posted: Oct. 20, 2005  |  Feedback

After last night's Astros-Cards game, it looks like I have to come up with a new Level of Losing: The "Wait, This Wasn't The Plan!" Game.

There's a precedent for this one: Game 7 of the 1982 Philly-Boston series, when the Celtics came back from a 3-1 deficit and took Games 5 and 6 for the second straight season, and the Boston Garden fans were so confident during Game 5, they chanted "See you Sunday!" at the Sixers. Well, the C's won Game 6 at the Spectrum, the Sixers came back to Boston for Game 7, everyone assumed they were cooked ... and the great Andrew Toney singlehandedly kicked the living crap out of everyone in the building. Nobody could stop him. At one point, the Celts even put Kevin McHale on him -- didn't work. And somewhere during the third quarter, it started to get quiet, and everyone was thinking the same thing ...

"Wait, this wasn't the plan!"

Last night's game reminded me of that: Roy Oswalt heading into St. Louis and pulling an Andrew Toney on the entire city. I thought the Astros were done; so did just about everyone else. But Oswalt saved the day. I have to admit, I was stunned by the whole thing. Congrats to the Astros for pulling off a reverse Dead Man Walking.

(And the lesson, as always ... well, you knew already.)

Some other quick thoughts on a Thursday...

• Today is the one-year anniversary of Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, or as I like to call it, Bastille Day. Warrants mentioning.

• Everyone keeps asking me if I'm excited that Milwaukee hired Dale Sweum away from the Red Sox ... don't you realize, it's tradition for the Red Sox to have completely incompetent third base coaches? Believe me, the next guy will be just as inept, and he'll drive everyone just as crazy. There's no doubt. I think they just stick Johnny Pesky there -- he'll be just as bad as anyone else, only nobody would dare to rip him because he's such an institution. If that doesn't work, hire Nelson De La Rosa or a smoking-hot chick like Maria Menuonos, or have a contest where a different fan comes out of the seats to coach third base every game. Why not have some fun with this?

• I quickly zoomed through some e-mails last night (been traveling all week) and was surprised by the number of "What do you have against St. Louis?" e-mails. Could sort of see their point since Tuesday's column was sympathetic to the Astros and ignored a basic reality of that game -- for Cardinals fans, Poo Holes's homer was one of the all-time greatest baseball moments -- but I didn't think that column was anti-St. Louis or anything. I definitely have taken shots over the years at La Russa and Martz, and a couple of the announcers that came up from that area, um, bother me a bit ... but overall, I like St. Louis. Even thought about buying a St. Louis Spirits/Marvin Barnes throwback once before I remembered that I'm white.

But since we're on the subject, I'm a little confused by something: What was with all the "The best part about winning Game 5 was that we get to see Busch Stadium one last time" stuff? Busch Stadium? What? Was there a single identifiable thing about Busch Stadium? Riverfront, Three Rivers, Veterans, Busch ... these were all the exact same stadiums, weren't they? What am I missing here?

• From the "I just can't win" department: I planned on doing a blog for Wednesday about "The Contender," got carried away and turned it into a column. Late Tuesday night after my San Fran book signing, dinner and drinks until 1:30 a.m., I had to log in on a 28K modem phone line from my San Fran hotel to send my column ... and the only thing I was worried about was whether Burt Young was using a stage name and was really Italian or not (remember, I'm half-Italian, I know how Italians get about these things if I was wrong). I tried to load, and the process took so long that my connection got timed out and I was knocked offline. Finally I gave up, rolled the dice that Young wasn't Italian, mailed the column and went to bed.

Fast-forward to an e-mail from Fairfield reader SM: "As a proud Italian-American, I can tell you many Italians faced intense discrimination upon arriving in this country. As a result, they often Anglicized their names to seem less Italian. This practice often carried over to Italian-Americans wishing to crack into show business. People such as Dean Martin (Dino Paul Crocetti), Anne Bancroft (Anna Maria Louisa Italiano), and Tony Bennett (Anthony Dominick Benedetto), whose real names were considered too ethnic for whitebread American audiences, adopted more Anglican-sounding stage names. Young is no exception. His real name is Jerry De Louise; he is, in fact, Italian-American. Nice fact checking, jackass."

