Monthly Archives: November 2013

Friday musings

* First of all, I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. I know I did. The food was out of this world (I’ve never understood that statement, given that we have no idea if there food out of this world) and the family was, as always, engaging. I’m a lucky, lucky man. This was my 58th Thanksgiving and I have them ranked from 1 through 58. But I won’t bore you with the rankings. Let’s just say this was a Top 10 Thanksgiving, but nothing like the one I enjoyed in 1964.

* My favorite Thanksgiving food is stuffing. I’ve fluctuated on this over the years. Ironically, stuffing almost always includes celery, one of my all-time least favorite foods. Yet I’m able to overlook the celery aspect of the stuff and eat about 23 helpings everything Thanksgiving.

* As I work on my musings, Nebraska and Bo Pelini are being crushed by Iowa. This gives me a little musings bounce, such is my disdain for Pelini. So could we have Nebraska, Texas and USC all in the hunt for new coaches soon?

* I haven’t liked Pelini since he chewed out Kansas State coach Bill Snyder after a game in Lincoln a few years back, before Snyder’s retirement that instead was a three-year break. K-State had just beaten the Huskers pretty good and Pelini’s interpretation of events was that Snyder and the Wildcats had run up the score. He was dead wrong, of course. And he was just an assistant coach at the time to Frank Solich. Snyder just looked at him, didn’t respond and ran toward the dressing room.

* Kansas and Kansas State meet in the Sunflower Showdown tomorrow afternoon in Lawrence. One problem: There’s nothing about this game that feels like a showdown. For most of the past 20-plus years since Snyder arrived in Manhattan, this has been a Sunflower Letdown. I don’t anticipate this one being different. I suppose I held out some small hope for a close KU-KSU game after the Jayhawks pounced on West Virginia a couple of weeks ago. But whatever good will Kansas earned with that win was refunded in full with last week’s embarrassing loss to Iowa State in Ames. I suspect that one sucked all of the life out of the Jayhawks once and for all. I’m looking for a 38-13 win for Kansas State.

* I watched KU’s Thanksgiving¬† basketball game against Wake Forest on AXS, a channel I wasn’t even aware I had as a DirecTv customer.

* Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore received a two-year contract extension Friday. My, my, the pressure will be high for the Royals in 2014. They’re coming off an 86-76 season and fans will expect an improvement. They’re in the midst of an important off-season, during which they have to add some offense. They’ve signed left-hander pitcher Jason Vargas to a four-year, $48 million deal, hoping he’s next season’s version of Ervin Santana. The Royals will begin 2014 as one of the most interesting teams to follow. How will it go?

* I was chatting with my friend and Eagle colleague Paul Suellentrop earlier about the fate of the Shockers’ basketball team. I mentioned the U word – undefeated. As in was there a chance Wichita State could get through the regular season unscathed? Ridiculous, I know, to be even discussing this early in the season. But the conversation was fueled by what I perceive to be a remarkably-weak Missouri Valley Conference, a perception fueled by Indiana State’s one-point loss to Tulsa two nights ago in the Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage.

* Undefeated? It’s a preposterous notion, except that isn’t there some chance the Shockers run through the MVC without a loss? A teeny-tiny chance? I can’t see WSU losing a home Missouri Valley Conference game. But maybe they’ll run into a buzz saw on the road somewhere. It’s possible, perhaps even probable. Then again, is there a buzz saw in the Valley?

* The rest of the non-conference schedule includes a Sunday noon game at Saint Louis, along with tests against ORU, Tennessee, Davidson and North Carolina Central at home and Alabama on the road. Saint Louis, Tennessee and Alabama are the most dangerous games. But isn’t there a chance the Shockers sweep those three games? A teeny-tiny chance?

* I’m just saying. Rolling around the idea of an undefeated season for Wichita State might not be as crazy as it sounds. Then again, it might. It’s a long season and there are a lot of games. Normally, basketball teams are fickle – even the great ones.

* Top five reasons for Ron Baker’s enormous popularity: 1) He can really play. His skills jump off the page; 2) He plays hard all the time, every possession; 3) He’s personable and funny and has no perceptible ego issues; 4) He’s got that hair thing going; 5) He’s from Scott City. Who doesn’t love a kid from Scott City?

* Denver vs. Kansas City on Sunday? I have no feel for this football game. It could go either way. Both teams have the look of clubs that are losing steam as the season goes. In fact, it’s tough to find an AFC that is gaining steam. The AFC is having a really difficult time of it. New England, maybe? But I’m not completely sold. This certainly isn’t one of the best Patriots teams, yet they’re as good a bet to reach the Super Bowl as anyone.

* The last time KC and Denver met – just two weeks ago in Denver – I picked the score spot-on. Denver 27, Kansas City 17. So I have to try and make it two in a row, right? But the first game was easy to pick, in my opinion. I barely even had to think about it. This one is so much tougher because of all the variables. Is Peyton Manning healthy? Is Tamba Hali healthy? Is the Chiefs’ defense healthy? I’m going with the Broncos because when these two teams are at full strength and playing their best, Denver is better. Broncos 30, Kansas City 24.

