Thursday, January 28, 2010

Survivor – The Greatest For a Reason

CBS recently threw a 10-year anniversary party in Hollywood celebrating what I consider to be the finest “reality” TV show ever – Survivor. Unless you live under a rock and have never have read this blog before or don’t know me, you are well aware what a Survivor Geek I am. Last week at the conclusion of “The Geeks Have Spoken!” blog, I promised to explain the two words that separate Survivor from the rest of the “reality” TV world. Based on the photo to the left of this paragraph, you have probably guessed what those two words are.

Jeff Probst.

That’s right, the two words that separate Survivor from the all other “reality” TV make up the name of two-time Emmy-award winning host Jeff Probst.

Probst has spent the last decade leading the tactical exploits of total strangers battling for a $1 million grand prize. When you consider that in the 10 years of Survivor, he has extinguished 276 torches, crowned 19 winners and hosted the last 15 Survivor reunion shows, it is plain to see that he is the face of Survivor.

It should be mentioned that prior to Probst, the congenial Bryant Gumbel emceed the first three reunion shows with a somewhat mundane effort. It seemed as if he was merely doing his job to help promote another CBS program.

Following Gumbel, we were subjected to the loudmouthed Rosie O’Donnell. CBS reasoned that because O’Donnell was a self-described reality-show addict, she would make a good replacement. Alas, her abrasive, self-serving personality made her stint as host a short one, lasting only the one season.

CBS came to their senses after the O’Donnell fiasco and made Probst the host for season five’s reunion show and has been there ever since. Obviously they realized that when you see Probst you think Survivor.

Other “reality” TV shows have come and gone and trust me, there have been many. How many you ask? The site Reality TV World lists no less than 812 seasons of “reality” programming. Don’t believe me? Click on the link.

The Reality TV World list, although a bit daunting, made me realize how many “reality” shows that I have forgotten ever existed. For crying out loud, there were shows that I had never heard of.

Even the longer running “reality” programs like The Amazing Race, American Idol and Big Brother don’t have a singular “face” that makes you instantly think of that show.

When I see The Amazing Race’s Phil Keoghan, I think, “Who the hell is that?” When I see Julie Chen, I don’t think Big Brother. Rather, I think the CBS Morning News.

And don’t get me started on American Idol. The host, Ryan Seacrest is a no talent, overpaid bum. The Judges: Simon Cowell is Britain’s Got Talent, X-Factor, etc. Randy Jackson is the former bassist for Journey. Paula Abdul is now an inebriated has-been.

Last year Idol added Kara DioGuardi (who?) and this year replaced Abdul with the effervescent Ellen DeGeneres. Enough said. Not one of these six people is THE face of American Idol.

However, Jeff Probst is THE face of Survivor. That is what puts Survivor head and shoulders above the rest. Perhaps being a Survivor Geek and having an obsession for consistency clouds my judgment, but Survivor is the greatest TV show of the “reality” genre.

And simple two words are the reason why: Jeff Probst.

Enough Survivor talk. Well, until next Thursday. Sometime before then I will try to write something about softball or maybe even English Sue’s favorite, Arno! Until next time…from the booth.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Favorites Of The Hated

On a gloomy and dank Sunday morning I opened the Kenosha News to read the ambiguous headline, “Homeless Youth Need Help: Panel”. Located on the same front page was a tease for the Sports section, “Sports Take: For Favre or Against Him” Wow! What a concept, a column getting the reaction from the unwashed masses regarding the most polarizing athlete in the history of Wisconsin sports. Too bad this discussion has been ongoing in both print and on sports talk radio since July of 2008. Needless to say I did not rush to check out this article located on C7.

Instead, with the rain continuing to fall outside my window, I decided to see what was happening in facebbook. Wouldn’t you know it? More “discussion” and “debate” on whether or not you are pulling for #4. Therefore, in an effort to stay clear of all the Favre-hysteria, I have decided to write about athletes that I enjoy even though they once played for teams that I despise.

At present, my list of teams that I loathe is made up of the Chicago Cubs, Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Bulls. Pretty much in that order. Here are my favorites from the hated:

Chicago Bulls – Center Tom Boerwinkle. Boerwinkle played for the Bulls from 1968 to 1978 and was largely unappreciated, although he was regarded as one of the best passing centers in the game. That is why I liked him.

You knew that as soon as “Long Tom” entered the game he was going to throw that little over-the-shoulder backdoor pass to Bob Love for an easy sore.

