Sports: Pittsburgh Pirates, Swooning Continues.

The Pirates showed that May was no fluke, as they stumbled and bumbled their way, to a 9 and 17 record in June. The highlight of the month was the 10 game losing streak. Again there were no surprises, unless you call the bad players, going from bad to worse a surprise. The few major league players they do have, played some solid to excellent baseball. If baseball only put 5 players and a pitcher on the field, the Pirates could make a run at the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Pirates, there are 3 other players that have to take the field. They are so bad, that they desecrate the game. They are so far below the performance of a major league player, that they could only be productive, at the AA level of the game. These players should not even be playing for Indianapolis, let alone the Pirates. The list, in no particular order, is Gregory Polanco, Kevin Newman, Phillip Evans, Ka’ai Tom, Erik Gonzalez, Michael Perez, and Ben Gamel. Here is their corresponding OPS+, with the league average being 100: 74,46,73,60,55,62, and 87. None of them have a WAR of over .3 and most are negative war. The Magnificent Seven, they are not. These players who cannot hit, average one walk per 13 plate appearances. The league average is one walk per 11 plate appearances. The 5 major leaguers, that the Pirates do have on their team, average one walk per 10 plate appearances. Obviously these players do not learn by example. They really do not learn by any method, really. They certainly do not try and improve their game.

Despite having an overall horrible month, the Pirates did improve their Defensive Efficiency to 12th in all of baseball, from 20th. Ke’Bryan Hayes is probably the main reason for this. He has been a defensive star and is still hitting above the league average with an OPS+ of 122. His bat has been slumping a little of late, but every hitter is going to go through this once in awhile. In less than a month of playing is WAR is already, at 1.0. The Pirates are 29th in runs scored, with the New York Mets dead last, but only 5 runs behind. They are fortunate to be 6 games over .500, and the Washington Nationals are feeling the 2019 vibe, all over again. It will be interesting to see, if the Mets can remain in contention, throughout this season, let alone stay in first plate. It shows you what great pitching can do, but can it hold up for another grueling 3 months. Sorry about getting sidetracked about the Mets, but it is really hard writing about the Pirates. Will the Pirates finally go for the full teardown by getting rid of 3 of the 5 major leaguers they have, namely Colin Moran, Adam Frazier and Jacob Stallings. I am only discussing position players, as there are pitchers, both starters and relievers, that could be gone at the trade deadline. Only time will tell, how far the Pirates are going to go, in tearing this thing down. I mean the Pirates are a thing. They are certainly not a baseball team. They are about as bad as I have ever seen, even though they do not have the worse record in baseball, at least for the moment. Remember, I witnessed the mid 60’s Mets, and believe me, they were better overall, than this group. It would be nice to see 7 DFA’s come August 1st, but I doubt that will happen. Hopefully, Hayes bat will get hot again, and the other 4 will perform, as they have been. I guess 5/9ths of a team is better than nothing, or is it? Will look at them again August 1. Maybe they will surprise, that would be nice.

Golf: Stories, The 90’s

In the 90’s, I went full circle, when it came to golf. I played a lot for the first 4 years, then hardly played at all for 19 months, and finally, went full bore at the end of the decade, as I played on my first professional tour. My years at Rolling Hills will be included in the 90’s stories, even though I joined Rolling Hills Country Club in September of 1986. I went to putting left handed in the the 90’s. During this time, my veterinary practice had its greatest years, that would continue into the 2000’s, until I sold it, in 2004. I would not record a hole in one during the decade, which would mark the only decade that I did not have a spectacular shot. Even though I did not record a hole and one in the 2010’s, I did get an albatross, in 2017. I did hit a lot of good shots during my years at Rolling Hills.

