SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Watch Mike Trout at a Stadium Near You

We have more choices than we used to.


Baseball might be the national pastime in name only.


It's hotter outside, the games take too long, the ball is hardly in play, there are too many strikeouts, not enough rallies, too much specialization among pitchers, the mound is too high, it is too far back, the shifts ought to be outlawed, the players make too much money, it's the game you used to go to with your dad but your kid doesn't want to go to with you because he likes something else.


We've heard it all.  We also hear how stats can ruin the game because unless you have a math degree from MIT you cannot begin to comprehend the wealth of data that teams have at their disposal. 


All interesting points.  And yet, amidst all of this noise is Mike Trout. 


The Angels' centerfielder, even with some recent slumps, is on target to have the second-best single season for an offensive player ever. 


Ever. 


Babe Ruth once put up numbers that yielded a 14.1 WAR stat; Trout is on pace for a 13.7 number. 


That is ever.  Ty Cobb never did that.  Ditto Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Henry Aaron, Jackie Robinson, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, Rod Carew, Wade Boggs, Rogers Hornsby, Joe Morgan, Tris Speaker, Ted Williams.  Name all hitters of all time and none of them -- not Gehrig, not Lazzeri, not Cepeda, Banks, Billy Williams, Frank Robinson, the list goes on  -- ever put up a season like the one Trout is putting up.


I read somewhere that were Trout to have retired before last season, he would have rated as one of the six best offensive players of all time.  That was before last season, where he missed six weeks but still had a top finish in AL MVP voting. 


There is an absolutely awesome, special player out there.


Watch him as much as you can.

World Cup

The World Cup is upon us and save for some Americans and international golf fanatics (who will be focusing on the US Open through Sunday), the sporting world will be locked in on the World Cup.  The Russians are hosting the tournament this year.  32 teams are in, among them Iceland (with a population of 335,000 people), Iran, Morocco, Panama, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Uruguay (with a population of roughly 3 million people).  Among the notably absent -- Chile (with Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal), Italy, Netherlands, United States, Wales (the latter, with Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, enjoyed a top-20 ranking for most of the year). 


So what to expect?  Perhaps the unexpected.  Spain, with its rich recent history, on-the-field leadership and star-studded roster figures to be in the hunt, but just incurred a self-inflicted wound by firing their manager two days before the tournament is to start because he elected to become Real Madrid's manager after the World Cup.  That decision cannot help the Spaniards.  Germany and Brazil are co-favorites in the minds of the oddsmakers, but, and these are big buts, the Germans would have to be the first team in decades to repeat and the Brazilians, while always wildly talented, might not have the cohesiveness or leadership necessary to win the tournament.  The Brazilians might be scarred from the thrashing they took in their home country at the feet of Germany in the 2014 World Cup (the Germans slashed and burned them, 7-1, in an unforgettable performance).  Then again, this squad's makeup is different, and that game could serve as a motivator to propel Brazil to the top again. 


France might have the most talent of anyone, but question marks arise as to their maturity and their leadership.  Les Bleus will need some on-the-pitch leaders to emerge if they are to win the tournament.  They certainly have the talent to win it, with a midfielder like Paul Pogba and front-line players such as Mbappe and Griezmann.  They have a veteran goalie in Hugo Lloris, and two talent center backs in Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti.  This team could make a deep run.


It's hard to discuss the World Cup and the contenders without mentioning the teams that are home to the two best players in the world -- Argentina, a finalist four years ago, with Lionel Messi, and Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo.  Both could win the cup, but for Argentina, they need to show that they have a balanced team and a strong enough defense to emerge with the title.  Up front, they have as much supply as anyone, with Messi, Sergio Kun Aguero, Paolo Dybala and Gonzalo HiguaĆ­n.  For any team to have one of those players would be an accomplishment; to have four is an embarrassment of riches.  This team will score.  The question is, will they be able to keep their opposition from scoring?  Then there are the Portuguese, who won the European Cup a couple of years ago and have Ronaldo and a core of exciting young players.  They probably do not have enough to get past the quarterfinals, but with Ronaldo, anything is possible.


