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Diary of a Mad Sportswriter: November 2006

Diary of a Mad Sportswriter

Stan Hudy is a sportswriter for The Saratogian and Community News. He covers high school and youth sports in the Saratoga County area as well as writing a weekly book review on sports books. He's not just a "stick and ball" sportswriter, he's willing to take on any sport as well as any subject.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Coming to a BALCO Lab near you...Barry Bonds

San Francisco Giant slugger, accused steroid user and media darling Barry Bonds may be coming to your major league town soon.
After filing for free agency the day after the World Series concluded, the man on the doorstep of Hank Aaron's home run record is offering his bat for rent.
His agent stated that all 30 major league teams have shown an interest.
Bonds may become the first player to reach the 30, 300, 3,000 club in the major leagues.

Thirty teams have shown interest, or more likely mild curiosity as to how much they will have to pay per home run to fill their stadiums next season. There are more than 300 BALCO-type labs willing to provide him with his “supplements” and trainers to get his fragile body through one last season along with 3,000 reporters anxious to put the nail in his coffin once and for all.
Let's break it down.

Without a salary cap, owners are free to pony up a 100 thousand per at bat for Bonds. He's guaranteed to be on the cover of the media guide, programs and sell a warehouse full of new jerseys. The entire pre-season and regular season will revolve around each at bat, counting down the 21 dingers he needs to tie Hank Aaron.
The owners will stand at the podium showing the local fans and municipalities the money has he put forth to bring “a winner” to his town.
Imagine the demand for tickets, press credentials and kayaks, nets and "hit it here" signs that will be sold locally. You can also bet that as the home run title becomes more likely, more broadcast games will be moved from local free television to ESPN, FOX or if he's a New York Yankee, expect the first-ever pay-per-view baseball games to be broadcast.

Labs will be relocating, boxing up their flaxseed oils and training regiments for his next stop. Who wouldn't want to take credit for “training the home run king” and have their signs plastered on supplement posters on sweat covered gym walls. “Barry took this, you should too,” “Barry worked out on this, you should too,” is a marketing execs dream.
But can Bonds handle the pressure from his next city's daily media looking to earn a Pulitzer by proving he is a cheat. Big budget news agencies and newspapers will have no problem dumpster diving through a city block of residential garbage looking for medical waste and alcohol swabs if it means a Pulitzer.

How about the scribes who have an axe to grind for the unjust pain and suffering San Francisco Chronicle peers Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams have gone through for their work.
Sportswriters can be lazy, arrogant and heartless, but they still have long memories and hold a grudge for the greater good.

Just ask Pete Rose.

Come on Barry, step into the batters box at any other unfriendly confines in the nation and take your swings. No more local protection, no more “You know Barry” lines from his handlers and the San Francisco Giants. Get ready to face the heat like you have never known before.
It has been written that you perform best when you consider yourself hated. Then take a stroll to one of the Big Three (media markets), New York, Chicago or L.A.You could break the record by May and enjoy your retirement, but only after suing for your record breaking ball caught by a kid with a brain tumor.
Come on, take your best shot, because we'll be waiting for you.

Hudy's Hardcovers: Auerbach's Let Me Tell You a Story

Let Me Tell You a Story: A Lifetime in the Game
Red Auerbach and John Feinstein
Little, Brown and Company
346 pages