St. Louis Cardinals – Jack Clark. Although he was an accomplished hitter, the reason I have regard for Clark is for what he has done recently. Clark, who spoke whatever was on his mind when he played, had this to say about Mark McGwire and the steroid issue:

"A lot of them should be banned from baseball, including Mark McGwire. All those guys are cheaters - A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez). Fake, phony. Rafael Palmeiro. Fake, a phony. (Roger) Clemens, (Barry) Bonds. (Sammy) Sosa. Fakes. Phonies. They don't deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.” They're all creeps. All these guys have been liars."

Minnesota Vikings – Joe Kapp. In 1968, Kapp led the Minnesota Vikings to their first ever playoff appearance, losing to the Baltimore Colts, 24-14. This is significant because it set the tone for what is now a long history of the Vikings losing the big game.

Way to go Joe. It this and his wonderful cinematic work in The Longest Yard as the Walking Boss that has made him a longtime favorite of mine.

The Chicago Bears – Doug Buffone and Ed O’Bradovich. O’Bradovich was a defensive end on the 1963 NFL champion Bears, while Buffone played outside linebacker from 1965-79. The two former Bears do a post game show on WSCR The Score 670 sports radio station.

What makes their show so appealing to this Packer fan is that they show more passion than the current Bear players do. They rant and rave so much that sometimes I begin to have concerns for their health. Then I just remind myself that they were once Bears and no longer care.

Chicago Cubs – Randy Hundley. I am announcing it to the world; Hundley was the first baseball player I was ever a fan of. Yes, I was even a Cub fan. There I said it. Then in 1970 the Milwaukee Brewers were born and shortly thereafter, the Cubs began dismantling the team I had grown so fond of. When they traded “The Rebel” to the Minnesota Twins before the 1974 season, that was it; the Cubs were officially dead to me.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my strong dislike for former St. Louis Cardinal Carl Taylor. I remember it like it was yesterday, I was watching Ray Raynor before leaving for school. Ray was showing Cub highlights. There it was, the violent collision at home plate between Taylor and Hundley on April 21, 1970. The play would put the Cub backstop out for several weeks and ended his iron-man streak. Yet another reason to hate the Cards.

Okay it’s noon now. The #4 show doesn’t start until 5:30, giving me plenty of time to proofread this a couple of times before I post it. I might even have enough time to play a game or two in Pogo with my good friend from England, Bev. She doesn’t even know who Brett Favre is. Imagine that. Until next time…from the booth.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Geeks Have Spoken!

Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains will be the twentieth season of the award-winning TV series Survivor and premieres three weeks from tonight. Unlike previous seasons where a break in production occurred between seasons, this season was shot 20 days after Survivor: Samoa was completed, utilizing the existing infrastructure from that season. Casting for Heroes vs. Villains was done concurrently with Survivor: Samoa.

Filming for Heroes vs. Villains was from August 9, 2009 to September 16, 2009. This is interesting because Survivor: Samoa did not premiere until September 17, 2009. This means that the cast of Heroes vs. Villains were not familiar with the spectacular Russell “Hall-of-Famer” Hantz, although I am pretty sure they quickly became aware of his awesomeness.

While the players have been classified as Heroes or Villains, Survivor's creator Mark Burnett does not expect these players to maintain these personas in this season; they will be doing whatever is necessary to survive to the end.

Rather than the usual slogan "Outwit, Outplay, Outlast", the slogan for this season is "Return, Revenge, Redemption". Another interesting angle is that all challenges this season will be based on challenges used in previous seasons.

Last Thursday in It Won't Be Long Now!, I encouraged Fellow Survivor Geeks to weigh in with the three past “Survivors” that they will be pulling for in this historic twentieth season.

The response was terrific, receiving telephone calls, facebook messages, emails and several comments on the blog. I even garnered replies from spouses of longtime Survivor Geeks. Here is who voted for who:

FSG Jamie - Rupert, Tom and Boston Rob
FSG Jeff - Russell, Stephenie and Boston Rob
FSG Patty 4-Names - Russell, Rupert and Colby
FSG Karen R. - Russell, Rupert and Coach
FSG Auntie Janet - J.T., Colby and Boston Rob
FSG Greg - Rupert, Colby and Amanda
FSG Jenny - Boston Rob, James, Amanda and Rupert
FSG Alaska Karen - Russell, Rupert and Colby
FSG Mary Beth - Rupert, Russell and Colby
FSG Paul (me) - Russell, Rupert and James

The Individual Tally:

Rupert Boneham – 8
Russell “Hall-of-Famer” Hantz – 6
Colby Donaldson – 5
“Boston” Rob Mariano – 4
James Clement – 2
Amanda Kimmel – 2
Tom Westman – 1
Benjamin “Coach” Wade – 1
James “J.T.” Thomas Jr. – 1
Stephenie LaGrossa – 1

You may have noticed that FSG Jenny, the wife of FSG Greg, could not narrow it to only three picks and gave four. That made for 31 total votes.

