Saturday, October 31, 2015


This is the one time of year when all four of the major sports leagues are in action at the same time. Hockey is a few weeks into its season, Basketball recently started, Football--incredibly-is at the midway point, and Baseball in the World Series.

The success of the leagues with the enormous salaries paid to its athletes, the extensive media coverage, and the now pervasive fantasy league spinoffs, indicates just how important sport is to the people who follow the games. It has been a while since I was a fanatic Met fan, but my New York cronies who are still supporters, are not too far short of crazy worrying about the team. I get it. If it were not for the fan enthusiasm there would be no espn, and I could not-tomorrow (I actually will not, but could) watch football from 9:30 in the morning until close to midnight.

So, fandom is real. People revel in sports. Baseball is called the national pastime. All sports are pastimes for so many.

All this is preamble.

I have found myself this season very much caught up with the New England Patriots. I have always been a fan, but now the feeling is more intense.  Last Sunday I had to listen to half the game on the radio. That was okay, but I timed the drive home so I could listen to the first half while on the road and get into the house in time for the third quarter. I did not want to miss a play.

The Patriots are undefeated and I find myself fist pumping after each victory more than ever.  It's not because I have become long in the tooth and really not because I am any more of a football fan than I had been previously. In fact, tomorrow the Patriots are not playing and I probably won't watch any of the four games that will be broadcast from beginning to end. I'm not that interested in the games in general. I am interested only in the Patriots winning.

And here is why.

Last year after the Patriots won the AFC championship game the fans of the team were (yes I am aware of the pun) deflated. We were deflated because of one of the more fakakta incomprehensible sporting side stories of all time.  Instead of being able to enjoy the victory and excited about the superbowl, we had to listen to losers whine about why they lost.  Moreover, we had to endure listening to the support of the commissioner of the league, who was leading the way of a spurious investigation.

The celebration after the superbowl victory was subdued as well as the "independent" investigation continued. I wrote throughout the off season that I feared that the commissioner had a smoking gun that would identify the Patriots as compromising the game. Otherwise why would he be so persistent. He had to know this was a blow to the fandom.

There was no smoking gun. The investigation took forever and when the dust cleared it became clear to anyone who had a half a brain, that there was absolutely no evidence that the Patriots had done anything wrong. Even the absurd allegation that the quarterback was "more likely than not" "generally aware" of someone else's transgressions could not be supported. No proof of transgressions. No proof of someone being "generally aware" of someone's transgressions.

The reason I want the Patriots to win so much is to take the face of the commissioner and rub his snout in the foulest of odors.  Fandom is what makes the league, and the tv contracts, and the players' salaries. Fandom is what makes the commissioner a very rich man and the owners very rich.  Fandom is why from 930 tomorrow morning until midnight advertisers will pay more for one thirty second ad than you or I will make in several years.

So, I want the Patriots to win all their games and then have the commissioner have to stand on a podium and hand over the trophy to the team he dragged through the mud. And I want him to experience the wrath of the people who pay his salary.

That would be justice.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Three Days in August--Review

I've had this book on my bookshelf for quite some time.  I was looking for something appropriate to read for these days so I pulled it out and dusted it off.

Three Days in August is about baseball, specifically three days in the life of Cardinals former manager Tony La Russa. La Russa has been an effective manager wherever he has been employed. Buzz Bissinger the author of Three Days in August and also the author of Friday Night Lights, had taken a liking to La Russa so he thought to write about the manager's approach to the game and the game itself.

While the book is primarily about a three game series with the Cubs in August 2003, there are digressions to events in the past that relate to players and coaches in the 2003 series. For the most part, though, this is an inning by inning analysis of what takes place--from the manager's perspective--during a ballgame.

I love baseball. It was the first game my dad explained to me and I can remember taking a book out of the library written for kids about the nuances of the game. I was only about 8 but I came as close to studying the book as I studied anything as an 8 year old. I had pictures of the New York baseball Giants scotch taped to the wall in my bedroom.  I follow the Red Sox ardently and was a crazy lunatic New York Mets baseball fan when I was still living in New York.

With all that, I found this book too dense and detailed. Yes, it was interesting to know what La Russo was thinking when he was deciding about a hit and run, or how pitchers are looking for very specific portions of the plate for specific pitches, but, even for a fan, it seemed too much.

Bissinger writes very very well. Friday Night Lights, the book, is probably the best sports book I have ever read and I have read many sports books.  It is just a terrific depiction of Texas high school football. Just a great read. His writing abilities make this book as good as it is. His love for the game and respect for those who understand its intricacies comes out of nearly every page.

