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Oh For The Days When Spring Training Wasn't Filled With Anger + Thoughts on Columbia Women's & Wisconsin Men's Basketball

I'm trying to keep an even keel about all the anger from MLB players directed against the Houston Astros for their now-revealed high-technology methods and Keystone Kop execution that probably aided their World Series triumph of 2017. 

 
This is February, the slowest month of the sports year now that the Super Bowl is over. The build-up to college basketball's March Madness has not shifted into high gear. And the NBA basketball and NHL hockey playoffs are still a ways off.

 

So reporters are desperately looking for stories. Angry players are providing plenty of copy from Florida and Arizona.

 

It says here the protests won't amount to much because it will be impossible to prove exactly how much the signals affected game outcomes. The anger has almost made lament the pre-free agency days of baseball.

 

In the years when the reserve clause ruled baseball (through the 1976 season), spring training stories were usually about holdouts of players not satisfied with contract offers. 

 

In the vast majority of cases, they were one-year contract offers. Usually the pot was sweetened a little bit by management, and on went the regular season without interruption. 

 

The old system was obviously unfair to the players economically but it provided stability for the owners and for the fans could deeply identify with their favorite players. 

 

It was interesting if somewhat bizarre to watch Red Sox co-owner John Henry's press conference the other day trying to explain why Boston had traded star outfielder and recent AL MVP Mookie Betts to the Dodgers.

 

He spent a good deal of time reminiscing about Stan Musial, his favorite player growing up in St. Louis.  He waxed rhapsodic about how Red Sox fans felt the same attachment towards Ted Williams.

 

Both stayed with their original team forever. John Henry even noted that Musial turned down in 1946 a huge salary increase by spurning an offer from the short-lived Mexican League. 

 

Henry professed his approval of Betts' wanting to get "market value" for his services.  Yet neither finance mogul Henry nor his partner TV mogul Tom Werner (a former San Diego Padres owner who I remember most as the man who hired Roseanne Barr to sing a disastrous National Anthem) addressed in any great detail the real reason why Betts was traded. 

 

They didn't want to pay any more "luxury tax" into MLB coffers that a long-term contract to Betts would have required. They insisted that they didn't think a draft pick at the end of this season would be sufficient.

 

Yet the return for Betts seems questionable.  Two minor leaguers and a young outfielder Alex Verdugo may have a high ceiling but who will start season on the disabled list. 

 

To add to Red Sox questionable decisions, they selected as Cora's replacement Ron Roenicke (brother of former Oriole left fielder Gary Roenicke). Ron enjoyed only moderate success in prior MLB managerial jobs with the Brewers and Angels.

 

The Red Sox will face more bad news when beleaguered commissioner Rob Manfred announces the results of his investigation into Red Sox malfeasance during Alex Cora's reign as manager, especially their 2018 championship season. 

 

With too many stories in baseball resembling the troubling wider political world these days, you can see, dear reader, why I try to find solace in the college basketball seasons of my alma maters. 

 

The Wisconsin Badgersmen and Columbia Lions women have given me considerable pleasure. Picked for sixth in the 14-team "Big Ten", the Badgers have a chance at a top three finish and another trip to March Madness. 

 

They are maddeningly inconsistent to be sure. One center with the combined talents of Nate Reuvers' sweet touch and Micah Potter's toughness might be an All-American.  But last I looked cloning players has not been approved yet by the NCAA.  

 

With just eight players getting regular playing time, the Badgers have overcome great adversity to keep hope alive. First, there was the pre-season loss of  assistant coach Howard Moore whose wife and daughter were killed in a horrific auto crash - Moore himself is recovering slowly from his serious injuries and a subsequent heart attack.

 

Then last month, the streaky but talented swing man Kobe King abruptly left the team. The Lacrosse, Wisconsin native's reasons were sketchy at best.  Not being appreciated beyond a basketball player was one of them.  

 

Under coach Greg Gard's firm and steady hand, the Badgers have regrouped and are on their first three-game Big Ten winning streak of the season.  That's a modest number of course, but the flashes of offensive production from the likes of juniors Brad Davison and Aleem Ford and consistently tough defense have me pulling my chair up close to the TV these days.

 

I thought the Columbia women would be worth watching in 2019-20 and I have not been disappointed.  Under youthful coach Megan Griffith, Columbia class of 2007 grad and former assistant at league powerhouse Princeton, the Lions last weekend swept two Ivy League opponents for the first time since 2011, Dartmouth and Harvard.

 

There is now a four-team tournament in the Ivy League and Columbia has a chance to make it if they continue to grow and play hard and smart and well. 

 

Last year's rookie of the year, forward Sienna Durr from Grinnell, Iowa has stepped up her all-around game. 

 

Guard Abby Hsu from Parkland, Florida is a strong candidate for this year's rookie award.  The only senior on the squad, feisty guard Janniya Clemmons from Accoceek, Maryland outside DC, is another solid presence.

