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PROFESSIONAL ATHLETES AND INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION-IS IT TOO RISKY?

Kansas City Royals fans and management are cringing this morning.  In a Pool D contest at the World Baseball Classic in Jalisco, Mexico yesterday, Royals catcher Salvador Perez left with an apparent knee injury. He was playing for his native Venezuela. To add insult to injury it was as a result of a home plate collision with his backup in Kansas City, Drew Butera who was trying to score the tying run for Team Italy.  Perez was guarding home plate while Butera was trying to score.  Venezuela won the game 11-10 in ten innings.  The Detroit Tigers are also licking their wounds from this game and that play.  Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez strained his groin while acting as the cutoff man on the play.

Perez will sit out the remainder of the World Baseball Classic and return to the Royals training camp in Arizona.  Initial examination has shown that the knee injury isn’t that serious.

Royals catcher Salvador Perez playing for Team Venezuela at the World Baseball Classic.

This incident made me think back to other situations where professional athletes have been injured while playing in international competitions.

The National Hockey League is leaning towards not participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea for this exact reason.  The owners feel that to close down in the middle of the season to let high-priced players play full tilt for their country has become too much of a risk.

At the Sochi Olympics in 2014 both of New York’s hockey teams took a hit.  The Islanders got a huge scare when all-star center John Tavares, while playing for Team Canada was checked hard into the boards in a game against Latvia.  Tavares had suffered a torn MCL and a torn meniscus.  He was out for the remainder of the Isles 2013-14 season.

2014-02-20-tavares-injuryNew York

Islanders all-star center John Tavares is helped off the ice while playing for team Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

 

Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello also returned home injured.  He suffered a broken hand while playing for Team Norway.  Other injuries in Sochi included Florida Panthers forwards Aleksandr Barkov (playing for Finland) and Tomas Kopecky (playing for Slovakia).  Detroit Red Wings star Henrik Zetterberg aggravated a back injury while playing for Team Sweden.

Prior to this year’s season, the NHL and the International Hockey Federation teamed up to stage the World Cup of Hockey.  This tournament is similar to the World Baseball Classic and claimed two of the NHL’s young stars.

Florida Panthers star defenseman Aaron Ekblad left the tournament following what turned out to be a concussion.  He was playing for Team North America.  Panthers ownership pulled him from the competition.  Ekblad was able to open the NHL season for Florida.

The defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins also had to hold their breath.  Goaltender Matt Murray suffered a thumb injury while also playing for team North America.

So the question remains, are owners and management going to continue to support sending their stars to these tournaments?  Like I’ve said before, I’m all for shuffling the deck and watching professional athletes play for their country.  However, this latest chapter that claimed three players on one play makes me wonder what the answer is.

I am not a fan of preseason tournaments like the WBC and the World Cup of Hockey since the players shouldn’t be playing full tilt yet.  I am a fan of international competition when players are in top shape.  The Olympics have featured NHL and KHL players since 1998 in mid-season form but the rash of injuries in 2014 speaks for itself.  The NBA has sent players to the Olympics since 1992 right after the end of its playoffs.  There haven’t been any major injuries in Olympic basketball competition, however the NBA stars have shied away from the Olympic at times to not risk injury.  Lebron James and Stephan Curry are prime examples, both sat out this past summer’s games in Rio.

So the question remains and the debate will continue without an answer.  International competition is great, but at what cost?

 

 

 

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GONE TOO SOON

It’s with a heavy heart that I return to the blogging scene this morning.  For those of you who don’t follow me primarily on Facebook, let me fill you in on my recent hiatus.  My son Justin passed away Valentine’s Day morning at the age of 23.  Myself and my family are still reeling from the events of that horrific morning.  Justin, I dedicate this article to you and the wonderful, yet short time you spent walking this earth.

I have spent well over a week trying to figure out how to dive back in to the business of discussing sports and this is what I came up with.  Throughout my many years around the sports world, there were, and still are times of untimely tragedies. Today I look back on the news of athletes who left us in the prime of their careers.

Image result for thurman munsonFront page of the New York Daily News reporting the death of Yankees catcher Thurman Munson.

Perhaps my first recollection of a sudden death of a sports figure was on August 2, 1979.  I’ll never forget the bulletin that came over the radio as my family was eating dinner.  Yankees all-star Thurman Munson was killed in a plane crash.  At seventeen years old the news was hard to comprehend.  Thurman Munson?? dead??? how???

I’ll never forget the following night when the Yankees returned home to face the Baltimore Orioles.  The scene at the stadium was memorable.  I still can remember all of the flags flying at half-staff over the legendary Yankee Stadium facade.  The Yankees flew back to Munson’s home town of Canton, Ohio on August 6th for his funeral.  Bobby Murcer and Lou Piniella would deliver emotional eulogies that day.

Thurman Munson’s stall in the Yankees locker room remained untouched until the old stadium closed at the end of the 2008 season.  His uniform number 15 is immortalized in the current Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park.

Image result for Darryl Kile   Future Cardinals manager Mike Matheny pays homage to Darryl Kile who passed away suddenly on June 22, 2002.

Possibly my favorite time of the week as a baseball fan is Saturday afternoon.  It was always a time to kick back and watch a nationally televised regular season game.  Most times it was between two clubs that I don’t get to see on a day-to-day basis.

On Saturday afternoon June 22, 2002 FOX was going to air a tilt between two long time rivals.  The St. Louis Cardinals were in Chicago for a weekend series against the  Cubs.  I turned on the TV to watch the game and I knew immediately something was wrong.  The players weren’t playing catch, the broadcasters weren’t discussing the upcoming game.  What was being discussed was a player missing from the Cardinals.  Darryl Kile had not shown up at Wrigley Field.  He was supposed to start the following day, and  was supposed to be charting pitches. Darryl Kile was found dead in his hotel room, he died of a heart attack.  Kile was 33 years old.