* If I could play the guitar, I think I’d play every day. For a few minutes, at least. It seems like something that would be soothing to the soul. And I would certainly sing along. I’m not sure why I never learned to play the guitar. I have nimble fingers and there is always a song in my head. Sometimes I think of the hours of enjoyment I could have culled from playing guitar and it makes me sad. I’m sad now, just thinking about it. And if you’ll harken back to my first musing, I was so happy coming off a wonderful Thanksgiving. It just goes to show once again the number of mood swings that accompany these musings on a weekly basis.

* I’ll be in Lawrence on Saturday for the KU-KSU football game. Then in St. Louis for the Shockers’ noon tip against the Billikens, an old Missouri Valley Conference team from back in the day. I’m looking forward to the weekend. Hope you have a good one, too.

 

Lists, lists, lists

Hey everyone, it’s list Wednesday. And with Thanksgiving just a few hours away, let’s start out with my top five favorite holidays. Seems appropriate, don’t you think?

1. Christmas. I believed in Santa Claus until I was 27. I was also upset when a present I was given as a kid didn’t match what I thought the package it was wrapped in looked like. Yes I don’t remember a single present I received when I was 10 and under. I’m sure I played with them for a few days then stuck them in the back of the closet.

2. Thanksgiving. My mother was a great cook and she always did the entire meal by herself. I think my dad might have chipped in with the gravy from time to time. My memories of Thanksgiving as a kid are watching football with my dad and enjoying the interesting aroma of TV Guide back in the day, when it was a smaller magazine. The paper used produced a smell unlike any other and I loved it. So I walked around often smelling the TV Guide. I confess to being a rather strange child.

3. Valentine’s Day. I’m not sure why Valentine’s Day makes my list. I’m not particularly romantic, despite what my wife would tell you. I do like the smell of roses. And what I’m finding out as I produce my top holidays list is that I’m very much about smell.

4. New Year’s Eve. Not that I remember any New Year’s Eve from 1973 through 2008. But I’m sure I had a blast.

5. Memorial Day. It’s a great day to reflect. And to smell. In late May my sinuses are always clear as a bell.

Favorite sports

1. Baseball

2. Basketball

3. Football

4. Golf

5. Track and field

Favorite Wichita State basketball players

1. Dave Stallworth

2. Warren Armstrong (Jabali)

3. Jamie Thompson

4. Cal Bruton

5. Cheese Johnston

(Note: I ceased being a Wichita State basketball fan in the late 1970s because of my work as a journalist. Journalists, as you know, cannot be fans. Fans cannot be journalists. It’s in the constitution.)

Favorite vacations

1. Pittsburgh-Gettysburg – My wife and I drove this one and were blown away by the Civil War history in Gettysburg and PNC Park in Pittsburgh, where we saw the Cardinals win two games against the Pirates.

2. Dublin, Ireland – To see the Eagles in 2009 with my friend, Doug Baber.

3. Washington, D.C. – I took my son in the early 1990s so that he could be exposed to the nation’s capital (that doesn’t sound right, there’s a better way to put that).

4. Deadwood, S.D. – My friend, Doug, and I intended to travel throughout the northwestern part of the United States. But we arrived in Deadwood in 2007 and didn’t leave.

5. Louisville-St. Louis – This summer, we went to Louisville to see the first show on the Eagles’ History of the Eagles tour. Sandwiched around that experience were two Cardinals games in St. Louis.

Have a great Thanksgiving with your friends and family. I hope some of you will get out to Towne East Square on Thanksgiving Night (8 p.m.-1 a.m.) and Black Friday (5 a.m.-1 p.m.) to visit our League 42 booth as we’ll be signing up families and kids for our new baseball league for Wichita’s inner-city kids. I’ll return with the blog on Friday. Take care.

 

5.

My Jhonny Peralta dilemma

My love for the St. Louis Cardinals is rooted deeply. It passes through my father, Bob Gibson, Jack Buck and many others. It’s something I now share with my wife, who looks as much forward to watching St. Louis games on television as I do. The Cardinals, and please for forgive the Debby Boone-melodrama, light up my life.

But over the weekend they signed a cheater, shortstop Jhonny Peralta, as a free agent. They are awarding

New Cardinals shorstop Jhonny Peralta.

New Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta.

Peralta with a four-year, $53 million dollar contract just months after he served a 50-game suspension for his part in the Biogenesis scandal.

After serving the 50 games, Peralta was allowed back in the game and batted .333 in the playoffs for his old team, the Detroit Tigers.

I hate the cheaters who have forever stained baseball. I hate short cuts and the use of illegal and corrupt ways to achieve success. I hate that these players have made it more difficult on the majority of players who don’t want to cheat.

And now one of them is a Cardinal.

But I’m finding out something about myself that I’m not sure I knew. Or maybe I did and just wanted to ignore this character flaw.

I hate cheaters, yes, but I’m OK with having Peralta on the Cardinals.

Either this is the height of hypocrisy on my part or a rationalization that for many will defy logic.

I just know I’m helpless when it comes to this baseball team. What am I to do? Do I stop being a fan after 52 years? Do I refuse to buy the Extra Innings package on DirecTv next season because of some morality play?

Do I think less of the Cardinals because they have a player in Peralta who served his time, apologized for his behavior and promised to keep his nose clean from here on out?

One of the greatest home-run hitters in St. Louis history, Mark McGwire, achieved what was then a single-season home run mark of 70 in 1998 while juicing, it was later discovered. That makes McGwire a fraud and he should never be allowed in the Baseball Hall of Fame, despite having the credentials for enshrinement.

