Mama by Chris Dupuy

Hey y’all, this is Tyrus Raymond Cobb speaking at you from the grave. That’s right, Ty Cobb – the one and only. And if you’re doubting right now it’s really me? Well, all I’ve got to say is– go fuck yourself!

Heh heh – that oughta clear things up right quick.

It’s been damn near fifty years since the cancer took me, but don’t think I ain’t been watching. And for what it’s worth, y’all sure have made a mess of things on old planet earth since I’ve been gone.

Anyways, I figure it’s about time for me to set the record straight on a few things, namely that yours truly is not the incorrigible son of a bitch you all seem to take such pleasure in painting me as. Sure, I had my share of dust ups with teammates and a few fans. And umpires. And opposing players and coaches. Yeah, batboys and clubhouse attendants once or twice. And law enforcement, of course. 

But let me tell you unequivocally — every last one of ‘em had it coming.

I know, you’ve probably read about that Yankees fan — the one with no hands — that I went into the stands after one afternoon in New York City. Well let me tell you, if you’d heard what that no good, leather lung said to me about my mama, you’d a been cheering me on when I shut his crippled ass up.

And while we’re on the subject of assholes who deserve a beatin’, would somebody please point out this Kevin Costner fella to me? That motion picture of his, Field of Dreams, did more to paint me the devil of Major League Baseball than anything I ever done on the basepaths or in the clubhouse. And of all the no count, brainless wonders our national pastime has seen take the field, how in the hell does he pick Shoeless Joe Jackson to make a hero out of?

But I digress. This is all about setting the record straight on the kind of man I was. You see, there’s just been way too much emphasis on the fighting, and the hatred toward colored folk, and the whole redneck side of things. And honestly, I’m damn tired of it. I mean, all men got their flaws, but if you ask me, I was ahead of my time in many ways, and now’s my turn to put it all out there.

See, I may not have been no college graduate like that pussy Christy Mathewson, but that was only cause I knew my future was playing ball, and you know what they say – Mama, she done drowned the dumb ones. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t have done the same damn thing as me if someone told you they was gonna pay you to play the game you loved. It wasn’t a hard decision at all, even though Pa whupped my ass good when I first broke the news to him and Ma.

My pa, he was a scholar and an educator. Yes sir, he was, and you don’t hear much said about that when the life of old Ty Cobb gets talked about. Not only that, Pa was a man who believed that skin color didn’t make a sumbitch no better or worse than anyone else. And he raised me to see the man, not the color of his skin, from as early as I can remember. And that’s why nothing raises my ire more than when I hear folk trying to paint me as some sort of racist bastard. Hell no, I hated everyone just the same, heh heh.

He was a hard man, my father, tough to please, and you bet he wasn’t afraid to use the belt when I got out of line. But a cause of him I grew up understanding knowledge was power. And even though I never had no sheepskin up on the wall, it don’t mean I didn’t learn that lesson through and through. 

You don’t hit .400 against the likes of Cy Young and Walter Johnson without some brain power, believe me. Ain’t nobody studied pitchers harder than I did, and if some lucky rook got me out with a curveball the first time I came up to bat? Well, let’s just say he best not have showed me that pitch again, lest he wanted to be undressed with a line drive right back at his ugly melon next time I came to the plate.

And most folk don’t realize stealing bases has less to do with legs than it does brains. Shit, I done stole twenty-two bags playing for Connie Mack’s Athletics the year I turned forty-one. I couldn’t run a lick anymore, but I knew every pitcher and catcher in the American League better than they knew themselves, and nobody got a better jump off the bag than old Ty.

Damn right I came into second with my spikes up high, too! The game of baseball I grew up playing was a man’s game, played by men who had to fight for every inch of that diamond. And if some lunkhead was gonna plant his foot in front of the bag when I needed to get in there, well he was gonna be seeing the doc for a few stitches that day.

But my ballfield stories got me off track again. It’s the man I was after the last out had been made who I’m here to tell you about on this day.

As I was saying, Daddy was an educator, and growing up in little old Narrows, Georgia, I never lacked for quality schoolin’, between what they taught us in the classroom and what Pa talked about at the supper table. My father was the finest man I ever knew, and he was taken from this earth far too soon, the victim of his own greatest flaw — the green-eyed monster of jealousy.

See, Mama was a looker and the talk of Narrows, be it when the family got all dressed up for church on Sundays, or if she just went into town to pick up the week’s groceries. And as I got older, it became known to me that some of the folk around town liked to talk about her in a less than gentlemanly way. Nothing could get my fists flying faster when I was a boy than if I heard tell of any of these stories. More than a couple times I put a beatin’ on men twice my age, if I caught ‘em smiling behind her back, or whispering and a pointin’.

But small towns are what they are, and my daddy being an educator and all, often found himself traveling for nights at a time. I was off playing ball the night my daddy decided he’d heard one too many of them rumors, and set out to see for himself what the truth truly was. 

Back in that spring of 1905, the Tigers had me stationed at Augusta of the Sally League to get a little more seasoning. And let me tell you, I was tearing up every pitcher that dared set foot on a mound. I knew any day I’d be getting the telegram I dreamed about, saying I was going to the big leagues. In fact, I was batting leadoff in Augusta, Georgia, the night my daddy told Ma he had a business trip, and packed a suitcase and headed off like he’d done so many times before.

The next day I was relaxing at the hotel when I’ll be damned if a telegram didn’t come in with my name on it. But it sure wasn’t the telegram I’d been dreaming about since I was a boy. No sir, it was only two sentences, but them few words marked the end of the life of the most important man in the world to me. I didn’t know it was Mama who’d shot my daddy until I got back to Narrows the next day, and boy was all hell breaking loose in that little town, as word spread that Mrs. Cobb had shot Mr. Cobb’s lights clear out.

My father was not a popular man in Narrows. People said he was always putting on airs, but if you ask me that was just jealousy from those uneducated town-folk. We wasn’t rich, but we had enough, and a nice house, too. Plus, like I said before, Mama was a head-turner, and that got the men around town to hoping bad things would befall my pa.

And they sure got their wish on that count, didn’t they? Because on that fateful night, Daddy didn’t actually go out of town. Oh, he took off just like he always done, but once he got out of sight, he stopped and waited a spell and then circled back to the house. He was convinced he was gonna catch Mama red-handed with some other fella, so instead of coming in the front door, he climbed up on the trellis over the porch, and went to sneaking in through the bedroom window. 

Mama kept a gun near the bed. Wasn’t nothing odd about that neither, what with Daddy on the road so much and us living out in the country. So, as she’s sitting there doing some sewing, she hears a racket outside the bedroom window. There was no time to call out and say “who’s there,” so she took hold of her pistol and started shooting. 

I’ve always wondered if I’d been there could I have stopped things, but Ma and Pa’s troubles were the kind that have been ruining marriages since the beginning of time. Still, I’ll never forget the look of sadness in Mama’s beautiful, brown eyes when I got home and she told me what she’d done.

It was a tragedy plain and simple, but those nosey newspaper men just wouldn’t let it go, even when the police investigated and declared it all an accident. By then I’d been called up by the Tigers and was starting to make a name for myself. I didn’t hit so well the second half of 1905, not being able to get past the sadness of Daddy being gone, but when the new season began in the spring I knew my time had arrived.

I began the 1906 season like a house afire, hitting and stealing bases like nobody’s business. The Tigers were winning lots of games, and of course that made the whole shooting story even bigger headlines. Eventually those fool cops reopened their investigation and charged Mama for the cold-blooded murder of my pa.

You can’t imagine the hullabaloo as the trial approached. All anyone wanted to ask about was my mama. I finally knocked a couple teeth back into the head of some greenhorn rook from Cleveland, who was dumb enough to joke about it to my face, and the boys pretty much left me alone from there.

But those darn reporters wouldn’t give me a minute’s peace. On the road they’d wait in the hotel lobby and follow me around to the bars after the games. And when word got out I was going to testify at the trial? Well, let’s just say a feeding frenzy ensued.

However, it was true. Ma’s lawyer had contacted me, thinking she’d need some help, since a lot of the locals were painting her as plain evil. They felt a respected man like me would make a mighty fine character witness. 

See here now?

character witness. And last time I checked, they don’t ask no fightin’, cursin’, reckless, redneck to sit on no witness stand as a character witness!

Now the idea of me leaving the ballclub and risking my hot bat cooling off didn’t sit well with the top brass in Detroit, but there I was on a train bound for Georgia, because there ain’t never been nothing more important to a man than the love he has for his mama. Don’t get me wrong here, neither. I knew Mama wasn’t no saint. And it took me quite a long time to get over the idea that she’d blown my daddy’s head off with that pistol of hers, accident or no accident. But she was still my mama, and a son stands by his mama’s side.

When I got to town, I couldn’t hardly go anywhere without a mob following me around. I was as close to a celebrity as Narrows had in those days. And now Mama was a celebrity in her own right, just for all the wrong reasons.  Between the headlines and me being a baseball hero, I couldn’t get a minute’s peace. But I went out anyway, head held high, and went to visit Mama over at the county jail.

Them bastards were holding her prisoner until the trial in a dirty old jail cell, saying on a count of me being a celebrity of some wealth, or some nonsense like that, she was at risk to flee the country. Now that was a bunch of bunk, since all we wanted was to clear Mama’s name and get her back home where she belonged. But you know what they say about those damned reporters. Ain’t one of them interested in letting the truth get in the way of a hot story.

And the story of William Cobb’s murder was about the juiciest story they’d seen in Narrows, Georgia in forever.

So over to the jailhouse I went, and I’ll tell you what, even in her gray, jailhouse prison uniform, Mama never looked prettier. We hugged and sat down on a bench, and I gave Mama a cigarette and we just sat a spell.

Now, before that day, never had I seen Amanda Chitwood Cobb shed a single tear. And lord as my witness, there were many nights when my pa was drunk and wild and taking his hand to her, when anyone, man or woman, would have been excused if they’d broke down crying like a little baby.

But that day, my mama put her cigarette out and turned to look at me, and there was a single tear running down that soft cheek of hers. Mama put her hand on mine as she turned toward me.

