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“Giants Wise Not To Punish Underpaid Bumgarner” and Happier Stories + News of My Activities in Late April

April 24, 2017

Tags: Madison Bumgarner, Buster Olney, Clayton Kershaw, Columbia baseball: Ty Wiest, Joe Engel, Randell Karamaru, Kyle Bartelman, Yale and Penn baseball, Oriole injured pitchers Chris Tillman, Zach Britton; Oriole active pitchers Brad Brach, Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman; Buster Keaton and baseball on tnpmuseum.website, "Josh: The Black Babe Ruth" play at Theater for New City, New York City

I really want to focus on this blog about the late rush towards the top of my Columbia Lions in the Ivy League baseball race. And the Orioles’ fine start to their season.
But I have to get this off my chest first.

The headline of a Buster Olney story on espn.com this weekend read: “Giants Wise Not To Punish Underpaid Bumgarner”. If you haven’t heard, SF Giants’ star southpaw hurt his shoulder seriously in a dirt-bike accident incurred on the team’s day-off in Denver. He will be out until early summer.

Yet I am sick and tired of sportswriters and pundits referring to any millionaire ballplayer as “underpaid”. Bumgarner has the security of a long-term contract through 2019 even though his annual reported salary of $12 million is only a little more than one-third of the money than the Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw is reportedly making - $32=$33 million a year.

Even at a "paltry" $12 million a year Bumgarner is not going to the poor house any time soon.

Leaving aside the question of whether he should have been punished - it all depends on whether his contract prohibited such dangerous activity in season as well as out of season - Bumgarner’s action was dumb and reckless. It does not augur well for the Giants’ season to lose your ace until the early summer at best.

Now to happier baseball news. Let’s start with the late season surge of my Columbia Lions in the Gehrig Division of the Ivy League. They have won five league games in a row - six overall - including this past weekend’s two doubleheader sweep of defending Gehrig champion Princeton.

I had hoped to see a full doubleheader at Princeton’s sunken diamond Bill Clarke Field on Saturday, but unexpected rains limited the first game to only four innings plus one out in top of 5th. Columbia, behind solid pitching by junior co-captain Ty Wiest and surprising home run power from senior center fielder Shane Adams and sophomore shortstop Joe Engel, had a 8-2 lead when the day’s activities were suspended.

In much better weather on Sunday, Columbia was able to complete a sweep (without yours truly in attendance). They finished the first game with a resounding 15-2 victory and overcame an early 3-0 deficit to win the second game 21-5. Meanwhile in Ithaca, perennial contender Penn took three out of four from host Cornell.

With one weekend to go in regular season Penn leads Columbia by 2 games, Cornell by 3, and Princeton by 4. So the division title will be decided by two big doubleheaders between the Lions and the Quakers.

The first one starts Friday at 1pm at Columbia’s Satow Stadium just north of football’s Kraft Field in the Baker Field complex west of 218th Street and Broadway in Manhattan. The final two games of the regular season will start at 1pm Sat. at Penn’s Meiklejohn Field on the Philadelphia campus.

Those traveling to these games on New Jersey Transit or Amtrak should still expect delays. Train transit remains less than ideal on the north Jersey corridor.

Meanwhile, Yale took a giant step forward towards representing the Rolfe Division in the playoff by sweeping Dartmouth on Sunday and splitting on Monday. So the powerful Elis have clinched a tie for the half-pennant. They need only one victory over Brown or one Dartmouth loss to clinch their second straight Rolfe flag.
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If there is no Penn-Columbia playoff, the best-of-three championship series will start at historic Yale Field the first weekend in May.

As a Columbia alum, it has been great to see my young Lions coalesce into a winning outfit at the right time of the season. Shortstop Joe Engel has become steady in the field and is showing surprising pop - he had never hit a homer in his college career until last week when he belted his first at Fordham and his second at Princeton.

Two of the Columbia co-captains have become potent sluggers in the middle of the lineup: junior third baseman Randell Kanemaru and second baseman Kyle Bartelman are delivering big hits. So are the emerging sophomore first baseman Chandler Bengtson and freshman phenom DH-LF-IBman Liam McGill.

