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The quest to make every game matter

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As the NBA All-Star game dutifully concluded a few weekends ago in New Orleans, an alarm went off among certain persons involved in the NBA.  This product was particularly bad.

A 192-182 shoot around was not the same product of the 80’s and 90’s where the NBA All-Star game on Sunday night on NBC was just something you watched. You would see the dunks and ally-oops, but there were stretches of actual basketball being played.

Meanwhile, as baseball hosts the World Baseball Classic in the coming weeks, a somewhat contrived form of Olympic baseball, where players may or may not direct origin from the country they represent, many are wondering why it can’t have more meaning.

The ironic current cultural reality is that as we have thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of different media sources (counting websites) and there is no shortage of media and entertainment to consume. Yet people are grasping for more meaningful events. An exhibition cannot be an exhibition simply anymore.

This was also apparent in spring training. In a not too distant time. About 15 years ago, you simply didn’t see your big league team on TV while they were in Florida or Arizona. The production trucks and crew and announcers simply weren’t there. Who would watch day baseball exhibitions in the middle of March to make it economically feasible. With the advent of DVR and many of us whose work schedule’s free us up in the daytime anyhow, it now becomes feasible for many, many, many more spring training games to be live television events.

The NFL and NBA are no different. The once strong line between exhibition and regular season is quickly fading as you see the commentary regarding performance and TV marketing of preseason games look almost exactly like the regular season product.

Call it old-fashioned but the year long baseball, football, basketball season, has the opposite effect of its intention. As we try to pump more and more out of sports the less meaningful they become.

The Cubs: lovable losers to lovable champs

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There is a small sense somewhere deep inside the cynical mind that this Cubs team was built as a juggernaut, unlike many past Cubs teams built on a hope and a prayer and devoid of real talent at so many positions-including manager.

Joe Maddon is from Pennsylvania and earned things the very hard way, 30-years plus in the Angels organization as a coach. Theo Epstein is a Boston native, and a Yale graduate. Cubs owner and chairman Tom Ricketts is an Omaha, Nebraska native but attended college at the University of Chicago.

There’s an outside nature to the men who brought and steered the Cubs to the World Series victory Wednesday night in Cleveland, but none the less, the Cubs classic blue and red identity is still the same, the immortal Wrigley field still looks basically the same after over 100 years of existence. The Cubs needed outside help when the Tribune Company put the team up for sale and a savior with deep pockets came along and saw a cash cow, not a billy goat.


And so the Cubs of the lovable losers days are gone. The ‘hay day’ in the 1980’s with teams just good enough or simply really bad, where you could have a beer and a hotdog and lose the game and still have a great day, are gone. Gone is Harry Carry shirtless in the bleachers drinking a Budweiser. Gone is Ron Santo. Gone is Ernie Banks. Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson are guests of the team. Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, the list goes on and on, heroes of the World Series. A roster chocked so full of talent you can’t really say one is a bigger star than the other.  Now you have a beer and a hotdog, pay a lot for a ticket and the Cubs very likely will win. And win for the foreseeable future.

But the fans haven’t changed. The Cubs fans are still there. Some may have taken a backseat here or there in their devotion but we all stumble many times and show a lack of faith. When the door to the promised land opened, millions of Cubs faithful lined up.

Bill Murray, who notably has been a Cubs fan for way back, 30 years or more, and he said it best, “I hope we can be as lovable winning as we were losing” as he drank champagne still in shock that it had actually happened. Dreams do come true he said.

Was it the greatest baseball game ever played? Probably not. There have been so many baseball games played and the definition of greatness varies depending on the emotional investment of the participants and on-lookers.

The measure of a sporting event, more often than not involves the broad appeal to the general public. Whether it be a cinderella, the most famous athletes, a spectacle, we judge my mass appeal. The greatest game could happen in a little league game somewhere in Idaho, but it doesn’t mean anything beyond those onlookers and participants in Idaho.

Was Game 7 and the Cubs win the best game and the most exciting with the most at stake in the modern sport? Yes. I’ll leave the pre-1960’s teams out of it-the comparison isn’t fair and there aren’t enough still alive to be able to compare the two in amicable fashion. The only real comparison might be the late 90’s early turn of the century Yankees teams.  When Boston started winning again it was big. The Mets in 1986. The only real comparison might be the late 90’s early turn of the century Yankees teams.  When Boston started winning again it was big. The Mets in 1986 was big. The Big Red Machine of the 70s was big. But within the scope of the 21st century, a different time, with may more distractions and heartaches, and an influx of huge money into the game, it’s hard to argue that Wednesday night’s game wasn’t the biggest of the modern baseball era. Fox Sports reports that over 40 million people tuned in. That sort of stuff doesn’t happen anymore for a baseball game. America doesn’t just gather around the TV set in unison, for something unless it’s really big anymore, there are way too many entertainment options, but they did Wednesday night.

