I Read the News Today, Oh Boy

Today, the Rocky Mountain News printed its final edition. Just two months shy of 150 years of continuous operation, the presses have stopped forever at Colorado’s oldest newspaper.

It’s the latest sad symbol of an industry that is slowly dying. In this age of instant Internet access and wireless connections everywhere, people are turning away from print to get their news.

Or as Bernie Lincicome, sports columnist for the News, wrote in his final column: “The best newspaper is dead and for no good reason, save the spine to fight on, a battle lost to lessers and to a marketplace diverted by ease. The world today can be held in the palm of the hand, with all the news and sounds and motion a tap away.”

The world is changing, and unfortunately those changes are killing daily newspapers.

Dave Krieger, another Rocky sports columnist said:” I still don’t get how a newspaper with 200,000 paying subscribers and hundreds of thousands more readers on the  Web cannot make a go of it. Obviously, I’m not an MBA. Not our fault, the suits say. Business model’s fault. So who came up with the business model?”

New Business Model
That’s the problem. There’s a new business model, and it’s different than the old model. Who knows, perhaps newspapers got it wrong right from the start, when they decided not to charge readers for access to the content on their web sites.

The world is flat. We live in an on-demand society, and people want their news right away. They can’t wait for tomorrow’s paper. That’s old news now.

As a result newspapers across the USA are suffering. Advertising rates are falling. Circulation is declining. Good people are losing their jobs. And papers like the Rocky Mountain News are being forced out of business.

But something is being lost in the transition. The in-depth story, the catchy headline, and especially quality reporting and eloquent writing are lost for the ages every time a paper dies.

Endings are difficult. They can make grown men cry. In his farewell, Lincicome compared the demise of the Rocky Mountain News to some of the sad finales he’s witnessed in sports through the years:

“My most vivid memory is the last fight of Muhammad Ali, in Freeport, The Bahamas, a shadow lurching and gasping in the ring, and then finally slumped in his makeshift dressing area, a cinderblock men’s room reeking of urine, facing the finish, a weeping young John Travolta at Ali’s knee.

“Martina Navratilova, exiting Centre Court for the final time, stopped to pull up a piece of sod. Jack Nicklaus posing on the footbridge on the 18th hole at St. Andrews, stubbornly dressed in a sweater vest in fashion when he was.

“Joe Louis, the great Brown Bomber, became a prop to various promoters, and I cannot see old films of him in his prime without recalling the last time I saw him, poking around a post-press conference dining room looking for left over coffee in discarded cups still warm enough to drink.”

Great Writers
Where else are you going to find writing like that. I worked with Bernie Lincicome for three years at the Fort Lauderdale News and Sun-Sentinel. The rule for editors working Bernie’s copy was simple: don’t touch the prose, outside of spelling and fact checks. No rewrite required.

I was fortunate enough to work with some other great writers during my 10 years in the newspaper business — writers like Robert Cormier, my mentor, a fellow columnist at the Fitchhburg Sentinel and Leominster Enterprise. Cormier was also a novelist, the author of successful teenage books like “The Chocolate War,” “I Am the Cheese” and “After the First Death.”

And while in Fitchburg, an old New England industrial town,  I was fortunate enough to work with a colleague like John Helyar, author of “Barbarians at the Gate” and  “The Lords of the Realm.”

And later in Fort Lauderdale, my colleagues included writers like Gene Wojciechowski (now at espn.com), and Bill Plaschke (now with the Los Angeles Times), and editors Fred Turner, Jeff Otterbein and Tom Christensen.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that many of my incredibly, multi-talented colleagues in IBM communications got their start in the newspaper business.

Without newspapers, some day soon we may find ourselves asking the question — where have all the writers gone?

See Related Blog: The Endangered Art of Sportswriting

Don’t Let Newspapers Die

Tell Five People How Important Newspaper Are

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When Sunday Nights Meant Rangers Hockey

Back in the day, Sunday nights were reserved for New York Rangers hockey.

