Behind the Mic: Golf Without Tiger – Not So Bad After All

Another major golf tournament and another missed cut by Tiger Woods. And by Saturday, the popularity of golf lessens even more. Eighteen years ago, a young Tiger stepped into the professional golf limelight and became the center of attention for the sport. It seemed like a whole new audience joined golf fanatics around the world to anoint this athlete as one of their favorites ever. And now, Tiger cannot make the cuts. His body is breaking down and he has played hurt for the last seven years. Sadly, he has become just another player. He has suffered and, ergo, golf is, also, suffering.

But, in my opinion, there is hope on the horizon – perhaps, not in finding the next Tiger, but in finding great drama week in and week out. And that was never more prevalent than this past Sunday during the PGA Championship. The recipe was blended to perfection. Take a dash of the recent past (Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk); throw in an American young gun (Rickie Fowler); add a sprinkle of foreign notoriety (Henrik Stenson and Ernie Els); mix in the current favorite ingredient (Rory McIlroy) and you have the drama great golf produces.

This major had it all. Rory McIlroy won and became only the fourth player in the last century to win four majors at 25 or younger. The others were Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods. He has won the last two majors of the year (only 7 players have done that). He had to overcome falling behind, waiting on almost every shot after the rain delay, watching his closest opponents, Mickelson and Fowler play directly in front of him and experiencing their outstanding moments and, at times missed opportunities. Added to that was the possibility that he may not be able to finish the round because darkness was engulfing Valhalla Country Club. The final hole was played in a mysterious “foursome” setting just to get the championship settled. It had an almost Hollywood feel to it.

It was the best golf had to order for sure. And it was “Tiger-less”. I must admit that I was one of those who did not take as much interest in a tournament if Tiger was not playing or missed the cut and was not around for the weekend. Sunday changed that. I do not say that Rory McIlroy is the next Tiger. There is almost too much talent out on tour right now for just one player to be as dominant as Woods was. But, the drama has been instilled again and the characters are fascinating enough to draw me back.

The spectacle of golf needed a shot in the arm. It needed to overcome Tiger’s lack of competitiveness due to a bad back, bad knees, and a sore Achilles. Tiger Woods had become golf’s Achilles heel. His success raised golf to new heights; his failures were sending it to new lows. That “heel” ironically is beginning to heal! Who would think that it would come in Kentucky in the dark on an August summer afternoon?

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. Did you hear that Ryan Howard is building a $5.8 million house in Florida? It is being built near Clearwater where the Phillies have spring training. It will have 8 bedrooms, 10+ baths, a two-story library, 2 kitchens, 3 laundry rooms, 2 elevators, a wine room, a bowling alley, and a trophy room (I hope he can fill it). The doorknobs alone reportedly cost $80,000. When you have a contract worth $180 million, you can do this.

2. A friend of mine told me that while he and his wife were watching the Eagles lose their first preseason game (they are both huge Eagles fans), she asked which six Eagles he would like to have as his pallbearers. He wondered why she would ask such a strange question. She said she thought that when he died, it would be appropriate for the Eagles to let him down one last time!

3. Speaking of the Eagles, they practiced this past Sunday at Franklin Field, the football home of the Penn Quakers. The Eagles played there from 1958-1970. It was built in 1895. Why there you might ask. Well that was the site of their last NFL championship in 1960 when they beat the Packers 17-13. That was 54 years ago. 28,000 people showed up to watch.

4. Andre Reed did himself, his family, his high school (Dieruff), and his community proud at the NFL Hall of Fame ceremony in Canton, Ohio last week. His speech was straight from the heart, especially his thoughts on Jim Kelly, his quarterback. I have a helmet in my office with both their autographs on it. That helmet was always special to me; now it is even more so.

5. I want to thank John Leone for filling in for me last week. If you haven’t read his blog, please take the time, especially if you are as passionate a sports fan, as John is. You can feel his pain and suffering. Give it a look.

 

Behind the Mic: Free Admittance is so Much Cheaper

 

One of the really nice perks about my job is the free admittance to sporting events. Granted, I have to “work” once I get there, but purchasing a ticket to an event is pretty foreign to me. Add to that the fact that I have a good seat; I get to talk to the players and the coaches; I can converse with the fans; and, sometimes, I even get free food. It’s all good.

