Monthly Archives: September 2008

NOW THAT THE ED HOCHULI DUST HAS SETTLED, HERE’S WHAT NFL REFS WILL (SHOULD?) DO WHEN THERE’S A CLOSE FUMBLE/INCOMPLETE PASS CALL

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

By now you know and have seen the play a number of times.  Sunday, September 14, San Diego-Denver, very late in the fourth quarter, Chargers up 38-31, Denver at the San Diego one-yard line.  Jay Cutler goes back to pass, scrambles to his right, goes to pass and, as his arm is moving back, he loses the ball and it’s recovered by San Diego.  Referee Ed Hochuli blows the whistle, ruling it was an incomplete pass (presumably he thought Cutler’s arm was going forward when the ball came out).  Because San Diego can’t recover what was clearly a fumble on replay (because the whistle had already blown the play dead), the ball is spotted on the 10 and Denver eventually scores the touchdown and stuns virtually everybody by going for (and making) the two-point conversion to win the game.

Hochuli, who always has seemed like a stand-up guy, apparently apologized right on the field to Charger coach Norv Turner.  And, after hate mail galore and criticism throughout the country (most people have no idea how difficult it is to officiate any professional sporting event), Hochuli continued to answer e-mails and make further public statements about how sorry he was and how he would continue to do the best he could do in future games.

    

But that begs the question:  Unless or until the rule is changed, what is Ed Hochuli and other NFL refs supposed to do if exactly the same situation happens this Sunday or any Sunday for the rest of the NFL season?

    

Well, here’s the answer:  In a situation where an NFL quarterback goes to throw a pass and the ball comes out, if the referee blows the whistle and calls it an incomplete pass, there can be no fumble recovery even if a huge mistake was made.  HOWEVER, if, on the same play, the referee calls it a fumble and, thus, the play continues, that call CAN BE REVIEWED.  So, in the first instance, the replay rule in general (whether you like replay or not) cannot correct a blown call.  But, in the second instance (fumble call), the replay rule can do what it was designed to do – get the call right.

    

Now, you’re Ed Hochuli or another NFL ref who has seen what Ed Hochuli has gone through for the last ten days (national criticism, affecting the outcome of an NFL game with a bad call, etc.).  What are you going to do next time the exact same play happens?  Open yourself up to national criticism or make the safe call that can be reversed on review?  You don’t have to be a brain surgeon (or an NFL ref) to figure this one out.

    

The only question is will there be a formal discussion of this by the NFL or among NFL referees?  Or will they come to this conclusion separately, on their own, after seeing what happened to one of their own over the last ten days?  Again, it doesn’t matter, they’ve all seen the easier (fairer?) way out of this predicament.

    

Now, this doesn’t mean that, if it were obviously an incomplete pass, a good NFL ref wouldn’t call an incomplete pass an incomplete pass (on the forward release).  But it does mean that, if it’s a close call or there is ANY doubt in the ref’s mind that it was a fumble, he’ll call it a fumble and let the challenge/replay rule take care of the mess.

    

Is this the right call?  Well, it’s the safe call and, again, would avoid any opportunity to blow a game with replay powerless (as the rules are now) to help correct the mistake.

    

And don’t forget, the pass or no pass call has three parts to it: 1) as the quarterback’s arm is going backwards; 2) as he’s bringing his arm forward to throw the ball; and 3) the infamous “tuck” rule, as the quarterback brings the ball down in a throwing motion only to try and tuck it – that’s not a fumble either (see Tom Brady against the Raiders in the most famous tuck rule call ever).

    

So, where does that leave us?  Well, the NFL will look at this much like they looked at the down-by-contact issue last year (you can now recover that loose ball even if the whistle has blown).  Maybe they will change the rule, maybe they won’t.  But know this:  Every NFL referee is on notice that, if the fumble/incomplete pass call is a close one, better to call it a fumble and see what replay shows than to call it an incomplete pass and not be able to correct a mistake that sometimes, like last Sunday, is game-changing.

