February 12, 2018
I’m not the first person to note that in America 2018 the line between real headlines and satirical “Onion” headlines is very small. The headline in today’s post actually appeared this past weekend on Sports Illustrated’s si.com website.
Yu Darvish, the talented righthander from Japan who is partly of Iranian descent, (more…)
On Miracles in Football and Baseball (updated with report on 50th anniversary of Columbia's 1968 championship cagers)
February 5, 2018
Thanks to an excellent game story on the Super Bowl by New York Times sportswriter Ben Shpigel, I read this morning that victorious Eagles coach Doug Pederson put up a sign this season in the Philadelphia clubhouse:
“An individual can make a difference. A team can make a miracle.”
It was no miracle that the Eagles ruined the Patriots’ attempt at a repeat Super Bowl title. It was some great offensive football led by backup quarterback Nick Foles that did the trick. A huge sack and fumble then cemented the victory late in the fourth quarter. (I wonder if horses born in Philly today will be named Foles' Foals!)
As a U. of Wisconsin graduate, I was pleased that former Badger running back Corey Clement - from south Jersey so playing near home - was a key part of the offense. Glad also that James White, another back developed well at Wisconsin, did his part to almost bring the Patriots back to the winner’s circle.
Early Super Bowl Sunday I was involved with a real miracle by sitting in on a baseball clinic in Newburgh, New York sponsored by Chicago White Sox scout John Tumminia’s Baseball Miracles project. Newburgh is just 65 miles north of NYC with rolling Catskills foothills serving as a lovely backdrop to this Hudson River town.
Talk about giving back! Brooklyn native Tumminia has lived in Newburgh since the end of his playing days as a St. Francis College-Bklyn and minor league outfielder.
His project has sponsored baseball and softball clinics all over the world.
“We strive to reach out especially to the youth who have never the played the game,” the mission statement explains. “At no cost, we provide instruction, gloves, bats, hats, shirts, and memories.”
Baseball Miracles traveled to Argentina late last year and previously put on clinics in Honduras, Kenya, South Africa, and Ireland. Domestically, they have brought the joy of baseball to the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, to underprivileged areas in Kentucky and New Orleans.
An impressive array of baseball scouts and coaches from big league organizations was on hand Super Bowl Sunday morning. Among them was White Sox scout/assistant Bronx Monroe H.S.coach Jose Bautista Jr. whose father pitched in the big leagues and is no relation to the free agent slugger Jose Bautista.
There was a chorus of boos from the youngsters when they thought Jose Jr. was related to the swaggering former Blue Jay slugger. Our Jose is also an assistant coach for the Bronx Monroe H.S. powerhouse team.
Others serving as clinicians yesterday included Alex Agostino of the Phillies, Kyle Bamberger of the Orioles, John Ceprini of the Reds, Ray Fagnant of the Red Sox, Cesar Presbott and Kelly Rodman of the Yankees, and Dennis Sheehan of the Diamondbacks.
I hadn’t seen Fagnant since a high school all-star game at Yankee Stadium several summers ago. In a great show of collegiality Red Sox and Yankee organizations cooperate on bringing national players to a mid-summer clinic that ends with a game at Yankee Stadium.
I attended this game years ago when Arizona high schooler Cody Bellinger, now reigning NL Rookie-of-the-Year, homered into the right field Stadium stands.
Fagnant told me that no one had done that until last year when six were hit, including three by a northern Ohio slugger Northcott now attending Vanderbilt who should be a high draft pick by his junior year.
Before the clinic began, Toronto Blue Jays executive Ben Cherington gave an introductory talk. He reminded the youngsters of three basic facts:
1. Have fun while learning. Afer all, the first three letters in fundamental are fun.
2. Learn how to practice. He recommended going to You Tube and putting in “Derek Jeter Practicing” and “Steph Curry Practicing”.
3. Learn how to be a good teammate even if you have a bad day.
And then the clinic of over two hours began. I’ve been to the long-running winter BeTheBest clinic in Atlantic City and this Baseball Miracle Clinic was run with the same efficiency and elan as the older one for the big boys and college players.
A couple of nine-year-olds really impressed me with their quick bats on wiffle balls soft-tossed by coaches. They also showed good speed around the bases.
One was wearing an Aaron Judge #99 jersey but he said he wasn’t a fan of any team. He just loved to play. Something I love to see!
A huge tip of the cap goes to 91-year-old Newburgh native and philanthroplst Bill Kaplan. A few years ago he funded the conversion of the old Newburgh Armory Unity Center that had been used mainly for storage of antiquated military equipment.
It is now an impressive modern facility. Much of the clinic took place on a field turf playing service that is set up for soccer but can also be used for baseball. There is an adjoining gymnasium, and a dining room.
Every Saturday the Armory Unity Center hosts Enrichment Programs for academics and sports. For more information, call 845-245-4035 or e-mail email@example.com
In early August, Baseball Miracles plans a clinic at Yankee Stadium. For more information on this and other Baseball Miracles projects, e-mail: baseballmiracles.org
Before I close, I want to add a word on a celebration the night before the Super Bowl of my undergraduate alma mater Columbia's 1968 Ivy League championship basketball team. They won their only Ivy League title (so far), were nationally ranked finishing 23-5 and playing deep into the NCAA tournament.
