Monday, June 29, 2009

Gotta go with Mo

It's difficult to compare closers from different eras because guys like Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter pitched during a time (1970s and '80s) when they were the bridge to themselves.

They often entered games with men on base, and were forced to get out of that inning and often pitch two more innings to finish the deal.

In other words, they were set-up men and closers wrapped into one.

You definitely can argue that Mariano Rivera has had an easier road to traverse than Gossage, Sutter and other Hall-of-Fame relievers, such as Dennis Eckersley and Rollie Fingers, because the majority of the current Yankee star's 500 reagular-season saves have been of the one-inning variety.

That being said, I believe Mo is the best there ever was when you take into account not only his regular-season record but his post-season stats - which include a mind-boggling, miniscule 0.77 earned run average in 76 appearances.

The bottom line is that no reliever has ever been as dominating as Rivera when the pressure was the greatest - in the playoffs and World Series.

One of the amazing thing about Mo is that he's established himself as the greatest closer of all-time by relying on essentially one pitch - a bat-splintering, cut fastball.

Interestingly, the two teams that have given Rivera the most trouble during his first-ballot Hall-of-Fame career have been the Red Sox and Angels. He has made 44 saves and blown 12 games vs. Boston, and has 18 saves and blown 8 leads vs. Anaheim.

Longtime Rochester Red Wings fans might remember how Rivera was used as a starter by the Yankees Triple-A Columbus affiliate back in the early 1990s. In fact, Rivera once pitched a rain-shortenned, five-inning no-hitter against the Wings.

I keep waiting for Father Time to send Rivera permanently to the showers. Mo, who turns 40 on November 29, isn't as dominating as he was in his prime, but he hasn't slowed down much. Despite his age and off-season shoulder surgery, he has comverted 18 of 19 save attempts and has 39 strikeouts in 30 and 2/3s innings. We should all age so gracefully.


Downpours and a runaway foreign golfer who few heard of before Sunday made for a very uneventful 2009 Wegmans LPGA. Let's just hope that the 33rd edition wasn't the last to be played at Locust Hill.

As I wrote in this cyberspace last week, LPGA Commish Carolyn Bivens will be voted out of office if Rochester's tour stop goes the way of the Corning Classic and so many other LPGA events.

The bottom line is that the LPGA needs Rochester and Wegmans more than they need the LPGA, so Bivens better not play hardball.


In my book, Bernie Madoff is not only a scam artist but a murderer. The blood of those people who killed themselves as a result of his malfeasance is on his hands.


Beth and I are big fans of the Zooperstar mascots. We were rolling in the aisles at Frontier Field Saturday night, watching Clammy Sosa, Bear Bonds and Harry Canary perform their spastic hilarity during breaks from the Red Wings-Scranton/Wilkes-Barre game.


Here's hoping those rumors about Michael Jackson bequeathing the Beatles' music back to Paul McCartney are true. It was a shame that Jackson felt the rights to the Fab Four's music was more important than his friendship with Sir Paul. There were reports that the King of Pop had planned to meet with McCartney about returning the music rights to McCartney as a peace offering. Sadly, that didn't happen before Michael's premature death.


If Minnesota's game-plan was to draft point guards back-to-back last week in hopes of trading one of them, then shouldn't the Timberwolves deep thinkers already have had a deal in place? The T-Wolves apparently have received some offers for Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, who they chose fifth, one slot ahead of SU's Jonny Flynn in the recent NBA draft. Rubio is threatening to play in Europe if he doesn't get the deal he desires.

I thought Flynn handled himself with class after Minnesota's bizarre move. He said he'd be happy to share the floor with another young point guard, etc., despite being as perplexed as the rest of us were.

Makes you hope that Flynn gets traded to an organization that isn't as disorganized.
Maybe, just maybe, the U.S. men's team is finally ready to be a major player on the world soccer stage. I thought the Americans were about to pull off one of the great upsets in their history after taking that 2-0 lead Sunday. Ah, but it was not to be as Brazil stormed back to win, 3-2.
It's sad that the Brazilians decided to talk trash rather than to give the Americans their due after the match.
My experience covering five Olympics taught me a lot about the lack of sportsmanship throughout the world. I saw similar behavior from the Brazilian women's team after the U.S. defeated them twice in Athens in 2004.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

All the world's a stage, and I'm not much of an actor

Friday night, on the main stage at Geva, in front of 500 generous and forgiving theater-goers, I proved once again that as a thespian and a singer, I'm a pretty good sportswriter.

Let's just say that acting is not my forte, and that my warbling is best confined to the privacy of my shower stall.

For reasons that still escape me, I was asked once again to make a fool of myself as part of the "Summer Curtain Call,'' which raises money to support the Geva Theatre Center's education and outreach programs. It's a wonderful cause, and I happily agreed to confront my stage fright because I've been a long-time fan of this cozy, Fenway Park of live theaters. And, deep down, I'm a ham.
This year's production was titled "Les Biz,'' a hilarious spoof of the famous Broadway musical, "Les Miserables."

Mark Cuddy, Geva's artistic director, did a marvelous job rewriting the musical to give it a Rochester theme. And somehow he managed to convince a bunch of Rochester's movers-and-shakers (many of whom, I'm happy to report, are as theatrically challenged as me) to give it the old college try.
Mark warned us on several occasions during rehearsal not to imbibe more than two drinks at the pre-show party in the tent outside the theater. (Several of us aspiring actors were hoping there was no limit placed on the audience. The more dulled their senses, the less bad we would look - and sound.)

For my main scene, I was on stage with my friends Jack Garner and Brother Wease. I was sitting at a cafe table, my character on the prowl for women, and Wease and Garner were talking about me out of ear shot.

They told the audience what a lucky stiff I was to be married to Beth Adams (that part couldn't be more true), and when they were done talking, I sung some altered lyrics from "Lucky Ladies.'' While I did that, Beth, Jennifer Johnson and Norma and Andrea Holland, sauntered onto the stage. Once I finished assaulting the audience's collective ear drums, the four women serenaded and seduced us. I wound up walking off the stage with my real-life wife. (I am indeed a lucky stiff.)

Two years ago, Beth and I participated in the Curtain Call. It was called "R-Town," a take-off on Thornton Wilder's "Our Town,'' and we were married on stage. In a case of life imitating art, the play took place roughly six weeks before we were married for real.

Before the fictitious wedding ceremony in "R-Town,'' Beth and I had to sing Sonny and Cher's classic, "I Got You, Babe.'' Let's just say that, somewhere, Sonny Bono, was spinning in his grave, and Cher was probably demanding that her lawyers serve us with a "cease and desist'' order.

Nick Francesco, who was doing entertainment reports for WHAM radio, wound up writing a hilarious review for the station's web site in which he accurately stated that "singing was committed.''

I'm happy to report that neither Beth nor I were the worst singers on stage that night. By his own admission, that dubious distinction belonged to Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy, who proved to be a great sport while futilely attempting to sing "The Impossible Dream.''

One of the surprising personal sidenotes to all of this, is that I was once so painfully shy that I was deathly afraid of getting up in front of audiences. In fact, it ranked slightly ahead of dying on my list of fears.

