Golf: Stories, The 60’s Part II

The 60’s would be the decade of playing golf with my father, most of time.  Little did I know, it would be the last decade of playing golf with my father.  For some reason, he quit playing the game. That may have been partly due to  the fact, that I did not play much golf in the 70’s, and for the first half of the 80’s, but that is for another blog.  As I wrote in the previous blog, we played only on the weekends, in the early part of the 60’s, and the course was always crowded.  One of the things my Dad  did, when we had to wait on the tee box, for the group to clear, was to look for golf tees.  I still do this today, walking around the tee box looking for tees, just as a reminder, of  how much I enjoyed playing with my father.  The man was my one and only mentor.  I went to school for twenty years of my life, but I can honestly say, I learned more from my father, than any other person I was ever around.  He died in February 1999, at the age of 83, and the memories still live on, and I  see him in my mind many times.  The rounds we had together were great and so enjoyable, that even though they were very competitive, I do not recall the first time I beat my Dad for 18 holes.  Certainly as the decade ended I was beating him on a regular basis.  There were lot’s of good times and golf would always give us something to laugh and talk about.

Every once in awhile, my Dad and I would play some evening golf, arriving at the golf course about 5 to 6 o clock.  Most of time the first tee would be empty, and we would get around with no problem. This particular Saturday was no exception, and the tee box was empty when we went in to pay.  The first hole was a straight away par 4, that went uphill a little bit, about 200 yards out, and then flattened out about 120 yards from the green. When we got down to the first tee, it seemed like there was a lot of people, about 50 yards short of the green.  They were out of range, so we hit our drives.  We walked out to our drives, and it was quite an entourage that was on the first green.  But the one thing that really caught our eye, was a baby carriage right on the green. We stopped counting  when we got to 10 people  on the green.  When they brought out the movie camera, and started taking pictures of everybody, that was too much for my Dad.  He just looked at me, and told me to pick up my ball, we were heading for the second tee. It was the first and only hole, he ever skipped in his life.   Sometimes, my mother would just walk the course when we played in the evening.  By the 8th tee was a picnic area.  In the evening there would be guys playing volleyball, and of course drinking and eating, but mostly drinking.  These games could get a little intense, and there was always a lot of yelling and screaming, while you were hitting your tee shot on this long par 3, of over 200 yards.  One evening the combination of intensity and drinking, probably got carried away, because as we were getting ready to hit, there was more screaming, than yelling, then it got suddenly quiet.  The quiet made us look over to the volleyball game. Then the yelling and screaming became more intense.   Here, one player had stabbed another one, right in the belly.  I think it was only superficial, but the panic was deep. The guy that was stabbed, was bleeding pretty good, but they used somebodies T shirt to put pressure on the wound, and the game came to an abrupt end, with everyone hauling ass to their cars.  My mother looked at me as said” Please, Bobby stick to golf.”  We didn’t see a volleyball game there for awhile.  Another time in the late 60’s, my buddy and I were playing on a Sunday and we got to the 7th hole. These two guys came up to us, and just wanted to play this hole, so they could get to the food behind the 8th tee.  We said sure, since play was slow anyway, due to the outing. The first guy was what I call, a feeling good drunk.  In other words, he was loosie goosy, and he could swing the club, and hit the ball.  The second guy was gone drunk, which meant he could barely stand and walk.  After several failed attempts at trying to hit the ball, he just started the long walk of 568 yards, to get to the picnic area.   About half way there, he just whipped it out, and started urinating right down the middle of the  fairway, as he was  walking, with most of the urine going down his leg and pants.  When we got to the 8th tee finally, there was a big delay as usual, and they allowed us to go over a get a sandwich, to show their appreciation.     The seventh hole, the par 5 would give one more unique story.  We were playing with this guy who had joined us, and again because of slow play, he  was debating whether  to quit after the 6th hole, because the green was not  far from the clubhouse, about 150 yards.   He first said, he was just going to hit a drive, and walk in.   He hit such a good drive, by far the best of the day, he said he couldn’t end the day like that.  Low and behold, he hit a great  2ond shot right up on the green, and would be putting for an eagle.  He then proceeded to 5 putt.  Without much fanfare he picked the ball out of the hole, said good bye, and walked  about 600 yards to the parking lot. Never let you golf shots, affect your decision making process.

In the 60’s there would be two shots that I would always remember.  My first hole in one that was struck with a 7 iron on the par 3 second on July 31, 1968.  It hit about 10 yards short of the green on a rock hard fairway, and took 2 big hops, and then on  the third hop hit the pin, which I heard all the way back at the tee box, and disappeared.  The other shot I will always remember was just strange and more unlikely than the hole in one.  On the par 3 sixth hole at Mazeroski’s,  I hit this beautiful high 6 iron, and was watching it intently, thinking this was going to be a good shot, when suddenly, the ball collided with a bird, and both dropped from the sky, with the bird being killed. I do not remember what kind of bird it was, only that it was killed with a golf ball.  Believe it or not, this would not be the last time, I would see an animal killed with a golf ball.  I would finish the decade getting my first taste of competitive golf, but it would not be until the 70’s, that I would do anything competitively worth writing about.  As I mentioned before, the 6th green was fairly close to the clubhouse, and it was nice, that as darkness approached,  you could get in that extra 6 holes.  One day I was playing the 6th hole, and I could see that there were some pretty good storm clouds, moving in.  By the time I was putting out, there was thunder in the background and the wind was blowing.  I started running toward the clubhouse, that was about 150 yards away.   I was running pretty hard, with the golf bag over my shoulder, and getting a little winded, as I approach the first tee, where I was going to have to run uphill.  I was slowing down, thinking I was pretty safe, when a bolt of lightening hit a tree about 200 yards to my right.  Needless to say I got an adrenalin rush, that gave me that new surge to run my ass off, the remaining 50 yards to the clubhouse.  If I had been dumb enough to continue playing, there may never have been any 70’s stories.

