Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Last Words (NOT Bloody Likely!)

First -- congratulations to the World Champion Green Bay Packers!

Second -- congratulations to the officials -- no obvious and major screw ups. Nice to see it can be done still.

Third -- The Game was over, with the half time show, and the extra commercials, by 10:06 -- that is 3:37 minutes. NOW -- can the NFL do that when there ISN'T enormous pressure from Fox to get Glee on during sweeps? Don't believe me -- watch how quick they get out of the postgame crap that no one really cares about (I am writing immediately following the game).

Four -- The Weis Guy posted this as his status at the game's end -- and I think he has it EXACTLY right -- Did Green Bay win? Or did Pittsburgh lose? I think a STRONG case can be made that it was the latter. They did nothing to force Green Bay to even pretend to run the ball, and even though the run was working, they got away from it way too quickly to force Green Bay. In a game in which they could and should have dictated, they appeared not to be prepared. The "experience factor"? I think it made Pittsburgh overconfident. Doesn't matter how many guys with microphones and vested interests say it was a great game -- only by the low standard set by previous Roman Numeral Fests could that even been claimed with a straight face....

Five -- To help prove my point above -- who deserved to be the MVP of this game? For my money, Hines Ward may have been the best performer on the field. Jimmy Johnson just called Aaron Rodgers "outstanding." What game was he watching? 300 + yards passing means NOTHING in a game where your offense rushes only 10 times! Of course Rodgers will win it (again, writing BEFORE the announcement!) -- just not sure it is deserved. And, is he REALLY a better QB tonight than he was this afternoon?! 24-39, 304 yards, 3 TDs? Sure, that equates to a decent passer rating, but mostly because the equation grossly overvalues a high TD to INT ratio. 62% completion percentage? Nice, not spectacular (and only 2 of those "drops" had to be caught!). Less than 8 yards per attempt? Nice, not spectacular. 12.5 yds per completion? Nice, NOT spectacular. In other words -- he played well -- NOT great!

Six -- How many HUGE plays did Green Bay get off of the ridiculous overload blitz that Capers drew up? It was clear that Green Bay had that one solved the first time, yet I saw it backfire at least twice more. In critical moments. Again -- won or lost? Again -- QBs' doing? Or lack of preparation and overconfidence?

Seven -- turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. Pittsburgh made them, 2 of them EXTREMELY poorly -- and what a coincidence, but BOTH led to Green Bay touchdowns. Green Bay did not. Roethlisberger did not acquit himself well, and lost (anyone else bracing for the "disclosure" of how badly he was hurt in this game?). Is he a worse QB tonight than he was this afternoon? And does something that has little to do with the offense at all make Rodgers a better leader or quarterback? Sure, he led them to the scores to convert those TOs into points, but where would they have been without the TOs???

Eighth -- I KNOW football is a contact sport. It IS physical. These ARE two physical teams. BUT -- why did it seem like there were too many injuries occurring because of contact with -- the turf? There were more such injuries in this game -- on the golden field, with the roof closed, than in that ill-fated outdoor game in Minnesota!

Ninth -- Can the NFL now avoid the disaster of a lock-out or strike? And please, oh please, oh please, can we fix the officiating for next season? See my pre-game rant about the axiomatic truth of the value of a running game. Not completely disproven here -- mostly for Pittsburgh's failures on both sides of the ball to make this a game about the run. But still, dealt a serious blow -- and I believe the rules are to blame.

Tenth -- I NEVER want to hear ANY other fans -- especially Ravens' fans -- EVER complain again that Pittsburgh ALWAYS gets the calls when they need them. Period!

Post-script #1 -- I agree with LP -- musically, I was unimpressed with the Black Eyed Peas. I knew I would be -- theirs is not my music, and my younger friends tell me they are terrible live. But for entertainment value? Wow -- Sir Paul rocked us, and saved the NFL's keister for running after "Nipple-Gate". But NO ONE has ever used the massiveness of the stage at half time better than what I saw tonight. I have NO idea what show everyone on Facebook was watching that hated it....

