The SKINS Game Finally Met Its Match

“There are no new ideas in television. Just better execution of old ideas.”

Don Ohlmeyer

 

The great producer Don Ohlmeyer created a made for television golf competition that took the world by storm and captured the imagination of sports fans, not just golf fans. It was called The SKINS Game and it made its debut on Thanksgiving weekend in 1983. Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Gary Player played in that first match that saw each hole worth a predetermined amount of money. Gary Player ended up winning the most “skins” and $170,000.

 

Ohlmeyer’s creation was an instant success. During the next twenty plus years golf’s best players and biggest names participated. All the greats from Arnold to Zoeller with Nicklaus, Trevino, Stewart, Strange, Faldo, Daly, Norman, Couples, and more in the mix. Tiger played three times (and never won) while Freddie played in more (13) and won more money ($3,515,500) than anybody else. The players wore microphones, traded verbal jabs, holed shots (Trevino made one of golf’s most famous holes-in-one in 1987), missed putts, and had a ball. We had a ball right along with them.

 

I was fortunate enough to be a part of the production team for four of them (1990-1993). Curtis Strange won the first one I worked beating Nick Faldo in a playoff. The late, great Payne Stewart won the next three. I was also there for the LPGA Skins and the Senior Skins Games. I tell a number of stories about those days in my memoir, Cover Me Boys, I’m Going In (Tales of the Tube from a Broadcast Brat). You can get a copy through http://www.keithhirshland.com

 

They played The Skins Game from 1983 until 2008. Like with most things that hang around past their sale by date people started losing interest in the early 2000’s. Tiger gave the franchise a shot in the arm for two of those late years (’04 & ’05) but when Fred Funk won in 2005, Stephen Ames was victorious in 2006 AND 2007, and K.J. Choi grabbed the most cash in 2008 the die was cast and SKINS was sunk. Despite spewing oil at the end like a Clint Bower NASCAR Ford The SKINS Game, that Ohlmeyer masterpiece, was the gold standard of all the “silly season” golf events. I say was because then May 24, 2020 and The Match II  happened.

 

There had been an original The Match in 2018 but it was a doze bowl. It was also original slated to be televised via pay-per-view. The premise was simple Tiger Woods would take on Phil Mickelson for the staggering sum of NINE MILLION DOLLARS at the mysterious Shadow Creek Golf Course in Las Vegas, Nevada. Must watch TV right? But inherently there were problems, the biggest being Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Tiger was almost 43,  had won a total of ONE tournament in five years, and was months away from his remarkable 2019 Masters victory. Phil was even longer in the tooth at 48 and also had posted one win in five seasons. Needless to say, at the time, both appeared miles past their prime. And it showed. The golf was sketchy, the banter almost non existent, and the feeling of golfers and golf fans almost universally was one of disappointment.

 

Then 2020 said “hold my beer”. Covid19 forced the cancellation of March Madness, the postponement of the Summer Olympic Games, and generally tossed a box of grenades into the bucket of all sports. So people were starving for something live to watch when May rolled around. Golf folks tried with a “skins game” featuring Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy playing against Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff at rarely seen Seminole Golf Club. It was fine, a valiant attempt, raising more than three million dollars for charity but when the best thing you can say about a golf match was that it was “cool” to see PGA TOUR players carrying their own clubs how good could something like that actually be? We found out the very next Sunday.

 

The Match II was a rematch of sorts with Woods and Mickelson reentering the ring. Sure they were even older than before but this time, at least, Tiger had another green jacket and his fifteenth major championship. He also had a partner this time around. They both did. Two of the greatest NFL quarterbacks to ever play the game were part of the festivities. Tiger was teamed with two time Super Bowl Champion Peyton Manning while Mickelson would partner with six-time champ Tom Brady. The stakes were higher too. This time $10 Million was the starting point and challenges and donations would kick that number up from there (Eventually the broadcast raised an even $20 Million for Covid19 relief charities). Gone was the pay-per-view platform replaced by the family of Turner Broadcasting networks. Since it was on Turner we were also treated to Turner’s announcers; Brian Anderson, Charles Barkley, Trevor Immelmann, Amanda Balionis and a guest appearance from Justin Thomas. It was the number four player in the world’s maiden voyage with a microphone and he did a terrific job. Having the respect of the four participants as well as being Tiger’s good friend and a member at host club Medalist didn’t hurt. And THAT was it. Five announcers. And it was more than enough. In fact it probably would have been too much, just like every other try at this, if it wasn’t for the efforts of the guys in the truck.

 

Technically this broadcast was a marvel. Too bad inclement weather (a full on downpour to start the match and another squall on the back nine) robbed them, and us, of a technically perfect show but what we got was still damn good. The producer was Jeff Neubarth and the director was Steve Beim. Full disclosure Steve is one of my best friends and we’ve been that as well as colleagues for thirty years. He’s great at what he does, I’d say the best in the business, and it doesn’t hurt that he learned his trade at Don Ohlmeyer’s side . Steve was a part of, if not the director for, dozens of those amazing early SKINS Games. He knows the value of technology  but more important he understands the value of getting out of the way and letting his announcers know they should do the same. That’s what happened Sunday.

 

Neubarth also produced the first Match and he would be the first to tell you there were a million things he would have done differently. It looked like he did them all this time around. It helps that he wasn’t burdened with way too many announcers, all trying to prove there was a reason for them to be there. He was luckier this go round with Brian Anderson as the traffic cop, Trevor Immelmann as the analyst and Charles Barkley as Charles Barkley. Neubarth and Beim handled them all beautifully but my guess is, with the possible exception of Sir Charles, there wasn’t much handling that had to be done. Anderson is the consummate play-by-play guy and Immelmann (who is just in the infancy of his broadcast career) is a quick study.

