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Lords of the Rings

April 10th, 2021 · No Comments · Baseball, Dodgers

I have never worn a ring. I rarely look at them on the fingers of other people.

Occasionally I am asked, “what did you think of that ring?” someone is wearing out in public, and people are sometimes annoyed I was looking at something other than the ring, and have nothing to contribute to the discussion.

So it must be one enormous, super-blingy, over-the-top ring, the very essence of overkill … for me to notice it.

For example: The championship rings handed out to Los Angeles Dodgers players yesterday, before their first game at home since winning the World Series last fall.

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I Meant to Do That

April 5th, 2021 · No Comments · Basketball, UCLA

I didn’t really think UCLA’s Bruins would be “ruined” versus Gonzaga in the NCAA semifinals — despite what I wrote before the game.

(See previous entry.)

What that was … was invoking the opposite of what I really wanted, as a long-time UCLA fan. Not the blowout I predicted, but something a lot closer.

This is a primitive attempt to shift all the “mojo” to the other side. To the “overdog” — which was Gonzaga, the 14.5-point betting favorite.

And it very nearly worked.

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Gonzaga Will Leave Bruins in Ruins

April 3rd, 2021 · 1 Comment · Basketball, UCLA, USC

Did anyone else stay up late to watch UCLA come through with another upset in the NCAA Tournament? Remember? Four days ago? (It ended at 6:16 a.m where I live and yes, I would like to be congratulated for that.)

It was nervous time, but it also was clutch time as the Bruins came through with a 51-49 victory over Michigan, the top seed in the East bracket.

That gave UCLA a five-game March Madness playoffs winning streak, one that began with an overtime upset of Michigan State in the First Four.

Back before that victory over Michigan State, UCLA partisans probably would have said they would be happy with a single tournament victory — given that the Bruins carried a four-game losing streak and 17-9 record into the postseason.

Clearly, they have done much more, eliminating BYU, Abilene Christian, Alabama and Michigan, the top seed in their bracket.

It makes a senior citizen recall the UCLA glory days of John Wooden, the coach who led the Bruins to 10 NCAA titles from 1963 to 1975. (They added one more, over Arkansas, in 1995, with the O’Bannon brothers leading the way.)

So, now they are in the Final Four, and today will take on Gonzaga in the second semifinal.

Unfortunately, Gonzaga is not living in the past, when it was the prototypical plucky little mid-major program.

These guys are monsters and we can expect, sadly, that they will destroy the Bruins today.

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UCLA and USC and the two NCAA Runs That Have Electrified SoCal Basketball Fans

March 30th, 2021 · No Comments · Basketball, UCLA, USC

This is the biggest night for Los Angeles college hoops in … I think it is safe to say “forever.”

Both USC and UCLA have battled into the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament. That has never before happened.

And not only that, they are playing in the same city tonight, in the same arena, one after the other, and if both win they will meet each other in the Final Four, with one or the other winning a championship next week, on April 3.

This is mind-boggling, considering how erratic both programs have become, but they have been outstanding this month, and a bit lucky, and SoCal people from all over the world will be hoping to tune in — even if the first game starts at 1:15 a.m. here in France.

UCLA has made lots and lots of runs deep into the NCAA Tournament, (see: John Wooden), but none since 2008, when Jim Howland took the Bruins to the Final Four in three consecutive seasons.

USC basketball has had a few moments, over the past century, with one Final Four appearance, in 1954 (not even I remember that), and an Elite Eight appearance in 2001.

The idea that they could play each other in the Saturday semifinals … my head is about to explode.

Each team has a lot of work to do. Each is an underdog. USC by nine points, UCLA by 6.5.

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Catching Up on College Madness

March 22nd, 2021 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Basketball, English Premier League, France, soccer, Sports Journalism, UCLA, USC

I have lived outside the United States for most of the past 12 years and I can vouch for this: Over that much time your sports interests mutate. Perhaps significantly.

Some sports pretty much disappear from your mind. Thinking all high school sports; just can’t keep track of any of them, so I lost track of all of them. Motor racing is another. The rest of the world doesn’t much care about the two primary forms of racing, in the U.S. — Nascar and Indy Car. And you can’t follow what you can’t find on TV. Like hockey.

At the other extreme are the sports you begin following with particular enthusiasm. Soccer and international soccer and particularly the English Premier League. We might see as many as seven, eight, 10 matches per week. Liverpool and Arsenal and and various Uniteds. The Two Robbies, Earle and Mustoe.