All-time great Columbia forward Jim McMillian passed away last year but his widow attended as did two McMillian children. Both played basketball for Wake Forest in the late 1990s, daughter Eron attending the Winston-Salem school at the time of Tim Duncan.
Jim McMillian went on to a solid pro career, He was a starting forward on the great LA Laker team in the early 1970s that won 33 games in the regular season and the NBA title.
Another star on the '68 champs Heyward Dotson attended the Saturday event, but the other bulwark on the '68 team, seven-foot center from Brooklyn Dave Newmark, couldn't make the trip from his home in the SF Bay area.
To make the evening even more celebratory, Columbia completed a weekend sweep by holding off Dartmouth in the second half en route to a 77-74 victory. On Friday night the Lions handed Harvard its first league loss with a stirring come-from-behind 85-78 victory.
In a league where there is now a post-season tournament of the top four teams, Columbia is now 3-3 with four more weekends ahead. The Ivy League is the only league that plays on Fri. and Sat., a grueling test of stamina and talent.
Penn is undefeated, Harvard has only the Columbia loss, Princeton has two losses, but it is wide open for the last spot among Brown, Columbia, Cornell, and Yale. Tough luck winless Dartmouth will not be easy pickings for any of the contenders. All hail a very competitive underrated league.
That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
January 30, 2018
The last weekend of January has always marked for me the beginning of the baseball season. Because it usually means the annual Hot Stove League dinner of the New York-area baseball scouts.
I have been attending this friendly informative gathering for about 30 years. For the quality of the pithy speeches, this past Friday's gathering at Leonard's of Great Neck ranks as among the best ever.
The scouts have a sense of history, naming the awards after departed brethren.
Here are some of the highlights from the evening:
The Turk Karam Scout of the Year Dennis Sheehan, now with the Diamondbacks after a long career with the Braves and as a NY area coach, urged young scouts "to fight to the end for your kid." He also wryly predicted that his son Joseph Sheehan, now a VP for the Cleveland Browns, would win at least one game in the next NFL season.
Ralph DiLullo College Coach of the Year Dom Scala from Adelphi in Garden City LI said eloquently, "Only scouts can judge the pulse and heart of a player." The onetime 6th round choice of the Oakland A's, Scala was a Yankee bullpen coach for nine years earning a 1978 World Series ring. He then went into scouting and then college coaching.
"I'm proud to be a baseball lifer," he said. Like Sheehan he told the young scouts in attendance, "I hope you find your dream player."
When it was announced that the Marlins as well as the Mets and Yankees had bought tables for the dinner, Scala quipped, "Does Derek Jeter know [this]?" A reference, of course, to the onetime Yankee hero (and heartthrob) who has gotten off to a miserable start as the face of the Marlins' cost-cutting fire sale of star players.
The Herb Stein Future Star award winner Zack Granite was a pleasant surprise. Often young players don't come to the dinner, but the Staten Island Tottenville HS and Seton Hall college star Granite talked movingly about the thrill of his callup in midseason to the Twins - a team, incidentally, that Herb Stein served ably for decades, signing Hall of Famer Rod Carew, Frank Viola, Gene Larkin, and many others).
The biggest plus so far of being a major leaguer, outfielder Granite said, was wearing the single-flap helmet instead of the hockey-like double flap required in the minors.
He created laughter when he told the story of his uncle Tom who braved the wrath of the Yankee Stadium bleacher creatures by wearing a full Twins uniform during their wild card game loss last October.
Last but not least in the evening was Billy Altman's eloquent acceptance of the Jim Quigley Service to Baseball award (that I was thrilled to receive in 2010). Altman memorably covered the Mets for the "Village Voice" and now is one of the
official scorers for the Yankees and Mets. (This Renaissance man is also a pioneering rock 'n' critic who is serving in key capacities for the new St. Louis blues museum and the forthcoming African-American music museum in Nashville).
Altman remembered his first experience at a World Series in 1981 when he stood behind home plate alongside Howard Cosell and Jim Palmer and watched Sandy Koufax in full uniform pitch batting practice for the Dodgers.
Altman suggested that the beauty and democracy of baseball was exemplified last year when during the World Series 6' 7" Aaron Judge stood as a baserunner at second base next to Astros second sacker 5' 6" Jose Altuve.
I didn't go to the baseball writers dinner the following Sunday, but I read that the genuinely humble Judge paid a touching tribute to his parents seated in the audience: “I could never repay you guys for all the baseball tournaments you’ve driven to, the times I forgot my cleats at home and you had to go back and get them.”
I did attend another late January event that is becoming a fixture on the New York baseball, the annual meeting of the Casey Stengel chapter of SABR. Among the highlights were a friendly and refreshing hour with Tyler Kepner, the excellent national baseball reporter for the New York Times.
Tyler passed around the self-published baseball magazine that he created as a teenager in Philadelphia that led him to become one of the youngest credentialed sportswriters in the country. He has never lost his love for the game and the talented players - it surely shows in his writing.
