Wichita State over the Buckeyes?
Syracuse beat Miami?
Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father?
Having spent the early years of my life sucking in stale racetrack air, surrounded by a gang of oily, second-rate, minor league gamblers in a small West Virginia town, I should know better. I should know that betting on sports is a losing proposition. Throughout my teenaged years, I watched as men spent their family’s grocery money on “sure thing” five-to-one shots then watched those limping mules fade at the wire, destined for the dog food factory. The track rats placed the blame on the jockey, the horse, the trainer or the Gods above, but never on themselves. Minutes later, there they were, at that same window, throwing another twenty on another horse that could not lose.
We sports bettors are not gamblers, per se.
We’re not the type of people who will walk up to a roulette wheel and place our life savings on “red”. However, give us Georgetown against Florida Gulf Coast University in the opening round of the NCAA basketball tournament and we’ll check that bank balance.
We should know better.
The reason sports fans bet on sports teams is a simple one. We think we understand tendencies and patterns. The Steelers are a running team. The Bengals have no run defense. Put one hundred dollars down that someone in black and gold will go over one hundred yards.
It seems simple.
Tendencies and patterns are not simple, of course. Neither are they predictable. You may roll a pool ball down a perfectly level billiard table toward the corner pocket. Nine times out of ten you will be able to make that ball disappear into that pocket. Unfortunately, while you are concentrating on the pattern that ball makes across the felt, you forget that you ate a chilidog at lunch. A gas pain from that chili dog sends a momentary signal to your brain which makes your wrist pause for a millisecond too long, forcing the late release of the ball, sending it to the right of the pocket, where it bounces off the cushion and returns to you, mocking. You forgot about the chilidog. It wasn’t part of the pattern or tendency of your pool game.
It’s amazing how often we think we can predict peoples’ behavior. Try this simple test: think of that most relevant person in your life, be they wife, husband, boyfriend, sister, pool boy or probation officer. Can you predict that person’s actions based on their past tendencies or patterns? You know the wife has a Tuesday night class. You know that she’ll be home at nine. Would seven o’clock be a good time to dress up like Aunt Jemima, complete with blackface and apron, and masturbate to a Shirley Temple record? Sure! That is, until the neighbor kid comes by at seven-twenty with those Girl Scout cookies.
We should know better.
We can’t possibly predict how a person will behave, so why would we ever believe we could predict the behavior of twenty-four of them running up and down a basketball court?
We don’t for a moment believe that we can actually predict the behavior of a racehorse, a boxer, or a team of sled dogs. We don’t think we can visualize the final score of the Super Bowl, the Final Four or the World Cup. We don’t.
We do, however, think we’re smarter than all the people in our office. Seriously. While we may not be very good at picking the winners in the NCAA tournament, we’re better at it than that dolt in Sales. That guy has been known to wear two different colored shoes to work. We may have no belief in our abilities as sports experts, but we have full belief that the cold witch in Human Relations could not tell the difference in a basketball and a golf ball if she had to pass each through her colon. Come on.
And that’s why we stand here today proudly still wearing our Aunt Jemima outfit (slightly soiled), ready to move into the Final Four of this basketball tournament. Sure, the team we picked to win it all is gone, as are three of our final four. Absolutely, our picks, chosen with such confidence just a week ago, have taken those seven days to mature and grow rancid.
Does that mean we’ll vow to never again bet on sports?
We may be stupid, but we’re not the stupidest one in the office.
Fourth from stupidest, to be exact.
And that’s good enough for us.
Now. Who do you like in the seventh race?
I’m a little tired of Punxsutawney Phil getting off easy. Each year, they drag his fat carcass from a box, shove him into the spotlight and tell us all that winter will last for six more weeks, or we will have an early spring, depending upon whether it’s overcast that day or sunny. It has nothing to do with Phil. It has to do with clouds. We could drive a stake into the ground, call it Wexford Woody and get the same results. If we see Woody’s shadow, that means he’s predicted six more weeks of winter! The fact that a wooden stake has no functioning brain puts it just a step above a groundhog, whose frontal lobe is the size of a thimble.
Do I sound a little bitter?
Damned right I am. Ever since Bill Clinton told me he did not have sexual relations with that woman, from the day George W. Bush told me there were weapons of mass destruction, I have been a bit wary of our leaders and their loose interpretations of the truth. Using the great Pete Townshend as my guide, I hereby pledge to never “get fooled again”.
I’m starting this pledge with the groundhog.
Each year, we act as though he knows something about the weather, when, in fact, he is nothing more than a nocturnal hole-digger who survives living underground, eating tree roots and the droppings of others. This makes him no more intelligent than the current crop of television meteorologists and just a shade smarter than your Facebook “friends”,
As I asked during the Clinton impeachment and the Bush re-election, I ask again, “I’m supposed to trust this animal?”