Those Penn games should provide stirring competition because the Quakers are real hot, too. They pounded Princeton four times in a row with their big bats and used their good moundsmen and timely hitting to win the series at Cornell.

On the pro front, I am happy with the Orioles’ 13-5 start. Despite the loss of semi-ace Chris Tillman to shoulder discomfort - he may return to the rotation in early May - they are getting surprisingly good starting pitching with Dylan Bundy looking like the ace-in-waiting they have dreamed of for years.

Their other former number one draft choice, Opening Day starter Kevin Gausman has not stepped up as hoped but he tends to be a slow starter, this blogger says hopefully. And the Oriole bullpen has been outstanding even with star closer Zach Britton on the DL with forearm issues.

Brad Brach, from Freehold NJ and Monmouth University, has filled in admirably. His four straight saves (through the 6-3 come-from-behind home victory overTB on Mon Apr 24) were achieved by a TOTAL of 44 pitches. The Birds make their first trip to Yankee Stadium in 2017 this coming weekend and I’ll be sure to share some thoughts on that series next time.

Before I go, I have two appearances ahead, one in print and one in person, to share with you, dear readers.

**Starting Wed Apr 26, check out the National Pastime Museum website - tnpmuseum.com - for a piece I wrote on silent film legend Buster Keaton’s love of baseball.

**On Sunday afternoon Apr 30, I will be on a panel discussing Josh Gibson and Negro league baseball after a performance of Richard Jones’ play “Josh: The Black Babe Ruth.” The play starts at 3p and the panel starts immediately thereafter around 445pm. Location: Theater for the New City, 1st Avenue and E. 10th Street in Manhattan’s East Village.

Always remember: Take it easy but take it.

Some Mid-April Thoughts on Ivy League Baseball, Game Length, and Orioles' Fine Start

April 17, 2017

Tags: Ivy League baseball race, Randell Kanamaru, Kyle Bartelman, Ivy League schedule changes for 2018, "speeding up the game" issues, Orioles so far: Buck Showalter, Zach Britton, Darren O'Day, Mychal Givens, Trey Mancini

Being a secular Jew who does not observe most of his religion's holidays, I had no
guilt pangs about going to a college doubleheader on Easter Sunday yesterday.

My alma mater Columbia salvaged the last game of its four-game series against division rival Cornell thanks in large part to long balls by slugging junior (more…)

"Sometimes A Game Is So Good It's A Shame Anyone Loses": Gators Nip Badgers in Sweet 16 Classic

March 26, 2017

Tags: Zak Showalter, Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Greg Gard, Chris Chiozza, DeVaughn Allen, Canyon Barry, Mike White

I haven't brought myself yet to watching a rerun of Wisconsin's heartbreaking buzzer-beating loss to Florida in a Sweet Sixteen classic not decided until the early hours of Sat morning March 25.

I was lucky to be in attendance at the sold-out Madison Square Garden. After watching an open-to-the-public practice of my Badgers Thursday afternoon, I went to the box office and picked up a suite ticket at the face value of "only" $175.

Maybe the ticket was still available because fans of Duke and Villanova, regional favorites knocked out a week ago by South Carolina and Wisconsin respectively, decided not to show up in New York.

Whatever the reason for my good fortune, I relished the great enthusiasm from the fans of teams that did make the regional. All four schools brought their bands and cheerleaders and mascots.

During one of the interminable built-in commercial breaks, there was early in each game a battle of the mascots. Cocky, South Carolina's gamecock, easily outperformed Baylor's Bear. It was an augury of the whipping that South Carolina put on Baylor in the uncompetitive first game.

When Bucky Badger outperformed Florida's Gator early in the second game, I hoped it was a good omen for my side. And for the first 15 minutes of the game, Wisconsin outplayed Florida, looking like the more composed and more defensively adept team.

Things changed when Nigel Hayes went to the bench with his second foul, a call he mildly disputed with the ref. Then DeVaughan Allen, Florida's sophomore guard who had slumped in earlier rounds of the tournament, took over.

Allen hit a wave of threes and even worse got fouled on two attempts. He calmly sank all 6 free throws, giving Florida a two-point halftime lead.

I've long felt that in basketball the two key parts of any game are the last minutes of the first half (when stamina after nearly 20 minutes of play is a big factor). And the first minutes of the second half when the best teams pick up their momentum despite resting and perhaps losing their intensity.

