Thursday, July 31, 2008

Can Torre handle Ramirez?


I don’t know how or if Manny Ramirez is going to get along with Joe Torre.


The Dodger manager did a great job handling players with the Yankees, so maybe he can get Ramirez, baseball’s biggest bad boy for years now,  to play his best – and his best is just about the best anywhere – and keep the baloney to a minimum.


Ramirez was and maybe still is the best righthanded hitter in baseball. He’s a shade under .300 right now and should come close to 40 home runs and hit the 100-RBI mark for the 12th time in his 16-year career. He packs a lot of punch, but the recoil is considerable, too.


As good as the guy is at the plate, you can bet that Red Sox manager Terry Francona is glad Ramirez is Torre’s headache now.




Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Chinese ban doesn't sound right

You have to hope that reports that Chinese authorities are planning to ban blacks from entering or being served in Beijing bars during the Olympics simply isn’t true. In fact, there are other reports that there is no good evidence of this. To be honest, I have very serious doubts about the veracity of the original story in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.


If the report is indeed true, it puts a bigger dent in my lack of enthusiasm for the Olympics.


Perhaps the whole thing can be traced back to one overzealous official who has misinterpreted a directive or has acted on his own. Or maybe it is just bad reporting.


I hope so.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

A different view of Bowie Kuhn

Not many baseball fans were also Bowie Kuhn fans.

The late commissioner was viewed as conservative, cold, unmoving, a representative of the old guard in many ways and, yet, also perpetrator of baseball heresy – the designated hitter, late-night, low-temperature World Series games.

I’m not sure whether Kuhn belongs in the Hall of Fame, but his son, Paul Degener,- who was raised by Kuhn after his biological father was killed before he was born - gave the crowd at Sunday’s induction ceremonies something to think about.

Degener described his father as a deeply spiritual and compassionate man who loved the game. He told a few stories that had the effect of turning the stolid Kuhn into a real human being.

And he thanked Goose Gossage, who was about to be inducted, for calling his father shortly before his death last year, the last major leaguer to do so.

Degener aggressively defended his father's honor - there were a few catcalls from the crowd when the commissioner's name was first mentioned - and I liked that.

It was an interesting talk, and it made me think of Bowie Kuhn in a much more positive light.




Saturday, July 26, 2008

Kaido's presence makes a difference

The Olympics start in less than two weeks in Beijing.


I barely care.


The Olympics used to be a big deal. They still are, but they are a big deal that no longer grabs me.


I don't know why. I can remember watching the Olympics back to 1956, and heard and read a million stories about Jesse Owens and Adolph Hitler in 1936. I remember John Thomas and Valery Brumel battling it out, both jumping better than seven feet in 1960 and 1964. That was a big deal. I remember Bob Beamon broad jumping – that, I believe, is what it was called back then – an astounding 29 feet,  2½ inches in 1968. And, though it was overshadowed by the senseless murder of Israeli athletes, but Frank Shorter's marathon gold medal in 1972 in Munich was a great moment. No American who lived through it will ever forget the United States' "Do you believe in miracles?" gold medal hockey win in Lake Placid in 1980.


Maybe that last was just too much. Maybe nothing that came after could measure up. I did pay close attention when Remsen's Erin Hamlin's participated in the luge in 2006. This time, I am pleased to learn that Jen Kaido of West Leyden will compete for the American rowing team. Maybe having someone local to root for  will make a difference.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

First Hall of Fame interview as memorable

I’m eager to cover the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction this weekend.


I haven’t done that in several years. It generally is a very good time, with everyone in a good mood.


The first induction I covered was in 1972, when I was a stringer – a part-timer - for the Observer-Dispatch. My first interview with a Hall of Famer was with Buck Leonard on the veranda of the Otesaga Hotel, overlooking Otsego Lake.


 Leonard was one of the first Negro League veterans to be inducted, and he had great stories to tell. For example, he told me some of the hotels the players had to stay in were so bad that they’d have to put newspapers on the beds and leave the lights on all night so the bed bugs wouldn’t come out.


It wasn’t all bad, though. Back in the 1930s, he said, he got 50 cents a day meal money.


“Fifty cents!” I said. “That’s terrible.”


“Oh, no,” he said. “For 50 cents you could get a big bowl of chili and a big schoop of beer. It was great.”


I can just imagine today’s players settling for that!


Buck’s condition for talking with me was 10 percent of whatever I was being paid.


