A Few Thoughts 11/15/16

Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo

Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo

We all know what happened in college football last weekend. It was historic. Not since 1985 have poll numbers 2, 3 and 4 lost on the same day, and then it took place in October, not November. The remaining permutations are way too complicated for me to consider, It’s hair-splitting stuff. I will be content to sit back and await the results.
What interests me will be the voting approach of the committee, First of all, I am wholly in favor of human beings having the final say. Use computers to provide statistical information of all kinds, yes. Absolutely. Get all the data you want. But in the end you must use your brain and intuition to decide, if indeed there are tight decisions to be made. An individual committee member must decide if a good win is better than a bad loss, or even what is a good win or what is a bad loss. An individual committee member must decide just how much weight to put on a conference champion. An individual committee member must decide how important it is to have a good so-called “body of work,” as opposed to, say, a hot finish. Is the true object to select whom he or she feels are the best four teams as we head into the playoffs in January, or is it to reward the best “body of work,” even if a team that was great in September or October looks more mortal at the end of November? That may be a tough call.
To me, the ultimate tie-breaker would be this: on a neutral field, would I put my money on Team A or Team B? But that may not be the viewpoint of anyone on the committee.
Meanwhile, there is annual agitation to expand the current 4 to 8. I think the logistics would be nightmarish, but I’’m sure smart people could work that out. One thing I don’t wish to hear from any Power Conference 5 is anything to do with classroom attendance, or academic integrity. Those schools have already made their choice. We know where they stand. Just take a look at the early season travel schedule of the establishment basketball teams. So let’s stop with that nonsense. I’ll say it again: we are the only country that has its institutions of higher learning provide entertainment for the masses. This is purely American. We want this. That’s clear. What it has to do with the academic mission of any given university is another matter. I. of course, am an enabler, as much as any of you. I have been following college sports since 1952. Once they kick off or throw the ball up, I stop worrying about who the players — note I said “players,” not “student-athletes” — are, how they got there, or whether or not they could find any classrooms with a map or GPS.

 Don Wright/AP Photo

Don Wright/AP Photo

Well, so much for the angst over NFL ratings. Things were back to normal this past weekend. The Steelers and Cowboys had the best numbers of the season during the second half of that exciting game. The Seahawks and Patriots game was 10 percent higher than last year’s Week 10 Sunday Night Game. That great contest capped off what I think we’d all agree was the best day of the season. There were great back-and-forth games and some wild finishes. A two-point runback of a blocked extra point? Fabulous. Ripping the ball away from someone and going the other way to set up the winning score? Fabulous. It was all great stuff, and let’s see if there is a carryover this coming weekend.
On this topic of the ratings, boy did I get an education from the general public. A column I wrote for the Boston Globe in which I listed 10 possible reasons for the ratings decline attracted the best response to anything I’ve written in a couple of years, but that’s not the issue. The issue is that numerous people told me I had missed the number one reason why they were no longer watching NFL games on TV, or, at least, were doing so less frequently. The reason was they cited was the proliferation of commercials. I couldn’t believe it, but my wife told me I was naive. She could have told me that. This one floored me. Don’t people know the if there were no commercials there would be no games on TV? Aside from that, would that explain the estimated 10 percent drop-off of viewership from last year? Were things any different last year? What was the tipping point?
I guess I was naive because I myself pay no attention to the commercials. I wouldn’t think of sitting down in my favorite chair to watch either a baseball or football game on TV without either a newspaper or stack of magazines at the ready. I take advantage of all the down time provided by these sports to catch up on my reading. I thoroughly enjoyed the Eagles-Falcons game. I can safely say I watched the whole game and missed nothing. I also read what i wanted to read from both the Sunday Boston Globe (exclusive of the sports section, which I read with breakfast) and New York Times during the more than three hours it took to play the game. And in the Dallas-Pittsburgh and New England-Seattle games I spent the huddles, replays, halftime and, yes, commercials, reading magazines. I recommend this approach to everyone.

The very best story of the weekend got buried. Mt. Union lost! The 11-time Division champion had their 112-game regular season winning streak snapped by John Carroll, alma mater of, among many distinguished people, Don Shula, Josh McDaniel and Eric Carmen (surely you remember, “All By Myself”). So hats off to coach Tom Arth and his Blue Streaks.  Mt. Union has now slipped to 222-2 since the run began. Hope this doesn’t put coach Vince Kehres on the hot seat.

Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Corey Seager was a unanimous choice as National league Rookie of the Year, as well he should have been. But I was surprised by the overwhelming support for Detroit pitcher Michael Fulmer as the AL selection. Fuller was a very solid choice. He was 11-7 with a 3.06 ERA. I would have voted for Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez. Yes, he only played in 53 games, but he was spectacular, putting up 20 homers, 42 runs batted in and an OPS of 1.032. I guess I was fixated with the fascinating precedent in 1959, when San Francisco’s Willie McCovey won it despite playing in 52 games. He hit .354. He had 13 homers and 39 runs batted in. He had an OPS (though in 1959 we didn’t know what the hell it was) of 1.085. He even had five triples, two in his major league debut when he went 4-for-4 off Robin Roberts. One supposed knock on Sanchez was that his last 10 games weren’t so hot. But neither were Fulmer’s September outings. Look, I’m not saying Fulmer isn’t a worthy choice. But Sanchez carried the Yankees for a month, to the point where there was even post-season chatter. And it was all due to him.

