The New Jersey Nets will play their final game in the Garden State on Monday evening when they conclude a typical Netsian season by playing the Philadelphia 76ers.
Next season they will do what they should have done 35 years ago --- play their home games somewhere else, in this case, Brooklyn.
I profess to no lack of bias here. I am, after all, the journalistic individual who long ago nicknamed them the “Exit 16 W Nets,” making an obvious reference to the simple fact that they have always lacked a natural constituency and since 1981 have been located in a bloodless building adjoining the New Jersey Turnpike, a few miles from downtown Newark.
The Nets were a sports team Gertrude Stein would have loved. Her famous description of Oakland --- “There’s no ‘there’ there” --- was perfectly applicable to the Nets (and Devils, as well), a team located in what used to be a swamp in a state that has no need whatsoever for its own major league anything.
How do I know? I’m from Joisey; that’s why.
I grew up in Trenton, approximately 55 miles south of the location in question. If you’re a sports fan in Jersey, you do one of two things. If you live north of Trenton, which, if you look at the map you will see is located at Jersey’s navel, you root for New York teams. If you live south, you root for Philly teams. Not for one second as I grew up did it ever occur to me, or anyone else, we should have our own teams.
After all, we lived in a populous state that didn’t even have its own VHF TV channel (unless you counted channel 13 in Newark, the public station with programming no one watched). We were perfectly content siphoning the fare from both New York and Philly. In fact, Trenton, N.J. during the '50s and '60s was America’s TV capitol. While most locales in the pre-UHF, pre-cable era got the three network affiliates and little else,. We got channels 2, 3, 4, 5,6,7,9,10 and 11. Some of us even pulled in channel 12 from Wilmington, Delaware.
We lived off New York and Philly. What we offered were the beaches, 173 miles of great coastline. That was the deal: you give us TV. radio (when Top 40 exploded, we had the best of both New York and Philly) and your sports teams; we give you the Jersey Shore. (And the Pine Barrens, where Paulie Walnuts and Christopher never did catch that elusive Russian)
There is no great parochial Jersey pride. Hey, we’ve got stuff to be proud of. We gave you both the Chairman of the Board (Hoboken) and The Boss (Freehold). Edison was the Wizard of Menlo Park. When it comes to political corruption, we’re at least Top 5. And we have those glorious beaches.
But sports teams? Go New York! Go Philly!
The Nets never had any reason to exist. They should have stayed in Long Island. That always made sense. But, no, they had to come to New Jersey, where nobody cared.
Exhibit A: April 22, 1984. The Nets have just knocked off the defending champion 76ers twice in Philly, They are coming home to close out the mighty Sixers in that best-of-5 series. And they’re pretty good. They’ve got Albert King, Mike Gminski, Darryl Dawkins and a revived (however temporarily) Micheal Ray Richardson.
And they draw 12,399.
Twenty-eight years later, that sums it up. Things have never really gotten any better. The New Jersey Nets were born in ennui and tonight they will die in ennui.
Brooklyn, they’re all yours.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. --- Harvard may not have had the biggest fan contingent here at The Pit for its NCAA game against Vanderbilt, but it surely had the most distinguished.
Flown here at the behest of Friends of Harvard Basketball -- the legwork undertaken by Vince Lackner ’72 and Marty Healey, ’77 -- were three former Harvard basketball players from years past. They were Don Swegan, a member of the 1946 team that played in the tournament, as well as Cliff Crosby ’50 and Ed Krinsky ’54.
Stories? They’ve got a million of ‘em.
Take Floyd Stahl, coach of that 1946 squad. Globe columnist Harold Kaese described him at the time as being “as exciting as a slide rule,” and Krinsky, who would encounter him a few years later, basically seconds the motion.
“They used to say that when Floyd Stahl entered the room it was as if somebody just left,” Krinsky laughs.
Krinsky also recalled how Harvard lost out on someone who could have been the greatest player in Harvard history --- if only he hadn’t gone to Dartmouth.
I must preface this by saying that there is nothing about basketball in the last 60 years pertaining to New York City that Ed Krinsky doesn ‘t know. Now then …
The long and short of it is that Rudy Larusso came out of James Madison High School not at all adverse to attending an Ivy League school. In fact, Harvard was high on his list.
“But Norm Shephard had been the coach at Harvard, and he had a team full of New Yorkers,” Krinsky explains. “The alumni office was persuaded that there were too many New Yorkers on the team, so Rudy was rejected.”
Aw, Harvard really didn’t need those two Ivy League championship teams Rudy provided the Big Green, did they?
Swegan, a very fit late octogenarian, pointed out that among the many interesting things about that flung-together 1945-46 squad was that it contained no fewer than six players who had captained their previous institutions. In case you’re unaware, the team was largely, but not exclusively, contained of transfers from a Navy program.
Leading the list was Jack Clark, the returning Harvard captain. He was joined by Wyndol Gray (Bowling Green), Swegan (Baldwin-Wallace), Paul Champion (Denison), Lou Decsi (Bucknell) and Saul Mariaschin (Millersburg).
Crosby had the misfortune to attend Harvard when the basketball program was particularly unstable. He went through three coaches in his four years. He found Norm Shephard’s approach rather direct.
“He started off by saying, ‘Gentlemen, this is a basketball, and here is how you stand.’ And our team needed that.”
But the coach who remains uppermost in his mind was not one of his hoop mentors. It was his baseball coach, former A’s and Red Sox great Stuffy McIniss.
“He was fun,” Crosby maintains. “I loved his coaching style. He lived in 1918 while he coached. You could really see it in his eyes. He built confidence in the individual. He’d say, ‘It’s left up to you,’ and that meant a lot, coming from a great player.”
What struck me as I spoke with these men was the casual manner in which they cross-referenced their all-around sports experience, even at a collegiate level. The three-sport athlete in most areas of the country has become as rare as a transistor radio. Even finding someone proficient at two sports is now a big deal, whereas once it was a given. But that was before each sports began demanding specialization and 12 months a year training, and before this AAU business hijacked the apprenticeship from the high schools.
