Category Archives: Sports

HOW TO SAVE BASEBALL

I’m here to save baseball.

No, not Major League Baseball. Despite the ridiculous economic disparity that still stacks the deck in favor of teams from major TV markets, it continues to fill parks and make billions.

I’m talking about the sport, which, according to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal, is struggling to find kids who want to play.

In 2000, more than eight million kids ages seven to 17 participated in youth baseball. By 2013 that number had dropped to 5,3 million.

So, how to fix it:

1. Teach kids how to play before giving them a uniform and expecting them to perform in a game. The average baseball fan –who’s over 50, by the way — learned how to play the game before he signed up for Little League. In 2015, kids are handed uniforms and then taught the game.

2. Use a ball that little kids can catch.

The days of kids playing pick-up games in their back yards or at the neighborhood field are over.

Before a kid plays in a baseball game with a real baseball or even with one of those slightly softer youth baseballs, he should show an ability to catch a nerf ball, tennis ball or rubber ball.

I know the parents like to see their kids playing pretend baseball, but they would learn how to catch and throw a lot quicker if they played with a ball that didn’t hurt them.

3. Forget the six-inning games for six, seven and eight year-olds.

Kids that age have the attention span of a gnat.

Why would you expect them to enjoy standing in the outfield for two hours waiting for a ball or two that they have no chance of catching?

They like soccer and basketball because they’re always moving and it’s simple – run and kick or shoot the ball into the net.

Since they don’t come to youth baseball with the skills that kids in the dark ages used to hone in their back yards with a whiffle ball or a tennis ball, make learning how to play fun.

Devise skill competitions. Yeah, that’s right. Competition.

Little kids, especially boys, love to compete.

Let them wear their uniforms and participate in catching, throwing and hitting competitions. Keep score and post the scores.

Declare a winner at the end.

These competitions could be going on at different parts of the field to keep as many kids moving and competing as possible.

Unlike standing at home plate worrying about getting hit with a pitch thrown by a kid who has no business pitching, the skills could be practiced in back yards.

After the kids have had, you know, fun, competing in games that they can actually be expected to master, let them play a two inning game.
And they shouldn’t play with a baseball until they’ve shown an ability to catch a ball that can’t hurt them.

The most important thing should be making sure the ball is put into play as much and as quickly as possible.

If that means a tee, fine. Remember you’re competing with soccer, Lacrosse, basketball and maybe hockey.

Keep the standing around to a minimum.

If you’re going to have a pitcher, only let the kids who can pitch pitch. Seventeen kids shouldn’t be expected to enjoy standing around watching another kid learn to pitch.

Don’t put the kid on the mound until he proves he belongs there.

The parents may be deprived of seeing a structured facsimile of a baseball game, but their kids would be having fun and learning how to play.

There are very few things more excruciatingly boring than watching seven, eight and nine year-olds playing “baseball.”

Ten and 11-year olds aren’t much better.

And, please, if you have a kid playing on a travel team, this isn’t for you. Your kid is an exception.

I have four grandsons, ages 11-13. They all started playing baseball when they were six or seven. Only one is playing this year. They play hockey, basketball and football. Ask them why they stopped playing baseball and they’ll give you a simple, honest answer.

“It’s boring.”

I blame that on the adults.

NFL STILL MISSING THE POINT

The NFL continues to miss the point.

Wait. Don’t stop reading. This is not another Deflategate story. It’s about what happens on the football field. No police blotter stories. Just football and how the NFL could make its games better.

It’s a dead horse that I’ve been beating for a while in this space, but I’m still holding out for a Lazarus moment when at least one of the owners wakes up and realizes that field goals are ruining their sport.

The owners will hold their annual Spring Meeting in San Francisco next week and the word is that, when they’re finished, we will have a new extra point.

There are three proposals and they’re all stupid and a waste of time.

The Patriots’ proposal would have the ball snapped from the 15-yard line for a one point kick and the ball would be put at the two yard line for a two point attempt.

Last season the 32 teams missed a total of 27 attempts between 30 and 39 yards and, of course, many if not most of those misses were probably from farther than 32 yards. (Too tired to look it up.)

So, kicking from the 22 won’t change the extra point attempt from a signal that it’s time to go to the bathroom. It’ll still be all but automatic.

The Eagles are proposing snapping from the 15 for the kick and from the one for the two point try, but they want to allow the defense to score on any two point try if there is an interception or a fumble.

