9/9/08 Cannibal on Wheels
I see Lance Armstrong is un-retiring to try to better his very impressive seven Tour de France wins. Is he the best cyclist ever? You may want to consider Belgian Eddy "The Cannibal" Merckx for that title.
Just consider, in 1969, Merckx, in his first Tour de France, pulled off perhaps the greatest feat in the sport's history winning the yellow jersey, the King of the Mountains polka-dot jersey, the sprinter's green jersey and all three time trials. These days, no rider ever wins both the green and mountain polka-dot jersey in the same tour.
In his career, Merckx won the Tour de France five times and won 35 stages:
1969 - Won Tour, King of Mountains jersey and green jersey
In 1971, Merckx won 54 of 120 races. Between 1969 and 1973, he won 250 of 650 races. During his professional career, he won 445 of the 1,582 races he entered. That's a lot of racing and an amazing win percentage. Nobody else has even come close to that.
I take nothing from Lance Armstrong, a great Tour de France racer. You can't win seven in a row without being phenomenal. Still, for my money Eddy Merckx was the best.
One thing I don't get, what is with the spelling of his last name? Merckx?
8/15/08 Olympic Fever
Have I got it? If it's the sort of fever that makes you want to crawl into bed, pull the covers over your head and go to sleep... I got that.
Frankly, the Olympic Games don't excite me much. People running and jumping around, throwing things, lifting things. Yawn. Volleyball, gymnastics, diving, team handball, soccer, wrestling. Yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn. Badminton, field hockey, archery, yachting, rowing, equestrian, fencing. Yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn. How about slow motion racing in water, also known as swimming? Ya-a-a-awn. Need I go on?
What about the pageantry and special "clash of nations"? The "we are the world together competing in peace and harmony?" All fine and good, I'm sure. But doesn't make the old nape hairs stand up and take notice. Doesn't make my day, float my boat, shiver me timbers, oil my squeak, or get me all atwitter in any way.
Which isn't to say I'm against it any more than I'm against knitting or anchovies. Just ain't for me.
6/5/08 Winged Wheelers Grab Hockey Grail!
Who, what? You know, that other team in the NHL finals that didn't have Sydney Crosby. The Detroit red Wings, 2008 Stanley Cup Champions. Being from Detroit and an on and off fan since the days of Gordie Howe in his prime, I thought this deserves a mention. The Stanley Cup may not be the biggest or most important trophy in sports, but it might be the most famous by name. Quick, can you the World Series trophy? How about the NBA trophy?
Another thing interesting about the cup, there's only one. You don't get to keep your version of it after another team wins it. Nobody has one on permenent display in their trophy case. What other trophy engraves the of every player on the team for all prosperity? Which means the thing is now 35 pounds and in another 80 years... who knows.
I'll give away my age here by telling you I've been watching hockey since the days of the original six. Can you younger fans imagine a league with six teams? Sounds like it might be repetitive seeing the same five opponents over and over, but it meant every other team was a rivalry. Now-a-days we only see some teams once a year. In fact the finals was the first time Pittsburgh played in Detroit this season.
Congrats to the champs. Fourth cup in 11 years and 11th cup in 80 years. Maybe only third best behind Les Canadiens and the Maple Leafs but still pretty good. Especially if you lived through the long dreadful days of the Dead Things when they were a joking matter. Which makes these the good old days.
5/20/08 Going for Stanley
The Red Wings finished off the Dallas Stars and are going to the Stanley Cup finals. I can only hope they fare better than the last two Detroit teams in the finals. The Tigers in the '06 World Series and the Pistons last showing. Hey, it's good to get there, but nobody is satisfied with that. Just ask the fans of the Minnesota Vikings and the Buffalo Bills. Pray they don't get their bobble-heads handed to them by Sid the Kid and company.
Speaking of bobble-heads, how did they become so popular? It's not like they're anything new. I remember bobble-heads from when I was a lad going to games at Tiger Stadium in the 60s. They were all generic back then, no characters. All of them with a cutesy-pie, child-like face sporting a silly grin. Every one of them Caucasian, if I recall correctly. Now I guess they're campy and cool. Fads come and go and come back and go round and up and down.
I imagine this is a match-up that pleases the Hockey powers, and maybe broadcasters. You have the Penguins and Sidney Crosby who they've been promoting as hockey's version of Michael Jordan, against the Red Wings who are one of the brand names of hockey with a wide following. The down side, no Chicago or New York or Boston which the establishment media love, and no Canadian team. Will the nation care or watch? Stay tuned. And may the octopus be with us.
