Friday, May 28, 2010

Blasts from the past

All the research I've been doing into Buffalo's sports history lately got me to wondering. Where exactly were Buffalo's first pro baseball parks?

Luckily, I still have a copy (actually two) of the late Joe Overfield's book, "The 100 Seasons of Buffalo Baseball." Joe knew everything there was to know about the subject, and I had the pleasure of talking to him several times in the Bisons' press box.

Armed with the book, I went exploring the other day. The first facilty was Riverside Park, on the block bounded by West, Fargo, Vermont and Rhode Island. The picture on top of this page is what it looks like now.

Well, it doesn't look like anyone will be yelling "Play Ball!" on that block in the future. It's a few blocks from the Connecticut Street Armory, and was used from 1879 to 1883.

By the way, the team apparently did some practicing at what we now call Riverside Park. There is a small sign across the street from the park, overlooking the river, that talks about the history of the place. The script mentions the fact that the Bisons worked out there, and that batters loved to run the bases while overlooking the river. (There's a Web site that says the sign is in the northeast corner of the park, but it's not there. Trust me, I looked.)

Then the Bisons moved several blocks. Olympic Park hosted the team from 1884 to 1888. It's at the corner of Richmond and Summer.

A second Olympic Park was built at Michigan and Ferry in 1889. It was rebuilt in 1924 and stayed in use as Offermann Stadium through 1960.

Just a thought -- would it be worthwhile to put up a little sign on the sites, honoring Buffalo's professional baseball past?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Unhappy ending, again

I turned on my television at 12:30 late Sunday night, and saw something that sent me sprinting to get a video tape for recording purposes. Such an event is pretty rare, but this qualified.

The CBC has been showing Stanley-Cup clinching wins late Sunday nights for the past few weeks as a selling tool for the playoffs. It does the same thing for the Canadian Football League before the Grey Cup.

In this case, the game in question was Game Six of the 1975 final between the Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres, played in Buffalo. I had never seen the game before, and it was a bit startling to see it 35 years later. I worked at night at the beautiful Cousins III restaurant in Depew that summer in my college years, and thus missed a lot of playoff hockey in that memorable year.

A few observations came to mind after watching it this morning:

* That Gil Perreault fellow sure could skate back then. But the Flyers did a good job of not giving him much space. If Perreault got past one man, another was waiting.

* It's funny how Craig Ramsay and Don Luce looked a little slow to me. But then, after I watched a while, they were always around the puck. Those guys were really smart, I guess.

* The announcers said at the time that there was talk Punch Imlach might leave the Sabres after that playoff series. Never heard that one before. Punch was sitting with Harold Ballard and King Clancy at the game, but didn't go anywhere until he was pushed in 1978.

* The Flyers played like I remembered back then. They would commit five penalties, and figure only two or three would be called. And when penalties were called, Bernie Parent and the Philadelphia defense were good penalty-killers. Buffalo had four power plays in the first period but didn't score; it really turned the game around.

* It's a bit depressing to watch a game knowing your team is not going to score a goal at all. Two little mistakes made it a 2-0 Flyers' win.

* One interesting fact came out in the end -- the Flyers are the last team to win the Cup with an all-Canadian roster. Great trivia question.

* Danny Gallivan and Dick Irvin were the announcers. Boy, I miss Danny. A non-call by Bruce Hood was said to "infuriate" the fans of Buffalo. When the cameras showed some signs, Danny said that the Aud was "festooned" with banners. Who else would put it that way?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Taking names and...

If I live in Alabama, I'd be afraid not to vote for this guy...

Thanks for the tip, Brad Rider.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

They are off ... and losing

The story seemed to be the latest in a string of bad news.

"The New York Racing Association is running out of money and may have to shut down in less than three weeks, the day after the Belmont Stakes. One leading horseman described the situation as 'catastrophic' and said that even Saratoga -- the jewel
of New York racing -- could be threatened by the turmoil," read the report from The Associated Press.

New York Governor Paterson promised some stop-gap funding today, but pretty clearly horse racing continues to struggle.