Sports: Can’t Buy Me Luck

For those of us that remember the Beatles, one of their big hits was the song, “Can’t Buy Me Love”.  Well, the same thing can be said about luck, just ask the New York Yankees. In baseball, where there is very little limitations on what teams can spend to sign players, the Yankees have one of the biggest payrolls in baseball, and have built a juggernaut of a team.  Last year, despite having an unbelievable number  of injuries, this team still had enough talent to win more games, than anybody in the American League.  They signed Gerrit Cole to a record contract, and I made the comment, that they may win more games than any team in history.  Of course, that won’t happen, because the season will probably have less games, because of the Corona Virus. But the injury bug continues to haunt them, which would have affected their season, anyway.   That is one type of luck that affects sports, the injury bug.  This blog is going to discuss the  luck, that happens during the game.  Luck has always been a part of sports and life, that is  uncontrollable.  Everyone has heard the saying, I’d rather be lucky than good.  Nobody in the media ever will say that the only reason a team won a championship, was because they were lucky.   How much has luck been a factor in the various sports. and is it given too much  or not enough credit, when evaluating why a game turned out the way it did?  Which sport does luck play the biggest factor?  Let’s take a look at each of the four major team sports.

There is no question in my mind, that the sport where luck plays the biggest factor is football.  The reasons just pile up.  The shape of the ball is an oblong sphere.  Because of this, you have  crazy bounces, and deflections, that can have a major effect on the outcome of a game.   All the championships are decided by one game. If this was the case in other sports, there would be a whole different list of champions.   There is lots of down time in football.  The clock is running during  huddles and players going back to the huddle.  Even though the game is 60 minutes long, there is not near that amount of time, when action is taking place.  I know there are comebacks in football but time can be stalled more in football than any other sport.  The next down the luck line is hockey.  Again the puck is a disc that has a tendency to take crazy jumps and bounces, which will affect the game.  Goals can be deflected into the net, which can add to the luck of the game.  In the playoffs you rarely see the team with the best record making a long run into the finals. In a seven game series luck can be even a bigger factor. No other sport has  as a person on their team that can make or break them like a goal tender. He can single-handedly win or lose a game or a series.     Next is baseball.  Baseball has a round ball, and a long season.  There is an old saying, in the long run, class will tell.   Baseball has no clock, so teams can overcome a bad luck streak in a game, to make a come back.  In order to win a game, a team must perform one task.  They have to get the last out. Some teams have never gotten that last out. No sitting on a lead in baseball.  But in my mind, basketball is the sport where luck plays the least factor.  The big factors are, the ball is round, the game is indoors, you must make an offensive move in 24 seconds, and you are limited on what you can do to stop a team from scoring.  The proof of all this is, unlike hockey, usually the team with the best record during the regular season wins the NBA Championship. In fact it’s happened 12 times since 2000, almost double any other sport.

Even though I think luck is the biggest factor in football, I no way mean to imply that it was only luck that enabled the Steelers to win 4 Super Bowls in the 70’s, teams like the 49er’s and Cowboys to dominate their respective decades, and New England to dominate the 2000’s .  In fact luck, can go both ways.  Maybe it was some bad luck that kept these teams from dominating even more. So how much of a factor is luck when it comes to the various sports?  What makes a championship team?  You need a combination of talent, hard work, and coaching to go along with luck to be able win a title in any sport.  One of the four components, acquiring talent, needs to have some good luck to go along with it, too.  In football I think the break down is this:  Talent 33%, Hard Work 26%, Coaching 25% and Luck 16%.  For the other sports, I think there is a gradual decline in how much luck is a factor in winning a Championship, coming down to 6% for basketball.  The rest of the factors probably have some variability from sport to sport, but luck will always have to be figured into the equation, when giving reasons for teams winning one or multiple championships.   People never want to think that something so unrelated to the business of the game, could contribute as much as it does, to winning it all. Dropped balls, missed or bad calls, wind, bad hops, deflected balls, that do or do not end up in the opponents hands, hitting or not hitting posts and poles, all have played significant roles, in how important games, have turned out. Post game analysis always wants to talk about all the great plays, and how well coached, and talented the winning team is.   When a player drops a ball in the end zone, it has nothing to with the other teams talent, hard work or coaching. The bottom line is this.  Nobody really wants to give luck, whether it is good or bad, it’s just due. If it wasn’t for luck the sports world would look a lot different when it comes to who won, what championships.

Sports: What Sports

The sports world has been brought to a grinding halt, by the corona virus.  By now, everyone knows that every major sport, or sporting event has been canceled or postponed for around 6 to 8 weeks at least.  Everybody but the NFL, which is proceeding like nothing is wrong, is taking precautions to keep their players and organization safe. It makes you wonder if the NFL hierarchy is concussed. It just solidifies the fact, that the NFL is one of the most primitive and backward organizations in the world.  The newly ratified players agreement also supports this.  Let’s spread the virus, we don’t start play until September, and no one who is 60 or older plays football.  Over all, the sports world is not the brightest bulb in the room, anyway.  Even the NBA commissioner was talking about having some games, to help the American psyche.  What would really improve the American psyche, is too get back to work, feel productive and be able to pay the bills. The governor of Florida has shit for brains, also.  He refused to close beaches during spring break, which was a direct move to kill old people, and make sure they would be exposed to the virus as much as possible. Especially when all those people come back up north, and expose more old people.   I feel once this is over, that the government should build a canal across northern Florida, so it would be easier to quarantine the people that went down there, if we have a future pandemic.  Obviously, Florida officials do not care about health and safety. This entire crisis is historic, and no one seems to realize what a threat this is, to our everyday life, and the American way.  This is the worst economic crisis, since the great depression, and people are not doing their share, to keep everyone as safe as possible.