The second point is especially important in tournament games when the normal 15 minute intermission is increased to 20 minutes. Florida came out blazing and never let Wisconsin recapture their early dominance.

I didn't realize that Wisconsin's best shooter Bronson Koenig was ailing with hamstring issues. Yet suddenly he caught fire and after a couple of stops and a big shot by another senior leader Nigel Hayes the Badgers grasped a one-point lead.

It didn't last one possession as Florida quickly hit a three to reclaim the lead. They built it back to over 10 points and led by eight with under two minutes to go.

Then the Badgers showed their heart and will to win. Florida helped by not running their offense, just running out the clock and playing not to lose.

Still with just six seconds to go, the Gators held a 3-point lead. Koenig's cramps now kept him on the bench. It was up to another senior Zak Showalter to play hero, hitting an off-balance three to tie the game and force overtime.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was at the game sitting next to Andy North, former US Open champion. Showalter gave Rodgers the "double check" salute popularized in the State Farm insurance TV commercial.

Once the overtime started, Showalter got called for a controversial foul that the refs debated for a long time while being cascaded with boos from the crowd.

The call is something I want to see again - I guess they ruled Zak pushed the Gator defender out of bounds.

Still, Wisconsin took control in the overtime, leading by 5 points at one point. Nigel Hayes missed some key foul shots but it looked like the game would be cemented with a dunk by Ethan Iverson after catching a floor-length pass.

Iverson, an extremely athletic swing man, is another Badger spirited from the state of Ohio by savvy recruiters - Hayes, senior Vitto Brown, and freshman D'Mitrik Trice are there more.

Here is a painful irony - I've often wished that Iverson didn't dunk so much.
But in a play that I need to see again, Iverson took his time and elected to lay it up.

Out of nowhere sped Canyon Barry, Rick's underhanded-foul shot shooting son, to block Iverson's layup. Florida scored on the other end with reserve Chris Chiozza making a layup. Remember that name in infamy, Badger fans. Of course we will.

When Hayes hit two free throws (the ones I will remember as clutch forgetting the other misses), we led by two with four seconds to go and no time outs for Florida.

But Chiozza drove the floor tightly guarded by Hayes for some of the time. Yet he broke free enough near the top of the key to hit his off-balance shot to win the game at the buzzer.

He turned Showalter's shot into a footnote, but for me the memory of this game will be its all-out intensity and brilliant play. And eternal kudos to Florida coach Mike White who said that he was heartbroken for his rival coach Greg Gard. Indeed it was a game, he said, that no one should have lost.

That's all for now. Next time - baseball and more baseball.
Always remember, as both Wisconsin and Florida did this memorable March 24-25, 2017, take it easy but take it!

Proud To Be A Badger! + Thoughts on World Baseball Classic

March 21, 2017

Tags: Wisconsin basketball stars Bronson Koenig, Ethan Happ; World Baseball Classic: Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Nelson Cruz, Andrew Miller

Wisconsin basketball has surprised the pundits and even many loyal fans like yours truly by making the Sweet 16 of the NCAA basketball tournament for the fourth year in a row. To make matters even sweeter, their chance to make a third Final Four in the last four seasons will take place at Madison Square Garden starting Friday March 24.

Funny how things work out in unpredictable sports. With four seniors in the starting lineup plus the gifted redshirt sophomore Ethan Happ (a guard in a forward's body), the Badgers were supposed to contend for both a Big Ten title and a deep run through March Madness.

Then calamity hit late in the regular season as Wisconsin lost five out of their six Big Ten games ceding the league title to Purdue and their player-of-year candidate Caleb Swanigan. The return to health of senior guard Bronson Koenig helped get Wisconsin out of their funk and they won their first two games in the Big Ten tournament.

They did lose the title game to Michigan that joins them in the Sweet 16 along with Purdue. Watch out for Michigan that survived a near-plane crash on the way to the Big Ten tournament to become a force to be reckoned with.

Bravos in order for a supposedly mediocre Big 10 while the ballyhooed Atlantic Coast Conference started the tourney with 9 teams and they are down to one, North Carolina who were lucky to beat Arkansas in the second round.

