The officiating in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs has been atrocious. Referees have been unable to control the action, which frequently has been brutal. The fact is, the game as it's played today is too fast and physical for one referee to police. Two eyes can't monitor the actions of 12 players. What the NHL should do is empower at least two of the three on-ice officials—not just the ref—to call penalties.
The NHL should also give referees access to instant replays when the scoring of a goal is in dispute. In Game 6 of the Los Angeles Kings-Calgary Flames series (page 28), referee Denis Morel overruled the goal judge and nullified what would have been the game-winning goal in overtime by Calgary's Doug Gilmour. Replays seemed to show quite clearly that the puck had in fact crossed the goal line. Similar disputes arose several times during the regular season, and most could have been settled by replays. In Calgary's case, the disallowed goal was especially costly: The defending NHL champs eventually lost Game 6 to the Kings and were thereby eliminated from the playoffs.
CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN
The PGA announced last week that for the next Ryder Cup matches, to be held in 1991 on Kiawah Island, S.C., Dave Stockton will replace Raymond Floyd as U.S. team captain. The PGA was merely following its standard policy of changing captains before each Ryder Cup, and Stockton is a solid choice.
But it's worth asking if Floyd, captain of the squad that tied Europe 14-14 at Sutton Coldfield, England, last year, should have been replaced. All 12 members of the '89 team wrote to the PGA asking that Floyd be retained—a sign of the team spirit Floyd had instilled. Considering the U.S. hasn't won a Ryder Cup series since '83 and that during that span the European side has stayed with one captain, Tony Jacklin, the PGA might have been wise to stick with Floyd and give the U.S. team some continuity.
HALFWAY TO THE STARS
We just hope that in the NFL draft on April 22, the San Francisco 49ers see fit to choose Mississippi's outstanding linebacker, Tony Bennett.
A CREATIVE PITCH
In 1985, Rick Creehan's first year as coach of the Allegheny College baseball team, the Gators went 31-12 but hit only two home runs. "We had to scratch and claw for every run, and then hold on to leads with defense," recalls Creehan. "We needed to do something to make our kids stronger."
Toward that end, Creehan began having his players hit partly deflated basketballs each day in batting practice. The drill is designed to improve both strength and technique; if a hitter doesn't swing properly, hitting the basketball—pitched overhand from 30 feet away—sends a jolt up through his arms and shoulders. "When you first come into the program, you think it's pretty crazy," says first baseman Don Ericson. "But after the coaches explain the mechanics, it makes a lot of sense."
Indeed, the roundball regimen has dramatically boosted Allegheny's power output. Last year the Gators belted 40 homers while going 28-13 and reaching the Division III College World Series. Because Allegheny is in Meadville, Pa., where spring comes late, Creehan also employs other creative drills that can be practiced indoors. His catchers use Ping-Pong paddles as gloves to learn how to block low pitches. Pitchers throw empty tennis-ball cans end over end to develop the proper arm motion for an overhand curveball. Middle infielders have blocking dummies tossed at their feet as they turn the double-play pivot.
Creehan didn't invent all these curious cross-training methods, but he uses them more extensively and effectively than any other coach around. "On any given day, you might see our pitchers throwing footballs, our outfielders throwing softballs, our catchers blocking balls with paddles and our hitters in the batting cage blasting basketballs," he says proudly. "Sometimes you wonder what sport we're playing."
For those of you trying to keep up-to-date on the economic force that is Michael Jordan, NBA Properties reports that Jordan's Chicago Bulls have now vaulted over the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics to lead the league in team merchandise sold.
IT'S ABOUT TIME
Jim Murray, who has kept sports playfully in perspective in 29 years of writing columns for the Los Angeles Times, was predictably flummoxed last week when he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Questioning his worthiness for the honor, he told colleagues in the Times newsroom that he thought to win a Pulitzer you had to bring down a government, not quote Tommy Lasorda correctly.
