Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Living in the past

When Joe DiMaggio appeared before the public in his later years, particularly at Yankee Stadium, he liked to be introduced as "the greatest living baseball player." While there was no denying Joe's greatness, there were some of us who felt those words should be followed by the words "Willie Mays." Willie probably did more things than Joe, and did them longer. The matter also was part of the puzzle of Joe's personality, but that's a different subject.

The topic went away for a while when DiMaggio died, but came up recently at the All-Star Game. Who is the greatest living Yankee? My guess is Yogi Berra, who is in the argument for greatest catcher ever. I'd probably only trade Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera for Berra.

From there, it's an easy jump to "Who is the greatest living player for each team?" So let's take a shot at it. It's fascinating to look through the lists and try to come up with a conclusion. Do you value longevity or seasonal brilliance? Or a little of both?

Now, I may not be up to date on some of the old-timers' "status," so my apologies beforehand if I miss someone in either direction.

Arizona Diamondbacks -- Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling were great but didn't stay long. I guess Brandon Webb is about there, and can only add to his legacy.

Atlanta Braves -- Hank Aaron.

Baltimore Orioles -- Cal Ripken. He had a better bat at his position than Brooks Robinson.

Boston Red Sox -- Ouch. I think you'd have to say Roger Clemens, no matter how cloudy his legacy is now. Otherwise, it's Carl Yastrzemski unless you prefer the relative short-term brilliance in Boston of Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez.

Chicago Cubs -- Ernie Banks.

Chicago White Sox -- Probably Frank Thomas.

Cincinnati Reds -- Johnny Bench or Joe Morgan? Well, I'd give it to Morgan for longevity, but you could talk me out of it.

Cleveland Indians -- Bob Feller.

Colorado Rockies -- Todd Helton.

Detroit Tigers -- Al Kaline.

Florida Marlins -- A lot of good players have passed through, probably leaving Miguel Cabrera and Gary Sheffield to battle it out.

Houston Astros -- Craig Biggio.

Kansas City Royals -- George Brett.

Los Angeles Angels -- A tough one, as the Angels have not had many superstars who stayed. Jim Fregosi was quite good for quite a while, but Bobby Grich and Tim Salmon were good too. Could Vladimir Guerrero make it some day? Would Francisco Rodriguez qualifies if he doesn't go elsewhere? Hmmm.

Los Angeles Dodgers -- Sandy Koufax. Mike Piazza might have made a case for himself if he stuck around.

Milwaukee Brewers -- Robin Yount.

Minnesota Twins -- Harmon Killebrew. Tony Oliva and Kirby Puckett didn't play long enough, for unfortunate reasons.

New York Mets -- Tom Seaver.

Oakland Athletics -- Reggie Jackson. Most of their stars (Henderson, Giambi, etc.) haven't stayed all that long.

Philadelphia Phillies -- Mike Schmidt.

Pittsburgh Pirates -- Willie Stargell probably goes here because of longevity, but Barry Bonds' name lingers over the discussion.

St. Louis Cardinals -- Stan Musial for now, until Albert Pujols gets finished. Then we'll see.

San Diego Padres -- Tony Gwynn.

San Francisco Giants -- Willie Mays, but Barry Bonds' name lingers over the discussion.

Seattle Mariners -- Ken Griffey Jr.

Tampa Bay Rays -- Carl Crawford for the moment. There are a lot of contenders in the pipeline.

Texas Rangers -- Ivan Rodriquez.

Toronto Blue Jays -- Carlos Delgado had a nice decade in Toronto, so he gets the edge. Will Roy Halladay stay long enough to get in the argument?

Washington Nationals -- Gary Carter gets a slight nod over Tim Raines, who is very underrated.

So who are we missing? Alex Rodriguez, for one. Had he stayed in Texas or Seattle, he probably would win there. Had he started in New York, you could make a case for him there. You could make a case that he was on his way to being the greatest shortstop ever until he moved to third in New York.

Surprise visitor

The other day I was headed down Niagara St. with the intent of taking a walk on the Bird Island Pier in Buffalo. It's the only place I know where you can walk under an international crossing, and it's a nice place to stroll on a summer day.

Before getting there, though, I saw a spiffy sign on a railroad crossing for a waterfront park. OK, I'm as curious as the next fellow, so I turned the car into Squaw Island. After going down the driving lane on the railroad bridge, I was on the Island.

OK, I'm late to the party, since some of this has been around for a couple of years, but they are making progress there.

