A RECORD SETTING YEAR IN HOLLYWOOD?

It’s been an interesting year in the National League West to say the least.

As of this writing, the surprising tandem of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies find themselves tied atop the National League Wild Card Race.  They currently hold a four-and-a-half game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers, and a five game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals.  Both have records of 66-53 going into play tonight.

What’s even more interesting is the fact that the Wild Card leaders from the west have no shot at a division title.  In fact , the Brewers and Cardinals have more a shot at winning the Central title.  Coming into play tonight Milwaukee trails the defending World Champion Cubs by one game, St. Louis trails their arch-rivals from Chicago by a game-and-a-half.

So why are two teams that have had such a stronghold on the National League Wild Card race so far back in their divisional race?  The answer resides in the Chavez Ravine section of Los Angeles.  The Dodgers currently hold an 18 1/2 game lead over the Diamondbacks and Rockies.  Yes, the same two teams that have led the Wild Card pack throughout the season trail the Dodgers by over 18 games.

On June 1st the Dodgers were actually in third place in the division with a record of 33-22.  Colorado and Arizona shared the top spot in the division at 34-22.  Since June 1st the Dodgers have gone 51-12, by far the hottest team in the Majors.  Currently Los Angeles is 50 games over .500 at 84-34.  The Dodgers are on pace to win 115 games.

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Cody Bellinger has hit 34 home runs and driven in 79 runs.

Perhaps the turning point of this unbelievable Hollywood script came in late April.  Due to an injury to Joc Pederson, the Dodgers brought up first baseman Cody Bellinger from AAA Oklahoma City.  Since his call-up, Bellinger has been one of baseball’s biggest stories. As of this writing Bellinger is hitting .275, has hit 34 home runs and has 79 RBI’s.  Keep in mind Bellinger didn’t get started with the big club until the end of April.

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Yu Darvish is 2-0 since being acquired from the Texas Rangers at the trade deadline.

 

Another new cog in the machine that has taken baseball by storm is Yu Darvish.  The veteran starter was acquired from Texas at the trade deadline.  All Darvish has done in Dodger blue so far is compile a 2–0 record, and an ERA of 1.50.  He has allowed a total of 2 earned runs in 12 innings pitched, and has recorded 20 strikeouts.

The 2001 Seattle Mariners and the 1906 Cubs are tied for the most wins in a single season.  The Mariners were a torrid 116-46 in 2001, the Cubs were 116-36 in 1906.

The Mariners record tying season ended with a five game loss to the eventual World Champion Yankees in the American League Championship Series.  The Cubs fell to the White Sox in the 1906 World Series.

Can the Dodgers keep up the pace?  Is this their year?  Can they carry this pace into the post-season unlike the Mariners and Cubs?  Stay tuned!

DESPERATE DAYS IN MIAMI

The fan base of the Miami Dolphins let out a collective gasp on the morning of August 3rd.  The news broke around mid morning that quarterback Ryan Tannehill had injured his left knee while running to the sidelines during a practice drill at the Dolphins training camp in Davie, Florida.  It was the same knee that Tannehill injured late last year when he was sacked by Arizona Cardinals’ defensive end Calais Campbell.

Tannehill will undergo surgery for a torn ACL and will miss the entire 2017 season.

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Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is attended to following a sack vs. Arizona Cardinals late last year.

 

Miami is coming off their first post-season appearance since 2008.  This year’s training camp was bubbling with optimism.  Tannehill was supposedly perfectly healthy. Featured back Jay Ajai was coming off a breakout year.  Ajai featured running savvy not seen in Miami since Ricky Williams.  The Dolphins, who had major problems at linebacker in 2016 drafted Raekwon McMillan out of Ohio State in the second round this past April.  Pieces were really coming together.

 

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Jay Ajai might be the best running back in Miami since Ricky Williams.

 

On July 31st things began to crack in Davie.  Ajai suffered a concussion in a training drill. He missed the Dolphins pre-season opener on Thursday night, but returned to individual drills on Tuesday.  Ajai should be ready for the September 10th opener vs. Tampa Bay, but he has missed two weeks of camp.

