By DERON SNYDER
dinosaurus purist [dahy-nuh-sawr-uhs pyur-ist] noun 1. Certain species of fan who views baseball through the grainy lens of a hallowed black-and-white film clip, opposes any effort to bring the sport into the 21st century and believes attempts to modernize the game are downright blasphemous.
They’re grumbling and craning their necks. The new commissioner is tinkering with the time-honored tradition of timeless baseball. He’s trying to bring MLB in-line with the current times, where each second battles for attention.
But dinosaurus purists are convinced that nothing’s wrong with their sport. They don’t want to hear that the pace needs to quicken or – God forbid – a pitch clock might be in order.
All of that dead time that Rob Manfred wants to reduce? That’s part of the beauty of the game.
And by all accounts, MLB remains popular and prosperous.
There’s no need to fret about some batters’ elaborate, between-every-pitch adjustments to their gloves, helmet and uniform. No need to worry about some pitchers who can’t throw the ball without first strolling around the mound, fiddling with their hat, gazing into space and tugging on their jersey.
Manfred knows better. That pace might work for old heads, like himself, who grew up on baseball and are captivated by its laid-back rhythms and carefree nature between pitches.
But the commissioner’s job isn’t retaining true believers; it’s capturing new converts. That task is decidedly more difficult nowadays with dozens of other options vying for potential fans’ consideration.
The average age of 2014 All-Star Game viewers was 53.
“I have four children, all in their 20s, and I have some passing familiarity with that generation,” Manfred told reporters in Phoenix this week. “One thing I can say for sure is their attention span seems to be shorter than the rest of ours and it’s an issue we need to deal with to keep that fan base.”
In 2014, the average MLB game exceeded three hours for the first time (3:02). Games clocked in nearly a half-hour quicker as recently as the mid-1980s. In conjunction with the players union, Manfred has announced new rules intended to pick up the pace.
By DERON SNYDER
Steve Czaban says it’s an oversight.
The veteran sports broadcaster, celebrating his 25th anniversary in the business, has a lengthy resume that lists work in local markets such as Washington, Chicago, Charlotte and Milwaukee, as well as national gigs with Sporting News Radio and ESPN Radio.
But there’s no mention of Fox Sports Radio, where “Czabe” spent seven years (2002-2009), the last five in the morning drive spot. His contract wasn’t renewed when Fox decided to put Stephen A. Smith in the time slot instead.
“They treated us great at Fox,” Czaban said during a recent phone interview. “They wanted to go in a different direction. That happens in the business.”
He said he was unaware that Fox doesn’t appear on his bio and the omission is unintentional. But he let everyone know his thoughts in a December 2009 blog post. “This was not my choice, or desire,” he wrote. “My agent wants me to spin it in one of those ‘we decided to mutually part ways’ for anybody who wanted to know. But I’m not good at lying.”
However, he’s great at sports talk, which is why the McLean, Va., native spent just eight months away from the syndicated airwaves before resuming his national show via Sporting News Radio (now Yahoo! Sports Radio). “The Steve Czaban Show” is heard locally on Sports Talk 570 and he also co-hosts “The Drive” on ESPN 980, meaning he’s on air for nearly eight hours each day.
“I guess I’m lucky that there’s a different focus on the national show,” he said. “There’s a whole bunch of things we can talk about nationally. On the other one, we’re digging into the nuances of what’s important locally. I couldn’t do that many hours of one style of show each day.”
When he graduated from the University of California-Santa Barbara, Czaban dreamed of having a career like local play-by-play legend Steve Buckhantz. But Czaban quickly realized that those jobs are very limited and open infrequently. He was calling basketball games and doing a one-hour talk show on KTMS in Santa Barbara – where fellow UCSB alum Jim Rome began – when homesickness and an appetite for more passion set in. So he moved back home in 1994.
“As nice as it was being in California, that side of the country moves in different rhythms,” Czaban said. “The importance of sports and fanaticism is different out there and I never felt truly at home. I didn’t miss winter but I did miss seasonality. To me, the seasons go hand-in-hand with the sports calendar.”
By DERON SNYDER
Alex Rodriguez is batting .500 on his return to the New York Yankees.
The disgraced slugger went yard when he declined the team’s offer to hold a news conference at Yankee Stadium, where he could apologize for using steroids, lying about it and dragging his sport through the mud while he fought a 211-game suspension that was reduced to 162 games.
The last thing we needed was another public flogging.
We saw that act six years ago and once is enough. Dozens of teammates and roughly 200 reporters were present for A-Rod’s presser upon his arrival at training camp in 2009. He read a prepared statement and took questions for about 30 minutes, offering more details on the drug use he confessed a week earlier during an ESPN interview.
