Hockey for the 21st Century

These guys need to go away



The National Hockey League just finished its season and that’s a problem. It’s July and you may have noticed that not even Moose Jaw has any ice on the ponds. Training camps open in less than 10 weeks.

The NHL also lacks a major TV contract in the United States, which is a shame because it’s the most-exciting of the four “majors.” That’s also a problem, as these days few sports franchises can survive on ticket sales alone.

Those who aren’t hockey fans often complain that they have trouble following the game. They should, of course, learn how to watch it, but the NHL is also in need of changes that make it friendlier for TV, computers, and tablets. There are several changes the NHL desperately needs, none of which requires that all hockey players wear mullets:


 ·     -- Shorten the season by playing more games per week and by pulling NHL players out of Olympic competitions. They are professionals for heaven’s sake; leave the Olympics for amateurs. The season should open on November 1 and the Stanley Cup should be raised in mid-April.

·      --Do, however, widen rinks to the Olympic standard of 200 feet. This encourages more magnificent skating, leads to more odd-man rushes, and creates greater scoring opportunities.

·      --More importantly, a wider rink discourages boring clutch-and-grab hockey. On a wider sheet, good skaters zoom around the goons.

·      --Speaking of goons, hockey is a skill sport, not UFC on skates. Rodney Dangerfield once joked, “I went to fight the other night, and a hockey game broke out.” Good line, but in the age of much bigger players and revelations about CTE, the goons need to be retired. Some fans drool over bone-crunching checks and toe-to-toe scraps, but top players can skate up to 30 mph. Imagine what would happen if you aimed your car at a pole at 30 mph. Besides, would you rather see Connor McDavid on skates or a stretcher? 

     ---Either widen the nets or shrink goalie equipment once again.

·      --Promote the talent! If the lords of the boards and TV moguls are struggling with that concept, spend more time in Canada to see how it’s done.

_--- Have a trade deadline that makes sense. How about no trades after January 31? It's ridiculous when the teams that go to the playoffs scarcely resemble the ones that got there in the first place. Plus, late trade deadlines pretty much mean that the fans of mediocre teams are robbed of seeing anyone on the ice worth seeing.

---- No more expansion! Prune the dead wood. Five teams generate more than 25% of the league’s revenue and that must change. For the record, two of them play in Canada (Toronto and Montreal). And if anyone can explain to me why Phoenix, Miami, Raleigh, or Columbus still has a team, I’m listening. Winnipeg needs a new rink or wave goodbye. Ottawa could use one that’s actually in Ottawa and the less said about the Islanders’ two rinks, the better.


Rob Weir


Not Just Baseball but….



Clever, but MLB does have issues!

I made a $129 mistake this spring: I bought a subscription to MLB.com and I’ve already made a note to cancel it the day the World Series ends. 

Much has been written about the slow pace of baseball, but that’s not why it has become boring. All sports have become crushingly dull and television is a major culprit. Even so, baseball is in need of a major overhaul, though probably not in the direction the commissioner’s office is headed.  

Baseball been under the microscope more than any other sport and has dragged out all manner of gimmicks that reek of desperation, The first thing to do is dump all of the ridiculous crap currently being tried: beginning an extra-inning game with a runner on second, 7-inning doubleheaders, undressing pitchers in search of grip substances, etc. While we’re at it, dump Interleague play, an experiment whose day has passed, and serves only to cheapen the World Series. 

Here are some other ideas: 


·      Starting pitchers must complete at least 5 innings, even if they are getting shellacked. Cruel? No more so than some reserve outfielder being drafted as a reliever.

·      All relievers must throw to at least 3 batters. End the era of roster-clogging “specialists” who can only throw to one type of hitter. This would also speed the game along so we don’t have to endure the constant cycle of pitching changes and TV commercials.

·      Speaking of commercials, limit them to 2 minutes between innings. This alone would subtract at least 9 minutes from the game. Limit the break to 1 minute if a reliever comes in during an inning. In total, the average game would be over roughly 15 minutes faster.