“Are you getting enough to eat, Tyrus?” she asked. “You look thin.”

I’ll never forget that in a million years. Facing the electric chair, with an angry mob muckraking her to kingdom come, all my mama wanted to know was if her boy was okay.

I told her I was plenty fit, and she need not worry about young Ty. And then I asked her what I’d been needing to ask since the day I got that god-forsaken telegram telling me Pa was dead.

“Ma,” I said to her, “I know Daddy wasn’t without his faults, but you know I loved that man.”

And let me tell you, I ain’t never been no crier. Not even when I was just a little codger and Pa would take the switch to me. But I could feel a lump in my throat the size of a piece of coal as I looked mama in the eye that day.

“I know you did Ty,” she said to me. “And your daddy loved you, too, more than anything in this whole world.”

“So, Mama, I gotta know,” I said, taking a deep breath so as not to lose my nerve. “What happened that night? The night Daddy died.”

“Tyrus,” she said, still holding my hand, “I loved your pa. Things weren’t always good between him and me, but he was a good man and he always made sure you and me were cared for.”

I noticed Ma had begun looking at the ground, and that troubled me. Daddy always told me that when you needed to know if a man was shooting you straight, the answer would be found in his eyes.

“Ma, my daddy’s gone,” I said to her. “And it’s a cause you shot him. I need to know what really happened.”

“Tyrus, things happened that night exactly as I’ve told you,” she said. “Ain’t nothing more to say. It’s just a terrible tragedy is all, and now these folk are trying to blame it on me like I’m some murderer, and it ain’t fair, I tell you.”

“Them two-faced, Narrows rats, they got it in for all us Cobbs, Mama,” I said to her. 

And I wished like hell she’d a looked up at me then, but her eyes were still fixed on the floor.

“Still, something don’t sit right,” I continued. “Tomorrow they’re gonna put my hand on the holy bible, Mama. They’re gonna make me swear I know you are telling the truth. And Ma, one thing I know for sure is you don’t scare. And I also know that if someone was coming in that window, you weren’t shooting til you got a look at whoever it was. So please tell me, Mama, what happened?”

Mama began shaking her head back and forth as she looked down at her shoes. She was not a frail woman in the least, but at that moment in time she’d never looked smaller to me. She let go of my hand and covered up her face for a couple seconds before finally looking up at me.

“Tyrus, as God is my witness, you are right. I most certainly did have my gun out that night, but I wasn’t going to shoot nobody lest I saw who it was. Especially your daddy.”

I was real confused and started to ask a question, but she put a finger to my lips and told me to hush.

“Tyrus Raymond Cobb, I didn’t shoot your daddy. Lord have mercy, there was someone else in the room with me that night. And that was who pulled the trigger that ended your pa’s life.”

“But ma, wha—” there was so much goin’ on in my head, but Mama wasn’t finished.

“Tyrus, I never wanted nobody, but especially you, to know what really happened that night. The shame of it is more than I can bear, and I will take it with me to my grave. That’s why I’m sitting in this here jail cell, Ty, because even though I didn’t pull the trigger, it was me that done this. Plain and simple. I’m just so sorry, Tyrus.”

Mama was looking me dead in the eyes now, and another tear had got loose and was sliding down her cheek. I reached out and wiped it away with my thumb. There was a lot I wanted to say, but for once in my life I was struck dumb, lost somewhere between sad and mad.

“Tyrus,” she said, and Mama was once again the strong woman I’d loved my entire life, “tomorrow when that judge asks you, you’re gonna tell him you believe it was all a terrible accident. That your mama would never shoot your daddy on purpose.”

I looked at Mama, and those eyes of hers were trained dead on me. Wasn’t no love or light in ‘em, either. Never before, and not one single time since, have I seen a woman take that look with me. And I carried that look with me for the remainder of my days on God’s green earth.

“Tyrus,” she said, not taking her eyes from me even to blink, “you hearing me, boy?”

“Yes, Mama. I do.” I said back to her, holding her eyes with my own.

I thought about that visit with Mama every day for the rest of my life. About how I might could have played it different. But truth be told, I’d already lost a daddy, and despite all the temptation I felt to take hold of that woman and snap her neck like a chicken, I wasn’t prepared to be no orphan.

So I stood up without removing my eyes from her, and I leaned over and kissed my mama’s cheek. Then I walked out of that jailhouse without another word to nobody.

The very next morning, I got up and put on one of Daddy’s best suits and his finest necktie. And I went over to the courthouse and testified. And in case you ain’t read the story, well yes, I done said exactly what Mama told me to. 

I put my hand on the holy bible, looked that old judge square in the eye, and told him wasn’t no way my mama would ever have shot my daddy on purpose. That it all was some terrible, tragic accident.

A couple days later I was back in uniform getting ready to lead the Detroit Tigers to the World Series. And Mama was free as a little bird, back in the family home my daddy built for us in Narrows, Georgia.

I dedicated that season to Daddy’s memory, and hit .350 to lead the entire American League. I even tied that dumbass kraut, Honus Wagner, for the best batting average in all of professional baseball. My career was on its way.

The fact is, I’d always knew I was a damn good ballplayer. Knew it from the first day I got called up to the big leagues. I had that strength that can be found inside every successful man. Had it in spades. 

Here’s the thing, though, and no truer words I’ve ever spoke. It all changed for me that day, sitting with my mama in that jail cell, seeing the fire burning deep inside those beautiful eyes of hers. That moment showed me the power of will.

Those eyes of my mama’s drove me every single day. Brought out the rage and the desperation and the goddamndest ability to will any situation my way. And that’s why Tyrus Raymond Cobb’s plaque sits in Cooperstown, New York today. The top vote getter of the very first class of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. More votes than Babe Ruth, Cy Young, and every other last one of ‘em.

So the next time you hear some rube, who don’t know his ass from a hole in the ground, talking about how old Ty Cobb was just another racist redneck, brawling his way through life because he didn’t know no better? Well, you just remember that old Ty was a hell of a lot more than that. 

He was a man who dealt with tragedy and didn’t knuckle under to the pain. Who turned heartache and loss into the fuel that made him the best darn baseball player that ever lived. 

And more than anything else, Tyrus Raymond Cobb was a man who listened to his mama.

The Hall of Very Good Strikes Again

We really couldn’t resist. Here at SportsAttic we’ve been working on a new format and delivery model for 2022, and had suspended all new posts until that work had been completed.

But as we so often say here at SportsAttic — not so fast…

Because the MLB Hall of Fame had to go and get one right, and we couldn’t sit idly by as this hot a topic simmered during a locked out Hot Stove season.

Truth be told, the Hall of Fame got three right over the weekend when the Golden Days Era committee announced the long overdue election of Gil Hodges, Bud Fowler and Buck O’Neil into Cooperstown for this coming year.

Hodges and O’Neil have been long-time, inexplicable HOF snubs, so the announcement of induction in their two cases righted two glaring wrongs. Both men go into Cooperstown for their overall contributions to the history of the game, rather than simply an outstanding playing career, which is an important distinction for us Hall of Fame purists.

If it were statistics alone, I wouldn’t have voted Hodges in. While very good (remember that term), his career body of work falls just short of the all-time great level that HOF committees should bear in mind when voting in new members. Gil was on the first three Dodgers World Series champion teams, was among the best defensive first basemen of his day, and had an incredible run of success at the plate for much of the ’50’s.

Now you can call me a homer (I wear the moniker comfortably), but without his World Series managerial work with the 1969 Miracle Mets and where that fits in the game’s lore, despite his many achievements Gil Hodges the player doesn’t cross over into Hall of Fame territory.

O’Neil would suffer the same fate if he were only considered for his playing years, a good, not great, run in the old Negro Leagues. But Buck O’Neil’s contributions to the game and his legacy as it pertains to the very fabric of baseball, on top of his distinguished playing career, should have left him a no-doubt-abouter long ago. The first African-American coach in the major leagues, long-time scout and tireless ambassador for the Negro Leagues through his involvement with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum up until his death, Buck O’Neil is a more than worthy Hall of Famer.

As is Bud Fowler, a player I was unfamiliar with until the Hall’s announcement the other day. Considered by many the first African-American player in major league baseball history, his historical significance to the game, given he played at a time when the Civil War had only ended a decade or so prior, makes his inclusion a logical one given his significant role in the game’s historic subplot of color lines and segregation.

So bravo to the Hall of Fame for getting it right on Hodges, O’Neil and Fowler.

By now I’m guessing many of you know where we are heading here. Because there were six inductees agreed upon by the Golden Days Era committee announced the other day. The problem here, which I’ve been railing about for years now, is that the other three inductees (all of whom, by the way, I happen to really like as a fan of the game of baseball) don’t belong in the Hall of Fame.

Tony Oliva was one of the best pure hitters of his day, and one who, to me, falls just short of a HOF-worthy career, mostly due to injuries that cut his playing days short. Similar to Gil Hodges’ run during the early- to mid-’50’s, Oliva terrorized opposing pitching for much of the ’60’s, an era dominated by superb pitching. But Oliva’s career numbers fall short of 2000 hits, he didn’t win an MVP, or lead his team to a World Series title. In fact, through no fault of his own, he was never even the most feared bat in his own lineup, given the presence of fellow Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew. Was Oliva a very good player? Yes. A great hitter? Absolutely. A Hall of Fame immortal? Nope.

SPORTSATTIC ASIDE — For what it’s worth, Richie/Dick Allen is one of my favorite, legendary ballplayers from my youth. He finished one vote shy this year, garnering only 11 out of 16 votes from the group that brought in Tony Oliva. Take a look at both players’ stats and tell me how one belongs in Cooperstown and the other does not. I’ve been okay with Allen missing out all these years primarily for the same reason I was okay with Oliva not being enshrined. They didn’t do it long enough (to me, if you can’t get past 2000 career hits the conversation ends there). But with Oliva now in, despite my protestations above and below, I’m okay with Dick Allen joining him in the Hall of Very Good in 2026 when the Golden Days Era committee next convenes (and hopefully the committee member who is putting personalities ahead of the integrity of his vote has moved on by then — hello Fergie Jenkins).