Boxing promoter Bob Arum didn’t enter the Sports Quote Hall of Fame until later that year – “Yesterday I was lying; today I’m telling the truth” – but A-Rod was ahead of him. Rodriguez had lied to ESPN about not knowing what kind of steroid he used, just like he lied to CBS’ Katie Couric two years earlier, when he told her he never used performance-enhancing drugs.
But on Feb. 17, 2009, A-Rod blamed his usage on being “immature and stupid,” identified the drug as “boli,” and said he knew “we weren’t taking Tic Tacs.”
He went right back to cheating shortly thereafter (after winning a World Series ring), followed by more lying, the suspension and lawsuits against MLB, the players union and the Yankees team doctor.
There was no reason to go through the spectacle of another news conference, especially since A-Rod likely wouldn’t answer many questions due to ongoing federal investigations. Besides, nothing he can say will repair his image.
So whichever handler on his roster said he should turn down the Yankees’ suggestion, that was brilliant. Home run.
But the hand-written apology addressed “To the Fans” was a nasty strikeout, like when the batter stumbles badly and his helmet flies off after a violent swing-and-miss on an 0-2 count.
By DERON SNYDER
NEW YORK – Wizards guard John Wall is a long way from completing his hoops journey.
But the scenery is becoming more attractive the closer he gets to the destination.
In 2008, after watching him win the dunk contest and earn all-tourney honors at the renowned City of Palms tournament in Fort Myers, Fla., I thought he was special. The crazy hops, 360-spin move and blurring speed that have become staples were in full effect. If you look up the YouTube mix-tape of the highlights, you’ll see all of that plus a mid-range jumper (which he didn’t fully develop until this season).
But dozens of high school phenoms passed through Fort Myers during my nine years there, including Lance Stephenson, Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans, Michael Beasley and former No. 1 draft pick Kwame Brown – which proves that prep performance is totally unreliable in predicting NBA stardom.
Reaching even one NBA All-Star Game is a great accomplishment and Sunday was Wall’s second. He validated his first selection as a starter by scoring 19 points with seven assists and three rebounds. The fine outing included power dunks, blow-by drives, pinpoint passes and a three-pointer for good measure.
His game and his confidence have grown from the happy-to-be-here, scared-to-death novice we saw in 2014, to the blossoming national star who garned the league’s seventh-highest vote total.
“You could really see the difference in him this year,” Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul said after the West escaped with a 163-158 victory against the East at Madison Square Garden. “He was a lot more relaxed and a lot more comfortable.”
Maybe not quite as comfortable as Paul, who enjoyed his eighth All-Star Game, or greybeard Tim Duncan, invited to the party for the 15th year. Kobe Bryant didn’t play but was named to the team for the 17th time, while Dirk Nowitzki dunked off an alley-oop to celebrate his 13th game.
Spending a weekend with the NBA’s biggest names and top players isn’t something Wall wants to happen infrequently.
“This is somewhere I want to be,” he said afterward. “Hopefully I can be an All-Star the rest of my career as much as possible. It’s an honor to be here with these other great guys. It’s an opportunity for us young guys to try to improve and get to the superstar level those guys are at.”
The benefits of All-Star get-togethers pale in comparison to USA Basketball gatherings. The former is more like happy hour, where players seek to have fun, enjoy each other and entertain the crowd.
Conversely, wearing the red, white and blue to represent the USA is strictly business, with intense practices, a clear-cut mission and a strategic plan to accomplish it.
It’s no coincidence that several members of the 2014 USA World Cup team are having breakout seasons, including Klay Thompson, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Along with Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, they received their championship rings in honor of winning the FIBA gold medal.
Paul, a two-time Olympian admits that the All-Star experience is nothing like international ball. But he said the intangible impact can rub off on young players like Wall.
By DERON SNYDER
In the romanticized, idealized world of college football, Big State U. recruits the best high school players each year and sells them on whatever works: the coaches, the system, the campus, the tradition, the co-eds, etc.
The young men are offered scholarships and asked to sign a National Letter of Intent, which commits them to that school and makes them off-limits to other interested suitors.
After faxing the agreement, elite players often go on TV and hold up a hat or pair of gloves in announcing their choice to the world. Hugs and handshakes ensue at the high school, while staffers at the college exchange high-fives and keep tally on the big board.
But like everything connected to major college sports, the NLI has an underbelly that’s dark, seamy and foul-smelling.
We’ve become immune to the sudden departure of head coaches who a year earlier talked about the wonderful things ahead for them and the incoming class. Jim McElwain hosted Florida officials at his house on Dec. 1 last year, despite his contract with Colorado State and an upcoming bowl game. He bolted shortly thereafter.