A Few Thoughts 11/07/16

 Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Just when we thought the Buckeyes were a bit overrated…Ohio State annihilates Nebraska. But they cannot erase that Penn State game. I wish they were taking the field against the Fighting Harbaughs tomorrow. The suspense is killing me.

That victory over Golden State meant something. I’m not calling playoffs for the Lakers, but they have a chance to be interesting. There’s a lot of nice young, raw talent on that team, and Luke Walton might just be the type of personality to get the best out of them. Remember that Julius Randle missed the ’15-16 season.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but at no previous time in his Alabama tenure has Nick Saban had an electrifying, dynamic player at QB remotely resembling Jalen Hurts. They’ve had some nice college players calling signals, ,but they were all excellent, I beg your pardon, Game Managers. This kid is a Game Changer, as LSU found out last Saturday night.

Al Bello/Getty Images

Al Bello/Getty Images

Say what you will about Odell Beckham Jr. and his peccadilloes, but the kid is a weapon and a half. We are in the Golden Age of incredibly skilled pass catchers, just as we are in a new Golden Age of shortstops. And you can throw in point guards if you wish.

It kind of got buried in the fine print of another fun sports weekend, but did you catch Blue Jackets 10, Canadiens 0 last Friday? This, after Les Habitants had won eight straight. Of course, they got back on track the following evening, beating the Flyers, 5-4. And speaking of eye-opening feats on the ice, the Rangers have scored at least five goals in each of their last five games.

Hurricane Jackson whooshed through my way on Saturday. Mr. Heisman-To-Be (I presume his mother still calls him “Lamar”) threw for four and ran for three. The final was Louisville 52, Boston College 7. On the subject of my alma mater, be it known it wasn’t always like this. Just in my days as a columnist, I covered BC triumphs in such datelines as Tallahassee, Fla.; Clemson, S.C.; State College, Pa.; Provo, Utah; and, of course, who could forget a certain 1993 conquest of a school receiving its mail in South Bend, Indiana?

Ben Zobrist had damn well better now be included in Joe Maddon’s will.

Just got my Blue Ribbon mag. I am now officially ready for college basketball.

A Few Thoughts 11/3/16

joe maddon

David J. Phillip/AP Photo

It wasn’t second-guessing. No, it was first-guessing, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one sitting in my viewing room Wednesday night saying, “I hope he isn’t planning on taking out Hendricks before the seventh,” and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who started yelling at the screen, “Joe! Joe! No! No What are you doing?!!!!”
If the Cubs had not managed to pull out that Game 7, it would have been on Joe Maddon. I love Joe Maddon, but at that moment I would have preferred Danny Ozark, or somebody, to be calling the shots in the Cubs’ dugout. But he got away with it, because in the end it’s the players who make you Smart or make you Dumb. Fortunately for Joe Maddon, his players overcame his frightening brain cramp, and you know I’m being polite with that description. You never know what young’uns might stumble across this  piece.
Wow. What a Series! It’s over, and what am I going to do tonight? Guess it’s the Warriors and Thunder, and that’s not so bad. But it will be a while before we get something as delectable as the 2016 match-up of those two star-crossed franchises battling it out for an elusive championship. The Cubs, won, but it’s hard to say the Indians lost. They just didn’t happen to win. How fitting it was that this particular Series should go into extra innings in Game 7. Did you know that these two finished the Series with exactly 27 runs scored apiece?