 

Both point guards sophomore Mikayla Markham from Manasquan on the Jersey shore and first-year Carly Rivera from Arlington, Virginia are getting plenty of playing time. They are sparkplugs for a frequently-employed full-court defense.

 

Tigers on the boards and adding a lot of energy to the team are first-year Caitlyn Davis from Norwalk, Ct. and sophomores Lilian Kennedy from Buford, Ga. and Hannah Pratt from Boca Raton, Fla. 

 

Unfortunately, the Columbia men have fallen into the Ivy League basement. It's a familiar story - close losses and no conistent scoring except from senior guard Mike Smith who hasn't had a lot of help and winds up taking too many shots.

 

After a good start to the season, the Wisconsin women have fallen near the bottom of a tough Big Ten conference. Hopefully, both teams end the season with good efforts and confidence-building results to give hope for better days ahead for both teams. 

 

That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it. 

 

 

 

 

 

 


  

 

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Baseball Also Suffered A Serious Loss in the Kobe Bryant Tragedy (slightly revised)

On Sunday January 26th, the death of retired NBA star Kobe Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles shocked not just the sporting world but the world at large.  

 
It was a foggy day in Los Angeles and even the LAPD had refused to fly in such weather.  We all know, sadly, that nothing stops even retired elite athletes when there is a game. In this case, it was Kobe's 13-year-old daughter Gianna's game sponsored by his Mamba Academy that he was hurrying to. 

 
Also perishing in the crash were John Altobelli, 56, the outstanding baseball coach at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, his wife Keri, and their 14-year-old daughter Alyssa who also would have been playing in the game. 

 
To baseball people in the know, the passing of John Altobelli, no relation to former MLB first baseman and manager Joe Altobelli, is a severe blow. 

 

In addition to winning four California junior college titles and being the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) 2019 Coach of the Year, Altobelli had led the Brewster Whitecaps in the Cape Cod Baseball League for three seasons from 2012 to 2014.

 

He had mentored two of New York's biggest stars, the Yankees' Aaron Judge and the Mets' Jeff McNeil.

 
As I post on Monday February 10, my thoughts are with the friends and family at the Altobelli memorial that is being held at the Big A, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim's stadium. 

 

The surviving members of the immediate family are J. J. Altobelli, 29, a former University of Oregon shortstop and a 18th-round draft choice of the Cardinals, and his sister Alexis, 16.  

 

Since 2018 J.J. (John James) has been a Red Sox scout. His uncle Tony, John's young brother, is sports information director at Orange Coast College. The OCC Foundation is accepting donations in the Altobellis' memory.

 

There has also been established a GoFundMe account at

https://www.gofundme.com/f/support-for-the-altobelli-family 

 
That in his earlier life Kobe Bryant was not exactly a family man prompted CBS's Morning's on-air TV host Gayle King to raise the issue in an interview with retired WNBA star Lisa Leslie. 

 

There is no doubt that Kobe had become a huge supporter of girls' and women's basketball. Perhaps it was premature with grieving still so raw in the LA area for King to bring up the subject.

 

But in a gruesome sign of the times, King has reported death threats and has hired security for her home. So has said King's BFF (Best Friend Forever) Oprah Winfrey. 

 

Such is life in 2020 where far from a world of 20/20 vision, we are living In a 24/7/365 cyberspatial world where people seemingly see things only in black or white, heroes or villains.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS:

The Super Bowl a week after the helicopter tragedy turned out to be a helluva game.  As you know, I am a big fan of Pat Mahomes and I'm glad he led the big comeback in the fourth quarter.  

 

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan will have to own or "wear" - as Buck Showalter put it when he didn't use Zach Britton in the 2016 AL Wild Card game against Toronto - his role in two blown Super Bowl leads.  As the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons, his questionable play-calling allowed the Patriots to win the Super Bowl XL in 2017 after trailing 28-3 in the second half. 

 

I like to think that the 49'ers got their comeuppance for celebrating too early by striking a team photo pose in the end zone after they got a 10-point lead in midway through the fourth quarter.  There was more football to be played as the Chiefs soon schooled them.

 

I grew up in the 1950s with the "Father Knows Best" TV series.  I've never forgotten how father Jim Anderson (Robert Young) ordered son Bud (Billy Gray) to report himself to the coach for reading about himself in the newspaper rather than getting his bed rest.  He was docked a game for his impertinence. 

 

I'd like to think that premature gloating and preening will backfire in the political arena as well.  We are barely in middle innings of political cycle if you catch my drift. 

 

Next time, hope there is hopeful news from spring training for at least some of you fans and your teams. Commissioner Rob Manfred's newly-disclosed idea for expanding playoffs to 14 teams is not what I had in mind. More on that next time.

  

That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it!

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