I spent 7 full golf seasons at Rolling Hills. The odd thing about my play there, is that I holed out more shots from the fairway during those years, than I did anytime before or since in my entire golfing life. I did not make a hole in one but I eagled every other hole there, with exception of the long par 4 17th hole. Some of the hole outs were fairly long shots. A 3 iron,(remember that club), from 200 yards out on number 9. Various wedges on numbers 1,2,4,6,10,11,12,16, and 18. Short irons on 5,8,13, and 15. During the 7 seasons, I had 20 hole outs of 50 yards or longer. I saw many odd shots at Rolling Hills. Once one of my playing companions hit a high pulled iron into a tree to the left of the 8th green, we saw two things drop from the tree. I thought it was just some leaves on a branch. When we got up to the green, we saw his ball and a dead squirrel. Knowing my profession, he wanted to know if I could revive it. I saw many shots that were hit to the left of the 18th green, hit a retaining wall, or the clubhouse balcony, and bounce onto the green. This tee shot on the first hole, however, tops them all. There was an electrical tower, just to the left of the first tee. Odd isn’t it. In one of the club events, this player started his round, by lining a low left hard hit heeler. The ball hit a brick, that surrounded a flower bed, just to the left of the first tee. It flew straight up into the air, to the top of the electrical tower, and noisily rattled around. It flew out of the tower even further to the left, then it hit the awning of the pro shop, and bounced across the practice putting green, where people had to scatter, and wound up about 25 yards to left and behind where he had teed up. Since this was an event, the putting green had to be cleared so he could hit his second shot. Even though I enjoyed my years at Rolling Hills, golf was becoming something, that I was not enjoying, so I decided to take a hiatus from the game. I remember when I made the decision. I was sitting in the men’s grill, on a rainy Sunday morning, waiting to see, if we would get to play, and suddenly, it was like I was the only one in the room. Everybody was talking to other people, and for once, I was not talking. It just hit me right then, that I was going to quit. About 2 weeks before we had just qualified to go to Orlando for the National Oldsmobile Scramble, in late September, early October. I knew that would be my last golf, for awhile. Everybody was shocked, that I was going to quit playing golf. Some thought I joined some kind of cult, and had to give up something to belong. Some thought I was devastated by my 4 runner up finishes in the club championship.

Why did I give up the game for awhile? Like most decisions, there were a lot of little things that just added up. I had hit a wall in playing the game and was getting frustrated as hell. There were many other reasons, some not even related to golf, but I knew I just had to get away from the game. First, I always knew that I would take it back up, in fact I continued to hit balls, and I did play in various scrambles, and did get a chance to play Scioto Country Club. I played about 6 rounds of golf over that 19 month period of time. I really did not miss the game at all. I ran 5K and 10K races every weekend, and I had lots of other things to do to keep me busy. In fact looking back on it, the only mistake I made was coming back too soon. I should have waited until the spring of 97, to start playing again. Once I came back, I was still having the same problems I had, when I left the game. It was then, I decided to putt left handed, and that started a nice turn around. I have lefty in me, as I throw left handed and my left eye is my dominant eye. I turned 48 in 98, and many senior tours allowed you to start playing on them, at the age of 48. I played on what was called the Tornado Tour, beginning in the spring of 98. It was in the eastern part of Ohio and it played the events on Wednesday or Thursday. I played on that tour for 4 years until it went belly up and actually won one event. I still don’t know how I did that, but it had no carry over affect in future competitive endeavors.

As the nineties came to a conclusion, I was firing on all cylinders in every aspect of my life. I was keeping a brutal pace for someone just about to turn 50. I admit I was loving every minute of it, but in the end, I really could not get it together on the golf course. By the end of the next decade I was ready to quit the game again, and this time for good. Instead I decided to start blogging in 2010 and have kept playing every since. I felt there was some kind of unknown quality about the game, and there was a better and easier way to play the game. I am still looking.

Sports: Pirates, They Made It, Barely

The Pirates were 5 and 8, and heading into what I called a tough stretch of games, where they would play 15 of the next 20 games on the road. I wrote if they wanted this season to remain viable, they would need to be somewhere between 3 and 5 games below .500, at this point. After a promising 6 and 3 road trip, they really hit the skids, but managed to win yesterday, and are at 14 wins and 19 losses, 5 games below .500. The offense became putrid, which was the main reason for the slide. The OBP dropped to 21st from 8th. Their OPS+, which was 11th in the league at the 13 game mark, fell all the way to 29th. This team could not score runs when they were hitting, so naturally their run production went from 17th to 27th. Their fielding and pitching improved, which allowed them to go 9-11 during this 20 game stretch. The Defensive Efficiency Rating rose to 14th from 22nd, which is one of their highest rankings in about 6 years. Interestingly, their strike out rate took a big drop, to 25th from 11th. All the other pitching stats moved up significantly. Whip was 13th, ERA+ 18th, and FIP 14th, all up, from the mid to high 20’s after 13 games. The most disappointing stretch of games, were the 5 homes games, where they lost 4 out of 5 to the Royals and the Cardinals. The other disappointment, during this stretch, was the continuation of bone head plays. Come on guys, this is the Majors. The loss of Colin Moran will hurt an already struggling offense. Despite what Bob Walk says, Moran does not play 1st base all that well, and who knows, maybe if Todd Frazier gets some steady playing time, he may start to hit. He certainly fields the position better. All in All, the Pirates held it together, barely

