The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, may it rest in peace, died 20 autumns ago and not a day has gone by in which I haven’t missed it.
Its sports department was loaded with aggressive reporters and edgy headline writers. In March, 1988 the headline that screamed above a byline of feisty baseball writer Ken “Mouse” Gurnick read: “Dodgertown: The Unhappiest Place on Earth.”
Kirk Gibson had just joined the Dodgers as a free agent and didn’t much care for what he viewed as a country club atmosphere in the clubhouse. In the first intrasquad game of the spring, Gibson broke up a double play with spikes flying high, signifying a new sheriff was in town.
When Gibson took the field for his first home exhibition game with the Dodgers, streams of black ran down his face. Someone had pranked him, putting eye-black inside his cap. Gibson didn’t find it amusing. He stormed off the field, didn’t play in the game and made it clear things had to change. The next day, at a team meeting, the culprit confessed. Just how, lefty reliever Jesse Orosco was asked, did he go about telling Gibson, an intense football player in a baseball uniform, that he was the one who did the deed that set him off?
“Easy,” Orosco said. “I just walked up to him, pointed a loaded gun in his face and said, ‘I did it.’”
Some of the other details of that spring that inspired the memorable headline have faded. This player wanted a new contract. That player wanted to be traded.
All that happened in March. In October, the ’88 Dodgers were crowned World Champions.
Check the calendar. It’s October. The NCAA Tournament isn’t called October Madness. It’s called March Madness and a champion is crowned in early April.
All of which brings us to the question of the day: Would you, the Kansas basketball fan who has read about members of your team getting into multiple fights with members of the football team, using offensive language on Facebook, and read about one player, Brady Morningstar getting suspended for the first semester after missing curfew and being arrested for suspicion of driving while intoxicated, trade your team for any of the other 346 college basketball teams?
Of course you wouldn’t. Why would you? Your team is ranked No. 1 in the three preseason college basketball magazines spread out on my desk: Sporting News, Athlon, Lindy’s. Combining the rankings of those three mags results in this Top 10: 1. Kansas; 2. Michigan State; 3. Texas; 4. North Carolina; 5. Kentucky; 6. Purdue; 7. Tennessee; 8t. Butler, West Virginia; 10. Duke.
None of the magazines dwelled much on Thomas Robinson, but the hunch here is the freshman power forward from Washington, D.C. will give the Jayhawks a presence they didn’t have a year ago, a physical, fast, well-conditioned, ball of energy to give center Cole Aldrich more room and a healthier body with which to operate. Mix in the addition of Xavier Henry, the maturation of the Morris twins, additional backcourt depth, coach Bill Self playing the Kirk Gibson enforcer role, and come March, October will seem like a distant memory.