The Cardinals kept Kile’s jersey hanging in their dugout the remainder of the 2002 season.  Although his number isn’t officially retired, the Cardinals, and Kile’s previous teams (Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros) have never reissued his number 57.

Image result for Marlins remember Jose FernandezMiami Marlins remember Jose Fernandez, September 26, 2016.

On Sunday morning September 25, 2016, while my wife Robin and I were getting ready to attend the Miami Dolphins home opener, we received the tragic news.  Marlins ace Jose Fernandez and two of his friends were found dead off of Government Cut in Miami Beach overnight.  Their boat had hit a jetty and overturned.  This brought back the horrible news of that late afternoon in 1979 all over again.  Jose Fernandez??? really??? can’t be!

I’ll never forget driving along the Florida Turnpike on the way to Hard Rock Stadium that day.  We should have been listening to Dolphins pregame, but that morning that home opener took a very distant back burner.  The Dolphins held a chilling moment of silence prior to their game with the Cleveland Browns.  The Miami Heat would don warmup jerseys bearing Fernandez’ number 16 prior to a preseason tilt with the Brooklyn Nets a few days later.  Robin and I were in the building at the BB&T Center for the Florida Panthers season opener a couple of weeks later, the Cats also warmed up wearing number 16.

The Marlins would return to action the following day to play the New York Mets at Marlins Park.  The team would wear number 16 in Jose’s honor.  I’ll never forget Dee Gordon’s leadoff home run in the bottom of the first inning.  Gordon was bawling as he ran the bases and had to be consoled by his teammates as he crossed home plate.  Following the game the team surrounded the pitcher’s mound where Fernandez brought the South Florida community so much joy.

I can go on about a few others, but we would need a volume of articles to do that.  I still remember Philadelphia Flyers’ goaltender Pelle Lindbergh passing away in a horrific car crash.  What hockey fan can ever forget the horrible news out of Russia when KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s plane crashed killing the entire team (which included former NHL stars Brad McCrimmon and Pavel Demitra)?  There was also a stormy afternoon growing up in the shadow of New York’s Kennedy Airport when I heard what I thought was a clap of thunder.  The clap turned out to be a plane crash that took the life of New York Nets player Wendell Ladner.  Ladner’s ABA championship ring was found in the wreckage.

They say that death is part of the circle of life, but life is meant to be full and long. Twenty-three years is way too short.  Losing a child is just not natural. Rest in peace my son, I love you and miss you.

A gofundme account has been set up in Justin’s honor, the proceeds of which will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  To contribute, please go to http://www.gofundme.com and search “Justin Tyler Karpel.”  If we can save even one life, it would prevent at least one other family from going though the same thing we are.  Thank you.

 

HAVE SPORTS VENUES BECOME DISPOSABLE?

As the Atlanta Falcons were putting the finishing touches on their 44-21 route of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game, it signaled an end of an “era.”  Yes it brought down the curtain on the Falcons tenure at the Georgia Dome, but can you really call the closing of a venue that opened in 1992 an era?

A few blocks away another so-called era ended at the end of the 2016 baseball season.  Barely 20 years old, Turner Field (f/k/a Atlanta Olympic Stadium) also closed its doors.

Image result for 1996 olympic stadium                                                          Turner Field as it opened for the 1996 Summer Olympics.

Sun Trust Park, the Braves new home, will open this April at an estimated cost of $672 million.  It is located in suburban Cobb County.  The Falcons will open next season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta.  The price tag for their new diggs, a whopping $1.6 billion!

What has happened to our sports venues?  I applaud the Red Sox for keeping up and modernizing 105 year old Fenway Park.  The same can be said for the Chicago Cubs and soon to be 103 year old Wrigley Field.  In eight years Chicago’s Soldier Field will celebrate its 100th anniversary, and is by far the oldest permanent venue in the NFL.

The recent trend in both baseball and football is to get rid of the old “cookie cutter” design.  The thinking in the 1960s and ’70s was to have baseball and football in the same house.  The result was that the sight lines for both sports were less than ideal.  I understand that the cost of putting on professional games have skyrocketed and competition is fierce, but what happened to venues standing the test of time?

The cookie cutters in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Atlanta all lasted roughly 30 years.  Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis lasted 40 years, New York’s Shea Stadium lasted the longest at 45.

Image result for riverfront stadium

Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati.  One of three cookie cutter stadiums that opened in the early 1970s and closed 30 years later.

When ballparks were being replaced after thirty years, I thought, what a shame! Their predecessors stood for over 50 years and had so much history!  Why would you replace a venue after only thirty years and not renovate it for at least one sport?

This latest chapter really floors me!  The Georgia Dome and Turner Field are the first venues that replaced a cookie cutter stadium to close their doors.  The Georgia Dome was the first new venue that opened for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.  It opened its doors to the Atlanta Falcons in 1992.  The main Olympic Stadium opened for the 1996 Games and became the Atlanta Braves home the following year.  Can someone tell me how facilities that opened in the 1990s have ended their usefulness?  Am I missing something?

How did we get from ballparks lasting 100 years, to them lasting 20?  The Turner Field scenario is just pure greed!  On top of closing a main stage for an Olympics, the city of Atlanta also let the Braves get away!  Honestly, I side with the city on this one.  How does an owner of a franchise have the audacity to come to a civic government after only 20 years and complain they need a new ballpark?  The Falcons are no better!  25 years? really?

Image result for los angeles coliseum

Los Angeles Coliseum, main stadium for both the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympics.

