The Man Who Changed Pro Basketball

How many athletes would come to mind if you were asked about an athlete who, while playing, was such a dominating force that some rules of the game were changed to adjust to his style of play? What if the athlete in question was also a league commissioner: then who comes to mind? Only one— George Lawrence Mikan Jr.

As a player he was nicknamed Mr. Basketball and played on seven professional championship teams. Most notably was his play for the Minneapolis Lakers in the late 1940’s through the mid 1950’s. Oddly, basketball in the 1940’s was not considered a big man’s game. In fact, it was the general consensus that at the time basketball was considered best suited for the small quicker athletes that could glide up and down the court. Consequently everyone was surprised when George Mikan one of the bigger players was able to dominate the league for so long. In 1950 The Associated Press voted Mikan the greatest player of the first half of the century.

In a time with no Internet or Sports Center, people who followed basketball knew and loved to watch Mikan play live. Let’s face it, without the media coverage athletes get now, if you didn’t see a player live back then, it was hard to determine how good or bad he was. But George Mikan was different. He was considered by most people to be the first big man of basketball. So dominant was his play that it resulted in rule changes in professional basketball. The combination of two rule changes, the three second rule and the widening of the lane from six to twelve feet effectively limited Mikan from dominating under the basket. Another rule put into play to adjust to Mikan was the 24-second clock. Once Again, because of George Mikan’s dominance teams started to slow down the pace of the game in the hopes of limiting his control by keeping the ball away from him.  The league decided that  putting in the 24-second clock would speed it up. And also the goal tending rule, which prohibits a player from blocking a shot on it’s downward movement from the basket was also implemented because of Mikan’s ability to swat shots away. All of these rules were established to offset Mikan’s complete dominance of the game. In his career he averaged 23.1 points per game which in today’s standards does not seem like a lot. In 1950 most teams averaged in the low 80’s offensively per game. Comparatively last year Golden State averaged 116.5 points per game.

When the American Basketball Association came into existence, Mikan became the first commissioner of the league. At that point, he was a well established lawyer and looked at the new league as a challenge. The three-point shot was not started by the new ABA but this is where it became popular. Originally the three-point shot was actually tested in 1945 in a game between Fordham and Columbia. In 1961 in a league called the ABL—The American Basketball League, Abe Saperstein introduced the three-point shot. But when George Mikan introduced it as part of the ABA it became wildly popular and a huge, significant part of the game. Mikan stated that he wanted the smaller players to have a better chance to score and open up the offense. This was during the 1967-68 season. The three-point shot became hugely popular in the ABA and was one of the main reasons for the league’s success. The popularity of the three-point shot was so big that when the ABA merged with the NBA the league considered keeping the rule as part of the merged league; eventually it was introduced after testing it in 1979–80 pre-season.

When Mikan brought this rule into the new league he could never have envisioned how it would affect today’s game. And in an the ironic twist, although Mikan helped pave the way for making basketball a big man’s game, his three-point shot has done the opposite allowing smaller shooting players to assume an outsized impact on the game. 

And how about having a basketball drill named after you? The “Mikan Drill” has been one of the most popular drills for years as players put in lay-ups going from one side to the other continuously without letting the ball touch the ground. 

George Lawrence Mikan Jr. was a player and a man who changed the way professional basketball is played not once but twice. His influence and legacy are still felt in the basketball world today.

Who Invented T-Ball?

"I won't be happy until we have every boy in America between the ages of six and sixteen wearing a glove and swinging a bat."
‒‒ Babe Ruth

