Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Hall Call: Maddux (duh!), but not Jacque Jones (double-duh!)

I thought I would struggle greatly when filling out my Hall of Fame ballot this year, but it turned out to be a lot easier than I thought.

First, I put check marks next to the four guys I voted for a year ago: 


Biggio is a no-brainer, a veritable stats machine during his playing days. He barely missed last year when he was done in by a combination of those who never vote for first-ballot guys and by anti-steroid protesters who refused to vote for anybody. I'm guessing he gets in fairly easily this time, as he should.

Morris is making his final ballot appearance and it'll be close -- he received 67.7% of the vote last year (75% is required). I know his ERA is a little too high for some and his victory total is a little too low. Still, his status as a workhorse during an era in which both baseballs and bodies were juiced, and his postseason performances (especially for the 1991 Twins), put him over the top for me.

Raines simply is one of the best leadoff men ever, a dynamic game-changer for most of his 23 seasons. Every eligible player with an OBP as high as Raines who reached base as often as he did is in the Hall. Plus, he's the second-most successful base thief ever.

Schilling, like Morris, is a borderline pick and I can understand why he didn't get more votes last year, his first on the ballot: low-ish win total, a less-than-spectacular ERA. Nevertheless, he did have fine regular-season numbers (3,116 K, the second-best K-to-BB ratio in history), and I can't deny his postseason numbers: 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA, including 4-0 and 1.37 in five elimination games. I love clutch.


Next, I voted for two guys I passed on last year (with the promise that I would revisit their candidacies in the future):


Bagwell, despite playing most of his career in the pitcher-friendly Astrodome, ranks in the top 40 all-time in slugging, HR, OBP and walks, and he teamed with Biggio to turn the once-horrible Astros into annual contenders. In giving Bagwell my vote this time, I have been influenced by proponents of JAWS, a wins-above-replacement metric that compares a player to others historically at his position. Bagwell's JAWS score ranks second only to that of Albert Pujols among post-World War II first basemen. Plus, he's now been on the ballot for four years and nobody has been able to amplify any of the steroid whispers. 

Piazza, arguably the best offensive catcher in history, belongs in the Hall of Fame. Because he made his debut on the ballot last year alongside so many infamous juicers, I wanted to give it another year to see if anything came of the long-stated rumors about Piazza's use. Nothing did, so it's an easy choice.


Then, I went with three first-year candidates, each of whom I consider a slam-dunk selection (though I'm sure others would disagree, as others always do!):


Glavine won 305 games, had five 20-win seasons, won two Cy Youngs and was a stalwart for the Braves teams that ruled the NL in the 1990s. He also was 1995 World Series MVP (2-0, 1.29). Despite all of that, he might not get in immediately because of Maddux's presence on the ballot, which would be ridiculous.

Maddux, well, you know ... I'm not even going to bother throwing any stats out there. If he doesn't get in, it's time to take the vote away from me and my peers.

Thomas had a .301 career average, 521 HR, 1,704 RBI, .419 OBP, .555 SLG, back-to-back MVPs, 11 seasons with 100+ RBI. Nevertheless, some say he's not a Hall of Famer. Please. Even if voters want to use his DH status against him, he had monster stats from 1992-97 as the White Sox's first baseman. How can there even be a debate? 


Finally, it got a little more difficult. Should I stop at nine? Or should I add one more to reach the maximum votes we can cast? I've been a Hall voter since the mid-'90s, and only once, when I was much younger and less selective, did I opt for the maximum. Would voting for 10 now somehow make me an easy mark?

If I did go with 10, would I check the box next to the name of "accidental" juicer Barry Bonds or longtime suspect Roger Clemens? How about squeaky-clean first-time candidate Mike Mussina?

One could argue quite convincingly that Bonds and Clemens already were Hall of Famers before their alleged cheating began. And while circumstantial evidence is strong in Clemens' case, he actually was exonerated in a court of law. I very well might vote for one or both as early as next year. But for now, I decided to hold off to see if any new information gets presented in the next 12 months. 

Mussina? Now there's an interesting one.

The very first thing I do when perusing my Hall ballot every year is the "feel test." Does this guy "feel" like a Hall of Famer? And I must admit that, at first blush, Mussina didn't. His numbers are very good (270-153, 3.68 ERA, 2,813 K), but not one of them screams: "I'm a Hall of Famer!" He had only one 20-win season (his last, at age 39), he never won a Cy Young and he never won a title. 

Then again ...

In many key sabermetrics, Mussina compares quite favorably to Glavine and comes out well ahead of Morris. He also had more wins, a lower ERA, more strikeouts and fewer walks than Morris. The more I delved into the numbers, the more I felt guilty about the prospect of voting for Morris but not for Mussina.

Then there's this: I didn't want to contribute to Mussina getting knocked off the ballot for good. If a candidate doesn't get 5% of the vote in any year, he no longer can be considered in the future. Given that it often takes years for voters to warm up to certain candidates -- Bert Blyleven was named on only 17.5% of the ballots his first year but finally made it in his 14th try -- I didn't want Mussina to go away forever. 

So, MIKE MUSSINA, welcome to my Hall of Fame "team."


Every year, there are a few guys on the ballot that make you say, "Really?" This time, that list includes Amando Benitez, Paul Lo Duca, Mike Timlin and ... wait for it ... Jacque Jones.

That's right: Jacque Jones, a real good guy with a real bad arm. 

In three decades covering baseball, I've never seen a worst outfield arm. More times than not, the poor guy would throw the ball almost straight down into the ground. It was the damnedest thing I ever saw. 

Although his offensive numbers weren't anywhere near Hall-worthy -- .270, 165 HR, 630 RBI -- they actually were better than I thought because I mostly remembered him striking out repeatedly.

I liked Jacque as a person, though, and maybe enough members of the Hall ballot selection committee did, too.

That's the only explanation I can come up with for him being listed at all.

If he gets even one Hall vote, it's time to drug-test BBWAA members!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Bowl protest almost over ... and fans actually won!

Saturday is an exciting day. It's the start of another college football bowl season ... and, kids, you know what that means for me!

It means one more year of not watching one second of any of them.

Not the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.

Not the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl.

Not the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.

Not the Fight Hunger Bowl.

Not the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

Not the Taxslayer.com Bowl.

Not the BBVA Compass Bowl.

And definitely not the Make-Believe Championship Game.

When I started my protest -- vowing not to watch one second of one bowl game until there was a legitimate playoff system -- I was still a columnist for the Copley Newspaper chain, which hadn't been bought yet by the evildoers from GateHouse Media. When I started this, the White Sox ruled baseball, Dubya was pretending to search for WMDs and -- gasp! -- most 9-year-olds still didn't have cellphones.

That's a long time to go without watching two .500 teams do battle in the Poinsettia Bowl. How did I survive?

Well, here's the good news (or bad news, depending upon one's point of view): This is the final year of my protest.

After more than a decade insisting that a playoff system absolutely, positively was unnecessary, the powers-that-be saw the light -- and the dollar signs -- and realized that, well, yes it was. So the 2014 college football season will be followed by a four-team playoff, eventually crowning an actual champion rather than a computer-generated championish team.

While the change probably won't compel me to tune in most bowl games, I might at least stop surfing channels long enough to check out a play or three. And if the playoff matchups are compelling enough, I might even watch the final quarter of games that count.

To be sure, the playoff should include eight or 16 teams, not four. But at least this is a start. Baby steps, people.

I'm not egotistical enough to think my protest led to one iota of change. Even if the few readers who said they would join me followed through on their pledge, at the height of the protest maybe a dozen of us were totally ignoring the bowl season. Still, I like to think we represented the vast majority of American sports fans who had been clamoring for a playoff system only to be told to shut up and eat our Beef 'O' Brady's.

Congratulations, fans, you dragged the college football ruling elite kicking and screaming into a new era.  