I thought some things would have to happen for the Pirates to have success during this 20 game stretch. Most of them, did not happen, and yet the Pirates went a respectable 9-11 during this time. Ke’ Bryan Hayes did not come back, and now appears he won’t be back until at least June 1. This loss just keeps getting bigger and bigger, especially when you consider who is playing third base, but more on that, later. I felt that Polanco may start to contribute, but that did not happen. I guess you could say, he is missing in action, and really, it is no big loss. The K twins got better because one of them is not pitching and hopefully Keller finds a way to have two good starts in a row. Right now, he is on an every other start run, which I suppose is better than nothing. They did get rid of the strike out happy centerfielders, and got more production out of the position, but it was almost impossible to get any less. The starters seem to be going deeper, with Anderson going 8 innings yesterday. I think the bullpen was in such shock, that they almost blew the game. Until yesterday, the Pirates have not really had any good luck. Things were particularly bad in San Diego. They hit a lot of liners right at people, and San Diego just seemed to be able to find the hole, when needed. Yesterday, the Pirates did put on a bloop hit show to score 6 runs, so maybe that will turn this team’s luck around.

The next 20 games will get us through the month of May. The Pirates will play 13 of the next 20 at home, which despite the last home stand, should be a plus. This is what I would like to see happen, with the personal, over this stretch of games. Erik Gonzalez needs to sit. In 110 plate appearances, he has walked twice. This has been his MO his entire baseball career, and it is not going to change. For what ever reason, he looks pretty good until he gets 3 balls on him, and then he swings at anything. The worse plate discipline I have seen in a long time. Try somebody else at third base. I don’t care who, there are numerous candidates. Gonzalez can always be used as a defensive replacement late in games. His OPS+ of 54 is horrific, with the league average being 100. He is good defensively, but not that good, to warrant him in the lineup, on a team that can not score. We are not talking about Javier Baez here. If and when Chad Kuhl gets healthy, he should be moved to the bullpen. He might fare better there, and I feel the rotation is better without him. Phillip Evans needs to get out of his slump. At least he walks, but his OPS+ is down to 88. This will be one of the keys during this 20 game stretch. If he continues to slide, then he needs to sit next to Gonzalez. Adam Frazier and Bryan Reynolds seem to have recovered from their 2020 hitting slumps, but Kevin Newman has not. It would be nice if he can start to hit. Finally, I do not understand what the Pirates see in Clay Holmes. Hopefully, they are right, and I am wrong. I think the Pirates have better talent on their roster, than him. If he proves me wrong, then these 20 games may be alright, because the Pirates use him a lot. Only Sam Howard, has appeared in more games this year. The Pirates have to play at least .500 ball through this stretch, if they are going stay competitive in the division. In order to reach this goal, this team has got to find a way to score runs. We will revisit the Pirates June 1.

Sports: Pirates 5-8, Pretty Amazing

The Pittsburgh Pirates have played 13 games so far this year, and have won 5. Considering all the things that have gone wrong, winning 5 games at this point, goes way beyond expectations. They have not been doing it with mirrors either, but I will get to the stats, later. The biggest thing that went wrong, is that they lost their best player, Ke’Bryan Hayes to injury, after the first game. It was a major blow, almost before the season started. Despite that, they won 4 more games. There does seem to be some hope for this team, since they split a 4 game series with the San Diego Padres, one of the better teams in the National League. One of the Padre games set baseball back about a hundred years, where the Pirate pitchers walked 13 batters, hit 3 more, and yet won the game rather easily, 8 to 4. There are some things to like about this team, and their manager.

Despite losing Hayes, and having no production, and I mean one big fat zero, from the centerfield position, the Pirates did not hit bad as a team. Their OBP is 8th in the Majors and their OPS+ is 11th. Unfortunately, that did not compute into as many runs as it could have, due to the fact, they only had 7 batters, each game, capable of putting the ball in play. In total runs, they are currently 17th. Even when they put Wilmer Difo in centerfield, who at the time was swinging a hot bat, he struck out 4 times and hung an 0 for 5 collar. The pitching and defense have not faired as well. In Defensive Efficiency, they are currently 22nd, which is still a little better, than they have done in the past. In all the significant pitching stats, walks, Whip, ERA+, and FIP, the Pirates rank between 24th and 27th. The only place where they are above average, is striking out batters, ranking 11th. So far, I love the way Shelton has managed. I do not know whose philosophy this is, but the way the bullpen is being managed is brilliant. Everybody is getting their chance to pitch in some high leverage situations, and there does not seem to be the proverbial 7th and 8th inning man. Yes, Rodriguez does seem be the possible closer, but with the Pirates leading 2-1 in the eighth against the Padres, it was Chris Stratton, warming up in the bullpen. The Pirates did score 3 runs in the eighth, but Stratton was warming up before they scored the runs. I hope this bullpen philosophy continues. He seems to be trying to have a very stable starting line-up, with none of what I call the strange Sunday line-up, that Clint Hurdle was famous for. The Pirates are going to play 15 of their next 20 games on the road. In order for this team to remain viable, they need to at least tread water, and stay somewhere between 3 and 5 games below .500. What needs to happen?