The thing that bothers me about the Punxy Phil administration is that it’s a true monarchy. There is no course of action to remove him from office. He’s the Pope. He’s a Supreme Court Justice. He’s a military dentist. No matter how badly he does his job, his contract always gets renewed.
This year, I say to you, citizens of Pennsylvania, let us take the groundhog by the horns and wield the power that was bestowed upon us in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, or your automobile lease agreement. I say, let’s hold this varmint to his word this year and show that we are the ones who decide. We are the powerful. We are not living underground, chewing on tree roots and the droppings of others – well, most of us. But that doesn’t mean you sports talk show hosts don’t have a voice as well.
I say we kill the little bastard.
I know it sounds a bit reactionary, but seriously, would anyone notice one less groundhog?
Imagine, if you will, what the publicly televised execution of Punxsutawny Phil would do for weather forecasting. You better believe his successor will put a little more effort into the process than stepping out of a burrow, looking at the ground, and returning to bed for 364 days.
Lie and you die – that’s my new motto. After all, this is not the Presidency we’re talking about, but something much more important. Beware the Ides of March, Phil.
This is Pennsylvania.
We take our weather seriously.
Damn the rodent and pass the hot sauce.
In a couple of weeks the Pirates will depart on their 21st consecutive losing season cruise. What they could really use right now, in addition to new ownership, is Heine Meine (Hiney Miney). After all, if you’re going to lose, if your team has no business competing with the payrolls of other clubs, why not at least enjoy your misfortune by scattering some real wild cards into your lineup? I don’t think many were wilder in the history of Pirates baseball than Heine.
It may sound like some children’s playschool rhyme about their posteriors, but it’s actually the name of a drunken Pirates’ pitcher in the early thirties. The Pirates team that we look at today, quilted together from everyone else’s scraps, is not a precedent. It’s happened before in this town, several times over. And it’s high time that we remembered some of the bad teams from the past, before we start condemning the guys who suit up in the present.
Just because your team loses doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun.
I want another Heine.
Heinie Meine sits at the top of the list of great Pirates’ names of all-time, a list that also must include Vinegar Bend Mizell, Sixto Lezcano, Spook Jacobs, Preacher Roe, Pie Traynor, Boom Boom Beck, Odell Jones, Coot Veal, Smoky Burgess, Cookie Lavagetto, and Mudcat Grant. Not all great players, but what names!
Heinie Meine, Henry William Meine, also known as The Count of Luxembourg, was a spitball pitcher who had some success for his hometown St. Louis Browns in the late 20’s. The spitter was an almost unhittable pitch. Those who knew how to doctor a baseball correctly could make it move like a wiffle ball on a windy day. It would roll forward as it approached the plate and suddenly, when that weighted side came over the top, the ball would fall to the ground like a shot-gunned duck. It would bounce at the batter’s feet just as he swung, embarrassing and defeating him simultaneously. Heinie Meine was one of a number of masters of this kind of pitching, a list that included Dizzy Dean. But when the spitball was outlawed, Heinie’s career was pretty much over. So, he retired from baseball to manage a tavern. One day in 1929 a couple of the tavern regulars started jagging Heine about how the St. Louis Browns were so bad that he, Heine, could probably strike them out out, even though he hadn’t been on a mound since 1922.
Heinie, half in the bag, called his old bosses in St. Louis and arranged a tryout.
Since he could no longer legally throw the spitball he resorted to other junk pitches. There was the cut-ball, in which he would rub the ball against his belt buckle and gouge it’s surface, the Vaseline ball, in which he would rub Vaseline, or Brylcreem, or whatever greasy substance he could from his hair onto the ball, and the knuckler, which he had been working on with his son in the yard of their house. Sure enough, the Browns decided to give him a tryout. He left the bar to his brother and went to St. Louis, tried out for the Browns, and although he hadn’t pitched any organized ball in 8 years, St. Louis signed him to a minor league deal.
You want to talk about how bad the Pirates are now? You want to talk about how the talent that they put on the field isn’t up to league standards? The Pirates, looking for a pitcher, having seen this guy pitch eight summers before in St. Louis, asked the Browns about him. St. Louis, knowing a sucker when they saw one, praised the guy. The Pirates, in a sign of things to come, signed Heine Meine to a contract.
He was a bartender who could throw a knuckleball.
Do you think the fans of 1931 bitched about Heine Meine’s signing? Probably didn’t mean much at the time. After all, they had the Waners, they had Arky Vaughn. There was some talent on those clubs. But after they went to the series in ’27, it would 33 years of losing for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Guess why the Bucs couldn’t compete in the 30’s?
