By: Bill Campbell
As we move deeper and deeper into April, the NCAA basketball tournament fades into history. The Masters Golf Tournament approaches. But the NFL labor strike continues with no resolution in sight. The baseball season begins. There is soccer all over the globe. Hockey and pro basketball playoffs are all around us. But whether we have any kind of a football season is doubtful.
The most sensible comments on the subject that I’ve seen or heard came over the past weekend from Ron Jaworski. Now 60 years of age, the former Eagles quarterback has been through this business before in circumstances similar to the current problem. He was involved in three work stoppages as a player and thinks that it’s most unfortunate to hear fans talking about greedy millionaire athletes quarreling with equally greedy billionaire owners.
When asked recently whether he sided with the owners or the players, he seemed to favor the players if only because of their short careers, which average 3.4 years.
Having gone through the work stoppages of 1987, 1982 and 1974, what saddens Jaworski most of all is the players’ possible lack of concern for the former players, the guys who laid the foundation for what has become a very prosperous game for everyone involved.
Many of us have seen former players with severe physical handicaps dating back to their playing days and think they deserve more than they’re getting in medical benefits and other forms of compensation.
When asked whether he believes the 2011 season could be in serious jeopardy, Jaworski talked about the 57 day strike of 1982. He called it an ugly time, and said he is seeing a lot of the same parallels and symptoms now. In Jaworski’s words, “When the collective bargaining agreement undergoes change, the players could begin to lose paychecks. That doesn’t really happen until Game One of the regular season. Then the real pain begins.”
He makes the case right now that Michael Vick is getting no coaching, no reps, is not working out.
“They can say what they want but it’s all talk. I’ve been through all that and it’s a joke.” There is no way that it helps either side.
It was heartening to see the Phillies get off to a good start. The Phils weren’t the only major league baseball team to win its first three games nor were they the only National League team to do it. The Cincinnati Reds went 3-0 over Milwaukee and in their third win, they combined the solid pitching of Bronson Arroyo with a barrage of 19 hits, four by Ryan Hannigan — a career high. A dozen Reds had at least one hit and that total of 19 equaled their season high of last year when they led the league in total offense.
Other noteworthy opening series developments saw the New York Mets win two out of three in Florida. This was surprising because the Mets did not win a road series last year until mid-June, losing a total of 49 games on the road.
Tim Hudson pitched seven solid innings for the Atlanta Braves, who won two out of three from Washington. And Brian McCann drove in four runs in Sunday’s game to pave the way. Hudson literally “owns” the Nationals: he is 11-2 against them with an ERA of 1.88.
The first shut-out of the infant season was pitched by St. Louis Cardinal left-hander Jamie Garcia, who blanked San Diego 2-0 on four hits with a career best nine strike-outs. It was like an old-time game, the way they used to play. It took only two hours and the Red Birds needed it after losing the first two to San Diego.
Incidentally, the pathetic Pittsburgh Pirates lost 64 road games last year, making things really tough on the road.
The American League produced a 3-0 sweep for the defending American League champs Texas Rangers who hit 11 home runs against the Boston Red Sox, outscoring the Sox 26-11 in their series played in Arlington, Texas.
Meanwhile in Florida, the Baltimore Orioles swept Tampa Bay with a comparatively unknown left-hander named Zach Britton pitching six sharp innings in his major league debut. He was recalled just before the game because of injuries to the staff and yielded only three hits, three walks, while striking out six.
The Rangers’ production was notable because it came against the Red Sox, next to the Phillies the most talked about and most favored team in the game. But Boston Manager, Terry Francona, said about the Rangers, “They hit better, they pitched better and we have to regroup and get us a win so we can feel better.”
While the Phillies celebrated the exciting happenings of their opening series, the Flyers have run into all sorts of problems. Danny Carcillo, one of their players, thinks his team lacks passion that they need to bring more intensity to the rink.
The appearance of the New York Rangers in South Philadelphia last Sunday, you would think, would have aroused some passion if for no other reason than the 7-0 embarrassment they suffered in their previous meeting.
The Flyers are also playing short-handed. Already without Danny Briere and Chris Pronger, they lost Blair Betts to a lower body injury last Sunday in the second period.
And prior to Tuesday night’s game against the Senators on the road, the Flyers had lost 8 of their last 9 home games and their claim on the regular season championship has been placed in real jeopardy. At one point early in the current week, the Flyers and the Washington Capitols were tied for first place and each had three games to play.
Peter Laviolette’s team has enjoyed almost capacity attendance throughout the season and it would be disappointing indeed to see it relinquish the top spot now after spending most of the season leading the conference. The coach doesn’t seem to be too upset with the recent performance of his team. Laviolette was quoted as saying after the most recent loss to the Rangers, “I didn’t think it was too bad. I thought that we were pretty competitive out there for the most part. But it can always be better.”
The main objective at this stage is getting healthy and overcoming some injuries. The Flyers can take some consolation from the NHL’s tie-breaking system which does give the Flyers a bit of an edge.
But losing shootouts at home to the team ranked 8th in the Eastern Conference is not very encouraging. And Chris Pronger, along with the other walking wounded, will be welcomed back with open arms.