·      Use technology to call balls and strikes, but mandate that umpire decisions on the field are final unless a rule infraction is at issue. No video reviews. This would save another 10 minutes.

·      Baseball also needs some new statistics to replace meaningless nerds-only gibberish. I suggest these: MHR (Meaningless Home Runs that come when the outcome isn’t in doubt); WCSP (Who Cares Slugging Percentage demerits for hitters who don’t produce in key situations); LRE (Little League Error for times in which a fielder doesn’t actually touch a ball that any Little Leaguer would have gotten to); YDDYJ (You Didn’t Do Your Job demerits each time hitters, fielders, and pitchers flub basic things); TS (Throw Strikes demerits to pitchers who manage to run 0-2 counts to 3-2; 5 demerits if they walk the hitter and 10 if they toss a 3-2 gopher ball).; BYG (Burn Your Glove demerits for catchers who call lousy games, don’t throw our runners, and are prone to passed balls. It’s also known as the Gary Sanchez Factor).



Now for a few things that would make the game more exciting to watch.


·      Baseball needs better coaching at every level. MLB has made home runs boring, as its biggest hitting “stars” strike out 25% of the time by swinging for the fences.

·      Hire coaches who teach situational hitting. This isn’t new. I learned on the playground that you choke up on the bat and cut down on your swing once there are two strikes on you. There’s a world of difference between “hitters” and “swingers.”

·      Teach bunting and I mean proper drag bunts. It’s pathetic to see some guy making millions stick his bat out in front of him like a statue before the pitcher even begins his wind up.

·      Teach other basic fundamentals. Like how to set your feet on a ground ball, how to execute a hit-and-run play, and how to beat a defensive shift.  

·      Baseball needs more speedy guys who can get on via an infield single. It would also be nice to see more base stealing, and runners with the speed to make it from first to third on a single to right.

·      If MLB abolishes sticky substances for pitchers, abolish pine tar for hitters. Allow pitchers to throw inside and call a strike is a hit batter has leaned into the strike zone.

·      Allow starting pitchers from the previous game to be replaced by one- or two-day call-ups from the minors.

·      Make the designated hitter rule applicable in both leagues. Most pitchers simply can’t hit and it’s boring to watch them try.

·      Owners should insist on contracts that are incentive-laden and provide for salary cuts for under-performance. Managers used to fine players who didn’t advance runners or plate a runner on third with less than two outs. Players should have to earn their salaries–just like the rest of us!


Now for the radical stuff.


First, institute a hard salary standard for all MLB teams. No more super-spenders or pocket-the-revenue owners.

·      Every team in MLB would have a set level for total salaries—say $150 million per roster Not a dime more and not a nickel less.

·      Cut ticket prices for fans by 20%.


My most radical proposal involves expansion and reemphasizing team success rather than single players. Hear me out. It’s modeled on European soccer leagues.

·      Create two MLB divisions in each league of 6 teams each and call it MLB-A. That would be 24 teams, not the current 30. The top two finishers in each division go to respective league playoffs seeded by their overall records (1 vs. 4; 2 vs. 3 vs. winners) and the survivors vie to play the winner of the other league’s playoffs in the World Series.

·      Take the 8 teams with the worst regular season winning percentages and drop them to an MLB-B division with a hard salary standard of $100 million. Players on teams dropped to the B-division incur an across-the-board salary cut of 1/3 and must play a full season of MLB-B even if they would otherwise be free agents.

·      Potential expansion cities include:  Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville, Las Vegas, New Orleans, San Antonio, Portland, and Salt Lake City. Teams whose finances don’t work–goodbye Tampa!­– can be replaced by other cities and owners.

·      Each year, drop the bottom 8 from MLB-A to MLB-B and elevate the top 8 MLB-B squads to MLB-A with players receiving an immediate 33% bonus.

·      Reduce the regular season from 162 games to 154, with the season beginning no earlier than April 15.


