King Kaufman’s Sports Daily

Backwater Hall of Famers, the best days on the sports calendar and the value of an athletic scholarship: The readers write.

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I’m contractually obligated to provide intelligent sports commentary in this space from time to time, so with that in mind it’s time to publish some of your letters.

I got a lot of good ones regarding my column last week about my favorite days on the sporting calendar. We’ll get to those shortly, but first, two other matters.

I won’t reproduce them here, but quite a few readers wrote in to say they’re picking the Eagles in the Super Bowl after I wrote that, my own required Patriots pick notwithstanding, I think it’s silly the way the Eagles are being written off by so many people. I’m happy to say there is a healthy bunch of people who will have every right to gloat all over my in box if Philly wins next week.

Also, some readers took issue with my claim Thursday that Robin Yount, elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998, was the last guy to go from a career in a baseball backwater to Cooperstown. Jerry Gale was the quickest of several to point out that Kirby Puckett was elected in 2001 after a career in Minnesota, and Donald Eisenheimer was the first to mention Paul Molitor, elected in 2004 after a career in Milwaukee, Toronto and Minnesota.

Not to quibble, but I wasn’t just talking about small markets. I don’t think Minnesota was a backwater during Puckett’s prime, though it was when Molitor was there at the end of his career in 1996 through ’98. Puckett was the much-loved star of a charismatic team that won two World Series in five years. There was a big ol’ spotlight on the Metrodome in that era, much brighter than the one that flashed briefly on Yount and County Stadium in 1982.

But I’ll admit that Puckett, given his persona and the way his career was cut short by glaucoma, would have been a slam-dunk Hall of Famer wherever he played.

Molitor is a better example. But even he played for the ’93 Blue Jays, who repeated as World Series champs and played in front of 4 million fans. I’ll give you Molitor as a backwater guy who made it, but Molitor was a sure thing once he got his 3,000th hit. Whether that’s right or wrong is a separate discussion. I’ll stand by my point that for borderline guys, it helps a lot to play for a high-profile team or two.

All right, then. Let’s get to your letters about the best sports days of the year.

David Novak: I totally agree with your assessment of New Year’s Day. It used to be great, now it’s awful, even worse than a usual college football Saturday because none of the games have any significance towards crowning a champion, even a mythical one.

Also, great point about the greatness of baseball’s Opening Day and the attempts to sabotage it. For me, I would add to the list the first game of the World Series. There’s something about the majesty of the managers coming out and the teams lining up on the field and the sense that you’re about to watch something that you’ll remember your entire life.

Chris Dale: Yes, indeedy, the NCAA Basketball Tournament must rank up there as one of the truly fine sports days of the year. But as a true manly man, one who doesn’t need a low-rent caricature to build his macho-laden self-esteem, I also appreciate greatly that the World Figure Skating Championships will occur that weekend as well. And this year promises to be a whopper. The U.S. will likely have its best ice-dancing finish ever and Michelle Kwan will cement herself as the gold medal favorite for Turino. You just know that’s what Coach K’s really worried about at halftime. Unless he draws Richmond, that is.

King replies: What do you mean low rent? That’s some world-class caricaturizing there, pal, by longtime Salon favorite Zach Trenholm. Speaking of low rent, unless yours is ridiculously low, I wouldn’t go betting much on Michelle Kwan winning Olympic gold. Seems I’ve heard that favorite stuff before.

Dave Scocca: You missed one — at least down here in N.C. Before the Powers That Be screwed it all up, there was nothing quite like the Friday of the ACC Tournament. Four games, usually good ones. The Thursday night play-in game of the last decade-plus took a little of the shine off, but the big blow will come this year and next when conference expansion gives Thursday a slate of three (this year) or four (next year and after) games.

Tim Nudd: I have to say, my favorite sports day of the year isn’t a single day and doesn’t happen every year. It’s the first 14 days — the group stage — of soccer’s World Cup. Three games a day, one after the other, for two straight weeks. Not sure how you feel about soccer, but for me, those two weeks are very much like the four opening days of March Madness.

King replies: Here’s a little news. Soccer is actually growing on me as I get older. Stop the servers! I still wouldn’t call myself a fan, but I enjoyed some of the action from the last men’s World Cup and last year’s Olympics.

Phil Prehn: In my calendar, Memorial Day weekend has become one of my favorites. College lacrosse Final Fours for both Division I and II. I’m spoiled being from Syracuse, the Orange having qualified for the Final Four 20 years consecutively. Lacrosse may be regional (central New York, Long Island and Baltimore residents still dominate Division I rosters), but I read somewhere that there are more club lacrosse teams than any other club sport in colleges across America. It’s a great sport when played at its top level — fast, exciting, fancy passing, reasonable contact, high scoring.