Let’s put this into perspective, Turner Field lasted 21 years including its Olympic life.  North America also has three other former Olympic Stadiums that are still in use.  The Los Angeles Coliseum, which is home to USC football, and temporarily, the Los Angeles Rams opened its doors in 1923.  The Olympic Stadium in Mexico City opened in 1952 and is still in use.  Olympic Stadium in Montreal which opened in 1976, although it doesn’t have a primary tenant at the moment, is still open.  How do you justify closing Atlanta’s stadium after only 20 years?

Judging by what has gone on in Atlanta, it makes me wonder if Wrigley and Fenway are the last of a dying breed.  How long will the relatively recently opened venues last?

Image result for oriole park at camden yardsOriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD.  Home of the Baltimore Orioles.

Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened in 1992 (same year as the Georgia Dome) and remains one of the gold standards in baseball.  Dodger Stadium opened before the cookie cutter age and is still going strong.

Does the closing of Turner Field and the Georgia Dome signal a new era of throw away stadiums?

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL A CHANGE IN THE SPORTS SEASON

Now that Sunday’s epic Super Bowl is behind us and the Patriots have partied with their fans, it’s time to turn the page.  Since the National Football League settled on the first Sunday in February to stage it’s championship, it became the perfect lead in to Spring Training.

The transition from football to baseball has become a new tradition on social media.  In the waning moments of the past few Super Bowls, baseball fans post and tweet about how many days it is until pitchers and catchers report.  Major League Baseball, and the teams themselves also take to Facebook and Twitter.

Growing up in Queens Spring Training brought on a different dimension.  Hearing Bob Murphy’s voice on the radio signaled the end of a long cold winter.  Never mind the fact that he was in Florida and it was still wintry in New York.  Murphy’s voice brought about a calm and a warmth that made me think of longer days and nicer weather.  It was a beacon of Spring, a rite of passage that warmer and lighter days were right around the corner.

Image result for Bob MurphyBob Murphy, voice of the New York Mets 1962-2003.

Now that I call South Florida home, February means that baseball begins in my backyard.  Next week pitchers and catchers will convene in Florida and Arizona.  All over both states winter will symbolically end.  The pop of the glove will be heard from Tampa to Port St. Lucie, from Disney World to West Palm Beach.  The desert that houses the greater Phoenix area will also be alive with the sound of baseball!  Soon after, it will be time for the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues to open for business.

A bucket list item for any baseball fan is a trip to either of these two states.  I highly recommend touring the back fields of a team’s training camp.  In a park-like setting you can watch the players go through drills, you can see the pitchers honing their skills in the expanded bullpens.  It’s the best way to meet and greet players.  Most players are available for autographs!  The best thing about this is the price, morning workouts are free and open to the public.

Image result for back fields of roger dean stadium practiceMiami Marlins run an infield drill at Roger Dean Training Complex in Jupiter, FL

The back fields are also the site of “B” games in which younger players, or older invitees play in front of the teams brain trust. These games are almost like an audition for those who may or may not make the opening day roster.  They are played in a very informal setting that is almost Little League like.  In 2004 I experienced a thrill of a lifetime at one of these games.  It was at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida (Spring home of the Marlins and Cardinals), the Marlins were hosting the Mets (who train about an hour up I-95 in Port St. Lucie).  Marlins manager Jack McKeon approached my son and asked him if he would like to be a ball boy!  After my son got settled he was sitting on an upside down sunflower seed pail near the on-deck circle with a few new friends.  Oh and by the way his new buddies were named Jack McKeon, Bill Robinson, and Tony Perez!

As Bob used to say, buckle your seatbelts, and get ready for a ride that starts in Florida and Arizona, goes 162 regular season games and into October!  Will there be another epic season full of surprises like last year?  Only time will tell.

The calendar has turned the page, and the season has changed in the sports world.  The sound of the quarterback calling signals has given way to the pop of the glove and the crack of the bat!  It won’t be long until we hear those wonderful two words “Play Ball!”

AMERICA’S ANNUAL SPORTS EVENT

The calendar has turned to the first Sunday in February.  In the United States of America this Sunday has become an event, a party day.  The National Football League will once again take center stage in America when its conference champions meet to decide an ultimate champion.

This spectacle holds so many memories for all of us.  So many critical moments that have decided a championship, so many memories made on what is perhaps America’s biggest one day stage.

Before unveiling my top five, let’s look back at some general moments.

The biggest moment here in South Florida had to be on January 14, 1973.  The Miami Dolphins defeated the Washington Redskins 14-7 in Super Bowl VII to cap the NFL’s only fully undefeated season to date.

Prior to Super Bowl III, which was two years before the AFL-NFL merger, Joe Namath, quarterback of the AFL Champion New York Jets ran his mouth to the press.  Namath guaranteed a Jets victory over the heavily favored NFL Champion Baltimore Colts.  Joe Willie put his money where his mouth was, the Jets won the game 16-7.  This win put the AFL on the map as an equal to the NFL.

Perhaps the best quarter of a Super Bowl belongs to the Washington Redskins. In Super Bowl XXII, down 10-0 after the first quarter, the Redskins offense, lead by MVP Doug Williams would put up 35 second quarter points.  The ironic thing about this game was it originally had the markings of a Denver blowout.  Williams took over the game at the start of the second frame with an 80 yard touchdown pass to Rickey Sanders.  Washington never looked back and won the game 42-10.

To me Super Bowl XIII may have been one of the greatest offensive shows by two teams.  Terry Bradshaw’s Steelers and Roger Staubach’s Cowboys went tit-for-tat.  Pittsburgh won the game 35-31, the Cowboys were knocking on the door when time ran out.

