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Reflections On The Day America Exhaled & Then Gasped + Defending My BIRGing (corrected version on Phil Niekro's win-total)

"January 6, 2021 may go down in history as the Day America Exhaled." I wrote that sentence around noon on Wed. Jan 6 when the dual Democratic victories in the US Senate races in Georgia were confirmed.  

 
The winners were the first Black in Georgia to earn the Senate, Raphael Warnock, minister of Martin Luther King's Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and the first Jew in Georgia, 33-year-old Jon Ossoff, a documentary film maker and mentee of the late great Congressman John Lewis. 

 
The thought of a demoted to "Minority [Leader] Moscow Mitch" McConnell in the U.S. Senate added to the momentary elation of Jan. 6th. Another moment to celebrate was the nomination of Merrick Garland to be Attorney General after McConnell refused for almost a year to even give him a hearing for a Supreme Court position that President Obama had selected him for.

 

I needed good news on January 6th because exactly two years earlier my ex-wife passed away.  

Then less than two hours later, the US Capitol was under siege for the first time in over 200 hundred years.  For the first time in the history of our beleaguered democracy, a Confederate flag was brazenly carried under the Capitol dome. 

 

Our elected legislators ran for cover under desks or in the basement while acts of desecration, vandalism, and violence led to at least six deaths. 

 

I'm not a prophet about what comes next. I do constantly remind people that we repudiated Trump's leadership solidly on Election Day over two months ago. But because we have become used to his lies, many of us have become numb or resigned to his protracted denial of the results. 

 
Meanwhile the coronavirus rages with an unfathomable number of over 350,000 nation-wide deaths and many more are still expected. A vaccine is coming which is good news and has even arrived in certain places.  

 

But mask-wearing is still avoided by too many of our citizens. My heart goes out to the situation in California where people are urged to buy dry ice for bodies of dead relatives and friends while hospitals and morgues are filled to capacity.   

 
Here's a fervent hope we make it to January 20 without further horrid incidents. And when he officially becomes President Biden, there is an improvement in national mood and national reality.  

 
Humor always helps.  A friend suggested a musical name for the band of marauders in the Capitol:  The Pillage People.  I offer Hoodz in Da Dome. Any suggestions from you dear readers?

 
Meanwhile, watching televised sports has provided some relaxation and an outlet for my BIRG-ing. BIRG = Basking in Reflected Glory.  

 

My twice-beaten Wisconsin Badgers basketball team have a big one at undefeated Michigan on Tuesday night Jan. 12 - ESPN2 7p EDT with passionate informative Dan Dakich likely to provide commentary.  

 
The Wolverines have added a graduate transfer from my other alma mater Columbia, point guard Mike Smith, and a first year seven-foot center Hunter Dickinson from DeMatha HS in Hyattsville MD.  Local power Maryland spurned him and he burned the Terps in their recent matchup. 

 

Michigan will be a tough opponent for a Wisconsin team that never plays more than eight players. It is an experienced team starting five seniors, none younger than 21 and a couple are even 24 including star point guard D'Mitrik Trice.   

 

The Chicago Bulls of the NBA are starting a team younger than the Badgers. But I like to follow a team that has grown together. 

 

And I should add that the Badgers play better defense than most of the NBA.  The fate of Wisconsin in the grueling Big Ten may well rest on the productivity of frail but talented center Nate Reuvers.  

 

His fellow big man Micah Potter, the Ohio State transfer, has been more consistent but except to start the game and the first minutes of second half, they rarely play together.  

 

Before I say goodbye, after a brutal loss of six Hall of Famers in last few weeks of 2020, another loss was announced on December 26 when pitcher Phil Niekro winner of 318 games passed away at the age of 81.

 
Phil Niekro hailed from the small town of Blaine Ohio in Pease Township, north of Martin's Ferry and 19 miles from Wheeling West Virginia.  He grew up and played all kinds of sports with his neighbor John Havlicek the immortal Boston Celtic.  

 
Phil won 318 MLB games and his late brother Joe added 221, making them the winningest brothers in MLB history.  Most of Phil's wins were for the Atlanta Braves where he was revered both on and off the field.

 

On Friday Jan 8th Tommy Lasorda left us at age 93.  A native of Norristown, Penna. not far from Philly, he managed two LA Dodger World Series champions in 1981 and 1988 and also led the gold medal USA team at the 2000 Olympics.  He lived to attend the 2020 World Series where the Dodgers won it all at the new stadium in the Dallas, Texas metro area.

 

Lasorda was an unparalleled baseball ambassador and raconteur.  One of his favorite lines was when his wife complained that he loved baseball more than her, he said, "But honey I love you more than football and basketball."  (Some versions have other sports mentioned but you get the idea.)    

 

As always at these times, I think of John Ruskin's essential saying, "There is no wealth but life."

And always remember until the next time we meet, Take it easy but take it!  And also for these uncertain times, Stay Positive, Test Negative.  

 

 

 

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Oh For The Days When Spring Training Wasn't Filled With Anger + Thoughts on Columbia Women's & Wisconsin Men's Basketball

I'm trying to keep an even keel about all the anger from MLB players directed against the Houston Astros for their now-revealed high-technology methods and Keystone Kop execution that probably aided their World Series triumph of 2017. 

 
This is February, the slowest month of the sports year now that the Super Bowl is over. The build-up to college basketball's March Madness has not shifted into high gear. And the NBA basketball and NHL hockey playoffs are still a ways off.

