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Hickok SportsThoughts

Sports historian and author Ralph Hickok of www.hickoksports.com sometimes meanders on about current happenings in sports and sometimes looks back in languor.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Three Things David Ortiz Never Said

A two-sided promotional piece from Comcast was in the mailbox yesterday.
Evidently David Ortiz of the Red Sox is a Comcast spokesman, at least here in Massachusetts, because there's a picture of him on the front. He's following through, probably after having hit the ball a long way.
Beneath that is a purported quote bearing Ortiz's signature: "COMCAST IS MY MOST VALUABLE PLAYER." (Yes, we're not only supposed to believe that he said that, but that he said it IN ALL CAPITALS.)
On the flip side are two more photos of Ortiz, in civilian clothes. In one, he's holding a TV remote control. The caption reads, "Choice and convenience are always solid hits in my house."
In the other, he smiles at you from behind a laptop. This caption reads, "It's how I connect when I'm not connecting with the ball."
Begging your pardon, but David Ortiz never said any of those things.
I've never been a big believer in celebrity endorsements as a way of selling products. I'm even less of a believer in the efficacy of putting obviously made-up quotes into a celebrity's mouth.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Real World Series

It didn't receive much notice in the press, but baseball will get its own version of the World Cup in March of next year.
For the first time, major-leaguers will play for their countries in international competition. It took a lot of negotiating to make it happen. In fact, the original plan was for the series to take place this year, but the problems couldn't be solved in time.
Major-league teams were worried about losing players to injury. The players' association was worried about the same thing, from a somewhat different angle.
An insurance deal covering player contracts has been worked out, and there will be guidelines on how pitchers can be used, with rules on pitch counts and rest between appearances.
Players have also agreed to a drug testing policy meeting the guidelines of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
One major question remains: Will Cuba take part? An invitation would first have to be approved by the U. S. State Department and then accepted with Fidel Castro's approval.
But, although Cuba has been a major force in amateur baseball, it's not likely to be much of a factor in the professional era, since the Cubans with MLB teams are all defectors who wouldn't play for a national team.
More than 80 percent of major-leaguers are U. S. natives, but a disproportionate number of the biggest stars are from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.
Consider, for example, this possible starting lineup for the Dominican Republic:
C - Miguel Olivo
1B - Albert Pujols
2B - Alfonso Soriano
3B - Aramis Ramirez
SS - Miguel Tejada
LF - Manny Ramirez
CF - Jose Guillen
RF - Vladimir Guerrero
P - Pedro Martinez
Add to that list David Ortiz as DH (if there is a DH) or lefty pinch-hitter, along with pitchers Bartolo Colon, Odalis Perez, Daniel Cabrera and Francisco Cordero, and you've got a pretty fair team.
The United States would have more depth, but depth won't mean an awful lot in a "season" that's only 12 games long.
The World Baseball Classic, to use its official name, will have 16 national teams in four regional pools. The top two teams from each pool's round-robin tournament will advance to a second round, also a round-robin tournament.
The four teams with the best records after the second round will move on to single-game semi-finals, with the two winners meeting in a single championship game.
That game has been tentatively scheduled for March 20 at a major-league stadium to be announced later. Possible pitching matchup: Roger Clemens of the USA vs. Pedro Martinez of the Dominican Republic.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Odds and Ends

The Portis-Ohalete number case, which I blogged about on May 16, has been settled out of court.
Fanball says Matt Birks of the Minnesota Vikings is a "former Harvard graduate." Does that mean they took his diploma away from him? Maybe for playing pro football?
It's possible to be very religious and also a major sports fan. But this website seems to me to take it too far.
Adam Sandler as a former NFL quarterback? What's next from Hollywood? Dom DeLuise as Vince Lombardi? Don Knotts starring in the Dick Butkus Story?