There were 28 votes cast for males, with only 3 for females. Surprisingly, the breakdown for Heroes and Villains was as close as it could be with 16 tallies for the Good Guys and 15 for the Bad Guys. Another shocker was that FSG Jeff, husband of veteran Survivor Geek Jamie, did not vote for his beloved Sugar.

It should be noted that Richard Hatch, the winner of the original Survivor, was asked to return this season. However, he had to apply to leave the country since he is under house arrest. A federal judge in Rhode Island denied this request.

Anyone else out there that wants to offer his or her favorites, please feel free to do so. Next Thursday I will explain the two words that separate Survivor from the rest of the “reality” TVworld. Until next time…from the booth.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Be Careful What You Ask For

On a warm Tuesday evening in late June, I watched my 400 Club softball team warming up near the tennis courts at spacious Roosevelt Park. As I made out the lineup for our 6:45 pm game with Pasquali’s Bar, I noticed Matt Montemurro making his way from one teammate to the next. It was obvious that the young outfielder was the one doing most of the talking and all of the conversations ended with a mutual nod of the head and often a pat on the back. When it became evident what Matt was doing, a smile broke out on my chubby face and I went back to working on my batting order.

The reason I was smiling was because Matt had taken the advice I had given him in a phone conversation we had had earlier that afternoon. Based on our discussion, the talented ballplayer was apologizing for what he had done the previous weekend.

Let me explain what Matt had done.

The Thursday before that eventful weekend, our 400 Club team had decided to play in a tournament in Whitewater. When Matt heard that we were playing, he begged off, saying he was getting “burned out” and needed a weekend off. I said fine, we would fine someone to take his place.

If that were all that had happened, I wouldn’t be writing this story.

Our first tourney game had just finished and our team was making its’ across the parking lot to the bar for some “lunch” when Matt’s flashy sports car suddenly appeared. Screeching to a halt, Matt hopped out of the car and cheerfully asked, “How did you guys do?”

Not too many of us heard Matt’s question. We were too busy staring at the Tirabassi uniform he was sporting. Evidently he wasn’t too “burned out” to play in a tournament in Janesville with archrival Tirabassi.

After the initial shock wore off, the response from his 400 Club teammates was less than cordial. After the burly Munk Ekern menacingly blurted out, “Get the f**k out of here!”, I suggested to Matt that he had better heed Ekern’s advice. He did so, and an even more ugly scene was avoided.

Those are the events that led to Matt making that phone call to yours truly prior to our Tuesday game with Pasquali’s Bar.

The first words out of Matt’s mouth were, “That was stupid of me. Am I still on the team?” After I reassured him that he was indeed still on the team, his next question was, “Is it fair to assume that I am not starting tonight?” After chuckling, I told him that was an accurate assumption and then suggested he apologize to the rest of the team before the game.

With all the drama behind us, the game started with Matt on the bench and proceeded as most of our games with Pasquali’s Bar typically did…we were kicking their ass. Matt being a good soldier, eagerly coached third base and enthusiastically cheered on his teammates.

With our team preparing to bat in the bottom of the fourth inning, a well-intentioned Bruce Edmark emphatically told me, “Puddles, Mattie has learned his lesson.” With chewing tobacco dripping down hi chin, he added firmly, “Now get him in the game!”

Eddie, be careful what you ask for…

With the emotional Edmark staring at me, I nodded in concurrence and said, “Bruce you are right, Matt has learned his lesson. He should be in the game!” I then turned toward Matt and bellowed, “Matt get in there. You’re batting for Eddie and playing left-center.”

Edmark, realizing that he had, in effect, just taken himself out of the game, slapped himself in the forehead and uttered a loud, “Doh!” Matt then hit a long double, a shaken Edmark was relegated to coaching third and the 400 Club went on to defeat Pasquali’s Bar by a rather large margin.