Before I close, let me say that I have no real objections to the six new Hall of Famers players that will be inducted into Cooperstown in the last week of July. It is the largest number since the initial class voted in during the late 1930s. I don't want multiple inductions every year because the Hall of Fame should be for the truly great not just the very good.
But Atlanta’s Chipper Jones was clearly a no-brainer - a switch-hitter with power and a fine third base glove. He even showed some humor by naming a child Shea in honor of the Mets fans who booed him lustily out of grudging respect.
Second in the voting was Vladimir Guerrero who never played in a World Series but his lethal bat and astounding right field arm deserve immortality.
Closer Trevor Hoffman lost the one World Series he played in for the Padres, and on other big stages he always seemed to come up short. But his accumulation of regular season saves and the nice backstory of his conversion from weak-hitting infielder to the mound contributed to his selection.
Slugger Jim Thome’s career number of 612 HRs made him almost a lock for the Hall of Fame. He also was never tainted with suspicion of PED use, maybe because he was such a giant of a man from early on.
His back story is rather neat too. A 13th round pick of the Indians, he was signed as a shortstop out of Illinois Central college near his home town of Peoria. Scout Tom Couston had followed the power bat of Thome since high school and knew he couldn't let him get away. Charlie Manuel as Thome's hitting coach and later manager helped develop Thome's skills, and Jim gave him due credit when he learned of his selection.
Joining these four in Cooperstown in late July will be two Detroit Tiger stalwarts picked by a Veteran's Committee, pitcher Jack Morris and shortstop Alan Trammell. They were teammates on the 1984 World Series champs that went wire-to-wire in the regular season and lost only one post-season game. They were also models of consistency throughout their careers.
That’s all for now. Always: remember - Take it easy but take it!
January 14, 2018
Pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training by Valentine's Day. Still one of the greatest phrases in the English language! Banquet season begins in earnest in January.
One of the great hot stove league dinners is the Portsmouth, Ohio banquet to support the remarkable Portsmouth Flood Wall Murals on the Ohio River in Scioto County southern Ohio (a stone's throw from Kentucky). Here is the link for a piece I wrote for the The National Pastime Museum website. You can access it at https://www.thenationalpastimemuseum.com/article/portsmouth-murals-banquet-supports-great-cause-baseball-rich-area
UPDATE: Reports I received from Portsmouth indicate it was a very moving banquet evening with tributes galore to the late Gene Bennett. It may be the first dinner where an umpire relieved a starting pitcher. Main speaker Tom Browning, the former Reds southpaw and perfect game hurler, couldn't make the date and active umpire Greg Gibson filled in for him very capably.
The spirit of Gene Bennett imbued the evening from all I heard. Gene's adage:
"Talent sets the stage, character sets the ceiling," should be repeated again and again.
Another late Cincinnati scout Julian Mock had a wonderful series of Five Questions he asked every possible prospect. It goes one better than the Four Questions of the Passover Seder that we Jews were raised with. Here they are:
**1. Do you really love the game of baseball?
**2. Are you willing to work harder than you ever worked in your life?
**3. Are you willing to learn new things about your craft?
**4. Are you willing to laugh every day?
**5. Will you never forget where you came from?
The last question may be the hardest to project an answer in this age of mega-million dollar salaries. The latest stunner being Josh Donaldson's $23 million single-season contract to avoid arbitration with the Blue Jays.
He still might be traded as may be fellow third baseman Manny Machado of Orioles who received over $16 million to avoid arbitration. Both are represented by the same agent Dan Lozano of the Beverly Hills Sports Council that got Albert Pujols his humongous and now onerous 10-year contract with the Angels.
Maybe owners are wising up that you don't give long-term contracts to players who inevitably age often not gracefully. Especially pitchers. We'll see if there is always "a greater fool" owner out there wanting that moose to put on the wall.
Donaldson and especially Machado are young enough to get long-term contracts when they are free agents after this season. All the millions being thrown around these days and the constant coverage of it sometimes makes me wonder why I still care.
Not for long though - it is too great a game and still better than any other sport IMO.
"The ball is round, the bat is round, and you have to hit square" still holds true.
Back later in the month with more news on signings and the upcoming Hall of Fame vote to be announced on January 24. In the meantime: Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
December 31, 2017
Happy New Year to blog readers wherever you may be! My history-heavy mind is reflecting on 50 years ago this New Year's Eve. I was a grad student in my last year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The NFL championship was being played in Green Bay over 100 miles to the north.
The 49-below conditions at Lambeau Field were astounding as the Packers and Cowboys battled for the NFL title.
It was so cold that a referee's whistle froze in his mouth and it had to be bloodied before he got it out. Announcer Frank Gifford quipped, "I'm gonna take a bite out of my coffee."
My situation wasn't as dramatic but it wasn't ideal. The night before, the front door on my old rented house blew open from high winds. I watched the game on an old black-and-white TV wearing a heavy parka, fur hat, and gloves. (I was watching with roommates but I can't remember who, and if any of them read this and can verify please do.)
The Packers continued their 1960s dominance with a dramatic last-minute win on Bart Starr's short quarterback run behind guard Jerry Kramer's block. What's interesting about NFL parity back then in a much smaller league is that both teams made the final with five losses a piece.