Is Peralta a fraud? How long has he been involved with PEDs? Would he still be doing them today if he hadn’t been caught?

Some big league players, chief among them reliever Brad Ziegler of the Arizona Diamondbacks, took to Twitter in the hours after the Peralta signing to lambast Cardinals ownership, and ownership across the game, for continuing to reward the game’s cheaters.

He makes a solid point. And I hope the Major League Players Association takes up this issue next week at its annual meetings. I would love to see first-time offenders suspended for a full season and second-timers tossed out of the game forever. You can’t tip-toe around when you’re trying to clean up a game like baseball.

But then I find myself defending the Cardinals’ decision to sign Peralta. And if I’m being honest, I’m not sure I would defend such a signing for another team. Now, though, I must. When a team signs former Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz, also suspended because of his involvement with PEDs and Biogenesis, I can’t criticize the signing. That would be hypocritical.

The rules for now are that a first-time offender gets 50 games, a second-time offender 100 and if a player crosses the line a third time he is banned for a season. But that’s not enough and it has now been proven that when a player does his time, he can benefit with a long-term deal with more money than he was previously making.

Explain to me the downside of enhancing performance by illegal means again, please.

Major League Baseball needs to make it so players are terrified of getting caught with PEDs. Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr., terrified.

Knock one of these guys out for a full season on a first offense and let’s see how many are willing to take a chance. Or kick them out of baseball altogether. If the rank and file membership of the players union is truly sick of seeing their colleagues benefit from cheating then push for harsher penalties. Or shut up. I’m not sure there’s much middle ground.

I give credit to Ziegler for speaking out. His message was re-tweeted over 1,500 times. Baseball fans are weary of this issue and I believe most would applaud a bigger hammer for violators.

But as long as the rules are what they are, what is a team like the Cardinals to do? They have a gaping hole at shortstop; finding a starter there was the team’s No. 1 priority after losing to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.

St. Louis general manager John Mozielak has defended the free-agent signing of Peralta, saying that the Cardinals cannot be the moral police on this issue.

He’s right and he’s wrong. The Cardinals could have stayed away from Peralta on the grounds that he’s been connected to PEDs. They didn’t have to bring him aboard, but did so for the betterment of the team.

If Peralta is hitting .215 in June, Katie bar the door. The public criticism will come down in waves.

But if he’s hitting .290 with decent power, who will speak out then? Not me. Because my love for the Cardinals trumps my hatred for cheaters. I’m sorry.

 

Take my Heisman vote – please

It’s an honor and a privilege to be a Heisman Trophy voter. It’s hardly an exclusive club – there are 870 of us across the country.

I love the Heisman Trophy, although I’m sometimes confused as to what it stands for. During my more

Has Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron become the Heisman Trophy frontrunner. Thanks to some strange and unfortunate events, the answer is "maybe."

Has Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron become the Heisman Trophy frontrunner. Thanks to some strange and unfortunate events, the answer is “maybe.”

than 10 years of voting, I’ve gone with the player I deem to be the best in college football. But it’s a flawed system because there are years when the best player in college football is not a quarterback, receiver or running back.

Yet those are the positions that produce Heisman winners, almost exclusively.

Voting for the Heisman should be fun. It was fun. But for the past couple of years it’s become a hair-pulling exercise in judging talent and contribution (it comes with the job) and weighing a player’s morality and behavior (I didn’t sign up for that).

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston would be my top candidate this season, except that he’s been accused of sexual assault. I don’t know if he’ll be charged. But from what I’ve read, the accusation seems to have some merit. But FSU has not suspended Winston and the undefeated Seminoles look like a good bet to play in the national championship game.

Provided Winston isn’t charged in the next few days or weeks leading up to that game in early January.

Last year, linebacker Manti Te’o of Notre Dame had a fake girlfriend and Texas A&M Johnny Manziel had a fake ID. The morality police favored Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein because he was an outstanding player and all-around good guy.

But I didn’t vote for Klein to win the Heisman because I didn’t think he was the best player. And the off-the-field issues facing Te’o and Manziel weren’t great enough, as I weighed them, to cause me to drop them from consideration.

A rape accusation is, of course, a big deal. And while I cannot presume the guilt of Winston, I also cannot presume his innocence. Not yet. And with Heisman ballots due in a couple of weeks, how can I possibly submit my vote in favor of Winston with such a cloud hanging over his head?

This is a dilemma, especially considering that most of the other legitimate Heisman candidates have at least diminished their candidacies in recent weeks and in some cases torched them.

Manziel, the defending Heisman winner, has had an even better sophomore season at A&M. Until Saturday, when he bombed in a blowout loss to LSU. Manziel was awful in that game, much as he was awful against the Tigers in 2012.

But he made up for it last season by leading the Aggies past unbeaten Alabama three weeks later. People forgot his mediocre performance against LSU.

Manziel probably can’t recover this time. A&M has already played Alabama and while Manziel was terrific in that game, the Aggies lost, 45-42. One of their three losses. It’s not as easy to cast a Heisman vote this season for Manziel, even though he’s a better quarterback.

Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty was starting to get some traction in the Heisman race before the Bears blew a gasket in Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State. And Oregon QB Marcus Mariota is washed up after two Ducks losses.

