Same Formula: 3 Sports

Watching the Houston Rockets- Golden State Warriors NBA Western Conference Final on Monday night and the comparisons hit me.  Some teams in the NBA (Golden State and Houston most specifically) have been using a style of play that recalls the days of the “Run and Shoot” offense in the NFL and the current “Home Run or Nothing” style currently in vogue in MLB.

All three sports feel going for the big shot, big play or big hit supersedes playing their games that way it evolved over decades.  The numbers tell ’em to do it.

When playing that all or nothing style works, offenses can be very impressive.  When it doesn’t, teams can look like they don’t know how to play the game at all.  The numbers as crunched by statistics mavens show the reward outweighs the risk.

Yet, most fans wish their favorite teams had a fall back plan when things aren’t going so well.  For decades the phrase “Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword” has been changed in sports to “Live by the Pass, Die by the Pass” or “Live by the Jump Shot, Die by the Jump Shot.”  Baseball probably needs its own variation now, “Live by the Home Run, Die by the Strikeout.”

The point is that while throwing passes which all have a greater chance to be longer gainers than running plays does analytically look good and make sense, what happens on those days when the quarterback is missing targets, receivers have butter fingers or the weather is inclement?  Does the same team have a running game they can use as a fall back?  In the Run and Shoot days–which have passed in the NFL– the answer was always, “no.”  To run the offense well teams no longer carried tight ends, replacing them with extra receiver.  Running backs were mostly blockers, but were used when defenses started falling back too much to protect deeper regions.  They could occasionally have big runs or even big games, but were not hard to defense if a run and shoot team started to try to run too much.  There weren’t enough blockers on the field.  Run and Shoot teams could never run out the clock.  They couldn’t keep a drive going only on the ground.

The run and shoot evolved into a spread offense that has some of the same principles, but included a tight end and an offense that did not try to throw the ball on every down.  That was a wise decision.

Can the NBA follow suit?  At times the NBA game is very ugly to watch.  The emphasis on the three point shot instead of simply having the three point shot as an option is again the result of analytics.  Three points is better than two is obvious, but the sacrifice is a lower field goal percentage, more missed shots and potentially more possessions for the opposing team after those missed.  Analytics say the advantage is still with the three point shooting team.  The catch is basic.  Like the run and shoot football team whose quarterback needs to be on target so do three point shooting teams need to hit the right percentage of attempts.  Two for six provides the same points a 3 for 6 in two point shots.  Anything less than hitting 33% of three pointers can be counter productive especially when considering that each miss results in a rebound and defensive rebounders tend to out number offensive rebounders by a large margin.

But the major problem with shooting three pointers is not having much else with the offense.  When shots are not falling or closely contested teams need other options at least for awhile until things open up again.  Many don’t.  They may have players capable to going one-on-one but that often results in everyone else standing around waiting for an emergency pass from the one on one practitioner when things break down.  Or, it results a forced shot as the clock is about to expire.  That is not efficient and is certainly not pleasing for the fans.  Having a play call for a motion offense with movement of both ball and player would be pleasing.  However, sometimes the wrong players are on the court for that to be a viable option. Most three point heavy teams don’t practice that option.  Rotating spots behind the three point line is considered a play.  A two man pick and roll can be a fine play, but it is not one that can be run excessively since it can be defended.

Right now teams in the NBA that use the analytically approved three point shot at the primary weapon are faced with having some games…or stretches of games when the shots don’t fall and they play very poorly.  Then again, when the shot is going in the world is nothing but roses.  The Golden State Warriors have won multiple championships with the three point shot the single most key part of their offense.  During the regular season of 2015-2016 they set a record with 73 wins and Houston led the NBA with 65 regular season wins this season.  So, moaning about the games when reliance on the three point shot did not work is not really fair, but is still fodder to feel teams that successful should have other weapons in their arsenals.