The same goes for Jim Kaat. By his own admission, Kaat was never even a number one starter during his playing career. However, he did have tremendous longevity and he was a lefty, which afforded him the ability to remain in the bigs and eat innings while piling up wins all the way to a career total of 283 victories. That total would earn automatic HOF entry today, but when we view his career through the lens of Kitty’s playing days, it should only qualify him (along with Tommy John) as a really good pitcher and stat accumulator who should remain on the outside of Cooperstown looking in.

Minnie Minoso was perhaps the least deserving of the recently elected old-time players. An exciting and popular player during his time, Minnie is best known to contemporaries of mine for his gimmicky return to the game in the ’70’s to earn some back pension benefits and become the only player to appear in a game in five decades. Like Hodges, Kaat, and Oliva, Minoso filled up the box scores for several years during his prime, just not enough. Minnie Minoso — a really, really good ballplayer.

But not a Hall of Famer.

I’ll never let go of my belief that the air of the shrine at Cooperstown is rarified. Only legends and immortals and those that became larger than life thanks to their overall contributions to our National Pastime belong. Names like Ruth, Gehrig, Robinson, Mays, Seaver, Griffey Jr. They are my Hall of Famers.

Names like Baines, Walker, Raines, Dawson, Mussina, Rice — they are all in the Hall of Fame. But in my book they will never be Hall of Famers. There’s a difference. It’s not called the Hall of Very Good for a reason, and the voters need to remember that when bestowed the honor of a vote granted to them at least in part to uphold that legacy.

Which brings us to the 2021 Hall of Fame ballot, which could best be described under the heading of Steroid Cheats, Very Good Players, and Head Scratchers.

A sportswriter I respect posted his ballot recently on Twitter. I found myself cringing before examining the ballot closely, assuming there would be the maximum ten boxes checked, as so many mindless voters today feel is required (and one more time now — ten is the goddamn maximum, not a requirement — it’s okay to leave all ten blank if you find zero worthy candidates — my temples are twitching…).

To my pleasant surprise, this ballot only had five votes submitted, so points for not being a mindless sheep, dutifully counting to 10 without so much as a thought toward worthiness. However, among this particular writer’s five selections was Barry Bonds, which I found interesting since this writer had not included any of the other steroid cheats among his five.

In the Tweet, he explained his rationale for the Bonds vote, noting as many have, Bonds’ exemplary career prior to the point where most believed he began cheating in an effort to ratchet up his long-ball stats. While I disagree with his ultimate decision to include Bonds on his ballot, I understand the writer’s reasoning, so I decided to take a look at the other cheaters on the ballot to determine who among them might have been a Hall of Famer (a worthy one, not the Hall of Very Good variety) had they not taken the wrong turn down Steroid Row.

Where I landed was that among that soiled group of former stars, only Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez were likely to have ascended to HOF-level greatness without the aid of ‘roids. Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield would have had highly successful careers, but would not have accumulated their oversized stats that we see today, the juice accountable for their numbers reaching levels that would otherwise make them no-brainer inductees.

In a drug free sport, I’d anticipate seeing Manny and Sheff duking it out with Andruw Jones, hoping to sneak in via the watered down Hall of Very Good criteria that ultimately rewarded players like Andre Dawson and Jim Rice. Andy Pettitte falls just short, too, even with his juiced career stats, so figure him to have been a distant also ran without however many years he was aided by steroids boosting his numbers.

Since Clemens and Bonds manage to combine both egregious drug cheating histories with reputations as being among the bigger assholes in the history of the sport, there’s no way you could convince me to send a vote their way if I had one (and alas, I don’t).

Beyond the cheaters on the Hall’s 2021 ballot, there lies a vast array of very good players, who pose serious risk to continuing the watering down trend of recent years. Since we’ve morphed into a Hall of Very Good world, it would make sense that several of these excellent-but-not-immortal stars would be entering into this year’s voting with hopes high.

The sportswriter’s Twitter ballot I reference above included Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, Scott Rolen and Curt Schilling, in addition to the aforementioned vote for Barry Bonds. All four of them are very good players, stars even, but not one of them a Hall of Famer.

Jones was an outstanding defensive centerfielder who had pop and put up solid, long-term career stats. Put him in the Braves local Hall of Fame if they have one in Atlanta, but not Cooperstown. He doesn’t belong.

Nor does Jeff Kent, although I must admit Kent is the one I have the weakest conviction to keep out. Attribute my objections in part to bitterness over the Mets letting him go before his power stroke put him into HOF conversations, and partly due to his shitty demeanor in general (he looks like every cop that broke up the high school keg parties I use to attend, although props for hating Bonds when they were Giants teammates). Kent has legit power numbers, which do stand out among second basemen, but does he belong with Joe Morgan and Rogers Hornsby among the game’s legends at the position? Hell no. He’s not even ready to be a peer of Ryne Sandberg. Next.

Rolen shouldn’t even warrant discussion. Period. The whole idea that third basemen get special consideration doesn’t wash with me. Catchers? Absolutely. But why third basemen? When Adrian Beltre gets on the ballot in 2024, he will be the next deserving third baseman to enter the HOF. Please voters, don’t further water things down by adding Scott Rolen in the meantime.

As for Curt Schilling, I really struggle here, because while his numbers fall into the “very good” category, much like Roy Halladay and Mike Mussina, his contributions to the game (rising to the occasion when the stakes were highest in the World Series, the bloody sock, etc.) make him a more worthy selection than his stats alone would warrant. Ultimately he falls off due to his own buffoonery and request not to be included on any more ballots, a request he registered as he pouted over not making The Hall a year ago. Fine by me, Curt. You weren’t a shoo-in to begin with.

Other stars on this year’s ballot that have earned the “very good” stigma include Billy Wagner, Omar Vizquel (who I’ve previously supported but have changed my tune on, deciding he’s a poor man’s Luis Aparicio, himself a borderline selection), Todd Helton and Bobby Abreu (yikes — how could there be voters out there supporting Bobby Abreu???).

As for the head scratchers? Too many to count on the 2021 ballot, so let’s just leave it at this…A.J. Pierzynski. Ya gotta be shitting me, right?

Last but not least, what do we do about the curious case of David Ortiz?

Is he a steroid cheat? The fact that I can’t say definitively “yes” means “no,” doesn’t it? I mean, Mike Piazza had steroid rumors swirling around his Hall candidacy that I chose to ignore (and still do — and yes, I wear the “homer” label like a comfy pair of slippers). Ortiz has the stats, the big moment pedigree, the historical relevance…maybe I’m just holding against him the fact that I can’t stand him on Fox’s pregame and postgame shows.

Whatever it is, I just hope Ortiz doesn’t get in on the first ballot this year. That’s an even higher honor the voters need to hold the line on. An honor we won’t chronicle any further, though (in today’s post at least).

Booing and Other Mets Fan September Rites of Passage

“Fucking covid Sox are gonna choke this up” — Manasquan Rob, long-suffering Mets Fan

The lack of clarity and punctuation in the text a group of us Mets fans received yesterday afternoon from Manasquan Rob didn’t keep the relevance from hitting us all right between the eyes.

The calendar showed September 1. The Mets were under .500, and their acting GM had been busted for DUI, asleep at the wheel of his car somewhere in Connecticut earlier that morning. It was only the latest in a string of hapless foibles that Mets fans everywhere have come to expect as part of the fabric of our franchise, every bit as blue and orange as Mr. Met.

Yup, it’s that time, Mets fans. The duration of our season can now be dedicated to rooting against the Yankees. And to further kick us in our collective shins, while the Mets acting GM was presumably sleeping it off in a cell somewhere, Gerrit Cole was in the process of looking nearly unhittable in striking out 15 Angels in only 7 innings of work out in Anaheim, stopping a mini losing streak for the Yanks in the process.

That pretty much says it all. The Yankees recently reeled off one of the longest winning streaks in the history of their storied franchise to again emerge as favorites to win the World Series, while the Mets responded with two of their biggest “stars” dissing their own fans (using the thumbs down signal) for having the audacity to boo their horseshit performances. September baseball in New York sure is alive and well post-pandemic, folks.

It didn’t matter that Manasquan Rob’s text ignored the fact that the Red Sox had already ceded the top Wild Card spot to the surging Yanks. Or that even before losing 11 players and coaches to Covid-19 appeared poised to miss the postseason. The point here being that a diehard Mets fan was choosing to focus his energy on rooting against the Bronx Bombers with his own team just five games out with a month to play. Such is the reality of living life as a fan of the New York Baseball Mets during the month of September.

Wait til next year, indeed.

Other notes as SportsAttic plays catch up with the collective angst of Mets Nation:

*I know I’m not the only one who was caught dreaming, if only for a day, about how the whole “thumbs down” controversy might turn into a September rallying cry when the Mets swept a doubleheader against the Marlins on Tuesday, winning the first game of the twin bill after going into the 9th inning trailing 5-1. Could a modern day reincarnation of Tug McGraw’s “Ya Gotta Believe” stretch run for us back in ’73 be brewing? It was all right there for the taking–a weak schedule stretch against the NL East bottom feeders for the Mets, while the Braves came back to earth facing tougher competition than the patsies that had facilitated their division lead. Thor was on the way back to tighten up our bullpen (even with only two pitches at his disposal), and Jake was throwing on the side for the first time since earlier this summer. Michael Conforto had seemingly rediscovered how to hit, and maybe even Lindor and Baez would rise up to the fans lofty expectations and use their public shaming as motivation to play like actual stars worthy of hundreds of millions of dollars. Could it still happen? Sure, five games out is nothing, particularly when one considers just how flawed the Braves roster is. But sometimes a season is just poisoned, and that appears to be the case for the 2021 New York Mets. I mean think about it — our first GM got canned for sexual harassment before the season even got started; Robinson Cano (who none of us ever wanted anything to do with anyway) was suspended for PEDs (again); deGrom’s magical greatest season ever gets derailed by multiple injuries; Thor’s rehab never came together as scheduled back in June; our $341 million dollar star hitting like Teddy Martinez; a lackluster trade deadline effort only landing us a guy who plays a position we’ve got covered for the next eleven years (and strikes out more than Dave Kingman); and now the current GM, who replaced the GM who turned out to be a sexual predator, and presided over our shitty trade deadline effort, is found passed out behind the wheel in the wee hours of the morning, following a bender that apparently began at a charity event hosted by our new billionaire owner. All together now…SAME OLD METS.