Flash forward to 2017. Both the Packers and Cowboys will miss the playoffs. But the Wisconsin Badgers made the state proud last night with a solid Orange Bowl victory over Miami. After falling behind 14-3, they took control of the game in the second quarter and won going away 34-24.
This pleasant outcome resulted despite the Badgers' playing a road game on the Hurricanes' home field. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook was a deserved MVP for throwing four TD passes and no interceptions, a bugaboo of his in 2017.
Among the highlights in this game were the unexpected hurdling of a tackler on his way to a key first down by not-exactly-fleet fullback Austin Ramesh. The key play was undoubtedly the momentum-changing interception by linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel that started the Badgers on their second-quarter comeback.
Van Ginkel, only a sophomore, is the type of story that makes me proud to be a Badger fan. He was recruited out of a Iowa community college to become a huge contributor. Since the defense loses heavily through graduation, Van Ginkel is likely to play an even larger role in 2018.
A few hours after this posting, the New Year will begin with the dropping of the ball from high above Times Square. A wit has suggested that a Jets and Giants receiver should do the honors because they sure dropped a lot of balls this desultory NYC pro season.
No doubt the rosy prospects for the Yankees will get the NYC sports fan back into the winning spirit. Pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training around Valentine's Day so there should be a feeling of rebirth throughout baseball land.
As an Oriole fan, alas, it will be hard to share that optimistic outlook. There are only two possibly reliable starting pitchers on the horizon and one of them Kevin Gausman has yet to put together a good full season. The trade of Manny Machado seems almost inevitable because they will not be able to sign him as a free agent after the coming season.
But there will be plenty of time to analyze and agonize in the weeks ahead. So let me close with a fervent wish for good health and good competition in the year ahead.
And always remember: Take it easy but take it!
December 14, 2017
Though more and more it seems to me that these meetings are like a Made for TV event without much action, the Yankees certainly stole the show with the one-sided trade for the Marlins’ slugger Giancarlo Stanton.
Derek Jeter has certainly gotten off to a rocky start as the face of the Marlins, a team saddled with debt and a new stadium that doesn't draw fans. Why should they come because they've seen stars from their past 1997 and 2003 World Series winners sold off and in Stanton's eight years as a Marlin the team never experienced a .500 season.
Jeter didn't even attend the Orlando meetings. He was spotted in a luxury box at Monday night's Dolphins-Patriots game. It is a shame that commissioner Rob Manfred worked overtime to arrange the sale of the Miami franchise to Jeter and the real money man Bruce Sherman, a hedge fund executive whose last enterprise was buying and then selling or disbanding newspapers.
As an Orioles fan realizing that the glow of the Showalter-Duquette revival years starting in 2012 ended with a thud in 2017, there is foreboding that the trades of third baseman Manny Machado and star closer Zach Britton might be inevitable. Both can walk at the end of 2018 and so can manager Showalter and gm Dan Duquette and team leader and genuine Baltimore community presence center fielder Adam Jones.
It is doubtful that Machado can be signed to a long-term contract that could reach the $300 million level. Even in his off-year of 2017, he hit .259 with 33 HRs and 95 RBI along with his usual string of defensive highlights at third base.
He is represented by Dan Lozano of the Beverly Hills Sports Council who represents Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson also eligible for free agency after 2018.
A few years ago Lozano got Angels owner Arte Moreno to give Albert Pujols that lavish 10-year contract.
Since California needs a third baseman it wouldn’t surprise me if the Angels get into the bidding for Machado or Donaldson. Machado supposedly would like to play shortstop, his original position, but the Angels are set at short with the gifted Curacao native Andrelton Simmons.
The White Sox’s incumbent shortstop Tim Anderson is not an All-Star and the Chicagoans are supposedly seriously interested in Machado. But they won't part with the blue chip pitching prospects Lucas Giolito and Michael Kopech the Orioles covet.
With the trade of Chase Headley back to the Padres, the Yankees have a hole at third base. Yankee fans have dreamed of getting Machado (and the Nationals Bryce Harper also eligible for free agency after 2018). But would the Orioles trade within the division?
They did it in 1976 on the dawn of free agency after the historic Messersmith-McNally arbitration decision. (See the opening chapter in my first book, “The Imperfect Diamond.”) The Yankee farm system is deep but whether they would aid the Orioles as they did in 1976 trading future Oriole stalwarts pitchers Scott McGregor and Tippy Martinez and catcher Rick Dempsey for pitchers Doyle Alexander and Ken Holtzman and catcher Elrod Hendricks seems doubtful to me.
Southpaw Zach Britton had a record-breaking almost perfect 2016 regular season but injuries marred his 2017 campaign. How long can he continue to throw his magnificent bowling ball-like 95 mph sinker? That is the big question for evaluators.
It might make sense for the O’s to keep Britton through at least the July 31 trading deadline. Machado may be beyond the Oriole budgetary capacity and could be gone before spring training.
My suggestion is that the O's should re-up Adam Jones as soon as possible. He is a genuine fan favorite and respected member of the Baltimore community. His center field defense may have slipped a little but offensively he has been quite consistent. He’ll strike out a lot but he’ll also produce consistent numbers in the 20-plus HR and 80-plus RBI category.