Those are my general memories.  Now I give you my top five moments.

Image result for lynn swann leaping catch Lynn Swann makes a leaping catch in Super Bowl X

#5 January 18, 1976  Super Bowl X:

In the second quarter of Super Bowl X between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys, Terry Bradshaw launched a 53 yard sideline bomb to Lynn Swann.  Swann would leap over the Cowboys defender who deflected the ball and reel it in.  Pittsburgh would win 21-17.

Image result for david tyree helmet catch

New York Giants WR David Tyree catches a pass from Eli Manning against his helmet in Super Bowl XLII

#4 February 3, 2008  Super Bowl XLII:

With less than two minutes remaining in Super Bowl XLII and the New England Patriots leading the New York Giants 14-10 the Giants were driving.  On their way to a game winning touchdown, Giants quarterback Eli Manning was being pursued and almost sacked by Patriots defenders.  Manning launched a 32 yard pass that was caught by receiver David Tyree.  Tyree also had a defender on him.  He managed to clutch the football against his helmet and come down with it.  The Giants would go on to win 17-14.  The Super Bowl win ended an undefeated season for the Patriots.

Image result for super bowl 49 interception                        Patriots  Malcom Butler intercepts Seahawks Russell Wilson to seal a Patriots victory

#3 February 1, 2015  Super Bowl XLIX:

With 26 seconds remaining in Super Bowl XLIX the Seattle Seahawks had the ball on the New England Patriots 1 yard line. The millions of fans watching were expecting star running back Marshawn Lynch to run up the middle to score a go ahead touchdown.  That was everyone other than the Seahawks brain trust.  Quarterback Russell Wilson attempted a short pass that was picked off by undrafted rookie Malcom Butler, sealing a New England 28-24 win.

Image result for titans come up one yard shortTitans Kevin Dyson is tackled by Rams Mike Jones in Super Bowl XXXIV

#2 January 30, 2000  Super Bo:wl XXXIV

The St. Louis Rams were leading the Tennessee Titans 23-16 with time running out in Super Bowl XXXIV.  With six seconds remaining in the game, the Titans had the ball on the St. Louis 10 yard line.  Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair hit Kevin Dyson up the middle for what seemed to be a game tying touchdown.  Rams linebacker Mike Jones tackled Dyson just short of the goal line to seal a Rams win.

Image result for Scott Norwood wide rightBuffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood misses a potential game winning field goal in Super Bowl XXV

#1 January 27, 1991  Super Bowl XXV:

There have been three game winning field goals in Super Bowl history, but the one that got away ranks as number one.

The Giants were leading the Bills 20-19 in Super Bowl XXV when  Buffalo lined up for a possible game winning 47 yard field goal.  Placekicker Scott Norwood was “money” through most of Buffalo’s season.  Norwood’s kick would sail wide right making the New York Giants Super Bowl champions!  Norwood would never recover his form after missing that field goal.

So what’s in the cards tonight?  Another missed field goal?, another game winning field goal?, another crazy catch?  History will record what happens in Houston this evening.  Enjoy America’s unique sporting event!

 

THE ONCE MIGHTY WHO HAVE FALLEN

As this year’s National Football League playoff picture came into view, I couldn’t help but notice that a few old friends, if you will, were in the lineup.  I’m talking about teams that were once dominant and routinely in the post-season that disappeared from the radar for a long time.

As a football fan it felt so good to see the Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, and even the Dallas Cowboys back in the playoffs.  Along with the Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Rams, and Washington Redskins these  franchises were the constants in my childhood and teen years of the 1970’s.  The Steelers have been visible over the years, so the fact that they’re in the post-season is almost business as usual.

This got me to thinking.  Looking at the four major sports, what once dominant franchises of my youth have fallen into the abyss of irrelevancy?

Image result for Islanders win the Stanley Cup

The first one that comes to mind is the one that is closest to my heart.  Growing up on the southeastern reaches of Queens (on the Nassau County border) I was a fan of the New York Islanders from franchise’s inception up until recently.  The early stages of Islanders history was also the building blocks of a historic dynasty.  The Isles would make fourteen straight playoff appearances (from 1975-1988), win four straight Stanley Cups including 5 straight trips to the Finals from 1980-1984.  Their streak of 19 consecutive playoff series wins still remains a record in any sport.

After losing to the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the 1988 playoffs the downward spiral began.  With the exception of a surprise trip to the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals (after they knocked off the reigning champion Penguins) this franchise has become one of the least relevant teams in all of sports.  They have made somewhat of a comeback recently, making the post-season three of the past four years.  They won their first Stanley Cup series since 1993 last year by defeating my Florida Panthers in the first round.  They would lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the next round.   They currently are in last place in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division and fired their longtime coach, Jack Capuano this week.

Image result for the big red machine

In the late 1960’s and into the mid 1970’s baseball’s best included  the Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds.  The Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves were also pretty relevant during that era as well.

Much has been documented about the Pirates’ twenty consecutive losing seasons from 1993-2012, however the Buccos have righted the ship since then.  They’ve been in the post-season three of the past four years.  The Athletics and Orioles have also managed to stay in the forefront over the years.

The  Cincinnati Reds were one of the most dominant teams in Major League Baseball in the first half of the seventies.  The “Big Red Machine”  included the likes of Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion, Tony Perez and Pete Rose.  The Reds won four National League pennants in the span of seven years.  Cincinnati won the NL Western Division title in five of those seven years.  The Reds won two consecutive World Series’ in 1975 (over the Red Sox) and 1976 (over the Yankees).  The Reds  would once again be World Champions in 1990 by sweeping the heavily favored Oakland Athletics in four straight games.