For those with long memories, or who at least know a little history, stories like these are about 50 years in the making. Horse racing was covered like a sport in this country until the 1950's and 1960's. Newspapers had daily coverage of local tracks, and magazines highlighted the top races. It had been that was for decades.

Slowly but surely, everything changed. What happened? Plenty. Television was a major factor. Horse racing never could figure out how to use the medium as a promotional device. Indeed, the "marketing departments" of tracks had trouble doing much more than opening the gates. The audiences grew greyer, and young people never caught the habit. Off-track betting was designed to help the inevitable financial crunch, but it's easy to wonder if that was in the long term interests of the tracks. You don't have to go to the track any more, and park your car and eat, while betting. And you can bet at the best tracks and skip the ones with bad horses.

Then came the gambling explosion of the last 15 years or so. There are all sorts of lotteries, of course. It's tough to go to a metropolitan area without some sort of casino nearby. Buffalo has a few within driving distance. Betting the horses takes some work; it's not a case of pulling a lever and hoping three lemons come up in a row.

The sports media also has plenty of demands these days. Think of how football, basketball and hockey have grown in a half-century. Outside of the Triple Crown races and maybe a couple of others depending on the region, news outlets don't see the point in covering racing as a news event.

The race tracks have tried to level the playing field by getting slot machines on their property, and have done some marketing efforts. They have added some revenues into the pot and subsidized the racing operation.

Still, there are so many leisure dollars to go around, and states are having trouble coming close to balancing their budgets. The thought struck me that at some point, the government-related tracks are going to wonder why they need to keep a money-loser alive, instead of just keeping all the revenue from the money-producing end of the business.

In other words, how many more stories about possible track closures are we going to see in the months ahead?

Some great writers can wax for paragraphs about the beauty of the race track, particularly at sunrise when the horses go out for workouts. There are all sorts of characters and stories around the track, and it can be an interesting place to spend an afternoon. Go to Saratoga some day in August, and you'll find yourself in an atmosphere that resembles a county fair of the 1890's.

On the other hand, walking into most races tracks that features an unfilled grandstand is an almost spooky experience. It feels like walking into Memorial Auditorium just before it was demolished.

There are no guarantees in life, particularly in the business world. It's adapt or die, and the process can be painful to watch -- particularly as we reach the finish line.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

King James

What's next, LeBron?

That's the question that seems to be on the minds of NBA fans who aren't paying close attention to the final four playoff teams. Those fans, meanwhile, are keeping an ear open for news about the Cleveland Cavaliers.

James is a free agent, and the reigning most valuable player in the league. He can take off for any team with salary cap room in the league, or he can stay right in his hometown area of Cleveland with the Cavaliers.

James is quite a story. He came straight out of high school in 2003 and in a moment of serendipity was drafted by the nearby Cavs. He's grown into a great player in the past seven years, and Cleveland has tried to surround him with a worthy supporting case in order to make a run at a championship. The Cavs had never had a title-worthy cast before, and it figured to be a while before they did again if James left.

You have to wonder about how the team has gone about putting together that cast. This past year the big part of the puzzle was supposed to be Shaquille O'Neal, a formerly dominant big man. But now at the age of 38, and looking like someone who has been giving his personal chef a few too many orders, Shaq has seemed like a bad fit.

It's been like that for years. The Cavs have tried adding a variety of players, but they never seemed to be able to attract a deep roster. Part of the reason was that they were usually pretty good to very good once James arrived, and they never seemed to get too lucky when it came to their draft choices. But trades and signings did change much either.

James certainly has given the Cavs plenty of time, and he has shown a lot of loyalty toward northeast Ohio. So he could be justified for walking away and trying someone else.

And that will be a fascinating decision, since the money will be roughing the same -- a lot -- no matter where he goes. Chicago would seem to have the best chance at winning with James around. New Jersey offers an interesting opportunity, plus the New York market. Miami has Dwayne Wade and potentially Pat Riley. The Knicks have, well, New York.

