THE KINGS OF THE NO-HITTER

This afternoon at Marlins Park in Miami a low profile noontime contest between the Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals almost made history.  For seven and a third innings Nats’ starter Max Scherzer held the Fish hitless.  His dominant performance showed no sign of being stopped either.  Marlins catcher A.J. Ellis was the first Marlin to touch Scherzer .  With one out in the eighth, Ellis hit a ground ball that deflected off of the Washington hurler toward shortstop Trea Turner.  Ellis would beat out the infield hit and end the no-hit bid.  The Marlins would go on to win the game by the score of 2-1.

You may be asking why a no-hit bid that was broken up by an infield single (and became a loss for Scherzer) was targeted for the record books.  Scherzer pitched two no-hitters back in 2015. If he would have gotten the last five Marlins without a hit, the Nationals’ hurler would have joined some elite company.

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Max Scherzer came within five outs of his third career no-hitter today.

Only five pitchers in Major League Baseball history have three or more of these gems to their credit.  Larry Corcoran, who pitched in the 1880’s for a Chicago team that predated the Cubs and White Sox, was the first to pitch three no-hitters.  Cy Young and Bob Feller also authored no-hitters three times in their careers. Corcoran, Young, and Feller all have plaques in Cooperstown.

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Bob Feller threw three no-hitters in his Hall of Fame career.

The other two pitchers that hit the three no-hitter plateau went on to do it again.  Sandy Koufax threw four of them, including a perfect game.  The all-time career no-hitter king is Nolan Ryan with an amazing seven of them!

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Nolan Ryan pitched seven career no-hitters.

Marlins Park has already been the site of one no-hitter this year.  On June 3rd, Miami’s Edinson Volquez no-hit the Arizona Diamondbacks.  That’s the beauty of the game of baseball, where else can history be made on a Wednesday afternoon in the middle of the season?

SPORTS-A BOND BETWEEN FATHER AND SON

I want to begin today’s article by wishing all my fellow fathers, as well as the single mom’s who fill both rolls, a Happy and Healthy Father’s Day.  To me, this is an extra special Father’s Day as I welcome my son-in-law Matt to the ranks!  Welcome aboard son!

Today, I continue my thoughts from Wednesday, but this chapter is on a personal level.  I will reflect back on the first sporting event that I shared with my father, David Karpel.

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Shea Stadium in New York, as it looked in 1969 when I went to my first ballgame with my father.

I take you back to the summer or 1968, when my older brother (we are a mere 15 months apart in age) had an opportunity to go to his first Mets game.  I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t go too.  My father and mother thought that Shea Stadium was no place for six-year-old.  It was one of a very few times when our fine line in age ever came into play.   That disappointment waned very quickly. A year later I came of age, and in the summer of 1969, my dad, and his two oldest sons were off to the big ballpark in Flushing.

Looking back on that wonderful summer day, during that unforgettable year as a Mets fan, how special it was!  I had so many questions!  The Mets were playing the San Francisco Giants that afternoon, and this wide-eyed seven-year old boy was full of questions.  Is that Willie Mays?, is that really Gaylord Perry taking the mound?  Where’s Tom Seaver?  How come nobody is announcing the game?  Dad had an answer for everything that day.

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It was in the centerfold of a New York Mets Program & Scorecard where my father taught me to keep score of a baseball game.

 

The one thing that intrigued me the most that day was when we entered the ballpark. There was a guy selling programs at the entrance.  My dad didn’t hesitate to buy one. He always did and I found out why that afternoon.  As I looked up at the massive right field scoreboard I noticed the out of town scoreboards, as well as the lineups using the players’ uniform numbers.  My dad was looking at the lineups and writing the players names and positions down in order of when they were going to hit.  It was then that he showed me what a scorecard looked like.  As the game went on he would record each player’s at bat. I spent most of my childhood years keeping score of baseball games using what I learned that day.   I passed the art of keeping score to my son years later.

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Right field scoreboard at Shea Stadium as it looked in 1969.