What started out as a potentially terrible situation was resolved and the topsy-turvy world of the 400 Club was now back to normal. Well, as close to normal as it could possibly be.

Until next time…from the booth.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

It Won’t Be Long Now!

Last Friday, in the Kenosha News Entertainment section, there was an article previewing “Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains”. I immediately called Fellow Survivor Geek Auntie Janet to see if she had seen it. Her reply was, “Oh yes Paulie, I saw it, I have it marked on my calendar.”

Earlier this month Fellow Survivor Geek Karen R. lamented on facebook that “So sad…the neighbors turned off their Christmas lights and the yard looks so dark now.” In an effort to pick up her spirits, I reminded her that Survivor starts February 11. Her reply was, “Wow, Survivor starts February 11 already! That is something to look forward to.”

In case you haven’t marked your calendar like FSG Auntie Janet, I am proud to announce that the twentieth season of the award-winning reality show premiers four short weeks from tonight. As the title indicates, this season pits former competitors separated into Hero and Villain tribes.

The Heroes side of the island will be occupied by Rupert Boneham (“Pearl Islands”, “All-Stars”); James Clement (“China”, “Micronesia”); Colby Donaldson (“The Australian Outback”, “All-Stars”); Cirie Fields (“Panama”, “Micronesia”); Amanda Kimmel (“China”, “Micronesia”); Jessica “Sugar” Kiper (“Gabon”); Stephenie LaGrossa (“Palau”, “Guatemala”); James “J.T.” Thomas Jr. (“Tocantins”); Tom Westman (“Palau”) and Candice Woodcock (“Cook Islands”).

On the Villains beach will be Tyson Apostol (“Tocantins”); Randy Bailey (“Gabon”); Danielle DiLorenzo (“Panama’); Russell Hantz (“Samoa”) Jerri Manthey (“The Australian Outback”, “All-Stars”); Rob Mariano (“Marquesas”, “All-Stars”); Parvati Shallow (“Cook Islands”, “Micronesia”) Sandra Diaz-Twine (“Pearl Islands”); Benjamin “Coach” Wade (“Tocantins”) and Courtney Yates (“China”).

There they are, the cast of “Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains”. All twenty of these competitors have competed on Survivor at least once before. For nine, it will be their third appearance on the show!

Last season, when I previewed “Survivor: Samoa” in “It’s Survivor Time!”, I challenged my Fellow Survivor Geeks to make their choice of who would be the Sole Survivor. This season, even though we have seen every contestant at least once, the All-Star format makes predicting a winner a very difficult task.

With that in mind, rather than ask you to predict a winner, I thought it would be fun to hear who your three favorites are. I don’t care if they are a Heroes or Villains, I just want to know the three that you want to see outwit, outplay and outlast the other seventeen.

Here are my top three:

1. Russell Hantz, fresh off his runner-up finish in Samoa, the “Hall-of-Famer” is the Survivor that I want to see last the longest. With a hat like that, who needs a buff? Hidden Immunity Idols and socks beware, the Hall-of-Famer is on the loose again!

2. Rupert Boneham became a favorite the moment he stole the other tribe’s personal items on the very first episode of Pearl Islands. The likeable giant has finished eighth and fourth in his previous appearances. If it weren’t for the Hall-of-Famer, Rupert would be my number one choice.

3. James Clement, the loveable gravedigger, finished seventh in both of his previous appearances on Survivor. Besides being built like a brick shithouse, Clement is probably best remembered for not using his Immunity Idol and being blindsided by the diabolical Parvati Shallow.

Speaking of Parvati Shallow, she is on the top of my list of my least favorites. Joining Shallow (fitting name) are “Boston Rob” Mariano, Stephenie LaGrossa, Jerri Manthey, Cirie Fields and Tyson Apostol. The sooner Jeff Probst tells these people, “The tribe has spoken”, the better.

Now that I have shared whom I am rooting for, I want to see whom you like. Everyone is encouraged to join in. It will be interesting to see what Fellow Survivor Geeks like Jamie, Auntie Janet, Karen N., Brad, Karen R., Mary Beth and Greg have to say. Their participation is expected!

You can leave your list in the form of a comment on this blog, as an email or you can send me a message on facebook. Hurry up, it won’t be long now! Until next time…from the booth.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Special Secret Weapon

On a cold Saturday afternoon in January of 1977, Kenosha Tap’s basketball team took the court at Bullen Jr. High School. Led by player-coach Kurt Plaisted, the squad was warming up for their 1:00 City Rec League tilt with the Jubilee Lounge. As fans began to fill the bleachers, Plaisted nervously watched the locker room door as he tossed in a long practice shot. All of Kenosha Tap’s players were present and accounted for, except for the special secret weapon that Plaisted had coming. It was almost game time and he was beginning to become anxious.

