Category Archives: Football

How to talk to your kids about Richard Sherman

While trying to keep an open mind, I’ve been watching the arguments unfold the past couple of days in the wake of Richard Sherman’s bombastic remarks after the Seahawks defeated the 49ers in the NFC championship game.

Outrage was in abundance that night, with many football fans denouncing Sherman as an ungracious lout and vowing to root for the Broncos in the Super Bowl to spite him. (I’ve read, too, that there was a lamentable racist slant to many attacks on Sherman, although I  observed none from those I follow on Twitter.)

A contrarian view came up in response to the denouncers, and that is that it was “refreshing” that a player would speak so openly in an era of the NFL devoid of controversial figures.

My take?

I approach it the way my father did when teaching me about sportsmanship, and I hope I conveyed the same message to my own children: Compete as hard as you can. Never taunt, never boast, never gloat. When the game is over, be gracious in victory or defeat. Shake your opponent’s hand and say “good game.

That’s the code you follow to become a man (or woman).

I wouldn’t have to ask my father what he thought of Sherman’s outburst, and I’m sure my kids don’t have to ask me what I think.

 

 

 

 

Fond memories of Candlestick Park

As the final curtain of fog is about to go down on Candlestick Park, I’m grateful for my memories of the place.

I went to a smattering of Giants games at the ‘Stick in the mid- to late 90s, the first of which as I recall was against the Montreal Expos. That was the second National League game I had ever seen in my life.

I arrived in San Francisco from Seattle in 1993, a few months after Barry Bonds came over from Pittsburgh. Those were, presumably, pre-steroids days for No. 25, before he got caught up in the home run chase with immortality — and notoriety.

One of the quirky things about the Giants in those days was that they signed Dallas Cowboys’ star Deion Sanders to play the outfield alongside Bonds. I actually got to see Sanders play and somewhere in a shoebox I have a photo of him on the field shot from the upper deck behind home plate.

I went to one Dodgers-Giants game at Candlestick, and although the results of the game have faded from memory, those of the weather have not. With my wife and in-laws and maybe a child or two, we sat in the bright sunshine during the early innings that summer afternoon. By late in the game, we were huddling under blankets once the fog brought in a blast of cold air from the coast.

Although I never saw a football game there in person, on TV I watched many a 49ers game from there during the Steve Young era. Banner-towing planes that would circle the ‘Stick took off from Oakland Airport not far from our home in Alameda, and they’d be droning overhead as I’d listen to the games on radio while doing yard work on Sunday afternoon.

My San Francisco years overlapped with the renaming of Candlestick to 3Comm Park, a marketing change that, to my memory, no one in the Bay Area liked or embraced.

San Franciscans have warmly embraced AT&T Park as the home of the Giants, and they’ll take quickly to the 49ers new home being built down the peninsula in Santa Clara.

The ‘Stick has served San Franciscans well, and it will be missed. Mays and McCovey and Marichal and Montana were in their heyday there, but ultimately, the place will be remembered for its strange weather more than anything else.

 

 

 

 

 

Great Baseball Books: ‘How to Star in Baseball’ by Herman L. Masin

How to Star.jpbAn avid reader and aspiring ballplayer as a kid, I had one book in my hands more than any other: “How to Star in Baseball” by Herman L. Masin. That book was the Bible of Baseball to me. I studied its pages for hours and hours, reading up and memorizing the fine points of how to scoop up a grounder or turn the double play.

I still have my copy, and it’s one of the few things that I’d try to grab before running out of the house should it catch fire. The book is in a box in the attic, so I can’t verify the publication date at the moment. But it’s the late-1960s version with the cover showing Mickey Mantle finishing off what appears to be a home run swing. I bought the book through Scholastic Book Clubs, a mail-order service that sold and delivered books through my school.

Over and over I checked out Masin’s copious notes on hitting, fielding and throwing, poring over the pictures and studying the diagrams to get the mechanics down. Masin espoused the full windup for pitchers: step onto the rubber, rock back with both arms and bring them overhead, leading to a powerful turn and thrust toward the plate. And don’t forget the follow-through into fielding position, undoubtedly the best from-a-book advice I received in my brief stint as a schoolboy hurler. I even taught myself the hook slide from Masin’s book.

I never learned who the players depicted on the inside pages were, but from the few clues in the photos, I’m guessing they were of the St. John’s University team.

I knew nothing of Masin (in fact, I’d forgotten his name) until today, when a Google search quickly turned up his obituary. Surprisingly, he died recently, in 2010 at age 96. I had known Scholastic had also produced “How to Star in Basketball” and “How to Star in Football,” but I didn’t realize Masin was the man behind those and so many other publications.