Swegan played varsity football and baseball, as did Crosby. Krinsky settled for two, baseball and basketball. Swegan, in fact, held the distinction of being a 10-letter man at three different schools (Baldwin-Wallace, Wooster, Harvard) during those war years.
Time for another story from Krinsky. This one involves the Harvard team of the early seventies.
“Bob Harrison was the new coach,” Krinsky says. “In those days, coaches in the Ivies were not allowed to engage in any direct off-campus recruiting. It was all done by alumni, and friends of the program. Well, Harrison made it known that he was very interested in this player from DeMatha down in Washington by the name of James Brown."
Krinsky got involved. He recruited two of his classmates, Ted Kennedy and Iowa representative John Culver to recruit Brown. Thus did James Brown become a Cantabridgian, and with him came Floyd Lewis, Jean Wilkinson and Marshall Sanders, who comprised the core of the best team Harvard has had between the ’46 squad and the current one.
“We just never had that big man,” laments Krinsky. There was also the matter of Top 10 Penn and Princeton teams to contend with.
As far as the 2011-12 Crimson team is concerned, all three men are very impressed with the job Tommy Amaker has done. They were all brought down by the loss to Princeton in the playoff game last year (“Devastating,” says Krinsky), but they love the way Harvard has bounced back.
“It’s maturity, and going through steps,” says Crosby. “They’re in a program. It takes time to grow. There are no one and gone players. They’re here for four years.”
Krinsky lauds their depth. “He plays nine or ten,” he says. “It’s a very team-oriented group.”
Swegan has gotten to know Amaker over the years. “This whole experience has been very fulfilling,” he says.
Asked what he remembers most about that 1946 NCAA defeat at the hands of Ohio State, Swegan smiles.
“The point spread,” he says. “I scored a basket late in the game that beat the point spread, and the place erupted.”
So there you have it : every 66 years or so, Harvard makes to the tournament.
“I must confess I didn’t think it would take that long,” says Swegan.
He’s not going to the Hall of Fame. Cooperstown, that is. As far as the one the Red Sox have invented, he’s a total no-brainer.
We should probably all be careful with the use of the word “great.” But it’s safe to say that Tim Wakefield is one of the more notable Red Sox players we’ve ever known. At the very least, may we agree on one thing? His was a unique Red Sox career.
It peaked right at the beginning. His first two months in a Red Sox uniform were beyond spectacular. Elevated from Pawtucket to the big club on May 27, 1995, he threw seven innings of one-run, five-hit ball in his Red Sox debut, a 12-1 triumph in Anaheim. He had embarked on what was undoubtedly the greatest prolonged stretch of knuckleball pitching in baseball history, and it continued with a 7 1/3 innings, two-hit shutout performance in Oakland two nights later. That was the first of many times over the next 17 season that Tim Wakefield would provide a major service to his manager and teammates simply by being able to take the mound in the first place. The Stat Guys who rule baseball thought nowadays have numbers to suit any occasion, but I defy any of them to calculate the numerical value of a guy who can save starting rotations and bullpens by the simple expedient of answering the bell, as Tim Wakefield did throughout his entire Red Sox career.
I mean what I said about the historic importance of Wakefield’s first two months in Boston. Hall of Famers Phil Niekro and Hoyt Wilhelm are the two gold standard luminaries among all knuckleball pitchers, but neither ever had a two-month stretch where they pitched at the level Wakefield did from mid-May through mid-July in 1995. No knuckleball pitcher has.
In his first 17 starts for the Red Sox, Tim Wakefield was 14-1 with a 1.65 ERA. He never allowed more than three earned runs in any game. He flirted with no-hitters on a few occasions. He beat the Mariners in a 10-inning complete game, the only Seattle run coming on his own throwing error.
Such an extra-terrestial level of pitching could not last, and it didn’t. He never pitched quite like that again. But ask yourself: how many have? As great as Pedro was in his prime, he was never any better than that.
So Wake settled into his career, slowly building a resume that would make sure he would not be forgotten when he retired. His composite 162-game average stats are a perfect reflection of his ability: 12-11, 4.41 ERA and a WHIP of 1.350. He walked guys, he struck out guys and he gave up a lot of home runs. More than anyone in his time, he threw pitches that wound up at the backstop. He has left the game as the current active leader in walks, earned runs, hit-by-pitches and, of course wild pitches (Haven’t seen the passed ball numbers, but what do you think?). He also retires as the active leader in innings pitched and --- how sweet --- wins.
He twice won a pair of games in a post-season series --- 10 years apart. The first was for the Pirates in his rookie season of 1993 and the second was for the Red Sox in 2003. That’s the series against the Yankees culminating in the Aaron Boone Game 7 walk-off. It was an unspeakably cruel irony that Wakefield, again fulfilling a role only he on the staff was capable of even attempting, was the loser after his two noble efforts that had given the Red Sox a chance to win.
A year later he saved the season against those same Yankees with a splendid relief job in Game 5 by striking out Ruben Sierra with the go-ahead run on third in the 14th inning.
I’m not going to dwell on what happened this year. He was pitching nicely until he was left out there too long than that night in Chicago. I had a rule for the aging Wake by that time: You do not send him out for the seventh inning with anything less than a three-run lead. Terry Francona violated that rule. Wake lost the game, and, with few exceptions, never pitched well again. And now it is over.
When he was up he got hit and hit hard. When he was awful, he was really awful. Ah, but when he was getting it down, and when it was dancing, he was a treasure. One of the best games I ever saw him pitch was a losing effort on a Sunday afternoon in Yankee Stadium. It was doing the full “Dancing With The Stars” routine. He fanned 12, eight in one 12-batter stretch. He was ridiculously unhittable. But Jason Giambi hit a cheesy homer off the right field foul pole and he lost, 1-0. It would have been nice to have had a few runs to work with, but the opposing pitcher that day was a guy named Randy, who likewise happened to be at the top if his game. Hail to baseball. Sometimes, it’s like that.