The NFL competition committee has the third proposal which is the same as the Eagles’ proposal except that the ball would be snapped from the two yard line on two point tries.

The owners would be better of spending time filling paper bags with water and throwing them put their hotel windows than wasting it on any kicking discussion that doesn’t include making field goals less likely to be attempted.

The only way to accomplish that would be by making them harder to convert.

There are 32 teams in the NFL. They each play 16 games. Do you know how many field goal attempts from inside 50 yards were missed last season?

Ninety-five.

That’s an average of 2.97 field goals missed from zero to 49 yards per team per season.

And the NFL owners think the extra point is a problem?

The Falcons and Ravens didn’t miss a field goal from 50 yards all season long.

The Patriots, Colts and Steelers missed one.

If you’re a kicker, call the Detroit Lions. They missed nine. The Dolphins were the only other team to miss more than four.

Remember, that’s all season long.

The actual act of kicking the field goal is boring enough, but that’s not the biggest reason for making them harder to make.

It’s what the inevitability of the three points does to the coaches. It makes them play too conservatively when they get inside the 40-yard line.

Teams trying for touchdowns and not making them is a lot more exciting than a 32-yard field goal.

At least I think so. Maybe there’s somebody out there who would rather see that than a team going for it on 4th and five from the 15. If so, we haven’t met.

Jan Stenerud is the only place kicker in the Football Hall of Fame.

He retired 30 years ago with an accuracy rate of 66.8%.

Last season, NFL kickers made 58% of their kicks from 50 yards and beyond and 88% overall.

And they’re going to spend more than a minute and a half trying to add excitement to the game by changing the extra point?

More proof that owning a monopoly can be a wonderful thing.

GRIP IT AND RIP IT

Tom Brady should be suspended.

Let’s get that out of the way right off the top.

He cheated.

The Clintonian defense put up by his agent and his father only make him look more guilty and more pathetic.

But Brady should never have felt the need to cheat. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Brady not only knew about the game balls being deflated by Patriots’ equipment guys, he most likely requested it.

And not only for the AFC Championship game last January.

Common sense and several pages of text messages between Brady and the Patriots’ equipment managers tell you that it was an ongoing practice.

Brady pushed hard back in 2006 for the NFL to change the rules and allow each team to provide game balls.

And remember the Tuck Rule Game?

That was way back in January of 2002. The divisional playoff game was played in the snow and Brady’s apparent fumble, that would have given the win to the Oakland Raiders, was overturned by an obscure rule and called an incomplete pass because Brady was pulling the ball back in after attempting a pass and trying to tuck it away.

The rule was abolished in 2013.

But it seemed to have had an effect on Brady. Losing that ball could have cost the Patriots a trip to the Super Bowl. It’s not outrageous to suggest that, because of the Tuck Rule Game, Brady became more concerned than the average NFL quarterback about gripping the football in bad weather.

My guess is that Brady has been keeping his eye on weather forecasts and having the equipment guys adjust the balls accordingly for a long time.

The forecast for the AFC Championship game last January, according to AccuWeather, was for “heavy rain throughout the game as a storm rides up the coastline Sunday into Sunday night. The wind will be a problem throughout the game as Foxborough will see 15 to 20 mile per hour sustained winds.”

If you don’t think that having a softer football helps a quarterback, his receivers and the running backs in weather like that, then I’d be willing to bet you’ve never thrown a 20-yard spiral.

My friends in the media who dismiss that advantage should be required to demonstrate their passing ability.

So, it would be nice if Brady, the Patriots and their cheerleaders in the media would stop insulting our intelligence by suggesting that it was the football equivalent of rolling through a stop sign.

And what should the NFL do after it suspends Brady (4 games has a nice ring to it) and takes a draft pick (2nd or 3rd sounds about right) away from the Patriots?

It should stop testing the game balls.

Why shouldn’t each quarterback decide how the footballs he’ll be using are inflated?

The NFL is all about maximizing offense.

The millions of people, who tuned in to see Brady vs. Andrew Luck last January, wanted to see an air show.

Watching football in the rain used to be fun when it was a battle in the muddy trenches, but that was before running the ball became an afterthought and mud was all but eliminated from the game.

It’s only an advantage to one team if only one quarterback can adjust the grip for bad weather. So let both of them play with a ball they can grip and rip.