  On May 6, 2001, the Capitol City League Rockies and the Satchel Paige League Memphis Red Sox from the Washington, D.C. area took the field to play each other in a t‒ball game. What made this t‒ball game different from any other game was the fact that it took place on the White House South Lawn. President George W. Bush launched this t‒ball game on the South Lawn to promote health and fitness for young people and show appreciation for the game of baseball. This is probably my favorite activity produced by the US Government. No debate, no filibustering, no veto, or override. Just t‒ball baseball right where presidents strolled around contemplating the decisions that would change the world. When I pass an empty baseball field in my car on a beautiful day, I always think to myself, what a waste. A beautiful field, empty with no one on it. Now we have a tradition every year on the White House lawn. You don’t have to be a Democrat, Republican, or Independent to see that this is a bipartisan issue, and a good one at that. How did the game of t‒ball arrive from obscurity to the White House lawn? Well, the origin of t‒ball has few different stories.
  One theory has the great owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey, as the creator of the actual model the batting tee is made from. Branch Rickey, who was always thinking ahead for his team and the sport of baseball helped create the minor league system and had a hand in creating the batting helmet. Supposedly he introduced a flexible batting tee that came from the radiator hose of a car motor. It was said that Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, and other Dodgers honed their skills on this man‒made batting tee. This may have been the original model for others who claimed to have invented and organized the game of t‒ball.
  The actual organizing of t‒ball as an activity has been claimed by numerous people and locations around the country. The city of Warner Robins, Georgia was one of the first, if not the first to have an organized t‒ball league. Claude Lewis, director of the Warner Robins (Ga.) Recreation Department, formed a t‒ball league in March 1958. According to an interview he gave, about 100 parents came to Claude demanding some kind of baseball activity for the younger kids. Claude maintains he set up the rules and helped spread the game of t‒ball around the world, even flying over to England and Israel to introduce the game to other countries, and teaching them how to play t‒ball. I had the good fortune of speaking to Claude’s daughter on the phone, who fields these calls for her elderly dad. Marie was nice enough to spend time going through how Claude Lewis got involved with t‒ball. Interestingly, Claude’s high school baseball coach in the mid to late 1940s had his team hit balls off wood planks on the school’s bleachers. Claude remembered this, and either by his own thoughts, or maybe he had heard of what Branch Rickey did with the hose from a car radiator, developed a batting tee. When it kept breaking, he inserted something in the inside of the hose. His friend, a welder, helped him perfect it to his liking, making it easy to transport. Claude Lewis was a giving man always looking for innovations for sports. He was invited to the White House to witness the t‒ball activities on the White House South Lawn and met President George W. Bush. 
  Another theory of the origin of t‒ball gives credit to Dayton Hobbs, who got the idea after noticing groups of young kids watching in envy his team of 14 and 15 year olds practicing. Dr. Hobbs was an elementary school principle in Bagdad, Florida near Pensacola. He had been coaching baseball since the 1950s, so he decided to organize a game for young kids by having them hit the ball off the batting tee. Not only was Dr. Hobson granted the Tee Ball trademark but he wrote the first Official Tee Ball Baseball Rule Book. 
  Still another theory claims that in Starkville Mississippi, two Rotarians, Dr. Clyde Muse and W.W. Littlejohn, added the game of t‒ball to the summer program in their town to help keep the younger kids busy with an activity. Because of a very successful Babe Ruth League involving over 300 kids, in 1960 both Dr. Muse and Professor Littlejohn were trying desperately to come up with a modified game of baseball that young kids would like and be successful playing. The story goes that Dr. Muse was in Professor Little John’s office and began writing rules for how the game of t‒ball should be played. They decided that to have a pitcher throwing to really young kids did not make sense, and that it would be better if the players hit a stationary ball because the kids would achieve more success and allow for quicker development. They then presented the rules to the Starkville Junior Baseball Association and they endorsed the game and the rules and in the summer of 1961 t‒ball began in Starkville Mississippi. 3
  Finally in Albion, Michigan, t‒ball was said to have been created by Coach Jerry Sacharski. He was a baseball coach who came up with the game in the summer of 1956. I called and spoke to one of his kids, Mike Sacharski, who gave me some great facts about his dad. Mike told me that his dad created this program because the brothers of kids on teams wanted something to do at their young age. He geared the game for youngsters between the ages of six and eight to play. At first it was called Pee Wee Baseball. Coach Jerry Sacharski wanted to teach kids the fundamentals of regular baseball and he couldn’t stand to turn the real young kids away from playing baseball because of their age. Mike told me his dad initially only wanted kids to learn the fundamentals of fielding, throwing, and baserunning. Hitting was only an after thought. Coach Jerry Sacharski considered having the umpire throw the balls out into the field as if they were hit. It quickly evolved into having the kids hit the ball off a batting tee that was obtained from a neighboring town in Michigan. Jerry would go down to the hardware store and try to perfect the batting tee, so it was more transportable. Frank Passic, who is a historian in Albion and played t‒ball in 1960 tells of how they played a game at Michigan State University that was carried on television. Mike Sacharski also explained how his family never got into any kind of battle about the origins of t‒ball and considers his dad a “Pioneer” of the game. 4
I guess we will never know the real inventor of organized t‒ball. It seems to have been played in Canada in the late 1950s and early 1960s before gaining more popularity here in the United States. One thing is certain. A "Tee Ball" trademark was registered with the United States government by Dayton Hobbs in the early 1970s.
  It is amazing how far the batting tee has evolved, if it started with Branch Rickey’s original batting tee invention of his rubber motor hose. If you ever go to a large national baseball clinic, in their exhibit area you are bound to see new batting tees being touted as the newest mouse trap that can turn a hitter’s 250 average into a 400 average. If you search the internet and baseball catalogs, you will see an endless number of different types of batting tees. There are the ones that seem to be the most popular, which are black and have a single rubber adjustable pole. Then there are batting tees that have movable locations for the rubber pole. There are also some that now have an “arm” that sticks up to help you adjust your swing the correct way. Then there are tees that have an automatic feeder. So instead of hitting the baseball off the tee and putting another ball to replace it, the machine will do it for you. Instead of spending $25 or $35 for a basic batting tee, now your have the option to spend up to $300 for the batting tee with a feeder.
  It doesn’t really matter who invented organized t‒ball. T‒Ball remains as one of the most popular organized leagues in the world with thousands of boys and girls taking part every year!

