Monthly Archives: March 2009

MIKE D’ANTONI NOT THE CHAMPIONSHIP ANSWER FOR THE KNICKS

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

    

Much was expected when Donnie Walsh hired Mike D’Antoni this past off-season to coach the Knicks.  Whether he really wanted to come to New York (or not), whether the Knicks were his second (to Chicago?) choice (or not), whether he could adjust to the rigors of coaching in New York (or not) are all irrelevant to the bigger, down the road, most important question:  Can he lead the Knicks to a championship?

    

The answer here, unfortunately, is no.

    

Are the Knicks improved this year?  Yes.  Are they more “fun to watch?”  Yes.  Is it easier to root for them today than it has been in a few years?  Yes. 

     

BUT HERE’S THE PROBLEM

     

The problem lies in the notion that a team with this up-tempo, at times averse-to-defense attitude can win an NBA Championship.  A comparison with the recent (and very successful) Phoenix teams coached by D’Antoni is instructive here.

    

D’Antoni took over in Phoenix in 2003-04 and, after a 21-40 record in his first season there, he was able to turn it all around and make Steve Nash an MVP in 2004-05 with a stunning 62-20 record.  That team had the “Big Three” of Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion that would be the backbone of that excellent four-year run D’Antoni would have in Phoenix (few remember that D’Antoni’s first excellent Phoenix team had Joe Johnson (17 ppg, now of the Hawks) and Quentin Richardson (15 ppg, now of the Knicks)).

    

In 2005-06, the Big Three were joined by excellent athletes like Rajah Bell, Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw (D’Antoni’s kind of players) and this group would lead Phoenix in winning 170 regular-season games in the next three seasons (Marion would be traded 47 games into the 2007-08 season in the Shaq deal).  They had some playoff success but could never get over the hump in the very tough West and never made it to the NBA Finals.

       

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR TODAY’S KNICKS?

     

Well, the Knicks of today have nowhere near the talent that those Phoenix teams had from 2004-08.  If you’re debating whether they should keep David Lee or Nate Robinson, you have to wonder if they should keep either (rather than one or both).  Lee, an impressive player, has huge trouble defending big men or quick men and that’s a problem from a win-the-championship perspective.  Robinson, an enormously talented guard, loses his mind on a regular basis, be it with the refs or the opposition or a teammate.  If he doesn’t calm that down sooner rather than later, he should be gone.  But even if he does tone it down, it’s hard to say that you should keep the good, small player (energy and all) over the good, big player (a walking double-double).

     

WHERE DOES LEBRON AND THE CLASS OF 2010 FIT IN TO ALL OF THIS?

     

Based on reports coming out of Cleveland, it now seems less likely that Lebron James will come to the Knicks when he becomes a free agent.  If he considers it, he’s no fool – he knows he’ll need help (Shaq-Kobe, KG-Pierce-Allen, Shaq-Wade, Duncan-Robinson, Duncan-Parker-Ginobili – you get the point).

    

Frankly, the Knicks will need two in 2010.  It says here that one, even if it’s Lebron, won’t be enough.  If they get two stars (Lebron, Wade, Bosh, fill in the blank), the coach becomes much less important.  Which brings us back to whether the up-tempo style with ultra-talented players can win a title?  Which brings us back to the Phoenix teams that D’Antoni coached – the answer, for those teams, was a resounding no.

      

WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER KNICK PLAYERS TODAY?

     

Well, what about the other Knick players on the team today?  Waiting for Eddy Curry is like waiting for Godot.  Some people thought Scott Skiles, then-coach of the Bulls when Curry was sent to the Knicks, was too harsh in his assessment of Curry (essentially, that he wouldn’t amount to much).  To date, he’s totally right (Curry now will apparently “try to play” when the Knicks are eliminated from the playoff race).

    

Larry Hughes?  He can play, but is he a long-term championship player?  Unlikely.  Q Richarsdon?  In and out of D’Antoni’s doghouse, it seems.  Maybe Danilo Gallinari?  He can shoot it, but he’s got so far to go defensively he may never get there.  And that assumes he’s healthy, a big assumption.  Chris Duhon?  Better this year with some upside, but he wore down and got hurt playing all those minutes (compared to what he was doing in Chicago).

    

Jared Jeffries?  Chris Wilcox?  Come on.

    

The main guy with upside for the future is Wilson Chandler, who has really come on this year.  Al Harrington?  Maybe, but he’s another up-and-down guy.

    

The problem for today’s Knicks isn’t the loss to good teams like Orlando, who turned a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter into a five-point lead and a win in the blink of an eye on Monday.  The problem is losses to teams like woeful Sacramento and the Nets (without the best New York-area player, Devin Harris).    