Did you know that in the first NFL-AFL Championship Game -before it was known as the Super Bowl – the Green Bay Packers used the official NFL ball and the Kansas City Chiefs used the official AFL ball?

The AFL was a much more pass happy league and used a ball that was, you know, easier to throw.

Brady and the Patriots cheated and should be punished, but if the cheating results in the elimination of a stupid rule, maybe their legacy will be a little less tarnished.

RINGSIDE SEAT TO HYPOCRISY

Manny Pacquaio’s shorts were worth $2.3 million.

That’s how much advertisers paid to have their names on them for his fight with Floyd Mayweather.

By the time you read this, Mayweather may or may not have upped his boxing record to 48-0. It’s the richest fight in history and, for people who are old enough to remember when boxing still mattered, it brings back memories of previous Fights of the Century like Ali-Frazier, Ali-Foreman, Leonard-Duran and Leonard-Hagler.

I’ve covered World Series, Super Bowls, College Football National Championships and Stanley Cup Finals and not one of those events created any more excitement for me than the closed circuit telecasts of those fights.

If you don’t remember closed circuit fights, those were the big fights that were shown on large screens in theaters around the country.

They weren’t available on cable and, even though it was just a screen in a theater, they had the electric feel of a live event.

I stopped caring about boxing a long time ago and paid as little attention to Mayweather-Pacquiao as possible.
What’s more interesting to me than the fight is the hypocrisy surrounding it.

Do you think Mayweather would have a $140 million payday if America had seen a Ray Rice-like video of him slamming a woman with a car door, throwing her into the car and repeatedly punching her?

That’s what Mayweather eventually pled guilty to in October of 2001. It’s one of seven assaults against five women that got him either arrested or cited.

Showtime (owned by CBS) has no second thoughts about selling the milloons pay-per-view subscriptions at $89 a pop and the MGM Grand casino is happy to collect the $74 million live gate.

Because of the Ray Rice video that surfaced late last summer, domestic violence has been discussed almost as much as anything that has happened on a field, court or rink in the last several months.

I’m not sure if anybody really knows what or where boxing’s governing body is, but it’s obvious that whoever is in charge was never going to do the boxing equivalent of what the NFL did to Rice and punish Mayweather with a suspension.

Did I mention that advertisers are paying $2.3 million to get their names on Manny Pacquiao’s shorts?

Why Mayweather is on the street and has only spent a few months in prison is another story.

Tickets were going for as much as $140,000 apiece.

Some of those seats were bound to be filled with women, many of whom may be celebrities who have taken an opportunity to show how concerned they are, by self-righteously coming out publicly against domestic abuse.

What about the pretty ring girls who will parade around carrying signs in between the rounds?

Would a video of Mayweather’s biggest out-of-the ring hits have made them ashamed to contribute to the show?

Mayweather likes to tell people to back off on the women battering because nobody has produced a video of his abuse.

What about the ESPN female reporters who have been covering the buildup to the fight? How would they have felt about helping to enrich Ray Rice nine months ago?

If you pay $140,000 for a seat, you’re probably not going to have a problem with buying an $88 dollar leather cap with the letters TMT (The Money Team) on it. That’s one of Mayweather’s 16 trademarks. He has 129 more pending.

I seem to remember the people lining up for hours to get full refunds from the Ravens for their Ray Rice jerseys last year.

And that was because of one punch.

Mayweather’s reputation for not having a lot of patience with his women didn’t scare Nicole Craig. She’s in charge of marketing his merchandise, including the white T-shirt with “Future Mrs. Mayweather” scripted in pink on the front for only $20.95.

I looked but couldn’t find any pink protective head gear.

IS BASEBALL TOO WHITE?

Baseball is not cool.

How do I know this?

Comedian Chris Rock says so in a seven-minute rant on this month’s edition of HBO’s Real Sports – maybe the best sports show on television.

And why is baseball not cool? According to Rock, it’s too white.

Rock says that, as a black baseball fan, he is an endangered species. He talks about loving the Mets when he was a kid, but, “When I ask another black guy if he saw the Mets game last night, the answer I gets is, ‘What’s a Met.”

He has stats to back up his contention that baseball is dying- Little League participation is down 20% since 1995 and TV ratings for the World Series are down 50% and five out of six people who watch baseball are white and the average age is 53.

(In America, 4.62 people out of six are white.)

Rock laments the fact that only eight percent of Major League Baseball players are African-American and the team that won the World Series last year- the San Francisco Giants – had none.