Rob Weir


House in the Cerulean Sea: Fantasy for Adults Seeking Wonderment



By T(ravis) J Klune

Tor Books, 396 pages.





If you like fantasy books, The House in the Cerulean Sea is like a Harry Potter-meets-Tim Burton novel for adults. It is also one of the most wildly creative works of fiction I’ve read since Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi.


On paper, 40-year-old Linus Baker has an interesting job. He’s a caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY). You read that correctly. At some unspecified period in British history–probably either an alternative present or a very near future–magic has been decriminalized, though many individuals without such attributes distrust those who have them. (You can probably infer analogies to immigrants and people of color.) If it’s not easy being paranormal, imagine what’s it’s like for special needs children, some of whom don’t even have human bodies.  


That alone is an interesting twist on social work, but Baker isn’t exactly Mr. Excitement. He’s a roly-poly asexual bachelor, lives in an undersized home, is unpopular among his DICOMY colleagues, and his only real companion is Calliope, a cat with a mind and loyalties of its own. His job title notwithstanding, Baker is akin to the Charles Dickens character Thomas Gradgrind (from Hard Times); that is, he’s more of a cipher than a dynamo. He’s a facts guy like Gradgrind and a stickler for bureaucratic detail. He has memorized most of the DICOMY manual Rules and Regulations and treats it the way some literalists use holy books. Moreover, DICOMY isn’t an easy place to work. In what is perhaps a nod to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, a shadowy group known only as Extremely Upper Management (EUM) issues directives and employees know that it’s seldom good if commanded to board the elevator and appear before the EUM.


 When Linus gets exactly such a summons, his colleagues prepare to divvy up the remains from what they assume will be his firing. They’re wrong; Linus has been given a special task for which he feels wholly unprepared. He is chosen because he’s a gradgrind who assumes Rules and Regulations protects children. EUM wants to send Linus to a coastal village, where he is to board a boat to an offshore island to investigate Marsyas Orphanage and its unconventional proprietor, Arthur Parnassus. The island name alludes to a Greek myth of a musical satyr who angered the gods. If Baker was apprehensive before, imagine setting foot on an island whose children are considered dangerous. They include Talia, a bearded female gnome who loves gardens; the diminutive Sal, a shapeshifter; lithe Phee, a sprite; the obsequious squid-like Chauncey, who dreams of becoming a bellhop; and Theodore, a wyvern (winged dragon), who communicates in chirps. It’s most infamous resident, though, is Lucy; it’s short for Lucifer and his father is listed as Satan!   


Calliope seems at home, but Linus is understandably ill at ease. Arthur and caretaker Zoe Chapelwhite aren’t what he expects either. Arthur doesn’t give a fig about Rules and Regulations. He sees his brood merely as children in need of healing and guidance, encourages Linus to get to know them, and trusts Baker to write his report to EUM however he feels is appropriate. He even encourages a field trip to the mainland village, a place the children have never been and whose residents are not exactly comfortable with the idea, though they’re very content to take government subsidies to supply the island through Chapelwhite or the price-gouging ferryman Merle.


As you can imagine, there’s not much the meets the eye that can be trusted on or off the island. The House in the Cerulean Sea is true to its subject in that it’s magical, but it’s more than that. It’s a reminder that surfaces are seldom the same as essence, an exploration of hidden identities, a paean to nature, a celebration of play, a cover-up, a love story, and a road map for how Linus finds his groove. Leave it someone named Lucifer to correct Linus when he proclaims he has no magic: “You do Mr. Baker. Arthur told me there can be magic in the ordinary.” Think of it; to those deemed weird, normal is exotic.


I will admit that sometimes the novel has a YA feel, but isn’t that another magical thing? How often must adults be remembered that wonderment comes in many forms and is everywhere when they bother to look for it? Or that, as another character put it, “You fear what you don’t understand.” Open this book and prepare to be enchanted.


Rob Weir