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Image of Willie McCovey

“Stretch”

Two days ago, on Halloween, the world lost one of the true gentlemen of sports history:  Willie Lee McCovey.  Nicknamed “Mac”, “Big Mac”, and (my personal favorite) “Stretch”, McCovey was a first baseman who defined the position for me as a child.  He played for the San Francisco Giants of Major League Baseball for 19 of his 22 seasons in the majors.
My earliest memory of ANY sports event was attending a baseball game as a youth at Candlestick Park and seeing McCovey, Willie Mays, and Juan Marichal in person.  My mom and I sat high in the upper deck, underneath the shell which used to line the stadium.  I don’t recall if the Giants won the game or much else about the game except – Marichal’s high-kick pitching delivery style, Mays hit a home run and “Stretch” made a terrific catch at first base.  It wasn’t a high catch (as shown in the image above).  It was low, near the ground and McCovey had to practically do the splits to make the catch.
It seems “funny” to think of this, but imagine you are Willie Mays – arguably the greatest baseball player of all time and in the top five career home run hitters in history and you bat third in the order because the guy (Willie McCovey) batting fourth, behind you, has more power…
None of the above speaks to the true greatness of the man, himself.  It is better to think of Willie McCovey this way:  his last active year was 1980.  That same year, the Giants retired his jersey number (44) and began awarding “The Willie Mac Award” which is given to the team’s most inspirational player that year, as voted on by the team’s players, coaches, training staff, and (just recently included) fans.  Finally, in 1986, in his first year of eligibility, Willie McCovey was voted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.
R.I.P “Stretch”.  And thanks for the childhood memories…
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On This Day In:
2017 Dodgers Choke Away World Series
Firing Director Comey = Obstruction
2016 Why Do Republicans Always Seem To Be Angry?
2015 All Things Being Equal
2014 Fearful Light
2013 Unexpectedly Knowledgeable
2012 Seems Obvious
2011 See The Specialist
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First off…  With all due props…  Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox for winning the 2018 World Series!!!
Image of Boston World Champions patch
Boston defeats LA in 2018 World Series 4 games to 1 !!!!
Image of Stamp over Dodger Logo
As an SF Giants fan, all I can say is:  “Two World Series losses in a row!!  How sweet it is!!!!
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On This Day In:
2017 By Their Acts Thy Shall Know Them
2016 Remembering
2015 One
2014 Sure Experiments And Demonstrated Arguments
2013 Irrational Complacency
2012 Why Criticize?
Giants Sweep 2012 World Series With Game 4 Win (4 To 3)!!!
2011 Saying Just Enough
2010 Giants Win Game 2 Shutout of Rangers – 9 to 0!!!

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Years ago we discovered the exact point, the dead center of middle age.  It occurs when you are too young to take up golf and too old to rush up to the net.
  —  Franklin Pierce Adams
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On This Day In:
2017 Improvise
2016 Got Leisure?
2015 It’s Been Hurtin’ For Quite A While Now
2014 Curious Talent
2013 Eureka
2012 Slow Me
2011 He Said What?!?
2010 Gritty
3 and 3
Just A Hunch
Wall Street – Movie Review
2nd Pair – Shoe Review (Aborted and Final)