Since 1990 the Reds have been a floundering franchise that has had more losing seasons than winning ones.  They have been in the post-season three times since 2010 but haven’t made it out of the Division Series.  Currently this franchise is once again in rebuilding mode with hopes of another winning season years away.  Who knows when the Big Red Machine will be operating again.

Image result for New York Nets ABA

Prior to the 1976-77 season, the National Basketball Association and American Basketball Association merged.  The surviving NBA absorbed four ABA franchises (Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, and New York Nets).  While the Spurs have by far enjoyed the most NBA success, the other three franchises have never won an NBA title.  That being said, the Pacers have enjoyed moderate success in the NBA over the years.

The Nuggets were never really a dominant force in the old ABA and haven’t been a complete success story in the NBA either.  Denver however did play in the final ABA Championship Series (losing to the Nets in six games) and have had some winning seasons in the NBA.

The Nets made the ABA playoffs seven of the eight years the league was in existence.  They lost the 1972 Championship Series to the Pacers in six games.   New York won two of the three final American Basketball Association championships.

The NBA has not been kind to this franchise.  After spending only one year on Long Island, where they found so much success, owner Roy Bowe, citing poor attendance at the Nassau Coliseum, moved the team to New Jersey.  The state of New Jersey welcomed them with a brand new building built adjacent to Giants Stadium.  They had a very so-so existence in the years that followed.

They have spent most of their NBA existence in the shadow of the New York Knicks.  The Knicks have been one of the most popular franchises in the New York metropolitan area virtually since the beginning of the NBA. There really hasn’t been room for a second franchise.

The Nets won two consecutive Eastern Conference championships in 2002 and 2003.  They lost both NBA Finals (to the Spurs and Lakers).

After 35 years in New Jersey, the Nets moved back to New York in 2012, this time to Brooklyn .  With a new identity and a sparkling new arena the Nets franchise was poised to take on the Knicks and be relevent again.  That never really materialized, as of this writing the Nets hold the NBA’s worst record at 9-34.

In welcoming back the Raiders and Dolphins to the NFL playoff stage, I can’t help but think of any football team that compares to the plight of the  Islanders, Reds, and Nets.  The Minnesota Vikings were dominant in the 1970’s, making four Super Bowl appearances between 1969 and 1976, they lost all four.  However the Vikings haven’t disappeared from the post-season stage since then.  The Browns, Lions, Eagles, and Cardinals haven’t seen a championship in years, (the Cardinals now own the longest drought in American sports) but none of these franchises have really ever been dominant.

Currently the most dominant franchise in the four major sports has to be the New England Patriots.  When Tom Brady and Bill Belichick part ways with the Patriots will the franchise go the way of the Islanders?  Will this dominant franchise also fall off the table for years to come?  Only time will tell, sports really does run in cycles, nobody stays on top forever.

 

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-THE HALL OF FAME CLASS OF 2017

Welcome to my new Wednesday night blog.  Nothing but baseball on Wednesday nights!

Although its only mid January,there is so much is going on in the world of baseball!  Free agency is coming to a close, the hot stove is still burning and Spring Training is only a month away.  Join me each Wednesday for news, weekly wrap ups, and of course opinions and discussions!

That being said, earlier tonight the National Baseball Hall of Fame released its class of 2017!  I give you this year’s class:

JEFF BAGWELL:

Image result for jeff bagwell

After years of waiting for this moment, Bagwell earned an overwhelming 86.2% of the vote.  Bagwell has been on the ballot since 2011. He retired in 2005 as a member of the National League champion Houston Astros.

Bagwell was a rarity in today’s times, spending his entire career with the same club.  He hit 449 career home runs, drove in 1,529 runs and had a lifetime average of .297.  He made one trip to the World Series.  Bagwell broke the 40 home run barrier three times in his career, and hit over 30 homer runs eight years in a row. He hit a career high of 47 round-trippers in 2000. Bagwell was the National League MVP in the strike shortened season of 1994.  Bagwell was also known for his defense at both catcher and second base.

TIM RAINES:

Image result for Tim Raines

After 10 long years on the ballot, The Rock gets his plaque in Cooperstown!

For a team that no longer exists, the Montreal Expos will most likely have its logo on three plaques this summer (Andre Dawson and Gary Carter being the other two).  Although Raines played for the White Sox, Yankees, Athletics, Orioles  and finished his career with the Marlins, he is mainly remembered as the Road Runner from Montreal.

He was part of two World Series championship teams in New York (1996 and 1999).  A lifetime .294 hitter, he stole 808 bases in his career. He  joins fellow speedsters Ricky Henderson and Lou Brock in the Hallowed Hall.  Raines was the National League batting champion in 1986 with a .334 average and four-time stolen base champion.

IVAN RODRIGUEZ:

Image result for ivan rodriguez stats

Arguably the best catcher in the Majors during the 1990’s and early 2000’s Pudge was elected to the Hall on his first ballot.

A .296 career hitter, Rodriguez played most of his career with the Texas Rangers.  He won his only World Series ring in his lone year with the Florida Marlins (2003).  He was also one of the best defensive catchers ever to wear the gear.

Pudge was the 1999 American League MVP as a member of the Rangers.  He belted out 199 hits including 35 homers and 113 RBI and hit .332 in that MVP season.

Congratulations Bags, Rock, and Pudge!  See you in Cooperstown this July.

There were also two other inductees.  John Scheurholz, the architect of the Braves teams that finished first in their division 12 straight years was elected.  Also elected was former commissioner Bud Selig.  This writer totally disagrees that Selig deserves this honor.  He doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of Bowie Kuhn.

See you next week as we continue through the off-season.  The warmth of baseball will get us through the cold of winter.

