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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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Random Thoughts -- Would be Hall of Famers and Such

Beautiful day, time to relax at lunch, and the following thoughts have come to mind:

1.  Is there anyone who crunches the "what if" numbers in sports?  For example, Hall of Fames are populated with people who were in the right place at the right time.  Some perhaps only made it because their teams won championships and rode the coattails of the starts of those teams.  Others ended up with the dumb luck of playing with also rans and, as a result, their numbers suffered.  Alternatively, the measurements used then didn't underscore the value of players to their teams, with the result that had they played today they would have made a lot more.

In baseball, off the top of my head, three names come to mind.  Two played on so-so teams during their careers; the third was (clearly) a non-steroid user in a sea of juicers who put up good, if not outlandish, numbers.  In the 1970's, the Angels had a lefty named Frank Tanana, who was a lefthanded counterpart to Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.  Tanana was a very good pitcher, good enough to go something like 240-250 for his career.  The guy was durable, threw in the 90's in the 70's and then in the 70's in the 90's (after an arm injury).  The Angels teams were terrible; Ryan also had played for the Mets and went on to pitch for good Houston teams and the Rangers.  Tanana did not enjoy a similar fate.  I wonder if, were to anyone run the numbers in a "relative" performance speaking (such as, what would the guy's numbers have been had he been surrounded by players who played for a hypothetical .500 team) what they would have looked like.  Most likely, to me, 300 victories and a berth in the Hall.  He was that good, better than Bert Blyleven if you ask me.  A second was Darrell Evans, a third baseman for the Braves who wore thick glasses, was a below-average fielder, but who hit about thirty home runs a season for a short while.  Yes, he hit about .240 in a season I remember well, but he also walked about 100 times.  So, his on-base percentage approached about .400 if it didn't exceed it.  Now, the top OBP guys then, perenially, were Joe Morgan and Mike Schmidt, both in the Hall.  That's not to suggest Evans deserves a berth; he doesn't, but it does suggest that perhaps his compensation suffered because he hit .240 or so and teams didn't value OBP then the way they do now.

Finally, this is my semi-annual pitch for Fred McGriff, who played on very good Blue Jays' and Braves' teams, to make the Hall.  While the prototypical slugger (or poseur, such as Brady Anderson) in the 90's doffed a body that resembled someone in the WWE, McGriff kept the age-old, lithe-thin body type and fell a hot streak short of hitting 500 homers.  I do recall at times that he was criticized for not showing enough power, but it's pretty clear that he didn't cheat.  The sad part of it is that Hall of Fame voters are so suspicious of all players of that era that they don't search for players who "couldn't have cheated."  I don't know how big that roster is, but it would appear that McGriff wasn't on it.  Which means, then, that he should be in the Hall, both for his accomplishments and being honorable.  Period.

In football, it's a bit harder, but Randall Cunningham comes to mind as the poor soul with a ton of talent who got stuck quarterbacking Buddy Ryan's Eagles.  Ryan, you recall, knew nothing about offense, had weak wide receivers and a starting running back (Keith Byars) who was known principally for his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.  It was a good thing that Cunningham was an amazing athlete -- there were times that he had to run for his life.  The argument here is that if Randall Cunningham had a coach with a small modicum of offensive sensibilities, he could have been Colin Kaebernick decades ago and perhaps changed how multi-faceted QBs are viewed.  Instead, his career suffered because Ryan cared almost exclusively about defensive and, as a result, didn't win a single playoff game in Philadelphia.

2.  The English Premiership needs a salary cap before Russian oligarchs and Middle Eastern oil magnates go on huge spending sprees to outdo one another, leaving smaller-market teams without such patrons woefully unable to compete.  Make the cap high enough, sure, but otherwise the Premiership will suffer markedly from the disparity.  After all, people don't want to watch a team that loses more than it wins 20 seasons running.  The Pittsburgh Pirates, I am sure, have a loyal fan base, but they have not been able to compete meaningfully, even in a division that doesn't have a grossly overcapitalized franchise.  Then again, it doesn't look like it's going to be a great year for either the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, the closest thing Major League Baseball has to Man City and Man United.

