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1971: baseball nirvana

I wish I could put myself in a time machine and go back to the summer of 1971.

Sure, I would not be blogging if it were August 1971. Sure, I would not be playing Buzztime trivia if it were August 1971. The American economy wasn’t in great shape in August 1971, and Nixon made a foolish mistake by taking the United States off the gold standard.

There were good things about 1971, though. The Brady Bunch was on the air. Gas was 30 cents per gallon; even with inflation, that’s $1.90, 45 cents less than what I paid last night when I filled up in Salina.

Major League Baseball was certainly better in 1971.

Hank Aaron hit a career high 47 home runs as he drew closer and closer to Babe Ruth’s record of 714, once thought to be unbreakable. In his final season with the Giants, Willie Mays led San Francisco to the National League West championship in yet another epic battle with the Dodgers. San Francisco lost the National League Championship Series to the Pirates in four games in their last postseason appearance until 1987. The Orioles won their third consecutive American League pennant by sweeping the Athletics in the American League Championship Series. It was the Athletics’ first trip to the postseason since 1931, when they were in Philadelphia and led by legendary Connie Mack.

The 1971 All-Star Game in Detroit was one of the most memorable. Aaron and Johnny Bench staked the National League to an early 3-0 lead with home runs, but Reggie Jackson began the American League comeback by launching a monstrous home run off of a transformer on roof above right center. The pitcher who served it up was Dock Ellis, the same Dock Ellis who threw a no-hitter while allegedly under the influence of LSD (his claim) the previous season.

Ellis, the volatile right-hander from Pittsburgh, was the Naitonal League’s starter. The American League countered with Oakland lefty Vida Blue, who went on to win the AL Cy Young and Most Valuable Player. More importantly, it was the first time there were two black starting pitchers in an All-Star Game.

One of the umpires in the 1971 All-Star Game was Jake O’Donnell, who from 1968-71 officiated both in the American League and NBA. O’Donnell resigned from the AL at the end of 1971 to concentrate on basketball. It was a wise move, for Jake worked the NBA Finals every year from 1972 through 1994. O’Donnell is the only man to officiate All-Star games in two major sports.

Also on the umpiring crew that evening in Detroit were future Hall of Famer Doug Harvey, and Don Denkinger, whose moment of infamy in Kansas City was still a long way off.

Nearly every team still wore flannel uniforms in 1971. Sure, they were hot, but they were beautiful for the most part.

The Athletics had a lovely sleeveless vest which came in white, gray and gold, and those could be worn with gold or green undershirts. The Dodgers debuted a new road top with thin blue and white piping along the shoulders. The Padres had a tan road uniform. The White Sox and Phillies both debuted new uniforms, and both would keep them when they switched to polyester the next season. I thought both sets were downgrades; the White Sox’ royal blue and white set of 1969-70 was downright gorgeous, and the Phillies ditched the classic set they debuted in 1950, when the “Whiz Kids” won the franchise’s only pennant between 1915 and 1980.

Three teams wore polyester that season. The Pirates debuted them in July 1970 when they moved from Forbes Field to Three Rivers Stadium; the Cardinals began 1971 wearing them; and the Orioles gradually switched from flannel to polyester throughout that season, finally ditching flannel for good in the ALCS. Ironically, the 1971 World Series was all polyester, as the Pirates took down the heavily favored Orioles in seven games.

In 1971, the Senators were still in Washington. The Brewers were in the American League West, building healthy rivalries with the Twins and White Sox.

That changed in 1972.

Cheapskate Senators owner Bob Short lied to the American League, claiming he was going broke in the nation’s capital, giving owners a supposed reason to allow the second incarnation of the Senators (the first became the Twins in 1961) to move to Dallas/Fort Worth and become the Texas Rangers. RFK Stadium was not a great facility by any means, but Short traded it for Arlington Stadium, a minor league facility which had no business hosting Major League Baseball. Yet it was the home of the Rangers through 1993.

Dallas/Fort Worth is too big an area for any major sports league to ignore. However, Short was, well, (extremely) short-sighted for deserting the nation’s capital for a dump like Arlington Stadium. Had DFW waited until the American League expanded for 1977, it would have had a stadium which might still be standing, or would have served a team much better than Arlington.

I visited Arlington Stadium a handful of times in my teenage years. I hated the park. Hated it. Those metal bleachers in the outfield were hot enough to fry eggs. Of course, the idiots who expanded the park built bleachers instead of building more decks from foul line to foul line, which would have been better for fans watching the game and the team, since those tickets would have commanded a higher price than bleachers.