“How to Star in Baseball” can be found on eBay and other websites, and you can probably come across a battered copy of the paperback in a flea market or used book store. It won’t be mine. It’s not for sale.

When I see a major-league player cavalierly catch the ball with one hand or half-ass it down the first base line while running out a grounder, I know that goes against the fundamentals Masin drilled into me. Next to my father, no one gave me as much valuable advice on how to play the game.

Who’s the more aggrieved Bay Area athlete – Alex Smith or Brian Wilson?

There’s nothing “tender” in the dispensing of major league contracts to baseball players. San Francisco last week declined to offer a contract to Brian Wilson, the fierce and funky closer who in 2010 helped the Giants win their first World Series since the franchise bolted New York for the West Coast.

Wilson has been rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.  He was grounded for the season after two early appearances in 2012, a year in which the Giants would again be champions. Although he wasn’t on the mound after April, he remained a spirited force in the dugout and clubhouse the entire season. His full bearded, goofy antics — playing organ on a teammate’s cap – were an integral part of the Giants’ personality for several seasons.

In the end, that meant bupkis.

Wilson reportedly is angry and ready to sign with another team, and who can blame him?

But is Wilson the most aggrieved athlete in the Bay Area? Consider Alex Smith, the 49ers quarterback who’s been benched after sustaining a concussion and having to watch Colin Kaepernick step in and lead the team to consecutive victories.

Wilson’s arm injury was serious and a second go-round, keeping him out of play essentially for a full season while Sergio Romo eventually took over as closer, was tested for weeks during the season and playoffs and was nearly flawless as the Giants swept the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.

Not to diminish the impact of his injury, but Smith suffered a concussion and wasn’t able to play for just two games.

Kaepernick, in his second season, stepped in. He took the snaps in a game when the Rams and 49ers tied, then performed phenomenally as the 49ers stomped the Bears on Monday Night Football. He did well again last weekend against the Saints.

It’s Coach Jim Harbaugh’s call to make, but I think he owes Smith better treatment.

Under Harbaugh’s direction, Smith emerged as an excellent quarterback in the 2011 season, taking the team to the NFC championship game. The game was lost in overtime when an inexperienced 49ers player botched a punt return in overtime; the Giants got the ball and kicked the winning field goal.

The 49ers have treated Smith shabbily over the years, and demoting him is just another kick in the pants. I actually think he’s getting a rawer deal than Wilson is. Wilson’s situation evolved; Smith’s changed suddenly.

Either way, I wish both players nothing but success in 2013, when they’ll both be wearing new uniforms.

The death of Art Modell, and a bitter aftertaste in Cleveland

Art Modell died early today, and that will dredge up a lot of memories – the bad far overshadowing the good – in my hometown of Cleveland. The Plain Dealer had it right that Modell was “forever vilified” after moving the Browns to Baltimore.

I had long since left Cleveland when Modell moved the team in 1996, so the experience wasn’t as bitter for me as it was for others. But it still gets under my skin.

I also found it a great irony that Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore, which itself had its primary franchise — the Colts — ripped from the hearts of its fans. One awful move begetting another.

Neither city deserved what happened, and Clevelanders deserve better than what the New Browns have given them. But at least they have a team.

 

 

 

 

Paving the way for women sports writers in the locker room

The Baseball Hall of Fame saluted a pioneering female sports reporter the other day in noting that a couple of her press passes from the late 1970s will be on display in a new exhibit on women in baseball.

The reporter was Melissa Ludtke, who was writing for Sports Illustrated during the 1977 World Series between the Yankees and the Dodgers. The Dodgers were going to let her into the locker room to do her job interviewing coaches and players. But Major League Baseball said no. Sports Illustrated and its parent company, Time Inc., sued and won, giving female reporters equal access to reporting from baseball locker rooms.

That controversy caused a commotion back in the late 70s as I was entering grad school in journalism. Although I’ve written hundreds if not thousands of sports stories over my career, I only set foot in a pro locker room once. And that was enough.

I was helping cover a Raiders-Packers game at County Stadium in Milwaukee, probably in 1982, when I was sent down from the press box to catch some quotes after the game. My impressions? Hey – there are a lot of naked guys in here snapping towels at each other, and it doesn’t really smell too good.

I was part of a cluster of reporters huddled around Raiders (they were the L.A. Raiders then) coach Tom Flores, who — I still remember with relief — was fully clothed. I also got to chat with Jim Plunkett, which was cool. I remember watching the locker room interviews on TV that night and telling my wife something along the lines of: “See that guy? HE’S TOTALLY NAKED.”

