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Three Cheers for Giannis + A Modest Suggestion for A Baseball Rule Change

I'm not the greatest fan of the NBA.  The old adage, "You only have to watch the last few minutes of a game" to find out a result still holds true IMO. 


Yet the recent championship run of the Milwaukee Bucks led by the remarkable Mr. Everything Giannis Antetokounmnpo deserves plaudits. His is really a Horatio Alger story about a Greek-Nigeria immigrant who came to this country with his family and rose through hard work and talent to the pinnacle of a major sport. 


He wasn't a widely regarded "can't miss" recruit but the Bucks took a chance on him and he rewarded the team and its fans with only their second NBA title and the first since 1971.  It was nice to see stars of that earlier team, Oscar Robertson and Kareem-Abdul Jabbar (still known in 1971 as Lew Alcindor), seated together during Game 4 as the Bucks evened the series against the Phoenix Suns. 


As a free agent, Giannis turned down bigger offers from more glamorous teams.  He chose being comfortable in his surroundings and with his teammates and ignored the popular notion that "the gra$$ is always greener on the other $ide of the track$."  


Another touch of class Giannis displayed was after the final Game 6 victory over the Suns in Game 6, he invited Phoenix coach Monty Williams into the Bucks' locker room to pay homage to his worthy opponent. 


That was a remarkable moment and speaks volumes about what kind of real sportsman as well as competitor Giannis Antetokoumnpo really is.  Once you break it down, his name is not too hard to pronounce.  It sure is classier and more respectful than calling him "The Greek Freak".    


Knick fans should remember Monty Williams who drafted him and let him go too soon. It is so hard to repeat in any sport or league these days, pro or college, but it would be nice to see a repeat of these two teams from smaller markets.


An ironic sidebar to the thrilling Game 6 was the fine play of Suns backup center Frank Kaminsky, the former Wisconsin Badger great who was once the national Player of the Year.


One final note of praise for the Bucks - they drafted on July 29 Mike Smith, formerly of Columbia and the University of Michigan.  He is a undersized point guard to be sure, but he showed during Michigan's thrilling 2021 ride to the Elite Eight that he possesses a lot of skills as ball-handler and leader. 



I fear that the gap between the rich and the poor in baseball will now be wider than ever.  There is no relegation principle in American sports as there is in European soccer.  If you are consistently bad in European soccer, you get demoted to a lower league.  Not so in America.


So it looks like the underclass of teams without a prayer of competing for a title will grow.  Recent members have included my Woerioles (with one of the weakest starting pitching staffs in baseball history), Pirates, Rangers, Diamondbacks. Marlins, Rockies, Tigers (though they have had a good season even if still under .500), Royals, and quite possible the Angels despite the presence of Shohei Ohtani and now oft-injured Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon. 


After the stripping of many of their core players, it looks like the Cubs, Nationals, Twins, and the soon-to-be-renamed Cleveland Guardians will join the also-rans.  As always, there is nothing that fans and loyalists can do about this unfortunate situation.


The current Basic Agreement expires in December.  It will be very interesting to see if there is an any consideration of the current lack of "competitive balance" throughout baseball. I'm not holding my breath. Especially since financial aid to the poorer teams was eliminated in the last Basic Agreement.


Here is one minor change in the rules that Jim Henneman, Baltimore's astute sportswriter, has suggested.

Why not eliminate the bunt rule where a bunt with two strikes is an automatic out?  Let every bunt be considered just another foul ball. 


The reasoning is that such a new rule would keep the third baseman near his normal position and not playing right field on two-strike counts as so often happens under the new "analytic" schemes. Padres third baseman Manny Machado has made some spectacular throws from the right field corner, but I can give them up for a return to relatively normal positioning.


If commissioner Manfred could institute by fiat this season the three-batter-minimum rule for relief pitchers, maybe he can bring up the bunt change up and get bipartisan agreement.  Not predicting anything positive happening but as someone who believes in "least worst" solutions, changing the bunt rule might be a good place to start. 


It may not be as ludicrous as it sounds because so many players are coming from college programs where the bunt is still a big part of the game. It might be easier to implement than one might think.  


That's all for now.  Next time I'll report on my experience at Chautauqua teaching Baseball and American Culture again with the focus on the period from the Black Sox Scandal through westward expansion of MLB in 1950s.


Until then, remember to stay positive, test negative, and take it easy but take it!  

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In Praise of Wisconsin Badger Basketball + No-Baseball Blues, Part II

Saturday April 4th would have been the start of the Final Four.  It is also the 27th birthday of the great Wisconsin Badger center Frank Kaminsky who five years ago on that night led my team to a stirring semi-final victory over previously undefeated Kentucky.  

It was sweet revenge for a loss to the Wildcats in the 2014 Final Four semi-final. 

It is too bad that Wisconsin couldn't hold a lead in the final against Duke - cunning Coach Mike Kryzewski successfully worked the refs in the second half and the Badgers didn't respond well enough. 


