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.

Golf: The Address Position.

The last golf blog was about the grip. Now, I am going to discuss  addressing the ball. There is a little more to it, than what Ed Norton told Ralph on the Honeymooners, when he said “Hellooo Ball”.  However, there’s not quite as much to it, as some people would like you to believe.  There are some basic principals to follow, but when it comes to how you stand up to ball, there are lots of personal preferences you can apply.  A lot of this will be dictated by how you hit the ball, and in what direction the ball is going. Some of what you are going to do will be dictated on how you want to hit the ball, also.  It’s mostly what you do, before you take your swing, that will dictate how successful you will be, with the upcoming shot.  So I will look at the address position in two sections.  The basic principles, or things that you must to do, in order to hit the ball solidly, and in the direction you want it to go. Then in the second section I will look at parts of the address position that you can experiment with, that will suit your swing better.

My favorite phrase for addressing the ball, is you must be comfortable, and at ease when standing up to the ball.  You do not want to stand too far away from the ball, but on the other hand, you do not want to feel you are crowding the ball either. Since standing too far away is by far the most common problem, I would suggest trying to crowd the ball, and then backing off from the ball, until you feel that you are comfortable.  Your arms should hang loosely down with your left arm or lead arm fairly straight but not rigid.  The right arm will be folded slightly and fairly close to your right side, if not even slightly brushing the right side.  You will have to bend over at the hips to get down to ball, and your knees will have to have some flex in them, and not feel locked.  The most important part of addressing the ball, is how you have your weight distributed, over your feet.  Because you are bent over at the hips, the tendency is to feel the weight head toward the toes. You must avoid this at all cost.  In my view the best way to distribute your weight is to feel that it is dispersed evenly under your entire foot, and you should be able to wiggle your toes. Some people like to say to have the weight over the arches, but the arch of the foot is  not on the ground technically, and I do not like getting the weight too far back over heels, either. So, feel like your weight is distributed evenly over your feet, and this is the best way to maintain balance during the golf swing, which is one of the most important factors when swinging a golf club. You must make sure you are aiming correctly at this point. The easiest way to do this is too pick out a spot in front of the ball, in the direction you want the ball to go, and aim the club at that.  Then adjust your body into the correct address position. The final thing you must do, is to keep moving and stay relaxed.  I like to picture the baseball player, when he is batting. While he is waiting for the pitch, he is always moving and fidgeting.  He is never just standing still, and that is what the golfer needs to do.  You can not start smoothly from a static position.

Now that the basics are out of the way, there are three  things that you can experiment with when addressing the ball. Where to position the ball in relationship to your body.  Your probably all right to place the ball anywhere from your left toe, to approximately the middle of your stance.  An easy way to think about it, is to not go to the right of your nose. Moving the ball back and forth between your left toe and nose can help you make more solid contact with ball. This can help you if you are hitting shots fat or thin.   It can also help if you think you are hitting the ball too low or too high. No matter what the problem, move the ball  around, and you may stumble on the answer.  The only time you want to move the ball closer to your right foot, is if you are trying to hit a very low ball into the wind.  Another place you can experiment, is how wide you make your stance.  Again experiment with various widths for various shots and you may find some answers to poor shot.  I am not an advocate of starting with the widest stance for the driver, and getting your feet closer together for the higher number clubs. Do not get locked into that process.  Try different widths for different clubs, until you find what works best for you.  Remember, we want results here, not predetermined widths for certain clubs.  Finally you can experiment whether or not you want your stance square, open, or closed. Again do not get locked into preconceived ideas about closing your stance for a draw, and opening your stance for a fade. Hogan faded the ball with a closed stance for the driver.  There may be some technical aspect of your swing, that you could care less about, that may allow you to hit straighter shots, from open or closed stances.  You will never find out, unless you try to hit the ball from various stances.  Even though the swing is not the thing, I will discuss the swing in the next golf blog.  Meanwhile, when it comes to addressing the ball, go crazy man go crazy.

Sports: What Sports

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

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

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

Sports: Baseball, Why We Love It.

Baseball, the American pastime, is still the sport of the people.  Yes, football has supplanted baseball as the most popular sport in America, but for the first time in a long time, it seems to be making some inroads.  Even with the Houston Astros sign stealing scandal, baseball seems to be thriving. Baseball has survived the steroid cheating, the strike of 94, when there was no World Series, the cocaine use of the 80’s, and various other scandals, over it’s long history.  Baseball is still the sport of America, with it’s own language that no other sport transgresses.  When you say Spring Training, DH, OPS+ and Opening Day, everyone knows you are talking baseball. There is even a movement  to make Opening Day a holiday. What is it about this game, that seems to grab the sports fan to love it, like no other sport even with all it’s warts and problems.  It is the American Pastime, which describes it perfectly.