The playoffs are more than a year away, however. So, until then, enjoy watching Middle Tennessee and Navy battle for none of the marbles in this year's thrilling Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl.

As usual, I'll be in the middle of enjoying anything else. Please don't let me know how it turns out.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Basketball and football in the enlightened New South

Wow, has it really been 3 weeks since I last posted? How time flies when I'm not feeling like writing for free.

It's a big week here in The New South.

Actually, North Carolina used to be The New South. Then we elected a bunch of enlightened gentlemen who have turned back the clock to a more genteel era -- when broads, coloreds, heathens and homos knew their places.

A couple of days ago, Bob Rucho, the Republican state representative who serves the area that includes my town of Matthews, took to Twitter to say this:

"Justice Robert's pen & Obamacare has done more damage to the USA then the swords of the Nazis, Soviets & terrorists combined."

That's right: In the space of 140 characters, this noble public servant managed to insult Jews, political prisoners, 9/11 victims and the grammar police. When numerous people -- including his own party's leadership -- suggested he might want to apologize, he doubled down and said he meant every misspelled, mispunctuated and misused word he twitted.

Yes, we sure are very refined here in The New South.

But I digress ...

Now where was I? Oh yeah. Big week.

First, my Eagles scored our first home victory of the season, and we go into the winter break with our first two-game winning streak. After an 0-2 start, we split our next two games before winning these last two in decisive fashion. More importantly, the girls are smart and coachable and really seem to be having fun. I'm already looking forward to January.


I'm also looking forward to January to see how the Panthers do in the NFL playoffs. That's this week's other thang here in Charlotte (and, I admit, the thang that probably appeals to a few more folks).

If the Panthers take care of business at home Sunday and beat the Saints, they'll be in first place in the NFC South. They will clinch a playoff spot and will have the inside track on a first-round bye.

This is my fourth Panthers season as a North Carolinian, and it's been a blast to have the city be in such good spirits most Monday mornings. A top-notch NFL team has that kind of effect on its town.


Meanwhile, I have less than two weeks to cast my Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. Last year's vote was a difficult one and this is even more challenging, loaded with a dozen all-time greats in their first or second years of eligibility. I've got my selections in mind but I've been preoccupied with basketball and haven't studied it yet. I'll be making my picks in the next few days and will be sure to post them here.

I'd wish everybody Happy Holidays now, but I'd hate to offend Bill O'Reilly and Sarah Palin with such a generic greeting. So instead I'll give them what they want:

"Merry Kwanzaa from The New South, y'all!"

Thursday, November 28, 2013

It's Turkey Time!

This kind of snuck up on me this year. I was sitting down, thinking about all I have to be thankful for, and -- wham! -- "Uh-oh, I forgot to choose my Turkey of the Year."

So I'm going to dispense with the long introduction and get right down to the countdown, which will lead to the latest in this parade of  lunkheads, losers, scammers, slimeballs, chokers, cheaters, bullies, boors, pouters and pitiable punching bags:

Mike McCaskey (1998); Jerry Krause (1999); Bobby Knight (2000); David Wells & Frank Thomas (2001); Dick Jauron (2002);Sammy Sosa (2003); Sammy Sosa (2004, the only repeat winner); Andy MacPhail, Jim Hendry & Dusty Baker (2005); Aramis Ramirez (2006); Charlie Weis (2007); Choking Cubbies (2008); Milton Bradley(2009); Mark McGwire (2010); Joe Paterno & Penn State Enablers (2011); U.S. Ryder Cup Team (2012).

As always, this is dedicated to the late, great Gene Seymour, my Copley columnist predecessor and good friend.

10. DOLPHINS OFFENSIVE LINE. You know the old saying: The only time you hear the name of an offensive lineman is when he commits a holding penalty. Or when he leaves voicemails for a fellow lineman filled with vulgarity, profanity and racist taunts. What a mess. It's tough to stay, um, Icognito with this stuff going on.

9. TIM TEBOW. By all accounts, he's a great guy and a noble human being. But being a turkey isn't only about being a wretched human being. Sometimes, it's just about being a wretched quarterback. (And yet he still won one more playoff game as Denver's QB than Peyton Manning and Jay Cutler combined!)

8. GATEHOUSE GANGSTERS. Hey investors! Shares of stock in my former employer can be had for 3 cents apiece! Warning: After systematically gutting the editorial staff over five-plus years and emerging from bankruptcy just this week, it's high time for the pencil-necked weasels who run GateHouse Media to give themselves yet another round of raises and bonuses. Capitalism at its finest!

7. TIGER WOODS. He was golfer of the year and deservedly so. How, then, does he end up on this list? Four more majors by the board, four more also-ran finishes, five years without the only titles he considers truly relevant. As for that two-stroke penalty he had to take for his illegal drop in the Masters, well ... gobble, gobble!

6. DENNIS RODMAN. After befriending Kim Jong Un, Wormy McDiplomat's next project is Charles Manson. "Dude's just a little misunderstood, man."

5. ROB FORD. OK, he's not an athlete, but he is the mayor of a great North American sports town, Toronto, so I'm winging it. Hey, I never thought any politician could top the 2012 GOP presidential circus acts for pure comic relief, but this crack-smoking, drunken-stuporizing, foul-mouthed, real-life Chris Farley character takes the cake. And falls face-first in the frosting on a regular basis.

4. MANTI TE'O. The Notre Dame linebacker enthralled the national media with his heartbreaking story about his longtime girlfriend, who supposedly suffered a tragic death. Problem is, his dearly departed squeeze was no more real than Jan Brady's George Glass. Meanwhile, Alabama showed that Notre Dame's title hopes were an illusion, too.

3. RYAN BRAUN. The Brewers slugger had everything -- fame, talent, money and a legion of loyal fans. But that wasn't enough, so he juiced and made things worse by lying about it. Now, nothing he ever does on the ballfield can be taken seriously. 

2. RILEY COOPER. Eagles wide receiver and infamous cracker threatened to "fight every n----- here" at a Kenny Chesney concert. My immediate reaction: Black people go to Kenny Chesney concerts?



Cheater. Liar. Druggie. Professional Victim. And now he's little more than a pathetic, broken-down lowlife. Yes, the 2012 runner-up was an easy choice as this year's top turkey. 

These days, A-Roid is the poorest multimillionaire on the planet. His wife divorced him. Most of his "friends," no doubt, are the people he pays to stay close to him. Even Yankee fans, not a particularly discerning lot, must have to take long, hot showers after rooting for this miscreant. (I'm talking about the few fans who don't come to the ballpark to boo him.)

There was a time when it seemed possible that he could be the greatest ballplayer ever. Now? As the old-timers would say:

He's just another bum.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Oh Monday morning, you gave me no warning of what was to be!

The Mamas & The Papas had it wrong.

Monday, Monday ... CAN trust that day.

This week, anyway.

Last week wasn't the best sports week of my life. I lost the first two games of my coaching career, including a close heartbreaker on Thursday. And then my Marquette Golden Warriors looked like a bad 7th/8th grade basketball team in falling to Ohio State on Saturday.

Then came Monday, and I was living large.

First, I hung out in downtown Charlotte with one of my fellow SeekingAlpha.com writers, a Boston transplant who now lives in South Carolina and goes by the pen name "Chowder" -- shoulda been "Chowdah," I always tell him. We had a great two hours talking about investing, sports, families and life. There was plenty of playful trash-talk, too, as he's a big Patriots fan and I'm a relatively new Panther Backer.

I drove from downtown to the city's south side, where my Scholars Academy Eagles took on United Faith Christian. And we played our best game of the season, using absolutely swarming defense to get our first win. We still had trouble hitting shots, but you don't need to hit many if you hold the opponent scoreless.

Yes, that's right, we pitched a shutout!

Here are five of my gold-clad -- and victorious -- Eagles:
Hannah, Maddie, Sienna, Olivia and Charlotte. 

