Sam

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Tough guys don’t have tattoos

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2012 at 3:08 am

Well, the Super Bowl is next week and I must admit that I am looking forward to it – simply because I like the idea of a New York team beating a Boston team. But I really have no interest anymore in professional football as several of my blog posts have made clear. Last weeks Giants-49ers game was a case in point why have I lost interest in professional football. At the onset of OT the head referee explained the new the new OT rules to the captains at mid-field. But the rules were so complicated and the referee’s explication so labyrinthine that I don’t think anyone, not the players on the field, nor anyone watching at home understood him. I certainly didn’t understand him. In fact, all I understood was the part at the end where he asked, “heads or tails?” It was a comic performance by the NFL. The days of “Gentlemen, the first team that scores wins the contest” are officially over.

At one point during the OT the FOX camera panned the 49er bench where four linemen were resting during a Giants possession. Each player had tattoos that ran the length of his arms. I could not see any ectodermal tissue that was not covered in ink. It is as if tattoos are now part of the unwritten uniform code in the NFL (and the NBA I would add). And the code says that linemen should have more tattoos than QBs and receivers – for that is the impression I got while watching the game. Nowadays tattoos symbolize toughness. Funny but in my book it is just the opposite. The truly tough guys in the NFL were those who played a generation or two ago and who simply donned a uniform and a few pads. They didn’t need tattoos to prove they were tough. They just showed up, broke their share of bones against other tough guys and collected a paycheck every couple of weeks. Those days are long gone.

Regrettably.

Enjoy the game !

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The Hall of Fame and the “Steroids Era”

In Uncategorized on January 11, 2012 at 7:39 pm


Upon his election to the Hall of Fame recently, Barry Larkin was asked about some of the controversial players of his era including Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds and whether they should also be elected to the Hall of Fame. Both will be eligible for election next year. Larkin’s reply ? He said: “All I know is playing and competing against some of these guys, they’re the best—period.”

Barry Larkin is not mistaken. During the “Steroids Era” there were few players on the same level as Bonds and Sosa. But do these players belong in the Hall of Fame when their achievements were clearly not the result of pure athletic skill and training ? In fact, there is no better example of what steroids did for one player’s career than Sammy Sosa. Sosa played for 18 seasons in the Major Leagues. Over his first nine seasons he hit a total of 211 hrs. Over the last nine seasons – including what one would normally consider years in decline because of age – he hit almost twice as many home runs (398). I would add that after his first five years in the majors Sosa had only 74 career hrs and a career batting average bobbing pathetically around .230. He had as much chance of getting into Cooperstown as Joe Azcue.

Which all makes one wonder why Barry Larkin is speaking up for players like Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds ? I suspect it is because the higher regard his peers are held in, the higher regard Barry Larkin is held in.

Except by people like me.

If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway.

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2012 at 5:36 am

I was keeping one eye on the score of the Broncos- Steelers game today as I was working on my computer. Not that I am particularly interested in the NFL anymore. In fact, I have not watched a game all year. But I am a lifelong sports fan. What can I say. A few minutes after the game had ended I saw a clip of the winning TD catch in OT and heard CBS broadcaster Jim Nance refer to a new rule change which stipulates that in the playoffs a team on its first possession in OT has to score a TD in order to win the game. Taking the ball the length of the field to settle for a game winning FG is no longer allowed. Since I rarely watch the NFL anymore I had heard nothing about this change (which applies to the playoffs only) and I was predictably aghast. I read the game recap where the explanation of the new rule was provided. In addition to the rule that says a team must score a TD on their first possession, another new rule guarantees each team at least one possession in OT. In other words, sudden death overtime is now sudden death overtime with qualifiers.

The new rule dilutes the considerable drama that is synomous with overtime in professional football. One of the more exciting things in sports is to watch a team drive down the field in OT to get into field goal position. What is more American than a field goal to win a football game. But now some field goals are not allowed. Go figure. There is no justification for this rule change whatsoever. It is just a blatant attempt by the NFL to lengthen games so they can sell more advertising during the period when most fans, including myself, tune in: the playoffs.