Suddenly Plaisted’s tense anticipation disappeared.

With a thundering slam, the door from the locker room burst open and a loud cry of “Let’s kick some ass you sons-of-bitches” was heard throughout the Bullen gymnasium. Dressed in a torn t-shirt and dirty sweatpants, Plaisted’s special secret weapon had arrived.

With a mostly toothless grin, Arno Schubert clumsily dribbled a basketball as he took the court amid boisterous cheers that were mixed with a few chuckles from the astonished crowd. A relieved Plaisted tossed a Kenosha Tap jersey to Arno and said, “Here, get this on and put out that cigarette.”

Arno tossed the butt to the hardwood floor and ground it out with his well-worn Chuck Taylor sneakers. As he attempted to tug the jersey over his large head, it was obviously a size too small, causing it to fit the hung-over German like a glove.

With the game ready to begin, Plaisted gathered his team into a small huddle. “Okay guys, the starters are Cliff, Stan, Harry, Gino and Hall. The rest of you be ready!” No sooner had Plaisted stopped speaking, Arno blurted out, “What the (expletive deleted) Kurt! I ain’t starting?!?”

Plaisted smiled at his special secret weapon and said, “Not yet Arno, not yet.” Arno, cursing under his breath, sat down on the bench and shot a dirty look at Plaisted. If looks could have killed…

The referee tossed the ball into the air and the game between Kenosha Tap and Jubilee Lounge was under way. The contest was a typical City League basketball game and the score went back and forth. It was also a very physical game, with the players needing frequent rests.

Every time Plaisted would put in a substitute, Arno would jump up and beg to be put in the game. Each time, the response was the same, “Not yet Arno, not yet.” Arno would return to the bench and curse at his coach a bit louder.

At halftime, the game was tied and Plaisted told his crew to hang tough. He then, much to Arno’s chagrin, announced that the guys who started the game would start the second half as well. Knowing what was coming, he turned to the disgruntled German and said, “Not yet Arno, not yet.” This time Arno didn’t even bother cursing, he just waved his hand at his coach and went to the far end of the bench.

The second half was a different story, with Kenosha Tap pulling out to an early lead. Before long, the margin had grown so large that Plaisted knew what he had to do. With the game seemingly in hand, he stood up, winked at the crowd and shouted out, “Now Arno, now!”

The special secret weapon was about to be unleashed.

Arno sprang to his feet, almost falling as he pulled off his sweatpants. The crowd initially roared its’ approval and then broke into laughter when Arno finally succeeded in getting his sweatpants off, revealing shorts slightly larger than a pair of Speedos.

What ensued was not for the faint of heart. The special secret weapon went on a vicious rampage and nobody was going to stop him. His elbows were flying, knocking opponents out of the way. He threw up high-arching hook shots that came nowhere near the backboard, let alone the basket.

He dove for every loose ball and challenged for each rebound. At one point he leapt high for a rebound, curling both legs underneath himself. It was a thing of beauty. The only problem was that he forgot to straighten his legs out and crashed to the hard wooden court, landing on his boney knees. The fans gasped, shuddered and cringed before beginning to giggle.

It should be noted that this all took place in a span of about 5 minutes.

As the beer-guzzling, chain-smoking man from Germany attempted to get up, he looked to the bench and beckoned to Plaisted to take him out, he had had enough. Plaisted broke into a wide grin and replied, “Not yet Arno, not yet.”

For the next 10 minutes, the feisty Kraut struggled up and down the court, his weather-beaten face growing redder each step he took. Every time there was a stoppage of play he would plead to be taken out of the game. Each time, Plaisted’s response was the same, “Not yet Arno, not yet.”

Almost mercifully, with 2 minutes left in the game, Jubilee Lounge took a timeout and play finally stopped. A crimson-faced Arno hobbled over to the bench and glared at his coach. Plaisted, fighting back laughter, decided to give in and said, “Okay, Arno, you can sit down now.”

But Arno did not sit down. Instead he kept staggering down the sideline, wheezing and gasping for breath every shaky step of the way. There was a hush over the crowd; all eyes were now on Arno as he continued his unsteady journey toward the corner of the basketball court.