The girls have worked so hard, it was satisfying to watch them finally have reason to celebrate on the court. Winning isn't everything at this level, but it beats the heck out of the alternative. They have improved so much and they care even more. What a fun group to coach.

Finally, the Panthers capped off Monday with a dramatic, well-deserved victory over Cheatin' Bill and his Patriots. Cam Newton, extremely talented but criticized for never leading comeback victories, used his incredible skills to rally the Panthers in the final minutes. Tom Brady had one final chance -- as he almost always does -- but his last pass was picked off in the end zone.

It was an incredibly fun game to watch and it cemented the Panthers as legitimate contenders. They now have won six straight after a 1-3 start -- the last two victories coming at San Francisco and at home over the Patriots. It's fun to have a relevant sports franchise in my adopted town.

So maybe The Mamas & The Papas had it right after all:

Monday, Monday ... so good to me.

Monday, Monday ... it was all I hoped it would be!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Coach Mike's newest challenge

Wish me luck.

Wait ... let's amend that ...

Wish me lots and lots and LOTS of luck.

My amazing life journey has led to my first head-coaching position. I am the girls basketball coach at Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy, a K-8 Charlotte public charter school for "highly gifted students." (Those are their words, not mine, but I have found the kids to be incredibly intelligent and motivated so far.)

Our first game is tomorrow -- Tuesday, Nov. 12. Here's hoping the Eagles are ready to fly!

Some might remember that I have been an assistant coach over the years. Before this, however, the only team I had run was my son's co-ed rec-league squad back when he was 10 -- and one of our girls showed up to play in ballet slippers. Nuff said.

Coaching the Eagles has been an interesting experience so far. Our tryouts were Oct. 29 and I chose the 10-girl team that evening. The next day, I got an email from the mother of the only returning all-conference player, saying her daughter had to quit to participate in Mock Trial competition. Such is life at a school for highly gifted students.

That leaves us with nine girls. It's supposed to be a 7th/8th grade team but we had to open it up to younger girls to fill the roster. Here is our breakdown:

Two 8th-graders, one of whom is a soccer player trying hoops for the first time; two 7th-graders; four 6th-graders; one 5th-grader.

We might be small in numbers and experience ... but we also are small in stature. Our tallest players are in the 5-6 range. I don't know for sure because I'm afraid to measure them for fear of learning the truth.

But I will say this: These girls are tough and smart and coachable and fun, and there is some talent. Our captains are good leaders, and some of the younger girls really have a chance to be nice players.

From what the older girls have told me about the conference, I'm guessing we will be overmatched by a team or two and will have to scramble like crazy to win some games. So scramble we will.

Of course, winning and losing isn't what's most important at this level. I doubt I'll be fired based on game results, and I'm pretty sure the girls won't be scarred for life no matter what the record is.

Still ...

There will be a scoreboard in every gym. The parents will be looking at it, as will the girls, as will Coach Mike. The final scores will be recorded, standings will be updated, and there will be a conference tournament at season's end. A champion will be crowned.

So yes, it is competition, and everyone involved will be keeping track. Which is as it should be.

Long-term, I'm not sure where this adventure of mine is going to take me. But I am enjoying the teaching and team-building and striving for common goals.

And then there's this: Those who know me well know that I am an extremely organized, prepared guy -- OK, sometimes the word folks use is "anal" -- and I do like being in control.

Well, I got what I asked for.

So, again, wish me luck.

And, given what's happened to several high-profile, 50-something-year-old coaches recently, wish me good heart health, too.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

12 Nadels, 1 Town ... run for your lives!

The proof is in! A once-in-a-decade occurrence actually did occur! I present to you ...

A Nadel Family Reunion.

Front Row: Caroline, Lesley, Katie, Tara, Fran, Rob
Back Row: Al, Don, Lee, Mike, Ben, Russ

(Proof that pix can play tricks: Yes, Ben is tall and Russ is taller, but Ben isn't 4 inches taller than I am ... and Russ sure as heck ain't 6-foot-11. My son and nephew were standing on a hill. No fair!)

Yes, for the first time since 2003, all four Nadel brothers (and our families) appeared in the same place at the same time. The event took place Nov. 2-3 in Washington, D.C.

And they say nothing gets done in our nation's capitol!

My brother Don, who lives in Israel with his wife Lesley, doesn't get to the states all that often. And the last couple of times he did, we weren't all able to get together. Even when my oldest brother Al's son, Russ, got married to Tara in 2008, we weren't all there. Don and Lesley made the trip from London (where they used to live) to Minnesota ... but Lee didn't make the trip from Philly.

So not only hadn't the whole lot gotten together in 10 years, the four Nadel Boyz hadn't been in the same room for a decade. Jeesh!

Here we are, in birth order 
(and, as my parents intended, alphabetical order): 
Al, Don, Lee & Mike

And so, when Don and Lesley announced they were coming to the U.S. for a friend's wedding -- and that they also wanted to have a family reunion -- we were in. The site chosen was D.C. for perfectly logical logistical reasons. Russ, Tara and Al's daughter (our niece) Fran live in the 'burbs there; Al and Lee live in Philly, just a few hours away; and we live in Charlotte, a 6 hour drive. Our kids, Katie and Ben, were planning to visit us in Charlotte the previous weekend; we changed the date so they could join the festivities. And the whole thing became perfect when our other niece Caroline decided to fly in from England.

Wow! A dozen Nadels in one place for the first time in 10 years!

I mean, these days it's rare enough for Roberta and I to get Katie (who lives in Seattle) and Ben (who stayed behind in Chicago when we bolted for Charlotte). So this was quite a bonus.

Now that is one handsome family!

The most festive part of the festivities was the massive Wii Rock Band session in Russ and Tara's basement. I stuck to vocals ... and come on ... you know I absolutely nailed the Freddie Mercury role in Bohemian Rhapsody, right?

I'm just a poor boy and nobody loves me. (He's just a poor boy from a poor family. Spare him his life from this monstrosity.)

Anyway, it was great seeing everybody again, all in one place.

I hope it's not 10 years until we do this monstrosity again!

Monday, October 21, 2013

A sweet World Series prediction and a sweeter victory

I didn't know Mike Matheny during his playing days, but I respected the intensity, leadership and game-calling skills he brought to the Cardinals. When he left as a free agent after helping the Cardinals get to the 2004 World Series, I columnized that they would miss him terribly.

And they did.

For about a year.

Yadier Molina has become a much better hitter than most thought he would be. Add in those amazing defensive skills, and he is the best all-around catcher of the new millennium. He was a vital part of St. Louis teams that won titles in 2006 and 2011.

Now both Molina and Matheny are back in the World Series with the Cardinals. The former is still as great as ever, and the latter is showing that Tony La Russa isn't the only recent manager who can guide the Cards to greatness.

Logic says to pick the Red Sox to win the World Series, but there's just something about these Cardinals. 

Whether it's some young kid (talkin' 'bout you, Michael Wacha) pitching out of his mind at just the right time ... an important offensive contributor (Allen Craig this time) coming back from injury ... a veteran who has been great forever (Carlos Beltran) finally getting a chance to bask in the Fall Classic glow ... or the reunion of the Molina-Matheny tandem ... I just find the Cardinals' story so compelling.

Unlike 2004, when the Red Sox finally got past the Yankees and then steamrolled the Cardinals to win their first championship of the post-Babe era, this looks to be a crazy-good series.

Cardinals in 7.


Say what you want about Ozzie Guillen. In 2005, he had the guts to do what no other manager has done for a couple of decades now -- stick with his starting pitchers when the you-know-what hits the fan.

In that year's ALCS, Guillen's pitchers threw four consecutive complete games and the White Sox won that series and then the World Series. If he had failed, he would have been ripped mercilessly. But he didn't.