The first thing about baseball, it is by far the hardest sport to play.  I am not saying that baseball has the greatest athletes, or the strongest.  From a skill set, baseball requires more from its players than any other sport.  Except for the DH, players have to play both offense and defense.  What position do think Tom Brady would play on defense, free safety about 50 yards deep.  In baseball, you need to be able to hit, run smartly, catch the ball, throw the ball, and in the National League pitch and hit at the plate.  What other sport is there, where you are 30% successful at something, and you are considered excellent.  Can you imagine if a goal keeper had a 30% save rate, a quarterback a 30% completion rate, and a basketball player a 30% free throw shooter.  Even the 3 point shooting percentage in the NBA, is between 35 and 45%.  In baseball the .300 hitter is considered one of the best hitters in the game.  There were only 19 players in the major leagues last year, that hit .300 or better.  In baseball, you simply have to do it all.  Baseball has the most strategy of any of the other sports.  Even if you do not agree with that, the fact of the matter is, baseball has enough time in the game to execute that strategy.  Do you really think that most “plays”  in hockey and basketball, go according to how they are drawn up.  I think not.  In baseball, decision making is more critical than in any other game. Having no clock, however, is what makes baseball totally unique.  You can not sit on the ball in baseball. There is no need for a 24 second clock. In order to win a baseball game, you have to perform a function, getting the third out.  There are many teams out there, still looking for the third out that never happened.  Yes, I agree today’s game is too slow, for numerous reasons, and because baseball is on the rise, the powers to be don’t really want to do anything about it.  Most of their ideas are bad anyway.  Baseball has never been, and never will be about clocks. Thank God, for the infamous inning.   It is the heart of the game.

The way football is going, with a weekly arrest of their athletes, concussions, and greedy owners, who are just making their sport a television show, with no consideration of the fans, I feel baseball, someday will be back where it belongs, as the number one sport in America.  Baseball will  have to speed up the action, if it is going to maintain this momentum.   The game is the best team game there is, and a beautiful thing to watch. The game is over 150 years old, and it is heading into it’s next renaissance. Opening day is coming soon.

Sports: Spring Training

Spring Training, everybody knows what that means, without saying anything else. In other sports they all have camps.  If you say summer camp, this could be something your kid is doing, not the start of the NFL season. When you say Spring Training, you know baseball has started, thank God.  This year, Spring Training is taking on a different feel for more than one reason.  You have teams apologizing, managers and general managers just acquiring jobs, and this weird feeling that the season is already over. I will explain that later. Spring Training, just has a nice ring to it.  Spring is coming, wonderful. The players are training, because that is what baseball requires. It is the most difficult game to play, but that will be for a future blog.  The game is swimming in money, and there is just something about baseball, that  makes you feel good.  But let us look at what is making this Spring Training, very unique.

First there is the “apologetic” Houston Astros.  The Astros would have been better off, just letting the media talk to individual players, rather than have Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, make those pathetic statements of apology. Then to top it off, their owner, Jim Crane, said that he did not feel the Astros sign stealing methods, affected the outcomes of games.  If that doesn’t prove that money is not synonymous with brains, then nothing does.  It also supports the theory that one of the biggest factors in being successful, and making a lot of money is luck.  Just think about what he said for one moment.  He said, that knowing what pitch is going to be thrown, is not really that much of an advantage.  REALLY REALLY.  Why not lobby to make what the Astros did, to be within the rules. Why did you fire your manager and your general manager.  I have never seen an organization make things worse for themselves, on a daily basis.  Because of the illegal sign stealing scandal  we had three teams scrambling for managers and a general manager to run their teams.  We will see how this affects the Astros, Red Sox, and Mets.  If the Astros win the division, I will be shocked.  I also look for the Mets and Red Sox to perform below expectations.  The other thing that makes this Spring Training unique, is that you have the feeling, that you could go to sleep, wake up around October 20th, and be certain that the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees, will be playing in the World Series.  MLB Network likes to talk about the super teams in baseball, and will name 2 to 3 teams, in each league,  that they feel fall into that category.  This year, the Dodgers and Yankees have separated themselves from the rest of baseball so much, that both of their years could be historic.  The Yankees could break the all time record for wins in a season.  I think 120 wins would not be unrealistic, considering some of the bad teams, that are going to be in the American League, again this year. The Dodgers could do this too, but face stronger competition, in a more balanced National League.  Yes, I know the games have to played on the field, and injuries could affect any team severely, but if nothing unusual happens, I don’t see anything stopping these two teams from dominating the entire season.

Then there is my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates, who enter spring training with a whole new regime of coaches and a team that is basically unchanged. In my view, a team that has done so little during the off season, is harder to evaluate, than a team that has made a lot of moves. I will not do a final analysis, until just before the season starts, but you still have to wonder, what are they doing?  I was not for a complete tear down and rebuild.  I thought this team needed a third baseman, right fielder, and one or two starting pitchers, and they would be able to contend for the division title.  This is not a long list.  They did none of this. In fact, they lost their center fielder and really have not found a replacement, that approaches his value.   The few additions they have made, were  large defensive upgrades, at their positions.  That makes sense.  The Pirates were one of the worst fielding teams in baseball, no matter what defensive metrics are used.  There are moves that still can be made.  Even if the Pirates stay exactly as they are now, I do think that they are going to be better than most projections. The one on USA Today had them losing 102 games.  I still have to take a wait see attitude on the new regime.  So far, they have not done a lot to impress anyone, but the season has not even started.  Like I wrote, spring training has begun, and it still gives me that nice warm and fuzzy feeling, even though it is only 20 degress outside here in the Burgh.