3/14/08 Gone Fishin'
As far as I'm concerned right about now is the doldrums of the sports season. The sports fan in me is lost at sea without a breeze or clear direction home. Football is over and the NBA and NHL playoffs are still a bit off. The post-season seedings are still up in the air, but their regular seasons are a yawner compared to football. Could be because, in a way, the entire NFL season is one big playoffs.
Consider, hockey playoffs are four rounds of seven games or 16 to 28 games. Similarly the NBA playoffs are 14 to 26 games. The entire NFL season including playoffs is 20 games max. This means just about every game, every week of the season is important and can make or break in football. Plus there's no do-over rematch in the playoffs. One bad game and you're gone fishin'.
I'm not saying football is better than basketball or hockey, but there is some aspect of attention economics here. Supply and demand and the law of diminishing returns or something. You get 82 regular season games a year in hockey. That's plenty of supply, a whole lot of fish in the sea. No wonder my attention diminishes. Landing a rare fish is simply a better trophy.
Baseball is something else again. There is one unique aspect to baseball, the starting pitcher rotation. Since pitching is such a big part of the game, in a way it's like your team is different and the opponent's team is different every game. So what might seem like 162 games of monotony, actually isn't.
The Super Bowl tilt is set, the New York Giants against the New England Patriots. I imagine this pleases the NY dominated east coast media. It also gives us several story lines which seem to interest sports writers if not fans themselves.
First we have the usual fodder for many a sports tale, the big underdog versus the overwhelming favorite. A story dating back to ancient times and the Bible, David and Goliath and all that. This is rather unexceptional, happens all the time. I can't get too excited over that.
More interesting, to my way of thinking at any rate, is the possible undefeated season of the Patriots. 19-0 with a win in the big game. This is rather rare. Happened only once before in my lifetime, the Miami Dolphins did it in the 70s. Though in two fewer games as they finished 17-0.
Another storyline is the possibility of the two Manning brothers each quarterbacking their teams to consecutive Super Bowl wins. What are the chances of that happening? Don't remember ever hearing of such a thing. Brothers may have played in consecutive championships before, maybe even faced each other. But not at quarterback, the glory position of football.
In either case they're bound to be trivia questions in the years to come. Though perhaps the Manning brothers feat would be more in the trivial vein. I would say if Eli can pull it off, it will be more surprising than what Payton did. The Giants over the Patriots? We'll see.
1/15/08 Snowbowl redux?
It'll be the New York (football) Giants versus the Green Bay Packers in the NFC championship game at Lambeau Field. Who'd have predicted that at the start of the season? Granted, this ain't Vince Lombardi's Packers nor Eweb Eubanks' Giants, but it seems like the 1950s all over again. Eli Manning as Y. A. Tittle? Maybe they should broadcast the game in black and white. I think it'd be cool if they wore their throwback uniforms, too.
It's funny how some people still say the New York football Giants as if the New York baseball Giants haven't been long gone to San Francisco for over 50 years now. Maybe that's a New York thing, or a Howard Cosell thing if I rightly remember him always using that wording.
It's also funny how a city the size of Green Bay can support an NFL franchise, but Los Angeles doesn't have one. And hasn't for a while. LA has had three different teams: the Rams who moved from Cleveland and moved away to St. Louis; the Raiders who moved from Oakland and then went back; and the Chargers who moved to San Diego.
11/4/07 Pete Rose by Any Other Name. Sports Nicknames.
Colorful sports nicknames have been around probably as long as there's been sports. Their origins vary, some follow the athlete from childhood, some are applied by teammates, some are coined by the press, and some, like many boxing nicknames, are promotional gimmicks.
I'm breaking it into three basic types. First is a substitute for the name like Joe DiMaggio being called The Yankee Clipper. The second is a nickname that flows into their real name as in Mark "The Bird" Fydrich. Sometimes this second type loses the quote marks producing a third variety where an athlete is known only by the nickname as if it were a given name, much like Satchel Page.
Just for fun, see if you know the given names for these nicknames:
Type One: The Big Unit, The Big Train, The Manassas Mauler, The Splendid Splinter, The Big Hurt, Charlie Hustle, Sweetness, The Iron Horse, Mr. October, The Galloping Ghost.
Type Two: _____ "Crazy Legs" Hersh, _____ "Night Train" Lane, "Three Finger" ______ Brown, _____ "Oil Can" Boyd, _____ "Rocket" Richard, _____ "Catfish" Hunter, _____ "Spaceman" Lee.