Fast-forward to this year's ALCS. As good a manager as Jim Leyland has been, he falls right in line with every other skipper today. No matter how dominant his starter has been, he can't resist going to the bullpen in the eighth and ninth innings.

Well, like Guillen in 2005, Leyland didn't have a proven, reliable closer. Unlike Guillen in 2005, Leyland kept taking out the likes of Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander ... to tragic results.

The Red Sox deserved to win the series, but one wonders what would have happened if Leyland had the Guillen-like guts to let his aces finish what they started. 

The good news for the Tigers: Scherzer and Verlander will be well-rested for next April!


Jay Cutler just got even more valuable.

I'm not a big fan of the Bears' whiny, inconsistent QB -- you know, the one with one career playoff victory in eight seasons -- but I'd rather have him than a host of others. Including new QB-by-default Josh McCown.

Cutler looked awfully good standing there in street clothes while Caleb Hanie played in his place a couple of years ago, and McCown will make him look good in absentia, too.

Given that this is a contract year and that the Bears probably weren't going anywhere anyway -- I mean, have you seen what's left of that defense? -- this could end up having been quite a fortuitous injury for Cutler.


Football ... baseball ... hockey ... basketball ... golf ... auto racing ... there were all kinds of contests over the weekend.

The biggest, of course, was the Best Dessert Competition in the Matthews Plantation subdivision. Won by ...

Is there any wonder why I keep my wife around?

Also, is there any wonder why my belly is round?

Congrats to my Sugar Mama!!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

What? You were expecting Brayan Pena to put the Tigers in the ALCS?



That's why they get paid the big bucks, folks.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Bunting sucks, so good thing Uribe sucked at bunting

If I were a big-league manager, I'd be Earl Weaver (only with less scratchin' and spittin' and smokin').

No, I'm not saying I'd be as good as the former Orioles skipper. What I'm saying is that I'd have his same philosophy for winning baseball games:

Pitching. Defense. And three-run homers.

I hate bunting and would just about never ask any non-pitcher to do it. Unlike Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, I wouldn't have told Juan Uribe to bunt in the eighth inning of last night's NLDS game with my team trailing the Braves 3-2.

Yasiel Puig had led off with a hustle double. He already was in scoring position. Why take the bat out of the hands of a proven postseason performer such as Uribe, a former World Series hero for both the White Sox and Giants? Why give away an out? Why settle for just trying to tie the game after Puig's hit created the potential for so much more? If Mattingly really wanted Puig on third with less than two outs, why not let one of the fastest guys in baseball steal the base? It's not as if Donnie Baseball is unwilling to gamble; earlier in the day, he decided to start Clayton Kershaw on three days' rest. Going with your ace on short rest used to be a routine postseason decision, but now it's a move that elicits oohs and aahs and hours of debate.

Fortunately for Mattingly and the Dodgers, Uribe tried to bunt and fouled off the pitch. Then he tried to bunt again and fouled it off again.

Then, with the bunt sign removed and the manager no longer impeding him, Uribe hit a no-doubt, two-run, series-winning bomb into the left-field seats.

Somewhere, The Earl of Baltimore was smiling.


I just looked up Uribe's bio and was surprised to see he's only 34 years old. It seems like he's been around forever.

Uribe has never been a high OBP guy, but he has had a knack for delivering clutch hits and making big plays. It's no accident that winning seems to follow him around. He's the kind of player I'd want on my team. When I covered the White Sox, his teammates and manager loved him, both for his winning style and his clubhouse demeanor.

Uribe homered in the White Sox's first playoff game during their incredible 2005 run, doubled to drive in a tone-setting run off Roger Clemens in Game 1 of that year's World Series, singled during the 5-run fifth inning that led Chicago's rally from an early 4-0 deficit in Game 3, and hit a three-run, tiebreaking homer in Game 1 of the 2010 World Series for San Fran.

The shortstop also made two great defensive plays to close out the Astros in the '05 Series. First, he ranged far to his right and dived into the stands to grab a foul pop. Then, just moments after catching his breath, he made a nice pickup and throw of a tough grounder to end the game and give the city of Chicago its first baseball championship in 88 years.

Had Derek Jeter made the catch on that foul pop, it would be remembered as one of the great plays in World Series history. Then again, when Jeter passes gas, it's an occasion for the national media to genuflect.

I bet Mattingly's mentor, Joe Torre, wouldn't have asked Jeter to sacrifice in the same situation that Mattingly faced with Uribe.

I know Earl Weaver wouldn't have.

And while we're talking about great baseball minds here, I wouldn't have, either.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Baldy's back, and just in time for my favorite month

10. My Internet buddy (and faithful reader back when my columns appeared in the Springfield, Ill., newspaper), Doug Nicodemus, has been asking me repeatedly why I haven't been blogging much lately. On Monday, after checking TBT regularly the last 5 weeks but finding no new entries, he posted this on my Facebook page:

"no blog for awhile ... are we all done ... maybe ..."

No, I'm not all done. But as I have explained to Doug -- and as I explained earlier Monday to my softball buddy Johnny, whom I saw at a local golf course -- the little bit of writing I'm doing these days has involved me getting paid. Crazy concept, I know.

Not that money is the end-all and be-all, but it buys more things than bupkis. Which is what I get paid for posting here on The Baldest Truth.

So to my tens and tens of regular readers, I thank you for your loyalty but I make no promises other than to say that I'll continue to blog when something strikes me as relevant or when I have some spare time to write pro bono.

9. As much as I'd like to see the Pirates or Rays or A's win for the small markets or the Indians or Reds win for underdogs everywhere, I can't bring myself to predict multiple champagne showers for those teams this October.

I'm thinking the Tigers, with their fine starting pitching and powerful middle of the order, will meet the talented, high-priced Red Sox, for the AL pennant. And the Dodgers, with their incredible pitching, will take on the Cardinals, who always seem to rise to the occasion, for the NL crown. 

If the Tigers had a stud reliever, I'd pick them to beat the Red Sox. But they don't. So I won't. 

I'd like to see the Cardinals do it with Mike Matheny managing, because I always appreciated him as a player, but the Dodgers remind me of recent Giants teams that won championships despite mediocre hitting.

So I'm saying Red Sox vs. Dodgers in the World Series.

The champion? I'm leaning Dodgers, but I'll hold off with an "official" prediction until we get to the Series.

There. I've committed to another blog post later in October. That should make Doug and Johnny delirious with joy!

8. Folks keep trying to find all kinds of reasons that somebody other than Miguel Cabrera should win the AL MVP. Please. This is one of those it's-so-obvious-there-must-be-another-choice situations, like when NBA MVP voters used to try to find somebody not named Michael Jordan to win the award.

Mike Trout had a fine season for a sub-.500 Angels team that finished 18 games out -- a team that started poorly in part because Trout started poorly. And yet Cabrera still had better stats almost across the board, almost won a second straight Triple Crown, and did it all for a team he led to another division title.

This is the no-brainer of all no-brainers. Sabermetricians and other misguided souls need to stop trying to make this "race" something it isn't. 

Cabrera should be the unanimous MVP choice.

7. Meanwhile, if I had an NL MVP vote, I'd be going with Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, the single biggest reason Atlanta led its division from wire-to-wire.

When a team blows a late-inning lead, it's bad. When that happens repeatedly, it's catastrophic -- not only in the standings but in the psyche of every player on that team.

What a great joy and comfort it must have been all season for manager Fredi Gonzalez and all the Atlanta players to know their team pretty much was never going to blow a ninth-inning lead.

6. My "hometown" NFL team, the Panthers, better not have spent their bye week patting themselves on their backs for their blowout victory over the Giants. 

Everybody blows out the Giants!

The only team worse than the Giants right now is Jacksonville. And yes, I said "right now" for a reason. The Giants might still be able to find a new low.

5. I have started umpiring youth baseball, something I hadn't done for at least two decades. My first game was supposed to be this coming Wednesday but the umpiring coordinator was in a pinch and asked me call the bases for three games last Sunday involving 9-year-olds.

