Monday, January 26, 2009

The Biggest Joke in Sports

My ears are still ringing from the incessant blaring of the airhorn at Montreal's Bell Centre. That's because I watched the NHL All-Star Game, which produced a laughable 22 goals in regulation time.

The goal orgy is merely an extension of the trend: in the 1970's, the All-Star Game produced about 7 goals on average (combined total); by the 80's, 11 goals per game; and since 1990, the total has jumped to 16 goals per game.

Just for comparison's sake, the average NHL regular season game produces about 6 goals. In other words, the All-Star Game produced roughly 3.7 times more goals than a typical NHL game.

If this happened in baseball, we'd see All-Star Games with scores like 19-17. An NFL Pro Bowl, using the same factor (3.7 x regular season scoring average) would wind up looking like this: 85-80.

And some people would probably love it. But I'll submit that the real problem with the NHL All-Star Game is that the way the game is played is so radically different from the regular season.

Consider: the 2009 All-Star Game included exactly one hit (St. Louis forward Keith Tkachuk must have forgotten where he was). And the hooking penalty taken by Montreal's Mike Komisarek in overtime was the first All-Star Game penalty called in 9 years!

Look. I'm not claiming that NFL players display the same ferocity at the Pro Bowl that they employ on any given Sunday. Nobody plays much defense in the NBA anyway, and they sure don't ratchet it up for the All-Star Game.

But the NHL's "midseason classic" is way out of whack. Every time I looked up, another forward had parked himself in the crease, ready to slide in another goal. During the regular season, that sort of campout is an invitation for a mugging.

I love a gorgeous pass as much as the next hockey fan. I marvel at the offensive skills of the game's greats. But hockey is much more than a pass-and-shoot exhibition. It's a bit of a fraud to call that event in Montreal a "hockey game".

Monday, January 19, 2009

Can't the NFL Get It Right?

Before I get into my gripe, let me say this first: against all odds, I'm really looking forward to the Super Bowl. The relentless Steelers and the remarkable Cardinals make for a very compelling matchup.

But please, people: why can't the NFL get this replay business straight? Either ditch the whole system, or figure a way to actually make it work.

Latest case in point: 3:06 left in the first half of the Cardinals-Eagles NFC Championship game. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald has just scored (his 3rd TD catch of the half) to put AZ up 21-6, and ballsy Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt orders up a pop-up kickoff.

The ball might have touched the Eagles' Victor Abiamiri before digging in like a sand wedge shot, just barely inbounds, then squirting back toward the field of play. Arizona recovers the ball on the 30-yard line. It looks like a play that will break the Eagles' back--you can just see another Fitzgerald TD before halftime and maybe a 28-6 Cardinals lead.

But wait. The refs on the field ruled the ball out of bounds. It was pretty obvious from the live TV signal that the ball never went out (but unclear as to whether Abiamiri might have touched the ball while touching the sideline, which would have ended the play). No problem. Whisenhunt calls for a replay review.

But wait again. Under the NFL's Byzantine replay rules, this one can't be reviewed. Don't ask me to explain why. I can't.

I know this gets tiresome, but one more time: if the goal is to get the call right and this is necessary because everyone can see the wrong calls on TV, then why do we have some calls that are reviewable and others that aren't?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Look, I don't think Rickey Henderson is the greatest baseball player of all time. He's not even the best I ever saw (Willie Mays still holds that title).

But how can you explain leaving Rickey off your Hall of Fame ballot? I know one guy in Arizona says he goofed--just forgot to check Henderson's name before he sent in his ballot. OK, I'll take his word for that; mistakes happen.

But what about the other 27 voters who didn't put Henderson on their ballots? An oft-heard (and very lame) excuse is that they don't want to vote for someone in his first year of eligibility.

Excuse me? Either the guy belongs in the Hall, or he doesn't. How would one of these fools feel if some deserving Hall of Famer was hit by a bus and didn't live the extra year or two so they could get around to voting for him?

Look, Rickey Henderson had his faults. I always thought he should have been a better defensive player (he did win one Gold Glove, but that was at age 22), given his speed and instincts. And certainly, there are those who thought of Rickey as a selfish guy who worried more about Rickey than anything else.

But please. Rickey Henderson was, for most of his 25-year career, a major destabilizing force. He changed every game in which he played.

Best ever? Maybe not.

Automatic Hall of Famer? Absolutely.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

So Long, Al

How do you say goodbye to someone who's been a part of your life for so long you can't remember?

After 43 years on KCBS, Al Hart is putting a wrap on his long radio career. He's been a sort of "anchor emeritus" for the last 8 1/2 years, showing up only on Wednesday mornings to join us for our John Madden segment.

In a way, Al's been a little like one of those veteran ballplayers who, in the twilight of their careers, move from the starting lineup to the bench. Though they get fewer at-bats, they still contribute, often in ways that don't show up in the boxscore.

So how did Al contribute? He showed us all what it means to be a professional. Look, I'm not going to claim that Al hit every pitch out of the park or got to every fly ball, to keep up the analogy. Nobody does. But he did everything the right way. Wore the uniform right, got to batting practice on time, respected the rules. A pro.

Al would never throw his arm over your shoulder and tell you how to do your job. Not his style. But he was still a remarkable teacher and leader, just by force of example. This will sound funny now, but when I started at KCBS in 1982, I wore a coat and tie to work for years. Why would a radio guy feel the need to wear a coat and tie into the studio? Because that's how Al did it.

Like all of us, Al may have lost a step or two. It's the way things work.

But the example he set is as bright as it ever was. We'll miss the snickerdoodle cookies Al brought in every week, of course. But what we'll really miss is Al himself.

So long, Al. And thanks.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Uh-oh, It's Overtime

I'm a bit cranky today. My esteemed colleague Steve Bitker, who acknowledges his 2008 blog output was a mere shadow of mine, beat me to the punch with the first post of 2009. So I see how it's going to be in 2009. I'm going to have to dig deep, find out what I'm made of, etc.

Here goes: when will the NFL admit that its overtime rules are unfair? We're arguing about this again because the Chargers won the toss, then rode Darren Sproles' short legs on a touchdown drive to win the game. Peyton Manning never even got to fasten his chinstrap in reply.

You know I respect John Madden's opinion. He's forgotten more about the NFL than I'll ever know. But he, like many in the NFL community, continues to defend an obvious imbalance: More than a third of the time, teams that win the overtime coin flip score on their first possession.

John and others will argue that you don't deserve to win if your defense can't stop the other team. I happen to agree. So why is the NFL willing to let games end without requiring one team's defense to take the field?

I think I know why many are willing to live with the unfairness. The see the college/high school overtime scheme as the only option (alternate possessions, starting on the opponents' 25 yard line). I've always felt that system is imbalanced in favor of the offense and especially the kicker. Special teams are removed from the picture: there are no kickoffs and no punts.

But the NFL doesn't have to use the college rule. It could simply do this: change the rule so that each team gets at least one offensive possession in overtime. Imagine the scenario in San Diego: Chargers score, then have to decide whether to kick the PAT or go for two. They then kick to Indianapolis, and the Colts have to match the Chargers. If they can't, they lose.


And fair.