Here’s to you, Harvey Haddix

When the final out was anticlimatically recorded Wednesday night, Armando Galarraga was not alone in posting an imperfect perfect game. Sure, he had his legendary and compassionate manager, Jim Leyland. His Detroit Tigers teammates shared in his disbelief and disappointment. Somewhere in Ohio, where Harvey Haddix was born in 1925 and died in 1994, the Haddix family understands.

Far too much focus has been on the umpire, Jim Joyce, who incorrectly called safe the Cleveland Indians runner, Jason Donald. SportsCenter focused on highlights of the 1985 World Series, when a similar close play at first base with a pitcher covering was missed by the umpire in the ninth inning. The Kansas City Royals rallied for a Game 6 victory, then won the championship the next day.

Far too little focus was shown to the young pitcher and to any comparison the Haddix gem, which was even more impressive and more unjust. Galarraga is a 28-year-old right-hander from Venezuela. Wednesday’s start was his third this season and 57th of his journeyman career. His previous start was 11 days prior. He threw a 28-out perfect game, as we all know by now, but the official record books show that he crafted a complete-game, one-hit masterpiece.

Haddix was a 33-year-old left-hander with the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 26, 1959, when he faced the Braves in Atlanta. This was a Braves team that had gone to the previous two World Series and boasted a lineup that included future Hall of Famers Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron. They went a combined 0-for-8 in that game.

Haddix retired 27 consecutive batters over the first nine innings. Ordinarily, that would be a perfect game. But the Braves Lew Burdette matched Haddix with zeros on the scoreboard.  They continued to shut down the batters in innings 10, 11 and 12. When Haddix went to the mound in the bottom of the 13th, he had set down 36 straight Braves, but it was still 0-0. First, the perfect game went when Felix Mantilla, a substitute second baseman, reached safely on an error. After a sacrifice bunt, Haddix intentionally walked Aaron. Haddix still had a no-hitter going when Joe Adcock smashed a home run. Adcock never scored because he passed Aaron on the base paths. He was credited with a double, and the Braves won 1-0. (See the box score.)

Haddix had other highlights in his 14-year career, which was spent with five teams. He had a 136-113 record with 1,575 strikeouts, a 3.63 ERA, 99 complete games and 21 shutouts. He started and won Game 5 of the 1960 World Series against the Yankees, then helped the Pirates upset the Bronx Bombers in Game 7 as a reliever.

So when you’re feeling sorry for Galarraga and Joyce, think not of blown calls but remember and honor Harvey Haddix. He and Galarraga share imperfect perfection.

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Stop it with two thousand and ten already

I heard it on the radio again the other day. Two thousand and ten. As in the year, 2010. When will we all convert to twenty-ten? And twenty-eleven next year? Trying to make Americans change gears is next to impossible. Look how quickly we respond to natural disasters in the Gulf and how we could never adopt fully the metric system.

It’s time we transition to twenty-ten. It’s only been a full decade now. OK, “the year two thousand” was cute and dramatic at the same time. But the year before that was nineteen ninety-nine. I suppose that in 89 years we’ll be saying “two thousand and ninety-nine”. Come on. It’ll be twenty-ninety-nine. If we’re lucky.

Then name 2001 and Sept. 11. 9-11-01. Two thousand and one. Have to leave that one alone.

So by 2002, we should have removed ourselves from two thousand and two, but no. Eight years later, we’re still at it.

Look at history. Do we say that WWI started in nineteen hundred and fourteen or one thousand nine hundred and fourteen? No, we say nineteen-fourteen. So in three years, should we say two thousand fourteen or twenty-fourteen. I think you know the answer.

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NCAA proposes hypocritical plan

The NCAA appears to have made up its mind. The current 65-team field of the men’s basketball tournament will expand to 96 teams. It expanded to 64 teams in 1985 and added the extra play-in game in 2001.

According to the Associated Press, NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen “said the NCAA looked at keeping the current 65-team field and expanding to 68 or 80 teams, but decided the bigger bracket was best fit logistically and financially.”

The key word is “financially”.