Post-script #2 -- Likewise, I was generally impressed with the commercials... the excellence and cleverness, and actually some intelligent advertising essentials far outweighed the poor efforts -- been a while since that was true.

And the last two words -- Brett who???

Thoughts in Advance of the Super Bowl (tm) XLV (really!?)

1. I just hope it is a good game. Too often they are not. And, for all my griping about the impotence and incapability of officials, and the stupid over-officiousness of the NFL in particular, I hope the game is won, or lost, on the field, by the players. Not by some arcane and ridiculous interpretation of a rule, a missed call, or, as last year, the callous exploitation of the uncertainty and chaos of a pile-on for a loose ball.
2. It really doesn't matter which team wins -- as Rick Reilly so eloquently pointed out, in most fundamental ways, there is little distinguishing these two teams from each other. It really doesn't matter which team wins -- in a league that prides itself on parity, almost to the point of parody, what does the winner of this game really prove, beyond that they won the 3 or 4 games needed to get to that point. By any reasonable measurement of the regular season, neither of these teams was the best in their conference -- and adding 2 more games to the regular season will NOT make the football season any more relevant in determining its ultimate champion!
3. Can we PLEASE get some common sense into the discussion about the importance of this game for the two quarterbacks? In truth, there are TWO things NFL quarterbacks are counted on to provide. One, of course, is throwing the ball and leading the offense. The OTHER is providing leadership. It is this latter one, to me, which is a bit squirrelly.

Sure, the quarterback starts every play with the ball. He must read the defense and make sure the called play will work. He gets the ball where it needs to be. But that, apparently, is not what the media means or looks at in this discussion of leadership. Winning championships is. Even though winning a game requires three squads -- offense, defense, and special teams -- to perform well enough; even though, as number 2 above makes clear, most close games come down to the outcome of a handful of plays at most, making the previous truth even more significant (and most games that AREN'T close can be chalked up to a failure of preparedness, or lack of overall talent) -- apparently only winning a Super Bowl authenticates great quarterbacks???

If that notion isn't stupid enough on its own weight, let me try this. If Pittsburgh wins today (more on that in a minute), then Ben Roethlisberger has won three Super Bowl (tm) rings. He will be haled by these talking heads as one of the great quarterbacks of all time. All for being fortunate to be surrounded by outstanding players, very good coaches, and an outstandingly solid organization, and plays for a team built around running and defense!? Really?

Instead of looking at the other allegedly greatest of all-time quarterbacks with whom he will be lumped with 3 rings (Aikman? Bradshaw? yes he has 4), let's try this comparison. Let's compare Big Ben and his three rings (circus?) to the following list: Marino, Favre, Elway, and P. Manning. BETWEEN those 4 are exactly 3 rings. Is anyone who doesn't already bleed black and gold seriously going to rate Roethlisberger anywhere but 5th on that list (and only THAT high because there aren't more choices)?

Or look at it from the other side -- if Green Bay wins, does this ONE victory authenticate everything he did in leading his team on the improbably journey that got them there in the first place? Five must wins just to REACH the game? I think THAT is a far greater demonstration of his ability to lead a team than the outcome of one grossly overhyped game played under circumstances totally foreign to the running of a football game would be! Yet no one is saying that getting here validates him. Only that he needs the SB win to become a great QB. Really? Marino isn't one of the best of all time without ever having won one? Seriously?

4. And while I am picking on the talking head hype-meisters, the vast majority of whom picked Green Bay to win, what happened to the axiomatic truth that the ability to run and to stop the opponent from running is what wins the big game? Assuming it is still true, why are we not being told to expect a Pittsburgh victory? If it is no longer true, when and why did it cease to be true? Is it a result of the same rules committee tinkering that has otherwise destroyed the game by micromanaging making it almost impossible for even the best defenses to adequately defend the pass anymore? If so, what does it say about the powers that be in this game?

When do pitchers and catchers report? :)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I Get it Now - BCS = Because Cash Sells!

I know, it has been a while, and there has NOT been a lack of subjects to choose from. But as we approach the National Championship Game (TM) that will prove nothing to anyone who follows football about who the best team in college football is this year, it is time to pound the greed and arrogance that is the Bowl system in college football, the hypocrisy that is the BCS, and the pathetic failure of the entire FBS (formerly Division I-A) season.