Ultimately he disappeared behind the bleachers in the southwest corner of Bullen Jr. High’s gymnasium. Fans, players and officials stared at each other, questioning what had become of Arno, the special secret weapon.

The powerful retching noise that was emitted quickly answered everyone’s question.

After he finished regurgitating, he finally came back toward the bench. With tears streaming down his face, he wiped the remnants from his mouth and said, “Thanks you dirty rotten (expletive deleted).” He then took a seat on the bench and quietly watched Kenosha Tap seal its’ victory over Jubilee Lounge.

That’s it until next time…from the booth.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Punishment…Part Three

Of the four major professional sports, baseball, football, basketball and hockey, baseball would have to be considered the least physically confrontational. This is not to say that MLB has not had its’ ugly moments. Memory brings back the image of the Oriole’s Roberto Alomar spitting on umpire John Hirschbeck in 1996.

More recently, there was the ugly, bench-clearing brawl on May 19, 1998 between the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles. This viscous battle raged for at least 10 minutes with nearly every man on the field throwing a punch. It was precipitated with a beanball, MLB’s form of enforcement. Just as many hockey traditionalists believe an occasional fight is a natural part of the game they cherish, many baseball purists view a well-timed “purpose pitch” as a necessary part of their game.

McSorley wasn’t the first professional athlete to place a piece of lumber across an opponent’s head during the heat of battle. On August 22, 1965, Juan Marichal of the San Francisco Giants split Dodger catcher John Roseboro’s head open with his baseball bat. A series of brushback pitches led to the brutal attack by the future Hall of Famer.
Like McSorley, Marichal apologized publicly. Although he received the most severe penalty issued by the league to that point, as had McSorley, some felt it was not enough, just as some feel is the case with McSorley.

The NBA is another professional sport that has had its’ share of violent moments. Kermit Washington of the Los Angeles Lakers pulverizing the Rocket’s Rudy Tomjanovich’s face comes to mind, as does Latrell Sprewell’s choking of his Warrior coach P.J. Carlesimo. Not to be left out is one of the NBA’s original “bad boys”, Dennis Rodman, who’s indiscretions not only include multiple altercations with other players, but also kicking a courtside cameraman in a delicate area.

The worst NBA season for fines and suspensions was 1995-1996, when 57 players were punished, suspended a total of 62 games and assessed $475,000 in fines. These cases were all handled by the NBA, as did the NHL with McSorley.

Along with the NHL, the NFL probably comes to mind when thinking about an aggressive, collision-filled game. Like hockey, football's physical nature often leads to situations where hostile, intimidating behavior is prevalent. This, in turn, gets out of hand and rules are broken.

Take for example, the fact that during the 1999 season, Denver linebacker Bill Romanowski and Detroit safety Mark Carrier had a combined total of $92,500 in fines. Carrier was suspended for one game and fined $50,000 for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Green Bay receiver Antonio Freeman on November 21st. This vicious display of brutality left Freeman with a concussion. Once again, the league handled the punishments.

If a person were to hit another human being over the head with a stick, throw a rock at another person or smash their own skull savagely against someone else’s, they would be arrested. That is what would happen if such transgressions occurred in the everyday realm of the real world.

This is not the case in the world of professional sports, where “play” can and does become violent. When such things happen on the field of play, whether it is a diamond, football field, basketball court or a hockey rink, there is a distinction from regular society. The governing bodies of the respective sports are responsible for the activities that go on during the course of the contests. It is their responsibility to impose and enforce rules upon the participants of those contests.

Mark Carrier did not head butt Antonio Freeman outside a gas station in Green Bay, Wisconsin; he did it on the field of a National Football League contest.

Nor did Juan Marichal club John Roseboro in a San Francisco nightclub; he did it during a game on a Major League Baseball diamond.

Likewise, Kermit Washington did not sucker punch Rudy Tomjanovich on a downtown street in Houston; it was on the court of National Basketball Association game.

What Marty McSorley did to Donald Brashear on February 21, 2000 happened on a rink within the context of a National Hockey League game. It wasn’t in a Vancouver restaurant.

After all of these acts took place, the league officials of the respective sports took the necessary action. Paul Weiler, who teaches sports and the law at Harvard School, assessed the responsibility for dispensing law and justice, by saying, “As long as the league is doing it in a meaningful fashion, I think it’s right to have a hands-off attitude. Especially when it’s part of the culture of the sport.”

