Baseball: Halfway Through, Sort Of

We have one month of baseball left in the regular season and with the exception of the St. Louis Cardinals everybody has played at least 30 games. With 8 teams in each league able to make the playoffs, almost everyone has at least an outside chance. The American League is again separating out into the good teams, and the bad teams, with some surprises at that end of the spectrum. There are 5 teams that are going to have to make big turn arounds, if they are going to have a shot at making the expanded playoff picture. The Angels, Red Sox, Rangers, Royals, and Mariners, are all floundering and there playoff chances are growing slimmer every day. The Orioles are fading fast, and will soon follow. That leaves 9 teams for the 8 spots. It looks like the Astros will make the playoffs, something I wrote they would not do. The big surprises at the bottom of the barrel are the Red Sox and the Angels. After all the hype on MLB Now, it looks like that Shohei Ohtani is nothing more than a .189 DH who is not going to pitch again until 2021. Unlike basketball having the best player in the game does not even get you to mediocrity. Right now, I think that the teams that are in the top 8, are just going to stay there. They may change positions, but you are looking at the 8 playoff teams right now. They are from top to bottom, the Rays, A’s. White Sox, Indians, Astros, Yankees, Twins, and Blue Jays. The White Sox and Blue Jays are the new up and comers, and should be a threat in the playoffs. The Tigers are on the outside looking in, and probably will stay that way. The more balanced National League is a little different story. There are only 3 teams, that seem to have very little chance of making the playoff field. The defending champs Nationals, the Diamondbacks, and the hapless Pirates. That leaves 12 teams for the 8 spots. The surprise team is the Miami Marlins, who are in the thick of the race. Certainly with all the moves at the trade deadline, the Padres are trying to make a serious run. Don’t think they will catch the Dodgers. I think there will be a change in the 8 teams, at the end of the season. I think the Giants and the Brewers will move into the playoffs, and the Marlins and Rockies will move out.

My home team, the Pirates have been pathetic. Again, the injury bug has hurt them, but this is a team that can’t hit, field, pitch, or run the bases. Other than that, this is a damn fine team. Of course, they did not do much during the trade deadline, because what team, in their right mind, would want any of their players. They do not have any big contracts to really unload, so this team doesn’t seem to have much hope in the foreseeable future. Free agency or bust. They would need to have the the three greatest drafts in baseball to just field a respectable team. They need to start, by getting a new owner, but I don’t see that happening. Hopefully, they are learning something out there, and the current group can show some improvement. We have a month to go in the abbreviated season, and we will see how an expanded playoff format, works in baseball. I feel once the playoffs start, that baseball may have some real surprises, on who makes it into the World Series. In my view baseball is not a playoff based sport, if you want to find the best team. Only six times, since 1990, has the team with the best record won the World Series. The playoffs level the playing field when it comes to baseball. The season should really get interesting once the playoffs start. See you then.

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.

 

Golf: Muscle Memory?

Well, this post turned out to be more interesting than I ever anticipated. My purpose of looking into muscle memory, was to debunk a lot of practice recommendations, regarding muscle memory, since I am down on practice.  I knew there was always a lot of debate on muscle memory, whether it existed or not.  When I began to research muscle memory, I had no idea, I would be reading about zombies, weight lifting, and that it does exist, but not in the way we thought.  Even though the definition of muscle memory has changed, they still call it muscle memory.  It is like calling tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, vegetables, when they are really fruits.  Everybody is fine with it, so who cares.  Let’s forget about golf for a moment, I know it is hard to do, and just look at muscle memory in general.

The way muscle memory use to be thought about, was the more you performed a task or movement, the better you performed that movement.  This was called muscle memory.  This is really brain memory.  It is memorized motor nerve impulses sent to the muscles, to perform a certain task. The more you send these impulses, the better the muscle performs.  I will let science take over here.” Muscle memory is a type of procedural memory. However, the name of this particular phenomenon is a bit of a misnomer. Although it includes the word ‘muscle’, the memory center actually lies in the brain, not in the muscles. When we repeat an action over and over again, it gets transferred from our short-term memory to our long-term storage. In the beginning, our brain is more actively working to perform the task, but as we practice or repeat it, over time, our brain needs to pay less attention to successfully perform that task. Another way that some people express the concept of muscle memory is with the term ‘zombie agents’. Some researchers use this term to refer to agents in our brain that can carry out a particular task without us being aware of it, and without any application of judgement. For instance, imagine that you drive to your workplace every day. One evening, you need to go out for a social commitment and take your car, but something is on your mind, keeping you distracted. By the time you realize what you’ve done, you have started to drive your car on the usual route to work! Keep in mind that the muscle memory at play here is not just about remembering the route, but also the act of driving the car. You will honk when necessary, change lanes, speed up and slow down, but you still may not realize that you’re going to the wrong place. This example aptly shows just how efficient muscle memory can be’. I knew it was due to zombies why my golf game stinks.

