Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Picking "the greatest" isn't easy

From Fair Park's 1952 Class AA state
champions to LSU (1958 national champs)
to All-Pro punter and placekicker with
San Francisco 49ers -- one of Shreveport-
Bossier's all-time greats.
(card from
     What in the name of Tommy Davis, Bo Harris and Gary "Big Hands" Johnson is The Shreveport Times sports staff doing? And why are they asking me to help?
     Answer to the first question: Selecting the 20 greatest Shreveport-Bossier athletes of all time. That is a good task. A difficult one, for sure.
     Answer to the second question (why me?): Don't answer that. But I'm one of the 12 on the voting panel -- The Times was my original newspaper home -- and I'm here to help.
     I can tell you this: When we began listing all the possible people for this list, it is an indication of just how deep the pool of talented athletes with Shreveport-Bossier ties is. Plus, some names were omitted from the nominations list.
     See those three names in the first paragraph. They weren't on the first nominations list I saw -- or the revised one. But we were free to vote for anyone we wanted to, so those three guys -- all stars in high school, college and pro football -- are on my ballot. 
     So was Joe Reding. People from the 1960s will remember him, for sure, but I'm likely to be the only one who voted for him. That's because I am one of the oldest voters on the panel. Not the oldest, but an "oldtimer" now. I don't feel like it, but ...
     I have much respect for the job the people at The Shreveport Times do -- they're good  people, and they're good at what they do -- and I like this idea, although I'm not much of a fan of "greatest" lists because they are so subjective. I have written a blog about that:
     What's good about this list: It is what one of my friends at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram calls "a talker," it gets readers interested.
     I know I was interested when The Times people contacted me more than a week ago to (1) look over the nominations list they had compiled, and make suggestions; and (2) submit my vote.
     I recommended they take several off their first list because I didn't think they fit into the "great" category or weren't really Shreveport-Bossier. Then, over the next 48 hours, I gave them -- no kidding -- 28 names (several friends helped in this process) and we thought of a couple more after that. 
     And, see, there's a dilemma: Where do you draw the line  
     So the revised list of nominees that I received had 54 names on it. Unfortunately, Bo Harris, Gary "Big Hands" Johnson, Joe Reding and Tommy Davis were not among those -- even after I recommended them.
     (Full disclosure: I had a memory lapse, too, about Tommy Davis -- a friend told me he voted for him, and I went "oops," and then asked The Times people to please change my vote and inserted him into my top 10.)
       The Times is releasing the poll day by day, starting at No. 20, and as I publish this -- Wednesday morning -- five names have been revealed: No. 20, Leo Sanford; 19, Kathy Johnson Clarke; 18, Troy Edwards; 17, Josh Booty; 16, Freddie Spencer.
       Ready? I voted for one of those five.
        Which means that at least four of the people I voted for won't make the top 20. That number might double.
        OK, so I had my criteria for voting, and my vote is going to reflect an older person's vote. I tried to emphasize career longevity -- covering high school, college/amateur and pro careers -- and notable achievements (national or state notoriety) and, well, I was NFL-biased (nine of my top 20 played in the NFL, which I consider the toughest league to be in).
        Golf is a pretty competitive sport, too, and achieving in major-league baseball -- not just getting to the big leagues -- is difficult. I leaned more toward those sports, too, and less toward what I consider "niche" sports.
        So maybe the reasoning for my vote is stupid, or misguided. But it is my vote.
        I am not ready to reveal that vote, but I will explain one choice. 
        I tended to consider much more than high school achievements, but I did base part of my vote for Joe Reding on the fact that he was the first Louisiana high school athlete to better 60 feet in the shot put; he did not just break the state record, he shattered it (and Billy Cannon once held it at 55 feet); and his record stood up for a decade or two.
        But Joe also was a football star (linebacker, fullback) at Bossier High and he started three years at offensive tackle for LSU in the mid-1960s ... in both cases, he was a three-year starter when that was rare at the top level of football.         
       Besides, I actually saw him play and shot put -- he was super strong in a pre-steroids era and coordinated -- and I admired him.
       I did not see some of the 1940s and 1950s athletes that were nominated, or that I heard so much about. But I had to vote for Tommy Davis.
       And you are not likely to guess who I voted for at No. 4. You might have never heard of him. But I will be surprised if he even makes The Times' top 20 list.
        Also, you will not be surprised at my Nos. 1-2-3 choices (hint: Woodlawn). I'm guessing the panel will choose the same three athletes. I think they're pretty clear-cut, and of the top two, either one could be No. 1. 
         Anyway, it was a fun exercise, and remember that lists such as these are so subjective. But thanks -- again -- to The Times sports staff for letting me cast a vote. When they end their series, I will reveal my ballot (for those who care).

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Part II: There used to be a ballpark in Shreveport

And there used to be rock candy,
And a great big 4th of July
With the fireworks exploding
All across the summer sky.
And the people watched in wonder
How they'd laugh and how they'd cheer!
And there used to be a ballpark right here.