This is an excerpt from Marty Schupak's book "T-Ball Skills And Drills"


                                               Your Pitching Machine Headquarters 

NFL 2017 Preview

2017 NFL Preview

The 2017 NFL season opens on Thursday with the World Champion New England Patriots hosting the Kansas City Chiefs. This will be one interesting season maybe more off the field than on. With the sideline protests spreading in the pre-season, owners and management are trying to gauge what is going to happen this season. This on top of the growing CTE scare with more and more players being concerned about their health, one has to wonder what affect this may have long term on the NFL. Television ratings will have special importance especially early in the season. With that said here is my preview for the coming season.

NFC East
The Cowboys are the best on paper. Their secondary is still suspect. I’m picking the Giants to win this division. They have a great secondary and improved the tight end position. I believe they will overcome their offensive line issues.

NFC North
The Packers should win this division. Aaron Rodgers is hungry to get back to the Super Bowl. In addition, General Manager Ted Thompson cut three draft picks which shows me the team means business. The Lions are coming on and the Vikings have a favorable schedule but the Pack should be back!

NFC West
The Seahawks will win this division. With the addition of defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson the rich get richer on defense. Their weak offensive line just means Russel Wilson will have to extend plays which he is good at. Arizona is the competition here but Carson Palmer is a year older and a year more fragile.

NFC South
The Atlanta Falcons are the class of the division and will be rooting for themselves and the Patriots hoping for a rematch. Running back Christian McCaffrey may be just as important for Carolina as Cam Newton is this year.  Tampa Bay is moving in the right direction and will make some noise in this division.

AFC East
It’s the Patriots and no one else. Tough to go against them when they seem to start every year 6-0 with division games. The Bills are actually cleaning house the right way. I’m not convinced Miami is any better than last year no matter who they play at quarterback.

AFC North
The Steelers will win this division. Cornerback Joe Haden is a perfect fit for this defense. The receivers are as good as any team in the league. Big Ben keeps ticking. Flacco is a question mark for the Ravens. The coaching will keep the Ravens in it. The Bengals will not compete. Receiver Brandon LaFell had good stats last year but he is overrated.

AFC South
Houston will win this division and may have found a quarterback on this sack happy team. I have heard good things about Deshaun Watson from my peeps in Houston. Savage may start the season but this will change and change quickly. Many like the Titans in this division but I just don’t see it. Is it me or does it seem Andrew Luck can fall apart physically at any moment?

AFC West
Like everyone else, I am on the Oakland Raiders bandwagon. It won’t be easy but if their defense plays better than everyone expects, the Raiders could go deep this year. Denver is a question mark with the quarterback position. The Chiefs are coached well but may lack the downfield aggressiveness on offense.

The Giants will overcome their offensive line woes and beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. After this year Giant fans will demand Eli Manning’s bust be put either on Mt. Rushmore or in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Bettor’s Guide
Soundview Louie (from the Soundview section of the Bronx) has told me in person to bet heavy on the Detroit Lions early in the season and on the Patriots late in the season.