Then there is the EPL All-Star team, err, the Belgian National Squad, coached by Roberto Martinez, who is assisted by Thierry Henry.  It is an amazing assembly of talent, especially for a country with only 15 million people.  Need a striker?  How about Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku?  Need a winger?  How about Chelsea's Eden Hazard?  Need a central attacking midfielder?  How about Manchester City's Kevin DeBruyne?  Need good center backs?  How about Tottenham's Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld and Manchester City's Vincent Kompany?  Need one of the world's best keepers?  You have Chelsea's Thibault Courtois.  Oh, and you also have midfielder Dries Mertens, among other non-EPL players, who almost led Napoli to dethrone Juventus in Italy's Serie A.  The Belgians are the dark horse in the tournament.  If they can play together, they can win it all.  Seriously.


There are many others who warrant discussion.  England has a young-ish team, led by one of the best strikers in the world in Tottenham's Harry Kane.  But overall the English lack the talent of the continent's best teams and also Brazil, and they haven't developed a style or flair that the other countries have.  Senegal is a popular pick to get to the knockout stage.  The Nigerians have the best uniforms and some good players, including Arsenal's Alex Iwobi.  Croatia has an amazing midfield, Colombia could surprise some folks, as could Morocco.  Few give, among others, Panama, Australia, Iran and Saudi Arabia much of a chance. 


And that leads me to Germany.  You probably were wondering why had I not mentioned them, and the truth is that I was going back and forth on my favorites to win the tournament.  I had the Spaniards up until this morning, when they sacked their manager, Juan Lopetegui, because he had the temerity to accept the Read Madrid job in a way not to the liking of his nation's soccer federation.  Which means that while the new manager is well known to the squad, he is new to the position of leader.  And that chance could be the self-inflicted wound that knocks Spain out of the favorites role.  Read a list of the top 25 players in the world, and with the exception of England's Kane, Messi and Ronaldo, almost all are from Germany, Spain and France, with a handful of Belgians sprinked in for good measure.  I don't think France has the maturity yet, and Belgium has disappointed so much (think the hare in the "Tortoise and the Hare") that my predictions lead to Germany.  They won a title last summer with their back-up players populating the squad.  They are steady, explosive and they don't beat themselves.  In Timo Werner, they might have a breakout striker.  They have Manuel Neuer, when the healthy, the world's best keeper, back in goal; and if he is not ready they have Barcelona's ter Stegen to play the role.  Strong back line, solid at the midfield, strong in the attack.  They will be formidable, and they will wear you down.  I look for them to repeat as champions.


Unless. . .


1.  Spain shakes off its managerial distraction;
2.  France's talent meshes into the juggernaut we all know it can become.
3.  Harry Kane dons Superman's cape and has the tournament of a lifetime.
4.  The Belgians show up and play more like Man U under Ferguson than Everton in its final months under Martinez.
5.  Argentina figures out a way to defend enough.


Should be a great tournament, and I will be there for some of it. 


The soccer world comes together once every four years.  It should be quite the exciting time.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Bryan Colangelo Mess and 76ers' Potential Train Wreck

The good news -- that the team won 50 games this season.  The other news -- that they did so with an odd assortment of flawed parts and beat up on the weaker portion of the league in the second half to get there.  Sure, you play who you play, but it is not as though the team plowed through the guts of the West to get to 50 games. 


The bad news -- where to start, so here goes:


1.  Boston out-toughed the 76ers, had a better strategy and had more complete players in the NBA semi-finals.  Atop that, they beat the 76ers in 5 without their two best players.   And the 76ers' head coach, a likeable fellow, was outcoached by the next "superstar" coach in the league, Brad Stevens.  By the way, this author grew up loathing the Celtics and still roots hard against them, but let's give credit where credit is due.  And Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens merit a lot of credit.