That part of Squaw Island used to be the city dump, but authorities have done some good work cleaning up the place. There are some small parking lots there, a bike/hiking trail on parts of the island, and several places to stand and watch the river go by. You really think you are a long way from the city of Buffalo when standing on the island, with Canada almost a stone's throw away.

Since the sewer authority is also there, I do wonder if there's a certain fragrance on certain days. The path should go along the water with a clear view. And the place needs to be kept up a little better. A little lawn-mowing would go a long way.

But ... it's a start. You can see a master plan for the area by going here.

One of the good things about big cities is that you can often find little places that are surprises. This is such a place.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Fast and faster

My knowledge of high school debating was just about zero before I watched a documentary on the subject the other day, "Resolved." It follows a couple of teams in local and national competition. You can find the review of it by going here.

We didn't have a debate team in my high school back in the Stone Age. Now I'm up to date on debating, I guess. And I'm not sure I like what I see.

What threw me is that some years back, debaters decided that the best way to cope with the restrictions of time limits in the format was to talk really, really fast. Remember the guy from the Federal Express commercial some years ago? Today's debates sound like that. Early in the movie, I recall that today's debaters speak at something like 400 words per minute.

At that speed, you can more or less hear what's being said. But it is certainly difficult to understand the material, in the sense of thinking about the reasoning and coming to a conclusion about the validity of the arguments. I don't know how the judges figure out who the heck won. As a result, nobody comes to watch debates any more.

The story about the kids were pretty interesting. Some fit the stereotype of those who usually are in the debating team -- in other words, nerds. But they all work hard and have plenty of intelligence. It's fun just to listen to them answer questions ... albeit at normal speed.

But once the actual debating starts, my head started to hurt. Whowantstolistentodialoguelikethat? Thisisavaluableskill?

All you kids out there, here's some free advice: Stick to the school newspaper. At least people will understand you -- assuming you are paying attention in English class.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Revising a bible

For decades and decades, the Sporting News was the biggest name in sports publications in this country. It became the definitive source for news about baseball. Indeed, it became known as "the baseball bible."

The formula was simple -- get baseball writers to send a story about their chosen team to a central office for weekly publication. It would be like subscribing to the various sports sections across the country and reading them all at once, in 1920. Or, it would be like reading them all on line once a week. It worked for years and years.

In the 1960's, the Sporting News slowly branched away from baseball. (For an idea as to what it used to be like, see a current copy of Baseball America.) It decided to move into other sports, perhaps as baseball became less popular and sales dipped once the World Series ended. I can still remember my first copy as a subscriber in November of 1965 -- Green Bay Packer lineman Henry Jordan was on the cover. I was 10. A newspaper, filled with all sports? Life didn't get much better for a 10-year-old sports fan.

The Sporting News even had top columnists. I learned about football from Larry Felser, basketball from Bob Ryan, journalism from Joe Falls (no one wrote about liking his job more), and analysis from one of my heroes, Leonard Koppett, who wasn't allowed to write about topical issues by the New York Times but instead took on several fascinating issues in unique ways.

The Sporting News plowed through the 1970's and into the 1980's, but it seemed less relevant as it went along. ESPN changed the landscape, as we could see the highlights of the night immediately rather than waiting for a description of events a week later. You could just see the publication start to wander in the wilderness. It spent a ton of money on a shift to on-line reporting late in the 1990's -- heck, I cashed some of the checks -- but it didn't help. As you can guess, a parade of owners followed.

Now, I wonder if the Sporting News is taking one last shot at glory. It has introduced an all-digital, daily edition. It mails the link to "subscribers" each morning. Supposedly it is at least 24 pages per day, and it's free. Take a look at it by clicking here. The idea is to be a national morning publication, like "The National" of the early 1990's which died in part because of high distribution and publication costs. Well, that's not an issue here.

It's a good-looking publication, with some valuable information. There's a little too much football of all types in it, especially in the front, but that's just me. I wish it would be easier to print, and you really need a good-sized screen to read it without blowing up the type, but overall it's a pretty good start.

In the meantime, issue one on Wednesday announced that the weekly publication will be come a bi-weekly publication in the future. And that makes me seriously wonder if it's the last step toward extinction for a print product. How can it compete with the gorillas in the room, the weekly Sports Illustrated and the bi-weekly ESPN the Magazine? Sport magazine had that problem and died a while back.

Has the Sporting News jumped from dinosaur to trend-setter, or is this just another step in the decline and fall of a once-great product? This is where the wise commentator says, "Only time will tell." But it's easy to root for a publication with roots back to the 19th century. How many are left?

Or have you not seen the Saturday Evening Post in your mailbox lately?

