Newer head shot

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Looking back at Sochi and other things

Now that the 2014 Olympics in Sochi are over, there are a few things to review.

First, NBC has to be extremely proud of its wide-spread and extensive coverage. The network made sure that everything was covered on all the different venues on all hours of the day and night, on all different channels.

The ratings proved that NBC did a fantastic job, even through Bob Costas' battle with pink eye. It was the first time in ages where the Peacock flew above the other networks in the ratings, so it proved that America loved NBC's coverage as well.

Now, for the Games themselves. The hockey was definitely exciting with Team USA's thrilling shootout victory over Russia, but the air came out of the balloon with the semifinal loss to Canada and then the inexplicable shutout loss to Finland in the bronze medal game.

Hockey fans certainly took to the Olympics, evidenced by the sale of team sweaters, not just Team USA, but Canada as well. So is it worth it for the NHL to shut down operations for three weeks, then pick things back up again?

Only time will tell what kind of hockey we will see in the coming weeks, but you can be rest assured that the NHL applauds the Olympics, because it helps the sport to be more mainstreamed than it is regularly. More people _ especially women _ watched hockey over the past two weeks than they did during the course of the regular season.

Some hockey purists are pushing for the Olympics to make hockey a sport in the Summer Olympics, so this way it doesn't interrupt the regular season like it does now. That's just not going to happen. There's not a lot of ice to be found in July and August. And the NHL isn't going to let that happen, because the league's popularity is at all-time high right now, after the outdoor games and now the Olympics.

Now, I'm not exactly an expert on the other sports in the Winter Olympics, like curling, which is still too bizarre for words, or the biathlon, which combines skiing and rifle marksmanship, neither of which I know anything about.

But I found one Olympic sport to be especially exciting. That was snowboard cross, which was basically like motocross on snowboards. Five guys streaming down a ski slope on a snowboard at the same time. There were collisions galore, even one time where a competitor actually leaped over the other.

I was totally mesmerized by the entire thing. The event was breathtaking.

I can't believe I actually just wrote that about the Winter Olympics. Before this year, my memories of the Winter Olympics included Bob Beattie screaming Franz Klammer's name and Dick Button blubbering and crying over the "travesty of Tai and Randy," namely the skating pair of Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, after Gardner was injured and couldn't skate. I also felt bad when Dan Jansen kept falling and falling.

Needless to say, I wasn't a big fan. Sure, I still get choked up by the sight of Mike Eruzione standing on the podium and waving his USA hockey teammates to join him after the Miracle on Ice in 1980.

But there isn't much more.

Give me some snowboard cross any day of the week. If there was a snowboard cross league, I'd be watching it regularly. It's the biggest novelty since the XFL. You could even give me a network of snowboard cross. Heck, there are already enough sports networks on the air now. I can watch virtually every single sport that the Big Ten can offer right now, including gymnastics and ping pong. I can handle the snowboard cross network.

So we can put Sochi in the memory banks now. Hopefully, Costas' eyes have recovered and he can continue to spew his ridiculous venom about how the American Indians are persecuted by the name Washington Redskins.

One last thing: Now that the Winter Olympics are over, can Tonya Harding crawl back to the trailer park she rolled out from and go away forever? Does anyone in the world believe that she had nothing to do with the attack on Nancy Kerrigan?

Just give the girl a couple packs of Parliament, a couple bottles of Boone's Farm and some beef jerky and let her disappear. I cannot believe a word she says. Bottom line is that after 20 years, does anyone really care? Especially since Kerrigan went from being the nation's sweetheart to a pariah in the matter of a few months.

I applaud athletes like Jason Collins and Michael Sam coming out and revealing that they are gay. The world of sports should be more accepting of those who are gay and lesbian and not shun them.

And yes, for now, stories like that should be atop the fold of the sports section, because they have come out and proudly and bravely proclaimed their sexual preferences.

However, there should be a time when this is not newsworthy, when it becomes commonplace. Everyone should be more accepting of gays and lesbians. Chances are that we've all had friends that are gay and couldn't handle the scorn that comes with it, so they remained private.

I've been a sportswriter for 32 years now. I've heard stories of professional athletes, some big name players, being gay, but would never dream of reporting it. More than likely, there have been others who were _ and kept their lives private.

More than likely, I've had teammates over the years who were gay and no one knew. We didn't worry about what would be said in the locker rooms. Honestly, no one paid that much attention to it.

So yes, it's a brave world that Jason Collins and Michael Sam have entered. They deserve credit for their courage to come out in the macho world of professional sports. But in reality, it shouldn't be a big deal at all, because it's just part of real life.
You can read more of my work at, and

Friday, February 14, 2014

Remembering the great Ralph Kiner

I was born a Mets fan.

At least, I think I was.

I mean, the Mets were born right after me. We entered the world almost together. I entered the world in 1961, the Mets a year later.

I don't remember consciously making a choice to be a Mets fan. My first baseball game came in 1965, when my father took me to see Sandy Koufax pitch against the Mets. My father was a baseball historian to the utmost degree. He taught me about all the legends, about Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and his all-time favorite Ted Williams.

So when my father took me to see Sandy Koufax pitch against the Mets, he kept reminding me how great Koufax was and that I should always remember how great he was. Only one problem. On that day in August, 1965, the Mets beat Sandy Koufax. So I was hooked.

But I truly think my love for the Mets started before that day in 1965. It was an inane gift, something always in me.

So with that in mind, my childhood always centered around the Mets. I remember sprinting out of third grade to go home to watch the Miracle Mets in the 1969 World Series. I remember sneaking a transistor radio into seventh grade to listen to the 1973 World Series.