 

The players wore microphones (also a staple of these hit and giggle events) but this time Beim added a twist by also having them wear earpieces. That meant they could not only talk they could listen to who might be talking to them. More often than not that was Barkley who was tremendous. You could argue that Charles (or Chuck as all the world class athletes called him) ignited a fire under Tom Brady. The new Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback was having a miserable time for the first six holes. He barely hit a good shot let alone a fairway or a green. Then Barkley started giving him shit, in his ear, on live tv. Offering up at one point $50,000 of his own money if Brady could hit a par three green in regulation. When Tom didn’t Charles said he should have offered him the money to “keep the ball on the planet.” The smack talk didn’t stop into the next fairway. After Brady hit his tee shot into the hazard on number 7 Barkley told Tom, he wanted a piece of him on the golf course. Suddenly a guy who couldn’t find the clubface became the guy who had won six Super Bowls. Brady stood over his fourth in the fairway, swung, made great contact and sent the ball flying toward the green. It landed just past the hole, spun back and went in for a four. Beim cut back to Brady who said simply, “suck on that Chuck.” It was the moment of The Match II and I fear if it had been any other announce team or production team we never would have heard Brady say what he said.

 

It was an entertaining watch, from beginning to end. The guest appearances were short, sweet, and meaningful including Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. He was invited on the show because he is a “Wheels Up (one of the sponsors) spokesperson” but while he was there he pledged to donate a hundred thousand meals every time a player hit his tee shot on the par three they were about to play within 8 feet. Brady did, Phil did, Manning did, Tiger did not. 300,000 meals for needy families thanks to the broadcast and Russell Wilson. The best technology addition besides the earpieces was the “Cart Cam Technology” another Beim idea. Cameras were mounted on each player’s golf cart so we could see and hear them as they sped down the fairway to their tee shots or traversed the space from green to tee. It turned out to be some of the show’s best audio.

 

Now the bad news… and there is only this when it comes to the bad news. Sunday’s fantastic broadcast has spawned an endless string of “Who Should Play Next” suggestions on social media. The answer is simple. NOBODY. At least for a year. That was the beauty of The SKINS Game, the vision of Ohlmeyer. Every year lets take the four best, or most interesting, or most accomplished, players and get them together. So lets give the masterpiece that was The Match II some time to hang in golf television’s Louvre. Let’s continue to appreciate it for what it was and not get out our paint by number sets and try to recreate the “next” one. We don’t need the next one yet.

 

 

 

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Happy Anniversary Golf Channel

“I ain’t here for a long time. I’m here for a good time”

George Straight

Twenty-five years ago today, January 17,1995, Joseph E. Gibbs and Arnold Palmer flipped a big ‘ol golf ball switch and the Golf Channel became a real life, bona fide, television network. I was there.

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I was hired in October of 1994 to be the first, and at the time, only producer for the channel’s live domestic tournament coverage. I’ve written about it a bunch; in fact I wrote a whole darn book about my life in television and a lot of it was stories about my time at The Golf Channel. Go buy it and read it. You’ll like it.

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People, so called experts, said a 24 hour, 7 day a week, 365 days a year, TV network devoted to golf would NEVER work. Never. Ever. My bosses at ESPN in October of 1994 said it too. Clearly they were wrong. There are a bunch of folks in Orlando, Florida celebrating today, and rightfully so, but by most accounts only FIVE of them have been employed by the all golf network since that amazing day in 1995. FIVE. I was there 18 of the 25 years, including day one of year one and spent the last couple days racking my brain trying to remember the names of the brave, talented, slightly to mostly crazy, wonderful, folks who were there with me.

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My list doesn’t include the freelance folks our live tournament team hired to put the PGA TOUR, The Nike TOUR and the LPGA on the air. Karel Schliksbier, Emmett Loughran, Chuck Whitfield, and Daisy Phipps hold a special place in my heart. So do Donna Caponi, Denny Schreiner, Jim Nelford, Gary Smith and Kay Cockerill.

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The names of the full-timers come from a 64 year old’s memory. I know I forgot a bunch of folks and probably added one or two who weren’t actually there on 1/17/95 but the point is this… These are the people who deserve to be celebrated today. These are the people, in no particular order, who took a chance, believed in a dream, worked their tails off to make it a reality, and should sit back today – 25 years later- and smile.

Joe Gibbs, Bob Greenway, Gary Stevenson, Mike Whelan, Del Wood, Chris Murvin, Matt Scalici, Peter Gordon, Jeff Gershengorn, Jeff Hymes, Mark Friedman, Chris Lincoln, Sue Heard, Brian Hammons, Kraig Kann, Lynda Cardwell, Duane Ballen, Tom Nettles, Paul Farnsworth, Lori Dawson, Mark Oldham, David Graham, Lee Siegel, Ken Garren, Peter Kesler, Kirsten Sheen, Lara Ibarra, Chris Sullivan, Philip Hurst, Leslie Williams, David Manougian, David Kamens, Ben Lord, Gene Pizzolato, Tim McClelland, Dana Parker, Josh Schwartz, Lee “Nate” Rosenblatt, Marty Jenkins, Tomi McElroy, Chris Flynn, Dave Desmond, Mason Seay, Brett Bowman, Mike Ritz, Bob Van Dorn, Scott Van Pelt, Pam Cooke, Mark Lye, Jennifer Mills, George White, Bill “Action” Jackson, Chris DeCelle, Daryl Woody, Joy Hennenberger, Kevin Plate, Robby Roberts, Eric Saperstein, Bob “Swanny” Swanson, Drake Schunk, John Gibbs, Emilio San Martin, Rusty Billingsly, Jay Kossoff, Chris Olivere, Carol Dotson, Kenny Taht, Dawn Hiatt, Pat Devlin, Dana Parker, Steve Johnson.

I’m sorry to those who I forgot. It wasn’t intentional.

Congratulations Golf Channel on Twenty-five amazing years. Here’s to the next 25.

With respect,

Keith

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Another Baseball Season in the Books

“Love is the most important thing in the world. But baseball is pretty good too.”

Yogi Berra

 

The 2019 Major League Baseball season is over for me. It “officially” ended on the evening of October 9th when the Washington Nationals eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers in game 5 of the National League Division Series. The season didn’t end in the 10th inning of that game because I’m a Dodgers fan. It ended, thanks to Howie Kendrick’s grand slam, because I’m a San Francisco Giants fan.

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It was ingrained in me as a young man that we Giants fans have two jobs. Number one is cheer for the orange and black. Number two, or more accurately number 1A, is root as hard as you can against the Dodgers. My wife has scolded me on numerous occasions that that attitude is an undersirable one. “You should never root against any one, or any team”, she says. Bless her heart. Any self respecting SF Giants fan knows that the Bums that travelled west from Brooklyn are more than deserving of our hopes for their failure.