During Thursday night’s pre-season opener, McMillan tore his ACL on a punt play. McMillan joins Tannehill on the sidelines for the rest of the year.

Obviously the most glaring injury is to Tannehill.  For good, bad, or ugly (and there have been glimpses of all three) this has been Ryan Tannehill’s offense since he first suited up in 2012.  Where do the Dolphins go from here?

Matt Moore, who has been a Dolphin longer than Tannehill, filled in admirably last year. Moore stepped up, like he has most of his career, and took control of the offense.  He, along with the running of Ajai, put the finishing touches on a march to the playoffs. Moore has filled in admirably throughout his career, but he’s a backup for a reason. Many of the Dolphin faithful would like to see Moore become the starter.  Outside of Don Strock, career backups usually fall short when given the top job long-term.

The Colin Kaepernick sideshow kicked into gear as soon as Tannehill went down.  Here’s a fit for the controversial quarterback read many headlines.  Two observations on this, number one, who needs the media circus and sideshow?  This is a franchise that has been down virtually since Dan Marino retired.  The Dolphins are finally relevant again, why the distraction?

Secondly, here we are, basically a quarter of the way through pre-season, does Miami have time to bring someone in who isn’t familiar with the offense?  Normally that really wouldn’t be a problem, they’re all professionals, right?  Quarterbacks have come in at mid-season and learned offenses, right.  However, there is another, very recently retired quarterback in the mix by the name of Jay Cutler.

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Jay Cutler flourished working with Adam Gase during their days with the Chicago Bears.

 

Cutler was forced into retirement after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury.  He played in only five games and threw five interceptions before he lost his starting job with the Bears.  In 2014 and 2015 combined, Cutler played in 30 games, sported a 65% completion percentage, threw for 49 touchdowns. Cutler was picked off 29 times in the two years, however he was intercepted only 11 times in 2015.

In 2015 Adam Gase joined former Denver Broncos head coach John Fox in Chicago.  Gase was Fox’s offensive coordinator in Denver, and was part of Peyton Manning’s monster season in 2013.

In my opinion a Cutler-Gase reunion makes sense for one year.  Cutler is not only familiar with Gase’s offense, he flourished in it.  Cutler needs to just familiarize himself with new players.  The Dolphins have time for that.  Cutler signed a one year $10 million deal with Miami last week.

Can happy days be ahead in South Florida despite the rocky beginning?

 

 

THE DAY THAT BASEBALL DIED

“I met a girl who sang the blues, and I asked her for some happy news, but she just smiled and turned away”… Don McLean from the song “American Pie.  A song which depicted that awful night in February, 1959 when we lost Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly, and The Big Bopper in a plane crash.

This past Sunday night into Monday morning we experienced baseball’s version of virtually the same thing.  On Sunday night the sad news broke, Darren Daulton, an icon in Philadelphia and a leading member of the Cast of Idiots Phillies team that shocked the baseball world in 1993 had passed away.  This bulletin reverberated all the way to South Florida, where Daulton, who was acquired by the Marlins at the trade deadline in 1997, became a force in their locker room as well.  That 1997 Marlins team would also shock the baseball world when they won the World Series that year.  Cancer took Daulton at the age of 55.

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Philllies icon Darren Daulton passed away at 55 on Sunday.

It was an atmosphere in my home in South Florida on Monday morning that began with my wife informing me of the news.  Those of you reading this via the Phillies Inphielder will remember that your administrator put out a post not too long ago, reporting that Daulton’s battle with cancer had reached round two.  Daulton seemingly had the disease beat in 2015.

In a year in which the Phillies Faithful began with the news that Dallas Green, the manager of the 1980 World Championship team had passed away, this is part 2 of a one two whammy.

Daulton’s field presence was fiery and dominating.  He was a major reason that the 1993 Philllies came out of nowhere to win the National League Pennant.  His role as a leader on a team that went from a last place finish in 1992 to National League Champs in 1993 will remain a legend in the City of Brotherly Love for many years to come.