I'm still not a great fan of speaking (or, egads!, singing) in front of large crowds, but I'm much more comfortable with it than I used to be.

And, even though I'm no thespian or singer, I had a blast making a fool of myself at Geva Friday night in front of friends and strangers for a good cause.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I owned Bob Feller. Well, sort of.

Rapid Robert Feller can still bring it.

OK, so his 100 mph fastball is now a 40 mph meatball.

But, what the hey, cut the guy some slack. He is, after all, 90 years old. The mere fact he can still deliver strikes from 60 feet, 6 inches off a 10-inch high mound at his age is pretty amazing.

Feller, the oldest living Baseball Hall of Famer, took the hill for two batters in last Sunday's Father's Day game at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown. The author of three major league no-hitters yielded a single to fellow Hall of Famer Paul Molitor and delievered a high-and-tight pitch that prompted former Rochester Red Wing Bobby Grich to charge the mound in mock anger.

Feller then came out of the game to loud applause from the more than 7,000 spectators.

Rapid Robert provided me with one of my favorite baseball-playing moments back in the summer of '77 (that's 1977, not 1877 for all you smart alecks out there. ;-)

I was a 22-year-old sportswriter covering the Mets' Class A, New York-Penn League affiliate in Little Falls, N.Y. for the Little Falls Evening Times, and Feller came to town to sign autographs at the ballpark.

Before the game, he took the mound, resplendent in his old Cleveland Indians uniform, and threw four pitches apiece to a handful of local 'celebrities.' I put that word in single quotes because yours truly was one of the designated celebs.

As a sold-out crowd of 3,000 looked on, I dug in. Feller went into his trademark, high-kicking windup and delivered a batting practice offering straight down the pike. I was so excited to be batting against one of the most dominant pitchers of all-time that I almost cork-screwed myself into the ground while fouling the pitch off my right foot.

The crowd roared with laughter.

"Now, we see why you write about sports rather than play them,'' bellowed one of the leather-lunged spectators, who sounded as if he had already imbibed a few too many Utica Clubs.

I turned as red as a St. Louis Cardinal.

Feller's second serving was every bit as good, and I lined a base hit to right field.

I stroked the third pitch to center and the final offering to left.

Three hits in four at-bats vs. the immortal Bob Feller.

I could now tell my children and grandchildren, and anyone else who would listen that I once had my way with a Hall-of-Fame hurler.

Years later, before interviewing Feller at an oldtimer's game in Buffalo, I mentioned that night in Little Falls to him.

Feller grew defensive.

"Geez,'' he said. "I was 58 at the time and I wasn't throwing hard because I didn't want to embarass anyone.''

I told him I understood that and that I didn't bring it up to be disrespectful. I just wanted to thank him for taking it easy on me and giving me the thrill of a lifetime.

I wasn't bothered by his response. In a way, it was kind of cool, hearing that kind of fire from a guy in his 60s.

And I thought it was even cooler when I read that he had taken the mound as a 90-year-old.

Once a competitor, always a competitor.


The Chinese government reported that the 2008 Olympics in Beijing turned a profit, not counting the construction costs for the venues and infrastructure. Yeh, right. And nobody was killed during those protests in Tianenmen Squre. In fact, the protests never happened. Just a bunch of propaganda created by the Western media.


For those soccer fanatics who believe the United States' upset of top-seeded Spain yesterday marks the arrival of their game as a major sport in this country, consider this: The news of Shaq joining LeBron in Cleveland received bigger play, as did several mid-season baseball games. The upset was a step, but the reality is that soccer will never be as big here as it is in most countries beacuse we have too many sporting alternatives already firmly established. That's not meant as a knock, just reality.

Speaking of Shaq, if he helps LeBron win the NBA championship, the big guy will be able to say that he helped Kobe, Dwayne Wade and King James get their rings. And, therefore, he'll claim that HE, not THEY, was the difference between being a champion or an also-ran.

David Stern has to be hoping that it's a Lakers-Cavs finals next year. Imagine what a soap opera that will be? You'll have two great story lines: Kobe vs. LeBron and Kobe vs. Shaq.

I was among the minority of writers who said the Yankees should have kept Joe Torre as their manager. What Joe T has done with the Manny-less Dodgers and what Joe Girardi isn't doing with a stacked roster in the Bronx is just further validation that the Steinbrenner boys and Brian Cashman made the wrong choice.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fehr strikes out

I was bemused by some of the tributes I read about retiring baseball players' union chief Donald Fehr.

Yes, salaries reached astronomical heights during his tenure, but I thought he failed his clientele miserably on the most important issue - their health. Had he and his cohort in crime - Commissioner Bud Lite Selig - addressed the steroids mess earlier, perhaps we wouldn't have witnessed the tragic, premature death of former National League slugger Ken Caminiti. And who knows how many other tragic, premature baseball deaths we'll be commenting on in the coming years?

Also, the integrity of all those baseball records established and all those baseball awards won wouldn't be in question.

To me, Fehr and Selig were equally complicit in creating the storm cloud that continues to envelope the game.

So, I say, good-bye and good riddance.

Which will be my response when Selig finally leaves office.


The LPGA can't afford to lose its Rochester tour stop, so I'm thinking something gets worked out this week. The players love the support they receive from this community and there are few sponsors on tour as loyal and generous as Wegmans. I think if LPGA Commish Carol Bivens screws this up, the players will take action and she'll be looking for a new job.


Michele Wie still doesn't get it. Stop talking about playing on the men's tour and concentrate on finally winning an LPGA event.


Nancy Lopez remains one of the best ambassadors any sport has ever had.


For my Facebook friends out there, please join the group, "Put Lou Saban on the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame.'' The second winningest coach in Bills history and the only coach to win a league championship (two American Football League titles) deserves to be immortalized with the rest of the franchise's legends.


As mentioned several weeks ago in this cyberspace, former SU point guard Jonny Flynn could go as high as fourth in tomorrow's night's NBA draft. Flynn is one of about a dozen players who has been invited by the league to attend the festivities in Madison Square Garden.


My good friends Michael and Hinda Miller are diehard Mets fans who courageously boarded a bus filled with Yankee fans recently to attend a Subway Series game at the new Yankee Stadium. I thought you would get a kick out of Michael's blog about the experience:

"There were 37 of us who went. Hinda and I constituted 2 of the 6 Mets fans on the bus. The rest were fanatic Yankee fans all decked out in Yankee hats and jackets.''

"To say we were intimidated is an understatement."

"Arrived at our hotel at 2:15 PM. The trip only provided for tickets to the Saturday game, so we went out to have dinner with old friends who live in NYC and who are also (thank God) Mets fans. They have had season tickets shared with 2 other couples for years, but, regrettably, even though the cost would be split between the 3 couples, they simply could not afford the new prices for season tickets at Citifield."

"In any event, we had a marvelous dinner at a small Italian restaurant in Manhatten and then retired to our hotel room to watch the game on TV. Last of the ninth, score 8-7 Mets, 2 out 2 on, K-Rod on the mound for the Mets, A-Rod (sometimes referred to as A-Fraud) at bat. He hits a routine infield pop. Game over, K-Rod doing his victory dance on the mound, A-Rod throwing his bat in disgust, Mets fans everywhere rejoicing, except Castilio muffs the catch. The Yankee players on base, off and running at the crack of the bat, both score, game over, final score Yanks 9 Mets 8.