Type Three: Dizzy Dean, Pele, Tiger Woods, Magic Johnson, Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski, Babe Ruth, Deacon Jones, Yogi Berra, Bubba Smith, Satchel Page.
Type One: Randy Johnson, Walter Johnson, Jack Dempsy, Ted Williams, Frank Thomas, Pete Rose, Walter Payton, Lou Gherig, Reggie Jackson, Red Grange. (Though Red Grange isn't his given name, see type three below.)
Type Two: Elroy Hersh, Richard (Dick) Lane, Mortacai Brown, Dennis Boyd, Maurice Richard, James (Jim) Hunter, William (Bill) Lee.
Type Three: Jerome Dean, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Eldrick Woods, Ervin Johnson, Harold Grange, Branislau Nagurski, George Herman Ruth, David Jones, Lawrence Peter Berra, Charles Aaron Smith, Leroy Page.
This is not even close to a comprehensive list, and you might argue about where to draw the line between type two and three. Still, I imagine most sports fans have their own favorite players nicknames, pseudonyms, aliases and AKAs. For my money I really like Dick "Night Train" Lane for the mystery and power it evokes, as well as Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hersh as an inventive and slightly loopy description of the man in action.
One of my other favorites is bicycle racer Eddie Merckx who was called "The Cannibal." But I think he deserves an entry of his own. Which I'll get to some other time.
9/28/07 Dressed to Coach
Do you find it strange that baseball managers wear uniforms just like the players? It's not like they're going to put themselves in the line-up, and so need to be dressed to play. No other sport does anything like this.
Can you imagine Scotty Bowman in hockey kit? If he did, would he wear skates or street shoes? I don't see Bill Parcells outfitted with full padding and a helmet prowling the sidelines. And I certainly don't want to see the spectacle of Bobby Knight in a tank top and shorts blowing his top courtside. Maybe he has nice legs and a super torso and arms, but I don't really want to find out.
I can only suppose this baseball tradition of managers in uniform goes way, way back to when teams were captained and managed by players, before there were actual staffs employed for the job. I think Ty Cobb was a player/manager for a while. I'm sure in the old days there were others. I seem to remember this happened in my lifetime, but I don't recall the particulars. I clearly remember Bill Russel being player/coach of the Celtics at one time. I also know some sports don't allow it. Some time ago Alex Delvechio had to retire as a player when he became coach of the Red Wings. When he did, he started wearing a suit, he didn't remain in uniform.
Connie Mack wore a suit when he managed the A's back when they were in Philadelphia. But then, he was also the GM and owner so an exception in other ways as well. Perhaps in the near future we'll have another player/manager in baseball and the uniform will make sense. Still, it's a bit odd in my view. I wonder if there's a dress code for managers. Do they wear a cup, you think?
7/9/07 How to Improve Soccer
There is a way to improve soccer to make it better and more exciting, in other words more Ammurrican.
Rather than try to explain the many problems with soccer as it's now played (see The Good, The Bad, and the Unusual below) I give my rules for a new soccer-like game that would be better. I'll call it X-ball, as in experimental. If the rules laid down don't do the trick, change them until they satisfy.
Assume the basics are the same, no hands, no tripping or bumping, etc., kick or head a ball into a goal. Here are the differences.
1. The 6 yard box becomes a 10 yard box which becomes the penalty box. The current penalty box becomes the goaltender's box.
2. The goaltender can only block, deflect, slap or punch the ball with their hands and arms. No catching, cradling, corralling or otherwise controlling the ball in any other fashion. No dribbling the ball like a basketball or juggling it with the hands in a controlled way.
3. No goal kicks or corner kicks. All inbound plays are throw-ins from where the ball went out, even from the end line. No throw-ins from within the goaltender's box. If the ball goes out in that area the throw-in is at the edge of the box.
4. Two players from each team are designated "forwards." These players must remain in the attacking zone at all times. They cannot help defend in their own end.
5. No offsides rule.
6. Any foul inside the 10 yard box is a penalty kick from the penalty spot.
7. Fouls within the goaltender's box, and outside the penalty box, are direct free kicks from the spot of the foul, not the penalty spot. The ten yard rule still applies.
8. Goalkeeper must stay in goaltender's box at all times.
9. Allow three substitutions per half. Starting lineup can be completely changed for beginning of second half, including returning players substituted out in first half.
