Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Save the trees

In Uncategorized on January 29, 2011 at 4:11 am

I saw in the MLB headlines today that the Twins have decided to remove the the 14 pine tress that grace the centerfield area at Target Field. The reason: batters complained that the trees provided a poor backdrop against which to hit. Joe Mauer was quoted as saying : “First year in the stadium and it was pretty bad.” Why this is “news” I have no idea. Maybe because it is February and we are in that odd week waiting for the Super Bowl when there is nothing else going on in the World of Sports. Nevertheless, I have plenty to say about this story.

First of all, I have always loved baseball parks with trees. Some of the classic ballparks in the annals of the game, Forbes Field, Crosley Field, Milwaukee County Stadium, Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Dodger Stadium, and in its early years even Candlestick Park had trees beyond the outfield fences. The trees in these ballparks lent a picturesque quality to the playing field and for that reason the ballpark was always a pleasant place to waste an afternoon, akin to spending a day at the neighborhood park. I suspect that the architects who designed the parks meant the landscape to reinforce this feeling of leisurely retreat. .As the small ballparks gave way to gargantuan, multi-purpose, cookie-cutter stadiums ( as the stadiums of the 1970s and 1980s came to be called) ballparks with trees were put on the endangered species list. A few teams, like the Twins, have sought to revive the aesthetic but as the news today shows we live in different times now. Trees no longer belong in a ballpark apparently.

I also thought it was interesting how Twins management was quick to accommodate Mauer and others by removing the trees. This is typical of the mentality of management nowadays, when every fickle demand of a highly-paid player is granted. Did players complain about this sort of thing thirty or forty years ago ? Of course. But parks were what they were and players accepted this, happy just te be playing in the majors I suspect.

Then again, what do you expect from Joe Mauer who grew up in Minneapolis in the shadow of the Metrodome, where trees never grew.


One more reason I can’t watch football anymore: The little red flag

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2011 at 4:53 am

I didn’t watch the National Championship game the other night. Mainly because I live in Tokyo where the game was not broadcast. I did check the final score, however, and watched some of the video highlights online. Once again, a big play in college football (or professional football for that matter) hinged on instant reply. This is another reason I rarely watch pro football anymore and watch only a handful of college games in any given season: instant reply.

What is it about instant reply that I don’t like ? Instant reply slows down the game considerably. Some reviews drag on for as much as 5-10 minutes while the officials huddle under what looks ridiculously like a circa 1953 voting machine. It is a process that is seriously flawed, for the TV replay usually tells us immediately if a play has been called correctly or not. I have never understood why the NFL just doesn’t post an official in the press box.

Instant replay also attempts to impose perfection where there can be none. Professional athletes, in spite of their skills, are not androids, and if you scrutinized the play on the field you could probably find violations of one sort or another e.g. holding, illegal formation on every play. Yet these infractions are never called usually because they occur on the line of scrimmage, away from the ball. Big games are often decided because a hold or a false start went unnoticed by the officials. Instant reply gives the false impression that the game has been decided fairly, when it most likely has not.

Most importantly instant replay deprives the game of considerable lore. Ask any sports fan about a controversial play they remember well and they will probably recount several for you. What is the most controversial play of all time ? The Immaculate Reception of course. Did the ball bounce of Frenchy Fucqua or Jack Tatum ? That question is part of our fascination with the play some 39 years after the fact. And it is a question many people in Oakland and Pittsburg will ask themselves up until their last day.

Thankfully instant reply was strictly for TV in 1972.

Ryne Duren – Fastballs and Highballs

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 3:10 am

Ryne Duren passed away the other day. Duren was a fireballing right handed reliever for a host of major league teams from the mid- 50s through the mid-1960s. In the days before speed guns, Duren was one of the legendary hard-throwers in the game, known for the fear he struck into opposing hitters with a combination of good velocity and poor control. That he wore a pair of coke bottle glasses every time he took the mound added to the trepidation hitters felt as they stepped into the box to face Duren. As his manager on the Yankees, Casey Stengel, once said: “I would not admire hitting against Ryne Duren, because if he ever hit you in the head you might be in the past tense.”