There are some sporting events, however, I would like to attend ONCE in my life and to do that, I would probably have to buy a ticket like any other fan. So I investigated the price (in 2013) to attend some of the events on my list (obviously, in the manner I am accustomed to):

1. The Masters golf tournament – a four-day pass would cost me $4,486. I would need to travel to Augusta, Georgia, find lodging, eat for four days, and pay exorbitant prices on the grounds. I am guessing a total price around $6,000.

2. The Super Bowl – the average face-value price for a ticket for the Ravens vs the 49ers in 2013 was $1,210. Tickets were sold, it was reported, for as much as $316,000.

3. The BCS College football championship – For this one, I think I would like to sit in a luxury box suite. After all, I am used to broadcasting college football from a nice suite with free food and drink available. The best price I could find was $250,000 for the accommodations. I would be able to invite some friends – maybe I could get a half dozen to kick in $50,000 each. I am not against making a profit here.

4. Game 7 of the NBA Championship – that happened in 2010 when the Lakers met the Celtics. To sit at courtside (why would I want to sit anywhere else?) required that I purchase two tickets minimum for a cost of $115,000.

5. Major League Baseball’s All-Star game – Another event where if you wanted to sit behind home plate, you needed to purchase two tickets. That would set you back $7,200. I wonder what a hot dog and soda would cost me. Maybe I could sneak in my own peanuts.

My list may differ greatly from yours. So allow me to quickly give you some “ballpark” figures for some other major events:

Championship boxing – ringside – $30,940.
Stanley Cup Final – average price in 2013 – $1,380.
Wimbledon Championship Finals – If you are “unfortunate” to have a British finalist
(Andy Murray in 2013), and decided to buy a ticket the day of the final, it would set you back $65,000.
Opening Ceremonies for the Olympics – only $4,000.

AND, if you got caught up in the World Cup this year and were wondering what it cost to attend the championship final – a mere $990. The problem here is you have to get to Brazil – from my house, it was @$3,000 for flight and hotel!

My top five would cost me around $375,000 or so just for the tickets. My air-conditioned house, comfortable recliner, hi-def TV, and easy access to snacks and drinks have me reconsidering attendance. With the money I’ll save, I think I’ll Google the nearest Porsche dealership.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. The Derek Jeter All-Star salute last Tuesday night was very special. I particularly loved the late Yankee PA announcer Bob Sheppard’s introduction of Jeter. It was the perfect touch, along with allowing Jeter to run off the field in the fourth inning.

2. An interesting side note on Jeter’s career. Dan Szymborski of ESPN has created a formula called ZiPS (sZymborski Projection System) which takes the first three years of a player’s career and projects his career numbers (here are Jeter’s projection numbers followed by his actual numbers as of July 19 in parentheses). For Jeter, he would have projected a .289 batting average (.311); 2,947 hits (3,411); 418 doubles (534); 114 triples (66); 263 HR (258); 1,287 RBIs (1,287); 336 SB (355). Very impressive projection system if you ask me.

3. I love the British Open. Links golf is just different; the TV time is done to allow you to do other things on the weekend; and it is a Major. It was great to see Rory McIlroy play so well again and even his fellow players were happy for him. Sergio Garcia finished second, but now has played in 64 majors without a win. He and Lee Westwood (66 majors) endure the title of “best players to never win a Major”.

4. It was a sponsor’s dream on Sunday at the British Open when the top three golf corporations were so visibly represented – Rory McIlroy represents NIKE; Sergio Garcia represents Adidas; and Ricky Fowler represents Puma. Pretty much equal time for all.

5. Two more interesting British Open tidbits – 1) McIlroy’s former fiancée, Caroline Wozniacki, also won her WTA tennis championship in Istanbul on Saturday. They were to be married in November. Rory broke off the engagement with a three-minute phone call. 2) A fan kept yelling “Sergio is going to catch you” at McIlroy after every shot. McIlroy had a fan removed by security at the 15th hole. No one was sure if it was the same fan.

 

Behind the Mic: Two Weeks of Baseball Instant Replay

 

Instant replay in baseball was first implemented in 2008 for three reasons: 1) to determine if a home run was fair or foul; 2) did a batted ball actually leave the playing field; 3) did a spectator interfere with a batted ball.