The main problem, is that this is the first time, that anything like this has happened in the history of the world, let alone in anyone’s lifetime.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, knows what is going to happen.  If fear of the unknown is a problem, then we are at an all time high, for stress and anxiety.  The more our high officials speak, the more they just look stupid, because none of them, in there entire lives,  have ever answered a question, by saying, I don’t know.  That should be the answer, to almost any question concerning this virus, and emergency.  If this gets as bad as some feel, and again nobody knows, it will really expose just how mediocre are health care system is. Already, the lack of testing is putting us way behind, in knowing what is really going on out there. Thank you money grubbing FDA.  These are tests, not drugs that might kill people.  We can only hope that most Americans are staying home and not mingling, that will help stem the tide.  Hopefully, warmer weather may help the situation, but this is not like the flu, so who knows.  These waters are uncharted, but it still does not mean, that all will be lost. Like everyone else, we will just have to see what happens on a daily basis.  If we follow the recommendations of  the Center for Disease Control, we can only hope that we will see the light at the end of the tunnel sooner than later.

Of course, you can not write about the corona virus pandemic without discussing, TOILET PAPER.   I still feel that the governor of Florida and the NFL had something to do with this.  It has been shown, that a family of 4, should go through about 17 rolls of toilet paper, in about 2 weeks. Now, there were pictures of numerous people on various sites, that had at least 60 rolls in the their grocery carts, and sometimes even more.  Some have said that people were buying in droves, to sell on E Bay.  I was amazed, that the focus for so many people, was toilet paper.  There are other ways to clean yourself, after a bowel movement.  I am not going into all of that in this blog.  I am trying to figure out, what this says about people, in general. One thing ,that there was not a shortage of, during the entire time of panic buying, was fruits and vegetables. Maybe buying toilet paper, and not following the CDC  guidelines, have some kind of relationship. Maybe these people know, that they are not going to make the sacrifices, that other people are going to make, and therefore they feel the crises will last a lot longer than anticipated, and  things like shelter in place, may last 4 to 5 months. It makes you wonder, if toilet paper has an expiration date that nobody talks about.   Maybe something will go wrong with the toilet paper, if stored for more than 6 months, which may cause your anus to fall off. That’s asshole for all you toilet paper buyers out there.   If that does happen, we will all know who bought too much toilet paper.  The good news, no restaurants will have to close over that.  Good luck to everyone, over these next days and weeks, or however long this will take, to get our lives back to some degree of normalcy.

Sports: Super Bowl, Oh So Wrong

This Sunday will be Super Bowl 54, with the San Francisco Forty Niners playing the Kansas City Chiefs. This will be the last time you see the names of the teams, in this blog.  The first Super Bowl was in January 1967, and the powers to be in the NFL, decided to make this a unique game.  Pete Rozelle, the commissioner of the NFL at time, gets a lot of credit for bringing professional football to the top of the rung, in professional sports.  This is one place, where he went off the rails.  Everything the NFL did, and continues to do concerning this game, is just succumbing to the whims of the television networks, who do not have the games best interests at heart.  Lets face it, the Super Bowl is nothing more than the NFL Championship game, just like the World Series, the NBA finals, and the Stanley Cup finals is to those sports.  Maybe football has a bit of an inferiority complex, because it is only one game that decides their championship, rather than a series. During the playoffs, you never hear that old adage, the NFL use to sell, that any team can be beat any other team, on any given Sunday. Where did the NFL go wrong when it started the SUPER BOWL. Let me count the ways.

First, they decided to play the game at a neutral site. The reasoning was they wanted to make weather less of  a factor in such an important game.  This, despite the fact that some of the most iconic games in NFL history, have had weather has part of the equation.  The very next year was the famous Ice Bowl of 1967.  There was also the feeling, that this was too important of a game for one team to have a home field advantage.  The  result of this was giving the fans, who had supported the team for all those years, the shaft.  In this day and age, it takes most fans their life savings to go to the Super Bowl.  This ended the electricity of the home field created by those home field fans.  Just think of all those terrible towels at Three Rivers Stadium, or Hines Field, if the Steelers would have been able to play some of their Super Bowls, at home. Thank God, that the other professional sport leagues did not follow this idiotic  thinking.   The home field is what gives the other sports that special feel for their championship series and games. Pro football will never have this, and they really don’t care, since everybody is getting their pockets lined.

The decision to have two weeks between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl.  Another decision to increase the hype, but in my view led to games that were not very well played.  Athletes are creatures of habit, and back when the Super Bowl started, there were no bye  weeks and no first rounds byes.   Once the season started the games were played every week with no breaks until boom, 2 weeks off till the Super Bowl.  Even today there is a debate, if a first round bye is a good thing in the playoffs.  I think the two weeks off is less of a factor today, because teams do have bye weeks during the season, and the bye week in the playoffs. There is no need to take the two weeks off, other than to increase the hype of the game, and give people a chance to make travel arrangements.  The game has gotten lost in the shuffle of what the Super Bowl has become, a non football event.