The Next Superstar May Be The Kid Next Door

   New dads that are sports minded always have visions their new borns may make a name in the sports world and defy the huge odds to become a professional. Maybe if that baby is a lefty he may become the new Sandy Koufax. Or if he grows to over 6’3” and is blessed with an arm, maybe another Andrew Luck. Or maybe a daughter will develop a great first serve and have the gift of anticipation and rock the women’s tennis world. Whatever the sport we dads and even moms should never feel guilty about fantasizing what it may be like if one of our kids makes it. After all it is human nature. The reality of it is that in today’s world the best path to make it in a sport maybe something called esports or is it e-sports? Actually it is more of a past time rather than a sport. Sports Illustrated writer Daniel Rapaport had an excellent article this past winter describing the growth of esports and how main stream advertisers and sports teams are getting involved. For those of my generation the latest Google definition of esports (I’ve seen it with and without a hyphen) is:

 “a multiplayer video game played competitively for spectators, typically by professional gamers.”

To put it simply, picture the closest arena in your area sold out with a set up on a stage with a huge screen in the background as teams compete with what my brothers and I may call the millennial version of Pacman but carry names such as: Super Smash Bros. Melee or Street Fighter. ,

  The Staples Center in LA and Key Arena all sold out for tournaments. In fact the growth from 2015-2016 has been estimated to have increased 51.7 %. Rapaport pointed out how at the KeyArena in Seattle for an event called the Dota 2 Championship, it could have been the Seattle Seahawks playing as many in the loud crowd were wearing the Jersey’s of their favorite esports team who were competing in this event that had total prize money of $20,770,460.
   We may never see the esports champion hawk large screen flat televisions like Peyton Manning buy this new culture is here to stay. According to the Rapaport SI article maybe this is why the Philadelphia 76ers actually purchased an esports team and the Houston Rockets hired in a brand new position, a director of esports. All this as well as the NBA partnering with the video game publisher Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. means that esports has  has gone well past cult status as it moves quickly into the main stream. I don’t quite understand everything that is going on but believe you me, once the powers to be understand and realize the best way to make money from this brand new phenomena, it will be as organized as the NFL. This is only the beginning for the esports world. And I remember playing Pong years ago for hours at a time at the Nathan’s Restaurant game room in Yonkers, New York.

Pitching And Overuse In Youth Baseball

  A number of years ago I’m coaching my local Little League team. My best pitcher Rich was on the mound and we were playing for first place. The only problem was Rich played on two other travel teams and we had him on a 50 pitch pitch-count. I don’t remember the exact circumstances but the opposing coach did something unethical early in the game that irked my assistant coaches and me. Now we wanted to win more than ever! The only chance we had was if we could extend Rich’s pitch count. I went to his parents and got permission to go to 60 pitches with him.  What I did was 100% wrong! Coaches are doing the same thing and a combination of overuse and sports specificity is hurting young pitchers. Steal a few pitches here and few pitches there and before you know it we coaches are putting our own motivations first before the safety and well being of our players. We live in a very competitive society but common sense bust prevail. It is up to the player’s parents to monitor their son’s pitch count. I’m against involvement in multiple leagues but kids love playing. Playing in more than two leagues is counter productive. Some parents though realize what is going on and insist in one league their son is not allowed to pitch. Great idea!
  A few years ago the American Medical Association said that children under 13 should not be allowed to play the same sport year round. Sport specificity is also potentially dangerous for kids. At issue is the kid’s growth plates which develop differently for each individual. I addressed this in detail in my book Baseball Coaching: A Guide For The Youth Coach and Parent. 
  One of my best players ever, Stan loved baseball. Only problem was that it was all he did. When he got home from school every day he went out back and threw bucket after bucket of baseballs against a mat that his father had set up. By the time Stan was 14 he had multiple operations and could not play baseball anymore. I remember him telling me he could not even watch a baseball game on television for 10-years.
  Parents have to consider long term consequences with everything their children are doing and who they are involved in. Parenting is the greatest job in the world but like everything else it has to be worked at. 