And so the Cubs get to enjoy this, they really get to enjoy this for five months. Bask in the limelight and the fun starts all over again, fresh with new hopes and new dreams and high expectations next April on the north side of Chicago.

The Cubs are a critical, commercial and emotional success. The Cubs are the kings of the sports world, at least for now.


Josh Tomlin’s start tonight at Wrigley will be very special

in MLB/Yardwork by

Josh Tomlin, known as a crafty, not overpowering, artist of a baseball pitcher will be making a historic start at Wrigley Field Friday night in Game 3 of the World Series for the Cleveland Indians.

At age 32 it’s never too late to realize your dreams.

Hey, it’s the World Series, and perhaps one of the biggest games in the history of the sport. For Tomlin, it has altogether different meaning. He’s a grinder. He’s come and gone from the Indians rotation this season. But more than anything it’s who will be watching tonight at Wrigley.

Tomlin’s father, Jerry, will be at Wrigley tonight in a wheelchair. The elder Tomlin, age 57, late this summer became paralyzed as a result of a disease known arteriovenous malformation which affects the spinal chord.

Tomlin was just released from the hospital in the last couple of weeks and will be at the game tonight in Wrigley.

Per Zack Meisel of Cleveland.com

On the day the Indians secured their first World Series berth in 19 years — also Tomlin’s 32nd birthday — his father was released from the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation. A little more than a week later, he’ll venture to Chicago, with his wife, Elana, and Tomlin’s aunt and uncle.

“He’s one of the toughest individuals I’ve ever met in my life,” Tomlin said. “He never shies away from anything.”

They’ll spend time together Thursday night, when Tomlin’s family arrives and checks in at the same hotel. The next evening, Tomlin will stand, his right heel brushing up against the pitching rubber, and look to Perez for a sign. Perez won’t be sitting on a bucket. The bases might not be loaded. Tomlin likely won’t make it to the bottom of the ninth.

But he’ll be pitching in a World Series game, with his dad in attendance, in a wheelchair. That moment of elation, with their gloves soaring through the air, will come to life.



Hottest Ticket in Sports: NLCS Cubs Tickets at Wrigley

in Sports Business/Yardwork by

—For a potential Game 6 or 7 at Wrigley Field this Saturday or Sunday in Chicago, it will cost between $300-$400 just to get in the door, and that’s without a seat.
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The lowest priced ticket for Saturday’s potential Game 6 (Los Angeles leads 2-1 at the time of this article was published) is $315 for a standing room only ticket according to StubHub. The lowest priced seat for Saturday’s potential Wrigley field matchup is $400.

For a potential winner-take-all Game 7 at Wrigley this Sunday, the lowest priced ticket on StubHub comes in at $394. The lowest price seating for the game comes in at $425.

By comparison, in Los Angeles at Dodger the lowest priced ticket on StubHub for Wednesday’s Game 3 comes in at $103 for standing room only and $105 for a seat.


The Giants have some sorta Magic

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—It’s easy to like the Giants.

The two biggest stars on the team, Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, are stalwarts at their positions. And both humble in their respectable ways. Hyper-competitive, but humble.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy is likely one of the greatest managers to manage a ball club. And no it does not take big names to buy in and make it happen with Bochy’s Giants.

Take for example Connor Gillaspie. Once a Giants prospect, found himself designated for assignment, not once but twice, the last by the Los Angeles Angels last summer. The Giants who originally drafted Gillaspie pretty high in the 2008 draft, 37th overall, signed him to a minor league deal last winter and he’s saved the day this postseason.

The Giants under Bochy do well under pressure when it’s when or your season is over. Under Bochy, the Giants are perfect-as in have never lost a postseason elimination game. Somehow someway they find a way.

Last night in San Francisco it took 13 innings but the Giants found a way to keep it going and will play tonight under the lights in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Cubs, once again with their back to the wall.

Somehow, someway, regardless of the roster the Giants are going to be in the thick of things. Making it happen on a hope and a prayer.


