The Night Belongs to the “Sandman”

First ballot Hall of Famer. No debate is needed. Play his entrance music by clicking the pic above. (USATSI)

Everyone hates the Yankees. That’s not a secret. What’s not a secret is that, even for Yankees haters, Mariano Rivera is the best closer in baseball, in my generation, and is universally respected. He carries himself without bombastic flair. Simply grace and class. He comes out of the bullpen, takes the mound, unleashes that feared cutter pitch, and batters go down in flames.

He is a first ballot Hall of Famer. Lock, stock, two smoking barrels. No questions asked. No debate is needed.

 

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Opening Day

There is nothing like Opening Day in Major League Baseball. 

This annual gathering of a community, bonded by a game that signals a start of a new year, the blooming of spring, and hopes of someone’s favorite team winning the World Series in the fall. 

Paul Yeager, Becky Mollenkamp, Nick Renkoski, Liz Lidgett, Jason Gavin, and Chris Juhl, to name a few know what that feeling is like when your team is on top of the world.  Their St. Louis Cardinals went from a wild card team to beating the Texas Rangers in one of the most memorable championship series in recent years. 

“Wait until next year” is a moniker I could do without.  As a Cubs fan, it’s agonizing that the Northsiders are the kids standing outside of the candy shop, looking in. 

“But, a season awaits, with glory in their eyes” as John Facenda spoke with reverent authority.  Baseball brings a sense of community, a pilgrimage, as fans sit next to each other, cracking open shells of warmed-up peanuts, scribbling on their scorecards, and vocally coaxing the opposing team’s batter to swing and strike with the fervor of Ferris Bueller. 

Welcome back baseball. 

Welcome back the majestic Budweiser Clydesdales as they enter Busch Stadium and make their way around the track and making a stop at home plate.  Welcome back the regal pomp and circumstance that makes Yankee Stadium a sight to behold.  Welcome back the family fun atmosphere that makes watching Royals games cool at Kaufmann Stadium.

Welcome back bleacher bums and Steve Goodman’s voice singing “Go Cubs Go” over the sound system at Wrigley, when that “W” flag is raised after a win.  Welcome back Fenway Park where The Standells lovingly opine about the Charles River.

Welcome back Vin Scully.  There’s no one quite like you. 

Welcome back baseball.  It’s good to reconnect again. 

News and Sports Links – June 2, 2011

Memorial Day has passed and it's time for some "Hot Fun in the Summertime." Ain't that right, Sly? Listen to one of his biggest hits by clicking on the album picture.

It’s a short work week, but the summer swings into full gear with vacations, dips in the pool, and finally getting around to those books you have put off reading.

I know you won’t put off reading some links that flew under the radar over the past few days.  Let’s get to the business at hand.

  • Jesse Eisinger of ProPublica critiques the HBO made-for-TV movie “Too Big to Fail”, chronicling the start of the current financial crisis.  Eisinger points out that the movie wasn’t about how Henry Paulson, Timothy Geithner, and Ben Bernanke was trying to save the nation, but it was how they didn’t see the crisis coming, despite the red flags flying.
  • Eisinger also penned a new article on how it doesn’t pay to be a whistle-blower, as they are ostracized, rather than lauded, by Wall Street for sniffing out corruption and sneaky tactics.  Looks like our quest to stay ethically above the fray means little in today’s society.  Jim Tressel, anyone?
Yale University
  • Brooklyn College journalism professor Ron Howell, a ’70 Yale graduate, pens an eye-opening article in the Yale Alumni Magazine.  He asks if there is added pressure on African-American males to graduate and succeed and if those factors are the cause of their premature and untimely deaths.
  • The great Ken Fang of Fang’s Bites noticed something during Game 1 of the NBA Finals.  You may have seen it too.  The microphones that the ESPN crew were using last night looks different.  It’s because it has moving video where the logo would be at.  Ken has the video of what the mic looks like.
  • With the college baseball season winding down and the College World Series making their debut at Omaha’s new TD Ameritrade Park, Joe Favorito of Sports Marketing and PR Roundup asks if college baseball is missing a golden opportunity to gain more attention in the sports world.  Joe lists a few possible reasons.
Mason City's Ryan Voves rounds the bases during the home opener against Des Moines North on Tuesday. (Jeff Heinz/Globe Gazette)
  • Finally Kirk Hardcastle from the Mason City Globe-Gazette covered the prep baseball home opener for Mason City as they hosted Des Moines North on Tuesday night at Roosevelt Field.  Things went sour for the North Polar Bears, really sour, to the tune of a 40-0 polaxing at the hands of the Mohawks.  Fellow sports writer Jared Patterson asks the proverbial question:  “how would you handle a 31-run inning?” 