2.  The 76ers have a bunch of on-the-court issues to sort out, and, it seems, no player is immune.  So, in no particular order, the following:


a.  Ben Simmons did not show up in the NBA semis.  He is reluctant to shoot, has an odd shot and a bad shot at that.  Of course, if he had a good shot, he might be the next uber-star, but right now he is an enigma who good coaches can figure out how to defend.  Most great players can shoot the rock; Simmons cannot.  Atop that, his coach offered that the team would only make minor tweaks to his shot.  No less an authority on good, clutch shooting -- Kobe Bryant -- offered his opinion that the team needs to reconstruct Simmons' shot, period. 


b.  Joel Embiid presents a high-class problem if he gets healthier, can practice with the team, and gets into much better shape.  He is an amazing talent, a very complete basketball player, and compelling because he is so tall and so skilled.  That said, he needs to turn the ball over less while the team needs to use him better.  Running the offense through him at the high post seems to be misguided.  And no one can guard him down low, and, if someone could, that person wouldn't be quick enough to stay with him outside.


c.  Markell Fultz right now looks to be a bust.  Sure, he's young, and I am empathetic, but he is what his record says he is.  He's a talent, he's fast, he's strong, he had a triple double, but he cannot shoot.  Period.  There are many guards out there who have that talent profile -- most are playing overseas or in the G League.  Adding insult to injury, the 76ers traded up to of all teams Boston to grab him, and Boston took Jayson Tatum in the draft, the player that they would have taken had they had the first pick.  Put differently, the Fultz situation looks like a bunch of dominos that are knocking each other over, and someone needs to pick up the pieces, rebuild his shot and have him play a lot this summer to test it out. 


d.  Robert Covington made the first-team all defensive team but lost his way on offense on many occasions.  He just had surgery on one of the fingers on his shooting hand, so hopefully the finger was the root cause of the woes.  If that's the case, he should improve.


e.  The team's bench scared no one defensively.  Yes, one had to guard Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Bellinelli and T.J. O'Connell, but they are not lock-down defenders and Bellinelli is a flat-out defensive liability.  And J.J. Redick is no defensive stopper, either.  It's hard to believe a team can carry Bellinelli and Reddick unless they cannot find a more athletic alternative to Bellinelli. 


And then there is the off-the-court stuff, as follows:


1.  The Bryan Colangelo affair.  No need to repeat what has been blasted all over the sports world yesterday through today.  Suffice it to say that if it's true, the ownership will have no alternative but to fire the general manager.


2.  The dispute between Colangelo and Brown over whether the team should sign a high-profile free agent.  Brown has said yes, Colangelo has been demure.  As for the latter, if that's his thinking, it's one thing, but if he's channeling the ownership, sheesh.  The fans want a high-profile free agent; they want to contend now.


3.  The fact that Simmons has bought two very expensive cars in two years and dropped a girlfriend because she was acting too much like a Kardashian only to start dating Kendall Jenner, who is a Kardashian.  Note to Ben:  how many of the Kardashians' relationships are private, lack drama and go well? 


4.  That Fultz might not want to play summer league ball.  Say what?  There is only so much riding of a stationery bike that one can do to say in shape. 


5.  That Embiid is playing playground ball in South Philadelphia.  I like the grass roots appeal, but Joel, don't step into a pothole when you land after posterizing an off-duty Philadelphia parks and rec official.


What free agent would want to join this team, especially with Colangelo's credibility and integrity on the line?  What season ticket holder will be happy if management closes ranks behind Colangelo, risks losing the team in the process?  What season ticket holder will be happy if LeBron James or Paul George or Kawhi Leonard does not join the team? 


The team should be on the upswing after a 50-win season.  Instead, it is doing damage control, big-time damage control, hoping to improve some talented if flawed parts and get ready to take on the juggernaut -- mentally and physically -- that is the Boston Celtics. 


This is the most important off-season for the 76ers in recent memory.  It's off to a terrible start.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Observations at Health Clubs

I belong to a pretty large health club, both in terms of membership and offerings.  Here are some general observations, from the bad to the indifferent to the good.


1.  Don't Engage Me in Long Conversations.  I am there to work out, and I am focused on a three-part workout -- some aerobics, some weights, and some flexibility.  You want to say hello?  Fine.  You are a long-lost buddy I haven't seen in a while, we'll talk.  But if you want to vector your political views onto me and vent about something, find someone else and somewhere else to do so.  My time is precious, even more so as I get older.  Let's say hello, a kind word, perhaps something at least mildly amusing, and then get on with our workouts.