Unfortunately, what McSorley did is a part of the culture of hockey as it is played in the NHL. For his actions, he was suspended for 23 games, which later turned into a full season, the harshest punishment in NHL history. Because this culture is part of the nature of the very unique game of NHL hockey, its’ league officials handed out discipline in a historically consistent manner and McSorley’s punishment fit his crime.

That’s it for hockey for now. Maybe next week I can conger up a new tale from Koos featuring Arno Schubert. Until next time…from the booth.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Punishment…Part Two

To further illustrate how unparalleled the emotions of NHL hockey are compared to those of other professional sports, consider the retirements of Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. Both are considered, arguably, the greatest athlete ever in their respective sport.

When Jordan retired in January of 1999, albeit the second time, there was the expected fanfare, however the event was somewhat marred by questions regarding why he was retiring, “what ifs” and speculation that he would end up playing somewhere else.

When Gretzky called it a career in April of the same year, the league had a pre-game ceremony that was shown live in other arenas around the league. On hand to pay honor to him were former teammates, rivals and coaches.

When the game had ended, Gretzky, fighting back tears, skated laps around the rink for more than ten minutes, showing appreciation to those in attendance and to those watching the live telecast. Afterwards, Gretzky sat in the dressing room long after the game was over, answering questions, not wanting to take his uniform off. McSorley played a very emotional sport.

Because hockey is such an emotional sport, tempers do flare and players do lose their composure. Perhaps, that is what happened with McSorley on February 21, 2000. It is hard to tell what goes through someone’s head the moment they do something as irrational as McSorley did. However, no matter what the motivation or reason for his action, he did hit Brashear over the head that evening and was punished for it by the NHL in a quick a decisive manner.

This is how the how the league handled violent acts earlier in the season and it is how the league has traditionally dealt out suspensions for all on-ice incidents. It should be should be noted that 15 days after McSorley’s episode with Brashear, prosecutors in British Columbia issued criminal charges. This type of thing is not something new to the NHL.

Prior o McSorley’s suspension, there had been 29 suspensions during the 1999-2000 NHL season. The reasons varied from slashing and spearing to the popular butt-ending. The suspensions ranged in length from one game to ten.

Interestingly enough, earlier in the year, Brashear was one of the culprits suspended for wrongdoings. He received a two game unpaid vacation for checking from behind. Historically, NHL tough guys occasionally get carried away and commit violent acts. This season was no different and like other seasons, league officials have delivered disciplinary actions swiftly and evenly. McSorley’s was the longest, not only this year, but ever in the league’s history.

Before McSorley, the longest NHL suspension was 21 games. The Washington Capitol’s Dale Hunter held that distinction for assaulting the Islander’s Pierre Tugeon during a playoff game in 1993.

The earliest suspension of significance went to Boston’s legendary Eddie Shore. In December of 1933 he received a one-month suspension for hitting the Maple Leaf’s Ace Bailey from behind. It would be nearly 36 years before a punishment of that magnitude would be issued again.

In September of 1969, Wayne Maki of the St. Louis Blues and the Bruin’s Ted Green were involved in a wild stick swinging melee. For their indiscretions, Maki received a one-month suspension and Green, 13 games and a metal plate in his head.

As stated earlier, McSorley isn’t the first hockey player to have criminal charges brought against them, just the most recent. Maki and Green were both charged and subsequently acquitted of assault charges for their fracas in 1969.

Another case had Boston Bruin Dave Forbes accused of using excessive force against the North Star’s Henry Boucha. The 1975 trial ended in a hung jury. The prosecution in the case sought no retrial.

The most recent case, prior to McSorley’s, that involved the criminal justice system, was that of Minnesota’s Dino Ciccarelli in 1988. He spent one day in jail and was fined $1000 for hitting Maple Leaf Luke Richardson several times in the head with his stick. Obviously, the NHL has had its’ share of violent on-ice incidents and the consequences that have accompanied them.

Though the media might lead you to believe it, the NHL is not the only professional sport with such occurrences. This is hardly the case. Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Football League have call had their share of violent exploits that have occurred during their respective games and have dealt with them accordingly. For every Marty McSorley, there is a Juan Marichal, a Latrell Sprewell or a Mark Carrier.

