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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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"You Can't Take The Wiffle Ball Out Of The Game" and Other Tips for Surviving This Season From A Beleaguered Orioles Fan

Tip #1  Always keep the TV clicker nearby. If Orioles fall behind early - as too often they do with that woeful pitching staff - there are other games to watch. And movies on TCM and loads of good reading. 

 
Here's one book recommendation:  David Maraniss, A GOOD AMERICAN FAMILY: THE RED SCARE AND MY FATHER (Simon and Schuster, 2019)  Maraniss is the biographer of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Vince Lombardi as well as the author of THEY MARCHED INTO SUNLIGHT, the story of one month, October 1967, in the war in Vietnam and the anti-war demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin. 

 

His new book in understated effective prose tells the story of his father Elliott Maraniss's travails at the hands of the House UnAmerican Activities Commiteee (HUAC) after World War II.  Anyone who grew up in Brooklyn in the 1930s and is a University of Michigan Wolverine will want to read this book.

 

Maybe there is not enough about the happier, latter years of Elliott's career as an editor of Madison's insurgent newspaper the "Capital Times".  Or more detail on his love of sports, a man who ghost-wrote columns for Olympic sprinter Eddie Tolan (father of future major leaguer Bobby Tolan who incidentally almost tested the reserve clause before Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith did - see my book THE IMPERFECT DIAMOND). 

 

Or more on a baseball-loving father who took his young sons to the airport in Cleveland to welcome home the Indians after they won the 1954 American League pennant.  Yet I say that this recounting of how a "premature anti-fascist" and World War II army captain became victimized by Cold War hysteria offers absorbing and essential reading. 

 
Tip #2 - Take pleasure in little glimmers of hope your beleaguered team now and then provide.  Like the Saturday night August 17th debut of Hunter Harvey, a former Baltimore #1 draft pick who has been marred by injuries in the first years of his minor league career. 

Harvey threw a scoreless 8th inning with two strikeouts in a 4-0 loss to the Bosox.

 
Here's to a healthy and long career for the son of former Angels closer Bryan Harvey who drove through the night from North Carolina with Hunter's girl friend to be there for his son's MLB debut.

 
Tip #3: Enjoy the variety of stories that make every season interesting and different. 

For example, a long ESPN.com piece by Tim Kurkjian to commemorate the August 12, 1994 strike that led to cancellation of the World Series elicited some interesting comments from two first basemen who lived through it:   

 
Minnesota's Kent Hrbek was to retire at end of that season.  When the August 12 strike dragged on to the sad cancellation a month later by commissioner Bud Selig, Hrbek took the cup from his athletic supporter and nailed it to a wall in his house where it still stands.

(Speaking of Selig, his memoir FOR THE GOOD OF THE GAME is worth reading for the viewpoint of a small market owner who rose to be commissioner. More in the next blog.) 


Atlanta's Fred McGriff made this interesting observation to Kurkijian: the abuses of PEDs were caused by allowing players to bring their personal trainers into clubhouses.

 
For those of you who save your Sports Illustrateds, the double issue in late July/early August with Serena Williams on the cover contained some memorable baseball stories.  Emma Baccellieri's "Stuck in the Mud" about the Delaware River mud still used by umpires to rub the gloss off new baseballs is a keeper.

 
So is her piece "The Atlantic League" about the independent league that with the full backing of MLB is trying innovations to speed up the game and heighten offense. Last week I saw the Long Island Ducks rout the York Revolution at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip.

 
The cozy ballpark that seats over 7,000 does not show its nearly 18-year old age. (Although they need more screens to protect fans from foul balls.)  There were a few early glitches in the TrackMan electronic umpire giving info to the plate umpire.  (Don't dare call it a robot.)

 
My big problem with the technology is that there is no adjustment to the strike zone during an at-bat.  If you watch good hitters, they don't always take the same position at the plate even within an AB. 

 
Once again, common sense should dictate the encouragement of better umpiring not falling prey to blind belief in the Great God Technology.  If you see replays over and over again, I remain impressed at how good most of the umpires are at calling balls and strikes. Please let's remember the old age, "It's better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong."

 
Tom Verducci deserves a kudo for his story in the same SI double issue, "The Last of the .400 Hitters".  They were two minor leaguers, Aaron Pointer who did have a cup of coffee with the expansion Houston Colt 45's and is the brother of the famed rhythm and blues Pointer Sisters, and Darryl Brinkley who never was drafted or made The Show.

 
Yet New Yorker Darryl Brinkley who starred at Sacred Heart U. in Fairfield CT in the late 1980s persevered to become a productive minor leaguer and Caribbean League Hall of Famer.  Only the failure to obtain transportation in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 kept him from making the Orioles in Sept. 2011.

 
Let me close with some great words from coach Mike Roberts who earlier this month won the Cape Cod Baseball League championship for the third time in his storied career.   In the glow of the victory of his Cotuit Kettleers over the Wareham Gatemen, Roberts, the former North Carolina and South Carolina head coach and father of former Orioles All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts, told capecodbaseball.com: 

 

"You've got to love the backyard first and that's where it happens. . . . You can't the take the wiffle ball out of the game."   

 
That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it! 

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