Sportscasting advice from an old part-timer

I read two websites on sports broadcasting, Sportscaster Life and Say the Damn Score, and there is a Facebook group for sports announcers.

One of the sites has a place where someone can write. That’s what prompted this, which may be shared on the other two sites.

My perspective does not come as one of the network announcers, or a major pro or college announcer. I have almost 30 years experience announcing sports part-time, on radio and cable TV. (Three games so far this season, with another tonight at 7 Central Time here.)

I am good enough at doing this to be employed part-time to keep doing this. I haven’t been hired to do this at a higher level. I’ve figured out that’s probably all right, because I’ve learned that while journalism has poor pay and long and irregular hours, broadcasting adds to it nearly nonexistent job security, where people get fired for no really good reason.

Other part-time announcers I’ve known had day jobs in customer service, a telephone company (remember those?), welding and education. Even though it’s part-time, though, it’s essential to treat it seriously, if for no other reason than to remain employed. That means taking game prep seriously, rather than just thinking you can show up at the game site and not suck.

Broadcasting Ripon College football on The Ripon Channel with former college hockey player Howard Hansen.

If you’re doing this part-time, you’re probably paid per game. The key to getting paid more, therefore, is to do more games. Some of that is tied to how far the team you’re assigned to cover goes in the postseason; that’s out of your hands. Unless I really wasn’t available, I have always accepted a game assignment. That means I’ve done sports I wasn’t familiar with in announcing terms, including wrestling, volleyball and soccer. (Ironically, volleyball is the one sport I actually played in high school, but evidently I learned nothing about the game from sitting on the bench for two years. There is nothing quite like announcing volleyball on the radio for the first time, particularly if you lack the proper equipment and are in a poor broadcast position.) That also means doing games I wasn’t planning on doing when an emergency comes up and the radio station calls me. (And on the couple of instances where I became unavailable for a game, I arranged for my replacement a few days in advance.) Employers will stick with people who may be subpar in other areas if the employee in question is reliable.

Broadcasting Ripon High School football on The Ripon Channel with Marty Ernser, whose voice you can hear on the first video.

Part-time or not, you should always try to improve. That means listening to or watching your games, whether you like to do that or not. It’s not an ego exercise; you are not likely to remember or realize something you did poorly until you hear or see yourself.

A UW–Platteville men’s basketball game on White Out Night, with former coworker Brian Roebke.

You should always try to be more descriptive, to a point. Instead of “ground ball to short,” did the ball roll to shortstop, bounce high to short, dribble to short, roll like a cueball to short, or what? Instead of a three-yard run, did the running back slide through a hole, bang off defenders, spin off defenders, sweep outside, or what? But at the same time your description shouldn’t go over the heads of your listeners or viewers. I know some announcers have a thesaurus-worthy description of plays, but you’re probably overdoing it if your call makes listeners wonder what just happened.

Broadcasters are told to be themselves. (Which brings to mind the question of what happens when your self isn’t good enough, but never mind that right now.) The only way you can discover what your on-air self is, of course, to announce games. That’s easier than ever thanks to Facebook Live, from which comes broadcast example number three in this blog. Early-career announcers are likely to sound something like the announcers they watched or listened to, such as, in my case, Jim Irwin (Packers, Badgers and Bucks), Bob Uecker (who started announcing the Brewers when I was 7 years old), and Dick Enberg (who announced a lot of touch football in my neighborhood, though he probably doesn’t know that).

I’ve watched sports long enough to have figured out what I like and what I don’t like when I’m watching a game, and therefore what to avoid when I’m announcing a game. By now no one is probably completely original in a game call. (For instance: There are probably four acceptable calls for a goal in hockey — “GOAL!,” “SHOT AND A GOAL!”, “SCORE!” and “HE SCORES!” I don’t think I’ve heard any other goal call other than Pittsburgh’s Mike Lange’s “HEEEEEEEEE shoots and scores!,” which is a variation of the fourth choice.) The only catch-phrase I have that I can think of is my three-point call, which started as “Bango!” in honor of original Bucks announcer Eddie Doucette, but became “Bullseye!” because Mrs. Presteblog said no one would get the “Bango!” reference.

Later the same season as the aforementioned White Out game, UWP had an alumni night. I’m not a UWP alumnus, so I tried to figure out a look from my college days, which I guess here is a cross between Sonny Crockett of “Miami Vice” and “The Terminator.” I’ll be bock.

I try not to yell on the air. I think the worst trend in sports announcing is the announcer who screams like a banshee, yells like his dog is about to run into traffic, or adds a fake growl or other pale imitation of boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer. The viewer or listener knows when a big moment is taking place in a game, and to quote the great Vin Scully, you have to announce with your head, not your heart.

I got to do a state soccer match with the house soccer player, which was a better experience than broadcast, though it went to overtime and penalty kicks.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with borrowing from another announcer if he’s doing something better than you are, even if you don’t otherwise care for that announcer’s work or style. Many basketball announcers use the term “top of the key” for a player in front of the semi-circle through which goes the free-throw line, because originally the lane was narrower than the free-throw-line circle, and it thus looked like an old-style key hole. I heard someone use “top of the silo,” and if you think about it the lane, viewed from above, does look like a farm silo, so I use that, since I do games in the agricultural Midwest. (You will not, however, hear me do the “5-4-3-2-1” countdown to the end zone in football, which is bush league and inaccurate.)

I try to remember to give the score at every new first down, or immediately after that, in football, and after every out at least in baseball. Legendary Tennessee announcer John Ward gave the score after every play of a football game.

One more thing: Enjoy what you’re doing. I go into games now mentally assuming the team I’m covering (assuming it’s not a neutral game) is going to lose, so I don’t sound crushed if they lose. But win or lose, there are few things as good as getting to announce sports, even if (maybe especially if) you’re doing it part-time. I’m announcing for people who can’t get to the game for one reason or another (including being out of state or, once, out of the country), as well as the players’ families thanks to the ability to record broadcasts for future viewing or listening. (I became one family’s personal broadcaster, sort of, after announcing a player’s four years in high school and four years of college.) That should be a fun responsibility.

I’ve gotten to announce state basketball, football and volleyball, NCAA tournament games, games on the way to state tournaments, and great regular-season games. More than once in the middle of broadcasting an exciting, thrilling game I thought to myself that I’m being paid to do this. (I’ve never offered to return my pay, however.)

Advertisements

The dumbest controversy of all time

Mark McGuire:

There is always an internal debate over how much political news belongs in this sports section. Such reports and commentary fill the rest of the newspaper and website. And cable news. And our personal Twitter and Facebook feeds. (Man, that high school friend went off the deep end.)

Can’t we have one oasis where we can argue about only the important stuff, such as whether the New York Jets will win a game (yes, but not two), or who is going to take the Travers (no idea; ask Mike MacAdam or Bill Heller)?

But there is no denying politics, partisan and otherwise, crosses into the sports realm, from the ongoing Colin Kaepernick saga and Kevin Durant saying he would not go to the White House if invited to the issue of pay inequality in women’s sports.

Some of these topics are profound, transcending the day-to-day games, and should be discussed. They say something not just about sports, but where we are as a society.

And some are just … stupid.

But they provide fuel to our rage machine, our desire to yell and be outraged and shake our heads.

So Robert Lee, best known locally for his standout work doing play-by-play for Siena basketball, was switched off calling a Virginia football game by ESPN because he shares the name with Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general.

All this stems from the the heightened sensitivities to all things Confederate in the wake of the unrest earlier this month in Charlottesville, the home of UVA, involving white nationalists.

“We collectively made the decision with Robert to switch games as the tragic events in Charlottesville were unfolding, simply because of the coincidence of his name,” ESPN said in a statement. “In that moment it felt right to all parties. It’s a shame that this is even a topic of conversation and we regret that who calls play-by-play for a football game has become an issue.”