Adding 32 teams is an additional 16 games. That’s more ticket revenue, parking, concessions, etc. But the big money comes from TV. The NCAA signed an 11-year contract with CBS in 1999, and they have a mutual opt-out option until July 31. The NCAA is talking with other networks, such as a combination of ESPN and ABC, about expansion. With more teams and more games, the TV contract would have to grow.

There are two big problems with this plan.

First, good-bye NIT. The National Invitation Tournament, won by Dayton last night, would fade away. Once the official men’s basketball championship tourney, the NIT invites 32 teams, probably the same 32 that would make a future NCAA field. One of the arguments made by the NCAA is that by taking those 32 teams and putting them into the NCAA field, travel is reduced because the sites of the first- and second-round games would now host three rounds. Tell that to the college sites and Madison Square Garden, which host the NIT games.

Second, the NCAA is being hypocritical when you compare this plan to the college football system. For years now there has been a cry for a Division I playoff system, but the NCAA doesn’t want to abandon its sponsor-rich bowl system. They say a playoff system would keep students out of the classroom too much. They say the lesser bowl games would lose significance. Au contraire.

A college football playoff would be played in December and early January, when most colleges are on break. Adding more college basketball games during March is primetime for spring semester. Lesser bowl games are played now while we all wait for one game, the BCS championship game that is usually a controversial matchup. With a 16-team playoff, for example, every weekend matters, and TV can use the lesser bowls as warmups to the playoff games every weekend. Heck, play some of these games on weeknights to avoid clashing with the NFL.

I understand the desire to expand the basketball tournament. There is potential of ruining a good thing, of course. If it does expand, please consider a couple of ideas:

1) Play the first two rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday of the first week. Start earlier. Keep the current Thursday through Sunday schedule that we have now for rounds one through four. Make the lower 64 play first-round games on Tuesday and Wednesday, then the normal craziness of Thursday and Friday kicks in as usual.

2) Give automatic bids to regular season league champions. This gives meaning to the regular season, which can be a grind, in addition to the exciting sprint of the postseason league tournaments.

Finally, the NCAA should admit their hypocrisy when they suggest such plans. Please be honest with us. You owe us that much.

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Ryan who? Sports landscape has a new face

The landscape of sports has officially changed. The world as we knew it is gone. The future, as seen through the eyes of teens and tweens, is not baseball, basketball, football, hockey, boxing and horse racing. It’s not even tennis or golf. Or lacrosse and soccer, as some would proclaim.

The TLAs (three-letter acronyms) of MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL are being replaced by MMA, UFC, WWE and the OLA of X, as in X Games.

Last night I watched part of a replay of the “Kids’ Choice Awards”, aka the KCA. It was on Nickelodeon last weekend, but my sons didn’t watch it live. They DVR’d it. One of the categories was “Favorite Male Athlete”. Derek Jeter, Ryan Howard and Joe Mauer were nowhere on the nominee list. There was no Peyton Manning or Adrian Peterson. No Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin. These Nick kids probably would have said Sidney who? Joe schmoe? The nominees were two NBA stars — Kobe Bryant and LeBron James — and two X Games superheroes. One of them I knew because Shaun White crosses over into the Olympic Winter Games as a superhuman snowboarding god. The winner, however, was Ryan Sheckler.

I said, Ryan Who?

Sheckler is a skateboarding phenom who’s just 20 years old. He won his first Summer X Games gold at age 13. He has crossed over into acting, too, appearing on MTV and in movies. According to his official website, he’s also a “teenage heartthrob, business owner, charity founder and TV star”. I guess I’ve been missing out.

Now I know. Fantasy baseball and the Super Bowl are so yesterday. The sports world as we know it has changed.

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Owners blow it with OT rules change

The new NFL overtime rule has some intrigue, I’ll grant you that. Rewind to January. The Saints, with a little help from the officials, drive down the field against the Vikings. They’re in field goal range. Do they push for the end zone to win the game without allowing Brett Favre and the Vikings a chance to touch the ball? Do they kick a field goal to take the lead but kick off to the Vikings and give them a chance to score?It’s a coaching dilemma, and it’s one that coaches should have a chance to review during preseason and regular season.