At least in my attic growing up. In the 60s, the Rangers played the vast majority of their home games on Sunday and Wednesday nights. There was no such thing as cable TV in those days, and home games were blacked out.

So my brother Jimbo and I would listen in on the radio as Marv Albert (Kick save…AND  A BEAUTY…by Giacomin) did the play by play, accompanied by the Big Whistle, former NHL referee Bill Chadwick.

The Rangers weren’t very good in those days, but they were getting better. Led by Harry Howell, Ed Giacomin, Jean Ratelle, Vic Hadfield and Rod Gilbert, they made the playoffs in 1967 for the first time in five years, The Rangers went on to nine successive playoff appearances, highlighted by the 1972 team that lost to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals.

Watching those games on the radio brings back great memories, like Reggie Fleming’s late goal against the Canadiens, shutouts by Giacommin, and Red Berenson hitting the post  in overtime against the Habs in 1967. Can still hear that ping.

The Original Six
And remember, Before the 1967-68 campaign, there were only six teams in the league, the Original Six — New York, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Montreal and Toronto. Familiarity bred contempt.

You got to know the players, both Rangers and opponents. You got to know the teams. And you got to appreciate Marv, one of the all-time great hockey play-by-play radio announcers.

I went to my first Rangers game in December 1967  against the Bruins. My Dad took me, my brother, and my friend Mike, now a winemaker, to the old Madison Square Garden. The Rangers lost, 4-0. (1)

Tonight, the Rangers will honor two members of the team from the 50s and 60s — Hall of Famers Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell — by retiring their jersey numbers.

Bathgate and Howell joined the team, a pair of 19-year-old rookies, in the same season, 1952. I remember Howell at the late stages of his career, but by the time I started paying attention to hockey Bathgate had been traded.

Bathgate Traded to Toronto
On Feb. 22, 1964,  Bathgate, along with Don McKenney, was traded to the Maple Leafs for Dick Duff, Bob Nevin, Arnie Brown, Bill Collins and Rod Seiling, Bathgate scored the Stanley Cup winning goal for Toronto later that season as the Leafs knocked out Detroit in seven games.

A right winger, Bathgate played 11 seasons and part of a 12th with the Rangers before being traded.

Bathgate scored 349 goals and added 624 assists during his career. During his time with the Rangers, he won the Hart Trophy in 1959 when he scored 40 goals and 48 assists. Bathgate twice led the league in assists during that span, and tied Chicago’s Bobby Hull for the scoring title with 84 points in 1962 (Hull won the Art Ross Trophy on a tiebreaker by scoring 50 goals; Bathgate led the league with 58 assists that season). (2)

Howell started his career with the Rangers in 1952, the same year as Bathgate, and played 17 full seasons with the Blueshirts before being traded to the Oakland Seals for cash following the 1969 season. He played more games in a Ranger uniform — 1160 —  than any other player.

Howell Wins Norris Trophy
Howell’s best year was 1967, when he won the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the NHL. Howell scored a career-high 12 goals that year and added 28 assists for 40 points.

Boston’s magnificent Bobby Orr would start a run of eight successive Norris awards the following season.

Both Howell and Bathgate finished their careers in the WHA, Howell with the Calgary Cowboys in 1976 and Bathgate with the Vancouver Blazers a year earlier, coming out of a three-year retirement for one last shot.

Both Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell took their best shot in New York.

(1) I got my revenge two years later. In my first Rangers game at the new Madison Square Garden I saw the Rangers rout the Bruins, 9-0.

(2) The Rangers last scoring leader with Bryan Hextall, who recorded 56 points (24 goals, 32 assists) in 1942.


The High Five: Don’t Believe All You Read

Don’t believe everything you read…

One of those “Did You Know..Trivia…Fun Facts” circulating on the Internet gives a former Alabama running back, known only as “Five-Yard” Fogerty, and his Crimson Tide teammates credit for inventing the high five.

As the story goes, Fogerty carried the ball 25 times and gained exactly five yards on each carry as ‘Bama beat Washington State, 24-0, to win the 1931 Rose Bowl, finish 10-0 and share the national championship with Notre Dame. The title was the third for Alabama coach and College Football Hall of Famer Wallace Wade in six seasons.