“It’s the game. It’s old-fashioned and stuck in the past. You got white-haired white guy announcers. Baseball likes to look back.”

He says the antique stadiums that popped up around the country don’t exactly remind black people of the good ol’ days.

So what’s Rock’s solution?

“Baseball needs us. Fact is black America decides what is hot and what young people get excited about.”

Rock doesn’t like baseball’s boring code of no undue celebrating. He uses video to show that bat flipping after a home run is an “art form” in Korean baseball and says that in American baseball, “Don’t look too happy about it.”

He compares baseball’s unwillingness to celebrate to the NFL and shows a few players making idiots of themselves after touchdowns. All of the dancing football players are black, of course.
Maybe the code is a white thing more than it’s a baseball thing.

Choreographed celebrations in hockey tend to be frowned upon, too.

There aren’t a lot of white NFL players who play the fool for entertainment purposes.

Or as Jim Brown, possibly the NFL’s greatest player ever and a founding father of the black pride movement in the ’60s, says, “That’s embarrassing to me. To think in this day and age, these young men would be out there shaking their butts and not knowing much of anything else. Not knowing the dignity of a man and how to play a game and play it hard and let that speak for yourself.”

Chris Rock thinks baseball needs to stop being so white in order to save itself from extinction.

Imagine the response if a white man, comedian or otherwise, said he was losing interest in the NFL because it’s not white enough. Sixty-eight percent of the players in the NFL are black.

Rock probably doesn’t know it but he’s promoting one of the most insidious causes of racial discrimination – the soft bigotry of low expectations.

White players are expected to act like they’ve been in the end zone before, but black players are expected to show, as Brown says, “The buffoonery. The things we fought to get away: the stereotypical gestures. The rolling of the eyes, the dancing, and all the Walt Disney stereotypical disgraces,” when they get there.

Remember when Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who is biracial, was reported to be considered “not black enough” by his teammates?

There may not be a more respectful, humble, intelligent superstar athlete in America than Wilson, who, by the way, has the NFL’s number one selling jersey.

Chris Rock apparently agrees with Wilson’s teammates and believes he’s better suited for baseball.

Wilson played in the minor leagues while he was in college.

On ESPN radio Wednesday, Wilson said, “There’s a great correlation between baseball and football, especially in terms of playing quarterback. The mental focus you have to have with one play at a time and being in the moment. It really prepares you mentally.”

Chris Rock might need to adjust his focus.

I’m On TV and You’re Not

Talk about waking up on third base and thinking you hit a triple, how about that Britt McHenry?

Maybe you’ve seen the video that sent Britt on a quick and eternal trip to internet hell. She’s been working for ESPN as a reporter for a little over a year, but it wasn’t one of her typically vapid reports that got her in trouble.

It was a video that showed the world what an entitled, arrogant snob she really is.

Apparently a towing company had the nerve to respond to a call and tow her car from a parking lot in Arlington, Va. A security video caught her taking it out on the clerk.

Here are some of the money quotes: “I’m on television and you’re in a f-ing trailer, honey.”

I’ve worked in television for more than 30 years and was exposed to some gigantic egos, but I can honestly say I never heard anybody use the “I’m on TV and you’re not” line on someone.

Then she reminded the woman of the differences in their education: “That’s why I have a degree and you don’t.”

And, of course, she let the lowly clerk know what an awful job she had: “ I would never work in a scum bag place like this.”

McHenry is 28 years old and has a Masters degree in journalism from Northwestern University. Based on her comments, she apparently believes that her degree and her many years of experience were as much a factor as her looks in landing a job with ESPN.

She works for a network that has set the feminist cause back decades by hiring an army of women, who, while competent, would not have gotten a foot in the door for a job interview if not for their looks.

You’ll know ESPN is hiring women for their expertise when they start hiring women who look like Chris Berman and John Clayton. That’s not to say that there aren’t women who are good looking and competent. But only someone afraid of the PC police or protecting their job at ESPN would deny the value of good looks when it comes to hiring female sportscasters.

McHenry lamented the overemphasis on a woman’s appearance in a blog post a while back because of the use of an almost naked woman in a cheeseburger commercial: “When so many females fight for gender equality and in pay and opportunity- still to this day in 2015 – an advertisement like that only sets women back generations.”

“Women can be comfortable in their own skin…Be the woman with a voice, not the sexed up body without one.”

And this quote from the viral video: “Lose some weight, baby girl.”