The Senators’ shift to DFW prompted AL owners to move the Brewers to the American League East, pissing off the White Sox and Twins, each of whom who lost six games per year against Milwaukee. The Great Lakes trio would not be reunited until 1994 when the American League Central, but that lasted only four seasons, because the Brewers gleefully moved to the National League for 1998.

Speaking of the leagues, another great thing about baseball in 1971: NO DESIGNATED HITTER.

The designated hitter is a pox on baseball. Charlie Finley, you can rot in hell. It is the single worst rule in all of sports. There are many other terrible ones, like the shootout in the NHL and high school football overtime, but the I despise the designated hitter more than any other rule in sports.

Basketball players are not allowed to play only one end of the floor–at least if they want to stay on the court. Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored loads of points during their playing days, but if they didn’t rebound and block shots, they would never have sniffed the Hall of Fame.

Other than the goaltender, hockey players must be good offensively and defensively if they hope to stick in the NHL. Gordie Howe, the NHL’s greatest goal scorer until Wayne Gretzky came along, prided himself as much for his defense as his offense. No opposing winger dared cross Mr. Hockey, or else he would find himself in a world of hurt.

Association football? Same as hockey. Defenders don’t score many goals and forwards don’t play beyond the center line, but a player who is a defensive liability will be on the bench unless he scores goals as frequently as Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.

Players went both ways in the early days of the NFL, and in college until 1964. Many players at small high schools go both ways, and even at some large ones, because coaches would rather have an excellent athlete who may be fatigued rather than a mediocre one who is fresh.

When Mr. Doubleday invented baseball in the 19th century, he intended for the nine players on the field to specialize in a defensive skill AND be able to swing the bat. Some swing the bat better than others. That’s professional sports.

Major League Baseball is the best of the best of the best. The 750 men who populate the 30 MLB rosters are supposed to be the best in the world. Not all of them have to hit .350 with 50 home runs. Heck, Bill Mazeroski and Ozzie Smith, among many others, were mediocre hitters, but so great with their glove they have plaques in Cooperstown.

I can tolerate–not accept–the DH in Little League and high school. However, at those levels, pitchers are often the best hitters, too, so it’s not necessary in those cases. Little League has a much larger problem than the DH. You’ve probably read my rants about this in earlier posts.

In college baseball, the DH should be abolished, especially in Division I. If a young man is good enough to be pitching at the highest level of college baseball, he should be able to stand in the batter’s box up to four times every week if he’s a starting pitcher.

The National League is going to adopt the designated hitter soon. I am deathly afraid of it. When it happens, I will be back on this blog using language not safe for work. You’ve been warned.

When you went to the ballpark in 1971, there were no silly promotional handouts, no dizzy bat races, no scantily clad 20-something women shooting t-shirts out of air-propelled mini-cannons, and no mascots. Umpires still wore their blazers many days. American League umpires wore the balloon chest protector, leading to the Junior Circuit becoming known as a high-strike lead, contrasting to the National League, where the low strike ruled. Games usually lasted two hours, give or take a few minutes. There a few real doubleheaders, where one ticket got you two games, although there were fewer by 1971 than there had been in 1961, and fewer in 1961 than in 1951.

In my opinion, the best thing about baseball in 1971–and the 34 years prior to that–NO FACIAL HAIR!!!!

In 1971, only the Reds had a rule banning facial hair, but the other franchises unofficially followed suit. Many players had mutton chops and other forms of long sideburns which were in vogue in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but not one player in professional baseball sported a mustache and/or beard.

Unfortunately, this came to an end in 1972. The culprit? Charles O. Finley. I hope you are seriously rotting in hell, Mr. Finley. You were a bastard in so many ways.

Cheapskate Charlie, who refused to pay his A’s (from 1972-86, the Oakland franchise was officially known as the A’s) a living wage, somehow came up with an idea to give each player a $300 bonus if he grew a mustache by Father’s Day. Sure enough, every goddamn A’s player grew one.

The A’s, wearing their new polyester uniforms of “kelly green”, “Fort Knox gold” and “wedding gown white”, ended up in the World Series against the clean-shaven Reds in a series termed by the medias as the “hairs” vs. the “squares”. Oakland won in seven games.

I’m glad I wasn’t alive in 1972. I would not have known who to root for. I despise the Reds for Pete Rose, a gambling pedophile who played dirty. I disliked the A’s for the facial hair, not to mention the strong hate I have for Finley, who pulled the Athletics out of Kansas City after the 1967 season because of his avarice.

The plague known as the DH came into being in 1973. That’s one of two reasons why 1973 was a horrid year for the grand old game. The second was the introduction of one George Michael Steinbrenner, who bought the Yankees from CBS for a paltry $10 million. That season was also the last for the original Yankee Stadium and the first for the facility now known as Kauffman Stadium.

