Ask Gary: Why honor the 4,693rd celebrity?

by Gary Shelton on April 2, 2016 · 1 comment

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

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Saturday, 6 a.m.

Why did the Rays select George Wendt to throw out the first pitch for the regular season home opening game of 2016?

Scott Myers

I figure they picked George Wendt (Norm) because they couldn't get John Ratzenberger (Cliff). And Rhea Perlman (Carla) was out of the question.

Besides, isn't Opening Day supposed to be about Cheers?

Seriously, I share your confusion. Why pick a bit player from a 23-year-old sitcom? Are we that hard up for celebrities? I figure the Trop can use the beer sales.

We seem to have a shortage of celebrities in Tampa Bay. I remember

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during the World Series, the Rays suddenly imported Rob Schneider from his day job of getting coffee for Adam Sandler to be a celebrity.

Still, if you're ranking the celebs out there, where is Wendt? I figure he's about 4,693rd...and falling. He's somewhere between the guy who played Huggy Bear and Herb Tarlek from WKRP.

If it's up to me, I pick a Hall of Fame football player or a great baseball or hockey player if we're that starved for celebrities. It's embarrassing.

Here's a question: Who was second on the list? One of the Friends? Either Toody or Muldoon? The backup bass player for the Blues Magoos?

Gary, you just did a piece absolving Derek Shelton from being implicated in the Rays' hitting woes. Let's flip over to Jim Hickey --how much credit do we give him for the Rays' pitching prowess? Perhaps there are more technical tweaks for a pitching coach to dissect? Or other nuances pertaining to pitching rotations, when to insert relievers, etc? I wonder how much true impact these coaches have versus all the analytics that are available.

Barry McDowell​

Barry, I wasn't trying to absolve Derek Shelton of all blame. Not all. Just the part where Rays' fans want him to create good hitters from lousy ones. You can still blame him if it eases your pain.

It's true of Hickey, too. Like all pitching coaches, his lessons make a lot more sense when he's got weapons. Over the years, Hickey has had far more to work with David Price, James Shields and Chris Archer. This franchise invests in arms, which means Hickey is dealing with a better prospects than the hitting coach.

You know where Hickey has done well? He's done well with marginal players like Erasmus Ramirez. Oh, he did fine with David Price, but Price was special. Pretty much, he was coach-proof. But the concept is the same. You can't turn an average pitcher into a Cy Young winner.

I do think a pitching coach has a little more control, the same as a pitcher has more control than a hitter. I think of a pitching coach as a defensive coordinator, of a hitting coach as a quarterback coach. Maybe that's just me.

Still, you're talking about 100 pitches vs. four swings. You can coach attitude, you can insist on relying on a fastball, you can coach what pitches to use when. But not everyone will win 20. Hickey couldn't make a great pitcher out of Grant Balfour, for instance.

Over the years, this has changed. Larry Rothschild used to talk about how pitching good wasn't always good enough; a pitcher had to find a way to win I asked Kevin Cash about that in the spring, and he disagreed. Too many variables. I wonder if we've seen our last 300-game winner.

For the most part, Hickey has coached the strength of this team, and as such, he gets more of a break than Shelton.

How, in this day and age, can the U.S. Soccer Federation pay women less than men for representing their country? I know they say they pay according to what their respective unions negotiated, but to me that holds no water at all. It's pretty simple to play hardball with one union, give the keys to the vault to another one. Not to mention nobody much watches the men play, while the women get outstanding attendance and ratings because they are actually good.

Cecil DeBald

I'm flabbergasted, too. I read something that the U.S. women's team brings in millions more than the men, and they still get something like one-fourth of the pay. It's ludicrous, especially when you consider what they bring to the negotiation table. Who was their lawyer? George Wendt?

If my daughters were pro athletes, I'd warn them to be forever vigilant about their money. Sexism still exists. Recently, Novak Djokovic suggested that men deserved more money, a battle that should have ended with the Crimean War. My comment about men's popularity? Novak Djokovic.

I know this: I've covered Wimbledon, and the seats were all filled when the women played, too. The TV networks got their worth. You can argue all you wan that the men's talent is deeper. With my ticket, I'm not buying depth.

The women soccer players have an even better argument. They're more accomplished, and their following is just as fervent. There are more stars on the team. Heck, it wouldn't surprise me if the women demanded more.

Look, the WNBA doesn't have the numbers that the NBA has. It would be silly to argue for similar pay. But you know, in figure skating and gymnastics -- sports where the women are far more popular than the men -- both sexes are paid equally.

I think it's silly. Equal pay. Is that such a shocking thing in this day and age?

I was reading about the suggestion to lower the basket in women's basketball, and saw someone else wanted to increase the size of the basket in all of basketball by 2 inches in diameter to enhance scoring. Not being a basketball fan all this didn't do much for me either way, but I was wondering if you might have a radical, crazy change to the rules for MLB, NFL or NHL - of course, Gary, it would have to be something you could really (tongue in cheek) stand behind.

Cecil DeBald

One thing I have always thought is that athletes have gotten too fast for the space they occupy. I think football fields should be 20 yards longer, especially in the end zones. I think baseball fields are too small, hockey rinks, baseball courts. Widen the field and open up the game.