3.  That's it for now!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Carlos Quentin Should Not Be Permitted to Return Until Zack Greinke Does

I mean, what type of idiot rushes the mound after getting hit by a pitch in a 1-run game?  Off a 3-2 count, no less?

Sorry, Carlos, but sit you should and sit you must.  Let's see what the Commissioner's office does with this one.

Read Jayson Stark, who offers the same opinion (or at least quotes an AL executive who agrees with me).


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Rutgers Should Hire Bill Carmody

Easy choice.

Successful as a Princeton assistant.

Successful as a Princeton head coach.

Great connections to New Jersey.

Okay, so he hasn't been there for a while.  And he didn't help get Northwestern to its first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament.

So?

So what.

He's a great guy.

He has a ton of integrity.

He has great East Coast connections.

And he'll help heal the Rutgers community.

So if you cannot get a Hurley from perhaps the first family of NJ high school basketball, then try to get someone from the Princeton family.

Sure, it has been an arch-rival of Rutgers.

Sure, it's the snooty school down the road, the elite private university.

Whatever.

It's hoops program has a great tradition.

One in which Bill Carmody played a significant part.

He's the right guy at the right time.

Pretty much a non-controversial pick.

Rutgers would be wise to hire him.

Where Does Chase Utley Land after This Season? (Hint: Not in Philadelphia)

Sure, he has the $4 million or so penthouse in an exclusive building in Center City Philadelphia.  And, yes, he's an icon in the city despite his missing two of the last three season openers, chunks of the last two seasons and at best had a misunderstanding with the Phillies as to his availability at the outset of the 2012 season and at worst misrepresented his health.  This year, he's off to a good start, he's a gamer, and, when healthy, a very good player. 

But will he return to Philadelphia after this season?

Those who argue "yes" will argue that he loves the team and the city and that the Phillies cannot afford to let him go.  One caller on sports talk radio at mid-day suggested that the Phillies should learn from the Eagles and not let their version of Brian Dawkins go when he still can be productive. 

I am not in that camp.

Yet, I also am not in the camp that suggests that he'll go to the highest bidder, either.  Remember, when he signed his 7-year, $84 million dollar deal six years ago, he took less money than he could have gotten had he negotiated more aggressively or waited.  He just wanted to get a good deal done.  When he signed that deal I figured, then, that the Phillies would have a very tough sign on their hands after the 2013 season because Utley then looked like he was en route to Cooperstown.  Now, because of the injuries, he's headed to the town that hosts very good players and those but for injury might have garnered serious mention for the Hall of Fame.

Utley likes to win, won't go to be the "final piece" on a team that is too many players short to win.  I could see him going to Los Angeles (he's from Long Beach) and being a veteran leader on a team that is closer to winning a title than the Phillies, and, perhaps, much closer (although laden with some awful contracts that the Red Sox were none too happy to shed).  Better yet, I think he'll end up in San Francisco, being a senior leader on a team with Buster Posey and a killer pitching staff, a GM who knows how to piece together a team and a manager who might be headed for Cooperstown.  That said, the Giants aren't huge spenders on the free-agent market, with their most recent forays having crashed and burned (Barry Zito, Aaron Rowand).  They'd rather pick up someone' just-missed, also ran, like Rickie Weeks, and put him out there.  After all, most players look more forboding wearing the Giants' orange and black.  Still, Brian Sabean probably could get Utley for three years and a club option for a fourth, probably at about $7.5-$10 million per (given the health risk).  That's not a huge risk for a team built to win, seemingly, endlessly.

I posited a few questions years ago in these pages.  First, would you have expected Pat Burrell to win 2 World Series rings before any of Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard?  Second, in 2008, if you asked which franchise would have been most likely to win 2 World Series by 2013, would you have picked the Giants over the Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies, and Cardinals, among others? 