In 2019, finding a clean-shaven MLB player is as hard as finding a four-leaf clover. I don’t get it.

Beards in hockey are ubiquitous in the playoffs. I don’t like them. Wayne Gretzky never grew a playoff beard. He was okay, wasn’t he? At least most hockey players shave them. Baseball players aren’t shaving them, and it’s gross.

I’m surprised there isn’t a huge Detroit Lions fan club in western Kansas because of coach Matt Patricia’s disgusting facial hair. People out here could root for the Lions without feeling guilty, since Detroit plays the Broncos and Chiefs only once every four years. The Lions happen to play both this season, and for some reason, Kansas City has to go back to Ford Field. Under the current schedule rotation, Detroit will go 20 years without visiting Arrowhead. Good work, NFL.

1971 also happened to be a wonderful year in other sports.

  • The Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA championship in their third season, sweeping the Baltimore Bullets in four games. Of course, having Lew Alcindor, who had already changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar but not yet adopted it on the court, and Oscar Robertson didn’t hurt.
  • The NFL in 1971 was fabulous. Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page was the league’s Most Valuable Player. Dallas legend Bob Lilly and the Doomsday Defense powered the Cowboys to their first Super Bowl championship. The Dolphins, who lost Super Bowl VI, won the NFL’s longest game, defeating the Chiefs after seven minutes, 40 seconds of a second overtime period in what was the final NFL game in Kansas City Municipal Stadium.
  • College football came down to Big Eight superpowers Nebraska and Oklahoma on Thanksgiving Day in Norman. The Cornhuskers survived 35-31, then steamrolled undefeated Alabama 38-6 in the Orange Bowl to finish the first 13-0 season. That Crimson Tide team switched to the Wishbone offense and also fielded its first black players, John Mitchell and Wilbur Jackson.
  • After the previous three Stanley Cup finals series ended in four-game sweeps (sorry Blues), the Canadiens and Black Hawks played a series for the ages. The home team won each of the first six games, with the series returning to Chicago for game seven. In what turned out to be the final game for Montreal legend Jean Beliveau, Montreal silenced Chicago Stadium by winning 3-2 for the first of its six Stanley Cups in the 1970s.
  • UCLA won its fifth consecutive college basketball championship, overcoming determined Villanova 68-62 in the final at the Astrodome. Kansas reached the Final Four for the first time since 1957.
  • There were 48 NASCAR Grand National races in 1971, many on short tracks. The next year, the schedule was shortened to 31 races, and Winston cigarettes (🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤢🤢🤢🤢🤢🤢🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮) became the sponsor of the top series.

Also in 1971, cigarette advertising on TV and radio was banned following the completion of the Orange Bowl (Nebraska 17, LSU 12) on New Year’s Night.

Too bad H.G. Wells’ vision will never come to light. I’m stuck in this era of beards, tattoos and other things I can’t stand.

I’m not going to apologize for this novella of a post. I needed to say these things.

Maybe Buzztime knew I was blogging about 1971 in baseball. The first question of sports trivia tonight: What award did Ferguson Jenkins win that year? Of course any baseball fan worth his salt knows it was the National League Cy Young.

Let’s play two, even though we would rather not

The Royals and the White Sox took a financial hit today, thanks to Major League Baseball’s insistence teams play 76 of 162 games within their division.

Due to the (grossly) unbalanced schedule, which took effect in 2001, teams make only one trip per season into the 10 cities within their league but not within their division, and vice versa.

When postponements occur in these situations, or to interleague games, it becomes a cluster you-know-what.

The Royals and White Sox, both members of the American League Central, were scheduled to play members of the AL East, the Rays and Orioles, respectively, Tuesday.

However, rain blanketed the Midwest, stretching from Chicago to Kansas City and well to the west, where many high school events in this part of Kansas were cancelled, including Russell High baseball and softball games.

Knowing Baltimore won’t see the south side of Chicago again until 2020, and Tampa Bay won’t be at the Truman Sports Complex until next year, the White Sox and Royals had to get these games in during the current series.

The Royals and Rays were scheduled for a four-game series, with a night game today and a day game tomorrow. A doubleheader is not allowed on a getaway day unless players on both teams vote to allow it. The players vetoed that idea, so there was no choice but to play a twinbill today.

As for the Orioles and White Sox, there was no choice. The White Sox play the Red Sox tomorrow.

Both the Royals and White Sox scheduled traditional doubleheaders, with one ticket good for both games. Both doubleheaders started at 1205 Central (1305 Eastern).

Traditional doubleheaders are even rarer in MLB in 2019 than the complete game, which is saying something. There was a time where the Sunday doubleheader, or the twi-night doubleheader on a Friday, were ubiquitous.