Arkansas State watched three coaches – Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin – leave for high-profile gigs after one-year stints. Surely they gave no indication of the possibility while regaling recruits.
At least head coaches are long gone by National Signing Day, giving prospective signees a chance to re-evaluate the destination. However, that’s not the case with assistant coaches, who serve as the main recruiters, influencers and points-of-contact for prep athletes and annually jet off before the ink dries.
Mike Weber, the top-rated halfback in Michigan, signed an NLI with Ohio State last week. Less than 24 hours later, Buckeyes running backs coach Stan Drayton accepted a job with the Chicago Bears.
Two days after defensive tackle Du’Vonta Lampkin signed with Texas, Longhorns defensive line coach Chris Rumph took the same position with Florida (whose D-line coach Terrell Williams left for the Miami Dolphins a day earlier). “Guess I was lied to in my face,” Lampkins wrote on Twitter. “It’s not even the fact he left. … It’s the fact I was told it wasn’t going to happen.”
By DERON SNYDER
NBA commissioner Adam Silver is no dummy. Like the rest of us, he’s aware that his conferences can be dubbed “the Least” and “the Best.”
But instead of lamenting the fact that so many sorry Eastern Conference teams reach the postseason, he sounds ready to do something about it.
“Ultimately, we want to see your best teams in the playoffs,” Silver said last week, on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, during a Mavericks-Warriors game.
Unfortunately, a number of the NBA’s better squads reside in the Western Conference and routinely stay home when the regular season ends. In the last 10 years, six teams in the West had winning records and missed the playoffs, while eight teams in the East made the playoffs with losing records.
The discrepancy in quality has been glaring. Ten years ago, the West had six teams with a winning percentage higher than .600 and another that finished at .598; the East had just two teams above .600 and the third-best was at .549. Only four or five East teams typically have been among the league’s Top 16 during the last decade.
In 2007-08, the West’s eighth seed won 50 games, while the East produced only three teams with at least 50 wins. The weaker circuit boasted four 50-game winners in 2009-10, but that was half the number of its counterpart.
Last season, Phoenix finished 14 games over .500 and missed the playoffs. Atlanta finished six games under and reached the postseason.
The Suns are in another tight race this season, entering Monday as the No. 8 team, barely ahead of New Orleans and Oklahoma. Phoenix would be a half-game out of the sixth seed if it played in the East, while the Pelicans and Thunder would be vying for the final two playoff slots.
Silver said he’s open to tweaking the format, possibly going with the six division winners and the next 10 best teams, rather than the top eight from each conference.
“There is an unbalance a certain unfairness,” he said of the current system. “I think that’s the kind of proposal we need to look at. … It’s something I’m going to look at closely with the competition committee. I do think it’s an area where we need to make a change.”
By WARREN LOWE
This week marked another year for “National Signing Day,” when high school student-athletes gather at various locations and ceremoniously announce where they plan to spend the next phase of their educational and athletic lives. For many high school students, this is known as COLLEGE.
Unfortunately, far too many of our nation’s cities and states have no such programs and their students have no such plans, dreams or aspirations. Instead of going to Ohio State, University at Buffalo or Howard U., they’re headed to the University of Undetermined or State Penitentiary.
To this I ask: “Where’s the outrage?:
For years, I perceived going to college as a given, even though statistics and my own eyes said otherwise. In too many households, college is not viewed as the viable option and beacon of opportunity that it is. I realize that it might not be the best move for everyone, but it still beats most alternatives.
Statistics report that high school dropout rates are soaring between 30-45 percent in many areas. After that, the numbers of students matriculating to junior college or four-year universities are frightening.
Again I ask: “Where’s the outrage?”
In many communities, the teachers, administrators and other faculty members are considered the culprits; however, this view should be re-examined. Teachers must operate within a basic lesson plan and then request that their students do the work. I understand that it’s their job (or should be) to make things interesting and applicable to students’ everyday lives.
But I’m outraged that parents in many cases don’t make it their job to send alert, well-mannered and prepared students to school WITH THEIR PANTS PULLED UP AND SNEAKER PRICES HELD DOWN!
On behalf of everyone who currently works (or used to work) in the education system, I would like readers to know: WE ARE NOT BABYSITTERS!
As I move through life and engage in conversations with people from various cultural, educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, I have found a disturbing consistency. Our country manages to find ways to point the finger in more directions than ever before. The parents blame the teachers, the teachers blame the students and the students blame everyone.
Unfortunately, very little is being done to throw life jackets to our children in this “sea of blame.”
If conditions existed which prohibited my child from the right to a quality education, a school’s athletic program would not interest me. Nothing that any coach, representative, booster or affiliate said could induce me or my child.