     -- second verse of There Used to be a Ballpark, recorded by Frank Sinatra, 1973

       (Part II, The life and death of SPAR Stadium)
       In my 31 years in Shreveport, I saw so many great players at Texas League Park, as it was known the first two seasons (1956-57) I saw games there, and then SPAR Stadium for the rest of the time.
       (OK, it was Braves Field in 1968-70, after the name Bonneau Peters Field -- named for the longtime crafty independent owner/operator of the Shreveport Sports but a product of his era, which meant he was a staunch segregationist, wasn't accepted by the city's minority leaders in 1968.)
       Many great memories of my time there, the best of which I've written about: That first year, 1956, when Ken Guettler of the Shreveport Sports hit a Texas League-record 62 home runs.

      The pitcher I remember most is Dave Righetti, Tulsa Drillers' left-hander, 1978 season. He was only 19, a California phenom who threw bullets. His record was only 5-5 that season, but he struck out 127 in 91 innings -- 21 in one nine-inning game -- and I was duly impressed when I saw him face the Captains a couple of times.
      That winter the Texas Rangers, who had drafted and signed him, were convinced by the New York Yankees to include him in a trade that brought Sparky Lyle -- my favorite Yankee player then -- to Texas. Righetti became the Yankees' top pitcher of the 1980s, helped them make the World Series in 1981 (they lost) and he was their closer to almost a decade. Now he is the pitching coach for the three-time World Series champion San Francisco Giants.  
Darryl Strawberry, Jackson Mets, 1982,
photographed at SPAR Stadium by Louis
DeLuca, our buddy at the Shreveport Journal
then and now with The Dallas Morning News.
This photo is part of Louis' DMN daily blog
in 2015 entitled "Career in a Year."
      The best player I saw play at the stadium, the best prospect? Darryl Strawberry, the Jackson Mets' right fielder in 1982. You might have heard of him.
      I've told people this for years: He hit the longest home run I ever saw at that stadium -- a drive so far into the trees behind the right-field fence. Or at least, I think that's where it hit. What it might've done was go into orbit, and might still be circling downtown Shreveport.
      Strawberry was also the subject of the worst thing I ever saw at SPAR Stadium.
      By 1982, the right-field area where the bleachers had once stood for African-American spectators had long been torn down and become the beer-garden area. (Those bleachers had been there from 1938 when the stadium opened through 1961, the era of segregated crowds).
      Shreveport, prevented by Louisiana law for having integrated games (which meant other Texas League teams could not bring their black players to town), lost its team after the 1957 season. After one year without baseball, the Sports returned in the all-white Southern Association in 1959. But that lasted only three years, and the team was gone again.)
      When the Atlanta Braves put their Class AA team in Shreveport for the 1968 season, moving it from Austin, not only was the Texas League fully integrated, so were the then-Shreveport Braves. Ralph Garr was one of those first black Shreveport players.
      So Strawberry came along for Jackson in 1982 and obviously was one of the TL's best players. Here's what I saw one night: As he returned to his position in right field, a group of "fans" in the beer garden began yelling at him: "Hey, Blackberry ... Blackberry." Etc.
      It was a sorry moment, and I'm sorry I saw it.
      It wasn't the only sorry moment in that beer garden. Wayne Tyrone was playing first base for the Midland Cubs in the mid-1970s and was being razzed enough -- racial content, I'm sure -- that he irately raced toward the beer garden, jumped the fence and went after the offending party. I know that non-"fan's" name, but darned if I use it here. I think criminal charges were filed, one way or the other.
      A few years earlier, there was a spitting match between one of my friends sitting behind the visiting team dugout and future MLB outfielder Billy North.
      So those were the extreme moments at the stadium. I saw a few bench-clearing brawls, too; one involving the Shreveport Captains and the El Paso Diablos lasted about 10 minutes. What I remember was the noise -- a low buzz -- coming from the field as the players flew around. It was what I imagined a "rumble" sounded like.
       There were lots of interesting umpire/manager "discussions" and player outbursts, and at one point, there was no tarpaulin to cover the infield, which meant something like 25 rainouts in the 1975 season (and lots of late-season doubleheaders to make up games, wearing out a Captains' pitching staff and contributing to the Captains losing what seemed like a comfortable division lead and not making the playoffs).
        A couple of years later, the ballclub convinced the city to invest in a tarp, but then because there was hardly any ground crew, we had to ask spectators to aid in putting the tarp down when the rains came.
      You could hear and see a lot at SPAR Stadium. One of the very best things was that the seats were close enough to the field you could feel the action -- especially from the box seats and the reserved-seat section that went around from past first base to past third base. Even the grandstand seats were good (only exception was the steel beams; they could obstruct the view a little.)
      The view from those old right-field bleachers, which could hold maybe 1,500 people, wasn't bad, either. Same for the small bleachers -- the Knothole Gang (kids) area of the 1950s -- down the left-field line.
      Another big plus for the stadium, always, was the playing field itself. First, the longtime and legendary groundskeeper/stadium manager, Albert A. Gaedke, and his crew kept the diamond and the grass in great shape. Then, after the City of Shreveport recreation department (SPAR) took over stadium management, the field condition remained a bragging point.