But the NFL is just following every other institution in America in which tradition is considered boring and where the mis-guided powers that be see a need to change the product or watch it die (what they perceive will happen). Sports is now just like every other consumer product in the US. It has a life cycle.

Still you wish they would leave some things alone. Like sudden death overtime.

The Touchdown dance

In Uncategorized on January 2, 2012 at 5:30 am

If anything is emblematic of the times it was the story this week that the NFL is fining Marshawn Lynch for putting an image of skittles on his game cletes. This seemed like such a silly story, on Lynch’s part for publicizing his affinity for a candy during a football game and on the NFL’s part for bothering to notice and then fining Lynch $ 5,000.00.

Self-promotion has become the very essence of the NFL and nowhere is this more evident than in the highly-choreographed end-zone celebration. End-zone celebrations have become so contrived and some of them so elaborate that one often wonders if the players are spending more time practicing a touchdown dance than studying the playbook. The NFL has sought to curtail this behavior by fining players for excessive celebration but players have found that even negative publicity is good for their brand while the fine itself is a drop in the bucket. After all what is $ 5,000.00 when you have a six year contract for 18.4 million dollars ( Lynch’s contract).

Touchdown dances were not popular in the NFL until only in the last decade or so. Even in Billie “white shoes” Johnson’s day most players were content to drop the ball on the ground or “spike” the football as they crossed the goal line. Nowadays, however, not a week goes by when we don’t have to read about a celebration that has irked someone and a subsequent fine. This week it was NY Giants receiver Victor Cruz and his “salsa dance.” Players are even wont to hype their celebrations prior to game day which ensures that more people will tune in to watch their antics. It stands to reason that the NFL’s marketing people are far too savvy not to be aware that the more forbidden something is the more people will want to see it. And you wonder if the fines are in place so as to create more interest ? Such is professional football nowadays.

Let’s just say I preferred the NFL when Billy “white shoes” was playing.

The problem with baseball nowadays

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Yet another story about an overpaid major league ballplayer on the wires today. The Giants signed back-up catcher Eli Whiteside to a one-year $ 600 K contract. That is the figure that Whiteside will earn if he makes the big league club. If he is placed on the minor league roster he will make $ 175 K next season. Another way of looking at this is that if Whiteside makes the minor league team next year he will be paid more than Willie Mays ever made in his prime years with the Giants. In fact Mays’ top salary with the Giants was $ 180 K in 1971-72. I wonder how Wille Mays feels when he hears that a back up catcher who hit .197 last year, whose lifetime average is a paltry .218 and whose game-used bats don’t even sell for $ 20.00 on EBAY stands to make more money in the minor leagues than he (Mays) made as the marquee player in the National League for twenty years ?

The argument can be made of course that $ 180 K – when the adjustment is made for inflation – was worth far more in 1972 than it is nowadays. But how much more ? According to the US Govt official Consumer Product Index inflation calculator $ 180,000 in 1972 has the same buying power as $974 K in 2011. In other words, if Eli Whiteside can get his average over .200 in 2012 he will probably be making more than Willie Mays, inflation and all.

All of this begs the question, what is wrong with America nowadays that a professional baseball player – even a lousy one – makes so much money ?

Enough is not enough

In Uncategorized on December 10, 2011 at 6:23 pm

I was pleased to see that newly crowned NL MVP, Ryan Braun, has tested positive for PEDs. I can think of nothing more embarrassing to Major League Baseball and Bud Selig. Braun is one of the sports premier sluggers and his role on a resurgent Milwaukee Brewers team was one of the feel-good stories of the year. Not since the days of Gorman Thomas and Cecil Cooper has Milwaukee rallied around a team and two sluggers like it did this year around the Brewers, Cecil Fielder and Ryan Braun. That Braun won the MVP award came as something of a surprise to some people but I don’t think anyone said he didn’t deserve it.

Well, he obviously did not.