That brings us to the current state of major league baseball.  A recent news story pointed out that hitting singles is dying.  Extra base hits or strike outs are taking over the batters box.  Certainly bunting for a base hit has been dead for years which is a shame since with the extreme shifts used defensively against many left handed hitters a simple–not even good- bunt to the third base side is a nearly certain base hit.  Swinging the bat can’t come close to having the odds of a hit as good as that simple tap.

Ah, but you can NEVER hit a home run by bunting.  Swinging the bat you always have a chance even though with even the best hitters it is not that great.

And while hitting the ball works better than missing it entirely, the same philosophy applies.  When you swing you MIGHT hit a home run.  When you walk you have no chance.  So, you take a big whack.  After striking out, you wind up walking back to the dugout about three to four times more than you circle the bases after  hitting a home run, but like the three point shot or the pass on every down you had a chance for the big one.  Being “out” instead of hitting home run is in at least the 10-1 range or more.  And that is for a hitter with 500 ABs and 50 HR which is quite rare.  Actual odds are double that for most.

The analytic folks say going for the “big one” makes sense in the total picture, but it has made the games different and on bad days not very entertaining.

In baseball strike outs are way up.  Home runs are up, too.  The defensive alignments and hitting philosophy are not totally responsible for the strike outs.  The average pitcher in major league baseball has a higher velocity fastball than any time in history.  Even so, fewer teams play “small ball” to manufacture runs which to some would be he way to counter all this heat.  Shorter swings, going for contact, moving runners would all seem the way to go.  Instead we get lots of strikeouts, fewer fielding plays and the occasional home run.

All sports run in cycles.  The NFL seems to have found a balance.  Will the NBA and MLB follow?  I hope so.  I hate incomplete passes, missed three point shots and strikeouts!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kokomo’s Professional Baseball Champion

After the 1961 baseball season professional baseball departed Kokomo, Indiana, after seven seasons.  The team was always on the lowest rung of pro ball–the Class D Mississippi-Ohio Valley League in 1955 and the Class D Midwest League the other six seasons.

During those years the club was known as the Kokomo Giants in 1955, although not a full affiliate of the New York Giants, but with an agreement to take some of their players.

Lucky for Kokomo that season because the greatest player ever to pass through the gates of Highland Park Stadium, Orlando “Zippo” Cepeda was on that team.  After the 17 year old played his season and compiled a .393 batting average with 21 home runs and 93 runs batted in his future was secure.  He would star for the San Francisco Giants on the way to compiling a Hall of Fame major league career.  When he got to the majors he would lose the nickname, “Zippo” and move from third base to first base.  But he never forgot his season in Kokomo, the nickname or the people who took a young Puerto Rican who way away from home for the first time with minimal English language skills under their wings.

Cepeda’s manager was a veteran pro named Walt Dixon who urged Orlando not to give up.  He had real talent.  Another influence was a woman named Ludy Brown.  She was the woman in whose home Cepeda had taken residence.  Years later in an interview with Orlando I conducted after an Old Timers game in Arlington Cepeda told me how important “Mama Ludy” was in helping his get through his first season.  When Cepeda’s father died during the season and he could not go back to Puerto Rico for the funeral she consoled the heart-broken youngster

Mama Ludy was important to a number of Kokomo pros.  The second most successful Kokomo player was Tommy Davis.  He joined the team two years after Cepeda had been in Kokomo with the franchise now known as the Kokomo Dodgers and a full affiliate of the big team still in Brooklyn.

Davis even after achieving major league success including winning two National League batting titles never forgot her.  When she died in 1962 Davis was sure to sent a card and flowers for all she did for him when he was only 18.

While Kokomo’s years in professional baseball were relatively short the team developed some fan favorites who played more than one year for the club.  Paul Abraham and Napoleon Savinon made up the middle infield for more than one year.  Don Miles was a personable young slugger in the franchise’s 1956 season.  He was one of eleven Kokomo players to spend at least some time on a big league roster.  Cepeda and Davis were the most successful, but names like Tim Harkness and Mike Brumley also played a number of games.