*Speaking of Steve Cohen. Did this guy underestimate just how deeply cursed our ball club really is, or what? I mean, c’mon, he was one of us! He’s seen it all just like we have. From the Nolan Ryan trade to managing to lose Tom Seaver for no return not once, but twice. And a thousand other disastrous events since then too lengthy to chronicle here. The point is Steve Cohen lived all this right alongside the rest of us. And he bought the ball club anyway. And now it is like the baseball gods are on a mission to teach this guy a lesson. We should be running away with the watered down NL East this year, Stevie. For the first time since 2006 we have a lineup that should strike fear into opposing pitchers. We had starting pitching and a deep pen heading into the year. Hell, we could even look at Cano’s suspension as a blessing in disguise, as it would create more plate appearances for Jeff McNeil. And here we are. No hitting, with a rookie none of us had ever heard of back in March as our most consistent starting pitcher. And yeah, we still can’t trust Edwin Diaz as our closer. No, this won’t be easy, Steve Cohen. This shit runs deep.

*And what of this supposed controversy around booing players? The first baseball game I ever attended was at Shea Stadium in 1971. It seemed pretty straight forward to me back then — when the Mets did something well, we cheered. When they messed up, we booed. The fans around me did both at that game, at the pre-appointed times. Fortunately there was more cheering than booing that July day, and the Mets won the game on the way to a third-place finish in the NL East (sound familiar?) that season. I’ve followed that simple prescription pretty much to the letter ever since as it pertained to my Mets, and I’ve reserved some of the most passionate booing for hated enemies of ours over the decades since. There have been many — hello, in no particular order, Chipper (Lar-ry) Jones, John Rocker, Vince Coleman (oh how I hated him — which he repaid me for by coming to the Mets years later and absolutely sucking), Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla (see Vince Coleman), John Tudor, Pete Rose, Whitey Herzog (smug SOB White Rat..), Richie Hebner (see Coleman and Bonilla), Derek Jeter, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley…the list goes on ad infinitum. Am I supposed to reprogram myself now because we happen to be living in times of participation trophies, when we are apparently supposed to be more sensitive to the feelings of athletes whose hundreds of millions of dollars of earnings are both directly and indirectly coming from our passion for their chosen sports? Nah — I’m going to keep booing when terrible play or arch enemies deserve it.

*So do the Mets still have a chance, what with the record standing at two games under .500 and the Braves taking on yet another patsy tonight out in Colorado? Of course we do, but let’s hang on a minute, because we’ve seen this movie a time or two in the past. If we use history as a guide, it’s reasonable to expect the Mets current little run to continue for awhile. We’ve still got several more Marlins and Nats games on the schedule, and the prediction here is that we climb back over the .500 mark and creep a little closer to the Braves and Phils by the middle of the month. That should be enough to suck the lot of us back in, raising our hopes to the brink of giddiness. By then Thor and his flowing locks should be closing games with his 100 MPH heat, and deGrom may even toe the rubber against live hitters. But these are the Mets. And we’ve already established the season is likely poisoned beyond possibility of recovery. To me, it feels a lot like 1987, when the Mets clearly had the best team in the National League, defending their 1986 championship. But an early suspension of Doc Gooden, followed by multiple injuries and chemistry issues (Kevin Mitchell for Kevin McReynolds?? Are you effing kidding me??) ultimately torpedoed their season. Still, despite all that adversity back in ’87, late-September arrived with the Mets having righted the ship just enough to claw back into spitting distance of the division-leading Cardinals, with three games on tap for Shea Stadium in a key late-season series. And yes, I did forget to include Terry Pendleton on that list of players we booed with a passion like no other. Remember him? Practically leaping out of his shoes at a Roger McDowell sinker that didn’t sink enough, and ripping our hearts out with one swing of the bat?

It’s coming Mets fans…

Let’s go Red Sox.

National League Pennant Forecast — How Will the West Be Won?

Five months ago, when we were first handicapping the National League as to who would still be standing come October, it didn’t appear to be that difficult an exercise.

The NL East was the league’s deepest division by far, with talented teams top to bottom. Meanwhile out west, the Dodgers and Padres figured to be neck and neck all year, but it was hard to argue against a Dodgers repeat (defending World Series champs always seem invincible the following spring) given all the talent L.A. was returning, bolstered by their signing of the most sought-after free agent starting pitcher on the free agent market over the winter.

So you could pretty much sign up for a playoff tournament that would include two teams from the east (pick any two from the menu — the young and fearless Marlins ready to build on their surprise playoff appearance last fall; the reigning division champion Braves loaded once again; the Mets under new ownership looking to get out from under the franchise’s perpetual dark cloud while bursting at the seams with quality bats up and down what would surely be the division’s most potent everyday lineup; the Nats only a couple years removed from their 2019 World Series stunner; and the Phillies trying to do it the old fashioned way with high-priced free agents surrounded by a few inexpensive but serviceable pieces), plus the two SoCal rivals in the west, rounded out by one club from the uninteresting and non-competitive central, simply because the rules say so.

Not so fast.

Here we are smack in the middle of the Dog Days of August, the baseball season two-thirds of the way in the books, and very little looks the way we anticipated those few short months ago.

The NL East sucks (technical term). Nobody wants it, but so far only the Marlins and Nats have officially spit the bit. The NL Central has all but ceded things to the Brewers (who nobody really takes seriously as a potential contender), with the only competition down the stretch potentially coming from the Reds (Reds??), who we take even less seriously than the Brewers.

Out in the NL West, we are seeing, as expected, an ultra-competitive rivalry develop between the two SoCal ball clubs that each boast fantasy-type rosters and front offices unabashedly going for it right now, however that competition appears, as of today, to be only for home field advantage in the Wild Card game.

What in tarrrr-nation’s going on here?

That’s exactly what SportsAttic aims to sort out, as we continue our MLB Pennant Race prognostications, Senior Circuit edition. So here goes nothing (as with our American League review, we will only consider those teams at or above .500, even if there is absolutely no chance in hell a team may make the playoffs — hello, Cincinnati fans):

NL East Overview: How the heck did this mess happen? All those stars and all that high-priced talent, and we have…this? Lots of inconsistent baseball from the “Big 3” aka Mets/Phillies/Braves, with injuries taking a severe toll on every club. The Marlins acknowledged that they may have been a couple of years ahead of themselves in making the playoffs last year, and are back to building for their ever-elusive “future” around young arms. The Nats traded everyone of value away (except for Juan Soto — even the Nats aren’t that dumb) despite the division still being up for grabs at the trade deadline, and meanwhile the Braves, Mets and Phils keep doing their “take it, no YOU take it” routine, managing to infuriate all three fan bases on a daily basis. Someone has to come out on top, though, soooo…

*Mets – Nothing like starting out our unbiased, clinical evaluation with a heavy dose of homer-ism, right? Yup, the Mets will win this division. Primarily because the Braves won’t be able to overcome their injuries and the inconsistent Phillies’ lack of pitching depth will cost them in the end. Look for New York’s vaunted rotation to piece together enough healthy arms by September to eke out this embarrassment of a division with 84 or 85 wins. deGrom, Thor, Stroman and Carlos Carrasco will come together just in time to form the starting rotation nobody wants to face in the postseason, and all those underperforming bats will get the chance to redeem themselves with a fresh start under the bright postseason lights.

*Phillies – They’ll hang in there until the end, as Joe Girardi continues to grind the enamel off his molars whipping his stars like lazy mules in an effort to will them to the division title. But only two quality starting pitchers (even when one is presumed Cy Young winner Zack Wheeler) and the worst pen in baseball dooms the Phighting Phils to second place and another year of watching the playoffs from their couch.

*Braves – Sometimes it just isn’t a team’s year (spoiler alert — you may hear that line again when we get to the NL West), and from the get-go things just haven’t fallen into place for the Braves. Fully healthy, this team would be the class of the division, but it is hard to overcome losing a do-everything star and clubhouse leader like Ronald Acuna, Jr. They gave it the old college try, adding useful pieces at the trade deadline, but when you’ve already been crippled by a torn ACL (Acuna), achilles (Soroka) and strangulation charges (Ozuna), it’s hard to see Joc Pederson being the difference-maker to get Atlanta over the hump.

NL Central: With an eight-game lead and 50+ left to play, we can safely award the division to the Brew Crew. But c’mon…does anyone truly see them as a World Series contender? Like their AL Central cousin, the White Sox, Milwaukee will take advantage of the weak division schedule (not to mention the broad-based bed-shitting going on in the NL East) to earn, at minimum, home-field advantage in the NLDS. Somehow the Reds have put themselves seven games above .500 as of this writing, good enough to miss the playoffs this year without ever even making it interesting, since both wild cards will emerge from the stacked NL West. Same goes for the Cardinals, who would be firmly in the thick of a pennant race if they still called the NL East home (shit, they’d probably be the favorites in the east), but due to the imbalance of power in the National League and the strength out west, they’ll find themselves home in October, too.

*Brewers – When Avisail Garcia is your most menacing power hitter and your former MVP has forgotten how to hit (back injuries are a bitch, just ask Don Mattingly and David Wright), I guess you have to rely on your arms to get you there. And the Brewers do have arms. The Milwaukee starting rotation has put up stellar numbers thus far, but all are on track to throw more innings than they ever have, which will likely catch up to them come playoff time, when they can no longer fatten up on terrible teams like the depleted Cubs or Pirates. And maybe its wishful thinking, but I’m looking for closer Josh Hader to come up small in October as well. They’ll get the winner of the putrid NL East in the opening round, and it will end right there for the overrated Brew Crew.

*Reds – This is an up and coming team playing good ball that most years would have them contending for the second wild card spot right about now. This isn’t most years, though. The Reds will fade in September and finish below .500 when the light bulb goes on that they have no shot at the postseason.