    

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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THE GOOD — AND THE BAD — AT THE END OF YANKEE STADIUM

      

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

I was fortunate to be in the building last night for the final game at Yankee Stadium.  The game was expected to be anticlimactic – and that turned out to be true.  But getting in was a disaster and the future, in a new, expensive building across the street, is anything but bright.

But first, one had to actually get into the building yesterday.  You may have heard the plan.  The Stadium would be open from 1-4 in the afternoon so fans could go through Monument Park and literally walk on the field (at least around it on the warning track), a once common-place occurrence that hasn’t been allowed for decades.  Lining up at 1:45 at Gate 2 to do that (when I was a little kid a hundred years ago, I routinely walked out of the bleachers with my father after 30 or 35 games a year to walk on the field and touch the (three, at the time) monuments in dead-center on my way to the D train), I saw lots of people in their 60s, 70s and even their 80s there to do something they had done in the 1930s, 40s and/or 50s and 60s.    

    

But a funny thing happened on the way to these people reliving their respective childhoods (or time spent with long-gone parents).  At 2:25 came the barely audible announcement that the Yankees had closed both entrance to Monument Park and access to the field.  Was there booing and cursing?  You betcha.  The many elderly in the group then had a tough decision to make (as they were told by the announcer):  If you go into the Stadium (keep in mind we were all still on line outside of Gate 2), at 2:30 or 3 or whenever, you couldn’t come back out and re-enter.  For those of you keeping score at home, that’s SIX hours (maybe) before game-time.  Or you could walk around outside and be bothered by the incessant ticket scalpers (who needs two?, who’s selling today?), something we were told that modern ticketing would eliminate (or at least, in reality, would be taken over by American Express or the team).

    

(When the new stadium closes in what, 20 years or so, maybe they’ll be smart enough to open the field at 9 in the morning, not one in the afternoon.  Of course, the new stadium will never duplicate what the old Stadium had inside its walls.)

    

Given this Hobson’s choice, the resignation on the faces of many seniors was obvious.  Some left and some went in – to do nothing for five hours until the glorious ceremony started on the field.  Yeah, there are a lot of Yankee bashers, but nobody can trot out the people that the Yankees can trot out at an old-timers day or a Stadium-closing day.  Last night was no exception.

    

To bring out guys in old Yankee uniforms to “represent” Ruth, Gehrig, etc. was a little much.  But to trot out excellent (Skowron, Nettles, Randolph, etc.) to great (Yogi, Whitey, etc.) Yankee players at their respective positions was awesome – and to have Mickey Mantle’s son and the wives of Thurman Munson and Elston Howard, etc. come out to the field was spectacular.  Bringing out Gene Michael (who certainly deserves as much or more credit than anyone for the Yankees late ‘90s revival) and embattled manager Joe Girardi onto the field with these greats was a bit much – as players they don’t rank anywhere near the Yankees who were on the field.

    

And to have the Babe’s daughter throw out the first pitch of the last game was fabulous, especially since, as many of you know, her father had hit the first-ever home run at Yankee Stadium in 1923.

    

Then the game started – and the crowd went quiet.  While it was nice for the Yankees to get a win, it really was a meaningless game.  It took home runs from Johnny Damon and Jose Molina to wake the crowd up – but all went according to plan as the Yankees would beat the Orioles 7-3 with Joba throwing part of the seventh and all of the eighth and the great Mariano finishing things off in the ninth.  Andy Pettitte fittingly started and got the final win (but only making him a .500 pitcher for the year – just one of many Yankee disappointments this season).

    

To great applause, the great Derek Jeter was taken out of the game with two outs in the ninth inning.  While we often see this at the end of NBA playoff games, it’s rare for this to happen in a baseball game.  Jeter got the requisite standing ovation and gave rise to this following great trivia question:  Who was the last shortstop to grace the field at Yankee Stadium?  Yeah, that’s right, Wilson Betamit.

