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.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

2016-THE YEAR IN REVIEW

As we continue to wind down the sports year of 2016 it is time to take a look back.  It was a year that saw Cleveland of all places take center stage twice.  We saw the city of Denver throw a retirement party for a football icon.  We witnessed a team owned by an iconic figure, led by a future Hall of Famer buzz-saw its way to hoisting the Stanley Cup.  We also witnessed baseball history that was over a century in the making.

Eleven days into the year Alabama defeated Clemson to win a national championship game for the ages.  It was a thrilling  45-40 offensive show in which the schools traded touchdowns in the final 1:07 of the game.  The University of Alabama has now won 16 National Championships.  2016 was the fourth under head coach Nick Saban.

The Carolina Panthers were the story throughout most of the 2015-16 NFL season.  Their 15-1 record made them the favorite to win Super Bowl 50.  The Denver Broncos endured six weeks without future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning who was sidelined with a foot injury.  The Broncos finished the regular season with a 12-4 mark, good for first place in the AFC Western Division by one game over the 11-5 Kansas City Chiefs.  Manning would return from his injury in time for the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs.

Peyton Manning’s return and the Broncos relentless defense would develop into the story of the 2016 NFL Postseason.  Following a bye during the Wild Card Round the Broncos would knock off the Steelers (23-16) and win a nail biter for the ages in the AFC Championship Game.  Denver defeated the New England Patriots 20-18 to advance to the 50th Anniversary Super Bowl.  The Broncos defense would sack Patriots quarterback Tom Brady 4 times, knock him down 20 times and intercept him twice.

The 15-1 Panthers would win the NFC Championship by defeating the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional Round (31-24), and dominating the Arizona Cardinals 49-15 in the NFC Championship Game.

The Broncos defense lead by Super Bowl MVP Von Miller would be the story of the Super Bowl.  League MVP Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was sacked seven times.  The Denver defense would also force three turnovers.  Peyton Manning would finish his storied career on top.  Despite his injury ridden final season Manning would walk away wearing his second championship ring.

The Carolina Panthers weren’t the only Panthers team making headlines in January.  The NHL Florida Panthers began 2016 riding a winning streak that began on December 15, 2015 with a 5-1 victory over the New York Islanders at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.  They entered 2016 winning ten straight.  Victories in Ottawa on January 7, and in Edmonton on January 10th capped off the longest win streak in the NHL in 2015-16, and 2016-17 to date. Florida would finish the season with a team record 103 points on their way to an Atlantic Division Championship.  More importantly the long floundering franchise from South Florida has become relevant again.

Just days before the Florida Panthers became the talk of the NHL, an event happened in Pittsburgh that would have an impact on the rest of the season.

On December 12 the Penguins were out of the Metropolitan Division (and Eastern Conference Wild Card ) picture with a record of 15-10-3.  Owner Mario Lemieux felt their was a need for a leadership change.  Head coach Mike Johnston was let go and replaced by Mike Sullivan.  Sullivan was head coach of the Penguins AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre.  Under Sullivan’s leadership Pittsburgh would go 33-16-5 the rest of the way.  They finished 2nd in the Metropolitan Division behind the President’s Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals.  The Pens would enter the postseason with the second best record in the Eastern Conference.

Pittsburgh was dominant during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Victories over the New York Rangers (5 games), Washington (6 games) and Tampa Bay Lightning (7 games)  would send  them to the Stanley Cup Finals where they would defeat the San Jose Sharks in a 6 game series to win Lord Stanley’s Cup.  It was Sidney Crosby’s second championship, he also skated away with the Conn Smythe Trophy.

The San Francisco Bay area was buzzing with playoff excitement this past spring.  While the San Jose Sharks were battling the aforementioned Penguins, there was an even bigger story grabbing local and national headlines.  The Golden State Warriors dominated the NBA regular season with a record-breaking 73 wins.  Golden State would follow the regular season with dominant 5 game victories over the Houston Rockets and Portland Trailblazers.

The Western Conference Championship Series turned out to be one for the ages.  The Warriors would hold on to win in seven games over the Oklahoma City Thunder.  The Thunder was led by Kevin Durant, who would by the way, sign with Golden State as an unrestricted during the summer.

