Wednesday, October 22, 2014

To Absent Friends - Ben Bradlee


Benjamin Bradlee, former Executive Editor of the Washington Post, died yesterday at the age of 93.

To most people outside of Washington, DC, Bradlee will be best remembered as the guy in charge of the Post during the Watergate era, when Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein began investigating a "third rate burglary" and that investigation led to a near Constitutional crisis and the resignation of the President of the United States.  All Bradlee told his reporters was the be sure to "get it right".

Bradlee was award the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, earlier this year.

I am a regular listener to the podcast of the Tony Kornheiser radio show, and I love it when Tony speaks of his days at the Post and the absolute reverence in which he held Ben Bradlee.  Kornheiser always says that the movie based on the Woodward and Bernstein book, "All the President's Men" is perhaps the best movie about the newspaper business ever made, and that in portraying Ben Bradlee, actor Jason Robards absolutely nailed him.



Might be worth pulling "All the President's Men" out of your DVD library, and watching it in tribute to one of America's great newspapermen.

RIP Ben Bradlee.

Hall of Famers? (continued)

Yesterday's post about the worthiness, or lack of same, for Hall of Fame enshrinement for two unidentified ballplayers, elicited over 70 responses when I posted it on my Facebook page and the Pirate Chat page.  Interestingly enough, most people, looking at the statistics, said that, given the facts in front of them, they would choose NOT to include either player in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Now, just who were those players?

Player A is Rocky Colavito.


As was obvious from the numbers, Colavito had a good to very good major league career, but he never went beyond single digit percentages when his name came before the Hall of Fame voters, and there is, as near as I can tell, absolutely no grass roots support to get old Rock into Cooperstown.

Player B, as many of you have already guessed, is Gil Hodges.


I have often written and talked about the passion that is ignited among many when the phrases "Gil Hodges" and "Hall of Fame" come up in the same sentence.  There are thousands of people out there who will launch into impassioned arguments stating why Gil belongs in the Hall of Fame.  I have no doubt that when this post hits the cyber-waves, many such arguments will be put forth.  In his years of eligibility, Hodges support among the baseball writers who vote on Hall of Fame membership ranged anywhere from 24% to 63%.

The Hodges supporters will give you reams upon reams of data as to why Gil belongs.  However, many of the arguments always seem to come down to this:

  1. He played most of his career in the greater New York City area, as a beloved member of the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers "Boys of Summer" teams.
  2. He was a really, really nice guy.
  3. He managed the New York Mets to the 1969 World Series title. 
As to Point 1, perhaps Hodges suffers from the same syndrome as does the Steelers L.C. Greenwood - too many guys from the same team already in the HOF.

As to Point 2, doesn't and shouldn't have anything to do with HOF worthiness.

As to Point 3, sorry, but there are a lot of managers who have won one World Series.  This isn't what should get Gil into Cooperstown, if he ever does get there.

My question always has been, would the passion to get Hodges into Cooperstown be the same had he played his entire career in, say, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, or Milwaukee, rather than in New York City/Brooklyn?  We'll never know the answer to that particular question.

I mentioned in my post yesterday that I have no emotional connection here, one way or the other.  If Hodges ever gets voted in by whatever they are calling the Veteran's Committee these days, more power to him.  I would be happy for his family and all those many, many people who love him.  And if he never gets in, I am okay with that, too, because if that happens, what about Colavito and all those other "similar" players (Greg Luzinski, Willie Horton, Jack Clark, Frank Howard et al) that I mentioned in yesterday's post?  That, I realize, opens up an entirely new and different HOF can of worms.  

Anyway, this is just the kind of fun stuff that we baseball fans love to debate, isn't it?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The World Series Is Here!!!!



The 2014 World Series begins tonight!!  Magic words, indeed.

Once upon a time, the World Series was THE biggest event on the sports calendar.  In the minds of many, it still is the biggest event in sports, but even the most die hard baseball fans have to concede that that is no longer the case.  The reasons for that are, as Chuck Noll might have put it, many and they are great, but that is the subject for another time.  For now, however, let's talk about this upcoming addition of the Fall Classic.

