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On The Eve of Pitchers and Catchers: College Basketball and Pro Baseball Thoughts

It’s a special time of year with the days growing longer, college basketball season heading to a regular season climax with my two alma maters Columbia and Wisconsin in the hunt for post-season action, and of course spring training camps ready to open next week.

Columbia’s chances for its first Ivy League title since 1968 took a major blow on Saturday night when Princeton rallied to tie the game with 5 seconds left in regulation. After falling behind by 7 points in overtime, the Tigers finished the game scoring the last 12 points in an 88-83 victory.

Unheralded freshman guard Devin Cannady came off the bench to score a career high of 23 points, hitting the big buckets both inside the paint and outside beyond the three-point line. Yale remains undefeated in the Ivy League 14-game regular season tournament with Princeton having just one loss and now Columbia saddled with two with six games to go.

Meanwhile down at College Park, Maryland, Wisconsin avenged a loss in Madison with a convincing 70-57 victory over the highly ranked Terps. Forward Vitto Brown notched his second straight career high with 21 points.

Junior Vitto Brown is one of the nice versatile stories in college sports. He sings with his family vocal group, Shades of Brown. They performed a national anthem before one of the Badgers home games last year and probably will do it again.

Another fine forward and singer is Yale’s Brandon Sherrod who actually took off last season to travel the nation and the world with Yale’s Whiffenpoofs. He has returned to become a force up front with Justin Sears, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year. Sherrod also set a NCAA record last month with 30 straight field goal attempts without a miss.

AND NOW TURNING TO BASEBALL . . .
It is a pleasure to be well into a third decade of labor peace in Major League Baseball with neither side saber-rattling about the upcoming negotiations for a new Basic Agreement – the old one expires at the end of this year.

It was interesting though to read Tony Clark’s recent complaints about the current system. Clark, the former major league first baseman with primarily the Tigers, is in his second year as executive director of the Players Association.

He is upset that some veteran free agents like shortstop Ian Desmond formerly of the Nationals, outfielder Dexter Fowler formerly of the Cubs (and Rockies-Astros), and righthanded starter Yovanni Gallardo, formerly of the Texas Rangers, are still out on the market.

Clark is a very eloquent fellow but each of the three players mentioned above turned down a $15.8 million one-year qualifying offer from their former team. Not exactly chump change - that number was computed based on the average of free agent contracts in the past few years.

If a team signs Desmond, Fowler, or Gallardo, it will have to forfeit a first-round draft pick, a valuable commodity given the insane prices of veteran free agents, esp. pitchers.

Most teams would like to have their full rosters set by now but that is not always the case. In 2014 the Orioles did not pick up key free agents starter Ubaldo Jimenez and slugger Nelson Cruz until the last week of February. So we’ll see what happens before the games begin for keep on April 3.

I was amused by a heated exchange between Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo and analytics fanatic Brian Kenny on Russo’s “High Heat” MLB TV network show on February 12th.

Kenny was insisting that Kenny Lofton and Jim Edmonds were Hall of Famers though he admitted that only the numbers said Lofton, a good player and great athlete but not a Hall of Famer, belonged in Cooperstown.

The case for Edmonds is even weaker but the analytics people are riding high now in powerful places – new media, television, and big name universities. They are convinced that longtime sportswriters and fans have only limited insight into the game.

Their fanatic belief that the endless barrage of their new statistics tells us so much amuses me except that it is not funny when the ascendancy of the new statisticians continues to cost scouts, the real pillar of the game, their jobs. Over 100 lost their positions when the book “Moneyball” came out, and another wave of pink slips is happening now. An outrage!

Well, that’s all for now – always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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