    

Frankly, when the season opens and the conversation immediately turns to whether the Knicks can make the eighth seed, that’s a big problem.  And with so many teams making the playoffs (hey, even now, the Knicks are only four games out in the loss column), the “hope” of the playoffs is even watered down and sold to foolish fans.

         

SO, WHERE DO THEY GO FROM HERE?

     

Well, after two horrific seasons, 2008-09 is certainly an improvement.  The only number many New York fans who like to gamble care about is 33, which will let them cash their “over” bets on how many games the Knicks will win this year.  But, as for the playoffs, PLAYOFFS (where’s Jim Mora when you need him), well, absent a miracle, that’s become a pipedream this year.

    

With slight improvement this year and even more next year, the real question is can the Knicks make this an enticing team for one or (preferably) two superstars to come to?  Well, virtually everyone seems to love to play for Mike D’Antoni and his “style.”  It remains to be seen if that style can ever win an NBA championship.

      

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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IN 2009, LITTLE LEAGUE TRIES TO FIX THE PITCH-COUNT RULE (AGAIN) AND COMES UP SHORT (AGAIN)

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

    

Last May, an article was written here (Kallas Remarks, 5/8/08) which went into a detailed history of the pitch-count rule and how Little League overrode its doctors’ recommendations of 75 pitcher per game and 100 pitches per week (for 11-12 year-old pitchers) to allow many more pitches to be thrown.  In 2008, Little League made a small effort for a minor correction – they now require, during the regular season, a game of rest so a star pitcher could not do what he did in 2007 – pitch consecutive games on only three days rest.  They, however, made NO changes to the stupid Little League Tournament rule that allows young kids to throw 255+ pitches in SEVEN days.

    

In 2009, Little League has made another small adjustment, discussed below, to the regular season.  Again, however, in the dangerous Williamsport tournament, no changes have been made.

     

2009 LITTLE LEAGUE REGULAR SEASON CHANGE IN PITCH-COUNT RULE

     

Beginning in 2009, during the regular season ONLY, Little League has given the local little league in your town a second option with respect to pitch count.  As many of you know, last year, if an 11-12 year-old threw 61 or more pitches in a game, he/she needed three days of rest (and an intervening game) before he/she could pitch again.  This three-day rest period was less than the prior pitch count pilot program (2005, 2006) which required four days of rest with the same 61 or more pitches thrown by a pitcher.

    

The three-day rest rule remains in effect today as “Option 1” under Little League Rules (See LL Rules and Regulations, Regulation VI (d), Option 1).  But this year, there is now an “Option 2” which reverts the days of rest to four days, the way it was when the pilot program of 2005 and 2006 was in effect based on the recommendations of Dr. James Andrews and Dr. Glen Fleisig through USA Baseball (See LL Rules and Regulations, Regulation VI (d), Option 2).

    

Unfortunately, the choice on these options is left to the local league Board of Directors, which will be discussed more below.

     

NO CHANGE IN THE 2009 WILLIAMSPORT TOURNEY PITCH-COUNT RULE

     

More devastating for young pitchers, the Little League, once again, has failed to change the terrible pitch-count rule for the summer Williamsport tournament, which is a six-week extravaganza where young kids’ arms get routinely “abused” (well-known orthopedic surgeon Dr. Tim Kremchek’s word, not mine) by allowing kids to throw 255+ pitches in seven days (as always, these numbers must be compared to the recommendations of Dr. Andrews and Dr. Fleisig of 75 pitches per game and 100 PITCHES PER WEEK for 11-12 year-olds).

    

As many of you know, the schedule during the tournament is a hectic one.  Teams often play three games in four or five days or six games in nine or ten days.  Indeed, it’s a poorly kept secret that, in the final week of Williamsport, the two teams that get to the championship game on Sunday, by definition, will have their top pitcher pitch Wednesday-Sunday or even Thursday-Sunday, allowing a young kid to throw 170+ pitches in only four or five days (again, far beyond the doctors’ recommendations of 100 per seven days).

     

So, at the end of August, you’ll read here about four or five pitchers who threw absurd amounts of pitches in seven or eight or nine days, sometimes over 255 in that span (the 255+, for you rookies, comes from the fact that, once you reach the top limit of 85 pitches a game, you are still allowed to finish the batter.  So, it’s not unusual for a pitcher to throw 87, 88, 89 or even 90 (if you go to a 3-2 count on your final batter) pitches in one outing).  

      

SO, WHAT CAN BE DONE?