Monday, July 21, 2008

A slow death

It was called to my attention today that the Cheektowaga Times passed away last month. This strikes a chord with me, because I'm one of the many graduates of that publication.

The Times began in the late 1940's. Its editor, Willard Allis, was known for his feisty backing of Republican viewpoints in a generally Democratic town. It used to hire reporters/editors from the local dailies to come in once a week and help put together the paper, supplying them with a little extra spending money.

After I got out of college I worked for the Cheektowaga Examiner, the competition for a while, in 1978. We used to make fun of the Times, speaking as worldly 23-year-olds, as it looked like it should have been printed in the 1940's in terms of layout. Well, the Times got a last laugh. The Examiner was sold and then folded.

Fast forward to 1994, when I was unemployed and answered an ad for a reporter at the Cheektowaga Times. The mother of one of my interns with the Buffalo Sabres was the editor of the paper, and I got hired ... for all of three months. Mr. Allis had died, and Mrs. Allis (a very nice woman) came in once in a while to check up on her investment.

I was older than the rest of the youthful staff at that point, and they didn't think I particularly fit in with them well. But the editorial freedom was unmatched. I wrote some stories that won some awards in the state competition. And the editor essentially let me write anything I wanted as long as she didn't get sued and the basics were covered. It was great fun to turn into a smart-aleck political columnist for a while.

The Buffalo News came calling that fall, and I left the $6 per hour job for much greener pastures. But when the Times did an anniversary issue a few years later, someone called to do a story on my memories of the place. So I guess I left on good terms.

I don't get to Cheektowaga much, and I missed the story in June that it had folded without any notice. One of the Allis children, I guess, decided to pull the plug. Here's the funny part, though. If you go to the Cheektowaga Times on line, it's still there. The news content hasn't been updated, but you allegedly can still buy a subscription or look at some ads. And the all-Times softball team is at six weeks of publicity on the Web site, and counting.

It's always sad to see a newspaper die. At least in the case of this one, its death on line is occuring in slow motion.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The best laid plans

Sometimes a writer has a wonderful idea for a blog entry ... and then watches it go down the drain.

Such is the case today.

In an ideal world, this would have been a celebration of a British Open victory by Greg Norman. The golfer was hoping to becoming the oldest player to ever win a major championship, and by quite a few years at that. He came up a few shots short, as defending champion Padraig Harrington earned another title with a fabulous back nine.

But wouldn't it have been a great story? I was all set to compare Norman to, all of people, George Foreman.

Big George was proof that American lives sometimes have second acts. The first time around, he was Fearsome George, best known for wilting under Muhammad Ali's rope-a-dope in a championship fight in Zaire. Foreman, of course, played the dope. Foreman took a few years off in retirement, came back, and redeemed himself when he won the heavyweight championship at the age of 45. Fearsome George become Smiling George, and not just because those grills earned him nine figures in revenues.

Norman won a couple of major championships in his time, but he is best remembered for some that got away despite having late leads. In other words, when it came to closing, Norman wasn't exactly Mariano Rivera. He somewhat faded out of golf to take care of business interests for a while, recently met and married Chris Evert, and decided to play in the British Open while on his extended honeymoon as a tuneup for some senior events. It might have been a small surprise if he had made the cut, mostly because of his recent lack of competitive golf.

Norman surprised everyone by leading after 54 holes. He didn't win, but he finished in a tie for third and impressed everyone along the way.

What's more, he gave hope to everyone born in 1955 that their best athletic days aren't completely behind them.

And speaking as a member of that '55 club, it's nice to be able to thank him for that.

I just wish I had more to thank him about. But that's the blog business.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

It's my blog, and I'll cry if I want to

The members of the rock group Rush did their first television interview in more than 30 years on July 16, appearing on the Colbert Report on Comedy Central.

As the owner of practically every CD the band has produced in the past three decades, I feel obligated to post the interview here.

I'm not their biggest fan, but I might be one of their oldest.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A toe in the water

Murray Chass was at one point one of the top baseball writers in the country, doing ground-breaking work for the New York Times. He really was one of the first reporters to write about the business side of the business, and did it pretty well. Make that very well.

Somewhere along the line, though, he became a little old-fashioned in his approach (in other words, the Bill James revolution didn't interest him, among other things). And he seemed to develop a pro-New York bias. I remember one column in which he practically wrote a playoff preview for the Yankees ... in about June, when the pennant race was still very close and obviously a ways from being decided.

I'm not sure what circumstances led to this, but Chass now is the main author at murraychass.com. It just debuted this week, and it's off to a flying start in a manner of speaking. Here's how he starts the introduction:

"This is a site for baseball columns, not for baseball blogs. The proprietor of the site is not a fan of blogs."