Murray, 70, only the fourth sports columnist to win a Pulitzer (the other three are Arthur Daley, Red Smith and Dave Anderson, all of The New York Times), has for years deflated icons and delighted readers with his deft wordsmithing. It's impossible for some of us to watch the Indianapolis 500 without remembering his famously mordant lead: "Gentlemen, start your coffins." And Murray could be harder on the cities that he visited than General Sherman was in his prime. Noting that construction on a freeway near Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium was progressing painfully slowly several years back, he suggested that it must have been neighboring Kentucky's turn to use the cement mixer.
The wit and hyperbolic flair of Murray's commentary ("Nolan Ryan's arm is such a work of art it belongs in the Louvre") has influenced an entire generation of sportswriters. Murray didn't change sports journalism, long a promotional arm of the games, so much as he reinvented it, demonstrating that it could be, at once, incisive and wickedly entertaining. It's fitting that his wonderful sense of hyperbole—in this case, not hyperbolic—was finally applied to his own career. After all, Jim Murray's writing is so good...he ought to win a Pulitzer.
HAROLD BALLARD (1903-1990)
I'll say Any Damn thing that Pops into my head," Harold Ballard once boasted, and true to his word, he kept the sports world entertained for years with the damned things he said. Ballard, the longtime Toronto Maple Leaf owner who died last week at 86, was a crusty, cantankerous, unapologetic showman. He called NHL president John Ziegler "a know-nothing shrimp." He told women reporters that if they wanted to go into the locker room at Maple Leaf Gardens they would have to take their clothes off, too. Vigorously anticommunist, he opposed playing exhibition games against Soviet teams and even claimed to have put a Maple Leaf sticker on Lenin's tomb during a visit to Moscow.
Ballard loved hockey not wisely but too well. He meddled too much with his team, firing coaches and general managers at an almost Steinbrennerian clip and publicly ridiculing players. In the four decades before Ballard gained full control of the Leafs, in 1972, Toronto had won 11 Stanley Cups; under Ballard they never came close to a championship.
Yet Ballard was privately generous. If a player (or any other employee) had a personal problem, Ballard would be there for him with money and moral support. Although he had inherited a small fortune from his father, an industrialist, Ballard appreciated hard work. He invested in Maple Leaf Gardens when it was built, in 1931, and gradually earned his way to the top of the Leafs' organization. In the early 1970s he spent a year in jail for tax fraud and theft of Gardens funds, but shrugged off his crime as a mere peccadillo. "If you got a chance to screw the government out of a few bucks, you'd do it, too," he said.
In his later years Ballard found himself at the center of an improbable soap opera involving his three children and his three-decades-younger companion, Yolanda Ballard, who changed her last name from MacMillan even though she wasn't married to Ballard. At various times, Ballard ousted his son Bill from the Gardens's board of directors, testified against Bill in a criminal suit charging Bill with assaulting Yolanda, said he feared his children might try to poison him to get his $150 million fortune, and vowed to leave all his money to charity.
Because so many Maple Leaf minority shareholders felt the team could be better managed by someone else, team stock would rise on the Toronto Stock Exchange when Ballard's health faltered and then fall as it improved. Ballard, a diabetic with heart and kidney trouble, hoped to live to see his Leafs win a Stanley Cup, but in February was declared non compos mentis. His business affairs were placed in the hands of Gardens president Donald Giffin and two Gardens board members, who will serve as coexecutors of Ballard's likely-to-be-contested will.
As Bill Ballard said of his father last week, "Love him or hate him, he was quite a character."
The Leafs' owner was irascible and outrageous.
THEY SAID IT
•Ed Nealy, the Chicago Bulls' recently married forward, discussing the prospects of one day becoming a father: "I told my wife I shouldn't pick up the baby until it is five years old. You know how bad my hands are."
•Keith Comstock, Seattle Mariners reliever, on the abusive phone calls he received during baseball's spring training lockout: "One caller told me I was a spoiled, greedy brat and I had been spoiled my entire life. I finally had to say, 'Mom, Mom, calm down.' "