I don’t remember who won that game.  I do remember that future Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry started for the Giants and Gary Gentry started for the Mets.  We all know of the magical ride that the Mets took their fans on in the latter stages of the 1969 season, but that one Saturday afternoon will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I dedicate this article to you, Dad.  Thank you for not only teaching me about the fun and games of the sports world, but about life and how to live it.  You were tough on me as a kid at times. The toughness that came from both you and Mom has molded me into the caring and loving father and grandfather that I am today.

 

A FATHER’S RITE OF PASSAGE

Given the fact that we will be celebrating Father’s Day this coming Sunday, I decided to reflect on how baseball has affected me, both as a son and a father.  There is no sport that bonds a father with his family together like baseball.  Hockey and football have that high energy “rah, rah” mentality and basketball has its showmanship an individual theatrics.  Baseball, however, has that slow pace and lends itself to conversation during the game.  There is the drama of anticipation, there is the thrill of a home run, the circus catch (as former Mets voice Lindsay Nelson use to call them) and the stolen base.  It is also the sport where a child can ask his or her dad a question about the game or about its history.

Baseball is handed down from generation to generation, mostly by dads to their children. In my family there is the tale of three generations and five different teams.

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Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, NY.  Where my father spent much of his childhood watching his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers.  This iconic ballpark was demolished before I was born.

 

My father grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and as most of the borough during his childhood he was a die-hard Dodgers fan.  He spent quite a bit of his childhood years at Ebbets Field cheering  on his beloved Dodgers.  This is where he learned the grand old game.  He never forgave the Dodgers for leaving Brooklyn for Los Angeles.

The Dodgers and Giants have a storied rivalry that began in New York City and continues to this day in California.  My father in law grew up in Manhattan and rooted for the Giants at the Polo Grounds.  As a result, my wife was exposed to the other side of the war between the boroughs.

The common ground that came out of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry was the fact that both fathers handed the game down to my generation rooting for New York’s new team.

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Shea Stadium in Flushing, NY.  Where I learned all about baseball.

The sting of the Dodgers heading to Los Angeles, and the Giants leaving New York for San Francisco following the 1957 season left a void for both fan bases.  New York would be home exclusively to the American League Yankees from 1958-1961. This was little solace to the old National League fans, who frankly, were also rivals to the Yankees.

That all changed in 1962 when the expansion New York Mets took the field for the first time.  Old Dodger fans, like my dad and old Giant fans like my father in law came together to rally around New York’s new National League team.

The expansion Mets became the team of my generation.  Growing up in Queens, becoming a Mets fan was a natural.  Shea Stadium became my school of baseball.  That came courtesy of some fatherly teaching from the old Ebbets Field Bleacher Bum known as Daddy.  The same was true for both of my brothers.  My older brother took a liking to the Yankees, and has since passed his knowledge of the Pinstripes to his son.  That old Giants fan would hand all he knew to my wife and brother-in-law in the same hallowed halls of Shea Stadium.

In 1989 my wife and I relocated to South Florida.  After four years with only having big league baseball during Spring Training, South Florida was awarded an expansion team. As luck would have it, the new Florida Marlins would begin play in the National League in 1993.

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The ballpark that has had many names in Miami (currently its Hard Rock Stadium) where I taught my children the game of baseball.

My wife and I passed the torch to our son and daughter during the late 1990’s.  We would spend a couple of nights a year at Marlin games at their original ballpark.  We were season ticket holders for three years following the 2003 World Championship run.

As a father, no baseball season stands out more than the wonderful year of 2003.  My son, Justin and I attended many games together (just us, guys nights out). No night was more magical in that old ballpark then a late September Friday in that wonderful year.  On that night we witnessed history.  The Marlins defeated, oddly enough, the Mets, to clinch the National League Wild Card.  The crowd was in such a frenzy following the game that the ramps from the concourses to the ground were literally shaking.

