The great thing about having been around forever to view the sports scene is that you can offer perspective.
I see things the way they were, the way they have changed, and appreciate the differences. I am not a member of the “good old days were better” school.
What that does is make you old. It erases perspective. I understand the changes that occur, not only in my life in sports, but in my life , period.
Like anybody else, some I like, others I don’t. It’s that way with everybody.
As today’s youth lives their lives, the same will happen with them. Isn’t that the way of the world?
This week, I offer observations on three sports. The NFL, which has just passed the quarter pole in its season. The NBA, which is just getting underway this week and MLB, which has taken center stage with its post-season playoffs en route to the World Series.
Let’s start with baseball…
When Justin Verlander pitched a complete game Saturday striking out 13 in a game the Houston Astros won 2-1 for a 2-0 lead over the Yankees in the ALCS I had to smile.
Verlander was truly a relic in going the distance, the first pitcher to do so in these playoffs and it brought to mind that this used to be the norm in baseball.
Consider this: Coming into Game 2 there were 40 starts in the 2017 post-season.
Of those 40, only half lasted five innings or more.
Today, when a pitcher faces a batting order for the third go-around he is thought to lose effectiveness. As his pitch-count rises above 100, he’s in trouble. Better to go to the bullpen for a fresh arm.
Those relievers are built to give-it-all for one inning. Then comes another pitcher the next inning, and so on, till the “closer” enters the game for an inning, maybe a little more for the “save”.
What this has done is take all the pressure off decision-making away from the manager.
He handles his pitching staff, almost by rote. He hopes his starter goes six innings, known as a “quality start”. Then brings in his seventh inning guy, eighth inning man, and then his best reliever, to close out the victory.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Except it doesn’t always go that way. In fact, very often it backfires.
It’s all because today’s pitchers trained through the minor leagues are built to perform their roles.
Starters are not asked to work more than six innings. Even if they are brilliantly effective, they are done for the game.
What is amazing to me, is that a relief pitcher may come on and do a perfect job in an inning and then out he goes.
In essence, managers “hope” their 7th, 8th, and 9th inning pitchers get the job done. That’s asking a lot, all the time.
Sometimes it’s laughable, as I watch managers remove a pitcher who has been unhittable, to bring in one who will lose the game because he doesn’t have his stuff that particular day.
I grew up when pitchers would refuse to be taken out in the late innings.
Can you see the likes of Koufax, Gibson, Marichal, Lolich, Ryan, Clemens, Seaver, I could go on and on, be relieved in a close game for ANYONE?
In 1968, the most complete games thrown by pitchers was 30.
This season the most was five. Just sayin’.
Now on to the NBA…
Michael Jordan said this past week that this season in the NBA, “You’re going to have one or two teams that are going to be great, and another 28 teams that are going to be garbage”. Michael is concerned about the NBA’s superteam era.
As the new season gets rolling, it is clear that the defending champion Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers with LeBron James are the class of the league.
The challengers are the Boston Celtics, bolstered by the additions of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, the Houston Rockets with James Harden and newcomer Chris Paul, the Oklahoma City Thunder who added Carmelo Anthony, and the San Antonio Spurs, who are perennial threats.
The Warriors sit at the head of the class, and barring injury, which always proves to be critical, should prevail once again.
What’s so unusual about that?
It’s been the story of the NBA since I started covering the games in the 70’s, through the magical 80’s of Celtics-Lakers dominance, and beyond that.
The NBA has always been about the Have’s and Have Not’s.
Long ago, the Celtics won 11 world championships in 13 years. That was in the 50’s and 60’s. The New York Knicks joined the parade in the late 60’s and 70’s and other teams had their brief moment in the sun.
But basically, the league has been about the powers, which you can count on less than one hand, and the rest.
When the Celtics and Lakers had their glorious confrontations in the 80’s they were joined by the Philadelphia 76ers. Other teams were good enough to climb only so far up the championship ladder before losing.
Every year there are good teams who have hope. It is easy to identify the cream of the crop. There will be teams this year who will strongly contend. But that’s as far as it goes.
In the end, in a best of seven series, the very best will survive. In the NCAA tournament, all you need is one game to catch some power off their form.
When it’s a matter of who gets to four victories first, upsets just don’t happen.
I don’t think Michael Jordan really feels there are 28 teams that are “garbage”.
But he’s right about the precious few who have a legitimate chance to win the title.
That’s the way it’s always been in the NBA.
I’ll close with football…
Finally, I have come to realize that many NFL wide receivers would love to play in the NBA.
They watch the basketball stars do their individual thing on the court and long to do the same in their sport. It’s just not the same.
On a small court with ten players, an individual can put on a show with his skills.
On a football field with 22 players it’s much more difficult.
It is not uncommon to see receivers pout and complain that they’re not getting the ball enough. You’ve seen Odell Beckham and Dez Bryant throw tantrums on the sideline when their quarterbacks don’t throw them enough passes.
This past week Rams receiver Sammy Watkins expressed his concern on Twitter for the fact that he hasn’t been involved in the offense the past two weeks. Watkins didn’t have a catch last week, and had only one the week before.
There are others, of course, who act in similar fashion to those I’ve mentioned.
What many fans may not realize is that teams don’t set out to throw to particular receivers when they put together a game plan for an opponent.
They have plays they intend to run and it might involve a player in many of those plays.
But when a play is actually run, much depends on how an opponent defenses that play.
If a star receiver is well-covered he won’t get the ball. A quarterback will look to a second or even third option on that play. It’s called a progression. A QB will look to his first choice, then work on down if it isn’t wise to go that way.
The final option is usually what is known as a “check-down”, a pass to a running back out of the backfield. The safe play.
But star receivers want the ball, and they want it often. If they don’t get it, everyone on the sideline, in the stands, and on television will see the frustration.
Often, a player’s friends will add fuel to the fire by telling the player he should be involved more. The player’s anger builds, and you know the rest.
The last thought is about those touchdown celebrations .
The NFL loosened the restrictions on them this year so that players could express themselves more in the end zone after scoring plays.
The league figured it would also add a little more entertainment. The key being it would be fun and done in good taste.
Most of it has been just that, but there have been exceptions.
The most notable occurred when Beckham catching a touchdown pass against the Eagles in Philadelphia got down on all fours and lifted his leg imitating the action of a dog.
It was disgusting and Beckham paid for it as did the Giants.
What crossed my mind was this: Just imagine the following three NFL greats doing the same thing: Jim Brown, Jerry Rice and Walter Payton.
It’s laughable to even imagine that scene.
Yes, times do change.
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