Embrace the Madness

 

No, this isn’t about my depression.

I’m talking March Madness. The NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships. It’s quite a spectacle; if you haven’t observed it before, it’s worth checking out.

What happens is, at the end of the regular season, a committee selects all the teams that will play in the tournament, based on criteria such as win-loss record, strength of schedule, favorite uniform colors, noise of school band, personal hygiene, etc. Approximately 2,000 teams are selected, (slight exaggeration, but it sure seems like that many) and paired up according to how they potentially match up against each other. It’s like match.com for college basketball.

And then they all play at once! But that’s OK if you have access to several video screens; you’ll be able to keep track of Duke vs. UCLA on one screen, and Upper Eastern Middle Hacksaw State vs. Our Lady of Airballs on another.

(Our Lady of Airballs, incidentally, is such a small school that this season, their team included two high school boys and the mascot. The mascot led the team in scoring.)

The thing is, all the games are elimination games, so the field whittles down quickly, from 2,000 teams to just two, who then play for the championship. That means any team, on any given day, can beat any other team. (not really, everybody just likes to believe that, but come on!) Some surprises happen along the way, though; some teams that were favored to go a long way in the tournament get “upset” by teams that basically weren’t given much of a chance. The reason those games are known as “upsets” is because all the people that filled out brackets get really upset when those happen.

What are brackets, you ask? Don’t.

Too late. You already did.

 

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Gives you a headache just looking at it, right? But lots of people – normally sane people – fill these things out, predicting the winners of all the games, and then bet money on them! Hence, the “Madness.”

Of course, many of these folks won’t stop with just one bracket. They may fill out dozens of these things, greatly increasing their odds of winning some big money…

…or of being locked away in a sanitarium.

Okay. Time to get crazy. Take it away, band!!

Cubbies and Indians

This is a great time to be a baseball fan.

It’s World Series time, of course, which is always special for baseball fans. What makes this one really special, though, is the matchup.

On one side, we have the Cleveland Indians, whose most recent World Series victory came in 1948.

Yep, sixty-eight years ago. Let’s put that in perspective, shall we? We were three years removed from World War II. Dick Button became the first American Olympic figure skating champion. President Harry Truman signed the Marshall Plan. Milton Berle’s “Texaco Star Theater” premiered on NBC Television.

And the Cleveland Indians signed 42-year-old pitcher Satchel Paige to their team.

Now, on the other side, we have the Chicago Cubs, the “Cubbies”, baseball’s “lovable losers.”

Their most recent World Series victory was in…1908!

That’s right; over a century ago. Fifty-one years before I was even born, folks. Their most recent World Series appearance was in 1945.

What else happened in 1908? Well, among other things:

Henry Ford’s company built the first Model T automobile. Orville Wright made the first one-hour airplane flight. William Howard Taft was elected 27th President of the United States. Albert Einstein presented his quantum theory of light. Jack Johnson defeated Tommy Burns to become the first black heavyweight boxing champion.

So, yeah, neither of these teams have had anything to celebrate for a loooooong time. And the fans in both cities are absolutely berserk. They are ready to party, I promise you.

Tonight (Friday), Wrigley Field, in Chicago, hosts its first World Series game in seventy-one years. You don’t think that place will be rockin’?

And Cleveland, for so long a city devoid of champions, is still on a high from the Cavaliers recently winning the NBA pro basketball title. If the Indians win, too…!!

If you don’t watch baseball too often, now’s a perfect time. Even if you don’t know much about the game, get caught up in the unbridled hysteria taking place in these two great American cities. One of them is about to toast a World Series Champion, for the first time in decades.

It. Will. Be. Special. Play ball!

(you know who you are when I say, this is for you: Hot Dogs!!)

Short Cuts

From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 10/19/2016:

“Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, who missed the past three games with a hairline fracture in his right knee, had his much anticipated return to practice Wednesday aborted because of a cut finger on his right hand.

“Bryant said he injured himself slicing carrots while making soup at home.”

From Sports Illustrated, 10/15/16:

“Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer will have his start pushed back from Game 2 of the ALCS to Game 3 after cutting his right pinky finger while repairing a drone, team president Chris Antonetti told WTAM in Cleveland.”

Okay, all you pro athletes out there, who depend on your hands for a living:

STEP AWAY FROM THE SHARP OBJECTS!!

Tip Your Cap

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The end of an era is upon us, sports fans.

Vin Scully, legendary baseball announcer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, is retiring this season, after an astonishing 67 years in broadcasting.

Sixty…seven…years. Let that sink in for awhile.

Nobody has ever done his job so well, for so long. Nobody even close.

It makes me envious of Dodger fans. He’s more than just their announcer. He’s more than just their buddy, inviting them to sit back and enjoy a ball game with him.

He’s their dad, the one with all the memories of former Dodger heroes like Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, Steve Garvey and Davey Lopes, Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson, on and on and on.

Wow!

This man is inextricably intertwined with the history of the Dodgers; indeed, of baseball.

He is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, of course, as a recipient of the annual Ford C. Frick award, presented to a broadcaster for “major contributions to baseball.”

And boy, has this guy contributed.

 

Back in ancient times, before television, radio was the only way to broadcast a ballgame. The announcer, therefore, was an artist; it was up to him to paint a complete picture for the listener, to describe the brilliant blue sky, the gentle breeze blowing in from left field, the smell of the freshly cut grass, the jubilant roar of the crowd…every sight, sound and smell of the game brought vividly to life, transporting the fan listening at home right to the best seat in the ballpark.

Vin Scully has skillfully painted these pictures day after day, game after game, for decades.