During the 2003 postseason our family attended games in the Division Series and Championship Series. Additionally, I was in the ballpark along with my wife and Justin for Game 4 of the World Series.  Everyone was watching what they thought was Roger Clemens’ final start.  When Clemens exited the game he received a standing ovation from the fans, the Yankees and the Marlins.  I still get goosebumps recalling my explanation to Justin of what he was witnessing.  “We are saying thank you to a legend”  I told him.

With the birth of my granddaughter this past April, I can’t wait to see my son-in-law pass the game on to her.

I fondly recall going to see the Mets with my brothers, my father, and my grandfather.  I can still hear the arguments between my father and grandfather over who was going to pay for parking.  I cannot wait to join my children and grandchildren at the old ballgame!

I dedicate tonight’s blog to my father, David Karpel who taught me so much about the game of baseball, among many other life lessons.  I also dedicate this article to my daughter Megan, my son-in-law, Matt, my granddaughter Madeline, and lastly my beloved son, Justin who we lost this past February.  You guys are my world!

 

A SPORTS TRADITION LIKE NO OTHER

This coming week, or possibly tonight, there will be an annual event that never gets old.  The Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins will meet in the Music City tonight for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.  With the Penguins holding a 3-2 series lead, it sets up the possibility that the Stanley Cup will be presented this evening.  If the Predators win tonight, the Stanley Cup will be presented on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

You might be wondering what is so magical about the awarding of a championship trophy?

First off, it’s the only championship trophy in professional sports that is a one of a kind.  The Commissioner’s Trophy, Vince Lombardi Trophy, as well as the Larry O’Brien Trophy are all manufactured every year.  These three trophies all wind up in permanent possession of the teams that won them.  The Stanley Cup is the only championship trophy that has been in existence longer than the league that competes for it.

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The Montreal Canadiens have won more Stanley Cup championships than any other team (24).

The presentation of the Stanley Cup is very unique, and to this writer, never gets old regardless of who wins it.  It’s the only trophy that is awarded to the team captain, rather than the team’s owner.  The captain hoists the Cup above his head and sometimes will kiss it.  The winning team then parades the Cup around the rink handing it from player to player.  Coaches, general managers, and injured players have all taken part in this victory lap and have had the honor of hoisting the legendary trophy.

When all is said and done between Nashville and Pittsburgh, players from both teams will have their names inscribed on the Stanley Cup.  The winners names will appear on the outside, the losers on the inside.  The other three trophies will land in the trophy case at the winner’s offices for ever after.  The winners of the Stanley Cup will spend the off-season taking turns with the Stanley Cup itself.  When next year begins it will return to the Professional Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

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The 2015 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks take the Stanley Cup to Wrigley Field.

The Stanley Cup has been all over the world over the years.  It’s been to the White House, and it has been to Russia.  It’s been paraded up New York City’s Canyon of Heroes, and in Hollywood.  The New York Islanders made it a tradition during it’s iconic four-year run to take it out to dinner.

 

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The Great One, Wayne Gretzky drinks champagne from the Stanley Cup.

 

Being that the trophy is a cup, it is a tradition for players to drink the celebratory champagne from the Cup itself.

Will the Stanley Cup reside in Steeltown or in the Music City?  That will play out today and/or Wednesday.  The Canadian capital for country music had their turn with Lord Stanley’s Cup in 1989 when the Calgary Flames won it.  Will Nashville get their turn this year?

LOOKING BACK AT NOTHING IN BASEBALL

I begin this morning’s blog by re-winding ever so slightly to yesterday afternoon.  While my wife an I were visiting with our daughter and her family (including our beautiful granddaughter), my ESPN App notification went off.  As those of you who get notifications from ESPN can relate to the notification said that Marlins pitcher Edison Volquez had not allowed a hit through six innings.  Honestly, I don’t take these headlines seriously until around the eighth inning.  Sure enough, the notifications kept coming.