     

Well, Little League really should have instituted “Option 2” (mandatory four days of rest) as the only option during the regular season.  But, rather than follow the recommendations of world-renowned doctors, they’ve left the decision up to the local boards.  While there are often many right-minded people on these boards, there are also many people who just want to win that Little League Championship and, if this type of person is in control, you’ll see Option 1 voted for and a chance for that top pitcher to be overused during the regular season.

    

Little League simply should have returned to its own pitch count pilot program, doctor-recommended four days of rest in the 61-85+ number of pitches for 11-12 year olds.  If you follow it, you’ll still hear examples of late-in-the-season, three games in six days to finish the schedule.  In that situation, you can bet the house (if it’s still worth something) that a kid will be throwing 170+ pitches in two games in six days.

    

It’s strongly recommended here (as being MUCH closer to the doctors’ — not the board of directors’ or Little League executives’ — recommendations) THAT INDIVIDUAL LEAGUES VOTE FOR OPTION 2 AND TELL LITTLE LEAGUE TO ABOLISH OPTION 1 (Option 2, again, would just be returning Little League to their own doctor-recommended pitch counts and rest used in 2005 and 2006).

        

THE TOURNAMENT IS STILL IN MUCH WORSE SHAPE

        

What about the summer tournament?  Still a pitch-count disaster (255+ in seven days), one can only hope that intelligent Little League parents will protect their own kids by not having them pitch so much and by telling Little League that you don’t want your children exposed to this kind of overuse.  Remember, if any major league pitcher (you know they routinely all pitch with four days rest nowadays) was told by his pitching coach to throw 255 pitches in seven days, then that coach would be fired unless (maybe) it was Game 7 of the playoffs.  Even Little League execs must understand that a 12 year-old can’t be expected to do what no major league pitcher does today – pitch three games in seven days.

    

You read, virtually every year, about Little League pitchers who blow out their arms by pitching too much, too often to chase the prize of getting to Williamsport.  Hopefully, this will be the year when parents (coaches? board members?) will take a stand and say no more of this for our children.

    

This is the year to stand up and be counted. 

     

 © Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

SO, WHEN DID ALL OF THIS STEROIDS STUFF START, ANYWAY?

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

      

So, did you read that Sports Illustrated article that starts with “The pill, capsule, vial and needle have become fixtures of the locker room”?  It’s a very long article that discusses dozens of examples of athletic drug use to improve performance.

    

There are the Olympians who used anabolic steroids to get bigger and stronger.  One Olympian, in response to the question (did Olympians use anabolic steroids) said: “Let me put it this way.  If they had come into the [Olympic] village the day before competition and said we have just found a new test that will catch anyone who has used steroids, you would have had an awful lot of people dropping out because of instant muscle pulls.”

    

Did you hear about the California doctor who openly endorsed the use of anabolic steroids?  He was quoted as saying, “I don’t think it is possible for a weight man to compete internationally without using anabolic steroids.”  He then adopted a don’t ask, don’t tell policy – he didn’t ask them what they were taking and they didn’t tell him.  Seriously, it’s all right there in Sports Illustrated.

    

In the article, a U.S. Olympian said, “It is not unusual for an athlete to carry his own hypodermic syringes.  Athletes have learned to inject themselves.”

    

Who knew?

     

HOW ABOUT THESE “MORAL” QUESTIONS?

     

The article raises the following interesting question:  “Is athletic integrity (and, conversely, corruption) a matter of public interest?”  Also, “[d]rug usage , even more than speculation about bribery, college recruiting, spit-balls or TV commercials, raises such sticky questions about the fundamentals of sport that one can understand the instinctive reaction of the athletic Establishments: when it comes to drugs, they ignore, dismiss, deny.

    

I don’t think they were talking about Bud Selig.

    

Then there is this from a former Los Angeles Dodgers’ physician: “The excessive and secretive use of drugs is likely to become a major athletic scandal, one that will shake public confidence in many sports …  .  The essence of sports is matching the natural ability of men [and women].  When you start using drugs, money or anything else surreptitiously to gain an unnatural advantage, you have corrupted the purpose of sports as well as the individuals involved in the practice.”

    

Does this raise any questions:  “Most drugs – good and bad, safe and risky, effective and ineffective, legal and illegal – used by athletes are supplied directly by physicians or indirectly by physicians through trainers.”

    

Then there’s this from a New York physician who didn’t want to be identified: “{T]eam physicians tend to be men of action, not scholarly, speculative types.  They are interested in immediate problems: making somebody strong, relaxed, mean or quick and in getting a player back in the game as soon as possible.  If somebody tells them that there is a drug that might do the trick, they are apt to try it.  They are not likely to wait around for a double-blind control study to find out if the drug is effective or what it will do to the liver three years later.  They are interested in today.”