      Gaedke, a Polish-American with roots in Chicago, came to work for the Sports and Mr. Pete as far back as the late 1930s, I believe, and lived in a small shack under those right-field bleachers, next to the umpires' dressing room. He kept a garden -- maybe which is why the term "Gaedke's Garden" applied to the ballpark itself -- and I read that he also set up a golf course of sorts there for use during the off-season.
      When I first began covering games at the stadium in the mid-1960s, he was old and mostly infirm, obviously had trouble breathing and talking, but each night as we were closing up and coming down from the media table (no press box then), he would come around to make sure things were OK in his ballpark. He died not long after that; if I recall, they found him in his shack.
      One problem with the field for many years was that the outfield sloped downward toward the fence. If you were seated in the dugouts, you could not see the outfielders. It was that way until the Braves helped the city give the ballpark a facelift before the '68 season.
      Building up the outfield was one change. Another was that the wooden double-deck fence which had stood for years had gone rotten (just as the roof had, as I wrote about in Part I). So they tore down the fence, and rebuilt a single deck -- reducing the advertising revenue potential, but maybe saving an outfielder's life.
      The wooden scoreboard, always manually operated except for the ball-strike-out lights, remained in left, just behind the fence. A ball hitting it was out of the park -- a home run. 
      A green batter's eye backdrop stood behind the fence in straight center. That's where the flagpole was, too. The sign at the base of the wall there read "398" (feet) -- a good home-run challenge. Down the lines it was 320 to left, 321 to right. The power alleys, reachable but a fair distance, were about 350-360. If the wind blew out, it could be a hitter's park; otherwise, it was fair to pitchers.
      There were also significant grandstand changes. Keep reading.
      Shreveport's previous ballpark had burned down in 1932, forcing the Sports out of the Texas League for five years while a new park was planned and then built.
       Texas League Park was placed in the Allendale neighborhood, then an older middle-class area near downtown. The ballpark was southwest of downtown by only about a mile.
       It was built in a city block, facing northeast from home plate toward downtown. The streets were Gary Street (parallel to the left-field fence), Park Ave. (parallel to the right-field fence) -- the Gary and Park intersection was right behind straightaway center field), Sycamore Ave. (parallel to the third-base line, site of the small "home" parking lot) and Dove (parallel to the first-base line, with the bigger main dirt parking lot). The team had a Dove Street address.
        Don't know what it was like before the 1970s, but by then, the dirt parking could be a mess when it rained. The parking lot was owned by nearby Galilee Baptist Church; the city and ballclub had to negotiate each year for parking rights fees -- now that was a mess -- and had to hire church personnel to run things. I know parking was free in that big lot then, but reserved in the smaller lot for season-ticket holders and club personnel.
       The clubhouses weren't cramped, but not roomy, either -- and, significantly, not air-conditioned. It does get hot in Shreveport in the summer. Big fans had to do their work.
       The manager's offices (home and visiting sides) were big enough for three people; four was a crowd. The umpires' dressing room was closet-like. Two-man crews were standard; more than two, well ...
       By the 1960s and certainly in the 1970s and '80s, the ballpark roofs were leaky. Clubhouses, offices, concession areas, restrooms, storage space -- not much was safe from rain. There were critters there, too -- rats, scorpions (big ones), mice, whatever.
        But the biggest problems were smelly, antiquated restrooms, especially the women's ones, outdated concession areas and -- most significantly -- vandalism.
        The older the stadium grew, the more the neighborhood got older. What was once a working-class neighborhood changed; well, the complexion changed. Older white folks remained, but it became a predominately minority area.
         Physical crime wasn't a problem I knew of, but for sure there were lots of break-ins of cars and the park itself -- the club offices, concessions, clubhouses. The team's safe, far back under the grandstand in a secluded area, was vandalized a few times. So did players' cars, parked inside the stadium during the team's road trips.
         People were hesitant -- scared, maybe -- to come to the stadium, afraid to drive in the area. Street access to the ballpark wasn't that easy; there was no main road in there.
         Perhaps some of the reputation was more perception than reality. No matter, it made advertising and ticket sales a tough sell for club personnel.
         Most everyone in Shreveport-Bossier and North Louisiana knew where the stadium was located. But you had to want to go there. As long as I lived in Shreveport, people weren't all that eager to do so.
         So the attendance declined. That began in 1956 -- despite Guettler's heroics -- and never really let up much. For much of the next 30 years, attendance at the ballpark was woeful -- 250-300 far too many nights, 500 was good, 1,000 or more not all that often.
         There were still some crowds of 5,000 or so for special promotions (bat night, jersey night, the 1974 Texas League All-Star Game with the Texas Rangers, managed by Billy Martin) and the Captains did have a few significant games.
         The most significant was when the 1976 TL Eastern Division pennant race came down to one showdown game. The Captains won it, then had two playoff games with Amarillo at home -- the first playoff games for Shreveport baseball in 16 seasons.
        Those were exciting times for crowds in the stands and the gang in the beer garden, often raucous, was rowdy.
         They were also the last crowds of more than 2,500 at that stadium. Because one week before the 1977 season opener, ballclub officials were told the upper grandstands -- which could seat about 2,500 -- were unstable, unusable ... closed -- for good.
          Part III: The final days of SPAR Stadium