According to the website uwbadgers.com, there will be an open practice at MSG for the Badgers on Thursday at 1p. I intend to go and will report back after the games.
I say "games" because if Wisconsin beats Florida starting at 10p Fri on TBS, they play in the final against either Baylor or South Carolina on Sunday afternoon.

Meanwhile the World Baseball Classic winds up at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Wednesday night March 22. Puerto Rico nipped the Kingdom of Netherlands on Monday night taking advantage of the bizarre rule that starts the 11th inning with runners automatically on first and second base and no out.

Puerto Rico will face either USA or defending champion Japan. They are squaring off on Tuesday night March 21. Regardless of the result, Team USA has already experienced a great moment when Adam Jones robbed Manny Machado of a home run that kept the lead for USA and ultimately eliminated the DR team.

It was a special moment for at least two reasons. Jones and Machado are teammates on my Orioles but Manny decided to honor his mother's country of birth by playing for the DR team. Manny tipped his cap to Jones for his great catch as the USA avenged the DR's dramatic victory in Miami a week earlier.

From all I've heard and read, the atmosphere at Marlins Stadium was unlike anything ever experienced. A largely Dominican sold-out crowd were celebrating their heroes and the game of baseball from hours before the first pitch to hours afterward.

The DR team roared back from a 5-0 deficit to win 7-5, thanks in big part to a 3-run home run by Seattle Mariner Nelson Cruz over his former Oriole teammate Andrew Miller (now with Cleveland).

There are a lot of problems with the timing and the mechanisms of the WBC. But the great moments have made it worthwhile, especially when you consider the boredom and increasingly superficiality of most spring training games.

Well, that's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Wisconsin Finally Shows Some Life While Columbia Hoops Gets Eliminated

March 5, 2017

Tags: Orioles World Baseball Classic participants: Schoop, Adam Jones, Wellington Castillo, Machado, Givens; Wisconsin basketball: Coach Greg Gard, D'Mitrik Trice, Bronson Koenig, team foul shooting woes; Columbia basketball, Ivy League basketball tournament

I have my rooting passions as readers of this blog well know. It's the Orioles big time in baseball and we'll see if they will confound the nouveau stat-crazed pundits (hereafter cited as NSCP) who always confine them to the nether regions of the AL East yet again in 2017.

Too early to tell with the season opening nearly a month away. Just hope the O's World Baseball Classic participants stay healthy as they depart to their national teams: Jonathan Schoop to Netherlands-Curacao team; Wellington Castillo and Manny Machado to Dominican Republic team; Adam Jones and Mychal Givens to Team USA.

My rooting chops have stayed fresh pulling for the Wisconsin Badgers and Columbia Lions in basketball. Wisconsin like the Orioles has always been a "less is more" kind of team - no superstars or "one and done" recruits heading to the pros, but a team of good players who are less than 5-star recruits who know the importance of defense and ball movement.

So it was maddening to see Wisconsin lose five out of six at a time when they should be getting fine-tuned for post-season play. So it was nice on Sunday March 5's Senior
Night sendoff that the Badgers played a solid second half to rout Minnesota, 66-49.

The Golden Gophers had been winners of eight in a row and led by two at intermission. But after being limited with foul trouble to five minutes in the first half, sharpshooting senior guard Bronson Koenig played a big role in the Badgers' second half surge. As did his three senior teammates Vitto Brown, Nigel Hayes, and Zak Showalter.

Coach Greg Gard gave credit to freshman backup D'Mitrik Trice for keeping the game close while Koenig was saddled with two early fouls . Gard praised Trice, a heralded high school quarterback, for having rare leadership skills in someone so young.

"I've always told him that if you can lead 10 men in a huddle, you can lead four men on a basketball court," Gard quipped.

But Gard still has no solution for the horrid foul shooting that has permeated the whole team, especially Hayes and key sophomore forward-center Ethan Happ. He has suggested that the woes might only be settled by incense burning and the incantations that were used in the baseball satire "Major League."

Sadly, on Saturday night March 4, Columbia lost its chance to squeeze into the fourth and last spot in the Ivy League's first-ever post-season tournament. They played Yale hard in New Haven, but the Bulldogs rallied from a 13-point first half deficit to win by four points.