And then there are those sports on a slow burn. I have lost the ability to follow the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball, day to day, but I will always know who is good and who stinks. I may even make an effort to keep a toe in the water. (Like by subscribing to NFL RedZone.) Baseball and the NBA … because of time differences it is hard to see them live, but I read about them most days

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A First-Grader’s Favorite Times at School

March 17th, 2021 · No Comments · Dodgers, Germany

I have three grandsons who attend school in Stuttgart, Germany. About eight hour’s drive from where we live, in the south of France.

We would have driven up to Stuttgart a time or three this year — if not for the Covid pandemic, which has limited movement around Europe.

Luckily, we live in a time when we not only can connect by phone, but can see each other, too.

The boys — ages 9, 6 and 4 — missed at least a month of school, after Germany was knocked around by the second wave of the virus, and I was curious about how they felt about returning to school.

The oldest said it was cool. He could see his friends again.

The first-grader is very active — he showed me how he has learned to do a forward roll on the trampoline in the backyard.

At the moment, however, he is not an enthusiastic student.

I asked him what his favorite part of school is.

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Hagler-Hearns and Passing Up the Greatest Fight of the Past 50 years

March 15th, 2021 · No Comments · Boxing, Newspapers, Sports Journalism

Marvelous Marvin Hagler died this week at the age of 66, and he got a lot of things done in his sport and in his life : one of boxing’s greatest punchers and owner of the sport’s hardest chin; multi-year middleweight champion in the 1980s; actor in Italy; a ringside commentator in the UK …

But I tend to believe that when anyone with a vague interest in boxing heard about Hagler’s demise, 90 percent of them probably blurted: “The Greatest Fight Ever!”

That would be Hagler’s action-packed ode to publicly sanctioned violence, when he knocked out Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns in a middleweight brawl to beat all brawls, in April of 1985.

Boxing fans can never get enough of that fight, 8 minutes and 1 second of mayhem that left reporters at ringside spattered with blood.

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Could It Be? Baseball Considers Helpful Reforms

March 12th, 2021 · 1 Comment · Baseball

After a few decades during which Major League Baseball actively made its product less interesting, we may be seeing changes in game-thinking.

MLB is tinkering with the ball, with the goal of “deadening” it a wee bit — and presumably making it slightly harder to hit home runs.

The glut of home runs slugged the past few years has had the effect of making for a boring, less strategy-based game — unless your idea of great baseball is all about homers and strikeouts, which both are breaking records year after year.

Also, in the minor leagues, which MLB now runs from top to bottom, several potential rules changes will be tried out, and some could become the law of the land — including a ban on some forms of defensive shifts, more games governed by an electronic strike zone, a 15-second pitch clock, limiting pickoff moves and larger bases.

Several of those rules would have the effect of making the game more like it was 20-30 years ago, when the stolen base, sacrifice bunt and other forms of “small ball” were part of the game.

This is good news.

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APSE? I Remember You!

March 5th, 2021 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Newspapers, Sports Journalism, The Sun

For much of my sports journalism career, being part of a good showing in the annual Associated Press Sports Editors competition was a big deal.

Even now, in an era of shriveled and under-staffed newspapers, most sports editors want to see their sections make a mark. The APSE contest is the industry Oscars, after all.

Without the speeches.

The winners from 2020 were announced today, and I am glad the contest is still staged — because modern print journalists get little enough attention or salary. An “attaboy/attagirl” or two … is the least we can do.

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Last Roundup for Nine-Man Baseball?

March 2nd, 2021 · 1 Comment · Baseball

I have loathed the designated hitter rule from the start — which was in 1973, when Major League Baseball’s American League chose to make the DH baseball law.

To its longstanding credit, the National League refused to follow the AL’s move, which was in keeping with the more traditional league’s status that has for a century-plus been known as the Senior Circuit.

The NL began play in 1876; the “Johnny-come-latelies” in that other league didn’t get around to organizing until 1901.

Yeah. What do those guys know about ball?

The NL to date has decided it doesn’t need players who never cross the lines, who never pick up the glove and wait for their at-bat to come around again.

The biggest issue I have with the DH is this: It allows players into the lineup who are not ready to play defense. And that is why fans of the National League still sometimes refer to the AL’s “10-man brand of baseball”. Because it IS different.

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