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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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Proud To Be A Badger And A Lion

Wisconsin had a difficult weekend on the hard court and the gridiron but some respectability was salvaged by winning a 74-73 thriller over Virginia Commonwealth on Sunday afternoon November 22. It was part of the Madison Square Garden early season tournament that Duke won over Georgetown.

We all knew that Wisconsin would have growing pains this season after losing to the NBA 7-foot center Frank Kaminsky (who graduated and is logging effective minutes with the Charlotte Hornets) and forward Sam Dekker who left after his junior year. (Unfortunately Dekker recently underwent a back operation that will keep him out of the Houston Rockets lineup, or more likely their developmental team, for at least three months.)

Georgetown led the entire game on Friday night in a convincing conquering of the Badgers but Wisconsin responded nicely with its thrilling one-point victory over the VCU Rams. Charismatic Shaka Smart now coaches the Texas Longhorns but he left a squad for former assistant Will Wade that should be competitive.

And it looks like that in perhaps Bo Ryan’s last year the Badgers will also be a force to be reckoned with in a very loaded Big Ten. Junior guard Bronson Koenig and junior forward Nigel Hayes are learning what it is like to be marked men with all of last year’s final four team mainstays gone from Madison.

I shouldn’t fail to mention that the experience of guards Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson is also being missed.

Wisconsin’s football team lost its chance for a New Year’s Day bowl game on Saturday by falling in Madison on senior day to Northwestern’s Wildcats, 13-7.
It will long be remembered as a comedy of errors by the Badgers who committed five costly turnovers, most deep in their own territory.

It was a tribute to the stout defense that Wisconsin still had a chance to win the game in the last seconds. But video replay disallowed what would have been wide receiver Jazz Peavy’s first career touchdown. Though he caught the ball with one foot clearly in bounds in the end zone, replays revealed that he slightly juggled the ball falling out of bounds and thus “did not complete the process of the catch.”

What does that mean? The ball never hit the ground!

The nit-picking call was reminiscent of the replays in baseball where multiple viewings can show that a base runner left a base by a millimeter after successfully stealing it.

I don’t know how to stop replay once it gets entrenched. Maybe there should be a time limit on how long a replay can take. And the wording of the rules of replay be made more common sensical and less legalistic.

I was proud of how the Badgers reacted to the defeat in which a punt return for a touchdown was also called back because the official claimed receiver Alex Erickson had signaled for a fair catch. He had signaled with arms outstretched but not in the air that he didn’t want teammates to touch the ball. But when he didn’t hear a whistle he kept running and made a beautiful scamper to the end zone to no avail.

Erickson admitted that he thought the play would be called back. And his teammates generally felt that they hadn’t played well enough to win.

Consider the contrast in Columbus, Ohio when undermanned Michigan State, playing without their star quarterback Connor Cook, outplayed the Ohio State Buckeyes and ended their 23-game winning streak in a convincing 17-14 win.

Buckeye running back Ezekiel Elliott whined that he had only 12 carries and hinted he would turn pro after the season. So did backup quarterback Cardale Jones. Poor sports all. We will see how coach Urban Meyer, author of a recent book on leadership, responds to these comments.

Meanwhile my other alma mater on Sunday afternoon, the Columbia Lions evened its basketball record at 2-2 by trouncing Lehigh. Columbia lost an overtime heartbreaker at Northwestern on Friday night. They led the whole game but were held without a field goal for the last seven and a half minutes.

On Monday they didn’t seriously threaten Kansas State though played respectably and kept the game close. It is good that the pre-league season is providing some tough challenges for the Lions. Only false confidence can be bred by beating up on East Cupcake State, as the late great commentator Al McGuire used to call patsies.

Columbia is expected to do well in the Ivy League this year and with two seniors back from injuries, forward Alex Rosenberg and guard Grant Mullins, hopes are high on the Morningside campus. Senior guard Maado Lo is another force counted on.

It says here that the emergence of junior center-forward Luke Petresek will be a key to this year’s team. He has bulked up and has both a delicate outside touch and an improved rebounding presence.

So basketball has me hopeful and football is showing promise under new coach Al Bagnoli, the former Penn coach who led the Quakers to multiple Ivy League titles.
Though Columbia finished 2-8, four of their losses were by a combined 22 points.

Let me close with an old saying – I first heard credited to the late great Kansas City Royals manager Dick Howser: “Show me a team that plays close games and I’ll show you a winner one day.”

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and always remember: Take It Easy But Take It!  Read More 
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