Penn won the final spot by coming from behind to beat Harvard, 75-72, on their storied home court of the Palestra in Philadelphia. The Quakers will meet top seed Princeton, undefeated in league play, on Saturday and Harvard and Yale will play the other game with the winners meeting on Sunday. All games will be at the Palestra as will the women's tourney featuring favored Penn plus Princeton, Harvard, and Cornell.

I have problems with a 6-8 team like Penn making the men's playoff. It would be purer competition if Princeton were awarded with a bye for their sterling record. And let Yale and Harvard meet for the right to battle the Tigers with no fourth seed for a small eight-team league.

League officials will meet in May to see how the first tourney worked out.
My guess is that they'll keep it this way for both men's and women's tournament for another year or two. It would be nice though if people thought of rewarding the regular season winner with something special.

Well, that's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Pitchers and Catchers Have Reported, but I Must Admit College Basketball Still Grabs My Attention

February 19, 2017

Tags: Cape Cod Baseball League, spring training in old days, exhibition games, Wisconsin beats Maryland, Ethan Happ, Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Big Ten refs T'ing coaches, Terp coach Mark Turgeon, surging Penn Quakers, slumping Columbia Lions, Columbia women's basketball: coach Megan Griffith, Camille Zimmerman, Janiya Clemmons, Maya Sampleton

The Northeast has been experiencing a record-breaking heat wave. Well, "heat" is a bit of an exaggeration - temps in lower 60s - but I've been parading around my Upper West Side NYC neighborhood in my Cape Cod Summer Baseball League sweatshirt without need for an overcoat.

(The CCBL, by the way, should be on any baseball fan's bucket list: Games at no cost from early June to early August with some of the best amateur players in competition - many of them are on the cusp of pro careers. More info: check out www.ccbl.org)

The main thing about spring training is to get and keep everyone healthy before the season begins. In the days of the reserve system when players had to work in the off-season, spring training was a time for getting into shape and losing weight.

Today, the six weeks or more in Florida or Arizona might seem excessive because smart players stay in shape all year round. But who wants to give up the relaxed environment of warm weather climates?

Just don't believe any spring training stats esp. during the first few weeks of exhibition games. Yes, exhibition games were what they used to be called and should still be called. "Pre-season" sounds more serious and it allows ticket prices to reach the ridiculous $40 and $50 range and even higher.

Turning to the hardwood game, the Wisconsin Badgers broke their two-game losing streak with a much-needed home win on Sunday Feb 19 over the Maryland Terps.
The two big Badger frontcourtmen sophomore Ethan Happ and senior Nigel Hayes led the way in scoring.

But it was the second half return to form of senior leader Bronson Koenig that triggered the Badger victory. A calf injury caused Koenig to miss the loss at Michigan earlier in the week, but after not scoring in limited first half action Sunday, Koenig hit a couple of jump shots that really triggered the comeback win.

As Koenig goes so goes the Badgers is the short story of the 2016-2017 squad. He has much on his plate as he is also an activist in the native American movement against the Dakota pipeline.

I noticed today huge tattoos on his chest honoring his Ho-Chunk heritage. The team has been supportive of his commitment because there is no doubt that he remains a court leader in the Badgers' quest to go deep into the post-season.

Yet winning the Big Ten title and hoisting another banner at the Kohl Center home court means a lot to the team and to me as a semi-fanatical alum. Wisconsin is tied with Purdue in the Big Ten title race with Maryland a game behind with four games to play.

The Big Ten may be down this year according to the pollsters and the tournament seeding mavens, but the competition level remains high. I only wish the refs would use more restraint in their dishing out technicals to benches.

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon got one in the Wisconsin game, and it was nice to see his assistants calming him down to keep him from being ejected. The T did not affect the final outcome because Wisconsin controlled the game from the middle of the second half.

The T on the Michigan bench in the tough struggle against Minnesota at Minneapolis Sunday night basically determined the outcome. Though Michigan gallantly fought back to force overtime, the Wolverines would have won except for the technical.

In the Ivy League, home of my other alma mater Columbia, the Lions have lost excruciatingly close games the last two weekends. After an 0-5 start Penn has roared back into playoff contention.