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesA

The Cubs did what they were built by Theo Epstein and his crack staff to do. This first Cubbie championship since the waning days of the only Teddy Roosevelt full term is the culmination of a Capital P, Plan, that actually Capital W, Worked. Theo was given permission by owner Tom Ricketts to tear it down before building anew. The Cubs lost 101 games in 2012, as Anthony Rizzo can attest. It was by design. They lost 96 in 2013. They lost 89 two years ago. But they won 97 and got back to the playoffs last year and this season they won 100 games (103) for the first time since 1935 and I think you know how it turned out.
The Indians? I’m giving you total full disclosure here. All season long, I Ignored them. All I knew was that they had seized control of the American League Central, they had pretty good starting pitching and that kid at shortstop was pretty good. About the only time I paid any attention at all prior to the playoffs was when Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer wrote a column declaring the season to be over when the Indians lost starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar and all hell broke loose. I figured he knew what he was talking about. I picked them to lose to the Red Sox. I picked them to lose to the Blue Jays. Of course, I picked them to lose to the Cubs. By Series time, however, I had acquired a healthy respect for them.
Perhaps I should have re-read my Baseball Prospectus. This hallowed publication had its finger on the pulse. Here is the Prospectus on Cleveland’s prospects for 2016: “Even with some missing pieces, the 2016 version has a puncher’s odds at a title run, given their starting pitching and the compressed zaniness of playoff performance.” Pretty good call, I would say.
It’s a rather obvious statement to say this was a most unusual Series. Yeah, I know we’re in a bullpen era, but no starter recording an out in the seventh? In a seven-game series? And to think the post-season began with the big controversy being Buck Showalter’s decision not to bring in his best reliever (and best overall pitcher) because he couldn’t find the right time to do so. I went off in this very forum, declaring that this was Creeping LaRussaism run amok, that the idea of saving your so-called “Closer” only for ninth inning circumstances with a lead was something any other manager in baseball would approve of. Boy, that all seems like several lifetimes and a faraway galaxy ago, doesn’t it? By the time we reached Game 7 of the World Series, none of us would have been surprised to see those so-called “Closers” being summoned as early as the fourth, if the skipper in question encountered what he felt was a “high leverage” situation.

Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

One thing we learned for sure was that they’re all mortal. Baumgartner…Kershaw…Kluber…Miller…Allen…Lester…Arrieta….Chapman…they’re all very good, but once in a while you can hit them. Sometimes you just have to believe. I think Dexter Fowler’s homer off Andrew Miller in Game 6 was a very important moment for the Cubs. “Yeah, we can hit this guy.” Or maybe I’m full of it. But I really think it had something to do with the way they approached Miller in Game 7.
The Cubs will be favored to win it all again next year but I’m wondering about how Maddon will do with his bullpen. He made it clear that he only trusted Aroldis Chapman and Mike Montgomery out there, and Chapman may very well be elsewhere in 2017. Aside from that, the team has no major worries that I can see. In fact, with Kyle Schwarber  back full-time, the lineup will be even more formidable.  Cleveland is likewise set up for the long haul. A re-match is not out of the question.
After some of the things we saw in this post-season, we can safely say that nothing could ever really surprise us. OK, just one thing: Jon Lester picking someone off first.
P.S. I wonder if Buck was taking notes.

A Few Thoughts 10/31/16

Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports

Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports

If there is to be a World Series Game 7, and if Corey Kluber starts and wins, he will join an exclusive club. He will be part of World Series history. Without attempting to rain on Kluber’s possible parade, I must point out that there are three World Series Ws and “Three” World Series Ws.
Let’s talk about Lew Burdette and Mickey Lolich.  Neither man was the presumptive ace of his staff at the moment of his greatest glory. Hall of Famer Warren Spahn, arguably the greatest southpaw in history, was The Man on the 1957 Milwaukee Braves. Denny McLain, with his 31  victories — the last such season — was The Man on the 1968 Detroit Tigers. But it was messrs. Burdette and Lolich who each won three games apiece as their teams won a 7-game series over the Yankees and Cardinals, respectively, each team being a defending World Champion, by the way.
And what games they were! All six were complete games. Burdette was particularly impressive in 1957. He beat the Yanks by scores of 4-2, 1-0 and 5-0. Each was a seven-hitter hitter. He did not have gaudy strikeout numbers (13 Ks, 4 BBs). He just kept getting people out with a sinker many always believed was a spitball. Lolich beat the Cardinals by scores of 8-1, 5-3 and 4-1. He fanned 21 and walked 6. Both men pitched Game 7 on two days rest. Oh, and you’ll love this this: the game times were 2:262:00 (Yup!), 2:342:412:43 and 2:07. Where did it all go?
One thing we know for sure: even if he’s thrown 60 pitches through 6, there is no way Corey Kluber will be the man in the middle of the pile following a potential out number 27. And if there is a flip side outcome, you know the man in the middle of that pile will be Aroldis Chapman, not Kyle Hendricks.

Apparently, no one in baseball is exempt from what Pat Riley once called the “Disease of Me.” That would include the otherwise rootable first baseman for the Cubs. Anthony Rizzo cannot deny that he stood and watched the shot he hit to right in the fateful fourth inning on Sunday night. Yes, he kicked it in gear and hustled to second. But had there been anything resembling a good throw from Lonnie Chisenhall he would have been out and the rest of the inning would have been altered. There is no excuse for anyone not blasting out of the box in a World Series game — or any game, really — and there is also no excuse for an Aroldis Chapman failing to cover first base, which also happened Sunday night. Anyone who has ever been to spring training is familiar with the phenomenon known as PFP (“Pitchers’s Fielding Practice). Yes, it was a shot requiring a great stop by Rizzo, but you’ve got to instinctively cover on anything hit to first.