I would be so outraged, I’d submit an article every week to my local newspaper. If the paper got sick of me, I’d write all of the magazines I could think of, participate in my local, state and federal political arenas and then head off to the networks!
But first, I would checkmate things at home, where “the teacher doesn’t like me,” is an unacceptable excuse. Sometimes, it seems that this level of protest is only warranted when other rights are violated or when someone is a called derogatory name.
For too many of us, education – or the lack thereof – isn’t upsetting. We should be OUTRAGED that so many of our shining stars (athletic and otherwise) top out their journeys at high school. Tragic!
A native of Lackawanna, N.Y., outside of Buffalo, Lowe is a former public school teacher who was forced into retirement due to injuries sustained on the job during a student’s blindside attack. Now a freelance writer, he’s battling life-threatening heart failure while waiting for a transplant. Those who wish to assist – either monetarily or with encouraging words – may visit his page on Help HOPE Live. He can be reached at email@example.com.
By DERON SNYDER
Once again, it’s time to check off some items on my “TIDU List” – Things I Don’t Understand:
*Why people watch so much Super Bowl programming.
Gathering around TVs with friends and strangers on Super Bowl Sunday is as common as fireworks on July 4. A record 114.4 million people – the largest audience in TV history – watched New England defeat Seattle. I get that. But ESPN said it aired 346 hours of NFL programming during the week and people spent 7 billion minutes viewing it.
That’s 13,628 years down the drain.
*How Malcolm Butler isn’t in a certain franchise’s commercial already.
Four years ago, the Patriots cornerback was working in a fast-food restaurant in his hometown of Vicksburg, Miss. Four days ago, he worked his way into Super Bowl lore, snagging a game-saving interception with 20 seconds left in the game. If his previous employer is smart, it will re-create the scene and give him the perfect line for a Disney World-type moment:
“I’m going to Popeyes!”
*What Bill Belichick was thinking with time running out.
Pete Carroll’s brain fart has been drawn and quartered. But the ill-advised call took Belichick off the hook for perhaps bungling New England’s best chance at a game-tying field goal. He was sitting on two timeouts with 20 seconds left when Butler saved the day. (Coincidentally, Belichick also butchered clock management against Baltimore in the divisional round).
He should send Carroll an anonymous gift.
*Why Lance Armstrong’s deceit would come as a surprise.
The disgraced cyclist isn’t the first driver who tried to pin an accident on a passenger. He’s just the first one who previously was stripped of seven Tour de France victories after more than a decade of lying to the world about using performance-enhancing drugs. Armstrong got his girlfriend to take the blame for a hit-and-run until her story fell apart.
Sounds like they’re perfect for each another.
*How Warren Sapp missed what happened to Greg Anthony.
By DERON SNYDER
With six seconds remaining before intermission, trailing 14-7 and set to receive the second-half kickoff, Seattle coach Pete Carroll rolled the dice in Super Bowl 49.
Instead of settling for the chip-shot, 28-yard field goal, he went for the touchdown, gambling that he wouldn’t come away empty as time expired. It was an incredibly gutsy call and I wasn’t alone in thinking it was wrong. However, quarterback Russell Wilson fired a strike to Chris Matthews with two seconds to spare, tying the score.
But that instance of risky behavior – rejecting the safety of conventional wisdom and a preponderance of common sense – was nothing compared to Carroll’s “what-are-you-thinking?” decision with 26 seconds left in the game. Given the stakes, with an opportunity to win a second consecutive Super Bowl, Seattle’s last offensive play is arguably the worst call in NFL history.
Carroll would be slapped with a malpractice lawsuit in medicine. He would be charged with breach of fiduciary responsibility in business. He would face a recall election in politics. Depending on the country, he would be looking over his shoulder in international football.
Trailing 28-24 from New England’s 1-yard line, with the NFL’s best halfback behind one of the league’s best running QBs, the Seahawks elected to pass.
In and of itself, that choice is merely highly questionable. I could see a hard play-action fake, getting New England to sell-out on the run while a Seahawk slips unnoticed into the end zone, where he’s wide open for an easy touchdown. Or I could see some bootleg action that gets Wilson on the edge with the chance to suck in defenders and make an easy pass for touchdown.
Whatever the call, if Seattle (inexplicably) was determined to throw, the play should’ve entailed a much safer, easier pass. Not a quick slant in tight space toward the middle of the field, where ricochets can be disastrous.
In fact, it was such a bang-bang sequence that initially I thought the ball was deflected. But Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler made a clean interception on a brilliant play, jumping inside of wideout Ricardo Lockette and arriving a split-second before the pass.
Games are never decided by one play, at least not literally. Different outcomes on earlier scores or stops would alter the late-second scenario.
But figuratively speaking? Absolutely.