Hopefully, Hayes will come back sooner than later, and can stay healthy. There has got to be better production from the centerfield position. Forget the DH, right now the Pirates have 2 pitchers batting in the line-up as it stands now. That has to end soon, no matter how that is accomplished. Polanco is beginning to show some life. If he can continue, and stay healthy, and not hurt anybody else, like throwing a bat in the dugout, or running over Phillip Evans, then that will be a big plus. Hopefully, the base running and fielding will improve. It should, when Hayes comes back. Then, there is the K twins. I wish K stood for strike out artists, but instead stands for killing any chance of winning a game, when they start. Mitch Keller and Chad Kuhl have got to start pitching better. This is the coaching staffs biggest challenge at the moment, getting these two back on track, and staying on track. The whole rotation needs to improve. Nobody has gone 6 complete innings. That hopefully will start to happen. No matter how well Shelton can handle the bullpen, it needs a rest, once in awhile. With all the problems, and some bad luck, running into a red hot hitting Cincinnati team didn’t help, the Pirates won 5 out of 13 games. That doesn’t sound that great and the next 20 games could be difficult, but with any good luck, we will still see the Pirates right around .500 when we visit them again on May 10th.

Sports: Targeting

Targeting is the rule in college football which states, that no player shall target and make forcible contact against an opponent with the crown of his helmet. This foul requires that there be at least one indicator of targeting. When in question, it is a foul. It goes on to say that no player shall target and make forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulder. This foul requires that there be at least one indicator of targeting. When in question, it is a foul. To me, this is one of the most critical rules in college football. The penalty is ejection from the game, and if it happens in the second half, you are not allowed to play the first half of the following game. With the status of concussions in the NFL, and the damage that has been done to many players over the years, this is a rule that puts players safety first and foremost. Because of the severity of the penalty, this foul always has to be confirmed by replay and not allowed to stand, if there is doubt about the call. Many times, the announcing team will disagree with the call, when the targeting penalty is confirmed. This was very evident during the Ohio State-Nebraska game, when there were three targeting calls made against Nebraska. The announcers, including the rules announcer, thought that all three calls should have been reversed. They were right only once on the first call. In my view, all three calls should have been confirmed. I think about 98% of targeting fouls should be upheld. I think the rule is very clear and coaching staffs have been very remiss on teaching how to tackle, in this new atmosphere of player safety. Either that, or players just don’t care and really want to maim and injure, even if it means ejection from the game. If this attitude is not changed in the very near future, then football is going to continue on this path of destruction.

Despite this rule being in effect in college football since 2008, the players, coaches, and the media just don’t seem to get it. Just make sure you helmet is to one side or the other of the player you are trying to tackle. You see this all the time, where the running back and the defender put there head down, and crack each other helmet to helmet. On those plays, there should be a double targeting call and both players ejected from the game. The announcers of the games do not help the situation out at all. To use the example of the Ohio State-Nebraska game, again, the announcers were talking about intent and that the hit was not that hard, to plead their case, that the targeting call should not be enforced. However, all three hits were initiated by helmet to helmet contact and that is targeting. The word malicious is not in the rule. Most announcers do the same thing, and question the validity of a targeting call, 75% of the time. I blame the coaches for most of this problem, about targeting. Not leading with the helmet should be emphasized every day at practice, and any form of targeting will not be tolerated at the great University of Money. If teams made the penalties for targeting even more severe, like 2 to 3 game suspensions then helmet to helmet contact may disappear all together. The players? Who knows what the hell they are thinking? Tackling has been replaced with head on collisions, that will have severe repercussions to their future life, but they do not seem to care. One thing is for sure. Football is headed for extinction, if they do not get their act together, when it comes to targeting. Football participation in young children ages 6 to 12 is down by 50%. Parents do not want to visit their children in head trauma facilities. As a sport, football has done nothing more than lip service, of trying to reduce the likelihood of a concussion during the game. They had better change their tune before it is too late. Targeting needs to have even greater enforcement and not this whining that it wasn’t that bad, and it’s a shame that a player was removed from the game for that hit. If it doesn’t happen, the only thing America will be watching on Sunday in the fall, is golf.