2.  Don't Talk on Your Cell Phone Loudly While on an Exercise Machine.  I mean, really, aren't we supposed to go to the gym to get away from all sorts of media save the songs that you can listen to on your phone while you are working out?  I really don't need to hear you counsel your parents, counsel your kids, catch up with a friend who seems to be very needy.  There is a time and a place for that, but, most certainly, not right next to me while I'm trying to work my intervals on an elliptical.


3.  Don't Hog Machines.  Look, I get it, we all have routines and want to do certain machines in a certain order.  But you must not commandeer two machines at once, by leaving a towel and your phone on one of them and then a workout bag or sweatshirt on another.  Dedicated gym devotees tend to respect people's time and space, so there is little chance that someone else will prevent you from doing what you need to do on a machine. 


4.  Work Out Properly.  Now, this one is up to the person, of course, but the Larry the Lolly-gaggers just slay me.  You know the type, they get on an elliptical and stay there for an hour at a very low speed.  I haven't the foggiest what they think they are getting out of this workout other than anesthetizing themselves that they are at the gym and, as a result, doing something to improve their health.  This workout looks like an elliptical workout in slow motion.  Didn't anyone ever tell these people that interval workouts are the way to go, to get one's heart going?


5.  Work Out Properly, Parts 2 through Infinity.    To anyone who concentrates in one area, how do you really feel?  Do those who only lift feel flexible and enjoy good cardio health?  To those who only do yoga have good bone density, have good cardio health and strength?  Do those who only do cardio have good bone density, strength and flexibility?  All three seem to be key to good health.  You don't have to spend a half day at the gym, and there are a bunch of things that you can do at home.   But staying fit requires that you focus on more than one area even if you love that area and don't like the rest.  Listen, you have the gym membership, so you might as well take advantage of everything your gym has to offer.


6.  Don't Insult Me.  I made conversation with a guy who was wearing a college sports t-shirt;  I went to a rival school.  I asked if he went there; he said no, but that his son "played ball" there, as if I knew what ball meant and then he explained football.  Now that school is viewed as one of the most snotty in its conference.  I offered that I went to a rival for graduate school.  Tough-guy dad then assesses me and says, "What, are you a Bernie Sanders supporter?"   Now,  I have not discussed politics on this blog and try to avoid the subject at all costs, and I will not reveal my thoughts on the Senator from Vermont.  What was clear was that this fellow did not mean the question as a compliment, but the way he asked it -- aggressive -- was uncalled for.  It then occurred to me that it wasn't just by chance why his two college-football-playing sons opted to live 3,000 miles away from dear old dad.


All in all, this bill of particulars is not all that terrible, as the good far outweigh the bad and there are so many offerings that I can get a good workout in a variety of ways.  I often say that if the average American halved his/her sugar intake, stretched 15 minutes a day and walked 30 minutes a day 5 days a week the healthcare system and our fellow citizens would be in far better shape.   There is a message in all of this -- instead of griping about the decline of the U.S. healthcare system, do what you can to control avoiding your own decline, as follows:


1.  Eat right. 
2.  Don't drink too much.
3.  Get a good night's sleep.
4.  Try to stay mellow and get away from social media.  People aren't trying to offend you personally or excluded you when they share their thoughts or gatherings.  And if they are, make your world bigger so that it doesn't matter.
5.  Exercise -- weights, flexibility and cardio.  5 days a week.
6.  Don't be lonely, circulate.  A lot.   While smoking and overeating can kill you, so can loneliness.  You might have a nice house with the 60-inch screen, a reclining chair and access to the best of Ben & Jerry's, but get out there and talk with people.  You will be glad that you did.
7.  Try to enjoy life's good things on occasion and celebrate when it is time.
8.  Help others, reach out to those in need.


There are many other adages, of course, and there are many elements to one's physical and mental health.  For sure, you aren't going to look like a CrossFitter or swimsuit model, but who does?  And you aren't going to change your habits in a week or lose ten pounds in a month.  But you have to start somewhere, and there is no time like the present.


Get going!

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Reflections on the 76ers

You might like them because they are bold, they have swagger, their ownership knows how to market with "Trust the Process" and "Welcome to the Moment."  For us oldtimers, these are echos of either "We Owe You One" or "Come Buy the Seat You'll Never Sit In," with the latter accompanied by images of great plays by the likes of Dr. J that would have you jumping out of your seat. 