Blue Jay Mania: Toronto advances to ALCS on walk-off error

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—There’s Matt Bush, a 30-year old rookie, who’s come from the darkest spots in his life to pitch in relief on the biggest stage.

It’s the 10th inning. He’s throwing straight gas, but he lets a breaking ball slide and 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson is on it and puts a double out to right center. Then things get interesting.

Edwin Encarnacion is intentionally walked for Jose Bautista, who Bush strikes out with pure gas. Up comes Russell Martin before 49,000 plus screaming Canadians. Russell grounds out to short, the throw to second out, the throw to first, and then the throw home. Donaldson scores and everyone goes crazy. The Blue Jays advance to the American League Championship series to face the winner of the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians.

It’s the first walk-off error in MLB postseason history.

It’s the first time in franchise history the Blue Jays have swept a playoff series.

Blue Jays faithful can give thanks to a rock solid starting lineup of veteran but skilled bats and a bullpen that has been lights out. The Blue Jays pen gave 4.1 innings of shutout work en route to the 7-6 victory.

As Richard Justice of MLB.com points out, the Blue Jays have won six straight games with a 2.53 ERA, 33 runs, with 11 home runs.

The Blue Jays gave up some runs to the Rangers, but certainly look like a team with enough momentum to get the Jays back to the World Series for the first time in the post-strike era.

Photo Credit: Embed Getty Images

Joe Buck makes his return to baseball with the NLCS and World Series on FOX

in Sports Media/Sports TV/Yardwork by

Joe Buck’s baseball duties with the network have decreased in recent years.  This season, his 21st with FOX, he called just a handful of baseball games, about one per month this summer.

He’s got a new talk show, “Undeniable” on Audience TV and Direct TV. A format he’s tried and coveted for many years.

He’s also doing FOX’s USGA Golf coverage. Practically like learning a new language.  He’s also the lead voice in the biggest of all sports properties NFL on FOX.

His old-time baseball partner Tim McCarver was let go, retired, semi-retired, or something in-between.

They had chemistry. McCarver and Joe Buck’s dad, Jack Back, did not. McCarver was too talkative for the elder Buck’s taste but for Joe ‘yeah I could get along with the kid’.  Tim and Joe gelled well. They understood each other.

It was a shame it couldn’t continue.

Then two guys with a ton of Major League Baseball experience Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci joined Buck in the booth, and well many might say it was a disaster. Joe was the babysitter. Too many unique personalities in the booth.

Now FOX has John Smoltz paired with Buck. Smoltz is opinionated but understated. With almost no risk of creating a Twitter firestorm with anything he says, which was common place for McCarver.  Smoltz brings a ton of baseball knowledge, and recent baseball knowledge unlike McCarver who was apt at recalling a particular game situation that happened in the 60s, when 80-percent of the audience wasn’t alive. Smoltzy and Buck did a few games this season (less than five) including the All-Star game, but the real show is the postseason.

Beginning with the NLCS Saturday, October 15th Buck and Smoltz will try to make magic for the MLB postseason and on into the World Series.

For Buck, this is his 21st season as the voice of baseball on FOX. Despite the constant criticism which has increased in volume in the Twitter era, here’s Buck and he’s still doing postseason baseball.

Buck has been the voice of the World Series on TV for the 16th straight season, and in total, he’s done 19 World Series. Buck is the voice you want for the World Series.


Buck is set to release his new memoir (a little young for a memoir right?) titled “Lucky Bastard: My Life, My Dad, And The Things I’m Not Allowed To Say On TV.

Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch recently spoke with Buck regarding how hair-plug surgery affected his vocal cords almost costing him his voice in 2001. But Buck’s moment of truth is coming out of it all and wanting to tell the world about it.

“When I started thinking about writing a book, this was the main reason why,” Buck told Deitsch. “It wasn’t about stories with my Dad. I wanted to detail the time in my life where I had a lot going on and I was stressed, a time when I started to take anti-depressants and was going through a divorce. Then I had this situation with my voice that rocked me to my knees and shook every part of my world. I’m 47 years old now and willing to be vulnerable sharing a story. Whether the book is read by one person or one million doesn’t concern me. Getting this out and being honest, really telling my story, that was was the impetus behind this.”

Goodbye Vin Scully, yes we will miss you dearly, but mostly thank you 

in MLB/Sports Media/Sports TV/Yardwork by

It was Bart Giamatti, the late baseball commissioner, who said, “baseball breaks your heart.”