Tim Wakefield has had one of the truly meaningful Red Sox careers. He’s the longest-serving pitcher in Sox history. The only players who have played longer in the uniform are Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams and Dwight Evans. But were any of them, Teddy Ballgame included, ever better doing what they did for a two-month period than Tim Wakefield was in those two glorious months in 1995?
I doubt it.
His area of greatest professional fame and expertise was boxing. But he was far more than a one-trick journalistic pony. As a columnist for the Boston Phoenix and Boston Herald for more than three decades he put his stamp on anything and everything. He was conversant with all the major sports (well, maybe not hockey so much), and he was as good a writing friend as the New England Revolution, or any previous Boston-oriented soccer team, could hope to have.
Long before he began treating Boston readers to his musings, he was a published novelist and contributor to many diverse "literary" publications having nothing to do with sports.
You can look all this stuff up.
But the reason why so many of us will miss George Kimball is, shall we say, his off-the-field self. If one were to conduct a poll of local writers, broadcasters, team officials and even players who have worked in Boston during the last 35 years or so, the question being, "Who is the most absolutely memorable personality you have encountered in the writing business?" the runaway winner --- perhaps even the unanimous choice --- would have to be George Kimball.
That is, unless you know of some other bearded, one-eyed, chain-smoking, beer drinking, pot-bellied (I say this lovingly) vegetarian writer friend of Hunter S. Thompson who never saw a party he didn't like.
Esophegeal cancer got George in the end, but it took a fight. As his friend Michael Gee pointed out in the Friday Herald, he didn't battle cancer as much as he ignored it. Cancer wasn't going to get in the way of George having a good time.
George Kimball extracted every last ounce of life out of Life. He was the kind of guy around whom myths abounded. Did he really lose that eye in a bar fight? Was he really prevented from setting foot in the state of Kansas because he would have been arrested were he to do so? Is there anyone who can testify that he or she really did ask George to "keep an eye on my chair" en route a bathroom trip, only to find George's glass eye greeting him or her upon returning? And there's lots more stories where these come from.
Quick question: was he the last man on earth to smoke Lucky Strikes?
He was quite a sight. The aforementioned belly, the product, he said, of many a beer, announced his presence long before there was any sign of the rest of him. The beard. The eye. The almost laughable thought that this man, who so abused his body, really did pass up the meat at the buffet in favor of the salad. I mean, really. What was that all about?
George Kimball was good-hearted, generous and just plain fun to be around. Anyone who read him could appreciate his enormous talent. Only those of us who knew him got the benefit of the full package. I like to be judicious with the use of the words "always" and "never," but I am quite confidently saying that we will never encounter anyone in this business quite like George Kimball.
I know this is the Sports Department, but some of the reporting and commentary concerning the leading domestic news story of the day had brought me to the famed Popeye mental state of frustration; i.e. "That's all I can stands; I can't stands no more!"
SUBJECT: The Bulger Brothers
Whitey is bad.
Billy is worse.
Whitey clearly emerged from the womb as an inherent force of evil, a thoroughy amoral and improperly wired facsimile of a human being. He is, by an extraordinary amount of anecdotal evidence, reputed to be a killer. He remains unrepentant. Consider him mocking the reporters in California as they took notes, or smart-alecky telling the judge he could indeed afford an attorney of they would only return the confiscated money obtained from the raid on his Santa Monica apartment. Oh, yeah, it's all a big joke.
Billy is the presumed scholar, the Man of Letters. He can quote Cicero and Homer, and I don't mean Simpson. A Triple Eagle. A Towering Intellect. A Man of Accomplishment. A Public Servant. May we not deduce that he knows right from wrong?
Now I must confess to be handicapped in this discussion because I am an only child. I have no brother or sister to love and/or protect. But I have had enough discussions with some of the 99.9 percent of the population that do have siblings to know that it is entirely possible for someone to be objective about one's sibs. Evil is evil, no matter what blood you share. One good friend of mine despises his brother, for very good reason.
Billy Bulger's lifelong public indifference toward his evil brother's life of crime does not stand up to intellectual scrutiny. Has Billy no compassion for the victims' families when he tells the authorities he has no obligation to help them apprehend his brother? Does he not understand the hurt and frustration he produces when he acknowledges his evil brother with a wry grin when seeing him in the South Boston courtroom?
I'm sorry. Billy Bulger's actions are indefensible and shameful. He is supposed to be the respectable one of the two. Well, Whitey has never hidden his intentions. He enjoys being on the wrong side of the law and the wrong side of accepted morality. Billy professes to be intelligent and aware, yet he refuses to acknowledge the simple truth that his brother has ruined countless lives and is beyond redemption. There is no good reason to protect him.
Whitey is comfortably evil, and will die in that state of mind. Billy is selectively indifferent to the damage his briother has done in, and to, society. He is supposed to know better.
Nope, Whitey we can understand. Billy, we can't. Of the two, Whitey has more personal honor.
Not since the days of the owner-coaches, the Eddie Gottliebs and Lester Harrisons, has the NBA had an owner who has worn his heart on his sleeve to the extent Mark Cuban has since purchasing the Dallas Mavericks in January of 2000. Love him or hate him, you cannot say he doesn't care, nor can you say he hasn't done everything humanly possible to bring a title to Dallas. As an owner, he is every fan's dream. That's why I was hoping he'd get his hands on the Cubs.
His zeal has sometimes been counterproductive. I will always believe he was primarily responsible for his team's defeat in the 2006 Finals. He whined and moaned about the officiating so much -- not without some justification -- that he distracted his team. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
But he should have accepted that trophy from the commissioner. I know people will think he was being noble and gracious by allowing Mavericks founder Donald Carter to receive it from his long-time enemy David Stern, but I interpret the move as being petulant. If Al Davis could accept a trophy from Pete Rozelle, then Mark Cuban could accept a trophy from David Stern.