The best candidate now might be boring ol’ AJ McCarron from Alabama. You remember him, right? He’s the guy whose girlfriend Brent Musburger has the hots for.

All McCarron does is win national championships. He benefits, of course, for quarterbacking Alabama. Does anyone think AJ would be winning hardware if he played for anyone else?

It’s a worthy debate, but thanks to some poor and recent performances by Heisman frontrunners and a cloud of unknown that hangs over Winston, McCarron is easily the safe choice and he just might be the best.

McCarron doesn’t have the gaudy numbers of a Manziel, Winston, Petty or Mariotta, but that W-L ledger looks pretty good. And he’s not a slouch, either, having passed for 2,399 yards and 23 touchdowns this season while completing 68.6 percent of his pass attempts.

The New York Athletic Club could hand the Heisman Trophy to McCarron without regret of disappointment. And that might be the way we’re headed.

Trouble is, McCarron isn’t the player Manziel, Winston, Petty or Mariota are. And it’s obvious. That’s not a slight on McCarron, who is a tremendous leader and field general. I don’t think Alabama coach Nick Saban would trade him for any other quarterback. He fits the Crimson Tide’s system perfectly.

Even so, I don’t want to vote for McCarron. I might end up doing so, but it’ll be a vote cast with my eyes looking fondly at the statistics of the other guys.

Especially Winston, who has taken college football by storm this season, much the way Manziel did in 2012. But Winston has too many questions surrounding him. I can’t vote for him with the possibility that a rape charge could be looming.

What to do?

Perhaps clarity will be provided over the regular season’s final two weeks. But considering the confusion and turmoil of the past couple of weeks as they relate to the Heisman race, I’m not counting on it.

 

K-State football 2013

I’ll remember this season for the Wildcats for what might have been. And the challenges facing Bill Snyder as he has tried to navigate his through a season with two talented, but vastly different, quarterbacks.

Snyder never settled on one guy. He never tried to settle on one guy. He committed himself and the Wildcats’ offense to a two-quarterback system from the get-go and it has provided the kind of mixed results you’d expect with a 6-5 record.

For a while on a cold Saturday morning/afternoon at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett were making beautiful music together. They had a second quarter to behold as K-State erased an early 14-0 deficit to Oklahoma and took off for the races. Almost literally.

Waters and Lockett hooked up on four big pass plays in the second quarter that were good for 177 yards and three touchdowns. There were 48-, 30- and 90-yard scoring strikes. They were Unitas-Berry, Montana-Rice, Brady-Moss, Manning-Harrison.

Nobody wanted to see halftime come except the Oklahoma secondary and Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. They probably sprinted to the locker room for warmth, which I imagine the fiery Stoops provided in mass quantity.

And whatever fire the OU defensive boss was breathing worked to ignite the Sooners’ defense. It limited Kansas State to just 10 second-half points. The only touchdown came late. And Oklahoma won, 41-31.

What happened to Lockett?

Easy.

Oklahoma decided that it wasn’t going to get burned by the speedy junior. The Sooners filled his area with bodies. Not always warm bodies, but they took up space and made finding it more difficult.

Lockett still caught eight passes for 101 yards in the second half. It wasn’t like he was blanketed. But he didn’t catch a touchdown pass nor anything longer than 19 yards.

That’s because Waters had nobody else to go to. The running game was non-existent. Tailback Jon Hubert continued his very strange season.

And Daniel Sams, who has shared the quarterback position with Waters all season, was on the field for one offensive series. He had a couple of rushes that didn’t amount to much.

Lockett has had an incredible season, considering he’s not known from game to game or series to series who his quarterback will be.

When it’s Sams, Lockett might as well order up some carryout and watch a movie because Snyder hasn’t turned Sams loose in the passing game.

He did attempt 21 passes during a close loss at Oklahoma State in September, completing 15 for 181 yards and two touchdowns. Problem is, Sams was intercepted three times in that game and Snyder has treated him like a 13-year-old learning to drive a car ever since.

Outside of that one game, Sams has thrown only 31 passes in 10 games. He has completed 24 for 271 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Overall, Sams has completed 39 of 52 passes. That’s a 75 percent completion percentage. Even so, Sams is apparently under strict orders not to throw.

So he runs.

And Waters passes.

It’s simple, really. Probably too simple.

Things had been working out for Kansas State recently. The Wildcats took a four-game winning streak into Saturday’s game, but it was a mirage. Wins over West Virginia, Iowa State, Texas Tech and TCU don’t tell much of a story.

Against the good teams on its schedule, Kansas State is 0-5. And yes, I’m putting North Dakota State into that “good teams” category.

Waters is an outstanding passer but without many targets. So he stares down Lockett so much that I’m surprised Lockett doesn’t get a complex. They work well together, but it would be advisable to mix in some other types of offense.

Lockett had the best receiving day in Kansas State history Saturday, breaking the mark he set earlier this season with a 247-yard game at Texas. But the Wildcats lost both of those games, so what does it matter?

I think Lockett will be a success in the NFL. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Waters gets a look. He has a strong arm and good mobility.

They’re an outstanding duo. But sometimes even Batman and Robin need help and nobody was stepping up to provide much Saturday.

Sams spent almost all of the game wrapped up on the sideline. His motor never got about an idle.