It’s all about the $$$$$ for professional sports owners in 2019. Combined with player’s unions which threaten legal action over the smallest quibbles, you aren’t going to find anyone who really wants to play a doubleheader, at least those employed by the 30 clubs.

Owners are dead set upon 81 dates for 81 games to maximize ticket revenue. Any reduction in playing dates, even for a Tuesday night game which may have drawn no more than 20,000, probably much less in Kansas City, irritates men like David Glass and Jerry Reinsdorf.

I’m surprised neither team scheduled a split doubleheader, where the stadium would have been cleared after the first game. There are provisions in the collective bargaining agreement governing split doubleheaders. It’s too cumbersome to go into detail here.

It’s a good thing Ernie Banks has passed on. He would not be happy with the lack of doubleheaders.

You’re not going to get rid of interleague play, so MLB should cut back the number of division games. For those of you who don’t know the real reason for the unbalanced schedule–to make sure the Red Sox and Yankees play 19 times a season–are living under a rock.

If MLB wants the Red Sox and Yankees to play 19 times a year, let them. THat would mean fewer games vs. the Orioles, Blue Jays and Rays, and none of those teams would complain. But it’s criminal the Pirates and Phillies are in the same state yet play only once in each city per year.

Astronomical a-holes

Thanks to two MORONS in Houston last night, the Astros may not have the opportunity to defend their World Series championship.

In the first inning of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, Jose Altuve launched a fly ball to deep right-center. Boston right fielder Mookie Betts backed up to the wall and leaped in an attempt to reel the ball in, but a pair of assholes had to reach over the fence and attempt to catch the $12 baseball.

Right field umpire and crew chief Joe West, an umpire whom I think should have been put out to pasture 25 years ago, this time got it right. As much as I dislike the Red Sox, he got it right by calling the fans for interference and calling Altuve out. Houston manager A.J. Hinch came out to argue and got West and the MLB command center in New York to review the call, but it stood.

The Red Sox ended up winning 8-6 and now lead the ALCS 3-1.

Worse, the Astros let the stupid sacks of shit who interfered with Betts to stay inside Minute Maid Park.

At least Jeffrey Maier was thrown out of Yankee Stadium in 1996 when he reached well over the right field fence and stole a ball off the bat of Derek Jeter which would have either been caught by Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco, or at most, been a double.

Right field umpire Rich Garcia, one of the best umpires in the game (and one of the stupidest, because he drank Richie Phillips’ poisoned Flavor-Aid three years later, costing Garcia his job and a possible spot in Cooperstown) did not see Maier reaching over Tarasco’s shoulder and called the play a home run for Jeter. Of course, there was no instant replay in 1996, but he also made a colossal mistake by not getting the other five umpires together and at least asking if someone else had a better view. Crew chief Larry Barnett also bears some of the blame for not calling for a conference when Baltimore manager Davey Johnson came out to argue. Johnson would have had every right to find Maier and kick him in the nuts.

Of course, the Yankees’ #1 super fan, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, treated Maier as a conquering hero by giving him a key to the city. David Letterman praised him on his late night show. Unfortunately for Rudy and the rest of the nation, he redeemed himself big time (and then some) five years later in the face of unspeakable evil.

Back to Houston last night.

This morning, one of Kansas City’s most respected sports talk radio hosts, Soren Petro, stated on WHB 810 AM that the fans should be able to jostle with players on the field on a fly ball. He said the fans pay good money to sit in the seats close to the field, and they should be able to do as they please if the ball and/or a fielder come close to them.

Petro also went on to say West had no right to interject himself into the play and call fan interference. He also said he abhorred replay in baseball.

I’m not a fan of replay in baseball in nearly all instances. But had West NOT called fan interference, I would have supported replay, even if the call went in favor of the Red Sox, who aren’t my least favorite team (they’re above the Reds, White Sox, Rangers and Marlins for sure), but I certainly don’t care for. I’m not a huge Astros fan, either, but they were the team I followed the most living in Louisiana for 29 years.

WHAT THE HELL?

Soren, you sir stated something so idiotic it does not justify me taking my time to refute it. However, I’m not someone to just let it be, so I am going to respond.

Fans have NO RIGHT to interfere with play. NONE. They buy a ticket to be a spectator, not an active participant in the game. The game is for the players, the coaches, officials and anyone who has an active role in the game, whether it be on the field, in the press box, or somewhere else in the stadium/field/arena. Fans of the home team at a Major League Baseball game should know better than to reach over the fence in an attempt to catch a $12 baseball. They should especially know this in a postseason game.

Because these two C U Next Tuesdays could not keep their hands to themselves, they may have very well cost their beloved Astros a return to the World Series. These two “fans” should be found and tarred and feathered. At the very least, the Astros, Rockets and Texans should ban these people FOR LIFE. And MLB should do the same to them at all 30 parks. Of course, the Red Sox may have season tickets in right field at Fenway waiting for them.

