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Starting with Buddy Boy, ending with Mariano

Touching all the bases while awaiting the beginning of the baseball playoffs after arguably the most besmirched and least dramatic regular season of the otherwise checkered Bud Selig era.

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But give the lame-duck commissioner the credit he deserves, please. Over two decades, Buddy Boy devoted his mightiest energies to the task of draining the regular season of much of its meaning.  Looks like he has finally succeeded.

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And let’s nip yet another egregious misperception in the proverbial bud. There’s been a lot of limp and banal banter about how the Red Sox startling resurrection in 2013 compares favorably with their epic rise from the ashes in 1967.

Anyone who buys into that silly thesis either wasn’t alive or wasn’t awake in the summer of ‘67. There is no valid comparison between the two baseball experiences. None! One was impressive. The other was sui generis. The difference is incalculable.

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Looking back it’s hard to believe the farcical tennis showdown between Bobby Riggs and Billy Jean King – now being tediously regurgitated on its 40th anniversary – was ever taken seriously let alone loftily proclaimed as “the ultimate battle of the sexes.” The entire idea of the thing was an insult to the plucky and very gifted King. Too much was made of the fact there was 26 years’ difference in their ages. Riggs wasn’t in her class on the very best day of his flaming youth
Now, thanks to some fine investigative reporting by ESPN among others, the fact that Riggs tanked the match in concert with major bad-actors from Organized Crime is finally being recognized although the fact that he was dumping the thing was very clear on the first volley, which Bobby weakly dumped into the net, and on his first serve, where he meekly double-faulted. Riggs didn’t even have the grace to make the fix look good. Everyone close to the game knew he’d tanked and most were disgusted. But the hoopla, led by the bombastic likes of Howard Cosell, was overwhelming. In all of its absurdity, the event was huge!
Riggs was simply ludicrous. Even in those pre-historic times his shtick was stupid, bordering on the disgraceful. King didn’t have much choice but to play along. Moreover, such were the times that there was something in it for her and her game. But why she still chooses to defend the legitimacy of the thing, which she is now doing fervently, is quite another matter. You’d think by now Billy Jean would have risen above that.

Perhaps she should take a look at the replay. If you get the chance, do so. Even if you know nothing of the game, you will be appalled. As bag jobs go, Riggs’s effort was inexcusably clumsy.

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One really likes the idea for reforming the NHL’s overtime procedure, and thereby minimizing the abominable shoot-outs, that’s now being floated by Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland. He proposes that if OT’s first five minutes of four on four play (now the practice) doesn’t produce a winner, there could be another stretch, perhaps four minutes long, of three on three play. Only then, if there’s still no winner, would the shoot-out be used as a last resort to end the game.

But Holland believes – and other hockey thinkers agree – there’d be many fewer shoot-outs after a three-on-three stretch, which can be highly exhilarating. His gimmick was tested at a Dallas-Minnesota exhibition with witnesses reportedly being much impressed.

Laudable is the goal of curbing the shoot-out system, which true hockey men have always found embarrassing. They are colorful and fans find them amusing, but they aren’t authentic. Comparable would be having homer-hitting contests decide extra-inning baseball or foul-shooting competition determine the outcome of basketball tilts tied at regulation. Shoot-outs are bush league!

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In the realm of the inauthentic resulting in the painful, we have the latest indignity from Alex Rodriguez. There seemed something bitterly ironic about the fallen one eclipsing the grand slam home run record held for nearly eight decades by the genuinely immortal and still beloved Lou Gehrig.

You don’t have to be a tiresome sporting ideologue obsessed with the purity of records nor even a sentimental old fool to regard that as a bit blasphemous. Such insults are only just beginning. A-Rod is within hailing distance of Willie Mays in the homer annals, and Hank Aaron in the ranks of the RBI producers, and so on. Unless, of course, the PED police get him first. For whom are you rooting?

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What’s wrong with the Patriots?  Fretful followers were raising the question to the level of mantra; needlessly, it is already clear. With their customary luck the Pats got to open their season against three dogs and if they haven’t been dominant – which alarms their spoiled adherents – it has been a godsend.  For it has allowed them to work out huge transitional kinks at minimal risk.

Had they caught a decent team in that stretch, even one that’s merely competitive, they would be in some trouble. Yawning their way to the post-season again would have been less of a joyride had they opened up, say, one and two instead of three and oh. Happily, there are a lot of dogs in the National Football League. What’s wrong with the Patriots? Nothing, old sport, absolutely nothing!  

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Meanwhile, we have the Bruins, of whom much is expected, gearing up in pre-season with everything going swimmingly, which is probably cause for worry because historically nothing comes easy for this team and it’s rather how they prefer it because they know how to deal with it. However, while we await adversity’s inevitable intercession, it’s not too early to suggest they will be even better this year, assuming said intercession does not come in the form of calamity.

The Swedes will be big factors in the mix this year, one happily predicts. You’re going to love Carl Soderberg, increasingly looking every bit the superior prospect he was so long rumored to be while held hostage in Europe. Niklas Svedberg will be a sensational back-up in goal and a perfect partner for Tuukka Rask. And while you’ve heard little yet from the new boy, Loui Ericksson, be patient; you will. My grandparents, born and raised in the ancient Swedish city of Gottberg, would have been delighted.  

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 The homage paid Carl Yastrzemski by the new owners was worthy and correct. In his passion for privacy and disdain for the limelight, Yaz has had a sort of gray baseball after-life, which is the way he wanted it. Nor has he ever complained. One admires both his constancy and modesty. He has never beaten on his own drum.

Unfortunately, all of that has allowed some erosion of his stature. The game’s new breed of stat-freaks, who know only numbers, have tended to downgrade the guy, although 3,419 base hits ought to alone speak adequately for any baseball man. A New York newspaper lately ranked Carl on a short list of the “least deserving” members of the Hall of Fame, which is a sharp reminder that the only people who compose such lists are idiots.

The statue they’ve placed of him on the rim of the old ballyard refutes all that nonsense nicely. Yaz was Baseball’s Everyman, a player we could identify with in a way that was never possible with Teddy Ballgame, however admirable we found him. Yaz was a dauntless grinder, a determined survivor, in which sincere pose one finds great dignity.

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Our last word is on Mariano Rivera, about whom nothing more can be said for it’s all been said with a memorably matchless eloquence. His farewell tour was one of the nicest sustained gestures in the history of sport. It could only have been the work of a truly blithe spirit, utterly at peace with himself.

So let this last word be… Bravo!