"Oh, the joys of being a Mets fan. One good thing, the television set in our room was made of sturdy stuff, and survived the barrage of shoes we threw at it.''

"Next day, off to the stadium. and as our bus got us there early we had plenty of time to view the stadium. Hinda, as you know, has 2 artificial knees. The elevators stop at the third deck and you take a ramp to the fourth deck where our seats were located. It is a long ramp and Hinda just was not up to it."

"We went to the box office, told them of our plight and said we would pay the difference for an upgrade to handicapped seating. First, the gentleman at the box office told us we could not upgrade since our tickets were purchased as group tickets. Finally, seeing our distress, he broke down and said he would upgrade to handicapped seating at a cost of only $175 per ticket. We were in disbelief and shock as we walked away."

"Hiding her emotions is not one of my wife’s strong points. Just then a person holding one of those, “Welcome to Yankee Stadium. Can we help you”? signs, saw us and came over. He asked if everything was all right and when Hinda told him what had happened, he said, “wait right here, I’ll be back. 15 minutes later he returned with 2 handicapped seating tickets compliments of the NY Yankees. Points for your side. He then proceeded to take us on a guided tour of the stadium including the museum and personally escorted us to our seats."

"The stadium looked like it was built in Disneyland. All the electronic gadgetry, including the state of the art Jumbotron gave it the feel of an amusement park rather than a baseball stadium. I also missed the voice of the old stadium announcer with his deep voice saying “now batting for the Yankees, Number 52 Bernie Williams, Number 52."

"As an aside, Bernie Williams is an outstanding jazz guitarist and on his most recent CD he is given that same introduction by that announcer, preparatory to Bernie’s instrumental rendition of “Take me out to the ballgame”. His final song on the album is a fabulous rendition of “Glory Days” with Bruce Springsteen doing the vocal. Ah, but I digress.

"The weather in the Big Apple was more than miserable. The disadvantage of handicapped seating is that it is located where there is no protection against the elements. After 4 innings of cheering ourselves hoarse as the Mets piled up a lead, and being chilled and soaked through and through, we decided that our dedication to our beloved Mets was outweighed by our chances of getting pneumonia. Therefore, we adjourned to the Hard Rock Café located inside the stadium, sat next to a lovely young couple, watched the game on one of their many high definition TV’s, and proceeded to substantially reduce the Café’s supply of Nachos and beer, while having the joy of seeing us demolish the pinstripes, 6 – 2."

"This continues our streak of having never seen the Mets lose when we have been at a game in person. Omar Minaya, please take note."

"Sunday, we headed home, tired but happy, until our tour guide, also a fanatic Yankee fan, announced that in the Sunday afternoon game the Mets had failed to score while the Yankees did so 15 times. The announcement was met with uproarious cheering by the Yankee fans and particularly ungracious comments to the 6 Mets fans on the bus. Arrived back in Rochester at 9:15 PM, thus ending our Yankee stadium adventures."


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Paying homage to a special Dad

He grew up during the Great Depression and dropped out of school in the eighth grade.

It wasn't something he wanted to do, but rather something he had to do. See, his father had just died, and, as the oldest in the family, it became his responsibility to put food on the table for his mother and his younger siblings.

So, he found work at a local service station and became an auto mechanic. The hours were long, the work was backbreaking and the money wasn't great. But he never complained about his lot in life. He just did what he had to do.

Not long after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he was drafted into the Army, and fought in the European Theater.

Like many from the Greatest Generation, he rarely talked about the war. But there was a Saturday morning years later when he told his barber about how traumatized he was when he and his fellow soldiers stumbled upon a Nazi concentration camp and saw scores of dead bodies strewn about. There were tears in his eyes as he recounted the moment. You wondered how many years he had suppressed those horrible memories.

He wound up falling in love with a British woman while stationed in England. The two were married, and headed to this side of the Atlantic in those pre-airliner days aboard the Queen Mary.

They wound up having three boys, and they did their best to raise them right and teach them about the importance of hard work and the limitless possibilities of the American dream. They were flawed parents and they raised flawed kids, but their hearts were in the right place.

He wasn't much of a sports fan, but his youngest son was, so even though money was tight, the father somehow always found a way to scrape together enough nickels and dimes to buy his boy that new football or baseball glove.

He knew how much his youngest loved the Yankees, and one mid-September day he suggested to the 11-year-old that they take a Sunday drive to The House That Ruth Built.

Four hours later, they were walking into Yankee Stadium, and the greenness and vastness of the ballpark proved overwhelming. As the boy watched Mickey Mantle launch batting practice pitches into the upper deck, he couldn't help but feel as if he had died and gone to heaven. In his mind, Disney had nothing on this place.

During the next four summers, the father and son would make pilgrimages to the big ballpark in the South Bronx. And although the dad never really understood his son's fascination with the game, he loved seeing the joy it brought him.

One of their most memorable trips occurred in August of 1970 when they attended an Oldtimers' Day in which former manager Casey Stengel's jersey was retired.

As they drove north up the Major Deegan Expressway toward the Tappan Zee Bridge and the New York State Thruway, the boy gazed out the window and day-dreamed about their next father-son excursion to Yankee Stadium.

But, sadly, there would be no more shared journeys after this one because five months later the father's heart beat a final time at age 58.

Eight years would pass before the youngest son mustered enough gumption to attend another game there.

On July 4, 1998 more than three decades after the boy's first visit to the stadium he would take his daughter and son to the famous ballpark.

They didn't appear to be as enthralled as he had been, but that didn't bother him in the least.

For this trip was as much about him connecting with his dad as it was about them falling in love with the place he fell in love with back in the summer of '66.

Each time he returns to the soon-to-be extinct stadium, he feels his dad's presence. He wishes his pops had lived long enough for him to repay the favor and take him out to the ballgame.

But he's thankful for the memories they did share. And on this Father's Day, he'll be sure to reflect on the many sacrifices Andrew Pitoniak made for him, and tell his late dad how much he loves him.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Good summer reads

Despite being the public voice of Dodgers baseball for more than six decades – entertaining and educating tens of millions along the way - Vin Scully is an incredibly private man.

Which is why, the man behind the mike has turned down request after request after request to collaborate on a book about his remarkable career as the finest sportscaster of all-time.
Curt Smith, the voice of authority on baseball broadcasters, was among those who attempted to convince Scully to tell his story for posterity. The broadcaster respectfully declined, but Smith refused to give up.
Without Scully’s biography there was a huge void in the written history of baseball broadcasting, and Smith was determined to fill it.

So, despite Scully’s polite protestations, Smith put fingers to keyboard and the result is a wonderful tribute, published last month, titled, Pull Up a Chair: The Vin Scully Story.

It is a book worthy of Scully, whom Smith calls “the Roy Hobbs of broadcasting – the best there ever was.’’