But swagger, sizzle, whatever you call it, only gets you so far.  The teams in the late 70's and early 80's were more mature, more formed, more ready for the big time.  This amalgamation of all sorts of parts has been compelling to watch -- at times -- and frustrating at others.  The bottom line is that if you had told an average 76ers' fan that the team would win 50 games and get to the second round of the playoffs, he would have taken it -- at the season's outset.


But the publicity machine, the hype machine, the huckster machine, could not leave well enough alone, could not be humble, got too big for its britches.  The Boston Celtics have been around for a while, they have an apparently transcending coach and a philosophy for attracting talent that says everyone must be able to handle the rock and shoot it -- inside and outside.  Brad Stevens is the new Greg Popovich, the Celtics the new Spurs -- perhaps.  Suffice it to say that the 76ers are not as good as some thought they were during the 16-game winning streak or as bad as some are saying now.


It would have been nice to see some humility from the organization, more respect for the league and the Celtics and even for the intelligence of the fans.  The owners -- led by Josh Harris -- owe the fans a debt of gratitude for staying with the team during a miserable process and for signing up for tickets when, qujte frankly, there was much more hope involved than a track record of excellence.  Series expose flaws, especially in young teams, and the gap between a 3 seed and a 2 seed seems great.  Pick positive adjectives and then the opposite and assign them to the Celtics and 76ers respectively, and you'll sum up the series, the 76ers' solid game last night notwithstanding.


This is a key off-season for the following people:  GM Bryan Colangelo, head coach Brett Brown, point-something Ben Simmons, swingman Robert Covington, center Joel Embiid and guard Markell Fultz.  Colangelo needs to make the right decisions on the trade and free-agent market, Brown needs to find his coaching voice, align it with those who select the talent, and adapt.  Simmons needs to build a reliable shot.  Covington needs to find the tonic for his disappearing acts.  Embiid needs to get in better shape.  Fultz needs to find his shot as well.


Those are a lot of variables for a team on the rise, a team that some have hyped should be a repeat visitor to the NBA finals. 


They also should tone down the hype machine, manage expectations, add a dose of humility to their cocktail and work their tails off to become more consistent and develop a consistent ability to finish off opponents and to step up and tangle with and defeat the best teams. 


This past season was a good start.


But to get to the elite level, there remains a significant amount of work to do.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Farewell, Arsene Wenger

Most of us cannot choose when we go out.  Do we leave when they love us?  Do we leave too early, as if we know that if we stayed too long we might get exposed?  Or do we leave too early and be missed, only to go to the next place and figure out that we might be exposed?  Or do we stay too late, failing to see the signs, keeping to the old methods, talking about the old days and not enough about the future?  Or, are we just fine, and, well, sometimes those in charge don't see eye to eye with us or we with them?  Departures, then, are a mixed bag.  There are always stories and facts, errors, omissions, the truth of the victors, the complaints of the vanquished, a sense that life is flawed, unfair, decisive, skewed, accelerated, too forgiving, not understanding enough, right, overdue, just plain wrong, or a combination of some or all of the above. 


At the end of the day, Arsene Wenger is leaving Arsenal.  Leaving as a legend after arriving as a relative unknown asked to replace a legend in George Graham.  A manager who made a quick mark on a hallowed club, got them to a high water mark with the Invincibles in 2004, only not to win another Premiership thereafter, not to win a Champions League, a Sisyphian struggle for the Gunners and their fans, still managing to finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League for 20 straight years, always able to spot and develop young talent, and noteworthy for his steering the club through waffling ownership (the Kroenkes historically have owned their trophies but not done nearly enough to make them win) and finances taxing enough to compel him to sell contracts before he wanted to part with players.  A proud legacy, a successful one, but one that leaves an odd taste in the mouths of everyone involved.


Could it have gone more smoothly?  Could it have happened earlier?  Why did this exist have to be so public and so prolonged?  What are the Kroenkes up to? 


