Tag: baseball

Giving baseball a makeover

Can baseball be saved?
That seems to be the theme from those who opine on such things this past week, citing declining attendance and TV ratings, with stagnant divisional races as a chaser.
But does the game need wholesale changes?
Dear God, I hope there won’t be. The sport, with some minor tinkering, is being played the same way it has for the last century-plus and remains the best way to spend not only a sunny summer day, but a moony summer night.
But, with the following tweaks, I think the game can be improved.
Scheduling
Yep, it’s a grind. Or, as Marty Lurie says, a marathon, not a sprint. But there are some of the old school that remain fixated on a return to a 154-game schedule, which was the norm until the first round of expansion in the early 1960s, which begat the Angels, Senators (now the Rangers), Colt 45s (now the Astros) and Mets.
To which I say: One week off the season? Really?
What would work better? The return of the scheduled doubleheader. You could even do the split doubleheaders that have become the norm because of rain delays to preserve income. But not only would this shorten the schedule, you’d make fans happy.
And while we’re meddling in this area: Interleague play, seeya!
For all the Mets-Yankees, Cubs-White Sox and Giants-A’s games that create interest in major metropolitan areas, there’s all the other games that are so meh.
Instead, let’s try beefing up the schedules in each league to bring back a little balance, especially in September, when the most significant regular season games should be played.
Before the last round of expansion, teams would take two trips to each city in the opposite division and three to teams in their division. One trip early in the season, one trip later, and September was strictly divisional play. The way the schedule is drawn now, with constant interleague play, not only do we have at least two teams playing interleague games the last weekend of the season, there’s situations like the Giants face this weekend when they host the Mets, a week after playing their only series in New York. Why not mix things up a bit?
Rules
Bring back throwing four wide ones to intentionally walk a batter. The time it saves, as we have shown elsewhere on this blog, is a wash. Have the pitcher work a little bit throwing around a hitter.
The designated hitter? Time for the American League to dump it in favor of the way the game should be played.
Replay? It stays, only because not only has the horse been let out of that barn, it’s down at the next farm training for the Kentucky Derby.
Putting a runner on second to start the 12th inning of extra inning games? If you think I like that, you haven’t been paying attention.
Gameplay
Remember the All-Star Game? Yeah, there were 10 home runs, but also 26 strikeouts.
Just like on the old “Home Run Derby” series, it was a home run or nothing. Unfortunately, that describes too many games nowadays.
This fine art of pitching has been replaced by the demand for more strikeouts. And while chicks may dig the long ball, all long ball, all the time makes for a dull product.
Blame statistical analysis, which also begat shifts, if you like, but if managers and coaches can teach their teams where to play defensively, can they not also teach hitters ways to beat the shift?
Get a man on first. Bunt him over or have him steal. Let the next two men drive him in. It’s not THAT difficult.
Television
Thanks to the explosion in regional sports networks, virtually every major league game is on TV in some way, shape or form, on networks such as Root, Fox Sports Net or NBC Sports City Goes here.
According to Broadcastingcable.com, 79 percent of U.S. homes receive TV via cable or satellite. A figure that’s down from the 84 percent in 2014, but still significant, due to cord cutting and the growth of services like Netflix as well as online options.
But that leaves about a fourth of the population with no access to games, save a trip to the neighbors or the local tavern. So, why not mandate teams show one game a week in their local market over-the-air? It’s called exposure.
As for the networks, both cable and over-the-air, why not expand horizons beyond the East Coast?
Given how often games from the region are shown, you would think ESPN is an acronym meaning Easter Seaboard Programming Network.
Yet, a World Series rematch between the Astros and Dodgers at the start of this month, or a delicious series last weekend between the Astros and Athletics in Oakland for the AL West lead? Nowhere to be found nationally, save SportsCenter, if it wasn’t wiped out by an update on LeBron.
But somehow, there’s always room for the Yankees and Red Sox, or even that mediocrity that is the Baltimore Orioles.
There’s great baseball and great stars being played west of the Appalachians. It’s too bad most folks can’t see it.

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Just say no, Raiders Nation

If you’re a Raiders fan, this is the day you knew was coming, again.

Goodbye, Jack London Square. Viva Las Vegas.

By a 31-1 vote (according to reports, Miami was the only no vote), the NFL cleared the runway for the Raiders to leave Oakland for a new playpen coming to a Las Vegas near you before this decade is done.

And while fans may be crying about losing their team for the second time, it’s also time for them to act.

During Monday’s newser, Mark Davis said they’d refund the money of any season ticket holder.

They should take him up on that.

Walk away from the 2-3 lame duck seasons of the Oakland Raiders. Stay home. Give the money to charity.

For all the talk of Raider Nation, it’s really nothing more than a set decoration for the studio show that’s the NFL on TV. Doesn’t matter where they play, as long as the field is 100 yards long and 180 feet wide. Could be Oakland, or Las Vegas, or Kalamazoo.