Daulton was dealt to the Florida Marlins at the trade deadline in 1997.  His short time spent here in South Florida was very eventful.  Darren would play first base for the Marlins and would once again provide a huge leadership presence.  This was on a ball-club that included the likes of Jeff Conine, Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Bobby Bonilla and Charles Johnson.  He was certainly a leader among leaders in the Marlins clubhouse.

Sadly, part 2 of this horrendous morning for all baseball fans was yet to come.

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1979 American League MVP, and original Colorado Rockies manager Don Baylor passed away at 68 on Monday morning.

 

While the baseball world was mourning the death of the man affectionately known as Dutch, more awful news broke.  I got a notification from my ESPN app on my phone in the middle of Monday morning that Don Baylor had also succumbed to cancer.

Baylor was the American League Most Valuable Player in 1979 while playing for the Western Division champion California Angels.  He also starred with the Baltimore Orioles and spent time with the Yankees, Athletics, and Red Sox.

After his playing days, Baylor pursued a career in managing.  He landed his first managerial job in the Majors with the Colorado Rockies.  He managed Colorado from their inaugural year of 1993 through 1998.  Baylor lead the Rockies to a Wild Card playoff berth in 1995 and was named National League Manager of the Year.  He also managed the Chicago Cubs from 2000-2002.

This past Sunday into Monday was clearly the day that baseball died.  Two of its leading figures from a time gone by were taken way too soon.

Rest well Dutch and Don.

 

 

CANTON OPENS ITS DOORS TO THE CLASS OF 2017

It’s the biggest week and weekend in the mid-western town that bleeds football.  The Pro Football Hall of Fame once again celebrates the legends of America’s favorite professional sport.

Without further ado, I offer my heartiest congratulations to Jason Taylor, Kurt Warner, Morten Andersen, LaDainian Tomlinson, Terrell Davis, Kenny Easley, and Jerry Jones.  A job well done guys!  In Jones’ case a job that is still in progress.

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Jason Taylor.

As a resident of South Florida, and a native New Yorker, this class has very special meaning to me.  Jason Taylor is just as much a folk hero in these parts as Dan Marino and Don Shula.  In the early 2000’s Taylor, along with Zach Thomas, Sam Madison, and Patrick Surtain anchored the most successful defense in Miami since the Killer B’s in the 1980’s.

Kurt Warner will be remembered primarily for being the quarterback of the Greatest Show On Turf in St. Louis in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.  He will also be forever etched in Arizona Cardinals lore for leading them to their only Super Bowl appearance.  As a native New Yorker, I remember his short time with the Giants.

Warner was signed by the St. Louis Rams in 1997 out of the Arena League as a third string quarterback behind Tony Banks and Steve Bono.  In 1999 he got his chance to start due to an injury in the preseason to starter Trent Green.  The rest, as they say is history. Warner threw three touchdown passes in his first three starts in St. Louis, and capped off the 1999 campaign with a Super Bowl victory and the Super Bowl MVP.

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Kurt Warner

 

Kurt Warner would appear in two more Super Bowls.

The Rams would lose a heart-breaker to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI. Adam Vinatieri kicked the game winning field goal for New England on the game’s final play.  Warner threw for 365 yards that day.

In 2008, Warner would lead the Arizona Cardinals to their only Super Bowl appearance to date.  The Cardinals would lose to Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-23.  Warner’s tenure brought the Cardinals franchise to relevance for the first time since they moved to the desert from St. Louis.

Morten Andersen joins George Blanda, Lou Groza, and Jan Stenarud as the only place kickers enshrined in Canton.

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LaDainian Tomlinson

 

Running backs La Dainian Tomlinson and Terrell Davis will be enshrined in Canton this year. Will Tomlinson be the last of the San Diego Chargers to make it to the Hall?  Drew Brees will join him someday, but that would be mostly for what he accomplished in New Orleans.

Terrell Davis was the featured back in the Denver Broncos’ offense that was led by John Elway in the late 1990’s.  The Broncos won consecutive Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998 (Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII).   Davis was the Super Bowl XXXII MVP.