Lest we forget, by the time the last bowl game is played on JANUARY 10, this season there were THREE undefeated teams, only 2 of which, by their protected and annointed enrollment in the RIGHT conferences, had any expectation of being recognized. THAT problem, honestly, I can live with. No matter how appalling the lack of ability to punish Cam Newton and Auburn, in the midst of an undefeated season, by both the SEC, which, as the 4 time defending national champion conference (TM) has a vested interest in keeping their strongest contender alive, even if, on paper at the start of the season, they barely made the top 6 in the SEC; no matter how many of us have already forgotten the disgusting spectacle of LeGarrett Blount physically assaulting a Boise State player on the field after losing to Boise State to open last season, and then being returned to he team from suspension in time for their bowl appearance -- which SHOULD prevent us from rooting for them EITHER -- the truth is, in the case when three teams are undefeated, until there is a playoff system in place, one team must be left out of the equation. And until all of Division !A is treated equally, and the so-called "little sisters of the poor" can actually get bigger schools to schedule them, the strength of schedule SHOULD leave TCU as the odd man out!

No, my problems with the BCS, and they should be yours as well, go far deeper than the surface. How can a game played on January 10, 5 week's after the SEC championship game, and longer since Oregon's last game, credibly determine which of them were better for a season that is already history and almost completely forgotten by now? It can't. And because of the "bowls plus one" "upgrade" of the cartel a few years ago, the championship game is free to be played anywhere, because it has been removed from the old bowl structure completely. We still have all the bowls -- they just added a Super Bowl for the alleged top 2 schools. And by rotating it prohibitively between the sites and bowl aristocrats of the big 4, it forces this game to be played long enough AFTER the main bowl games in those sites to allow the field to be fixed, and the necessary media hype to be waged, that we get the nonsense of a January 10th bowl game.

So, of course, the other big games now spread out off of New Year's Day, careful not to cross paths with the end of the NFL regular season (a ratings nightmare that the bowls would lose, and which would piss of the networks!), and even some minor invented bowls between mediocre teams that wouldn't even make most credible playoff fields have now leeched into the first week of January as well.

Yes, Boise State's 2 year run of perfection and being arguably, but sadly unprovably, the best college team of that span, ended in their last regular season game in an overtime loss, that fell solely on the inability of the best place kicker in college football to kick a game winning field goal in regulation, or a game-extending field goal in overtime (although you would be hard pressed to prove conclusively that either actually missed, as both were kicked higher than the tops of the seemingly too short goal posts at Nevada, and at least one of them appeared on replay to have been clearly INSIDE the extended post!). And their reward? Quick -- where did 1 loss in 2 years Boise St. play in their bowl game this year? Anyone remember? Didn't think so.

BUT -- Big Ten teams went 0-5 on New Year's Day alone (Take THAT, President Gee -- who are the little sisters of the poor now?) And, before you get to trotting out your own Ohio State team, that DID win their BCS bowl game, utilizing the 5 players who were suspended for the first 5 games of NEXT season, but were allowed to play in their precision bowl game ("Justice delayed IS justice denied!"), can we examine how they were matched with Arkansas, a TWO loss BCS wild-card team that didn't even qualify for their own conference championship? How a 4 loss Connecticut team inherited a reserved spot in a BCS bowl, but Boise St. played in the "WTF Bowl"?

But stop claiming that the Big East no longer deserves the automatic birth. That argument, no matter how clear, has never carried any weight. Again, it was Boise St. that seemed to have the right -- meaning logical and ethical -- solution, when they agreed to switch conferences, to join with BYU, Utah, TCU, and others in a conference that WOULD have demanded attention and an automatic birth. WOULD HAVE, but now won't, because BYU went independent, Utah will be part of the PAC 10 (12), and TCU has agreed to join the.... Big East (really? no wonder American kids are appalling BAD at geography) -- the last a move so cynically based to kill TWO problems at once -- TCU is now in a protected conference, AND the Big East can use TCU to maintain their protected slot, rather than requiring their school's football programs to actual IMPROVE! Leaving Boise St. - -again -- out in the cold, in their new conference, which may actually now be weaker than the one they left!