    

Jeter gave a stirring speech after the game but, say what he will, it won’t be the same across the street.  You see, many old-timers think the Stadium lost its luster when the Yankees moved to Shea for the great refurbishing of 1974 and 1975.  While there is certainly some truth to that, it’s always been about the location of the Stadium for me.  And here’s the best example I can give of the biggest problem with moving across the street that somehow, those in favor of “progress” (profit?) can’t grasp:

    

When I was a kid, my father took me to the Stadium and pointed to right-field and said: “Son, that’s where Babe Ruth played.  Nobody remembers that he was a pretty good defensive player with a gun for an arm and could even run in his younger days.”  Then he’d point to center-field and say: “Son, that’s where Joe Dimaggio played.  He was the smoothest player I ever saw and there’s no telling how many home runs he would have hit if he batted lefty or played in a normal ball park” (don’t forget the massive dimensions at the pre-1976 Stadium – the real Death Valley, not today’s A-Rod porch by comparison).

    

So I got the message loud and clear and when my son was five and he would go to the Stadium I would point to center-field and say:  “Son, that’s where Mickey Mantle played.  He could run like a deer before he got hurt and he had massive power from both sides of the plate.  Like Dimaggio, he would have hit a heck of a lot more homers batting righty in a normal ballpark but he, at least, was a switch-hitter so he got his share to right-field.”

    

Now, here’s the REAL problem with moving across the street (obscene ticket prices and other things are for another time):  When my son takes his child to the new stadium, he’s going to say:  “Son, Babe Ruth and Joe Dimaggio and Mickey Mantle – they all played across the street.”  Maybe you have to be a Yankee fan to understand that difference but it’s VERY significant and, frankly, irreplaceable.

    

So was the pre-game ceremony great?  Absolutely.  Was the game great, in so far as a meaningless late-season game against the Orioles could be?  You betcha.  It would have been nice to have Babe Ruth’s daughter and Mickey Mantle’s son pull the lever down for the final countdown of games left at Yankee Stadium (although that was changed from 0 to “forever,” maybe that sign will stay there when they actually tear the structure down, another disgrace if this landmark is destroyed).  Whitey and Yogi with one hand each on the lever would have been a nice touch as well.

    

Was Derek Jeter’s post-game speech fabulous?  Of course it was, Jeter always says the right thing.  But the Yankees, playing at the new stadium, have many issues to deal with.

    

It really was a great night at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, September 21, 2008.  But I (and many others I’m sure) couldn’t help but notice the asymmetry of the following:  the New Yankee Stadium opened on April 18, 1923, with Babe Ruth hitting the first home run as the Yankees were on their way to winning the pennant and the first of 26 World Series.  The Stadium closed on Sunday, September 21, 2008 with Jose Molina hitting the last home run for a Yankee team that not only won’t win the pennant but didn’t even make the playoffs.  For the 1923 Yankees it was the beginning of an unprecedented run, both through the next 15 years and, frankly, the next 80 years.  For the 2008 Yankees, unanswered questions remain and the future, with no Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio or Mantle on the horizon, isn’t nearly as bright as it was 85 years ago.  A new stadium won’t solve those problems.

         

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.        

BEWARE THE BRADY-LESS PATRIOTS

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas 

   

Nobody feels sorry for the New England Patriots.  Nor should they.  But the notion that they’re not a very good football team or that they’re going to be a .500 or so team or that they’re not going to make the playoffs is ridiculous.  Whether you know it or not, the Patriots have (based on their opponents’ record from a year ago) the EASIEST schedule in the NFL this season.  Frankly, while nobody would talk about it in the pre-season (nor should they have), there was a chance that the Patriots could have made a run at 16-0 AGAIN.  That won’t happen now, but they were a virtual lock to win at least 14 games if Tom Brady had stayed healthy throughout the year. 

    

But he didn’t.  So, where does that leave the Patriots in the overall scheme of things?  Where does that leave the Patriots in the AFC East?  Well, it says here that they still have a great shot to win the AFC East and make a run at the Super Bowl.