Seattle Seahawks fans have waited quite a while for Kenny Easley to join the Canton Brotherhood.  The safety was a member of the All Decade Team of the 1980’s and appeared in five Pro Bowls.

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Jerry Jones.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones joins the party in Canton this year.  Since Jones purchased the Cowboys in 1989, America’s Team has kicked it up a notch.  Dallas has won three Super Bowls under Jones’ ownership.  The list of players that have played for Jones’ reads like a “Who’s Who” of professional football.  Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and Tony Romo head the list, and there are many more.

Congratulations to all!!

THE FINAL CHAPTER OF A BYGONE ERA

To begin tonight’s article I would like to offer my heartiest congratulations to the 2017 Major League Baseball Hall of Fame class.  Jeff Bagwell, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Tim Raines have etched their immortality as players in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.  In addition, executive John Scheurholz and commissioner Bud Selig were also enshrined. Congratulations again to all!

Of the five new members, the one that stands out the most to this writer is Tim Raines.   He isn’t noticeable because his stats were better than that of Pudge and Bagwell, although he had more stolen bases than the other two combined.  What stands out for me is the logo on Raines’ cap on his plaque.

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Tim Raines’ Hall of Fame plaque will be the last one to depict a Montreal Expos cap.

 

Tim Raines joins Andre Dawson (class of 2010) and Gary Carter (class of 2003) as the representatives of the Montreal Expos in Cooperstown.

The Montreal Expos were one of four expansion franchises that joined the Majors in 1969.  They joined the National League along with the San Diego Padres, while the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots joined the American League.

The Pilots franchise would only play the 1969 season in the Pacific Northwest.  They went to Spring Training in 1970 while the franchise was up for sale.  During Spring Training the team was purchased by Bud Selig.  Selig, a former minority owner of the Milwaukee Braves sought to return Major League Baseball to the city when the Braves left for Atlanta .   Upon closing on the sale of the Pilots, Selig, just prior to the start of the 1970 season, relocated the Pilots to Milwaukee.  The franchise would open the season as the Milwaukee Brewers.  They would play the schedule originally prepared for the Pilots.

Now, back to the Expos.  The Expos were the first Major League Baseball team located outside of the United States.  The Toronto Blue Jays would join Montreal north of the border in 1977 when they began play in the American League.  The franchise would enjoy moderate success in Montreal.  They called Jarry Park, which for years was the smallest venue in the Majors, home from 1969-1976.

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Jarry Park, original home of the Montreal Expos.  Capacity for baseball was 30,000, the smallest in Major League Baseball.

 

Following the 1976 Summer Olympics, which were held in Montreal, the Expos moved into Olympic Stadium.  They began play there in 1977 and would call the “Big O” home until they relocated after the 2004 season.

The Expos enjoyed some success on the field and at the gate through the 1970’s and 1980’s.  In the strike shortened year of 1981, the Expos made their only appearance in the post-season. Since the 1981 season was interrupted between mid June and early August by a players strike, it was split into two halves.  The Philadelphia Phillies lead the National League Eastern Division at the time the players went on strike.  When play resumed, the Phillies were declared first half divisional champions.   The second half was a new season, with a new set of standings.  The Expos would finish the second half on top in the National League East and play a best-of-five series against the Phillies to determine the divisional champion.  Montreal would defeat Philadelphia in five games.  Raines was part of that 1981 squad.  The Expos would lose the National League Championship Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers, also in five games.  The Dodgers went on to win the World Series.

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Montreal Expos celebrate winning the 1981 National League Eastern Division championship after defeating the Philadelphia Phillies in a five game series set up by a strike shortened season.

 

Alongside the three Expos that are enshrined in the Hall of Fame, the stars that graced French Canada were many.  Randy Johnson began his career in Montreal.  Pedro Martinez gained notariety in French Canada.  Rusty Staub continues to be a folk hero in Montreal to this day.

Major League Baseball has had two mid-season work stoppages in its history.  The 1981 strike gave the Expos their only real shot at a World Championship.  The other stoppage happened in 1994.  The players walked out in August of that year and the season never resumed.  The Expos had a record of 74-40 on August 12, 1994.  They had the best record in baseball, but never got to finish the season.  This strike was the beginning of the end of the Montreal Expos.