On our way home we were listening to the local broadcast of the game.  This is where it got intense.  Volquez faced the minimum 27 Diamondbacks batters, and polished off his first ever no-hitter by striking out the side in the ninth inning.  It was the sixth no-hitter in Marlins franchise history.

I began to really think about what had happened at Marlins Park on this rainy South Florida afternoon.  It was a minor piece of Major League Baseball history, one that will be etched in Marlins team lore forever after.  I started to reflect back at how a no-hitter can be a highlight for any fan base, even if they are at the bottom of the standings.  One game, one gem, and usually by one pitcher.  For that moment, for that day a pitcher is etched in history.

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Miami Marlins pitcher Edinson Volquez is mobbed by his teammates following his no-hit shutout of the Arizona Diamondbacks yesterday.

 

The first and only time that I witnessed one of these pitching rarities was on September 6, 2003.  I had witnessed bits and pieces of many no-hitters before then.  I’ve seen the pitcher finish and be mobbed by his teammates and the celebration afterwards.  The only time I witnessed a no-hitter from beginning to end, was from the right field stands at what is now Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.  My family had partial season tickets in the old ballpark, this contest with oddly enough, the Arizona Diamondbacks was on our ticket plan.  My son was working that night, and my wife was unable to go to the game.  I went to the game by myself (which I have been known to do).

Anibal Sanchez took the mound for the then Florida Marlins that night.  I glanced up at the scoreboard after the fourth inning and happened to notice that the D-Backs had not gotten a base hit yet.  I thought to myself, OK it’s only the fourth inning, but it put me in tune to what might be happening.  I don’t remember what inning, or what out it was, but I do remember left fielder Josh Willingham making a diving and sliding catch.  Most no-hitters and perfect games have big plays by the defense, yesterday was no exception.

Willingham’s gem got me even more excited.  I called my wife somewhere in the middle of the game and asked her if she was watching.  I then told her that Sanchez was “pitching a really good game!”  It’s considered bad luck to utter the words “no-hitter” during the game.  The final out that night was a ground ball to Miguel Cabrera at third,  Miggy threw the ball across the diamond to Mike Jacobs at first to complete Sanchez’s history making gem.  The roar of the crowd at the old stadium rivaled that of the night that the Marlins clinched the Wild Card in 2003.  For that brief moment the Marlins and Anibal Sanchez were the story of baseball.

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Nolan Ryan pitched a record seven no-hitters in his Hall of Fame career.

 

The no-hitter has put many pitchers on the historical map of Major League Baseball, but no hurler says no-hitter more than Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.  Ryan pitched 7 such gems in his career, spanning both leagues and three teams.  Ryan pitched for the New York Mets early in his career but didn’t throw is firs no-hitter until he was a member of the California Angels.

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Yankees Don Larsen is embraced by catcher Yogi Berra following the only perfect game in World Series history.

There have been two no-hitters in postseason history.  On October 6, 2010, Roy Halliday of the Philadelphia Phillies pitched a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.  On October 8, 1956, New York Yankees’ pitcher was perfect against the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 5 of the World Series.  Perfect games are an even bigger rarity, and a subject for another time.

A baseball season can come and go without a pitcher having a unique day like Edinson Volquez had in Miami yesterday.  Other years can have multiple no-no’s.  To this writer the no-hitter and the perfect game will always be a special achievement.  Congratulations Edinson!

 

A program note….Due to family commitments I will not be publishing a Wednesday Night Baseball blog this week.  See you next Sunday!

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL- TAKE ME OUT TO THE BRAWL GAME

In the eighth inning of the Memorial Day game between the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants, Bryce Harper took exception to what he thought was a deliberate attempt by Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland to hit him with a fastball.  Harper charged the mound and threw his batting helmet at the San Francisco hurler.  Both benches emptied as a result, and the brawl was on!  Both players were ejected from the game. Harper was suspended for three games, Strickland will sit for six contests.

Washington’s Bryce Harper charges Giants’ pitcher Hunter Strickland.