And it is appropriate that Smith would do the honors of writing about Scully because my friend and former presidential speechwriter is the Roy Hobbs of baseball broadcasting chroniclers.
“Not having a biography about Scully would have been like writing about popular music without mentioning Sinatra,’’ Smith told me recently. “The library of baseball broadcasting would have been woefully incomplete.’’
The thing I’ve always admired about Scully and other old-time broadcasters, such as Mel Allen, Red Barber, Jack Buck and Ernie Harwell, is that they were storytellers.

Unlike too many current-day broadcasters, such as Yankees play-by-play blowhard John Sterling (“It is high, it is far, it is . . . caught.’’), Scully paints a word picture, puts us in the ballpark. We can smell the hot dogs. We can visualize the pitcher wiping his brow, the hitter gripping his bat more tightly. We can feel the drama, the tension of the moment. We are there.

And as Smith demonstrates throughout this page-turning homage, the thing that separates Scully from all others is his lyrical use of the language. He is a poet who’ll tell us: “It was so hot today the moon got sun-burned.’’ Or he’ll compare a poor fielder to the Ancient Mariner: “He stoppeth one in three.’’

Pull Up a Chair is a wonderful read and a fitting tribute to an 81-year-old broadcaster who hasn’t lost anything off his fastball; who’s still showing listeners why he is the best there ever was.

While I’m on the topic of baseball books, I’d like to throw a plug in for The Final Game: A Fan Says Goodbye, written by Jeff Fox.

Last September 21, Fox, a professional photographer and life-long Yankees fan, spent the entire day chronicling the last game at the old Yankee Stadium. What makes Fox’s book distinctive is that he took his pictures from the perspective of a fan. There are shots from under the elevated subway tracks outside the stadium, inside the crowded concourse, from the far reaches of the steep upper deck and in the parking lot following the game.
I was there that day, so the book provides me with a wonderful keepsake of a very emotional moment. Anyone who cares not only about classic ballparks but historical landmarks will enjoy this book.

Lastly, I'd like to encourage you to head out to Frontier Field tomorrow morning (weather-permitting) for the 17th annual Challenger Baseball World Series.

You won't be disappointed.

Challenger is a program, in conjunction with Little League Baseball, that brings together boys and girls who are mentally and physically challenged. It's their chance to experience the thrill of wearing a uniform, swinging a bat and journeying around the bases - even if they are in a wheelchair.

I've been involved in the program for all 17 years and I've always come away feeling uplifted.

Kudos to World Series director Tony Wells, Red Wings GM Dan Mason and all the volunteers who make the event so special.

Tony tells me there will be more than 200 players, representing programs in Greece, Fairport, Webster, Batavia and the Fingers Lakes region. Come out and cheer on these kids. There's no admission charge, and the event is open to the public.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Slamming Sammy Sosa

NEWS FLASH: Sammy Sosa tested positive for steroids in 2003.

Now, there's a shocker.

Here's a guy who was a decent player, who shows up one year at spring training looking like "Mr. Universe" and proceeds to become the first slugger in baseball history to hit 60 or more homers in three different seasons.

The real shocker here is that it took so long for this news to become "official.''

Anyone with half a brain (Are you listening Mr. Commissioner?) realized that Sosa, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, etc. didn't obtain those muscle-on-top-of-muscle bodies merely by eating their Wheaties and pumping iron.

Of course, most of us have become innured to this type of news. And, as a result, baseball continues to be mired in quicksand born of greed and a lack of ethical and moral leadership on the part of Commish Bud Selig and Union boss Donald Fehr.

It's funny in a sad way, but Slugging Sammy told reporters earlier this spring that he was officially retiring from baseball and would "wait quietly for my induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.''

I hope you are prepared to wait forever Sammy because it's not going to happen.


My friend, Tom Weir, at USA Today says baseball's MVP award has become the most tainted in sports. He proposes that MLB follow the International Olympic Committee's lead and strip awards and records from athletes who cheated.

I'm in total agreement.

Hey, look at the number of gold medals that had to be returned after Olympians tested positive for using performance-enhancers.

Do the same in baseball, and give the MVP to the guy who was the runner-up.

This would impact a total of 18 MVP awards during The Steroid Era.

Among those who would be forced to give back their plaques:

  • Barry Bonds (1990, '92, '93, '01, '02, '03 and '04)
  • Alex Rodriguez (2003, '05 and '07)
  • Miguel Tejada ('02)
  • Sammy Sosa ('98)
  • Ken Camaniti ('96)
  • Juan Gonzalez ('96 and '98)
  • Jose Canseco ('88)
  • Roger Clemens ('86)

And while we are at it, Clemens also can fork over those seven tarnished Cy Young Awards.

As I've said on many occasions, I'd also restore Hank Aaron as baseball's all-time home run king and Roger Maris as MLB's single-season record holder.


Did you hear that USC is looking for a new basketball coach with pro experience? Isn't that what got them into trouble in the first place? Tim Floyd and his assistants thought they could pay their players?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Beam me up Scotty

After Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson won his record 10th NBA title Sunday night, several scribes anointed the basketball zen master as the greatest coach ever.

In any sport.

Talk about jumping the gun. Heck, Jackson might not be the best coach ever in his own sport, with the likes of Red Auerbach, Pat Summitt and John Wooden definitely in the discussion.

Even though my hoops coaching experience was limited to the Greece Basketball Association (that's the suburb of Greece not the country for you readers outside of Western New York), I think I might have had a shot at a few NBA titles with Michael in Chicago and Kobe and Shaq in L.A.

And who’s to say Jackson is better than Joe Paterno, Vince Lombardi and Knute Rockne in football or Joe McCarthy or Casey Stengel or Joe Torre in baseball.

I still believe you could make a very strong case for Scotty Bowman as the best coach of all-time. He won nine Stanley Cups with three different teams (five with Montreal, one with Pittsburgh and one with Detroit).

Sadly, he didn't drink from the Cup while coaching the Sabres, adding to Buffalo's belief that its sports teams are cursed.


Interestingly, when Phil Jackson was coaching the old Albany Patroons in the CBA, he was routinely beaten by Coach Mauro Panaggio's Rochester Zeniths. Who's to say Mauro might not have gone on to a Hall-of-Fame coaching career if he had gotten a shot with the NBA. We'll never know.


Word is that former Bills quarterback J.P. Losman is going to sign with Las Vegas in the new United Football League. The UFL has been in the planning stages for a few years and includes a bunch of former NFL players and head coaches, including ex-Bills linebacker and New Orleans Saints coach Jim Haslett.

The quality of play is expected to be the equivalent of Double-A football – several steps below the old USFL, which in hindsight (Jim Kelly, Reggie White, Steve Young, Herschel Walker) turned out to be pretty darn good.

J.P. won’t be the only QB attempting to resurrect his career in the UFL. The fledgling football league also is close to signing dog-murderer Michael Vick.


Is anybody else as tired as I am of the Brett Favre unretirement story? Now, because of his recent shoulder surgery we’re going to be subjected to at least another month of this “Is he?’’ or “Isn’t he?’’ baloney.


Came across a great Casey Stengel quote the other day regarding the hapless 1962 Mets, who lost 120 games. Asked specifically how his team might improve, the Old Perfesser quipped: “We’ve got to learn how to stay out of the triple play.’’


