Sunday, April 3, 2016

How to "Bring Baseball Back"; Vince Boryla, 1927-2016

So if baseball, as I proved in my last post, is more popular than football, why do so many people say baseball is in trouble?

Because these people are stupid. They prefer football, which appeals to the lowest common denominator. As opposed to baseball, which appeals to thought.

Think of it this way: The Yankees, the Mets (yes, the Mets), the Boston Red Sox, the Chicago Cubs, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants have all shown great appeal to literary people, who have written great prose about them.

Which NFL teams have done the same thing? Name one.

You can't.

There are, however, people who prefer baseball to football, but still believe that baseball is in trouble, and needs to be "brought back."

Back to what? A time when it was more popular? It's never been more popular. A time when it was more popular than the NFL? As I showed, it still is. A time when its primacy was unquestioned? That's not necessary.

A time when "it was still a game, not a business"? Men have been charging admission for baseball games since 1862. At that point, 7 years before the Cincinnati Red Stockings were publicly admitting that they were playing their players, it is likely that some men were already being secretly paid to play baseball.

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But, to humor people who think we need to "bring baseball back," here's how you do it:

1. Get it off Fox, and put it on a real network, one that cares more about the game than about promoting its own shows, including putting its show stars on camera in seats next to the dugout, and letting American Idol singers sing the National Anthem.

Corollary to the preceding: Never, ever let Joe Buck broadcast another baseball game. I don't care that his father was the great Cardinal announcer Jack Buck. You don't see the children of Mel Allen, Red Barber, Jack Brickhouse, Ernie Harwell, Phil Rizzuto or Bob Murphy broadcasting baseball games, do you?

Actually, there have been a lot of father-son sportscasting duos, including a few in baseball. Sometimes, it works, as with Thom Brennaman and Todd Kalas. Sometimes, it doesn't, as with Joe Buck and Skip Caray.

2. Advertise it as "the family sport." Show fathers, sons and grandsons -- and mothers, daughters and granddaughters. Show the people the connections that they're aware of -- and the ones they may not have noticed.

3. Show the first ball ceremonies, and have interviews with the teams' legends, so people see that your team connects to your father's and your grandfather's generations.

4. Advertise it as "the sport where you're not likely to have your favorite player suffer post-concussion syndrome," and "the sport where you're not likely to have your favorite player beat up his wife and children." Yes, take potshots at the NFL. Which will never happen as long as Fox holds the MLB TV rights, because the NFL is the cash cow that makes it possible for Fox to spew their political garbage.

5. Advertise it as "the sport where anyone can win." The idea that the lack of a salary cap prevents small-market teams from winning has been blown to pieces. Just since the dawn of the 21st Century, we have seen Pennant winners, and thus World Series participants, from Phoenix, St. Louis, Houston, Detroit, Denver, Tampa Bay and Kansas City. Pittsburgh has now made the Playoffs 3 seasons in a row.

As for the 4 markets with 2 teams: Yes, the Mets won the National League Pennant last year; but the Yankees and the Mets have won just 1 Pennant each since 2003. The San Francisco Giants have won 3 of the last 6 World Series, but the Oakland Athletics haven't won a Pennant since 1990. The Los Angeles Dodgers won the NL Western Division last year, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim usually make the American League Playoffs, but, between them, they've won just 1 Pennant since 1988. And Chicago? The White Sox have won 1 Pennant since 1959 and 2 since 1919, and the Cubs no Pennants since 1945.

Baseball is a game that needs its big markets to survive, but doesn't need its big markets to be successful to survive. The smaller markets can do well, and have done well recently.

6. Show how some teams have national followings: The Yankees, the Red Sox, the Cubs, the Cardinals, the Dodgers, the Atlanta Braves. But don't actively favor any of them, the way Fox currently does with the Red Sox and used to do with the Yankees, or the NFL's networks do with New England and Dallas.

7. Have more frequent steroid tests, and reveal the results. So that we know who's dirty, but also that the vast majority of players are clean.

Corollary to the preceding? Punish the cheaters severely, and promote the ones who are clean. The reason Barry Bonds took steroids is because he was jealous of the attention that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were getting. If they'd been outed as steroid users before either of them got to 60 home runs in a season, they would have been abandoned by the fans, and Bonds would have been able to put himself forward as a clean star, and he would have not only gotten, but earned, the adulation he craved.

