Bob Smizik: Ask Bob, Bob Answers - III

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The third edition of Ask Bob, Bob Answers deals with sporting venues, Bud Selig, big stories, high school basketball and non-revenue sports.

Rich Adams: In 1998 Bud Selig was made full-time commissioner of baseball after six years of being interim commissioner. When his unanimous election was announced, you posted a well-written article in the PG headlined, "Selig Not the Man for Baseball's Future." You have since completely changed your opinion on Selig, which is fine, conditions change on issues and opinions can change with them. I was wondering specifically why you now support a man you were once clearly against?

Selig has proven me wrong. He’s done a good job. The game has not been this healthy in decades, if ever. You cited in your question concerns I had in 1998 (which I did not print for the sake of brevity) about spiraling MLB salaries and how that left little hope for small-market teams. It's true, that has not changed. But I do not believe that to be the fault of Selig. Perhaps no one in the recent history of baseball more forcefully took on the players' union than Selig. He was one of the leading advocates of the 1994 strike. Those tactics failed and Selig wisely has heeded the lesson of history. He correctly did not go to the same tactics again because they were highly detrimental the first time.

There is nothing Selig can do to usher in a salary cap other than force another strike. That would be stupid. He has, however, been a staunch and leading advocate of the revenue sharing that now, at least, give small-market teams somewhat of a chance. I don’t know what else he can do.

As for your comment that he is not interested in what’s best for the game but what is best for the owners, I wish you had cited some examples. Frankly, I have no problem with him looking out for the men who pay his outrageously bloated salary. In doing so, I think he’s often looking out for the best interests of the game. The players certainly don’t need Selig looking out for them. They have what most believe to be the upper hand in MLB.

If by ''best interest of the game,'' you meant best interest of the fans, that's another matter. Most businesses are not overly concerned with the best interest of their customers and MLB is no different.

The game is thriving. I’m not going to give Selig credit for that. But I find little reason to heap the blame and ridicule on him that many people do. He’s been a commissioner who was right for his time.

•••

Bill Cahn: Who was the greatest WPIAL basketball player you have seen since 1980?

You said WPIAL, but I will include the City League. You asked for one, I’ll give you three: 1. Danny Fortson, Shaler; 2. DeJuan Blair, Schenley; 3. T.J. McConnell, Chartiers Valley.

•••

Rich Lorrigan: What was the biggest story you ever broke?

Two jump out. Both show how much luck can play a role in breaking a story.

In January of 1987, I received a call from an acquaintance. He told me he was at a party the previous Saturday and heard that Art Rooney Jr. had been fired from his job with the Steelers by his brother, Dan. Art was in charge of scouting/personnel for the Steelers. If true, it was a stunning story. Art Jr. had played a key role in the great drafts of the 1970s that help build the dynasty. To fire anyone with that resume would be unusual. For that person to be the son of the great Art Rooney, Sr., who was still alive, and the brother of the man running the team would have been sensational.

The story sounded so ridiculous, I hesitated to follow it up. But I called Joe Gordon, the Steelers PR director, and presented my information. Being as excellent as he was in his field, Gordon immediately confirmed my information. Nothing to be gained by lying. Art. Jr. actually had been fired weeks, if not months, earlier. The story was on the front page of the Pittsburgh Press the next day.

I was the Pitt beat writer for the disappointing 1982 football season. Pitt opened as No. 1 in the nation but never was as impressive as expected and finished 9-2 and was heading to a Cotton Bowl game with SMU. In early December, a Monday or Tuesday, I received a phone call from Mark Hyman, a reporter for the Dallas Times-Herald, now defunct, then the No. 2 paper Dallas. I did not know him, nor had I even heard of him. He was in Pittsburgh to do some pre-Cotton Bowl stories and had some information he wanted to share.

I went to his Oakland hotel the next day to learn he had inflammatory quotes from several Pitt players, most notably cornerback Tim Lewis. He was sharing to gain some context into the situation because although he realized the quotes seemed powerful he had no idea how true they might be. The comments from the players spoke to why the season had been so disappointing. Lewis and others felt the team discipline was not what it should have been. Wide receiver Julius Dawkins was particularly singled out for a bad attitude. Hyman had followed all the rules in obtaining the interviews and had all the comment taped.