Yes, here is the final coup d’etat. Because of the HALF TIME SHOW, half time at the Super Bowl is about twice as long as the regular season.  Half time during the regular season is about 15 minutes.  The Super Bowl halftime  usually takes about 30 minutes.  To hell with what the players are use to, and the natural flow of the game.  This would be like making the 7 inning stretch in baseball 15 minutes, during the World Series.  You have to wonder,  do players warm enough before the start of the second half.  Then there is the commercials.  Many times  you see on social media, that someone says, I only watch, because of  the commercials. A new use for the DVR  fast forward the game and watch the commercials. This is pro football at its finest.  You have to wonder if the players realize how insignificant their championship game is, or are they just too concussed to know.  The Super Bowl is still one of the most watch events in the world, so nobody really cares, that it is being watched for all the wrong reasons. The NFL has taken a great game and turned it into a carnival.  Last years version was about as dull as it could be, so  is this finally starting to affect the players.  This years Super Bowl, sans the New England Patriots, is one of the most anticipated in a long time.  Everyone is expecting it to be a great game.  Sunday, we will find out if the players are more interested in winning a championship, or watching J Lo perform at halftime like the rest of the world.

Sports: Thoughts

Lot’s going on in the sports world, and not all of it good or uplifting news, but I will discuss some of the bigger stories, and some things going on in Western Pennsylvania. Most of the problems in sports are, in my view, media driven.  The media, a lot of times, even creates the problem, and does little to come up with a solution.  Every problem has a solution, but sometimes it is never found.  One media driven problem is that baseball will have a strike when the labor agreement ends. It is the example of the media’s obsession with predicting gloom and doom.  The media, whether its the sports or news, thrives on trying to create fear, anger, and stress.  They like to call it keeping everyone informed. Do they ever keep you informed of good things?  The answer is rarely.  But now to the world of sports.

Baseball elected two new members to the Hall of Fame.   Derek Jeter and Larry Walker became the newest members of the Hall.  Both players were deserving, and it is a shame that Walker had to wait until his last year on the ballot to gain entrance. The steroid issue came up, with Bonds and Clemens making very small gains, around 1 to 2%, which does not bode well for their future chances. Many of the same people that are appalled at the Astros sign stealing methods, still voted for Bonds and Clemens.  They acquired their astronomical statistics from cheating.  You hear all kinds of excuses for voting for Bonds and Clemens.  I am not even going dignify these lame reasons by listing them.  Here is a possible solution to the problem.  Take away all the stats they acquired while on PED’s.  Everybody knows when they started to take the drugs.   All you have to do is look at Bond’s and see when his head got as big as a basketball.  This may help Bonds and Clemens get into the Hall of Fame because their stats are that good before they took PED’s.  The record book will look a lot better with Hank Aaron at the top of the career leader board and Roger Maris the season leader in home runs.    Of course the media is still talking about the Astros.  They want the players to apologize and if they do, then everything will be fine. Please move on from this but I know this will not happen.

Then there is the Pittsburgh Pirates.  What are you doing? I don’t mean the what are doing, when you see someone putting peanut butter on a medium rare filet mignon. I mean, the what are you doing with the rest of your life.  Are they going to rebuild or not.   Of course, by the time I get to the end of this sentence Starling Marte could be traded, but lets assume the Pirates are going with what they have in 2020.  What  they have is 6 solid players at 1st, 2ond, SS, LF, CF,and catcher. In fact they have a top 10 first baseman, left fielder, and center fielder, in all of baseball.  The two big holes are 3rd base and right field. There are two things that this management team must be hoping for, or counting on. One, that Gregory Polanco can play 130 to 140 games. I don’t think they even care how well he plays them, just that he plays them.  Two, Ke’Bryan Hayes is ready for the major leagues.   The other big weakness in 2019 was the pitching staff.  Without any additions to the staff, management is hoping for the new coaching staff to really improve the performance of this staff.  It could happen.  As a long time Pirate fan I am very comfortable with the current situation, and I think this team could contend with the above happening.  Even though the moves of this team have been very very modest to say the least, they have upgraded a horrible defense.  We are about 2 months from opening day and a lot could still happen, which could change the outlook, but for now I say things are looking up.

A couple of brief comments to finish up.  I only follow college basketball peripherally, during the regular season, but it does seem that the top 5 in basketball, is losing on a regular basis.  I often think, that there will be an NCAA basketball tournament someday, that will have the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th seed as the final four.  Maybe this will be the year.  Another week, where a couple of NFL players were arrested, which still makes me think that there should be a clock on NFL.com running with the caption, it’s been this long since an NFL player has been arrested.  A week from Sunday is the SUPER BOWL, between Budweiser and Frito Lay.  I think that Budweiser will win the commercial battle by 2.  I have one final question. Does anybody watch all of the Super Bowl pre game shows, from beginning to end, even just on one network.  I hope not, but there probably is. There is something wrong when the event is bigger than the game.  Congratulations NFL for making your championship game, irrelevant.

Sports: Astros Much Ado About Nothing

The sign stealing scandal of the Houston Astros has the baseball world talking, with   MLB Network almost giving  it 24 hour coverage.  There is outrage everywhere, and talk of vacating the Astros World Series title. According to the media, players have been scarred for life, because of the way the Astros beat them.   Some of the coverage and writing acts like this is something new to baseball, cheating.  You have got to be kidding, me.  Baseball has had the most cheating, and circumventing of the rules than any sport in history, and this goes back to the very beginning of the game.  The team of the 90’s, the Baltimore Orioles were one of most cheating teams in all of baseball.  The Baltimore Orioles were the  team of the 90’s? Yes, they were the best team of the 1890’s.  More on that later, but let me clear up one thing here.  I do not condone what the Astros did in the least.  In fact, I am not sure the penalties were harsh enough.  I suspect that Alex Cora may get a 2 year suspension.  However, this idea that the Astros title should be vacated is absurd.  None of the biggest cheaters have ever had their records removed from baseball.  Go to any statistical site and you will find that Barry Bonds is  the all time home run leader.  In my mind Hank Aaron still is.    People that write about vacating the Astros title, probably vote for Bonds and Clemens to get into the Hall of Fame.  Let’s look at all the cheating that has gone on in baseball over the years, and I will try to keep this brief, but it will be difficult.