The first game began at noon. It went so long -- walks, physical errors, more walks, mental mistakes, still more walks; these are 9-year-olds, after all -- that the second game started 45 minutes late. That game also went long, so the third game started more than an hour late, and didn't end until 6:58 p.m.

So I spent 7 hours standing on a hot, dusty field. I tried to stay hydrated but almost surely didn't drink enough. I ate only an apple. By the time I drove home, I had one of the worst headaches of my life.

Next time I have to work more than one game, I will make sure I sit down between innings, will find some shade between games and will force myself to consume several gallons of water. Oh, and I'll take some Advil before the first pitch of the first game!

4. Because I umped all day Sunday, I watched zero football. Just saw a few highlights on ESPN; I couldn't watch it with the volume on because my head was pounding. 

I couldn't help but notice that Jay Cutler was back to his old give-the-ball-away tricks, playing a huge role in the Bears falling to the Lions.

That team will go only as far as its QB takes it, and I wouldn't want to bet my life savings -- or even one-billionth of my billion-dollar portfolio -- on that guy.

3. October is my favorite month.

The World Series (and the playoffs that precede the Series). The NFL in full swing. College football conference games (rather than the creampuff schedules that permeate September). The start of the NHL and NBA seasons. The start of college basketball practice. Wonderful weather here in Charlotte. 

October also is my birthday month. And given that my immaturity prevents me from getting old, what's not to love about that?!?!?!

2. In Monday's least-surprising sports story, the Cubbies fired manager Dale Sveum.

No matter who is running the show, including current Pooh-bah Theo Epstein, firing managers is what the Cubbies do best. 

They're not so hot at pitching or hitting or fielding or running the bases. Firing managers? They are championship-caliber in that domain!

The hot speculation is that Joe Girardi will be the next sucker. Girardi is a Peoria native, a Northwestern grad and a former Cubs catcher, and his contract with the Yankees expires in one month.

Even if he decided to leave New York, why he would want to manage in Cubbieland? Wouldn't several other organizations that have a chance to win before 2020 be more interesting to him? If he doesn't like the scrutiny in New York, why would he like it in Chicago, where Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker each went from genius to dolt (in the fans' eyes) in the space of less than one season? 

Then again, there does seem to be this amazing allure to the Cubs. Everybody wants to be The Guy to fix them. Piniella and Baker are recent examples of proven winners who went to Cubbieland, made an early splash and soon learned the hard way what all the trappings of Cubdom really mean.

If I'm Girardi, I stay with the Yankees. Or I go to just about any other team where winning actually happens. Or I chillax for a couple of years being a TV yakker.

I do just about anything but sign on to be part of Championship-Free Years No. 106, 107, 108 and 109. 

1. I'd come up with a memorable, spectacular, sensational conclusion to this blog post except I'm so excited about the Republicans in the House voting for the gazillionth time to either repeal or defund Obamacare that it's hard to think!

Never mind that repealing Obamacare was the No. 1 Republican goal of the 2012 election ... which they lost ... handily. Also never mind that the GOP also questioned the constitutionality of Obamacare in front of the Supreme Court ... and lost that, too.

This time, they're willing to shut down the entire government and possibly willing to refuse to pay the bills the country already has due. All for a fight they can't win, all to please the tea-partying extremists, all to avoid being "primaried."

What a country.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Really? Three years in N.C. already?

It's been three years since Robbie and I moved from Chicago to Charlotte. Here are the questions we get asked most often:

Do you like it there?

Mostly. The weather generally is better. The cost of living, especially real estate, is very good. The people are nice, but most folks we ran across in Chicago also were nice. It's been mostly good being homeowners again, and we never could have afforded a place like this in Chicago. I enjoy playing 12-inch softball again and really like the guys on the team. We have made some good friends. The traffic is a gazillion times better here -- and folks here think it's bad. I'll show 'em bad!

It sounds like there's a "but" there ...

Yeah, and even I can't quite put my finger on it. Maybe "but we're so far away from our kids and our long-time friends." Or "but we miss the vitality and urgency of Chicago." Or "but the food here, in general, pales in comparison to that of Chicago." I mean, it's pretty common to miss things about a place where one lived for 16 years, right?

Any "buts" that have nothing to do with Chicago?

Politics. When we decided to live here, North Carolina was considered the centerpiece of the "New South." It was a so-called "purple state," with almost an even split between parties. The big cities leaned left, the outlying areas leaned right and there was a lot of moderation in between. Sadly for this registered Independent, it has become far-right politically. Republicans won huge here in the 2010 midterm election. And even though more people voted for Democrats than Republicans in 2012, Republicans won more statehouse seats because of gerrymandered districts from the 2010 elections. The new governor ran on a ticket of moderation, but he mostly has followed the tea-partiers and other hard-liners.

N.C. has been "featured" -- how's that for a nice word for "ripped" and "ridiculed"? -- by national publications and pundits for the incredible, 180-degree turn.

Bills were bullied through in the last hour of legislative sessions. Anti-abortion legislation was inserted into a motorcycle-safety bill and then signed by a "moderate" governor who had campaigned on the promise of never signing such legislation. A voter ID bill was a smokescreen for over-reaching, obviously anti-Democrat legislation that severely restricts voting (fewer days for polling, no same-day registration, etc.); it's supposed to fight voter fraud but doesn't address absentee balloting, where voter fraud actually takes place. Our elected officials enacted a mean-spirited law that deprives long-term unemployed people federal benefits; it's the worst such piece of legislation in the entire country. Teachers AGAIN received no raises, and assistant teachers were canned even as bureaucrats and friends of the governor are getting 35% pay hikes. "Tax reform" was enacted that gives well-to-do folks large tax cuts while making a family of four earning median wages pay more. While GOP governors in many states reluctantly accepted federal funds for Obamacare, ours has chosen to let hundreds of thousands go without healthcare. Why not? After all, he and his family have it. All that campaigning on jobs to get elected? Precious little has been done in that regard and, in fact, the latest numbers saw unemployment actually climbing.

But at least it's now legal to bring loaded guns into bars, so we have that going for us!

Yes, it's been good stuff for Colbert and Stewart ... but it's real-life stuff that hurts real people. Even moderate Republican friends of ours are embarrassed by what's taken place here in just the last few months.

How are the jobs going?

Robbie is working far too hard and far too many hours. When she was hired for the outpatient clinic at the children's hospital, she was, of course, the newby. Within a year, she was the last one standing. She has seen so many colleagues come and go, and each time she has to take up the slack and then train the newcomers. I feel really badly for her. The doctors truly appreciate her, as do the administrators there; in her most recent review, she received the highest grades possible. But it's still no fun to work from dawn to dusk and be dead-tired at the end of every day. We're hoping it improves.

My part-time job at the country club is going fine. I get to play free golf at a great course during the week and my co-workers are fun to be around. Sometimes it's tough to have to work every weekend, because that's the only time Rob is off. We actually like each other and want to spend time together -- imagine that after 30 years of marriage! I also have enjoyed the coaching, officiating, volunteering and other stuff I have done. I do miss having the opportunity to write about major league baseball on a freelance basis, as I did in Chicago. In addition to missing out on the money, I'd at least like the choice of continuing that part of my career.

What's been the best part of living there?

Well, after we got a house we then got our dog, Simmie. She's an absolute joy and we love her so much.

Do you think you'll live there as long as you lived in Chicago -- or at least as long as you lived in Minneapolis (9+ years)?

Difficult question. Right now, I'd have to say that's doubtful. Between Rob's job situation and the politics here and being so far away from Katie and Ben, those are three pretty big factors.

Having said that ...

Rob's job situation certainly could improve. She has had some very good stretches when it's been fully staffed.

And politics change. It had been a century since there was a Republican governor and a GOP statehouse. If these clowns don't stop pushing the public around, they'll get voted out of office just like the Dems did.