“Buck, I’m getting $6.50 for this story,” I said, which was the truth. It was the going rate for a story at the time. That meant he would get 65 cents – way less than the price of a bowl of chili and a schoop of beer by that time – but he still wanted me to send it to him down in Rocky Mount, N.C.


Buck died at the age of 90 in 1997. I still owe him the 65 cents.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

WNBA doesn't need brawl ball

Now we have brawling in the WNBA.


Tuesday’s little slugfest involving the Detroit Shock and the Los Angeles Sparks was maybe a bit of a shock, but it’s not like we never knew that female athletes were capable of violence.


During the brawl, Detroit assistant coach Rich Mahorn pushed Los Angeles star Lisa Leslie to the floor. After viewing the video several times, I don’t get the idea that Mahorn was trying to hurt Leslie, just keep her away from the pile. The guy weighs at least 300 pounds, though. Even a gentle shove from him is going to knock most big men off balance, let alone a woman who weighs probably 170 pounds. Then, one of the Sparks’ players punched Mahorn in the back of the head as he turned away from Leslie. Lots of fun.


I was struck by Leslie’s demeanor as she was being interviewed by Rebecca Lobo after the game. She seemed vulnerable and intimidated – something new for her, I’ll bet – and greatly disturbed by the whole episode. She should be.


Hey, the WNBA needs a lift, but it doesn’t need to turn itself into roller hockey. No more of this.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Norman makes a great run


I never was much of a Greg Norman fan back in his glory days.


I don’t know what it was. He was one of the best golfers ever, but he always was so focused, he didn’t display a lot of personality. At least, I didn’t warm up to him.


I was a big Norman fan last weekend, though. His charge to the top of the leader board in the British Open – excuse me, the Open Championship – was just terrific. So, I was pulling for him, although I was going to hate to read all the stories that were going to concentrate on his new wife, Chris Evert.


Why root for Norman after being a non-fan of his for three decades? Well, he’s an underdog now, and he’s 53 years old. The age surprised me. I thought he was a bit older than that, although he still is quite a bit younger than I am.


Another reason. The guy is a great, great player who, for one reason or another, has ended up being a runnerup an unheard of eight times in major tournaments, which is what he really is known for ... in addition to being incredibly rich. I was hoping he’d win at Royal Birkdale and become known as the oldest player  ever to win a major.


He didn’t win, but he made a great run. Congratulations, Greg.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tour de France dirty again

Believe me, I have nothing against bicycle racing.


And I think the Tour de France is a great sports tradition, or could be.


But, come on, it is just so dirty. Why do they bother?


Today, Italy’s Riccardo Ricci was booted out of the race for doping. What a surprise. This has happened in the Tour the last three years.


Look. The fitness of these guys, the talent they have, the endurance they display, it’s all phenomenal. Even with drugs. I don’t know how they do it.


That said, don’t pretend it is purely an athletic competition. It’s also a contest to see who has the best drugs and who can mask them best.


Yes, there are drug problems in other sports, but none is as pervasive as this. It’s a joke. They should either do away with it or just give in and say anything goes.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Entertaining all-star game a bit too long

I was so happy when Dioner Navarro scored the winning run for the American League in the bottom of the 11th inning in last night’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game.


I had to get up in the morning – not for work, but to play my version of golf – and I was glad it was all over at about 12:15 a.m.


Wait a minute. You say he was out? What?


Yes, now I remember. The less-than-speedy Navarro was on second, and Michael Young singled to center. Nate McLouth charged the ball and got off a strong throw to the plate, catcher Russell Martin snagged it on the hop and tagged the sliding Navarro, who very obviously was safe. It was close, but he was safe.


Only home plate umpire Derryl Cousins didn’t think so. He called Navarro out after this guy, who personifies the age-old moniker of “lumbering catcher,” had busted his butt running the toughest 60 yards of his life to try to get the win for his team.


“Oh, man,” I said. “Now I have to stay up.”


Which I did for one more inning. I’m usually up until about 1 a.m. anyway, but, man, I had to get out of bed early. I checked out after Ian Kinsler grounded out to end the 12th.