The use of replay was greatly expanded for this season to include the following:

• Ground-rule doubles
• Fan interference calls
• Boundary calls (managers may not, however, challenge home run or potential home run calls)
• Force plays at all bases, except whether a middle infielder touched second base during the attempt to “turn” a double play
• Tag plays on the base paths—whether a runner was tagged or whether the runner touched a base (an appeal is still required ahead of the latter)
• Fair/foul calls on balls hit into the outfield
• Catch/trap calls on balls hit into the outfield
• Time plays (whether or not a run scored prior to the third out)
• Whether a runner passed a preceding runner
• Scorekeeping issues, including the count, number of outs, score or substitutions

Judgment calls not specified above, including, but not limited to, pitches called ball or strike, obstruction, interference, infield fly rule and check swings are not.

All games are monitored in New York City by a former umpire or umpire supervisor. Much like the NFL, if a replay is warranted, the crew chief at the game will go to a special monitor to view the disputed play. The umpire must see “clear and convincing” evidence to reverse the call. All of this is supposed to happen in 60 to 90 seconds.

So how is it working? The first challenge occurred March 31, when the Cubs disputed a double play call that their player was safe at first. The Cubs lost the challenge. The decision took 100 seconds. That same day, the first successful challenge was made when an initial single call was changed to an out when the Braves challenged. The first umpire-initiated review took place to determine if a catcher unnecessarily blocked the plate on an attempted score.

In the first 14 days of the season, there have been 21 overturned calls out of 64 challenges in 141 games. The average time is two minutes and 14 seconds. Missed calls are rare, but in a Yankees-Boston game this past week, a call was missed even after it was challenged.

So, after two weeks what can we conclude? Umpires make a wrong call every 6.7 games (not bad). For the most part, the right calls are made so the umpires do not adversely affect the outcome. There are many fewer old-fashioned manager-umpire confrontations.

Sounds good, right? Uh, not quite. I used to like the manager-umpire confrontations – dirt kicked on shoes, spit in face, baseball cap turned around for face-to-face jawing, etc. It’s a bit too civil now for my taste!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. One of the great stories (and more interesting ones) to come out of the Masters this past weekend concerned Jeff Knox. You see, Rory McIlroy, one of the favorites to win the Masters when the week started, was dead last after the cut going into Saturday. He was 51st and since players go out in twosomes, Rory needed a marker (normally their professional playing partner) to go around the course with him. Jeff Knox, a club member, was chosen to be the marker and had the option of walking with McIlroy or playing with him. Since Jeff held the course record of 11-under 61, playing from the members’ tees, he decided to tee it up. They were the first ones out, played in three hours and five minutes before a huge gallery. Jeff played very, very well. He finished with a two-under 70 and beat McIlroy by one stroke! Now, that’s cool!

2. Speaking of golf, statistics say that every year, around one million golfers stop playing. The reasons given are that it is too expensive, too hard, and too elitist. I love golf, but I have to say the quitters are right on all three accounts. The lords of golf (primarily rich, white guys) need to find a way to make the game more enjoyable and more affordable to more people.

3. If you need help in your NCAA bracket next year and if Villanova makes the tournament, choose a team that is in the Wildcats’ bracket. In the last 10 years, the NCAA champion beat Villanova five times.

4. Lafayette held their Football Banquet this past Saturday to honor the 2013 Patriot League champions. Each player received a championship ring. I have to mention Mark Ross, a senior wide receiver. Mark caught 198 passes for 2811 yards and 27 TD’s in his career and was the team MVP. In addition, Mark was on the PL Academic Honor Roll, the Dean’s List, and was the PL Football Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He had a perfect 4.0 GPA. He garnered a great deal of well-deserved hardware on Saturday. He is a true scholar-athlete!

5. I hope you did well on your NCAA Frozen Four brackets office pool this year. You mean you didn’t fill out your hockey brackets? Obviously, there is a significant difference in national interest between the basketball and hockey championships. Union College beat the University of Minnesota 7-4 in the final. Union College has NO athletic scholarships and only 2,241 students. Union College is located in Schenectady, New York….but you probably knew that.