I did have a few thoughts about the ongoing saga and mess at Ohio State University and the resignation of football coach Jim Tressel, aka Sweater Vest.  If there were any room to add to the Ten Commandments, I would add these two edicts:

Thou shall not lie to the NCAA. 

Thou shall not lie to the federal government. 

Yes, there is a reason why the feds should be investigating issues pertaining to sports:  if MLB, NFL, and the NCAA can’t seem to clean house or get their acts in order, someone has to do it.  Or at least threaten them.

And, no for the one and only time, Kirk Ferentz is not a candidate to replace Tressel.

Opening Day

 

When Vin Scully gets behind the microphone, you know it's time for baseball again. This will be Vin's 62st season as the Voice of the Dodgers.

It doesn’t feel right at all this morning to be thinking of Opening Day.

It’s Thursday for crying out loud!

Baseball’s Opening Day was reserved for the first Monday in April.  The traditional first game in Cincinnati, the ceremonial first pitch by the President in Washington, and the Cubs and the Mets being “mathematically eliminated” from playoff contention for the umpteenth time…before even taking the field. In St. Louis, the Cardinals will have their grand parade of yesterday legends and today’s stars during their opening ceremonies at Busch Stadium.


Today is Opening Day, that time-honored ritual that signals the unofficial start of spring, mixed with a few lake-effect snow showers in Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland from time to time.  The San Francisco Giants, the newly crowned champions of this sport, will meet their long-time hated nemesis the DodgersJoel Hanrahan, of Norwalk, will be asked by the Pittsburgh Pirates to take the mound as a closer this season.

Meanwhile in Seattle and Chicago, heavy hearts will reside as the Mariners and the Cubs start their season without an institution and a legend:  broadcaster Dave Niehaus and former player and beloved color analyst Ron Santo. This baseball season will also be empty without the man from Van Meter known as “Rapid Robert”Tim McClelland and Eric Cooper pull out their umpire masks and stand behind the plate to judiciously call balls and strikes again.


Opening Day brings hope and hearkens emotions of yesteryear and bonding among fans, family, and friends, as we turn down the television, pull out our cell phones, and feverishly try to find an app that will let us listen to Vin Scully poetically weave a story as the Dodgers mount up a rally late in the games.

Opening Day is here, regardless if it’s on Monday or, as weird as it is, on a Thursday.

It’s time to play ball.


Rites of Spring

Can you smell the fresh spring air and feel the rush of players taking the field?

The four most famous words in baseball is “pitchers and catchers report.”  How fitting that the temperatures here in Iowa will reach the 50’s for most of the week as spring training 2011 begin in earnest today.  I could go on by waxing poetically about the grand old game that we call baseball. 

But why do that when the picture above is enough to make baseball fans pull out their old baseball gloves, stat books, and re-read Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball” or David Halberstam “Summer of ’49”. 

There are four more famous words that will be uttered next weekend.  Who wouldn’t want to put the foot to the medal when “Gentlemen (and Ladies), start your engines” is the cue to start the NASCAR season with the Daytona 500? 

Are you ready for Darrell Waltrip to say "Boogity boogity boogity, let's go racin' boys!"?

The smack of the leather in the outfield and the roaring and whirring of a car going 200+ miles per hour signals the upcoming spring season. 

Maybe the Groundhog is on to something when he predicted an early spring. 

Unless a blizzard hits during the girls basketball state tournament again.

An ambassador of summer: Ernie Harwell (1918-2010)

Ernie Harwell (1918-2010) Click on the picture to watch Ernie's final goodbye to Tigers fans last fall.