Sports: World Series

The World Series starts today, and Major League Baseball lucked out, by having the two teams, with the best record, make it though the expanded playoffs. Think of all that excitement, if it would have been a Reds-Blue Jay Series. The only way it would have been better, was for the Yankees to win, and play the Dodgers. It would have been a ratings coup. Both teams had their scary moments, as the Tampa Bay Rays jumped out to 3-0 lead in the series, only to see Houston win the next 3. However, they were able to prevail, in a fairly tense game 7. The Los Angeles Dodgers fell behind 3 games to 1, in their series, with the Atlanta Braves, but then went on to win 3 straight, as the Braves went brain dead on the base paths, and bat dead in the last 5 innings of game 7. We have the Tampa Bay Rays vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers, and on paper, this looks like a bigger mismatch, than last years series, when Washington played the heavily favored Houston Astros. Hey, wait a minute, Washington won that World Series, that saw the visiting team win every game, for the first time in World Series history. Can it happen again, this year. The Los Angeles Dodgers finished in the top five in baseball, in OPS+, OBP, runs scored, ERA+, FIP, Whip, and Defensive Efficiency. On paper, this has the makings of a sweep. If on paper was the determining factor, the Dodgers would be playing the Astros. Let’s take a look at a most interesting 7 game series.

When this series started, I thought the Houston pitching was not going to hold up, but the pitching held up, quite nicely. It was the Houston batters, that left this series on the table. Houston outhit the Rays 59 to 44, but could only muster 22 runs, from those 59 hits. In the four losses, Houston was held to 2 runs or less, and only once scored more than 4 runs. Houston walked 29 times, 5 more than the Rays, and struck out 27 less times. Tampa Bay averaged over 11 strike outs per game. About the only thing they did better than Houston was hit more home runs, but only by 11 to 9. Of course, they won more games, and did score more runs, over all. So how did they do it? By embracing the way the game is played today. Like it or not, the basics are this. Swing for the fences. Strike out a lot, but do not care. Shift players around on defense. Do not let opposing batters see the same pitcher more than twice, if at all possible. The Rays add one little wrinkle, play everybody. Recent history shows, that during the post season, teams have a tendency to shrink the line up, rather than expand it. The biggest example is in bullpen usage. Bullpens of 6 or 7, may see 2, or even 3 relievers, not used, or used very little. Not so, with Tampa Bay, as everybody gets into the act, and I expect to see no change, during this World Series. Even the batting order and line up, changes on a daily basis. Tampa is the poster child for team concept, in this world of individual glory.

I thought Tampa Bay would beat the Astros in 5 games, and even though they won, it was a scary struggle. I also thought if a team won the first 2 games of the National League Series, they would go on to win the series. Of course, that did not happen. So, what is my cracked crystal ball saying for this World Series. You have the Tampa Bay Rays, who are dedicated to today’s style of baseball, vs the Los Angeles Dodgers, who use sabermetrics, but still play a more traditional game. They have the most potent offense in baseball, and as a team, do not swing at balls, outside the strike zone. Both teams are equally confident. You might think that Tampa Bay may have lost some of that swagger, when Houston made the comeback. However, they seemed to take it in stride, as they played a great game 7. The Rays have the system, which they rely on, and believe in. The Dodgers rely on Dave Roberts instincts, which in previous World Series and playoffs, have not been too good. I think having a day off, between games 2 and 3, and 5 and 6, may help the Rays. So far, this has not been the year for ending playoff hexes, as Oakland and Minnesota continued their playoff woes. The Dodgers have not won a World Series since 1988. Is this enough to have another upset winner. Me thinks so.

Baseball: The Final Four.