But let’s face it, for all the mayor Libby Schaff’s brave talk over the weekend, it was too little, too late, in a city not only trying to juggle the desires of the Raiders and the Oakland Athletics, but a myriad of real life problems.

And as much as the NFL likes to talk about being a part of the communities they serve, in reality, it’s all about the Benjamins. Just ask the folks in St. Louis and San Diego.

So what happens next?

As noted, the Raiders will play at least two more seasons in Oakland, assuming attendance doesn’t fall to the point of embarassment (like in Memphis, where the Tennessee Titans played briefly while fleeing Houston for Nashville).

Levi’s Stadium? If that were really a viable option, would not the Raiders and 49ers already be sharing it?

And in Oakland?

A new stadium for the A’s – now the city’s only team in the four major pro sports with the Warriors moving to San Francisco’s Chase Center by the end of the decade – will happen, but for all the speculation of sites near Howard Terminal or even Merritt College, their best bet may be to build a new yard on the current site, which features fantastic access to the freeway, BART and the airport.

Why are they messing with baseball?

Amid all the dark headlines, a ray of sunshine arrived this week.

They’ve been called the four most beautiful words in the English language, and you’ll get no argument here: Pitchers and catchers report!

Yet, at this time of incredible optimsm for the upcoming season – hey, the Cubs finally won a World Series – at a time you think they couldn’t possibly come up with a way to mess with baseball, they’ve found a way to mess with baseball.

And it’s not the White House, or the media, or even the Russsians that are trying to mess with the game. It’s baseball.

Or as Walt Kelly put it in “Pogo,” “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

This summer, baseball will experiment, in the rookie leagues, with trying to shorten extra-inning games by starting each inning with a runner on second base.

It’s something that’s already being done in international baseball and will be on display during the World Baseball Classic this spring. It’s also used in international softball as well.

It makes sense in the minors, where most baseball folks will tell you the emphasis is on player developoment, not winning. Why burn out a potential 20-game winner in a Springfield vs. Shelbyville all-nighter?

But in the major league game? Why mess with such a good thing?

It feels like another ideas that have come along of late designed to be thrown up against the wall to see if it sticks.

In recent times, these suggestions have included returning to a 154-game schedule (like this is a holy number), shortening games to eight innings, or, going back to ther ’70s, allowing a batter to take his base after Ball 3, while strikeouts occur after Strike 2.

There’s nothing wrong with extra innings, except to the TV folks who want a nice, crisp ending to things, or those with short attention spans looking for the next shiny object to chase.

A quick Googling turns up an intersting tidbit: Extra inning games, in a typical season, account for only eight to 10 percent of all major league games. Do we really want to mess with a system for such a miniscule number of games across 162 games?

And what about the playoffs? Will we be robbed of great moments like Game 2 of the Giants-Nationals series in 2014, settled in the 18th inning on Brandon Belt’s homer (a game that should have only gone nine innings anyway since Buster Posey was safe on that call at the plate … but I digress!).

Plus, as a recovering baseball numbers-cruncher, there’s a myriad of questions: How to account for the runner on second? Does this cheapen the RBI? And how do you figure out which runner starts the inning on second?

In recent years, college and pro football, as well as the National Hockey League and international soccer have installed tiebreaking proceedures for the regular season. In all sports, it created a system that didn’t exist previously. And while ovetime may have been a distraction in the Super Bowl, it doesn’t mess with the excitement that is overtime in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But baseball has a tiebreaking system in place. It’s called extra innings. It’s worked for a century and then some. Why are we messing with success?

Why Bowling Green matters, or, the White House that called ‘wolf’

It happened again Thursday night, and by Friday, it was a social media sensation, for all the wrong reasons.

Trump spokesman Kelllyanne Conway, in the midst of defending the president’s executive order banning travel from several Moslem countries, cited the “Bowling Green massacre” as a reason why the country needs such an action.

Except, as we know by now, there was no Bowling Green massacre.

It was just yet another figment of the collective mind of the Trump administration, just like the overflow crowds at the inauguration, the millions of illegal votes cast that denied Trump a victory in the overall vote totals and the threat grizzly bears present to American school children.

Social media responded as only it can, with everything from green bowling balls, green ribbons to remember the “victims” and faux historical markers.

It’s good for a laugh, but looking at the big picture, even Trump boosters should worry.

Call them lies, falsehoods, half-truths, or, in the Trumpian newspeak that’s all the rage nowadays, “alternate facts,” they’re a series of statements that we’re being asked to buy, even though they have no basis in reality.

And while inventing massacres (personally, I hope no Nate Thurmond memorabilia was destroyed) may seem like a minor sin, it raises the matter of trust.

