By Bill Campbell
We are in the middle of a strange week.
Tony LaRussa, who has been managing in the major leagues for 33 years, made some pitching changes in the eighth inning against the Phillies the other night that defied description. The Florida Marlins picked eighty-year-old Jack McKeon as their interim manager the other day, the same team that retired him six years ago. So Charlie Manuel is no longer the oldest manager in the majors. And the 76ers reportedly have been on the block for more than a week. Maybe after the smoke passes from the player draft, we’ll hear more about that.
So let’s begin with the future of Rory McIlroy. He so dominated the 2011 U.S. Open, there was hardly anyone else to think about. McIlroy is now attracting the attention of tournament sponsors and golf people everywhere. It will be interesting to watch how he handles this world-wide adulation. That will determine whether he is, indeed, a very special player or just another guy who got hot and had a great weekend. He’s only 22 years old and strikes me as a pretty level-headed young man, who remembered his Mom, home in Northern Ireland watching him on the tube, and his Dad walking all 72 holes with him at the Congressional Country Club near Washington on Father’s Day. He now begins life in a fishbowl, having blown the Masters and winning the U.S. Open in the same two-month period. It’s hard to believe that little Northern Ireland has now won back-to-back Opens. Which presents the question: where have all the American golfers gone? There now have been five consecutive majors played since an American won last year — namely, Phil Mickelson at the Masters. He was hardly noticed at the Open. Not only is Tiger Woods struggling, so are all his American comrades.
A couple of U.S. Open sidelights. There was the opening day pairing of defending champion, Graeme McDowell, and British Open champion, Peter Oostthuizen, on the par 5 ninth hole. Both players hit their drives and when they arrived at the landing spot the golf balls were lying side-by-side. You see that occasionally on the greens but neither player had ever seen that happen on the fairway. McDowell actually had to move his ball so his partner could play. And there was the case of England’s Robert Rock, who had visa problems that delayed his travel. At 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, the day before the Open began, he was still in London. His plane departed for Newark, New Jersey at about 8:00 p.m. He then had to take a cab from Newark to Washington, arriving at 4:00 a.m. at a course he had never seen or even walked on. And the cab ride cost him a thousand bucks. Amazingly, he shot one under par the first day, one over the second day, made the cut and won $76,000 in the tournament. Must be nice to able to do that. Try it the next time you play. Take a cab to the golf course. It might relieve the pressure. And after winning $76,000, Robert Rock could well afford it.
We are again at that somewhat controversial part of the baseball season known as inter-league time. Many people like it. Some look forward to it. And others consider the scheduling of it a waste of time. This year it involved the New York Yankees against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago for only the second time ever. And it was the Yankees’ first visit to Wrigley since 2003. Inter-league play was introduced in 1997. There is so much disparity in its scheduling, however, that it annually produces controversy. For instance, while the Yankees play the weak Cubs, the Boston Red Sox – the Yankees’ chief rival in the American League – have to take on the Milwaukee Brewers, who usually set the pace in National League Central. And wins and losses count in determining play-off spots regardless of who you play or in which league. But since inter-league games began they have outdrawn regular season games by almost twelve percent. So I guess they’re going to be around for a while.
The Yankees have to love them for a variety of reasons including the best record of any team ever in inter-league play. In fact, two of their players lead everyone at their respective positions: Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees is the all-time RBI leader in inter-league games with 176; and closer, Mariano Rivera, has saved 63 games. Neighboring teams might make a difference like Baltimore-Washington or San Francisco-Oakland or Florida Marlins-Tampa Bay. This is not always geographically possible. What would the Phillies do for a neighbor? Who would they play? Even Connie Mack, who managed until he was 87, couldn’t keep the A’s in Philadelphia any longer.
As mentioned earlier, speaking of veteran managers, Jack McKeon has been introduced as the interim manager of the Florida Marlins. Not only did he retire as the second oldest manager in history, second only to Mr. Mack; he won the World Series in 2003 with the Marlins. He retired at age 74 but he says this decision is OK with his wife. In his words, “I’ve managed something since I was 14. I’ll probably manage until I’m 95.” I always thought there was something about this business that keeps you young. They’re probably saving McKeon for their new ball park, in which they will play next year. They’ve been playing in a football stadium but the new one will be close to downtown Miami and will have a retractable roof. About the present ball yard and his poor attendance, one player who shall be nameless was quoted as saying, “It’s so quiet in here you can hear the conversation in the stands.”