And who knows where the kids will be 2, 5, 10 years from now? One or both of 'em might even move down here.

OK, fat chance of that last thing happening. The point is, things change.

Where would you go?

I have no idea, though we might not be opposed to someday trading "y'all," for "aloha"!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Today's High 5: Clutch hitting, NL MVP talk, N.C. political hypocrisy

5. It was a big Tuesday night for the Sons of Pitches softballers, proving even old men still have fire in their bellies and a few tricks up their sleeves.

Down 10-5 going into the top of the 7th (and last) inning, we rallied with 5 to tie. I had been 0-for-4 and looking quite awful up to that point, but I delivered a bases-loaded single during the rally. After holding our opponents scoreless in the bottom of the 7th, the game went into extra innings ... and we promptly plated 5 in the top of the 8th. (Yours truly drew a walk.) We retired them without any damage in the bottom of the 8th, sealing a very, very satisfying 15-10 victory.

We've lost a game or two like that, so it felt great to pull one out. Everybody contributed. Even the guys who had really rough times at the plate made plays in the field. And several of us who struggled for 4, 5, 6 innings came through in the clutch.

Let me tell you, after the game -- our third straight win after an 0-2 start to the fall season -- the beer was wetter and the wings were wingier!

Coincidentally (or not?), our tying rally started just as my wife walked up to the field. Robbie had worked OT, so she didn't get there in time to see the bad stuff. I mean, she actually thinks we're good!

Maybe we should make her our official team mascot.

4. MLB suspended Ryan Dempster 5 games for intentionally hitting A-Rod in the elbow with a pitch.

That's ridiculous.

Dempster should have been suspended 10 games for missing A-Rod's head.

3. While the AL MVP race is a two-man event -- I'm thinking Miguel Cabrera has a slight edge over Chris Davis right now, with Mike Trout having little chance because his team has been lousy from Day 1 -- the NL MVP race is most intriguing.

At midseason, I liked Yadier Molina, but he's been hurt and his Cardinals have been struggling. Andrew McCutchen is probably the deserving favorite right now because he does everything for the upstart Pirates, and Clayton Kershaw is getting a lot of attention for being the most dominant pitcher in baseball. BBWAA award voters have enough trouble giving the Cy Young to a guy without a lot of wins, however, so it's not going to be easy for Kershaw to sway MVP voters despite his microscopic ERA. Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt also are getting some mention.

In a year without an obvious frontrunner, here are two interesting candidates: Braves closer Craig Kimbrel and Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig.

Kimbrel has converted 39 of 42 save attempts and could end up with 50+ saves. He has allowed 6 runs all season, and his WHIP and BAA are incredible. As important as closers have become in baseball, and given Atlanta's fantastic season despite lacking any oh-my-god! hitters or starting pitchers, it's hard to argue that many NL players have been more valuable to a playoff-bound team than Kimbrel.

Puig's stats have come down to earth some, and he actually was held out of the lineup after arriving late for pregame drills Tuesday, but it's impossible to deny the impact he has had on the Dodgers. After losing at Colorado on June 2, the Dodgers were 23-32 and in the NL West cellar, 8 1/2 games behind first-place Arizona. Puig made his debut with two hits on June 3, and since then, the Dodgers are 50-20. They now lead the division, 7 1/2 games ahead of Arizona. Puig is batting .352 with 12 HR, 28 RBI and 48 runs, and his energy has sparked the team while ushering Puig-Mania into L.A. Oh, and even in the game he was benched, he ended up delivering the winning HR in the 8th.

If ever there was a season to vote for a part-year player, this could be it.

2. The Cubs and White Sox are both in last place, a combined 42 1/2 games back.

It's nice to know that, three years after I left Chicago, so little has changed!

1. We can't find money in North Carolina to give our teachers raises, to keep teaching assistants employed or to avoid increasing class sizes. Nevertheless, our Republican governor, Pat McCrory, was able to locate tens of thousands of dollars to give two inexperienced bureaucrats 35+ percent raises -- lifting their salaries to $87,500 and $85,000.

What qualified those young men to work in McCrory's administration for the Department of Health and Human Services? Well, as members of his campaign staff, they helped him get elected.

I guess even 24-year-olds can benefit from the old boy's network.

And I guess it's only important for Republicans to keep government small when dealing with silly "liberal" issues ... such as education.

For the record, this registered Independent voted last November for the Libertarian gubernatorial candidate, Barbara Howe.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Nobody is easier to hate than A-Roid

First Down

Alex Rodriguez says the last year has been a "nightmare." Poor, poor, pitiful him. I mean, could there be a less-sympathetic figure in sports than A-Roid?

Barry Bonds and Pete Rose look freakin' noble compared to this guy.

I'd rather root for Mike Tyson or Bill Belichick.

Why should anybody believe A-Rod didn't juice when he was a young player in Seattle? Because he says so? That's a good one! If he handed me a quarter, I'd assume it was counterfeit.

Second Down

I am seriously pissed at Time Warner Cable for denying me Showtime -- and the last few episodes of Dexter.

We'll all have the last laugh when cable companies are completely unnecessary, a time that is coming sooner than TWC and its brethren think.

Third Down

In his most recent "Real Time," Bill Maher used his main "New Rule" to rip the North Carolina GOP for its unapologetic, mean-spirited return of the state to the 1950s -- when blacks, Latinos and women knew their place (and knew it wasn't North Carolina).

And to think, I hated Chicago politics.

Fourth Down

Went into my local Costco the other day and they had a table with large, framed, autographed photos of NFL stars. The guy featured most prominently:

Tim Tebow.

In a Jets uniform.

No punchline. None necessary.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Back to Chicago for family, friends, fun, food and just a little frustration

We live in Charlotte, Ben lives in Chicago and Katie lives in Seattle ... so having a family reunion quite an undertaking.

Thankfully, we undertook it! We met in Chicago last week for several days of family, friends and fun.

On the way to Chicago, Roberta and I stopped in Lexington, Ky., to visit our first Chicago next-door neighbors, C.J. and Alan Hatter. Here I am with their grand-daughter, Jamaya:

Then, it was on to Chicagoland. We spent a couple of nights with Roberta's dad and also got to visit with some of our favorite people: Dave and Michelle Pangallo and Jim and Kristi Johnson.

Dave is my "little" from when I was in the Big Brothers program in college. He's now in his 40s, a high-school guidance counselor, married and has three kids. We remain very, very close; I see him at least as often as I see my "real" brothers, and I'm very proud of everything he's become.

Here is Katie with two of Dave's kids, Molly and Connor:

Of course, we couldn't leave Milwaukee without grabbing a butter pecan cone at the greatest gastronomic establishment in the world, Leon's Frozen Custard!

From there, we went back to the northern Chicago burbs and caught up with the Johnsons. Jim ran my softball team in Apple Valley, Minn.; he, Kristi and their kids now live in the far north Chicago burbs. Roberta and I laughed so much during our visit with them, our jaws actually hurt afterward.

Then it was on to Chicago. We stayed three nights at the Marriott downtown and reacquainted ourselves with the vitality of the city.

On the first night, Katie and Ben met us at Millennium Park, as did our former across-the-street neighbors, Darcia and Mike Brundidge (and son Troy, who is Ben's age). It was too much fun!

Not long after waking up the following morning, Katie called with some bad news: Some clown smashed in the back windshield of our car. (It was parked near her friend's apartment.) Nothing was stolen, so we're not even sure why the perpetrator did it. What we are sure of: The new windshield cost us $323. Oh Chicago ... sometimes you make it so hard to love you!

After getting that squared away, the kids took us out to dinner at the delicious Wildfire downtown. Good thing they, unlike their dad, are gainfully employed! Afterward, we went to the dueling-piano bar Howl At The Moon, but it was howlingly cheesy and we didn't stay long. (Although, for the record, I was pushing for us to hang out awhile because the people-watching was hilarious.)