We shall see. In the meantime, Cleveland's fans will feel a little anger, and a little disappointment for not capitalizing on a reasonably big window to grab the championship that has eluded the city since 1964.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

No more Marching

Yesterday afternoon, I picked up the ringing phone, said hello, and heard that moment of silence and slight confusion that indicates some sort of telemarker is calling. I said hello again once or twice, and the voice finally came on. She confirmed my identity and said she was from the March of Dimes.

Reading from the usual script, she thanked me for my past support and asked me if I would mail out envelopes to about a dozen of my neighbors, collect the donations and return them ...

"No thank you, I'm not interested," I said. I could hear the voice other end talking just before I hung up the phone. I used to feel guilty about hanging up on such calls. Then I read a magazine article about how time was money to telemarketers, and that I was doing them a favor by hanging up if there was absolutely no chance that they would get me to sign up for a particular product or service. I had visions of someone at the other end taking a pencil and crossing my name off the list of potential clients or customers or whatever the names are called.

Fast forward with me, now, all the way to this morning. I'm in the middle of one of those great sleeping periods that's almost blissful. And the phone rings. I take a moment to wake up a bit and figure out what's going on. Then I answer the phone.

"Mr. Bailey? I'm calling from the March of Dimes and I would to know ..." the voice said.

"I told you people yesterday that I'm not interested," I replied curtly.

"But we'd like to ask you to collect donations from your neighbors..." the voice continued.

"Didn't you listen to what I just said? And now, I'm going back to sleep," I said politely but firmly.

This time I heard the voice say, "I'm sorry," just before I hung up.

The next time the March of Dimes asks for a donation, I'm going to reach for my checkbook ... and write a donation to some other cause.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Enough already

If you've ever lived in a state or Congressional district that features a close race, you know how the phone calls and direct mail can come pouring in. A couple of years ago, we'd joke in the office about how Hillary Clinton's robo-call woke somebody out of a nap, or how Rudy Giuliani was nice enough to leave a message on the answering machine. That doesn't cover direct mail; you'd think the U.S. Postal Service wouldn't have to raise rates that often if elections were held more frequently.

May is not associated with this type of behavior. The only elections in sight in my neighborhood are the ones for the Buffalo School Board. Political parties aren't involved with those races, for whatever reason. But it seems at least one of the candidates has been taking notes from the big boys.

Over the last couple of weeks, I've gotten more phone calls concerning Jason McCarthy than I have from my wife. Some are locally produced, some have come from Texas or "out of area" according to Caller ID. Some are straight messages, some are disguised as push polls.

That last part was my favorite. On the 12th call, someone called up and asked who I was supporting. I gave a name. The voice said something like, "If I told you that Jason McCarthy was a innovator in education, filled with bright ideas for improving the board, good to his mother, and adopted stray dogs and nursed them back to health, would you say this would make you more likely to vote for him, less likely, or make no difference?" I said "no difference," but I was very tempted to say less likely because I was sick of hearing about him at this point.

The Buffalo News ran an article about the race, pointing out that some downstate group was pouring money into the race.

Now, I don't have any children in school, so I'm not vitally interested in the issues in the election. I've even not voted in the past, letting those with a stronger interest decide the matter.

But this was different. I became rather suspicious of someone who had that much money spent on his behalf in a school board race. Why would it mean so much to practice carpet-bombing campaign tactics? What's the full story here?

You can bet I took the walk to the neighborhood school today to vote ... for someone other than McCarthy. I have no idea if it will help, but I sure feel better.

P.S. McCarthy won. Darn.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

From the late shift

The other night, I was channel-hopping when I stumbled on a new-looking informercial by Dean Graziosi, alleged real estate guru, talking about how to pick up properties from banks, I believe. What caught my eye was a small disclaimer than ran at the bottom of the screen a couple of times within a few minutes.

I'm paraphrasing here, but here's the way it read more or less:

"Most people who did not take the course lost money on this activity. Yet of those who registered for the course, almost half made money."

Let's review here. For those who didn't take the class, more than 50 percent lost money on real estate ventures. For those who did sign up, more than 50 percent lost money on real estate venture.

Either Dean needs to be more specific on his numbers, or he needs a new writer ... because it sure sounds like his course doesn't affect the results at all. But send us your credit card number anyway.

By the way, here are some testimonials to his previous work.