There are many areas of the game that players and coaches have figured out, how to cheat. . The steroid era, which saw so many home run records broken, and MLB did nothing about it, until forced, because home runs started to fill the seats, when it was desperately needed.  In fact, 6 of the top 15 home run leaders all time were considered steroid users.  Considering the steroid era lasted around 10 years, that is quite a high number.  Nobody is changing the records books any time soon. Many people feel that steroids saved baseball, because of all the exciting home run races and the records that were broken in a short period of time.  Next we have pitchers, doctoring up the ball, by applying substances to the ball or roughing up the ball with sandpaper and nail files.  The spit ball has a long and interesting history.  It  was made illegal, when it was thought a spit ball  hit a player in the head and killed him around 1920.  What was interesting about making the spitball against the rules, was that pitchers that were highly skilled in throwing the pitch were grandfathered in, and were allowed to throw the pitch until they retired.  See, baseball has always had screwed up thinking.  The advantage of  making the ball slippery whether by spit, or a substance like vaseline, is that it would take spin off the ball so the ball would act a lot like a knuckle ball, but with more speed.  The most famous spit ball pitcher of the modern era was Gaylord Perry  and of course he was rewarded for his cheating by being elected to the Hall of Fame.  Another victory for cheating in baseball.  Then we have doctoring the bat by using pin tar and cork.  The best bat doctoring though has to be by those 1890’s Baltimore Orioles, who would shave down one side of the bat to make bunting easier, which was a major part of the game at that time.  Finally there has been gambling, that has tainted baseball.  Pete Rose and the Chicago White Sox of 1919 and the players involved were banned from baseball for life.  You can do lot’s of things in baseball but don’t bet.

Now, lets turn to that team of the 1890’s the Baltimore Orioles of the National League, the only league at the time. They were, by far, the dominate team of the decade.  This team did not stop at just shaving bats to gain an edge.  This team sneaked balls into the outfield so if a ball got past them they would be able to get to the other ball quicker. They blocked opposing runners in the base paths. They interfered with foul balls near their dugout. They did many other things to break the rules.  The press called their play “aggressive” and chastised teams that played more by the  rules.  The entire National League was a rough and rowdy league.  Fans were finally beginning to tire of the act.  Thus the American League was born, and vowed to clean up the game and play by the rules.   The league was founded in 1901, which was basically a league derived from the Western League.  Their success was rapid to the point, that the first World Series was played in 1903 between the two leagues, with the Boston Americans beating the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 9 game series.  If it wasn’t for cheating the American League may have never existed.  That brings us back to sign stealing, which has been going on forever.  Now, even Bobby Thompson’s shot heard around the world is “tainted” because the Giants devised something to get the info to Thompson before the pitch.  Really now, after almost 70 years that home run is diminished.  Maybe we should vacate the Giants National League pennant.  Let’s face it cheating has benefited the game more than it has hurt it.  Steroids brought the crowds back into the stadium, it helped start the American League, and it got rid of the dead ball era after the Black Sox scandal. Ten years from now someone will find a new way to circumvent the rules.   Cheating is part of the folklore of baseball and despite the severe penalties for this latest sign stealing scandal, the game will move on and most likely thrive. Let’s hope the media can, but I am not too sure.

Sports: Devaluing Conference Champions

This week is Championship Week in college football.  There are the 5 power conference championship games, this weekend, that will have little or no significance on the College Football Playoff rankings.  This week more than any other shows the fallacy of the playoff system in college football.  The best thing you can say about it is, it’s better than nothing and better than picking just two teams.   You will hear on Sunday night such terms as meeting the eye test, most deserving and total body of work, on the self serving ESPN network.  This is a perfect example of a sport, and a sports network  thinking that their fan base is just plain stupid.  There is no other sport that picks their champion by such obscure phrases.  All other championships are decided on the field, not by some closed door committee. Granted, there are some at large bids for the NCAA tournaments, but the majority of the teams are in the tournament by winning their conference championship games, and there are 64 teams in the tournament.  Let’s look at what will probably happen this weekend, but also, what could  happen this weekend, which will have little bearing on the final four.

The biggest game of the five is LSU vs. Georgia, for the SEC Championship. This game will dictate what the weekend will be like.   LSU is about a touchdown favorite to win the game and a victory would eliminate Georgia from the top 4, unless a lot of other things happen. This puts Georgia under more pressure to win the game.   If Georgia pulls off the upset, then LSU would most likely stay in the top 4, and compete for the National Championship. For Georgia, it is a win or most likely go home scenario, which doesn’t seem quite fair.  The same thing can be said of the Ohio St. vs Wisconsin game.  If Wisconsin  pulls off the big upset, that probably won’t get them in the top 4, but it is unlikely to knock  Ohio St. out of the top four.  Wisconsin, would probably have to win by 14 or more points, to put Ohio St. out.   If  OSU, LSU, and Clemson, all win, and Clemson is almost a 30 point favorite to beat Virginia,  then it all boils down to the two winners of the Big 12, and Pac 12 Championship games. Then the committee would have to choose one and those phrases will be rolling off everybody’s tongue, come Sunday night. No matter what happens, one conference champion will not get in the playoffs, and if one or more upsets occur, as many as 3 conference champions will not have a crack at the National Championship.  Talk about making conference championships insignificant, the NCAA does it again. Of course, there is an easy solution to the unfairness of the whole mess.