Yesterday marked the 15th anniversary of the day when O.J. Simpson turned in his greatest acting performance. It occurred in a court room rather than on the silver screen. On trial for double-murder, the Juice was asked to put on the gloves found at the crime scene. He strained and strained to pull the gloves on, prompting his attorney Johnnie Cochran to tell the jurors, “If the glove don’t fit, you’ve got to acquit.’'

Sadly, the jury agreed in one of the worse miscarriages of justice in American history.


On a happier historical note, Monday was the 71st anniversary of Johnny Vander Meer’s feat of becoming the only pitcher in Major League baseball history to toss back-to-back no-hitters. No one has come close to duplicating the double no-no - one of baseball’s most underappreciated achievements.


For the three people interested, I dropped a 7-6 pitching decision in nine innings in Silver Base Ball League action Sunday at Genesee Country Village and Museum. The Rochesters beat the Excelsiors in a game that was played extremely well considering it was our season opener.

We’ll be back at it in Mumford this Sunday. My back should be back in place by then.

After the game, we headed to a watering hole for a few adult beverages and I learned that Mets zillionaire pitcher Johan Santana had been knocked out of the game by the Yankees after being bombarded for a career-high 9 earned runs. Hey, I thought to myself, at least I went the distance. And my salary with the Excelsiors is $0 - about $12 million a year less than what Santana rakes in.


Please keep four of my friends in your thoughts and prayers – courageous Press-Radio Club secretary-treasurer Pat Grover, who’s half-way through her radiation treatments; Red Wings public relations director Chuck Hinkel, who is convalescing after hip surgery; Leigh Ann Brattain, who is recovering from surgery in Cleveland, and former Democrat and Chronicle sports editor Tom Batzold, who is recuperating from a stroke at Rochester General.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Men will be boys

This old codger is heading out to Silver Ball Park at the Genesee Country Village and Museum Sunday afternoon to begin his ninth season of 19th century base ball (yes, it was two words back then.)

Most normal men my age (egads! 54), have more sane hobbies.

Then, again, no one ever accused me of being sane.

Putting on a baseball uniform – even a funny one like the old, old-fashioned ones we wear – still is a transformative experience for me. It takes me all the way back to my Little League days at Pinti Field in Rome, N.Y.

We have a four-team league at the museum, representing ballclubs that existed in this area during the Civil War days. I play for the Excelsiors. Others play for the Rochesters, Live Oak and Knickerbockers. And there's also two women's teams - the Brooks Grove Belles and Priscilla Porter's Astonishing Ladies Base Ball Club.

We play on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the summer, culminating with the playoffs in early October. And we host a national tournament in August with teams from around the Northeast, Midwest and Canada.

The museum is one of our area’s hidden treasures. Not only can you take in a vintage base ball game, but you can also visit a number of homes and buildings on the grounds from an earlier era.
So if you are not doing anything, take a drive – it’s only about 25 minutes from RahChaCha and about an hour from Buffalo.

In honor of our opener, I’m re-running a column I wrote six years ago to give you a feel for baseball from a simpler time. Some of the rules have changed since this was published, but, hopefully, it will give you a sense for old-style base ball before it was ruined by multi-year contracts and steroids.


When I told one of my son's Little League baseball teammates that I play in a 19th century league where they don't use gloves, he looked at me as if I had three eyes. He wondered if I also played football without a helmet and drove my car blind-folded.

"You mean you catch the ball with your bare hands?" he asked. "Geez, that must hurt like hell."

At times, it does.

Jammed and broken fingers occasionally are the price we pay to transport ourselves and visitors to the Genesee Country Village & Museum back in time. But any vintage baseballist worth his salt will tell you that the price is right. We are having too good a time to be stopped by minor inconveniences such as bruised hands or bloody knees.

In many respects, we are like those folks who reenact Civil War skirmishes. We enjoy interpreting history. We believe the past helps us understand the present and the future.

Plus, we are hams.

The thespian and the little kid in us often come out during these matches. The diamond is our stage and our playpen. This is one of those places where men will be boys.

There are some obvious differences between us and our Civil War brethren. For starters, we interpret the 1800s on a ballfield rather than a battlefield. We wield double-knobbed, bottle-shaped bats rather than rifles with bayonets. And the ball, while capable of hurting you, isn't nearly as hard as a bullet or a modern-day hardball. It is made of a leather cover wrapped around yarn and an India rubber core. (For that, we are thankful.)

We all go by nicknames. Yours truly is "Scribe," after what I do for a living. We have a University of Rochester med student known as "Doc," a quick-footed leprechaun of an outfielder known as "Irish," a wily hurler we call "Perfessor," and a long-ball stroking first baseman known as "Country Mile."

In character, we often resort to language that sounds foreign to the 21st century fan. When we want a teammate to hustle, we implore that he show a little ginger. Our bats are willows, our ball an apple, pill, horsehide or onion. The catcher is a behind, infielders are basetenders, and outfielders scouts. A daisy cutter is a well-hit grounder, while a dew drop is a slow pitch. Batters are strikers and fans are cranks.

The rules sound foreign, too. Pitches are delivered underhand with a locked elbow - slow-pitch softball style without the arc. A striker can ask the umpire to tell the hurler exactly where to place the pitch. Foul balls don't count as strikes, but if you catch one on the first bounce, the striker is out. The one-bounce rule also is in effect for fair balls.

Hitters are required to bat flat-footed. There is no striding into the ball, meaning your power must be generated by your arms and torso. (Our game is a chiropractor's dream.)

The umpire has final say in all matters, though on occasion he'll seek the help of the fans or the tallykeeper.

Matches are truly social events. There are pre-game parades through the village, featuring military bands and horse-drawn wagons. Players court single women at the park (that hasn't changed) and reporters (that has). Positive publicity occasionally can be garnered by bribing a base ball scribe with a bottle of his favorite whiskey. (Sportswriters clearly had lower standards in those days.)

Playing surfaces are rocky and uneven. True hops are the exception rather than the rule, even at lush, green Silver Base Ball Park, the only 19th century replica diamond in the United States.

Our uniforms are somewhat odd looking. We wear wool-blend long-sleeve jerseys with bow ties and caps that remind you of a railroad conductor. Metal spikes aren't allowed. Neither are Nike swooshes or adidas stripes.

The emphasis is on hitting 'em where they ain't rather than over the fence. Sorry, Mr. Bonds, but home runs are looked down upon. Singles hitters are the rage in vintage base ball, particularly those who can direct the ball to the opposite field. There is no stealing or leading off, and bunting is frowned upon, though some attempt to cloud the issue with what is known as a slow hit.

The game we interpret stresses sportsmanship and gentlemanly behavior. Players blurting profanity are usually hit with a fine by the umpire.

We interpret a purely amateur game. We are a century removed from the era of whiny millionaires. When we say we play for the love of the game, our words are as solid as one of our northern white ash willows.

Although I've competed in the 19th century game for three years, I'm still learning that I have to unlearn so many 20th and 21st century rules. This is not your father's game. Or your grandfather's game, for that matter.

But it is a lot of fun. An opportunity to take ourselves and others back, back, back in time.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I got it! I got it! Oops! I guess I don't.