But when Sams plays, Lockett disappears. Because Sams isn’t allowed to throw.

So you see the conundrum. Snyder has not come up with a way to get all three on the field at the same time, although I’ve been curious from the get-go to see how that might look.

So Waters has a 348-yard passing day. Lockett has a 278-yard receiving day. And Kansas State loses. There’s something wrong with that picture.

 

Friday musings (a day late)

* The other day, the Kansas City Royals sent out a news release announcing a “major baseball-related news conference” that was to happen later in the afternoon. Nothing like the word “major” in a news release to stir the masses. Twitter immediately ignited with speculation. People love the Hot Stove League and the Royals, of course, are expected to be active. The team needs to find offense and it’s rumored that former Royal Carlos Beltran might be coming back to the organization where he got his start.

* Um, the major announcement had nothing to do with Beltran, one of baseball’s biggest names. The news conference was held to officially announce the signing of left-handed pitcher Jason Vargas, who pitched last season with the Los Angeles Angels. Jason Vargas. Yeah, that guy.

* Talk about a letdown. But it’s nothing new with this organization, which seems to operate in a vacuum filled with its own unawareness. Remember the “This is Our Time” campaign in 2012? Yeah, how’d that go for the Royals?

* Kansas City was 86-76 last season. The Royals were in the playoff hunt until the final 10 days of the regular season. Kudos all around. But now is when it really gets tough. This hungry fan base now expects the Kansas City front office to take that next step. And it’s a difficult one to take. Signing Vargas to a four-year contract (way too many years for him, by the way) isn’t that step. Perhaps signing Beltran would be, although he’ll be 37 next season.

* About Beltran, for a second. The St. Louis Cardinals brought him aboard as a free agent in 2012, after first baseman Albert Pujols bolted for the Angeles. St. Louis gave Beltran a two-year, $27 million contract and he earned every penny, helping the Cardinals to the World Series this season after they lost to San Francisco in the National League Championship Series last season. Now the speculation is that Beltran might get another two-year deal, only this time for $38 million. And he’s two years older.¬†This is an example of why I trust the Cardinals’ front office to make good baseball decisions. It doesn’t always happen, but it happens more often than not. I’d be leery about giving a 37-year-old outfielder with bad knees that much money.

* I did like the Cardinals’ trade Friday with the Angels, which sent third baseman David Freese and reliever Fernando Salas west for outfielder Peter Bourjos and prospect outfielder Randal Grichuk. The Cardinals are now faster and better defensively than they were. They can move Matt Carpenter from second base to third and plug in Kolten Wong at second. Yes, there are risks. Bourjos has not been able to stay healthy since a solid 2011 season when he led the American League in triples. And Wong struggled mightily late in 2013 after being called up from Triple-A. But this is a good deal. Freese was set to earn $4 million or more as a second-time arbitration eligible player and Salas was not in the bullpen mix for St. Louis.

* Baseball on a frigid, late-November day. Thanks for indulging me.

* I love college basketball season. I’m looking forward to being in Kansas City on Monday and Tuesday for the CBE Classic and to see how Wichita State not only plays against DePaul and either Texas or BYU, but to see how many Shocker fans make the jaunt up to KC to watch. I’m guessing 4,000 or so, but it could easily be more.

* I’ve been singing the praises of sophomore guards Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker so far. Who hasn’t? But I’ve been wondering, too, about senior forward Cleanthony Early. He’s off to a good start but not a great one. He hasn’t shot the ball very well.

* My observation is that while VanVleet and Baker have tremendous basketball instincts that can’t be taught, there are still times when Early has to think too much about what he’s doing out there. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how it looks. He certainly has every athletic ability required to be a basketball star. And there are times when he is a star. But the game doesn’t seem to come as easily for Early. Perhaps I’m off base here.

* Interesting to see guard Conner Frankamp get a few more minutes during Kansas’ blowout wins over Iona and Towson this week. The Jayhawks did struggle for 20 minutes with Iona, but blasted Towson on Friday night. I’m interested to see how the ultra-competitive and ultra-confident Frankamp navigates his way through his freshman season on a KU roster loaded with exceptional players.

* I’ve watched a lot of John F. Kennedy retrospectives during the past week or so but none better than Tom Brokaw’s narrative on NBC on Friday night. It was heart-wrenching to see the widow of slain Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit, Marie, who shared the contents of a letter she received from Jacqueline Kennedy shortly after J.F.K. was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, by Lee Harvey Oswald. I couldn’t keep my emotions in check as Brokaw recited the words from that warm and thoughtful letter. I had no idea Jackie had written the letter, in which she expressed her empathy and explained that it was unfair that the death of her husband was overwhelming the death of the more ordinary Tippet, who was shot four times by Oswald in the minutes after Kennedy was shot. I’m so glad Brokaw chose to include the Tippets in his report.

* I was hoping to get an interview this week with one of my favorite childhood athletes, Elvin Hayes. But it didn’t happen. I wanted to talk to The Big E about his induction into the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame on Sunday and his thoughts on former Wichita State star Xavier McDaniel, who is also being inducted. But Hayes’ schedule was too busy, I was told. Shucks.

* I was just an average student as a kid and I blame that on my locked-in attentiveness to sports. If school had been about knowledge of sports, I would have been a magna cum laude. Alas, they expected you to know others things, which is where I got into trouble.