There used to be a ballpark in Shreveport

And there used to be a ballpark
Where the field was warm and green.
And the people played their crazy game
With a joy I'd never seen.
And the air was such a wonder
From the hot dogs and the beer.
Yes, there used to be a ballpark right here.

      One of my favorite Frank Sinatra songs is an obscure one, recorded in 1973 -- There Used To Be A Ballpark. It is slow, a bit sad, and certainly nostalgic, befitting what I am about to write about: the old ballpark in Shreveport.
      Written by Joe Raposo for one of Sinatra's albums, and given Sinatra's New York/Jersey roots, perhaps it had in mind the old Brooklyn Dodgers' Ebbets Field or the New York Giants' Polo Grounds.
       For us who grew up in Shreveport-Bossier or North Louisiana, or nearby, in the '40s, '50s, '60s and maybe even '70s, it's Texas League Park -- or the name it carried for its final 30 years or so, SPAR Stadium.
       Every city, especially those where professional baseball was played, had one of these relics built decades ago and home for your beloved team. Even smaller towns had their parks or fields that had been in use forever.
       This is for those of us who have always felt at home in ballparks/stadiums, even the ones about which we had mixed feelings.
       I loved that place in Shreveport. Don't like the word "hate," so I'll say that I also disliked much about it.
       It is gone now, although a smaller facility stands on the same grounds because some good folks wanted baseball preserved there. Thus, Galilee's Stewart-Belle Stadium, which is being used -- I guess -- for recreational and high school games.
       I am writing this partly because every time I pass Fair Grounds Field, the stadium which in opened in 1986 and replaced SPAR Stadium as home of the Class AA Texas League Shreveport Captains, I see a decaying, unused facility. Reminds me, sadly, of the ballpark we left after the 1985 season.
       Fair Grounds Field looked beautiful when it opened on the Louisiana State Fairgrounds just off Interstate 20, and we were so glad to have it.
       Because I can't imagine that Texas League Park, its name when it opened in 1938, was ever considered beautiful. This was the ballpark of our youth and middle age, but not of our dreams.
       About the best I can say is it was a useful, functional stadium; it really was a good place to watch games. It could be a fun place to be if you liked the sport (or the promotion); and it was historic in that thousands of players played on that field -- and many went on to the major leagues, some to being highly paid stars.
       And we did root for those Sports, Braves or Captains, although there were only four Texas League championship teams in 38 seasons there -- and none over the last 23.
       For most of those last 23 seasons, attendance was among the worst in either the Texas League or Southern Association (1959-61). Shreveport's first "golden age" of baseball was the 1946-55 era when all minor-league attendances blossomed. (The second "golden age" was the first decade at Fair Grounds Field -- three TL championships and lively, interested crowds, a lot of full houses.) 
       Now Fair Grounds Field has the same problem as SPAR Stadium had -- a location that scares people. More on that later.
My favorite SPAR Stadium moment was personal: Our son,
Jason Key, then 5, checks with Captains catcher Bob Kearney
just before the 1976 season opener. This photo was on the
front page of The Shreveport Times the next morning.
       I haven't been near the SPAR Stadium site in maybe 15 years, but I figure I spent about two years of my life there.  And the number of games I watched over 30 years -- as I tried to figure out -- might be closer to 1,000 than to 500. About half those games I was the public address announcer and/or the official scorer (inefficient scorer, if you asked some).
        Learned a lot there. It was, as I noted in a blog piece three years ago about pro ball in Shreveport -- -- the first place I saw baseball played at a fairly high level, not long after we arrived in the United States in 1956. When we got here, I barely knew what baseball was.
        So after so many Sports/Captains games there, plus high school, American Legion, college, semipro and Junior A (kids 14-16) games, it was almost like I had part ownership of the stadium.
        In fact, one little person thought I did own it.
        When he was 3, 4, 5 years old in the late 1970s, our Jason had run of SPAR Stadium and Centenary College's Gold Dome (where I was sports information director). He could go on the field or the basketball court before and after games, and play his games.
         When we moved to Hawaii in 1980, he had to sit in the stands and watch games. He soon told his mother, "I want to go back to Shreveport, where Daddy owns everything."
         By the 1982 season, we had moved back. But SPAR Stadium -- already ancient and, well, awful in so many ways, had changed even more drastically: The roof was gone.
      There are people who write about minor-league ballparks, and have photo albums (copyrighted), and here are two good sources for the old park in Shreveport, each with historical facts:
     Read those, and I don't have to give you all the history of this ballpark. But I will give you some.
     So I have to write about the roof, because it pretty much sums up what happened to the stadium itself.
      The roof covered the grandstand area and went from a little past the first-base bag around to past the infield dirt on the third-base side. The press box was on top of the roof.
      By the time the Shreveport Sports left for good after the 1961 season -- poor attendance was one reason; the main reason was it was against Louisiana law to have integrated games (and many visiting teams now had black players) -- the roof was rotten.
      No kidding. Rotten. So rotten that when I began covering Legion games there in 1963, I was told to be careful when going on the roof to retrieve foul balls (which ended up in a gutter than ran the length of the back of the roof by the fence up there). The press box was mostly boarded up, unusable, off limits.
        I weighed 120 pounds, really. So it might not have been as dangerous for me as for much heavier people. But I was careful; you could hear the roof creak in spots. If you stayed on the main walk leading to the press box or the path nearest the fence, it was fairly stable. But it wasn't safe to venture into the middle.
        I did peek into the press box a few times, just to imagine what it was like to cover games from there, like Shreveport media stalwarts such as Jack Fiser, a young Bill McIntyre and Irv Zeidman (IZ, the Sports' radio announcer) had done in the 1950s and in 1960-61. Bird's eye view, almost directly above home plate. Not a great seat, in my opinion.
        For Legion games and other games there in the six years (1962-67) that Shreveport had no professional baseball team, they put a long table at the top of the grandstand -- right by the fence and walkway up to the roof and old press box. Each night the P.A. announcer would have to carry his equipment up there; it wasn't safe to leave it there overnight.
       Finally, by 1982, the roof was deemed so unsafe, and the expense of rebuilding it too great -- that had been the case for 20 years -- that it finally was torn down. Thus, all you had was the steel beams that had held it -- exposed, an ugly sight.
        Taylor Moore -- longtime Sports/Captains fan and, from 1976, the team president -- said, "It looked like something out of the Bronx that they started tearing down and did not finish."
        But this stadium's problems were far greater than the roof.
        (Part II: SPAR Stadium, the old ballpark)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"Tanking" -- that's a dirty word