I went to the executive editor of the Pittsburgh Press and explained the situation. He told me to re-interview all of the players, which, Hyman and I, separately and together, tried to do as the week progressed. We were unable to locate Lewis. We later learned he did not attend a team banquet that week. I wrote the story Saturday morning from a hotel room in Iowa City, where I was covering the Pitt basketball team. From there, I contacted coach Foge Fazio for his reaction. He was cordial but clearly troubled and attempted to dismiss the comments.

The story, which appeared in the Sunday edition of the Press, was a bombshell. Pitt went, literally, crazy. It called a news conference for Monday in the Pitt Stadium conference room, to refute the story, a practice which was almost, then and now, unheard of. Problem was that there was nothing to refute. It was a straight news story. The information was fact based. Some of the players, not Lewis, were brought to the news conference. None denied what they said. Some thought their comments were taken out of context.

Pitt looked ridiculous. Bill Hillgrove, then a Channel 4 sports anchor as well as the voice of Pitt athletics, interviewed me on the Pitt Stadium turf after the news conference to allow me to give my side of the story. A Dallas TV station, which happened to be in town, could not believe what Pitt did and also interviewed me. I never officially confirmed this but I believe the decision to call the news conference was made by athletic director Ed Bozik, who did not attend.

The Pitt locker room had always been open to the media -- every day, before and after practice and after games. It was closed immediately following that story and, to the best of my knowledge, never reopened to the media.

Many thought Lewis’ outspokenness would hurt him in the draft. He was taken in the first round by Green Bay.

•••

Bob Stover: Have you noticed a trend in college sports towards dropping non-revenue sports like baseball and soccer. I remember a couple of years ago Duquesne dropped its baseball program. This week, on this side of the state, St. Joseph's University announced that it was dropping baseball, tennis and soccer from its men sports program. If you believe it is a trend, do you attribute it solely to the after-effects of Title IX? What if anything should be done about the trend?

I write this as the father of a son who participated in swimming on the Division III level and who profited greatly from that experience. I have no problem with universities dropping athletic programs. College are not supposed to be in the business of fielding athletic teams. It’s a quaint American tradition that does not make a lot of sense. Why, for example, should a university sponsor, say, a gymnastics team and pay coaching salaries, travel budget, scholarship money, medical insurance and other expenses for -- what? -- 10 to 15 students. The money could be far better spent to upgrade and expand intramural athletics or for dozens of other purposes.

If the NCAA did not require a certain number of sports to be sponsored in order to participate on the Division I level in basketball, I believe we’d see a lot more sports eliminated. It’s the NCAA’s way of maintaining a level of power.

I do not gladly take this stance. I’ve seen many people profit for the experience of college athletics. But the expenses required to field such teams do not make them compatible with today’s marketplace.

•••

Tim Hipwell: What's your favorite sports bar? What's your favorite sports venue? I'm assuming sports writers have pre game food spreads? Who puts on the best? While you were on a beat, which city was your favorite to visit?

I’ve had a lot of favorite bars in my life, but never a favorite sports bar. I’ve found attempting to watch a game in such an environment is not conducive to being able to know and understand what’s actually taking place. I never go to a bar to watch a game and seldom watch a game when I’m at a bar.

I have a great feeling for all of the Pittsburgh sports venues including Fitzgerald Field House on the Pitt campus. Nationally, I have been fortunate enough to be at so many great venues it’s really hard to pick one out. NFL sites are fairly sterile, so I’d eliminate them. And that includes even the Frozen Tundra, where it was September and in the 70s on my first visit. Basketball venues can be spectacular because of their intimacy. The Pit in Albuquerque, where I saw Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State team win the national championship, is special. Fenway Park is the most charming baseball stadium, although I’ve only been there for World Series, and that tends to make a difference. Just thinking about some of these places is a hoot. It was kind of cool being at The Swamp at the University of Florida and Doak Campbell Stadium at Florida State. Michie Stadium at Army is spectacular in the fall. I’ve been to Madison Square Garden for ABA, NBA and Big East basketball and NHL hockey. How can you not be impressed with the most famous arena in the world. Finally, when it comes to cool places, it’s tough to beat Maple Leaf Gardens and the Montreal Forum.

One last word on venues: Wrigley Field -- OVERRATED.

Best spread: The Astrodome in Houston, where the staff was always gracious to the Pittsburgh contingent because Bob Prince would outrageously tip them. The food was good, too. Steelers brunches at Three Rivers and Heinz Field also nice.

Best city: There’s no place like New York. No. 2. For weather, there’s no place like San Diego. No. 3: Just a great town: Cincinnati.


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