I cannot remember a time when the playoffs leading up to the Series have been as dramatic and exciting as the two wild card games and four series that have produced the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants as opponents for the Championship.  (OK, I concede that one of those Wild Card games wasn't all that dramatic.  Traumatic, maybe, but not dramatic.) I can only hope that the World Series will continue serving the drama that we have seen thus far, and I am truly hoping that this one goes the distance and produces what to me is the greatest event in sports: a Seventh Game of the World Series.

I usually develop a rooting interest in one team or another over the course of a post season.  Oft times, that rooting interest is produced by a fervent dislike for one of the teams.  Not so in 2014.  In my mind, there a lot of reasons to root FOR either team, and not any compelling reason to root AGAINST either of them.  All things being equal, I will usually choose the National League team to root for, and the Giants give an additional reason, for me anyway, in that they are seeking to win their third World Series title within a five year period.  As I detailed on this Blog in post a few days ago, such a feat has been done before, but it is, apart from the New York Yankees, still a somewhat rare feat.  The last time it was done by a non-Yankee team was when the Oakland A's won three consecutive Series from 1972-74. So, the historical excellence of such a feat intrigues me.

The Royals, on the other hand, are a great story. A small market team that has been in baseball's wasteland for 29 seasons gets a wild card spot, and precedes to compile an 8-0 record in the Playoffs to make the Series.  I mean, who can't root for an underdog like that?

So let's just go to the Cliche Closet and just "root for a great Series".

Okay, you want a prediction.  I'll give you the Giants to win in six games.  The biggest reason for that will be the ace pitcher of the Giants, Madison Bumgarner.  He has been completely dominant in the post-season, and I believe that he will be the difference between the two teams.  I also believe that this simply amazing run of the Royals cannot sustain itself to produce another four wins, and there is the chance that KC manager Ned Yost will do something to screw things up.

One more thing.  There has been much gnashing of teeth among the baseball purists over the fact that, because the both LCS ended early, there has been a four and five day layoff for the teams, and that this will somehow cause the players to get stale and rusty leading up to the World Series.  Are you kidding me?  Both the Giants and Royals have played over 170 games since April to lead to this point, and in four off days, they have all gotten, fat, lazy, and unprepared?  Please, give me a break on that one, or should I just say...


PLAYYYYYY BALLLLLLLL!!!!!!

Hall of Famers?

Please take a look at these statistics for two, unidentified ballplayers.  Each played in the same era, with nine years of their respective careers overlapping.


Player A
Player B
Career:


Seasons
14
18
At Bats
6,503
7,030
Hits
1,730
1,921
Runs
971
1,105
Home Runs
374
370
RBI
1,159
1,274
Batting Average
0.266
0.273
OPS
0.848
0.846
Average/162 Games:


At Bats
572
550
Hits
152
150
Runs
85
86
Home Runs
33
29
RBI
102
100
Batting Average
0.266
0.273
OPS
0.848
0.846

Remarkably similar, wouldn't you say?  

A couple of more bits of info.  Player A was a six time All-Star.  Player B was an eight time All Star. Player A led his league in HR and RBI once.  Player B never led his league in either category.  Neither ever won an MVP Award, although both of them received MVP votes in multiple seasons.

When Baseball-Reference.com lists the "Similarity Scores" for other players with these two, they are deemed to be similar to each other and to such players as Jack Clark, Boog Powell, Willie Horton, George Foster, Frank Howard, and Greg Luzinski,  All pretty good ball players but none of them Hall of Famers.  Nor, I might add, are any of the other "similar" players whom I didn't bother to list here.

So, my question to you is - if you were a Hall of Fame voter, which guy would you choose to vote a place in Cooperstown's Hallowed Hall?  Player A? Player B? Both? Neither?

For my own part, I have no great emotional stake in this one way or another, and I don't normally get fired up over who is or is not in any particular Hall of Fame.  If a guy gets in, good for him, and if he doesn't, I don't lose sleep over it.  As for the two guys above, I'd have no issue with either of them being enshrined, but at the same time I say that there must be a reason why the experts, the HOF voters, have been continually passed them over, year after year.