Mark Cuban: Why did he even bring up the "tanking" subject? (AP photo)
     I'll get right to the point: When I hear or read about a team "tanking" a game or a season -- and especially if that team is one I'm rooting for -- I find the thought repulsive.
     It stinks. It's wrong. It is against everything I've loved about athletics, and maybe about life: You should always give it the best you've got.
     What is astounding in this "tanking" talk about the Dallas Mavericks the past 10 days or so is this: Mark Cuban, the team owner, seemingly brought up the subject first.
     When he did, some of the Fort Worth-Dallas media -- bless their hearts -- jumped all over it. I know they have a job to do, and analyzing/projecting the team's fortunes is part of that, but to suggest that the Mavericks try to finish among the worst teams in the NBA next season, that's just poor-ass journalism, in my opinion.
     And I've read it, and heard it, more times than I ever care to recently. Heck, once is more than enough.
      Shame on Mark Cuban and shame on those dip-spit journalists. Here is what one wrote (I'm not going to give you his name): " Losing must be the Mavs' top priority for at least the next year."
      OK, so DeAndre Jordan stiffed us big-time. The 7-foot center they needed so badly, who told them he was going to sign with them for a cool $81 million over four seasons, changed his mind and decided he wanted to take his basketball and go "home" to Los Angeles.
       After Jordan gave his verbal commitment to Dallas, Cuban -- who I think is one of the NBA's best team owners, and I still think that -- popped off and said there had been discussions with his front-office people that if they didn't get Jordan, they might try to "tank" the season.
         ("Tanking" -- losing games intentionally or not trying to bring in the best players and have the best roster possible. This, in order to finish near the bottom of the league and get a potential top-three or so draft choice next year to begin rebuilding the franchise.)
         What a disservice to your players, your coach and his assistants, to the league, but most to your fans -- the ones who buy the tickets for games at American Airlines Center.
         The Mavericks' promotion slogan: "We're Going to Get Our Butts Kicked ... Every Game. Come Out and See Us."
         Go ahead and tell Dirk Nowitzki: Look, Dirk, don't make those 3-pointers. Tell Chandler Parsons: We know you're the new face of the franchise, but it's OK if you miss another 25-30 games with injuries. Deron Williams: You don't have to be an All-Star point guard any more. Etc., etc.
          Rick Carlisle is one of the best coaches in the NBA, maybe the best, not named Gregg Popovich. You think someone as competitive and as accomplished as Carlisle would stand for that?
          Seriously? With one year remaining on his contract? He'd walk out of there tomorrow -- and he'd be out of a job for about 5 minutes before another NBA team called him.
           And if the NBA commissioner heard -- or even maybe thought -- a team was losing games intentionally, think he might be concerned about the integrity of the league? Darned right he would be.
          If I were the commissioner, and I thought a team owner was suggesting that his team "tank" games, I would fine that team and that owner into the millions, and what's more, I'd take away the team's next first-round pick, with this message: Tank that!
          Last I checked, I am not the commissioner. Good thing.
         As for DeAndre Jordan, I am not going to pile on and be all that critical of the young man. He had to do what's right for himself and his family. Yes, it was wishy-washy, awkward, immature, rude, but he followed his heart and his confused head -- and he had every right to do that.
         The trouble was the NBA's nine-day moratorium between the start of free-agent "recruiting" and when deals actually could be signed. That span of time is a loophole the NBA needs to fix.
         I read repeatedly that Jordan "owed" Cuban and the Mavericks an explanation, a chance to talk to him (instead of hiding out with his Clippers friends at his home in Houston) and then -- after signing with LA again -- an apology.
        My view: He didn't owe them squat. Sorry. He didn't break any rules.
        Sure, it wasn't kosher. But life -- and the NBA life -- isn't always fair.
        He, or someone, posted an apology on Twitter, and Cuban didn't accept it. My reaction: Who cares? It changes nothing.
        Besides, he stays with a team that is my least favorite to watch of all the NBA teams. Blake Griffin is a roughhouse player; Chris Paul is always gesturing and barking at teammates; and both those guys, plus Jordan, are constantly complaining about officials' calls.
       And we've seen more than enough of Griffin and Paul (Chris and Cliff) on TV commercials.
        Last season they also had Matt Barnes -- who I consider the league's dirtiest player -- and Glen "Big Baby" Davis, who is just as much a brute as he was at LSU. They traded Barnes and picked up Paul Pierce (a darn good tradeoff) and Big Baby is trying to find another team.
         Doc Rivers, the coach, is likeable enough, even as he put the Clippers' spin on the Jordan fiasco, and the owner, Steve Ballmer, might challenge Cuban as the NBA's most visible (and loudest) owner.
         Anyway, there won't be many Clippers fans in Fort Worth-Dallas, certainly not in this apartment.
          I'm only a marginal NBA fan these days, if that. In the 1960s, '70s and '80s, I was quite a fan. But today's players -- so much bigger, stronger, faster and as talented than the guys those earlier decades -- turn me off with their posturing and self-celebrating.
          I don't like how rough many of the games are (the Clippers aren't the only offenders), but I do like when teams play well together, like good passing and great shooters (which is why I watched the Spurs some two years ago and the Warriors this past year).
          Yes, LeBron can play a little, but he's not a player I much enjoy watching.
          I like the Mavericks because they're here, because Dirk has been a pleasure to follow, and because my roommate likes them. As I was watching the free-agency rumors and moves, she reminded me -- repeatedly -- that she didn't care, that "my life is not wrapped up in a basketball team."
          I think she's a good fan; she likes the game, the teamwork. Her fandom dates to Ringgold (La.) High School, which won two state titles while she was there, and to Wilt Chamberlain.
         She's willing to wait until late October to see who takes the court for the Mavs, and she'll learn the new guys and she'll root for them ... and if she doesn't like what she sees, she can turn if off and come back for another day.
         Actually, I went about 10 years without watching a full NBA game. I would catch portions of late-game Mavericks' action on the TV in our office because I did have to edit stories about the team.
         I began watching again -- some -- the past few years because Beatrice does. But she has her own opinions and analysis, and we don't always match. So -- laugh here -- I know when to shut up.
         I don't think I'll accuse of her of "tanking" her fan status.        

