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My Awards for 2015: Coping with the No-Baseball Blues #5

Winter has arrived though New Yorkers are disbelieving. Christmas Eve and
Christmas Day will set record highs in the high 60s-even low 70s.
Unfortunately, it is rainy and we may miss out on both a white Christmas and
a sunny golden Christmas.

But be of good cheer – the days will slowly get longer and longer. Come mid-February “pitchers and catchers will be reporting to spring training,” still the greatest sentence in the English language. Even with the insane amount of money being thrown at players of fair-to-middling talent.

The Orioles are getting resigned to lose streaky slugger/good athlete Chris Davis to free agency. The team took off the table a reported offer of over $150 million for six or seven years. No other team has stepped forward in the bidding, but agent Scott Boras is rightly convinced that some panicked owner will step forward to up the ante for Davis. Without a salary cap or some kind of legal collusion, the salaries will keep going up in the off-season paradise (for players and agents) of free agency.

I was recently asked by Robin Valetutto, personable host of the Saturday noontime “Sports Angel” talk show on KVCE 1160 AM Radio in Dallas, Texas, for my sports highs and lows of calendar 2015.

Let me begin by disagreeing with Sports Illustrated’s choice of Serena Williams as Sports Person of the Year. Not that the tennis star didn’t have a fine year but it ended with a loss in the U.S. Open semi-finals. That would blemish her year for me.

If I had a vote on the matter, I would have given the nod to Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors. Not only did the Oakland-based basketball juggernaut win the NBA title in June over Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the Warriors started this 2015-16 season with an unprecedented 24 game winning streak.

My close second would have been golfer Jordan Spieth, who at age 23 won the Masters and the U.S. Open in sequence in 2015. He also came very close to winning the British Open. He is from an athletic and so far happily grounded family that includes his younger brother Steven, a guard-forward starter for Brown University’s basketball team in Providence, Rhode Island.

I also tip my cap to the Kansas City Royals for their aggressive style of baseball that resulted in their first World Series title since 1985 and the second overall in their history dating back only to 1969.

I don’t think many teams can duplicate their combination of speed and opportunism – honed by a patient intelligent farm system - but it is fun to watch a team hustling all the time and ready to pounce on an opponent’s weakness.

As for lows, I think Seattle's Russell Wilson trying a pass on second down near New England's goal line at the end of February's Super Bowl has to be the biggest boner.

I am happy though that Wilson, the former college QB for North Carolina State's Wolfpack and the Wisconsin Badgers, has the Seahawks ready to make it a run at a third straight Super Bowl appearance.

A runner-up for gaffe has to be Michigan's punting rugby-style when even a no-gain run would have virtually assured a Wolverines victory over arch-rival Michigan State.

But kudos to the Spartans who are enjoying great years in football and basketball and former Spartan QB Kirk Cousins has the Redskins on the verge of the NFL playoffs.

Meanwhile Bo Ryan's abrupt resignation as Badger basketball coach has left Wisconsin faithful wondering about the future of the program. More on this subject next month as we'll see if under Ryan's desired successor Greg Gard the Badgers can remain respectable in the Big Ten race.

That’s all for now – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all, and back to you by the second week of January.

Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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Coping With The No-Baseball Blues, Installment 3

The silly season of baseball free agency is upon us. Mark my words there will be a bevy of big free agent signings coming out of the winter meetings in Nashville starting on December 7. It must happen because programming at the MLBTV network is counting on it.

Just like in late July at the non-waiver trade deadline there must be trades to satisfy the needs of the network programming. Whether the trades and free agent signing are wise moves is another story. And woe be the team that makes moves for the sake of making moves.

The Detroit Tigers got a early jump on the signings by nabbing former Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann for a reported $110 million over 5 years. The figure if accurate - and who really knows? - is in the ballpark of the $23 million a year that Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw has been making in recent years.

His teammate Zack Greinke, who arguably had a better 2015 than Kershaw, has become a free agent so he can capitalize on it. I don't begrudge free agency to players but I do not like the incessant 24/7 coverage with the money rubbed into our faces.

Zimmermann is the first pitcher to have had Tommy John surgery to earn a contract of over $100 million. At least that is what many sports news agencies are breathlessly reporting.

At 29 Zimmermann may still be pitching well five years hence. He certainly is a tough competitor.

I thought the yanking of Zimmermann by former Nats manager Matt Williams with two out in the 9th inning of a playoff game in 2014 was a great blunder. Zimmermann was pitching a shutout and reliever Drew Storen couldn’t finish it and the Nats lost that game in the 18th inning. (In hindsight, the 2015 Nats never recovered from Williams’ poor decision.)

However, the big question with long-term contracts is how long the fierce competitive desire will remain with such job and financial security.

Immortal horse racing jockey Eddie Arcaro once phrased the warning beautifully:
“It’s hard to get up early in the morning when you are wearing silk pajamas.”

The Orioles are facing head-on a similar question with powerful first baseman Chris Davis. Through agent Scott Boras, Davis reportedly wants a contract starting at least 5 years and maybe over $25 million per year.

Count on MLB network to be covering this saga minute by minute before, during and if necessary after the Nashville winter meetings. Of course, the "winter" meetings don't really happen during winter but that is one of baseball's harmless quirks.

The throwing of money at mediocre players is not harmless but Let The Buyer Beware remains a basic premise that good organizations must always keep in mind. Since there are not that many good organizations, expect a lot of wasteful spending in the days ahead.

Meanwhile to cope with the no-baseball-on-the-field blues, I continue to follow my two college/grad school alma maters’ basketball teams, the Columbia Lions and the Wisconsin Badgers.

Both are struggling, Wisconsin not surprisingly because of heavy losses from last year’s Final Two team. Columbia, alas, is finding the curse of expectations a heavier burden than expected. They lost two one-point games over the weekend and have slumped to 3-4 for the season.

Big Ten and Ivy League play do not start until January so no need to press panic button. Or so I remind myself constantly.

That’s all this time. Always remember: “Take it easy but take it!”
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