The watching sports report

Week 18?

watching sportsI grew up loving watching sports on television. Not just baseball and football, either. I grew up with the Wide World of Sports. Not so much in 2021.

Oh, I caught some innings of a few baseball games, but almost nothing from beginning to end. Yet I would READ the box scores and stories about the previous night’s games. I was particularly fascinated with Shohei Ohtani, who GQ profiled. “Not since the days of Babe Ruth has one of baseball’s greatest hitters also been one of its finest pitchers.”

Maybe it was the fate of the New York Mets, who looked as though they might get to the World Series but ended up not even getting to the playoffs. Or the New York Yankees who were streakily great, followed by being terrible and were eliminated after one playoff game.

Perhaps it’s my antipathy for some of the teams. Both the 2017 Houston Astros and the 2018 Boston Red Sox were nicked by a cheating scandal. The Astros also yanked their team affiliation from our local Tri-City Valley Cats. More parochially, the Dodgers beat the Yankees in the 1963 World Series; I hold a long grudge.

Gridiron

As usual, I didn’t watch the NFL before Thanksgiving. I saw bits of one of those Turkey Day games, then nothing else in 2021 unless the CBS game ran late, delaying 60 Minutes.

But then there was week 18. Week 18? There used to be 17 weeks in which the teams each played 16 games, with one week off. Now there is a 17th game. And, perhaps related to the expansion of the eligible playoff teams to 14, it seemed that almost every team that didn’t play their home games in New Jersey still had a chance.

Such as the Pittsburgh Steelers. Chuck Miller described what happened. But that Raiders-Chargers game that ended in the final minute of overtime was edge-of-my-seat exciting. The following week there were a couple of close games which I saw. However, I will acknowledge that I watched almost the entire Buffalo Bills beating of the New England Patriots, 47-17. Seven touchdowns in seven possessions!

Soured

Only one of the annoying things about COVID is that sports figures who you felt neutral or mildly positive about managed to act in a disappointing manner. Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers spread some malarkey about his vaccine status.

More irritating, though, was Novak Djokovic, the tennis star who got booted out of the Australian Open because that country actually wants to take the disease seriously. Then the Serbian president blasted Australia. Now, Djokovic may not be able to play in the French Open in May if he isn’t vaccinated. I had no strong opinion about Novak, beyond admiring his considerable talent, but now he’s rather ticked me off.

The 2022 Hall of Fame vote (baseball)

A-Rod, Big Papi

A-Rod, 2007
A-Rod, 2007

On January 25, 2022, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will “announce the results of its 2022 Hall of Fame vote live from Cooperstown… Any electees will be inducted during Hall of Fame Weekend on Sunday, July 24. they’ll be joined by the previously announced legends.

Of the 30 people on the ballot, 13 of them were on for the first time. Conversely, four players appear for the 10th and final time. They could be elected by a veterans’ committee down the road.

By far, the biggest first-timer is Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod, by many statistical standards, is the best player being voted on. As Wikipedia noted, “Rodriguez amassed a .295 batting average, over 600 home runs (696), over 2,000 runs batted in (RBI), over 2,000 runs scored, over 3,000 hits, and over 300 stolen bases, the only player in MLB history to achieve all of those feats.”

The problem is that he was involved in two performance-enhancing drug scandals. I give him a pass on the steroid use prior to 2004. As then-MLB commissioner Bud Selig noted, “at the time of the testing there were no punishments for this sort of activity.”

However, he was suspended in August 2013 for the rest of the season and all of 2014 for his use of human growth hormones. By then, he should have known better. So, if I were a voter, I would pass on him this year.

Similarly, I’d pass on Manny Ramirez (6th year, 28.2% of the voters last year, with 75% needed for induction), who served a 50-game suspension in 2012 for the second violation of the drug policy.

The 10th and final time

In a flip from last year, I WOULDN’T vote for Curt Shilling (10th year, 71.1%). And it has something to do with his public request not to be on the ballot. After last year’s vote, he touted “presidential election-related conspiracy theories; calling for a declaration of martial law; and comparing Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, to a Nazi.

“After the December 31 voting deadline, Schilling doubled down by tweeting his support of the insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, a move that was a bridge too far for some voters who had otherwise continued to support him.” So, no.

Sammy Sosa (10th year, 17.0%) I would vote no. He was a great home run hitter, but too one-dimensional.