The Quakers jumped ahead of the Lions for the fourth and last spot in the first-ever Ivy League tournament. It is coming up the second weekend of March at Penn's legendary home court the Palestra.

Columbia meets the Killer P's, Princeton and Penn, at home this coming weekend.
Odds are long now against the Lions but they will compete and compete hard. Of that I am sure. How well and how smart is another question that will decided on the court.

On the women's side, Columbia broke a three-game losing streak Saturday night by thumping Dartmouth 69-48. Picked for last in the Ivy League, the Lions under new coach Megan Griffith has won 3 games in the league and lost some very close ones.
They need one more win in their last four games to be assured of an overall winning record for the season.

Junior Camille Zimmerman is a legitimate Player of the Year candidate as a consistent 20-point scorer who tries her hardest to work within the team framework.

Perhaps the most optimistic event of the weekend was the play of first year guards Janiya Clemmons and Maya Sampleton. Rushed into action because of injuries to upperclassmen, they both performed with poise.

Clemmons has a chance to be an electrifying player because she always keeps her head up and is eager and willing to drive to the hoop, not afraid of making mistakes.
As long as the Lions keep playing outstanding defense, they have a real chance in future seasons to crash the Ivy League women's cage elite.

That's all for now - until the next time, always remember: Take it easy but take it.

Super Bowl and Hoops Notes While Waiting for Pitchers and Catchers to Report

February 6, 2017

Tags: Tom Brady, James White, NFL overtime rules, Columbia-Brown basketball, Steven Spieth, Luke Petrasek, Mike Smith, Conor Voss, World Baseball Classic and its critics Showalter and Francona, Hall of Fame inductees Bagwell, Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez

It was a thrilling Super Bowl. Only the most rabid and irrational New England Patriot-hater could not tip a cap to the brilliance of Tom Brady.

I was rooting for Atlanta but as a fan of the Wisconsin Badgers I was thrilled to see former Wisconsin running back James White have a great game and score the winning touchdown in overtime.

However, I do think the rule should be changed that both teams have a chance to score in overtime. I know it was with great reluctance a few years ago that NFL honchos made a change that if the first team with the ball doesn't score a touchdown, the opponent does get a chance.

But tell me any sport where the climactic game of the season is influenced so powerfully by a coin flip. Another reason why baseball and basketball are superior sports. And not as violent and injury-laden.

Speaking of basketball, I saw something at the start of the Columbia-Brown game on Saturday night that I never saw before. The five starters for Brown were listed on the scoreboard with numbers 1-2-3-4-5.

Hadn't seen such symmetry on a scoreboard since a baseball game in Minnesota over 20 years ago when the Indians were a dominant team and scored 1 run in the 1st, 2 in the 2nd, 3 in the 3rd, 4 in the 4th and 5 in the 5th (innings).

Columbia held on to beat Brown 83-78 and stay in the hunt for one of the four playoff spots in the first-ever Ivy League post-season tournament coming up second weekend in March. Brown's number 3, by the way, is senior Steven Spieth, brother of champion golfer Jordan Spieth.

Steven has been a solid contributor for the Brown Bears. But on Saturday, Columbia's smooth-shooting and defensively-improving senior forward Luke Petrasek and company were too much.

And a tip of my alumnus cap to seven-foot senior center Conor Voss. Coming off the bench he has become a reliable defender and an effective pivot in the offense.

AND NOW SOME CLOSING THOUGHTS ON BASEBALL:
By Valentine's Day all major league teams will have opened camps. It's a little early this year because the World Baseball Classic will take many players away from their teams for more than two weeks.

Many managers like Baltimore's Buck Showalter and Cleveland's Terry Francona have not been subtle about their opposition to the lost time for their minions. But the WBC is probably here to stay as an effort "to grow the game" internationally.

One last baseball note - I think the cumulative stats of Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines make their Hall of Fame election acceptable. I still believe that the H of F should be for the great and not just the very good.

I also question whether catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez merited election during his first year of eligibility.

I don't have a ballot but I needed to see pictures of how different Pudge looked during the age of undetected PED use and after. I remember seeing him running sprints before a Tigers-Yankees playoff game a few years ago. He was so fast and slim. I doubt if he looked that way a few years earlier but I have not seen the pictures.