While they are at it, the O's should extend Jonathan Schoop who had a breakout year at second base. Another Curacao native, Schoop might take the home team discount because he has been with the organization since he was 16.
More baseball news of note recently has been the election by a Hall of Fame veterans committee of two Tigers stalwarts, shortstop Alan Trammell and bulldog starting pitcher Jack Morris. Trammell was the model of consistency in the field and at the plate.
One of the greatest tributes he ever received came from Oriole manager Earl Weaver. When Cal Ripken Jr. moved from third base to shortstop early in his career, Weaver’s simple advice to him was “watch Trammell.”
Jack Morris won 254 games in his career, mainly with the Tigers where he was a key part of their 1984 World Series winners that went wire-to-wire after a 35-5 start to the regular season. I will never forget the enormous bear hug exchanged between Morris and catcher Lance Parrish after Morris's no-hitter that same magical year of 1984.
Maybe Morris is most remembered for his 1-0 10-inning shutout for the Twins over the Braves and John Smoltz in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.
The regular election to the Hall of Fame will be announced in late January with the Braves’ switch-hitting third baseman Chipper Jones considered a shoo-in during his first year of eligibility. Slugger Jim Thome with his-600 plus career HRs and no taint of steroid use has a chance on his first try, and Vladimir Guerrero who came close last year might get the call as well.
The Ford Frick media award will go to Bob Costas who has served baseball with dignity and class for over four decades. Originally from the New York City area, Costas received his degree from Syracuse University’s powerhouse communications department and then St. Louis became his adopted home.
I love the story that when Costas first went to Stan Musial’s restaurant he left a tip of $3.31 in honor of Musial’s career batting average. That Musial wound up his career with 3630 hits, 1815 at home and 1815 on the road, has always been to me the gold standard for that elusive thing called consistency.
One political note of promise occurred on Tuesday Dec 12 when Democrat Doug Jones won the Alabama US Senate race against the alleged child predator and unrepentant Neanderthal Roy Moore. I like to think that Jones’s narrow triumph will go down in the history of our currently beleaguered republic as a Save far more valuable than the estimable reliever Doug Jones’s 303 career saves in his major league career from 1986-2000.
While I wait for spring training, basketball does involve me somewhat. Columbia’s men’s basketball record is 1-9 but they are young and are playing reasonably close games. Ditto for Wisconsin’s 5-7 record and 1-1 in Big Ten. As Tug McGraw said, “Ya gotta believe,” right?
So always remember: Take it easy but take it!
December 3, 2017
The undefeated Wisconsin Badgers football team went down on Saturday night Dec 3 to an inspired Ohio State Buckeyes team, 27-21. It marked the third time in four years that the Badgers had lost the Big Ten championship game.
The odds-makers who favored the Buckeyes by 6 or 6.5 points had it right. Wisconsin had not played any team as tough and swift as Ohio State all season. The Buckeyes scored three touchdowns on plays over 50 yards in the first half, tying the number of big plays the vaunted Wisconsin defense had allowed in their 12 previous games.
Though the 21-10 halftime deficit proved too much to overcome, the second half was thrilling and almost classic - if only Wisconsin had mounted a serious threat late in the game to save their unblemished season.
But all game the stout Ohio State defense throttled Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin’s sensational freshman running back, holding him to just 41 yards in 15 carries, far below his season average. Ohio State's freshman star running back J.K.Dobbins was much more productive and was voted game MVP.
Badger sophomore southpaw quarterback Alex Hornibrook played nobly but didn’t have the arm strength or enough game-breaking receivers to pull off the comeback. His counterpart J.T. Barrett, one week removed from arthroscopic knee surgery, played a savvy game and did just enough with his arm and his challenged legs to lead his team to victory - despite two interceptions including a pick-6 by Badger linebacker Andrew van Ginkel that kept Wisconsin in the game during the first half..
Kudos to the outstanding punting on both sides. I’m a great believer in field position in football and Drue Chrisman of Ohio State boomed his punts deep into Badger territory and kept them high enough to prevent any return yardage. The Badgers' Anthony Lotti for Wisconsin also punted very effectively.
Despite the Buckeyes' victory to claim the Big Ten championship, it was left out of football's Final Four. One-loss Alabama got the fourth seed and will have a rematch with defending champion Clemson in the Sugar Bowl semi-final on New Year's Day. Oklahoma will meet Georgia in the Rose Bowl in the second semi-final.
Ohio State will meet USC in Dallas' Cotton Bowl and Wisconsin plays in Miami's Orange Bowl for the first time on Dec 30 against home team Miami which slumped badly at the end of the year after being undefeated.
Ohio State's 31-point loss to Iowa on the road was held against the Buckeyes and their 16-point loss at home to Oklahoma early in the season didn't help. But the bruising Big Ten plays nine conference games whereas Alabama's vaunted SEC only play eight and pad their schedule with cupcakes like Mercer.
(Alabama didn't even play for the SEC championship losing to Auburn on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. So they are a very dubious selection to the Final Four despite coach Nick Saban's protestations of their excellence.)