Anyway, what do you think?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Book Review: "Scribe" by Bob Ryan

Bob Ryan is an award winning sportswriter and columnist for the Boston Globe.   He has been on the job for the Globe since 1970 (although he is semi-retired now).  I first read Bob Ryan sometime back in the early 1970's when he wrote a basketball column for The Sporting News.  He is probably most known these days for his appearances as a talking head on such ESPN shows as The Sports Reporters, Around he Horn, and Pardon the Interruption.  I also hear him on a weekly basis on the podcasts of Tony Kornheiser's Washington DC radio show.  Kornheiser refers to Ryan as "the quintessential American sportswriter" and few other sportswriters would argue the point.

Ryan has finally gotten down to writing a memoir, "Scribe, My Life in Sports".   It was released earlier this month, and I just finished reading it.  As one would expect from Ryan, it is well written, informative, and entertaining.  You an almost hear his voice talking to you, as he would across the desk on PTI or Around the Horn or while having a beer with you at your favorite sports bar as you read it.  

While at the Globe, Ryan spent three separate turns as the beat writer covering the Boston Celtics, so a lot of the book - a LOT - is spent talking about the NBA in general and the Celtics in particular.  If I have on criticism of the book, that would be it, but that said, it was still enjoyable.  Lots of good stories about Red Auerbach, Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, Dave Cowans and other Celtics, and I loved his tales of covering the original Dream Team at the 1992 Olympics, and his take on the "Who's Better, Michael or LeBron?" arguments.

Some great stories about his youth in Trenton, NJ, and talking about his father, who died when Ryan was 11 years old.

I also like how Ryan dismisses the notion of sportswriters who always say that they don't care about who wins or loses, they aren't fans, and that they always "root for the story".  Well, Ryan calls b.s. on such pretensions, and makes no bones about the fact that he is a Sports FAN, as well as a sports WRITER.  And he is, indeed, the quintessential American sportswriter, so who is going to argue that he is incorrect?

Good book by a great writer.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Hail to the Giants!

Another come-from-behind-to-tie-it-up-and-win-it-with-a-walk-off-homer to decide the National League pennant last night.  

Giants 6 - Cardinals 3.  Giants win series, four games to one.

As I was at the Pitt football game last night, I didn't get to see what appeared to be a classic Bumgarner-Wainwright pitcher's duel, and a bunch of home runs.  I did get to the car after the football game in time to hear the bottom of the ninth inning, just in time to hear Travis Ishikawa - TRAVIS ISHIKAWA!!!! - go Bobby Thomson and deliver the pennant to the Giants.

Really, these games in the WC, LDS, and LCS leading up to the World Series....could they possibly have been any better or more exciting?

(Well, yeah, the Pirates could have beaten the Giants in that Wild Card game, but I digress.)

Here's hoping that the Giants-Royals World Series will not be anti-climactic, and that the tension, suspense, and terrific baseball will continue...and that it will go seven games.

Allow me to cogitate a bit before giving you a revised prediction (I had called Cardinals and Royals prior to the LCS).  Game One is Tuesday night.  I will have it for you prior to the first pitch.

Pitt 21 - Virginia Tech 16


Okay, this is what I saw last night.

The Pitt Panthers, in desperate need of a decent showing and a victory after three straight losses, took on Virginia Tech, and behind solid, if not terrific, performances by Chad Voytek, James Conner, and Tyler Boyd, not to mention a defensive performance that kept Tech without a touchdown for the first 56 minutes of the game, the Panthers delivered up a 21-16 victory at Heinz Field last night.  Yeah, there were penalties and some poor turnovers, but it was an entertaining and exciting (perhaps a little too exciting near the end) football game.  I had a great time and went home happy.

Then, this morning I read Ron Cook's column in the Post-Gazette and realized what an awful, terrible and sloppy game it was, and how Pitt was just plain lucky to win.

Huh?  

I mean, was I even at the same game "Cookie" was at?

********

This is my second year as a season ticket holder for Pitt football, and generally speaking, I enjoy the experience of attending college football at Heinz Field.  I enjoy the company of the people in the ticket group, and while Heinz Field is no PNC Park, it is a comfortable place to watch a game, and the University does a nice job in making an effort to make game days a real "College Football Experience".  That said, going to a game on a Thursday night, just takes away a little something from that experience.  I'm sure it would have been different had Pitt not been coming off a three game losing streak, and a drizzle throughout the night didn't help.  Primarily though, I just think that college football games should be played on Saturday afternoons.

H2P!!!