Well,that's all for now. It is still a wonderful time of year with increasing daylight and spring training and spring itself on the horizon. So always: Take it easy but take it!

New York Scouts Dinner and A Memorable Basketball Saturday

January 30, 2017

Tags: Billy Blitzer, Ed Randall, Art Shamsky, Ralph Kiner, John Ceprini - Turk Karam award, John Barr - Jim Quigley award, George Digby, Joe McIlvaine, Davidson-Fordham basketball, Harvard-Columbia basketball, Wisconsin-Rutgers basketball, Ethan Happ, Columbia women 4 OT win, Knicks 4 OT loss

The annual Hot Stove League dinner sponsored by the New York-area baseball scouts has always provided many memorable moments. Last Friday's 52nd annual gathering at Leonard's of Great Neck maintained the fine tradition.

Several ovations were deservedly bestowed upon dinner organizer Billy Blitzer whose 35 consecutive years with the Cubs were finally rewarded in November. But emcee Ed Randall, who joined Billy in donning a Cubs World Series shirt, couldn't resist telling some jokes that no longer apply.

My favorite: "What would Jesus tell the Chicago Cubs?" Answer: "Don't do anything until I come back."

Guest speaker Art Shamsky called his experience on the 1969 Mets the highlight of his career. He said the team's success permanently inscribed his name in the book of New York heroes. He added that he didn't mind having a dog named for him in the "Everybody Loves Raymond" TV show.

Shamsky shared some tales of earlier Mets teams. After beginning their first two seasons losing 9 and then 8 games in a row, the Mets were rained out the following year in their first series in Cincinnati. Before their home opener, announcer Ralph Kiner quipped, "The Mets are off to the best start in their history."

Cincinnati scout John Ceprini, the winner of the group's prestigious Turk Karam award as Scout of the Year, was moved by Shamsky's appreciation of his career. Ceprini paid homage to the mentors who had encouraged him on his path towards scouting.

San Francisco Giants scouting honcho John Barr, who was awarded the Jim Quigley award for service to baseball, concluded the evening with some indelible insights into the scouting profession.

"Listen to the sound off the bat," George Digby, who signed Wade Boggs, told him.

"Who can help us win?" asked Joe McIlvaine, who was with the Mets when Barr started in his career in the 1980s. (Barr went on to work with the Orioles where he signed number one draft picks in Ben McDonald and Mike Mussina.)

"Sit on a guy . . . See him when he fails . . . See him in another sport where he is not so dominant. . . . How comfortable does he look?"

No need to attribute these quotations to anybody. They are eternal truths - if only the number-crunchers and "advanced metrics" people would understand.

I do take solace in the great saying - "It's amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care about who gets the credit."

Before I close, I must kvell a bit about my dream basketball Saturday. All three teams that I follow closely won games and I saw two of them in person.

My girl friend's alma mater Davidson, avenging a loss at home earlier in January, walloped Fordham at the marvelous oldest-in-country Rose Hill gym in the Bronx.

My alma mater Columbia held on to beat Harvard on Morningside Heights and improve to 3-1 tied with Yale and Harvard and 1/2 game behind Princeton.

And my graduate alma mater Wisconsin rallied to beat Rutgers in overtime at Madison Square Garden. The Badgers are living on the edge in recent games but they sure know how to win.

Redshirt sophomore center Ethan Happ, first cousin of Blue Jays LHP J. Happ, scored 32 of Wisconsin's 61 points. He only went 8-16 on the foul line and that shortcoming remains a major problem. Yet all other aspects of his game - footwork, quickness, willingness to learn, and will to win - Happ inspires hope!

To make Saturday January 28 a day to live long in Wisconsin annals, the hockey team also won an overtime game at the Garden over Ohio State in the evening.

And here's one more overtime story - the Columbia women's basketball team, picked for last in the Ivy League, beat Dartmouth in FOUR overtimes on Friday night. They lost by only 2 at Harvard the following night. As an unrepentant puller for underdogs, these developments are most promising. (I attended Columbia's other 4-overtime win about a quarter century ago.)