What could be better than a weekly lunch date with the greatest name in basketball? That's what best-selling writer John Feinstein found himself invited to in Washington, D.C. each Tuesday at 11 a.m. at the China Doll where Boston Celtic President and nine-time NBA championship coach Red Auerbach holds court. For four years, Feinstein has been a welcome guest to this weekly gathering which has included Auerbach's brother Zang, longtime friends, Secret Service agents, family physicians and a Who's Who of basketball legends.
There were several rules Feinstein learned quickly: Be there by 11 a.m., Auerbach orders by 11:05 and never even think of reaching for the check; it's always on Auerbach. The group breaks up near 1 p.m. when Auerbach says that he has to go. Then it's off to his next stop -- a game of gin that awaits him at the Woodmont Country Club. You have to be invited or sponsored by a current member of the lunch group and approved by Auerbach. There is no guarantee that you would be invited back. The lunch dates began between the two brothers Auerbach when the retirees agreed they would meet each Tuesday for lunch, unless one of them had a prior commitment. The location would always be Chinese food, a passion of Red Auerbach's from his coaching days. According to Feinstein, Auerbach could always find late night takeout in any city his team played in and always ordered his food steamed. A good meal, a good night's rest and Auerbach was ready to fight another day.
From there the table grew as more and more friends and colleagues were invited. The author chronicles Auerbach's life as well as his career started at The Saint Albans School and Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C. He coached the Washington Redskins football players on the hardwood, the Washington Capitols basketball team and the Tri-Cities Blackhawks before finally reaching the Boston Celtics.
Even at the age of then-87, Auerbach has an unflappable memory, often beginning one of his stories with 'Did I ever tell you about ... .' Each tale is bound to leave the listener, as well as Feinstein's readers, breathless from either awe or laughter.
One early nugget revealed was Auerbach's desire to not draft New England icon Bob Cousy, a star at Boston's Holy Cross college. In his first year, Auerbach refused to draft a 'local yokel,' just to pacify the Boston media.The cigar smoking coach didn't use his No. 1 pick in the draft on Cousy, instead drafting Charlie Share, a Bowling Green graduate. The Celtics finally got their man when the Chicago franchise, which had drafted Cousy, folded. Its three players were made available in one of the earliest supplemental drafts to the three worst teams in the league. Only by the luck of the draw, literally, did Auerbach draw Cousy's name out of a hat. He was now, officially, a Celtic.
Auerbach was always an innovator. Holding the duties of coach, general manager, scout and marketing director in his earliest days, it was Auerbach who came up with the idea of giveaways at the gate. He is also credited with the use of a sixth-man, a key player to come off the bench to help ignite his team.
Auerbach also helped implement an NBA rule change, regarding drafting players four years after graduating from high school. What appeared to be an innocent change was a key for the Celtics. Frank Ramsey and Cliff Hagen, two of Adolph Rupp's best players, planned to come back for a fifth season despite being eligible to graduate in the spring. Auerbach took Ramsey in the first round and Hagen in the third.
One of the greatest editions to the Celtics during Auerbach's days was the addition of Bill Russell.
With the seventh pick in the draft, the Celitcs moved up to the second selection in a trade with St. Louis for the seventh pick and player Ed Macauley, who wished to return to his hometown. Auerbach still needed a way to get Russell with the second pick.
To the rescue was none other than the Ice Capades.
Rochester owned the top pick and owner Les Harrison was always looking for ways to fill his arena. He saw the Ice Capades as a sure sell out. Celtics owner Walter Brown also owned the Ice Capades and offered the show to Rochester if the team would bypass Russell as its first selection.It worked. Rochester selected Sihugo Green and Auerbach got his man in the second selection overall.
Along with draft highlights are the Celtic tragedies of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis, something that still saddens Auerbach and Boston Celtic family.
No Auerbach story would be complete without the history of the coach lighting the famous victory cigar. With a game in hand, Auerbach was at a loss of what to do on the bench. He noticed another coach, Joe Lapchick of the Knicks, always smoked on the bench. He decided that if the game was in hand, he would light up a cigar to signal that victory was near. Auerbach never did it on the road, only at home games.
While Auerbach revels in stories from the past, he is never short on opinions about present day sports, basketball or politics. His views on basketball, its players, its coaches and even the commissioner's office are refreshing, and untraditional from an octogenarian. Auerbach blames coaches for playing for the cameras, shouting instructions and drawing-up plays only to allow the networks to showcase their expensive clothing tastes.Auerbach's tales revolve around his beloved Celtics, their owners, their players and their coaches as well as the game itself. There are few subjects left untouched.
It is apparent that Feinstein relishes his weekly lunch at the China Doll with Auerbach and his circle of listeners. He fills the reader with smiles as well as opinions created to challenge their own thinking.While this reviewer and the millions of readers of "Let Me Tell You a Story" may never get the invitation to the China Doll on a Monday evening, it is truly worth the read. Just in case, make sure to leave the phone lines open on Monday nights at home. It would certainly be worth the flight to Washington, D.C. for lunch if the invitation ever came.
Regrettably, it never will.
NOTE: This review originally ran Nov. 22, 2004 in The Saratogian and Community News. I thought it would be a fitting tribute to Red to re-run this review. It is on my all-time Top 10 list of books and should be on yours too.