And btw -- between Utah, Boise St. TCU and BYU -- in the 6 BCS bowls matching a big vs. a little, with TCU's victory this year, the series stands 5-1 -- in favor of the little guys!!!! But don't get carried away. If you are a FOOTBALL U school from the cartel, playing even in a BCS game is a consolation prize to not making the championship game, a reward to players, coaches, and boosters for a season well done. For the little guy, it is their shot at the spotlight and glory, a chance to prove themselves on the big stage. Any surprise that hey come in hungrier, better prepared, taking it more seriously, and win? Not really!

But the biggest fraud this year was actually played out on the playing fields. There are now so many bowl games, that it was routine to see 6-6 teams win. More teams played football bowl games from Division IA this year than there will be teams in the expanded NCAA BASKETBALL tourney in March!! True! And, as a result, the 7th best team from a BCS conference, playing the 6th best team from another, or the third best from a minor conference was the normal match-up. Heck -- three SERVICE ACADEMIES played bowl games this year!

And, in a season which ended with the firing of Ralph Fridgen, the ACC Coach of the year, because he couldn't put enough fannies in the seats as he used to to make Maryland a more attractive bowl selection, bowl meisters, in an effort to sell tickets, went local. With the exception of Sand Diego St. vs. Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego, where BOTH were the home team legitimately, too many of these low rent bowl games were nothing more than another extravagant payday for the same olds, but now often turned into a glorified extra home game for one of the participants!

And it is in this last that the worst abuses came to light. because for me, no matter how good (or bad) the championship game might yet still prove to be, the "BCS is corrupt and needs to be shut down" moment of the bowls for me was the ending of the Pinstripe Bowl -- the first bowl game in decades at Yankee Stadium. It matched those perennial also-rans and natural rivals, Kansas St. and Syracuse, in a game that really, no one outside of the two Manhattans and snow-covered upstate New York should have cared about.

Until it became a game in which both offenses shone, and neither defense could make a stop in the 4th quarter, creating one of those rare "save the BCS" moments -- a game worth watching and caring about in the mess! Until, with Kansas State trailing by 8 late in the 4th quarter, they scored a touchdown on a very well executed running play. The ball carrier slipped through a narrow opening between defender and sideline and scored. A successful 2 point conversion would send the game, in all likelihood, to overtime. But wait...

As he ran through the end zone, the K State player dropped the ball in the end zone, and instinctively, and without fanfare, saluted to the stands. For THAT, the end zone official flagged him for unsportsmanlike conduct, moved the 2-point try to the 18 yard line, from which it failed, and the game was over. But wait again...

With the need for an onside kick now, K State failed to let the ball go the required 10 yards before touching it (and recovering it). Three officials huddled for over a minute before telling the world what had been very clear to the naked eye in real speed -- the ball had NOT gone 10 yards. And that huddle suddenly made it obvious -- there had been no similar huddle, no attempt by any other official, to talk this over-officious end zone ref into changing his hideously bad call on the unsportsmanlike conduct!

And then, to make it worse, in the very next game, after their first touchdown, the Tennessee quarterback and receiver who combined on the touchdown ran together in the endzone... and saluted each other! No penalty was called! And the offending official, after the game, was quoted as saying to the K State player as he saluted "Bad choice, son..." before throwing his flag. Am I the only one who sees the potential that this official was looking for a way to influence the outcome of an otherwise meaningless bowl game, in favor of the more geographically favorable team?

And I don't even remember the participants in the other bowl game that ended in regulation on a game-winning field goal that occurred with 0.4 seconds left on the clock -- even though football does not use the fractional clock of basketball! This, after the game was originally called over in favor of the other team, because the clock seemed to have run out. On further review, however, it was determined that the quarterback had spiked the ball with 0.4 seconds left -- even though his team was in the process of rushing players onto the field and had about 19 guys on the field at the time of the snap. It is for EXACTLY this reason that the NFL runs 10 seconds off the clock in addition to taking yardage in such a case at the end of the game. But in this bowl game, a team was allowed to come back on the field after apparently losing, receive 5 yard penalty, and STILL kick the winning field goal!