I'm not crazy about messing around with rims in basetball. Everyone isn't supposed to be able to dunk. Can you imagine Steph Curry with two more inches of hoop?

I'd like to see more net in hockey, although Phil Esposito says if you enforced pad size on the goalies, that would take care of it.

Here's a concept: Call the strike zone. I get exasperated by hearing about "this umpire's strike zone" and that one's. The strike zone is baseball's. It's not an umpires. And if umps try to make it so, get better umps.

I'd like a penalty box in other sports. Let a baseball team go an inning with three infielders. Let a football team have three defensive backs.

I'm mostly kidding about this one, but how about picking up all flags on any play that scores? "Yes, John Smith held on that play, but his team scored, so we're picking it up."

What do you think?

The MLB/MLBPA collective bargaining agreement expires in December - any thoughts or rumors about what might be talking points - beyond the qualifying offers, which has been in the news lately?

Cecil DeBald

Money. Most of what the MLBPA is after is usually to feather the nests of its membership. I have no doubt that will be an issue whether you're talking about increased roster sizes or whatever.

I think if I'm in the MLB, I try to take steps with the safety of my association, too.

But the MLB players have it pretty good. So what more can they want? Maybe a shorter period of time before they get to arbitration. Maybe a bonus for the most cliches used. Maybe free Cracker Jack.

Do you think that the Bucs will/should sign Roddy White?

Jim Willson

I'm not sure how much Roddy has left. Obviously, he was a fine player for years, but receivers are like thoroughbreds. If they lose a step, they're not going to win the race.

Look at how fast Andre Johnson of the Colts lost it. Over three years with Houston, he had more than 300 catches. Last year with Indy, he had 41.

Dirk Koetter said something telling  the other day. He needs more speed among his receivers. They already have mid-range receivers in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. The team could use a Joey Galloway type as its fourth receiver.

I suspect that the Bucs told White to hold on through the draft. If they can pick up a speed receiver they like, they will. White would, at best, be the third, maybe fourth receiver on this team. That's not worth breaking the bank over, but unless you really think that Adam Humphries has a great future, why not?

Over your career, what is the biggest story that you missed, or were beaten on, that still drives you crazy?

Jim Willson

There have been a few. Anyone who has been on a competitive beat knows the feeling of reading the wrong headline in the opposing newspaper. I once knew a guy who swore he had never been beaten. He was beaten that day.

I remember the Ed Newman story when he retired from the Dolphins. I didn't know Ed. Had never seen him. But I took over the Dolphin beat, and he was considering retiring. Every day, you had to phone Ed. The other writers made a deal that if Ed retired, we'd let the other writers know. It was just that tedious.

One night, I was working on something else, and I didn't call Ed. Sure enough, he retired. Sure enough, the other writers "forgot" to let me know. I learned a lesson that night. Never trust the competition a lick.

From that day on, I never shared. And, frankly, I won a lot more than I lost.

The one I regret the most, though, was when I was in Columbus, Ga. I was looking for something different to write, and there was a prisoner named Joe Lingo who was scoring 40, 50 points a night in the prison league. I did a piece on him.

Later, I learned just how horrific his murders had been. I felt terrible. Still do. I was young and not thorough enough. I hope I learned my lesson.

I liked your column on the Marlins and their new stadium not being a panacea. Do you think our area would have the same results? If so, if you were a politician, would you vote to spend all those millions or let the Rays move?

Jim Willson

Okay, this is just my opinion. Others will disagree, and that's okay.

But me, I'd vote to protect baseball at a reasonable price for Tampa Bay, and you have to build the stadium before you'll know. Especially if you can get a tourist tax to build most of it.

Can you imagine living in Tampa Bay if they didn't build the RayJay and the Bucs won the Super Bowl for another city. Nothing fills the void of a sports team. Especially if one will never come to replace it.

Politicians, however, are always going to lean against building a stadium. It's safe, and it sounds responsible. If you do build it, of course you get lease protection. So after that, baseball is here.

The Marlins are a mess of a franchise. I wouldn't be governed by their failures.

A new stadium isn't going to solve the Rays' attendance problem. Fans will come to a new stadium out of curiosity for a few weeks and then malaise will set in. The Rays seem to only play before a full house if they make the playoffs and celebrities fill the stadium or when they play against the Cuban National Team in Cuba once a year. Since owners don't like losing money, do you see the Rays remaining in Tampa Bay past, say, 2020?

Howard Powders

Perhaps not. The next round of the stadium search is actually finding the funds to build it. That's going to be a problem on either side of the bay. I'm not sure we get past that.

I do think that a new stadium in the geographic circle of Tampa Bay will help some, but I don't think it means packed houses every night. Still, the Rays are willing to sign a new lease with a new stadium, so their research must say it would be better. Otherwise, why tie their hands.

I do have to disagree that celebrities filled the Trop during the playoffs. Which celebrities? George Wendt and the guys?

Tampa Bay is a front-running area. We'll go when going is the cool thing to do. For most of the summer, though, it isn't. Look at the Rays, the Bucs, the Lightning. When there are playoffs in the air, we've done okay. But most teams don't make the playoffs, do they?

Obviously, if either side of the bay gets a stadium built, the franchise would be here for 25 more years.

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