A Curious Troika: Chernov, Providence and the Boston Celtics

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 12.00.07 PMJulius Erving was an incomparable 6-foot-6 forward from New York. Robert “Skip” Chernov was a velvet sport coat-wearing huckster from South Providence. The former was unaware of the latter, but they had at least two things in common. Thirty-five years ago last week, both tormented the Boston Celtics and both were court terrors of sorts, Dr. J with his high-flying, above-the-rim prowess; Chernov with his starry-eyed judicial wrangling.

And while Erving slowed the Celtics’ NBA championship quest for a season, Chernov aimed for a more permanent injunction, one that would have altered the course of basketball history. Continue reading


Statistical Leaders: 1979 National Sports Festival

Screen shot 2015-02-15 at 9.40.15 PMThirty-five years ago today, the Miracle on Ice was still a vision in Herb Brooks’ imagination. His youthful American squad had a tie and a win to its credit, with a game against Norway looming. The Soviets were still a week away. Everyone knows what happened next, and thanks to films like Miracle, even the events leading up to the greatest upset in sports history became mythologized. One such event was the 1979 National Sports Festival held in Colorado Springs. The hockey portion was conducted at the original Broadmoor World Arena. Convened in late July as an initial tryout for the 1980 Winter Olympics, it became a seminal moment in the American march to improbable Lake Placid gold.

Esteemed sportswriter John Gilbert was in Colorado Springs to cover the event. His 2010 book, Herb Brooks: The Inside Story of a Hockey Mastermind, includes the definitive retrospective chapter and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning the real story of how Team USA began taking form.

In Gilbert’s book, you’ll discover the context for a post-festival stats summary I’ve included below. And there’s some fascinating stuff, like why Dave Delich’s six points weren’t enough and why Jim Craig’s 12.41 goals-against average wasn’t too much.

So in this season of Olympic recollection, please enjoy a statistical trip down memory lane and the inevitable “what ever happened to him?” questions it may inspire. Continue reading

Programming Note: Historically Inclined look at the U.S. Open for Cox Sports

Beginning Thursday, 156 players from 27 countries will compete for the national championship of American golf, the 114th U.S. Open, to be contested on Pinehurst’s No. 2 Course in North Carolina. It will be a far cry from the very first U.S. Open, when 11 hearty competitors smacked their gutta-percha balls off small hills of Rhode Island sand at the Newport Country Club. Continue reading

On This Date: A snowball from Denver becomes an avalanche

Screen shot 2014-05-27 at 9.16.55 PMIt was on this date in 1982 that the NHL board of governors tipped a domino in Denver, when the cash-strapped Colorado Rockies, said to be losing more than $2 million annually, were granted transfer to East Rutherford, N.J.

The move had become something of a mundane inevitability at the time, but the ensuing chain reaction makes it worth more than a mere footnote in pro hockey history. The repercussions are still apparent today, especially in the NHL’s Pacific and Central Divisions, which were, to some degree, shaped by the events of May 27, 1982. Continue reading

Programming Note: Cinderella and NCAA lacrosse on Cox Sports

Not much history in this one, but I did manage to work Cinderella and a pumpkin into an NCAA lacrosse recap for Cox Sports Online. It started something like this:

“After an opening weekend as belles of the ball, the unseeded upset quartet finally fell in the NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Tournament quarterfinals. But, while the clock struck midnight for Albany, Drexel, Johns Hopkins and Bryant, they’ll be left with much more than a pumpkin and four mice when they look back on 2014.”

Throwback Brewers hacking and thriving

Tom Verducci from Sports Illustrated chronicled the Milwaukee Brewers’ aggressive hitting approach today, noting that “the three most aggressive teams in baseball, at least as measured by fewest pitches per plate appearance, all have winning records: Milwaukee, Colorado and Baltimore.”

Verducci goes on to explore the now-counterculture wisdom of being aggressive within the strike zone, illustrating it with incisive comments from Brewers general manager Doug Melvin. Among them, Melvin hints at the folly of taking grooved pitches in hitter’s counts. He also discusses the diminishing effectiveness of “getting to the bullpen” as an offensive strategy.

Setting aside baseball strategy – which isn’t easy for me to do, but for the sake of brevity, I will – and focusing solely on the game’s aesthetics, we can only hope that this return to aggressiveness is the beginning of a trend in Major League Baseball. One need only watch an inning or two of big-league baseball from the 1980s to be reminded of an era that wasn’t nap-inducing. Pitchers worked quickly and hitters swung at strikes. It was a game of action, rather than a game of in-action. It was an attack, not a battle of attrition.

Baseball was a better game in the 1980s, or at the very least, a more fun game. Perhaps the 2014 Brewers can help turn back the clock.