The latter question is the most compelling.  There is a striking parallel to their ownership of American football's Los Angeles Rams, where they were loyal to a head coach (Jeff Fisher) who will be mostly remembered for three things -- his inability to coach offense, his ability to coach defense, and his inability to develop quarterbacks.  Fisher languished in mediocrity so long that he gave rise to the following joke, told in mid-summer.  "Hey, today is Jeff Fisher Day."  "Why's that?"  The punchline:  "It's July 9.  7-9, get it?"  For those across the pond reading this, we Americans list the month first and then the day of it, not vice versa as many of you do.  Fisher's tendency for sub.-500, 7-win seasons drew a lot of notice, none of it favorable.


The Kroenkes were very loyal to Fisher, declaring their public support for him in the 2016 season and even giving him a contract extension.  Then the season ended badly, and the Kroenkes and Los Angeles Rams let him go.  The speculation was that the Rams would recycle a former head coach, the same way many English Premier League teams hire a Sam Allerdyce, Tony Pulis, David Moyes, Mark Hughes for one of their vacancies.  But instead, the Rams made an inspired choice.  They hired the 31 year-old offensive coordinator from the Washington Redskins (far from a good team right now) named Sean McVay. 


All McVay did was turn the Rams into one of the NFL's most dangerous teams, earning him coach-of-the-year honors.  He took a quarterback (Jared Goff) who was a disappointment under Fisher and whom some were already calling a bust into a formidable threat.  His team stood toe to toe with the best of the league and had a great year.


So now let's bring the spotlight back to Arsenal.   There are "dream jobs" in college football and college basketball in the United States, the heralded franchises with great traditions.  The same holds true in international football.  Who wouldn't want to coach at United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Juventus, Barcelona, Real Madrid, as well as the hugely financed squads at Chelsea, City, PSG? 


What will the brain trust at Arsenal do?  Hire the young up-and-comer, or the tried and true veteran.  The speculation abounds.  That said, the pressure on this manager will differ from the pressure that was placed on David Moyes, who was named to replace United's legend, Sir Alex Ferguson, several years ago.  Moyes was expected to win right away.  The new Arsenal manager will be given some time.  The Gunners don't have the talent to compete with the top four teams in the league, but that can change quickly, the same way it did at Liverpool when Juergen Klopp took over.  The comparisons to Wenger will not be nearly as tough as they were for Moyes to Ferguson, as Wenger's teams have struggled under the brightest of lights in recent years.  Those facts, in and of themselves, present Arsenal as even more of an attractive opportunity.


Arsene Wenger deserves many accolades, left a huge mark on the game, the game is better for it, and he will go down in history as an all-time great.  Now it's time for Arsenal to start writing a new chapter, one that evolves its approach and game and makes the first team better able to compete for the top spot in the EPL.

Patience, 76ers' Fans

One (bad) game does not a series make.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Maurice Cheeks and the Hall of Fame

He was ice.  He could penetrate when he had to, hit the jumper when left open, find the open man -- always.  And he had some greats to pass the ball to -- Malone, Toney, and, of course, Dr. J.


And now he is going to basketball's Hall of Fame.  Very much deservedly so.


But what makes Maurice Cheeks so extra special was what he did as a coach.  Oh, he won't be remembered for a whole lot about his coaching, especially when compared to his playing, but on the night when he was coaching his first playoff game, he did something magical.


He did not draw up a great play, give an inspired pre-game speech, even suit up to help his team.  No, he did this.  That's right, in the midst of getting lost in his thoughts about how his first playoff game as a coach would go, a young teenaged girl forgot the words to the Star Spangled Banner.  She knew that she was in trouble with the song, clutched herself, looked sideways, well, to see perhaps if there was divine intervention.  Most of us would have wanted to drop through the floor, cover ourselves and not come out. 


But this young woman was lucky enough to have Maurice Cheeks.  Cheeks walked over to her, looked at her reassuringly, coached her on the words and guided this young person with a very nice voice to complete the national anthem.  It was a Hall of Fame moment, one that will bring tears to your eyes.


Why?  Because in a moment when he had every right to be selfish, to get lost in his own thoughts, to figure out about how he would work match-ups and substitutions and timeouts, Maurice Cheeks thought of someone else -- a young person in dire need.  And he walked over to her and in a most calming and avuncular fashion, guided her through an awful time.