* I only recently heard about and started listening to some music from the band Haim, which consists of three sisters from California. And I like them. So I’m excited that they’re the musical guests tonight on Saturday Night Live, hosted by Chris Hemsworth. I rarely miss SNL these days after years of hardly watching. I’m not sure what that says about me but I’m always searching for deeper meanings.

* Haim’s drummer, by the way, is the son of Danny Hutton, one of the founders of Three Dog Night. I find that fascinating.

* Prediction: Kansas State 28, Oklahoma 24.

* Have a great weekend. Stay warm.

 

Memories of a sports writer

I was 19 years old when I walked into the Wichita Eagle-Beacon’s newsroom for the first time in 1974. It was November and I had just been hired to work on the phone crew in the sports department after more than a year of working as the sports editor at the Derby Daily Reporter.

I took a pay cut to go to the Eagle, where I would be one of several college-age people who worked evenings, collecting box scores and other information over the telephone.

It wasn’t rocket science. But I was determined to do a good job because I wanted to be a sports writer and I wanted to be hired to be a sports writer by the Eagle-Beacon (in those days, the Beacon was the afternoon paper). I was more than willing to start out small and had confidence that I could make an impression because of my experience working in Derby.

I was a journalism student at Wichita State at the time. The man who hired me at the Eagle-Beacon, Rod Smith, was at the time in charge of high school coverage. He was energetic and somewhat eccentric, but I had gotten to know him when I worked in Derby and liked him. He was always friendly and supportive and he took me under his wing. Not that he actually had a wing. I really kind of hate the term “under his wing,” but cannot think of a more apt way to describe Rod’s influence. I also do not like the word “apt.”

Moving on.

Even though the work on the phone crew was simple, it was fun. And it was exciting, I must admit, to type up a box score and see it in the newspaper the next morning. I guess I was easily excited in those days.

I prided myself (and still do) on being able to type fast. Not the fastest, but fast. So I was able to churn out a bunch of box scores, which I suppose impressed somebody. I’m just not sure who.

About a month after I was hired to work on the phone crew, I was sent out to cover a basketball game between Andale and Cheney. I’m sure I was an emergency choice. I think we printed about five paragraphs about that game on an inside page, but seeing my name in print for the first time in a newspaper I had grown up reading was a tremendous personal moment for me. And for my parents.

My mother cut out every story I wrote for the Eagle-Beacon, and later just the Eagle, until she died in 1990. I have several scrap books of articles from those early years, thanks to her. And after she passed away, a friend of her’s from the neighborhood continued the tradition of cutting out my stories. She mailed them to me in a big package every month or so.

I was hired full-time at the paper in the summer of 1975 as a high school sports reporter. Those were some of the best years of my career and of my life. It was kind of a thrown-into-the-fire situation. I was just a kid covering even young kids, but it worked out. There were some tense moments. My inexperience was a factor and my sports editor at the time, Mal Elliott, wasn’t the most patient guy.

But he gave me a chance and I was always willing to work hard. In those days, we had to produce enough copy (stories) to satisfy the needs of the Eagle and the Beacon. So when I covered a game for the Eagle, I also wrote re-caps for the Beacon. And I loved very minute of it.

The newspaper was such a vibrant place. I was meeting all kinds of characters – colleagues and people I wrote about. It was a brand new world and there was always a lot going on.

I’ll be a 39-year veteran of the Eagle in a couple of days. I never thought I could last 39 years in one place. I’m too cantankerous. I rub some people the wrong way. I’m difficult.

But I’ve managed to make it work at the newspaper, which has changed in so many ways since those early days.

I’m now doing videos. For a newspaper. Who would have thunk it? I’m doing this blog. My columns are posted online far in advance of the newspaper’s morning delivery.

Adaptation is a prerequisite for those of us in newspapers. And change is exciting, if a bit daunting. Mostly, though, change is unavoidable. You either change for the better or for the worse. My advice: Do your best to make it for the better.

 

Lists, lists, lists

 

Folks on Facebook are posting things about themselves. This certainly comes as no surprise; it’s what many of us do on Facebook.

The fad now is to post things about yourself that people don’t know. And I must admit, with some shame, that I have read a lot of those lists. I guess I’m just interested. Or nosy.

In honor of Facebook, and in honor of “Lists, lists, lists” Wednesday, I’ll list five things you probably don’t know about me.

1. I’ve started slicking back my hair lately. With product. From a hair salon. No, it’s not because of the new post-game videos I’m doing with Wichita State beat writer Paul Suellentrop on Kansas.com after Shocker basketball games. But it’s noticeable enough that Gregg Marshall, who also uses product to make his hair look good, has made mention. So I guess there’s a slicked-back-hair men’s club out there that I never knew about. I’m happy to be a member.

2. I drive every mile of every trip I take. At least 99 percent of the miles. Is it a control thing? Is it a fear thing? Is it an obsession thing? I don’t know, but my wife always offers to take the wheel and I always politely turn her down. Same with almost everyone else. If I’m tired and it’s late at night and there are multiple people along, I might let someone drive. But that’s about the only time.

3. I still love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I think this admission requires close scrutiny or a bunch of people in their 50s telling me they still love P&B sandwiches, too. It’s such a Dennis the Menace thing and I know many of you have never heard of Dennis the Menace. Let’s just say P&B and D the M take me to another place and time.