The winners of the five conference championship games make the playoffs.  These are the five power conferences, and if you win your championship game you should move on. This is what sports are all about. What happens when Notre Dame has a great year. Just join the ACC Notre Dame, they need you really bad, and with this system, now you need them.  The end of the season games are more significant, and a conference championship game should be a playoff game. So how would the playoffs go from that point on.  The two lowest ranked teams that won would play the next week, and the winner would occupy the fourth spot. The schedule would then proceed as it is now.  Let’s look at those three disgusting phrases that are now used to pick the 4 teams. This team meets the eye test.  In other words, they look like the best team when you watch them play, and in many stats categories.   How many teams in other sports look great to the observer, but still lose the big game.  Try, too many to count.   The most deserving team, due to a tougher schedule, some  heartbreaking losses or who knows what.  Some times you don’t always get what you deserve.  Welcome to the real world.  The total body of work.  Three teams,  Ohio State, LSU, and Clemson, are going into these Championship games undefeated and untied.  Many people are of the belief, if these teams lose, they are one loss teams that DESERVE to go on, because of their total body of work.  Should they have made the New York Giants defeat the New England Patriots twice, because the Patriots were 18-0 going into that Super Bowl. That was a nice body of work, until the Super Bowl.  How can any team have a chance at a National Championship in football, and lose their conference championship game. The committee and ESPN will try and convince you, if that happens.  There is only one way to determine a champion and that is on the field.  Playoff football is different.  When is college football ever going to realize this.

Sports: Steelers vs. Giants December 1963. First and Last Chance at Glory.

The 1963 pro football season was odd and sad, and it was  the Steelers first chance at glory since pro football had become the up and coming sport, really challenging baseball as the number one sport in America. The season was sad because on November 22, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It was sad for the Steelers because in May of that year Big Daddy Lipscomb had died of a heroin overdose.    The season was odd because the Steelers had 3 ties that year.  They tied the Philadelphia Eagles twice and Eagles only won 2 other games all year.  See, it just not Mike Tomlin teams that play down to their competition. The other tie was against the Chicago Bears  who would go on and win the NFL Championship that year. In 1963, if teams played to a tie, the NFL looked at the game as if it had never been played.  Going into the last week of the season, the Steelers record was 7 wins, 3 losses, and those 3 ties.  But their “real” record was just 7 and 3.  They would play the New York Giants at Yankee stadium, whose record was 10 and 3, and by today’s rules of ties, where ties count as a .5 loss and .5 win they would have the division clinched.  The Steelers record would have been 8.5 and 4.5.  Even with a win they would be 9.5 and 4.5 and the Giants would have been 10 and 4, which would have won the division.  But this was 1963, and the Steelers were very much alive.  With a win they would be 8 and 3 for a percentage .728 and that would beat  a 10-4 Giant team with .714.  Despite how unfair this would seem, the NFL did not change the tie rule until 1972.  We Steeler fans did not care.  This was best chance for the Steelers to win their first division title since 1947 when they lost a play off game to the Philadelphia Eagles 21 to 0.  But alas, the Steelers lost 33 to 17 and as a 13 year old I was devastated.  I felt we were never in the game as my Dad and I watched the game on our black and white TV.  But low and behold I found a radio broadcast of the game on You Tube and well the Steelers were in the game more than I realized.

The Giants were the kings of the Eastern Division, having played in the NFL Championship game 5 out of the last 7 years.  Unfortunately they won only 1 of those games, the 1956 Championship game beating the Chicago Bears, 47 to 7.  Then they lost 2 to the Johnny Unitas led Baltimore Colts, and 2 more to the Green Bay Packers.  If they had done better in the championship games, they would be considered one of the best dynasties in football.  They would go on to lose to the Chicago Bears 14 to 10, in 1963. They had lost to the Steelers in the second game of the year 31 to 0, but Y. A. Tittle their Hall of Fame quarterback was out with injury.  The Giants were a veteran seasoned group led by  Tittle, Frank Gifford, Sam Huff,  and Andy Robustelli.  The Steelers were also a veteran group, thanks to their coach Buddy Parker, who was the precursor to George Allen, giving up draft choices for veterans.  In fact it was not uncommon for the Steelers to trade away all their draft choices while Parker was the head coach.  The Steelers did draft one player in 1963 by the name of Andy Russell, not bad for a 16th round pick.  The Steelers were led on offense by quarterback Ed Brown,  running back John Henry Johnson, and wide receivers Buddy Dial and Gary Ballman.  On defense they had Clendon Thomas, Myron Pottios and John Baker.  Now to the game.