To add to the bad Saturday for the Badgers, earlier in the day the Big Ten opened its basketball season with Ohio State trouncing Wisconsin on the Badgers’ home court, 78-53. The Buckeyes led by 23 at the half and opened up a 35-point lead at one point in the second half. Wisconsin falls to 3-5 overall. The loss of four starters from last year's solid tournament team looks more and more ominous.
As if there weren’t enough sadness for an ardent fan of his alma maters, Columbia blew a 10-point lead in the second half and lost at Albany 86-82. The Lions fall to 1-6 on the season, all road games. They finally open their home season against Quinnipiac from New Haven CT this Monday Dec 4. Maybe home cooking will make the difference.
A final shout-out in 2017 is in order for Columbia’s football team that finished with its best record in 21 years, 8-2 overall and 5-2 in the Ivy League good for a second place tie with Dartmouth. Except for its 23-6 loss to eventual champion Yale in New Haven - the Elis’ first outright title since 1980 - the Lions proved they could play with anybody.
Great kudos to the 32 seniors who stuck it out after their winless freshman season under ousted coach Pete Mangurian. The arrival of proven Ivy League winner Al Bagnoli from Penn has made a great difference. Now as Bagnoli has said so wisely, the key will be to stay up there as a perennial contender every year.
Graduation losses will be significant - quarterback Anders Hill, running back Jim Schroer, and punter Parker Thome among them. (Thome BTW is a distant cousin of baseball's possible next Hall of Famer Jim Thome).
But Bagnoli and his recruiting staff seem to building what Earl Weaver and Yogi Berra used to call "deep depth." The prior punters for the Lions are taking advantage of a fourth year of eligibility by punting for top Division I schools - Cameron Nizialek's leg will be on display when Georgia plays Oklahoma and Matthew Nanton will be kicking for Kentucky in the Music City Bowl against Northwestern.
That’s all for now, dear blog readers. Next time there will be real Hot Stove League baseball news and hopefully more informed speculation to write about as baseball’s annual winter meetings convene in Orlando FLA in mid-December. Until then always remember: “Take it easy but take it!”
November 13, 2017
Playing meaningful games in September and October are the coveted goals for baseball fans. For college football fans, it's meaningful games in November that are the gold standard.
This season I'm blessed that Columbia has surprised the world with a breakthrough season. After dominating Cornell on Saturday November 11 in a game that was much more one-sided than the 18-8 final score, the Lions head into its home finale against Brown with a chance to tie Yale for the Ivy League title.
Yale will be favored to win at home against Harvard in The Game and claim the Ivy League title outright with a 6-1 record. But you never know what will happen in a rivalry game. (By the way, a DVD that should be in every historically-minded fan's collection is "Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29," Kevin Rafferty's labor of love about the 1968 matchup of two undefeated teams set in the context of anti-Vietnam war unrest and the election of President Richard Nixon.)
Regardless of what happens in New Haven, a Columbia win over Brown will mean that the Lions finish with a 5-2 league record and 8-2 overall, its best season since 1996 and one of the best in its history.
Hats off to the great senior leadership of quarterback Anders Hill, safety Landon Baty, offensive lineman Bewley Wales and defensive lineman Lord Hyeamang. And, of course, coach Al Bagnoli who has brought the organizational skill and the winning touch that made him such a success at Penn.
The only blemish on the Cornell victory was a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against star sophomore wide receiver Josh Wainwright. He was probably complaining too loudly and profanely to an official for an non-interference call in the end zone. It likely cost the Lions a touchdown because Cornell had been penalized on the play and would have meant a first down had not Wainwright lost control.
Wainwright is a great talent who wears #13 at home in honor of his hero Odell Beckham, the football Giants injured mega-talent. (For some reason Josh wears #86 on the road.) IMO the last thing the Lions need as they enter I hope the realm of permanent contention is a player who emulates the worst of Beckham, his mouthiness and overall narcissistic behavior.
Watching the TV feed from the SNY cable channel here in NYC, I noticed chippiness between Wainwright and Cornell defenders from early in the game. I just knew something bad would result from the trash talk even though announcers Jerry Recco and Sal Licata seemed to think his behavior was funny even admirable.
(BTW, the SNY feed was erratic - video was lost for several minutes and the graphics at times were so large that they interfered with full vision of the field. We couch potatoes are very spoiled you know.)
It is not that that surprising that my graduate alma mater Wisconsin gifted with a weak schedule is undefeated as it heads into a big home game against Michigan on Saturday. But the way they held down great rival Iowa to 66 yards TOTAL YARDAGE in a 38-14 win last weekend was very impressive. It was also the first time in seven years that the home team had won this rivalry game.
Badger fans are becoming inured to the almost weekly pick-6 interception thrown by southpaw QB Alex Hornibrook, a lad from West Chester, Pa. But he also made a couple of brilliant throws on Saturday so we'll have to accept the bad with the good.
The annoying fumbles of freshman sensation Jonathan Taylor from Salem in south New Jersey are another disturbing issue.
But if the defense continues to play well, Wisconsin will be formidable. They have already clinched the Big Ten West division and will probably face Ohio State in the Dec 2 playoff in Indianapolis for the league title.