The ownership of the Expos could not keep up with its American competitors financially. Many of their stars were traded away, and as a result attendance and fan interest dwindled.  The Expos finally were relocated by Major League Baseball following the 2004 season.  They moved the franchise to Washington, DC, where they are now known as the Washington Nationals.  To date the Nationals have yet to make an appearance in the World Series.

Raines will be the final Expos player to be enshrined in Cooperstown, this franchise’s next inductee will be sporting a Nationals cap.  Truly the end of an era.

 

 

THE BOYS OF FALL ARE BACK!

We are heading into the last couple of days of July.  Heat waves are embracing much of the nation, beaches are crowded and baseball’s annual flea market is coming to a climax. This can only mean one other thing….FOOTBALL CAMPS HAVE OPENED!

Yes, the NFL is back in business, folks!  Thirty-two American college campuses are the focal point as the pigskin began to fly through the air this week.

When last we saw the National Football League, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were putting the finishing touches on the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.  Just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past six months, let’s revisit the events of Super Bowl 51.

The Atlanta Falcons stunned the football world with three second quarter touchdowns and took a 28-3 lead over Belichick’s boys in the third quarter.  It looked like the celebration was about to erupt on Peachtree Street, but the Patriots had other plans.

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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady holds the Vince Lombardi Trophy following a comeback victory in last year’s Super Bowl.

 

Tom Brady’s offense would erase the deficit with four touchdowns in the final quarter and a half to tie the game at 28.  This lead to the first overtime period in the history of the Super Bowl.  James White’s two yard run on the only possession of the extra period capped the comeback.

Okay, so much for last year.  Since that thrilling night in Houston, a few things happened along the way.

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Artist’s rendering of the new home of the Rams and Chargers in Inglewood, California.  It is slated to open in 2020.

 

Actually, the off-season news began in January, when San Diego Chargers chairman Dean Spanos announced that the franchise will relocate to Los Angeles beginning this season. The Chargers will join the Los Angeles Rams at a new stadium in Inglewood, California beginning in 2020.  The Chargers temporary home will be the 30,000 seat Stub Hub Center in Carson.  The Chargers will lay claim to the smallest venue in the league.

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Artist’s rendering of the Raider’s new stadium in Las Vegas.  The Raiders will leave Oakland in 2020.

 

In March, the Oakland Raiders announced that they will be moving out of the area in 2020.  The franchise’s new home will be in Las Vegas.  A new stadium is under construction off of the Las Vegas strip to house the Silver and Black.

As the Raiders finish up business in the Bay Area, they will sport a new face of their franchise.  Marshawn Lynch came out of retirement during the off-season.  Lynch was traded by the Seattle Seahawks to the Raiders and will resume his career in Oakland and eventually in Las Vegas.

Lynch wasn’t the only star running back to change addresses this off-season.  Adrian Peterson signed with the New Orleans Saints where he will share a backfield with Mark Ingram.  As fate would have it, the Saints open the season in Minneapolis in the opener of the Monday Night doubleheader.

So, grab a beer, get the chips ready, and put the wings in the deep fryer football fans.  The Cowboys and Cardinals get things underway this Thursday night in Canton.  This year the Hall of Fame Game will kick off the induction weekend and the pre-season!

THE GRANDDADDY OF FIRE SALES

The great baseball flea market is off and running.  It’s that time of year, folks,  the non-waiver trade deadline is approaching.  The deadline for non waiver trades in Major League Baseball is July 31 at 4:00 Eastern Time.

Since the abolishing of the reserve clause in 1975, this deadline has gone from a last-ditch opportunity for contenders to put a finishing touch on their roster to an out-and-out flea market.  It’s not even about trading away a player who is in the last year of his contract before he leaves anymore.  It’s become a time when teams that are out of the race are just shedding big contracts with no regard to their paying fans.

Although the practice of shedding contracts has become a way of life in recent years, the idea began right after the birth of free agency.

