September 22, 2009

Dick Heller recounted,”For several years, Denton True “Cy” Young had sought to deny and delay the inevitable. Yet most baseball “cranks” of the day knew that at age 44, the greatest pitcher in baseball history was on his last legs – legs topped by an enormous pot belly that made it nearly impossible for him to get off the mound and field bunts.
As late as 1909, the old man had won 19 games for Cleveland. But in the next two seasons, his record was merely 13-19 when he waddled out to face the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sept. 22, 1911. Cleveland had released him on Aug. 15, and now he was laboring for the abysmal (44-107) Boston Rustlers.
Yet for one final time, Young reached back for the magic he had perpetrated for most of his 22 years in the major leagues. Going the distance and scattering nine hits, he defeated Pirates ace Babe Adams 1-0 for his 511th victory.
Let that number roll around in your mind and on the tip of your tongue. In 134 seasons of major league baseball, nobody but Washington Senators immortal Walter Johnson has come within 94 wins of 511 (Johnson collected 417 from 1907 to 1927). What’s more, Cy might have won as many as 513 because 19th-century records are incomplete and in some cases contradictory.
Young began his major league career in 1890, when games often were completed with a black and mushy ball, and finished it in the first season when horsehides were made with a cork center to liven things up. No matter. In more than two decades, he won 30 or more games five times, 20 or more 15 times, 290 in the National League, 221 in the American League and had a career ERA of 2.63.
No wonder the trophy given to baseball’s best pitchers each season is called the Cy Young Award. Nobody alive can remember seeing him pitch, but his feats were more astounding than those of anybody else who ever toed the rubber.
When Young won his 500th game by beating the Washington Senators in 1910, Christy Mathewson called him “the greatest pitcher that ever lived” – high praise indeed since Matty shares the National League mark of 373 victories with Grover Cleveland Alexander.
Yet Cy’s record that season was merely 7-10, and the end clearly was in sight. One reporter, alluding to the pitcher’s girth, remarked that he “looked like a prosperous alderman” – one of those portly politicians with dollar signs on their chests who turned up in cartoons back then.
During the offseason, the Cleveland club cut his salary from $4,000 to $2000 for 1911. As spring training began, Young stubbornly allowed as how he would keep pitching “until they tear the uniform off me.” He also claimed to be working on a spitball (then legal) as well as something he called “a hot-water ball,” which he called “a slow jump and wonder.”
Nice try, Cy. But as Cleveland broke camp in Hot Springs, Ark., he came down with an ailment variously described as bronchitis and pneumonia. He returned home to Peoli, Ohio, to recuperate and did not pitch until June 9.
Although Young won his first two games, it was all downhill after that. He lasted just three innings in each of his next two losses before Cleveland released him.
Undaunted and unrealistic, Young insisted: “There is a lot of good pitching in me yet. The public hasn’t seen the last of me. I will be a good pitcher for a number of years.”
Four days later, the Rustlers signed him – obviously seeking to entice fans who had seen Cy pitch the Boston Americans to the first World Series championship in 1903 and twirl a perfect game the following season. His first home appearance drew an overflow crowd of 8,000. Later he somehow shut out the potent Pirates twice – fanning Honus Wagner, a fellow charter member of the baseball Hall of Fame, three times, and lost a 1-0 duel to Philadelphia rookie Alexander.
But these flashes of brilliance were just that – flashes. He lost his last three decisions, and in his final appearance was yanked in the seventh inning after allowing eight consecutive hits. Ouch!
Then it was really over, and Young spent the next 44 years before his death in 1955 taking bows as the greatest pitcher ever.
He was entitled.




Gwen Knapp wrote in the SF Chronicle,”For rabid opponents of the NFL’s TV blackouts, this season seemed the ideal time to launch a fresh campaign against the 36-year-old rule. The recession posed an obvious threat to ticket sales in some previously robust markets. The Jacksonville Jaguars, in one of the most economically troubled spots on the NFL map, revealed earlier this year that they had lost 17,000 of their 42,000 season-ticket sales. The Jaguars will not appear on local TV today, when they face the Cardinals, and they may be blacked out all season.
Here in the Bay Area, the Raiders, long vulnerable to blackouts, remain at risk after losing two TV appearances last year. The 49ers, immune to blackouts for generations, cannot claim to have sold out the entire season, and the team does not divulge exactly how many tickets remain available. Today’s game against the Seahawks met the Thursday deadline to remain on the air, and the front office says it expects all games to reach local TV audiences.
The commissioner’s office has stood firm on the blackout rule, pointing out that it didn’t vanish in past recessions. Twenty of the 32 teams had already sold out for the regular season, Roger Goodell said in an online chat Sept. 8, and he projected that between 80 and 90 percent of all games would reach local audiences on live TV. The league’s Web site will provide free replays at midnight for all blacked-out games.
The blackout rule may be exasperating, offensive and potentially damaging to teams that become even more invisible after failing to sell out. But it has one great virtue. It works. It has earned its place as a bedrock business principle for the league, and allowed the NFL to be arrogant about withholding its product from the broadest possible local marketplace.
Last season, only nine games were blacked out the entire season. The year before, 10 games were blacked out. In 2006, the number was a record-low seven games.
Just 10 years earlier, in 1996, 78 games had been blacked out. Through the ’90s, an average of just 69 percent of NFL games were televised locally. The number has topped 95 percent the last four seasons. Theories about the short-sightedness of blackouts, based on the belief that they prevent the league from promoting itself and alienate its fan base, don’t hold up in the face of those statistics.
Some of the sellout increases have to do with the corporate connections that the league has cultivated. As the price of the TV rights deals has risen, so has the local affiliates’ interest in keeping games on the air. The stations, plus other corporate sponsors, frequently step in and guarantee sellouts, promising to buy up a certain number of remaining tickets.
Andy Dolich, chief operating officer for the 49ers, couldn’t say exactly how many sales the team’s backers would guarantee in a slow week, but he estimated 6,000 to 7,000 of Candlestick’s 70,000 seats.
At the beginning of the baseball season, MLB heavily promoted discounts at various ballparks, and the Yankees conceded that they had overpriced front-row tickets. Any such admissions from the NFL should be much subtler. With only eight home games versus 81 to market, football teams have to be more careful about maintaining price points.
But bargaining does happen. The 49ers froze ticket prices this year, Dolich said, joining 20 other teams that reportedly either dropped or maintained prices. The league ticket average rose 3.2 percent to $74.99 after a 7.2 percent increase in ’08.
Financing arrangements seem to be one of the most common responses to the recession. Several teams have said that they will allow season-ticket holders who can’t pay up front to work out installments. “We’re not Monte-Halling every ticket – my age is probably showing when I say that,” Dolich said. “But we’re trying to be flexible. If someone comes to us and says: ‘I’ve been with you for 25 years, and I can’t make it,’ we’re going to work with them.”
In Washington, management recruited two big concerts – U2 and Paul McCartney – for FedEx Field, in large part so the team could pass along freebies to its premium season-ticket holders. The NFL doesn’t think small, and it doesn’t move backward. The only way blackouts can disappear will be 100 percent sellouts.


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