*Cardinals – They always seem to get hot just when everyone’s forgotten they are in the league. Could this be one of those years? Even if it is, and the Redbirds get Red hot the rest of the way, it won’t matter. A record of 30-18 from here only gets them to 88 wins, so barring a collapse out west, it’ll be wait til next year time in St. Louis.

NL West: The gold standard of MLB divisions through the season’s first 110+ games. We all expected to see the Dodgers and Padres at the top of the standings as September approached, but the Giants? Did anyone see these guys playing .640 ball 114 games into the season? Holy hell! It’s too big of a sampling to continue calling them a fluke or a house of cards ready to collapse at any moment (that would be me at least a dozen times to date this season), but really? If San Francisco cools off to just a .500 pace from here on out, they still win 97 games! Even the most hardened of the skeptics and haters here at SportsAttic have to admit at some point that the Giants are legit. But with the arch-enemy Dodgers and Uber-talented Padres still in hot pursuit, will they be able to close the deal in the city by the bay?

*Dodgers — Yes, it says here that Evil Empire West will come away with the division. Way too much talent, even with Mookie Betts landing on the IL the other day. Their trade deadline acquisitions of Mad Max and Trea Turner from our nation’s capital almost feel unfair at this point. Despite Cody Bellinger’s mysterious, season-long malaise, there is simply way too much talent here (bats and arms) for the defending champs not to come away with the division title. Look for the Dodgers to continue along at their .600 clip and nip a tired, fading Giants team at the wire by a game.

*Giants — Give them all the credit they are due. Best record in baseball? Check. Leading the league in home runs? Check. Busty Posey rising from the ashes? Check. Tremendous trade deadline acquisition of Kris Bryant to fortify the lineup? Check. Four starting pitchers, who at the beginning of the season wouldn’t have earned a roster spot on the Mets, all looking like aces? Check. Yet, when the dust settles, the Giants will get to try and validate this season for the ages with a one-game playoff against the Padres, relying on Kevin Gausman (Kevin Gausman?? Good grief!) to take them to the NLDS. Look for a second-place finish despite 95 wins that nobody saw coming, followed by one losing playoff game that will write the final epitaph on this unexpectedly successful Giants season.

*Padres — The Pads are a fun team to watch, boasting exciting stars, solid pitching, and a deep lineup. But there’s a “but” — but if Fernando Tatis, Jr. isn’t right physically heading into the playoffs, all bets are off. Do you really want to rely on Manny Machado as your go to superstar in a tight series? Tatis is the engine here, and assuming he’s one hundred percent, this team is capable of emerging from the National League and taking on Houston. The rotation is as solid as the Mets’ and Dodgers’, but Mark Melancon as closer gives me pause. It won’t matter against the Giants in the Wild Card game (I’m feeling something like a 12-1 blowout — sorry, Giants fans), but the pen could be the achilles heel exposed when the inevitable showdown with L.A. happens in the NLDS.

SportsAttic Crystal Ball: Your National League division winners will be (in order) — the Los Angeles Dodgers (96-66), Milwaukee Brewers (95-67) and New York Mets (84-78). The Dodgers will take on their neighbors to the south, the Padres, in one NLDS, while the Brewers will have home field advantage in their NLDS matchup against the New York Mets.

The home field will not matter in either series, however, as the Mets will easily dispose of the Brewers in five games behind their rejuvenated starting rotation (and barely enough hitting). Meanwhile in the battle of the 5 Freeway, the Padres will emerge victorious in seven thrilling games, because…well, because…well, because sometimes it’s just not a team’s year. Call it the Curse of Trevor Bauer (if ever a player truly warranted an honest to goodness curse, it most certainly is Bauer, by the way), but the Dodgers won’t even see the NLCS in 2021.

In a fun, bicoastal NLCS, the combination of the Mets vaunted rotation and two blown San Diego saves (courtesy of a burnt to a crisp Melancon following the high-pressure Dodgers series) will send the team with the worst record of all 2021 playoff teams to the World Series (just like those ’73 “Ya Gotta Believe” Mets did). And this time the Metropolitans will come away with different results than Yogi’s boys had against the A’s back in ’73.

Mets over Astros. Six games. Put it in the books.

Breaking Down MLB Pennant Races — American League

The calendar has turned to August and the Mets have been dislodged from first place, two tried and true indicators telling us it is time to start paying closer attention to the MLB pennant races.

The 2021 baseball season is roughly 70 percent in the books, and some old, familiar (i.e. disappointing) patterns are beginning to emerge. Like the Yankees’ bats getting untracked as the temperatures rise. And the Mets fading the way my drives used to off the tee (before I mercifully put away my golf clubs for good).

And the patterns aren’t just restricted to New York, either. Here’s a news flash — the Angels don’t have any pitching (other than their best power hitter, of course). Surprise, surprise. And the Rays are thriving despite giving away all of their best pitchers over the winter. Again. And just this week, the A’s lost a key piece for the duration of the season (and the one playoff game they play in every year) due to a steroids suspension. Yep, again.

So now that the Olympics are concluding and the NBA is taking its offseason break between the draft, free agency and training camps (yeah, we’ll watch the summer league in Vegas, just because…), it is time to dial back into the drama unfolding during MLB’s late-summer Dog Days, as pennant races take shape around the country.

Against that backdrop, we bring you SportsAttic’s mid-summer forecast for the MLB 2021 season, division by division, with today’s focus being the Junior Circuit. For the purpose of this forecasting exercise, we will only discuss those teams currently over .500, even if the team in question doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of making the playoffs (hello, Angels fans…):

AL East Overview: The division that is home to baseball’s Evil Empire watched helplessly once again as the Yankees used the trade deadline to fortify themselves for a playoff run, capitalizing on MLB’s unwritten rule that every year other franchises must be willing to sell off their stars in lopsided trades with the Yanks (and pay the remainder of those stars’ salaries while accepting middling, low-minors prospects in return. WTF!). But I digress…

Rays — In March I didn’t think they stood a chance at a playoff run, obviously ignoring the fact that I feel that way every spring when it comes to the Rays. Because here’s Tampa once again, in the hunt, not just alive, but thriving in first place as their large-market competitors look up at them. The Rays are a legit, dangerous team, with a lineup that never takes off an at bat, and that added much-needed power by picking up Nelson Cruz from the Twins at the deadline.

SportsAttic Aside: Let’s take a moment here to thank the Twins for shitting the bed BEFORE getting to the playoffs and becoming the Yankees personal punching bags this year. Here’s hoping the Twins never make the playoffs again. Ever.

Red Sox — When the Bosox appeared poised to run away with the division a month ago, it felt like they were playing way over their head. Now that Boston is performing as though they woke up and realized they just aren’t that good, the real question becomes can the wobbling Red Sox even make the playoffs. I mean, Nathan Eovaldi is their ace?? This one appears likely to end badly for Sawx fans (sorry, Geno), and look for their arch enemies from the Bronx to grease the skids of their collapse with a few late-September beatdowns (there’s a three-game series in late-September at Yankee Stadium that should lay the final hammer down on Beantown).

Yankees — Is the current hot streak just another head fake, or is this recent run of success for real? Do we just have another short-term tear built on the adrenaline jolt of good trade deadline acquisitions, all the while beating up on the many weak sisters around the AL? Or is this the real Yankees waking up and playing like the team we’ve been expecting to see all year? Feels like the latter to me, as much as it pains me to say it. Fortunately, I don’t believe the Yanks have the arms to go all the way, but adding Gallo and Rizzo to that lineup seems almost unfair, and this team will be a handful for anyone come playoff time.

Blue Jays — A fun team to watch, and the Jays should only get better over the next year or two, but the rules state only two teams can be Wild Cards, and Toronto will fall just short this year, despite having arguably the AL’s best hitter in Vlad Guerrero, Jr. and a heckuva deadline pickup in Jose Berrios at the front of their rotation.

AL East Prognosis: The Rays will hold off the Yankees (barely), thus earning themselves a three-seed and a visit to Houston. The Yankees will take the hard way once again, but benefit from the largesse of the biggest Wild Card patsy west of Minneapolis in the one-game play-in matchup. From there they’ll head to Chicago, where the top-seeded White Sox will be waiting. There you can look for the Bombers to end the overrated Pale Hose’s delusions of World Series glory without breaking a sweat. Thankfully for all of us haters, though, the Evil Empire’s run will come to an end down in Houston, where the Astros will thumb their nose at the rest of the MLB establishment, shouting a collective “no, fuck YOU” as they advance to the Fall Classic for the third time in five years.

AL Central: We can safely cede the Central Division and top overall seed heading into the playoffs to the Chisox, despite it being only the second week of August. Simply too many games against terrible division foes will allow South Side fans to dream of confetti and parades as their team approaches the 100-win mark for the season.

White Sox — They’re good, but not 100 wins and playoff favorites good. Jose Abreu is the real deal; a hammer looming large in the middle of an above-average lineup. And there are innings-eaters and depth in the starting rotation that will allow them to get to deadline acquisition Craig Kimbrel and lights out closer Liam Hendriks in what should be a lockdown bullpen. Such balance is a terrific formula to dominate over a 162-game schedule (especially in the paper thin AL Central). However their fans need to enjoy all these wins now, because come the playoffs, they’ll only be treated to one more “W” (at best) before being sent home early by the Yanks.

AL West: If despising the Yankees wasn’t such a full-time job, embracing a deep hatred toward those shitty, cheating Houston Astros would be way more fun. Oh well, you can’t have everything. And unlike the Yanks who play in the AL’s deepest division, the Astros face far less resistance keeping them from the playoffs this season. Look for the ‘Stros to coast to the division title from here, before hosting an ALDS series at Minute Maid Park (it will be against the Rays, just wait).

Astros — Yeah, they’re good again. And yeah, that really does kind of suck. Buzzers, trash cans, obnoxious stars — yup, so damn easy to root against, but like so many obnoxiously talented teams before them, these Astros seem to thrive on the deep dislike they engender across all of MLB. So get ready folks, we’re going to have the Astros onboard for another extended playoff run in 2021. Like every other AL team, there are questions in Houston about who will get opposing hitters out, but Greinke and McCullers at the top of the rotation are a good start. Ryan Pressly looms as a potential problem when it comes time to close out a crucial playoff game, but the base hits just keep coming at you with these guys. Look for an epic ALCS slugfest against the Yankees, with MLB fans choosing sides by trying to determine “which team do we hate the least?”

