Apr 06

Why Doesn’t Baseball Make Opening Day Special Again?

It is Opening Day damn it, it should be one of the best days – if not the very best – of every sports year. Then how come it isn’t? It’s because the people running the sport have no concept of the treasure they possess.

None.

Inside the grocery store in my town, there’s a little bank that posts a trivia question every week. The current question is: When is Opening Day for baseball? And, it listed five choices.

Now, if that doesn’t tell you about the state of the game, then what does?

Opening Day used to mean something. For years it opened in Cincinnati, home of the Reds, baseball’s oldest team, and in Washington, the nation’s capital. You never know when it is from year to year.

There’s always Internet chatter at making the Monday after the Super Bowl a holiday. Why? So people can sleep off their hangovers?

Tell me, what are the best days in sports? The Super Bowl is one, a monster for sure. How about the NFL championship game Sunday? Or the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament?

The NFL has its Opening Weekend down pat with the Super Bowl champ starting on the Thursday before the first Sunday. Baseball’s start used to be in the nation’s spotlight, but it foolishly gave away that day, which is also part of Bud Selig’s legacy.

We’ve had the first game of the baseball season start several times in Japan, with those teams returning to the United States for more spring training games. Yeah, they had the think tank working overtime for that one.

Baseball 2015 started Easter Sunday night in frigid Chicago at the construction site known as Wrigley Field, where there were only two restrooms on the main concourse. Nobody thought to order portable restrooms, of course. Did anybody notice those photos of cups of urine lined up?

It would have been great to get a comment from new commissioner Rob Manfred. Maybe he’ll have something to say on the time of the game, which was over three hours.

The game, by the way, was broadcast on MLB Network, which much of the country doesn’t have. Today’s games include an interleague match-up with the Red Sox in Philadelphia. Interleague play is tough to stomach already, but under no circumstances should there be interleague games on Opening Day.

There are also three games that start at, or after, 7 p.m., EDT, that would be in conflict with the NCAA Championship. Two are to be telecast on ESPN. Who is the marketing genius behind that one?

Sports will conflict with each other, but can’t anybody look at a calendar to see what they are up against? Why not give the NCAA the first Monday, and let baseball have Tuesday? Go wall-to-wall games starting at noon and running to midnight. Now, that should be a national holiday.

Baseball talks about the need to market itself better, especially for the next generation, but it doesn’t get it. This little tweak can spark the imaginations of kids across the country.

My late father understood it on April 7, 1970, when he took my brother and I out of school for the day to watch the Indians on Opening Day against Baltimore. Dave McNally against Sam McDowell.

Despite his note, the school did not approve, but he took us out anyway. He reasoned we would take more from being at that game than anything we would have learned that day in class.

He was right. Baseball was very big in our home, and it still is in our family. That’s how you cultivate the fans of tomorrow.

Looking back, he was right, and it is one of my fondest memories of him.

My dad got it 45 years ago. I wonder how many fathers around the country got it today, and will get it next Monday and take their kids to Citi Field.

What I do know, is the people running Major League Baseball don’t get it.

ON DECK: What is with the Opening Day lineup?

Mar 07

Mets Must Earn Right To Have Swagger

About this swagger thing Mets manager Terry Collins wants his team to have, well, it just doesn’t happen. It is something a team grows into having, something the Mets haven’t had since 2006. They lost it with their September collapse in 2007, and haven’t come close to regaining it with the possible exception of every fifth game in 2013 when Matt Harvey pitched.

“You know, for years and years, you used to watch those teams that won all of the time, they had an air about them,’’ Collins said this week. “You used to play the Braves and they’d walk out there and, they weren’t cocky, but they were confident.They weren’t overbearing, they knew how to play, they knew what they had to do to win games.’’

The Braves earned the right to have swagger by getting into the playoffs for a decade straight. Jose Reyes used to dance in the dugout after scoring and thought that was swagger.

It wasn’t.

LeBron James and other NBA players flatter themselves into thinking they have swagger, but most really don’t. If you have to carry yourself in such a way where you want people to get the impression you’re tough, then you really aren’t. If you’re really tough you don’t have to pound your chest as if to say “look at me,’’ which seems the standard in the NBA and NFL these days.

I know what Collins is getting at, but it just doesn’t happen overnight. True swagger isn’t forced. For your opponents to fear and respect you, that must be earned and the Mets aren’t there, yet.

After six straight losing seasons you just don’t snap your fingers and say you have swagger. The Mets need to be tougher, and that includes winning close games; winning within the division; taking the other team’s second baseman out on a double play; and when your hitters get plunked, then plunk one of their batters.

Swagger needs to first come from the top. It’s having a general manager not afraid to roll the dice at the trade deadline. It’s about being decisive on a player who doesn’t have it and not being afraid to cut ties with past disasters like the Mets had in guys like Ike Davis and Jordany Valdespin.

The bottom line is if you’re good you don’t need to tell anybody because they will know. And, nobody knows that about the Mets. Not yet, anyway.

ON DECK: Mets Matters: Today’s notes.

Jan 21

Cheating Isn’t Trying, It Is Cheating

They say if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying. That’s garbage.