So much for the old saw about the bowl system's value being that "dozens of teams, and not just one, can end the season with a victory." Even those are being tainted and taken away now -- THAT is how corrupt the BCS system has become.

Stop trying band-aid fixes, and please get the talking heads from the networks who are co-conspirators to shut up about how good the system is. We can all see that the emperor is not only buck naked, but butt ugly as well! And this patient doesn't need a band-aid -- it needs to be euthanized!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Learning to Deal with Human Limitations

A guest column, by our host and benefactor -- Rabbi Steve Weisman

First, thanks to my good friend Jim, for giving me this space for this blog, that apparently, only I could write :)

I deliberately waited to add this blog to the mix, for two things to occur. First, I wanted the World Series to be over, so I could congratulate whichever deserving team prevailed to bring their community a long-overdue first World Championship. So, congratulations to the SAN FRANCISCO Giants for breaking what all New Yorkers know was the curse of Horace Stoneham, who moved the franchise from coast to coast, for winning the franchise's first world championship on the West Coast, their first since Willie Mays was making "The Catch" in 1954 to help shockingly defeat a Cleveland team that won 111 games during the regular season, which ended the Yankees' 5-year World Series run (and note that Cleveland, already by then 6 years removed from their last World Series victory, hasn't won since!). Pitching, once again, trumped hitting; and team chemistry raised a bunch of journeymen and youngsters to the top of the mountain. Sandy Alderson, are you watching? :)

And second, I wanted the softball season to be over, and have my follow up with my orthopedist, so I could speak more intelligently following my own first experience with significant sports injury. Thankfully, since that fateful night 3 weeks ago, and through all the pain of the intervening 21 days, every test and report that has come in has been the best possible.

So, to set the scene -- which is a story of hubris: the recently turned 50 year-old Rabbi, playing better ball AFTER his quadruple bypass than he had before it, but beginning to show the signs of the ravages of age, letting his 25-year old's sports brain talk him into trying something his body could no longer write the check to cover, taking a massive tumble trying to stretch a single to right into a TRIPLE (notypo -- no showboating, no stupidly aggressive baserunning, except in trying to go to second base in the first place -- actually a logical and reasoned, if ultimately unsuccessful, effort to not make the third out of the inning). Leaving himself with a nice gash below the right knee, and just under it, the mother of all raspberries developing beautifully as the game wore on, and helping to obscure the greater damage to the knee and leg (but somehow going 4-4 AFTER the injury!). Not noticing until almost 24 hours later how much swelling there was and how much the knee itself hurt.

By Thursday, my primary care doctor was SO sure that I had torn the ACL, that he WALKED up to the Orthopedics office in his building to tell them they had to see me right away. X-rays showed nothing, MRI the following Monday said that I didn't -- just strained EVERYTHING maximally without needing surgery. But the knee specialist asked me to explain how I did it again, saying that he usually only sees this level of bruising and swelling "in crush injuries"!

So, 1 month and 1 day before my son's Bar Mitzvah celebration, 12 days before a major soiree honoring my 10 years in this congregation, and here I am on crutches for the first time in my life, balancing between the pain and the FDR-like desire NEVER to be seen in public with them. Wanting to take my time and let the secondary pain pass, but knowing that I have David's Bar Mitzvah, and a wedding and Bar Mitzvah the following week -- that really all require me to be totally mobile :) Stuck between my usual stubborn, male, Type-A need to be independent, and being as DEPENDENT as I have ever been save for my heart surgery recuperation! OY! And while having a daughter with a driver's license was a huge help, it is VERY strange riding in the back seat with her driving me places!

At least choosing a Halloween costume was made easy and obvious -- can you say Brett Favre (I know, knee vs. ankle, but by then, honestly, almost all of my pain was in the ankle from the swelling!)?!