In an email to writer Yashar Ali that the contributing writer to New York Magazine, Mother Jones and HuffPost posted on Twitter, an unnamed ESPN exec said the move was done to avoid “memes and jokes and who knows what else” and a “potential zoo.”

What ESPN got instead was … that potential zoo realized, and one of the top-trending topics on Twitter.

Rage, snark, head-shaking — it’s all there.

And what Lee — who, by the way, has a hardly unusual name for an Asian-American — suddenly found himself in the middle of our national nervous breakdown.

Lee did not respond to a request for comment. He did not ask for this. He does not deserve this.

You can argue — as many have — that ESPN was being overly cautious if not politically correct. But the truth is the PR people were right in one sense: Lee, who in a nod to his name goes locally by the nickname “The General,” certainly would have been the subject to at least some Twitter snark.

And … who isn’t?

Instead, ESPN made a move to pull him off this game, a move that inevitably got leaked … which put Lee in the spotlight by a factor of 10. …

ESPN, as always, is low-hanging fruit here. If it did nothing and Lee did a Virginia game in Charlottesville, certainly some would have hit the network as insensitive. At best, the easy jokes would have flown.

And by doing something, ESPN looks worse.

But you know who looks worst of all? All of us. The fact this conversation is even going on. The fact that an Asian sportscaster with the same name as a Confederate general is prompting all this angst, this rage and snark, this column. The fact everything has to be looked at now through the political and partisan lens. This story really does say something about where we are as a society.

TAKE me out to the ballgame(s) …

For those interested in seeing the baseball game I mentioned Wednesday, here are the pregame interviews …

… the ballgame (Foreshadowing Alert: make sure you watch the last inning) …

… and the postgame.

The video and sound quality is not the greatest. (Nor is the announcing since the announcer did rudimentary game prep, though more than none.) For whatever reason the videos are in HD on the newspaper Facebook page but only SD on YouTube. Fortunately the game probably makes up for that.

Given how the Brewers’ pitching has been since the All-Star break, you could take the four pitchers in this game and send them to Milwaukee and they’d do better than the Brewers’ bullpen, and some of the starters too.

This started, as I wrote Wednesday, because I came up with the idea where I come up with my best thoughts — in the shower the morning of a tournament championship game. (Wauzeka 14, Platteville 12.) I also did it for two professional (as much as this is) reasons — to improve my baseball play-by-play since baseball is the worst sport I announce due to my having not done enough baseball, and to get the experience of calling my own child’s games, which I might have to do in future years.

Submitted for your approval as well are the first-round game against Shullsburg …

… the first …

… and second parts of the quarterfinal against Kieler …

… and the semifinal game against Cuba City (hint: watch the beginning):

Some boys of summer

An outstanding newspaper editor writes:

Take me out to the ball game: Those of you who have Liked The [Platteville] Journal’s Facebook page (and pushed it over 7,000 Likes) may have seen a few eighth-grade baseball games streamed on the previous three weekends. (I came up with that idea where I usually get my best ideas, in the shower.) Game one was a 14–12 Platteville loss. However, after a nailbiting 3–2 win over Kieler, a win preserved by a bases-loaded two-out strikeout, and a 13–7 semifinal win over Cuba City (it turns out scoring six first-inning runs — after the first two batters went out, the next seven reached base — before your opponent can bat is good for your chances to win), the Hillmen will play at Dickeyville (weather and bandwidth permitting) tonight at 7:30 for the league tournament title.

Readers might say I’m bringing this up because my youngest son is one of the pitchers on the Platteville freshmen-to-be team. To quote a friend and former coworker of mine, who is now a judge: What’s your point?

That’s what I’m doing tonight at 7:30 Central time, weather and bandwidth permitting.

Dylan, photographed at a Milwaukee Brewers baseball camp at UW–Platteville.

Related is what Kate Leavell writes:

A letter to my former self as a new sports parent:

One day you’re going to get in the car with your kid’s water bottle that he left at home for the last time, that sour shoulder pads and cleat smell coming from the back seat, and the little chunks of dirt that have been knocked loose from muddy cleats all over the once new floor mats. You’re going to climb the stadium stairs one last time, listen to his name announced, watch him take the field and shoot a glance up your way and a little wave. You’re going to hear the last whistle, watch the last half time talk, the last hand shake, eat your last stadium hot dog, shade out that last bright sun beam blocking your view, and then you are going to get in the car and you won’t ever be back again.

Today may be the first time he sits in your lap as you lace up his cleats and then walks onto that field, and he may be terrible, he may be fantastic, he will likely have moments of both, but when it’s all over he’s still that piece of you that you love no matter what.

All I care about now at the end of this journey, is that he had fun, that he has memories that he cherishes rather than ones he hopes to forget. His playing time, lack of college offers that he never cared about or wanted anyway, coaches’ philosophies, club teams, stats – none of it mattered. Not one bit. Don’t waste time keeping up with the joneses of sports parents, just love every.single.second.

When he is small, sports will seem like such a milestone and you will be in a hurry to get him into as much as you can. If he shows promise you may start looking ahead, thinking you are depriving him if you don’t get him the training he deserves. Be ready, because the second it starts the comparison and expectations are instantly out of reach. Don’t miss the fun, don’t miss the laughs, don’t miss the chance to reassure when the tears come, hug him tight, hand him an ice pack when he gets hurt and then send him back out there. And when he wants a break, when he says he misses his friends, respect that request.

Don’t worry about what the coaches are doing, how the team is playing, who should be playing, if they are learning as fast as other teams, if they are a super star, or if they are winning. Just look at them – are they happy? Are they growing and learning and reaching and stepping outside of their comfort zone? Because at the end of their sports experience that’s all that matters. You won’t care about anything else when it’s over.

There are so many things outside of sports that he loves to do, that he is so amazing at. There are so many opportunities that are going to get missed if he is training all the time. He doesn’t want to play in college, that was my destiny, not his. But the things he learned playing sports he will use every day when he leaves for college next year.

Don’t let him forget that he has other talents, to explore as much as possible, to focus on the things he loves but to also constantly try something different just for the experience. Don’t let his self worth become directly tied to his athletic abilities. Don’t let your relationship become coach and player instead of parent and child.

Soak in every moment of every game, absorb the cheers, the goof ups, the missteps, the sometimes less than perfect effort, the sometimes mind blowing plays, the team events, the mud, the smell, the tears, the joy, because one day its going to be over.

You’re going to miss the smell that you think you hate on that drive home from practice, you’re going to miss the constant shuttling to and from practice, volunteer responsibilities and team events, you’re going to miss all the time you spent worrying about team stuff instead of just relaxing and watching him love the game, you’re going to remember those band-aid moments, emergency room visits, got cut from the team and then, years later, the being made captain moments. Hold on tight, and remember why he is playing, never miss an opportunity to experience the complete and total joy you get from just getting to watch him play, because it doesn’t last, and it doesn’t come back.