The Oakland Athletics were baseball’s most dominant franchise in the early ’70’s.  The A’s were American League Western Division champs from 1971-1975.  During that time, they won consecutive World Championships in 1972, 1973, and 1974.

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Former Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley tried to give away much of his team that won three consecutive World Championships.

Finley had control over the likes of Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Dave Duncan, Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers prior to the reserve clause’s demise.  Catfish Hunter became a free agent following the 1974 season, and signed on with the New York Yankees.  It was after this signing, that Finley decided to put business before winning.  Before the beginning of the 1976 season, Reggie Jackson and Ken Holtzman were dealt to the Baltimore Orioles.  1976 was the final year of Jackson’s contract.  Jackon would join Hunter in the Bronx the following year.  The Athletics did get Don Baylor and Mike Torrez in return.  Nowadays that trade would be even more lopsided.

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Jim “Catfish” Hunter left the Oakland Athletics for the New York Yankees following the 1974 season, sparking an infamous attempt at a fire sale.

That was just the beginning. Prior to the 1976 trade deadline, Finley contacted the Boston Red Sox about acquiring Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers, Baylor,  Vida Blue, and Gene Tennace for 1 million dollars apiece.  Sal Bando was offered to Boston for a measly half million. The Bosox agreed to pay the one million dollar price tags for Rudi and Fingers.  Vida Blue was sold to the Yankees for $1.5 million. Blue was also offered to the Detroit Tigers.

Three days later, commissioner Bowie Kuhn voided both deals, citing that in “wasn’t in the best interest of baseball.”

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Commissioner Bowie Kuhn voided Charlie Finley’s attempt at an all out fire sale at the 1976 trade deadline.

 

Finley’s actions were driven by getting back as much of his investment as possible before all of the players mentioned in this article either walked, or demanded to be paid their new market value.

Today, you have owners that blatently shed payroll this time of year.  The murmuring around my neck of the woods is an annual occurrence.  The Marlins dealt their top reliever, David Phelps to Seattle this week in exchange for prospects.  That set off an uneasy feeling of “here it comes” around South Florida.  Will the likes of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcel Ozuna, and Christian Yelich still be here on Monday night?  According to the Marlins front office, they are committed to keeping the All-Star caliber outfield intact. That being said, 3rd baseman Martin Prado will almost surely have a new address.

So I ask you Commissioner Manfred, what happened to the “best interests of baseball” that Kuhn cited.  Why are franchises like the Marlins, Padres, and this year both teams in the San Francisco Bay area being allowed to shed payroll and rid themselves of contracts that they signed?  What about the good of the team next year and beyond?  What about the spirit of parity?  Are the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, and Dodgers going the way of the Cavaliers, Rockets, and Warriors in basketball?

Baseball has thirty franchises, all thirty fan bases deserve to have stability .

 

IT WAS AN EPIC WEEK IN MIAMI

It was a very exciting and at times interesting week here in South Florida.  Hometown heroes Giancarlo Stanton and Justin Bour electrified the faithful at Marlins Park Monday night, despite first round exits in the Home Run Derby.  The transplanted Yankee fans, of which there are a-plenty here in the sixth boro, saw their heroes Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge defeat the star Fish in epic fashion.  Oh, and by the way there was the 510 foot moon shot by Judge that will be talked about for years.  The rookie slugger put on a show of shows to win the event.

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Yankees rookie slugger Aaron Judge wins the 2017 Home Run Derby.

Tuesday night’s All-Star Game also ended with a pinstripes connection.  Former Yankee Robinson Cano capped off an extra inning 2-1 victory with a game winning homer in the top of the tenth inning.  The Seattle Mariners star also walked away with the game’s MVP award.

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Seattle’s Robinson Cano slams the game winning home run in the top of the 10th inning in a 2-1 American League victory.

 

With Tuesday’s victory, the American League has now won five straight All-Star affairs. Here’s a fun fact, the Junior Circuit’s recent dominance has been on enemy turf.  Four of the last five games have been hosted by the National League.  The Minnesota Twins have been the lone American League host since 2013.