Still despite the excellent writing, you will have to love baseball a lot to love this book. I think that if you spent your life as a coach you, too, might love the book.  And, if you just want to get a better sense out of Tony La Russa you will find the book valuable. I have a much better sense of the type of man he is after reading the book. In that way, a goal of Three Days in August has been met.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Fetzey Second

Mom and Dad

You used to tell me that when I was a tot I said my birthday was "october fetzey second".  It was the Fetzy second yesterday.  I missed your phone call.  I took this picture mid day. It's what I look like now.

All is well.  Saw Bobby last weekend. We were in Florida dealing with the bankers, insurance agent, plumbers, and assorted others.  Let me tell you, you did not pick the brightest bankers in the world. Between the three big shots there (not the low life tellers) none could figure out how to open the safe deposit box. There is an expert who was not there who will return on Monday.  Great.  Just cost the two of us another grand to fly down there and get the box.

The plumbing company you contracted for came out for the sink filter.  The instructions you wrote about how to change the filter must not have been accurate. Bobby almost got a hernia trying to yank the filter out.  We called the plumber who himself nearly collapsed and he had some tools.  Also, we discovered "extended" plumbing does not extend to the plumbing we needed to address.  So, ka-ching for the plumber.

Saw Wally and Ona and Brownie.  Went out to dinner and regaled each other with tales of Chicopee. Your names, of course, invoked with genuine reverence.

Matt called me yesterday. Jack is great and Sophie is right behind him.  Jack is in first grade now and wowing the elementary school.  Sophie into everything.  Shannon and Matt broaden the dimensions to multi-tasking. Last week Matt finished work, drove to Bordentown, trained to Brooklyn, ran a half marathon, and then joined Bobby and his clan at MSG for a hockey game.

We went through a box of cards you had in the closet.  Did you keep everything? Everytime we are down there, we find some nook where there are cards and photos.  You two were really love birds.  So beautiful in your letters to one another.  Found photos I had never seen before.

Still hear people around the complex speaking about how special you are.

Mets are in the World Series.  Patriots are undefeated. Leaves are falling. Starting to get chilly up north.

It was a happy day yesterday except every so often--as I do on non birthdays as well--I figure I will have a chance to talk with you.

I hope you can read this.  I doubt it, but as you would often say, dad, "what the hell do I know?"

Shabbat Shalom.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Hail to the Victors Valiant?

If you are a sports fan and have been around the track a few times you've seen some startling endings to games.  Not sure anyone has seen a more stunning ending than the conclusion of the Michigan State//MIchigan game last evening.

I have a friend whose son went to Michigan. In June he starts talking about the Wolverines and assessing the team's chances. He once flew on New Years day morning, across country for a Rose Bowl game in which Michigan competed, and took the red eye that night back to New York after the game ended.  I figure my friend, Gary, is still sitting like a statue with his mouth open now ten hours after last night's game's end.

Michigan State and Michigan are intense rivals.  Michigan State is undefeated. Coming into last night Michigan had only one loss.  Big game.  100,000 people in the stands. Hail the Victor's Valiant, the Michigan fight song blasting from the band throughout the contest.

With seconds left in the game Michigan held what appeared to be an absolutely insurmountable two point lead.  It was fourth down at around the fifty yard line and Michigan had the ball.  Punt it away and the nine seconds on the clock would evaporate. MSU did not even have a returner ready to catch the punt. They were coming in for the block in a one in a million attempt to block the punt, grab the rebound, and run into the endzone.

No block was necessary.  The nine seconds evaporated alright.  The Michigan punter dropped the snap and then fumbled and bumbled the ball into the hands of an MSU defender who ran into the endzone. End of game. Michigan State wins. Victors Valiant, Not.

Trust me, Believe me. (1) The punter for Michigan did not sleep last night.(2) The punter called his mama last night. (3) My friend Gary is not happy.

For those who wonder about the inherent value of sport vs. the value derived from betting on the game, the peculiar outcome did not affect bettors who, mostly, bet against the spread. Michigan was giving about 6 points. So win by two or lose by 4 you still are a betting loser if you bet on Michigan.  All those people who cheer for MSU and are dancing in the street still, are not doing so because they won a bet--they would have won anyway.  They are dancing because of how much sport can affect the joy in one's life.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

One and Done

The phrase "one and done" means different things to sports fans depending on the season and context. In the NCAA tournament one and done means that a loss in the tournament results in a team's elimination.  In the world of college basketball recruiting, one and done refers to outstanding players who compete for a college for one year and one year only, before leaving school (to whatever extent they were "in" school) to play professionally. Their college careers are one year, and done.

In the world of baseball, the wildcard playoff games--which concluded last night--one and done means that the four teams that are eligible to play for a championship by virtue of winning the wildcard berths, play a one game, winner-take-all contest to determine which team advances.