Related is this comment:

Try marching band. It’s a sport. Why?Try lifting a heavy instrument, (maybe a bari saxophone, 20ish pounds) holding it out at the correct angle, counting your steps so you are where you are supposed to be at any given time on the field, blowing through your instrument, and remembering the notes you need to play, wearing a band uniform in hot weather and sweating buckets, bugs land on you? Too bad, you can’t blow them off, you have to keep going, friend passes out, too bad you have to step over them. And that’s after 2 months of conditioning…yoga, stretching, jogging, marching, getting your steps down. Starts in July, ends in mid November. It, unlike normal sports, builds team work, they become a tight knit group. It’s not a 7 minute show where one person shines. It’s either they all score well together or they all mess up together. Most parents are at every performance cheering and screaming, getting their band kids pumped up. All of them. It’s nine weekends of sheer craziness. And it’s an all Saturday adventure. It involves the whole family, if there are affordability issues, they get covered. It is a community. We’ve even gone on to competition when right before our band director found out one of his students died. It took him to his knees. It was awful. Our band director spoke with our kids and they, as a team, decided to go on for their friend. Her marimba was draped in flowers and set where it normally would be.
These kids learn discipline, working as a team, and how to resolve issues. ThiS mom had NO idea the hours it took to go from point a to polished program. Blood, sweat, and tears. Try band, in the 7 years we were involved, I never heard any booing from the crowd and I can say that because I was there, every performance, I was the video person. We cheered for each other. I love all sports but I love band too. Sorry this got long. You just got a condensed version of behind the scenes. Crazy awesome.

41 years ago, and nevermore since

The first game of the NFL preseason is the Hall of Fame Game. Unless it gets canceled due to bad turf …

… or bad weather, as in 1980 when the Packers–Chargers game in Canton, Ohio, ended during the third quarter due to lightning. (Spoiler alert: Maybe that’s happened before …)

The Hall of Fame Game opening the preseason is a tradition of the past 40 years. It may seem hard to believe now, but the game before that used to pit a team of college all-stars (which means other teams’ early draft picks) against the defending NFL champion.

The game was played at Soldier Field in Chicago (from whence came the baseball All-Star Game), back when (until 1971) Da Bears played not there but at Wrigley Field. Soldier Field could seat up to 100,000 until renovations installed end-zone seats that cut off the huge bowl of the original stadium.

Tonight is the 41st anniversary of the final All-Stars game, which ended in chaos.

ABC-TV carried the game in the midst of its Montreal Olympics coverage. (With the Hall of Fame game the next afternoon.)

Silenced sports voices

Two figures in Wisconsin sports media history died last week.

The first is reported by the Wisconsin State Journal:

Don Lindstrom, a former prep and University of Wisconsin sportswriter and columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal, passed away at 92 years old on July 13 in Madison. A cause of death was not disclosed.

The Nebraska native’s newspaper career covered 43 years as a sports editor of the Holdrege (Neb.) Daily Citizen, a sports writer for the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune and finally at the State Journal for 29 years. He retired in 1988.

Lindstrom was honored with selections to the Wisconsin Sports Hall of Fame in cross country in 1995, basketball in 2001 and football in 2002. He received an additional award from the Wisconsin Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. He also was a member of the Baseball Writers of America, earned Wisconsin Sportswriter of the Year nominations and was the ninth president of the Madison Sports Hall of Fame.

Lindstrom also served in the U.S. Navy Amphibious Corps Pacific Theater during World War II. He and his wife, Barbara, would have been married 64 years on Aug. 31.

I read Don well before I knew him, along with late State Journal sportswriter Tom Butler. So when I started covering games and then saw them in the flesh, it was a sign that it one of them was there, the game I was covering was a big deal that night. One wonders if, given media companies’ shedding of employees, if someone will think that after seeing one of today’s sports reporters covering an event.

That included the March 12, 1982 boys basketbail sectional semifinal game between two of the three conference tri-champions, Madison La Follette and Madison West, about which you have read, including …

The scene was wild enough for Don Lindstrom, a Wisconsin State Journal sportswriter who had previously covered approximately 11 million basketball games, to comment thereupon:

“I thought we had lost it,” yelled La Follette Coach Pete Olson amid postgame bedlam. “We worked so hard but I never thought we could do it. These kids are amazing.”

The other is reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Long before the arrival of cable television, decades before people live-streamed baseball games on tablets or checked their cell phones for ScribbleLive updates, this is how you followed your favorite team, when you weren’t actually sitting in the stadium:

You turned on the boxy radio in the kitchen or held a transistor radio to your ear and moved the tiny plastic dial in microscopic increments until the static faded and the station came in, occasionally loud and clear.

In Milwaukee, this rich era of radio produced the likes of Earl Gillespie and Blaine Walsh, Merle Harmon and Tom Collins – familiar, honeyed voices drifting through the air on hot summer nights.

Collins (left) and Merle Harmon, who I once met, probably announcing a Brewers loss.

“You weren’t involved with baseball unless you listened to the radio,” said Eddie Doucette, a member of the Brewers’ broadcast team in 1973-’74.

Yet another link to that bygone era is no more with the passing of Collins, who died Thursday in Wisconsin Rapids of congestive heart failure. He was 95.

Gillespie and Walsh, who called Braves games in the 1950s and ‘60s, and Harmon, who bridged the Braves and Brewers, preceded Collins in death – Walsh in 1985, Gillespie in 2003, Harmon in 2009.

“When you stop and think about all the good guys that have come out of that market, it was really some quality, quality talent,” said Doucette, who gained greater fame as the radio voice of the Milwaukee Bucks. “It was a sad day for me when Merle died. And now Tom. It’s almost the end of an era.”

Like many play-by-play men of his generation, Collins had no formal training in radio. After serving as a Marine Corps gunner during World War II, he returned to his hometown of Neenah and worked as a millwright in the paper mills.

He got his start in radio doing a Sunday morning polka/country music show on WNAM and later did play-by-play for local high school sports teams. In 1959, he took a job with WEMP-AM in Milwaukee, which held the rights to Braves games.

“He came to WEMP as a newsman,” said Collins’ son, Patrick. “He worked his way up to his own morning show before he got into sports. He did the Braves’ pregame show for three or four years before he started doing play-by-play.”

The Braves left Milwaukee after the 1965 season and when the Brewers arrived in 1970, Collins was part of the broadcast team that included Harmon and a young Bob Uecker, who started in 1971 and is still going strong.

“Working with Tom and Merle was a big deal for me,” Uecker said. “I had already done the ‘Tonight Show’ stuff but I was more nervous about doing play-by-play on radio than the appearance stuff I did. I came here with nothing. I never did any games. Everything was a learning experience with Tom and Merle.

“They were great guys. Funny guys, too. I always did one inning of play-by-play, the fifth inning, and one day Tom and Merle introduced me and got up and left. I was begging them to come back and in the sixth inning the engineer said, ‘You better get going, Bob. There’s one out.’ ”

Collins also did the play-by-play for Marquette University basketball games for 15 years, many of them with Uecker. Collins and coach Al McGuire became close friends and went out on top together – the last game Collins called was the 1977 NCAA championship game.

In recent years, Collins suffered from Alzheimer’s, but still worked crossword puzzles in pen. Even after he forgot his grandchildren’s names, he could name the starting lineups for Braves teams.

“He was an unbelievable storyteller,” said grandson Matt Collins. “He had a very vivid memory. If you closed your eyes you felt like you were standing over his shoulder, watching what he was describing.”

Patrick Collins said the family planned to celebrate his father’s life with a “big, old-fashioned Irish wake” in Neenah in late September or early October.

“I was sad when I found out the other day that he passed away, but 95 years, that’s a pretty good run for anybody,” Uecker said. “It’s always sad, the inevitable, but Tom was a longtime friend and we had a lot of laughs. He was a great guy.”

I cannot find Collins’ obituary, so I don’t know if that was his real name. If it was (and even if it wasn’t), he had the perfect on-air name for a Wisconsin media personality. (For those unaware, the Tom Collins drink is gin (to prevent malaria), lemon juice (to prevent scurvy), simple syrup and club soda.)

I don’t recall hearing Collins, who did radio until 1972, did two more years on TV, and then did the Brewers’ first cable TV broadcasts for the SelecTV subscription service in 1981 (available only in the Milwaukee area) with current Red Sox announcer Joe Castiglione. He was more of a broadcaster than a sportscaster in that he was in Milwaukee radio outside the Brewers and, for their last three years of existence, the Milwaukee Braves.)