Suffice it to say I was not a big fan of cruising a professional sports team’s locker room for quotes. But that’s where much of sports reporting happens, and it was absolutely right and proper for baseball and the other pro sports to grant access to reporters who happened to be women.

While I got the Raiders assignment, a colleague got the opportunity to run quotes from the Brewers’ locker room during the 1982 World Series.  I can’t recall if it was she who told me or one of the other guys on the staff who was there. But as the reporter arrived, one of the Brewers’ relief pitchers spotted her and, pointing this way and that, said, “There’s a naked one.”

As intimidated and somewhat repulsed as I was at setting foot in the locker room, I can only imagine what my colleague, Melissa Ludtke and other women who dared to enter these man caves must have experienced. They had more guts than I ever did.

New York vs. Boston again – but I’m OK with that

On these posts I’ve complained, whined and kvetched about how America’s major television networks and the media overall are obsessed with the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry.

Super Bowl XLVI is upon us, and we have another Boston-New York matchup with the Patriots and Giants. The network executives must be mighty pleased that those two big northeastern markets are reprented, but NFL execs are always  pleased with whatever teams are playing.

The Super Bowl is the biggest thing in sports – in this country, anyway – and it will draw monster ratings even if Tennessee is playing Tampa Bay. The big game rules regardless of the market size of the competing teams.

In the NFL, talent is dispersed, dynasties are rare and most teams have at least a strong  hope every few years at getting a shot at glory. Except maybe the Cleveland Browns.

There’s a lesson for Major League Baseball in the NFL’s universal success. Football has unified national appeal. Baseball, while enjoying broad appeal nationwide, is at heart a region-by-region, market-by-market affair.  And the game pays a price for that.

My TV is too lame, so I can’t host a Super Bowl party

At a measly 36 inches on the diagonal, the low-def television set in our family room  is simply too pathetic for me even to begin thinking about inviting people over to watch the Super Bowl.

Our Toshiba is a hand-me-down from my brother. He gave it to us when he moved overseas back in 2001, when Tom Brady was in his second season with the Patriots and Eli Manning was making his mark at Ole Miss.

The TV darn near broke my back when I hauled it out of my brother’s New York City apartment and ‘rassled it  down the stairs to our family room in New Jersey. Muscle spasms aside, seeing that 36″ screen was a thrill  for somebody whose earliest television memory is of watching a modest black- and-white Admiral catch fire right as Mary Martin came onscreen in “Peter Pan” back in 1960.

The Admiral was replaced by a Zenith (“The quality goes in before the name goes on”), which was to be the set on which I would watch the first football game I can remember. That was the 1964 NFL championship game, in which my Dad and I watched the Cleveland Browns defeat the Baltimore Colts. Even that childhood TV experience was cut short. Electronic “snow” filled the screen late in the fourth quarter as the sun set and we lost the signal from the Toledo station carrying the game.

Although I’m sure it happened a few times, I’m hard pressed to remember watching a Super Bowl in my own home. It seems we’ve always been guests at the home of somebody with a bigger, more manly set. At a co-worker’s place in Omaha as Da Bears won Super Bowl XX. At the home of friends in the Bay Area as the Packers took Super Bowl XXXI. And so on.

This year, we’ll again beg the gracious hospitality of friends across town who have an HD set so big that it’s measured in meters. Wes Welker will appear actual size. And I’ll sit there in a comfy chair, goggle-eyed at the spectacle of punts and pixels, knowing that my TV is today and will be forever too lame to afford me the pleasure of walking over to my own refrigerator for a beer during the big game.

Exit, 49ers, and bring on baseball!

With the 49ers’ overtime loss to the New York Giants still stinging sharply, I turn to my blog and the prospect of another baseball season for solace.

As a (baseball) Giants fan, it was weird — and damned annoying — to hear chants of “Let’s go, Giants” ringing out from Candlestick Park after today’s NFC Championship game.

The baseball Giants have their roots in New York, of course, and I guess that must count for something. In my New York/New Jersey years, I followed the (football) Giants and will likely be rooting for them in the Super Bowl.

But it’s going to take several days before I get the disappointing end to the 49ers’ season out of my system. Give me time to heal, please.

A worthy baseball blogathon

The Ball Caps Blog has been dormant since the passing of the Baseball Solstice, and it stirs to life to today with a recommendation that you check out the blogathon over at Old Time Family Baseball. It’s a fundraiser for Doctors Without Borders, a worthy organization that is even more impressive under its French title, Medecines Sans Frontieres.

While baseball is always top of mind for me, I’m preoccupied with football today as the San Francisco 49ers host the New Orleans Saints in an NFL divisional playoff game.