8. Discourage violence. Brushbacks should be allowed: A pitcher has the right to "control the plate." And accidents can happen: Batters are going to get hit with pitches, even when the pitcher doesn't want to do that. A pitcher shouldn't be punished for an accident.

But if a pitcher has a known history of hitting batters, and he clearly doesn't have control issues, put the hammer down. If the plate umpire thinks a pitch was on purpose, he has to throw the pitcher out of the game. And then he has to warn both managers that it ends now, or else there's going to be more ejections -- and suspensions. This will show both sides that he means business, and it will also cut down on batters charging the mound after they get hit.

Which brings us to the MLB office. It needs to suspend the offending pitcher for 5 games, so that he misses 1 start. If he does it again, a month: 6 starts. A 3rd time, a season. A 4th time, for life. And also punish players who charge the mound.

Collisions at home plate? As long as the purpose is clearly to prevent the catcher from making the play, and not to injure him, leave it alone. Likewise, if a slide is meant to break up a double play, it shouldn't be punished, unless the runner goes out of the baseline to do it, in which case the batter running to 1st base should also be called out.

On the other hand (and, remember, I hate the Mets, so this has nothing to do with protecting one of their players), Chase Utley's slide into Ruben Tejada was dirty, and Utley should have been suspended for the rest of the postseason.

9. Tell the players and managers to get on with it. Stoppages of play for injuries are necessary. I'm not talking about those.

But if umpires really believe that games are taking too long, they have the authority to tell pitchers, catchers and managers to cut the mound conferences short, and to tell batters to quit fidgeting like Mike Hargrove and Carlton Fisk, and get your behind back in the batter's box!

Sidebar: Funny how NFL fans complain that "Baseball is boring" because games take 3 1/2 hours now, but they don't complain about how NFL games now last just as long. Here's what's boring: Touchdown, 5 instant replays, extra point, 2 more instant replays of the touchdown, a break that includes 4 commercials (at least 1 of which will be an incredibly stupid one for a beer or a car, and another one of which will be a trailer for an incredibly stupid movie), another instant replay of the touchdown, the ensuing kickoff, the return, and another commercial break.

In other words, you can have 10 minutes between the touchdown and the next play from scrimmage, with nothing but the extra point, the kickoff, instant replays and commercials. And NFL fans say MLB takes too long, and has too much down time between plays? Physicians, heal thyselves.

Also designed to reduce the time of the game, but also because it's idiocy and should be stopped:

10. Stop bringing in a pitcher to pitch to only 1 batter. The MLB office and the umpires can't do anything about this, only the managers can. But you're bringing in a pitcher to pitch only to the next batter, because they're both lefthanded? This is so stupid: If a pitcher can't get batters out simply because they bat with the other hand, then you shouldn't have him on your major league roster at all. I'd call this The Boone Logan Rule.

11. Bring back the Saturday Game of the Week and Monday Night Baseball, and air a revival of This Week In Baseball, showing it 5 times a week, the way NBC Sports Network does their soccer show Men In Blazers.

In fact, have a Men In Blazers-type show for baseball (but not with Englishmen, obviously). Have three guys: One from the Northeast (but not a Yankee or Red Sox fan), one from the Midwest (but not a Cub or Cardinal fan), and one from the West Coast (but not a Dodger fan), and have them discuss the sport the way real fans who don't have show-hosting jobs do.

12. Doubleheaders. Every team should have 1 per month. This will cut down on MLB teams' revenue at first. But the goodwill it will generate will cause more people to want to come to games, and they'll get it back: 77 paid admissions, but 81 games' worth of revenue.

The preceding will also allow this:

13. Shorten the season. Right now, it takes 26 weeks to play 162 games. Throw in these doubleheaders, and it will take 25.

Finally:

14. Realignment. Expand to 32 teams, scrap the Leagues entirely (you've already got common baseballs and common umpiring crews, as you didn't have before 2000), and do it geographically like the NBA, the NHL, and (sort of) the NFL does it, with 8 teams in each Division:

Atlantic Division: Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, a team in Charlotte (which has always done well in attendance in the minor leagues), a restored Montreal Expos, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals. 