Elsa/Getty Images

Elsa/Getty Images

No matter how all comes out, Terry Francona has had a great post-season. Of course, players and their execution make coaches and managers smart. But managers most certainly do matter, and Francona is proving once again, as he did with a managerial clinic against Clint Hurdle in 2007, that when it comes to this time of year there is no one you’d want in your dugout spitting out sunflower seeds (or ordering $44 worth of room service ice cream at 3:30 AM) more than Terry Francona.

No one had a better night Sunday than John Smoltz. As the Cubs came to bat in the bottom of the fourth, Joe Buck’s broadcast partner made a bold declaration. I cannot quote verbatim, but I am sure he said that it was absolutely mandatory, that if the Cubs were going to win this game they had to have a big inning RIGHT NOW, with those specific batters coming up. Hardly had the words escaped his mouth than one ball was sitting in the basket and the next pitch was caroming off the ivied right field wall. Now that’s what I call expert commentary.

Adrian Kraus/AP Photo

Adrian Kraus/AP Photo

Tom Brady. What can I tell you? As far back as two years ago, I was convinced we were watching the beginning of the end of a great career. Guess not. It must be that avocado ice cream. I just hope no one took my advice and took the Under at 46 1/2 in that Buffalo game . The Pats damn near had the total all by themselves.

But my favorite feat of another great October sports weekend was provided by Florida Panther winger Colton Sceviour, whose name alone makes him special. The Panthers beat the Red Wings Sunday night, 5-2. Sceviour had a hat trick. You say, big deal. A lot of guys get hat tricks. Well, how many come via an even-strength goal, a power play goal and a short handed goal? Honk if you’ve ever seen that.

A Few Thoughts 10/28/16

Icon Sportswire

Icon Sportswire

I must say it’s utter madness in Chicago. I’d like to know what the GNP of this Cubs season will be when the whole thing is over. I know economists are unanimous in their assertion that building stadia and arenas for cities do not represent good use of public funds, that the jobs created are almost universally part-time and that people are simply diverting their leisure time expenditures from other pursuits, etc etc etc. But no one can say that the presence of the Cubs is not putting money in the pockets of businesses at the present time. Are people taking advantage to the point of gouging, a la Louisville during Derby Week? Of course. I read that the Cubby Bear is charging a $100 cover just to watch on the big screen. Well, that’s called capitalism. If you don’t want to go, don’t go. The simple fact is there is no more unifying force than sports, not just here but all over the world. These are the best of times for millions, in both Illinois and Ohio, and anywhere where someone has a love of sport and a sense of history.

What Kyle Schwarber has done already is one of the more amazing feats I have ever seen, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there is at least one major bomb lurking in that bat before the Series is over. Like, you know, a pinch hit game-winning homer.

AP Photo

AP Photo

I must admit I am very curious to see what transpires in Buffalo this Sunday. The Belichick Pats do not ordinarily lose both Division games in a season. Brady is supremely motivated, yes, but Rex gives Tom more trouble than anyone. There’s a lot to consider here. It’s 46 1/2, and I’d be inclined to take the Under, were I a betting man. Which I’m not.

Allow me a diversion. I have been granted a truly unbelievable privilege to join the likes of Tony Bennett, Liza Minelli, Frankie Valli and Michael Feinstein (plus additional scores of musicians and actors and other celebs) to play an hour’s worth of music called “Playing Favorites” on SiriusXM channel 71, Siriusly Sinatra. Three have already aired. The final one is Saturday at 3 ET. The selections feature my own Sinatra best (but no cliche stuff such as “My Way,” “Strangers In The Night” or “New York, New York), plus a variety of choice stuff from the likes of Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong and Bobby Darin. Check it out.

A Few Thoughts 10/26/16

Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

Looks like the Golden State Warriors will have to settle for 81-1. Wow! A loss at home on Opening Night would not have been stunning. But losing by 29 at home, even if it was to a noble rival, was almost unimaginable. And let me be the millionth today to observe that you know Russell Westbrook was chuckling, wherever he was (in front of his TV set, I would presume).  Now I don’t know about you, but I tried hard not to go overboard on the Warriors’ prospects this season. i had set my personal over/under at 65 Ws, and an Opening Night disaster won’t budge me from that opinion.  But wasn’t it reassuring to know that the real winner on Tuesday night was the sport of basketball? Even if it’s just for one evening, the reality of five guys, one ball , and you’ve got to share it prevailed? Throw in the understanding that anyone can have an off night, and we all saw what can happen. I just think it made everyone in the league feel better, if only for one night. The thing jumping out at me from a San Antonio viewpoint was the 20-point game out of a guy I hardly knew existed on this earth. The name Jonathan Simmons sent me scurrying to my Wikipedia this morning. I kinda missed him last year, just as I had kinda missed him at every other stop in his career. Undrafted, a refugee from the American Basketball league, his success reminds us that there are a lot of talented players out there. Sometimes all you need is a patron who gives you a break. Meanwhile, Pop has once again given us a delightful international roster. I will study up on Nicolas Laprovittola (Argentina) and Davis Bertans (Slovenia) and get back to you. Pau Gasol, I think you know about.

Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports

Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports

If Corey Kluber wasn’t the definition of Totally Unhittable Tuesday night, no one ever has been. Forget about the strikeouts, half or more of which were looking. What intrigued me were the feeble swings that produced, among other things, a pair of F2s in your scorebook. You can go a week or more without someone fouling  out to the catcher, and the Cubs did it at least twice that I can recall. Speaking of that catcher, he sent me scurrying to my Baseball Prospectus. Understand that during the baseball season I keep a copy of the Baseball Prospectus in my TV viewing room, just as during the college basketball season I have a copy of “Blue Ribbon” at the ready. I wouldn’t think of watching a game otherwise. So I check up on Roberto Perez, and it was very interesting. If you have your own copy, it’s on page 140. For the rest of you, be advised that it makes for fascinating reading. Did you know the in the 2015 season Roberto Perez swung at fewer pitches outside the strike zone (15.7 percent) than any other player in baseball with 200 plate appearances? So much for the old bromide that “You don’t walk off the island,” in his case Puerto Rico. Of course,  I don’t know what he did in this realm this year, but, anyway…On the flip side, he threw out 42 percent of base stealers a year ago. Again, I don’t have this year’s stat handy. The Baseball Prospectus summation: “Sure, Perez’s 2015 may be an example of everything going right for this never-was prospect, but there’s always a chance this Frankencatcher could be baseball’s best back-up backstop. this season.” Keep in mind that he really is a back-up, that Jan Gomes was the starting Indians’ catcher before his injury. Point here is this is why I keep a Baseball Prospectus by my side, and if you love baseball, you should, too. And, no I am not acquainted with anyone in power at Baseball Prospectus. I am just a satisfied customer.

Tell me that dynamic, can’t-take-your-eyes-off-them talents Javier Baez and Francisco Lindor knowing each other since adolescence, and once even playing on the same travel team in Florida, isn’t in the “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” category.

I’m trying to imagine someone building his or her Thursday evening around the Jaguars-Titans game. And, barring a rain-produced World Series Game 2 (there are dire predictions for Wednesday night in Cleveland, as I write), if ever there was a chance to catch up on your DVR viewing, Thursday night is it.

I like John Smoltz on the subject of pitching, but I sometimes feel I should be taking notes for tomorrow’s exam. We have borderline info overload at work here.

Don’t look now, but college hockey has been underway for a few weeks and here comes college basketball. Whatever happened to, you know, seasons?

A Few Thoughts 10/21/16

Jae C. Hong/AP Photo

Jae C. Hong/AP Photo

What can we determine from the Cubbies’ victories in Games 4 and 5? According to Jayson stark, ESPN and ESPN.Com’s nonpareil baseball savant, we have learned that the Cubs can hit any Dodger pitchers not named Kershaw, Hill or Jansen; that’s what. But they must do just that if they are to advance to the World Series for the first time since 1945. Once again, I remind you that no sane person thought it was going to be easy for the Cubs to do what hasn’t been done in 108 years. It was never meant to be that way. If they can get to the Series on Saturday night by defeating the best pitcher in baseball, and/or the fearsome closer from Curacao, that will be the stuff of song and poetry. If only Steve Goodman were still around to see it all…

“Huh?” “No, he’s kidding, right?” “How dumb does he think we are?” Those are the only appropriate reactions to Rick Pitino’s insistence that he knew nothing about the happenings supervised by former assistant coach Andrew McGee on those infamous recruiting visits. Nope, Rick says. It was all news to me. Then he tells us that, in actuality, he “over-monitors” his assistants. Oh, now I see. What really amuses me, however, is the idea that providing hookers for the recruits came under the same general heading as  giving a player —notice I said “player” and not “student-athlete” — a free T-shirt or a ride from point A to point B; namely, an “impermissible benefit.” Yes, indeed, hiring a hooker for a kid is a benefit, all right. This is all from the same rule book that tells us it’s all right to give a kid a bagel but if you add the cream cheese it’s an “impermissible benefit.” (I wish I were kidding). Remember, as always, that we are the only country that has its institutions of higher learning provide entertainment for the masses.  What a great system we’ve created. How I’d love to tear it up and start from scratch.

Getty Images

Getty Images

Speaking of sordid tales, how bad is this Josh Brown story? There is plenty of blame and shame to go around. Those of you who didn’t grow up in Greater New York City may not be aware that the New York Football Giants have been owned by the Mara family since the Coolidge administration, and that they have held themselves up for nine decades as a paragon of NFL virtue. We may have to re-visit that one. I don’t know how John Mara can look any Giants female fan in the eye. If Josh Brown is retained after all this, it would almost call for a major female boycott of NFL games and sponsor products.

