Frank Deford

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages!

I always wanted to use that in a commentary, that wonderful circus introduction ballyhooed by the splendid ringmaster, but I could just never find the ideal spot.

Of course, had I, there would've been some people who'd say that a circus doesn't belong in with sports. But, hey, just because there's clowns around doesn't disqualify certain daredevils from being certified athletes ­­-- equestrians, tightrope walkers and those who fly through the air with the greatest of ease.

In days of yore, Opening Day of the baseball season was special, signifying that spring had come at last.

Today, however, Opening Day sort of dribbles into existence, and the spiritual start of spring now belongs to the Masters golf tournament, where the azaleas and magnolias and dogwood bloom. And if they dare look like they're gonna bloom too soon, in March the groundskeepers are rumored to pack them with ice to make sure spring comes as God intended it, which this year is on Thursday.

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With a new baseball season just around the corner - new baseball season - there are some proposed new rules aimed at making America's national pastime less passive. But commentator Frank Deford says, foul ball.

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Big time athletes really put their professional careers on the line if they decide to stand up for a social cause, and commentator Frank Deford says this is something that's been going on in sports for decades.

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OK, let's stay in Texas now, where after two decades of futility, the Dallas Cowboys are back on top of the NFL. And commentator Frank Deford says, love them or hate them, this is a good thing.

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TV ratings for the NFL are down - way down. Commentator Frank Deford has some thoughts on why, and none related to America's fascination with this election.

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Ever noticed how lopsided college football scores can get? Commentator Frank Deford traces them all back to the worst defeat ever.

In the television era, the second week of the Olympics is reserved for what is considered the marquee event: track and field.

So, the shared premier showcases of the first week are swimming and women's gymnastics. While swimming was always a spotlight sport, I was, if you will, sort of present at the creation when gymnastics became the new star lead-off hitter.

Pete Rose may not make the Hall of Fame, but a statue of him is going to be erected outside the Cincinnati Reds' ballpark. Statues of sports stars are all the rage — especially in baseball. There are already seven other players frozen in statuary in Cincinnati, nine in St. Louis, six in both Baltimore and Detroit. It makes the legendary Monument Park in Yankee Stadium look like some drab wall in a hospital with the names of donors on plaques. Sports plaques seem so Rotary Club now.

It was not that long ago when the accepted wisdom in football was that the running game had to be established — that was always the obligatory verb: established — before passes could become effective. My, we know how that has changed. Now the pass is established from the get-go, and running is an afterthought.

Dear People of St. Louis:

I want you to be good sports. Yes, you lost an NFL franchise, but that's just the way it is in America. Owners own teams so that they might move them to another municipality with better luxury boxes. Get over it.

Even New York, premier city of the world, has lost teams. So did glitzy, glamorous LA. Chicago? Hey, it was St. Louis that took the football Cardinals from Chicago before Phoenix took the Cardinals from St. Louis so that St. Louis could take the Rams from Los Angeles. And so on.

Much as we talk about certain financial institutions that may be too big to fail, you can be absolutely certain that the one organization in the whole wide world that truly fits that definition is FIFA, the grubby behemoth that runs soccer. Too many international sports associations are rife with corruption, but the graft exposed at FIFA beggars the imagination.

We start 2016 with a command: that the subject of Pete Rose and the Hall of Fame is over, finis, kaput forever and ever. As sure as we will no longer discuss whether Lindsey Graham or George Pataki can be president. The new commissioner has been even more adamant in dismissing Rose's pleadings, so it doesn't matter how passionately you feel — it is a dead issue. There.

Until Dec. 12, the Golden State Warriors were undefeated, 24-0. They're the popular NBA defending champs, who play a fun style, led by an absolutely beguiling star, Stephen Curry. It's hard enough to draw attention away from the NFL, but the Warriors caught the public fancy, going for the record of most consecutive wins ever in major league sports.

Then a mediocre Milwaukee team clobbered them, and back everybody's attention went to Tom Brady, the Carolina Panthers and the point spreads of the week.

The spectacular global terrorism that's been so prominent lately can best be dated from 1972, when 11 Israeli Olympians were murdered at the Munich Games. That seminal atrocity has taken on even more horror, too, now that we've learned that some of the victims suffered mutilation and torture before they died.

We may take some solace, though, that, after 43 years, the construction of a monument to the Israelis has finally begun and will be unveiled next October. Pointedly and poignantly, it stands barely more than a hundred yards from where the Israelis were first taken hostage.

Sports gets bigger all the time, everywhere. But even with a superabundance of sport, that's not enough to satisfy our appetites, and so now we have to have make-believe sport, too. Who would've ever thought we would bet real money on our sports fantasies?