So, if the muscle memory of performance is a brain function what do muscles remember. Again we turn to science. ” Muscles that have been trained before, find it easier to get back to a trained state than untrained muscles building up for the first time. The reason for this lies in epigenetic changes that happen at the level of each individual cell. Specific sites on each cell are responsible for muscle growth and an increase in strength. When muscles stop training there is a slow at first and then faster decline of muscle size and strength but the genes responsible for muscle growth do not go away. Muscles do have a memory of their former fitness and strength encoded in their genes and it allows them to rebuild that strength faster when they lose it.” Even though the strength of the muscle goes away from lack of use, there are still parts of the muscle that “remember” how to get strong again  faster than the first time.   Now, lets get back to golf to see if we can apply any of this, to our golf games.

The good news here, is once you get muscles in golf shape, they will stay that way, and be easier to get back in shape for a new season. Swinging a golf club every day, without hitting a ball, will help keep those muscles in shape.  The brain is still in charge of improving your golf game and golf swing.  Some other things I learned, while reading about muscle memory.  Your golf muscles will not decline until after 2 weeks of non-usage.  You will learn faster, if you allow at least a 6 hour gap between each new change of your swing.  No matter how many swing changes you think you need to do, don’t do more than one at every range session.  The bad news is the brain side of muscle memory, can slow the process of making swing changes, by ingraining  bad swing habits, if you continue to do them. This may explain why students have problems making the proper swing movements, because the bad ones are so ingrained.  This explains, in my view, why the inability to aim is so prevalent in the game.  Our muscles as it turns out, are very much like ourselves, as they do remember how good they use to be.  But unlike us, they can get back to their former selves much easier. Remember, true improvement in golf, must come from the brain, just like everything else.

 

Sports: Baseball, The 60 Game Season.

Next Thursday, the 2020 Major League Baseball season, will get underway.  It will be a 60 game season.  Just like everything else in 2020, this will be unchartered waters, for our American pastime. This will be the least amount of games played, for a season, in the history of baseball.  Even though many of the experts that cover baseball, feel that anything can happen, everyone thinks  that the cream will rise to the top, and the best  teams will make the playoffs, and world order will return.  Of course, once  opening day and the schedule was announced, the in-depth analysis has been going on and on and on. There is this obsession with Shohei Ohtani, the universal DH, and the extra inning rule.  Despite all of this, I think there has been things that have been overlooked  and because  I’m about to lose my mind, I will make my own predictions for the coming season, sort of.

I think, one of things, that has been over looked, is the lack of travel, that has been built into the schedule.  A lot of teams will hardly leave their time zones.  This should help more veteran ball clubs, from a fatigue standpoint.  There should be less need for days off.  This means your better players, should be able to play almost every game.  A team should be able to ride the hot streak, of a player, and not worrying about tiring him out. I know injuries, and testing positive for the virus could be big factors, but with a shorter schedule, I feel, with any luck at all, depth may not be a big issue, for some teams. Let’s face it, you do not have to be lucky, for as long, to avoid injuries, this year.  You can not say that a 60 game season is a sprint, but it is far from a marathon.  Pitchers, down the stretch of the last 10 to 15 games, can be used more than they would be at the end of a 162 game schedule.  The other factor, that seems to be overlooked, is that there will not be any of those cold weather games that you see in April and May.  I feel this affects some teams more than others.   Many people feel that teams, like the Blue Jays, Padres, White Sox and Rangers could be contenders, because of all the young talent they have.  I feel that it will be the more veteran teams, that will be fighting for the playoffs. The short season may make bullpens less important, down the stretch.  The bullpen may be important to start the season, since some starters will need to stretch out early in the season.  However, this is the perfect season to ride the starting pitching the last 14 games and right through the playoffs.  One of the big factors will be, what team can remain the coolest, when things start to go wrong. Panic mode will be hard to avoid with only 60 games to be played. So, what do I think might happen.

