Let's Start the New Year Out Right

While 1988 is learning to walk and growing teeth, there are a few things I would like it to learn as well. What was it the Jesuits used to say? "Give me the boy for seven years and I'll give you the man"? Well, give me 1988 for seven weeks and I'll make him a man for you. Somebody has to do it.

The first thing I would like to do is return the fumble to football. Then, I would like to return the swinging strike to baseball.

I mean, permissiveness is OK up to a point. But that point, it seems to me, has been passed.

You see, I am fed up with seeing guys dropping footballs and retaining possession. I have had it up to here with calls like, "The ground caused the fumble, therefore it doesn't count."

Well, of course, the ground caused the fumble! That's what the ground is for! What's supposed to cause fumbles--air?!

You think back in the old neighborhood we could come up with that kind of lame excuse? "The ground caused the fumble"?! Are you kidding? The guys would laugh till their sides ached.

We held onto the ball, baby! If you didn't, it went over to the other side. Period. You had to hang onto that ball till a crowbar couldn't get it loose from you!

And this, I would like you to know, was on asphalt, a bituminous ground cover as hard as a banker's heart. The "football" was a burlap bag wrapped in rubber bands (it was years before we could afford anything you had to inflate), and if you didn't have it when the play was over, the guys didn't want to hear any sad stories. The reaction was, "Hey, jerk, you dropped it! Now shut up and get in there and cover the big guy!"

Today, these guys are pampered. They drop the ball, the ref comes up and apologizes, makes up all kinds of excuses for them. Their knee touched the ground first, they had the ball till it (or they) hit the earth. I expect some day they'll rule it was the curvature of the earth or sunspots or the wrong day of the month or Jupiter was in conjunction with Venus or something.

Big deal! The guys I played with, it didn't matter if your head hit the ground first. Or if you died. If you didn't have that ball till the last guy named "Stash" got off you, you had just blown it.

Another thing that gives me a laugh is this "in the grasp" business. A quarterback is deemed to be down when one or more players have him in the semblance of a bear hug.

I ask you! Dick Butkus must want to throw up! In my crowd, you weren't deemed to be down till they heard the splat! of your head against the pavement. Where was the fun of the game if you couldn't maim the guy with the ball?

It was especially true if you were still in position to throw the ball. I have seen situations lately where a guy throws an interception which is then nullified because the thrower was deemed to be "in the grasp." Well, I don't have to tell you what the guys on the old block would have thought of that. Believe me, the interception counted. How could you throw the ball if you were "down"? In my neighborhood, the only thing you could throw when you were down was your breakfast.

Let me ask you something: What if "in the grasp" was in effect even when Fran Tarkenton used to play? Fran would never have got a pass off. Fran never got a pass off in his life that he wasn't "in the grasp." Fran threw for 47,000 yards in his career, 46,300 of them with two or more guys hanging onto him or pulling on his jersey. Fran only occasionally got to throw a pass from a completely upright position. Or if he was upright, he was upside-down.

It was Jack Lambert, I believe, who once said, "If quarterbacks need all that legal protection, let 'em wear skirts." My sentiments exactly. Anybody can throw a pass if he's just standing there, for cryin' out loud! That's not football, that's volleyball.

Another thing that bugs me is that "break the plane of the goal line" business. Look, a guy is either all in the end zone--or he's all out of it. I don't want any imaginary lines. We didn't have any goal line "planes." You--and the ball--were either over the goal line or you started all over again. If the ball was any place but the end zone, it was "Next!" Also, you had to touch the ball down. That's where they got the name from. You didn't spike it, flip it, heave it in the air, or bring it home to Mother. You laid it on the ground. That was 6 points. Anything less was zip.

In baseball, I have to cry when I see a batter, badly fooled on a pitch, starting to swing. When he misses the ball, he tries to pretend he just changed his mind at the last minute. He looks at the ump. The ump is a sympathetic character. He seems to think, "Aw, shucks, the poor fellow wouldn't of swung if he'd knowed it was gonna curve." Sometimes, he appeals to the third base ump. He, too, is a bleeding heart. He rules no swing. Maybe he thinks the pitcher threw it too fast.

Now, with the guys I used to play with, if you were fooled enough to take your bat off your shoulder, you better hit it. If you were guessing fastball and, halfway through the swing, you thought, "Uh-oh! That one's gonna bend!" too bad, baby! Too late!

I doubt if Casey at the Bat could strike out in today's game.

If a guy's so fooled on a pitch, he's tied up, the pitcher is entitled to his strike. After all, the batter gets three of them. Today's game, he sometimes gets five.

If you want a called ball, leave the bat on your shoulder. Some of these guys today swing at passing airplanes. They never will learn the strike zone if the umpires don't make them.

Anyway, those are my wishes for sports to get its pants back on. It's hit-the-bloody-ball or throw-the-bloody-ball or hang-onto-the-bloody-ball! If you goof up, pay up. I'll tell you one thing: In our neighborhood, we didn't need any instant replay. If you swung, fumbled, or got tackled, no camera in the world could save you.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World