A’s — The Athletics are a solid team — well rounded, strong manager, solid front office. And they are positively snakebit when it comes to the postseason, where their whole “little engine that could” routine gets plowed over by the big-market powerhouses. And it will happen again this year. The A’s roster is constructed for regular season success, and that formula is working for them again in 2021. But the end result will be a date in the Wild Card game with the Yankees. And following that brutal beatdown, it will be back to the drawing board for Oakland, spending the offseason on more thrift shop signings that will allow them to do it all over again next year.

Mariners — If you watched any of their series against the Yankees this week, you can join me in wondering how the hell this team is over .500 in August. It is safe to say they won’t be by October.

Angels — All together now, “Poor Mike Trout.” The Angels’ generational talent and consensus best player in baseball (at least when healthy) will miss the playoffs once again in 2021. He’s been on the injured list since mid-May, and while it’s likely he will return for the stretch run, the song remains the same out here in Anaheim — no arms. All one needs to know is that Shohei Ohtani leads the Halos in innings pitched this year (with 86–good grief…) to understand why this team doesn’t have the pitching to catch the Astros or A’s. And it’s too bad, too, because Trout and Ohtani belong on the playoff stage. Maybe next year?

SportsAttic Crystal Ball: For those of you not taking notes, your 2021 AL division winners, in order, will be the White Sox, Astros and Rays. The White Sox top seed will earn them the honor of getting swept by the Yankees after the Bombers destroy the A’s in another Wild Card mismatch, while the Astros will outlast the Rays in an eminently entertaining ALDS contest.

In the ALCS, the Yankees arms (particularly their bullpen, worn out after another year of abuse at the hands of manager Aaron Boone) will prove their undoing, falling to the despicable Astros in seven games.

Next up — National League.

What’s In a Name?

So much to rail against, so little time…

Which means we have no choice but to go straight to Cleveland to kick things off today.

The Guardians?? Really folks? After having all this time to come up with a cool new name that Cleveland baseball fans could rally around during their surprisingly successful 2021 baseball season, this is what they give us?

Yes, I’ve heard all about some bridge called The Guard, and the metal works around it that somewhat resemble wings, hence the winged design in the much ballyhooed rollout of the new name/logo the other day. Sure, and we also get the clever “-dians” connection between Indians and Guardians. Uh huh…

But Guardians still sucks. Plain and simple. It’s just so very, very Cleveland, dontcha think? Keep up the fair work Forest City, and we’ll look forward to that next World Series title coming sometime in the 22nd century, if baseball even remains in existence then.

For the record, I was rooting for the return of the Cleveland Spiders. Spiders would have represented a nice nod to Cleveland’s nearly 150-year baseball history, while also being unlikely to offend anyone (no easy task today). Such a name would have provided a number of cool logo options, while continuing to connect the Cleveland baseball thread that dates back to the late 19th Century.

Heck, I would even take a redux of The Naps, the erstwhile nickname the Cleveland hardballers went by in the early 20th century in honor of their best player, Nap Lajoie. I’m not sure old Nap Lajoie remains a household name in today’s Cleveland, though, so how about a name from the ’80’s — The Joe’s — in honor of one of the more recognizable Cleveland stars of the past 50 years — Joe Charboneau? I mean, the guy even had his own song during his short, happy stint as a rising star for the Indians/Guardians back in the early-’80’s.

Yet I see risk in The Joe’s, too. Who knows if over the next century everybody named Joe in this great country of ours becomes ostracized and ridiculed, spurring a movement to restore dignity to all men (and women) named Joe by forcing Cleveland’s baseball club to once again change names following a particularly nickname-charged Presidential election in the year 2100? Could happen.


Sticking with controversial sporting topics of the day, am I the only American sports fan out here perfectly happy to see the USA Mens Basketball team get sent home from Tokyo with no Olympic medal?

This is not an anti-American, or an anti-Kevin Durant statement (although KD as the face of this squad certainly does make them even harder to cheer for), but rather an anti-favorites statement. I mean, c’mon. One of the (many) reasons I can’t stand the Yankees is because of their history as huge favorites, seemingly always stacking the deck in their own favor. A team expected to win. Same for the Patriots when Tom Brady was under center. Or any super-team organized around the talents of LeBron James. If the outcome feels like a foregone conclusion, I won’t root for the heavy favorite. Ever.

Give me the underdogs all day long, even during Olympic competition. And if that means rooting for France, so be it. I suspect if I followed soccer more closely I might feel similarly about the USA Women’s Soccer team, but I don’t, so they are safe for now.

Anyway, here’s my proposal — let’s go back to amateurs representing the United States in the basketball competition every four years at the Summer Games. I’m not proposing this become an Olympic policy, just a USA Basketball policy.

Taking this thought one step further, what if we restricted Olympic participation only to rising college seniors, thus rewarding those who choose to stay in school for four years with an opportunity for Olympic glory?

And what of those one-and-done hired Freshman guns that are only enrolled at an educational institution to check the box of NBA eligibility requirements, you ask? Well, passing on the Olympic experience becomes a data point that will factor into their decision to leave school. Early access to the riches of their NBA contracts will surely provide some level of solace for passing on the chance at an Olympic experience.

Let the other countries do as they please and play pros if they choose, that would only add to the USA Hoops underdog storyline.

I’d definitely be able to rally behind a bunch of amateur-status, 21- and 22-year-olds implementing a system coached by a Greg Popovich or a Dawn Staley, while taking on the hoops professionals from around the world. Such a squad may get bounced every four years without a medal, but I’d have a lot more fun remaining engaged as a flag-waving fan under such an amateur-roster scenario.

Instead, today I face the dilemma of rooting against my own country’s basketball team because I find enormous favorites unappealing. Especially a collection of NBA pros led by perhaps the least appealing personality in The Association today, a 6’11, scowling, nonsense-tweeting, super-team-forming poster child.

Just sayin’.

We’re rolling now, so here’s one more from the politically incorrect category. It’s been quite some time since I applauded any policy put out there by the NFL, but this week’s announcement of strict penalties to be enforced should the schedule be disrupted by non-vaccinated Covid-19 outbreaks within teams made sense to me.

And this isn’t a sentiment indicating a pro or con view on an individual’s choices around vaccinations. It’s a statement in favor of businesses establishing rules and guidelines as is their right, and their employees also possessing the right to follow, or choosing to go elsewhere.

It requires a delicate balance for any business to establish a culture and environment conducive to being supportive of the individuality and beliefs of all their employees, while simultaneously remaining committed to their for-profit underpinnings. Promoting fairness and equity for all, while also upholding the responsibilities embedded into a business’s revenue-based core values, all the while doing everything within their power to ensure safety and the greater good of all — well, let’s just say it’s not easy.

At a headline level, it appears to me that in making their decision, the NFL weighed the perspectives of all of their many constituencies — the world at large; vaccinated players; those without vaccines; the extended families of one and all; the league; the teams; and the desires of NFL fans.

In the few days since the announcement went out we’ve seen several players, coaches and front office types make the highly personal decision to remove themselves from their respective teams. An incredibly difficult sacrifice in the interest of remaining true to personal beliefs of the most emotional and private variety. I applaud those individuals for their conviction, and their courage to hold true to their position.

And I give the NFL credit for their strong stand around putting the safest, surest plan in place to deliver a 2021 season for all constituencies involved.

That’s enough for today. Time to take a breath and remind myself of the really important things in the world of sports today — the fact that it’s nearly August and the New York Mets still occupy first place in the NL East.

Hey Knicks Fans — What’s the Point?

The Knicks need a point guard.

I’m trying to count off how many different offseasons I’ve uttered those words dating back to when we traded Walt Frazier to the Cavaliers for Jim Cleamons in the summer of 1977 (and yes, Clyde was nearing the end of the line, but was Cleamons really the best we could do for crying out loud??). Already I digress.

The Knicks gloriously acquired a disgruntled Earl Monroe from the Baltimore Bullets in November of 1971 for Mike Riordan, Dave Stallworth, eleven pairs of size 14 Converse All-Stars, and two nearly-new Spalding basketballs. The acquisition of The Pearl brought us two additional finals appearances, one of which stands as the last NBA title won in the long and storied history of the New York Knickerbockers.

Since that magical moment when Monroe brought his talents to New York City, my Knicks have swung and missed on so many backcourt solutions it makes my head spin. In fact, other than signing Alan Houston as a free agent in the summer of 1996, it is hard to remember another successful backcourt deal the Knicks have made in the 50 (FIFTY!) years that have flown by since the Earl Monroe trade.

Sure there were the back to back drafts in the late-80’s that scored us Mark Jackson and Rod Strickland, helping to launch the reincarnation that resulted in the near-misses of the Riley Years. But think about it — what deal for a guard — point, shooting, combo — has worked out for the Knicks since Earl the Pearl joined forces in the Knicks backcourt with Clyde a couple of generations ago?

(SportsAttic aside– when the Monroe deal happened, I remember my biggest concern being who would get to wear number 10 for the Knicks — Monroe had worn 10 for the Bullets and of course Clyde was number 10 in New York. Huge relief to six-year-old me when Monroe accepted number 15 as a Knick.)

The Knicks extended run of futility when it comes to acquiring backcourt talent hasn’t been for lack of trying. Off the top of my head, I come up with countless past-their-prime names from years gone by. To wit, hope sprang eternal when first Rolando Blackmon, and then Derek Harper got stints in New York on the back nine of outstanding runs in Dallas. Turned out Blackmon was barely a shell of his Mavericks self once he donned the orange and blue, and Harper was a useful piece, but always a step slow against elite opposition once the Knicks would reach the playoffs.

Others, such as Rory Sparrow and Chris Childs were heralded as diamonds in the rough, imported to the Big Apple after brief runs of success elsewhere. We were sold similar storylines with Chris Duhon and Howard Eisley years later. Somehow the lightning that had been caught in a bottle at prior stops never materialized under the high expectations and bright lights of Madison Square Garden.