Anyway, he has presided over an organization that has won 50 games or more in each of the last 11 years (three times winning 60-plus), and now the Mavericks are rightful champions, having saved the basketball world from the tyranny of its resident Evil Empire.
So I offer my hearty congratulations to an owner who truly cares.
For those who don't know, here is my premise:
If Planet Earth were involved in a winner-take-all one-game basketball playoff against an alien invader, the loser to go into servitude for all eternity, my first pick of anyone who has ever played basketball in our known world would be a healthy Bill Walton. He was the most complete center ever, the perfect control tower through which to run both your offense and your defense.
But a career? Well, of course not. Injury prevented him from having the career he deserved. But for one game, I think he's the most important player who has ever laced up a sneaker.
So when I name the all-time centers I put him over on the side.
Couldn't help but note that, as always, plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.
In other words, nothing ever changes. Every 42 years or so, an all-time center retires from the Celtics without the team being the first to know.
So before any old-timers get on Shaquille O'Neal for announcing his NBA retirement via Tout, the latest and greatest form of social media, a form of communication at which Shaq has proclaimed himself the "Emperor," I must remind folks that 42 years ago the Celtics found out that Bill Russell was hanging 'em up was via an article in Sports Illustrated. It's the same idea, just a different form of information delivery.
Unlike No. 6, at least Shaq let the team know his intentions before the draft.
Shaq might be right about his role in social media. I must admit: the first time I ever heard of the phenomenon known as Twitter was in association with Shaq, so maybe he isn't far off.
It was a nice idea, having Shaq around. The team was 21-4 in games where Shaq played 20 minutes or more, and they did win 14 straight with him at center. But it was a rather risky gamble that he would be available for the playoffs, and it was a gamble Danny Ainge lost.
Now we can officially start debating Shaq's place in NBA history. My initial thought is that he vies with Moses Malone for fourth place on the all-time list of centers. Only young'uns with no true historical perspective would consider placing him above Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
That ought to get the conversational ball rolling.
In the course of that doubleheader, won by the Twins, I saw some interesting things, including Tony Oliva hitting a triple down the left field line on a ball that would otherwise have untied his right shoe. But that wasn't the most amazing thing I saw on that sweltering June afternoon.
I can't recall which game, or who the Yankee hurler was, but someone threw him a pitch that resulted in a ground rule double. So what? Is that what you're saying? Who among us hasn't see hundreds of ground rule doubles?
OK, Mr/Mrs. Wise Guy: how many ground rule doubles have you seen that one-hopped the 457-foot sign in deepest left-center?
Now I told this story for the next 34 years, always a bit worried that I had hallucinated this thing. Then came the All-Star Game in Boston 12 years ago. I had the opportunity to meet Harmon Killebrew for the first time, and I popped the question, or, I should say, I stated my premise that on Bat Day in Yankee Stadium on that long ago June Sunday I saw you hit a ball that one-hopped the 457-foot sign.
To which Harmon Killebrew replied, "You were there?"
Talk about feeling smug...
As you have read and heard for the past day or so, Harmon Killebrew was one of the nicest and most beloved people in recent baseball history. He is being universally mourned throughout the game, although perhaps not so much by the many pitchers he abused. I only know that he was as terrifying a righthanded hitter as I have ever seen in Fenway Park because virtually everything he hit in the air went waaaaaay in the air. He hit towering, majestic fly balls, not laser line drives such as Frank Howard would produce. Thus, he was a total menace in Fenway.
Pretty good in Yankee Stadium, too.
There is no need to panic. A team in the Celtics' position always wants to get one of the first two, and it really doesn't matter which one. Even if they go 0-for-2, it doesn't mean the series is over. I refer you to the Boston Bruins.
Forget the Paul Pierce sub-plot. It had nothing to do with winning or losing. I don't care what the score was when he got the heave-ho; the Celtics weren't winning that game. Better he watch the remainder of the game from the safety of the locker room than, say, trip over someone with a minute to go and sprain an ankle.
Am I forgiving him for being such a jerk? No. It was conduct unbecoming a captain, let alone someone who wishes to go down as a member of the All-Time Celtics inner sanctum. You'd think he'd have expunged all the adolescent silliness from his repertoire by now. But it's over, and I would like to think we can expect him to act professionally from now on.
Now when a team has some age on it, as Boston does, you're always looking for tell-tale signs that the end is near. The Spurs can serve as an example that, sooner or later, you just can't do it anymore. I did not see that on Sunday. Not yet, anyway.
Can we not reasonably assume that will be Rajon Rondo's nadir in this series? He will not go nearly 27 minutes into Tuesday night's game before getting an assist. Can we not assume that Kevin Garnett will be more of an offensive factor? These strike me as reasonable assumptions.
The bench remains worrisome, and it may be Boston's undoing. Baby hit his first two jumpers and never scored again. Delonte West is slowly scraping off the rust from all that inactivity. Jeff Green continues to tease with some nice offense, even as we wait for him to be the defender and rebounder the Celtics need him to be. What he does best is run the floor, but that seldom comes into play. And Nenad Krstic is still a bit player.
Shaq? If we ever do see him, he can't be viewed as a savior. But every day he doesn't play makes Danny Ainge look bad. It's not as if Kendrick Perkins is lighting it up with Oklahoma City, but he did have his well-defined role here, as we all know.
Remember this about The Trade. Revisionist historians to the contrary, at the time of the trade the Celtics were not a mortal lock to win the championship. They were among the teams with a good shot; nothing more, nothing less. But if you listen to some hysterical people, they were odds-on favorites and Danny blow-torched their chances away. And may I point out that he traded Kendrick Perkins, not Bill Russell?
Above all, remember that it was a universal opinion that the Celtics as constituted had a three-year window to win a title. They got it done in Year One. This is Year Four, clearly a bonus never foreseen in 2007. Fan greed is not a healthy thing. This group has already given people more than anyone could have rightfully asked for.