The owners of the club refused to pay what the Yankees were paying. Sound familiar? So, in an effort to save some cash, they looked elsewhere for talent. I don’t know whether fans were lamenting the Pittsburgh ballclub’s lack of competitiveness when the drunken barkeep was signed, but as the season wore on, it’s a sure bet that they did nothing but cheer. This so-called “washed up” former major leaguer led the league in wins in 1931 with 19, and in innings pitched with 284. That season the National League boasted 12 future hall of fame pitchers.
Heine was better than all of ‘em.
Within two years he was once again gone from baseball. Eventually major league hitters catch up with junk ball pitchers. But it’s fun to remember that once, long ago, when they couldn’t spend like the Yankees, the Pirates were able to find some hidden talent.
Where is the next Heine Meine?
That’s the question.
And can he close a game?
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to scout. I’ll be heading to a few taverns this evening. If there’s a drunken bartender who can strike out a major league hitter, I’m going to find him and sign him to a deal. It’s the least I can do for the team I love. Somewhere Henry William Meine, once known as Heinie, the Count of Luxembourg, is smiling.
The Mayor of Pittsburgh, Luke Ravenstahl, recently revealed that he is damned sick and tired of politics and would like to get the hell out of Dodge (or, in this case, Pittsburgh). His refusal to join the other wig-wearers in the playing of reindeer games creates an opening for the most criticized position in Western Pennsylvania politics (with the possible exception of Miss Smiling Irish Eyes).
I support his decision one hundred percent, as long as the Mayor can get this parking ticket fixed for me right up until the time the revolving door smacks him in the buttocks. If he is unwilling to right my wrongs, I’m going to search the city charter until I come up with a by-law that states we can nominate anyone from any walk of life to immediately serve in the Mayor’s absence of interest.
I nominate Mr. Zippy, the head chimp at the Pittsburgh Zoo.
Sure, there would be a little additional cleaning of the office. But think about the press conferences! For perhaps the first time ever, average citizens would take an interest in local politics. What’s the new Mayor going to do about my property taxes? Who’s going to pay for the Steelers’ new bleachers? Why can’t we put more food on our families (thank you, George Bush)?
Mr. Zippy would have the answers. First, to solve the increasing property tax, the Mayor Chimp suggests tossing some of his own excrement at the wall. Stadium expansion problem? No problem! The new Mayor will simply lay all applications for bleacher work at the bottom of his cage. The first one to be hit with a spray of his own urine gets the bid! And that last question – the one about food and families? That’s a little deep for the new Mayor’s first day on the job, but chances are he’ll come up with a suitable answer after masturbating nine or ten times.
While news reporters look on.
We here at Cheap Channel Broadchasing also have a system to make sure everything gets backed up, even if one of us suddenly decides we no longer want to play reindeer games. Surprisingly, it has little to do with getting taxpayers to front lap dances. If you’re keeping score at home, I am sitting in this week for Randy Baumann, who is one vacation. And filling in for me?
Hey. He didn’t get the Mayor gig. Yet.
Chimp’s gotta eat.
Our apologies to the man who cleans the building. We realize that with a monkey performing in our studios, rather than the usual gang of idiots, there won’t be as much body fluid to clean up. Sorry to give you such a boring night.
And that man who gave me the sage advice, all those years ago? He was my boss, the guy who owned the radio station. I worked for him for four years and then the police showed up. He taught me many things about management, including that fact about always having your replacement in mind. The biggest thing he taught me was not learned face-to-face, but through his actions.
Never cook the books while addicted to cocaine.
Are you listening to me, Mr. Zippy? Pay heed, young chimp. Get your face out of the nose candy. You could be getting a call soon from the Mayor. The city of Pittsburgh needs fresh new thinkers like you. Now, stop that yanking and do something about this parking ticket, would you?
One hour into USWhoreWays flight one-zero-zero-niner, Charlotte-to-Pittsburgh, the third leg of our three-legged tour (a three-legged tour), the pilot spoke to his napping, snoring and drooling passengers. His voice was that Chuck Yeager drawl that every pilot uses, from Space Shuttle astronauts to the guy manning the rudder on the Just Ducky Tour boat, the one that tells you he could land a elephant onto an iceburg. “Uhhh… this is your Captain speaking. We’ve just been informed by the fine folks in Pittsburgh that they have no runways for us.”
That’s about as pissed off as you’ll hear a pilot be in public. “The fine folks in Pittsburgh” were not fine. He knew it. He wanted us to know it. They were, in fact, pussies. They were keeping him from landing his plane because they couldn’t manage to plow a little snow. Instead, he informed us, they were considering closing the airport due to some “weather”.