There are seven teams, the Orioles, Marlins, Royals, Tigers, Mariners, Pirates, and Giants that are given no chance to make the playoffs.  I feel that one of them will make the playoffs.  Of these teams, I feel the Pirates may have the best chance.  I think the NL central, is by far the weakest division in baseball, and that the winner of the division may finish at .500 or below. For lack of a better term, with the whole division floundering around, the Pirates may be able to flounder up a hot streak at the end, and pull out the division.  The Giants have a veteran presence, and may be able to slip in as a wild card. The other teams would be a bigger surprise, but in 60 games anything can happen.  On the other side of coin, I feel the Astros will not make the playoffs. Without playing a game, the Astros have caught a couple of  breaks, by having the season delayed, and with no fans in the stands, to harass them.  However, this team has a stigma surrounding it, that will be hard to overcome.  If they get off to a shaky start, they would have to live in a cocoon, not to hear all the insinuations, that the only reason they won, was by cheating. This, like any sporting endeavor, is a game of confidence, and theirs could be shot by the 10th game.   When spring training started in March, I thought it was a foregone conclusion, that we would have a Dodger-Yankee World Series.  I still feel that way, but I think there may be one team, that could spoil the party.  The Oakland A’s could be a team, that will benefit the most from this shortened season.  They have always been a team that has waxed hot and cold.  I think they will win the division, if the Astros decline, like I think they will.  They can avoid the one and done wild card game, which may be enough to get them into the World Series.   In this crazy year, it would be nice to see this Oakland regime finally get a ring.

So, there you have it, the baseball season preview, with some rare predictions by yours truly, which I will revisit in about 2 months.  Let’s hope most of all, that the players stay safe, and we can enjoy this very unique baseball season, that is about to start. PLAY BALL!

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.

Golf: Stories, The 1960’s, Part I

I started playing golf in 1958, at the tender age of 8 years old.  Like all my sport beginnings, I was taught by my father.  To get started in golf, he cut down an old set, that was made in the 1930’s. He made  a pull cart  from an aluminum downspout, and wheels and a handle from a grocery cart.  I played with those clubs for two years, and then for Christmas, I got my first “real” set, for juniors, with a golf bag.   The set had 8 clubs, including the putter. It came with a book, called Play It Pro, Golf, from Beginner to Winner.  My Dad and I read that book many times from cover to cover. It was about the history of the game, and had instruction about each phase of the game.  The driver chapter was written by Sam Snead, the iron chapter Ernie Vossler, short game by Tommy Jacobs, and putting by Cary Middlecoff.  I was fortunate to find this book in a used book store, about 30 years ago and still have the copy.   It’s funny, what I remember about those years.  I  do not remember playing that much, in particular, but I remember my first 9 hole round score, of 118. A week later I improved to 99 for 9 holes.   To this day, the biggest improvement I have ever had, from one round, to the next.  The golf course that my Dad and I played, 95% of the time, was a 9 hole course about 5 miles north of Martins Ferry, Ohio, named Vine Cliff, and later was purchased by Bill Mazeroski of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and became Mazeroski Golf Course. It was a very popular course, because it was very flat, which was unusual for our area.  Now let me introduce you to the wild times of golf in the 1960’s.

First of all, there were no tee times, any time, or any where.  It was a first come first serve atmosphere, that could get pretty testy at times. When I was very young, and I had to solely rely on my father to take me golfing, and we only played on the weekends.  The strategy was to go very early,  between 6:30 and 7, or late morning around 11:00.  If you paid for 18 holes, in other words, you were going around the 9 hole course twice,  you would get a ticket, with the date on it, and when you got done with 9 holes, you gave this ticket to the gentleman on the first tee.  Today we call him a starter. Back then, he was more like a referee.  This meant, since you were going to play another nine, and paid in advance, that you got to tee off right after the group on the tee, no matter how many people were waiting to hit.  When people saw that I was going in front of them, all 4 foot 6 of me, the grumbling would start right away. First tee pressure came at an early age, for yours truly.  Most of the time I would hit a pretty good drive, and my Dad, who was a good player in his own right, would hit a great drive, and the grumbling would stop. There would be some good natured comments, like,  I wish I could hit it as good as that kid.  There will always be one first tee experience, I will never forget.