But, yes, absolutely, they do have one more important task to perform. For the greater good of the sport, they need to put a stop to this Miami thing right here and now. We can't have Miami winning right out of the chute, thereby justifying the repugnant night of The Decision and the even more annoying celebration before they had even won a game. The Heat must be made to wait, and I'm not sure the Bulls are up to it. No, it's got to be the Celtics.
What I'm saying is that Game 2 is rather important.
Lou Gorman deserved to be the guy.
How much closer can a man come to building a championship team than a two-run ninth inning lead in a clinching Game 6, two outs, two strikes and nobody on?
We all know what happened, or, more specifically, what didn't happen. Red Sox fans had to wait 18 more years before seeing their team win a World Championship.
But Lou Gorman deserved to be the guy. A Rhode Island guy, a Stonehill College great, a true New Englander with a true New England accent, and a master builder of baseball teams (plural), Lou Gorman deserved to be the guy who would get the requisite credit for ending the drought. Then again, we know life isn't fair.
I fear he will be remembered for the wrong reasons. The Jeff Bagwell/Larry Andersen trade. "Where would we play Wilie McGee?" "The sun will rise, the sun will set, but I'm going to have lunch." Radio types of the day had great fun at Lou Gorman's expense. Such is life.
But in the world of baseball he will be remembered for his contributions to the Orioles and Royals. The Mets, too. He was on the ground floor of the Royals, who went from zero to being a dominant team in the American League, in large measure thanks to Gorman's talent recognition.
The simple fact is to know Lou Gorman was to like him. Forget all the other stuff. He was a wonderful human being. There wasn't a malicious bone in his body. He was a born storyteller, and he had a million of 'em. Were some of them self-aggrandizing? Sure. I think he was truly hurt by some of the things that were said about him during his tenure in Boston. His critics just didn't appreciate his immense stature in the game, or what a nice man he was.
I've often wondered how much different the rest of Lou Gorman's life would have been had the Red Sox closed out that fateful ninth inning in Shea Stadium. No offense, Theo, but it should have been Lou.
I'd love to know how many municipalities in the United States bill themselves as "Historic So-and-So." It must be in the thousands. And the one I really love is "Historic Downtown."
For example, I was pointed to the "historic" downtown Del Rio, Texas, which is where I spent Tuesday night. If it is truly historic, someone ought to consider sprucing it up a bit. That's all I can say.
Where were we? OK, if the reason for all this is getting from Point A to Point B in the NCAA Tournament, what more appropriate place to have your morning coffee than Brackettville, Texas? Hard to make this stuff up.
Breakfast was in the town of Uvalde, which is about 40 miles east of Del Rio on U.S. 90. Turns out Uvalde is the hometown of colorful one-time vice-president John Nance Garner. There is a John Nance Garner Museum, but not much anyone can do about that at 7 a.m. He is buried here.
History buffs know that he is credited with one of the great lines in American political history. Referring to the aforementioned vice-presidency, he is alleged to have said that the office "isn't worth a bucket of warm spit." Sorry I couldn't stick around to see the museum.
Dined at the Sunrise Restaurant. If you're ever in the neighborhood, do have the ham and cheese omelet. It ranks with the best I've ever had, and I'm a serious afficionado of two things:veal parm and ham and cheese omelets.
Passed through the town of D'Hanis. Would love to know where, or after whom, it got that name. Not much there, except that there are two places boasting of "Steak and Saloon" within a block.
Blew through Sabinal (pop. 1586). Chagrined to know that I missed last weekend's "Wild Hog Festival." But there's always next year.
Now the town of Hondo, Texas, should mean something to any serious baseball history buff, for Hondo was the hometown of the legendary Clint Hartung, who had such a phenomenal spring training for the Giants in 1947 people were already making room for the inevitable plaque in Cooperstown. He was a slugger who also had a 95 mph fastball, or so they said. But he never really made it, his everlasting claim to fame being that he was on third base as a pinch-runner for the injured Don Mueller when Bobby Thomson hit the most famous home run in baseball history.
Barry Field, home of the Hondo Owls, is very impressive. It definitely has that "Friday Night Lights" feel to it. Made me want to come back. I was struck by the large number of trucks and just plain large vehicles in the school parking lot. Yes, I know where I am. People drive trucks. It was the other stuff that amazed me.
Now you know I had to check out the town of Katy, home of Roger You-Know-Who. It's farther from Houston than I thought (25 miles west). The high school is pretty impressive. And, of course, I was referred to the "historic" downtown.
Truth is, not much has happened there. The town was basically settled in 1895. The hurricane of 1900 leveled all but two buildings, forcing them to rebuild from scratch. It wasn't incorporated until 1945. The 1950 population was 849. The 1970 population was 3,800. That's as much information as I was able to glean. If there's a sign claiming Roger as a homeboy, I didn't see it.
No, I didn't ask anybody where Roger lived.
The only other thing of interest for me today were two billboards. One said "YES WE CAN SECEDE! TAKETEXASBACK.COM"
The other said "WE SUE LAWYERS."
I'm going to miss driving out here. We don't get too many opportunities to hit 75 to 80 on cruise control. And, yes, I did hear "Are You Gonna Kiss Me, Or Not?" Had to go all day Tuesday without hearing it once.
Began in Anaheim and ended in Houston. Total mileage: 1,675. That includes a few minor diversions.
My head's clear now. I can turn my attention back to basketball.
DEL RIO, Texas -- Began the day in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Very clean, mally town. Home of New Mexico State. Would highly recommend drinks and dinner at De La Vega's Pecan Grill & Brewery. It's worth a stop simply because it's a very stylish property. In fact, that's what got me inside. But I stayed around, and was glad I did.