So why do I recall this announcer, eulogized in the New York Times?

I had never met Bob Wolff, who died Saturday night, but like many people in the New York and Washington sports markets, I knew Bob. To me, he was the television voice of the Knicks during their 1970 and 1973 N.B.A. championship runs. To fans of the Washington Senators, he was the voice of a franchise from 1947 to 1961 (including its first season as the Minnesota Twins) that was invariably awful.

And for just about everyone who listened to him over the course of a remarkably long career, he was that smart, joyful, genial voice who loved what he was doing, who worked hard to appear that he wasn’t working hard, who made you feel that there was a friend behind the microphone. …

Later in 1990, I drove out to his apartment, which overlooked the Tappan Zee Bridge in South Nyack, N.Y. On his dining room table on that autumn afternoon was a single object: a cassette recorder. Inside it was a tape of the radio broadcast of Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, [Don] Larsen versus Sal Maglie of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

“Let’s listen,” Wolff said.

He turned it on and we concentrated as if the game were happening for the first time. Bob leaned toward the recorder as if he had not heard the game — as if he had not called it.

But there was the voice of the then 35-year-old Wolff, calling the second half of the game after Bob Neal had finished the first half. Wolff got the better of the deal. It was enthralling to listen to the game for the first time across the table from this very exuberant man who often told me how he equated calling games to singing, how his voice rose and fell with the events of the game, how he hit his high notes with the enthusiasm of a tenor onstage at the Metropolitan Opera.

He did not declare Larsen’s gem perfect until the final out. But when it ended, he excitedly said, “Man, oh man, how about that, a perfect game for Don Larsen!”

Two years later, he was again in the right place at the right time when he called the 1958 N.F.L. championship game won in overtime by the Baltimore Colts, 23-17, over the Giants. “The Colts are the world champions — Ameche scores!

And if you listen, you will hear his voice begin to crescendo before landing on those last two words. It was a lyric to Wolff, not a call — words to sing, not shout.

These are transitional times in sportscasting. Vin Scully (whose birth date, Nov. 29, was the same as Wolff’s) retired from the Dodgers last year after 67 seasons. Verne Lundquist and Chris Berman have drastically scaled back their workload (and Berman’s wife, Kathy, died in a car crash in May). Brent Musburger left the booth to join his family’s sports handicapping business.

But Wolff’s death ended a remarkable era. He began his career on radio while at Duke in 1939 and ended it with a commentary in February on News 12 Long Island. He had not retired, not at 96, when he still had something to say or an event to cover. No sportscaster has had a longer career — Guinness World Records backs up that claim — and few have had one that was more varied.

A long time ago, Wolff followed with fidelity the advice of his college baseball coach when he asked him what he thought of his chances of playing in the major leagues.

“If you want to make it to the majors,” the coach told him, “keep talking.”

So he did. Wolff was a generalist who called football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer and the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and he was a deft and friendly interviewer whose subjects included Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams. One of his more intriguing ventures began on road trips with the Senators: It resulted in the formation of a choral group, with Wolff on his ukulele, and players like Jim Lemon, Roy Sievers and Tex Clevenger singing along.

“We’d be on the train singing, and I’d do some harmony groups,” he told The Washington Post in 2005. “Over time, because guys got traded or retired, I had three different groups, and the last one actually went on the ‘Today’ show.”

In 1995, Wolff soloed in a hotel bar in Cooperstown, N.Y., on the night before he received the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting at the Baseball Hall of Fame. He propped his foot on a chair and accompanied himself on “When You’re Smiling,” “Heart of My Heart” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

After the applause died down, he said, “You folks obviously know talent.”

And as his father sat down, Rick Wolff jokingly said, “Now you know what we grew up with.”

So many of us grew up with him as well: a decent, hardworking sportscaster and entertainer with the heart of a journalist and the soul of a happy ham.

Because Wolff’s list of assignments included the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, held in Madison Square Garden and covered by MSG, formerly carried by USA Network. He also announced the 1958 World Series with Collins’ former Braves partner, Earl Gillespie:

 

The Brewers, the Cubs, and the second half

Max Rosenfeld asks (bold and italics his):

In assessing this pesky Milwaukee Brewers team, I find myself asking a simple but powerful question- why not?

Why can’t these Brewers be for real? Why can’t they build upon their solid first half and win the National League Central? And who’s to say that the Cubs are bound to turn it on at some point?

The Brewers are an unknown largely because they are unexpected. This was supposed to be year three in the midst of a Cubs-dominated era, a season in which Chicago would defend their World Series championship with ease. The Cubs’ only priority would be to win another championship, and with the majority of last year’s cast reassembled it seemed entirely possible. Surely, the NL Central crown was just a formality.

But the Brew Crew have made it abundantly clear otherwise.

Unlike the Cubs, it’s difficult to find a glaring weakness on the Milwaukee roster.

They’ve scored the 6th most runs in baseball thanks to a powerful attack that is capable of putting the ball over the fence at any moment. Although the club ranks 16th in baseball with a .255 batting average, the Brewers are second in the Major Leagues with 138 home runs. This comes in front of clubs such as New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Washington Nationals who are receiving more notoriety due to their well-known stars.

Travis Shaw and company are out to change this perception.

Shaw, a Red Sox castoff, is having a career year. A lifetime .265 hitter, Shaw is batting .299/.367/.570 19 home runs and 65 RBI’s at the break, making him an obvious All Star snub. Shaw is like many of his teammates, doubted by others before given a chance in Milwaukee. The Red Sox moved on from Shaw in favor of Pablo Sandoval at third base. That’s a move Boston General Manager Dave Dombrowski would likely want back.

But despite Shaw’s presence, it’s first baseman Eric Thames who leads the power laden Brewers in home runs with 23. Thames spent the last five years playing in South Korea.

Thames’ success is a microcosm for the entire season thus far for the Brewers. He was brought on by Milwaukee to replace Chris Carter, last year’s National League home run leader. Not much was expected of Thames, and though many were excited to see how he might progress in his return to the United States, his arrival was just that- a transition. A roadblock, even. Because at the end of the day, the Brewers were supposed to be Chicago’s little brother. But after pounding the Cubs to a score of 11-2 last Thursday, Milwaukee sent a very real message that they are here to stay.

It seems that the main reason nobody believes in the Brewers quite yet is because they are caught up in Cubs nostalgia. Most baseball fans expect the Cubs to go on a dominant stretch and surpass the Brewers by season’s end. Like last year’s World Series title, it seems like a formality.

But it isn’t.  I’d even argue that it’s more likely the Cubs do not turn it on. A look at the Cubs beyond what we expect of them reveals that they are simply a mediocre baseball club. And the Brewers, with the game’s 6th best offense and 8th best pitching staff, are a good one. A better one than the Cubs.

There’s a number of factors as to why the Cubs aren’t that good this year, and they all add up to a less than ideal outcome on the North Side.

The first thing is that with all of the big names the Cubs have on their team, it’s really easy to forget how important Dexter Fowler and David Ross were to the clubhouse. The value of these players goes beyond tangible stats, even though Jon Lester has a 4.25 ERA without Ross as his personal catcher, the first time he’s had to pitch to someone else in quite a while. Fowler and Ross were glue guys, crucial leaders on a mostly young team.

The second is that the veteran arms on the Cubs are obviously fatigued. Lester, John Lackey, and Jake Arrieta are all putting together their worst seasons in recent memory. This can be credited to the fact they all had to pitch deep into October last season.

Third, we might have over-hyped them to begin with. For all the love that guys like Kyle Schwarber have received, he’s only a career .210 hitter and Javier Baez has a measly lifetime .290 on base percentage.