The revelation that Braun tested positive for PEDS comes on the heels of the news that Major League Baseball is going to reinstate Manny Ramirez and cut his suspension for drug use in half from 100 to 50 games. Ramirez has been caught cheating multiple times and you would think that the Commissioners’ office – if it was truly committed to cleaning up the sport and sending a message to people, players and fans alike – would say “enough” and put Ramirez on the ineligible list, as it did once with Pete Rose. But baseball recognizes that Ramirez is still a big draw so drug use or not they welcome him back and they are even making it easier for him return. All this says, at least to me, is that MLB cares very little about restoring integrity to the game.

Until we have someone in the Commissioners office who is committed to a clean sport and who is willing to issue lifetime bans for repeated drug use – even if this means a confrontation with the MLB Players Association and a lengthy strike – then the problem will not get any better, Every exemplary performance on the field, such as we saw this year when Albert Pujols hit 3 hrs in a World Series game, will be subject to suspicion. Was it real ?

Probably not.

I wonder what Bowie Kuhn would think of all this ?

They don’t make ’em like Frank Thomas anymore

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Usually when the name “Frank Thomas” comes up these days one thinks about “The Big Hurt” who spent 18 seasons in the major leagues, mostly for the Chicago White Sox, and who retired in 2010 with Hall-of-Fame credentials: .301 lifetime BA; 521 hrs; 1704 RBIs. But years ago there was another Frank Thomas, whose nickname was “The Big Donkey.” The Big Donkey played for a host of clubs over 15 big league seasons and the numbers he put up upon his retirement in 1966 were very respectable: .266 lifetime BA; 286 hrs; 962 RBIs. Thomas was a member of the inaugural Mets teams in 1962 and 1963 and led the Mets in HRs in 1962 with 34, a record that was not broken until Dave Kingman hit 37 in 1976.

But what I find interesting are the minutiae from the Big Donkey’s career:

Thomas always wanted to be an airline steward and to this end he would don an apron and help serve in-flight meals on the Mets flights. Long time United Airlines stewardess, Barbara Mueller once said of Thomas, “Outside of this girl, Jane, who handles first-class on our New York to San Francisco Champagne flight, I think that Frank Thomas is the best stewardess on United Airlines.” Of course at one time in America it was not considered inappropriate to use the term stewardess.

Thomas, it was said, could catch the hardest throw of any player and do this barehanded. Willie Mays once accepted the challenge and lost. The genesis of this talent is that Thomas’s parents could not afford a glove for him – he grew up at the tail end of the Depression – and he had to learn to catch a ball with his bare hands.

Thomas was well-known for abstaining from night life while on the road. Instead, The Big Donkey would spend his time in his hotel room reading and answering fan mail. That in itself sounds positively archaic by today’s solipsistic standards.

From 1941 – 1946 Thomas trained to be a Roman Catholic Priest. He apparently had a change of heart at some point ( maybe it were his aspirations to become an airline stewardess), married and became the father of eight children. The photogenic Thomas family – large even by the standards of the 1960s – became a favorite subject for local photographers wherever Thomas played, particularly in New York.

Maybe Thomas’s greatest stat is that he remains married to his wife of 60 years. I guess he really did stay in his room and answer fan mail after all.

Bowls and salad dressing

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2011 at 6:07 am

Not that I really take an interest in college football anymore, but I took a look at the bowl matchups today and see that the BCS is once again embroiled in controversy – mainly for the Sugar Bowl matchup this year which pits Michigan against Virginia Tech. There are a handful of teams ranked much higher than Michigan and VTU and many people feel these two particular teams have no business in the Sugar Bowl game. I can’t say I agree since I am a Michigan grad.

But I really wish the BCS would just go away. The controversy surrounding the national champion was supposed to end when the BCS came into existence years ago. On the contrary it seems as if there is more controversy now than there ever was with the AP and UPI college football polls.

Life used to be so simple with just five bowl games at the end of the year (all played on Jan 1 I would add ) and two national polls. Most years there was no controversy as the same team usually finished atop both the AP and UPI polls. Occasionally there was a split but the discussion raged for a few days and then died as we headed into winter. Now there are over 30 bowl games and a handful of polls and the controversy starts as soon as the first BCS poll is released mid-season.