 

So reporters are desperately looking for stories. Angry players are providing plenty of copy from Florida and Arizona.

 

It says here the protests won't amount to much because it will be impossible to prove exactly how much the signals affected game outcomes. The anger has almost made lament the pre-free agency days of baseball.

 

In the years when the reserve clause ruled baseball (through the 1976 season), spring training stories were usually about holdouts of players not satisfied with contract offers. 

 

In the vast majority of cases, they were one-year contract offers. Usually the pot was sweetened a little bit by management, and on went the regular season without interruption. 

 

The old system was obviously unfair to the players economically but it provided stability for the owners and for the fans could deeply identify with their favorite players. 

 

It was interesting if somewhat bizarre to watch Red Sox co-owner John Henry's press conference the other day trying to explain why Boston had traded star outfielder and recent AL MVP Mookie Betts to the Dodgers.

 

He spent a good deal of time reminiscing about Stan Musial, his favorite player growing up in St. Louis.  He waxed rhapsodic about how Red Sox fans felt the same attachment towards Ted Williams.

 

Both stayed with their original team forever. John Henry even noted that Musial turned down in 1946 a huge salary increase by spurning an offer from the short-lived Mexican League. 

 

Henry professed his approval of Betts' wanting to get "market value" for his services.  Yet neither finance mogul Henry nor his partner TV mogul Tom Werner (a former San Diego Padres owner who I remember most as the man who hired Roseanne Barr to sing a disastrous National Anthem) addressed in any great detail the real reason why Betts was traded. 

 

They didn't want to pay any more "luxury tax" into MLB coffers that a long-term contract to Betts would have required. They insisted that they didn't think a draft pick at the end of this season would be sufficient.

 

Yet the return for Betts seems questionable.  Two minor leaguers and a young outfielder Alex Verdugo may have a high ceiling but who will start season on the disabled list. 

 

To add to Red Sox questionable decisions, they selected as Cora's replacement Ron Roenicke (brother of former Oriole left fielder Gary Roenicke). Ron enjoyed only moderate success in prior MLB managerial jobs with the Brewers and Angels.

 

The Red Sox will face more bad news when beleaguered commissioner Rob Manfred announces the results of his investigation into Red Sox malfeasance during Alex Cora's reign as manager, especially their 2018 championship season. 

 

With too many stories in baseball resembling the troubling wider political world these days, you can see, dear reader, why I try to find solace in the college basketball seasons of my alma maters. 

 

The Wisconsin Badgersmen and Columbia Lions women have given me considerable pleasure. Picked for sixth in the 14-team "Big Ten", the Badgers have a chance at a top three finish and another trip to March Madness. 

 

They are maddeningly inconsistent to be sure. One center with the combined talents of Nate Reuvers' sweet touch and Micah Potter's toughness might be an All-American.  But last I looked cloning players has not been approved yet by the NCAA.  

 

With just eight players getting regular playing time, the Badgers have overcome great adversity to keep hope alive. First, there was the pre-season loss of  assistant coach Howard Moore whose wife and daughter were killed in a horrific auto crash - Moore himself is recovering slowly from his serious injuries and a subsequent heart attack.

 

Then last month, the streaky but talented swing man Kobe King abruptly left the team. The Lacrosse, Wisconsin native's reasons were sketchy at best.  Not being appreciated beyond a basketball player was one of them.  

 

Under coach Greg Gard's firm and steady hand, the Badgers have regrouped and are on their first three-game Big Ten winning streak of the season.  That's a modest number of course, but the flashes of offensive production from the likes of juniors Brad Davison and Aleem Ford and consistently tough defense have me pulling my chair up close to the TV these days.

 

I thought the Columbia women would be worth watching in 2019-20 and I have not been disappointed.  Under youthful coach Megan Griffith, Columbia class of 2007 grad and former assistant at league powerhouse Princeton, the Lions last weekend swept two Ivy League opponents for the first time since 2011, Dartmouth and Harvard.

 

There is now a four-team tournament in the Ivy League and Columbia has a chance to make it if they continue to grow and play hard and smart and well. 

 

Last year's rookie of the year, forward Sienna Durr from Grinnell, Iowa has stepped up her all-around game. 

 

Guard Abby Hsu from Parkland, Florida is a strong candidate for this year's rookie award.  The only senior on the squad, feisty guard Janniya Clemmons from Accoceek, Maryland outside DC, is another solid presence.

 

Both point guards sophomore Mikayla Markham from Manasquan on the Jersey shore and first-year Carly Rivera from Arlington, Virginia are getting plenty of playing time. They are sparkplugs for a frequently-employed full-court defense.

 

Tigers on the boards and adding a lot of energy to the team are first-year Caitlyn Davis from Norwalk, Ct. and sophomores Lilian Kennedy from Buford, Ga. and Hannah Pratt from Boca Raton, Fla. 

 

Unfortunately, the Columbia men have fallen into the Ivy League basement. It's a familiar story - close losses and no conistent scoring except from senior guard Mike Smith who hasn't had a lot of help and winds up taking too many shots.

 

After a good start to the season, the Wisconsin women have fallen near the bottom of a tough Big Ten conference. Hopefully, both teams end the season with good efforts and confidence-building results to give hope for better days ahead for both teams. 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 


  

 

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