And last, the World Series hangover can be real, especially for a situation like the Cubs just went through. Between all the press rounds, congratulations, and fan fare that team receives after winning a championship, it’s easy to lose sight of the upcoming season. It appears that is what’s happened for the Cubs.

And so here are the Brewers with only one All-Star (closer Corey Knebel), a bunch of no names, and some castoffs, they are prepared to steal the NL Central.

The first problem is that the Cubs aren’t just going to let the Brewers win the division. White Sox (Sock?) pitcher Jose Quintana, one of the five pitchers the Brewers reportedly were after, went instead to the Cubs (arguably for too many prospects), who also may be after Oakland pitcher Sonny Gray. The Brewers seem unlikely to make a deal, and it’s arguable whether or not they should. Trades don’t always work out (see Gorman Thomas for Rick Manning, 1983), but trades that don’t take place never work out.

And there remains the lurking Cardinals, whose season has been slightly worse than the Cubs. A Cardinals blogger suggests his team could be buyers and sellers in the next month:

They have several players that are now more valuable to other teams than the Cardinals. Top of that list is Lance Lynn. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Cardinals are not going to re-sign Lance Lynn, nor should they at this point. The money they will save by using internal options to replace Lynn next season can go to other areas where the needs are greater, such as first and third base. Sueng-Hwan Oh is another possible victim of his contract situation and could be moved in the next few weeks. Kolten Wong’s return could be the straw that strained the oblique muscle, in this case making former All Star Matt Carpenter the odd man out.

All this trade speculation is fun because few of the rumors or preposterous ideas ever happen. That said, there is one deal out there, that should it become available, Girsh and the Cardinals need to go all in and end their string of second place finishes.

That deal is Giancarlo Stanton, and there are two words that explain why this deal is perfect for the Cardinals. Oscar Taveras. …

In 2015, then General Manager, John Mozeliak, felt that Braves slugger, Jason Heyward, might be the guy, not to fill Taveras shoes, but to build that next core around. As the 2015 season played on, many fans began to believe that as well. Sadly, that was not to be as Heyward opted for free agency and signed with the NL Central rival Chicago Cubs. Though his contributions there were on the meager side, the Cubs did win it all in 2016. Like the Cardinals, the 2017 Cubs are more than one player away from standing up to Washington or Los Angeles in a short series, though the acquisition of Jose Quintana improves their chances to prove everybody wrong.

So who would be an Oscar Taveras like player to anchor the next round of talent expected in 2019 ? That would be Giancarlo Stanton. Though this is his eighth season in the big leagues, Stanton is only 27 years old, two years younger than Matt Holliday was when Mo made his blockbuster deal in 2009. Though he has an opt-out after the 2020 season, Stanton is under contract where Matt Holliday was potentially a summer rental. …

Now let’s look at the reasons to do this deal.

  1. There is no power or RBI bat coming up in the minor leagues. None.  There are plenty of speedy table setters, but the Cardinals still need that cornerstone offensive player – the one that Mo had hoped Taveras would be by now.  Stanton’s 58 RBIs would lead the Cardinals by 13.  Put Magneuris Sierra, Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham or Oscar Mercado on base ahead of Stanton and it will be Jack Clark all over again, maybe not to the ridiculous running of 1985, but certainly a more dynamic and fun offense than we have seen in St. Louis in a long time.
  2. The contract is a big one, but the Cardinals can absorb it and still have room to add other needed players.  It will take more than Stanton, to be sure, but with Stanton on the roster, Girsch’s has many options to fill out the 2019 roster.   It also keeps the Cardinals out of the Machado or Harper bidding war.  Sure, I’d rather have Machado but a bird in hand, so to speak.
  3. The outfield will be set for years.
  4. Stanton’s career OPS is .899, his OPS+ is 145.  Wouldn’t that look good in the Cardinals side of the box scores ?

Giancarlo Stanton would be the perfect deadline deal for the 2017 Cardinals.

Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish could be considered 2017’s answer to C.C. Sabathia, acquired for the second half of the 2008 season by previous Brewers general manager Doug Melvin. (Or, for my generation, Don Sutton, acquired late in 1982; he went 4–1, winning the final game of the season to clinch the American League East, and won a key American League Championship Series game.) No Sabathia, no playoff berth. Suffice to say that’s not going to happen with current GM David Stearns, not merely this season, but probably ever. As a small-market team with resources inferior to the Cubs and Dodgers, Stearns may well be baseball’s answer to Packers GM Ted Thompson — draft and develop, let people go if they become too expensive, and never (in the opinion of fans) bring in someone new and expensive.

Fanrag Sports has a different opinion (bullet points theirs):

  • The Brewers are planning to be buyers. But there’s a question how big they’ll go. They were linked to Jose Quintana in some reports, and they clearly hac the prospects to do it, but one rival said he believes they’ll be “reluctant buyers,” and doubts whether they will go for the gusto. The Brewers have a 5½ game lead in the otherwise disappointing NL Central, but they love their stash of prospects (who wouldn’t? It’s extremely good) and have to wonder if they are ready to compete with the biggest boys yet.
  • It’s only his opinion, but he may be onto something. That person said he does see the Brewers bulking up their bullpen. Which would take far less in terms of prospects.
  • The Brewers are definitely looking at upgrading the pen. They are checking in on the better relievers available. Obviously Corey Knebel had a terrific first half. But they probably need to augment the pen, especially with veterans, if they hope to stave off the rest of the NL Central, such as it is.

Sometimes seemingly small transitions have big impacts. The other 2008 second-half acquisition was second-baseman Ray Durham, who batted .280 in 41 games, replacing Rickie Weeks, whose season-long slump dropped him to .234. Three years later, a late July trade for Jerry Hairston Jr. brought in a valuable infield backup and pinch-hitter, and a trade for relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez … well, his Brewers stats: 4–0 and a 1.86 ERA.

Owner Mark Attanasio approved the trades for Sabathia and, before the 2011 season, Zack Greinke. But I’m not sure Stearns is inclined to make a big trade, and Attanasio doesn’t overrule his baseball people. Whether Stearns’ approach is correct depends on how the rest of this season turns out — more like 2011, or more like 2014.

 

Steve eats a few of his words

At the start of the Brewers season I confidently predicted the Brewers would be trailer trash as they have been for several years.

And so heading into the final weekend of the first half of the season the Brewers are …

 

… in, uh, first place by four games.

How the hell did that happen? Chris Cwik says …

After Thursday’s 11-2 thumping, the Brewers extended their lead in the division to 4.5 games.
Unless you drink out of a bubbler or pronounce the beginning of the word “bagel” like “bag” — like the fine people of Wisconsin — there’s no way you saw this coming.

Any time a team defies the odds, analysts delve into their performance looking for one magical explanation. But that’s not the case here. The Brewers’ success isn’t built on one huge discovery. They haven’t discovered “the next Moneyball,” which has become baseball’s “one weird trick” attention-grabbing headline.

No. The Brewers’ rise to prominence is due to multiple factors that, when added together, explain how they’ve turned themselves into a legitimate playoff contender.

Let’s explore each of those reasons now.

THE BREWERS HIT ON SOME KEY ACQUISITIONS
The team’s scouting department deserves a lot of credit for recommending both Travis Shaw and Eric Thames. Shaw was coming off a disappointing season in which he hit just .242/.306/.421. The Boston Red Sox, who could desperately use a third baseman now, didn’t think he would recover, so they traded him to Milwaukee.

They were wrong. Shaw has been Milwaukee’s best position player according to fWAR. He’s on his way to his finest offensive season, posting a .296/.362/.564 slash line with an already career-high 18 home runs over 318 plate appearances. Shaw has made more contact, pulled the ball with greater frequency and cut down on his strikeouts with the Brewers. They deserve credit for identifying him as a strong buy-low candidate, and getting him to make the necessary adjustments to break out.