After the video went viral on Thursday, McHenry became 10 times more famous than she was on Wednesday, but in none of the media reports about her did I see any reference to a brilliant observation she had made, commentary she had done or story she had broken that skyrocketed her to network stardom.

That’s because she’s not working at ESPN because of her masters degree, her unique reporting style or her special insight. She’s there because she’s, first and foremost, really good looking.

And that’s okay, looks always have and always will be a major factor in being paid to be on television and it is possible to be really good looking and really good on the air, which she may be, but, when you are a woman and walk off a college campus into a sports job working for a station in a Top 10 market, chances are pretty good that you weren’t hired because of your degree or for your mind.

I don’t have the numbers, but I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of young sports reporters whose first jobs are in large TV markets or at a network are good looking females.

There aren’t a lot of chubby 25-year old men covering major events for any of the sports networks.

Sounds harsh. Sounds sexist, I know, but you would have a hard time finding an honest person, who knows anything about sports television in 2015, to disagree.

If you have a list of 20-something, ordinary looking males working as sideline reporters, I’d love to see it.

Britt McHenry shouldn’t be fired. She has paid a huge personal price for her little tirade and social media has made it too easy for people who love to see a celebrity crash and burn for one violation.

Just remember, the next time you see Britt McHenry back at work on ESPN, she’s on TV and you’re not.

NFL NEEDS TO STOP THE REEFER MADNESS

Maybe the NFL is banning the wrong drug.

Le’Veon Bell of the Steelers and his former teammate, LeGarrette Blount of the New England Patriots received their punishment for their run-in with the law last August.

Bell was pulled over by a cop as he and Blount were on their way to the Pittsburgh airport to board the Steelers’ team plane to Philadelphia.

The cop said he smelled marijuana coming from Bell’s car. They were both charged with misdemeanor marijuana violations and Bell was charged with driving under the influence of marijuana.

Blount got probation but was able to wipe his record clean with 50 hours of community service.

Bell also got 15 months probation and was entered into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program for first-time offenders.

Earlier this week, the NFL handed out its penalties. Blount was suspended for one game and Bell for three.

The NFL has a big problem with players who smoke marijuana. Alcohol is okay. Understandably, the league has a zero tolerance policy for DUI and DWI convictions.

Marijuana is still illegal in most states but that’s looking more and more temporary every election cycle.

The NFL needs to get with it and stop testing players for marijuana.

One of this year’s top prospects, pass rusher Randy Gregory, may have cost himself millions of dollars by flunking the marijuana portion of the drug test at the recently completed NFL Combine. He was considered a top five pick but has been falling down most mock draft boards.

He’s falling for the stupidity as much if not more than the weed, but the NFL caring whether Gregory has smoked marijuana in the last month is at least as stupid as his decision to smoke it.

Quick question: What was the NFL’s biggest problem last season?

If you didn’t answer domestic violence you weren’t paying attention.

Another question: Under the influence of which drug – marijuana or alcohol – would a big, strong man be more likely to physically abuse a woman?

It’s alcohol and it’s not even close. If your own life experiences haven’t told you that, there are plenty of studies that prove it.

In fact, if I were an NFL owner, general manager or coach, my first choice would be that my players stay away from both, but my second choice would be that they choose weed over booze.

If Bell and Blount had been drunk instead of stoned back in August, chances would have been much greater that they would have injured themselves or someone else in an accident or become involved in a violent confrontation with the cops.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that one fourth of all violent crimes and three fourths of all intimate partner violence incidents are committed by an offender who has been drinking,

Researches at Yale University did a nine year study of married couples and found that those who regularly smoked marijuana reduced their chances of partner violence.

Another study found that 20-year old drivers with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent – the legal limit for driving – had an almost 20-fold increase in the risk of a fatal accident compared with sober drivers.

The lead author of the study, Eduardo Romano, a senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation said that, after adjusting for demographics and other factors, marijuana did not statistically increase the risk of a crash.

So, how much sense does it make for the NFL to have no penalty for a player who drinks a fifth of Jack Daniels every night, as long as he doesn’t beat someone up, run someone over or get himself arrested but a suspension for a player who shows signs of smoking a joint any time in the last 30 days?

The drug that is more likely to perpetuate the NFL’s biggest problem is okay. The drug that might eliminate it is banned.

Of course the one that is banned doesn’t bring in billions in advertising dollars or concession stand sales.