The game could not have started out worse for the Steelers, as running back Theron Sapp fumbled the ball on the opening play, and the Giants recovered.  But the Steeler defense was able to hold the Giants and Don Chandler kicked a 34 yard field goal, which was a 34 yard field goal since the goal posts were on the goal line in 1963. The goal posts were not as long either but that’s a story for another blog.   Gary Ballman returned the ensuing kick off all the way to the Giant 28 yard line.  But the Steelers could not move the ball and Lou Michaels missed a 30 yard field goal. The Giants on their next series fumbled the ball right back to the Steelers and they had the ball  at the Giant 33 yard line.   Ed Brown hit Gary Ballman around the 10 yard line and was getting ready to score but lost control of the ball and fumbled it into the end zone and the Giants  returned it  to their own 34 yard line.  The Giants had a third and inches on their own 44 yard line and threw a 16 yard pass to Del Shofner and then  on the next play, Tittle  hit Shofner again for a 41 yard touchdown and when Chandler missed the extra point they led 9 to 0.  On the next series Brown threw an interception and the Giants had the ball on their own 44. The Giants moved down the field to the Pittsburgh 5 yard line, first and goal.  The Giants tried a halfback pass with Frank Gifford but wound up having 3 laterals, yes that’s 3 laterals,  and finally Y. A. Tittle wound up throwing the ball incomplete. To make matters worse the Giants were called for holding, which was a 15 yard penalty in 1963.   On the next play Andy Russel intercepted a Tittle pass, and the Steelers had the ball on their own 4 yard line. Mercifully the 1st quarter ended, with the Steelers losing 2 fumbles and throwing an interception, and the Giants fumbled twice, but lost only one, and threw one interception. The second quarter did not go much better. After an exchange of punts, the Steelers had to punt again, and the Giants fumbled, with the Steelers recovering on the Giants 24 yard line.  On two running plays the Steelers make 9.5 yards and it is 3rd and inches.  The Steelers do not make an inch in 2 plays and turn the ball over to the Giants on the 14 yard line. On their next possession  the Steelers  move the ball to the 37 yard of the Giants and are stalled with a 4th and 7. They elect to kick a field goal and back up quarterback Bill Nelson fumbled the snap and the Giants take over at their own 44.  The Giants move quickly. Long pass to Shofner to the Steeler 13 and then a TD pass to Joe Morrison and Giants lead 16-0.   But just like in todays game, with only 1:05 to go in the half, the Steelers move right down the field and Lou Michaels finally makes a field goal of 27 yards, and it is 16-3 at the half.   The Giants don’t move the ball to start the half and punt to the Steelers and they start at their own 34 yard.   On third and 2 at the 42 John Henry Johnson finally breaks one and goes 48 yards to the Giants 10 yard line, first and goal.  A holding penalty pushes the Steelers back to the 25 and on third down Brown finds Ballman in the end zone from 21 yards out, and with the conversion the score is 16 to 10 about one third  through the third quarter and we have a football game.  The Giants hold on the kick off and have to start on the 14 yard line.  But then it’s slam bang thank you mam.  Third and 7 from the 17 yard line,  30 yards to Gifford to the 47, then 25 yards to Gifford to the 22, and TD to Morrison from the 22.  Three plays, 83 yards, touchdown, its 23 to 10 Giants. The Steelers go 3 and out, when they try a long pass on 3rd and 2 and the avalanche continued.  First and 10 on the Giants 36, first play 31 yard pass with a face mask penalty tacked on, it is first and 10 on the Steeler 16 yard line.  Fifteen yard pass to Gifford to the one, and Joe Morrison over the top for his 3rd TD of the game,  and Giants lead 30 to 10 and the game is essentially over.   The Steelers have a nice drive but Brown throws an interception in the end zone.  The Steelers score on their next possession on a 40 yard bomb to Buddy Dial.  The Steelers try another field goal, for what ever reason and of course it was missed from 48 yards.   The Giants start on their own 8 yard line because of a clip and go on a long ball control drive that results in no points but eats up enough of the clock and then Chandler adds a field goal with about 2 minutes to go that locks up the game, and sends the Giants to the Eastern Division Championship and a date with the Chicago Bears.

It was a game of missed opportunities for the Steelers. In the first half they were inside the Giants 25 yard line four times and came away with only 3 points. Ed Brown did not have a good game and was crucified for it, but did not get a lot of help. Critical fumbles, dropped passes and missed field goals hurt them  as much as anything.  Myron Cope related the story that he knew that Ed Brown was not going to have a good game, because he was not seen at the favorite watering hole for the Steelers that week.  Cope deducted that this was not a good week for Brown to take the game too seriously, and stop drinking for that week.  He may have been right, but the loss was a team effort.  But the game was better, than I remembered as a devastated teen in 1963.  For both teams, it was their last shot at glory for awhile .  This would end the reign of the New York Giants as the elite team of the Eastern Division, in a big way.  It would take 23 seasons before the Giants would win the division they were in and then would go on to win the Super Bowl.  In that 23 year span the Giants had only 6 winning seasons and 2 seasons where they played 500 ball.  They fell long and hard.   The Steelers would fall apart in 60’s winning only  19 games in the next 6 seasons.  But we all know what happened in the 70’s as the Steelers became the elite franchise.  It would have been nice to see that team of Buddy Parker’s beat the Giants on a cold and half frozen field, at Yankee Stadium, that would have sent the Giants to their 23 year swoon, one season early.

Sports: World Series Wrap Up

The World Series came to an end last night, as the Washington Nationals pulled off their second big upset in this post season, winning the Series 4 games to 3 over the Houston Astros.  On the way to becoming world champions, the Nationals knocked off two of the so called super teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the aforementioned Astros.  Since the middle of May, the Nationals matched these teams victory for victory.  The fact that they were able to take it all the way, should not be all that surprising.  After the sixth game  MLB Network was describing this series as  epic  trying to increase the hype, and to obscure the fact that this World Series was anything but epic.  This is not to take anything away from the Washington Nationals great victory, and a nice win for the National League.  In fact, this may have been one of the most deserving victories in a long time.  The Nationals played better than the Astros in every phase.  The best way to describe this series was odd.   Let me count the ways.