Lunch Tuesday in Alpine, Texas, home of Sul Ross State University. Ate at Magoo's Place and had a creditable trio of beef enchiladas. The attraction for me was Kokernot Field, a celebrated old baseball park that has housed baseball for decades and which was once featured in Sports Illustrated. The town should make it easier to find. There wasn't a sign anywhere, and, believe me, this place has got some cachet.
Passed through the town of Marfa, home to the Marfa High School "Shorthorns." For me, that ranks right up there with the Lincoln (Coney Island) H.S. "Railsplitters" and the Tillamook, Oregon "Cheesemakers" as great high school nicknames. This being football country, the sprinkler was on the field at 11 a.m. Guess they have spring practice, or something..
A couple of miles outside of town I came across a highway marker commemorating the town of Presidio, which the tablet claims is "the oldest town in America," having been "a settlement for over 10,000 years." It claims to be the site of the first recorded Wagon Train crossing into Texas on December 10, 1582, headed by Antonio De Espejo." All news to me.
One question, however. Since Presidio is about 100 miles south, why is the marker in Marfa?
Marfa was full of surprises. Another mile or two down the road, I stumbled upon an exhibit concerning the "Marfa Mystery LIghts." The story is that in 1883 a young cowboy named Robert Reed Ellison spotted unusual lights in the sky. They "move about, split apart, melt together, disappear and reappear," and we're talking right now, in 2011. UFO theories proliferate (naturally), but no one has yet solved the mystery. If you're interested, they have set up a nice little spot for you to enjoy the lights.
Passed through the sleepy town of Sanderson, which had that "Last Picture Show" look. Sanderson bills itself as the "Cactus Capital of Texas, " and a sign in front of the high school proclaims its pupils to be "The Best Students In West Texas." I was not about to argue.
But perhaps the most interesting revelation was discovering the Judge Roy Bean Museum in the town of Langtry. There really was a Judge Roy Bean, you know, although he was officially a Justice of the Peace, not a judge. But he truly was an amazing character, and he really did provide the only justice West of the Pecos for more than 20 years.
You can walk inbo the actual saloon/courtroom where he presided, as well as the "Billiard Room" in which he died. Incidentally, he was not a hanging judge, because he was far more interested in fining people and collecting the money. He named the town after the famed actress Lilly Langtry, whom he basically worshipped from afar, but whom he never met. Her only visit to the town named after her came 10 months after his death in 2003.
Have I mentioned the whole thing is free?
Didn't hear my "Are You Gonna Kiss Me, Or Not?" today, mainly because for much of the ride across U.S. 90 there was no radio reception. No AM, No FM, No Nuthin'. This was tough duty. Back home I wouldn't even back out of the driveway unless the radio was cranked up. Next time I'll remember to take the IPod or pack some CDs.
The ride into Del Rio is modern America at its worst. Take Route 1 North and triple it.
Tomorrow I hit Houston, a town that appears to heve been constructed solely by architectural school drop-outs.
It's the only way to go.
The first stop was Gila Bend, Arizona. Why Gila Bend, Arizona? Why not? How many chances will you get in your life to sleep in Gila Bend, Arizona, where the nickname for the local high school is -- what else -- the "Monsters?"
It's a sleepy town of about 1,500 two hours west of Tucson on I-8. About the last thing I thought I'd be doing was eating Italian, but, by God, there sat "Little Italy," where I had some nice spaghetti and meatballs with very nice marinara sauce, washed down by some chianti. Not haute cuisine, perhaps, but very satisfying.
Lunch on Monday was at the Kranberry Restaurant in Lordsburg, New Mexico. You've been there. This was America, with all the sandwiches, burgers, salads and hearty entrees on which Middle America thrives, and, of course, at a reasonable price. Grilled cheese and bacon, side of fries, a very large Coke for $8.28. And you know I tip well. The Globe would insist.
Across the street sat Border Line Fireworks, in front of which a very large sign proclaimed ARRTILLERY (sic) SHELLS BUY ONE GET ONE FREE.
Ah, the Great Beyond.
Now I'm not normally a big country music buff, but when I travel in either the south or west, that's all I want to hear. Toolin' on I-10 through the desert with the radio blasting Thompson Square's irresistible "Are You Gonna Kiss Me, Or Not?" Well, it doesn't get any better than that
Next stop: Del Rio, Texas.
That includes me.
But my take appears to be a bit different than everyone else's, and it all comes down to my premise that there is one, and only one, question every official, at every level, must ask himself or herself prior to every game.
That question is "Why am I here?"
The answer to that question is NOT "To demonstrate my thorough knowledge of the rule book."
The answer is NOT "To please my supervisor and thus secure future assignments."
The answer is NOT "To please the coaches."
The answer is "To ajudicate the smooth flow of the game, using the rules, and when applicable, my common sense."
Were the officials in question utilizing my philosophy, the Pitt-Butler game would have ended with no fouls being called. Butler would have won, 70-69, courtesy of A.J. Smith's lay-up with 2.2 seconds to play.
The foul on Shelvin Mack should have never been called. Was it stupid of him to get so close to Gilbert Brown on that in-bounds pass which carried to midcourt? Yes. Was there some contact? Yes. But no one is asking the key question.
If Gilbert Brown had caught that ball, what would he have done with it?
The answer, of course, is nothing. He would have sailed OB, and that would have been that. There would have been nothing for him to do, and the game would have been over.
Plain common sense should prevail in a matter like this.
Had the correct non-call been made, the game would have been over and Butler would have been a deserved victor, right then and there.
But common sense did not prevail, and thus Gilbert Brown went to the line. He made the first, tying the score. The second one spun out and Matt Howard had control of the rebound.
That should have been it. Score tied, let's go to OT. But Nasir Robinson grabbed him. Oh, yes, he did. Now I must interject that the rebound foul, be it in the game's first second or last, is a pet peeve of mine. If a player grabs a rebound, and then is hit, grabbed, whatever, but doesn't lose the ball, why should that be a foul? Let's just play. If he loses the ball as a result of a foul, or if there is an overt, way out of line physical act perpetrated upon him, then, OK, call a foul.