 

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It hasn’t been all that easy. I was born in 1955 and became a lifelong Giants fan on May 28, 1957. That was the day that MLB owners approved the move for both The New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. But there were conditions. Both teams had to move or neither team could. The Giants committed first, hosting a farewell party at a game on September 29. The Dodgers followed suit nine days later. The rivalry came west with the teams. We had just moved to Reno and San Francisco was the closest city with an MLB team.

 

Before the move (their’s and ours) The Giants had won 4 World Championships and the Dodgers owned one. That changed when the Brooklyn Bums became the LA Bums. They won the World Series in 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981, and 1988. And we suffered through them all. Then a strange thing happened, LA stopped winning. Don’t get me wrong, they won plenty of games, division titles, and National League pennants but the World Series well ran dry after Kirk Gibson dipped into it for his “I can’t believe what I just saw” home run at Dodger Stadium. It wasn’t all good news for us Giants fans either. Between 1988 and 2002 we reached the World Series twice as many times as the Dodgers (2-0) but lost both. One in spectacular fashion as the Oakland A’s swept the Giants four games to none in 1989 in a series that included an earthquake. The other was in heartbreaking fashion as our boys, with the greatest home run hitter of all time Barry Bonds, lost both game 6 and game 7 in Anaheim to the “rally monkey” Angels. Then 2010 happened.

 

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That year, then two years later, and two more years after that Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum, Brandon Crawford and dozens more became heroes. Legends even as improbably our san Francisco Giants won three world championships in 5 years! And the official World Series trophy tally became NY/SF 7 and Brooklyn/LA 6. So there! As I’ve already stated the Dodgers are good at winning games and division titles. In fact they’ve won seven of those in a row compiling a won loss record of 671- 464. But to me, and no doubt to them, the only numbers in recent history that matter are 3-0 (as in RINGS BABY! And while the faces of San Francisco Giants success have been thoise of Timmy, and MadBum, and Buster, and others the lone face of Los Angeles’s delicious defeats has been Clayton Kershaw. He’s one of the game’s best regular season pitchers, a multiple Cy Young Award winner and the ace of their staff. But he just can’t get it done when it matters and he came through (as far as we were concerned) again Wednesday night.

 

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The night the 2019 baseball season ended for him and me.

 

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The Solheim Cup and Me; A Love Story

” There are only 3 rules in sports television. Get on the air clean, get off the air clean, and get all your commercials in.”

Don Ohlmeyer

 

It’s time for the Solheim Cup. Those biennial golf matches that pit the best women golfers the United States of America has to offer against their counterparts for Great Britain and Ireland. It’s a thrilling, fun, competitive weekend of golf that means different things to different people. I’ve enjoyed it for as long as I can remember but 16 years ago it held a far different meaning for me.

 

My personal Solheim Cup story in some ways began with the tragic events of September 11, 2001. That day changed the world in a major way and in a much less significant, and much more meaningless way it changed golf’s “team cup” formula. At the time the Ryder Cup was played on an every other odd year rotation and the 2001 version was set for September 28th in 2001. The horrific events on the 11th made that impossible. The PGA TOUR and the R&A decided to postpone the 34th playing of the Ryder Cup until the following September switching the event from odd to even years. That meant the Solheim Cup would have to change too. But instead of calling off the competition for what would be three years the LPGA and its European counterpart decided to play in 2002 as scheduled but then change to the current odd years format in 2003. Meaning there would be back-to-back Solheim Cup matches.

 

Something else happened in 2002; David Manougian became president of The Golf Channel. That mattered in any number of ways but one of them was the way the Solheim Cup was televised. Manougian had been with the channel since the beginning as one of its best, most enterprising, and creative sales people. Early on he brought PING in as one of the channel’s “charter sponsors” and made sure he cultivated that relationship. During the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003 that cultivation bore fruit in the form of the Solheim Cup. The matches had been broadcast by NBC but nobody was particularly happy with the arrangement. NBC relegated the women’s version of the Ryder Cup to minimal hours, all on tape delay. Manougian knew that wasn’t good enough for the Solheim family OR golf fans so he went to the Solheim’s, on behalf of the world’s first and only 24 hour television network devoted to golf, with compliments, kindness, a large bucketful of television hours, and a promise. If the Solheim Cup came to The Golf Channel the network would televise it live, from beginning to end, no matter where in the world the competition took place. In fact, the March 2003 press release promised 27 hours of LIVE golf coverage from the Bareseback Golf and Country Club in Sweden as well as prime time rebroadcasts the same day. Clearly it was an offer they couldn’t refuse, and they didn’t. And I’ll give you one guess as to who’s job it would be to put the production on the air.

 

So we put together a small, talented production team and headed to Sweden. 2003 was the first of three Solheim Cups that I produced for The Golf Channel and each produced memories, both good and bad, that I will never forget. To keep this under a million words I’ll mention one from each…

 

2003

The American team that year consisted of Juli Inkster, Rosie Jones, Beth Daniel, Michelle Redman, Laura Diaz, Cristie Kerr, Meg Mallon, Angela Stanford, Kelly Robbins, Wendy Ward, Heather Bowie, and Kelli Kuehne. Those 12 talented players were captained by Patty Sheehan. The Hall of Fame player who had, the year before, led the American squad to a 15 1/2 to 12 1/2 victory at the Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minnesota. This time, as I mentioned, Sheehan would be captain in Sweden, home to European team members Annika Sorenstam, Sophie Gustafson, Carin Koch, and their team captain Catrin Nilsmark. It would be the first time the matches, on foreign soil, would be played outside Europe.

 

The Euros got off to a hot start on Friday morning winning three matches and halving the fourth for a commanding 3 1/2 to 1/2 lead. The U S teams played better in the afternoon winning 3 of 4 which meant the Europeans led the matches by 1 point heading into Saturday. The Americans once again faltered in the morning as Europe won 2 matches and halved the other two. So when both teams won 2 matches in the afternoon it meant Europe led 9 1/2 to 6 1/2 heading into Sunday singles.

Janice Moodie started the day off right for team Europe on Sunday beating Kelli Kuehne but Juli Inkster got that point right back crushing Koch. That ended up really being the last bit of good news for captain Sheehan. Sophie Gustafson and Iben Tinning won the next two and even though Redman beat Ana Belen Sanchez when Annika Sorenstam took care of Angela Stanford in match number 7 the Europeans were just one point away from winning the Solheim Cup.