The visitors won every game.   That has not happened before in any 7 game series in any sport.   How about this betting parlay, The Nationals would score 3 runs in 3 home games and win the World Series.  There are no wilder and raucous fans than the fans at the World Series, especially a Game 7.  After every game that wild and delirious fan base went home sad.  The last World Series to be clinched at home was in  2013 by the Boston Red Sox.  Home field has seemed to have lost it’s advantage in baseball, and it’s hard to say why, but this was an extreme example.  Other than Game 1 the games were not very close.  The only games in doubt after the 7th inning were 1 and 7, and that quickly changed in game 7 as the Nats added on in the 8th and 9th, with the Astros not threatening in the bottom of either inning. This series was odd but not very tense or exciting.  The smallest margin of victory in each game was 1,9,3,7,6,5, and 4.  But despite these lopsided margins in the games, the overall stats of the series, shall we say , was oddly close.   Try this on for size.   Both teams hit 11 home runs.  Both teams walked 27 times.  Both teams had the exact ERA of 4.39.  The Nats scored 33 runs and the Astros 30 runs.  The Astros had a slight edge in OPS .794 to .739.  The Astros had the slight edge in Whip 1.34 to 1.50.    Every time it seemed that a team was going take the series by the throat and win, they fell flat on their face.  After game 2 it looked like the Nats had the potential to sweep the series but then the bats went dead the next 3 games.  Going into game 6 it looked like the Astros had righted the ship, ready to win their second championship in three years, but instead the ship sank. Finally the interference call at first base and the reviewing of a non reviewable play in game 6. What more can you say.   It was an odd World Series.

Why did the Nationals win.  It boiled down to two things.  Garrit Cole picked the wrong day to be human.  The ace of the decade,  who had not lost a game since mid May, just had an off day for him.  It was by far the key win of series.  The big names for the Nationals performed and the big names for the Astros did not.    Verlander continued to have problems in the World Series. Strasberg was the Series MVP.    Rendon and Soto  had a combined OPS of just over .2000, while Altuve and Bregman’s OPS was just over .1500. The Nationals simply out played the Astros when it counted the most.   I don’t think managerial strategy and decision making played a big role in the outcome.  But I am going to nitpick and second guess at the same time.  Houston manager  A. J. Hinch seemed to have no confidence in Zack Greinke.   Taking him out in the 7th after only 80 pitches seemed a little premature considering he is still one of the best pitchers in baseball.   I know about all the reasoning behind the third time through the line up and this is the age of great bullpens, but this is Zack Greinke and he seemed to be getting out of trouble just fine in this post season.  If the outcome had been the same, then he would have been criticize for leaving him.  I said this was nitpicking and I think the eventual outcome would have been the same, because the Astros bats went dead.   Congrats to the Nats. It’s nice to see the World Series trophy back where it belongs, in the National League.

Sports: The World Series

The World Series starts tomorrow, with the Houston Astros hosting the Washington Nationals.  Since the middle of May,  they have been the two best teams in baseball.  The Astros go into the series as heavy favorites.  This is the biggest odds differential since the 2007 series, when the Red Sox were big favorites over the Colorado Rockies.  That series went according to plan, as the Red Sox swept the Rockies in 4 games.  The Rockies were red hot going into that series having an unbelievable finish to the season going 21 and 8 and sweeping both the division series and N.L.C.S. going 7 and 0.  The oddsmakers knew something, making the Red Sox big time favorites, and they came through just as predicted.   This Series has a similar feel, with the Nationals coming off a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, and upsetting the favorite L. A. Dodgers in the division series.  Yet again, the Astros are considered the overwhelming favorite.  Will the oddsmakers be right again?  I am not too sure.  There are some things in the Nationals favor, that says this should be a tight well played series, that will go 6 to 7 games.

You never know  how a team is going to perform from series to series in the playoffs but so far the Astros are just not hitting.  They have four players with an OPS under 600.  Alex Bregman has walked a lot out of respect but is hitting only .257 with one home run.  You have to wonder if Washington will challenge him more.  One reason the Astros beat the Yankees is that they hit worse.  Even the bullpen game did not produce a lot of runs between these so called offensive juggernauts.  I am not to sure a team can get hitting healthy against the Nationals starting rotation.   The Nationals have a good DH line up for a National league team.  Howie Kendrick seems like the perfect DH and the Nationals will be better defensively for the games in Houston.  The Nationals starting rotation stacks up well against the Houston big three.   If  Anabel Sanchez can continue to pitch the way he has, then it is certainly deeper.  For whatever reason the Astros seem to make things hard on themselves.  When they won in 2017, both the N.LC.S. with the Yankees and the World Series against the Dodgers  were hard fought and went 7 games.   As great as this  team always looks on paper, you could argue that if they had not acquired Justin Verlander on August 31st at 11:59 pm, they would not have been World Champions.

Will the Astros prevail?  Yes, I think they will, but just barely.  They have 2 advantages.  One is Garrit Cole.  He is has been the most dominant pitcher in baseball, not just for this post season, but for about the last 5 months. There are not too many sure things in life, but he looks like he will continue to be excellent  for the next 7 days.  There is more pressure on the Nationals starting pitchers to perform because of the weak bullpen of the Nationals. This could finally take its toll.  Even the bullpen members that have performed reasonably well, like Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle could easily wilt under the pressure. There is no question, the Achilleas heel of the Nationals is that darn bullpen, and  you have to wonder if they can manage to get through one more series against a quality opponent.   There is one interesting strategy situation  that might determine the final outcome.  Is Houston going to go with the 3 man rotation, with the starters then going on short rest, or will game 4 be a bullpen game again.   In my view, as good as the three starters for Houston are, trying to pitch them on short rest could be the big mistake of the Series. Cole has never pitched on short rest and the one time they did it with Verlander it was a failure.  Of course if they win the first 3 games it won’t make any difference.   However if Houston decides to go with that 3 man rotation, then I am really liking the Nationals.  Can’t wait to see what happens as another fall classic begins.