 

 

BIG GAMES IN EXTREME CONDITIONS

Now that the holidays are completely behind us and snow has lost its magic, we are left with cold hard winter.  As we are fully engulfed in the month of January that also means we are in the heart of the NFL postseason.  This brings me to an annual oddity in the world of sports.  Yes, baseball’s big games are sometimes played in cool conditions as summer gives way to autumn, but nothing is more extreme weatherwise than football in the middle of the winter!

Last week I gave you my take on the top plays in the NFL playoffs.  Today I focus on old man winter and its influence on professional football’s big stage.  I give you my top five games played in less than ideal conditions.

Number 5, January 23, 1983:

Image result for mud bowl afc championship

When we think of playoff games played in extreme weather conditions, the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field, the swirling lake winds in Buffalo and Cleveland, and the frigid outdoors of Minnesota all come to mind.  This game had none of that.  This game was played in that frozen playing field known as…the Miami Orange Bowl.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with my home state of Florida. rainstorms aren’t limited to our wet summers.  When cool fronts sweep across the state of Florida lowering our temperature to the frigid 50’s and 60’s they are usually ushered in by rain.

A cool front was on its way to South Florida on this January Sunday when the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins met for the AFC championship.  The Jets would complain that the Dolphins didn’t cover the Orange Bowl field prior to the game when the rain was at its worst.  Rain continued throughout the game and the contest was marred by many turnovers.Dolphins linebacker A.J. Duhe would intercept Jets quarterback Richard Todd three times.  The third one was run back 35 yards to seal a Dolphins 14-0 victory and a trip to the Super Bowl.  The controversy of the tarp (or lack of it) is still a sticking point in the rivalry between the Jets and Dolphins to this day.

Number 4. January 10, 2016:

Image result for blair walsh wide left gif

We have to look way back to last year for this one.  While the Minnesota Vikings new stadium was under construction on the footprints of their old digs, the Hubert H. Humphry Metrodome, the team played on the campus of the University of Minnesota.  This would mean for the first time since the mid 1980’s they would be playing in an outdoor venue in frigid Minneapolis.

Minnesota’s cold winter would be the theme of the NFC Wild Card Game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Vikings.  Game time temperature at TCF Bank Stadium was -6 degrees Farenheit, with wind chills making it feel like -25.  This ranked as the coldest game in Minnesota Vikings history  which includes many frigid Sundays at the old Metropolitan Stadium in the franchises early days.  It also ranks as the third coldest game in NFL history.

It was a low scoring affair with very limited pass plays.  Vikings kicker Blair Walsh would kick field goals from 22, 43, and 47 yards to give them a 9-0 lead at the end of the third quarter. The Seahawks would finally score early in the fourth with a three yard touchdown pass from Russel Wilson to Doug Baldwin.  Seattle would take the lead on a 46 yard field goal three minutes later. Walsh would have a chance to be a hero on this frozen Minneapolis Sunday with 26 ticks left on the clock.  His 52 yard field goal attempt would sail wide left, sending the Seahawks to the divisional round and the Vikings home.

Number 3, January 19, 2002:

Image result for the tuck rule game

This AFC Divisional Playoff Game between the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots turned out to be the finale at Foxboro Stadium.  The Patriots would open the 2002 regular season in their current home, Gillette Stadium.

The game was played in a heavy snowstorm that didn’t let up from start to finish.

With the Raiders leading 13-10 late in the fourth quarter, the Patriots were driving.  Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson sacked Patriots quarterback Tom Brady causing what appeared to be a fumble, which was recovered by Oakland.  This appeared to seal the game and send the Raiders to the AFC Championship Game.  The officials reviewed the play and ruled that Brady appeared to halt his passing motion before his arm went forward and attempted to tuck it into his body.  The play was ruled an incomplete pass.

New England would advance into field goal range, and Adam Vinatieri would tie the game with a 45 yard field goal.  The Patriots won the game in overtime and would eventually win the Super Bowl.

Like last week, we have a tie, two classics at the Frozen Tundra:

Number 2, January 20, 2008:

Image result for 2007 nfc championship game

The Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field lived up to its nickname on this January Sunday.  The New York Giants and Green Bay Packers kicked off in frigid conditions.  Gametime temperature was -1 degree Farenheit (-23 with the windchill).  The temperature dropped during the game as they played from late afternoon into the evening.

In a back and forth game, the Giants would win the game in overtime to reach the Super Bowl.  Lawrence Tynes kicked the game winning field goal in a 23-20 victory.  This game featured two certain future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Brett Favre (who threw a 90 yard touchdown pass to Donald Driver) and Eli Manning (who went through this frozen game without an interception).

Number 2, December 31, 1967:

Image result for the ice bowl 1967

The 1967 NFL Championship game between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers was one for the ages.  The gametime temperature in the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field was -15 degrees Farenheit.  Wind chills made it feel like -48.

With wind chills around -70, and the Cowboys leading 17-14, Packers quarterback Bart Starr lead them down the field.  The Packers would end up on the Dallas 2 foot line with 16 seconds remaining.  Everyone was expecting Starr to roll out on the 3rd and goal play.  What happened next is etched in NFL lore.  With blocking in front of him, Starr would take the ball himself and get into the end zone.  The Packers would advance to Super Bowl II, Dallas was sent home.  This game has gone down in history as the Ice Bowl due to the frigid conditions in which it was played.

Number 1, January 10, 1982:

Image result for freezer bowl

The game that ranks number one was purely because of the weather conditions. The 1981 AFC Championship Game between the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers was an otherwise uneventful 27-7 Bengals victory.