Avenging the 59-0 shellacking delivered by the Buckeyes a few years ago will be on the minds of fans with long memories (like yours truly). Yet the impressive thing about this year's Badgers is that they are really taking it a game at time, a play at a time. So full speed ahead to the 2017 contingent.
Well that's all for now. Some thoughts on baseball's hot stove league next installment.
Always remember: Take it easy but take it.
November 2, 2017
I had a premonition that Game 7 of this gripping World Series might be anti-climactic. But thought it might go the other way in favor of the home team Dodgers.
After all, they had beaten future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander in Game 6, not that they pummeled him. A game-tying bloop 6th inning double down the right field line by center fielder Chris Taylor had been the big hit followed by a sacrifice fly by shortstop Corey Seager.
Behind two solid 8th and 9th innings by closer Kenley Jansen, Dodgers won 3-1. Jansen blew the Game 2 save and lost the Game 5 classic on Alex Bregman’s single, but confidently bounced back in Game 6.
“Little ball” decided that game and as it turned out, so it did Game 7. Deserved World Series MVP George Springer led off the game with a ringing double. Then two ground balls to the right side helped by a throwing error by first baseman Cody Bellinger led to two quick runs.
In the next inning, another ground ball to right side by pitcher Lance McCullers plated the third run. Before manager Dave Roberts could move to replace Yu Darvish, ineffective for second time in this WS, Springer homered to give Astros a 5-0 lead.
After leaving the bases loaded in the first inning and Logan Forsythe unforgivably getting doubled off second on a line drive to shortstop to end 2nd inning, Dodgers hardly threatened again.
I say “unforgivably” because baseball savant Paul Richards always said that the only time a runner is blameless for being doubled up is when he is on first base and the ball is hit directly to first baseman.
So in the end the World Series was decided by Baseball 101 - hitting behind runners and protecting your position while on base. It will, of course, be remembered for the
unexpected momentum swings in every other game, especially the classic Game 2 & Game 5.
I’m happy for the city of Houston after the trauma of Hurricane Harvey and its past failures on the national baseball stage. I’m not happy that the Astros organization let go of eight veteran baseball scouts two weeks before the end of the season.
The reliance on statistical/analytical studies instead of scouts with two eyes and two ears on the field is an industry-wide trend that is unfortunate. But life is always more complicated than I’d like it to be.
The bottom line is that 2017 Houston Astros rose to the occasion in every way.
All hail to them!
[Update on George Springer III: He is a wonderful story that the New York Times has covered with distinction. Sportswriter James Wagner informed us on Nov 3 that Springer has made great progress dealing with a stuttering issue and has become a spokesman and fund-raiser for The Stuttering Association for the Young.
Vivian Lee informed us in the main A section of the Nov 2 Times that Springer hails from New Britain CT, the home town of "The Father of College Football" Walter Camp and Paul Manafort. There is even a Paul Manafort Drive that curves around the Central Connecticut State Univ. campus, named after Manafort's father who was a New Britain Republican Mayor.
Isn't America an amazing bundle of contradictions?!
A few years ago I heard Springer's father George Springer Jr. deliver an inspirational speech at the annual New York Pro Scouts Hot Stove League dinner. He is a lawyer who played in the Little League World Series and football at the U. of Connecticut.
Springer Jr. spoke like a preacher that night accepting the Herb Stein Future Star award from the scouts. I normally don't like the term "giving 110 per cent" but he made me a believer when he accepted the award for his son who was unable to attend.]
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT:
The absence of daily baseball is never easy to endure, but I do have my college football and basketball teams to follow. Columbia tasted defeat for the first time in 2017 when Yale thoroughly outplayed them in New Haven last Saturday Oct 24 on their way to a 23-6 victory.
Five bus loads of Columbia alumni and students enjoyed a wonderful pre-game tailgate but the vibrancy of our gathering was dimmed by the performance of the impressive Bulldog eleven.
If you’ve never been to the Yale Bowl, it should be on your bucket list. Football tradition exudes all over place. After all, it was Walter Camp in the 1880s who created the line of scrimmage and the concept of four downs to separate American football from rugby. The Walter Camp "fence," where players have posed for decades, is just outside the stadium.
Football history at Yale even predates Camp. There is the number 145 painted on the sidelines at the Yale Bowl. It stands for 145 years football has been played at the storied Ivy institution and counting.
I don’t know if there is a changing of the guard in the Ivy League but upstarts Columbia and Cornell are tied for first with Yale at 3-1 with three games left to play.
Perennial contender Harvard at 2-2 visits Columbia this Saturday Nov 4 and we’ll
see if the Lions can get back on the winning path.
In closing, I want to pay homage to a great Columbia man, writer-author-editor Ray Robinson who died on November 1st. He would have been 97 on Dec 4.
In his later years Ray became an acclaimed biographer of Columbia man Lou Gehrig and Bucknell’s Christy Mathewson.
Ray grew up near the Columbia campus and remembered Columbia’s infrequent gridiron triumphs very well. In our last conversation he reminded me that Columbia had not only beaten Stanford 7-0 in the 1934 Rose Bowl but had been undefeated in two other games against the Pacific Coast powerhouse.