OK, well, there goes the target audience. Then there is this little gem:

"Otherwise, this site will most likely appeal primarily to older fans whose interest in good old baseball is largely ignored in this day of young bloggers who know it all, and new- fangled statistics (VORP, for one excuse-me example), which are drowning the game in numbers and making people forget that human beings, not numbers, play the games."

Always good to tell readers how they should be enjoying the game. And finally, there's this little quote:

“I have spent my professional life in the print world, where obscenities don’t see the light of day,” Chass said. “They will remain in the dark here as well. It will be a good test for bloggers and Red Sox fans to see if they can control themselves.”

What was that about a pro-New York (meaning anti-Boston) bias? And does this beg the question, did Chass quote himself in the third person in his own blog?

Yeah, I'll be visiting here a lot.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The steal sign

About time I stole something from Mike Harrington's "Inside Pitch" baseball blog at the Buffalo News, especially after he gave me such a nice plug today.

Mike posted a video to the tune of the 1960's song, "Meet the Mets." It's a classic sports theme song, catchy and memorable at least to people who follow the team. I had the original 45 rpm single when I was about 8 or 9 or so and living in New Jersey. I cleverly left it and all my other 45's behind when I came home from freshman year of college. D'oh!

By the way, my friend Glenn says he thought the song was called "Beat the Mets."

The sick part is, I still know all the words.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Best newspaper correction ever

This has made the rounds of the national sites, but it's too good not to share here. It's from Thursday's Newsday:

July 10, 2008
Jason Simonetti is a Mets fan. A story Tuesday said he was a Yankees fan.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Speaking of the Aud...

A Buffalo News blog just asked the question, "What would you take from Memorial Auditorium if you had the chance?" (Gee, where did Mike Harrington get that idea?)

Someone posted a link to a Web site that's filled with fairly recent pictures of the inside of the place. You can see it here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Take Five

1. Took a trip to the waterfront last week to check out Buffalo's new Commercial Slip. It's a nice first step, with a great deck next to the waterfront that's perfect to watch the world go by on a nice day. Funny how people drove there to just walk around. People seem to enjoy waterfront access; you'd think we would have figured that out by now.

By the way, if you visit that area, make sure you take a walk around Memorial Auditorium one last time. I even took a picture. There is a fence around it, but it's still nice to see the place. I guess the Aud will be torn down starting in October. Most of us have a lot of memories of the building. Considering how much time I spent there in the 1970's, it was only fitting that I had a key to the place in the late 1980's and early 1990's.

2. On the way back from the waterfront, I drove past the site for the proposed downtown casino. As my wife and I circled the construction area, I said, "It's going to be tough to stop this from happening now." Three days later, the Senecas lost a court decision on it. There goes my Mensa membership.

3. Talk about ESP (and ESPN): In a column just before Wimbledon, Bill Simmons wrote: "If I guaranteed you that the 2008 Wimbledon men's final would be the best tennis match of the past 20 years, would you watch it? Amazingly, many sports fans would say no."

Naturally, the Wimbledon final may have been the best match ever, as Nadal beat Federer in five fabulous sets. It might take an American to care much about tennis any more, and even then it's easy to wonder. We'll see if the game gets a bounce from this finish. You can read all of the Simmons story, including some suggestions on how to improve tennis, here.

4. If you watch ESPN, and in particular "The Sports Reporters," you've come across some sort of advertisement for CDW. The guy in question is on a desert island, and he's worried about his computer security. So he talks on his computer back to the home office. I don't understand the problems faced by the character, and I don't understand the point of the ads. Makes me feel out of touch.

Speaking of ESPN ads, that head-scratcher was followed by the latest in a series of Verizon/ESPN ads, in which people are interviewed like they are the stars of a game, even though they simply watched highlights on their phones. One was named MVP of a baby or wedding shower, the other was interviewed after a ambulance ride. I'd prefer people in ambulances (either the patients or the medical care team) to worry about health problems and not fantasy teams, thank you.

5. Almost four years ago, Suzanne Taylor wrote an article on Joe Kolodziej and his attempts to bring minor-league hockey to Western New York. For starters, it is a fascinating story, so take your time and read it. What's more, I've heard that Joe is said to be unhappy that the full story is posted on the Internet. Gee, can't understand why. (Footnote: He even wrote me via e-mail and said to contact him directly if I wanted the full story. I think his discussion should be with the author.)

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Hat in the ring...

A college friend of mine was famous for his funny letters.

Now he's branched into video.

Those Obama and McCain guys are toast.