In this case, there was less than a second remaining. Common sense would dictate that the only fair thing at that point would be for the teams to settle it in OT. But because the ref felt he had to adhere to the letter of the law, even though it was a total abrogation of common sense, he blew the whistle and put Matt Howard in position to win the game, which he did by making the first shot and deliberately missing the second.
The problem, of course, is that the people who supervise officials want to eliminate judgment as much as possible. Blowing the whistle in these moments is the easy way out. God forbid true justice be the issue. Let's enforce the law.
In the end, justice was served. Butler deserved to win the game. But the final score should have been 70-69, not 71-70.
P.S. With that number 1 seed, in this particular season, Pitt has now blown the best chance it will ever have of winning the national championship.
CLEVELAND --- I was really looking forward to the 6-11 game here between Xavier and Marquette, but the Golden Eagles took all the fun out of it by being too damn good.
Marquette is an interesting team. With that 66-55 victory over the Musketeers on Friday night, it enters Sunday's game against Syracuse with a 21-14 record. That doesn't sound so great, but what distinguishes Buzz Williams' team is the total absence of what any reasonable person would term a "bad" loss. Marquette's non-conference losses were to Duke (by 5), Gonzaga (by 3), Wisconsin (by 5), and Vanderbilt (by 1, and, naturally on the road). The closest thing to a questionable loss in the treacherous Big East Conference was a, 85-72 setback at the hands of Seton Hall in the last game of the regular season. But by that time Seton Hall was playing some very good basketball.
Marquette has a 6-11 center named Chris Otule, who really isn't very good, but who can be given some slack since he is playing with one eye, having lost the other to glaucoma. Aside from that, they aren't big at all. But they are the personification of scrappiness, and they will guard you.
The formula for defeating Xavier was simple: they put 6-6 Jimmy Butler on Xavier star guard Tu Holloway and took him almost completely out of the game, limiting an 18 ppg guy to one field goal, that coming nearly 30 minutes into the game. Marquette is easy to like and easy to respect. They beat Syracuse in Milwaukee this year, so logic dictates they could repeat that conquest at the Q.
Speaking of The Q, I must report to you that it is as good as any 20,000-seat place could be for the fan. The first level is really close to the floor. The second level is surprisingly close to the floor. Even the nosebleeds are not so bad. Four Stars for The Q.
I mentioned in the morning paper --- you should try it sometimes --- that my approach to the NCAA tournament is to seek a player I'd like to adopt. I found one in George Mason forward Luke Hancock. Friday night I found a player I didn't want to adopt as much as I wanted to take home on a leash. That player was Indiana State guard Jake Odum.
Listed at 6-4 and a generous 170, and complete with a flat top and an Abe Lincoln (i.e. no mustache) beard, it's like he is on loan from the Amish All-Stars. He flits in and out of the lane, always on the alert for a cutter, and he snaps his passes off with great briskness. He chats up the refs, and he is just a trip. I'm sorry Indiana State is going home. I'd like to see him play again.
Allow me to join the chorus of protesters bemoaning the total sellout of the tournament to some guy watching TV in Pocatello. The Syracuse-Indiana State game started after 10:30, EDT. Any sane person knows this is preposterous. There was no valid reason why the first game of the day here at the Q couldn't have started at 1:10, rather than 2:10, so we could have the four-game card moved up accordingly. If someone out West is going to watch, he or she will watch at 10 a.m. as easily as they'll watch at 11 a.m. But, as is always the case, the people in the East must make all the sacrifices for TV. The pampered babies west of the Rockies never make any.
CLEVELAND — In case anyone was wondering, Thursday afternoon is why some of us get a bit unhinged when NCAA Tourney time rolls around.
I doubt I can add anything to what you may have seen for yourself, or read about. Butler ... Morehead State ... Temple ... Richmond ... even mighty Kentucky. They all needed dramatic endings in a truly sensational opening round (and it is the opening round, no matter what the NCAA is trying to feed us). But what I will add is that there was no doubt which team was the best, at least on Thursday, March 17, 2011.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs. Oh my God!
I mean, they folded, spindled and totally mutilated a good St. John's team. They did EVERYTHING better. They shot better, rebounded better, defended better, passed better, thought better and competed better. They hit St. John's with inside stuff, outside stuff, clever stuff, inexplicable stuff and stuff-stuff.
They are on a roll, and their game with BYU on Saturday is absolute must-see TV. Even if they lose, which is doubtful, they will almost surely be able to say when the tournament is over that nobody played better than we did back on March 17.
A few NCAA thoughts:
The tourney committee got the four No. 1s right. Really, who can complain?
Notre Dame? San Diego State? Carolina? Nah. And Florida should get down on
their knees and thank somebody for their bogus No. 2 seed.
1. Most vulnerable No. 1: Kansas.
I love their front court, but their backcourt has issues. What's the matter with Josh Selby? He started off great, but after that, yuck. If he plays to his reputation, well, OK. Having said that, the only true obstacle I see for them is Louisville.
2. Easiest road to Final Four: Pitt.
If I didn't know better, I'd think Jamie Dixon slipped each member of the committee 10K. The Panthers have had one of the great regular season programs in America for a decade, but the closest they've ever come to the Final Four was against Villanova (who can forget the Scottie Reynolds coast-to-coast dash?) in the Regional Finals right here in Boston two years ago. But if they're ever going to get to the Promised Land, it's this year, when they have been placed in a cupcake bracket. Florida is a bogus No. 2, BYU is no longer a legit 3, No. 4 Wisconsin will be lucky to win its first-round game against Belmont, and that brings us to No. 5 Kansas State, which is playing well, but which could easily lose the opener to No. 12 Utah State. There's always Gonzaga, I suppose, and I do think they will beat St. John's in the 11-6 game.
But, really. This is a setup for Pitt, which means there is enormous pressure on them to perform.