More Youth Sports Stuff: On Long Island this week a football player died doing what was called a Navy Seal drill. With other players they were carrying a 400 pound log over their head as a conditioning drill when the log fell and crushed Joshua A. Mileto’s skull. He was pronounced dead at Stony Brook University Hospital. Coaches will do these creative intense drills. I’m not sure if this was just a freak one in a million accident or this was one drill that should have never been tried. What ever level you are coaching, safety trumps all.

……..In 2016,  31,470 high school students played in traditional 11-player football in New York State. In 2007 the number was 38,354 an 18% drop. Over the same period there was a 4.5% drop nation wide.

……..Dentists estimate roughly 3 million teeth are knocked out because athletes don’t wear mouth guards. Besides football where mouth guards are mandatory, athletes in other sports should wear them.


Has The NFL Franchise Peaked In Value?

  The opening of NFL season is only a few weeks away. Fans have been going to their favorite team’s training camp with optimism like they do every year. Many NFL fans have their heads buried in their iPhones planing their strategy for their upcoming fantasy football draft in every second of spare time. In most cases many of these fans are in multiple leagues. Sixteen is the most I ever heard one individual was in. Coaches and teams are still trying to find a way to dethrone Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Yes the NFL is going full throttle like an unstoppable machine. But can this continue at the same pace? Twenty years ago I never heard of the term CTE. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is the disease we have been hearing about the last few years. Constant repeated head trauma that NFL, college, high school and even youth players may eventually result in this CTE. The symptoms are horrible and may include memory loss, impaired judgement, aggression, depression, anxiety and even suicidal behavior. There was a recent Boston University study that found some form of CTE in deceased NFL players in 99% of them. Players are now recognizing the long term risks that is the trade off of living the life for anywhere from 2-10 years (more in many cases) as a rock star then dealing with something that only gets worse. This study comes a couple of years after the 2015 movie Concussion which also made people aware of what constant head trauma can do. 
  Even though the NFL seems to print money at will for their owners, one must ask is this the peak time to sell an NFL franchise?  Look at the team I follow the New York Jets. In 2000 Woody Johnson bought the Jets for $635 million, the third-highest ever paid for a professional sports franchise at the time. Some thought Johnson paid $100 million too much but now the Jets are worth $1.8 billion according to Forbes. And this with one of the worst performing teams.
With the players bigger, stronger and faster, the league has toned down training camp contact. Even during the regular season the whistles seem to be used quicker than ever before as team owners are concerned about losing their stars. Friends of mine have been complaining to me for a few years that the NFL is becoming too much like two hand touch. 
  A Dr. Robert Cantu who is known in some areas as “America’s concussion doctor” has recommended that kids under the age of 14 should not be involved in collision sports. Youth and even high school participation in tackle football has gone down while at the same time flag football participation has gone up. I’m not a lawyer but I would guess that there will be more lawsuits, injuries and more detailed studies of head trauma. With this and all the news about CTE, I would be a seller of an NFL franchise right now rather than a buyer.

Marty Schupak is President of the Youth Sports Club as well as T-Ball America. He received his Master’s degree in physical education from Arizona State University and has written numerous books on youth sports including Baseball Coaching: A Guide For The Youth Coach And Parent and has produced 26 sports instructional videos including The 59 Minute Baseball Practice.

Baseball Uptick Can Be A Positive Sign

  Those involved in youth baseball have noticed a slight uptick in the number of kids registering to play. This bodes well for the sport of baseball that has seen kids leave the game for other sports such as lacrosse and soccer over the last decade and more. This is especially true when the kids reach the age of twelve. This may or may not continue. The real measuring point will be when players start to leave the two above mentioned sports to play baseball.
  Major League Baseball has two programs that may be helping with this momentum. Their RBI program promoting baseball in the inner cities is working though not at the pace MLB would like. Their "Play Ball" program also seems to have traction. Another positive that should not be overlooked are two players that can help become the face of the game. Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees and Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers are two likable players who may become superstars but have a ways to go. Around the New York metropolitan area Judge's number 99 is seen in shopping malls, parks and just about everywhere else. Bellinger comes from a baseball family. Having his father Clay Bellinger pitch to him in the recent home run derby is one of those small things fans love and can relate to.
  Shortening games giving young fans a chance to stay up later is also a factor. The World Series will never have day games during the week but baseball seems to be doing the right things and though the results are small this is a positive sign for the game. 

Marty Schupak is President of the Youth Sports Club and T-Ball America. He has written nine books on baseball and coached Little League for 25-years.