If Trump and his followers are going to distort the truth on these matter, how do we know they will be telling us the truth when it comes to issues that could lead us into another Constitutional criss, economic calamity or, pray not, war.

It’s the least we could ask of the man with the nuclear codes, isn’t it?

In other news:

  • It’s needed now more than ever. Alas, we have to wait nine days for pitchers and catcher to report, as of Feb. 4.
  • That ancient tome, the Columnist Manifesto (not to be confued with the book by Karl Marx) requires a Super Bowl pick. So we’ll go with the old standby in this case: Good defense always finds a way to stop a good offense, so it’s the Patriots.
  • Can’t help but think the NFL was delivered a huge karma cookie over the past few weeks with a result that was opposite of what it wanted: The Chargers moving to Los Angeles, while the Raiders will remain in Oakland rather than a glitzy playpen in Las Vegas.
  • It’s still hard to see the NFL working in Vegas, the gambling question aside.

For all the talk of increased tourism from fans of visiting teams and “guys weekends,” look at the map. Outside of metro Las Vegas, what’s the nearest big city: Kingman? Barstow? San Bernardino?

And in between, a lot of sand and spent Acme products.

How much is too much for stadia?

And for the last blog entry of the Obama era, thoughts naturally turn to … sports!

  • T’was the Romans that first developed the theory that bread and circuses were all that was needed to keep the masses happy.

It’s become clear over the last few months the NFL has bent the words of Juvenal for its own purposes: Come up with the bread, and we’ll keep the circus in town, but keep the cash in your pockets, the league will load the wagons and go elsewhere.

After 55 seasons of entertaining the masses in San Diego, the NFL is taking its show elsewhere, much like it did in St. Louis and appears to be on the verge of doing to Oakland – again.

All for the lack of an adequate playpen.

The masses may be unhappy, but in the NFL’s thinking, they’ll get over it, right?

It’s part of a disturbing pattern in the high-stakes game of musical chairs called keeping the team.

Look at Atlanta, for example, where not only have the Braves have abandoned their home of 20 years, Turner Field (originally built for the 1996 Olympics) for a yard in the suburbs, but a new stadium is being built right next to the Georgia Dome for the Falcons.

Then there’s Phoenix, where not only are the Diamonbacks making noise about wanting to replace fairly-new Chase Field, but there’s talk of giving the Suns and Coyotes a replacement for their recenlty-built arenas.

And don’t forget the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where the Texas Rangers will be getting a domed stadium by 2020, which makes on wonder why one wasn’t included when their current ballpark was built in 1994.

How much is enough for deep-pocketed sports owners? Why are they afraid to open their own checkbooks, much like Walter O’Malley did when building Dodger Stadium, or seeking funds from the private sector, like the Giants did while building AT&T Park or the Warriors in the runup to this week’s groundbreaking for Chase Center in San Francisco?

And how much is too much to ask taxpayers to pay for? Especially after years of support through ticket sales and purchases of team swag?

San Diego and St. Louis taxpayers have given their answer. Oakland’s may be sending one soon.

  • We’ll acknowledge Friday will be a difficult day for a lot of folks. Me included. After all, I start to get antsy when it’s 24 days until pitchers and catchers …
  • Any truth to the rumor the Univesity of Montana Grizzly Band was not invited to the inaugural parade in case the route is detoured past a school?

  • And, finally, thanks Obama, for the last eight years and giving us hope. To think the next time we hear a presidential address, it might become a Festivus-like airing of greivances is disturbing on many levels.

King to Cooperstown: Holy Toledo!

The word cut through cyberspace and Northern California airwaves much like a Dave Stewart fastball. Or a pass from Ken Stabler to Clarence Davis. Or yet-another perfect Rick Barry free throw.

And, of course, topped off with an emphatic “Holy Toledo!”

Bill King, recipient of the Ford Frick award. Next stop: Cooperstown, 2017.

Of course, this award is for excellence in baseball broadcasting, which he did so well for the Oakland Athletics from 1980 until his death in 2005.

But, for all who have lived and breathed the San Francisco Bay area sports scene since the late 1950s, it’s validation for his work in all three sports. And he may have been better at basketball and football than at baseball.

LA had Vin Scully in baseball and Chick Hearn in basketball, but we had Bill King.

Both are one-trick ponies in many ways in comparison, namely, because they worked just the one sport.

For 50-plus years, he was courtside with the Warriors, behind the plate at the Coliseum or, in the same booth along the 50-yard line, painting word pictures of some of the greatest moments in Bay area sports history.

But beyond the routine of the game, there were the intangibles that even today’s blowed-dried pretty boy broadcasters miss without replay, helped by color analysts speaking in something resembling Sanskrit when it comes to their sport, with their talk of cover-2s, the wildcat and zone vs. man-to-man defense: Defensive switches, substitutions, changes in strategy, you name it.

