Keeping Score: Stretching the truth by a few years

Friday, May 19, 2017

Good morning!

Here’s a small but telling example of what a documentary filmmaker will do to improve the narrative. In April, ESPN released its “30-for-30” documentary about basketball coach John Calipari.

Director Jonathan Hockman interviews Bob Ryan, who is to basketball what Peter Gammons is to baseball and Peter King is to football. He’s an author, commentator and retired Boston Globe beat writer and columnist.

He’s assertive and credible, the perfect witness to testify about the hapless UMass basketball team prior to Calipari’s arrival in 1988.

“There is no way to exaggerate how low UMass had sunk,” said Ryan. “They were coming off two seasons in which they won three games and two games, and in the year they won two games, neither one was against a Division I opponent. It was a Division I job, but barely in name only the way UMass had sunk.”

Ryan was indeed exaggerating. The Minutemen were coming off two seasons of 11 wins and ten wins, and had beaten every A-10 opponent except Temple and West Virginia.

Ryan used a grain of truth to help Hockman embellish the story. The Minutemen had indeed endured back-to-back seasons of three and two wins, but that was from 1979-81 under coach Ray Wilson.

His successor, Tom McLaughlin, also lasted two seasons, and the next coach, Ron Gerlufsen, was fired after the 1987-88. The two-headed monster of athletic director Frank McInerney and Dean of Phys. Ed David Bischoff wanted a coach that could fill the soon-to-open 9,000-seat Mullins Center, and Calipari already had the recruiting reputation of doing whatever it took to get the player.

ESPN could easily have fact-checked and left Ryan’s ambiguous remarks on the cutting room floor, but the adjusted timeline made for a better story.

SIDE TRIPS: After reading about my most recent ordeal on I-95 between Richmond and Washington, Nelson Lebo wrote: “Your travels led me to wonder if you’ve ever tried US 301. I do anything to avoid the New York-Baltimore-DC areas and this is a good alternate route. I used it while I was in the Army from 1960-’62 and was stationed at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. … Reader George Mislak offered this suggestion: “Next time you’re traveling through Richmond tune into AM 910 and maybe you’ll catch Shelburne’s Jay Burnham calling a game. We caught a few innings on our way north a couple of weeks ago.” ... Burnham is media director and play-by-play announcer for the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. … In February, I wrote about staying at the Country Inn near Florence, S.C., and devouring several freshly-made donuts from the Krispy Kreme across the street. Last week Andy Ackerman grabbed me by the elbow. “I stayed at the same hotel … stopped at the same donut place … I’m reading your column thinking, ‘What’s this guy following me around?’”

The UMass softball team came close to advancing to the NCAA Tournament, but lost to Fordham in extra innings of the A-10 championship on Sunday and ended the season with a 29-24 record. 

Fordham lost to Oregon, 10-0, in five innings on Thursday, and played Miss. State Friday night.

Similarly, Boston College (31-22) failed to reach the NCAAs after losing to Notre Dame in the ACC championship, 9-5. 

The two teams can take solace knowing their the best in New England, but it’s hard to recruit players to compete in a cold-weather climate. BC and UMass were ranked 69th and 104th respectively by the NCAA’s Ratings Percentage Index out of the 295 softball teams in Division 1.

Meanwhile the UMass women’s lacrosse team advanced to the NCAA Tournament by winning its ninth straight A-10 title. The Minutewomen beat ninth-ranked Colorado in the first round but were upset by 25th-ranked Navy in the second round.

Boston College fared better, stunning Syracuse, and today hosts USC at 1 p.m. The Eagles have a chance to play in next week’s women’s lacrosse championship at Gillette Stadium.

Two archrival women’s college golf teams — Williams and Amherst — had fun messing up each other’s team vans at the D-III tournament in Texas this week. Amherst unveiled its new mascot the Mammoth across the Williams’ vehicle and the Ephs responded by scrawling “Moo-Mobile” on the back of the Amherst van and pasting black paper patches on the white vehicle to make it into a holstein cow.

“Further proof that the cream always rises,” cracked Williams SID Dick Quinn.

America’s Most Beloved Ballpark was nearly empty last Sunday when a leather lung yelled, “You’d stink in high school!” at reliever Alan Hembree moments before the Rays’ Steven Souza Jr.  delivered the pitch into the Monster Seats.

The game was four hours and 32 minutes of drudgery for Red Sox fans. Manager John Farrell challenged Souza’s home run, that would have lessened the damage from 11-2 to 9-2. Big deal, and he lost the challenge anyway. 

It was the longest regulation game in Tampa Bay history. 

PREAKNESS PEEKING:  The last five years I’ve bet against the favorite in the Kentucky Derby and the last five years I’ve torn up my tickets. Always Dreaming had a perfect trip and won by 2¾ lengths under Hall of Fame jockey JR Velazquez.

At today’s Preakness Always Dreaming is a deserving 4-5 favorite, meaning a $100 win wager would net a paltry $80. He’s a speed horse on a speed-favoring oval, but Classic Empire will catch him in the stretch today at Pimlico.

John Dobrydnio is always dreaming for a big score. “The one horse I’ll use and take a shot at is Multiplier. His Beyers keep getting better and he’s down on the inside where he can get up on the lead. I’ll play him to win and box him in an exacta with Always Dreaming.” 

FOX Sports’ Colin Cowherd said Alabama coach Nick Sabin is getting a rep for riding his best players hard and putting ‘em away wet. The theory was borne out by Sports Illustraded’s mock draft that had defensive tackle Jonathan Allen being taken third overall, inside linebacker Reuben Foster ninth and tight end O.J. Howard tenth. As it turned out, Allen was taken 17th, Howard was taken 19th and Foster went 31st.

SQUIBBERS: Now that the citizens of Turners Falls and Erving have overwhelmingly voted to keep the Indians’ nickname, the naysayers can move to Canada and kick up a fuss in Ontario, home of the Edmonton Eskimos. … If the Mets had Noah Syndergaard Hair Hat Day,” the Nationals should have “Donald Trump Hair Day.” … Sign at Yankee Stadium on Derek Jeter’s retirement day: “I Skipped My College Graduation to be Here.”… If Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is losing $30 million a month as he claims, why not pull a Harry Frazee and trade Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees? … The Lynyrd Skynyrd Band will be performing at next week’s Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte. The band was named in memory of the teacher who told them they wouldn’t amount to anything. … Hinsdale (N.H.) OTB handled a record $65,000 on Derby Day. “Our biggest day ever,” said OTB owner Bill Faucher. “Stop and think, we only have a 70-foot building.”… A caller to Felger & Mazz this week explained why Tom Brady told his wife Giselle about his concussions: “‘Tom do you want to come to my fundraiser?’ ‘No Giselle too many bright lights. I got a concussion, gotta stay home, dark room, dark closet.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached by email at sports@recorder.com.