Lee Meade: How could you miss Super Saturday at the U.S. Open Tennis Championships? You cannot be serious!!!!!

King replies: I didn’t miss it. I said this was my list. One more outburst and I’ll have to penalize you a point.

Mike Degnan: What about Week 16 or 17 in the NFL calendar? Some years it can be mediocre, but other years those last games between conference or division rivals are the best. Sure, they’re second-tier compared to the playoffs, but they are awesome. I’ve also come to like rivalry weekend in college football.

King replies: Week 16 or 17, some years, is just too inconsistent to be “a great day.” College football rivalry Saturday is pretty good too, though it’s usually spread out over a couple or three weeks, with the odd Thursday or Friday night game. But yeah.

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Mike Craig: I would add the first day of the first round of NHL playoffs. This is the start of the “real” season and any team has a chance of making it to the finals. (That said, by the third round I am sick of hockey.) This date also means spring really is around the corner. There’s nothing like sitting out on your back deck in the first rush of warm weather, BBQ fully gassed, beer in hand, listening to the playoffs.

King replies: The good people of central Florida, home of the Stanley Cup, have no idea what you’re talking about. Don’t you listen to the whole season from the back deck?

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One good comment regarding my whining about the media hype over Wisconsin’s recently ended 38-game home winning streak in men’s college basketball.

Eric Fulton: Your column got me thinking about a streak much heralded during my undergraduate years at the University of Maryland: the men’s basketball team’s streak of non-conference home wins. Following a Dec. 12, 1989, loss to Coppin State, Maryland reeled off 87 consecutive non-conference home wins, in two different “home” arenas, no less, before falling to Florida on Dec. 14, 2002.

During the streak, Maryland (College Park) beat fellow University of Maryland system schools University of Maryland (Balitmore County) and University of Maryland (Eastern Shore) 14 times, and also took on “geographic rivals” like hoops powerhouses American, Loyola, Towson State, George Mason and Mount St. Mary’s.

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And a couple about my unenthusiastic review of Ken Burns’ documentary about Jack Johnson.

Ben Walsh: I don’t want to say that Ken Burns is predictable, but has Gerald Early even left that room since “Baseball”? I was surprised we didn’t get Mario Cuomo’s reminiscences about how he used to prize-fight when he was a lad.

Dorothy Lee: It is too bad that you could not appreciate the delivery of Jack Johnson to the public by Ken Burns. Nothing could be more somber than being a black man during the early part of the 20th century. It seems like you wanted a “jazzed-up” version of the subject in order to keep your interest. Ken Burns is on PBS for a reason. You want Hollywood, keep away from PBS.

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I took a pounding for my thoughts on former USC receiver Mike Williams:

Jason Kohn: Yes, he got screwed by the NCAA, which is the biggest sham since they invented shams. But he also made an extremely boneheaded move by hiring an agent. You call it logical. Yes, it’s completely logical, if you don’t bother to think for two seconds about what might happen if you’re unable to enter the draft.

If Williams had just waited a few weeks before hiring an agent, when the ruling on the draft came down he could have gone back and played at USC without a problem. Hell, he could have even kept talking to an agent up until the ruling, and just held off on actually signing with one. It was that incomprehensible decision that cost him a year of eligibility, as well as the bullshit NCAA decision makers.

Steve Schaak: I think you miss the true value of playing football for USC (or Notre Dame, Michigan, wherever). The free degree is a nice perk, optional really. The value that’s made tangible on draft day is the exposure and publicity.

Your argument about Williams buttresses this, but you stop short of acknowledging it. Williams got enough spotlight to prove he’s a gamer. That’s worth what to him? Some number of millions of dollars. Now that he’s received that value from USC, what would be the point of following through on the degree?

However, if Williams had simply [if this were allowed] declared for the draft right out of high school, never played a down of college ball, what do you suppose his draft day package would look like? I’m thinking a ticket to NFL Europe for $150,000 a year, or whatever. The first kid that sits for three years instead of getting that free publicity (free plus optional sheepskin, that is) will disprove me. A little. When all the blue chippers sit, I’ll concede.

Jack Crosby: King, you are one of my favorite two sportswriters, but you (and a lot of less talented writers) seem to think that college football exists for the Mike Williamses of the world. No, the NFL exists for the Mike Williamses of the world. College football exists for the lucky slobs who never get the accolades or the pro football money, but whose lives are improved because they got a college degree. And those people outnumber the Mike Williamses of the world by about 100 to 1.

Previous column: Carlos Delgado and Cooperstown

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