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 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.
October 18, 2017
It has been more like late summer or even mid-summer in Gotham the last few weeks.
I am not complaining except that there is a shocking lack of fall foliage so far.
As you know I am not a Yankees fan but they and the Dodgers are clearly the hottest teams left in the post-season. The Dodgers are undefeated after sweeping Arizona in three games in round one of the playoffs - NLDS. And now they have a seemingly impregnable lead of 3-0 in the NLCS over the soon ex-champion Cubs.
The sports highlight of my fall has been the undefeated Columbia Lions football team. They beat Penn in overtime on Saturday October 14 - An absolutely thrilling game before over 13,000 fans at Homecoming way north in Manhattan at the Baker Field complex west of 218th Street and Broadway.
It was the first win over Penn in 21 years and was very sweet for Columbia coach Al Bagnoli who coached the Quakers to most of those wins over Columbia and brought many Ivy League titles to the storied Philadelphia campus.
After the dramatic win, Bagnoli wisely and accurately credited the coming of age of the players who rallied from a 14-point deficit to score 3 TDs in the 4th quarter. In overtime, it was senior quarterback Anders Hill who threw a perfect 24-yard pass to sensational sophomore wide receiver Josh Wainwright for the winning points.
Wainwright spiked the ball with emphasis and the celebration began. Ecstatic fans almost tore down the goalposts until security and calmer heads arrived on the scene.
Columbia faces two tough road games with also-undefeated Dartmouth this Saturday Oct 21. Up next is a visit to Yale on Oct 28 before a home tussle with Harvard on Nov 4. The season ends with Cornell in Ithaca on Nov 11 and a home finale against Brown on Nov 18.
Columbia is a fun team to watch on offense and defense. Sophomore linebacker Michael Murphy was seemingly all over the field in the Penn win and won league accolades for his play.
In his third season Bagnoli clearly seems to have turned the program around.
There is more pride and less resignation in Columbia fandom, a truly welcome development. Expecting to win instead of fearing the worst is a wonderful feeling!
(But believe me, that feeling of dread doesn't die totally after decades of drought.)
My other alma mater Wisconsin is also undefeated but their offense has sputtered at times. They have a remarkable freshman running back in Jonathan Taylor from Salem NJ (not far from the home of former Heisman winner Ron Dayne). But it has been Badger defense that has excelled all year.
The schedule is admittedly weak in 2017 so the road to the playoff in Indianapolis against probably Ohio State or Penn State seems smooth. But it says here that the
offense has to become more consistent if the Badgers hope for a major bowl.
I personally doubt given the weak schedule that they will make the four-team playoff. But as a traditionalist, an appearance in the Rose Bowl would suit me fine.
On the arts and musical side, I've experienced some great performances lately.
I saw the opening of the Orpheus season at the 92nd Street Y. The conductor-less chamber orchestra featured special guest cellist Mischa Maisky.
Citizen of the world fits the intense and lyrical Maisky born in Latvia, educated in Russia, now residing in Israel. His renditions of Arensky and the Tchaikovsky "Andante Cantabile" as an encore connected deeply with my Russian roots.
I also caught the farewell performance of ballet star Robert Fairchild with the New York City Ballet this past Sunday Oct 15. Only 30, Fairchild is the youngest dancer ever to be honored with a "farewell".
He enjoyed several standing ovations at the end and graciously handed out roses to all of the company's principal dancers. Fairchild may be leaving ballet. but he is in line for many musical theatre and other opportunities.
He should be a delightful and rewarding presence on the arts scene for years to come. I loved him as the male lead in "An American In Paris" that ran recently for over a year at the Palace Theatre on Broadway.
I'll be back next time with final thoughts on the MLB baseball season and Orpheus's next performance on Oct 26 at Carnegie Hall with guest soloist pianist Andre Watts.
For now: Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
September 25, 2017
Late 19th century Hall of Famer John Montgomery Ward once sagely noted that baseball without sentiment would be a very empty game.
Oriole players and fans in Baltimore proved that point again on Sunday afternoon Sept. 23 when they showered shortstop J.J. Hardy with multiple ovations at the last home game of the Birds. Blue Jay fans gave the same loving treatment to Jose Bautista likely playing his last home game in Toronto.)
The icing on the cake for Hardy was hitting a two-run homer to give the O’s the lead in a game they won 9-4 over the Tampa Bay Rays. The Bird season went up in smoke weeks ago when the combination of historically horrible starting pitching and a homer-or-bust offense exploded the myth of contention.
A healthy JJ Hardy might have somewhat stopped the slide, but he was out since mid-May after suffering a broken wrist on a pitch from the Cardinals’ Lance Lynn. Last year Hardy missed considerable time after suffering a broken foot on a foul ball.
Hardy is not that ancient in baseball terms, having turned 35 in August. But the injuries and the decline in his above-average-for-shortstop home run power has been evident for some time. The acquisition of 27-year-old shortstop Tim Beckham from Tampa Bay, the 2008 number one draft pick in the entire country, has likely sealed Hardy’s departure.
Though not blessed with great speed, Hardy will always be remembered for his understated defensive brilliance and quiet clubhouse leadership. O’s manager Buck Showalter has called him “the best tagger I have ever seen.”
I saw a vivid example of Hardy's team-first attitude on a recent Oriole telecast. The clip showed Hardy demonstrating in practice his tagging techniques to his likely successor Beckham.
After a record-breaking August offensively, Beckham came down to earth in September. But it seems likely it is his job to lose come spring training.
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop, the deserved Oriole MVP of 2017, has been effusive in his praise of Hardy's helping him grow defensively. So has Manny Machado.
I hope Hardy's career continues somewhere in 2018 because he brings so much to the game. The son of a tennis pro and a golf pro has really made a great contribution.
Before I close today, let me put in my two cents about the protests around the National Anthem. Americans love symbolic gestures and ceremonial solutions that in my humble opinion generate more heat than light.
If I had my way, I wouldn’t play a National Anthem before EVERY game. Doesn’t it mean more when it is played infrequently only on special occasions? Every now and then, a sports team has even had the creativity to substitute the martial song of Francis Scott Key for the far more lyrical “America the Beautiful.”
I know this is unrealistic blathering by yours truly so let me offer this suggestion: Let’s keep the National Anthem rendition to under 90 seconds, OK? And it should be about the song not the singer.
The best rendition I ever heard came at Yankee Stadium about 15 years ago. The brass section of the U. S. Air Force Band performed it in 75 seconds. They called themselves
The Players To Be Named Later.
That’s all for now. Next time more detailed thoughts on the playoffs with an explanation of my sentimental hopes for a Washington-Cleveland World Series.
In the meantime my visceral fan's focus is now on football rooting for my two alma maters. Columbia is off to a 2-0 start for the first time in 9 years. It faces its first Ivy League challenge at Princeton on Sept. 30.
Wisconsin after a bye week will be trying to up their 3-0 record at home against tough Big Ten foe Northwestern on Sept 30.
BTW during the Badgers' 40-8 shellacking of Brigham Young in Utah, one of the announcers said that freshman running back Jonathan Taylor has developed genuine admiration for science expert Neil DeGrasse Tyson. That's the kind of tidbit I like to hear.
Always remember: Take it easy but take it. (