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Loss of a Big Man

I met George Mikan, quite by accident, many years ago. Specifically, it was June of 1973. I was visiting Minneapolis with Johnny Blood McNally, the Pro Football Hall of Fame halfback about whom I was writing a (still unpublished) book, and we went to a place called Duff's for lunch.
Duff's, which burned down about ten years later, was known as a kind of sports hangout, so it wasn't terribly surprising to see Mikan at a good-sized table near the door. Nor was it surprising that Johnny Blood knew him.
The three of us had lunch together and enjoyed a pleasant conversation. There was little talk about basketball. The main topic was Mikan's weight-losing contest with his daughter. He said up was up to 300 pounds, which surprised me, because he didn't look at all fat. But then I reflected that some extra pounds wouldn't be particularly noticeable on someone who's 6-foot-10 and large-framed.
Most sources list Mikan's playing weight as 245 pounds, but he told us that it had been more like 260 during his final full season and close to 275 when he briefly came out of retirement for the 1955-56 season.
Mikan died the other day at the age of 80. The obituaries all agreed that he was basketball's first "big man," but they didn't make it clear that it was because of his body bulk, not merely his height. At the same time that Mikan was starring at DePaul, the sport's first 7-footer, Bob Kurland, was at Oklahoma A&M.
Most of the obits also said that college basketball adopted its rule against goaltending because of Mikan. Actually, the rule was adopted in 1944 because of Kurland, who was also the first basketball player to dunk the ball regularly.
Kurland actually was more successful than Mikan as an amateur. His college team became the first to win two straight NCAA championships and Kurland was the first basketball player to win two Olympic gold medals, in 1948 and 1952. He could play for two Olympic teams because, after college, he opted for AAU basketball rather than the NBA.
Mikan, meanwhile, was there for the birth of modern professional basketball. He started with the Chicago American Gears of the National Basketball League, then went to the NBL's Minneapolis Lakers. In 1948, the NBL and Basketball Association of America merged to become the NBA. The Lakers won five of the new league's first six championships. That gave Mikan seven titles in eight years as a professional.
Mikan had a major impact on the development of NBA rules. He was so strong, almost impossible to move, that the NBA doubled the width of the lane from 6 to 12 feet in 1951 in an attempt to decrease his scoring.
Opponents also worked to decrease his scoring by fouling him frequently and violently. As a result, the league in 1953 passed a rule limiting each player to two fouls per quarter, with bonus free throws awarded for any additional fouls.
That helped a bit, but it was a little too late to save Mikan's body from the punishment he'd been taking. In his eight professional seasons, both of his legs and both of his feet had been broken. Only one of his wrists had been fractured, but that had happened twice. He'd lost track of how many times his nose, assorted ribs, and various fingers had been broken. Tired of the constant battering, Mikan announced his retirement after the 1953-54 season, about a month before his 30th birthday.
He tried to come back midway through the 1955-56 season, but the extra 25 to 30 pounds slowed him down and limited his playing time, so he retired for good.
When the American Basketball Association was organized in 1967, Mikan became its first commissioner, mainly because his name gave the new league instant recognition and credibility. Mikan won even more recognition for the ABA by designing its trademark red, white, and blue ball, which quickly became a best-seller.
He also brought recognition and credibility to a group dedicated to bringing pro basketball back to Minneapolis, an effort that succeeded when the Timberwolves entered the NBA in 1989.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Right Hand, I'd Like You to Meet Left Hand

I guess it's not unusual for the right hand of Congress to be unaware of what the left hand is doing, or has done. (There are no political implications in the directional signals here.)
Certainly that's the case with the current move to set drug-testing policy for the major professional sports leagues. The Clean Sports Act, as Senators John McCain and Tom Davis call it, would require five tests a year for every athlete, with a two-year ban for the first failure and a life-time ban for the second.
We already have the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004, which went into effect in January. That was just the most recent of several laws to criminalize the sale, purchase, and use of steroids.
On the other hand, we have the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which was passed in 1994. Under that law, dietary supplements derived from herbs and natural sources are classified as food, not drugs. That means that the FDA has no control over them.
The number of dietary supplements on the market has increased from 4,000 to 29,000 in a little more than a year since that law was passed. And a lot of them are misleadingly labeled, either because the manufacturer is unscrupulous or because the production methods are sloppy. The International Olympic Committee in 2002 tested 634 nutritional sports supplements and found that 25 percent of them contained ingredients that weren't listed on the labels. More than half of them contained substances that would have produced a positive test result at the Olympics.
Dr. Elliott Pellman, medical advisor to MLB and the NFL, testified at the recent congressional investigation into steroids that "the most common reason for a positive test is the ingestion of a dietary supplement that is contaminated with a banned substance that is not listed on the label,"
In his testimony before the House Government Reform Committee, Dr. Pellman dared to suggest that Congress, by deregulating nutritional supplements, had contributed to the apparent epidemic of steroid use and abuse.
Of course, the committee members attacked the good doctor for saying such a thing. But the fact remains that the dietary supplement industry has contributed more than $3.6 million to federal candidates and political parties since 2000, making it very unlikely that the supplements will be placed under government regulation in the near future.