Gametime temperature at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium was -9 degrees with wind chills of -59.  In addition to the brutally cold air, the game was played in sustained winds of 27 mph.In NFL lore this game has been referred to as the Freezer Bowl.

This year’s NFC Championship Game is already destined to be an indoor affair.  With the Falcons victory over the Seahawks yesterday, they will either be home against the Packers (at the Georgia Dome), or at AT&T Stadium outside Dallas (which sports a retractable roof).

Conditions in AFC could lead to another memorable weather game.  Today’s AFC Divisional Game between the Steelers and Chiefs has been moved back from a 1:00 start to 8:20 due to an ice storm forecasted in Kansas City.  The forecast for tonight in Kansas City is for rain.  The winner heads for New England next week.

Will we have another ice bowl, snow bowl, freezer bowl or even a mud bowl?  Enjoy the games today and tonight!

THE NFL PLAYOFFS-THE ULTIMATE IN WIN OR GO HOME!

The holidays are behind us, the college boys are done with their bowl party, and Alabama and Clemson will battle tomorrow night to claim the National Championship.  That being said, it’s time to turn the focus from the kiddie table to the professionals.

The National Football League opened its Wild Card weekend yesterday with the Texans and Seahawks advancing by dispatching the Raiders and Lions.  The Dolphins, Steelers, Giants and Packers step up to the table today with the Patriots, Chiefs, Cowboys and Falcons waiting in the wings.

You gotta love the NFL playoffs.  You hear so much about how game 7 is the ultimate in struggle in baseball, basketball, and hockey.  In football it’s ALL a game 7, win or go home, one shot to move on.  This time of year makes me reflect on what has gone on in the playoffs over the years.

I give you my top five!  Now keep in mind that these are playoff moments only.  None of these occurred in the Super Bowl, that’s for another time.

Number 5, January 8, 2000:

Image result for music city miracle

The Buffalo Bills had taken a 16-15 lead with sixteen seconds remaining in their AFC Wild Card game against the Tennessee Titans.  Having seemingly sewn up a trip to the divisional round they kicked off, what happened after that was a return for the ages.  The Titans put all of their “good hands people” on the field for the return.  Tight end Frank Wycheck threw a lateral pass to wide receiver Kevin Dyson.  Dyson would run 75 yards for a winning touchdown sending the Titans to the next round and sending the Bills home.

Number 4, January 3, 1993:

This was also an AFC Wild Card matchup between the same two franchises in moment #5.  The Buffalo Bills vs. the then Houston Oilers.  The Oilers would eventually move to Nashville and become the current day Tennessee Titans.

Future Hall of Famer Jim Kelly was out with an injury, and the powerful Bills offense was led by backup Frank Reich.  The Bills were two-time AFC Champions at the time.

Oilers quarterback Warren Moon, a future Hall of Famer himself led a dominant Oilers offense that took a 28-3 lead into the locker room at halftime.  Things didn’t get any better after the break for Buffalo.  Only 1:41 into the third quarter Reich would throw a pick six to give Houston a 35-3 lead.

Star running back Thurman Thomas was injured during the game, putting another hole in Buffalo’s woes. Then the wind shifted, literally.  The swirling winds at Buffalo’s Rich Stadium turned during the third quarter and so did the hometown team’s fortunes.  Reich would lead a comeback with 28 third quarter points to pull within a touchdown.  They would tie the game at 38 sending it into overtime where they won it with a field goal.  To date it’s the biggest comeback in NFL history.

Number 3, January 11, 1987

The Cleveland Browns were leading the AFC championship game 20-13 over the Denver Broncos with a little over five minutes left in the game.  John Elway and the Broncos offense began a drive on their own 2 yard line.  Elway would engineer a drive that would culminate with a five yard touchdown pass to Mark Jackson.  With the extra point the game was tied at 20 with 37 seconds remaining.  Denver would go on to win in overtime sending them to the Super Bowl.

Number 2 is a tie!

December 28, 1975:

Roger Staubach throws a hail mary pass as time ran out and hits Drew Pearson in the end zone.  The touchdown defeats the Minnesota Vikings and sends the Cowboys to the Super Bowl.

January 10, 1982:

Image result for the catch dwight clark

This one also involves the Cowboys.  The Cowboys lead the San Francisco 49ers 27-20 in the NFC Championship Game.  Joe Montana would lead the Niners on one final drive.  The drive culminated with a touchdown pass to Dwight Clark that would become known as simply “The Catch.”  With the extra point, the 49ers go to the Super Bowl, the Cowboys go home.

Number 1:

Image result for the immaculate reception

December 23, 1972:

With the Oakland Raiders leading the Pittsburgh Steelers 7-6 in an AFC Divisional Playoff game, the Steelers had the ball with 22 seconds remaining.  With 4th and 10 on their own 40 yard line quarterback Terry Bradshaw would throw a pass toward running back Frenchie Fuqua. Fuqua caught the ball, but a jolting hit by Raiders safety Jack Tatum vaulted it high into the air.  Franco Harris was Johnny on the spot and scooped the ball up before it hit the ground! Harris ran the ball all the way to the end zone giving the Steelers a 13-7 victory.

What will happen this year?  Is there going to be another “drive?”  Perhaps we’ll have another miracle finish or comeback.  Will this year’s playoffs yield another hail mary or catch?.  With a team’s entire season on the line anything historic can happen.

Enjoy the games!

2016-THE YEAR IN REVIEW PART II

When I left you last week the Stanley Cup was residing in Pittsburgh and the Larry O’Brien Trophy took up residency in Cleveland.  So much more happened in 2016 so let’s look back at the rest of the year.