I didn’t’ find out who won until this morning, which I regret, because, even if it was way too long, it was a very entertaining all-star game. The fact that it was played in the soon-to-be Old Yankee Stadium and that dozen of Hall of Famers were there on the field before the game – man, those guys are getting old, aren’t they? – made it even better. It was fun to watch, for sure, but I just couldn’t watch it all.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Oldtimers could crush it, too

I was really entertained by last night's All-Star Game Home Run Hitting Contest, and especially the sight of Josh Hamilton hitting balls high into the upper deck at Yankee Stadium.
Hamilton and those other guys showed tremendous power. It was a great show.
But I agree with Reggie Jackson, who was quoted by The Associated Press in this morning's Observer-Dispatch as saying that the sluggers of his generation and earlier were just as strong and hit the ball just as far as today's stars.
He mentioned Harmon Killebrew, Frank Howarrd, Willie McCovey, Dick Allen, Willi Stargell, Rico Carty, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Gorman Thomas.
He didn't say Babe Ruth, because he didn't have to. Most people seem to think Ruth always was a fat old man with spindly legs. The truth is, he was 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds in his prime, and one of the greatest athletes of the century. He was one of the top pitchers in the American League before becoming  a full-time outfielder, and supposedly was sensational at every sport he tried, especially bowling and golf.
Today's athletes might be bigger on average, better trained and somewhat stronger than the old-timers, but don't think the guys from 30, 40, 50 and more years ago were not great athletes and big, strong men. And, you can only hit a baseball so hard and so far anyway.
Certainly, few men ever hit a baseball harder than Jackson did. I saw him standing with David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez on TV last night, and he looked like a shrimp next to them, but I know they couldn't hit it any harder. The guy was a beast in his heyday, and in 1971, at the All-Star Game at Tiger Stadium, he hit the most monumental home run I've ever seen - off his bat and rocketing into the light tower on the right field roof in a split second. 
It was beyond belief. I seem to remember the crowd issuing a gigantic gasp, and the television announcers - I can't remember who they were - were speechless. 

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Another memorable Boilermaker

The Boilermaker is over.

It’s the end of a long couple of weeks for us here at the Observer-Dispatch, but we love the work … after it’s over.

This Boilermaker is memorable for several reasons:

The return of Catherine Ndereba, probably the greatest women’s distance runner of all-time, who nearly won her fifth Boilermaker title after a six-year absence, finishing just a stride behind Ashu Rabo Kasim.

A totally tactical men’s race, with no one wanting to take control and a group of four men tightly grouped into the last 100 yards. Ethiopia’s Terefe Maregu dashed to the win in 44:17, the slowest time in 20 years.

Another rainless race, despite the early-morning rain and the threat of it throughout the next few hours. It has never rain during the race in its 31-year history.

Hey, it’s a tough run for everyone – even those who just cover the race in print – but it’s just such a great thing. Congratulations to everyone who took part.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Induction needs greater support

They held the National Distance Running Hall of Fame inductions Saturday at the Masonic Home.

Again, not enough people were there.

Priscilla Welch, Amby Burfoot and the late Johnny Hayes were inducted into the Utica-based Hall of Fame. As always, master of ceremonies Larry Rawson did a great job, and, once again, it was just terrific.

You didn’t have to be a runner or have any interest in road racing, cross country or track and field to get something out of the show. The honorees – 1972 Olympic gold medalist Frank Shorter spoke on behalf of Hayes – had great and inspirational stories to tell. They always do. You can get pumped up about anything, life in general, listening to them.

This year’s turnout, at a small auditorium at the Masonic Care Community, wasn’t bad, but it should have been three times better. It’s a great show, one anyone can learn from.

The point is this – runner, non-runner, athlete, non-athlete – too many of us are missing the boat by not attending the Hall of Fame induction.

Next year, be there.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Bill Rodgers is here


Where are they now? Sports Illustrated asked in its latest issue.

One of the people asked about was Bill Rodgers, the four-time Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon champion who was a key element in the running boom of the 1970s and remains one of the great guiding lights of the sport.

But where is he? As I write this, at 2:45 p.m. Thursday, Rodgers is on I-84, about halfway to Utica, where he will participate in the Utica Boilermaker Road Race for the umpteenth time since he won it in record time in 1983.

Rodgers appearance back then gave the Boilermaker a huge seal of approval. It already was a popular race, but Rodgers brought national attention and plenty of credibility and cachet. And everyone loved him, with his outgoing personality and everyman attitude. Most years he brings along his brother Charlie, who manages their Boston running store and is an equally engaging personality.

The story on Rodgers – Willie Mays, Don Maynard, Bucky Dent, Alex Karras and Dwight Stephenseon are among the others profiled – is a good one, and provides some details on his recent fight with prostate cancer, but it has a lot of competition from a story on Anna Kournakova, now 27 years old and, judging by the accompanying photos, more beautiful than ever.

