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Heading towards winter

By Clark Booth
Posted: 10/22/2010

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Here's more stray bits and pieces in search of a connection while pulling for some combination of weather and competition to push the World Series well into November. Which would mean all four professional seasons plus the college scams will be jamming simultaneously. Who says you can't have too much of a good thing?

Expanded Playoffs?

That would make the prospect of further extending the baseball post-season ludicrous. When Czar Bud Selig says he'll shortly be consulting with his ''advisors'' about adding another playoff tier you know it's virtually a fait accompli.

Television moguls love the playoffs; though with ratings fast diminishing you wonder why. Owners love them because it jacks up gates and hoopla over the vital last from five to six weeks of the regular season while fostering the illusion of hotter pennant races. It's believed Selig favors having two wildcards in each league requiring them to shoot it out for the last playoff berths; a so-called "play-in." Others favor expanding the first full round to seven games on the grounds the existing five game format is unfair.

One could buy the "play-in," especially if it's forced right after the regular season with no break thus placing huge stresses on teams involved. Anything that weakens the wildcard and rewards teams that do best over the long regular season is highly desirable. When teams start contriving to finish second because there's no advantage in finishing first, it's clear the lunatics have taken over the asylum. The question is would it be a one-game shoot-out -- a terrifying prospect for the combatants -- or a two out of three series, which would oblige the other playoff teams to twiddle their thumbs too long.

There's no perfect solution. But the best alternative is the one-game play-in, quirky though it may be. For it would make the wildcard a thing to be dreaded and that's long overdue. Season ends Sunday, wildcard showdown Monday, team with best record gets home field, first full round starts Wednesday, keep the first round three out of five, and tighten up the schedule keeping off-days to a minimum and disdaining the protestations of the TV hucksters. Baseball must never again allow its festival to go beyond Halloween.

The Randy Moss fiasco

So, where does the truth lie? Was the inscrutable Moss the scalawag management darkly implies or a terrific fellow as his ex-mates led by nimble Tom Brady insist? Players have been known to lie for one another and may be especially inclined to do so in the NFL's current labor-tense climate. On the other hand, if Moss is not a genuine problem -- real or potential -- dumping him in mid-season makes utterly no sense.

It's always intriguing to watch the media line up when a player of note suddenly jumps ship or gets pushed, especially if he's controversial or his departure is perceived to be such. The Moss issue qualifies on both counts. Those in the media eager to ingratiate themselves with management will be quick to run with the little innuendoes that cagey team officials know how to plant, suggesting the chap in question was really a rogue. There's been plenty of that in the case of Moss, an easy chap to denigrate given his indiscretions over the years.

As with everything that concerns this football team, the answer is buried deep in the impenetrable psyche of the autocratic head coach. Clearly, our boy Bill loathes contract issues and once he perceives the merest hint of such insubordination in a performer, the lad is toast. The downsizing of Moss his last month on the premises was expertly done. He now takes his place in a chorus line of alleged malcontents starring Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Deion Branch (first time around) and Richard Seymour, with Logan Mankins soon to join this exclusive band of brothers.

They say Coach Vince Lombardi couldn't get away today with the despotism he waged with such ruthless efficiency long ago. Coach Bill Belichick proves that theory false. No captain of any ship enjoys more iron-clad rule than a highly successful coach in the NFL.

With his smashing return in the Ravens' game Branch makes Coach Bill look like a genius, yet again. Watch for the apologists to run with that thesis too, while arguing Branch is better than Moss. May it be politely suggested you take a deep breath before swallowing that one.

Halladay versus Larsen

Naturally, the second post-season ''No-No'' in baseball history obliged comparison with the first. And with there being more than half a century gulf between the two, the assumption that Roy Halladay's artistry exceeded that of Don Larsen was also inevitable, given the devout belief now prevalent that old-timers can't touch the moderns, at least in terms of skill. Happily, it's impossible to prove which is why it's so widely assumed becomes aggravating.

In terms of drama, impact, importance, and sheer achievement the vote here is for the Yankee Larsen's masterpiece woven against the mighty Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. Not only was Larsen's game perfect -- although Halladay's versus the Reds was close enough -- it was done at the ultimate moment of any baseball season; the fifth game of a World Series tied at two all. It's as ''clutch'' as it gets no matter the time, place, or era.

When you add the ferocity of Brooklyn's rivalry with the Bronx and the focus it commanded nationally, you have a moment impossible to surpass. There's no intent to disparage the Doc, who would have excelled in any age, let alone the Reds of Joey Votto, Brandon Philips, Scott Rolen, etc. But one suspects the Dodger lineup Larsen faced that memorable afternoon, featuring Messrs Robinson, Campanella, Snider, Hodges, Reese, Furillo, Gilliam, Amoros and a pinch-hitter named Dale Mitchell was just a tad tougher to tame.

Anyway, that's my contention and I'm sticking to it.

Standing O for Big Ben

Any list of real towns with real people begins with Pittsburgh and it's a place where character has always been highly prized in those they choose to honor. Which is why we should probably write off the much too royal reception accorded the returning prodigal quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, as something aberrant however unfortunate.

Roethlisberger can protest his boyish innocence until the cows come home and it's a fact that he's ducked -- so far -- the sometimes too short arm of the law. But in the meantime he's also meekly accepted the harsh verdict of his own profession that his conduct in outrageous escapades has been disgraceful. Hence the suspension he's just completed and the payoff to alleged victims he's willingly making and the on-going psychological counseling he's accepted and the edict from the NFL Commissioner ordaining that with one more breach he's gone for good. As his fellow Steelers' immortal, Terry Bradshaw, has observed, if he's actually innocent how come he swallowed all of that?

Upon his return versus the Browns, he was boisterously introduced with many in the immense throng rising to their feet and the roar by all accounts was much greater than any other player received. What message were they sending? And you might further wonder if he'd been a cornerback, would they have done that? Would they have been given the chance?


In case you missed it in the fine print of the mad sporting scene, the incomparable Ned Martin is on this year's list of 10 nominees for the Ford Frick Award and a place in the Broadcaster's Wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown.

It won't be easy. Other nominees include such legends as Graham McNamee, the esteemed broadcasting pioneer, and the eccentric pitcher Dizzy Dean, who already has a deserved perch in the player's pantheon, along with Tim McCarver who has the distinct advantage of being still a force in the trade.

Ned, however, was special, very much like his pal, Ernie Harwell. There was a literary grace to their work, for both had the soul of poets. The celestial games are in good hands. Cooperstown should settle for no less.