The production was going well as we switched from shot to shot, match to match, bringing all the important moments into living rooms all over the U.S.. We knew we were close to the end and moments after Sorenstam won her match, Catriona Matthew (Europe’s captain this year) won the 17th hole of her match against Rosie Jones to cap a 3 and 1 victory and clinch the cup. When Sorenstam won the Swedish crowd, understandably, went nuts and the roars were heard all over the golf course. Those roars got even louder when Matthew clinched it. It was over. We knew it was over. Everybody on the golf course knew it was over. And that was when the shit hit the fan.

There were still five matches, five meaningless matches, left on the golf course and as I gazed at the monitors in our makeshift production “trailer” it was clear none of the 10 players in those five matches knew what to do. Fans and players were streaming out onto the course to congratulate and console competitors and teammates. Hugs were given, tears or joy and sadness were wiped away and shoulders were shrugged. Our microphones caught Meg Mallon and Laura Diaz wondering aloud whether they were supposed to continue playing or simply walk in. I dispatched our intrepid on course announcer Kay Cockerill to an official to find out the answer. All while the celebration raged on. It might have been the most confusing moments of television of which I had ever been a part. All the while the words of the great Don Ohlmeyer rang in my ears, I knew I had to get all my commercials in (something that would haunt me 2 years later). In the end some played on, others didn’t. In one of the days most anticipated and best singles matches Meg Mallon and Laura Davies were All Square through 17 holes. Because the cup had already been decided Mallon, in a wonderful gesture of sportsmanship, conceded the final hole to Davies giving her a 1 up win and her 16th point in her 13 year Solheim Cup career.

 

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2005

Back on United States soil at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Indiana. Catrin Nilsmark was back to captain the Europeans and the great Nancy Lopez was charged with leading the American squad. Lopez had played in the very first Solheim Cup in 1990 but, despite a Hall of Fame career and 48 wins, she hadn’t played in another one. This would be her first and only stint as captain and she chose our dear friend, and Golf Channel analyst since day one, Donna Caponi as her assistant. New to the team in 2005 were Christina Kim, Natalie Gulbis and Paula Creamer. Back on the team was Pat Hurst who played for the American side in 1998, 2000, and 2002. They were all looking to help Team USA win back the cup.

It didn’t start well as once again the Europeans came out on top in the Friday morning matches winning 3 of the 4 available points. The teams split 2 and 2 in the afternoon. But on Saturday morning the USA won 3 of 4 points to tie the overall competition at 6 apiece. Another split in the afternoon meant we headed into Sunday singles all tied up at 8. It had been 2 great days of television and we knew we had a barn burner to come.

On Sunday The U.S. came out like a house on fire winning the first 5 matches. Things were proceeding fast and furiously in the truck as points were won and matches conceded. Of the 5, Laura Diaz, Paula Creamer and Christina Kim won in blowouts while Inkster and Hurst won their matches 2 and 1. That put the USA within 1 and a half points of reclaiming the cup and we started covering matches with that in mind. Sorenstam beat Beth Daniel but then Natalie Gulbis took care of Maria Hjorth and suddenly the USA was a half a point from victory.

One look at the scoreboard told us that half a point was likely to come from Meg Mallon’s match against the 2004 Women’s British Open Champion Karen Stupples so that is where we concentrated. It was the penultimate match and it went back and forth. Everybody in the truck was caught up in the excitement, including yours truly, so when Mallon clinched it by winning the 17th hole we stayed with the celebration for a while before going to break. During that commercial the associate director, the person responsible, besides me, for keeping track of how many commercials for which I was responsible informed me how many I had left. It didn’t take long for me to realize that, with only one match left on the golf course, I had one more commercial on my docket than I had segments with which to pay.

For the first, and only time in my career, despite getting on the air clean and off the air clean, I hadn’t managed to “get all my commercials in”. It’s a failure that nags at me still.

 

2007

Back to Sweden we went and this time it was cold, wet, rainy, and miserable. At one point it was so windy that we had to move our announcers (Brian Hammons and Dottie Pepper) out of their broadcast position and into a trailer that we turned into a makeshift announce booth.

This was my most memorable Solheim Cup by a mile because of three words.

“Chokin freakin dogs”.

The whole story is relayed in detail in my memoir, Cover Me Boys, I’m Going In (Tales of the Tube from a Broadcast Brat). It’s all there in print, starting on page 449, in a chapter titled “Dottie gets bit by a freakin dog”. Get it. Read it. Along with a bunch of other stories about Golf Channel’s earliest days. It’s still a painful enough memory for me to not want to tell it again here. I’ll only say that I said something in Dottie’s ear, she repeated it a little differently out loud, a full EIGHT seconds after we were supposed to be in commercial. She paid for my indiscretion, never saying a word or throwing me under the bus, for years.

 

So I look forward to watching my friends Jerry Foltz, Kay Cockerill, Karen Stupples and Grant Boone on television working another Solheim Cup on Golf Channel. I’ll watch it knowing another friend, Beth Hutter Murvin (the first and, to this day, only female producing live golf) will be capably handling things from the truck. I’ll do it knowing the history behind the matches, how the channel came to be involved, and remembering with a tip of my cap all the great players and television people who have made it such a wonderful event.

 

Thanks for reading this. You can pick up my book, Cover Me Boys, I’m Going In at Amazon or at http://www.barnesandnoble.com it’s published through Beacon Publishing Group, @Beaconpubgroup on twitter. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m One Lucky Guy

“Sometimes the best way to appreciate things is to be without them for a while.”

Anonymous.

 

 

I went to a golf tournament last week. No big deal. I’ve attended hundreds, heck maybe thousands, of golf tournaments in my life. Majors, PGA TOUR events, LPGA Tour events, the “minor” leagues, Solheim Cups, Ryder Cups, Ganter Cups, UBS Warburg Cups, United States Amateurs and NCAA championships. But this was a big deal, not because it was the 101st PGA Championship but because it reminded me how truly lucky I have been in my professional life.

