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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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In Praise of Wisconsin Badger Basketball + No-Baseball Blues, Part II

Saturday April 4th would have been the start of the Final Four.  It is also the 27th birthday of the great Wisconsin Badger center Frank Kaminsky who five years ago on that night led my team to a stirring semi-final victory over previously undefeated Kentucky.  

 
It was sweet revenge for a loss to the Wildcats in the 2014 Final Four semi-final. 

It is too bad that Wisconsin couldn't hold a lead in the final against Duke - cunning Coach Mike Kryzewski successfully worked the refs in the second half and the Badgers didn't respond well enough. 

 

Yet the 2014-15 Badgers remain close to most of us alums' hearts. Frank Kaminsky was the poster boy for the Badger way of patient player development.

 

After needing the first two seasons to get used to the relentless toughness of Big Ten competition, Kaminsky exploded on the scene as a junior and in his senior year was named National Player of the Year, a first-of-its-kind honor for a Badger.

 

Kaminsky is currently recovering from knee surgery and hopes to resume his journeyman's pro career with the Phoenix Suns next season (whenever next season starts).  He's been the most successful pro from a team that included forwards Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes and point guard Bronson Koenig - all have played more in Europe than in either the NBA or its developmental league.

 

The line from Kaminsky went first to Ethan Happ who gave Kaminsky fits in practice when red-shirting. If only Happ, whose first cousin BTW is Yankees southpaw J. Happ, could shoot fouls and anything outside the paint.  (Last I heard Happ was playing in Europe before the pandemic ended his season.) 

 

It's a shame that this year's Badgers never got a chance to play in the post-season tournament.  The surprise #1 seed in the never-played Big Ten Tournament roared down the stretch with a eight-game winning streak.  

 

Big men Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter showed they were worthy successors to Kaminsky, Dekker, and Happ; gritty guards Brad Davison and D'Mitrik Trice brought back memories of the Ben Brust-Josh Gasser-Traevon Jackson trio; and swing men Aleem Ford and Brevin Pritzl, the only senior on the team, had great moments as well.   

 
The pain of losing basketball at a crucial time was bad enough even if an ESPN simulation predicted the Badgers would have gone all the way. Since coach Greg Gard, a worthy successor to his former boss Bo Ryan, gave crucial minutes to only six men makes me wonder if these Badgers would have gone all the way. Alas, they never had a chance so we'll never know.

 
No March Madness, and now we are dealing with the ongoing no-baseball blues. There are so many movies one can watch on TCM before one lusts for outdoor activity and seeing live sports again.  

 

I did catch a lot of TCM's late March baseball films.  Never had seen "Pride of the Yankees" straight through and Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright as Lou and Eleanor Gehrig made for a very endearing couple.  

 

I hadn't realized that Yankee catcher Bill Dickey plays a role in the 1942 film as a defender of Gehrig, slugging a teammate who criticizes the Iron Horse as his career tragically declines.  Babe Ruth also plays himself in the film and brings a lot of Ruthian energy to the role. 

 

Alex Mankiewicz, the daughter of co-screenwriter Joe Mankiewicz, made the pertinent observation in pre-film commentary that her father did love baseball and had been a pretty decent player.

 

MLBTV, of course, is another baseball outlet for me these days. I caught on April Fool's Day the replay of Game 7 of the 1991 World Series with the Twins beating the Braves in a 1-0 10 inning thriller.   

 
I remembered it as the Jack Morris Show with the Series-winning pinch hit delivered by Columbia's Gene Larkin.  I had forgotten that it was Dan Gladden's hustle leading off the bottom of the 10th inning that set up the winning run. 

 

Gladden never stopped running on a bloop single to left center and just got into second in the nick of time. Then Chuck Knoblauch did when the analytic geniuses of today pooh-pooh, gave himself up with a 4-3 grounder that sent Gladden to third base with the winning run. 

 

After intentional walks to Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek, pinch-hitter Gene Larkin ended the drama with a first pitch single over the head of left fielder Lonnie Smith

for the World Series-winning RBI. I felt bad for reliever Alejandro Pena who had pitched two innings in Game 6 and had worked this game since the 8th. 

 

I had forgotten that the Twins had great chances to score in the 6th, 8th, and 9th innings before Gladden and Larkin delivered in the 10th.  Of course, Game 7 is most remembered for Lonnie Smith's inexplicable stopping at second base on Terry Pendleton's drive over Gladden's head in left field.

 

On a play in front of him, Smith somehow got deked by the Twins' adroit DP combo of future Yankee Knoblauch and former Yankee farmhand Greg Gagne.

Of course, Jack Morris deserves full credit for pitching out of the second and third and no out situation on his way to a stirring complete game victory.

 

I had forgotten that Sid Bream, whose slide into home on Francisco Cabrera's single beat the Pirates in the NLCS to get Braves into the Series, hit into a 3-2-3 DP that got Morris out of the 8th inning jam.  How like capricious baseball to turn a hero into a goat in a matter of days.  

 
Announcer Jack Buck annoyingly wouldn't let Smith forget the booboo for the rest of the broadcast. But to Buck's credit, he did realize that the scoreless battle was a classic in the making.  After one half-inning, he invited viewers to return after a commercial break for more "torture and pleasure". 

 
I'm sure MLB will fill the void with more great games from the past.   It is a pale substitute for the real thing, but I do believe that patience is a virtue.  It looks like we'll have a chance to be very virtuous in the weeks ahead because I cannot see a baseball season starting before summer if then. 

 
Nonetheless, as always take it easy but take it!

 

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