Maybe H.L. Mencken was right when he said: "I hate all sports as rabidly as a person who likes sports hates common sense." And Mencken didn't even know about Ultimate Fighting or the halfpipe of snowboarding.

When the Royals won the World Series, I, like most everyone else, was so happy for the good people of Kansas City, because I kept being reminded that the Royals hadn't won since 1985. Poor, poor little KC. Then it occurred to me: so what? That's exactly how long it should be, because there are 30 major league franchises, so for any team to win once every 30 years is just par for the course.

It's accepted that the president of the University of Missouri stepped down in a racial dispute only when the football team threatened not to play a game. The players showed us again — surprise, surprise — how powerful is football, and let's throw in basketball, too, throughout our bastions of higher education.

The defending champion New England Patriots are undefeated, on that rare road to repeat, but, of course, except for the denizens of the northeast corner of our nation, the Pats are mostly unloved. It's not the sort of antipathy directed toward the Yankees. That's always been the anti-plutocrat sensation. Rather, there is about the Patriots the sense that they're rather untrustworthy, if not downright nasty — not America's Team, but more America's Gang.

Or, perhaps more accurately, the Belichick Gang.

I have an idea to help the Republicans solve their presidential nominating dilemma: Let's have a fantasy primary campaign. The Fox network can run it, and the voters will choose which candidates they think will win the various primaries.

After all, fantasy is in, fantasy is fantastic. In sports, fantasy is giving reality a run for its money. Why should sports have all the fun?

One of the great misunderstandings about college sports, which the big-time schools love to slyly imply, is that other sports on campus must be forever grateful that football and basketball pay for their right to exist.

Moreover, there is the concomitant threat that if ever colleges had to actually pay salaries to their football and basketball players, well, then, the athletic departments would be forced to drop those other "beggar sports" that don't bring in revenue.

This is, of course, utter nonsense.

Pitching a baseball overhand — which has always been a rather contorted, unnatural action — is now leading to an epidemic of injuries. Incredibly, it is estimated that one-fourth of all major league pitchers have had what's called Tommy John surgery, which involves the elbow's ulnar collateral ligament.

It was 75 years ago this week — Oct. 5, 1940 — when the movie Knute Rockne, All-American was released and first we heard, "Rock, some day when the team's up against it, breaks are beating the boys, ask them to go in there with all they've got, win just one for the Gipper."

It isn't just because a future president of the United States was the actor who uttered it, that this became the single most famous line ever spoken in a sports movie. No, it was because of who the Gipper was playing for: Notre Dame.

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Yogi Berra died last night at the age of 90. In remembrance of his passing, let's go back 10 years and listen to a commentary Frank Deford delivered in honor of a man who was both a baseball legend and one of the game's truly great characters.

"It's plain and simple: baseball is a radio game." So said Milo Hamilton, the longtime play-by-play man for the Houston Astros, who died the other day. And, yes, radio and baseball have so long gone together. The familiar voices in the booth — perennials, like flowers — announcers such as Hamilton and Vin Scully, who, at the age of 87, just signed on to broadcast Dodger games for another year — often have been more identified with their teams than the players who merely come and go.

On Wednesday, in honor of footballs that are inflated, we must discuss extra points. The NFL is monkeying around with the extra point again. You think it should? Do you have a better idea? Do we even need an extra point? Why do we have an extra point?

Well, the extra point is vestigial, a leftover from the good old 19th century days when football had identity problems and couldn't decide whether or not it was rugby. Or something. At that point, in fact, what was sort of the extra point counted more than the touchdown itself.

Some people wanna ban boxing. I just wanna ban boxing movies.

You get the feeling sometimes that Hollywood still thinks Joe Louis is heavyweight champion and boxing is still top-tier popular? Yes, there's yet another boxing movie out, this one entitled Southpaw.

Oh, please, please. Making boxing movies when boxing is so passé would be like if Hollywood kept making showbiz movies about vaudeville.

Click the audio above to hear Frank Deford's take on movies about boxing.

In the famous Disney movie, a carpenter named Geppetto longed to have a son. He carved a puppet of a boy, and, wouldn't you know it, the wooden Pinocchio magically became a real child. Fantasy games are the Pinocchio of sport, for all who play them become Geppettos. Isn't it the dream of every fan to construct his or her own team, as Geppetto wanted to carve out a son?

Soccer owns sports nationalism. There are world championships and continental championships in all kinds of sports, but when it comes to countries playing against each other, soccer's tournament is more spectacular than all the others put together. Hey, win the World Cup, baby, you're ticker tape on Broadway.