3. I think UConn can keep it up and get to the Final Four
It's not just Kemba Walker. It's the help he's now getting from the others. In the midst
of his personal embarrassment, Jim Calhoun has coached his fanny off.
4. Player to watch: Zeke Marshall of Akron
Charlie Pierce is El Presidente of this kid's Fan Club. Marshall is a Manute Bol-like 7-footer (weighing 220 or so) who sends shots back with regularity, and who, Charlie says, will so discombobulate Notre Dame in the Southwest 2-15 game the Irish will not get themselves together in time to defeat Purdue when they meet a bit farther down the road. Thought I'd pass that along.
5. Another player to watch: Arizona's Derrick Williams
If you want to see the best all-around forward in the land, make sure you catch Arizona vs. Memphis at 2:45 Friday. Williams is a inside beast (6-8, 240) who makes
over 60 percent of his threes!
6. Most unpredictable team: Tennessee
Truly. Bruce Pearl's club could lose to Michigan by 25 in the 8-9 West opener Friday, or they could go to the Final Four, and, no, I'm not kidding. There is no team in the country with a comparable range of possibility . . .
7. Unless it's Michigan State.
That is to say, I feel sorry for referees Tim Higgins, Jim Burr, and Carl Walton, who have fallen on their swords and will not be working any more games in New York this week.
Before we get into the matter of what fouls should or should not have been called, I am willing to exonerate the three officials for their (non)-actions in the fateful, final 1.7 seconds. I mean, it was just a bizarre scene. The game was, for all intents and purposes, over. Justin Brownlee of St. John's had picked up a loose ball and what does he see but his own coach, having personally decided that the game had indeed come to a conclusion, walking toward rival coach Mike Rice for the ceremonial postgame handshake.
He kind of runs with the ball (while also stepping out of bounds) and then he throws the ball away. Technically speaking, he committed three violations. But the officiating trio were themselves walking toward the exit runway, and nothing was called.
And please let the record show that none of this was on the mind of Rutgers coach Rice. He was busy making a chopping sign, signifying that he felt his player had been fouled as he tried to catch a pass thrown from the end of the court. I happen to agree with him.
So it's all revisionist history if Rice now claims he was aware of the Brownlee transgressions. I don't want to hear it.
People need to get a grip. All hell was breaking loose. St. John's coach Steve Lavin thought the game was over. Rice thought the game was over. The referees thought the
game was over. They were all wrong. But the key word is "all."
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Rutgers could have been given the ball back with 1.7 seconds left.
they mighta/coulda scored to tie it up or win it. The odds were slim, and I can't get worked up about it. I much prefer not to have games decided by stupid technicalities, and that's what this would have been.
There was discussion about whether or not a foul should have been called on Rutger's penultimate possession. Rutgers was down by one when Mike Coburn barreled into the lane for what can only be described as a ridiculous heave of a leaner. It was a 99.999 percent no-hoper, a terrible shot and a terrible judgment with plenty of time on the clock and open men all over the place. Was he hit? Probably. Should he be rewarded, whether in the first minute or final second, for such a wild piece of garbage?
Not if I'm reffing. That was a very good no call.
But I do think Rutgers has a gripe about the way their man was hit as he tried to catch the long lead pass on their next possession. The St. John's kid whacked him, giving him no chance to catch the ball. That, to me, was an obvious foul, but it, too, was ignored.
Missing calls happens. Referees are human. There will always be missed calls.
But the other stuff was just plain crazy. I don't know Carl Walton,but I do know that Tim Higgins and Jim Burr are two of the best refs ever, with a combined total of 24 Final Fours. I'm sure they'd like to have that 1.7 seconds back, but when you look at it, you can understand how they took it all at face value, especially with Lavin walking toward Rice with time remaining. This could have happened to anyone.
I just hope the Powers That Be don't overract. Higgins and Burr have suffered enough. They must be brought back. The NCAA cannot afford to have officials of this caliber sitting home when the big games come.
And we know this much: with all this publicity, what happened at Madison Square Garden in those final 1.7 seconds Wednesday will never, ever, be repeated, at any level, be it high school college or the NBA. Therein lies a cautionary tale for everyone, and that includes coaches who get a little carried away with themselves, which the quite theatrical Lavin clearly did.
But this is not how we should frame Tim Higgins and Jim Burr. One understandable gaffe should not override brilliant refereeing careers.
The verdict is unanimous. No Super Bowl should be in anything other than a drop-dead warm weather locale.
Or New Orleans.
People come for a getaway, not an ordeal. I'm not talking media. We get shuttled around in buses. We have things to do. But the fans and sponsors who congregate at a Super Bowl expect a nice little February warm-weather junket. Good Lord, they pay enough to get one.
This does restrict the field to Miami, San Diego and New Orleans, at least until LA gets a proper stadium. And since Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego is clearly inadequate to the task, that whittles it down to Miami and New Orleans.
At least next year in Indianapolis no one will be terribly inconvenienced by bad weather because everything is within walking distance. Don't even think about what a debacle the 2014 Super Bowl in the Meadlowlands could become.
I'll say this about Cowboys Stadium: the gigunda video screen is mesmerizing. The clarity is astonishing. You can easily find yourself watching the screen for several plays at a time and not even thinking about casting your eyes on the field. That's a plus. Other than that, it's a new stadium, no better or worse in any significant way than any other.
The national anthem was best summed up by 11-year old Amelia Ryan.
"Seriously, it's a disgrace to the country, it really is" she e-mailed.
Such spot-on wisdom from an 11-year old. Forget about Christina Aguilera botching the words. Like countless others before her, she confused the national anthem with a torch song, occasionally screeching needless extension of notes, turning the anthem into an ordeal lasting more than a minute and fifty seconds. Trust me: anything clocking in over 1:30 is sure to be a disaster. Were she an auditioning contestant on "American Idol," Randy would have told her she was "pitchy," and I doubt if they would have sent her to LA.
Listen to Amelia Ryan. That's a young lady who's going places.