Do not attempt to compare these two garbage sacks to Steve Bartman.

Bartman did not reach over the fence down the left field line at Wrigley Field and attempt to interfere with Moises Alou. Bartman’s hands were straight up in the air, as were the hands of several other fans in that section, attempting to catch the foul ball. Mike Everitt, the left field umpire that night at Wrigley, made the right call by determining no fan interference.

The hate Cubs fans heaped upon Bartman was sickening. Steve Bartman didn’t do a thing wrong. Not a thing. The Cubs only had themselves to blame for (a) melting down in the eighth inning of Game 6 by giving up eight runs to the Marlins, and (b) melting down again in Game 7. It is a crying shame Bartman can no longer go to an MLB park and enjoy the sport he loved to play and coach. It is a crying shame he could not be in Cleveland the night the Cubs ended their 108-year championship drought. It is a crying shame he could not be at Wrigley when the Cubs received their World Series rings.

Shame on you, Houston Astros, for letting these fans remain in the ballpark. I’m certain the Royals and nearly every other MLB team would have told these pieces of fecal matter to leave and never come back, just like the idiot who poured beer on and flipped off the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill in Foxborough during last Sunday’s game with the Patriots.

Maybe the Astros will find the intestinal fortitude (a term used way, way, WAY too much by legendary World Wrestling Federation announcer Gorilla Monsoon) to at least get the series back to Boston. But I have my doubts.

We’re heading for a Red Sox-Dodgers World Series. Heaven help us.

Another jinx vanquished

There will be no World Cup matches today, fitting since today is the 242nd anniversary of the independence of a nation which cannot fight its way out of a wet paper bag in association football, at least when it counts the most.

It’s even more fitting the World Cup is off today, because  the country celebrating the 242nd anniversary of its independence gained said independence from the country which birthed “the beautiful game”.

One of the constituent countries of the nation where association football (soccer for those snooty Americans) is still alive in the World Cup, thanks to ending a curse which had long haunted it.

England advanced by winning a shootout (kicks from the penalty mark) yesterday over Colombia.

Repeating: England advanced by winning a shootout.

Let that sink in for a few seconds.

It’s the first time The Three Lions have won a shootout in the World Cup since it was introduced to team sports’ greatest spectacle in 1978 (but not put into practice until 1982).

Previously, England had been eliminated in 1990 (semifinals vs. West Germany), 1998 (round of 16 vs. Argentina in a match which saw David Beckham draw a straight red card two minutes into the second half; that England was able to hold Argentina scoreless for 73-plus minutes was amazing) and 2006 (vs. Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo burying the winner).

England appeared as if it would win in normal time 1-0, with Harry Kane burying a penalty kick in the 57th mniute after he was taken down in the box rather aggressively.

Colombia played borderline dirty all match, with the manager giving an English player a hard shoulder as they exited the pitch at halftime, and another Colombian player getting away with a headbutt as they jostled in the box on a free kick.

However, Colombia’s Yerry Mina scored the equalizer only seconds from full time, and the match continued. The half-hour of extra time was scoreless, and the groans went up from Newcastle and Sunderland in the North East to Bournemouth and Southampton on the south coast, and all points in between.

The tension had to be most palpable in Sunderland and Liverpool.

English goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is a native of the North East of England. He played for Sunderland before leaving the Black Cats in the summer of 2017 after they were relegated out of the Premier League.

Everton, located in Liverpool and the archrival of the world-famous Liverpool Football Club, won the bidding war for Pickford. However, the Toffees were unable to fully take advantage of having Pickford and Wayne Rooney, finishing well behind Burnley for the final European qualifying spot, and obviously behind the Big Six of the Premier League: Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal.

FYI, the four most famous residents of Liverpool, two of whom are sadly no longer with us (one at the hands of a bloody murderer) did not care about the Merseyside Derby, the name given to the Liverpool-Everton rivalry. It was reported The Fab Four did not care much for football, at least the kind played with a round ball (Paul McCartney performed during the Super Bowl XXXVI pregame show and Super Bowl XXXIX halftime show).

In fact, when England won the 1966 World Cup at the old Wembley Stadium, Paul, John, George and Ringo were on the last leg of their last concert tour in the United States. And if you think few Americans care about soccer in 2018, the number of soccer die-hards in 1966 may have numbered less than the number of members of United States House (435).

Back to 2018, Pickford and his mates.

The announcers on Fox stated throughout extra time that Colombia was a lead-pipe cinch to advance to a quarterfinal meeting with Sweden. They felt Colombia had enough momentum from the late equalizer to score in extra time, then kept harping on England’s failure in shootouts in the past when it looked like the third shootout of the round of 16 would be a reality.