On Friday, in the conclusion of “The Punishment Fits the Crime”, I will give examples of extreme violence in each of the other three major professional sports. Until then…from the booth.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Punishment Fits the Crime

On February 21, 2000, Boston Bruins defenseman, Marty McSorley, bludgeoned Vancouver’s Donald Brashear across the right temple with his hockey stick, leaving Brashear lying on the ice twitching, with blood flowing from his nose. Two days later, the National Hockey League suspended McSorley for the remaining 23 games of the regular season plus any playoff games Boston would play. Based on the nature of the game, the league’s history of disciplinary action, and the manner in which other professional sports have handled similar incidents, the punishment the NHL dealt Marty McSorley was appropriate.

Marty McSorley is a veteran of 17 NHL seasons. During those 17 years, McSorley can best be characterized as a tough guy, an enforcer if you will. His job hasn’t been putting the puck in the net or setting up teammates with scoring chances. His job has been to protect to protect his teammates so that they can make the pretty passes and score the big goals.

The most well known player that he has provided this service for has been Wayne Gretzky. McSorley spent 11 seasons with the Edmonton Oilers and the Los Angeles Kings as the personal bodyguard for the Great One, keeping the league’s other tough guys occupied, allowing Gretzky to work his magic and artistry. This was the job expected of McSorley.

The brand of hockey played in the NHL is physical and hard-hitting, with large men, like McSorley, colliding at high speeds, trying to gain possession of a small piece of vulcanized rubber, so they can advance it into their opponent’s territory.

Enter into the equation the fact that these athletes are carrying sticks and it is easy to see just how uncommon professional hockey is. Hockey is unique in many aspects, for example, the rules and penalties, the different roles of the players, and even the terms broadcasters use when describing a game on television. What other sport has a penalty called butt-ending?

It would be fair to assume that McSorley has been called for butt-ending a few times during his career. In the NHL, when a player is penalized, his team loses his services and must play short-handed. There are minor, major, misconduct and match penalties.

Examples of minor penalties are holding, tripping or cross-checking; a player hit with a minor penalty goes to the “sin bin” for two minutes. Fighting, maliciously slashing or spearing, are infractions that will earn a major penalty and five minutes. Misconducts are worth ten minutes and a match penalty gets the offending player an early shower, along with 20 minutes added to his penalty minutes total.

The NHL does a nice job of keeping track of player statistics and penalty minutes served is just one of the many it keeps track of. In the 17 years he has played in the NHL, McSorley has played in 961 games. During those 961 games, he has accumulated 3381 minutes of penalty time and received seven suspensions, which includes the one for the Brashear incident.

During the 11 seasons that he served as Gretzky’s personal bodyguard, McSorley amassed 2393 penalty minutes while scoring 93 goals and recording 196 assists. Over the course of those same 11 seasons, Gretzky put in 400 goals, registered an astonishing 1065 assists and was whistled for a measly 280 minutes worth of penalties.

Because McSorley was doing his job, Gretzky was able to do his. They both were playing in the same league, for the same teams, but each had distinctively different roles that made their teams very successful.

The average sports fan knows the names Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Sidney Crosby and perhaps Alexander Ovechkin. They were all, or are, highly skilled hockey players, often having been featured on the highlights on ESPN, scoring dazzling goals or making breathtaking passes.

Ask that same sports fan who Marty McSorley, Bob Probert, Donald Beashear and Tie Domi are and they likely couldn’t tell you. The only time these guys show up on ESPN is when they are involved in an ugly skirmish. Then, more often then not, they are labeled as goons.

Certainly there are players in the league who qualify to wear that moniker, but it is not the case with McSorley. He is respected around the NHL for his toughness, not only by current players in the league, but also by Hall of Famers who offered their support after the incident with Brashear. Hockey has a unique fraternity that is often misunderstood.

Because hockey is such a physical and a times, violent game, emotions often run high. It is a game of grace, power, skill, intimidation and control all wrapped into one not-so-neat package.

Most players in the NHL began playing the game as soon as they have learned to skate, which typically occurs shortly after they take their first steps. They develop a deep love for the sport at a very young age.

McSorley, a native of Hamilton, Ontario, falls into this category. Despite the ferocious hitting and physicality that sometimes leads to fisticuffs, hockey players have a deep respect for their opponents.

This respect can be truly appreciated at the end of a playoff series. Two teams have been battling tenaciously with each other for four or more games and are physically spent. They have built up a strong dislike for one another, yet after the final horn sounds, both teams line up and shake hands, often embracing emotionally. The emotions in hockey are unlike that of other sports.

On Wednesday, I will compare the emotions of hockey to those of other sports in part two of my column on the Marty McSorley case. Until then…from the booth.