Like the Carolina Panthers and the Washington Capitals, the Golden State Warriors dominance would be challenged.  Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were leading a dominant charge of their own in the Eastern Conference.  Four game sweeps of the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks, followed by a six game victory over the Toronto Raptors sent the Cavs to the NBA Finals to take on Golden State.

A seven game epic would end with the Cavaliers winning their first ever NBA Championship.  While Sidney Crosby was hoisting the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Stanley Cup, Lebron James was hoisting the Finals MVP Trophy and the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

There is so much to cover in what has been an eventful year, too much for one blog.  This is the first of a two parter.  Next week we cover the Olympics, baseball and who was the best of the best.  Stay tuned and see you next week to wrap up a loaded sports year.

WHO’S NEXT ON HISTORY’S RADAR?

After a three-week hiatus I’m back.  I spent the past two weekends having fun with good friends and family celebrating my birthday and my wife’s too.  That being said, what a time to take a vacation!

While I was gone, America elected an unlikely president.  Even more eventful, however, they will be raising the World Championship Flag above the iconic scoreboard at Wrigley Field next spring.

Anyone who is a sports fan, and a baseball fan in particular, has to be happy about the outcome of this year’s Series (unless you are from Cleveland and possibly St. Louis or the South Side of Chicago).  Even some of the White Sox faithful may have gotten swept in the “fly the flag” hysteria that swept the Windy City following the Cubs victory.  Congratulations goes out to the Cubs organization and their long-suffering fans.  To quote New York Rangers voice Sam Rosen “this is one to last a lifetime!”

Since 1994 we have seen three so-called curses broken.  The Rangers broke the National Hockey Leagues longest drought of 54 years by defeating the Vancouver Canucks in a gripping seven game final that year.

In 2004 we witnessed history on many levels, courtesy of the Boston Red Sox.  Trailing the Yankees 0-3 in the American League Championship Series it appeared to be another Boston nightmare.  The beloved Sox seeing the Curse of the Bambino advance to year number 87, while the hated Yankees head to yet another Series and possibly another MLB leading World Championship.  This self-proclaimed Cast of Idiots chipped away at that lead one game at a time and would win the series in seven dramatic games.  The World Series would result in a four game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, who, by the way own the second most titles behind the Yankees.

No other organization in professional sports has been associated with more curses than the loveable losers from the Near North Side.

Consider the following:

  • 1945  Billy Goat Tavern owner William Sianis is asked to leave Game 4 of the World Series by officials at Wrigley Field due to the odor of Murphy, his pet billy-goat.  Sianis was so incensed that he proclaimed “Them Cubs aint gonna win no more!”  The Cubs would lose the 1945 Fall Classic and not make another appearance until this year.  The loss would continue the famine that began following the Cubs 1908 World Championship.
  • 1969 The Cubs lead the National League Eastern Division by nine games over the New York Mets.  Chicago had a chance to put a nail in the Mets coffin during an August series at Shea Stadium.  During the series a black cat mysteriously ran on the field.  It passed behind Ron Santo in the Cubs on deck circle.  The Mets would win that game and go on to win all but five games the rest of the way.  The Cubs collapsed and saw the Mets win the division and go on to defeat the Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles to win the 1969 World Championship
  • 2003 Six outs away from finally breaking the curses that followed them, fate would strike again.  Florida Marlins shortstop Luis Castillo launched a foul ball down the left field line at Wrigley.  Cubs left fielder Moises Alou had a beat on it and poised to catch it and record the first out of the eight inning of game six.  Cubs fan Steve Bartman snatched the ball from his seat overlooking the left field line.  Alou was incensed, Bartman was escorted out of Wrigley, like William Sianis, but this was for his own safety.  Castillo would hit a grounder to shortstop Alex Gonzalez, however it went between his legs.  Florida would go on to score eight runs to win game six.  They would come from behind the next night to end the Cubs season.  Oh, and by the way the Marlins defeated the Yankees in six games to win the World Championship.

In a hard-fought series this year, Cubs fans had to be wondering once again.  Holding a 6-3 lead over the Cleveland Indians, six outs away from breaking all of the curses, a gasp can be heard around Wrigley Field all the way from Cleveland.  Brandon Guyer’s RBI double drove in Jose Ramirez to bring the Indians within two runs.  Rajai Davis’ home run to left field brought a chill to Waveland Avenue as the Tribe tied the game at 6.  A rain delay and an extra inning later history was made!