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The Art of a Beautiful Game: The Thinking Fan’s Tour of the NBA”  –  book review
On Wednesday (11 May 2018), I finished reading “The Art of a Beautiful Game: The Thinking Fan’s Tour of the NBA”  (2009©)  – written by: Chris Ballard.  The game in question is basketball and not soccer – which is what I assumed the book would be about until I opened it.  My copy did not come with the dust cover and the sub-title is not on the binding.  Oh, well…
This book is a blend of various types of sports authorship: part biography, part techniques and skills, part biology, part X’s and O’s and part psycho-babble.  Interestingly, the blend worked and the book ends up an entertaining and interesting (if not particularly useful) read.  Sometimes a hard childhood makes a superstar, sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes “just” being superb at individual skills and techniques will elevate you to superstar status, most times it doesn’t.  Most times being a biological freak will get you into the league – even if it is not enough to make you a superstar.  And, it appears, sometimes superstars are cerebral.  Unfortunately, the book doesn’t confirm (or prove) ALL superstars are cerebral or that average and not-quite-superstar players are not equally cerebral (thoughtful about their game / skills).  And, because correlation does not prove causation, we can’t know if being cerebral makes a player a superstar.  Causation appears unlikely, though.
The book breaks down the “art” of the game into twelve particular skill sets / attributes the author wants to describe, including: “killer instinct”, pure shooting, free throws, defense, rebounding, blocking shots and being big.  There are five other specifics, but these (listed) are representative of the book.  Each chapter uses interviews with one or two active players – active as of the time of writing or the decade immediately prior – (2009 or the 1990’s) to relate the star to the author’s proposed “art“.  Through first person interviews and interviews with teammates and coaches, we get a feel for what makes the “superstars” truly super.  It turns out: great genes, desire, practice, coaching and attention to detail, and luck are all it takes to be great.  (Sarcasm: “WHO would have guessed?”)
So, is the book any good and was it worth my time reading it?  Yes, and yes.  The author played basketball at a much lower level and what clearly comes across is his love for the game and his feelings (not so subtle) that, “If only…”  This is a feeling which almost everyone who has seriously participated in any sport can relate to – particularly if you too “loved” your sport.
Final recommendation: strong recommendation.  I tend to read books (history, sports, biographies and science books) to scratch a particular itch.  While I can’t say I learned anything generally about sport or basketball, or anything specifically about skills and techniques in this book, I did thoroughly enjoy reading about the players and their views on their skills and sport.  Sometimes, just reading about passion for a subject is enough to make a subject more interesting than the book about the subject itself really ought to be.  It’s the difference between “love for the game” and diagrams of X’s and O’s.  This book scratches the first itch, even if it pretty much ignores the second.  I got the book at Half-Priced Books for $2.  Well, worth the cost and the time – particularly if you like hoops.  (Unashamedly, I do!)
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On This Day In:
2017 The Voice Of Experience
2016 Who And When
2015 Change Process
2014 What Is Still Possible
2013 Strength Is There
2012 Beyond Reasonable Doubt
2011 Celebrating Values
2010 Is it just me, or is it suddenly dark around here?
Dance!

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My daughter (Sarah) had a take your pet to work day, today.  She borrowed Shiva.  So, we had no dog walk this morning.
I made up for it by hitting the asphalt.  I got out and jogged (slogged) 2 miles in 30 minutes.  Yes.  I know.  Pretty slow.  But given my weight and other health factors, I’m quite pleased.  I started like gang-busters last December, but I thought I’d broken my left foot (stress fracture) and had to stop in mid-January.  Turns out it was “only” a bit of arthritis and it seems there is nothing to be done about it.  The podiatrist made me up some shoe / arch inserts, but all they did was make my feet hurt like I’d been beaten with a cane.  And that was after only a 30 minute walk to the pool.  I tried the inserts again a few days later, but they were agony almost immediately (literally within steps).  I haven’t worn them since.
So, between the 2 miles and the 60 minutes of treading water, I’m feeling pretty tired.  Healthy tired, but tired.  Now I just have to see if I can keep it up.
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On This Day In:
2017 Living Memory
2016 December
2015 That’s Gotta Leave A Scar
It’s All About Me (…Not!)
2014 Bull’s-Eye Next
2013 Change ÷ Time
2012 High Anxiety
2011 To Be, Do
2010 In the Arena…
Not An Island, Today…