I wish the Knicks well but I cannot lose sleep over THEIR four-overtime loss on Sunday to the Atlanta Hawks. Until there are changes in ownership at the Garden,
I fear the Knicks will be spinning their wheels.

Well, that's all for now. Pitchers and catchers report in two weeks, tournament time nears in basketball, and the days are getting longer. A really exciting time of year in spite of all the political uncertainties.

So always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Kicking Cancer's Ass and Other Memorable Moments from the NYC Baseball Writers Dinner

January 23, 2017

Tags: Sandy Alderson, Bartolo Colon, Terry Francona, Andrew Miller, Jon Lester, Dave Roberts, Jed Hoyer, Steve Garvey, Claire Smith, George Steinbrenner

The 94th annual dinner of the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America was held this past Saturday night January 21st at New York's Hilton Hotel. Last year’s dinner was canceled by a blizzard so there was a lot of pent-up enthusiasm for this year’s shindig.

The evening did not disappoint with a fine mixture of levity and serious comment.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson twitted the writers for the awkwardness of their group’s acronym BBWAA. “Don’t you know baseball is one word?” he asked.

Sandy obviously forgot that Base Ball for a long time in its early decades was indeed two words. But on a winter’s night with still three weeks to spring training, who expects exactitude?

Alderson accepted “The Toast of the Town” award for former Mets pitcher ageless Bartolo Colon who will play for the Atlanta Braves in 2017. He relived with relish Colon’s remarkable homer in San Diego off James Shields. “In front of the #7 line army,” he recalled about the ardent traveling group of Mets fans.

Indians manager Terry Francona presented two awards. One was to his reliever Andrew Miller who pitched remarkably after his July trade from the Yankees. “If you look closely, he’s still icing his left arm,” Francona quipped.

Francona, who everybody calls Tito in honor of his father a former player, also presented Cubs pitcher Jon Lester with the Babe Ruth award for his postseason MVP. Lester not only was a key cog helping Francona’s Bosox to win the 2004 and 2007 World Series, but “he kicked cancer’s ass,” his admiring manager added.

In accepting the award for NL Manager of the Year, LA Dodger rookie skipper Dave Roberts noted that he also had “kicked cancer’s ass.” He thanked Jed Hoyer, now president of the Cubs, for giving him his first job with the Padres organization in 2010 once his treatment was over.

You can see why Roberts has drawn universal praise from every realm of baseball. He walked up to the low dais and quipped, “I am the first person tonight who doesn’t have to bend down to the microphone.”

Turning serious, he said that the game “was in a good place” and will be as long as we remember that “we’re all stewards of the game.”

Retired Dodger first baseman Steve Garvey gave a warm introduction to sportswriter Claire Smith who will be inducted at the end of July into the writer’s wing in Cooperstown. When his 1984 Padres teammates refused to let Smith into their clubhouse, Garvey came out into the hallway and answered every question she asked.

“If I can’t stand up for a friend, who can I stand up for?” he said. In her gracious remarks, Smith reflected on her first year on the baseball beat - she covered the 1982 Yankees that under impetuous George Steinbrenner ran through 3 managers, 6 general managers, and 54 players. “You had to fight for everything you got,” she said, adding it was “the best journalism school you can get.”

By Valentine’s Day the greatest phrase in the English language will ring true again: “Pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training.” So keep the faith, dear readers, and back to you next with a report on the 52nd annual NYC Pro Baseball Scouts dinner this Friday.

Until then, always: Take it easy but take it!

Happy New Year Despite

December 27, 2016

Tags: "Casablanca, " Theo Epstein, Carol Lowenfish Norton, Lee May

"Casablanca" is on TCM now as I write my end-of-year blog. Quite fitting in the year that Theo Epstein orchestrated the Cubs to their first World Series title since 1908. As is well known, Theo's grandfather and grand-uncle created the story of the Bogart-Bergman-Henreid-Rains classic (I've read that there wasn't really a script).

Today December 27 (more…)

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Story of baseball's reserve system and the men who fought to change it
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“Lowenfish’s take is detailed and nuanced.... he doesn’t look for simple answers; despite his own abiding admiration, he never sugarcoats or presents Rickey in anything other than a three-dimensional light.”
–David Ulin, Los Angeles Times