October 21 is the 41st anniversary of the epic 1975 World Series Game 6. I had the privilege of covering that game. Everyone knows how it ended, but there was an even clutchier (Yes, I just made up a word, and I rather like it) homer in that game. Absent Bernie Carbo’s three-run pinch hit homer in the eighth, there would not have been the opportunity for Carlton Fisk to be The Man in the 12th. As Carbo was rounding third base on his home run excursion, he yelled to his old teammate Pete Rose, “Don’t you wish you were that strong?” Pete replied, “Ain’t this fun, Bernie? This what the World Series is about. This is fun.” My assignment was the visiting locker room, so I was among the mob interviewing losing pitcher Pat Darcy. I remember him being a complete gentleman and a pro.

Have you taken a look at this weekend’s slate of NFL games? It’s almost completely unappealing, just a lot of blah. Before the season New England at Pittsburgh looked great, but now that Roethlisberger is down, that game has lost its sizzle. There is nothing resembling appointment TV. This might one the day to catch up on your movie going or even go really high and hit a museum. You know what? That would be good for you. There’s still a lot of football left. Maybe there will even be a good game or two some other Sunday.

Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo

Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo

Sean McDonough is as good as TV announcers get, for many reasons, and he demonstrated one of them Monday night by daring to tackle an issue the rest would never go near. Being forced to witness a flag-fest being put on by the zebras, he made reference to the declining TV ratings by saying, “Things like this don’t help.” You can bet there was a phone call placed on Tuesday morning from Park Avenue to Bristol, Connecticut telling some ESPN exec to do something about that guy.  On behalf of the viewing public, I say here and now, “Thanks, Sean.”

A Few Thoughts 10/17/16

Am I worried? Damn right, I’m worried. I said worried, not panic-stricken But , of course, I’m concerned.
I’m pulling for the Cubs, and they just aren’t hitting. There but for Travis Wood and Jake Arrieta’s bats they might not even have gotten past the Giants. And what’s happening in Games 1 and 2 against the Dodgers is quite troubling.
Anthony Rizzo has been a rock for two regular seasons. But his two post-seasons have thus far seen him laying a pair of Brontosaurus eggs, The man who has given his team back-to-back seasons of 31-101 and an .899 OPS and 32-105 and a .928 OPS  has, as we approach Tuesday’s Game 3 in Los Angeles, gone 7-for-61 with a pathetic OPS of .449 in his two post-seasons. This simply cannot continue if the Cubs are to reach the goal of ending 108 years of frustration.

Jon Durr/USA TODAY Sports

Jon Durr/USA TODAY Sports

Addison Russell is likewise in a batting funk. The shortstop came up with impressive production despite a .238 batting average. No one could possibly have complained about 21 homes and 95 ribbies, nor a .738 OPS. Now in the 20167 post-season he has started off by going 1-for-23 and he just looks lost at the plate. I was one of the many who assessed the Cubs by saying they are the best team because they have all the bases covered far better than anyone else, but right now they are limping along with a sub-standard offense, and don’t get carried away by the Miguel Montego grand slam. It was very welcome, but it was a major bonus and the reality is the Cubs won’t get past the Dodgers while hoping for more miracles such as that one.
The Cubs faced so-called “adversity” (an abused word in sports) against the Giants and survived. Perhaps they are merely following a cosmic script that will call for them to tease their fandom in a cruel manner. before getting the job done. Look at the ’04 Red Sox. They had come oh-so-close to toppling the Yankees in ’03, losing in Game 7 in the infamous Pedro-Grady-Aaron Boone Game. A year later they lost by a 19-8 score at home to fall behind 3-0 to the same hated Yanks. I  can testify that no fan who walked out of Fenway on that Saturday evening had a sliver of hope that the team could come back, if for no other reason than it had never been done in baseball, only in hockey. But clearly there was a cosmic script in play for that Red Sox team, because 11 nights after that 19-8 debacle in Boston they were sipping the champagne in St. Louis, having lost no more games the 2004 post-season.
So perhaps this is what the Big Guy Upstairs has in store for the Cubs and their fans. I think we can assume that ending the 108 years of misery was not going to be a simple straight-line task.
Therefore, no one should panic. But a little chewing of the finger nails might be in order.

 

Steven Senne/AP Photo

Steven Senne/AP Photo

I am about to pull my wet blanket out of the closet on the subject of the News England Patriots. It is impossible to over-praise Tom Brady, who followed his 406-yard debut last week with 376 more yards and three more touchdowns on Sunday against the Bengals. But the Bengals were very complicit in their own demise, and the Patriots need to shore up some areas before they play such teams as Pittsburgh (Yes, even without Ben) and Seattle in the upcoming weeks. They are not good on third down defense and it took some questionable Cincy play-calling and execution to end a streak in which each opponent venture into the Red Zone had produced a touchdown.  Most worrisome, what has happened to Stephen Gostkowski, who had been as reliable as any kicker in the league during the past several seasons? He missed that crucial extra point in the playoffs last year and yesterday he pushed another one to the right. He has already missed as many field goals (3) this year as he did all last year. One thing he is doing, however, is kicking artful kickoffs that force short returns.
One other good thing if you are a Patriots fan: Gronk was ridiculously good yesterday, hauling in seven Brady passes for a career-high 162 yards. “We didn’t do a very good job covering him,” observed Bengals’ mentor Marvin Lewis, obviously angling for a commentator job down the road.

