Monday, July 29, 2013

On Mount Rushmore

Every so often, ESPN does something silly like ask America who should be on our sporting Mount Rushmores. This is usually broken down into states and big cities, since doing so for the entire country probably would be a little diffuse. And, it is usually done in the summer, somewhere between the end of the NBA Finals and the beginning of NFL training camps.

All right, I'm a little late to the party. The Bills had their first training camp practice Sunday.

Still, the question is fun to consider. In case someone starts building a sports equivalent of Mount Rushmore in between the two falls at Niagara Falls (I'm thinking tourism and not geology in this case), who should be the four people on it?

It's relatively to come up with the ground rules. It can be anyone connected with local sports, but there's only four winners. Splitting up the sports is a nice touch but not absolutely necessary.

The Bills get first crack at it. It's fair to say that O.J. Simpson would have been on it at one point. It's also fair to say I'm not sure we need a tourist attraction with his face on it at this particular time. Luckily, we have other candidates. Ralph Wilson brought the Bills here and kept them here for more than 50 years, and he deserves credit for that. Still, I'm not sure owners belong on the mountain, which - jumping ahead a bit - means Seymour Knox of the Sabres won't make it. Marv Levy is clearly the greatest Bills coach in history, and maybe the best Buffalo coach ever. If the space by the Falls was a little bigger, we'd have an argument.

After some thought, I'd start with Jim Kelly. Quarterbacks have the biggest impact on the game, and Kelly was one of the all-time best. If you wonder how tough it is to find someone like that, consider the revolving door at the position since he left. Jack Kemp deserves consideration with his two titles, but Kelly's body of work probably is more impressive. I'd put Kemp with Bruce Smith and Thurman Thomas.

The Sabres are next, and at least we know who the two finalists are. Gil Perreault and Dominik Hasek are clearly the best candidates. Perreault helped establish the credibility of the franchise and was exciting from the first day to the last. Hasek might have been the best goalie ever if you needed to win one game. In other words, he didn't have the best career ever, perhaps yielding to Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy or Terry Sawchuk. But Buffalo was attacked by raging hockey hoards from Montreal, Boston or Toronto, I'd want Hasek on my side. Still, Hasek's exit was clumsy, so Perreault gets a narrow win here.

How about basketball? The best pro player to ever call Buffalo home was Bob McAdoo, while two obvious college standouts were Bob Lanier and Calvin Murphy. McAdoo was a comet, an absolutlely thrilling performer during his days with the Braves. The rest of the country doesn't remember how good he was in those days, but we know. But I'd take Lanier's longevity over McAdoo's brilliance in terms of a sculpture. Besides, Lanier was born here, raised here, and went to college here. That earns him some points.

Then there's the fourth spot. Buffalo hasn't been a major league city very often in baseball, and I would doubt that Pud Galvin and Dan Brouthers deserve a spot on the mountain for their work in the 1880s. The Bisons haven't had anyone long enough to make a huge impact in the modern era; it's the nature of the business. If I needed a baseball player, I would lean to Warren Spahn, who was raised here and went on to have the best career of any left-handed pitcher in history. Still, he left town after he was finished with high school, and I'd like more of a connection.

We've still got an open spot on the hill, and I think I would pick John Tavares of the Bandits. He has been here since 1992, and he has set records in indoor lacrosse that may never fall. Tavares has become a consensus pick as the best player ever in his sport, and how many people with Buffalo connections ever can say that? I'm a little biased because I cover the sport, and I know some would never put a lacrosse player on such a mountain, but his career is unmatched.

So, I've got Kelly, Perreault, Lanier and Tavares, although I could be convinced to replace Tavares with Levy. You may disagree. Come to think of it, I hope you do.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013


I distinctly remember the words of my co-worker Jim Kelley one time, talking about the business of journalism.

A member of the Buffalo Sabres had told him directly that he had not asked for a trade to another team. Then Kelley discovered that the player had indeed asked to go elsewhere.

Kelley was incensed. To paraphrase Jim's argument, he said that people speaking for the public record could dodge a question, say no comment, hem and haw, etc. But, as he put it, "just don't lie to me."

No, that should be put another way. "JUST DON'T LIE TO ME!"