    

Yikes!!

     

HOW ABOUT THOSE SAN DIEGO CHARGERS!!!

     

Maybe you saw that recent ESPN piece about the San Diego Chargers eating Dianabol, an anabolic steroid, like they were candy.  Did it help them win a championship in the early 1960s?  Probably.

    

But did you hear about the four-time U.S. Olympian who simply said that

“my experience tells me that an athlete will use any aid to improve his performance short of killing himself.”

    

How about the Maryland doctor who gave anabolic steroids to weightlifters in Pennsylvania?  The doctor said, “They figured if one pill was good, three or four would be better, and they were eating them like candy.  I began seeing prostate trouble, and a couple of cases of atrophied testes.”

    

Ouch.

    

It wasn’t just the Chargers, according to SI.  They had unverified reports that almost every professional football team had players taking anabolic steroids and confirmed that players on the Chiefs, the Browns and the Falcons were taking anabolic steroids.  There was a college player from Utah State who played professionally in Canada and said that 90% of college linemen have used steroids.  SI continues, “So widespread is the faith in hormones that there are verified incidents of where pro scouts have supplied the drug to college draftees and college recruiters have given it to high school players.”

     

HERE’S THE CONCLUSION

     

The article concludes: “Finally, the belief in the existence of the ultimate pill, and the unrelenting search for it, is why many doctors fear that athletic drug practices are leading to a sports scandal of major proportions.”

 

HERE’S THE CATCH

     

The catch is that this was the cover story of Sports Illustrated ON JUNE 23, 1969.  That’s not a misprint:  1969.       

    

Give that a little thought. (It’s available at SI.com – SI Vault.  And thanks to reader Bob Boni for pointing it out).

       

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

THE NEXT BANNER THAT SHOULD BE HUNG AT MSG AND THE GREATEST RANGER EVER

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

      

It was wonderful to see the Rangers finally retire the numbers of 1950’s and 60’s greats Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell (Kallas Remarks, 2/23/09).  While others have opened the debate as to what other (if any) numbers from that era should be retired (Jean Ratelle’s #19, Vic Hadfield’s #11 and/or Brad Park’s #2, to name a few), isn’t it about time that the real greatest Rangers of all-time be recognized in the rafters at the Garden?

      

The New York Rangers of the late 1920’s through the mid-1930’s was a great team that won two Stanley Cups.  In other words, a run never equaled by any Ranger team from the mid-1930’s until today.  While it would be foolish to hope that the numbers of individual greats from that era hang in the rafters, why not hang one banner with five names (not numbers) of the Ranger greats who made the Hall of Fame and won MULTIPLE Stanley Cups as RANGERS?  In the history of the New York Rangers, nobody has done what this group did up to and including 2009.

      

FIVE HALL OF FAMERS (AS RANGERS) WITH TWO STANLEY CUPS (AS RANGERS)

       

Let’s look at this group of Ranger giants in alphabetical order:

    

1) FRANK BOUCHER — One of the smoothest centers ever, Boucher centered the famous “Bread Line” (between the Cook brothers), the dominant line through the Rangers’ Stanley Cup runs.  Boucher was a slick passer who led the NHL in assists three times and was second four times.  He also finished in the top six in scoring in six different seasons.  Frank Boucher won the Lady Byng Trophy (best “gentlemanly” player) so many times (seven times in the eight seasons between 1927-28 and 1934-35) that the NHL gave him the original trophy.  While known as a playmaker, Boucher dominated the scoring in the 1927-28 playoffs (the year of the first Ranger Cup) with seven goals and three assists (no other Ranger had more than two goals or five points total).  He made the Hall of Fame in 1958.

       

2) BILL COOK — Arguably the most talented of this talented group and considered one of the greatest right-wingers ever, Bill Cook was the dominant scorer for these superior Ranger teams.  Cook led the NHL in goals three times and finished in the top four in scoring five times, including winning two scoring titles in 1926-27 and 1932-33 (the year of the second Ranger Cup).  Cook was a first-team NHL All-Star three times and a second-team All-Star once (his linemate Boucher equaled him in both categories).  In addition, Bill Cook was the first Ranger captain, scored the first goal in the history of the New York Rangers and scored the first ever Stanley Cup-winning overtime goal in NHL history against the Maple Leafs in 1933.  He made the Hall of Fame in 1952.