“Uhhh…They’re having some weather,” he said.
In fact, they were having a blizzard.
“We’re gonna circle for about five-oh minutes until the fine folks in Pittsburgh decide,” said the Pilot. “And then we’ll either land or divert to Buffalo.” He then added, rather nonchalantly, “Uhhh… because we’ll need fuel.”
I wanted to land in Pittsburgh. It was, after all, my final destination. But what I did not want, above all else, was for it to be my FINAL destination, as in, the tank goes below “E” and we drop like a stone, creating a ditch from Moon to Aliquippa.
Forty-eight minutes and thirty-two seconds later, the pilot came back on the intercom. “Uhhh… folks. This is your Captain. The fine folks in Pittsburgh have decided to close the airport (Pussies). So we’re going to fly over to Philadelphia. We’ll be getting you folks on the ground in about an hour. We’re sorry for the inconvenience.”
It was a conundrum. Run out of jet fuel and crash in the snow or go to Philadelphia. Hmm.
At midnight we landed in a snowstorm in Philly, where, we were told, a USWhoreWays representative would greet us and provide us with the answers to our many questions.
Instead, there was Lisa.
Lisa knew nothing about nothing. That’s not me singing Billy Preston. That’s her exact words. “I don’t know nothing!” she pleaded with the angry mob that burned torches and waved pitchforks. “Well,” said a calm man who polite and kind. “Perhaps you direct us to someone who could.”
That’s a lie, too.
What he said I cannot repeat in front of the children, but it had something to do with fitting a large object into a smallish opening. There were words scattered among his sentences, but mostly it was ranting and thrashing, spitting and threatening.
I laughed to myself, both because I had been up for about 20 hours and I had been that very guy about twenty years ago. My ranting and thrashing moment came to O’Hare Airport in Chicago, at the end of another very long travel day in the middle of another very bad snowstorm. The Lisa I verbally attacked broke into tears and left for the day.
The lesson learned that day was that blowing your stack gets you nowhere in the world of airline travel. Instead, it cost me a floral arrangement and a note of apology sent to my "Lisa" the next day, after I had come to my senses and realized being stuck somewhere was not the end of the world.
The lines were long. The hour was late. The wait was forever. But thanks to four other Lisas, some of whom knew answers to questions, the best was made of a bad situation.
We’d be staying the night in Philadelphia.
We’d be flying out the next night to Pittsburgh.
I made plans to rent a car and drive.
And then, suddenly, one of the Lisas, a smart one with experience and cool hair, found an airplane to take us to Pittsburgh. She handed us two boarding passes and whispered in a prison-break voice, “Go down to B-6. They’ll be boarding ten minutes.” I expected her to tell Ilsa that Rick had to stay, but no.
At two in the morning, we boarded our fourth airplane. The wings were weighed down by five inches of snow and ice. I pulled down my window shade. I knew that if I kept staring, a gargoyle would appear, taunting from the wingtip.
The plane did as well.
Once airborne, the pilot (a different pilot, but the same voice) spoke to us from somewhere beyond first class. “Uhhh….folks. This is the Captain. Once we’ve been de-iced we’ll be making our way to Pittsburgh, where the fine folks there have decided to clear a runway for us (pussies). We certainly apologize for the delay, but we’ll get you to your destination just as quickly as possible.”
No, I said to myself.
Do not fly quickly.
It’s a blizzard.
I’m in no hurry.
I’d been over the threshold of being in a hurry. It was three-forty-five in the morning. I’d been traveling for nearly a day. Nine hours, in fact, to get from North Carolina to Pennsylvania, a distance easily walked in that time frame. I was no longer in a hurry. Take your time, Buck Rogers, I silently wished. Fly gently into this bleak night.
We landed in Pittsburgh at four-forty-nine, the only plane in the friendly skies. The flight attendant promised that a USWhoreWays representative would greet us and provide us with the answers to our many questions.
Instead, we were greeted by dozens of people sleeping in incredibly uncomfortable looking positions: slumped forward in chairs, rolled into balls under coats on the floor, standing up, grumbling, snoring, drooling. Sleeping overnight in a plastic chair at an airport is a winner in the whine-for-your-supper game every time. I’ve done it. Once. Atlanta. 1997. There’s not much worse.
I counted my blessings to have remembered to not pack my car keys into the luggage, which was somewhere in Philadelphia.
We drove home through the unplowed snow, thinking of the last words my sister said to us as we packed for home. Standing on her back porch, overlooking the Caribbean, she asked, “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to stay one more day?”