 

This latest incident made me reflect and think about some of baseball’s most notable battles.  Here are the three most notable fights in my opinion:

The bout that comes in at number three happened on October 12, 2003.  At historic Fenway Park in Boston, the Yankees and Red Sox intense rivalry turned ugly.  It happened during Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.  The Yankees erased a 2-0 first inning Red Sox lead with two second inning runs and a Hideki Matsui homer in the third. In the top of the fourth, Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez took out his frustrations on New York’s Karim Garcia.  After taking his base, Garcia would run into Red Sox second baseman Todd Walker to break up a potential double play.  Manny Ramirez would lead off the bottom of the fourth.  Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens threw a pitch that came in high and tight on Ramirez.  Manny took exception to this and charged at Clemens.  Both benches emptied and the fight was on!  The most memorable moment of this melee occurred when Pedro Martinez decked Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer!  The 72-year-old coach had  charged at the Red Sox pitcher in the heat of the battle.

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Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez takes down New York Yankees 72-year-old bench coach Don Zimmer.

The Martinez-Zimmer bout seemed to be a big mismatch, but the scuffle that I rate at number two was almost as lopsided.  This one also involves a team from the Big Apple in Game 3 of a League Championship Series.

It happened on October 8, 1973, in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the National League Championship Series at New York’s Shea Stadium.  Cincinnati Reds’ baserunner (one well built baserunner) Pete Rose slid hard into second base and attempted to take out a much smaller Mets shortstop in Bud Harrelson.  Harrelson may have been a little on the small side compared to the mammoth Rose, but Bud was no pushover.  He yelled at the Cincinnati baserunner that it was “a cheap shot” since he came in a bit high after the slide into second base.  Words were exchanged, punches were thrown and history was made.  As Rose took his position in left field in the bottom of the inning he was pelted with batteries and other debris by the Flushing Faithful.  Reds manager Sparky Anderson threatened to pull his team off the field as a result.  Mets icons Tom Seaver, Willie Mays, and Yogi Berra physically went out to left field to appeal for order to be restored.

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The battle of 1973 between Pete Rose and Bud Harrelson.

The top melee on my countdown involves an old New York City rivalry that headed west in 1958.  The Dodgers and, to come full circle in this article, the Giants, have been bitter rivals since the days of Brooklyn vs. Manhattan.  The intensity of this rivalry has not waned since the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles and the Giants bolted from Manhattan for San Francisco.

Things boiled over at  Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 22, 1965.  Future Hall of Famer’s Juan Marichal and Sandy Koufax were to hook up in a key late season game. The pitching matchup ended up taking a back seat to the headlines.

Marichal was famous for pitching inside through most of his career.  He was in rare form on this day, so much so that Dodgers’ catcher Johnny Roseboro took exception to it.  With Marichal at the plate in the third inning, Koufax threw a ball inside that Roseboro dropped.  After picking the ball up, the LA catcher threw the ball back to the pitcher. Here’s the key though, the ball whizzed by the Giants’ hurler’s ear.  Years later Roseboro would admit to doing in on purpose.  Marichal would contest that the ball grazed him.

 

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Giants pitcher Juan Marichal hits Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro with a bat.

Marichal turned around and confronted Roseboro, words were exchanged and in the ugliest incident in Major League Baseball history, Marichal struck Roseboro with his bat.

Much like take out slides and home plate collisions, pitchers and batters will always battle.  These battles will always flare up from time to time.  That’s basebrawl!

WHEN WINTER INVADES SUMMER

“Cause it’s summer, Summer time is here, Yes, it’s summer, My time of year” (From the song Summer which was released in 1976 by the classic rock band War).

Yes, it is Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial beginning of summer.  Pools and beaches open for the season, folks gather for barbecues and outdoor activities.  Major League Baseball’s season is in full swing and the pennant races are starting to take shape.  The fashion community is also telling us it is perfectly fine to wear white.

Today is the biggest day on the sports calendar in Indianapolis, Indiana.  The 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 will get underway at noon eastern time.