“Bill,” I told him in our brief phone conversation just a few minutes ago, “I confess I skipped over your story and read Anna’s first, but only because the photos were better.”

“You have good taste,” he said.

Still, prostate cancer, a bad calf and all, Bill probably can still finish ahead of Anna in the Boilermaker.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Some say the Rafael Nadal-Roger Federer championship match Sunday was the greatest in Wimbledon history.
It sure was the longest.
I could have gotten up at dawn Sunday, flown to London, taken the subway to the court and still gotten there in plenty of time for the last couple of sets.
Instead, after Mass Sunday, I headed to the Willowvale Diner with my usual breakfast crew. As I sipped my coffee - black, no sugar - packed away homefries and tried to sneak bacon off my friends' plates, I'd glance up at the TV now and then. Nadal and Federer were on. Federer was leading 4-1 or 4-2 in the second set. Nadal had won the first. It was 10:30 a.m. or so.
I got home about 40 minutes later. I puttered around, did a couple of chores, took a nap. I flipped on the TV. No tennis. About 4 p.m. I got a call from work. They needed me to straighten out a problem. So it was a problem that I had unwittingly created, but so what? So I drove down to the office. Wimbledon is on again. It's the fourth set. It's like, 5 p.m.! Weren't these guys in the second set about six hours ago? I went home, but I forgot to turn on the television. I didn't find out who won until the next morning.
Listen, I like tennis. I go back to Pancho Gonzalez! I watched Rod Laver many times. Arthur Ashe. Margaret Court. Yvonne Goolagong. Bjorn Borg. John McEnroe. Jimmy Connors. Chris Evert. (Weren't they engaged once? Now she's married to Greg Norman, her third husband. What?). I watched Billie Jean King when she was still Billie Jean Moffitt. Ilie Nastase. Martina Navratilova. Boris Becker. Pete Sampras. Andre Agassi. Stefi Graf. Monica Seles. Lots of other people. I watched them all. A lot of great matches. But I'll tell you, I can't sit down and watch tennis for seven or eight hours. I just can't. I watched the Phillies take a doubleheader from the Pirates at Veterans Stadium once. It started at 5 p.m. and ended at 1:30 a.m. - there were five rain delays - about the same length of time those two guys took to decide the championship Sunday. Of course, on that occasion, my brother-in-law and I had a enormous bag of sandwiches and a liberal beer budget to get us through the night. Plus, they were two really good games, although the only things I really remember about them is a triple to right center by Pete Rose and the guy next to me unwrapping his submarine sandwich and getting oil all over me. The Phillies went on to win the World Series that year.
My advice to Nadal and Federer when they meet in the U.S. Open final in September, which is likely - pack it into three hours.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Feeling sorry for A-Rod

Remember Ed Delahanty and Lily Langtry?

Babe Ruth and Gloria Swanson?

Lou Gehrig and Greta Garbo?

Oh, that's right. They never happened.

But Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe did, although Monroe, early on saucy photos and supposed "adult" film notwithstanding, was a complete innocent compared to Madonna, the reedy-voiced, some say attractive - you would be too if you had hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on cosmetic surgery and a personal trainer to come to your house for two hours every day - less-than-adequately talented singer-actress who has taken the concept of being famous for being famous to unheard of levels in the last 20 years and whose name now is associated on an hourly basis with that of Yankee star Alex Rodriguez.

You have to feel sorry for Rodriguez, whether his romance with Madonna is real or not. Unlike the old time players, who could just play ball - and, those who were so inclined could also drink beer and liquor and go to the burlesque show and maybe have a date now and then - A-Rod has to read about everything he does and quite possibly doesn't do each and every day in the New York papers. Isn't trying to hit a 96 mph fastball enough?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Ndereba's return good news

The return of Catherine Ndereba to the Utica Boilermaker Road Race is a huge plus for the event.

Ndereba is a four-time Boilermaker champion and still the course record holder, but whether she can compete for another title - her last was in 2001 and she turn'll 36 in a couple of weeks - is beside the point. She is the defending Olympic silver medalist in the marathon, a former world record holder in that event, a four-time Boston Marathon and two-time Chicago Marathon champion.

Ndereba is one of the most successful road racers of all time, and calling her "Catherine the Great" isn't saying too much. It will be terrific to have her here Sunday.