These changes are designed to do four things. Increase offensive effectiveness and goals (rules 2, 3, 4, 5). Without the offsides rule, the defense must adjust to the offense. This will stretch the defense and open up midfield play increasing up and down play. Since the goaltender can't catch the ball, there will always be rebounds and action ensuing shots on goal rather than a dead end to an offensive thrust. Eliminating goal kicks means the defence gets no free pass out of their own end after a missed shot or offensive thrust.
Decrease incidents of referees and linesmen deciding game outcomes on close calls (rules 1, 5, 6, 7). Protect players from collisions on "over the top" long passes (rule 8). Keep players fresher for the end of the game when players are often too exhausted to perform (rule 9).
One more thing, get rid of the penalty shoot-out to decide games tied after overtime. That's not really soccer or anything game like. It's like settling a baseball game tied after ten innings by playing home run derby. Silly, really. Instead have more sudden-death overtime... without goalies. That should decide things fairly quickly.
Of course this will never happen. So the only thing I'll suggest is a way to improve Major League Soccer, a little bit. Stop playing in the summer. Soccer players do a great deal of running and summer heat is a killer. Play in the fall and spring as they do everywhere else.
6/13/07 The Similarities are Different
Baseball sure has changed from when I was a kid. Not really so much it's notably different, unlike some other sports like football and hockey that keep changing the rules. Besides having more teams and inter-league play, there's a few other alterations you see in the show. I'm referring to four things: players, player substitution, scheduling, and one major rule change.
Players. I'm not talking about how they're all pumped up on steroids and the medical marvels that allow them to pitch until they're eligible for social security. What's different is the number of foreigners that play in the bigs. There were some latin players back in the 60s, but not nearly as many as today. And Japanese players stayed in Japan. If India would switch from cricket to baseball I'm sure we'd get a packet of Indian players over here sometime soon. This would provide one more group of names announcers could mangle until they got the hang of it.
Player Substitution. Very little of that platooning business in the old days. Your everyday players played, well, every day. None of that one line-up vs. righties and another against southpaws. The line-up was pretty much the same all the time. Plus pitching wasn't done by committee. A lot more complete games in the past, and as a consequence a lot fewer saves. The starting rotation was shorter, too. A star pitcher got many more starts back then, over forty. How else could Denny McLain have won 30 games? Nowadays they get between 35 and 40.
Scheduling. Even though they still play 162 games, the same as before, the season is longer. The season rarely started with snowed out games and the October classic was in early October not encroaching on Thanksgiving. Two reasons for this. The obvious one is the additional playoff rounds. When I was a lad, they didn't have them. The pennant winner was the team that finished in first place and went directly to the World Series. There were no divisions then, either. The second reason most young people probably wouldn't guess. They used to schedule a lot more double-headers. In fact, they were a regular part of the season. Now they only have them to make up rain-outs.
Rule Change. You might guess it, the biggest rule change was bringing in the designated hitter. This idea came about because of the way pitching was dominating baseball in the 60s. Carl Yasztremski won the batting crown in 1968 with a .301 average. The powers that be were desperate to get some offensive punch back in the game. They came up with the designated hitter because, as everyone knows, pitchers can't hit. Nothing kills a rally faster than having the pitcher bat in a critical spot in the half inning you're trying to scratch out a few runs. They also lowered the mound and made the strike zone smaller, but those changes weren't as radical as the DH.
Thing is, there's no lack of offensive firepower in baseball these days. Isn't it time to get rid of this rule and go back to "real" baseball. The way they play it in the National League? The way it was played in the American League for 70 years before? The way Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson played it? To my way of thinking, there's two things we should try to eliminate from baseball, the designated hitter and steroids. The first is easy, the second... one can only hope.
There's also a few little things that seem to be different. I don't see so many players with the big tobacco chaw bulging in their cheeks so much any more. The uniforms are more colorful, though to me they look like softball outfits. Then again, maybe I'm an old fuddy-duddy. (That I use the word "fuddy-duddy" pretty much confirms it.) The catcher's equipment has gone space age. Probably a good thing, that. Most teams now put player names on the shirt backs. Isn't that what the numbers were for? Way back when the Yankees were the first to put the numbers on so the fans could easily spot Ruth. As if that rotund torso and spindly legs weren't a dead giveaway. Funny thing is, the Yankees are about the last team without the names on the backs.
You might like to know, the Detroit Tigers never retired Ty Cobb's number. That's because he never wore one.