The same thing happened with Thames. Even though he put up Bonds-ian numbers in Korea, there was still a fair amount of skepticism over whether those numbers would carry over to MLB. The Brewers were willing to take that chance, and based on Thames’ three-year $16 million price tag, it’s fair to assume other teams had some concerns. He’s already justified that contract, hitting .245/.375/.566 with 23 home runs. The batting average might be low, but his plate discipline and power are elite. Thames is second on the team’s offense in fWAR, and a big reason they are second in baseball with 133 home runs.

TWO PITCHING BREAKOUTS HAVE STABILIZED THE ROTATION
Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson haven’t received a lot of love, but both have legitimate All-Star cases. Nelson has been the best player on the team according to fWAR. His 2.8 figure ranks fourth among pitchers in the National League.

After two average seasons in the team’s rotation, Nelson has taken a huge step forward this year. He’s striking out more than a batter per inning for the first time in his career while cutting down his walk rate dramatically.

A big part of his success has been adjusting his approach against left-handers. From 2012 to 2016, lefties hit .268/.361/.352 against Nelson. That performance resulted in a .353 wOBA, an advanced stat that measures offensive performance. Basically, every lefty turned into Adrian Beltre when they stepped in against Nelson.

Those numbers have plummeted to .233/.296/.394 in 2017. Nelson has found a way to turn Beltre into Gordon Beckham. He’s accomplished that by cutting down on his sinker in favor of a four-seam fastball and mixing in more curveballs and changeups. It’s worked. Lefties are hitting the fastball for a .261 clip, but that’s an improvement over the .281 average against his sinker last year. Both his curve (.057) and change (.111) have been un-hittable by southpaws this season.
Multiple factors have helped Anderson become a better pitcher. His velocity appears to be up significantly, and while that could be misleading after MLB altered pitch tracking software, Anderson said he worked on strength training to improve his velocity this winter.

The result has been better effectiveness from nearly all of his pitches. His whiff rate on his fastball has risen, leading to a career-best 23.4 strikeout rate. His curveball has improved, and he’s using his cutter a lot more.

All three of those things have helped Anderson keep righties off balance this year. Anderson is one of those rare pitchers who actually performs better against opposite-handed hitters, likely due to his excellent changeup. Because of this, righties have hit him much better over his career. Prior to 2017, righties posted a .361 wOBA against Anderson. He’s lowered that to .305 this season.

Before his injury, Anderson was in the middle of a brilliant stretch, in which he posted a 1.56 ERA in June. While you could write that off as small-sample nonsense, Anderson also showed a change in his approach during that period.

As Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs pointed out, Anderson started standing in different spots on the mound when facing lefties and righties. He stands on the third-base side of the rubber with righties at the plate, and shifts to the first base side when facing lefties. Anderson wasn’t doing that in April. Even if you wanted to write off his June hot streak, that’s at least proof that he’s actively making changes in order to try and correct flaws.

Matt Garza also deserves an honorable mention here. After being written off during 2015 and most of 2016, he’s been effective in 2017. His numbers aren’t eye-popping, but he’s already produced as much value as he gave the Brewers in 2016, and he’s done so in 30 fewer innings. He’s become a solid third option, and the team needs that after both Junior Guerra and Zach Davies failed to build on their promising 2016 numbers.

THEY EMBRACED STRIKEOUTS ON OFFENSE
Striking out isn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s no different than popping out to short, really. Both plays result in an out.

The Brewers realized this, and have taken shots on some talented young players who have shown a major predilection toward whiffs. It’s not just Shaw or Thames, either. The team acquired Domingo Santana in a trade with the Houston Astros and picked up Keon Broxton from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Most importantly, though, they stuck both in their lineup and let them play. That’s been huge for Santana. He’s made strides with his strikeout rate in 2017. While he’s still whiffing 26.8 percent of the time, it’s been enough to make him a serious offensive threat.

Broxton hasn’t seen the same improvement, but his power and speed have turned him into a useful player. That’s a significant development, considering they picked him up for nothing.

While Jonathan Villar has collapsed this year, you could argue the Brewers employed the same tactic with him, and were rewarded greatly in 2016. As Villar shows, this can be a risky approach. But when it pays off, you can get superstar seasons out of guys who were thought to have limited value.

THEY DIDN’T GO FULL FIRE SALE
Stay with us on this one. While the Brewers parted with some significant talent in recent years, they never went the route of the Cubs or Astros. They kept enough valuable players around to at least make things interesting. They didn’t just deal Ryan Braun to clear salary. They waited, and now he could be a major factor for them in the second half.

The team could have tried to capitalize on the success of the number of players last winter, but chose to remain patient. In the cases of both Villar and Guerra, it hasn’t worked out, but both could get back on track in the second half. They were also wise to hold Anderson who, while under control for a long time, is already 29. To most rebuilding clubs, these players would have been shipped off for anything of value.

There are certainly benefits to both approaches. The Cubs won the World Series in 2016, and the Astros might be on the way to a championship this season.

But in the era of the second wild card, it’s not the worst idea for teams to take chances with talented players and hope for the best. While little was expected of the Brewers this year, they didn’t fully punt on the season.

THEY’VE LUCKED OUT
It’s always tough to attribute success to luck. It can be a dirty word to fans who think it means their favorite team is a fluke.

The truth is, every good team experiences luck in some way. The team took a lot of risks, and many of them paid off. They hit on Shaw and Thames, saw huge improvements from Nelson, Anderson and Santana and held firm on Braun. If one of those things went down differently, perhaps we’re not having this conversation.

The Brewers have found themselves in an enviable position of contending before anyone thought it was possible. Now, they’ll be faced with the delicate balance of trying to win the division without sacrificing significant future talent.

To do so, they’ll have to walk a thin line. That was always the case, but there’s a big difference between saying that in March and sustaining it into July.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has this interesting story:

For those who wondered if the expectations of Milwaukee Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio’s have been raised by the unexpectedly solid showing of his first-place team, the answer is yes.

“I’ll admit my expectations are higher. How could they not be?” said Attanasio, who was at Miller Park on Friday to participate in the Wall of Honor ceremony for Corey Hart.

“This team plays with energy. The guys pick each other up. If we have a couple of bad games, we seem to finish out strong. The team seems to be quite resilient. So, sure, my expectations are greater but I think that affects how frustrated I get when things go against me. That’s not going to affect how we address the team.”

In other words, don’t look for the Brewers to scrap the long-term vision they have in rebuilding the club into a perennial contender. Thank in large part to the inability of the Chicago Cubs and others to put together a hot stretch, the Brewers have been in first place in the NL Central for much of the season while being only a few games over .500.

Attanasio did say there have been discussions about whether the ahead-of-schedule success should change the way the Brewers go about their business.

“I had a meeting with (GM) David (Stearns) and (manager) Craig (Counsell) about a week ago, and I was very clear there would be no pressure from me to divert from the plan,” Attanasio said. “If they want to divert, that’s different.

“One of the things I challenge David and Craig with is whether we do anything different now that we’re in first place. From Craig’s standpoint, he said he’s out there every game, trying to win that game.

“David is always, especially for a younger person, agnostic in his decision making. He’s as agnostic as anyone who has ever worked with me, including on Wall Street, where he just wants to objectively assess the facts. That’s very hard to do but very helpful because he’s saying, ‘Let’s assess every day where we are. What the opportunities are.’

“If David wants to come to me and say, ‘I want to blow up the big plan,’ his batting average is so high now, we’re going to listen to anything he recommends. But, just from ownership to him, there has been no pressure to divert from the plan.”

As with any club in a contending position at this point of the season, the Brewers will see how things play out in the weeks leading up to the July 31 trade deadline. A hot stretch over that period sometimes convinces clubs to add talent. Cold streaks often prompt teams to sell off players.