Midwestern Division: Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays. 

Central Division: Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins, Minnesota Twins, St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers.

Pacific Division: Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners.

10 games (5 home, 5 away, a 3-game and a 2-game roadtrip every season) against teams in your own Division. That's 70. 4 games (2 home, 2 away, a pair of 2-game roadtrips or a single 4-game roadtrip every season) against teams in the other Divisions. That's 96. That's a total of 166 games -- only 4 more than we have now, and certainly enough to make up for the single-admission doubleheaders.

Then, as from 1969 to 1993, have only the Division winners advance to the MLB Semifinals, seeding them by regular-season wins, and the winners of those will play each other in the World Series.

If this setup were in place this season, we could begin today, April 3, and end on Sunday, September 25. A best-4-out-of-7 Semifinal would be over by October 6, the World Series could begin on Saturday, October 8, and end with Game 7 no later than Sunday, October 16 (barring rainouts). This would put it in line with the dates the season tended to end between 1960 and 1984, and it would also reduce (but certainly not eliminate) the possibility of a Playoff or World Series game being cold.

"Wait, Uncle Mike," you say, "if we eliminate the Leagues, what do we do about the designated hitter? The AL uses the DH, the NL doesn't." The DH becomes universal -- but not mandatory. If a manager wants to, he can forfeit the use of the DH, and let his pitcher hit. That's the way it is in the AL now: The DH is an option. If the NL owners don't like it, they can sell their teams to people who accept that any DH can field any position better than 99 percent of pitchers can hit.

Does anybody else have any suggestions? Feel free to tell me in the Comments.

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A Knicks legend has died -- but he was so long ago, you may never have heard of him.

Vincent Joseph Boryla was born on March 11, 1927 in East Chicago, Indiana. A son of Polish immigrants, he played forward at Notre Dame, and was a member of the 1948 U.S. basketball team that won the Gold Medal at the Olympics in London.

Despite the potential for a rhyme, Vince Boryla was nicknamed "Moose," not "The Gorilla." He played on the Knicks' 1st 3 NBA Finals teams, in 1950-51, 1951-52 (although he was injured and missed the Playoffs) and 1952-53. They lost the 1st to the Rochester Royals, and the other 2 to the Minneapolis Lakers. He also played in the 1st NBA All-Star Game in 1951.
He played for the Knicks from 1949 to 1954, and was known for his outside shot. Broadcaster Marty Glickman called these shots "Boryla bombs," long before the 3-point field goal became allowed (and before John Sterling began making up taglines for Yankee home run hitters). He coached the Knicks from 1956 to 1958, taking over at age 28 -- but also coaching in the NBA for the last time at age 30.

Retiring to Denver, in 1967 he became the 1st general manager of the American Basketball Association's Denver Rockets, then that of the Utah Stars, before returning to the Denver team, renamed the Nuggets, as it entered the NBA. In 1984, he was named NBA Executive of the Year.
During his tenure as an NBA executive, he was also a major real estate investor in Denver, so he did not have to stay in basketball for the money. He was married twice, and had 4 sons and a daughter. His son Mike Boryla was a quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, and preceded Ron Jaworski as their starter.

Vince Boryla died of pneumonia on March 27, 2016. He was 89 years old.

With his death, there is now just 1 surviving player from the 1948 U.S. Olympic basketball team. Jackie Robinson. No, not that one. This one is Robert Jackson Robinson, about to turn 89, from Fort Worth, Texas, a guard at Baylor University. He never played pro ball, instead going into the ministry, and has retired to Augusta, Georgia.

That 1948 team was made up largely of that year's National Champions, the University of Kentucky. Dale Barnstable and Walter Hirsch are now the last survivors of that squad. They and Joe B. Hall, who coached Kentucky's 1978 National Champions, are the only survivors of the school's 1949 National Champions. Hirsch, St. Louis Hawks Hall-of-Famer Cliff Hagan, Boston Celtics Hall-of-Famer Frank Ramsey, former University of Alabama head coach C.M. Newton, Guy Strong and Bobby Watson are the 6 survivors of the school's 1951 National Champions.


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