Of the thousands of baseball games I've either played in, watched, coached or covered in my lifetime I've never seen a finish like Friday night's game in which Mets second-baseman Luis Castillo dropped Alex Rodriguez's two-out, ninth-inning pop-up, allowing the tying and winning runs to score on the play.

As my good friend and longtime Yankees fanatic, Joe Peluso, astutely pointed out, the unsung hero on the play was Mark Teixeira, who was off on the pitch and scored all the way from first base with the run that gave the Bronx Bombers a 9-8 gift-wrap victory.

I dare say the vast majority of players in Teixeira's situation would have just jogged around the bases in anticipation that the game was over.

To his credit, Teixiera followed Yogi Berra's "it ain't over till it's over'' advice. He went all-out, and his hustle paid off in an unexpected victory.

This is what's great about sports. Just when you think you've seen it all . . .


Speaking of the improbable, many thought the Detroit Red Wings would wrap up their fifth Stanley Cup in 12 years Friday night with a victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Instead, the Pens went into Motown and upset the defending champs, 2-1.

And they did so without Sidney Crosby for almost the final two periods. Sid the Kid returned for just one innocuous shift after being slammed into the boards early in the second period. Despite nursing bruised ribs, he was well enough to accept the Cup from NHL commish Gary Bettman and skate halfway around Joe Louis Arena before handing off the trophy to a teammate.

The 21-year-old Crosby became the youngest captain of a Stanley Cup champion.

The bad news for Buffalo Sabre fans as well as fans of any NHL team but the Penguins is that each member of Pittsburgh's starting lineup is under the age of the 30 and is locked up contractually for several years.

Meaning Lord Stanley's Cup could be residing in the Steel City for several years to come.


With the Cup and the Lombardi Trophy in hand, Pittsburgh could lay claim as the current "city of champions.'' (Sadly, their once-proud baseball franchise continues to drag them down.).


I might have to put my wife, Beth, on the 15-day disabled list with a sore right shoulder. She was game enough to play catch with me twice so I could get ready for my 19th Century Base Ball opener tomorrow. But she's complaining of tightness in her shoulder. Guess I'm going to have to baby her next time, and keep her on a tighter pitch count.


A little known fact from my friend, Curt Kirchmaier:

The first testicular guard "cup" was used in hockey in 1874 and the first helmet was used in 1974.

As Curt says, "It took 100 years for men to realize that the brain is also important."

Friday, June 12, 2009

A simple math lesson: 3 is greater than 2

I thought NBA analyst Jeff VanGundy was dead-on questioning the basketball IQ of today's players after Orlando guard Jameer Nelson was late in contesting Derek Fisher's 3-point shot that sent Game 5 into overtime and killed any chance of the Magic winning the NBA Finals.

You know Los Angeles needs a trey to tie, so you pick up the guy with the ball shortly after he crosses halfcourt. So what if he blows by you? A drive to the hoop isn't going to get the job done.

But I also question Magic coach Stan VanGundy's personnel grouping and strategy during that crucial possession. Why was Nelson, who looks about 5-foot-2, on the floor? Wouldn't you have a better chance with a taller defender? And why not give a foul?

Of course, the series would be tied at two games apiece if Magic center Dwight Howard didn't imitate a bricklayer at the free-throw line.


My wife found out today that she'll be interviewing singer Tom Jones next week on WHAM. I suggested her first question be "What's new pussy cat?''


Astute students of baseball history are aware that this century is starting off the same way the 20th century did regarding the Yankees-Red Sox series. Back in the early 1900s, Boston dominated, and was considered the baseball powerhouse. The Yankees, then known as the Highlanders, didn't start turning things around until a certain cursed slugger traded in his red socks for pinstripes.


Joe Girardi better figure out how to beat the Red Sox if he intends to keep his job.


You learn something new every day. I didn't realize that Yogi Berra's famous "it's deja vu all over again'' malapropism was first uttered during the great home run race of 1961 after Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle had homered back-to-back so many times.


It's good to see Churchville's Tim Redding come back with two strong starts for the Mets. Yes, I am a homer. I admit it. I like to see local guys do well.


I'm also a big fan of former East High and Syracuse University tight end Roland Williams, who, by the way, is the only Rochester-area football player to play on a Super Bowl champion. Roland is back this weekend to host his life-skills football camp for local youth. I'm big on not forgetting your roots, and Roland certainly hasn't.


COMING ATTRACTIONS: I'll be taking a look at what it's like to play 19th Century Base Ball (yes it was two words back then). We begin our 9th season of play Sunday at the Genesee Country Village and Museum in Mumford. And, next week, I'll look at several excellent baseball books out there, including the new biography about broadcaster Vin Scully, written by my good friend, Curt Smith.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Don't know much about history

I see where Manny Ramierez took a page from the Mark McGwire history-is-bunk playbook when asked about his steroids suspension. Man-Ram told the L.A. Times yesterday that the incident was in the past and that he wanted to move on.

You might remember how the juiced-up Big Mac kept saying during the Congressional steroid hearings a few years back that he didn't want to talk about the past. Faster than you could say "It's outta here,'' McGwire went from being The Incredible Hulk to the Incredible Shrinking Man.

"I didn't kill nobody; I didn't rape nobody, so that's it,'' Manny told the Times. "I'm just going to come out and play the game.''

Well, no he didn't kill or rape anybody (wow, what an original defense). But he did cheat himself, his team, the game's integrity and the fans who had turned Dodger Stadium in Mannywood.

Manny pointed out that he apologized to his owner, his manager and his teammates. Interesting, isn't it, how the fans - the people who showered him with adulation and ultimately pay him millions - didn't so much as receive an "I'm sorry'' from the slugger.

Just Manny once again being Manny. In other words, a fraud, like too many of his homer-hitting colleagues of the current era.


Speaking of fools, please put me in that category.

Yesterday in this cyberspace, I said I was going to reluctantly watch the BoSox-Yankees instead of the NBA and NHL finals because the hoops and hockey series were "duds.''

Well, I'm the dud because the endings of both the Pens-Wings and Lakers-Magic games last night made for compelling television, while the Boston-New York game proved to be a lopsided affair that was about as exciting as a C-Span fillibuster.

Foolish me.

Blame the Yankees for not upholding their end of the deal, which is becoming common place lately in a rivalry that's lost some of its luster. The Red Sox 7-0 thumping of the punchless Yanks last night at the Fens gives Boston seven straight wins in the series, dating back to last year.

New York manager Joe Girardi may dismiss the streak, but you can rest assured that Hal and Hank Steinbrenner aren't glossing it over. They're doing a slow burn.


Getting back to the hockey and basketball . . . that third-period of Game Six between Detroit and Pittsburgh in the Igloo was riveting, especially after the Red Wings had cut the lead to 2-1. Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was sensational, turning away 13 of 14 shots, some from point-blank range, to preserve the win and force a seventh game. There truly is nothing like a tightly contested Stanley Cup hockey game.

And Game Three of the NBA finals looked like it was going to be a case of Orlando playing as well as it could and still not knocking off the Lakers. But the Magic prevailed, and all of a sudden what could have been a 3-0 L.A. advantage is 2-1 with the next two games in Orlando.