4. I don’t work on cars. I don’t paint. I don’t build. Outside of the time I spend on my laptop, I am utterly useless.

5. My wife, who once was a member of the Singing Quakers at Friends University, once told me she thought I should try out for “The Voice” on NBC. She loves me very much, I understand that. There are times wives will tell a husband anything just to get them to shut up. I get that, too. Regardless of her intention, her words have stuck with me. But so far, no tryout.

Best Missouri Valley Conference cities (not including Wichita)

1. Chicago (hey, it’s a Valley city now)

2. Springfield, Mo.

3. Peoria, Ill.

4. Bloomington/Normal, Ill.

5. Des Moines, Iowa

6. Carbondale, Ill.

7. Terre Haute, Ind.

8. Evansville, Ind.

9. Cedar Falls, Iowa

Favorite Johnny Carson guests from the day

1. Don Rickles

2. Rodney Dangerfield

3. Bob Uecker

4. Steve Martin

5. Joan Embery from the San Diego Zoo

Favorite Wichita night spots (or day spots, I suppose)

1. Shamrock Lounge

2. The Anchor

3. Side Pockets

4. Merle’s

5. Quincy’s

Headed to Tulsa now for the Shockers’ game tonight against the Golden Hurricane. Predicting an 84-72 WSU win. Be back with you soon.

 

Who’s making the rules?

Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly did everything but propose to New England tight end Rob Gronkowski on the final play of the Monday Night Football game.

By now, you’ve seen the play numerous times. You’ve decided whether you think the call should have

Luke Kuechly did a little dancing with Rob Gronkowski in the end zone Monday night.

Luke Kuechly did a little dancing with Rob Gronkowski in the end zone Monday night.

been made or not. But if you’ve decided there wasn’t a penalty on the play – which resulted in an interception of a Tom Brady pass as the Patriots were trying to cap a game-winning drive – then you’re just not paying attention.

Kuechly was all over Gronkowski and well before the pass arrived in the end zone. Yes, Brady’s pass was under-thrown. He didn’t give it enough zip. But Kuechly’s swarming of Gronkowski kept the tight end from making a play on the football.

I’m not saying that making a play on the football would have resulted in a touchdown. Chances are, Gronkowski would not have been able to get back to the football. But he’s a gifted receiver with great hands. How many times have we seen an NFL receiver make a pass we thought he had no chance of making?

Point is: The refs blew it when they overturned the flag that was originally thrown by the back judge and was intended to penalize Kuechly. By ruling the pass uncatchable, the refs made a determination that nobody who was watching the game would have or could have made.

To say the ball was uncatchable is nothing more than an opinion. In some cases, such a ruling is obvious. Had Brady thrown the ball 10 feet over Gronkowski’s head, of course the ball is uncatchable. But this wasn’t like that.

The decisions of officials based on unclear rules is threatening not only the NFL, but certainly college basketball.

Nobody seems to be entirely clued in on what the new rules for defensive engagement are and what they look like. And more than a couple of games so far have been made difficult to watch by an abundance of foul calls and the resulting free throws.

Memo to the powers that be in college basketball: Nobody watches this sport because of free throws. In fact, free throws are a drain on the sport. They slow down the pace of the game and are the major flaw of an otherwise exquisite sport. When Dr. James Naismith was inventing basketball back in the day, I wish he had come up with something other than free throws to penalize a team that committed a foul.

Baseball has legislative issues, too. In 2014, Major League Baseball will adopt a policy to, based on managerial challenges, review everything but balls, strikes and foul tips. A game already indicted because of its pace will become even slower, all in the name of getting calls right.

I’m not against getting calls right. I think calls need to be right. And in the age of super slow motion and incessant replays, the sports-viewing public will no longer accept blown calls.

But there will be a cost for this adherence to perfection. And I’m of the opinion that sports were never meant to be perfect, anyway.

Umpires have been blowing calls for more than a century. Basketball officials often seem to be making it up as they go along. There are times when football crew don’t seem to have been near a rule book for 10 years.

It’s maddening, but so human. And my fear is that once the human element starts to disappear, especially from baseball, that the game will lose its charm.

There didn’t used to be stoppages of basketball games to check the monitor except under the most extreme circumstances. Now there’s a stoppage, it seems, every couple of minutes.

The same is true for football, where every turnover and touchdown is double-checked.

Again, it’s good to be attentive to detail. But when every turnover and touchdown is scrutinized, yet a play like the one in the end zone on the final play of the Monday night game is overturned without even much of a discussion, the appearance is that these games still are closer to anarchy than those who oversee them would like us to think.

 

Friday musings

* I liked the midnight basketball game played earlier this week between Wichita State and Western Kentucky at Koch Arena. But I’m glad it’s the only midnight game of the season. My sleep pattern has been off all week.

* Kansas-Duke was one of the most entertaining college basketball games I’ve seen in a while. I just wish players like Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins were in college longer. Then again, it’s a free out there. Why shouldn’t they get the big bucks? The one-and-done aspect to college basketball is one of the most confusing, conflicted rules in sports. I think I hate it, except that getting to see these great players in college basketball for one season is better than none.

