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Kicking Cancer's Ass and Other Memorable Moments from the NYC Baseball Writers Dinner

The 94th annual dinner of the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America was held this past Saturday night January 21st at New York's Hilton Hotel. Last year’s dinner was canceled by a blizzard so there was a lot of pent-up enthusiasm for this year’s shindig.

The evening did not disappoint with a fine mixture of levity and serious comment.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson twitted the writers for the awkwardness of their group’s acronym BBWAA. “Don’t you know baseball is one word?” he asked.

Sandy obviously forgot that Base Ball for a long time in its early decades was indeed two words. But on a winter’s night with still three weeks to spring training, who expects exactitude?

Alderson accepted “The Toast of the Town” award for former Mets pitcher ageless Bartolo Colon who will play for the Atlanta Braves in 2017. He relived with relish Colon’s remarkable homer in San Diego off James Shields. “In front of the #7 line army,” he recalled about the ardent traveling group of Mets fans.

Indians manager Terry Francona presented two awards. One was to his reliever Andrew Miller who pitched remarkably after his July trade from the Yankees. “If you look closely, he’s still icing his left arm,” Francona quipped.

Francona, who everybody calls Tito in honor of his father a former player, also presented Cubs pitcher Jon Lester with the Babe Ruth award for his postseason MVP. Lester not only was a key cog helping Francona’s Bosox to win the 2004 and 2007 World Series, but “he kicked cancer’s ass,” his admiring manager added.

In accepting the award for NL Manager of the Year, LA Dodger rookie skipper Dave Roberts noted that he also had “kicked cancer’s ass.” He thanked Jed Hoyer, now president of the Cubs, for giving him his first job with the Padres organization in 2010 once his treatment was over.

You can see why Roberts has drawn universal praise from every realm of baseball. He walked up to the low dais and quipped, “I am the first person tonight who doesn’t have to bend down to the microphone.”

Turning serious, he said that the game “was in a good place” and will be as long as we remember that “we’re all stewards of the game.”

Retired Dodger first baseman Steve Garvey gave a warm introduction to sportswriter Claire Smith who will be inducted at the end of July into the writer’s wing in Cooperstown. When his 1984 Padres teammates refused to let Smith into their clubhouse, Garvey came out into the hallway and answered every question she asked.

“If I can’t stand up for a friend, who can I stand up for?” he said. In her gracious remarks, Smith reflected on her first year on the baseball beat - she covered the 1982 Yankees that under impetuous George Steinbrenner ran through 3 managers, 6 general managers, and 54 players. “You had to fight for everything you got,” she said, adding it was “the best journalism school you can get.”

By Valentine’s Day the greatest phrase in the English language will ring true again: “Pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training.” So keep the faith, dear readers, and back to you next with a report on the 52nd annual NYC Pro Baseball Scouts dinner this Friday.

Until then, always: Take it easy but take it!
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Cleveland On Verge of World Series While Cubs-Dodgers Are All Even

Baseball never fails to deliver the unexpected. The National League had a ho-hum season in which only a few teams - the Cubs, the Nats, and the Dodgers won more than 90 games.

The American League had far more competition and until the last week of the regular season it was possible that four teams - the Blue Jays, the Orioles, the Tigers, and the Yankees - might battle into play-in games prior to the wild card game.

So what happens? The Indians with a starting pitching staff minus two regular members, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, swept the Red Sox in the American League Division Series. After Monday night Oct 17’s 4-2 win at Toronto, the Indians are up 3-0 needing only one win to reach the World Series.

Manager Terry Francona, who led the Red Sox to World Series triumphs in 2004 and 2007, has used his bullpen masterfully and the offense has produced enough timely hitting to buttress his future Hall of Fame credentials.

Meanwhile it has been the NL that has provided the most consistent drama. The Dodgers, also suffering a shortage of starting pitchers, eliminated the Nats in a gripping five game NLDS.

Their great ace Clayton Kershaw, only recently back from months on the DL with serious back issues, came out of the bullpen to get the last two outs in a road win at Washington.
Closer Kenley Jansen entered the game in the 7th inning (just like Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage used to do) beyond giving way to Kershaw for the save.

Kudos to Dodgers rookie manager Dave Roberts for making that bold decision. Roberts will now be known for more than being the pinch-runner who stole second against Mariano Rivera that fueled the Red Sox comeback against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS
(American League Championship Series).

The Cubs, the only 100-plus winner in MLB this season, dispatched the Giants in four games in their NLDS but it wasn’t easy. In fact, they had to score four runs in the 9th inning to win at San Francisco. If they hadn’t rallied, they faced the challenge of beating Johnny Cueto in Chicago to move on in the playoffs.

The Cubs are young and loaded with talent at every position, and inventive manager Joe Maddon loves players who are versatile and can perform capably at many places on defense.

They rode a pinch-hit grand slam by Miguel Montero to win the first game against LA but that man Kershaw threw seven shutout innings in the second game and veteran first baseman Adrian Gonzalez’s solo home run was the margin of victory in a 1-0 win to even their NL Championship Series at one game apiece.

The Cubs ran away with the NL East this year and have never looked up at any team all season. Which makes the three games in LA this Tuesday Oct 18 through Thursday Oct 20 fascinating to watch.

The Cubs remain clear favorites to win the NLCS and their first World Series since 1908.
But the Dodgers have Kershaw and closer and free agent-to-be Kenley Jansen to head their
tattered but still resourceful mound staff.

What makes this post-season so refreshing is that managers Francona and Maddon are throwing away the conventional wisdom on pitching roles. Maddon has twice asked his formidable closer Aroldis Chapman, another free agent-to-be, to give him a six-out save.

That it hasn’t worked out either time doesn’t mean Maddon was wrong. It just shows that he is willing to take chances based on his knowledge of matchups and an intuition that has been honed by his long experience in the game.

All of Francona’s moves have worked out. He has his ace in Corey Kluber, the reigning AL Cy Young-winner, who has been impeccable in the post-season. And he has used his brilliant southpaw reliever Andrew Miller as early as the fifth inning and in Monday night’s 4-2 victory, he brought him in for a four-out save.

The old time fan in me has wanted a Cleveland-Cubs World Series because their World Series droughts have been the longest. Cleveland hasn’t won since 1948 and only has one other world championship flag to raise for the 1920 team.

They represent one of the smallest cities in baseball with a declining population and accordingly a relatively small payroll. They have drafted wisely and now the fruits of that patience are paying off.

You always build championships up the middle and three emerging Cleveland stars are at key positions - shortstop Francisco Lindor, second baseman Jason Kipnis, and center fielder Tyler Naquin, a rookie of the year candidate.

If the Indians close the deal on Toronto, they will present formidable opposition to either the Cubs or the Dodgers. They also will have the home field advantage in the World Series because the AL won the All-Star Game.

The Indians will not take anything for granted in trying to close out Toronto. Francona knows all about teams losing 3-0 leads in the playoffs because he led Boston to such a victory over the Yankees in 2004. But you have to like the Tribe's chances.

It is not right that home field advantage in the World Series is the product of the All-Star exhibition game. That rule is preposterous but so is incessant replay. Yet nothing can kill baseball as long as the games are played without lockouts and strikes.

So let’s enjoy the action and the chills and thrills because November 2nd is coming too soon - the day when the seventh game of the World Series if necessary is scheduled. Afterwards we all must face winter, never an appetizing thought.

As always remember: Take It Easy but Take It!
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