• Quick update on the book: The second printing finally arrived this week, which means four things ...

1. If you go to your local bookstore, they will now have it.

2. If you ordered it from, you will be getting it this week.

3. If you WANT to order it from Amazon, it will be delivered within 24 hours (not 2-3 weeks).

4. If you were at the Washington or Bristol signings where we ran out of books (so you paid for one and signed a voucher for a signed book), I'm getting the books tomorrow, signing them this weekend, mailing them back to ESPN early next week, and you should have them by the end of next week or the beginning of the following week. Thanks for your patience.

The San Fran and Denver signings went great, highlighted by a celebrity cameo at the Denver signing that I will reveal as soon as they send me the digital picture. This one floored me. Anyway, the West Coast swing wraps up over the next five days: Friday, we're hitting San Diego (Borders Mission Valley, 6:00 p.m.); Tuesday we're hitting Westwood (Borders, 6:00 p.m.); and Wednesday we're hitting Sonny McLean's in Santa Monica to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Jeff Suppan wandering off third base (6:00 p.m.).

Couple of notes if you're coming to a signing: Yes, you can bring your own book if you already have it. Yes, I stay until everyone leaves, so if you show up late (like 8:00), I was still be there signing away and wondering if I need Tommy John Surgery after this is over. And yes, I sign more than just my name -- so think of something interesting for me to write in your book. For 3 straight weeks, I've asked people, "What do you want me to write?" and they freeze for a second, then cop out with something like "I don't know, you're the writer" or "Write something funny." Come on. Throw me a bone. Come up with something good -- for instance, in Denver last night, a girl requested that I write "Real women don't marry Yankee fans." That's funny. So the pressure's on -- if you're coming to one of the next three signings, bring a witty sentence with you.

• Finally, I need to get the "Sports Book Recommendation of the Week" going again, so here's one of my all-time favorites since we're coming up on the 30-year anniversary of the last ABA season: "Loose Balls" by Terry Pluto.

If you're one of the few NBA diehards, and you haven't read this book ... I mean, I don't even know what to tell you. So many books try to do the "oral history" thing, but it's a harder concept than you think -- you need funny stories, and it needs to be organized in the right way so everything makes sense -- and it's much easier to screw up than pull off. But this book was just fantastic; I think it's a top-20 sports book.

First of all, the ABA was a goofy, ridiculous, once-in-a-lifetime league, and if you don't know all the stories, or even some of the stories, it's worth reading. Second, any book that glorifies Doctor J, Connie Hawkins and David Thompson is worth your time, since those are three of the most underappreciated basketball greats. Third, you couldn't even make up some of the ABA characters (Warren Jabali, John Brisker, Joe Caldwell, Wendell Ladner) in a million years, and the Marvin Barnes section ranks among the funniest chapters in any sports book (my favorite is the story where he misses the team plane, charters another one and shows up 10 minutes before a game holding a McDonalds's bag, wearing a mink coat and his game uniform underneath it). And fourth, few appreciate how influential this league was (the style of play, the 3-point line, the underclassmen, the promotion of individual players), or how devoted these guys were to fighting the good fight (battling the NBA and doing everything they could to make sure the league would survive long enough for a merger). Plus, since there was pretty much no TV coverage, and few remaining game films, this league almost happened in a vacuum. It's like the lost great league.

I'll go this far: in my opinion, all the NBA titles from 1970-1976 (including two Boston titles, by the way) should have an asterisk next to them because so many talented players were in the ABA. For instance, in 1976, when a really shaky Celtics team won the title, the ABA was so loaded that 10 ABA players (of a possible 24 spots) made the 1977 All-Star Game following the merger (and guys who did NOT make it included Moses Malone and Artis Gilmore). For whatever reason, everyone forgets this.

Sadly, it seems like it's out of print: Amazon has some copies, and you can also find some on Barnes and Noble and Abebooks. And there's always eBay. But if you're looking for an entertaining hoops book to get you psyched for the season, this is it.

Back tomorrow with a new column.

October 2005