 

I was dragged out of retirement by one of my best friends, and one of the best sports announcers on the planet, Brian Anderson. I worked with Brian from 2003 until 2007 at The Golf Channel until he took a job with the Milwaukee Brewers and became the superstar we all knew he would become. Because of the schedule change that saw the PGA move to May, Ernie Johnson (who normally serves as the play-by-play guy for TNT) was still working the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals. So BA got the call and, in turn, he called me.

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He was in need of a research/stats person. A job that had a different name two decades ago, in less politically correct days. I, of course, said yes. At Bethpage State Park I saw dozens of folks with whom I’d worked and who I became aquainted thanks to my decades of working in golf television. There was Frank, Sir Nick, Mags, Ewan, Rex, John, Dottie, BK, Lance, Billy K, Lewis, Randy, Swanny, Tracey, Grant, Schwartzy, Colt, Michael, Joe, Ned, Darryl, Clark, Will, Mallory, Mario, Kathy, Casey, Jeremy, Bob, Mark, Charlie, Dennis, Carl, along with so many more. And there were probably a hundred who I knew but wasn’t fortunate enough to run into this time. We hugged, caught up, said we missed each other, had a few laughs, and went our merry ways. I was struck by the fact that, despite the years we’d been apart, we were still family. I was also reminded of the old saying, “the older I get, the better I used to be.” Seriously I appreciated all the kind words hurled my way.

 

I also made a few new friends. Trevor, David, Craig, Matt, J.B., Luke, Marcus, Kristin, Heather, Cody, Chris, D.B., and more. My old friends know I am terrible at “keeping in touch”, these new ones will learn that soon enough and I’m hopeful they won’t think less of me. Believe me this laundry list of names and paragraphs of reminiscing has a point. And that point is be grateful, appreciate things while you have them, look at each day as a gift.

 

I recently connected with another old friend, a man for whom I have great affection and appreciation. He was a creative genius and used that talent to build the behemoth golf fans now know as Golf Channel. When I was 39 years and 10 months old, at the very beginning of that enterprise, he hired me and, in doing so, gave me the life for which I am so incredibly grateful today. Then in the early 2000’s, for reasons too complicated and lengthy to explain here, we took different paths. Me, being the famous non-communicator that I am, didn’t stay in touch. Never reached out. Never asked anyone, let alone him, how he was doing and what he was up to. It turns out he got sick. Really sick. Cancer sick. And I had no idea. But I do now. And while nothing can change what’s happened in the past we all can use that personal history to make tomorrow better. My friend is on the mend and we are checking in on one another more regularly these days. Believe me, I know I will slip and go months without so much as a “hey, how’s it going?”. But it won’t be years. Never again.

 

So thank you Brian Anderson. Thank you for thinking enough of me to entrust me with your “ear” again. This time for more than 20 hours of major championship television last week. And thank you for allowing me the opportunity to see all those old pals and, just as important, make some new ones. But most of all thank you for being my friend.

 

 

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A Most Memorable Win Brings Back Memories

Unforgettable in every way”

Irving Gordon

 

There are people out there, as I sit and write this, popping off (with little to no justification) that they “put The Golf Channel on the map”. I know better, I was there. And what I know is there are three folks responsible for what would become the most successful niche sports network in history.

 

Joseph E. Gibbs, whose idea the channel was.

Arnold Palmer, who gave it the concept gravitas and then strong-armed the PGA TOUR into believing in it.

And Tiger Woods.

That in no way means there weren’t talented people all over the building. Michael Whelan was a genius and made sure the network looked and “felt” top notch when the lights went on.

Matt Scalici litterally got us on the air making sure everything in the place, from an engineering standpoint, functioned perfectly.

 Now I also know The Golf Channel launched in January of 1995 and at the time Tiger still had two United States Amateur Championships to win. But that time, between when Joe and Arnold flipped the switch and Tiger turned pro, gave us, all of us at the channel, time to grow, to make mistakes, to find our way, and to establish a rhythm. Sure, it’s a billion dollar business, with millions of viewers, now but in 1995 it was anything but.

We had no idea who was watching, how many of them there were, or even how they were able to see us. And there were times when Mr. Gibbs honestly worried about how he was going to pay all of us. I wish I had a dime for every time I heard someone say, “you mean there’s a golf channel?” or “there’s really a tv station that only shows golf?” And believe it or not those questions, and more like them, were asked AT GOLF TOURNAMENTS! My answer was, “Yes there was” and there still is.

Yesterday I watched Tiger Woods win the Masters for the fifth time. It was his first Masters victory since 2005. I was happy for him and I was thrilled for the great game of golf. It also brought back amazing memories. In 1995, when The Golf Channel debuted, Tiger had not yet had his “hello world” moment but he was more than worth talking about. And that’s what The Golf Channel did. On the news shows, the instruction shows, and around the hallways and water coolers in our headquarters. And while they were all talking Tiger back in Orlando our team was out showing live golf all over the country.

Believe me I know that at some point in time there would have been some sort of golf television network. But not in 1995. Not without live golf tournaments to show and, again, not without Tiger Woods. Joe Gibbs, Robert Greenway, Gary Stevenson, Peter Gordon, and the rest of the executive team knew that too so they secured the U.S. broadcast rights to the European Tour and the LPGA. Then Joe, with Mr. Palmer, went to Ponte Vedra and convinced the powers that be there to let this brand new golf channel, with tens of dozens of viewers, broadcast what was then the Nike Tour. Then they convinced them to throw in the half a dozen PGA TOUR events that no other television network wanted. They were painfully aware that if the channel had any chance to succeed it had to spend most of the broadcast day showing live people hitting golf shots that mattered. Without that (see Back 9 Network) their Golf Channel or ANY golf channel had zero chance.

Through the years and through the magic of television we introduced golf fans to Stewart Cink and David Toms and Chad Campbell and Jimmy Walker and Pat Perez and Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson and Brandt Snedeker and Jason Day and oh so many more. And back in 1996 we met Tiger Woods.

He turned pro after winning his sixth straight USGA title and played in nine PGA TOUR events. Four of them were tournaments that were only televised on The Golf Channel. All four days. He played in Moline, IL and Endicott, NY and San Antonio, TX and Orlando, FL. During those events our team interviewed him more than a dozen times. Each time he was polite, friendly, punctual, and generous with his time. After rounds he came right out of the scorers tent and right to Donna Caponi or Gary Smith or Mark Lye and talked about his round. Before events began his people told our people where and when he would be available and he was there, where and when they said he would be. And he sat with us for as long as we needed him.