If you look at the rage issued by the nation's sports commentators in the past couple of days, you can see that they agree with Jim. Ryan Braun lied to them, lied to the fans, lied to everyone when it came to performance enhancing drugs. The fallout is one big mess. Braun accepted a suspension for the rest of the season, admitting he had taken PEDs in the Biogenesis probe.

You might remember how Braun had tested positive on a sample from the fall of 2011. An investigation showed that the specimen hadn't been handled in a completely proper way, and thus had to be thrown out. Braun then protested the entire episode, and continued to proclaim his innocence loudly to anyone who would listen.

And now this, complete with a statement with the comment, "I realize now I have made some mistakes."

There aren't many winners here. Many other major leaguers have commented that they are glad Braun was punished for his actions, so the MLB office gets credit for concluding this case relatively quickly.

On the other hand, Braun has a completely ruined reputation. He's done for the rest of this year, and when he gets back, his life on road trips is going to be, um, difficult. I'd say the good citizens of Milwaukee might not give him a warm welcome, but I remember San Francisco's fans not caring too much about Barry Bonds' situation as long as he was hitting home runs for the Giants.

The Brewers might be an even bigger loser. They picked Braun to be the face of the franchise in the form of a nine-figure contract, and Braun will get most of it in the years to come. The team had a choice of keeping either Braun or Prince Fielder, because they couldn't afford both. If they had to do over again, what would they do now?

If you think this case interesting, consider the angles of the Alex Rodriguez case. A-Rod already has admitted previous PED use, and reports have leaked out that the case against him is stronger than the one against Braun. Rodriguez's body has become more and more injury-prone in the past few years, and his huge contract mixed with a lack of production continues to be an anchor around the franchise. Are the Yankees quietly hoping that somehow A-Rod receives a lifetime ban from baseball? There's a history-making event that we didn't see coming a while ago.

Meanwhile, the pennant races go on, and several other players are at least possible targets of the Biogenesis probe. That could affect the pennant races in bizarre ways, such as having players who are appealing decisions take part in September and October games.

The other players would do well to remember the words of Jim Kelley. Just don't lie to me.

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Tied up in cable

Here's something to do when lounging around in a hot summer day: Make up a list of your favorite utilities, in reverse order of how much you hate them. Electricity, heat, etc.

I'll wait.

Was the cable company at the top of the list? I thought so.

Customer service is the usual problem. If something goes wrong with the power, there's a good chance that you'll can call a phone number and have someone at least understand the situation. But traditionally, that's never true about your favorite cable television outlet.

Here's today's real-life example.

The New York Mets played the Pittsburgh Pirates today. The game was not on SportsNet New York, which is owned by Time Warner Cable. It was on WPIX in New York City, but out-of-town cable systems can pick up the broadcast and show it on another station. In this case, the game was on Channel 87, which is a local access channel that usually shows the ARTS network. This station broadcasts opera videos among other items; it is nothing if not restful.

Once David Wright replaced Maria Callas at 1 p.m., we were ready with baseball ... with one problem. The sound level of the broadcast was basically a whisper. Our television goes from 1 to 100 in sound, and 100 wasn't loud enough. Obviously, there was a problem with the feed into the cable system as all of the other channels were fine.

Experience teaches us much about dealing with a cable problem on a Sunday afternoon. The first issue will be talking to an actual person who knows what he or she is talking about. It's not exactly easy to find a number that doesn't have a recording in such circumstances. Lots of "call during business hours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m)" or something.

But if you do get through, you can bet that he or she won't be able to solve the problem too easily. And that was the case today, and the person on the other end of the phone had us try some techniques with the converter that were doomed to failure.

Admittedly, it's fair to say the phones weren't ringing off the hook at the home office. I don't know what percentage of people can even get Channel 87, since a converter is needed. And, not many of those people are interested in seeking out a Mets' broadcast under most circumstances. Anyone eager to see the game probably gave up after thinking of picking up the phone and moved on to the two other games on the dial.

At our house, we turned up the volume - closed captioning wasn't even working - and did the best we could. At least there was a partial happy ending for the Mets' fan of the house, as the New York beat Pittsburgh.

In the meantime, the cable company dropped further down the national rankings for monopolies. You wouldn't think you could fall further than last.

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