November 11, 2018
It is not easy these months without daily baseball games. The silly season of free agent and trade rumors donít do it for me (though I put in my two cents at the end of this blog.) Though I admire most of the other major sports, they donít generally command my visceral attention.
Donít get me wrong. Iím glad that Columbia football enters its last game of the season against Cornell at home this coming Saturday Nov 17 with at least a .500 record clinched. The Lions have already set a school record for most wins in a two-year
period - their current 5-4 added to last yearís 8-2 log and 2nd place Ivy League finish.
In the fourth season under former outstanding Penn coach Al Bagnoli, my Lions in 2018 have been battered by multiple injuries to key players on both sides of the ball. But they have persisted, to use a word in vogue by liberal women politicians who I generally support.
Coming-from-behind-ability is the key to any winning team. Columbia showed it on the road against tail-end Brown in Providence this past Saturday. Down early 14-0 on two long plays, it looked to the weak in heart like a repeat of the previous Saturdayís blowout loss at Harvard.
But Columbia came alive in the second half and won going away 42-20. Senior Kyle Castner, a former top HS quarterback in Indianapolis, ran for three touchdowns out of the ďwildcatĒ formation and passed for two more. Iím always glad when a player ends his college career on a high point.
Fortunes for my graduate alma mater the University of Wisconsin Badgers have not been as kind. Except for one game-opening drive sparked by sophomore running back Jonathan Taylorís 71-yard TD run, the Badgers were no match on Saturday in University Park against the Penn State Nittany Lions. The 22-10 loss was not as close as the score indicated.
The only blessing in disguise perhaps for me personally is that Wisconsin might be closer to a date in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Thursday Dec 27 at 515p.
Sure hope they salvage some pride with a win at Purdue next week and at home against Minnesota after Thanksgiving.
The concussion issues of starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook from West Chester, Penna. and the evident inexperience of his backup, redshirt freshman Jack Coan from Sayville, Long Island, means the Badgers will have to dig deep to end the season on a positive note.
I never bought into the ballyhoo that they were headed for the playoffs. Too much inexperience on defense and the departure of wide receiver Quintez Cephus on rape charges doomed them early.
I sure hope Badger basketball can recover some of its own lost glamor in the upcoming season. Their first Big Ten game is early this year against Iowa on Nov. 30.
On the local major league baseball front, the Yankees recently re-upped for one more year two of their aging core players and clubhouse leaders, left fielder Brett Gardner, 35, and erstwhile staff ace C. C. Sabathia, 38.
The Yankees still need more starting pitching. They are rumored to be targeting southpaw Patrick Corbin, who had a fine year with Arizona Diamondbacks and reportedly wants to play in New York.
For his sake and that of the Yankees, I hope his temperament is more suited to the demands of Gothamís fandom than Sonny Gray showed during his season and a half in the Big Apple. It is likely that Gray will be traded to a team in a less pressurized city.
As for the Mets, it remains to be seen what the surprise hiring of former agent Brodie Van Wagenen as their new general manager will be mean for the hopes of the Flushing Faithful. Never in baseball has an agent risen to a top chair on managementís side.
Van Wagenen has given up his role as agent representing such key Met pitchers as Jacob DeGrom, who should but not necessarily win the Cy Young award, and Noah Syndergaard. He also represented oft-injured Yoenis Cespedes and Tim Tebow, the great college football quarterback, pro QB washout, and aspiring Mets minor league outfielder.
I donít know any scout who thinks Tebow has a real chance to become a major leaguer. Yes, he is a very hard worker and big box office draw for his All-American boy image, enhanced even more because he reportedly was almost aborted as a fetus.
But I sure hope for the sake of the Mets and their fans that Brodie has more up his sleeve and in his evaluating brain than suggesting Tebow could play in Queens later in 2018.
Well, weíll know more soon. The winter meetings are in Las Vegas from Dec. 9 to 13 - I'm going for the first time in over a quarter-century and will have impressions to share in a later blog.
Also about where the top free agents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper will wind up here are my thoughts.