Fogerty and his teammates supposedly celebrated his Rose Bowl exploits by slapping palms — or exchanging high fives. According to the report, “Five-Yard” Fogerty later played professional football before injuring his leg in a skiing accident.

As it turns it, there’s no record of a Fogerty ever playing in the NFL, according to the Pro Football Reference. Nor is there any record of Fogerty playing for Alabama in the 1930 or 1931 seasons.

In fact, the only prominent Fogerty found in a Google search is John Fogerty, of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

So it turns out there’s no record of “Five-Yard” Fogerty. And the mystery of the birth of the high-five continues.

Now, A True Story
Contrastingly, some things that sound unbelievable are actually real.

Take the story of Joe Lamas, the late football and baseball coach and athletic director at Iona Prep, my high school in New Rochelle, NY. Mr. Lamas, as we knew him, claimed to have played in the NFL in the 40s.

There was no online football reference in those days….heck there was no online anything in the 60s….so we had our doubts about Mr. Lamas’ claim. Sometimes we  joked that he played for the 1940 Washington Redskins team that lost the NFL championship game, 73-0, to the Chicago Bears. That didn’t go over very well with Mr. Lamas, especially in gym class.

It turns out Joe Lamas born in Havana, Cuba, graduate of Mount St. Mary’s College, was a 5’10”, 210-pound guard who played eight games for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1942.

And Lamas even scored a touchdown on Nov. 8, 1942, when he returned a fumble 29 yards for the final score in the Steelers 35-7 victory over the winless Detroit Lions.

Lamas entered military service following the 1942 season where he fought for his country during World War II.

Eventually, he joined the staff at Iona in 1952, where he taught Latin, history and health in addition to his duties in the athletic department.

Joe Lamas retired from Iona in 1979, and passed away in 1996.

And unlike “Five-Yard” Fogerty myth, the tale of Joe Lamas is a true story.


Giants Van Pelt Helped Anchor Crunch Bunch

The Crunch Bunch: Harry Carson, Brian Kelley, Lawrence Taylor and Brad Van Pelt

Brad Van Pelt was one of those rare great athletes who had a long, successful career but missed out on the glory of a championship. Now he’s left us far too soon, victim of an apparent heart attack at the age of 57.

Van Pelt was generally considered the New York Giants best player during the 70s — a decade in which the Giants failed to make a single playoff appearance.

A Maxwell Award winner and a second-round draft pick out of Michigan State in 1973, Van Pelt was the first of the great Giants linebackers that included Brian Kelley and Hall of Famers Harry Carson and Lawrence Taylor. Kelley was drafted in the 14th round in 1973, Carson joined the team three years later, and Taylor was the second pick overall in the 1981 draft. The four were known as the Crunch Bunch, perhaps the finest linebacker group in NFL history.

And they remained extremely close over the years.  “I feel as comfortable with them as I do with my brothers,” Van Pelt said in a 2004 interview. “Obviously, your brothers are your brothers. But these three are probably the closest thing to them. Brian and I played 11 years together. I played nine with Harry. Lawrence being the guy, it didn’t take long for him to fit right in and become one of the guys. I can’t really explain why but they’re the only three I stay close with.”

Turning the Corner with LT
The Giants struggled mightily before Taylor joined the team, winning a total of just 24 games between 1976 and 1980. But Van Pelt made five Pro Bowls and Carson two during that stretch, as the Giants began to build a defense around their linebacking corps, a defense that would eventually win two Super Bowls.

Van Pelt, who wore number 10, unusual for a linebacker, played on just one winning team during his 11-year career with the Giants, in 1981. That team ended an 18-year playoff drought for the G-Men.

Following the 1983 season, Van Pelt and Kelley both left New York. Van Pelt played two years with the Raiders and finished his career with the Browns in 1986.