    

How good is Matt Cassel?  Well, according to Phil Simms, he has all the tools.  Big, strong, very good arm, he certainly has a chance to be a very good NFL quarterback.  He actually looks a little like Tom Brady, standing in the pocket, delivering an early 51-yard bomb to Randy Moss against the Chiefs, throwing from his own end zone.  How many quarterbacks can do that?  Not many.  Cassel’s been around for four years.  He hasn’t played much, but he’s no rookie and he knows the system.

    

Where does that leave the Jets?  Fighting for a wild card, it says here.  The Jets were 4-12 a year ago but they’ve totally re-loaded.  But with Brett Favre at the helm, they were all out to beat the Dolphins, who will be better this year but are a year or two away from being a good team.  This is a big game for the Jets, but the Patriots have an awful lot of experience, an awful lot of talent (even without the great Brady) and the best coach in the NFL (don’t you think he’s got something up his sleeve for Favre?  I do.).

    

It’s the schedule, stupid.  A conservative guess on the Patriots’ record in the AFC East is 4-2.  They shouldn’t have any problem beating the Seahawks and Raiders on the road and the (improved) Cardinals at home in December.  They’ve already beaten the Chiefs.  So if they can split their other six games (Broncos, Rams, Steelers at home, 49ers, Chargers, Colts on the road), a distinct possibility, especially the way the Chargers and Colts played in Week 1, the Patriots can win the AFC East with an 11-5 record.  And, again, that’s being conservative. 

    

The Patriots have an excellent defensive front seven and their secondary is already improved with Bengal reject (explanation, please?) Deltha O’Neal (he already made two great plays late in the game against the Chiefs).  They’ve got a few injuries on offense but, much like Brady did when he replaced Drew Bledsoe on their way to his first Super Bowl, Cassel has the ability to manage the game and even do more than Brady did his first time around (with weapons like Wes Welker and Moss).  Their running game (Maroney, Morris, Faulk and Jordan) is more than adequate but now, of course, more important than before Brady was injured.  The offensive line will improve as the season goes on and, if they beat the Jets on the road in Week 2, the sky will be the limit.

    

Many people seem to think that the Jets (and maybe even the improved Buffalo Bills) have jumped over the Patriots in the AFC East.  It’s hard to believe that people would ignore or discount greatly the winning system that the Patriots have instituted since Brady started playing on a regular basis.  While the most important cog is gone for the season, the system, the talent and the coaching should be more than enough for the Patriots to still have a huge season.  We’ll see.      

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

PATRICK EWING’S GREATNESS STILL OVERLOOKED EVEN AS A HALL OF FAMER

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

    

Patrick Ewing was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday night and the criticism of his play could still be heard back in New York City.  He never won a championship.  He wasn’t a “great” player.  His guarantees were usually worthless.  It’s stunning that, with the disgrace that’s been New York Knick basketball for the last few seasons, many people still don’t understand what they had when Ewing was here and what they lost when he went to Seattle.

    

The reality is, in NBA basketball, one guy doesn’t win a championship.  Go on and on all you want about how great Michael Jordan was (and, of course, he was), but he won nothing until Scottie Pippen came along.  Sometimes two guys don’t win a championship.  The great Elgin Baylor never won one and he played with the great Jerry West, who didn’t win one until he played with the great Wilt Chamberlain.  Don’t forget John Stockton and Karl Malone, another dynamic duo without a title.  And on and on and on.

    

Despite being bashed for years, all Patrick Ewing did was put up 23 points and 10 rebounds per game for FIFTEEN YEARS.  He turned the Knicks from scrubs into championship contenders.  He carried fellow Hall inductee Pat Riley (arguably the greatest coach ever, see Kallas Remarks, 4/30/08) and his Knick team on his back to Game 7 of the 1994 NBA Finals.

    

Yet, when healthy, he never played with a Michael or a Scottie.  He never played with a Magic, a Kareem or even a James Worthy.  He never played with a Bird or even a Kevin McHale.  In fact, when healthy, he never played with anyone even close to any of these guys (Bernard King doesn’t count because he (King) wasn’t healthy early in Ewing’s career).