Well, baseball made it to the final four. No major surprises on who the final four are. The Houston Astros are the biggest surprise, based on the their regular season record. They benefitted from getting two playoff jinxed teams, Minnesota and Oakland, in the first two rounds. Minnesota lived and died, by the home run again as they could only muster 2 runs in the two games against the Astros. Oakland still can’t seem to get any playoff love since they went to Moneyball. Maybe it should be called Non-Moneyball. They barely escaped the White Sox, and they were no match for the Astros. Tampa Bay is the other American League team as they eliminated the Yankees with a typical 2-1 victory. Typical, that in 65 plate appearances for both teams there were only 31 balls put in play, 27 for outs, 2 errors, and 3 hits that stayed in the ballpark. There were 24 strikeouts, 7 walks, and 3 home runs that accounted for all the scoring. This is what baseball has declined down to, a game of swings and misses, walks and home runs. The National League really went according to plan, as both top seeds rolled into the championship series undefeated with each one only having one game that was really close. This may affect the outcome of the championship series, but more on that later. With this new expanded playoff system, baseball lucked out, where the best teams are playing for the World Series. Where baseball did not luck out, was that the games, for the most part were not that exciting. There were only 4 one run games, out of the 34 playoff games played. The best game was the elimination game between Tampa Bay and the Yankees, even though it lacked balls in play, it was still a good tense baseball game that went down to the wire. The most memorable play, was the Cody Bellinger catch, of Fernando Tatis’s deep fly to center field, which kept the Padres from grabbing the lead, in game 2 of their 5 game series. That play just sucked the life out of that team, and allowed the Dodgers to go on to sweep the series. Other than that, not much was memorable in these 34 playoff games, as 7 of them were won by 5 runs or more. So what is going to happen next.

The Astros should be taken care of by the Tampa Bay Rays, clearly the best in the American league. I can not see the Astro pitching holding up much longer. I will be surprised if the series goes more than 5 games. The National League should provide a much more interesting series, provided one thing happens. The first two games of the series are split. Both of these teams are hot, and brimming with confidence. If one of the teams wins the first two games then that team’s confidence level should skyrocket. If the games are split then I think it will be a dog fight and go 7 games. I don’t have a good feel who will win this series. The Dodgers are the heavy favorites, but the Braves seemed to have learned their lessons, from previous playoff failures, and seemed to be poised to make it to the World Series. Hopefully, the League Championship Series, and the World Series can create some excitement, that has been lacking in the playoffs, so far. No matter what happens, I will be watching.

Sports: Hockey, Is It

Before I question the validity of NHL hockey, let me say that I think that hockey is a great game. The skating skill and overall athleticism of hockey players, is something to behold. Now that I have that out of the way, the product that the NHL puts out there, for viewer consumption, I do not consider it a sport. What sets NHL hockey apart from other professional leagues, is the fighting and the referees. No other league allows fighting. The enforcing of the rules in hockey is bizarre, to say the least. I would assume this is all overseen by the league, but it makes the referees seem to be the most incompetent in all of sports. This is not a sports league that is bubbling over in popularity. They are at the bottom of the barrel, when it comes to fan viewership. Here is looking at the numbers from 2019. In each of the league’s major event, the NHL is bringing up the rear, and I mean they are way back. Around 6 to 9 million people watched the Stanley Cup Final in 2019. Compare this to 14 to 15 million in baseball and basketball for their championship series and a whopping 42 million for the AFC and NFC championship games. The U. S. Open in golf drew between 7 and 10 million in 2019, when Gary Woodland won, not exactly a household name. Despite the fact that hockey is not very popular, on a national level, none of the above problems seem be to even close to going away. Let’s take a look at each one and see if hockey can become a sport again.

The first issue, is that fighting, is not really seen as a problem in hockey. Hockey advocates feel that fighting increases fan interest and viewership. Yeah, I would hate to see all those 6 million fans, stop watching. They also say, that hockey just wouldn’t be the same without fighting. That statement is true. It wouldn’t seem so ridiculous, disgusting and staged. Fighting in hockey reminds me of fighting in studio wrestling, a very well choreographed performance. Stopping fighting is the easiest thing to do. In the other major sports fighting is severely punished with fines, and suspensions. Fighting is not the every day process in other sports as it is in NHL hockey. If they would stop fighting they may lose some fans but the gains would far outweigh the losses. Secondly, compared to other sports, they don’t have that many fans to lose. Then, there is the officiating. There are so many “unwritten rules” that the written rules often get overlook. There are studies that have been done, that predict on which team the next penalty will be call. The factors, are which team is the home team, the accumulated penalty differential, the time of the game, and the relative strengths of the teams. Whatever happened to a penalty is a penalty. There is also this unwritten rule that a penalty will not be called during the last 5 minutes of the game, unless it is flagrant. Thank God other sports did not adopt this policy, although the New Orleans Saints may beg to differ. I do not think the NHL really cares, but here are some things that could be done, or maybe a new league should form like they did 120 years ago.