Duren was a mainstay on the Yankees 1957 and 1958 World Series teams but was traded in the middle of the 1961 season because of alcohol-related excesses. He chronicled his struggles with alcoholism in the book, I Can See Clearly Now. The opening of the book is memorable. Despondent over the downward spiral of his life – both his baseball career and marriage derailed because of alcohol abuse – Duren had decided to commit suicide. Accordingly he walked into a lake in Michigan intent on drowning himself ( needless to say he was drunk at the time) but decided he needed another drink and headed for the nearest tavern….drenched in the waters of the lake.

I Can See Clearly Now is a wonderful book, probably the most inspirational baseball book I have read. It recounts the glory days of the Yankees and baseball in America and the unfolding plot of Duren’s surrender to alcoholism and his eventual recovery. In Duren’s day the worst a player did was to show up at the ball park drunk or hungover unlike today when hardcore recreational and performance enhancing drugs have have invaded and severely tainted the game.

Duren became a spokesperson for AA and helped many players who faced similar problems with alcohol. He was a truly inspirational figure to hundreds of people.

Thanks for the memories, and for all the people you helped, Ryne. You will be missed.

Professional sports nowadays: Whatever happened to dress codes ?

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2011 at 8:29 pm

With just one game remaining in the college football season and the NFL playoffs underway, I begin to anticipate the dreary month of February. February is always the worst month for me because there is no football (even though I do not consider myself a Pro Football fan anymore – See Sports Purist archives- I do watch the playoffs and the Super Bowl) and baseball has yet to start. In February there is only basketball. And in basketball these days it seems that there are only tattoos.

I can no longer watch the NBA because the tattoos, diamond-stud earings and bling have quite simply become an eyesore. I think this all started with Dennis Rodman about twenty years ago, but there are very few players on the hardwood nowadays who do not sport elaborate and often cryptic tattoos. If you just looked at the bodies -and the attitudes- on the court you could easily imagine that you were walking the streets of gang-infested urban America, not watching a professional basketball game. It’s funny but I was talking to my sister, a rabid sports fan, recently and she said that she no longer watches basketball for precisely the same reason. I have a feeling we are not alone. Are you listening, David Stern ?

What happened to the hair and dress codes that were once so ubiquitous in American professional sports? I think the New York Yankees are the only professional sports team nowadays that requires its players to look like gentlemen (do people even use this word anymore ? ). When you are paying someone millions of dollars a year to project your brand into the community I would think you would have all the right to expect them to act – and dress – with decorum, as the Yankees do. And I often wonder why the NBA, in particular, has not seen proper to limit self-expression in the form of tattoos, especially given the association in American culture of tattoos with gangs. I am sure money is involved somewhere.

I have never understood the appeal of tattoos anyway.

Joe Paterno

In Uncategorized on January 3, 2011 at 1:38 am

I just got back from a short New Year’s trip here in Japan and I wanted to check the NCAA football scores, forgetting as I did that most of the traditional New Years games are now played several days to a full week and a half after January 1st. Alas. All for Television of course. Among the college football headlines today I could not help but see that Joe Paterno is planning on coming back for his 46th season at Penn State. Although I think Paterno has long outlived his effectiveness as a head coach, I think it is wonderful that he still wants to coach and that Penn State continues to support him in this role. To give you an idea of how long Paterno has been at the helm at Penn State consider that when he took over the head coaching job of the Nittany Lions LBJ was president, President Obama was five years old, and the Super Bowl was not even part of the American lexicon.

In these days of a win–at–all costs mentality in college sports, when head football coaches are routinely lured away from very lucrative professional contracts, that a major program like Penn State would choose to employ an 84 year old coach speaks volumes about their loyalty and integrity. Can you see this happening at USC or Ohio State ?

Anyway, I am looking forward to seeing Joe Paterno on the sidelines again next year. If for nothing else Joe Paterno gives us occasion to recall what was once a better time in college football.