Doc Rivers, Tracy McGrady, Steve Francis, Mo Cheeks, Baron Davis and Chauncey Billups all got a turn way past their heroic primes, and none even managed to approach Derrick Rose-circa-2021 kind of success after landing in New York.

Really want to go deep? How about Paul Westphal? Remember Jarrett Jack? Yep, both were Knicks — you can look it up. Jamal Crawford sure could fill it up, providing the Knicks instant offense on any given night, as he did for nearly every NBA team at one time for another, but he hardly qualifies as a successful acquisition in the Monroe (or even Houston) category.

Do we have enough space to delve into the Stephon Marbury debacle? I still recall having to pull off the Long Island Expressway so I could scream at the top of my lungs when I heard that horrific deal announced on WFAN radio one cold January morning back in 2004 (and don’t forget we got Anfernee Hardaway as part of that franchise-fracturing trade–somewhere Isiah Thomas is grinning right now and has no idea why). All Starbury cost us was five players and two first-round picks. Oy vey…

But hey, we got Penny, too.

Like many Knicks fans, I may be something of a glutton for punishment, but I dredge up these horror stories of Knicks Trades and Signings Past merely as a cautionary tale with the 2021 NBA Draft fast approaching. The Knicks appear poised to make a deal (as they have for the past half century), and while I remain steadfastly supportive of any and all efforts that could somehow make Damian Lillard a Knick for 2021-22 and beyond, I’m worried about what the Lillard consolation prize could be.

We’re hearing Collin Sexton’s name bandied about all of a sudden. Should the Knicks end up with Sexton, here’s hoping from my keyboard to God’s ears that the young guard becomes the next Earl the Pearl, lacing up other-worldly heroics nightly at Madison Square Garden and becoming a key piece that one day nets us our long-awaited NBA title.

However, I think we may want to pump the brakes just a touch here. Collin Sexton happens to be the point guard (combo guard?) the Cavaliers are passing on. The Cavs (who’s front office will never be confused with the Red Auerbach Celtics) prefer Darius Garland, who they took with the fifth pick in the draft a year after they drafted Sexton at number 8 (one spot ahead of the Knicks, who continued their mastery of the NBA’s lottery system by taking Kevin Knox at number 9). Hmmm…methinks that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement from Sexton’s current employer.

Sexton can score, as evidenced by his three year averages of 16.7, 20.8 and 24.3 points per game for terrible Cleveland teams. But can he win? Lead? Never mind that he’s looking for an enormous, new contract after the coming season, either. Again, hmmm…

Sexton did average 4.4 assists per game over 35 minutes per last season. Hardly Frazier-esque numbers, but he really was more of a score-first guard, whether point, shooting, or combo, so 300 assists isn’t that bad. Right? RIGHT??

So now the Knicks are considering giving up coveted assets, be it picks we’ve accumulated, or young talent (I hate the idea of Obi Toppin being a part of a deal for Sexton, but we must presume he would be), to bring Cleveland’s (CLEVELAND’S!!) second choice on board as our 1A star beside Julius Randle’s 1. And we are now to hope/expect that a Randle/Sexton duo allows the Knicks to take that next, more difficult, step forward toward legitimate title contention?

Sorry, but I’m just not feeling it. And I can’t help but wonder how Coach Thibs feels about Collin Sexton being the showcase piece we add during this critical offseason? Does the kid know how to play defense? Will he make those around him better? Can he handle New York? We can’t afford another mistake that ends up being buried at the end of the bench next to so many others.

Please Leon Rose — keep the emphasis on pulling out all the stops for Dame. That’s a move a New York Knicks title can be built upon. We can’t revert back to the bargain-basement bin. For fifty years that recipe has tortured Knicks fans.

Go get Damian Lillard.

Hypocrisy of Olympic Proportion (and Other Annoying Sports Stuff)

Let me get this straight. An athlete can qualify for the 2021 Olympic Games, and then punctuate this incredible achievement by making pained faces of exasperation while turning her back on the flag as the National Anthem plays. And that’s okay.

Meanwhile another athlete can qualify for the Tokyo Olympics and have her accomplishment rendered null and void for “failing” a blood test that detected cannabis usage. And that’s not okay.

The question these headlines have created for those of us who from time to time feel like that curmudgeon who hates everything and everybody when it comes to the modern day world of sports, is how do we identify where the line is between right and wrong anymore?

Someone smarter than I (and yes, I realize that doesn’t really narrow it down much) once said “change isn’t hard, but resisting change sure is.” So as I find myself steamrolling headlong toward old age, I’m doing my damndest to acknowledge and accept the warp speed pace at which our world is changing these days.

But does being accepting of a changing world mean giving everybody a free pass for whatever type of behavior they choose to engage in? Hell no, and call me curmudgeon if you must, but I’m not signing up for that kind of laissez faire attitude just yet. So go ahead and send us your cards and letters decrying such old fashioned ideals (yeah, I know, it’s email nowadays — that was on purpose, kids), but to me if one of these athletes has to be tossed from our Olympic team, it really ought to be the one who openly disrespects the very team/country she will be representing.

And oh by the way, that doesn’t mean I’m against social justice or the people striving to make the world a more fair and equitable place for all (the excuse put forth as justification for the histrionics on the medal stand by the athlete in question). In fact, the equality dialogue engulfing our country these days is long overdue, desperately needed, and finally mainstream enough not to be easily dismissed or swept under the rug any longer.

However, maybe it’s that suppressed curmudgeon in me that asks why commitment to equality/social justice, and pride in our country have to be mutually exclusive. How about using the platform and notoriety that accompanies Olympic excellence to further a constructive dialogue on equality and systemic change among all Americans? I realize many consider such a suggestion to be pollyannaish, but shouldn’t there be some level of accountability to the institution an athlete willingly chooses to represent in international athletic competition? Just sayin’.

And what of the young woman who chose to use cannabis while dealing with the pain of losing her mother? A woman who accepted the results of her blood test unflinchingly, with no alibis or blaming of others. She just effin’ owned it, looking every one of us in the eye and reminding us that she’s just another perfectly imperfect human, like the rest of us. Yet she’s the one we are going to say can’t be an Olympian? If only she’d chosen to knock back a liter of vodka every night as a way of dealing with her sorrow. No worries there, right? Acceptable behavior, even for an Olympian. Not cannabis, though. Give me a break.

And if all that wasn’t enough to make me say “what the fuck” over and over this week, then we go and let that piece of shit rapist Bill Cosby out of jail? But this is a sports blog, so I’m just going to have to trust that there’s a horrific and eternal damning heading in the direction of America’s Dad, and here’s hoping whatever such fury may be, it reaches him very soon.

Back to sports:

*Maybe part of the reason I’m so out of sorts is because the first Subway Series game of the year was postponed due to inclement weather in the New York area. At least I can now look forward to two games on Sunday (even if they are of the seven-inning, farcical variety). And just a reminder for those of you not paying close attention — the first-place New York Mets will be visiting the fourth-place New York Yankees.

*Sticking with baseball, when Joe Girardi used to manage the Yankees, one of the highlights of that era was watching that stress-vein in the tightly wound Yankee skipper’s neck bulge whenever something would go wrong with his Bronx Bombers. I’m pleased to tell you that the Girardi vein-pop remains every bit as enjoyable today, as we watch the Phillies bullpen torch lead after lead while Joe grinds his teeth in the Philly dugout.

*Why is Tom Brady being pissed off at whatever team that chose not to sign him over a year ago suddenly big news? Didn’t Tommy win the freaking Super Bowl (again) with the team that did sign him? Next thing you know we’ll care about Brady’s golf game…

*I guess somebody finally played The Last Dance for Scottie Pippen. Either that or he’s just grown jealous of seeing his ex-wife getting all the headlines for preposterous statements and behavior.

*Who are these two asshole Paul brothers that seem to be parlaying celebrity boxing and 15 minutes of social media fame into a small fortune? Would you pay a hundred bucks right now to see them both get their blocks knocked off on Pay Per View? Yeah, me too.

*I’ve written frequently about how I no longer follow hockey. I can’t name a single skater currently on the New York Islanders roster. Yet somehow I was still bummed when the Isles were eliminated by Tampa.

*It’s starting to look like Serena Williams will never gets that elusive record-tying Grand Slam win she’s been seeking. That’s a shame, but shouldn’t diminish one iota what she’s accomplished over the past twenty-plus years. She’s done it on her terms, often while staring down major hostility from fans and the media. Here’s hoping she gets healthy between now and the U.S. Open and has one more exciting finals run left in her.

*On the other hand, if Novak Djokovic never won another match, let alone a Grand Slam title, I’d be just fine. Jackass.

*How did the Mets play first-place baseball while throwing out a M*A*S*H unit lineup every night, but now that their “stars” are healthy again they suck?

*Apologies to Geno the Sawx Fan, who has a perplexing and irrational dislike of Jacob deGrom, but we are watching the best of our generation every fifth day when deGOAT takes the mound (and yes, Geno, we are using the term “deGOAT” just to piss you off).

*Will the 2021 New York Yankees be the modern day version of the 1965 Yanks, who followed a World Series appearance in ’64 by finishing sixth, twenty-five games out of first? I sure hope so.

*How do the San Francisco Giants keep winning? I’ve written their fast start off as a fluke at least three times already, and here we are at the midyear point of the season and they still lead the best division in baseball. Hmmm…

*I guess I have to take Patrick Beverley off my “NBA players I like” list, huh? Yeah, his gutless shove of Chris Paul was one of the lamest displays of poor sportsmanship I’ve seen in a very long time. That being said, is Chris Paul by far the most annoying player in professional basketball, or what? Always flopping, whining, chirping…

*And yet when he opts out of his bloated contract after the Suns win the title this year (yes, folks, the Phoenix Suns will be NBA champs very soon), I don’t see any way Paul doesn’t become a New York Knick. And given the Knickerbockers history with such signings, look for Paul to be completely stripped of any semblance of hoops skill between now and training camp in the fall.

*I’m so tired of stories about spin rates and the different types of sticky stuff pitchers are doctoring balls with. If such rule-breaking really has been the primary culprit in offense being down this year, while strike outs are increasing exponentially, then I suppose it’s good MLB is cleaning it up. But enough already. Let’s play ball.