So today came the second good news -- I have nearly full mobility back in the knee, with no lasting structural weakness -- a couple of weeks of PT will have me off the 60-day DL in time for spring training in a few months. The swelling WILL eventually abate -- I can't wait to get rid of the oh-so-stylish and terribly confortable compression sock that has been my constant companion these last 2 weeks. Even the mother of all scabs is finally gone from my leg.

All of which has left me with an incredible sense of awe at what these professional athletes who play through injuries and live with pain are actually doing.

And the ultimate challenge - -reprogramming my brain to know that next time I hit a bloop single to right field, with what is left of this body, it really is a single, and not what it used to be -- an excuse to show everyone that the old guy can still run the bases with the best of them! Why do I have a feeling THAT will be the most difficult and painful aspect of my recovery in the end? :)

All Hail the San Francisco Giants! Unless it Involves an Official's Decision...

So, all of my best possible outcomes (at least once it was clear that neither the Mets not the Nationals had a snowball's chance in Hades of making the post-season!) were met. The despised Braves went out first; then we were spared EITHER the Phillies or the Yankees in the World Series; then, a clear winner was decided in 5, rather than 7 games, depriving the bloated and undeserving coffers of MLB and Fox Sports, the latter of whom is even more responsible for the downfall of baseball in the public eye than the Bud-meister himself, of 2 extra nights of ad and related revenue.

And, was it just me, or, even with the backdrop of the Players' Association finally going semi-public with THEIR total lack of faith in Major League Umpiring, on the grand stage of the playoffs, did this year's randomly selected (thanks to the contract with the umpires!) cast of half-blind fools prove their relative ineptitude? With the 2 additional umpires to help get outfield fair/foul calls and home run calls correct, we had the spectacle of a mis-called foul ball BECAUSE IT LANDED BETWEEN THE RIGHT FIELD UMPIRE'S FEET AS HE SCRAMBLED TO GET OUT OF THE WAY!!! We had multiple infield out/safe calls that appeared to be clearly missed, and several infield fair/foul calls made by the WRONG umpire (and not because he was in better position). We had not one, but 2, disputable shots originally called home runs for the Yankees -- the first of which the right field umpire claimed to be looking right at and claiming that the worst interference by a fan not named Jeffrey Meier (or Bartman, even though his was clearly IN the stands, and therefore not illegal!) never happened, the second of which, clearly foul from ALL angles at normal speed, was somehow still called a home run until (unless I missed something) the ONLY incidence of the umpires conferring to get a call right in the post-season, led to an overturn.

And we had the hideous spectacle of perhaps the worst officiated trip around the bases in Major League Baseball history -- regular, or post-season -- when Chase Utley was awarded first base on a pitch that did NOT hit him or his uniform, was called safe at second when replays clearly showed him to be out, and certainly appeared to miss third base while scoring. Come on -- even the 1962 Mets and Marvelous Marv Throneberry -- who famously was once called out for missing second base on a triple, and when Casey Stengel came out to protest, was told by his first base coach to go back to the dugout, because he had missed first base, too! -- weren't this bad!

The answer, of course, should be (but probably won't -- in fact, it will probably be expanded) to end the replay experiement -- and RIGHTFULLY so! As long as that is not the ONLY change made, it will be the right one. If it is combined with mandatory off-season training and conditioning, and in-season evaluation leading to public fines and suspensions, losing plum assignments and possibly being relegated to the minors -- just as players are subject to -- for poor performance, then we may be onto a solution. And can we please return to post-season assignments being earned on merit during the season, and not randomly assigned to "share the wealth"? And do so BEFORE we talk about expanding the post-season?

Could be worse though -- they could be NFL referees!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"Does Anybody Here Know How to Play This Game?"

The headline for this blog was infamously uttered by Casey Stengel, abck in the bad old days when he, and the chance of seeing something truly horrific, were the ONLY reasons to watch the Mets play baseball. (Avoid temptation to kick the current Mets' regime when they are down and out here!)