And not just for the radio audience, but the thousands (like me) who turned off the network motormouths and listened to King describe what we were seeing on TV, before the proliferation of satellites and cable TV made this futile.

Off the air? You’d be more likely to find him at the ballet, opera or studying Russian literature, or, hitting the high seas as soon as NBA season ended, not to be seen again until the Raiders opened training camp.

Oh, those words! So perfect for the occasion, whether it was the defining moment of the game or yet-another tirade against NBA officiating (and we’ll refer you to the books by two of his biggest boosters, Hank Greenwald and Ken Korach, for all the details on the infamous Mother’s Day game).

But why write about them when we can listen:
From the Bay Area Radio Museum, the end of the Raiders-Chargers “Holy Roller” game in 1978:

http://bayarearadio.org/audio/raiders/1978/Raiders-Chargers_1978-09-10_Complete.mp3

From YouTube: A few highlights of the 1974 Dolphins-Raiders game mentioned above, the famous “Sea of Hands” game with Clarence Davis in the Promised Land:

Also from the Bay Area Radio Museum site, parts of a Warriors-Sixers game in 1977:
http://bayarearadio.org/audio/warriors/Warriors-76ers_1st-Half_Nov-25-1977.mp3

Another touch of the NBA, from a special commemorating the Warriors’ 1975 NBA championship. From YouTube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k74Ge28V2KQ

From YouTube, what may very well be the last interview with King, orchestrated by KNBR’s Gary Radnich, who’s joined by the great Art Spander and Tony Bruno:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23x7LRUQIFw

And, believe it or not, a little bit of minor league hockey, involving the San Francisco Seals and the Seattle Totems in a playoff game, doing color along with Roy Storey. Again, via the Bay Area Radio Museum:
http://bayarearadio.org/audio/seals_hockey/sf-seals_seattle-totems_1963-whl-final_ut B32k.mp3

But this is about baseball, of course, so let’s start with an interview with Korach, talking about his book, with another great set of pipes, the Orioles’ Gary Thorne. Via YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tra5VyHsHGs

Speaking of Dave Stewart: His no-hitter vs. the Blue Jays, via YouTube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQ0yumX8PbY

A’s defeat Red Sox in playoff game on a walkoff bunt:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OX5NRRWDGoM

A’s win 20th straight game on walkoff homer:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg1kaYhadNY&t=7s

Holy Toledo, indeed!

 

Making baseball great again

Thoughts for a Thursday …

The Chicago Cubs are World Champions for the first time in 108 years. Quick, someone check the slaughterhouses to see if pigs are taking flight, and check on ticket availability for the NHL expansion franchise in Hell!

This World Series, matching two beleaguered franchises, may very well prove to be a big hit with the Nielsen folks as well, likely the biggest numbers in the 500-channel era.

Yes, a lot of it comes with the story line mentioned above, and both being from large Upper Midwest and some national notoriety to boot, whether through the years the Cubs were carried on WGN or fans taking the movie “Major League” so seriously they sought to have Bob Uecker, who has broadcast Brewers games for years, to call an inning on behalf of the Cleveland Indians.

But then you look at the declining NFL ratings, and if you’re someone who truly loves the game, if this means the National Pastime has become our national passion again as well.

The NFL’s woes? You know them too well:

  • An overexposed product that has become, except for a few elite teams, predictable at its best and mediocre at its worst.
  • You can get a good portion of your house cleaned, or the Sunday paper read, during the long commercial breaks between a touchdown and the other team’s first play on offense.
  • Interminable replay reviews to enforce a rule book that’s becoming more complicated than the tax code.
  • The recent studies linking football and concussions have no doubt taken a toll as well.
  • And while some may cite many players following 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in not standing for the national anthem, that feels like so much social media outrage here. It’s hard to believe a struggling quarterback for one of the NFL’s worst teams has that much sway over TV audiences.
  • The uncertainty surrounding the future of the Oakland Raiders may be a factor as well, at least among Northern California fans. I’m sure more than a few folks in Las Vegas may be watching as well, and not just those holding betting tickets, but enough to make a difference?

Baseball is still the game folks in my demographic grew up with, the one we’ve clung to all these years. And the regular season can be a grind, but there are rewards.

For all the drama of a Super Bowl, NBA playoff series, Stanley Cup finals, Olympic gold medal chase or soccer’s World Cup, can anything top the drama of the past week? If you were to write a movie script based on Game 7 alone, it would be rejected as unbelievable, or they’d suggest a Ricky Vaughn vs. Roy Hobbs showdown to end it all.

Not that baseball is without problems. Length of games and every umpire having a different definition of the strike zone remains an issue, and the addition of replay has created some unintended consequences that must be addressed.

But, there’s approximately 104 days until pitchers and catchers report again to figure it all out. Fire up that hot stove!