Sports: Pirates Rebuild, Just One Problem

When the Pirates finally traded Starling  Marte, the media jumped on this, as the sign that the Pirates, were going into rebuild mode.  There were chants of tear it down, and a list of other players to trade, to make this happen.  Ben Cherington on a radio broadcast gave the impression, that this might not be the case.  Many would say that he is not being has forth right as he should be, because this tear down and rebuild mode, is not being looked at too kindly, by major league baseball.  Since Baltimore and Kansas City seemed to have tanked the last two years, there is the feeling that every team should try to compete every year, to be fair to their fan base. This tanking  formula is credited to  the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros, who had some really bad years before they became World Series Champions and recent perennial contenders. Now, tanking is being frowned upon by MLB.  Giving the benefit of the doubt to the rebuild proponents concerning the Pirates, lets say that this is what the Pirates are going to do.  It appears that the target years for the Pirates to contend, would be 2023 and 2024. Before we look at future moves, the Pirates may make to do the rebuild, lets look at the Marte trade.

Starling Marte would be considered one of the best three players on the Pirate team.  You could argue for him being any number, from 1 to 3, but third would be the worst position that you could rank him on the team.   Once he became an Arizona Diamondback, this made the Diamondbacks the number one challenger to the Dodgers for the division title, and an immediate wild card contender, according to many media sites.  In other words this was a significant acquisition for the Diamondbacks.  What did the Pirates get in return?  They got two top 10 prospects that are 19 years old, one pitcher and one shortstop.  They were labeled as high risk, high reward returns.   You do not want to emphasize high risk, but you can not totally ignore it.  On face value, I have no problem with the trade.  Starling Marte is heading into his age 31 season.  He is already showing defense decline.  His abilities to steal bases is not going to improve.  He is not an analytic favorite, because he never has had plate discipline.  His walk percentage has always been low.  Watching Starling Marte play everyday, was at times frustrating, because at times he seemed to have mental lapses out there. Even considering all of this, he is a top 3 player on the Pirates.

So who is left to trade.  The names mentioned are Josh Bell, Adam Frazier, and possibly Joe Musgrove.   Let me add Bryan Reynolds to the list.  What would be the return? Are any of those players going to bring more than Starling Marte.  Josh Bell may bring a little more in the American League, because teams would not have to put up with his way below average defense. These players may bring a little more value at the trade dead line when teams are making a stretch run.  Musgrove’s value may increase at that time if he can improve , as teams are always looking for pitching down the stretch. Even if you want to stretch reality and say that these 4 players could bring back exactly what Marte did, do you really want 8 more high risk, high reward players.  Maybe you get one prospect for them that is closer to being major league ready but teams  do not like parting with prospects, unless the return is solid.  There are teams that are more prospect rich, and if they are in contention at the deadline, may be more receptive to such a deal. You are probably not getting much in return, for the Pirate  players that may be available. The  reason is, that none of them have had that long of a track record.  Bell had a great first half but became mediocre in the second half.  Even Reynolds had a bad September.   Frazier’s first year at second base, was a double surprise, as his fielding improving greatly but his bat seemed to falter.  From a fans perspective, if they stay on the Pirates, there is a good possibility  that they all can improve and build on their success in 2020.  From another teams perspective, they are all players that a wait and see attitude may be the best path before you give  up anything to acquire these player.

Whatever the Pirates do from this point on may be dictated by how they perform in the first 90 games of the season.  Last year, at the All Star break the Pirates were 44-45 and 2.5 games out of first place.  This was a two edged sword.  Two and a half games out of first place was nice but one game under 500 is really not all that great.  Most people feel that the Pirates have no chance of repeating this in 2020 for the first 90 games. We  do not know what, if any, more moves management will make.  If the Pirates could get in that same position that they were last year at the 89 game mark, you have to wonder what they will do.  They certainly will a lot of room to spend on some trade deadline pick ups.  This could be the shortest  rebuild in history.  There is the problem.  Just what do the Pirates have, to rebuild with.   What kind of prospects can they get.  In my view, not much, in order to win in 2023 or 2024.   That could change in a big way if the above players make a big leap forward. Are you listening Joe Musgrove?   I do not know how well the Pirates are going to do, but I do know this could be one of the most interesting seasons in Pirate history.  This would just be fitting, if Pirates became the team that tried to tank, but couldn’t.

Sports: Super Bowl, Oh So Wrong

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

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

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

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