There are some baseball followers, especially those in New York and Pittsburgh this morning, who contend that one and done games in the baseball playoffs are cruel ways to end a season.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, for example, won 97 games during the regular season.  They had the third best record in all of baseball.  The Chicago Cubs won 98 games, the second best record in baseball.  However, because they played in a division that was home to the Cardinals, a team that won one hundred games, both the Cubs and Pirates had to play a one and done game last night. The Pirates lost, so they are done.

Is this fair?  Does it make sense that now there are eight teams left in the baseball tournament, none are the Pittsburgh Pirates, and of the remaining teams, six of the eight have records far inferior to the Pirates' record?

I might feel differently if I lived in Pittsburgh now or cheered for the Yankees--another one and done victim-albeit a victim with not nearly the stellar record of the Pirates.   However, my sense as a sports fan and commentator is that one and done in the baseball playoffs is fair and essential for the league.

Three years ago baseball had one wild card team per league.  The three division leaders in each league were automatically eligible to compete for the championship. A fourth team--a wild card--was eligible and that team was selected on the basis of the best record among teams that had not one its division.

So, there were four teams in each league competing.  The victor of one three out of five playoff series, would play the victor of another three out of five series, with the successful teams playing a four out of seven series to determine which team would represent the league and compete for the world series.

The problem with this format was that the Wild Card team--that had NOT won a division after 162 games--competed in the playoffs at essentially the same level as a team that had been victorious in its division.

The baseball regular season is a seven month competition to determine who can advance to play for a championship.  It must mean something to prevail within your division after seven months of competition. The reward for such success is that you do NOT have to play in a one and done game.  At the very least you compete in a three out of five series.

So the Pirates and Cubs were obliged to play one and done, because they could not, after seven months, overcome the Cardinals.  If a team wants to avoid the pressure of having to play a one and done series, the burden on them is to compete diligently all season long to ensure they win a division.

This is not to suggest that the wild card teams do not compete diligently. The Cubs, Pirates, Yankees, and Astros--this year's four wild card teams--did indeed play hard. But they did not win the division.  Baseball purists and those old enough to remember the Doors and Watergate, know that there was a time when no matter how stellar your season was, you did not advance to a championship series unless you won your league, let alone a division within your league.  Before 1969, only two teams advanced.  No wild cards, no division playoffs, just a world series.  Two teams out of twenty played for all the fruits of victory.  That is ten percent for those mathematically challenged. Now ten teams out of thirty are eligible. Thirty three percent for those who spaced out during arithmetic.  So, the Pirates and the Cubs and the Yankees and the Astros would not have gotten a whiff of post season play if not for the present format.

I like one and done. It rewards the teams that prevail during a long regular season and yet it still gives an opportunity to close pursuers.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Saturday night live

When I was an undergraduate, an evening out usually started at around 9 or 10.  There was a particular establishment that did not really get hopping until midnight, such that if you arrived at 10 you would be all by your lonesome. Two hours later you could not gain purchase on the floor as there were so many students in the joint that you were, I am not exaggerating, often aloft among compressed bodies.

Last Saturday the brothers of old KB got together for a reunion of sorts.  There was a mixed atmosphere since the catalyst for the event was the death of a brother several years older than I.  While it was mostly a joyful time there was a eulogy for the fellow who has passed.  The son of the deceased joined us.

The composition of the gathering was such that I sat at the table with the "young guys"--every single one of the young guys eligible for social security.  And several of the older guys were people I had never met.   There was not a soul in the entire room we reserved that had both (a) color in his hair, or (b) hair.  If you were peddling a membership in the hair restoration club or dye, you would have come to the right spot for customers.

Another thing I noticed was, whereas in prior reunions several brothers brought their spouses, the only women in that room were wives of brothers who had married their last college squeeze. In some cases, the girlfriends--now wives-- had dated other brothers in attendance before wedding their dance partner when the music stopped.

It was very good to see my old buddies.  We told old stories, recounted favorable athletic successes, discussed our health, and mused sadly about those of us who were no longer around. A frequent inquiry at this reunion was "are you retired, yet" followed by either "when did you retire" or "when are you going to retire?"

I still find myself smirking about the most amusing thing about the night.  Instead of us starting out the evening at 9, most of us were saying our goodnights at 9.  My buddy Kenny and I were the last to leave and we were out the door about 9:45 around the time when we would begin cavorting when we were kids. The guy who planned the program knew very well who he was dealing with. Cocktail hour did not start at 9, it started at 5. We were seated at 630. They brought out the cake at 830.  Even the young guys started yawning a half hour later.

Kenny and I went out afterwards for a nightcap. After one drink I told him I was falling asleep.  I did not come close to making it until midnight.