Until next time, always remember: Take it easy but take it
And Then There Were Two: Houston-LA Dodgers Get Ready for World Series (revised with Rose Bowl update)
October 22, 2017
"Sports Illustrated," often accused of jinxing players with cover stories, must be feeling vindicated. Three years ago Ben Reiter wrote a cover story predicting the Astros as World Series champions in 2017.
Starting Tuesday Oct 24 the Astros will have a chance to fulfill that prophecy when they meet the Los Angeles Dodgers at Chavez Ravine in Game 1. They triumphed over the Yankees in the seven full games of the AL Championship Series.
They won every home game at Minute Maid Park (which used to be called Enron Field until that corporation fell in disgrace). Houston did play pitifully in the three games in New York, undoubtedly cowed by the loud Yankee Stadium fans and the aura of invincibility they like to project.
Yet the Yankees were equally punchless in their four losses in Houston, scoring a total of only three runs. Justin Verlander’s dominance in his two starts for the Astros was not surprising, and he was the deserved MVP of the ALCS.
Yet the Yankees put up very little fight in the final game against the combined offerings of Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers, two good pitchers when on their game but not exactly aces. Morton got the win for 5 innings of work and McCullers got the very rare 4-inning save.
There was some great defense in the ALCS. Right fielder Aaron Judge stole two home runs from the Astros, one in each park. Center fielder George Springer cemented Houston’s last two victories with similarly outstanding grabs. The Astro double play combination of Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve outplayed their Yankee counterparts Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro.
Not enough can be said about the all-around play and leadership by example of Altuve who listed at 5’ 7” 155 pounds is one of the smallest players in MLB. Yet he has won three out of the last four AL batting titles showing power as well as an ability to spray balls to all fields.
The Dodgers, in what 90-year-old former manager Tommy Lasorda loves to call “The Fall Classic,” will be a formidable opponent. In their first World Series since 1988, they won the most games in baseball in 2017 and will have the home field advantage.
Clayton Kershaw gets the nod in the opener likely against fellow lefty Dallas Keuchel, he of the beard that reminds me of one of the Smith Brothers (cough drop manufacturers for you youngsters reading).
Kershaw, the $32 million a year/three time Cy Young award winner, is at the top of his game. He wants to improve on his over-4 point ERA in post-season play.
Another southpaw 37-year-old Rich Hill gets LA's Game 2 nod.
Hill is a nice story - a journeyman originally signed by the Cubs, he has endured several injuries over the years. He bounced to many teams including the Orioles briefly and the Red Sox and the A’s. He also pitched in Asia trying to keep his dream alive.
The deep-pocketed Dodgers signed him to a three-year $36 million contract last off-season. He has been a consistent pitcher when not bothered by nagging hand blisters.
Hill attended the University of Michigan where one of his roommates was catcher-utility player Jake Fox. Last I heard Fox was still playing in the independent leagues after sipping cups of coffee with the Pirates, A's and O's.
As you probably know, I love acronyms. Fox once scribbled in his glove T.E.W.S.I.C.:
To Everyone Who Said I Couldn't. I wouldn't be surprised if Rich Hill wrote or thought something very similar in his long journey to The Show.
The Dodgers have another rewarding story in utility man in Kike (short for Enrique) Hernandez. A journeyman from Puerto Rico, he was obtained from the Marlins (along with versatile catcher Austin Barnes) in the trade for second baseman Dee Gordon. Hernandez belted three home runs in the Dodgers' clinching 11-1 rout of the Cubs in the NLCS.
Yu Darvish, the Japanese pitcher of Iranian descent picked up from the Texas Rangers late this season, probably gets the nod for Game 3. I know the international wing of MLB was salivating at the thought of Darvish pitching against the Yankees’ Japanese import Masohiro Tanaka. But you can’t always get what you want (to coin a phrase).
At the back of a deep Dodgers pitching staff looms Curacao’s Kenley Jansen, a onetime 6’ 5” 280 pound catcher who has become 2017’s best closer. New Yorkers that can forgive Walter O’Malley for taking the Brooklyn Dodgers to LA in 1957 might find some New York connections of interest on the Dodgers roster.
Justin Turner, a former Mets utility player, has blossomed into a standout third baseman on both sides of the ball. First baseman Cody Bellinger, a shoo-in for NL Rookie of the Year, is the son of Clay Bellinger who earned two World Series rings as a utility player on the Yankees last dynasty of the late 1990s.
No doubt MLB was craving building up a battle between top rookies Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger in the World Series but there should be no absence of drama in this Series. I think the Dodgers will win but I’m hoping for a long and dramatic series. Because once again I say - “The only reason to play baseball is to keep winter away.”
That’s all for now - Columbia and Wisconsin football remain undefeated and I am binging on BIRGing - Basking In Reflected Glory. Don’t know how long it will last but nice to enjoy the streaks while they last.
I need to make a correction from my last blog. I said that I'd be satisfied with a Wisconsin win in the Rose Bowl as Big Ten champion. But this year the historic Pasadena CA site is part of the playoff system.
So if the Badgers make the Rose Bowl, they'll have to be part of the four-team championship playoff. That means they'll have to run the table impressively to smell the roses and the ultimate crown.
That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!