The Giants, buttressed by another Michigan State linebacker, Carl Banks, won the Super Bowl in 1986 and again in 1990. Banks and Taylor played on both those championship teams, along with linebackers Gary Reasons and Pepper Johnson. Carson retired following the 1988 season.

Van Pelt finished his career with 20 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries, but was never able to win that championship ring. He’s one of few Giants to call four different fields home — Yankee Stadium, the Yale Bowl, Shea Stadium and Giants Stadium.


Life’s Not Always Grand for Yankee Captains

Throughout their illustrious history, the Yankees have had 11 captains, including Babe Ruth, who was captain for all of five days in 1922.

Of the remaining 10 captains, the big names are Lou Gehrig, Thurman Munson, Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter.

Gehrig, pictured left, and Mattingly, below, set records with their respective grand slam exploits. Munson and Jeter didn’t fare nearly as well with the bases loaded.

Of his 493 career home runs, Gehrig hit 23 grand slams, the last in 1938. Today, 70 years later, that remains the major league record. Among active players, Manny Ramirez is second with 20 grand slams and Alex Rodriguez has 17.

Gehrig hit four grand slams in 1934, tying the single season record held by Ruth (in 1919, with the Red Sox) among others. That record was broken until Ernie Banks hit five for the Cubs in 1955.

In 1987, Mattingly broke the single season grand salami mark with six, a record equaled by Cleveland’s Travis Haffner in 2006.

Strangely enough, Mattingly hit 222 home runs during his career, but only six grand slams — all in 1987.

Munson was selected Yankee captain 1976, the first since Gehrig, captain until his death in 1941. Munson hit 113 home runs during his career, but never a grand slam. He died in a plane crash in Canton, Ohio, in 1979 at age 32.

Jeter, who was named captain in 2003, hit the only grand slam of his career in 2005 against Joe Borowski of the Cubs. He has 206 homers lifetime entering this season.

  Yankee Captains

1912                            Hale Chase

1914-21                      Roger Peckinpaugh

1922                            Babe Ruth*

1922-25                     Everett Scott

1935-41                    Lou Gehrig

1976-79                    Thurman Munson

1982-84                      Graig Nettles

1986-89                      Willie Randolph

1986-89                      Ron Guidry

1991-95                      Don Mattingly

2003-current             Derek Jeter

* Just five days into his captaincy, Ruth was called out by umpire George Hildebrand on a close play at second versus the Senators at the Polo Grounds,  Ruth disagreed with the call and threw dirt into the face of Hildebrand,  who promptly ejected Ruth. On the way to the dugout, a fan called Ruth a “lowdown bum and other names that got me mad” so he attacked the fan in the stands as well. That outburst ended Ruth’s run as Yankee captain.


Meet Roger Maris, The True Home Run King

Roger Maris hit his 61st home run on 10/1/61, a record that still stands.

With Alex Rodriguez joining the list of tarnished home run hitters, a list that already includes Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and so many others, the deeds of a slugger from baseball’s past is gaining increasing respect in many circles.

That slugger is Roger Maris.

Although Maris wasn’t one of the great all-time power hitters or a Hall of Famer, for one glorious season he was the best there ever was.

In 1961, Roger Maris snapped  Babe Ruth’s 34-year old single-season home run record of 60 when he homered on the final day of the season against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium..

Now, 48 years later, 61 still stands as the American League record.  And the three National Leaguers who broke 61 — McGwire, Sosa and Bonds — were all swinging for the fenches with, shall we say, enhanced attributes.

Throw in A-Rod, who hit 52, 57 and 47 during the Texas years when he admittedly was using steroids….and later hit 54 as a Yankee in 2007, when who’s to say whether or not he was using….and you have a fraud foursome. The four phonies.

61 in 61
Maris eclipsed Ruth’s record in 1961 in spite of incredible pressure — from Mickey Mantle, who hit 54 himself that season; from the Yankee fans who were rooting for both The Mick and The Babe, and from baseball commissioner Ford Frick ,who put the asterisk next to Roger’s name.

