Monthly Archives: May 2017

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!

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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!