Five million fans crowded downtown Chicago to celebrate baseball’s version of Sam Rosen’s iconic hockey call.

So where does history go from here?  The longest baseball drought now belongs to the reigning American League champions.  The Indians last won the World Series in 1948.  Can this team follow the Cubs and end their drought?  There aren’t any storied curses affiliated with this team, just years of bad baseball.  They did make World Series appearances in 1995, 1997 and this year losing to the Braves, Marlins, and Cubs respectively.

The longest drought in professional sports belongs to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals.  The Cardinals last won the NFL Championship (way before the AFL, AFC and Super Bowl)  in 1947 as the Chicago Cardinals  They defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 28-21.  Since then the Cardinals franchise have called St. Louis and Arizona home.  By the way the last time the Eagles won a championship was 1960, seven years before the advent of the Super Bowl and the same year as the birth of the American Football League.

So who’s next to make history and how long will it take?

I want to take this time to wish all of my readers a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

 

MORE LEGENDS OF THE PRESS BOX

Amid the hype of Vin Scully’s retirement, not much was said or written about another broadcast booth story.  Further down the California coast (as well as the National League Western Division) another legend called it quits.

Dick Enberg who was the voice of the California Angels from 1969-1978 and again for the 1985 season was the Los Angeles area’s other legendary voice of summer.  In 2010 Enberg would resume as a local broadcaster, this time further south in San Diego.  Dick hung up his headset on October 2, a day that will be remembered in Southern California broadcasting history.

Just as Scully’s retirement got me to think of all the local voices I grew up with, Enberg’s career and retirement made me reflect on so many more voices that I grew up with on a national level.  Enberg’s voice was a staple on both NBC and CBS’s NFL broadcasts.

Before there was Chris Fowler and Brent Musberger there was Keith Jackson.  Anyone in my age group can remember Saturday afternoons, or evenings in the fall that would include Keith Jackson.  Mr. Jackson and ABC for that matter WAS college football in the 1970’s.  Who can forget the catch phrase “Whoa Nellie!” when games got exciting.

Way before the advent of ESPN, TBS and other cable outlets, it was ABC, NBC, and CBS that carried the load of nationally televised sports.

In 1970 the newly merged National Football League entered a brave new world in scheduling.  The league, along with ABC Sports launched a weekly finale to the mainly Sunday football stage.  Monday Night Football was born.  Jackson, along with former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith joined ABC Sports boxing broadcast legend Howard Cosell in the booth.The following year former New York Giants great Frank Gifford would replace Keith Jackson as the play by play man.  Monday Night Football was such a success that it remained a staple on ABC until 2005.  In 2006 the Monday Night telecast moved to ESPN, ABC’s sister network.  Not only does it continue to flourish, it also gave rise to games on Thursday and Sunday nights.

Who can forget Meredith bursting into song with “turn out the lights the party’s over” when the game was sealed and time was running out?  Who can ever forget Howard Cosell breaking the story on December 8, 1980 that John Lennon had been murdered?  Al Michaels would succeed Gifford as the play by play man in 1986.

Speaking of Al Michaels, who can ever forget his call of the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Winter Olympics?  With time winding down in the USA semi-final victory over the heavily favored Soviet Union Michaels would utter these unforgettable words.  “Do you believe in miracles….YES!”  That phrase goes right along side “one small step for man…one giant leap for mankind!” in American television lore.

Along with Scully, Enberg, Jackson, and Michaels there is a lesser known play by play man who has been the voice of NFL football longer than anyone.  Don Criqui was behind the mic calling NFL and AFL football from 1967-2013 for both NBC and CBS.  Criqui was also the voice of fourteen Orange Bowl games.

Current FOX lead broadcaster Joe Buck is a second generation broadcaster.  His father, Jack Buck was a broadcast legend for the St. Louis Cardinals as well as a national broadcaster for CBS in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.  Who can forget his famous call of Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.  “I don’t believe what I just saw! I don’t believe what I just saw!” was the call on CBS, while Vin Scully described it as “she is gone!’ on the Dodgers Radio Network.

Sports will continue on, and broadcasters will come and go.  This year, we saw two of the best in the business leave the booth for good.  So this is for you guys in Southern California, from a blogger born and raised in New York and living in South Florida.  Thank you Vin for telling me to pull up a chair.  Thank you Dick for years of trivia on Sports Challenge and so many utterings of “Oh My!”