Conflict of interest? Quite likely. Frick was once Ruth’s ghost writer and had a problem with Maris breaking the record in a 162-game season.

Aside from 61, Maris never hit more than 39 home runs in a season (in 1960) and finished his career with just .275 home runs and a .260 average. An accomplished right-fielder and smart base-runner, Maris was the American League MVP in 60 and 61, and wound up playing in six World Series in his final eight years, winning it all with the Yankees in 61 and 62 and the Cardinals in 67.

And he did it the old-fashioned way….on hard work, a sweet swing, Budweiser and cigarettes.

In other words, Roger Maris earned it.


Q&A-ROID: 10 FAQs on Baseball and Drugs


Here’s 10 questions on the A-Roid scandal, while wondering why we can’t start investigating Wall Streeters the same way we do major league baseball players.

Q. Was the news that Alex Rodriguez took steroids a surprise?
A.
No. We’ve reached the point where nothing about baseball and steroids should come as a surprise. Disappointing, yes, but not surprising.

Q. How will this impact A-Roid?
A.
Alex Rodriguez takes a huge hit here. His reputation has been tarnished once again, his legacy under scrutiny, his numbers questioned. Remember this guy is already a head case, caught  between Madonna and A-Fraud and Derek Jeter envy, not to mention an appalling lack of production in crucial situations. For a superstar, A-Rod has an incredibly fragile and insecure psyche.He needs a shrink, a lawyer and a priest, and not necessarily in that order.

Q. What about the other 103 names on the list?
A.
The other names on the list need to be released. If you release one name you should release them all and end the speculation — at least the speculation around the 2003 season.

Q. How does Barry Bonds come out smelling like a rose after  the A-Roid scandal?
A.
This actually helps Bonds. It takes away some of the spotlight around his own legal  problems and March 2 trial. It also means that the only legitimate threat to his HR record is as stained as he is.

Q. What about those home run records? What should baseball do?
A.
Unfortunately, you can’t go back, change history and rewrite the record books. The records will stand. A-Rod is exactly 210 homers away from breaking Bonds all-time home run record of 762. Averaging 30 homers a year, A-Rod would break the record sometime later in the 2015 season. The Yankees and baseball were banking on A-Rod having a “clean record” in chasing and eventually passing Bonds. Now it’s just cheater vs. cheater.

Q. Once a user, always a user. Are players still using today?
A.
Undoubtedly, players are using performance enhancing drugs today, skipping merrily down the pharmaceutical path. Because where there are drugs there are also great masking agents. The sad part, some of the biggest names in the game risked their rightful spots in baseball lore by cheating. You can almost understand a marginal player trying to boost his performance and make the team — but not a superstar. That’s just stupid greed.

Q. Will this hurt the Yankees this year?
A
. Not really. The Yankees live in the fish bowl of the Bronx Zoo. They’re used to distractions. At the end, it all comes down to pitching. The Yankees have improved their staff, and if they get  good pitching, they’ll be back in the hunt for the 27th World Championship. Net net, it will hurt A-Rod’s performance but not the Yankees.

Q. What impact will this have on the sale of Joe Torre’s book?
A.
The immediate impact is that A-Roid has  moved The Yankee Years off the back pages. Long term, it can only help sales, since fans will want to read all about A-Fraud.

Q. Who’s the most honest user in all of this?
A.
Hate to admit it, but pretty much everything Jose Canseco has written and talked about has been proven true. For example, he was right on with his assertions about the Texas Ranger.  Jose can you see.

Q. Finally, what should Rodriguez do?
A.
Get some good legal advice…but don’t sit on this, don’t try and duck the truth. Come clean. It’s something that Bonds with his flaxseed oil, and Mark McGwire in front of Congress, and Roger Clemens with that dog-and-pony show he trotted out last year all failed to do. That strategy hasn’t worked to well. Honesty is the best policy. Be a man, tell the truth and don’t make excuses for your behavior. “I’m not saying anything,” and “You’ll have to talk to the union” aren’t going to cut it. Nor is lying to Katie Couric. Nobody lies to Katie Couric.