    

While it’s a joke to think that Ewing was the greatest Knick ever (Walt Frazier first, Willis Reed second, Ewing, Bernard King and Dave DeBusschere (maybe Richie Guerin) round out the top five), Patrick Ewing was a two-time Olympic gold medalist, a Top 50 greatest NBA player of all-time and now, a Hall of Famer.

    

Yet many people still think that he was not a “great” player.  While that shows that these people know little about basketball, it says a lot more about us, the fans and some alleged “experts,” than it does about Ewing, the player.  Congratulations to a great player, who gave his all to New York for fifteen seasons.    

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

THE RETURN OF THE BUNT

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

 

The new-age “experts” will tell you that it doesn’t pay to sacrifice bunt.  Why give up a precious out when it’s unlikely (in their view) to help the team?  In reality, the bunt is the most under-utilized offensive weapon in baseball.  It was never more evident than on Wednesday night in Fenway Park.

    

The Red Sox, trying to catch Tampa Bay and leading the Twins and Yankees for the wild card, really needed another win to maintain or even improve their position.  So what does Terry Francona do?  Bottom of the ninth, 4-4 game with the Orioles, Alex Cora on first, nobody out.  He gives the bunt sign to Coco Crisp, who lays down such a beautiful sacrifice bunt that he beats it out for a hit.  First and second, nobody out, winning run on second and what does Terry Francona do?  He gives the bunt sign to Jacoby Ellsbury, who lays down a good, not great, sacrifice bunt off the third base line.  Orioles pitcher Jim Miller rushes off the mound, fields the bunt, throws to third – and throws the ball into left field.  Cora comes home with the winning run.  Game over.

    

Why is this important?  Well, because virtually everybody (but not Francona) simply accepts the new philosophy (sacrifice bunting is a waste of time and outs) and goes along with the majority. 

    

Take the Yankees, for example.  It looked like, early on, that Joe Girardi was going to reverse the Joe Torre we-hardly-ever-bunt mandate (see Kallas Remarks, 4/4/08).  But, for whatever reason, Girardi didn’t continue it through the season (when recently asked why he didn’t give Johnny Damon the bunt sign, first and second, nobody out, close game, Girardi said that Damon wasn’t “comfortable” bunting).  During a season in which the vaunted Yankee offense has been a disappointment, it was time to adjust and see the obvious – that sac bunts can turn a losing game into a winning one.  But the Yankees never adjusted and that’s one of a myriad of reasons that it’s now virtually impossible for them to make the playoffs.

    

The Red Sox, however, seem to be doing it with smoke and mirrors (no Manny, major pitching injuries, etc.).  Wednesday night, they did it with two bunts.  And that’s the kind of win that separates a playoff team from a non-playoff team.

    

The first and second, nobody out, bunt down third is one of the great offensive weapons in baseball.  Most of the things that can happen are good, no matter what the “experts” say.  Normally, the offense is happy to have second and third, one out.  Sometimes, the pitcher will go to third to leave it first and second, now one out (still a chance for a run-scoring inning).  But every once and awhile, like for the Red Sox on Wednesday night, the offense hits the jackpot, the pitcher throws the ball away and the winning run scores.  Two out of three of the things that can happen are very good for the offense.

    

Many people don’t know that, in Game 7 of the famous 1955 the-Brooklyn-Dodgers-finally-beat-the-Yankees World Series, the Dodgers, up 1-0, had sluggers Duke Snider and Roy Campanella sacrifice bunt back-to-back.  The first bunt was mishandled and that lead to Gil Hodges 400-foot sacrifice fly for the second run of that momentous 2-0 victory.  It was no big deal back then – that’s how you played baseball.  It should be no big deal today.  The Red Sox clearly know that – the Yankees seem not to know that.

    

The reality is that the use of the sacrifice bunt is more of a feel thing than something that can be readily defined by a statistician.  All the stat “experts” need to look at is these two games, 53 years apart, to understand that, even today, the bunt can be a gigantic weapon in a playoff race – or a World Series game.

       

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.