Category Archives: @mlb

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!”

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.