The contrast between college football nowadays and when I was growing up kind of reminds me of the salad dressing section at the local supermarket. Where there used to be just Seven Seas and Kraft there are now about 40 competing brands and varieties. You can easily spend 15 minutes at the supermarket nowadays just trying to decide on a salad dressing. Life is just too complicated now.

And so is college football.

Fans and players – then and now

In Uncategorized on December 1, 2011 at 11:43 pm

One of my pastimes is collecting vintage sports photos, some of which you see here on the Sports Purist. I recently bought this photo of Reggie Smith taken in the mid 1960s. When I look at this wonderful picture I cannot help but think how sports in America has changed over the last 40 years. Is there any ballpark in America nowadays where you could find a crowd that resembles this wholesome vignette of Fenway Park circa 1966? The answer is, of course, no. Crowds at ballparks and stadiums nowadays are often rude, inebriated and sometimes violent -witness the Bryan Stow beating at Dodger Stadium at the beginning of this season or the shooting of two fans following a 49ers exhibition game this past summer. In fact, I found it very interesting that after the Stow incident many longtime Dodger fans said they no longer attended Dodger games because the gang presence at Dodger Stadium had become too ominous. Needless to say, it is hard to reconcile my image of picturesque Dodger Stadium over the years with the reality of the place nowadays. Many of the other parks are no different.

The other thing that struck me about this photo is the proximity between player and fans, the physical proximity but the emotional proximity as well. Smith seems genuinely at home with the fans as they do with him. Maybe this is because Smith’s income, when this picture was taken, was probably at or around the MLB minimum in 1966, under $ 10,000 a year. In other words, what the average American was making back in 1966. The only thing that sets Smith apart from everyone else in the photo is the fact that he is wearing a uniform and they are not. Yes, he is black and they are white but even race does not register in this photo. Looking at this image one cannot help but feel that there was once a unique closeness between players and fans, a closeness which no longer exists.

Finally, one other thing that makes this photo so wonderful: when is the last time you were in an American ballpark or stadium and did not see a tattoo?

Mediocrity rewarded

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2011 at 8:25 pm


It has been awhile since I have written anything. The dual responsibilities of fatherhood and work have taken up so much of my time over the last several months that sports is, unfortunately, the last thing on my mind. Life sometimes demands re-prioritization.

As we head into the sunset of 2011 there is more than enough to opine about – from the Penn State scandal to the NBA lockout. But what really caught my eye yesterday was a relatively minor headline that the Royals have given Bruce Chen a 2 year contract worth $ 9 million. I was a bit surprised at this because the last time I looked Chen was a mediocre, journeyman pitcher for the Atlanta Braves.

The news story on Chen read as follows:

The 34-year-old Chen has blossomed during the second half of his 13-year career. He was 12-7 with a 4.17 ERA two years ago, and went 12-8 with a 3.77 ERA last year, becoming the first left-hander to win at least a dozen games in back-to-back seasons for Kansas City since Charlie Liebrandt in 1987-88.”

“Blossomed”? You have got to be kidding me. Thirty years ago if a pitcher had an ERA around 4.00 the only talk was about removing him from the starting rotation and re-assigning him to the minor leagues.

When I read the news about Chen’s absurd contract. I could not help but think back to Mark Fidrych . After Fidrych went 19-8 in 1976 with an ERA of 2.34 and finished second in the Cy Young balloting, he was offered a pay raise by the Tigers but declined it saying that the $ 18,500 he was making as a player was more than enough. The Tigers pretty much had to force a $ 25,000 bonus on him just to mollify fans who knew that Fidrych deserved more than he was making.

This is why I find it so hard to watch a game nowadays. Players with the talent and humility of Mark Fidrych don’t exist while others like Bruce Chen demand and receive obscene amounts of money in exchange for mediocrity.

You are truly missed, Mark.