The National League gets to don their home uniforms next year too as the game heads for the Nation’s Capital.  The last time an All-Star Game was in the shadow of the White House was 1969 as an American League venue.  It was held at RFK Stadium, home of the Washington Senators.  The American League will be the home team once again in 2019 when the game will be in Cleveland.

 

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Mariners’ Nelson Cruz poses with home plate umpire Joe West during Tuesday’s All-Star Game.  Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is the photographer.

 

Amid the Aaron Judge moon shots and the Robinson Cano game winner, the All-Star experience is all about having fun.  Cano’s Mariners teammate Nelson Cruz did just that. Cruz entered the game as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning and had an odd request.  He asked home plate umpire Joe West for time out so he can take a picture with the arbiter. West agreed and so did National League catcher Yadier Molina.  The St. Louis Cardinals backstop turned photographer snapped the photo.

During Monday’s Home Run Derby, Marlins’ slugger Giancarlo Stanton was helpful to his teammate Justin Bour.  While Bour was locked in an epic first round battle with eventual champ Aaron Judge, Stanton helped him out during his time-out.  Sensing that Bour needed strength and energy, Giancarlo greeted him with a glazed donut!

The All-Star Game is all about having fun!

I dedicate this week’s blog to my son, Justin Karpel.  When Major League Baseball awarded the Marlins with the 2017 All-Star Game we discussed going to the Home Run Derby.  It was supposed to be a once in a lifetime father and son night at the ballpark.  As many of you know, Justin took his life this past February.

As I sat alone in my living room Monday night I couldn’t stop thinking about what could have been, and what should have been.  On a night that I was supposed to be in Miami with my son, I was home in my suburban Ft. Lauderdale living room watching alone. Rest in peace my son. It never gets easy.

REFLECTIONS ON A SPECIAL TIME IN THE BASEBALL SEASON

Now that the Independence Day weekend is behind us, Major League Baseball moves on to another July tradition.  At the close of today’s schedule the big leagues begins its annual midweek pause known as the All-Star Break.

The elite of Major League Baseball will take its talents to South Beach this year. Miami’s hometown hero Giancarlo Stanton will defend his Home Run Derby crown tomorrow night at Marlins Park.  Miami first baseman Justin Bour will join Stanton at this years derby, while left fielder Marcel Ozuna will start for the National League on Tuesday.

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Giancarlo Stanton at last year’s Home Run Derby in San Diego.

In preparing to write this morning’s blog there were so many memories that ran through my mind surrounding the All-Star Game.  Pete Rose practically ended Indians’ catcher Ray Fosse’s career when he barreled into him during a play at home plate in 1970. Reggie Jackson hit a light tower on the roof of Tiger Stadium in Detroit the following year.  What Mets fan can forget Dwight Gooden striking out the side in Houston in 1984?  Jacob deGrom would repeat the feat in 2015.

In 2001 we saw Cal Ripken, jr. bow out in style when his last at-bat ended with a home run at Seattle’s Safeco Field.  In 2014 we saw Derek Jeter finish his legendary all-star career going 2 for 2 with a run scored at Target Field in Minneapolis.  Both exited to huge ovations.

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Cal Ripken, jr. crosses the plate after hitting a home run in his final All-Star at bat.

Of all of the memories in all of the years that I have witnessed the Major League Baseball All-Star game, the one that stands out the most has to be the 2013 edition.

The baseball elite descended on Citi Field in Flushing, Queens that year.  The game itself was pretty uneventful, with the American League winning 3-0.  What stands out in my mind is a scenario that unfolded following the American League’s half of the eighth inning.  It involved a rival from the Bronx  and a Brooklyn born singer that became an icon in Boston, following a terrorist attack that brought everyone together.

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Yankees closer Mariano Rivera salutes the crowd at Citi Field (home of the rival Mets) in his final All-Star Game appearance.

 

The 2013 All-Star Game was held three months and two days following the terrorist bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  The other twenty-nine clubs in Major League Baseball had picked up on the Fenway Park tradition of playing Niel Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” in between innings.  This was part of the Boston Strong moniker that supported the city following the tragic events of April 15, 2013.