* Or is it? I didn’t want to get bogged down in this confusing issue today; it just happened. Are one-and-done players really representing a university? Do they even attend many classes at a university? And if they do, do they pay attention? Wiggins, Parker and others like them know their fate: They’re gone after one season for a huge NBA contract. One year of college is a necessary component to achieving that status.

* Would a one-and-done player ever merit a retired number? Take Michael Beasley at Kansas State, for instance. He was the player most responsible for the Wildcats’ turnaround in basketball fortunes a few years back. But he was never going to be in Manhattan for more than one year. There is no doubt he is one of the most dynamic players in K-State history. But should his number be retired? I say no. He wasn’t around long enough and that should be one of the determining factors for those types of honors.

* I’m looking forward to seeing the Wichita State basketball team on the road and at neutral sites over the next few weeks. The Shockers are at home against Tennessee State on Saturday at noon. That game should be a walkover. But WSU is at Tulsa on Wednesday night before playing in the CBE Classic at the Sprint Center in Kansas City on Nov. 25-26. Then comes a road game at Saint Louis on Sunday, Dec. 1. Good stuff.

* Kansas State’s basketball team has to do something to get my attention this season. And maybe some of Bruce Weber’s freshmen will do so. We’ll see.

* Speaking of K-State, the football team can continue a nice recovery from a 2-4 start with a win over TCU on Saturday afternoon at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. It’s been a little bit of a lost football season in the state of Kansas, but K-State could pull to 6-4 with a win, with games remaining against Oklahoma (in Manhattan, Nov. 23) and Kansas (in Lawrence, Nov. 30.) An 8-4 record looks like more than a possibility.

* Meanwhile, Kansas is just playing out the string in football. Another lost season. Another wasted opportunity. Charlie Weis will enter the 2014 season on the hottest of hot seats.

* Here’s the most troubling thing about Kansas football: There’s nothing to be excited about. The defense, especially the secondary, has improved. But Weis is known for being an offensive guru and the KU offense has stunk. It has stunk ever since Todd Reesing departed as the Jayhawks’ quarterback. And that’s been a while now.

* I’m disappointed with “The Walking Dead” season so far. But the Governor returns this week so business could be picking up.

* I said to my wife last night, as we were watching two new episodes of “Parks and Recreation,” that it was the best-written comedy on television. Now, I don’t watch every comedy. I don’t even watch “Big Bank Theory,” I’m ashamed to admit. But I watch a few comedies and “Parks and Recreation” is the most consistently-funny of those I watch. I’d love your feedback on this one. What are the best comedies out there. I would also throw “The Middle” and “The Goldbergs” into the mix. I’m kind of over “Modern Family,” although not completely. We still watch and it certainly has its moments, thanks mostly to Ed O’Neill and Ty Burrell.

* Going to hit a movie double feature sometime this weekend. I’m thinking “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave,” although I will certainly listen to my wife if she has any different ideas. I’m that kind of guy. And I’m not sure she’s up for “12 Years a Slave,” which is by all accounts a terribly hard movie to watch.

* The most difficult movie I’ve ever seen, emotionally speaking, was “Marley and Me,” a few years back. I sobbed uncontrollably and for a good 20 minutes. While trying, of course, to hide my sobbing from my fellow movie-goers. It was a miserable experience.

* A tough day for KU hoops, losing center Jahlil Okafor and point guard Tyus Jones to Duke. But the Jayhawks land on their feet as No. 3 recruit (according to ESPN) Cliff Alexander, a power forward from Chicago, commits to Bill Self. KU could lose as many as four or five players to the NBA after this season, conceivably. But the Jayhawks are in the process of reloading. Alexander is the second 5-star recruit to commit. Kelly Oubre, a forward from Henderson, Nev., announced his intentions of playing for Kansas in early October.

* Didn’t Okafor and Jones watch Kansas beat Duke on Tuesday night?

* I did. And I came away feeling like Jabari Parker is the next NBA superstar. KU’s Andrew Wiggins will probably be one, too, but Parker looks like he could play a prominent role on a championship team right now. I think it will take Wiggins a bit longer to develop.

* I need to put up Christmas lights this year. But I want to hire the right person to do a good job. I do not do a good job when it comes to things like this. I just don’t. Everyone has a skill set and mine is limited. It does not include doing handy stuff. I don’t install, build, tear down, paint, read instructions, pull, lift, push or reach. And I don’t have a tool box. That would be a waste of money. I do have a few screwdrivers, but I always forget where they are. And I do hammer from time to time. But not well.

* I often crave pancakes. Then, after I eat them, I wonder why I craved them. This has been going on for 40 years, at least. And it’s one of the great mysteries of my life. I’m craving pancakes at this very moment but they would be entirely unsatisfying to eat.

* I’ve been doing post-game videos with Paul Suellentrop after every Wichita State home game. I have to say, they’re kind of fun. And kind of mindless. Paul, of course, carries the videos. All I can think of when I do them is that that unsightly spittle is forming at the intersection of my lips. You’ve seen that with people, right? And they don’t seem to know it.

* I miss my dad. My mom, too. But I think about my dad a lot because we had sports in common. He died in 1986 and I can’t remember what his voice sounded like. I wish I had a recording of his voice.

* It looks like a warm, windy Saturday coming up. Maybe I’ll see you at the Shocker game tomorrow. Have a great weekend.