Conversely, I would vote YES on the great players
1. Barry Bonds (10th year, 61.8%) and
2. Roger Clemens (10th year, 61.6%)
who operated before Major League Baseball specifically addressed PED.

Who else

3. David Ortiz, (1st year) – Big Papi, “Played 20 seasons with Twins and Red Sox…10-time All-Star Game selection.” And an interesting character. Even though he played for the evil Red Sox.

4. Gary Sheffield (8th year, 40.6%) long and impressive career. A bit of a hothead, and like Bonds and Clemens, in the steroid accusation period

5. Andy Petitte (4th year, 13.7%) – I owned my bias last year.

In fact, everything I said about
6. Todd Helton (4th year, 44.9%)
7. Jeff Kent (9th year, 32.4%)
8. Billy Wagner (7th, 46.4%)
9. Scott Rolen, (5th year, 52.9%)
last year still applies.

10. Jimmy Rollins (1st year) – speed, power, good glove

I have no idea what the actual voters will do, though I expect Ortiz to get in. 

 

Six legends of baseball

Hodges, Kaat, Minoso, O’Neil, Olivo, and Fowler

six legendsSix legends were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on December 5, 2021. “The Early Baseball Era Committee considered a 10-person ballot whose primary contributions came prior to 1950.”

They selected two. I was unfamiliar with Bud Fowler (1858-1913). Jeffrey Michael Laing wrote the book Bud Fowler: Baseball’s First Black Professional.

“Emphasizing the social and cultural contexts for Fowler’s accomplishments on and off the baseball diamond, and his prominence within the history and development of the national pastime, the text builds a convincing case for Fowler as one of the great pioneering figures of the early game.”

He played for the Binghamton Crickets, or Bingos, in the International Association in 1887, though there are no details on the Baseball-Reference site. In the book That Happened Here, George Basler explores how this 19th-century phenom was forced from his team because of racism. (h/t to Cee)

Bud Fowler“Playing second base, his best-known position, he established himself as a star. By the end of June, he was hitting .350, with 42 runs scored, and was acknowledged as the best player on the team. But he was gone only a few days later, after playing only 34 games, when nine white players staged a revolt by signing a letter stating that they would no longer play with a black man… 

“On July 14, two weeks after Fowler’s release in Binghamton, International League club owners — stung by complaints from white players and press comments that it was becoming a ‘colored league’ — voted to approve no more contracts with African-American players. The American Association and National League, two major leagues, followed suit shortly thereafter. The “color line” would last until 1946 when Jackie Robinson began playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers organization.”
Extraordinary effort

Buck O’Neil (1911-2006) was not only a star first baseman and manager in the Negro Leagues but an inexhaustible promotor of its history and legacy. He played primarily with the Kansas City Monarchs. “After his playing days, he worked as a scout and became the first African American coach in Major League Baseball… He played a major role in establishing the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, MO.”

In fact, in 2008, the Hall created the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award. It is presented “not more than once every three years to honor an individual whose extraordinary efforts enhanced baseball’s positive impact on society, broadened the game’s appeal, and whose character, integrity, and dignity are comparable to the qualities exhibited by O’Neil.” He was posthumously named the first recipient.

Golden Days

“The Golden Days Era Committee considered a ballot of 10 candidates whose primary contributions came from 1950-69.” I had baseball cards of all four of these players at some point.

From the first time I saw him, I was captivated by Minnie Minoso (1925-2015), nicknamed “The Cuban Comet”. He was “the first Black Cuban in the major leagues and the first black player in White Sox history. Minoso lead the American League in being hit by a pitch for 10 seasons. He led the league in stolen bases thrice and being caught stealing six times. He played in five decades if you count five games total in 1976 and 1980.

Gil Hodges (1924-1972) was a solid first baseman, mostly for the Dodgers. But managing the 1969 World Series-winning New York Mets probably helped his cause.

My late father-in-law Richard would be pleased with the inclusion of two Minnesota Twins stars.  Tony Oliva was a .304 career hitter and thrice AL batting champ. Pitcher Jim Kaat pitched for a quarter-century and later was a baseball announcer for many years. I thought both deserved to be in the Hall earlier. At least they, who were both born in 1938, are still alive at this writing. Hopefully will be available for their induction in the summer of 2022.

Oh, and I’ll worry about the baseball lockout by the owners on January 31, 2022, but not before.