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Give these women a parade; they deserve it

Abby Wambach lifts the World Cup championship trophy, and joins her
U.S. teammates in celebration (photo by Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)
     I am here to praise women's soccer. I want to relish -- one more time -- the World Cup championship won by the United States women last Sunday, and how much I enjoyed it, as did a few million other Americans.
      If you have read this blog regularly, you might know that soccer was my first sports love -- back in Holland more than 60 years ago. It's still up there with baseball and then basketball ... yes, all those even more than American football.
      So watching a team I was really rooting for win the World Cup of soccer, that's only happened three times -- all by the U.S. women. Those three times match the times my favorite team of all favorite teams, the Netherlands' men's soccer team, has lost in the World Cup championship game.
      I know, and I have acknowledged this often in blog pieces, that most people here don't care about soccer -- at all. And yet, the U.S.-Japan women's final drew the biggest television audience in the U.S. for any soccer game ever, men or women.
      You know why? Because Americans absolutely love winners. If the U.S. men's national team ever wins the World Cup, it will be as big an upset -- and celebration -- as the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" Olympic gold-medal champions.
      I'm going to say this right now: As much men's soccer as I have watched all these years, I enjoyed this tournament, and the play of the U.S. women, as much as any I've seen.
      (OK, maybe I was a lot more fired up when the Dutch men play great soccer, but I don't enjoy those games as much as I agonize through them.)
      Here's what else: The quality of play in this tournament was as good as any men's World Cup I've watched. Seriously.
      The women players aren't as fast or as strong -- obviously -- but in my opinion there is no discernible difference in the skill level. The women's teams now play together so well; their passing, dribbling, crosses, corner kicks, field-position discipline and even their headers are right there with the men's game. Their all-out effort tops the men's.
      What I liked most is that these teams stayed on the attack, there wasn't all that much buildup offensively (which the men's teams love because they want to show off their quick-passing abilities), and offenses went end-to-end repeatedly.
      And, and -- take note here -- the women have only a minimum of flopping and gamesmanship and dirty play that, again my opinion, taint the men's game.
      I didn't watch a lot of the Women's World Cup, only the four games the Netherlands team played and each of the U.S. games -- six wins, one tie -- but I thought all of them were exciting ... even if at times there weren't many goals. But that, as you know, is the nature of soccer.
       So the U.S. team played one scoreless tie (with Sweden), won twice by 1-0 and twice by 2-0. But that championship game, those five goals -- five -- that routed defending champion Japan were spectacular.
       Think about this. It took Carli Lloyd only three minutes to score the game's first goal. That matched the number of goals scored by the winning team in the last two men's World Cup final. Three minutes. It took Spain 116 minutes to score its goal in the 2010 final; it took Germany 113 minutes to score its goal in the 2014 final.
        It took Lloyd only two more minutes to score her second goal. And as we all know now, the U.S. had four goals in the first 16 minutes.
        And really, in the men's or women's game, have you ever seen a more sensational goal than the one by Lloyd that made it 4-0? 
        The shot she launched from midfield, a 1-in-1,000 shot that caught the Japanese goalie far out of her goal ("off her line" in soccer parlance) was the dagger that assured it was a great day for Lloyd and the U.S. team. Sure, it was lucky, but Carli's field vision -- spotting the goalie's mistake so quickly -- was brilliant.
        There was little that was negative about this Women's World Cup, except ... FIFA.
        Soccer's ruling organization, made up mostly of rich men from around the world, is known for its 19th Century vision, rules and customs. We know -- or so all the reports and indictments say -- that its leaders are (1) subject to taking bribes and (2) making themselves very rich.
         Yeah, put those future men's World Cup finals in such popular locations as Russia and Qatar. Gee, wonder how that happened? You don't suppose there's payoffs involved?
         We also know they are sexists, male chauvinist pigs.
         They made things difficult for the women in this tournament, forcing them to play on artificial turf fields in Canada, a much-publicized, much-criticized move. Much tougher on players' legs, much more susceptible to players being injured.
         No way -- no way -- the men's teams would be forced to play on artificial turf. They would revolt before that happened; they'd absolutely refuse to play. 
         But that's not even the most appalling disregard for women. Just follow the money.
         The men's World Cup champion, Germany, received $35 million for its soccer federation from the 2014 tournament in Brazil. The U.S. Soccer Federation, and the women, receive $2 million for this championship. Let's see, $35 million and $2 million. Yeah, that's fair.
          Certainly the TV rights for the men's tournament generate a great deal more revenue for FIFA than the women's tournament. But couldn't the FIFA people be a little more generous, a little more even-minded?
           At least, we know our World Champions received a first for a women's team -- a ticker-tape parade down New York City's famed "Canyon of Heroes." That was a wonderful and fitting tribute Friday.
          FIFA could pay New York City's expenses -- and the team -- for that parade, don't you think? I'd say $33 million would do it.  Heck, that's probably as much as FIFA's top officials made in their (hush, hush) deal making. 
         What soccer needs is equality. My solution: Put women in charge of FIFA. I nominate Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Christie Rampone, Alex Morgan, Kelley O'Hara, Lauren Holiday, Tobin Heath, even Hope Solo. Give all 23 U.S. players a spot on the FIFA board.
          They know how to get things done the right way. They are winners, and they were fun to watch.      