In the 1890’s, the National League played baseball, much the same way the NHL plays hockey, today. They broke rules, kept players from running the bases, and fights broke out in almost every game. The fans had had enough, and it was a prime opportunity for a new league to be born. The American League began as a major league in 1901. They cracked down on all the rule violations, and penalized players harshly for fighting. Don’t look now but the American League is still around. This is a perfect time for a new Hockey League to form, that will ban fighting, and call the games, as they see them. This new league should have one major rule change. No more offsides. This would really open the game up, and create a new and exciting brand of hockey. You know the NHL is never going to ban fighting, because of the archaic idea, that this is what the fans want and expect. What fans? As I wrote at the start of the blog, hockey is great game, with some of the greatest athletes in world playing the sport. The game is too beautiful to be made so ugly, by fighting. However this barbaric tradition started, it needs to stop now, and let the sport be played as it was designed.

Golf: The Dilemma

The dilemma in golf is very simple. We are trying to hit a target with a ball, without looking at the target. We are using a method of hitting this target, that seems to be very complicated, especially for longer or full shots, which in turn, makes hitting the target, very difficult. This makes golf totally unique. There are sports, that have some similarities with golf, which I am going to discuss, but none of them have all the elements, that golf requires to achieve the desired goal. This process, of trying to hit the target, in golf has a tendency to make the mind go in all kinds of directions. This causes both mental and physical confusion. The biggest thing golf does, is that it makes the participant try to do things, that they are not capable of doing. Nobody would ever drive the Indy 500, if they have never driven in a car race before. This might sound like an exaggeration but golfers try shots that only the best golfers in the world should attempt. They do this, probably multiple times a round. Before we get to what we might be able to do about this, let us look at sports, that come close to the golf dilemma.

The first thing that comes to mind, is the tennis serve. The tennis player needs to hit the ball to a particular part of the tennis court. In the process, he winds up and has a backswing and a downswing and looks at the ball he is about to hit to a particular target. The big difference of course, is his target does not change, and is relatively close. The environment does not have a major impact on the process. I suppose wind could be a factor, but usually tennis is played in a rather enclosed arena. So repeating the exact same motion every single time, should result in the desired result. I know the expert puts different types of spin on the ball, but the motion of the body is basically the same. This is not true in golf. The body has to go through some subtle changes, as you progress through the clubs. Another sport that seems to have a lot of similarities to golf is baseball. From pitching to batting, comparisons are made to golf. Pitching, in particular, with the wind up being compared to a backswing and downswing scenario. The big difference, the pitcher is very capable of looking at the target while he is doing his motion. There have been some great pitchers over the years, while going through the pitching motion, will take their eyes off the target. Just before they release the ball, they will pick up the target with their eyes. The baseball swing is often compared with the golf swing. The player is intent on keeping his eye and head on the ball, as soon as it leaves the pitchers hand. Of course, the batter does not have to chase his foul ball, and does not have to control the ball any where near what a golfer has to do. Hockey players are looking at the net until they are just ready to shoot and then look quickly at the puck before firing away. There are more examples I could give, but no sport encompasses all the elements of trying to hit the target that golf does. Is there anything that can be done to make this problem easier to deal with.

We will start with the green, and one method that has been done. Players have tried looking at the hole, and not the ball, while making the putting stroke. The most successful player to this was Jorden Spieth. He seemed to do this, only on short putts, but seemed to make a lot of short putts. It makes you wonder, what made him stop, since now he seems to be having trouble with the short ones. I am surprised, that this has not caught on more, on tour. A method of ball striking, that has never taken off is the early head lift, that was done by Annika Sorenstam and David Duvall. These are two highly successful professional golfers, and each one, made the unique move of lifting their head toward the target, before they made contact with ball. In her book, she writes about this as being a simultaneous lift of the head as she strikes the ball. The pictures in the book of her swing, show this to be trues. When you would see her on TV, in the heat of the tournament, the head would be coming up before she actually struck the ball. She wrote in the book, that was a method to help free up her swing, and have a full release through the ball. I have to wonder though, if this was a way to pick up the target, just like the pitchers do, when they take their eyes off the target during their delivery. She never mentions this but it could have been a subconscious behavior. You wonder if the reverse is true. You certainly can not look at the target and make a golf swing. You know I would try such a thing and it is impossible. However, you could start your swing, while looking at the target, and then let it go back down to the ball as the club shaft was getting to about parallel to the ground. Yes! Another thing to try. I think there are two other things that stand in the way of hitting the target in golf. The first, which I have discussed before, is the swing thought. To put this as simply as possible, how can you be thinking of one thing when you are trying to do something else. You are trying to hit a target, and thinking of making a complete backswing, or whatever about you swing. Let that sink in awhile, and then forget about swing thoughts. The second is playing to a wrong target. How are you supposed to hit something, that you know deep down inside, your either incapable of hitting, or is just too risky to go at. This can range from going for tucked away pins, cutting doglegs, or going over a far distance hazard. This golf dilemma has been around since the game has been invented, and quite frankly, not much as been done, to make things easier, for those of us, who struggle along with this confounding game. Um, looking at the target while you start your swing. I will let you know, maybe.