As summer unofficially begins this weekend, old man winter still has a score to settle, two of them, in fact.

As a guy who grew up as a fan of the New York Islanders I was fully aware of what this past Wednesday meant to this franchise.  May 24, 1980 marked the beginning of a dynasty on Long Island.  Bob Nystrom’s overtime goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals brought the first of four titles to Nassau County on that amazing Saturday afternoon..

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Montreal Canadiens win their second of four consecutive Stanley Cups, May 14, 1977, 40 years ago.

 

You may be asking what the winning of the Islanders first Stanley Cup championship has to do with Memorial Day weekend?  It’ the fact that back in the day winter sports stretched into spring and was over and done with by the time summer came into view.  The same goes for Major League Baseball.  I can remember a time when the World Series ended in late October, before the real cold settled in.

As time has progressed the Stanley Cup Finals and the NBA Finals have stretched way beyond Memorial Day.

This past Thursday after the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Ottawa Senators in a double overtime Game 7 for the ages.  The victory set up a Stanley Cup Finals match-up with the Nashville Predators, who finished off the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night.

Also on Thursday the Cleveland Cavaliers knocked off the Boston Celtics to set up an NBA Finals match-up with the Golden State Warriors.  Golden State had finished off the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night.  The Cavs and Warriors will meet in the Finals for the third straight year.

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The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will compete in their third consecutive NBA Finals.

 

This brings me to the point of this article.  When I woke up on Friday morning, I checked the schedules of both the Stanley Cup and NBA finals, and was taken aback.  Here we are at a major holiday weekend, with two major championships about to be contested.  In my opinion both should have been over-with by now since winter is over and summer has begun.

I look at the schedules to find out that we will go through the Memorial Day weekend with no hockey or basketball?  Actually, that’s not true, the Stanley Cup Finals begins on Monday night, as the Memorial Day holiday winds down.

The NBA Finals doesn’t start until….um.. Thursday??  While I understand that the Warriors won the Western Conference Finals in four and the Cavs knocked off the Celtics in five, it gave rise to some down time.  I understand that the execs at ESPN/ABC had this date planned for the grand opening of the NBA’s signature event.   But this is a league that is known to begin a round as soon as the teams match-up.  It isn’t uncommon for one round to wind down and a new round starting up on the same day, surely the NBA and ESPN/ABC could’ve arranged something.

Mr. Bettman, how, in the span of 30 odd years does the NHL go from hoisting the Stanley Cup in mid to late May to starting the Finals on Memorial Day night? The amount of teams qualifying for the playoffs hasn’t changed.   Mr. Silver, how is it that there is no NBA playoffs on Memorial Day weekend?  I also would like to add Major League Baseball to this question.  Baseball shouldn’t stretch into November.

I also would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our service men and women who continually fight for our freedom.  I also want to take this time to honor and thank those who paid the ultimate price.

 

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-OBSERVATIONS APPROACHING MEMORIAL DAY

As we approach the Memorial Day weekend, and the two month benchmark of the Major League season, there have been some interesting developments in Major League Baseball.

In New York, the boys from Queens were supposed to be the story this year. This proved to be just the opposite in the early going.  The Yankees find themselves atop the American League East with a two game lead over the Baltimore Orioles.  The Mets however are in third place and currently five games under .500.  By the way, they find themselves behind the Atlanta Braves who are surprisingly in second (albeit with a 20-23 mark),

The Washington Nationals appear to be running away with the National League East.  They currently hold a 6 1/2 game lead over the Braves.

 

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Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals lead the National League East by 6 1/2 games.

 

The Nationals first place position was expected when the season began.  The other two divisions in the National League have surprising leaders.  The defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs currently find themselves in third place, one percentage point behind the second place St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central.  The team on top as of this writing are the Milwaukee Brewers.  The Brew Crew leads the Cards and Cubs by 1 game.