As the city of Rio de Janeiro and the nation of Brazil prepared to host the world in August there were many challenges.  The zikka virus was running rampid and the waters that were supposed to host the rowing competition was still polluted.  Crime was a problem and some venues were still under construction.  All in all the city and nation was sucessful in hosting the Olympics.

Long before allegations of the Russian government tinkering with the American presidential election, their athletes were involved in a doping scandal.  The suspicion of PED use followed the Russian Olympic delegation from before the Games and all the way through the competition.

At the Rio Games the United States dominated the medal count.  The Americans led the way with 121 total medals (46 gold, 37 silver, 38 bronze).  The 2016 Games were highlighted by two Olympic icons, one in the pool and one on the 100 meter track.

American swimmer Michael Phelps, who had decided that the London Olympics in 2012 would be his last, had a change of heart in 2014.  What a decision that turned out to be! Phelps won a total of five gold medals and one silver to leave Rio de Janeiro as the most decorated olympic athlete of all time.

There was also a passing of the torch on the American swim team.  Katie Ledecky won five medals of her own at the Rio Games.  Ledecky became the first woman to sweep the Olympic 200, 400, and 800 meter freestyle events.

The second olympic icon that made headlines was Jamaican runner Usain Bolt.  He defended his title of World’s Fastest Human by winning his third straight gold in the 100 meter event.

Finally, the USA mens and women’s basketball teams once again came home with gold medals.  Lebron James and Stephan Curry did not participate in the Olympics.  Curry was recovering from an injury while James decided to rest.   Lead by Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant, team USA had some challenges on their way to securing the Olympic title. Anthony announced his retirement from Olympic competition following the Gold Medal Game.  Carmelo retires with three gold medals around his neck.   A WNBA all-star team dominated at times to claim the women’s gold.

Major League Baseball’s pennant races and postseason was one for the ages.  The American League East was a three team affair that came down to the final couple of weeks with the Red Sox winning the division by 4 games.  The two teams trailing the Sox would claim both American League Wild Card spots, with the Orioles and Blue Jays finishing tied.  In the National League West the Dodgers and Giants battled almost to the end of the season with the boys from Hollywood coming out on top.

Broadcasting legend Vin Scully called it a 60 year career this year.  It is this writer’s opinion that the calming, story telling voice of this icon will never be replaced.  Thanks for years of memories Mr. Scully, now it’s time for you to pull up a chair and take in a ball game.

The tale of Loveable Losers would take center stage in the postseason.  The Cleveland Indians came out of nowhere this past summer to dominate the American League Central Division.  The Tribe was never really challenged and won the division by eight games over second place Detroit.  Speaking of domination, what went on in the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field this year was simply magical.  The Cubs would win an MLB best 103 games while running away with the National League Central.  The Cubbies won the division by 17 1/2 games over the second place Cardinals.

On a magical Saturday night in October, the Chicago Cubs shutout the Los Angeles Dodgers by the score of 5-0. The win gave the Cubs a 4-2 NLCS win.   It was a night not seen on the Near North Side of Chicago since 1945!  The Cubs were National League Champs!  The fun was just starting in the Windy City.

Meanwhile, on the shores of Lake Erie another long-suffering franchise was making its own magic.  On a late Wednesday afternoon in Toronto the Cleveland Indians also won a league championship with a shutout.  The Indians defeated the Blue Jays 3-0 to win the American League Championship in five games.

The World Series was a seven game thriller for the ages.  The Indians, who had home field advantage thanks to an American League victory in the All-Star Game, returned home from Wrigley Field as the calendar turned to November. Cleveland was one game shy of winning it all.  The Indians, who held the second longest championship drought in the majors (68 years), needed one win at home to claim the World Series championship.  The Tribe fell short.

Following a Cubs victory in Game 6, Chicago would hold a 6-3 lead after six innings in game seven.  Cubs fans had to start wondering if the curses that followed their team were waking up again when Cleveland erupted for three runs in the eighth inning to tie the game.  Following a very short rain delay the Cubs would score two in the top of the tenth inning and give up a run in the bottom of the extra frame.  So after so many twists and turns for the first time since 1908 the Chicago Cubs are the reigning World Series Champions.

So much happened in the year 2016 in the sports world and beyond.  The Cubs, and Cavs became winners after so many years.  The Carolina Panthers, Washington Capitals, and the Golden State Warriors dominated and fell short.  Vin Scully and Dick Enberg hung up their microphones.

In 2016 there was also tragedy.

On June 3, 2016 all of humanity lost an icon when Muhammad Ali passed away.  Ali did so much for his fellow man in a lifetime that went way beyond the boxing ring.  On the morning of September 25th the entire community here in South Florida as well as the sports world woke up to an unthinkable story.  Marlins superstar pitcher Jose Fernandez and two of his friends were involved in a boat crash off Miami Beach during the night.  All three were found dead.  Such talent, such personality gone way too soon.  Between parts one and two of this blog another sad story emerged.  This past Wednesday the sports reporting community lost one of its own.  Craig Sager, who earlier this year gave such an upbeat and inspiring speech at the ESPN Espy Awards show, lost his long battle with cancer.  He almost had it beat and vowed to keep beating it.  To quote Stuart Scott “You beat cancer by how you live.”  Stuart was so right and Craig lived the same way.

To wrap up the year, I give you my first annual awards:

Athlete of the Year: Michael Phelps for walking away as the most decorated athlete in Olympic history.

Lifetime achievement Award:  Vin Scully

Story of the Year:  Chicago Cubs win the World Series.

This is my final blog of 2016.  I will begin 2017 by publishing here on wordpress on January 8th.  Here’s to a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza,  and a Happy and Healthy New Year to all my readers.  If you are enjoying my weekly blogs, please spread the word.  I appreciate each and every one of my readers.