Surprisingly, English manager Gareth Southgate chose Kane to go first. Many managers save their best kicker for the fourth or fifth round, which is what the United States women did in shootouts in the World Cup finals of 1999 and 2011. In 1999, Mia Hamm, arguably the greatest female association football player to date, went fourth, leaving the heroics to Brandi Chastain and her famous sports brassiere. In 2011, Abby Wambach went fourth, but because the three before her–Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd and Tobin Heath all missed, it didn’t matter, and Japan won. More of the blame lies on the shoulders of Hope(less) Solo (now Stevens).

Kane and Marcus Rashford scored for England after Radamel Falcao and Juan Cudrado did the same for Colombia. Luis Muriel scored the third kick for Colombia, but Jordan Henderson’s attempt was turned aside by David Ospina, shifting the edge to Colombia.

The pressure was now on Pickford. If he could not stop Mateus Uribe, the South American side would have a huge edge, knowing it would at the very least go into sudden death.

Pickford got a piece of Uribe’s arching shot. It hit the crossbar anyway, and England’s condition was upgraded from critical to satisfactory. It became completely healed when Kieran Trippler scored to knot it up again.

Carlos Bacca stepped to the mark for Colombia. He went right, and Pickford was spot on, easily stoning the Colombian substitute forward.

Southgate sent Eric Dier onto the pitch in the 81st minute to spell Dele Alli, the Tottenham striker. Dier now was called upon to take the last kick of the regulation round. If he missed, the kicks would go into sudden death. If Dier scored, England would play again Saturday.

Dier went hard and low to his left. Ospina guessed wrong. England was jolly indeed.

England now plays Sweden, a 1-0 victor over Switzerland. The winner of that match plays the winner of Croatia-Russia, which is also Saturday.

Friday’s matches are France-Uruguay and Brazil-Belgium. I picked Croatia, England and Brazil as semifinalists before the knockout round, and I’ll stick with that. I had France playing Portugal, with Les Bleus losing. I’ll pick France to win, though, against Uruguay.

Maybe it was time for England to end its curse. The Red Sox ended the Curse of the Bambino in 2004. The Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA championship, ending Cleveland’s sports curse which spanned 51 1/2 years. The Cubs ended the Curse of the BIlly Goat by winning the 2016 World Series, their first in 108 years. The Astros broke through last year, their 56th season, to win their first World Championship. The Eagles won Super Bowl LII earlier this year, Philadelphia’s first NFL title since 1960. The Capitals won their first Stanley Cup last month, ending a long run of playoff futility.

See? Most bad things will end. The bad news? All good things WILL end sooner or later.

Meanwhile, the Rays and Marlins played 16 innings last night. How depressing. Paid attendance: 6,259. I’d like to know how many people actually went to the game in Miami, and how many were left when it ended at 0040 Eastern.

The Royals and Orioles seem to be racing to the bottom. Both have lost 60 games, and both are so far out of the playoff race they need the Hubble telescope to find the Red Sox, Yankees, Astros, Mariners and Indians. Both are on pace to lose 114 games. Neither will probably lose that many, but both will likely fall short of 60 wins.

The Royals host the Red Sox this weekend. There are only nine more big-revenue home games left on the schedule at Kauffman Stadium: the three this weekend, plus three-game sets with the Cardinals and Cubs.

In case you’re curious, the Royals and Orioles play three in Kansas City Labor Day weekend. I’m sure the ticket office at The K is burning up over ticket sales for that one.

I like my baseball plain, thank you

The Orioles defeated the White Sox 8-2 this afternoon at Baltimore in what is believed to be the first Major League Baseball game to be closed to the public.

The decision to bar ticket holding fans from Camden Yards was made due to the rioting which has been going on in Baltimore since the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered fatal injuries when he was in the custody of Baltimore police earlier this month.

I have no sympathy whatsoever for the rioting thugs. There is a major difference between peaceful protest, like Martin Luther King Jr. and the March on Washington in 1983 or the Alabama march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965,and the type of looting and destruction going on in Baltimore right now, or what went on in Ferguson, Mo., last year, or in south central Los Angeles on this night in 1992 following the verdict in the Rodney King beating trial of four Los Angeles police officers.

Enough social commentary. Back to baseball.

The Orioles game was open only to credentialed media members, of which there were about 100, Orioles and White Sox employees, and those who had a legitimate function at the game. The game was televised in Baltimore and Chicago and those with SiriusXM radio like myself (although I didn’t listen) could tune in.

The game was played in two hours three minutes. You want to know why?

NO STUPID PROMOTIONS TO SLOW THE GAME DOWN.

