Remembering Stokes, plus not a good 2020 for minor league ball
Even though no sports are being played right now because of the coronavirus, there’s a whole bunch going on in the sports world worthy of commentary.
Monday marked the 50th anniversary of the passing of Saint Francis basketball legend Maurice Stokes, who died at age 36 in 1970 and is buried on the campus at Franciscan Friar Cemetery.
Saint Francis had planned a week-long tribute to Stokes that was to have culminated with a ceremony this past Monday, but it had to be canceled. NBA senior vice president for basketball operations Tim Frank and members of Jack Twyman’s family were slated to be on hand for the event.
The sad and tragic story of Stokes is well known around here:
He was a superstar basketball player at Saint Francis, the No. 2 pick in the 1955 NBA draft and the NBA Rookie of the Year in 1956. He fell and hit his head on the court during a game on March 12, 1958. He returned to play in that game and in a playoff game three days later, only to fall ill on the team plane afterward. He had suffered a brain injury and became paralyzed at the age of 24.
The Stokes story is not just one of sadness, however, but also one of tremendous generosity. His teammate, Jack Twyman, became Stokes’ legal guardian and watched over his friend’s affairs for the remainder of his life.
The friendship between Stokes and Twyman inspired the NBA to develop an annual honor, the Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award. Twyman was a Hall of Fame player himself, inducted in 1983, while Stokes was inducted in 2006. Many who saw Stokes play believe be was destined to become one of the greatest basketball players who ever lived. It is so wonderful what Twyman did for Stokes, knowing someone needed to help his friend and saying, “I was the only one there, so I became that someone.”
Twyman’s words are now the motto of Saint Francis University: Become that someone.
Recapping the week
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but …
n Prediction: Unfortunately, there probably will not be a Curve or minor league baseball season. The country will start to open up a bit in the next month or so, but not enough for sporting events to be held with fans.
MLB games can be played — and televised, bringing in a good bit of money — without fans in Florida and Arizona, but minor league baseball franchises cannot function without the money brought in by fans. Also, states will open up at different paces over the summer months, and since minor league baseball is played around the nation, interstate travel to play games across leagues would be a major problem.
n Prediction: The State College Spikes will never play another game. MLB wants to get rid of short-season franchises, so the Spikes probably would have been finished after this season anyway.
Now, with no minor league season and so much economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus, my belief is that baseball will indeed move forward with its plans to contract 40 minor league teams this offseason. I truly do hope I’m wrong here, because the Spikes are an outstanding franchise. But all of this will lead to some major changes in baseball, including a shorter draft and no longer a need for short-season teams.
n Prediction: College football will not start on time (Sept. 5 in Penn State’s case).
I just cannot see health officials in this country allowing millions of college students to return to campuses across the country in early July. That seems to be the general feeling for the time frame needed — roughly 60 days — for players to get ready to play a season.
Maybe campuses can open back up in August, which would push the start of college football back a month or so. The season could run from October through late December, with the possible elimination of bye weeks.
Don’t discount, though, the possibility that college football could be pushed back to next spring. There will be a season — there’s too much money involved to cancel it — but campuses may not open back up until September or beyond, and in that case, January would seem to be a more likely option to start the season.
n Prediction: You’ll never see pitchers hitting again in baseball. That’s right, the universal DH rule is likely to be implemented whenever play does resume this season, by and large because simply getting games in will be the focus and not wasting time on pitchers hitting. The move will go over well and then be installed on a full-time basis next year.
Many National League purists loathe the idea of a universal DH. I used to feel that way and argued against having one in the NL. But honestly, I’ve grown tired of watching pitchers try to hit over the past 5-10 years, and have come to my own conclusion that it’s time to end that practice once and for all.
n Senior sendoff: The NCAA ruled that seniors in spring sports can get an extra year of eligibility, but left it up to the schools to determine if they will adhere to it. Wisconsin announced this past week that it will not be allowing those seniors back, and there undoubtedly will be other schools following suit.
Why? That’s not fair to those seniors who may still want to play.
Correct. But it comes down to money, plain and simple.
Some schools and athletic departments that are losing lots of money through the virus shutdown won’t want to pay for all the extra scholarships required to keep those seniors around an extra year. Also, the roster imbalances brought about by keeping more seniors around while also bringing in freshmen will create logistical nightmares for schools and coaches.
It may sound cold hearted, but as Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez said, it’s time for those seniors to move ahead with their lives.
By the way, I would expect Penn State to honor the NCAA rule and allow spring sports seniors to come back for another year. AD Sandy Barbour’s No. 1 guiding principle is creating opportunities for student-athletes, and I just can’t see her or the school denying young men and women a chance to return for the extra year if they so choose.
n Pipe down: Lastly, I’m getting sick of know-it-all, blowhard coaches who think they know best spouting off about when sports should return.
The latest example was Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy, who sounded like a neanderthal last week when he proclaimed that football players should return to campus May 1 and that the sport should resume on time. These young men are strong and healthy enough to fight off the coronavirus, Gundy declared, so just forget about what health experts are saying and GET BACK TO FOOTBALL!
There are more important things in this world than sports. But many people who know nothing of the real world because they make millions of dollars and are consumed by their own lives don’t understand that concept.
Mike Gundy is supposed to be “A Man! I’m 40!” (Actually 52 now).
If you’re a man, act like it. Don’t say ignorant, self-absorbed things that show you don’t have the foggiest idea what’s going on outside of your little bubble.
Sports should return when this country is healthy enough for them to be able to return while keeping athletes and fans safe.
Not a day sooner.
Cory Giger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.