It is a sad state of events that this can even be the subject of a column, let alone a list column, and yet here we are: on the doorstep of another deadline, verbal calisthenics replacing the kind we usually see this time of year.
Another shortened season is in our sights, and we have been here before. Oh, have we been here before — in every sport, 50 years and running since the first work stoppage that actually cost games, the 1972 MLB strike. Some have been more destructive than others. Here’s a look at the seven worst of the worst, and here’s hoping we don’t have another candidate for the list in the next 48 hours.
1. MLB, 1994-95: Not only is this the only one that affected two separate seasons, which would be bad enough, but history will eternally remind us that there was no World Series in 1994 — and record-book pursuits by Tony Gwynn, Ken Griffey Jr. and Matt Williams were stopped in their tracks, as was the signature season of the dear departed Montreal Expos.
If ever there was a time in sports that mirrored the end of the original “Planet of the Apes,” Charlton Heston fully realizing what has happened to his former home — “You blew it up! Ah, damn you! Damn you all to hell!” — this was it. Add in the face of replacement players in the spring of ’95 and this really is the granddaddy of them all.
2. NHL, 2004-05: As stark as the line is for baseball’s listing of world champions that includes a blank space for ’94, this is even worse. No other labor impasse had ever cost an entire season until this one did, and the evidence is right there in any chronological listing of NHL seasons — 2004-05, season canceled. Brutal.
3. NFL, 1987: The strike lasted just four weeks, but it provided some of the most remarkable self-sabotage any sport has ever visited upon itself. For three weeks the owners brought in scabs to replace striking players, and those games counted — and, in fact, still count, in the NFL record books. Also, for the first time, unity among a players association dissolved almost immediately as players crossed picket lines, first at a crawl then en masse, providing nightly glimpses of intramural ugliness everywhere, but especially with the Jets.
(And as for the Giants … for the first time in 30 years they were defending champs, but they assembled a woeful replacement team, lost all three, started the season 1-5 and ruined what should’ve been one of the most fun victory-lap seasons in team history.)
4. MLB, 1981: So many follies, so little time to describe them all. Start with the split-season format: When baseball halted in late spring, the teams already in first place were declared division champs. They were joined by the second-half winners. Remarkably, none of the first-half winners repeated in the second half, but the math did work out that the Cardinals had the best record in the NL East and the Reds had the best record in all of baseball — and somehow neither team made the playoffs.
5. NBA, 1998-99: Of course, this season actually ended magnificently around here, with the Knicks making an out-of-the-sky push from the eighth seed in the East all the way to the NBA Finals. But the regular season was a mish-mash of out-of-shape players sometimes playing back-to-back-to-back to salvage a semblance of a season that didn’t start until January. Not a great way for the league to start its first year of the second (of three) post-Michael Jordan era.
6. NFL, 1982: Again, the season went pretty well around here, the Jets making the AFC Championship game in an expanded playoff system that allowed 16 teams into the postseason. For the first time, America got a taste of seven Sundays in September and October sans pro football. America did not like that one bit.
7. MLB, 1972: It was a brief walkout, but it still cost two weeks of games that weren’t made up, and not every team played the same amount of games, allowing the then-still-star-crossed Red Sox to lose out on the AL East by a half-game because they played one game fewer than the Tigers.
If you love college basketball, then Mike Krzyzewski has been a part of your life, probably for as long as you can remember. Whether you love him or feel otherwise, “Coach K,” by our own Ian O’Connor, will draw you in on Page 1 and not let you go till you get to the index. You can bank on that.
One of the greatest ballplayers to ever come out of Jersey City — and, man, there have been so many — received one of the great honors an old hoopster can get Saturday when Snyder High dedicated its basketball court to the great Mike Rooney — Mike the Magnificent, Class of ’61 — honoring one of the great New Jersey basketball lives of them all.
Today is National Strawberry Day, which recalls one of the great promotions ever at old Shea Stadium, back when Darryl Strawberry was playing there and the Mets gave out strawberry sundaes to the house. Good to remember that baseball really can do cool things when it isn’t, you know, invisible.
Man, the Rangers are fun to watch.
Whack Back at Vac
Joe Martingano: There is no more vivid example of competitive respect than when, after pummeling one another for 12 grueling rounds, two boxers embrace. They are the only ones in the arena who truly know the cost and sacrifice of the battle, and they acknowledge one another’s fortitude. For me, the postgame handshakes represent more of what we need in our society, and what our impressionable youth needs to learn from us.
Vac: Once I started playing high school sports I remember asking my father how long you had to play sports before you stopped shaking hands. And he said, “In my book, the day after you stop playing sports forever.”
Joe Fish: Herb Brooks? And I was always under the impression the best locker room speech came from Knute Rockne, no?
Vac: Rockne ruled the G-rated realm. Brooks’ was definitely more PG-13. Maybe.
@BrianFaughnan: Last year was the offseason that New York welcomed home aging legends who hoped for fairytale endings — Kemba Walker, Zdeno Chara, Zach Parise. It hasn’t gone so well.
@MikeVacc: Maybe it’s best Bartolo Colon stay retired.
Jerry Vogel: Leon Rose and Brodie Van Wagenen both make for a compelling argument to never having an agent run your team.
Vac: That little experiment isn’t exactly off to a flying start, no.