Sports: Injuries

One of the big factors in sports, especially the major team sports, is injuries. Teams that can stay healthy, and seem to avoid a slew of injuries, have a better chance of getting a championship.  Injuries throughout the history of sports, have always been a bit of a mystery.   Some players seem to avoid injuries, and other players always seemed to be plagued, with various injuries.  Some years teams will experience the same thing. One year there seems to hardly any injuries, and the next year the whole team seems to go on the shelf.  What I find interesting, you do not hear much about teams in any sport, trying to avoid injuries.  It seems they leave it up to Devine intervention.  All teams, in all sports, seem to go through some heavy duty workout routines, but they really don’t seem to make much difference, in injury avoidance.  I do not think there is any doubt that football has the most injuries, with the other three sports, baseball, basketball, and hockey running neck and neck, with maybe hockey having the second most.  The latter three seem to have their own set of unique issues, when it comes to injuries.  Baseball with the arm issues, basketball with the knees, and hockey with various upper body injuries. If you google why one player seems to be able to avoid injury, and others seem to be prone to injuries, there are lots of articles. Let’s look at some theories, which for the moment don’t seem to be helping much.

One theory is  the micro injury or tear, which goes unnoticed, until the repetitive action of the motion causes a bigger problem. These are termed, the injuries of redundancy of action.  Working out can cause these injuries, and throwing motions in the respective sport, can be good examples, of potential injury causing problems. One study looking at football injuries, narrowed it down to three issues.  Muscle Imbalance, Core Stability Deficits, and Poor Neuromuscular Control.  There has been developed a set of 7 Functional Movement Screens which evaluates the aforementioned factors, and is  scored anywhere from 1 to 3.  The top score is 21 and anyone scoring lower than 14 is consider prone to injury due to having a problem with any of the three.  Of course, if you are resistant or prone to something, it must be genetics.  Apparently collagen and bone density is the big factor hear. Another factor that is always considered when something has gone wrong, is stress.  The stress factor in over emphasizing winning, could lead to an increase in injuries, some hypothesize.  I looked at one team that was probably under a lot of  stress to win, the Green Bay Packers of the 1960’s and compared them with the best  team of this past decade the New England Patriots.  I looked at it from the standpoint on how many players from each team were able to play every game during the regular season.  Now granted, in 1960 the season was only 12 games, but then expanded to 14 games in 61, and for the rest of the decade.  The Patriots had to play 16 game seasons.  The Packers, averaged 21 players a season that played every game, with their best year being 23 players in 1960 and their worst was  17 players in 1961.  For the Patriots of the past decade, they averaged 17 players, who played every game, with their best year being 2016 and 17, where they had 21 players play every game, and their worst year was 2015, with only 13 players playing every game. Despite the fact that we should have more information on the function of the human body, the number of injuries, at least in football, seem to be worse, than they were 50 to 60 years ago.

Nobody seems to be very concerned that injuries seem to be dominating the sport news of today.   It seems like work out routines are becoming more and more intense, even though there seems to be more injuries everyday.   There was one interesting comment by Zack Greinke when spring training was in full bloom, before the pandemic.  On his first outing of the season his fastball velocity was up when compared with other spring trainings in the past.  When asked about that Greinke  responded, that he was throwing more during the offseason, but worked out less. He also stated that he felt better, by not working out as much. I know this is only one athlete, but it makes you think back to a time in sports, when essentially nobody really “worked out”.  They just seemed to play their sport and they played it often.  Back in the 20’s and 30’s baseball players almost played the game year around. They barnstormed the south playing games against players of the Negro Leagues.  We always talk about the long season in baseball, but players of that era practically played the game year around, with no off season.  I still feel the best exercise for golf, is to simply swing the golf club.  You do not have to hit a ball, but simply take a club and keep swinging.  I am not too sure if isolating on one muscle, or a group of muscles, is all that great for the body, as a whole.  I do not know if that is the answer for the injury issue in sports, but I am sure going to watch Zach Greinke this year to see how he does.  Stay safe and watch you step.