The New England Patriots are in the news for cheating and it stinks. It reminds me of how the balls were stored at Coors Field. My thinking is the balls had little to do with it and was mostly the altitude and Rockies’ lousy pitching.

But, it created doubt.

The intrinsic beauty of sports is for the fan, the paying customer, to watch the game with the knowledge what they are seeing is true. That’s why I am against PED use, and why, although I was a big Pete Rose fan growing up, I understand his banishment from baseball for gambling.

The common argument from Patriots’ fans, who have the same entitlement as Yankees’ fans, is for them to point to the scoreboard and say the deflated balls had no bearing on the outcome of the game. But, that’s wrong. By definition, it is cheating. It is bending the rules and that violates the essence of sports.

As far as PED’s are concerned, yes, you still have to hit the ball and you still have to pitch it, but that’s an overly simplistic approach.

I keep hearing of Barry Bonds’ work ethic and Roger Clemens’ work ethic. I saw Clemens work out and I watched Alex Rodriguez train at 8 in the morning during spring training. I was taken in by their effort. I was fooled.

What steroids do for a hitter is it enables him to work and train harder in August when he’d normally wilt in the heat and be tired. That ability to work gives him more strength and energy, and consequently lets him generate more bat speed, which is the key to power. That comes into play not with the 450-foot homer, but when the ball just clears the fence.

That’s why I don’t use the words “home run” with Bonds. I call him “balls hit over the fence,” because they aren’t legitimate home runs. That’s just me.

Aaron Rodgers likes the ball firm and perhaps over inflated. Apparently, Tom Brady likes the ball when it is easier to grip. Obviously, this had to be conveyed to whoever pumps up the balls where the Patriots play. Stands to reason, doesn’t it? And, how can a control freak like Bill Belichick not know what’s going on? Just like with SpyGate he had to know.

Because he cheated, how can we be sure he didn’t cheat other times? How can we be sure everything the Patriots achieved was on the level? The argument Bonds and Clemens had Hall of Fame numbers before they cheated must also be discounted, because we don’t know exactly when they cheated.

We can’t and this puts everything they’ve done into question. It goes beyond gamesmanship. It’s cheating, and it’s wrong. Who is to say the Patriots didn’t film illegally before they were caught? And, the NFL destroying the tape is reprehensible. You realize they haven’t won a Super Bowl since.

The NFL suspended Sean Payton for a year because BountyGate damaged the integrity of the sport. Considering this is the second cheating charge against Belichick, a year suspension wouldn’t be out of line.

Just like what Bonds and Clemens did was wrong and will likely keep them out of the Hall of Fame forever. But, what about Brady and Belichick? I wonder if the football voters will hold this against them.

If you don’t agree with me, that’s fine. But before you dismiss me, ask yourself this question: How would you feel if your doctor cheated his way through med school?

 

Jan 13

How Would Wilpons Answer Question: Why I Should Root For The Mets?

There was an interesting story on-line the other day about a 12-year boy, Cade Pope, who wrote the owner of each NFL team asking the simple question: Why should I root for your team?

Took a lot of initiative on his part, but very little initiative was made by the league’s 32 owners as only one, Jerry Richardson of the Carolina Panthers replied, and with it sent an autographed helmet of Luke Kuechly. Richardson wrote he would be “honored if the Carolina Panthers became your team.’’

Richardson’s letter was handwritten, by the way.

Of course, this got me thinking, what if Fred Wilpon were to get such a letter? How about Jeff Wilpon? What would their reply be? What would they say to some 12-year old kid without a team to root for?

What would be their magic words to make him a Met fans for life?

 

Dec 29

NFL Gets It When It Comes To Scheduling; MLB Missing Boat

As I watched the NFL yesterday on the Red Zone – sports for those with ADHD – it came to me how much Major League Baseball could learn from football when it comes to scheduling.

All of yesterday’s games were played within the division, which illustrates a major flaw in baseball’s scheduling. There were ten games that had some kind of playoff implications, whether it was winning the division or playoff seeding.

Conversely, the Mets ended their season with an interleague game against Houston. Regular readers of this blog know I am vehemently against interleague play, but in particular on Opening Day and in September.

There was an interleague game nearly every day of the season, including two for home openers and eight series in September. How can you legitimately promote pennant races with that many September interleague series?

MLB would be wise if its September schedule, or at least the last three weeks of it, were played within the division. The Mets’ 2015 September interleague series is against the Yankees. If neither team is in the race then there could be a lot of empty seats at Citi Field.

Another thing the NFL does I like with its schedule is the opening week. Clearly, the NFL wrestled the “magic’’ of an Opening Day from baseball with its Thursday night game featuring the Super Bowl champion.

Baseball’s Opening Day used to highlight Washington – the team in the nation’s capital – and Cincinnati, the oldest franchise, the day before everybody else.

This past season, the first regular season game was played in March, while another team was still in its exhibition schedule. There have been other times, notably when the Yankees and Rays went to Japan, when the season openers were played abroad and those teams returned to complete their exhibition schedule.

Opening Day used to be special, now it’s a hodge-podge. The NFL gets it when it comes to scheduling while MLB is falling short.