“It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring when everything else begins again, Blossoms in the summer filling the afternoons and evenings and then as soon as the chill rain comes it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.”


It will break many a heart not to be able to tune in on MLB.TV to watch Dodger games. For those in Los Angeles, it will truly break their hearts.

Of course, the heartache should not be the same, as Vin Scully was never ours to begin with. Sure, we had him here or there. If you are old enough to be alive in the 80s on a national broadcast which was not the genuine product made your familiar. But for the majority of the sports fans life, Vin was a borrowed product from Los Angeles.

Vin was pulled here or there to the network, notably NBC. Throughout his tenure, he flirted with the network but was never able to leave his love for the Dodgers and commit to the network and have time for family. His heart would always be with the Dodgers and any venture in the network was purely to broaden his horizons and keep his opportunities open.

His celebrity was never in question, but for the internet crowd, those who talk baseball on Twitter, Facebook and on online forums he gained a new following via the magic of the internet.

But Vin is also to blame for breaking our hearts. He called us in as a friend and spoke to us one-on-one. The entire world got to see the only man in baseball who does the TV thing entirely alone. No color analyst, no sideline reporter, just Vin and you talking, and keeping you company like a gentle, loving grandfather, which of course he is outside of his day/night job.

There’s a certain class, a gentlemen way, about baseball broadcasters who got their start during that golden era of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.

Most of them are gone. Most of them have passed away. For many years now, those voices no longer fill the summer air with their often gentle, sometimes strong, often soothing, descriptions of a game we call baseball.  Ernie Harwell, Jack Buck, and it goes on.

These were contemporaries of Vin Scully. Harwell was with the Dodgers just a year before Scully began with the Dodgers back in 1950. Harwell that year went to the New York Giants and left an opening on the Dodger broadcast team that Scully would fill. Jack Buck would get his start with the St. Louis in Cardinals in 1954.

Mr. Scully himself might dispute that he was anything but a boy when he got behind the mic to broadcast his first major league baseball game in 1950.

His training as a broadcaster appears to be based on pure common sense. Red Barber told him not to root for the home team, don’t fraternize and be social with the players as it would dilute objectivity, keep your opinions to yourself, don’t listen to other broadcasters and most of all, be yourself. “Don’t imitate others, it will water your wine.” 

Red Barber said this about bringing Scully into the big leagues “I always had the dream of taking an untutored kid who showed some promise and of putting him on the air for what he was, a neophyte learning the trade. Scully was a perfect choice. He was a green pea, but he was a very appealing young green pea. It was obvious he had something on the ball; you didn’t know precisely what it was, but he had it.”

As Vin Scully leaves the scene, there’s a sense of capturing lightning in a bottle, we know this great treasure and artist will be going away and I don’t think too many of us baseball fans really know how to handle it.

Vin Scully pregame “MLB on TBS” interview with Cal Ripken, Jr., August 28, 2016 from Turner Sports on Vimeo.

There’s also a sense of guilt. A sense of guilt that we’ve been taking Scully for granted, that for much of the 80s and 90s when many of us were just so much more infatuated with the game of baseball and particularly major league baseball and its radio and television broadcasts,  Vin Scully was right there broadcasting the Dodgers so faithfully. But alas many of  us realize we had no way of catching Vin, or Mr. Scully (only his contemporaries or those maybe about 20 years younger than him can call him Vin). Yes, we had no way of watching Scully. We couldn’t get the dodger radio broadcast unless of course, you were in Southern California and to watch Scully on TV? Are you kidding me? Myself a baseball fan from about 1988 onward as a kid I had a fate recognition of the national baseball announcers, but even if I had a more keen sense of who they were Scully was not about the Vin Scully brand. He was meekly the play-by-play announcer even on his days with NBC and doing national work, which he didn’t particularly care for, as he could not properly get to know and really engage with the viewer or the team.

Alas, MLB.TV came along, and Twitter came along and the pairing of two seemed to go hand and hand, many would and still do post just downright amusing anecdotes and quotes from Scully as the late hours of the night rolled forward whether the Dodgers were winning or losing.

One thing that has always stood out about Mr. Scully is his utter distaste for vanity and personal attention. It has ruined many men, it could not just be the product of the time, but a personal decision that you could not, could not let the praise of men inflate your sense of purpose or place in the world.

And for that, as we’ll all but worship Vin Scully as he goes away as something more than a man, he will want us to think for a moment that we all are humans and all have a value in this world, no more so than him, but Mr. Scully you sure are special to us baseball fans.


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