The Brewers certainly aren’t going to start trading prospects for veterans to any extent at this point of their process, but they will remain open-minded.

“We have to take it a game at a time,” Attanasio said. “We’ll see where we are on July 31, where we are in mid-July.

“As someone said to me, the only thing that’s certain in baseball is uncertainty. We just have to come in and be smart every day. I think we’re going to assess things at the time we have to assess things.”

It is certainly true that the Brewers could collapse like the 2014 Brewers did; they had, at one point according to the supposed statistical experts, an 87 percent chance of winning their division, and did not. It is also true that the other NL Central teams, particularly the Cubs and the Cardinals, may get hot later this season; the Brewers have the smallest lead in a National League division, and the two teams currently leading the NL wild card race have better records than the Brewers. So one should not be too enthusiastic.

Still, the Brewers have gotten this far with all those touted minor leaguers mostly still in the minors, except for the brief major league stints of outfielders Brett Phillips and Lewis Brinson. Of course, if the players you have are playing better than expected, that gives you more options.

As far as that “delicate balance” goes, Brian Foley reports:

It seems unlikely that the Brewers will be able to hold off the Chicago Cubs for the entire season with the pitching as currently constituted; the defending champs figure to make a run at some point. Milwaukee is armed with a wealth of prospects, so its minor league system will be able to withstand a trade for a legitimate starter.

Here are five starters general manager David Stearns could target this month …

Jose Quintana

Quintana is the perfect fit for Milwaukee. The Chicago White Sox are in a clear rebuild and looking to acquire assets for the future, which the Brewers have plenty to offer. Quintana has not pitched up to his usual standards this season (4.45 ERA in 2017, 3.35 ERA from 2013-16), but that might keep his price down a little, even though the South Siders clearly won’t just give Quintana away.

Quintana is the type of pitcher you move prospects for. He is just 28, and on a bargain contract through 2020. He fits the timeframe and cost of the franchise. The Brewers have piled up so many outfield prospects, that they are destined to make a trade. Quintana could be it.

Sonny Gray

It is time for Oakland to move Gray. He is 27 years old and signed through 2019, meaning the Athletics can still get good value for him, even though his numbers have been fairly pedestrian over the last 18 months compared to his sparkling first three seasons.

Gray won’t cost as much as Quintana, though he could be just as effective. In his last seven outings since the start of June, Gray has a 3.45 ERA with a nearly 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. At the very least, Gray is a significant upgrade on Guerra or Davies right now, while also having ace potential on any giving night.

Jason Vargas

Vargas is not the Brewers ideal trade piece. He is a pending free agent, and the Royals are currently in the second wild card spot in the American League, so they likely won’t be dying to move their ace on the cheap.

But Kansas City has several key players hitting free agency this season; they probably won’t be looking to sign Vargas to another deal. He owns a nice 2.62 ERA right now, though advanced metrics see regression coming. If Milwaukee can send just a B-level type prospect to the Royals in return for a two-plus months of Vargas, he might be worth a roll of the dice to stabilize the Brewers’ leaky rotation.

Yu Darvish

Besides Quintana, Darvish might be the biggest fish on the block. The 30-year-old is a free agent after 2017, and Texas is not currently showing any signs of getting back into the playoff race. The Rangers could be looking to sell if they don’t want to re-sign him after the season.

Stearns will have to part with a nice prospect to acquire him, but the price will be much lower than if the Brewers went after Quintana. And Darvish is having a much better year than Chicago’s lefty. Darvish has a 3.56 ERA in Texas’ bandbox stadium – this could be a C.C. Sabathia-type situation for Milwaukee. Darvish is the kind of pitcher who can carry a team for two months.

Ivan Nova

Nova is just the latest scuffling pitcher to find success with Pittsburgh. Nova has posted a phenomenal 3.17 ERA in 28 starts since the Pirates acquired Nova from the Yankees last summer. He is 30 years old, and making just another $20 million total through 2019.

If Milwaukee believes he has found something sustainable on the mound, Nova might be a nice second-tier starter that can deepen their rotation at a cost-effective number over the next 2.5 years.

There are two deadlines to keep in mind — the July 31 deadline to make trades without requiring waivers, and the Aug. 31 deadline to make trades before postseason rosters are finalized Sept. 1. We’ll see how serious the Brewers are about 2017 by Aug. 31, and maybe by July 31. This opinion has a few of the aforementioned going places other than Milwaukee, along with, unbelievably, Detroit’s Justin Verlander going to the Cubs. (With or without Kate Upton?) This opinion also suggests the Brewers will either stand part or “buy responsibly,” which makes sense.

Fixing (maybe) what is (maybe) broken

While the bigger news from the WIAA was the three-seasons-away institution of the shot clock in basketball, bigger news may be reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Before private schools joined the WIAA and before the growth of small charter/choice schools in the Milwaukee area, basketball teams from small towns and rural areas won state titles almost every year.

If a proposal presented to the WIAA Board of Control on Thursday wins favor, that would again be the case in Divisions 4 and 5.

Board member Luke Francois of Mineral Point presented to the board a plan he crafted that he thinks could solve the issue of competitive equity in boys and girls basketball, a matter that has been simmering in the southwest corner of the state for the past few years.

The board did not approve the divisional placement proposal but did give it initial review and consideration and plan to make a topic of discussion at area meetings in September. The board did, however, vote to convene the basketball coaches advisory committee soon after the area meetings to discuss the plan’s merits. That group usually meets after the conclusion of the season but is being asked to meet earlier so that the proposal can make its way through the committee process and back to the board in time for its January meeting.

“Every proposal starts somewhere and this was the first opportunity that we’ve had to come together as a group and for me to lay out some of my best thinking with some of my counterparts and colleagues in front of the board,” Francois said. “It was an opportunity for us to poke some holes in it and ask some questions and clarify what the plan was.”

If the plans wins approval, it would take effect in 2018-19. Francois’ proposal called for it to have a two-year trial period.

Francois’ plan uses the designations given to each school by Department of Instruction, which categorize a school as city, suburban, rural or town, to place schools into divisions.

Here is how Francois’ plan would work.

*Division 1 – Schools with enrollments of 1,200 or more.

*Division 2 – Schools with enrollments of 600-1,200.

*Division 3 – Schools classified as city or suburban with less than 600 students and schools of 450-600 enrollment that are classified as rural or town but weren’t placed in Divisions 4 or 5.

* Division 4 – The 128 rural or town schools with the lowest enrollment after Division 5 is determined.

* Division 5 – the 128 rural or town schools with the lowest enrollment.

“In Mineral Point, the contention was that the geographical draw in the I-43 corridor in just a 10-mile radius drawfs the entire draw that Mineral Point would have in all of Iowa County, just from the number of kids who could potentially travel to or attend that school district,” Francois said.

“The whole idea of urbans playing urbans and rurals playing rurals is to try to have a similar geographical draw and similar opportunities for kids in like-minded classification codes, which would be rurals and towns urbans and suburbans.”

“You can drive 45 minutes down the road and the experience in basketball in one community can be vastly different, suburban-urban, than it is in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, which is more rural.”

Under this plan, a great majority of schools in southeast Wisconsin would play in no lower than Division 3 regardless of their enrollment.

The proposal didn’t make a positive first-impress on board member Eric Coleman, an administrator in Milwaukee Public Schools.

“I think it creates segregation,” he said. “I’m not against it being presented to the association, so that everyone can hear the information so that it’s not confined to a small group of people and let them come to their own decision. But as far as me, I don’t like it. I don’t agree with it.

“I think the bigger issue is a race thing. Certain pockets, certain schools feel that the private schools from southeastern Wisconsin, specifically Milwaukee that have predominately African-American players are keeping them from winning state tournaments, so if you take them out of the equation, it increased their chances of winning the gold ball.”