The sports desk curse

Move over Sports Illustrated and Madden Football, The Saratogian sports department has just upended you as the king of curses, at least on a local level.
The Golden Rule has always been that there is no rooting in the press box. That withstanding, it didn't deter my peers from rooting for our local coverage teams for strictly planning purposes.

Just last week the brain trust of Paul Gangarossa and Ben Meyers were cooking up unprecedented plans for a Saratoga County Class AA football super bowl showdown. Heading into the Oct. 27 semifinals, Saratoga faced Colonie in a rematch of their season opener and Ballston Spa took on CBA. If both Saratoga County squads advanced the sports section was prepared for an epic preview section with an unprecedented coronation package for the winning team.
All the stars were in alignment, both looked good and we were ready. Then the sky came crashing down on our Saratoga County hopefuls and our plans.
Saratoga was upended for the second time this year by Colonie, 27-13, ruining the hometown squad’s season and Ballston Spa suffered an even worse fate at the hands of CBA, routed 55-20 on its home field.
There we plenty of tears shed on the playing fields, the sidelines and the stands that Friday night and I'm sure some on the inside of our stalwart sports staff.
But, fear not, reader, the brain trust within the sports department was not going to let two upsets derail our plans.
On Monday afternoon, the Saratoga boys soccer squad dropped Shaker High, 3-1, in an afternoon tilt. The Blue Streaks were headed for a showdown with No. 1 seeded Shenendehowa who just had to get past No. 6 Guilderland under the lights at Shen.
The sports desk was ready to spin on a dime, set up a showdown piece that night and follow it up with rivalry-jarring advances.
Paul called from the night desk called for an update, things looked good, Shen was up 1-0 in the first half…I could see him starting layout a banner screaming “Showdown”, “Next” or “Final Conflict”…fate must have been looking over his shoulder…a Guilderland player sent a weak-ass ball strolling along the goal line and it was left there, rolling, unmolested, until a Dutchmen player simply tapped it in to tie the game at one apiece.
From there it was just hell…not history…just plain hell.
Players running up and down the field, players missing the entire goal frame, no one hit the crossbar, the damn balls sailed over it, around it and next to it…for another 40 minutes of regulation, then 10 minutes of overtime, then another 10 minutes of overtimes, then five minutes of “sudden victory” overtime (another queer title I’ll write about later) and then one more 300 second period of overtime.
110 minutes, players cramping, crying and dying on the field and a winner wasn’t determined…yet.
Enter god’s gift to determine a winner and a goalkeeper’s worst nightmare…the shootout. One goalie would be a hero, one shooter would be crowned savior and the other goalkeeper would have a lifetime full of nightmares.
It wasn’t decided quickly, goal, goal, goal, goal, miss, miss, goal, etc. It would come down to one last Shenendehowa shot on goal, make it and we get to do it over again…a miss.

The Shenendehowa boys soccer season was over, the defending New York State Champions in Class AA were upended and we were part of the reason for it. They felt bad and I felt worse.
We’ve stopped rooting for outcomes, instead just resigned ourselves in dealing with potential match-ups as they come about, beginning with the outcome of the game first…
So far it worked, the Shenendehowa girls squad were up 2-0 against Guilderland before the Lady Dutchmen scored two goals to knot the contest at two apiece. (I was threatened to be removed from the field if Guilderland went ahead), luckily they didn’t and the Plainsmen advanced to the Class AA semifinal. They should do well, I’m at the swimming sectionals so hopefully no one will drown while I’m there.
Also, I might be bringing good luck, after becoming the harbinger of defeat to the Shenendehowa field hockey team, the Plainsmen advanced to the Class A final and I was there. For the past several years, I have been the witness to some early round playoff losses, including Shen’s No. 1 seeded upset at the hands of Columbia. The only bad news is that I pulled the championship game assignment…cross your fingers.