If I'm a Lakers fan, I'd be worried because Kobe Bryant is looking rubberly-legged to me, which explains why he was missing shots he normally makes. The fatigue shouldn't be surprising. I believe that "extra season'' he played while helping the United States reclaim the Olympic gold medal last summer is taking its toll.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A little of this and that

About a dozen years ago, long-time colleague, Leo Roth, and I did a series of stories that looked at the quality of life of NFL players after their careers were through. It was titled "What Price Glory?'' and it was not a pretty picture as the majority of the more than 100 former players we interviewed struggled with serious physical, emotional and financial problems.

The San Diego Union recently did a similar series and the findings were even more disheartening. About 78 percent of former NFL players are bankrupt, unemployed or divorced within two years of leaving the game.

That is why I've always been a big supporter of Joe DeLamielleure, Mike Ditka and other former players who have made this an issue with the current players' union and the past two NFL commissioners.

Clearly, more programs are needed to prepare these athletes - too many of whom have been coddled throughout their lives - to deal with life after the cheering stops.


The Bills announced that three games already have sold out for the 2010 season and that season-ticket sales are at 52,000 - a milestone not reached since their Super Bowl run. Certainly the fact ticket buyers only have to purchase seven regular-season games rather than eight because of the Toronto arrangement has had an effect. But it's still awfully impressive, considering this team hasn't made it to the playoffs in almost a decade.


Is it just me, or does it seem like the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry isn't as intense as it once was? I wonder if they now play too many times during the regular season. That said, I still have more interest in watching it than the NBA or NHL finals, which so far have been duds.


According to my Olympic insiders, Chicago has emerged as the leading candidate to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, holding a slight edge over Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo. Apparently Barack Obama's more respected standing in the world has much to do with it. Obama, a Chicagoan before taking up residence in that mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue, has worked with the Windy City Olympic organizers to bring the Games to the Land of Lincoln.


Don't think for a minute, that Jerry Jones wasn't seriously considering re-signing Pacman Jones. It was only after he received public backlash did he deny the lead balloon he had floated.


My thoughts and prayers are with my former boss, Tom Batzold, who is dealing with a serious health issue.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Flynn's stock through the roof

Jonny Flynn apparently has been wowing them at the NBA's pre-camp workouts.

Last week, the former Syracuse University point guard soared 40 inches in the vertical-leap testing - best among all players who have taken part in the various camps.

He reportedly has been wowing the scouts with his charismatic personality as well. He's taken charge on the court in scrimmages and has impressed the talent evaluators during hour-long interviews.

The various mock drafts have Flynn going as high as fourth overall to the Sacremento Kings and as low as 10th to the Milwaukee Bucks.

He appears to be a mortal lock to be a lottery pick, underscoring the fact he was wise to leave SU after his sophomore season.


Related trivia note: The Orangemen have had 15 previous first-round picks. Derrick Coleman (1990) is the only SU player to be selected top overall. Dave Bing (1966) was a No. 2 pick, while Carmelo Anthony (2003) and Billy Owens (1991) were No. 3's.


Neither of Flynn's draft-eligible former SU teammates - Eric Devendorf or Paul Harris - show up on anybody's radar screen. They might get an invite to somebody's camp, but their best bets are to play overseas.


Just wanted to take a moment to wish my lovely bride, Beth, a Happy Birthday. It took me more than 50 years to find my true soulmate and true love. It was well worth the wait.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Bills Biggest Backer

Here's a little more background on why Bills owner Ralph Wilson may have chosen Chris Berman to be his Pro Football Hall-of-Fame presenter in August.

This excerpt is from my 2007 book, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping and Gut-Wrenching Moments in Buffalo Bills History, which is still available on-line at or at your favorite book store. (Sorry for the shameless plug.)


On the desk at Chris Berman's office at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, you will find a piece of the Rich Stadium goal posts that came down after the Bills clinched the AFC East title in 1988. It was sent to him by several admiring fans who appreciate the manic, nickname-spouting sports anchor's undying loyalty to western New York's favorite team.

"It's been a hell of a ride," said Berman of his bond with the Bills. "It started back in the summer of '88. I was traveling from training camp to training camp, and when I showed up at Fredonia, I had this real good feeling about the team. The Bills had gone 7-8 the year before, and I just sensed that things were in place for them to take off. On SportsCenter, I started building them up, and they made me look good every week.

"I think the special relationship I've had with the Bills was due in part to my closeness in age to many of the players from their Super Bowl run. I was 33 at the time, and most of the key players on the Bills were in their mid-to-late twenties. It's like we grew up together."

Berman's admiration for the Bills actually began in his youth. He grew up in the New York City area in the 1950s and '60s, and although the Joe Namath-led Jets were his favorite team, he
developed a fondness for several other old American Football League clubs, including the Bills.

"They had a bruising defense and they always played Joe Willie tough," he said. "I respected them when they had Kemp and Fergy and the Juice and Chuck Knox and the Bermuda Triangle. And I respect them now."

His ESPN colleagues occasionally razz him, and viewers sometimes voice their displeasure, but Berman said most people are good sports about his Bills boosterism.

"People know that I'm never putting down their team," he said. "I just like talking about the Bills. And I think they deserved to be talked about prominently, given what they accomplished. I think history will look kindly on them."

Twice, Berman has been awarded the key to the city of Buffalo. Some zealots have even suggested his name be placed on the Ralph Wilson Stadium Wall of Fame, alongside Kelly, Kemp, and DeLamielleure.

"Even though I hope to be in this business another 25 years, I doubt I'll ever develop a bond with a team like I had with this one," he said of the Super Bowl Bills. "Some of it is just an age thing. I'm not going to be that close in age to a group of players again. It was just a special time for me as a journalist."

The sportscaster known as Boomer is one of several national celebrities who have pulled for
the Bills. The late Tim Russert of NBC's Meet the Press was a Buffalo native who never hid the fact he bled blue-and-red. Other Bills fans include Donald Trump, Supreme Court justice John Roberts, golfer Phil Mickelson, comic writer Nick Bakay, and rock stars Meat Loaf and Eddie Van Halen.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Again, Ralph Wilson takes us by surprise

This certainly has been an off-season of surprise moves by the Buffalo Bills.

First, owner Ralph Wilson decides to retain coach Dick Jauron after three consecutive 7-9 seasons.

Then, the Bills shock the football world by signing always-in-the-news diva wide receiver Terrell Owens.

And, this afternoon, came the unusual announcement that Wilson had chosen ESPN's Chris Berman to be in his Pro Football Hall of Fame presenter this August in Canton, Ohio.

I know Berman has been a Bills backer since just before the team's Super Bowl run in the early 1990s, but I really thought Marv Levy, the team's all-time coach and Wilson confidant, would be the guy to present Ralph with his bust.

"Chris has been a friend of mine for many years and I thought he would be a great person to introduce me, if he would do so,'' Wilson said in a statement just released by the team. "He acknowledged that he would and I thank him very much and he will be in Canton with me. Chris really embodies the Bills fans, who have played such an important role in my career in professional football. Professional football is all about the fans and having Chris as my presenter follows that thought.”