That's what captains of the ship do.  That's what leaders do.  That's what people of great character do.


And that's what Hall of Famers do!


Congratulations, Maurice Cheeks -- we are honored to have you in our lives.

Matt Davidson -- 3 HRs on Opening Day for the White Sox; and Dan LeBatard and His Reaction to Ian Happ's home run

I was in this wonderful fantasy baseball league years ago.  Great group of guys, and normally we drafted before the season began.  That particular year, though, we drafted a few days after opening day (and yes, previous stats would count).  One of the hottest commodities that year was a Cubs' outfielder named Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes.  The reason was that Rhodes homered three times on opening day, guaranteeing to throw his price in our auction out of proportion because owners draft on hope and potential.  He even hit one off Doc Gooden. 


He also ended up with only 269 at-bats for the season, hit only eight home runs, hit .224 for his career and ended up in Japan.  Every year, though, during our draft, his name would come up, more or less in "buyer beware."


That is not to say that Matt Davidson is not a good player, will not be a good player, and will not have a good season.  It's just to say that after one game, it is hard to draw any conclusions at all, unless, of course, you are Dan LeBatard, the ESPN personality and Miami-area sports talk show host.  LeBatard's reaction to Ian Happ's season-opening home run off the Marlins -- on the very first pitch of the MLB season -- is priceless.


The odds are that the Marlins will not be as awful at LeBatard suggests (they could be close, though) or that Davidson will hit 486 home runs (to Giancarlo Stanton's 324). 


There remains a lot of baseball to be played.

We All are Scott Foster

The NHL has a bedeviling problem -- goaltenders who wear down and get hurt before and during games.  So much so that the league requires teams to have pools of goaltenders in tow with one "back-up" in the arena in case something happens to the other two.  The rule derives from an old hockey custom that if the goalie got hurt a team could grab someone out of the stands and have him play goalie.  Fast forward until today, and teams have people who played goalie at some level -- preferably college or junior or in the minors -- and who do something else now, ready for just this purpose.


Typically, these goalies don't see action.  A few have gotten to suit up and sit on the bench when one of a team's two goalies is unable for the game.  One even got to play for the final 7.6 seconds of a game this year. 


Last night, though, something different happened.  The Blackhawks were down to one "regular" goalie and had a thirty-six year old accountant, Scott Foster, who played some goalie in college, on the bench.  With about 15 minutes to go or so, the starting goalie started cramping, and the Blackhawks turned to Foster to finish a 6-2 victory over a play-off bound team.  Foster played flawlessly, drawing the admiration from a grateful Hawks' team, the fans, the league and frankly sports fans everywhere.


Great job, Scott Foster.  You did what everyone dreams of -- getting called upon, suiting up and helping your team win.  Great story!

Monday, March 05, 2018

The Joys of Spring Training

The chalk base lines.


The crack of a bat.


The pop of a ball into a mitt.


The high numbers of the prospects who are trying to make a name for themselves.


The alumni, gathered near a field, swapping stories of the old days.


The optimism of each team, even if the deepest, most thorough analytics tell a different story.


The discussion of the building of legacies.  Can Scherzer win a fourth Cy Young Award?  How will Judge and Stanton fare in the same lineup.  Will Crawford, Kingery and Hoskins be this decade's version of Rollins, Utley and Howard for the Phillies?  Is Mike Trout the best outfielder ever?  Who is a lock for the Hall besides Ichiro and Adrian Beltre? 


The hot stove yields to the warm weather of Florida and Arizona.  Rosters for the most part are in place, usually with only a few spots open.  The union and the owners still joust about an issue or too, this year that the game is too slow in the weather that climate change brings.  The younger fans, to the extent they remain interested, get bored quickly.  Can they speed up the game the way they do in the minors?  Joust they have done, and joust they will continue to do.  They probably fight about the Oxford comma in contract negotiations, such is the history.


Families go to spring training to get closer to the players, who are more wont to sign autographs before the games count. 


It's a wonderful thing, this spring training.  A way to slow down time, reminisce about the good times and speculate about the future. 


Have a hot dog, smell the popcorn, eat peanuts and toss the shells wherever you like. 


Just like they used to do it decades ago.