As much as I enjoy Major League Baseball and I like going to games, I don’t think I could stand going to 81 homes games–or even one-fifth that many–due to all the asinine and inane things which go on in between innnings.

Do we need a pointless trivia question after every half inning? Do we need to have some idiot with a wireless microphone go into the stands to embarrass someone who probably could care less about being on the stadium’s big screen TV, someone who probably just wants to be left alone and enjoy the game with whomever he or she came with?

The Royals are among the most egregious violators. Since moving to Kansas, I have never been to a Royals game where there has not been an overabundance of lunacy and promotions which belong at a carnival, not a professional sporting event.

The worst is the hot dog race, which in Kansas City is sponsored by Heinz. This is a ripoff of the dot race which began in 1984 at Arlington Stadium, the old home of the Texas Ranges. I didn’t care for it then, and I certainly don’t care for it now.

Even worse about Kansas City’s hot dog race is KETCHUP is one of the three participants. KETCHUP. That’s un-American. I don’t care if you’re 3 or 103. YOU DO NOT PUT KETCHUP ON A  HOT DOG. Period. Cut and dried. If the Royals insist on having ketchup in the race, there ought to be a way that ketchup never wins, much like Teddy Roosevelt never wins in the president’s races at Washington Nationals games.

The worst is the kiss cam. Seriously. KISS CAM? Can’t people have some privacy?

I worked one summer for the New Orleans Zephrys, a Triple-A baseball team. I loathed the stupid dizzy bat race. I could not stand the stupid race around the bases between a kid and Boudreaux, the nutria which is the Zephyr’s mascot.

When I go to a Major League Baseball game, I do not pay good money to park, to get into the gate and to eat mediocre food to watch some idiot with a microphone in between innings. I pay that money to watch BASEBALL. Major League Baseball. The game is more than enough to me.

If promotions departments would eliminate those childish hijinks, I guarantee they will save 25-30 minutes per night.

Sadly, this crap has permeated to the NBA and NHL. Every timeout, every stoppage of play in those sports is time for some fan to make a fool of himself or herself. The NFL doesn’t have these bad ideas. Doesn’t seem to hurt their crowds.

Baseball drowned

The rain continues to fall in Kansas City, and because Mother Nature will not back off, there will be no baseball at Kauffman Stadium tonight. Game three of the American League championship series between the Royals and Orioles has been postponed. It will simply be played at 7:07 p.m. tomorrow, when game four was supposed to start. Game four is now set for 3:07 p.m. Wednesday, and if a fifth game is needed, it will be played at 3:07 Thursday.

Got to Buffalo Wild Wings at 2:30. As can be expected on a wet, windy and rainy Monday, not much action. The management was going to bring in 12 servers if the Royals played tonight, but with the game washed away, they don’t need nearly as many.

It’s Monday, so it means The Pulse at 7 p.m. I finished a meager ninth nationally last week, but it was enough to extend my streak of top-10 finishes to 10 straight. It was the first time since July 14 (did not play July 21) that I was anything but first or second.

Dan and Pam left me some mini cupcakes and a card for my birthday. Alexandra Mullinax left me a cookie cake. Very thoughtful. Too bad Alex and Brittany aren’t going to the Royals game tonight. Tori is behind the bar, Ashley is waiting on me, so all is okay.

Brookville boo-boo

It rained off and on all the way from Kansas City to Brookville yesterday. It would not stop raining in Brookville until late in the second quarter. This made for an interesting night.

I had a rain cover for my camera, and I would have used it, but I could not get my flash over the rain cover, so I ditched the cover. It wasn’t raining that hard.

The bigger problem was my game notes. I always pride myself on being able to keep a running play-by-play of the game even though I’m taking pictures. I’ll take the play-by-play I write down on the sideline and feed it to The Automated Scorebook on my computer, and it will spit the stats out immediately. I would operate TAS live from the press box when I worked for The Advocate, and that saved me so much time, since I didn’t have to sit there and manually add up statistics. I could just print out the stats and play-by-play, write the story, file it, and be done 15-20 minutes following the game.

My first quarter play-by-play from last night almost didn’t make it. It was quite soggy. The second quarter was a struggle, too, but it was because the paper was wet. Fortunately, the rain abated, and the second half was much easier.

I was also glad I brought two jackets. My parka was soaked after the first half, and I changed to my Milwaukee Brewers dugout jacket for the final 24 minutes. Not as warm, but I had two layers over my turtleneck anyway.