By contrast I had also once been part of a golf broadcast team tasked with interviewing Jack Nicklaus on several occasions. During one of those we waited 81/2 hours for him to show up. He and his team told us he’d do the interview at 8 AM and Nicklaus finally showed up at the appointed spot at 4:30 in the afternoon. Sadly, when it came to Jack back then that wasn’t unusual. But I digress.

In 1996 Tiger should have won in Illinois, on our air. He could have won in upstate New York a week later, on our air. And he finally DID win in Orlando, a month later, on our air. I hope I never forget the image of Tiger, Donna and Mickey and Minnie Mouse at the trophy presentation. Tiger was a great player. We knew, heck almost everybody knew, that. But few among us could have predicted the level of greatness he would, and will continue to, achieve. The Masters victories in 1997, and this one 22 years later, helped paint a clearer picture of that for everyone.

Fast forward those 22 years and Golf Channel is now a behemoth. Nobody questions its existence though some are still unclear about the network’s humble beginnings. And Tiger Woods is once again the toast of the town. So many memories that involve so many people are etched in my mind and the best part about April 14, 2019 is that I now know there are so many more to come.

 

Thanks for reading. I wrote a book about my life in television and my time at The Golf Channel. It’s titled, Cover Me Boys, I’m Going In (Tales of the Tube from a Broadcast Brat). Because of the great folks at Beacon Publishing Group it’s available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com and a number of other outlets. Grab a copy and enjoy the stories!

 

 

 

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The Most Overused and Least Effective Word in Sports Broadcastin

You’re unbelievable”

EMF

I spent the past week or so taking one for the team. I watched sports. A lot of sports. Several networks, dozens of games, different sports, probably close to a hundred announcers. It was all part of a grand experiment, research I’m sure that would have netted me unlimited dollars in grants had I the wherewithal to apply. The mission was simple; close my eyes (or not), open my ears, and then listen to how the use of words has become increasingly unimportant in American television sports broadcasting. Truth be told I was on the lookout (or more descriptively the “hearout”) for one word.

It was unbelievable. The word, not the experience.

I watched baseball, football (college and pro), hockey, gymnastics, golf (women’s and men’s), and basketball. I tuned to the ESPN family of networks, Golf Channel, The NFL Network, NBC, Fox, FS1, The Olympic Channel, NBCSN, ABC and NBA TV. I even dipped in to The SEC Network, The Longhorn Network and something called Eleven Sports. And there they were; young, old, men, women, former players, career broadcasters, home team announcers, unbiased professionals. Almost all (with only a couple exceptions) telling me at one time or another, during the course of the telecast, that this, that, or another, thing was “unbelievable!” One person, who many consider among the best in the business, said it in back to back sentences describing two different players. Another, less celebrated but equally continually employed, used the word twice in the SAME sentence. As I continued my research, with pen and paper in hand, I found announcers of every level, on each broadcast, of all the sports, said “unbelievable” 56 times. FIFTY SIX!

Between spurts of yelling at the screen like a mad man I made every effort to keep in mind there are top tier athletes, especially professional ones, who do little else but practice, perfect, and perform their craft for hours a day. Every day. So a centerfielder, jumping up, placing his glove in exactly the right spot, at exactly the right height, and robbing a hitter of a home run or a wide receiver, wearing sticky gloves, reaching out to grab a perfectly thrown spiral with one hand or a golfer holing out from a greenside bunker, or the fairway, or even from the tee box 210 yards from the hole are, in fact, among the MOST believable accomplishments.

Oxford states there are 171,476 English language words in current use. One fourth of those, it says, are adjectives. That’s approximately 43,000 words. One of those words is unbelievable. It’s a perfectly good word. It means, according to Webster, “too dubious or improbable to be believed” or “so remarkable to strain credulity.” Perfectly obvious definitions, neither of which applies to anything that happens on a field, course, court, or pitch.

It is painfully obvious, to anyone listening, that the new Monday Night Football play by play guy Joe Tessitore spent countless hours in front of a mirror practicing his, “On MONDAY (pause) NIGHT (pause) FOOTBALL toss to commercial. Had I been his producer I would have insisted instead that he spend some quality time, with both a dictionary and a thesaurus, getting reacquainted with the amazing, wondrous, descriptive, words in the English language. Take “unbelievable” for example. He would learn that for that one adjective there are almost a hundred words that could be used in its place. Astonishing, implausible, improbable, incredible, staggering, awesome, stunning, wonderful, astounding, breathtaking, fantastic, mind-blowing, outrageous, phenomenal, remarkable, spectacular, superb, terrific, freakish, unlikely, and ridiculous are just a few of them. I didn’t even get to phantasmagorical or preposterous.

My point is this: “unbelievable” is a positively horrible word to describe an accomplishment by an athlete. “Unbelievable” to whom? If you’re in a booth or along the sideline, or in the dugout and find yourself tempted to go to the “U” word just stop. If you must then please use the more believable, “I don’t believe it, him, her, that.” Jack Buck did it once to pretty good effect.

“A home run for Gibson! And the Dodgers have won the game 5-4. I don’t believe what I just saw!” That was 1988. A World Series, walk off, home run by a gimpy Kirk Gibson off Dennis Eckersley to keep LA’s world championship hopes alive. It is one of the most remembered, replayed, remarkable descriptions in sports broadcasting. Thank goodness Buck ended with it because the call started out much less memorably, “Gibson… swings and a fly ball to deep right field. This is gonna be a home run, unbelievable! A home run for Gibson.” I like to think, as good a broadcaster as Jack Buck was, he realized in the moment how silly that sounded so he corrected it. A better broadcasting moment came eight years earlier.

“Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” That was Al Michaels calling the USA/USSR hockey game at the 1980 Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York. It is one of the five most repeated and remembered calls in history. For my money it rivals, “The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant” after Bobby Thompson’s home run to beat the Dodgers, as number one. But can you imagine if Michaels was a lesser broadcaster and the call was something like, “Five seconds left in the game. USA beats the Russians! Unbelievable!” It makes me shudder. As a matter of fact Michaels game analyst that night, former goalie Ken Dryden, did blurt out the seemingly obligatory, completely nonsensical, word “Unbelievable” right after Michaels’s magic. Thank goodness nobody heard or remembers that.

