvish, who they paid $51.7 million just for the right to negotiate with last month. If the two sides fail to reach an agreement, Darvish will return to Japan to pitch next year and the Rangers will get their $51.7 million back, though an unnamed team source said late last night the team was "cautiously optimistic" that a deal would get done. But as of Wednesday morning, MLB.com Rangers beat reporter T.R. Sullivan writes that much of that optimism had disappeared, with members of the Rangers front office apparently conceding that signing Darvish is "no longer a sure thing."  With just hours left, it's still unclear which way the negotiations are leaning: Yahoo national baseball writer Tim Brown tweeted this afternoom that those briefed on the state of the talks expect the negotiations to last right up until the 4 p.m. CDT deadline. Update: 4:45 p.m. EDT CBS Sports is reporting that the two sides have a deal. The exact figures are unknown, but apparently it will be a six-year pact worth "more than $52 million." Factor in the $51.7 posting fee, and Darvish is poised to be just the eighth pitcher in baseball history to receive a contract worth more than $100 million. [MLB.com]

Candlestick Park will host this weekend's NFC championship game, which is good news if you like inaccessible stadiums with long rows, teeth-chattering climate conditions, and a lighting grid that's prone to kicking out just before Monday night football. But the fact it's always been that way is part of the appeal of a 50-year-old charmless park, argues Sports Illustrated columnist Steve Rushin. For sports fans, the blustery conditions add context to those great 49ers football teams Giants baseball squads, and suddenly that weird feeling that "Willie Mays had all along been playing centerfield on Alcatraz Island" makes sense. Because, in a way, he was. The 49ers are slated to move to new digs in Santa Clara in 2014, so Sunday might be the last big game in an unloved stadium that managed to be bigger than the games it hosted. [SI]

The NFL won't launch an investigation into the Kansas City Star report that former Chiefs head coach Todd Haley "stopped talking on the phone"  and "repeatedly checked his office for listening devices" during the past season as his relationship with the team's front office continued to disintegrate. In an email sent to Pro Football Talk editor Mike Florio this morning, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said that the Chiefs front office told the league office that the suggestion they bugged Haley was "completely false," and added that "no such allegations have been made to our office.” That last part of the quote seems to suggest that Haley -- who is up for a job with the Arizona Cardinals -- isn't in a hurry to burn any bridges around the league while he's still searching for his next job.  [Pro Football Talk]

David Freese's photo Deep thought at the White House... #donthurtyoselfThe World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals made their visit to the White House yesterday, minus free-agent defector Albert Pujols and retired former manager Tony La Russa. The ceremony wasn't anything unique -- the president talked about all their memorable comebacks and received a team jersey with his name on the back -- but the event still provided a memorable visual, in which Cardinals Mark McGwire (accompanied by third baseman David Freese) posed beneath a portrait of Lincoln and seemed much more at ease than he was 7 years ago while testifying to Congress about steroids. What a country! [AP]

 

This is interesting: Sports Business Daily has assembled a chart of the average home attendance numbers for BCS conference schools over the past three years. The notable spikes don't account for completed renovations to expand capacity and the three-year window doesn't provide an ideal sample size, but you can see why athletic directors fire coaches when attendance drops. UCLA and the University of Illinois -- two high-profile schools that changed coaches this offseason -- saw their average home attendance drop by 8,000 and 10,000 fans over the course of two seasons. Other schools where attendance had declined by 8,000 or more fans per game: the University of Southern California, the University of Kansas, and the University of South Florida. [Sports Business Daily]