Old habits

Bob Edwards asked me on the radio who I was picking in the Super Bowl. I told him the Arizona Cardinals. Noting that President Obama is taking the Pittsburgh Steelers — since he’s a lot more likely to get votes in Pennsylvania than in Arizona — Bob said, “You’re going against the leader of the free world.”

I said, “It’s a hard habit to break.”

Updike fans bid Updike adieu

New Salon column, a quickie about John Updike, who died Tuesday morning, and his famous baseball piece “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.”

Quickie? Forty minutes from word of Updike’s death reaching Salon to this piece hitting the Web. Five-hundred words. Nothing great or anything, but it’s 500 words. You can count ’em. That old newspaper training comes in handy sometimes.

When Salon was new it used to shock the kids on the editorial staff, who’d come straight from college and hadn’t worked for newspapers or wire services, that someone could turn a story around in a half hour or so. That was when I started feeling like one of the old dudes. I was 33.

How super are the Arizona Cardinals?

New Salon column.

A bit late in the game to post it, but I had a busy day. You? My new job is being the guy in charge of Salon’s cover, a responsibility so awesome I often wear pants when on the clock. Today was kind of a 10-hour sprint, with constant updates from our crack team of reporters and commentators.

And hang on, I’ve been joking around so that sounds like a joke about the crack team. Not a joke. Our writers are really good.

So it would have been enough a crazy day, but I had to do it with a very bored 5-year-old hanging around. Thank you, San Francisco Unified School District, for randomly abdicating your responsibility of educating my kid on one of my busiest work days of the decade. Thanks for that. I’m sure the staff is much more developed now than it was on Monday. Whatever that means. I don’t know what it means but I think beer is involved.

Buster was actually a champ, only demonstrating stir-crazy, cabin-fever like behavior on a couple of occasions. I did get a chance to take him out to lunch at Starvin Marvin’s on Geneva, where we had really good cheeseburgers — and watched the inauguration parade.

Every once in a while Buster would walk into the room, see Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer on the TV and say something like, “Man, why are those guys still talking?”

A nation was wondering about that right along with you, son.

NFL Conference Championship Games

New Salon column.

It’s the second time ever that two teams with single-digit wins have met to see who goes to the Super Bowl. The first was the Ice Bowl, the 1967 NFL Championship Game in Green Bay when the Packers beat the Cowboys on Bart Starr’s sneak. And those two nine-win teams only played a 14-game schedule.

I can’t figure out if the Cardinals and Eagles are historically mediocre for teams advancing so far or if they’ve advanced historically far for teams so mediocre.

Ignorance is not a skill

New Salon column.

I’m picking on Dave Kindred, longtime Sporting News columnist, who doesn’t really deserve it. He was the straw that broke the camel’s back, though. I’m sick of baseball writers dismissing newfangled stats without even bothering to learn about them, and then bragging about that refusal.

Ignorance isn’t a skill. It’s something journalists are supposed to fix, not brag about.

Sure they didn’t mean White House?

The U.K. Sun reports that singer Amy Winehouse is among prominent Jews who have been targeted by terrorists in the wake of Israel’s invasion of Gaza. British intelligence says the discussion of attacks on an Islamic-extremist Web site should be taken seriously, the Sun reports.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has responded by requiring Americans to take off their shoes before listening to “Back to Black.”

Don Larsen’s perfect game

New Salon column about watching the rebroadcast of Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

A few other thoughts:

• It was really a pleasure to watch the hitters march right up to the plate, get set and wait for the pitch. No relaxation techniques or surveying the defense before stepping in. Nobody stepped out to lovingly adjust both batting gloves and his helmet before every stinkin’ pitch.

It helped that nobody wore batting gloves or helmets.

But this, along with the relative paucity of mid-inning pitching changes, is the main reason games are so much longer today than in the past. Batters just won’t get in the box.

• The thing that looked the most similar to today’s game was fielding. I guess there are only so many ways you can field a grounder or catch a popup. It was interesting how both teams, when whipping the ball around the horn after a bases-empty out, threw it to the catcher. College teams sometimes do this today, but you never seem major leaguers do it.

Interesting might be too strong a word there.

• The pitchers didn’t stand in the on-deck circle before they hit. They waited in the dugout. Then, when it was their turn, they bounded up the steps — and marched right into the box.

I don’t remember this practice from my early days of fandom, the early ’70s. I do remember that in situations when the next hitter — whether he was a pitcher or not — might hit or might be hit for, the on-deck circle would sometimes be empty. Nowadays there’s a rule that says you have to put somebody in the on-deck circle, and the umps actually enforce it. Kind of a dumb rule, because you can put a pinch-hitter out there and still send the scheduled hitter up.

• Yogi Berra would stand up after every pitch to throw the ball back to the pitcher. That was a lot of work for his legs. I can’t think of a catcher today who does that. They mostly drop to one knee after the pitch and throw that way. Berra also bounced a lot in his crouch, and when warming up a pitcher, he kind of leaned on his right leg while crouching. Don’t know if he was favoring an injury that day or if that was a habit. His legs took an awful beating, though. And it’s not like he was a bouncy young thing in 1956. He was 31, and he’d caught more than 1,200 games.

• Roy Campanella, the Dodgers catcher, looked like a fat middle-aged bus driver who somehow got drafted to play. He was a month shy of 35, and 1956 was sandwiched between his last good offensive season and the last year of his career. He stepped way in the bucket as he flailed at pitches. He’d go 4-for-22 with seven strikeouts in the ’56 Series, but even while he was hitting .219 during the regular season, he walked more than he struck out.

Thanks to segregation, which helped keep Campanella — a pro at 15 — out of the big leagues till he was 26, Berra had a much longer big-league career than Campanella did. But at least the numbers say that at his best, for a few years in the early ’50s, Campanella was a better hitter than Berra. That’s saying a lot.

• The Dodgers played an exaggerated shift on Mantle when he hit left-handed, as he did in Game 5 against Sal Maglie. They pulled Pee Wee Reese to the right of second base. I’d never heard that teams did that for Mantle. Just for Ted Williams.