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Chasing Perfection: The Principles Behind Winning Football the De La Salle Way”  (2015©)  —  book review
Today’s book review is for “Chasing Perfection” written by Bob Ladouceur with Neil Hayes.  The book is about coaching American Football at the high school level.  Ladouceur was the head coach of the varsity football team at De La Salle High School here in Concord, California.  His teams are the owners of the all-time longest winning streak in high school history (151 wins between 1992 and 2004).  To put that into some perspective, the next longest streak is 109 games!
There are lots of different types of sports books.  There are coach and player biographies.  There are league and team histories.  There are greatest games, greatest championships and greatest dynasties.  My favorites are those which discuss – in depth – schemes and techniques (in any sport).  I enjoy them because you get a chance to learn the why’s and how’s of the game which then allows you to see and understand why something is working as it is happening on the field (or court).  As such a book, this is perhaps the best book I have ever read about football – specifically, football techniques.
This is not really an “X’s” and “O’s” play diagram type of book.  It IS a “we want the tackle to have his inside foot here, his outside foot there, four to six inches back and heel no more than one inch off the ground, with this much weight on one hand” book.  That, literally, is the detail provided in the explanations in this book.  And, I love it!!
I haven’t been this excited about reading a football book — WHILE reading the football book — since I was in high school and just learning how to play.  Back then, I read a book on defensive football written by Dick Butkus and another book with chapters on various players and I was completely enthralled by Raymond Berry at wide receiver.  Berry is NFL Films #36 greatest players of all time and Butkus is, well, Butkus.  I learned more from that book and that chapter than I have from a host of other books I’ve read about the sport of football – at every level.  And this book is as good as if not better than both of those.
Every part of organizing and building a team is covered: offense, defense, special teams, nutrition, weight training, scouting opponents, game planning.  You name it.  It’s here.  Now, realistically, is it encyclopedic?  No.  But, then it’s less than 300 pages.  If you want a book with “X’s” and “O’s”, this isn’t the book.  But you can find dozens of those which still won’t add up to what you’ll learn from the reading (and re-reading) of this book.
Final recommendation: VERY highly recommended.  Not only did this book explain things I didn’t know about, it also explained the reasons why some things I used to do instinctively actually worked.  This book is so good, I would recommend it to anyone who wants to coach any sport at any level.  It is that good…
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On This Day In:
2017 We Can Figure This Out
2016 Just Enough
2015 Bourne Bond
Springs Eternal
2014 Brains First
2013 Not Listening Anymore
2012 At Your Marks!
2011 We Are Not Alone
Underlying Rationality
2010 Is the Obama Administration Failing?
In Other Words…
Quite Please!
In A Hostage Situation…
Are We Done Yet?
In Order…
Flip-flopping…
Proof of Choice…
On “Leading” A Democracy To War…
Actually, It’s All About Me…