On our last full day in our former hometown, I went to lunch with my former AP co-worker, the recently retired Rick Gano. Roberta lunched with her former marathon partner, Laura Garza. And that night, we had dinner and gelato with our longtime Chicago friends, Linda and Gary Mark.

I know, I know ... it seems like all we ever did was eat! In our defense, we also drank!!

On Saturday, after saying goodbye to the kids, it was back to Charlotte. We arrived on July 28, less than one month away from our three-year anniversary as North Carolinians.

Jeesh! Has it really been that long since we called Chicago home?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Perfect tribute to peerless Mariano Rivera

I get misty-eyed every time I hear Ben Fold's "Gracie" and Neil Young's "Here For You" because both remind me of my relationship with my now-grown daughter, Katie. I get wistful every time I think of the joy I got from watching my now-grown son, Ben, play basketball as a kid. And I famously started sobbing during the scene in "Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey" in which Shadow the golden retriever got out of a ditch and rejoined his loving human. (Inspired, we gave the name Shadow to the retreiver we adopted shortly thereafter.)

So, yeah, I'm an old softy ... but usually not when it comes to sports.

In that realm, I'm a jaded guy who has spent a little too much time examining the underbelly of athletics. I've seen too much.

I don't feel especially prideful when "our" Olympic athletes get their gold medals. I'm not overly impressed by public displays of charity because I always was taught that the best charity is an act one does without seeking credit. I enjoy seeing great achievements, but they just about never make me emote. It was great being there in person last March when my Marquette lads reached the Elite Eight, but I didn't get all sappy when the band played the alma mater after the game.

So I was more than a little surprised that I was touched by the wonderful, spontaneous tribute to 43-year-old Yankees closer Mariano Rivera during last night's All-Star Game.

As the best reliever in baseball history trotted in from the center field bullpen to the familiar strains of "Enter Sandman" to protect a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, the other All-Stars stayed off the field. By the time Rivera reached the mound, he was the only player on the diamond. Even his catcher, Kansas City's Salvador Perez, wasn't out there to take warmup throws.

It was Rivera's moment. It was perfect.

Though the game was at the Mets' Citi Field, not Yankee Stadium, the venue worked quite nicely. New Yorkers and fans of every stripe cheered and cheered, and Rivera, genuinely overwhelmed by the display, humbly waved. Rivera's peers (though one could argue that "peers" is a silly word to use when talking about a peerless athlete) stood at the top step of their dugouts and cheered, too.

It really was a lump-in-the-throat scene.

Fittingly, the soon-to-retire Rivera, pitching in his 13th and final All-Star game, retired all three NL batters he faced. As he went to the bench, his AL teammates -- rivals from clubs that hope to beat Rivera in August and September (and October?) -- hugged Rivera and told him how much they appreciate him.

Is there a more respected man in Major League Baseball? I certainly can't name one.

The only thing that might have been more perfect would have been if Rivera had worked the ninth inning to earn the save. AL manager Jim Leyland, worried that a different reliever might blow the lead and deprive Rivera the opportunity to pitch, definitely made the right move.

Rivera already has enough saves. He didn't need another.

All-Star MVP voters also made the right move. Though Rivera was no more spectacular than any of the other AL pitchers who combined to hold the NL scoreless on three hits, selecting him MVP was about as big a no-brainer as no-brainers get.

In that eighth inning, as Rivera stood on that ballfield -- alone, tens of thousands of fans cheering, fellow All-Stars clapping, cameras flashing -- I admit it:

Even I was moved.

I shed no tears -- I mean, come on, this wasn't a lost dog being reunited with the boy who loved him -- but I did smile, stand in front of the TV and think, "This is absolutely perfect."

Monday, July 15, 2013

Today's High 5: MLB All-Star Break Edition

5. Any conversation about baseball's most overpaid players has to start and end with Alex Rodriguez. I mean, the guy has a $275 million contract, hasn't played a minute this season due to injury, looked washed up last year and soon could be suspended for taking PEDs. Yep, A-Rod is a good first choice.

But then who?

Josh Hamilton? Albert Pujols? Alfonso Soriano? Mark Teixeira? Johan Santana? All fine choices. And there are plenty of other candidates.

Why do few if any mention Joe Mauer?

The Twins catcher is the All-American boy. Good looking. Looks like he's worth $184 million. Multiple All-Star. Spurned bigger offers from other teams to stay with his hometown team. He's batting .320, ninth-best in the majors.

You look at all that and you don't want him to be in the conversation. But ...

Mauer has 32 RBI at the All-Star break. Thirty-two! And unlike many of the guys on many overpaid lists, he hasn't been injured.

You know who has more than 32 RBI so far this season?

++ 128 other ballplayers.

++ 15 other catchers ... including his own backup, Ryan Doumit (who also plays OF and DH) ... and Milwaukee's Jonathan Lucroy, Mauer's former backup.

++ at least 8 leadoff men, including one in the NL (Matt Carpenter of St. Louis), who has 13 more RBI than Mauer even though he bats behind the pitcher.

++ 5 other Twins, who combined don't make anywhere near $184 million.

++ Pujols, Soriano and even Hamilton, who has looked lost at the plate most of the season.

++ Brewers OF Ryan Braun, who has missed 30 games with injuries.

++ And, of course, Miguel Cabrera, who goes into the break with 95 RBI -- three times as many as Mauer. I never thought I'd say a guy with a $153.3 million contract was a bargain!

4. The Cubs and White Sox are a combined 27 games under .500 and 29 games out of first place. At least the Cubs have admitted they're rebuilding.

3. Giants ex-stud Tim Lincecum pitched a no-hitter against the anemic Padres on Saturday. He was allowed to throw 148 pitches.

148 pitches! Wow. I hope the no-no was worth it.

In the eighth and ninth innings, the one-time flamethrower's fastball was topping out at 91 mph. His mechanics have been messed up the last couple of years.

"There was no way he was coming out," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "I was just praying he didn't hit the 150 mark."

He should be praying Lincicum avoids the disabled list.


AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers. It's a very close two-man race between Mr. Triple Crown and Baltimore's Eric Davis. Right now, we'll give a slight edge to the guy who has his team in first place.

NL MVP: Yadier Molina, Cardinals. The No. 1 catcher in baseball -- ridiculously better than Mauer -- does so much behind the plate for the NL's best team that it almost doesn't matter what he does at the plate. Having said that, he also leads the league in batting. Narrow call over teammate Allen Craig and Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt.

AL Cy Young: Bartolo Colon, A's. Let's give him something to be happy about because there's word that he might get suspended for juicing. I never would have guessed that he'd need to cheat to get that body! Max Scherzer and Felix Hernandez are right up there, too.

NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw is only 8-6 but he leads the league in ERA, WHIP and BA against. Tough call over Patrick Corbin, Jordan Zimmerman, Matt Harvey and Adam Wainwright.

1. At 56-37, the Pirates have baseball's third-best record.

I want to believe in them.

Then again, I wanted to believe in them last season, too.

There's absolutely no way they'll find some way to go 24-45 in the second half to wrap up their 21st straight losing season, right?


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Jinx no, curse yes: Reds' Bailey makes no-hit statement

I'm often asked to name the best events I covered during my sportswriting career, and I'm lucky that I can rattle off a pretty nice list:

1991 World Series (Twins over Braves in 7 amazing games); 2002 Super Bowl (Tom Brady's legend is born); Michael Jordan's last NBA Finals game (the steal, the shove, the swish, the pose); 1994 Stanley Cup (Rangers win first Cup in 54 years); 1982 ALCS (as a kid reporter right out of college for AP, I was assigned to write about the Angels of Reggie Jackson, Fred Lynn, Rod Carew, Bobby Grich, Don Baylor and Gene Mauch); 2005 NCAA Midwest Regional final (Deron Williams carries Illinois to an amazing comeback victory over Arizona); and so on and so on.