Sadly, in the era of replay, it might as well apply here, too, to the state of officiating in at least 2 professional sports, and quite possibly all of them. Football fans are still wondering when and how football lost its rudder to the point where, on the opening weekend of the season, a game winning touchdown which players and fans alike knew to be a touchdown, turned out not to be -- not because of the ineptitude of officials, but because of the foolish inconsistency of the rules and their definitions, which, in the era of replay, have needed to be recalibrated beyond what is real or measurable on the field at real speed. Case in point -- the critical play in the 4th quarter this past Sunday of an otherwise forgetable game (except to long-suffering Raiders' fans) between Oakland and San Diego. I have watched the super - slo replay multiple times -- and have NO idea whether Philip Rivers' arm was moving forward with the ball at the point of contact which knocked it loose or not! Anyone who tells you they saw it clearly is lying! But, it HAD to be called one way or the other on the field in real time -- even less chance THAT call was anything more than a guess. BUT, the direction in which THAT guess was made determined the outcome, because the replay would be unable to overrule such a close call!! THAT is the element of replay in football that no one seems to be grasping!

Ironically, on a day dangerously close to Bud Selig's own self-inflicted nightmares last Saturday, the ONLY person who got this point, or any others relating to close plays and replay right, was the now retired Bobby Cox, career leader in being thrown out of games! IN EACH of 3 PLAYOFF games, a critical late game run scored after a questionable or blown call. In the Yankee's win, it was a clearly blown strike call by Hunter (father Harry is rolling in his grave) Wendlestadt that kept a Lance Berkman at-bat alive for him to drive in a critical run, and led to the too-quick ejection of Ron Gardenhire by Wendlestadt, after the umpire interjected himself into Gardenhire's attempt to calm his pitcher and team.

In Texas's win, an apparent failed check swing strike 3 by Michael Young was not corrected by the first base (h)ump, allowing Young to hit the crushing 3 run homer on the next pitch, and again leading to a managerial ejection, when Joe Maddon, properly, started barking at the first base umpire from the mound, and then was being escorted away while talking to the home palte umpire, who ejected him, also seemingly too quickly.

To my untrained eye, both calls were wrong. Maybe they were, maybe they weren't. I didn't watch the whole Yankee's game to know how inconsistent Wendlestadt's strike zone had been all game (but I can guess from experience!). Young's check swing really was borderline. Neither would have mattered if the results of the next pitches had been different -- although Berkman hit an absurdly good pitch that he had no right hitting anyway, so don't blame the hit on a mental lapse by the pitcher there -- and the pitchers had been able to do what they are supposed to do.

Ironically, the most obviously wrong call, and the only one NOT to lead to a managerial ejection, came as the Braves lost to San Francisco. Buster Posey was clearly tagged out trying to steal second base, which would have ended the 8th inning. Instead, he was called safe, and scored what turned out to be the winning run one batter later.

When asked why he didn't protest the call, Cox responded that he couldn't see from the dugout, and the reaction of his players on the field did not lead him to think the call was wrong. When further asked about expanding replay, Cox expressed his reservations for both the integrity and the delay of the game!

Even more frightening, In SUnday's Phillies' victory, Chase Utley scored the go ahead run after not one, but THREE blown calls. He took first after NOT being hit by a pitched ball, was called safe at second on a close force out which replay showed was wrong, and probably, although not conclusively, failed to touch third base while scoring on an error by Jay Bruce. The ineptitude of the Reds' defense clearly overshadowed that of the umpires. But did not make it go away.

Indeed, it has gotten so bad, that the leaders of the Players' Association asked for, and have received, a hearing, to discuss the vastly increased number of complaints coming from players about both blown calls, and aggressive attitudes on the part of too many umpires! Maybe THIS will lead to positive improvements -- but I am not holding my breath.

Especially after watching the end of the Capitals' home opener against the formerly respected and classy New Jersey Devils, when new Devils' coach John McLean either couldn't stop, or deliberately sent out, a series of goons with the game out of reach, leading to three successive fighting delays in 6 seconds of play time, all started by Devils' players -- with no pre-emptive action taken by the refs, who sttod watching helplessly, until a 4th attack several seconds later was blatantly one sided!