My early childhood was filled with days of Seaver and Koosman and Harrelson and Agee and Grote and Shamsky and Swoboda and Cleon Jones. They were my life back then. I lived and breathed the Mets. Those were my heroes. I don't know if anything else ever existed back then.

And those days were also filled with Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner.

They painted the picture of the ballpark when they were on the radio, doing the games for WHN. They made the grass greener and the lights brighter. That trio also did the games on WOR Channel 9, although back then, not every game was televised.

When a game was on, I was glued to the set, hanging on every single pitch.

And those games were produced to me by Nelson, Murphy and Kiner.

Ralph Kiner had even a bigger role. He was the host of the post-game show, the popular Kiner's Korner. If the Mets won, you wanted to hear your heroes talk. This was long before every word was recorded on video like it is now.

The only way we would get to hear Seaver or Koosman would be after a Met win with Ralph. They would sit with their warm-up jacket on, a towel around their necks and a cup of Rheingold, the extra dry beer.

So in that way, Ralph Kiner was a huge part of my upbringing. My Dad was dead and gone in 1971, but Ralph continued to bring me Met games and Kiner's Korner every year.

I remember Kiner's Korner when Benny Ayala was a hero rookie, hitting a homer in his first major league at-bat. Benny was a guest on Kiner's Korner, but there was a problem, because Benny couldn't speak English, so Felix Millan was on as well as an interpreter.

Another time, Roy Staiger was on, after his three-run homer gave the Mets a win, but since Seaver was on, Staiger never got a chance to talk except for the pitch he hit for the homer. "It was a curveball, Ralph."

I religiously watched Kiner's Korner, even all those times when the Mets lost (and there were plenty of those nights) and the guest was someone on the opposing team.

After many years, after I was a sportswriter, I used to take "my annual baseball sojourn," to Chicago and then Milwaukee to see the Mets play six games. I made that trip for about seven straight years. It was a blast to go back to where I went to school and see the Mets play.

In 2000, the Mets were supposed to play the Brewers, but there were thunderstorms all day. I stayed in the same hotel, the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee, with the Mets.

I thought it would be a nice thing for my two-year-old nephew to get him a baseball signed by the two greatest Mets, namely Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza, considering they were staying in the same hotel with me.

So I went to a sporting goods store, bought a baseball, and approached Seaver with a pen and the ball.

"Would you sign the ball for my nephew?" I asked.

Seaver went bananas.

"I'm not signing that shit. That's what they have card shows and autograph shows for. I'm not signing. And don't you guys sign it either."

Seaver was sitting in the lobby with Kiner and Al Leiter.

I was devastated. I took the ball and went to the hotel bar.

Soon after, Kiner walked into the bar. He ordered a bratwurst and a beer. He looked over at me sitting there.

"He can be like that sometimes," Kiner said about Seaver.

Kiner then asked me to slide over and sit with him. We spent about an hour talking about baseball, Milwaukee, Hank Aaron and Joe Adcock, about good meals, anything and everything, as the rain continued to pour down. There wasn't going to be a game that day, so we sat and had beers and brats at the hotel bar.

We were later joined by Met players Todd Zeile and Mike Hampton.

It really was a wonderful afternoon, thanks to the friendly gesture of Ralph Kiner.

About three years ago, I was at a Met game and as I came down to the front entrance, Ralph Kiner was sitting there in a wheelchair, waiting to be escorted home.

I approached Kiner and said, "Mr. Kiner, I don't know if you remember me, but..."

"Milwaukee, the hotel bar," he said in amazement. "How could I forget someone your size?"

He had a good point.

I asked if he wouldn't mind posing for a picture with me. His handler obliged. The picture was taken. I have that picture to treasure forever.

Ralph Kiner died last week at the age of 91. He lived a fruitful life, announcing games right until his final year on the planet.

He was such a huge part of my childhood, my adolescence, my adulthood. Ralph Kiner helped to carry me through those years _ and then became an absolute joy in one chance encounter, right after my childhood hero treated me like a piece of trash.

I will treasure those memories, those childhood days of Kiner's Korner, the day that I met him and the day I saw him again.

Through all his malaprops, like calling Gary Carter "Gary Cooper," and failing to say Candy Maldonado after three tries, or saying that the Dodger pitcher was born in Valenzuela, he was still Ralph and we loved him.

Ralph Kiner was a part of the Mets since they were born, since I was born. Now, another piece of my childhood is gone, like my father, like my mother. I'll remember them all fondly.

Derek Jeter announced that he will retire at the end of this season and he will get the same farewell tour that Mariano Rivera had last year.

And the Yankee captain deserves it. Over the last two decades, no one handled being a superstar better than Jeter. He understood his importance from the beginning and was the ultimate role model for young kids. In an era where our children need positive role models, you needed to look no further than Jeter.

Who knows how many games he will be able to play this year after missing most of the last 17 months with bad ankles? Instead of bemoaning the fact that Jeter announced his retirement before the season, we should applaud him and treasure him, because players, people like Derek Jeter don't come around often.


As for my health, I'm coming along, slowly but surely. I've been announcing games at Rutgers-Newark and NJIT and covering some indoor track meets. I'm still hobbled, relying on a cane and sometimes a walker, but I'm getting better. I'm still going to physical therapy three times a week, working hard, like I learned at Kessler Institute, to get better, to walk freely again without any assistance.

I'm not there yet. In fact, I'm not close. My doctors said that it would take months and guess what, it's taking months, but I am getting better.

Like they say, it's one day at a time. Today, regardless of the piles of snow outside, it's a good day. I love the good days. The doctors say that there will be some bad days _ and I have those _ but lately, the good ones outweigh the bad. And that's a good sign.

Thanks for the love and concern.


You can read more of my work at,, and