Kokomo’s 1957 team was the most successful.  Although they lost in the post season playoffs they were the first and only Kokomo champion–winning the regular season title.  Managed by former Brooklyn Dodger phenom, Pete Reiser, they were 77-50 with Davis, Bruce Cranshaw and Buddy Wilson making up the outfield.  Harkness was at first base with Abraham and Savinon covering the middle.  Lee Ferrera played  third  with Brumley doing much of the catching. When he didn’t catch Bob Ford did.  The pitching staff was headed by lefty Emmy Unzicker who won 20 games including 15 complete games and a 3.03 ERA…Eddie Picker who was 16-3 with a 1.84 earned run average , veteran Jack Cohen was 12-15 with a high 5.10 ERA, but ate innings.  And Bourbon “Teacup” Wheeler added a 9-5 record with a 3.84ERA.

Even so, the offense was the star of the club.  Davis hit .357 with 17HR, 104 RBIs and a whopping 68 stolen bases!  Harkness hit .349 with 14HR and 74RBIs while Ferrera added 14 homers with 79 RBIs while batting .270.  He also stole 17 bases.  Cranshaw hit 13 HR and drove in 75 runs while batting .266.  Five players had double figure stolen bases and four players had double figures in home runs.

During part of the season local hero Clyde Cox–one of the famed Cox family–was with the club.

After 1957 the team never really challenged to be a power in the league and only four more players from the last four years of the franchise would reach the majors…none for very much action.

Now, however, with all the high school action, the college summer league team and the new Indiana University-Kokomo baseball program getting to play in Kokomo’s pride and joy downtown ballpark the sport in the city is in great hands.  We must not forget the past, but can always look forward to a great future.

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Astro Icons Overjoyed with World Series Win!

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Astro Icons Overjoyed with World Series Win!

Among those on hand at Dodger Stadium Wednesday night were the Houston Astros two Hall of Fame players from another era.  Both Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell whose careers were highlighted in my book, “Houston to Cooperstown- The Houston Astros’ Biggio & Bagwell Years” were as proud as new poppas when a baby is born.

The Astros were able to go one step further than any Astro team during the Biggio and Bagwell run.  As Biggio put it in a post game interview with MLB.com’s Alyson Footer, when asked for his reaction when the last out was recorded and the Astros were World Champions, “You’re old, you cry now.  We tried in ’05 and it just wasn’t to be.”

But even after retirement from his active playing days Biggio has stayed a part of the Astros even if in a part time role.  “Thirty years here, getting an opportunity again, and being involved with the organization is special.  And its got to be one of the greatest World Series of all time.  What an emotional roller coaster it was.  It’s incredible.  It’s everything I thought it would be,” Biggio told Footer who was a medial relations employee for the team during many of Biggio and Bagwell’s active years.

As for Bagwell, “I’m ecstatic.  They are great kids, they play hard and they never give up.  I couldn’t be more proud of that guys that represent the Houston Astros right now.  This is their deal.  Anybody that played would love to be with those guys right now, but its not about us.  It’s all about them.  And what they did is just special.”

Having a big season in 2017 was not unexpected. This team was built very well by GM Jeff Luhnow when he sensed the time was right to augment his talented young corps with free agents and trade acquisitions.  Names like Reddick, Beltran, McCann, Peacock and Morton joined the young corps.  Later a deal acquiring Justin Verlander (which will keep him around for two more seasons) cinched the Astros run for the title.  Even before the astute acquisitions for this season many observers felt the Astros would be a team to beat.   Sports Illustrated even wrote a cover article in 2014 that predicted the Astros would be the World Series champions this year. They even had George Springer on the cover taking a big swing.

Prophetic?  Springer was the MVP of the Series and in Houston they are declaring all talk about a so-called Sports Illustrated cover jinx a dead issue.  They were dead on with that cover and the author of the article, Ben Reiter, is basking in the glow of his insights.