     

3) BUN COOK — The left wing on the famous “Bread Line”, Fred “Bun” Cook was a key component to the Rangers’ success during the late 1920s through the mid-1930s.  Bun Cook has been credited with “introducing and perfecting the drop pass,” according to the Hockey Hall of Fame’s website.  Cook finished in the top ten in goals scored four times and in points scored three times.  A very popular Ranger, Bun Cook was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1995.

       

4) CHING JOHNSON — The rugged defenseman was considered one of the hardest bodycheckers ever in the NHL.  According to the Hockey Hall of Fame website, “he perfected the technique of nullifying the opposition by clutching and grabbing them as discreetly as possible – a pragmatic defensive strategy for the wily but slow-footed rearguard.”  He was a first-team NHL All-Star twice and a second-team NHL All-Star twice.  Johnson also could score for a defenseman: in the time of 44- and 48-game seasons, Johnson’s 10 goals in 1927-28 and eight goals in 1932-33 (the Rangers two Cup-winning seasons) were very high numbers for a defenseman back then.  Johnson finished second for the Hart Trophy (MVP) in 1931-32 and he scored the winning goal against Detroit in the first game of the semi-finals for the Cup in 1932-33.  He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1958.

        

5) LESTER PATRICK — “The Silver Fox” was a great player in his own right and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1947.  Patrick was the coach of both Ranger Cup winners (1927-8 and 1932-3) and also made the playoffs as Ranger head coach in 12 of his 13 seasons.  He also had only one losing season in those 13 years.  But Patrick did something that should have his name up in the rafters that even his basketball Hall of Fame counterpart Red Holzman (coach of the Knicks whose 613 (for his number of Knick wins) hangs in the rafters) never did:  Coach Patrick played a major role, at the age of 44, in winning a Stanley Cup game on the ice.  Down 1-0 in games in the 1927-28 Cup Finals, Rangers goalie Lorne Chabot was hit in the eye in the second period of Game 2 and could not continue.  With no back-up goalies in those days, Lester Patrick, after being denied permission to use another goalie in the stands, donned the equipment himself.  Patrick gave up one goal (with 18 saves) in 46 minutes as the Rangers won in overtime to tie up the series.  They went on to win their first Cup.

 

While, given the reality of sports in America today, it would be hard to argue for multiple jerseys from the 1920’s and 30’s to be hung up in the rafters in 2009.  BUT HOW GREAT WOULD IT BE TO HAVE THESE FIVE NAMES ON ONE BANNER HANGING IN THE GARDEN FOREVER?  These five, all of whom did more for Ranger tradition than anyone else, including all the numbers already in the rafters, should be recognized.  Certainly they have relatives around (be they grandchildren or great-grandchildren).  Certainly the Patrick family still has people involved in hockey.  It really wouldn’t be that hard.  AND IT WOULD BE THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

    

Was it all just too long ago?

    

FRANK BOUCHER – THE GREATEST RANGER EVER

         

 The main reason that Boucher is the greatest Ranger ever is that he’s been intimately involved with three of the four Stanley Cups that the Rangers have won in their existence.  Much of his greatness as a player is discussed above.  It should also be mentioned that, in the famous Lester Patrick game in the 1928 playoffs discussed above, the Rangers won 2-1 in overtime.  Guess who scored the game-winning overtime goal?  Frank Boucher.  When the Rangers got their second win (in the best-of-five series), who scored the only goal of the game?  Frank Boucher.  In addition, when the Rangers beat the Montreal Maroons 2-1 in the clinching game to win the Stanley Cup in 1928, guess who scored both Ranger goals?  Frank Boucher.  To recap, Frank Boucher scored four of the five goals that the Rangers scored in the 1927-28 Stanley Cup Finals.  Has anyone ever had a more dominant Stanley Cup Final?

       

Few know that Boucher was the coach of the Rangers when they won their third Stanley Cup in 1939-40.  While he was coach, and when the Rangers’ roster was decimated during World War II, Boucher suited up for 15 games in 1943-44 and scored an amazing 14 points at the age of 42.  Always known as an innovator, Boucher was the first coach to “pull the goalie” late in the game for an extra skater.  And he was still around in 1949-50, as general manager, when the Rangers made an amazing run but lost the Cup in Game 7 of the Finals in double-overtime (on the Pete Babando goal which gave the Cups to the Wings). 

     

LET’S NOT FORGET THESE GUYS!!

    

While Frank Boucher and the other greats discussed above have not been totally forgotten, if something is not done soon, some day they will all be forgotten.  They should have at least one banner in the rafters forever. 

     

Next season would be a wonderful time to do it.

                            

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.