I was about 12 years old, and this was one our late morning arrivals. When we pulled into the parking lot, the place was packed.  My dad was just going to turn around and head back home.  Since you could walk to the edge of the parking lot, and looked down at the first tee, I begged him to at least, just look at the first tee.  When we looked down, it was a mob scene, at least 50 to 60 people. My Dad just looked at me, and said ” It’s time to go home”. We were just starting to turn back to the car, when a guy ran up to us and said ” Is it just the two of you?”.  My Dad said we were, and he explained, that he and his brother were just two, and they had nobody to join them up with, and if we hurried, we could go out right away.  Well, instead of walking back to  car, we ran, changed our shoes, and ran to the clubhouse with our bags in tow, paid, and ran to the first tee.  When people us saw walk right  down to the first tee, and immediately go to the tee box, the grumbling began.  There are two facts that need to be told, at this point.  They were remodeling the restaurant that was just beyond the parking lot,  above and to the right of the first tee.  Second, what the guy that approached us failed to say, was this was his brothers first round of golf in his life.  They wanted us to hit first and when my Dad and I hit good drives this calmed the crowd down somewhat.  The guy hit and did ok.  Then his brother got up, to hit the first golf shot of his life, in front of about 50 disgruntled golfers. My Dad and I, still did not know this. He stood up to the ball ok, with  a reasonable grip on the club.  But then, he brought the club straight up over his head, where his head was right between his arms, as some kind of God knows what, pre shot routine.  He did this not once, not twice, but three times, very slowly.  Then he took a mighty swing at the ball, and made contact, but the ball went high and to the right, disappearing  into the center of  a cement mixer, that was behind the restaurant.  I thought there might be a riot.  He went back to his bag got another ball and after doing the same pre shot routine, managed to dribble the ball off the first tee.  By the time all this took place, the group in front of us was off the green, a par 4.  As soon as he hit a few more grounders, my Dad took charge, so to speak, and started to help the guy. Of course, the first thing he eliminated was that pre shot routine.  We struggled mightily along the first hole, but because the course was so crowded, when we got to the second hole, a par 3, the group in front of us, were still putting. With my Dad’s help, the guy started to hit the ball better, and we never really fell behind.  When my Dad was alive, we always referred to this as the cement mixer shot.  More stories coming soon.

Golf: The Swing

Now we come to the least important of the fundamentals of golf, the swing. For those of you, who have never played the game, or who can not consistently break 90, then these are the checkpoints of the golf swing, to guide you.  There are 6 checkpoints of the golf swing.  These are positions along the way of making a golf swing, that you can look at,  feel, and see if you are within the guidelines, of a correct golf swing.  Remember these are just guidelines, and not much here, is in stone, but at least you will have an idea of what the golf swing is all about.  The 6 checkpoints are: 1. The take away 2. When the club shaft is parallel to the ground  3. When the left arm is parallel to the ground 4. The end of the back swing  5. Starting the swing down  6. Finishing the swing. Let’s look at each one.

The take away.   The take away is consider the part of the swing, where you are moving the club head about 12 to 18 inches away from the ball.  The key to the take away is called, maintaining the triangle.  There is an imaginary triangle form by your left and right arm connecting to the club, and a line drawn across your shoulders.  That triangle should maintain itself during those first 12 to 18 inches of the golf swing.  There should be no independent movement of the hands, arms, and shoulders during the first part of the swing.

When the club shaft is parallel to the ground.   From there you get the club parallel to ground any way you want.  You can use your hands and wrists.  You can use your shoulder and body.  Once you get the shaft parallel to ground you need to check to see how the club head is pointing in relationship to the line.  To do this, you simply turn your body to where you are looking straight down the shaft of the club. Now, just drop the club straight down to the ground. Look and see how the club is pointing.  It could be square to the line, it may be slightly closed to line, or it may be open. It does not matter which one, just so you know what your tendency is and is it consistent.  Do this check many times.

Getting the arm parallel to the ground.  At this check point you should cock your wrists enough to have the shaft perpendicular to the ground. Your left arm and the shaft should form an L.   Again this is easy to check. You just stop and look.

The end of the back swing. You continue to turn your body and lift the club until your left shoulder is touching your chin or getting as close to that as you can depending on how supple your body is. Once you have completed your back swing, it is now time to bring the club head back to the ball.

Starting the swing down. It is this point of the swing, that everybody likes to call, the transition part of the swing.  There is instruction that talks about how the downswing starts, before the back swing fully ends, and has  convincing video to show this.  However, if you TRY and do this, you will fail miserably. The way to feel this, is to make the fullest back swing you can, then start your downswing, by doing one, of any of the 3 following things.  Feel your left shoulder going up.  Kick your right leg in the direction of the ball.  Straighten your left leg which will drive your left but cheek straight back. Doing any one of those three things will get your downswing started properly.  You may like one over the other, which is fine.  You may change from round to round, if that helps get your swing going. Eventually you will not have to think it, about once you get use to it.

Finishing the swing.  The thing to remember, is the swing is not over, when you make contact with the ball.  You must continue into your follow through.  Remember how that feels, and do it for all shots, long and short. Another term for this is hitting through the ball.

Now, will you do all of this perfectly or correctly, of course not.  Nobody does it 100% technically correct. These are all just guidelines to help you make a workable golf swing, that you will develop, as you play the game.  Hopefully, applying these guidelines will help you get your score low enough to the point, where you can forget the physical side of the game, and get to where you can play 100% Mental Golf.

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.