Biggio and Bagwell led the first golden era of Houston Astro baseball and both made it the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Some of the members from the current team will likely follow them into the Hall someday.  Before that they may be able to hang more championship skins on the wall.  The Biggio and Bagwell era was only the pre-game show for and even bigger and better new golden era in Houston.

 

 

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RIP: Solly Hemus Died Today

The Pecan Park Eagle

Solly Hemus Died Today
***********************
October 3, 2017

Tuesday, October 3, 2017, Houston, Texas, 3:21 PM. The following e-mail from Lynda J. Carnegie arrived in behalf of Solly and Betty Hemus:

I just wanted to let you know that Solly Hemus passed away this morning. He passed very peacefully and was not in any pain.  Funeral arrangements are pending. Obituary will be in the Chronicle in the next few days.”

Solly Hemus was 94 years old when he died. As always, he had been quietly, but fiercely fighting off ill-health in recent years and, irony of ironies, he would have been the last person we could imagine  ever choosing to leave now – just two days shy of the MLB Playoffs first game in Houston – now set to go at Minute Maid Park at 3:00 PM on Thursday, October 5th. The former Houston Buff, St. Louis Cardinal, and…

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Memories from Where it Started–and Ended

On Friday September 8, 2017 I announced my last football game.  It was a decision I made after the game and when I returned home.  The game was a high school meeting between LaGrange and Argyle and played at a neutral site in Belton at the wonderful home stadium of the NCAA DIII champion Mary Harden Baylor Crusaders.

It was a one-sided game won by Argyle 70-0.  LaGrange, for whom I was airing the game as both an audio and delayed video stream for WTIM’s operations in LaGrange, featured J.K. Dobbins for three seasons. He is not around now.  It makes a hugh difference!  Though he wasn’t around much of his senior season due to a severe leg injury he value was shown when in his first game this fall at Ohio State he rushed for 181 yards!

This edition of the LaGrange Leopards won’t be as bad as they showed against Argyle, but it still may be a long season.  Argyle, on the other hand, behind quarterback Jon Copeland who threw five of the six Eagle’s TD passes in the rout, may well join Dobbins in the top level of college football next season.

I mention the game only to emphasize my decision to end my game announcing career on a regular basis had nothing at all to do with the outcome.  It had all to do with the number of miles and hours I would be  on the road to complete the LaGrange schedule.

While the game at Belton was the longest road trip the fact that I live in North Houston and have to travel 100 miles each way just for a LaGrange home game (and all their road games are even further) was the killer.

When I accepted John Askins offer to help him get the WTIM operations off and running I did not total the mileage.  He was willing to pay far more than the average high school football play by play announcer can normally expect so I said, “Yes.”

The came the game to Belton.  How far and how many miles in one day?  My calculations say I drove or rode (John drove the  trip to Belton both ways) was 438 miles.  With a three hour prep/game in the middle I was sitting for about 11 hours.  No wonder why from Saturday through Tuesday my lower back was still not right.

Before any 25 year old starts to laugh…remember it was 46 years ago when I was 25!

It was only fitting for a long drive to be a significant memory for my last game.  It also was for my first.

On November 7, 1965 I was selected by long time Indianapolis sports announcer Tom Carnegie to give football announcing a shot.  Tom was most and more world famous as the booming lead PA voice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 500 Mile Race each Memorial Day.  But he was teaching a class at Butler University in sportscasting.  I had changed my major from education to radio and television after my freshman year and was in his class.

The crew for the game that pitted Butler at Akron include as least five…and may six or seven students.  Four of us would do a quarter of play by play on powerful WAJC radio, the 47,000 watt FM station at 104.5 on the Butler campus.  As I recall the four included Dave Priest, Chris Buescher, Gary Nash and myself.  Dave Smith was the producer/engineer.  If there was one or two others they were used on color, however, the play by play guys may have just doubled up.  My memory is not quite THAT good from 52 years ago!  Was Barry Holhfelder on the trip just for grins?