In the middle of the eighth inning at the All-Star Game, the New York boy turned Boston icon took the field at the home of the Mets.  His rendition of “Sweet Caroline” gave me goosebumps, but that was only part one of this unbelievable moment in All-Star Game history.

After Diamond exited the field to a standing ovation, Mariano Rivera’s theme song “Enter Sandman” by Metallica blared over the Citi Field sound system.  What was unique about this is the fact that this was a tradition born at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.  It was the music that ushered in the Yankees closer.  Rivera announced ealier in the season, that 2013 would be his final year. That announcement made this, on the strangest of stages, his final All-Star Game appearance.  The crowd at the house of the hated rival greeted Rivera with a huge ovation.  Rivera took the mound with nobody else on the field.  All-Stars from both dugouts joined in the ovation.

This year the attention focuses on what many call New York City’s “Sixth Boro.”  What memories await us over the next few days in Miami?

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL AT JULY 4TH

July 4th weekend is upon us!  This holiday conjures up thoughts of barbecues, fireworks, and of course, baseball.  There is an old adage that the teams that are in the lead at this juncture of the season will go on to finish at the top.  Let’s look at where the standings are as of this morning.

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The Houston Astros own the best record in the Majors.  The Los Angeles Dodgers are tops in the National League.

The last time that I did one of these progress reports the Houston Astros were head and shoulders above the rest.  Since then Houston has slowed down a bit, while the Los Angeles Dodgers have sped up.  The Astros are comfortably in front in the American League West.  They have a 13.5 game lead over the second place Angels.  Back around Memorial Day the Dodgers were in a three team dog fight in the National League West with Arizona and Colorado.    As of this morning, the boys from Hollywood own a 3.5 game lead over Arizona.  The Rockies huge start has faded a bit, they trail Los Angeles by seven games as of this morning. By the way, the now second place Diamondbacks own the second best mark in the Senior Circuit.

Speaking of recent fades, the boys from the Bronx come to mind.  After a blazing start, the New York Yankees have slowed up of late.  They have lost their hold on the American League East, and currently sit in second place, two games behind the Boston Red Sox.

This season started with a host of ball-clubs getting off to a running start.  Along with the Yankees and Rockies, the Minnesota Twins have also slowed down.  After a blazing start, Minnesota is now two behind the division leading Cleveland Indians.  The Tribe was heavily favored to win the American League Central prior to the start of the season.

Two of the surprises have not slowed down.  To this writer, this year’s biggest surprises have to be the aforementioned Arizona Diamondbacks and the Milwaukee Brewers.

 

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The Milwaukee Brewers currently lead the National League Central.

After all of the miracles and curse breaking that went on at Wrigley Field in 2016, something has happened on the way to a divisional repeat.  A scant 90 miles up the coast of Lake Michigan, the Milwaukee Brewers are making some magic of their own.  The surprising Brew Crew currently lead the Cubbies by three games and the St. Louis Cardinals by three and a half.

There are quite a few questions that surround the National League East.  Although the Washington Nationals have had a comfortable lead from the start, the Atlanta Braves seem to be a surprise.  They are currently in second place, seven and a half games behind the Nats.  So here are the questions. Can the boys from the Nation’s Capitol wrap things up by Labor Day?  Will the Braves keep up?  Will the Mets turn things around and possibly challenge the Nationals?  Will Jeffrey Loria clean house in Miami after the rest of the league leaves town following next week’s All-Star Game?

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Yankees Aaron Judge and Dodgers Cody Bellinger.

There are two rookies that are tearing up the baseball world as we head into the July 4th holiday.  Cory Bellinger of the Dodgers became the fastest rookie to hit 21 homers a couple of weeks ago.  Bellinger currently has hit 24 dingers.  Not to be outdone, Aaron Judge of the Yankees has belted 27 home runs.  We may be in for the biggest home run duel since Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa!

Will the July 4th adage come true this year?  Will the Brewers keep it up?  Will Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich continue to reside on South Beach?  Only time will tell.