Not only does that take a great deal of talent, which he certainly has, and a singularly mellifluous voice, which he also has. It takes a true love and passion for the game, and a warm, inviting, friendly manner that makes people want to tune in and listen to him. Vin Scully checks both those boxes, as well.

Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams once said, “If there was a guy born to play baseball, it was Willie Mays.” I say, if there was a guy born to announce baseball, it’s Vin Scully.

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My two favorite ball games, called by Vin Scully:

1986 WORLD SERIES, GAME 6: As the New York Mets mounted a crazy ninth-inning, two-out comeback to defeat the utterly gobsmacked Boston Red Sox at New York’s Shea Stadium, Vin asked rhetorically, ” Can you believe this ballgame at Shea?”

As the infamous game-ending ground ball rolled improbably through the legs of first baseman Bill Buckner, allowing Ray Knight to score the winning run for the Mets, Vin described it like this, the shock and disbelief at what was unfolding, clearly heard: “Little roller, up along first…BEHIND THE BAG!! IT GETS THROUGH BUCKNER!! HERE COMES KNIGHT, AND THE METS WIN IT!!!”

Minutes later, after letting the television audience take in the raucous celebration in the stadium, except for the stunned, silent Red Sox dugout, he declared, “If one picture is worth a thousand words, you have seen about a million words!”

(Which is another skill of his: letting the images on television tell the story. As valuable as his words are, he knows when they aren’t needed.)

1988 WORLD SERIES, GAME 1: Dodgers vs. Oakland A’s, Dodger Stadium. Bottom of the ninth inning. Dodgers trail by one run with two outs and one man on base. Kirk Gibson, pinch-hitting despite a badly hurt right leg, is at bat. Three-ball, two-strike count. Here comes the pitch. Mr. Scully, take it away:

“High fly ball, into right field, she is GONE!!!”

In that call, you can hear the hopeful anticipation of what could happen, followed by the amazement and joy at what just did.

And then, amid all the resultant pandemonium, he added, “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!”

Side note: At that moment, another legendary announcer, Jack Buck, delighted the radio audience with his own immortal line: “I DON’T BELIEVE WHAT I JUST SAW!!”

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Vin Scully will announce his last Dodgers home game this Sunday, September 25, at 4:00 PM, Eastern Time. It will be broadcast live on MLB Network, as well as the Dodgers’ and Colorado Rockies’ local networks. Do yourself a favor; take a break from football this Sunday.

And enjoy a baseball game with a living legend.

Louisville Slugger

I’m a sports fan. Not a rabid sports fan, mind you; I don’t paint myself before attending a game, I don’t tailgate, I don’t go to the local sports bar, I don’t even watch that many games at home. Especially if it involves a team I have an emotional investment in.

I wasn’t always that way; the turning point was the 2011 World Series, when my Texas Rangers broke my heart into millions of little pieces in Game 6. We had that game won, we had that damn series won, and we let it slip away. Twice. The St. Louis Cardinals were down to their last strike twice, and we didn’t close the deal.  Ever since, I find it just too stressful to watch one of my teams play. The only time I can watch a sporting event in a relaxed state is when I really don’t give a rat’s youknowwhat who wins.

Besides, I find watching sports these days a lot less pleasant then I used to. For starters, I have given up watching football, on any level. I just can’t watch these huge, strong, fast young men have collision after collision after collision, knowing full well what they are doing to themselves and each other, physically. Yeah, I know it’s what they signed up for, and yeah, I know not all of them end up physically and/or mentally disabled, perhaps even suicidal.

But, with what we know now about CTE, and concussions and head trauma, I just can’t help but wince every time these guys crash into other at full speed. I’ll just skip it, thank you.

Then, there’s all the headlines about players who cheat, lie, steal, fail multiple drug tests, beat women, rape and murder. About coaches who look the other way, as long as these disgraceful excuses for human beings help win games, because that’s what matters, right?

Yes, I’m well aware, there are plenty of players, coaches, owners etc. who are solid citizens, who do things the right way, and who stand as worthy role models to all who revere them. Unfortunately, they’re just usually too boring to be written about.

Which finally brings me to the subject of this post. One notable exception to that rule left us last week. He was an honorable human being, but he sure wasn’t boring.

 

Muhammad Ali (nee Cassius Clay), of Louisville, Kentucky was, to use a popular term, a polarizing figure in sports. No; in society, actually.

His truculent braggadocio, as longtime foil Howard Cosell might have put it, was endlessly entertaining to watch. He was a poet who elevated boxing to performance art, and won the World Heavyweight Championship three times in the process. His fights were legendary, from the knockout of Sonny Liston to the epic battles with Joe Frazier to the astonishing conquest of George Foreman. Even someone like me, who never really cared for boxing, can’t help but appreciate what Ali accomplished in the ring.

But, more than Ali, the fighter, it’s Ali, the man that is the reason for the worldwide outpouring of accolades and love we have witnessed these last few days. He was a man who unashamedly, unwaveringly stood up for what he believed in, regardless of the consequences. He was a proud black man and a proud Muslim which, in the 1960’s, many Americans found threatening. (Still do, apparently.) He refused to be drafted by the Army and go to Vietnam to fight in a war he found antithetical to his religious beliefs. He never backed down, even though it cost him arguably the prime years of his boxing career, and nearly landed him in prison.

In his later years, he was a tireless advocate for peace among all races and religions. I remember him speaking out after 9/11, denouncing the terrorist actions and explaining that they did not represent true Muslim ideals and values. He personally visited Saddam Hussein in 1990, prior to America’s declaration of war against Iraq for the invasion of Kuwait, and secured the release of 15 American hostages. He was a true humanitarian who was a force for positive change in the world. We all can, and should, aspire to that.

R.I.P., Muhammad. You told us you were The Greatest, and darned if you weren’t absolutely right.