While the Brewers are the surprise in the Central Division, the leaders in the West is a total shock to this writer.  Where did the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks come from?  The Rockies currently own the best record in the National League at 30-17, the Diamondbacks sit two games behind them.  The disappointment in the NL West has to be the San Francisco Giants.  The Giants, who were supposed to battle the Los Angeles Dodgers for western supremacy are currently in fourth place, 10 games off the pace.

The Houston Astros were favored to win the American League Western Division by most predictors prior to the season.  At 31-15, Houston currently owns the best mark in all of Major League Baseball.

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The Houston Astros are off to the best start in baseball.

 

The other division leaders in the American League are both surprises.  The aforementioned Yankees were supposed to be buried behind Baltimore, Toronto, and Boston, yet they lead the East.  The Blue Jays currently reside in the AL East cellar with a 21-26 mark on the heals of a horrible April.

In the American League Central the surprising Minnesota Twins are currently on top.  What’s even more crazy is the fall of the Kansas City Royals.  The 2014 American League Champions, as well as the 2015 World Series Champs currently own the worst record in the Junior Circuit.  My projected World Series Champs, the Cleveland Indians are a game and a half behind the Twins.

Yes, I know it’s not quite Memorial Day, and it’s a long way to October, but it has been an interesting start to the 2017 season.

My questions at this juncture are:

Will the Rockies, Brewers, and Twins keep it up?

Will the Cubs rebound before it’s too late?

Are the Boys from The Bronx on a mission to regain New York?

Only time will tell!  Next progress report will be on Wednesday July 5.

THE TALE OF TWO POSTSEASONS

The late, great Jim McKay used to proclaim in the opening of ABC’s Wide World of Sports “the drama of athletic competition.”  This is truly what we are witnessing in both the Stanley Cup and NBA playoffs this year.  Both tournaments are offering the dramatics this year, but that’s where the similarities end.

To be honest, I haven’t watched any of the NBA playoff games this year.  I have been keeping myself informed through my ESPN app and news reports.  That being said, I am fully aware that both the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers have yet to lose a single game. Therein lies the drama.  Who will flinch first?  To me, as well as most basketball fans, it’s a far gone conclusion that last year’s finalists are on a crash course to this year’s NBA Finals.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs have been much more intriguing.  The only four game sweep came early on, when the Anaheim Ducks dispatched the Calgary Flames in Round 1.  The Pittsburgh Penguins win over the Columbus Blue Jackets and the St. Louis Blues victory over the Minnesota Wild are the only two match-ups to end in five games.  Both five game series were in the first round.  A Stanley Cup record 18 first round games went into sudden death overtime, including four in one night.

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Lebron James, Stephan Curry, and Kevin Durant (pictured in an Oklahoma City Thunder jersey, he is now with the Golden State Warriors) have led the Cavaliers and Warriors to undefeated playoff seasons.

 

Back to the NBA story.  I mentioned earlier in this article that I have yet to watch a single NBA playoff game this year.  In contrast, I watched nearly the entire NCAA Tournament back in March, so it’s not that I’m not interested in basketball.  The NBA has become so predictable that it has, in my opinion, become unwatchable.  No game this year made that more evident than the Cleveland’s 130-86 drubbing of the Boston Celtics on Friday night in Boston.  This game was over in the first quarter!  Given the fact that Boston’s top star Isaiah Thomas is sidelined for the remainder of the playoffs takes all the drama out of this series.

The Western Conference match-up between Golden State and the San Antonio Spurs looked at least palatable on paper .  Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has a history of having his team ready for big games.  However, given the injury bug that has hit San Antonio (Kawhi Leonard is out with an ankle injury), it appears that the Warriors might close things out on Monday night.

The NBA has been dramatic, yet unwatchable.  Hopefully we will see a series for the ages in the far gone concluded NBA Finals between the Cavs and Warriors.

The NHL has a much different situation going on.  Yes, the games have been dramatic, yes the series’ have gone deep, but there is one more dimension to add to the Stanley Cup drama of 2017.  Unlike the NBA’s two marquee franchises being on a crash course to a championship clash, two of the NHL’s smallest markets are in a Stanley Cup frenzy.