But you know, sometimes the "regular" events that turn into something special ended up being even more memorable. Scott Erickson, who for two years allowed the most hits of any pitcher in baseball, threw a no-hitter for the 1994 Twins. The Vikings lost to the Bears when their punter dropped a snap; teammate Keith Millard ripped the punter after the game and then, one week later, suffered a career-ruining knee injury. Before the Bulls' first game of the post-Jordan, post-Pippen, post-Jackson era, Bill Wennington promised fans over the P.A. system that the team would compete hard; Wennington then didn't jump for the opening tip. Good stuff, eh?

Though I no longer cover events big or small these days, I still occasionally get treated to an event I won't soon forget.

Homer Bailey's no-hitter on Tuesday night is in that category for two reasons:

1. I didn't watch the game until the ninth inning. Channel-surfing, I paused momentarily when I got to that game and saw a clip of the final out of Bailey's no-hitter the previous season. Fox Sports Ohio announcers Thom Brennaman and Jeff Brantley immediately brought me up to speed: Bailey was three outs away from yet another no-no.

Some other announcers and team networks would have pretended the no-hitter wasn't happening because they wouldn't have wanted to "jinx" the pitcher. As a viewer, however, I'm glad Brennaman, Brantley and Fox Sports didn't prescribe to that ridiculous ritual. If they had, I would have kept clicking and would have missed the final three outs. Because the announcers and the network did their jobs, viewers like me got to see history being made.

Bailey became only the 31st pitcher in big-league history to pitch more than one no-hitter. He also became only the second -- following his idol, Nolan Ryan -- to throw the last no-no in the majors one season and the first in the next season. Cool.

2. Afterward, Bailey was interviewed by the station's Jeff Piecoro, who asked the pitcher about the seventh-inning leadoff walk he issued to Gregor Blanco -- San Fran's only baserunner in an otherwise perfect game.

Piecoro: "It's right after you had an at-bat. You didn't have really time to relax between innings. Did that have anything to do with it?"

Bailey: "No man, I mean I just f---ing walked a guy. This game's pretty tough."

That's right. Minutes after throwing a no-hitter, celebratory shaving cream still all over his face, Bailey threw an F-bomb on live TV.

He said it matter-of-factly, too. Just another adjective.

Sports. The only Reality TV worth watching.

Monday, June 24, 2013

As Blackhawks bring Chicago another title, Boston is a double loser

I'd have really been impressed with the Blackhawks if they had won the Stanley Cup while skating on a two-inch wire stretched between the Hancock and Willis towers.

But you know ... scoring twice late in whatever the Boston arena is called these days will have to do.

With titles in 2010 and now 2013, the Blackhawks are undisputed kings of the Chicago sports scene.

That's right ... ranked even ahead of DePaul basketball!

Seriously, it was a heck of a lot of fun watching Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford and Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith and all of the fine supporting players this postseason -- a postseason that almost didn't happen because the season almost didn't happen because a collective bargaining agreement almost didn't happen.

Good thing the NHL solved that mess, because, if you haven't noticed, Chicago doesn't produce many championship teams these millennia.

Selfishly, I was hoping the Bruins would hang on to win just because I wanted to see a Game 7. Not only for the riveting hockey but for the incredible announcing of NBC's Mike Emrick.

Still, for all the Blackhawk backers I know -- including Ben and Katie, the fair-weather Hawkey fans I sired -- I'm glad the team in the Indian head "sweaters" won the Cup.

And to think: The Hawks have won two more titles in the first four years of this decade than the Cubs have won in the last 10 decades combined!


Rough week for Boston sports fans, who also lost their basketball coach to the Clippers.

Yes, the coach of the Celtics left for a better situation with the freakin' Clippers! If this isn't a sign the world is coming to an end, I don't know what is.

Doc Rivers, the guy I knew as "Glenn" when we were taking classes together at Marquette, decided he wanted to leave the sinking Celtic ship to take a stab at leading the young Clippers to prominence.

The Celtics landed a first-round draft pick in the deal, but I can't help but think they got the short end of it. Rivers is that good.

A couple of interesting tidbits here:

-- For the second time, Vinny Del Negro coached just well enough to be sent packing for being not quite good enough. The first time, he was dumped by the Bulls, who hired Rivers' top assistant in Boston, Tom Thibodeau. I guess it takes a Celtic to clean up after Vinny.

-- Though it hasn't happened often, this wasn't the first time a team has traded for an NBA coach. Thirty years ago, the Bulls did it, acquiring Kevin Loughery from Atlanta for a 1983 second-round pick that the Hawks used to draft ... wait for it ... Glenn "Doc" Rivers! Pretty cool, huh?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Special LeBron isn't Michael ... at least not yet

LeBron, what a stud. Clearly the best player of the post-Jordan era ... and, frankly, it isn't very close.

The ill-informed people who claim he's not a winner ... what do they say now? Two straight titles, three straight NBA Finals, four Finals overall (counting the one with an otherwise awful Cleveland team). Yeah, what a loser. If the haters would bother looking up LeBron's amazing stats for Game 7s and other elimination games throughout his career, they'd have a tough time being haters.

The man is special, and I found myself rooting for him because I like special. I've been watching sports pretty darn closely for more decades than I care to admit, and I still get a kick out of special because special doesn't come along very often.

And now, as the leader of a repeat world champion, LeBron haters have only two things left to rag him about: He was jerk for doing "The Decision," and he isn't Michael Jordan.

The first was silliness that has zero relevance today. And the second, well, that just puts him at the head of a very long line. There's no shame in being second to Jordan, and James still has five or 10 or however many years left to play catch up.

For me, it's pretty simple: I just like watching the dude play ball.

(Oh, and that Wade guy from Marquette ain't chopped liver, either!)

Monday, June 17, 2013

U.S. Open in 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... Fore!

1. I'm not sure which I liked better: Tiger's three duffed chips, Phil's bladed wedge or Steve Stricker's shanked iron.

I'll say they all were equal fun and give a big thumbs-up to the two big winners at the U.S. Open:

Justin Rose and Merion Golf Club.

2. As a teen amateur sensation, Rose finished fourth in the 1998 British Open -- right around the time a young Tiger Woods was taking the golf world by storm. Bursting with confidence, Rose immediately turned pro ... and then proceeded to turn into a golfing mediocrity. He eventually became a solid European pro and challenged in a few majors, but it wasn't until he made a bunch of ridiculous putts in last fall's Ryder Cup -- earning opponent Phil Mickelson's applause and carrying the Europeans to a sensational comeback victory -- that casual golf fans were reminded how good he could be.

On Sunday, he again bested Mickelson to drop off the list of best golfers never to win a major. (Stricker, alas, remains high on said list.)

To say Mickelson choked late and blew yet another chance at an Open title wouldn't be very fair. Merion was an absolute demon that didn't give anybody anything. Sure, the bogey at 13 -- by far the easiest hole -- was a killer, but Phil battled the course better than most.

I mean, even Rose finished over par for the event.

3. In the last five years, Tiger has won exactly as many majors as Elin Nordegren has.

4. I loved that an old-school, less-than-7,000-yard course could tame the best golfers in the world thanks to tight fairways, brutal rough and amazingly difficult-to-read greens. Even on Sunday, the pros were missing 8-foot putts by 18 inches. That simply doesn't happen on the PGA Tour.

Yes, I enjoy watching sensational shots, and there were plenty. But I also enjoy it when Sergio gets a 10 and saying, "Hell, I could have done that!" When Tiger chunked back-to-back chips, I laughed out loud.

Been there, done that.

And to think: Before the tournament, the usually astute Johnny Miller looked at the rain-soaked greens and predicted that Merion would be putty in the pros' hands.

Ain't it great when the experts are wrong?