And hey, the NBA, with their own ref dramas, is about to start -- anyone yet believe Donaghy was the only one with a gambling problem??

Monday, October 4, 2010

Oh, What A Summer

It was Fathers' Day, several years ago. My family and I were travelling to RFK STadium here in DC for the baseball game that day between our hometown team and the visiting New York Yankees. For me, it was a delayed dream, a long time in the making, come true. For even though I had grown up in New York, on Long Island, as a Mets fan, what had happened to the American League franchise in our nation's capital 30 years earlier was a crime I long waited to see undone.

I had even gone so far, back in the 80's, on my first trip to Cooperstown, to purchase a Washington Senators sweatshirt, that became a staple of my fall and spring wardrobe. Long after any true grown up should have thrown what was left of that old sweatshirt away, I refused, on principle, to do so, at least until the injustice was undone, and I could buy a shirt for the NEW Washington baseball club.

That chance should have come the preceding July 4th. However, my recovery from quadruple bypass surgery had me lying at home, watching on television as my wife, kids, and a family friend got to attend the game between our new home team and my beloved Mets. So the following Fathers' Day was an even bigger deal for us!

On the Metro on the way to the game, I patiently explained 2 truths that were already clear. First, although our Nationals were, technically, the home team, the likelihood was that we would be outnumbered by Yankee fans. And while my only in person experience of the World Series had been at Yankee Stadium during the 1999 series, and had taught me that not ALL Yankees' fans are loud and obnoxious, the odds were pretty good that there would be at least one unhappy interaction upcoming that day with some rude visitor to our fair city.

The second truth grew from the first. Whatever they heard around them, I explained, we would be role models. I did NOT tell them they could not boo the visiting team. I DID, however, make very clear that there were 3 visiting players who they could not boo, no matter what, because they were just too good. It was a lesson I had learned in my youth at Shea Stadium, when my father, a converted Yankee fan, would go out of his way to take me to games against the Giants, so he could cheer Willie Mays on his return "home," as well as the incomparable Willie McCovey. Those three Yankee players whose ability and performance had earned them this right were Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and (still at that time before the admissions of steroid involvement) Alex Rodriguez (who, ironically, at that moment, was struggling through a slump that had most Yankee fans booing him!).

That game made it onto the commemorative t-shirts given out at the close of RFK after the next season, for that was the game which ended with a memorable walk off home run by Ryan Zimmerman, a single swing which reduced 25,000 rowdy, obnoxious Yankees' fans to stunned silence.

And it was the first of now 4 capacity crowds I have been a part of at Nationals' games over the years. There was also that last game at RFK, when the game on the field mattered not in the least, we were all there to celebrate history. There was opening day this season -- that embarrassing debacle in which the Lerner's were so desperate for a sellout, that they sold blocs of tickets to Philadelphia bus companies and tour companies who turned it into a Phillies' home game.

And there was that game this summer between the Mets and Nats. Two struggling underachieving franchises -- just another of the many games that make up a season. Yet, the stands were full -- all because of one player -- the phenom pitcher! And, for the first time, the capacity crowd was actually watching the game, and rooting for the home team -- sort of.

They were rooting for the kid -- and they had picked the wrong day. For this was the day of the first hint that all was not right. He struggled with his control in the first inning, left the game early having given up several runs, facing a loss. I had another commitment I had to make, so I was leaving after the 6th inning, no matter what. But with Strasburg's early departure, the bulk of the crowd left with me.

And they, and I, missed the ridiculous ending, as the Mets gave notice that they would not be a serious player the rest of the way, squandering the lead in the 9th inning. It would have been nice to be able to report that the crowd that remained was appropriately raucous in their admiration for the grit of the comeback. But I don't know -- I was on the Metro! With too many other locals for me to be comfortable making the above statement!

And it wasn't long after that day that the Strasburg story turned tragic, and with it, all the excitement was sucked out of the Nationals for the rest of the season. Now we wait, and pray that the comparisons to JR Richard and Mark Fidrych do not turn painfully tragic as well.

It was that kind of summer in sports -- filled with the expected and the unexpected; the joyous and the painful. More reflections to come -- and not just from me.