Funny, how things work out. Or don’t.
For the past few days, New York sports fans might have been mourning the passing of one of their most beloved play-by-play voices. Instead, that willing obligation was assigned to the sports fans of Cleveland.
Joe Tait died Wednesday at 83. If you were unfamiliar with his work, that’s totally understood. He was synonymous, except for two seasons, with the Cavaliers, its first radio voice in 1970 and until he retired in 2011. But for one NBA season, 1981-82, he was ours, calling Nets’ games on WVNJ and WWRL, stations with such limited signals and impact Tait’s calls could barely be heard in the parking lot.
But he was, according to sports radio historian David Halberstam, “among the very best to call games on radio. You just closed your eyes and he transported you to the game. You saw it all.”
By the end of the 1980-81 season, Halberstam said, Tait knew he was a goner, his feuds with Cavs owner Ted Stepien irreparable. Stepien was a tyrannical, meddlesome presence similar to another Cleveland scoundrel, George Steinbrenner. Few enjoyed working or playing for Stepien.
On the last day of that season, the arena in Richfield was packed to watch the 28-54 Cavs lose, but mostly to bid big Joe Tait — he was a large, beefy man — farewell and demonstrate against Stepien. More than 20,000 chanted “Let’s go Joe! Ted must go!” Helping fill that house was the nicest thing Tait ever did for Stepien.
And then off he went to call the Nets. His analyst was Al Menendez, a pleasant, always-around Nets scout. But they described games to mostly each other.
Tait’s and the Cavs’ salvation came when Gordon Gund, a fabulously wealthy Princetonian and genuine sportsman who wore his money like a gentleman, bought the team. He brought back Tait.
Gund by then was already losing his sight to retinitis pigmentosa, so he made sure to sit near Tait in order to “see” the games. He never had a gripe with Tait’s honest on-air appraisals, nor would he ever consider flexing his owners’ muscles. Tait preferred to work alone, and Gund was good with that until he was joined by ex-Net and Cav Jim Chones.
Gund, now 81, remains, in plain English, a great guy.
So Tait died Wednesday, and Cleveland grieved. Mark of the man. Not that I’m complaining about what could’ve been. For the past 20 years, Chris Carrino and Tim Capstraw have endeared themselves to Nets fans and those who appreciate consistently good, no gimmicks radio calls.
But it’s funny how things work out. Or don’t.
Poor Patrick not first bigwig to be asked for ID
Though one can understand Patrick Ewing’s frustration in being asked for ID to enter the Garden — a minor annoyance, despite Ewing publicly sharing his anger — he is hardly the most important man ever to be asked by a mere grunt to produce his ID.
In December 1944, as American GIs, mostly green replacements, were being battered during the Battle of the Bulge, the Germans infiltrated U.S. positions with soldiers who spoke English and were wearing captured American uniforms. The call came to tighten security.
As no less a soldier than highly recognizable Gen. Omar Bradley — then commanding 43 divisions and 1.3 million men, the largest number of U.S. soldiers to ever serve one commander — entered the battle zone, his jeep was stopped by a sentry. Bradley was asked to provide identification.
There’s famous footage of Bradley, a rather blank look on his famously stony face and taciturn demeanor, producing his ID to a soldier who inspected it before waving Bradley through.
I’ve read much about and from Bradley, but never a word about being inconvenienced by a soldier who was following instructions in a brutal and critical war zone. But Ewing? He was appalled!
Why, in addition to black — Florida wore black on and for ESPN last Sunday — has powder blue become a popular “alternative uniform” color? Given that such things don’t happen by accident, my guess is that it’s because powder blue is the national color for Crips street gangs.
The Crips are particularly big in the south which, to me, explains why schools — including as Ole Miss, Florida State and the Tulane “Green Waves” — have added powder blue. Or just a coincidence?
So let’s see how this is supposed to work:
Gary Bettman and NHL team owners plan to further grow their sport by diminishing their games’ appearances on mass access regional TV. In the near future, one can anticipate attractive games in large TV markets, such as Rangers-Bruins and Rangers-Islanders, will be dangled for purchase exclusively on those streaming networks. The NHL soon will become the exclusive property of extra-pay streaming enterprises as sold to ESPN and Hulu for a reported $2.8 billion over seven years, and then marked up.
Now you see it, now you don’t! Brilliant strategy! And if we didn’t know better we’d think that untreated greed, and not the good of the sport, was the determinant factor.
Cuomo’s ticket office
Gov. Andrew Cuomo tipped his hand as to how he thinks — and doesn’t think — as far back as the 2015 Mets-Royals World Series.
Cuomo somehow came into possession of a bunch of Mets home game Series tickets, face value $125 each. He then made them available to “supporters,” jacking them to as much as $5,500 each, money ostensibly donated to his campaign chest, with the sweetener that purchasers have a meet-and-greet with Cuomo.
He engaged in what’s commonly known as ticket scalping, the barely legal political kind. Constituents who would’ve loved those tickets at face value? To hell with them. His arrogant self-entitlement came first.
Having felt some public heat, he eventually returned the tickets to the Mets.
Who are MLB’s best customers? Drunks. Same as the NHL, NBA and NFL. A recent survey concluded that the on-site MLB fans who purchase the most alcohol are, in order, patrons of the White Sox, Braves, Reds, Indians and Padres. Once in the park, they spend an average of $35-$40 on booze per customer.
The ex-Nets TV team of Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel will reunite during CBS/Turner NCAA Tournament coverage. Still stunning that YES dumped Spanarkel.
Yes, we know the game has changed; they all have. After 25 games, 7-foot-3 Mavericks shooting guard Kristaps Porzingis has taken 131 3-point shots, but has compiled just 41 offensive rebounds.
I’m already sick of those Capital One NCAA Tournament commercials and I haven’t yet seen one.