Friday, July 10, 2015

The word "buyout" means good-bye

     So The Dallas Morning News -- the mighty DMN -- has announced it aims to have 30 employees take buyouts by at least Sept. 11.
     And if they don't get 30 people to take the buyouts, you know what's next: layoffs.
     "Buyouts" and "layoffs" are negative words in my newspaper vocabulary. For almost a decade now, we've seen them happen at newspapers all over the country, including all the ones I worked for over a 40-year period.
      When I "shared" the DMN announcement letter on Facebook and on my e-mail list Wednesday, the reactions from several friends was "sad" and "not surprised."
       I agree. Plus my own reaction: resigned to it.
       So many friends, so many co-workers who weren't necessarily my friends, have left the newspaper field -- and not by choice. Not really, even if they took the buyout. Buyout was just a quicker way to go. Inevitably, a layoff was ahead for many of us.
        Buyout or layoff, they mean the same. Time to say good-bye to your job. And for most, a job they actually loved.
        I refused, I think, three buyout opportunities at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The first set of layoffs, in April 2008, didn't give those eight employees any buyout chance; they were gone immediately ... with severance pay. Or as former Centenary College basketball coach Tommy Vardeman used to joke, they were given an apple and a road map.
        I managed to hang on for three years until the fifth set of buyouts or layoffs at the S-T. That's when I got my apple and road map, and severance pay -- and I was fortunate in that I was nearly 65 and about ready to stop anyway. Worked another year and a half as a parttimer.
       Now the Star-Telegram is up to nine or 10 sets of buyouts/layoffs. To be honest, I've lost count. Each time some good people left the building; in the latest set, at the end of May, only a few took a buyout, including longtime columnist Bob Ray Sanders, an absolute treasure for the paper, the city and the area, and a pioneering African-American journalist in this area.
       I figure -- and this is a rough guesstimate -- that the S-T work force has been reduced by nearly 1,000 people over seven years. Same story at many other papers.
       Happy to say that some of the very good people I worked with at the Star-Telegram are still there. So are friends at other papers and in the journalism field (some with online presence).
        Some of those friends, acquaintances, are at The Dallas Morning News. I have been a fan of that newspaper dating to the late 1960s/early 1970s when the Dallas Cowboys' first dynasty was in bloom and Bob St. John, Blackie Sherrod, Sam Blair and many others wrote about them, and when Randy Galloway covered the Texas Rangers at the start of their existence.
         Finally got to work parttime at the DMN for four months in 2011 and I can tell you that the people in sports are talented, dedicated and conscientious -- and do a great job. For many years, it's been as good a sports section as you'll find in this country.
          And I don't mean to slight most of the sports departments in which I worked because people there had the same type dedication and effort.
          But it doesn't feel right that some of the DMN sports department people might be leaving, no more than it felt right when it happened at the Star-Telegram and my other former papers, or to my friends elsewhere.
          Here is what is a bit galling about these upcoming DMN buyouts: The new editor, Mike Wilson -- who obviously wants to run things his way -- said in his announcement that the buyouts will be offered to workers "whose age and years of service total at least 60 years.” There are 167 people who are in that category; the 30 leaving will be from the newsroom and/or other DMN editorial products. And in the near future, Wilson added, "We will add positions back to the newsroom, with a focus on hiring outstanding digital journalists."
           In other words, all you old farts with experience -- but digitally challenged -- get out.
Make way for younger people we don't have to pay as much.
           We're going digital because that's the trend. The print edition is passe'.
           A little history: In the fall of 2004, the Morning News gave layoffs to 65 newsroom employees -- and 18 of them, over the age of 40, sued for age discrimination. They didn't win that suit; a federal judge eventually dismissed it (and was wrong to do so), but the next time the DMN had layoffs, it first offered buyouts (not an option in 2004). Still, more than 100 newsroom people took those buyouts in the fall of 2006.
           Either way, they're out, out, out. That's the newspaper world today, everywhere.
          I wrote about my history and my love for newspapers almost three years ago:
          As I said then, I enjoyed holding the newspaper in my hands, just as I enjoy a good book. Friends my age or older feel the same way. But, people, we are relics.
          Honestly, I've stopped reading printed newspapers; it's a rare day when I do now. I get most of my news online or from television, and I read a lot of good stories -- on things that interest me -- from links on Facebook. It's easy to do.
          Sure, I miss out on some local stories and I'm months behind on the news. That's the bad part of not reading the daily newspaper as thoroughly as I did. But I have read more books in the last year than in decades. So, like others, I've changed my reading habits.
          Back to the buyouts/layoffs, and the changing trends in journalism.
          When I went to work in Star-Telegram sports, in December 2001, we had 85 fulltime people in sports and about 40 parttimers. I am not making that up; it was mind-boggling.