Ralph, of course, can choose whomever he wants. But if he really wanted somebody to embody the Bills 12th Man he should have chosen a fan rather than a celebrity - maybe someone who's been a season-ticket holder for all 50 seasons.

In leiu of that, Tim Russert's son, Luke, also would have been a good choice, or how about the longtime "Voice of the Bills" - Van Miller?

What do you think?


I'll bet my mortgage, Berman will work his "Nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills'' into his presentation speech.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pontificating on A-Rod, Manny and my 'new' Big East

I'm not a big fan of the guy, but you have to give Alex Rodriguez his due. Since joining the Yankees after his hip surgery, the Bronx Bombers have gone 18-6. Clearly, no one has benefitted more from his return than Mark Teixeira, who's been looking like Babe Ruth reincarnate in recent weeks.

Of course, all of this will be forgotten if A-Rod proves to be A-Fraud again in October.


I envy the fact that my wife, Beth, wasn't born with the "sweet-tooth'' gene that I was. Man, if I could just lay off those cakes, cookies and Abbott's frozen custard I might have a chance.


Good friend Jim Quinn had an interesting take on my proposal for a new Big East Conference. Jim suggests adding the University at Buffalo, along with Army and Navy. I like the idea. And I would propose having two divisions, with the Big East championship football game being played every year at the new Yankee Stadium.

So, here's how I would align the new Big East:

Ol' Ben Division (named after legendary Syracuse coach Ben Schwatzwalder)

Notre Dame
Boston College

Joe Pa Division (named after legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno)

Penn State
West Virginia

We would make sure that certain interdivisional rivalry games were maintained every year: Army-Navy, SU-Penn State, ND-Pitt.

Yeah, I know I'm dreaming, but you have to admit it makes more sense than the current setup in the Too-Big East and Big Eleven, oops, Big Ten.


Here's another reason Major League Baseball makes me want to rip my hair out. According to the collective bargaining agreement "a player shall be deemed to have been eligible to play in the All-Star Game if he was elected or selected to play; the commissioner's office shall not exclude a player from eligibility for election or selection because he is suspended under the program."

So, you know where I'm going with this. Despite being suspended 50 games for being caught using steroids, Manny Ramirez is eligible to play in the All-Star Game next month if the fans vote him in.

How Bud Selig and the owners could have allowed this clause to be included in the CBA is assinine.

Sadly, the fans also are to blame. Instead of doing the morally correct thing, they've voted Manny the Scam Artist into fifth place among National League outfielders. He's just 106,000 votes from qualifying for one of the three starting spots.

The disheartening message here is that at least 635,000 fans who voted for Man-Ram don't care if athletes cheat or not.

If Manny truly cared about the game, he would request that his name be removed from the ballots and he would ask the fans to vote for other, more deserving players.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My idea for a new Big East

Just wanted to thank all of the new subscribers to the website. I was thrilled that so many of you hopped aboard after I did an e-mail blast yesterday. Hope you keep coming back and bring others with you. And please feel free to post your comments about my opinions and suggest future column ideas. I'm always receptive to feedback. Just click on that blue "comment'' at the bottom of each entry.

So JoePa would like to see either Syracuse or Rutgers join the Big 10 so the league would have a stronger presence in the metropolitan New York area.

I have a better suggestion.

Get Penn State, Syracuse, Rutgers, Connecticut, Boston College, Pitt, West Virginia, Villanova, Louisville, Maryland and Notre Dame to reprise the old East Indies. (Yes, I realize ND is in the Midwest, but since when have sports conferences or divisions ever worried about geographic or mathematical distinctions for that matter. After all, doesn't the Big 10 have 11 schools? And aren't the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East?)

The Big East is a great basketball conference, but it's become way too big with 16 teams. And it's football conference is up-and-down. Mostly down last season.

Interestingly, Penn State originally was going to be a part of the Big East, but that idea fell apart, in part, because of the stubbornness of Joe Paterno and SU athletic director Jake Crouthamel.

JoePa wanted SU and Pitt to play two football games at Happy Valley for every one the Nittany Lions played in the Carrier Dome and the Iron City. SU repsonded by demanding a similar arrangement in basketball, with Penn State coming to those places twice for every one visit to Central Pa. The talks broke off, and the schools went their separate ways.

I think that new Big East - with the addition of Notre Dame - would be a powerhouse in both football and basketball, and a much stronger overall conference than the current Way-Too-Big-East.


My longtime friend and newspaper colleague, Bob Matthews, and I have long disagreed about the dimensions at Frontier Field. He loves home runs and wants to see the Rochester Red Wings move in the fences. I love home runs, too, but baseball has made too many parks into phone booths, hence cheapening the value of the homer. So, I've resisted shortening Frontier.

But, in the spirit of compromise, I'm willing to meet Bob halfway. Why not experiment with some stands in the Bermuda Triangle area near the leftfield bullpen? Put some special, premium seats out there for a season, and see if the number of dingers to left-center increases. I just don't want to see Frontier turn into Coors Field or the new Yankee Stadium, where banjo-hitters can check their swings and still wind up putting the ball into the right-field seats.


I'm rooting for Stan Van Gundy, the rotund, every-guy coach, to beat the slick, Armani-suited Phil Jackson in the NBA finals. Yes, I'm being provincial, because I got to know the Van Gundy family during their Brockport days.

But I also believe Stan is a basketball-lifer who deserves this, especially after Pat Riley jettisoned him when he realized Van Gundy had the Miami Heat situated to win the NBA championship a few years ago. Riley took over and got another ring - a ring that Van Gundy deserved to win.

I'm sure, somewhere up above, the great Red Auerbach also is pulling for Stan because four Los Angeles Lakers' victories in these finals against the Orlando Magic would give Jackson a record 10th NBA title, breaking Red's record.


IndyCar racer Danica Patrick is the latest athlete to stick her foot in her mouth. She insisted she was joking when she told Sports Illustrated's Dan Patrick (no relation) that using performance-enhancing drugs would only be cheating if she got caught.

Travis Tygart of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency didn't find her comments funny, and neither did I.

"In one interview, she undercut what millions of parents try their best to teach their kids everyday in this country, that winners never cheat and cheaters never win,'' Tygart told The Associated Press.

In an interview published last week, Danica Patrick was asked, if she could take a performance-enhancing drug and not get caught, would she do it if it allowed her to win the Indianapolis 500.

"Well, then it's not cheating, is it? If nobody finds out?'' she said.

Dan Patrick responded: "So you would do it?''

Danica's answer: "Yeah, it would be like finding a gray area. In motorsports, we work in the gray areas a lot. You're trying to find where the holes are in the rule book.''

Danica later said her answers were a joke and she apologized if they came across differently.
"It was a bad joke,'' she said in an interview published on the USA Today Web site.

There's speculation that Danica will make the conversion to NASCAR next year. Interestingly, that racing organization is taking a much more active approach against drugs in the garage. Six crew members and driver Jeremy Mayfield have been suspended since NASCAR began random testing this year.

Tygart said he was glad Patrick apologized for her comments.

"Although joking about the use of dangerous and unhealthy drugs that cheaters use to rob clean athletes of their dreams is no laughing matter,'' he said.

I totally agree.