The New York Mets are best worst

From first to third

New York Mets

Kelly reviewed the book So Many Ways To Lose: The Amazin’ True Story of the New York Mets, the Best Worst Team In Sports, by Devin Gordon. You can read the review about what the heck that title means. But the 2021 season pretty much encapsulates this.

From Baseball-Reference.com: The Mets were in first place in the National League East for 91 days, if one counts only the days a team played and was in first at the end of the day, or 114 days if one counts all days of the season including off days. They topped their division as late as Friday, August 13. They ended up 77-85-0, 3rd place in NL East. It was in large part because of a season-ending injury to pitcher Jacob deGrom on July 18, he with an astonishing 1.08 ERA.

There’s a friend of my sister’s named MJ, who swears I turned her on to the Mets in the mid-1960s, after their truly awful early seasons, but before they won the Series in ’69. Curious, because I had thought of myself as a Yankees fan in those days.

There was a farm team in Binghamton (actually Johnson City) that was usually a Yankees farm team. I saw Al Downing, who as an LA Dodger gave up home run 715, I saw play there. The stadium was razed in the late 1960s to build a new Route 17 (now I-86).

1986

By happenstance, I caught the ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 Documentary “Once Upon a Time in Queens”. It chronicled the 1986 Mets season. But it also discussed the 1984 and 1985 seasons, and how they built to their improbable World Series victory. It includes many interviews, including Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Mookie Wilson, Lenny Dykstra, and Kevin Mitchell.

Executive Producer Jimmy Kimmel is correct. “The characters and events captured in this documentary are so outlandish it is hard to believe this documentary isn’t a work of 80’s-era fiction. Whether you are a New Yorker, a Mets fan or even a fan of baseball makes no difference. This is the definitive, must-see story of a team and a time whose antics and even existence now seem unimaginable.”

Back in 2012, I documented seeing the ’86 Game Six on TV, with my friend Cee dressed as Gary Carter.

NYCNY

When the Yankees and the Mets played in the 2000 Subway Series, I was a bit torn. The Yankees had won in 1996, 1998, and 1999, so I was thinking the Amazins deserved a shot. It was not to be. On the other hand, I had all but forgotten that they lost to the Kansas City Royals in 2015.

There’s now a stadium in downtown Binghamton. The team that plays there is the Rumble Ponies, the Double-A farm team of the New York Mets. I’ve only been there once or twice, but maybe next year, something the MLB Mets are undoubtedly saying right now.

Baseball player Dave Winfield is 70

dead bird

dave winfield.hall_of_fame_plaqueI always liked the outfielder Dave Winfield. He played for the San Diego Padres as the right fielder from 1973 to 1980, becoming an All-Star in the middle years there.

In 1981, he became a free agent. The sometimes volatile owner of the New York Yankees, George Steinbrenner signed Winfield to the most lucrative baseball contract at the time. But The Boss didn’t understand a cost-of-living provision and ended up agreeing to a ten-year, $23 million deal, rather than ONLY $16 million. This led to Steinbrenner’s feuding.

In 1985, Steinbrenner, in criticizing Winfield, said to The New York Times writer Murray Chass, “Where is Reggie Jackson? We need a Mr. October or a Mr. September. Winfield is Mr. May.” A few years later, the owner was banned from baseball for two years, in part for hiring a guy with Mafia ties to dig up dirt on Winfield.

This was weird: “On August 4, 1983, Winfield killed a seagull by throwing a ball while warming up before the fifth inning of a game at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium. Fans responded by hurling obscenities and improvised missiles. After the game, he was brought to a nearby Toronto Police Service station and charged with cruelty to animals. He was released after posting a $500 bond… Charges were dropped the following day.”

Away from the Bronx Zoo

Dave Winfield was traded in 1990, and he was wearing a California Angels uniform the one time I saw him play in person, June 14, 1991. He went 3 for 4. Ten days later, he became the oldest player to hit for the cycle (single, double, triple, home run).

Finally, in 1992, with the Toronto Blue Jays, he got his first World Series ring. He retired in 1995, having accumulated 3110 hits, including 465 home runs, in his 22-year career. He was selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001, his first year of eligibility. Here’s his induction speech

He could do it all. Here’s why he wants kids to play multiple sports, as he did growing up. Dave Winfield – Field dedication ceremony, 2021.