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Nothing But Net: Just Give Me The Ball And Get Out Of The Way” (1994©)  —  book review
Today’s book review is for “Nothing But Net“, written by Bill Walton with Gene Wojciechowski.  It is a quasi-autobiographical book stringing together a long list of anecdotes and opinions about life, music (Walton is a major fan of The Grateful Dead band) and basketball.  By “quasi-” I mean, the authors leave out large blocks of personal information about Walton’s life.  As such, it’s “curious” to exclude, but I guess that’s why “personal” information is also called “private” information.  Some of the topics are hinted at, but no real information is provided.
Examples are:
1) he thanks his parents for how they raised him, but doesn’t say anything about “how” they raised him.
2) he mentions his four sons and his wife, but doesn’t say his “wife” is his “current” wife and not the mother of his children.  Actually, he says nothing about wife one, how they met or why they divorced.
3) he says he is constantly questioned about Patty Hearst and drug use, but doesn’t explain why he is asked about them. And, (to me, most significantly)
4) on a less personal note, he talks about basketball skills like footwork and angles, but doesn’t offer the slightest hints on any of his insights.  I guess he is saving that information for another book.
Having said all of the above, before I continue this review I need to offer a “full disclosure”: I grew up watching Bill Walton and UCLA.  I then missed most of his professional career while I was in the Army, attending college, and subsequently lost interest in professional sports.  At this point, I was only following the Forty Niners and / or only watching championship series (World Series, NBA Finals, Final Four, etc).  One of my most vivid teenage memories of sports was watching UCLA destroy Memphis State in the Final Four – where Walton scored on 21 of 22 shots from the field and had 44 points by himself.  Another was watching Walton face a four on one fast break where he blocked three shots (my recollection is by three different players, but I could be wrong about that), then got the rebound after the third block.  That game was against one of the Oregon teams (as I recall), but the opponent was kind of irrelevant.  The point was he stopped the fast break all by himself by blocking THREE shots!  Needless to say, I thought he was a “heroic” figure.  I can’t honestly say he was “my” hero, only that it was the kind of thing you see VERY rarely in your lifetime.  A bit like Secretariat winning the Belmont by 31 lengths (pulling away) or Bob Beamon crushing the world record in the long jump at the 1968 Olympics by over 21 inches.  Anyway, my wife and I were shopping in a charity shop we support (ARF Thrift Store – ARF = Animal Rescue Foundation) and I found this book for $.50.  So, I snapped it up and dove right in and began reading it that night.
In other words, I am biased about the author and was already predisposed to “like” this book if it was at all interesting or well written.  It is — mostly — both.
The tone is very conversational, which I like.  The topic is sports (basketball), which I like.  And, the analysis which is offered (other players from that era – up to 1993) is interesting.  It’s interesting because Walton identifies some of the players he feels are truly “great” and explains why.  It also lists some with potential greatness and lists some of the things they need(ed) to do to become great.  Finally, the book lists some players who Walton feels are good but not great and (mostly) covers why they are not “really” great – in his opinion.  As some of the players from all three groups have ultimately ended up in the Basketball Hall of Fame (HOF), we have a chance to look back and analyze Walton’s opinions for their accuracy / validity.  The three I found the most interesting were Michael Jordon – criticized for his early retirement after three consecutive championships (MJ went off to try professional baseball and then returned for three more NBA championships); Patrick Ewing, who is criticized for not having a mid-range shot / game.  Ewing developed a mid-range shot and is now in the HOF.  And, the third player I found interesting was Charles Barkley, who Walton more or less calls a cry-baby who always tries to shift the blame for losses onto other teammates.  Barkley is also in the HOF.
On the self-reflection side, Walton is also hard on himself.  He pretty much admits to being a pain in the ass as a teammate, which he attributes to wanting so badly to win EVERY time he went on the court.  He also spends a lot of time (repeatedly) saying how much he loves / loved the game of basketball and how it was his refuge for all of his teen and most of his early adult years.  As an aside, I’ve mostly known Walton as a loquacious basketball color-man / announcer, who tended to have an opinion about most everything and was happy to share it with everyone.  As it turns out, Walton suffered from “severe” stuttering until after he retired, which he feels he is now trying to make up for by over-talking.  He acknowledges his diarrhea of the mouth and handles it with a bit of self-deprecation, which I found surprisingly and refreshingly honest.  In the end, what really comes across is Walton’s joy in both playing the game and for living life to the fullest.
Final recommendation: strong recommendation.  You won’t really learn much about basketball skills from this book, which is kind of what I was hoping for (a little).  You will get a snapshot of the sport of basketball – college circa 1970 to 1993 – and professional (NBA) from mid-1970’s to 1993, with an emphasis on players and personalities.  If you are a Walton fan (I still am), watched college or NBA basketball during this time frame, or you’re just interested in some NBA history, I think you’ll really enjoy reading this book.  I know I did.
If just reading the book isn’t enough for you, you can find loads of videos about Bill Walton on YouTube.  You can also find loads of his analysis and commentaries.
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On This Day In:
2017 Just Because
2016 As Close As They Can Get
2015 And So I Blog
2014 Take Flight
2013 Contributing Joy
2012 More Than A Race
2011 Institutionalized Leadership

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