I’ve always enjoyed playing games. It didn’t matter if the game was an athletic contest or a board game, I just like competing. One game, if you can really call it a game, that I have always enjoyed playing is the old parlor game of “Famous People.” That’s my name for it but I’m not sure it really has a name.
You’re at a social gathering and you’re asked, “If you had the chance to sit down with three people (or two or five, the number doesn’t matter), dead or alive, for the evening, and ask them anything you wanted to, who would they be?” I think a person’s answer reveals a lot about who they are; who are their heroes, what are their interests, etc. For the record, I would probably choose Thomas Jefferson, Walt Disney, and Thomas Edison if limited to three.
For today’s column that’s what I’m going to allow myself to do — sit down with three of the greats from the world of sports and pick their brains regarding how they feel about the state of their respective sports today and the athletes that play them. So, I decided to invite three of the greatest manager/coaches their sports have known to my interview. From baseball I’ve invited the “Old Professor”, Casey Stengel; from football, the great Vince Lombardi and from basketball (and he’s already lighting up his cigar), Red Auerbach. Ready? Here we go.
Me: “I’ll ask this one of each of you: Are the athletes that play the game today better than the ones who played in your era?”
Vince: “They are certainly bigger and faster. We were lucky to have a defensive lineman weigh 240; now they weigh in at 300 or greater and let me tell ya, it ain’t fat! It’s muscle and they’ve got speed to back it up. And the receivers today, well, you can’t compete with their speed.”
Casey: “I don’t know that today’s ballplayers are better, they just seem to take better care of themselves. Most all the guys in my day and when I was managing the Yankees smoked and did a little drinking. Oh, you’ve got the ones that are messing around with these enhancement things but I think most of them work out more and keep in shape better.
Red: “The guys today are more athleticby that I mean they are quicker and can jump higher but let me tell you, they can’t compare in shooting skills with guys from the 50’s and 60’s. Those guys could shoot the lights out. Free throw shooting today is atrocious. It’s embarrassing. If I coached today, well, I couldn’t because the players don’t listen anymore.”
Me: “That’s an interesting point, Red. What exactly do you mean?”
Red: “There’s no discipline in basketball these days. Everything’s free lance and apparently there are no rules cause the players sure don’t abide by them.” Casey: “Baseball may be a bit different cause the boys get training down in the minors. They better listen or they’ll never make it to the bigs.”
Vince: “I agree with Red. I’d cut out all this showboat stuff. Play the game. Learn the basics. Act like you’ve done it before.”
Me: “Who was the best in your sport you ever saw?”
Casey: “You probably think I’m gonna say Mickey since he played for me or maybe Williams but the best I ever saw was that Mays kid. There wasn’t nothing he couldn’t do. Man oh man was he good. But this may surprise you- I’d put Yogi second.”
Vince: “That’s tough for a football guy because the players are so different. How do you compare a lineman to a quarterback; a safety to a running back? But I’ll tell you who the smartest player was- Bart Starr. I know I’m prejudiced but he was like having a coach on the field. You know, he talked me out of the play I wanted to call in the Ice Bowl game. Lucky for him, it worked!
Red: “Jerry West.”
Me: “Care to add anything?”
Me: “What would you change in your games if you were coaching today?”
Red: “I’ll talk about this one. It’s kind of radical, but I’d lengthen and widen the court. Players are too big today. I want to put more full-court play back into the game and the only way to do that with the skills of today’s players is to extend the court.”
Casey: “I know this sounds old school but that’s who I am. Make the players have respect for the game. Make them have respect for their uniforms. Those baggy britches and caps on sideways is ludicrous. That Sabathia kid looks like he put on his uniform while he was in a tumble-dryer. He’s a good pitcher but he’s a disgrace to the Yankee pinstripes.” Vince: “I think the pro game needs to get rid of the thugs and hooligans who demean it and give it a bad name. I like what Goodell is doing in some cases. I just think he needs to be even tougher. It’s a privilege and honor to be selected to play- it’s not a right. If these guys want to act out, throw them out of the league and see how they like working nine to five.
I was hoping to have more time with these legends but they had to get back to their fantasy teams.
Vince said he was facing Tom Landry later that night and that was always a tough assignment. Maybe we’ll do this again with some other coaching legends- till then, have a great week and support your local high school teams.
Randy Blalock is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.