Back to earth

andrew_toneyLANCASTER, Pa. – Going to Spring Training to write about baseball is a lot like walking into a hermetically-sealed cocoon. Nothing pierces this bubble, which is more roach motel than a simple picket fence.

Ideas from the outside check in, and then they die.

So the first order of business since checking out of Camp Big Britches in Clearwater was to reconnect with reality. Or at least some facsimile thereof. And a quick look back at my version of reality shows that I missed some pretty cool stuff back here in Philly.

Lancaster? Not so much.

Anyway, here’s what happened:

• Apparently there is a basketball tournament going on. Villanova is in it, though it must be pointed out that the current version of the team is only slightly less evil than the older versions. Yeah, those fans/alums are still as arrogant as can be, but Jay Wright makes it all a bit more tolerable.

gonzo_gonzoMore interesting, Villanova plays Duke in the regional semifinal in Boston this Thursday. In the old days rational folks would have rooted for both teams to get lost on the way to the arena. Baring that, some discomfort or at least a few flat tires were in order. These days, anytime the li’l general at Duke gets beat is pretty sweet.

Hey, I’m not one of those hater guys (at least I hope not), so I guess it’s not fair to pick on Coach K because he has a really, really important job coaching basketball. He’s very important. Just ask him.

• The biggest whiff was skipping out before the Sixers played one last game at the Spectrum. No, not for the sentiment of playing a game in an old building because overwrought pining for things seems kind of silly. Besides, as Joe Strummer said, if you think too much about the past it will drag you down.

Joe… Joe was the greatest.

Sentiment and nostalgia are hard things to ignore. It’s the emotion of it, probably. Life can be difficult if you’re one to wade in past the shallow end, so comfortable memories of old times can be soothing on occasion. So for a lot of us – especially pre-teens who hawked the team during training camp at F&M – that ’83 Sixers club would have conjured up some fun memories.

If, of course, I had been at the Spectrum instead of sunny Florida.

Regardless, does it really count if Andrew Toney wasn’t there?

Sure, the Sixers undoubtedly did a wonderful job putting together a memorable event for the fans and the players, but Andrew Toney was such an important player of that era that it actually belied mere statistics and wins and losses. The truth is Andrew Toney changed everything in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.

It’s possible Toney was the most important player in the game for a few years.

Here’s why:

If the Celtics had anyone remotely capable of guarding Toney, they would not have traded to get Dennis Johnson. And without Johnson, the Celtics are just a very good team, but not that much different from the rest of the very good teams.

So without Toney, the Celtics dynasty might have just been a blip in time and the Sixers might have snuck out of the East another time or two.

• Elsewhere, before Lance Armstrong broke his collarbone and possibly lost his shot at returning to the Tour de France, he had to submit some of his hair for DNA drug testing. Yep, athletes in sports outside of the big three, are submitting to DNA drug testing.

Meanwhile, baseball’s drug problem gets sillier and sillier by the day.

• Finally, speaking of drug-testing, maybe A-Rod should have been forced to offer a hair/urine sample after posing for this picture:


Seriously, I’m all for defying the conventional wisdom, but what is he doing? That’s something some dudes do when there is no one else at home and they don’t have to worry about being caught acting like a goof. But not A-Rod. He invites a photog and goes all out.

So when he puts on his Sunday best, grabs his parasol and sashays through the town square, don’t be surprised.

Relying on the classics

The Washington Generals were due. Make that overdue. Big time. See, the Generals’ losing skid dated back to January of 1971 when Meadowlark Lemon missed a would-be buzzer beater that would have given his Harlem Globetrotters the victory.

Certainly a lot can happen in 38 years. Lifetimes are lived and eras of history are defined over less time. But losing streaks? Thirty-eight years? How could it be?

Oh, it be. Even with the accusations of point-shaving, some suspicious play and questionable calls, the Globetrotters always figured out a way to win during crunch time.

But the Harlem Globetrotters had never found themselves in the setting they were placed in during Thursday afternoon’s tough, 36-24, victory over the Generals. This time the ‘Trotters not only had to battle the wily Generals, but also the sunshine, a little ice and snow, stiff winds, slightly above-freezing temps, and, of course, heights.


Continue reading this story…

Sweet Georgia Brown is it ever cold out there!

meadowlark_lemonThe Harlem Globetrotters were supposed to play a game atop the Spectrum today, but the snow, ice and frigid temps forced a postponement to Thursday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. Still, the Globbies are back in town and a ballgame on the roof of the old arena is very apt.

I haven’t seen the money line on this game yet, but I’m going with the ‘Trotters and giving the points. They have been on a roll lately.

Anyway, when I was in first grade the first pro basketball game I ever saw was when the Globetrotters had their way with the hometown Washington Generals at the Cap Centre. I have to admit that I was initially torn about whether to root for the Generals or the Globbies. I was, if anything, loyal to my hometown. However, after watching Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal run roughshod all over the Generals, my allegiance was completely on the Harlem side.

In fact, I was so taken with the Globetrotters that day I went back to school the next and boasted that the defending NBA Champs, the Washington Bullets, wouldn’t be able to keep up with Harlem in a seven-game series.

No way.

I didn’t care that the Bullets had Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld up front – not with Meadowlark draining half-court shots from behind his back, Curly sliding all over the hardwood while keeping his dribble and then that bucket-of-confetti bit.

C’mon, Unseld might grab every board, but what’s he going to do when they bring out that bucket? Besides, what team can defend that magic circle?

Needless to say, we’re pretty excited to see the Spectrum roof game, despite a few concerns. Namely, what happens if the ball rolls off the roof? Or what happens if a player dives for a loose ball and his momentum carries him over the edge?

Big issues, folks.

So while we worry about the nuances of gravity, check out this SNL bit on groundbreaking ballplayer Sweet River Baines, the first African-American to play for the Globetrotters.

Take a look:

Hartman was everywhere in that sketch…