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The Nashville Predators have been the surprise of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

While the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals (and superstar Alexander Ovechkin), and marquee franchises from Montreal, Chicago, and the New York Rangers watch from the sidelines, the Nashville Predators and Ottawa Senators are making headlines.

With last night’s come from behind victory in Anaheim, the Predators find themselves within one win of the Stanley Cup Finals.  That can happen in the Music City on Monday night.

The one marquee franchise remaining in the Stanley Cup picture is the Pittsburgh Penguins.  They host the Senators this afternoon in Steeltown, the Eastern Conference Finals is tied at 2-2.

So much drama, so much intrigue.  It’s been a spring for the ages for two very different reasons.  Stay tuned!

 

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-WHY CHANGE WHAT WORKS?

For over 160, or so, years baseball had a fairly uniform set of rules.  The game’s popularity steadily rose from the infant days when Abner Doubleday invented America’s Pastime.  The rules hadn’t changed much until recent years and everyone was fine with that set of rules.

The latest controversy took place this past Saturday in St. Louis.  Late in the contest between the Cardinals and Cubs, with Ian Happ on first, Anthony Rizzo hit a ground ball to the infield.  With a shot at a double play the St. Louis infield looked to force Happ at second.  Happ over-slid second with no intent to take out the Cardinals infielder.  The result appeared at first to be a fielder’s choice with Rizzo safe at first.

Let’s flash back for a moment to Game 2 of the 2015 NLDS between the Mets and Dodgers.  Los Angeles’ base-runner Chase Utley was in a similar position that Happ was on Saturday.  Also playing hard-nosed baseball Utley ran into Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada.  The play resulted in Tejada leaving the field on a stretcher with a broken leg.

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Dodgers’ Chase Utley over-slides second base to break up a double play in Game 2 of the 2015 National League Division Series.

 

In Little League and other levels of baseball, kids are taught to play hard and play classy. It is the responsibility of the base-runner to try to keep the infield from turning a double play in this situation.  That was how everyone was taught, that was the way the game was played. Until Ruben Tejada was an unfortunate casualty of hard-nose baseball on a national post-season stage.

Fast forward to this past Saturday.  If Happ, who was safe at second before the slide is allowed to play the way he was taught, the Cubs would have had runners on first and second.  The Cardinals lead at the time 5-3.  But alas, we are in a baseball world today where you cannot bump anyone and we need to play a handshake version of the game. Both Happ and Rizzo were called out on the play due to the new rule set in place as a result of the collision between Utley and Tejada.  St. Louis would hold on to the two run lead and win the game.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon and starting pitcher Jon Lester were very critical of the call after the game.  ” I’m over it. I mean there was nothing malicious about that slide. He slid three inches past the bag, and we got a double play. But I’m over the rule” said Lester.  “The rule was meant for guys doing dirty slides, sliding late, taking guys out. There was nothing wrong with that slide, whatsoever. We got a double play for it, cost us a run. … I’m over it. This game was meant to be played a certain way. There’s nothing wrong with that slide that Happ did. I told him in the dugout, Next time you do the exact same thing.” Lester continued.

Maddon commented,”when you’re sliding on dirt, and you have momentum, you just keep going. You keep going,” Maddon said. “The rule does not belong in the game. … I could not disagree more with the spirit of this rule. … They (the umpires) know that the game was not intended to be manipulated in a sense where you lose based on a fabrication.”

In 2011 a controversy along the same lines happened when Florida Marlins’ Scott Cousins ran into San Francisco Giants’ Buster Posey while Posey was blocking home plate.  Posey was doing what he was taught to do, so was Cousins.  Posey also suffered a broken leg as a result of the play.

Why is baseball at such a juncture where the rules are changed due to unfortunate injuries?  Injuries are part of the game!  Collisions are part of the game!  Lets leave what has worked for over 160 years alone!