I’m proud to say the announcers I had the pleasure to work with, train, and produce rarely, if ever, use this egregious adjective and on the rare occasion they do (and I’m listening) they hear about it from me. Many of the people who broadcast sports for a living are paid handsomely for the privilege. Wouldn’t it be nice if they made an effort to use their words?

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My New Masters Tradition

“A Tradition Unlike Any Other”

Jim Nantz

 

I have been watching The Masters on CBS ever since I can remember (and I can’t remember when I started). The first weekend in April always included the network’s coverage of the year’s first major for the men. Most years (weather permitting) those Saturdays and Sundays would start with a family round of golf at “The Shoe”, our beloved Washoe County Golf Course in Reno, Nevada. Through the years some combination of Mom, Dad, my older brother David, my younger brother Mark, and I would stride to the elevated tee on the municipal course’s first hole with varying degrees of excitement and anticipation. On many occasions the group was all five of us.

 

When I was young I played those rounds with the confidence of a kid who didn’t know any better. I whacked it around ‘The Shoe” with the absolute certainty that one day I would be playing Augusta National Golf Club on Masters Sunday. I also don’t remember the exact day that the “certainty” became far less indubitable but I do know it was before I started getting my butt whipped by Mark Lye, John Fought, and a hundred other guys in college tournaments. So my Masters experience was pretty much limited to watching the CBS coverage. And for a lot of those years I enjoyed it. When I started my professional career televising live professional tournaments at the network level, I started enjoying the CBS coverage a little less.

 

Thanks to the good folks in the green jackets at Augusta my enjoyment level returned a few years ago with the introduction of the various on-line, streaming, services the club offers. Featured Groups, Amen Corner and Holes 15 and 16 specifically. Because of that, my Apple TV, and my 60 inch SONY Smart TV, I watched very little of the 2018 Masters on CBS and didn’t miss a thing! In fact I would venture a guess that I saw more of the action live than you did if you were watching the traditional way.

 

There’s a terrific website http://www.classictvsports.com that, for the past several years has tracked the number of shots played by each golfer during the major championships. According to the data, this year CBS showed 1.39 shots per minute during the time they were on the air. That’s more than any other major since the group started watching in 2014 except last year’s Masters during which they showed 1.41 shots per minute. The Masters has a built-in advantage because of the reduced commercial time during the telecasts but, if you ask me, 1.39 shots per minute means if you watched CBS you watched an awful lot of guys NOT hitting golf shots. I speak from experience (no I never produced a Masters but I did produce a ton of live events and several majors) and I can tell you it takes anywhere from 15 to 40 seconds to show a shot. And it’s 40 if the producer gets to the shot way too early or the player “backs off” once he’s set to play. But that’s not the point of this missive. The point is I have found a new way to watch The Masters and it was a terrific, for the most part, experience.

Featured Groups- Thanks to this I got to watch a ton of Tiger, Phil, Rickie, Rory and many more. Admittedly I had to do it with the sound muted but I still got to see every shot, with NO commercials, and limited leaderboard breaks. They offered two groups in the morning and two in the afternoon and this was where I spent a lot of my time. Except when I was watching

Amen Corner- This was the most satisfying viewing experience of the week, for a few reasons. 1) Grant Boone and Billy Ray Brown. I know and have had the pleasure to work with both. Grant is among a handful (if that hand is missing a finger) of the best play-by-play guys in the business. Smart, witty, insightful and studied (even though there are still times he talks too much 🙂 ) Grant’s work lifts the tide of all the boats during his Amen Corner coverage. Billy Ray is the perfect sidekick. Funny, self-deprecating and comfortable, the former player and long-time announcer brings a perfect blend of folksy and familiar to the proceedings. During this coverage I got to see pretty much every single shot from every single player who went through those famed three holes. Appointment viewing for every golf fan. After I went back to “featured group” coverage to watch 14 I switched to

Holes 15 and 16- While not as good as “Amen Corner” because of the announcing, Luke Elvy (who has too heavy an accent for me) and Bobby Clampett did a nice job on these two, great holes. Then it was back to “featured group” coverage for the final 2 holes. Throughout these offerings other announcers including Ned Michaels and Brian Crowell jumped in to offer the Boone’s Billy Ray’s and Clampett’s a chance to eat or pee.

I even got to see Tony Finau play golf! In typical CBS fashion Finau, who nearly broke his ankle after making a hole-in-one during the par 3 contest on Wednesday but still managed to contend, got ZERO love from the network. Again, according to http://www.classictvsports.com Finau was “afforded” three televised shots on Sunday. THREE. The guy made SIX birdies in a row during one stretch on Sunday and finished TIED FOR TENTH! No matter how much of a CBS apologist you are, you can’t tell me Patrick Reed tugging on his shirt sleeves or Jordan Spieth whining to Michael Greller is more compelling than that. Thanks to my new-found, best way, to watch The Masters I got to see Finau hit 17 shots and make FOUR of his six straight birdies.

 

I have been fortunate to have been able to witness the last half-dozen United States Open Championships in person and this year will be no exception. I’ll watch The British Open like many of you, whenever I wake up in the morning until it’s over and my viewing of the PGA Championship will have a huge on-line influence especially if my friend Brian Anderson is working. Because the PGA of America doesn’t do anywhere near as good a job as Augusta, on the weekend I might be forced to watch network coverage. But here’s my unsolicited advice for the 2019 Masters Tournament. Get the Masters app, buy Apple TV, purchase a beautiful, big screen, Smart TV and watch that way. You can thank me later.

 

 

 

 

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Why Aren’t We More Inspired?

I get no respect.”

Rodney Dangerfield

 

One of professional golf’s best events of the year started today. No, I’m not a week early. I’m not talking about a little “toonamint” in Georgia. I’m referring to The ANA Inspiration, or what many of us still call ‘The Dinah.” The LPGA kicks off golf’s major championship calendar every year in the California desert yet when this week rolls around all many, if not most, people associated with the sport can talk about is that “The Masters is only a week away!” It’s a damn shame.