Forgive me this day as I write this without getting misty-eyed.  For those who do not follow baseball, or sports in general, Ernie Harwell passed away Tuesday evening from a year-long battle of terminal cancer.  Harwell was the long-time voice of the Detroit Tigers.

Check that.  He was the voice of Michigan, Detroit, the Tigers, and baseball. Baseball has been blessed with individuals who were ambassadors of this sport of sticks and balls, mitts and grass.  Harry Caray, Buck O’Neill, Casey Stengel, Satchel Paige, and Jack Buck exemplified baseball.  It is difficult to now realize that Vin Scully, the voice of the Dodgers, may be the last great announcer that is tied to one team for over 30+ years.

Ernie Harwell was Michigan.  One voice, one team, equaled a marriage unbroken in sports.

Vin Scully became the voice of the Dodgers after Harwell left to call the Giants.

For my generation (Generation X and Millennials), watching sports on television is a common routine that is always taken for granted.  Ask them if they have ever listened or considered listening to a game on radio, the common response is “it’s too boring” and “it’s better on television.”

It’s a generational thing.  There is nothing wrong with that.  But, for an “X-er” like me, listening to a baseball game, football game, or a basketball game on radio is special.  Listening to play-by-play on radio, you imagine yourself being there and seeing in your mind what is going on.  Growing up in Eastern Iowa made it quite easy for me to hear the great voices of baseball. Television makes it easy to see what’s happening.

I ran across listening to Ernie Harwell one night on WJR, after listening to Harry Caray called another Cubs’ heart-breaker on WGN.  For a long time in Waterloo, no radio station in town carried a MLB team broadcast.  It wasn’t until later when I was in college that KWLO picked up the Twins for one season.  Today, KCNZ has been carrying the Cubs for several years now.

Jack Buck and Harry Caray when they were the 1-2 punch on the Cardinals' broadcast.

Just as it was fun to listen to Harry, Jack, Herb, Marty, and Bob, Ernie had a grace about him when he was behind the microphone.  I was listening to the voices that poured like honey through the ionosphere of amplified modulation radio, telling us the stories that kept us up late at night, when sugar plum fairies should be dancing in our sleepy heads.

The best person to pay homage to Ernie Harwell in his own way, is Vin Scully.  Here is Vin’s tribute, mixed in with calling the play, as he is so eloquent in doing.

A letter to bad teams

New Yankee Stadium

The following letter was sent out to the teams addressed below…

Dear Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Florida, Washington, and whoever stinks in baseball:

For nearly a decade now, several profitable teams and us have been sending you a yearly check, as a result of a tax that was imposed on us by Major League Baseball.  MLB told us that since we are the most profitable and recognizable team in America, we had so much money that we could buy players to win championships. The intent of the luxury tax, as you call it, is to balance the playing (financial) field so that you guys can be competitive buy adding a couple of players here and there.

After further review, we are considering asking MLB to dump the luxury tax and stop giving you money.  When we looked back to see whether the tax has made any major significance, it became clear that it hasn’t.  Since the tax was instituted, only Florida was the only team that made it to the playoffs.  And after they made the playoffs, the Marlins then proceed to have a fire sale because they couldn’t afford (translation = too damn cheap) to pay their players.

Kansas City and Pittsburgh, despite changing owners, building a new stadium or upgrading a stadium, your teams still stink to high hell.  Do you mean to imply to us that even though we’re cutting a check, you idiots still can’t field a competitive team?

We’re not paying for Single-A talent here.  This is Major League Baseball. To succeed in this business, you have to spend money.

It is appalling to us, as the greatest team in sports history, to continue bankrolling free money to bad teams that has no commitment whatsoever to winning.  We guess padding your economic portfolio is a higher priority than giving your fans something to root for.

We may be the “Evil Empire” to all of you, but we know how to operate an organization and we’ll go above and beyond to bring in the best talent, keep the best players, and put out a good product.

In closing, this luxury tax that we and several other teams have to pay for is an unmitigated joke.  It hasn’t made our league any better and it doesn’t promote the “parity” that you so wanted. Stop wasting our tax dollars so that you can keep making excuses for sucking.

Sincerely,

The New York Yankees