From The Cheap Seats

Let's hear it for the Knicks. They were undermanned and undersized, the only things that were big were their hearts and, unfortunately, LJ's mouth. It was a shame that Patrick wasn't able to get on the court, not as the focal point, but as a body to match up with Tim Duncan. Trying to guard the best player in the league with a man 6 inches shorter who couldn't jump was a hopeless task. They gave it everything they had, Latrell Sprewell gained respect, as did Allan Houston. Credit has to go to Ernie Grunfeld for putting this team together as it goes to Jeff Van Gundy for maneuvering it through the playoffs shorthanded. His real test will come next season, as he tries to blend the old Ewing-style Knicks with the quick guard-oriented team that was so tough to deal with the last month.

The Spurs have their championship. They did it the way I predicted two rounds ago, by having the best player. What a marvelous player Tim Duncan is -- big, agile, great hands, soft touch, excellent shot-blocker-- the whole package. He's also not afraid to get the ball when it counts, which is the key to this team. As great as The Admiral has been, that has never been his strength, to put it mildly. Now they don't look to him in crunch time, which is a useful lesson for the Knicks to remember next season, when Patrick returns. The rest of the Spurs team is aging, which may act against their long-term dominance. Still, as long as they have Duncan, they will be a threat.


The Stanley Cup Finals were great, hockey at it's finest. I'm far from the biggest hockey fan in the world, but I was enthralled by it and looked forward to every game. Unfortunately, they ended on a note of extreme controversy. It takes a good deal of rule-book elasticity to claim that Hull was legally in the crease for that shot. I think it was plainly no goal, but the lords of the NHL banded together and within 24 hours they had their story straight. No hockey fan outside of the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex bought it. It doesn't matter, the Cup is theirs and the Stars will forever be recorded as the Stanley Cup winners for 1999.

It wasn't the first major championship event which ended in controversy. And no, I'm not talking about boxing. I'm talking about real sports,

The 1986 World Cup comes to mind, as Diego Maradona guided a ball into the goal to defeat England. The ruling was that the ball inadvertently struck his hand. Those who watched the replay saw that it wasn't all that inadvertent. When asked what diverted the ball toward the goal, Maradona replied "the hand of God." While England will never accept it, much as the Sabres fans will not, Argentina won the trophy.

While those games were controversial because of a call that wasn't made, the 1985 World Series had a call that was. The scene was perfect for the Cardinals, up 3 games to 2, bottom of the ninth, ahead 1-0 with Todd Worrell pitching to Jorge Orta. The Cards were 88-0 in games they led after 8 innings. Orta hit grounder wide of first, Jack Clark flipped it to Worrell, slightly off line. Worrell caught it, his foot hit the bag, one out. Except that Don Denkinger called him safe. This didn't end things, of course, but there was an argument, concentration was lost and on the next play, Jack Clark dropped a foul pop. Then the wheels came off. They lost that game and then game 7. Don't mention Don Denkinger's name in St. Louis.

In the NFL, there are a number of them, you can pick your own favorite, probably based on what city you live in.

I guess it boils down to "sh*t happens." When you get right down to it, sports is a whole lot fairer than life, it's just not perfect.


Which brings us to Frank Pulli. Earlier this season, Pulli, confused over whether a ball was rightly ruled a home run, decided to consult a TV cameraman and see a replay of the hit, which clearly showed that it was not above the line on the wall and was in play. This all seems quite reasonable, after all, the first job of an umpire is to get the play right.

Unfortunately, there's no rule which lets you use replay. The Commissioner's Office said he was wrong, the League Office warned him never to do it again. The press went ballistic, reacting as if Pulli had pulled his pants down. The reasoning? Replay takes away the "human element", mistakes are a natural part of baseball and it's been that way forever and those who want to change it are godless commies. Okay, they didn't use the "commies" part, but it was at that level of hysteria.

Now there are plenty of reasons for not using replay in baseball: there are too many close plays, the nature of infield play would be completely changed, it would slow the game to a crawl. Most important, the most controversial calls are balls and strikes, which are next to impossible to use replay for. But the concept of "mistakes are good" is ridiculous.

Personally, I think replay could well have a part in baseball. Certainly for home run controversies there is a place for it. The camera is very good at seeing whether the ball is over a yellow line on the fence or whether Jeffrey Maier reached over the fence to interfere. It might even be of help with foul pole controversies, but that is problematical.

I would also be in favor of reviewing home plate out/safe calls. They are very rare and very important and far too often umpires are blocked from seeing the plate.

I guess there's no point suggesting it, since we wouldn't want to lose all those marvelous mistakes that make baseball what it is.



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