All college overtime games are not created equal. We give you Clemson’s non-loss scare against North Carolina State and Ohio State’s impressive comeback win in Madison. In terms of ranking and such and possible participation in the college football playoffs, I would consider the Clemson scoreboard edge to be the equivalent of a loss. The young man from NC State, who had already missed two field goals, missed a highly makable 33-yarder as regulation time expired. At that moment, Dabo and his lads had no control of the situation. In all likelihood, they were going to lose. I give them full credit for the way they handled the OT. The TD was class and the interception that ended it was first-rate. But by that time they should have been sitting in the locker room, answering questions about the end of their home winning streak. This was Bullet-Dodging 101.
But Ohio State was another matter. The Men of Urban came from behind on the road against a high-quality Wisconsin team to win a key game. The Buckeyes are clearly number 2, if not 1A, behind those Alabamans, who are averaging 44 points a game and who in Jalen Hurts may have as dangerous as quarterback as they’ve had in the Nick Saban era.

 

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Sooner or later the Indians will run out of pitchers…won’t they? What a story. Terry Francona is putting position players out there who would qualify for a Baseball Witness Protection Program. Hey, that’s on us, not them. Count me in. I wasn’t paying much attention to what the Indians were doing during the regular season, or who was doing it.  One thing I do know: Francisco Lindor is one helluva young shortstop. I love the Andrew Miller saga. He’s a good guy and very deserving. Let’s just keep this whole pitching thing in some sort of perspective. Miller’s name has been linked with Randy Johnson, simple because he’s tall (6-7) and has wicked stuff, most notably a killer slider. Well, Andrew Miller is only being asked to do it for two innings — tops. Randy did what he did for 7,8 or 9 innings. I’m just sayin’.

A Few Thoughts 10/14/16

Alex Brandon/AP Photo

Alex Brandon/AP Photo

What Clayton Kershaw did on Thursday night to insure a Dodgers serious victory over the Nats was noteworthy, sure. But can we all get a  grip? It’s not like we haven’t seen something like this before. Randy Johnson did something similar in both Seattle and Arizona uniforms. Kershaw isn’t even the first one to do it for the Dodgers. Orel Hershiser IV did it in 1988. To borrow from the Geico commercial, when you get to the playoffs if you’re a true ace, it’s what you do. And this business about, “Oh my God! 110 pitches and one day’s rest?” 110? Have we really come to a point where 110 is such a big deal? I mean, really.
I’m not trying to diminish his role. They needed something, and Clayton Kershaw gave it to them. To me, it was just playoff baseball as it should be. As for the Dusty Baker seventh inning parade to the mound…don’t get me started.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP

Auston Matthews! Wow. My immediate thought when I found out during the course of his NHL regular season debut that Auston Matthews had scored a hat trick in the first 21 minutes en route to a four-goal game was what comparable first game performances had taken place in any sport. I first thought of Juan Marichal, who threw a one-hitter against the Phillies in 1960. So I tweeted it. It didn’t take long before someone reminded me that right in my own back yard there was Billy Rohr, who in his first start for the 1967 Red Sox took a no-hitter into the last out of the 9th before Elston Howard singled over the second baseman’s head into right. And someone else claimed that Silvio Martinez likewise had a one-hitter in his debut, but I can’t verify that one. The name Allen Iverson was thrown out there. He had 30 against the Bucks, I was told. The next day it occurred to me I had been witness to one of baseball’s more startling break-ins, that being Ted Cox a third baseman who went 6-for-6 to cover his first game and a half to inaugurate his Big League career for the 1977 Red Sox. (Cox was traded to the Indians the following season and wound up with a 272-game major league career yielding totals of .245, 10 homers and 70 runs batted in).
By the way, my favorite NBA debut was that of John Drew. The young Atlanta Hawk let the world know he was not bashful, going 12-for-34 on his Opening night.

Without indulging in extensive research, I’m make the bold pronouncement that Auston Matthews is the best hockey player ever to come out of Scottsdale, Arizona.

There’s a lot of chatter out there about the entertainment effect of the 4 and a half hour Nats-Dodgers nine-inning game. The seventh inning alone took more than an hour to pay. All I can say is that while I decry the growing length of regular season games, whatever happens in the playoffs happens. It was worth it to me to get the drama we had in the late innings.
I can’t exaggerate how impressive Dominique Foxworthy’s appearances have been on ESPN’s morning “Mike and Mike.” That guy can call his shots, whether it’s broadcasting or any other business.
I was beginning to think we were going have hire someone to knock some heads together in order to get LSU and Florida to re-schedule that postponed game. Some of the stuff coming out of LSU AD Joe Aleva’s mouth was ridiculous. But, as has been pointed out by others, he did such a bang-up job with both the Duke lacrosse business and the Les Miles situation. What could we expect?
Wondering if the Chicago Tribiube and Chicago Sun-Times already have their headlines ready.