          We put out 12- to 25-page sections daily, with four zoned editions 3-4 days a week, two deadlines and special sections galore. It was an outstanding product, recognized as one of the nation's top sports sections and -- yes -- every bit as good as the heralded Morning News.
           They are down to 22 fulltime survivors in sports; their sections are 8-12 pages a day and not all that spectacular (sorry, I'm not a fan of some of the writers), and I feel for my friends who are still working hard. But I don't worry about it any more.
          When I started at The Shreveport Times in late May 1969, I was the sixth fulltime person in sports (and, of course, this was long before women began working in sports). When I returned as sports editor (for one ill-fated year) in 1987, we had a dozen fulltimers.
          The Times is down to five sports people again. That's one more than we had for most of our years at the Shreveport Journal in the 1980s; now that newspaper doesn't exist.
           The Times sections now are designed by a team in Des Moines, Iowa. That's a Gannett thing. We used to design our pages upstairs and have them put together -- in hot metal type, later in pasted-up "cold" type (looked like Xerox copies) -- in a composing room downstairs. The old days.
           The paper itself is a reduced version, almost tabloid-size. It looks like a grocery-store shopper.
           When I worked at the Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville) in the late 1980s/early 1990s, there were 210 newsroom employees. There about 60 now. (Got those numbers from what I consider a reliable source.)
            We know that the Times-Picayune in New Orleans is home-delivered only three days a week. It still prints a paper daily, but the other four days it's only for street sales. Can't imagine many people going out to get a paper on those days; if they do, they are avid readers.
            Home delivery declines everywhere. I can foresee other papers doing what the Times-Picayune has done, or perhaps not publishing every day of the week.
            It is possible, I suppose, that papers will go strictly digital -- no print editions -- in the future. Don't see it happening in my lifetime, although one of the two most prominent weekly sports publications -- Sporting News -- is all digital now; and the other, Sports Illustrated, might do so, too.             
            Advertising money is declining greatly for newspapers at every level -- national ads, local ads, classified ads -- but it's hard to imagine, it seems impossible, that a digital-only presence can come anywhere close to matching what print newspapers still have in advertising.
            Yes, those car sales and real estate advertising sections, and the prepackaged inserts that made your Sunday paper so thick -- would be difficult to stuff into everyone's computers. Those ad sections always looked like gold to me because they helped pay our salaries in the newsroom.
            Newspapers are much more costly to print these days -- ink and paper costs keep rising, and so does the cost of operating circulation trucks and many papers now are printed a good distance from their home base.
            The Fort Worth Star-Telegram is printed at the Dallas Morning News' press facility in Plano. That's a good hour away from Fort Worth itself, at least if I'm driving it. So to get the paper to Fort Worth in good time, earlier news deadlines often are necessary.
            I have heard that the owner company, McClatchy, wants to move up S-T deadlines, which might mean missing out on night developments/stories, including sports events. The S-T brass has resisted to a point so far, but can you imagine the Fort Worth paper not having Cowboys' game stories or TCU football night game stories in the next day's paper?
            Which brings me to another announcement you might have missed, a June 27 letter from the editor of the Austin American-Statesman to readers which said that beginning July 6, the paper will be printed in San Antonio or Houston. Because of the travel distance to deliver papers that will force earlier deadlines, so readers will miss out on many night sports events, including University of Texas football games.
            Memo to readers: You can find the stories online, at several American-Statesman sites. But to see reports from those games in print, wait until Monday.
             Can you imagine that happening in Baton Rouge or New Orleans -- or Shreveport -- with LSU football?
              Friday night high school football in the Austin area? Wait until Sunday morning to see the stories in print. But do check online for more immediate access.
             I can see that happening in, say, Fort Worth or Dallas. Thus, another reason to boost the digital producers, the younger (cheaper) people who can put out the product because online is where the younger readers will go.
            Obviously, because they're still publishing, newspapers these days must be profitable. If they weren't, they'd fold. But you have to think that the profit margins -- once very healthy in a lot of places -- have shrunk.
             And while technology and the production of the paper has advanced so far since my younger days, in many ways -- personnel-wise, financially -- newspapers have turned back the clock 50 years.
            So hard as it is, say good-bye to tradition. It's a new world out there in newspapers and media, and there will be a lot fewer people out there reporting the news. We have to accept that, we have to adjust our thinking. But we don't have to buy that the buyouts -- or layoffs -- are a good thing.