Machadoís intermittent hustle was on display throughout the post-season. He remains a major talent who will get paid a lot. I just hope the contract isnít for more than five years. I know heís only 26 and loves to play the game but never forget the old adage: ďItís never easy getting up early in the morning when you are wearing silk pajamas.Ē
Possible destinations? Phillies with a lot of cash to spend? But they also have demanding blue collar fans without the large Hispanic population Machado supposedly craves.
The Yankees? Possibly with Didi Gregorius not due back from Tommy John surgery into late in 2019. The Angels if Manny is willing to play third base alongside the brilliant shortstop Andrelton Simmons?
His home town of Miami and its baseball-loving Hispanic population might be in his heart of hearts. But I donít think the Bruce Sherman-Derek Jeter ownership have deep enough pockets and enough of a contending team.
As for Bryce Harper, he supposedly turned down a 10-year $300 million offer to stay with the Washington Nationals. Even as an outfielder with a great arm I donít believe Harper is a better buy than Machado. Heís too surly and media-hungry for my taste. Despite his baggae, Harper will command a lot of dough.
Possible destinations? St. Louis needs a lefty bat to join Matt Carpenter who is too streaky for my taste. But maybe St. Louis not a big enough market for the media-lusting Harper who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16! Phillies and Yankees again?
OK Iíve said my piece on the subject of mega-money and mega-years. I wish the media wouldnít rub dollars and money in my face the all the time. Turning off the tube, clicking exit on the computer, and throwing out the newspaper can be a liberating feeling. Which I am doing right now.
Still, always remember: Take it easy but take it!
September 15, 2018
This is an amazing time of year for the sports nut and couch potatoes. Baseball pennant and wild card races are heading towards climaxes and college football has begun with a fury.
I was worried that my graduate alma mater Wisconsin was overrated as a possible college playoff team and Brigham Young proved my fears warranted Saturday afternoon in Madison. On the second hottest day in Camp Randall Stadium history - field temperatures rose to 120 at one point - the Utah eleven avenged last year's rout by the Badgers in Provo with a hard-fought 24-21 victory.
The Badgers had a chance to force overtime but after two timeouts to ice him, the usually reliable kicker Rafael Gaglianone missed a 42-yard field goal. Wisconsin never got into a rhythm all day. Star running back Jonathan Taylor did not fumble but didn't break any big runs.
Badgers southpaw quarterback Alex Hornibrook threw a key interception early in the second half that set up a Cougar TD and gave them control of the game even though Wisconsin did briefly tie. Brigham Young's 25-year-old senior quarterback Reese Mangum played virtually flawlessly.
It was sweet revenge for a team that was embarrassed 40-6 last year. There is nothing like getting even in sports - and maybe in life too - as a motivation.
The LA Dodgers are proving that in St Louis, battering the Cardinals' young pitching staff in the first three games of their pivotal series for wild card position. Just a few weeks ago, the Cardinals roared into LA and swept four from the defending NL champions.
Though by inclination I root against the rich goliath Dodgers and Yankees, I knew that the Dodgers were not to be counted out. They are an explosive team and no one can be more explosive than Cuban defector right fielder Yasiel Puig who had four homers in the Fri and Sat games in St. Louis, with 3 HRs and 7 RBI in Sat's 17-4 romp.
The only runs for St Louis in this game was a grand slam HR by rookie Patrick Wisdom. It would be their only runs this day. Of course, no one can turn down a grand slammer but I think Patrick would agree that baseball wisdom decrees that a grand slam home run often kills a rally.
Same thing happened to the Yankees on Saturday. Miguel Andujar's grand slammer brought the Yankees to 8-7 in chase of Toronto. But they never really threatened again. The grand slammer killed the rally.
Why? Because the bases are then empty so the pitcher no longer worries about base runners and can use his normal full pitching motion. Just another of baseball's wonderful anomalies and contradictions.
That's all for now but there will be more highlights ahead to discuss as wild card positioning in both leagues is still wide open. Stay tune.
And 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 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, Wisconsinís 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 didnít 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. Iím 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 Badgersí 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 werenít 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 Columbiaís 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 Elisí 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.
Thatís 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 baseballís annual winter meetings convene in Orlando FLA in mid-December. Until then always remember: ďTake it easy but take it!Ē
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.