You know, if…

A Few Thoughts 10/10/16

David Richard/AP Photo

David Richard/AP Photo

Never. Nope. Absolutely not. Did not see it coming.
I thought Tom Brady would improve the Patriots’ offense, but who didn’t believe that? I thought he’d play reasonably well, but that when the game was over we’d be saying something like, “Well?, that was Ok, and it was sure nice to have him back. But he’s still got a long way to go  before he’s really going to be Tom Brady.”
And after what saw yesterday?
Let’s just say that if he keeps it up he will be in the MVP discussion despite — or, perhaps because — the fact he happened to miss the first four games.
It wasn’t simply the numbers: 28 of 41 for 406 yards (406 being a hallowed number in Boston, remember) and three touchdowns. What made this performance so dazzling was that 16 of those 28 receptions, and all three TDs went to trio of receivers with whom he was playing for the first time in legitimate NFL competition. We assumed he’d be just fine renewing acquaintance with Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, and he was especially clicking with the Gronkster (5-109).
What was sobering for the rest of the remaining Pats’ opponents was him being so simpatico with Martellus Bennett, Chris Hogan and even rookie Malcolm Mitchell. Bennett hauled in six passes, with three of them going for touchdowns of 5, 7 and 37 yards. Hogan caught four for 114 yards. Mitchell caught three for seven yards (OK, no big deal here).
Brady announced his return by orchestrating an 8-play, 80-yard drive for a TD. By halftime he had thrown for 271 yards.
Speaking of sobering thoughts, how many other NFL teams can boast of a pair of tight ends combining for 176 yards? That would be none. Josh McDaniels has already proven he knew how to exploit having two gifted pass receiving tight ends when that guy doing life was paired up with The Gronkster. Get ready for more, all you DCs.

Jack Dempsey/AP Photo

Jack Dempsey/AP Photo

I don’t have anything against defense. No matter the sport, you gotta have it. But I loooove offense. That’s why I was rooting for the Falcons against the Broncos. Of course, the story of the day was the Atlanta defense, and how about that Vic Beasley, Jr.? The Broncos OL had no answer. But Atlanta and Matt Ryan did ring up 372 yards against that vaunted Denver D. Hoo-Ray.

Josh Donaldson kinda sneaked up on me in 2013. Part of it was the age-old “West Coast” problem. So when he put up a year with a .883 OPS and wound up finishing fourth in the AL MVP balloting, I basically said, “Who the hell is he?”
I know now.
He’s flat-out fun. He plays his butt off, and it was entirely appropriate that he be the one to provide the Blue Jays with the knockout punch in the ALDS when he doubled and scored on the botched Rangers’ DP.
The Blue Jays are now extremely dangerous. They are swinging those lethal bats like some slow-pitch softball team and they are extremely confident. In other words, they are the flip side of the Red Sox, who in their first two games against the Indians were deficient in, to indulge in a cross-sports reference, all three phases of the game: batting, pitching a defense.

aaron_pryor_002Speaking of knockout punches, RIP Aaron Pryor.
My first foray into boxing writing took place 43 years ago when the 1973 AAU Boxing Championships came to Boston’s Hynes Auditorium. The marquee fighters were a kid from Maryland named Ray Leonard and a kid from Cincinnati named Aaron Pryor.
Leonard lost to Randy Shields, the son of a Hollywood stunt man. I mean, who could ever forget that?
Pryor won the lightweight championship.
But the young man proclaimed as the Best Boxer (however it was phrased) was an unheralded southpaw middleweight who had recently moved from his native Newark to the then boxing hotbed Brockton, Massachusetts, a kid named Marvin Hagler.
All three went on to great ring glory. Not a bad boxing baptism for me, huh?

When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. When you adopt a stupid position, you must ‘fess up.
I actually thought the Jets would be a playoff team and would challenge the Patriots in the AFC East.
Oops.
Now, were I Jets’ owner Woody Johnson, I would bring head coach Todd Bowles into my office and ask for an explanation as to why, with his team trailing the Steelers by two scores with 7:29 left, and his team facing a 4th and 2 at their own 46, did he choose to punt?
This is inexcusable and indefensible.
The Jets season is over.

Little did Dennis Eckersley realize when he coined the phrase “walk-off” many years ago to describe the situation when you give up a home run to lose the game (“You give up the bomb and you walk off the mound”) that his idea would be flipped upside down to become an offensive reference and then so completely bastardized that we would be subjected to such nonsense to the ears as a”walk-off error,” such as the one which resulted in the aforementioned Josh Donaldson scoring the winning run in Game 3 of the ALDS.