What's very amusing is that Billy Beane has GM Titan status in baseball because of Moneyball, with zero championships to show for it.  Sure, he adopted all sorts of stats, but at the end of the day, the A's are a neat story, but that's about it.  No one has written a book about whatever ball Brian Sabean has figured out, and all he's done is won 2 of the last 3 World Series, relying upon spare parts and patches more than rehauling the machine with the latest of big-name engines.  What player wouldn't want to be a part of that? 

Chase Utley doesn't seem to be about the money.  He's a California guy.  There are plenty of "In 'N Out" Burger joints in SF, as there are "Super Duper" burger joints.  He also likes guys who bring it, a team with energy.  AT&T Park has the energy that Citizen Bank Park has shown. 

Taken together, all of these factors suggest that while it's romantic to spend your entire career in one city, it's much more fun to spend it playing for championship contenders. 

Chase Utley will have a much better chance of contending for a title in Los Angeles or San Francisco.  The thought of his wearing the same uniform that Willie Mays and Willie McCovey did could be more enticing than staying with a Phillies' team that will struggle to win more than half its games for the rest of his career. 

Even if he likes Philadelphia, Chase Utley always can return to visit and eat at Iron Chef Jose Garces' restaurants and hit balls into the right-field seats.

The bet here is that he'll continue to hit those shots. . . but as a San Francisco Giant.

And he'll help them win yet another World Series.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

In Anticipation of "42" and a Note on Wendell Smith

I can't wait for the upcoming movie on one of the most important people in 20th century American history, Jackie Robinson.  Robinson was an American original, an outstanding person and a pioneer.  It's only fitting that every Major League team has retired his number (save the Yankees, who will once Mariano Rivera hangs 'em up).  Mo Vaughn, who played for the Mets, Angels and Red Sox, wore 42 in honor of Robinson.

That said, if you go to IMDB, you'll see that an actor plays Wendell Smith.  The actor, whose name escapes me, is African-American, as was Smith.  Now, I know that you've heard of Branch Rickey, of Leo Durocher (whom Commissioner Happy Chandler inexplicably suspended before the '47 season -- Robinson's rookie year -- when the fiery Durocher could have helped protect Robinson in a way that his manager, Burt Shotton -- who wore a suit in the dugout and was a benign presence -- did not), of Pee Wee Reese and of others in the drama.

But my bet is that you have never heard of Wendell Smith.

And that's a shame.

Because Wendell Smith was an unsung hero in the Robinson drama from the time that Rickey signed Robinson to a minor-league contract for his AAA farm club Montreal in 1946.  Smith, you see, was a national sports reporter -- meaning baseball writer -- for the African-American paper The Pittsburgh Courier.  Smith covered the Negro Leagues, Smith tried to prompt and cajole organized baseball into hiring players of color not designated as "Latins," and Smith traveled with the Dodgers frequently, many times being Robinson's only companion on the road (even though the Dodgers also signed other African-American players, including Dan Bankhead, a pitcher who didn't make it, and John Wright, if my memory serves me, also a pitcher who didn't make it).

And it was Smith who covered Robinson constantly the way the New York papers did.

You probably have heard of the other sportswriter named Smith, Red Smith, the all-timer who wrote great pieces for the New York Times.  But you have to be of certain generations to remember him.  And he was great and memorable.

Few probably remember Wendell Smith.

And that's a shame.

Because he played a big part in the Jackie Robinson story too.

He was there.  He saw it.  He covered the story.  He also helped create the story.

Imagine how tough it was for him, too.

And he was such a fine writer that he, too, is in the Hall of Fame.

When I looked at the list of characters in the movie, I was heartened to see how high Wendell Smith is on the list of historical figures portrayed.

Jackie Robinson most certainly deserves the spotlight.  What an amazing man -- what an inspiration -- he was.

And Wendell Smith was too.

I can't wait to see the movie.  Go see it, take your kids, and teach them, show them what life was like and how courageous Jackie Robinson was.  It's an important part of American history, and one that we should not forget.