The event got its start in 1972 when entertainer Dinah Shore and retail powerhouse Colgate teamed up to bring an LPGA event to the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage (let’s just say Palm Springs) California. Jane Blalock won that year. Then over the course of the next ten tournaments the trophy was claimed by, among others, Mickey Wright, Kathy Whitworth, Judy Rankin, Donna Caponi, and Nancy Lopez. Members of the Hall of Fame all including the namesake Dinah Shore. In 1983 the powers that be decided it should be considered a major championship. These days it’s not uncommon to hear folks opine that women professionals should have their own event at Augusta National. To that I say why? We already have an LPGA equivalent to The Masters.

The first year it was a “Major” Amy Alcott won it, then Juli Inkster. In 1986 Pat Bradley was victorious and the year after that Betsy King won in a playoff. That’s four more members of the Hall of Fame, if you’re counting. In 1988 Alcott won it again and decided to celebrate by jumping into the pond that fronted the 18th green and a tradition was born. In subsequent years Inkster won it again, so did King and in 1991 Amy Alcott won the darn thing for the third time. Sounds a lot like the stretch when Arnold Palmer, jack Nicklaus and Gary Player traded green jackets. The remainder of the decade gave us Patty Sheehan, Dottie Pepper (twice) and Betsy King again before ushering in the greatness that would be Karrie Webb and Annika Sorenstam.

I’ll be the first to point out the LPGA has shot itself in the foot on any number of occasions when it’s come to that tour’s major championships. It too often plays fast and loose with that distinction. The du Maurier Classic isn’t, and never was, a major. Neither is the Evian Championship. You can’t have five in a calendar year or else you become the Senior Tour. Settle on the rightful designees: The Dinah (okay the ANA Inspiration), the United States Women’s Open, The Women’s British Open and The LPGA Championship. No more, no less.

But that slate, as well as each season’s major championship schedule, starts with this week’s event in Palm Springs (okay Rancho Mirage). I’ll concede it doesn’t deserve golf fan’s undivided attention but it does deserve our respect. It deserves its own, solitary space in the major championship sun. Not after we talk about next week’s Masters. Not with the qualifier of it being the “first women’s major”. Not on highlight shows following a look at a random Phil Mickelson birdie in Texas. It’s the first major. Period. Stop. I just mentioned the PGA TOUR event this week, in Houston and some pretty big names are participating (Mickelson, Spieth, Fowler and Rose) but let’s face it it’s not a major. Heck, after this year it doesn’t even have a sponsor!

“The Dinah” is golf’s top dog this week. Can we please act like it?

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The Difference Between Running and Ruining is One Letter

“Ve Git Too Soon Oldt, Und Too Late Schmart”

Pennsylvania Dutch saying

 

schmart

 

My late, wonderful, Grandmother, Helen Hirshland, had that astute Pennsylvania Dutch bit of wisdom on a trivet in her kitchen. I saw it when we visited and laughed with her when she would repeat the saying in her Pennsylvania Dutch accent. I’m reminded of that old saying today because it applies to the powers that be who are running, dare I say ruining, my favorite sports.

 

The United States Golf Association, along with the R & A, just released some revisions to the Rules of Golf. Tweaks and changes that, proponents say, were a long time coming and will, according to the governing bodies, “bring the rules up to date and fit the needs of the game globally.” It’s the culmination of an initiative that began in 2012 and the end result is, among other things, changes to rules that involve hitting a ball out of bounds, removing the penalty for a “double hit”, how players can drop a ball when taking relief, and the ability to repair “spike marks and other imperfections” on the putting green.

 

In the announcement the word “relaxed” was used several times and the prevailing thought from many is that this attempt to “modernize” the rules of the greatest game of all is part of an effort to “make the game more attractive and accessible to newcomers’. The rest of us be damned.

 

I am a 62 year-old man and I have been playing golf for 58 of those years. I learned the game thanks to my mom and dad, who both played until mere months before they passed away. My first set of clubs were a cut down set of Louise Suggs, Wilson Staff woods and irons. My first, of many, lessons came from a kind, caring, gentleman we called “The Old Pro” named Pete Marich. I loved it from the get go and never once; as my game progressed and the shafts in my clubs went from steel to aluminum to graphite, back to steel, and now again to graphite, did I ever say I wanted, or needed, golf to be “easier”. In fact, the fact that the game was so hard was the reason I fell in love with it in the first place and one of the reasons I still love it today.

 

When something is hard, and you have a modicum of success doing it, the sense of achievement is more profound. “More accessible” I get and I’m all for finding ways to do that. Let folks play 6 holes, or 12. Have those scores count toward a handicap. Reinstitute or develop more caddy programs. Continue the efforts undertaken by the USGA, the PGA of America, and Nick Faldo to empower young people to play the game. But take your “need to make the game easier” and hit the road!

 

And that brings me to baseball. Let me start by saying this to Commissioner Rob Manfred and whichever “advisors” are bending his ear with their brilliant ideas to “improve” Americas pastime. “Cut. It. Out!”

 

I am wracking my brain trying to figure out a dumber idea than the one I heard about today. Minor League Baseball is going to experiment with an extra innings rule that allows a team to start the inning with a runner on second base. In the immortal words of Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, “WHY?!?!?!” Because it will speed up play? Because “nobody wants to see games last 15, 16, or 17 innings”? Because you can’t just leave well enough alone? How many “new eyeballs” will this bring to the sport? How many youngsters, not already interested in playing youth baseball, will this bring to the park?

 

Speed up play? In fact it might just have the opposite effect. Starting the inning with a runner on second base just might mean the skipper of the team at the plate will now have his hitter attempt to bunt that runner over to third. If that mission is accomplished the manager of the team in the field will intentionally walk the bases loaded and then it’s game on. Not to mention the sad fact that we will reward two teams who haven’t been able to gain an advantage over the course of nine innings by “gifting” them a runner in scoring position. If that isn’t a comment on today’s society, I don’t know what is. Why not take a page from soccer or hockey and have a 10 pitch home run derby if a game is tied after nine innings. Or better yet just give each team 1/2 a win and call it a night. OR, OR, OR we could just let these professional athletes JUST PLAY BASEBALL!

 

“We” need to stop trying to fix everything because “we” think things are broken, or not quick enough, or not appealing enough, or heaven forbid NOT EASY ENOUGH. Some things aren’t meant to be fast or easy. Golf and baseball are among those things. Lets just hope it’s not too late to get schmart.

 

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