Scholastic Roundup: All about men and robots

September 3, 2021 Andy Furman
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The conversation turned to robots for Frank Viola.

That may seem strange for someone who played professional baseball for the Minnesota Twins (1982-89), New York Mets (1989-91), Boston Red Sox (1992-94), Cincinnati Reds (1995) and Toronto Blue Jays (1996).

Viola, a three-time All-Star who was named World Series MVP with the Twins in 1987 and won the American League Cy Young Award in 1988, was comparing robots to humans – in the case of umpires.

The Atlantic League – where the Long Island Ducks play – is using robots in lieu of umpires.

“A human,” Viola told The New Yorker, “at least, yells back.”

Viola was hired as pitching coach of the Brooklyn Cyclones in 2011 – presently he serves in the same capacity for the High Point (NC) Rockers in the Atlantic League.

“Some pitchers have complained that, compared with human’s, the robot’s (strike) zone seemed small,” he told the magazine.

“When I pitched,” he continued, umpires rewarded skill. Throw it where you aimed, and it would be a strike, even if it was an inch or two outside. There was a dialogue between pitcher and umpire.”

Viola said during the first inning of the Rockers’ first game using A.B.S. (Automatic Ball/Strike System) “my guy on the mound threw three pitches right there. And all the pitches were strikes!” A.B.S, said otherwise.

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And the story ends like this – pitching coach Frank Viola gets frustrated. The result –he becomes the first person to get ejected for arguing with the robot.

Viola batted and pitched left-handed and was nicknamed “Sweet Music” – a nickname he picked up after a Minnesota sports writer declared that when Viola pitched, there was “Sweet Music” in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. In 2009 Viola was honored as a member of the Twins’ “All Dome” team.

Viola graduated East Meadow (NY) High School, attended St. John’s University and was drafted following his senior year in the 16th round of the 1979 Major League Baseball Draft by the Kansas City Royals, but did not sign. He signed with the Twins after the team drafted him in the second round of the 1981 MLB Draft.

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Jerry Harkness, who scored 14 points to lead DeWitt Clinton to the PSAL championship in 1958 died last week in Indianapolis. He was 81 years old.

Harkness is best remembered as a player for George Ireland leading his Loyola University of Chicago’s integrated basketball team to the 1963 NCAA championship.

Loyola trailed the University of Cincinnati in that 1963 final game by 15 points midway through the second-half but tied the game with six-seconds left on a shot by Harkness. The Ramblers won in overtime, 60-58.

Athletic but shy, Jerry Harkness did not feel confident enough to try out for the basketball team at DeWitt Clinton, according to a New York Times report. But one day, while he was playing basketball at the Harlem YMCA an observer told him he had talent.

“You know, you’re not that bad of an athlete,” he recalled the observer, the baseball Hall of Famer, Jackie Robinson, telling him, according to the Times’ report. “You might be able to get a scholarship to college.”

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From the Scholastic Roundup (e) Mailbag:

The mailbag was bursting at the seams this week:

Hank Lam, blowing his basketball referee whistle at the tender age of 73 brought this response from Howard Kellman:

“Hank was one of the people I looked up to as a young boy learning sports in the PS 206 schoolyard. His younger brother Kenny was an an excellent basketball player at St. Francis.”

Kellman, like Lam – a Sheepshead Bay High grad, has been calling baseball play-by-play for the Indianapolis Indians on WNDE (1260-AM) for close to 50 seasons.

Les Pines, who played basketball at Lafayette High (1960-64) for Gil Fershtman, had this to say about Hank Lam:

“He’s such a great guy and we go back many years. We also did games at the West 4th Street Park.”

Pines played with Gary Goldberg, Mike Pollack, Spencer Portee and Gene Balber at Lafayette.

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But the biggest response – and feedback – came from the Dennis Ozer story: The man who beat all odds:

From Marc Chapman:

“Another awesome memory. I remember him. He was older than us but a really good player. Didn’t know his journey. You have to put these stories in a book.”

From former Brooklyn College basketball player Phil Roitman:

“Great article about my dear friend, mentor (basketball and life) and biggest Bob Dylan fan on the planet. We’re still in touch to this day.”

From Harry Safter:

“Awesome—all the best to Mr. Ozer.”

From David Gershon:

“Dennis pointed out the woman I would marry and it’s now going to be 50 years. Loved playing basketball with him at Brooklyn College and still good friends. His story is a true inspiration for all.”

From Bernie Weitz, former Tilden High basketball star:

“Great article. Dennis was an amazing basketball player.  He was so quick, would stop on a dime and knock it down – Always. He was blessed with the fastest release in the game I have ever seen and I played my share of hoops. His off-the-court challenges were by far more significant and he overcame them with his unrelenting discipline, state-of-the-art medical care and his love of family and friends. Truly a Brooklyn Warrior!”

From Leonard Kassan, former Lafayette High basketballer:

“Thank you for your article.”

From Cindy Hughes:

“Great story! Thanks for sharing!”

From Susan Jacobson Glatman:

“Great tribute to Dennis Ozer!!”

From Ron Rosselot:

“Great story. Quite inspiring!”

From Fran Kavouras:

“Great article!:

From Mel Goldstein, former basketballer at Lafayette High and Brooklyn College and former basketball coach at Wingate High School and later PSAL Basketball Commissioner:

“Great article. A great basketball player at Brooklyn College with me. A tough life but a battler.”

Andy Furman is a Fox Sports Radio national talk show host. Previously, he was a scholastic sports columnist for the Brooklyn Eagle. He may be reached at: [email protected] Twitter: @AndyFurmanFSR

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