Last night’s Smith Center-Ell Saline football game proved two things:

  1. Mother Nature is often a great equalizer.
  2. Special teams matter.

Both points were proven early. A fine punt by Smith Center’s Kody Zabel and excellent coverage by the Redmen following the game’s first offensive possession left the Cardinals marooned inside their own 10-yard line. Two plays later, Ell-Saline quarterback Luiz Antonio Arceo could not handle the muddy football following a low snap, and the Redmen had the ball at the 4.

Nick Lehmkuhl scored two plays later, and just like that, it was Smith Center 7, Ell-Saline 0, and the game wasn’t four minutes old.

Smith Center looked poised to add to its lead when it used a lengthy drive to reach the Ell-Saline 5, but on fourth down, a low snap to Thayne Benoit did not allow the play to come off, and the Cardinals took over on downs. The first half ended with the same 7-0 score.

It took all of 20 seconds of the second half for the score to change.

Arceo fielded the second half kickoff near the left sideline. He found a wall of red shirts and followed them to the middle of the field, and reached the Redmen 3. One play later, he scored on a keeper around the right side. The conversion failed, but it was a new game at 7-6.

The Redmen looked like they would strike right back when Kaden Meitler returned the next kickoff to the Ell-Saline 14, but that drive came up empty when the Cardinals held on downs with a fourth-and-two at the 6. The Smith Center defense held, and following Arceo’s punt, the visitors had the ball at the Ell-Saline 22.

Guess what? No points. Despite first down from the 12, Smith Center couldn’t pick up the first down from there, and then Zabel missed a 22-yard field goal attempt.

The next Smith Center drive did result in points. For the wrong team.

The Redmen again penetrated the red zone, but with the ball at the 18, Meitler fumbled on a run around left end. Ell-Saline linebacker Luke Sheridan spotted the loose ball and picked it up, and began running the other way. Benoit was in position to make the tackle inside the Smith Center 20, but a good block downfield allowed Sheridan to complete an 80-yard touchdown jaunt. Arceo this time was successful on the conversion, which proved to be critical. Ell-Saline led 14-7 at the end of the quarter, although Smith Cneter was driving.

Six plays into the final period, Benoit spotted Zabel open over the middle. His pass got over the outstretched hand of Cody Walters, and after making the catch, Zabel rumbled into the end zone from 34 yards out. Now, if Zabel could convert the extra point, it would be deadlocked with 9:26 to go, and overtime would be a real possibility for the second time in three seasons between the schools.

Except that Zabel missed. There was still 9:26 to go, but the Cardinals still had the lead.

That 14-13 score did not change. Smith Center never got close to scoring again, and its final play was a Benoit pass which was intercepted by Noah Bradley. Despite gaining 64 net yards and picking up just five first downs, going 0-for-8 on 3rd down conversions and losing the time of possession battle by nine minutes, the Cardinals prevailed, winning for the first time in three games vs. Smith Center. The Redmen won 43-8 at Brookville last year and 20-18 in overtime at Smith Center in 2012. In the 2012 game, the Cardinals missed their conversion in overtime after having the ball first; the Redmen scored and Payton Buckmaster ran in the conversion to win.

The Redmen saw their 33-game winning streak in district games ended. They had not lost a disirict game since October 2003 to Norton at home.

More importantly, Smith Center’s string of 11 consecutive state playoff appearances is in trouble. Not only must the Redmen hope the Cardinals lose at least one district game out of three, they must also defeat Bennington and Phillipsburg in the final two weeks. The best hope would be to hope Phillipsburg wins against Republic County and Ell-Saline, and then Smith Center beats the Panthers in the regular season finale Oct. 30 to force a three-way tie. Since Smith Center lost to Ell-Saline by only one point, the Redmen would need to beat Phillipsburg by two to finish among the top two in a three-way tiebreaker. If Ell-Saline beats Phillipsburg, of course, the winner of the Redmen-Panthers game would finish second behind the Brookville boys.

Following the game, I listened to the Royals-Orioles game. Incredibly, Kansas City got TWO MORE home runs in extra innings to win a postseason game. Alex Gordon led off the 10th with a solo shot, and Mike Moustakas added a two-run clout to put the Royals up 8-5. The Orioles scored once in the bottom of the 10th, but Greg Holland shut the door, allowing the Royals to prevail 8-6 and take a 1-0 lead in the American League Championship Series.

It was midnight when I got off I-435 at Missouri Highway 152, so I decided to go to Buffalo Wild Wings and see who was there. Liz was, and of course she had a big smile when she saw me. Both Morgans, Gilliand (who’s six-plus months pregnant) and Tomec, were there, as was Alexandra Mullinax. Since I was staying only three miles away at the Courtyard on Tiffany Springs, I stayed until a little after 1 before leaving.

Today is going to be hell for the crew at Buffalo Wild Wings. Missouri plays Georgia at 11, the Royals play at 3. LSU plays at 6:30, but who cares?