Leave it to a Milwaukee Public Schools bureaucrat to immediately play the race card.

The proposal created more than hour of discussion before a motion was passed to convene the members of the basketball coaches committee following the area meeting.

Initially, Francois asked the board to adopt the plan pending approval of a majority in two of three groups: coaches advisory, sports advisory council and advisory council.

Kenosha administrator Steve Knecht was one of the board members who said he wouldn’t support the plan without more time to review it.

“I think we had a lot of good discussion because it’s good to hear different points of view from different people from different parts of the state on what real problems there are,” Knecht said. “I don’t see it currently as a problem the way basketball is set up … What we’re going to put out there, it’s good to get the feedback. I didn’t want to act on anything today other than to get it out there for people to see.”

This proposal is aimed right at the private-school athletic factories of La Crosse Aquinas (state Division 4 baseball champion and state Division 4 girls basketball runner-up), Madison Edgewood (state Division 3 girls basketball champion), Appleton Xavier (state Division 3 boys basketball champion), Eau Claire Regis (state Division 6 football champion), Manitowoc Roncalli (went to state in Division 4 boys basketball), Chippewa Falls McDonell Central (state champion in D5 softball and state in D5 girls basketball), Marshfield Columbus (ditto), Stevens Point Pacelli (D4 softball runner-up), Wausau Newman (D4 girls volleyball champion), Oshkosh Lourdes (D3 girls volleyball runner-up), Waukesha Catholic Memorial (D2 girls volleyball and D3 football champion), Green Bay Notre Dame (D2 girls volleyball runner-up and D3 football runner-up), Lake Mills Lakeside Lutheran (state in D2 girls volleyball), Milwaukee’s Divine Savior Holy Angels (state in D1 girls volleyball) These schools and others (Burlington Catholic Central and Whitefish Bay Dominican) are accused of recruiting public-school students, which they deny and which in turn is never believed.

As with anything, though, trying to kill one bug (the previous paragraph) will kill others. Most Wisconsin private schools are not athletic factories, and yet a 100-student Christian school will be in the same class as schools six times its size, and will be accordingly crushed early in the playoffs. It’s also not clear whether this proposal will include another small-school bugbear, charter schools, which are public schools generally in large metro areas. (Milwaukee Destiny was last year’s state D4 boys basketball champion, one season after Milwaukee’s Young Coggs Prep won the D5 title.)

There is also an argument to be made about whether or not in the era of open public school enrollment this should matter. Students now go to schools other than in their own school district of residence for sports reasons. Whether this is bad or not depends on whether you believe where a student lives should force that student to attend that school regardless of reasons that shouldn’t be the case.

One wonders if the solution to the private-school problem is to simply separate them out — to have, for instance, three public divisions and two private divisions at state. That doesn’t eject public schools from the WIAA, nor does it separate them from playing public schools in the regular season; it would simply group the schools that appear to play by different rules. (For instance, girls volleyball powers play out-of-state tournaments, which public schools rarely do for resource reasons.)

It will be interesting to watch the reaction to this proposal over the next school year.

 

Fixing that which isn’t necessarily broken

On Thursday the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, everyone’s favorite sports sanctioning body (insert eyeroll here), decided to implement a shot clock in the 2019–20 basketball season.

The Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook’s Mark Miller doesn’t like the decision for five reasons:

1) Speeding up an opponent is a strategy used often by high school coaches during game planning for an opponent. The idea is to make the opponent play faster and thus rush into rash decisions that negatively affect their team.

After watching high school games all over the state, both in season and during the summer, it has become abundantly clear to me that the vast majority of players struggle when the pace of the game increases. Speeding up kids on the basketball court most often leads to poor decisions. The elite-level players can handle the quickened pace of a shot clock, but the overwhelming majority of kids playing the game are not at an elite level. When forced to make a quick decision at the end of a shot clock, poor shots will be forced. That can happen without a shot clock as well, but my hunch is you will see even more bad shots taken when the WIAA moves to a shot clock in a few years.

2) Yes, professional and college basketball teams play with a shot clock. And it is fun to watch plays develop with the shot clock winding down. However, the players at that level are good enough to play with a shot clock. Professional players have competed in the game much, much longer than high school kids. College players, no matter the level, represent a tiny fraction of the entire high school crop. The fact so few states currently use a shot clock is a clear signal that it’s not something most view as necessary for the high school game.

3) An occasional slow-down game does create some uneasiness among the fans in the stands. Antigo’s 14-11 road victory over Rhinelander in the 2016 WIAA playoffs being a prime example. But those games are rare. I feel adding a shot clock will greatly decrease the chances of the underdog to pull the upset. Teams with less depth, less skill and less size than their opponent will have to play in a similar way with 35-second possessions. It takes a good chunk of the strategy out of the game. That is not a minor loss to the game.

4) Part of the beauty of following high school basketball is watching a deliberate team play against a full-court pressing team. Which team will dictate tempo? Who is better at making the opponent play their style? Much of that is now out the window with the addition of a shot clock. Teams that like to make an opponent play defense for minutes at a time will now get a mere 35 seconds for each possession. Most teams able to run their offense for minutes at a time end up with very high percentage shots. It is much easier to play defense for 35 seconds than two or three minutes.

5) And now the kicker. The fifth foul so to speak. More game-management personnel for each game leads to more expense. The implementation of a shot clock at the prep level is mind boggling when you consider most — not a few — but MOST schools struggle to keep track of the score, the game clock, the possession arrow or the scorebook accurately. Schools need to find a competent person to run the shot clock, pay that person and find room for that person at the scorer’s table. Adding shot clocks to close to 500 gyms across Wisconsin is obviously a big expense. Running the shot clocks during games only adds to the expense.

And by the way, where will the shot clock be located? Are all gyms equipped to add a shot clock above the basket? Will it be located next to the scoreboard? How many times during a game will officials have to stop the game because of shot clock malfunctions and/or mistakes?

In short, the WIAA Board of Control committed a huge turnover today by adding a shot clock to the high school game. Others obviously disagree with that statement, but it is my belief the WIAA just hand-delivered a big headache to athletic directors across the state while at the same time taking away a great deal of coaching strategy from a game that wasn’t in need of a fix.

I must say I prefer watching up-tempo basketball. (Though it is harder to announce.) However, as a fan I like to see a variety of styles of basketball, not just one (as sometimes is seen with all the Dick Bennett and Bo Ryan disciples out there). One thing that was cool about announcing the Division III Midwest Conference is that you had the whole gamut of basketball styles, from plodding (St. Norbert and Lake Forest, though not so much now) to what’s-defense? (Monmonth under Terry Glasgow) to Grinnell, which was in its own universe as far as pace.

Basketball coaches play the style that they’re accustomed to playing based on the talent of their teams. It is unlikely teams with three offensive linemen playing forward are going to be able to run up and down the floor. As for teams with quicker players, there is nothing stopping them from playing an up-tempo style now. I can foresee a lot of teams running 34 seconds of offense and then flinging a shot up at :01 on the shot clock. I can also see a lot of blowouts because teams with good coaches will be able to adapt to the shot clock, because good coaches always can adapt to rules changes.

The WIAA may be visualizing a dramatic increase in scoring on the level of high school all star games. (This year, on the boys side: Division 5 South 102, North 86; Division 4 South 83, North 73; D3 South 111, North 87; D2 North 107, South 96; D1 North 109, South 85.) They’re not going to get that. As with the three-point shot, scoring may blip slightly upward, but it will settle back eventually once teams learn that all they need to do stop another team is play 35 seconds of defense. The three-point shot is useless if you can’t shoot from the outside, and the shot clock is useless if you can’t run an offensive set to set up a shot before the buzzer goes off.