The wintertime dearth for a Twin Cities sports columnist needing a handful of topics per week was the period between the end of the Vikings season and the annual trip to spring training.
I developed a habit of spending several days on the Iron Range searching for columns to help fill the void.
I spent the last week of February 1991 there, with the idea of stopping in Duluth for a fight card scheduled for March 1. It was cancelled. I needed a column. I decided to fill the space with a selection of off-the-wall opinions.
I had watched parts or the entirety of several girls/women’s basketball games that winter. I saw a few where the skill level was horrid and threw in that opinion in the Star Tribune column that appeared on March 2, 1991.
It was there that infamous description – “tip-toed ball throwing’’ – appeared.
I happened to be in spring training when the outcry back home reached its zenith.
On my return, there were hundreds of actual letters and notes recommending many remedies for my idiocy..
I submitted an apology column that was deemed too flippant (that's hard to believe) to run. A later apology effort was deemed acceptable by the editors, if not by all the critics.
Life returned to normal, although there were awards sent my way in the ensuing months, including what I believe was called the “Golden Jockstrap Award’’ from the National Organization of Women.
Four years later, the Women’s Final Four was going to be held at Target Center. I traveled for some national stories that winter:
To UConn, a team with Rebecca Lobo, Kara Wolters, Jennifer Rizzotti and freshman Nykesha Sales; to Tennessee, to interview the fantastic Pat Summitt; and to North Carolina, to see the defending national champion, with point guard Marion Jones.
My probation was over, I figured. I was writing features honoring great women’s basketball programs, coaches and players.
The national semifinals were held on April 1: Connecticut vs. Stanford and Tennessee vs. Georgia.
We covered the heck out of it. I had the column off the UConn-Stanford game. Stanford was considered a slight favorite. The Cardinal stunk out the building and lost 87-60.
I wrote a column ripping up Stanford for its no-show … just as I would have after such a performance from a team in the men’s Final Four.
The next day the finalists, UConn and Tennesse, had practices and interview sessions at Target Center. I was walking down the corridor toward a locker room. There were members of the Host Committee for the tournament mingling in the area.
Several committeewomen started complaining to me over the derogatory sentences aimed at Stanford’s play that had appeared in that morning’s Strib.
I didn’t look it up, but I do recall the suggestion that Stanford used “The Tree’’ as a mascot because that’s the way its basketball team moved on the court.
One committeewoman said: “You embarrassed everyone involved. These are our guests.’’
I’ve remembered that, because the idea that women’s basketball players were still guests – more than two decades after Title IX – was more insulting than my column.
That was my view, anyway: That we would take women in sports seriously when we started reviewing the performances of everyone involved as objectively (good or bad) as we did men.
It’s now another 20 years later and I was fascinated with what took place at Target Center in the first two games of the WNBA finals this week:
First, the Lynx lost, and coach Cheryl Reeve went frontal against the officials (no surprise) and our local hero, Lindsay Whalen (big surprise). Second, the Fever lost, and the first-year coach, Steph White, put on one of the all-time, sarcastic complaint fests over the officiating.
Go for it, coaches. This is the Finals.
That same night, ESPN telecast the American League wild-card game between the Yankees and Houston. The announcing team consisted of Dan Shulman, John Kruk and Jessica Mendoza.
It took me a couple of innings to decide that Mendoza had little to offer other than up-to-date cliches – “barreled,’’ “painted,’’ et al. There was zero insight, which is all I’m interested in.
That’s why I can’t stand Harold Reynolds as an analyst and keep the volume turned up when Roy Smalley (or Tom Kelly, when he did so) is in the booth for a Twins’ game.
I sent out a Tweet complaining about Mendoza’s cliches and absence of insight. Immediately, I became an old white guy and sexist pig who couldn’t take change with my precious baseball.
There were sexist pigs around the country – particularly the radio lout in Atlanta – responding to Mendoza’s mere presence in the booth.
I didn’t object to her being there. I didn’t think she added anything interesting.
Four decades after women were emancipated in athletics, I’m definitely an old white guy, but should be allowed to have that opinion without being a sexist pig.
(Note: If you want to listen to the best sports commentary I’ve heard in a long time on a sports issue, listen to Katie Nolan go off on NFLer Greg Hardy on Wednesday night’s edition of Fox Sports One “Garbage Time’’ show. Fantastic insight.)