A Break From Baseball

September 10

                        This was one of those rare late-summer days when baseball was not on the agenda in the Bay Area, but there was plenty to distract us.  While the Giants were slipping further away without even trying, we paid attention to the other two rings in the sports circus.  Just don’t sit in the front row when the elephants come by.

                       One ring featured our first NFL regular season game, in which the defending champions didn’t look like it, but still won because the Titans’ kicker was doing his Bill Grammatica imitation, and because of the bad NFL overtime rule.   Not a smashing debut for the 2009 season.

                       The other ring featured brewing rumors of a blockbuster three-team NHL trade that would send one-time 50-goal scorer Dany Heatly from the Senators to the Sharks.  That was followed by flat denials from all three General Managers involved.  Anyway, this little bit of news was like a refreshing piece of Dentyne Ice on a 90-degree day.

                        First, about the NFL.  The league needs to get rid of two things ASAP:  the overtime rule and the local blackout rule.  KNBR’s own Damon Bruce had a great idea tonight.  If you win the coin toss in overtime and drive down to kick a field goal, the other team gets a chance to at least match that.  If you win the coin toss in OT and score a touchdown, game over. 

                       The blackout rule is a holdover from the 1960’s, when professional sports leagues thought it was a great idea to NOT let people have access to their product.  Funny, but in the early days of baseball radio broadcasts, it was feared people would stay away from the park.  Now most games are shown locally on TV.  Hasn’t hurt the Giants’ attendance much.

                       The blackout rule is especially bad during a recession.  You aren’t keeping people away from football stadiums by airing the games, because many can’t afford to be there in the first place.  Many Americans currently don’t have enough in their savings accounts to afford a game, plus parking, plus food for a family of four.  You might as well have them watching your advertising on your games.  Of course, some ads will be for Indian casinos, another great way to blow up the family piggy bank.

                       The NFL is throwing fans a bone by letting them watch their local teams on their website, after midnight.  Brilliant.  Most fans who don’t live in mom’s basement have seen all the highlights they need to see by then. 

                      Commissioner Roger Goodell has demonstrated that he’s willing to change a third bad thing about the NFL:  preseason games.  With the collective bargaining agreement looming in 2011, the aforementioned changes need to be discussed as well.  Call me crazy, but I like the idea of making the product more fair and more accessible to fans.

                     Now, to the third ring under the Big Top.  Late in the afternoon, ESPN.com went with the John Buccigross report that the Sharks were involved in a three-team trade sending Dany Heatley from the Senators to San Jose.  Heatley is unhappy in Ottawa and would probably love it in San Jose playing alongside Joe Thornton, and the Sharks need another bona fide goal scorer.  Patrick Marleau, a good all around player but inconsistent in the post-season, would go to Los Angeles.

                       Rarely have I seen club officials spring into action so quickly to shoot down a story.  General Managers from the Sharks, Senators and Kings all took turns at target practice.  The speculation about Heatley to San Jose won’t die as quickly, though, because this is a story that has been brewing all summer long.

                      I know some hockey fans aren’t crazy about Heatley as a team player, but he brings serious skills to a club that really struggled scoring in the playoffs in the last two seasons.  Marleau, who doesn’t show up on Sharks season tickets this year and had the “C” stripped off the front of his jersey, didn’t show up in critical playoff games the last couple of seasons.  He’s a good guy and the team’s all-time goal scorer and points leader, but fans and coaches want him to be more vocal and fiery.  That might not be in his DNA.

                    Marleau has a no-trade clause but there’s word he might waive it to stay on the west coast because his wife is from San Jose.   With all the grumbling about him inside and outside the organ-eye-zation, plus all the trade rumors this summer, it might be time for him to go.  However, a trade within the division is risky.

                   Some of you may ask, “what the hell are you doing talking about hockey in the summertime? ”  I’d like to tell you it’s because I’m a renaissance man who keeps his eyes fixed across the great sporting landscape.  Actually, I needed a break from talking baseball every day, and the NFL season hasn’t started locally yet. 

                  Patience, my pets.  There will be plenty of time for that.  The dude abides.

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