Yet the 2014-15 Badgers remain close to most of us alums' hearts. Frank Kaminsky was the poster boy for the Badger way of patient player development.


After needing the first two seasons to get used to the relentless toughness of Big Ten competition, Kaminsky exploded on the scene as a junior and in his senior year was named National Player of the Year, a first-of-its-kind honor for a Badger.


Kaminsky is currently recovering from knee surgery and hopes to resume his journeyman's pro career with the Phoenix Suns next season (whenever next season starts).  He's been the most successful pro from a team that included forwards Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes and point guard Bronson Koenig - all have played more in Europe than in either the NBA or its developmental league.


The line from Kaminsky went first to Ethan Happ who gave Kaminsky fits in practice when red-shirting. If only Happ, whose first cousin BTW is Yankees southpaw J. Happ, could shoot fouls and anything outside the paint.  (Last I heard Happ was playing in Europe before the pandemic ended his season.) 


It's a shame that this year's Badgers never got a chance to play in the post-season tournament.  The surprise #1 seed in the never-played Big Ten Tournament roared down the stretch with a eight-game winning streak.  


Big men Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter showed they were worthy successors to Kaminsky, Dekker, and Happ; gritty guards Brad Davison and D'Mitrik Trice brought back memories of the Ben Brust-Josh Gasser-Traevon Jackson trio; and swing men Aleem Ford and Brevin Pritzl, the only senior on the team, had great moments as well.   

The pain of losing basketball at a crucial time was bad enough even if an ESPN simulation predicted the Badgers would have gone all the way. Since coach Greg Gard, a worthy successor to his former boss Bo Ryan, gave crucial minutes to only six men makes me wonder if these Badgers would have gone all the way. Alas, they never had a chance so we'll never know.

No March Madness, and now we are dealing with the ongoing no-baseball blues. There are so many movies one can watch on TCM before one lusts for outdoor activity and seeing live sports again.  


I did catch a lot of TCM's late March baseball films.  Never had seen "Pride of the Yankees" straight through and Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright as Lou and Eleanor Gehrig made for a very endearing couple.  


I hadn't realized that Yankee catcher Bill Dickey plays a role in the 1942 film as a defender of Gehrig, slugging a teammate who criticizes the Iron Horse as his career tragically declines.  Babe Ruth also plays himself in the film and brings a lot of Ruthian energy to the role. 


Alex Mankiewicz, the daughter of co-screenwriter Joe Mankiewicz, made the pertinent observation in pre-film commentary that her father did love baseball and had been a pretty decent player.


MLBTV, of course, is another baseball outlet for me these days. I caught on April Fool's Day the replay of Game 7 of the 1991 World Series with the Twins beating the Braves in a 1-0 10 inning thriller.   

I remembered it as the Jack Morris Show with the Series-winning pinch hit delivered by Columbia's Gene Larkin.  I had forgotten that it was Dan Gladden's hustle leading off the bottom of the 10th inning that set up the winning run. 


Gladden never stopped running on a bloop single to left center and just got into second in the nick of time. Then Chuck Knoblauch did when the analytic geniuses of today pooh-pooh, gave himself up with a 4-3 grounder that sent Gladden to third base with the winning run. 


After intentional walks to Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek, pinch-hitter Gene Larkin ended the drama with a first pitch single over the head of left fielder Lonnie Smith

for the World Series-winning RBI. I felt bad for reliever Alejandro Pena who had pitched two innings in Game 6 and had worked this game since the 8th. 


I had forgotten that the Twins had great chances to score in the 6th, 8th, and 9th innings before Gladden and Larkin delivered in the 10th.  Of course, Game 7 is most remembered for Lonnie Smith's inexplicable stopping at second base on Terry Pendleton's drive over Gladden's head in left field.


On a play in front of him, Smith somehow got deked by the Twins' adroit DP combo of future Yankee Knoblauch and former Yankee farmhand Greg Gagne.

Of course, Jack Morris deserves full credit for pitching out of the second and third and no out situation on his way to a stirring complete game victory.


I had forgotten that Sid Bream, whose slide into home on Francisco Cabrera's single beat the Pirates in the NLCS to get Braves into the Series, hit into a 3-2-3 DP that got Morris out of the 8th inning jam.  How like capricious baseball to turn a hero into a goat in a matter of days.  

Announcer Jack Buck annoyingly wouldn't let Smith forget the booboo for the rest of the broadcast. But to Buck's credit, he did realize that the scoreless battle was a classic in the making.  After one half-inning, he invited viewers to return after a commercial break for more "torture and pleasure". 

I'm sure MLB will fill the void with more great games from the past.   It is a pale substitute for the real thing, but I do believe that patience is a virtue.  It looks like we'll have a chance to be very virtuous in the weeks ahead because I cannot see a baseball season starting before summer if then. 

Nonetheless, as always take it easy but take it!


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