I DO remember we all piled into one car and started the 291 mile drive to Akron early in the morning on game day.  There was no budget for over night stays.

The game was played as the Rubber Bowl which for years was the prime stadium in Akron.  At its peak it held more than 35,000 fans.  For the game with Butler there was lots of elbow room.  Even with it being “Dad’s Day” the listed attendance was only 2200.  I still remember the center of the field was mostly dirt with the grass long gone from the activity that included many high school games each week with the Zips only one user of the field.

The Rubber Bowl–so named due to the number of major rubber and tire manufacturing companies that made Akron home at the time–is now gone.  I found a shot of the stadium in decay that shows the press and broadcast booths.   My play by play career started in one of them, but I must admit I don’t know which one.

Unlike what will be my last game in Belton, the Butler-Akron game was not one-sided.  Akron won 14-7 when Richie Thomas ran the ball into the end zone with only 49 seconds to play.  Butler’s Dick Dullaghan scored the Bulldog’s points on a seven yard run and successful extra point kick.

Then we all drove back to Indianapolis….a total of 582 miles in one day with a football game in the middle.  Funny thing though.  On that day I didn’t feel a thing.

The next week Tom Carnegie decided Gary Nash and I should be the voices of Butler football and later basketball–a position we held for the next three years never missing either a home or road game.   I stuck with the business until last Friday night.  I was very happy I did.21430589_10212105527686882_2674677824752636217_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It Was a Different Game When Don Wilson was Throwing No-Hitters

I still have a collection of old Sporting News (when it was the baseball “bible”) from as far back as the late 1950s.  Today I ran across the issue of July 1, 1967.  One of the big stories was of Houston Astro hurler Don Wilson’s first no hitter.

The amazing thing about Wilson’s feat was not that he did it.  He fanned 15 Atlanta Braves, including Hank Aaron three times with the last being the final out of the game, but that he threw 143 pitches on just three days rest after having served up 155 pitches in a nine inning complete game win against the San Francisco Giants.

Hurlers still throw no hitters a few times each year.  But hardly anyone is allowed to throw so many pitches in a no hitter.  And no one will ever have back to back complete games on short rest with a total of 298 pitches!

That same issue of TSN also recalled the exploits of Jimmy Wynn during June of 1967.  John Wilson, the sportswriter who gave him the nickname, “Toy Cannon” reminded us of Jimmy’s incredible power.  And it was not that he hit home runs, but the distance the 160 pounder could put behind them.

Some examples:  On June 6th Wynn hit the ball off the left field scoreboard in the “new” Busch Stadium.  Yet earlier in his career at the old Busch (Sportsman’s Park) he hit that scoreboard twice.  In Philadelphia he hit the ball over the roof at Connie Mack Stadium with the wind blowing in.  In his home town of Cincinnati the Toy Cannon put on a real show.  First he hit a ball over the 40 foot scoreboard in left center field.  The next day he his one to the left of the scoreboard further than the first one.  This time the ball crossed the edge of the parking lot, landed in a freeway feeder street, bounced up an embankment–heading right toward where Jimmy had grown up as a child.  It finally came to rest some 600 feet from where it started at home plate.

The very next day the Astros were back in the Dome facing the Giants and Wynn went the opposite way to right off Frank Linzy to win the game.   It was only the second opposite field homer Wynn had hit to that point.

Two days later Jimmy hit a ball into the mezzanine…a towering high blast.  But he wasn’t finished.  In the 6th he slammed a ball out of the park in the left field power alley becoming the first Astro ever to hit two home runs in a game at the Astrodome.

He still wasn’t finished.  In the 8th inning he squeezed his third home run of the game just above the fence and inside the left field foul pole to give the Astros another run in their win.

Jimmy would go on to hit 37 home runs that year but lose the HR title to Hank Aaron who hit 39.  Aaron played at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, “the launching pad.”  He hit 23 at home that year.  Wynn hit 15 at the Astrodome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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