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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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Could Something Good Arise From Baseball's Sign-Stealing Scandal? + A Report on the 55th Annual NY Baseball Scouts Dinner

I try to be an optimist or at least a glass half-full kinda guy when trying to cope with life's inevitable problems. It may be hard to find any silver lining in the revelation of the Houston Astros's high-tech sign stealing operation that places in doubt the legitimacy of their 2017 World Series triumph and deep runs in the 2018 and 2019 playoffs. 

 

Acting firmly, Commissioner Rob Manfred suspended both Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A. J. Hinch for a year without pay, took away the first two Houston draft picks for the next two seasons, and fined the team the maximum allowed under his contract with the owners, $5 million.  Going one step further, Astro owner Jim Crane fired Luhnow and Hinch and will soon name replacements. 

 

Two more casualties have been Red Sox manager Alex Cora who was the Houston bench coach in 2017 and was named 11 times in Manfred's nine page single-spaced decision. Incoming Mets manager Carlos Beltran also walked the plank.

 

Beltran had been hailed as a veteran presence on the 2017 Astros but he was intimately involved in the sign-stealing shenanigans - one of those coordinating center field camera footage with replay equipment closer to the dugout so that batters knew what pitches were coming at key moments of the game. 

 

Many people have wondered why the players who were active participants in the scheme

have not been disciplined.  The reason is that their Players Association had never been informed of Manfred's directive late in the 2017 season warning teams to cease using technology illegally. 

 

Luhnow and Hinch had received the warning and ignored it. Interestingly, Manfred reported that Hinch was annoyed at the use of electronic equipment in the dugout and twice even broke the instruments.  But he never reported his dissatisfaction to his superiors.

 

Maybe, just maybe, the harsh punishments will lead to a realization throughout MLB that unbridled technology is dangerous without practicing common sense and simple sporting ethics. The dream of winning a World Series, former MLB outfielder Doug Glanville wrote eloquently after the scandal broke, drives "every professional player, [but it] loses meaning when champions cut corners." 

 

"Small enhancements lead to big advantages in the realm of the elite," Glanville added in two similar articles in newyorktimes.com and theathletic.com .  He concluded with a stirring observation:  "In times like these, I hope we all recognize that the case full of trophies brimming with records broken, blinding us with statistical opulence, may sometimes be the one that is actually empty." 

 

Old-fashioned sign-stealing has been going on forever in baseball.  It remains the only sport I know of where a "stolen base" is built into the rules.  But it is one thing to use eyes and ears methods - tipping of caps from bullpens, hand signals, uniform tugs, and the like - and quite another to take advantage of ballyhooed technology to gain an advantage. 

 

There will be more shoes to drop soon. Alex Cora has not yet been disciplined by MLB because an investigation of possible Red Sox chicanery during their 2018 championship season is still ongoing.

 

With all the headlines going to the sign-stealing scandal, there has hardly been a word written recently about MLB's plan to cut 42 minor league teams including some entire low-level leagues.  It is a plan, not coincidentally, pushed by the Houston analytic genuises. 

 

Let's hope some more thoughtful and empathetic people arise in the MLB hierarchy to keep the worst aspects of that proposal from happening. Perceptive scouting and patient player development remain the key to baseball success (although as more and more wealthy owners come into the game, these basic truths can easily get obscured). 

 

At the 55th annual New York Pro Scouts Hot Stove League banquet this past Friday night January 24, guest speaker Bobby Valentine reminded us that analytics is not really new but there has always been room in baseball for good thinking.  As long as one didn't forget the element of luck and being in the right place at the right time.

 

The former Mets manager's own story is illustrative of good fortune.  A great all-around athlete from Stamford, CT Valentine had the rare opportunity for a high school junior to play in the summer Cape Cod Baseball League.  His manager was none other than Lou Lamoriello who went on to great success as a Stanley Cup-winning National Hockey League general manager for the Jersey Devils (and now trying to do the same for the New York islanders).

 

Valentine gave tribute to another awardee Edgardo Alfonzo who he called "the best all-around player he ever managed".  The ever-humble Alfonzo expressed gratitude for all the plaudits he received this evening. 

 

The former Mets second-third baseman led the Brooklyn Cyclones to their first-ever New York Penn League championship in 2019.  He always told his players:  "Don't ever let anyone take your dreams away."  (Inexplicably, the Mets did not rehire Alfonzo for 2020 - his replacement will be former Seton Hall player/St. Johns coach Ed Blankmeyer.)    

 

Another highlight of the dinner was Billy Blitzer's reading the names of 13 northeastern players who broke into the majors in 2019. All but three came from the seventh round of the draft or later, a sign of the talent in this area that diligent hard-working scouts have discovered. 

 

Among the 13 are Mike Ford from Princeton, undrafted but who shone at 1B/DH for Yankees.

*Justin Dunn RHP from Boston College traded to Seattle in the Cano/Edwin Diaz deal

*Anthony Kay LHP from UConn, Mariners

*Mike King RHP from Boston College, Yankees 

*Nick Margevicus, LHP from Rider, Padres

*Aaron Civale, RHP from Northeastern, Indians (Civale was honored as Future Star awardee)

*Frank Schwindel 1B and Cody Stashak RHP, both from St. Johns, signed by John Wilson for the Twins. 

 

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

 

  

 

 

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