That’s the biggest flaw of this new rule. It’s for the playoffs only. Imagine a special rule for extra innings that says you have to win with a home run, but it’s only in effect during the World Series.

Three playoff games in the past 10 seasons have been decided by a field goal on the first possession of overtime, which is the scenario that is affected by Tuesday’s vote of NFL owners. Just three games. Twelve playoff games between 1970 and 2000 went into overtime, and 10 more went into overtime since then. All those games, but it really comes down to one. The Vikings-Saints game in January.

Ironically, the team that lost that game voted against the rules change. Ziggy Wilf, the Vikings owner, said he voted against the change because it should be implemented in the regular season and not just the postseason. Totally agree.

This new rule is a prop, a circus act. It may make for some fun debate and second-guessing, but it’s not football. It forces a coach to make a decision that he otherwise would not have to make. It takes too much away from the players. That’s the argument against the coin flip. Don’t let the coin decide who gets the ball and thus has a 60% chance of winning in OT.

The best option for putting the game back into the hands of the players is to play it like the NHL, not college football as many have argued. In college, teams alternate starting on the opponent’s 25-yard line. Each team gets the ball, which is great, but the kickoff and punt teams are taken out of the game this way. In the NHL, teams play a frantic five minutes of overtime with regular rules, then go to a shootout if necessary in the regular season. In the postseason, they play by regular rules until someone scores.

My proposal for the NFL is to play a 10-minute overtime. Both teams would have at least one possession, and all aspects of the game would be relevant. The period is five minutes shorter than a regular quarter. It’s enough time to make it relevant, and it’s quick enough to make a dramatic ending just as you just witnessed in the fourth quarter. If there’s still a tie after 10 minutes, let it remain a tie in the regular season. If it’s the postseason, play another 10-minute overtime. Only one of the 22 playoff games since 1970 lasted more than 20 minutes past regulation – a divisional playoff game between Miami and Kansas City on Christmas Day, 1971.

The new rule addresses the issue of the coin flip and quick drives for winning field goals, but it doesn’t tackle all the issues. For that, the NFL owners have come up short on fourth down.

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Opening Ceremony should focus on great music

Alas, the world will hear what I have known for many years — the musical talents of Canadians.

Tonight’s Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver is sure to feature the talents of Sarah McLachlan, Bryan Adams, Nelly Furtado and Rush. You’re likely to hear loads of Michael Buble in the coming weeks, not to mention Shania Twain, Avril Lavigne. OK, you’ll probably hear Celine Dion, too. Even Canada slips once in a while.

You might also get tastes of some bands you’ve never heard before, such as The Tragically Hip and Blue Rodeo.

As for the torch … my money is on Wayne Gretzky to light the giant torch to cap the ceremony.

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How ’bout that, Cowboys!

There’s only one thing better than a playoff victory by the Minnesota Vikings — a playoff victory by the Vikings over the Dallas Cowboys.

Take that, Dallas.

The win was even more sweet a day later when the Cowboys fans whined about the extra touchdown that Minnesota tacked on in the last two minutes. It will never make up for the 1975 pass interference on Drew Pearson that was never called by the officials, but it’s still fun nonetheless.

Minnesota did almost everything right Sunday. The offensive line gave Brett Favre time to throw. Sidney Rice is proving to be one of the best receivers in the game. The defense came up big all day. Six sacks was great; 16 would have been even better. Down goes Romo! Down goes Romo! And the special teams played inspired football. Big tackles and no big plays allowed.

There was only one omission Sunday — no breakout run by Adrian Peterson. He hasn’t had an individual gain of 40+ yards or a game of 100+ yards since Nov. 15 against the Lions. Where’s the explosion? Are he and the o-line not in synch or are defenses so geared to stop him that he can’t find the open gaps? They had better find the answer before next Sunday if they hope to beat dem Saints.

Last thought on Mr. Favre. I wasn’t a fan when he work green and yellow or green and white. I was not happy when the Vikings pursued him nor when they signed him. Even after a 6-0 start, I wasn’t convinced. Minnesota should have been 6-0 without Favre with that lame early schedule. I am not converted, but I am happy he’s on our team now.

Skol Vikings!

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