*I see LeBron is starring in a Space Jam remake? Like all comparisons between King James and Michael Jordan, my guess is LBJ’s new cinematic effort will not be nearly as good as the original, and way more annoying.

*Two weeks ago I’d never heard of Sha’Carri Richardson. Today she’s my favorite athlete.

Happy Independence Day!

The NBA — Who Do You Like?

SportsAttic’s blog heading today doesn’t refer to “The Association’s” 2021 playoff contenders, but rather to those players we identify most closely with when we think of professional basketball.

The NBA markets its stars harder than any other league, so it stands to reason that when the number of likable players begins to dwindle, the success of the league hangs in the balance.

Hang on, though, because in a way it does always hunt back to the franchise, doesn’t it? As of this writing, there are six teams still alive in the NBA Playoffs, and by the end of the weekend, we should have our Final Four. And truth be told, I’m having a heck of a time choosing a bandwagon to ride because there are so few players I can stand anymore.

The Nets would be the easy one, but as has been discussed multiple times on these pages, this year’s Nets edition is just so damn hard to root for. Maybe if Kyrie stays injured? Yes, that does help, but somewhere along the line Kevin Durant went from this sweet-shooting basketball savant to one of the biggest horse’s asses in professional sports. And even with performances like his other-worldly Game 5, when he played all 48 minutes and went for 49 points, I still can’t get onboard with a franchise where KD is the face.

Okay, then how about the Nets opponent in their upcoming Game 7 today, the Milwaukee Bucks? Nah, I don’t like them either. Giannis just doesn’t do it for me (one-dimensional, and what’s with this insistence on shooting the three when it obviously hurts the team?). Besides, the Bucks are just so damn bland and have been ever since they traded Kareem to the Lakers. Next.

The Hawks or the Sixers? Well ,let’s start with Philly. Okay, we can end there, too. It’s Philly, and I don’t root for any teams from Philadelphia. Besides, I think Ben Simmons may be the most overrated star in the league today, and Joel Embiid won’t truly earn his superstar chops until he puts his teammates on his back and wins a close series all by himself.He has that opportunity in their upcoming Game 7, so talk to me tomorrow. Wait, it’s Philly. Forget it.

The Hawks play more of a team ball system than any of the other eastern conference contenders, and I really like head coach Nate McMillan. But they suffer from the fact that they beat the Knicks in Round 1, and I hated them during that series just because. Throw in that I think Trae Young is a punk (a way more talented punk than I gave him credit for entering the playoffs, but a punk nonetheless), and rooting for Atlanta becomes an impossibility..

Maybe the answer lies in the west? I could easily jump on the upstart Phoenix Suns bandwagon if it weren’t for Chris Paul. He may be the best pure point guard and leader of this generation of players, but I still can’t get over the way he quit on Houston against the Warriors a few years back. Plus he’s chippy as hell and his State Farm commercials run way too often.

As a transplanted Southern Californian, I could plant my flag with the Clippers, kind of the basketball version of my New York Mets. They’ve mostly floundered in a two-team market dominated by the Lakers (nee Yankees), so they fit the lovable underdog bill. But how do I reconcile my disdain for Paul George? Major props do have to be given to George for stepping up with Kawhi out the last two games, so maybe another look is warranted, but PG’s presence and past disappearing acts make the Clips a stretch for me.

All of the above has led to some painful soul searching as I reflect on my 50+-year involvement with the National Basketball Association. Have I unwittingly morphed into that old curmudgeon of a fan? The one that sits around complaining about how today’s players can’t hold a candle to the stars of my youth? I mean, give me Willis Reed and Clyde Frazier all day long over today’s pampered and over-entitled “stars,” but that’s not being crusty, just honest, right?

The reality is, when it comes to my beloved Knickerbockers, I’m mostly rooting for the jersey these days (at least when they wear their traditional blue or white uniforms, not those black abominations). True, I learned to like Julius Randle this year, and Mitchell Robinson is fun to watch. I’m hopeful Immanuel Quickley becomes a modern-day John Starks, providing energy off the New York bench for the next decade. But it’s the franchise I root for, not this group of players (who happen to be the most likable Knicks we’ve seen in the last fifteen years or so).

Thus the question I lead with in today’s rant…who do you like?

I mean, I could write a book on all the present day players I don’t like (hiya, LeBron), but that’s too easy. Really, who are the players I like in today’s Association? Could I build a 15-man team around them?

After a quick scan of NBA rosters, I am relieved to see that there are still several stars I like, admire, respect, and can root for. Of course that list begins with Dame. Damian Lillard may be my favorite baller of the twenty-first century. Tough, talented, selfless and (if there’s a hoops god) soon to be the Knicks franchise cornerstone.

In addition to Lillard, sticking with just the guards for now, I can add the Splash Brothers in Golden State. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson (hopefully fully recovered in time for next season) remain as much fun to watch in their 30’s, for their all-around talent and approach to the game, as they were during the dynasty days. It will be good for the league if the Dubs can add a couple more pieces this offseason and have the Warriors contend in 2021-22.

Moving south, I’ve always enjoyed Patrick Beverley’s tenacious approach and defense-first mindset. Tough as nails and a great teammate, I’ll have no problem rooting for him (checkmark in the Clips column as I continue to scout for my playoff bandwagon). And now that Kemba Walker is shedding his Celtics green I can resume rooting for him–a class act that makes the players around him better. Meanwhile, Devin Booker is only getting better every year out in the desert.

Jae Morant? I haven’t seen enough of him yet, but there’s potential for him on the radar as a guy to root for down the road. Same goes for Luca Doncic if success doesn’t spoil him along the way. The Balls? Sorry, they may be the greatest guys in the world, but their dad killed any potential appeal for me long ago.

In the front court, I’ll root for Anthony Davis the minute LeBron moves on or should The Brow don another jersey. Put him and Mitch at center on my fantasy squad. Kawhi Leonard is another star that’s easy to root for with his disdain for me-first histrionics and a solid grasp of the fundamentals. Here’s hoping he gets back for the conference finals.

What about Zion, you ask? He’s done nothing to make me root against him, but I’m predisposed as a fan to not gravitate toward those to whom much is given. And I”m not wild about the rumblings coming from New Orleans about him already forcing his way out of town.

The Morris Brothers are two glue guys I respect, and even though I can’t keep who’s who straight between the twins, toughness and a willingness to embrace the enforcer role, while also possessing ball skills, are huge pluses for me. Throw in Robin Lopez for more dirty work and his cool hair, and we have the makings of one hell of a team.

I could go on and on here, and that’s really the point, because now I’m appropriately reenergized by my realization that I don’t need to give up on the NBA just yet. And that there remain stars in the league I can rally around, despite what may be my inexorable march toward curmudgeonhood.

As for the SportsAttic picks for the duration of the playoffs? Clippers over the Suns in the west. Sixers and Bucks survive in the east. And look for the Sixers to advance in a seven-game battle. But that will be the end of the line for Doc Rivers and his crew of underachievers.

It’s the Clippers year, and they will ride a healthy Kawhi and a rejuvenated PG to the first title in franchise history.

The NBA — it can still be FAN-tastic!

How to Fix the Knicks — Look to Denver for the Answer

It’s over. I really hope I’m wrong here, and the New York Basketball Knickerbockers have one more unexpected run in them, beginning with Game 5 back at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

But let’s face it everybody — it’s over.

This year’s Knicks team has been a fun one to watch and root for. And I do think they’ll pull together and win one more for us in New York before heading for the offseason soon after that. And as we’ve said repeatedly over the course of their 41-31 regular season, it’s been a fun and highly enjoyable ride.

However, the Knicks’ inability to keep pace with the Hawks (who are in no way one of the NBA’s elite) in Round 1 is going to leave Knicks fans with a sour taste in their mouths, and Knicks President Leon Rose facing a critical offseason.

The Hawks series has been an eye opener, as most (or at least I) expected the Knicks to advance relatively easily. Now with four games in the books to reframe what our expectations perhaps should have been, a few things have become abundantly clear:

  1. The NBA is a star-driven league, and Trae Young is a star who gives the Hawks an insurmountable talent edge every minute he’s on the floor. The Knicks don’t have such a star.
  2. Julius Randle is not an A-lister. That’s not to take anything away from Randle’s stellar season and the feel-good story of his commitment to improving his game. But he’s not someone that’s going to win a game all by himself (and neither is RJ Barrett, while we’re at it) or ever be a franchise cornerstone.
  3. Tom Thibodeau is a terrific coach and we all gratefully applaud the culture of excellence and professionalism he brought back to our Knickerbockers, but he alone can’t win a playoff series (especially when his opposing coach is every bit as good as he is — hats off to Nate McMillan for winning the coaching battle in this series).
  4. The 41-31 regular season crafted by Coach Thibs and this overachieving roster is likely hitting its ceiling, and without major change in the offseason, New York runs the risk of sliding back significantly in 2021-22.

So, if you are Leon Rose assessing the myriad needs that sit below the surface of this unexpectedly successful 2020-21 campaign, you have to be thinking about making bold moves this summer. The Knicks are loaded with draft picks over the next three years and appear to have found their coach for the long-term.

Thibodeau has put in place the culture that most inspires the Madison Square Garden hoops faithful — a defense-first, gritty, selfless group of ballers that play together without egos, creating a whole far superior to the sum of its parts. The Knicks head into the offseason with ample cap space and numerous young pieces that have trade value around the league.

In other words, the time is now. It’s time to go get the difference maker that can turn this franchise into a 50-win title contender. It’s time to go get Damian Lillard.

The first question, of course, is can the Knicks even get him? Good question. Thus for starters, if the idea of seeing Dame in blue and orange (by the way — can we please ditch those shitty black uniforms next year) is as appealing to you as it is to us, make the Denver Nuggets your favorite team for the duration of the playoffs (or at least the first round).

Because another early playoff flameout by the Blazers this year may finally be enough for Portland to pull the plug and begin a massive rebuild. You know the theory — we can’t get to the next level with Dame, so let’s start the rebuild and try again without him.

Lillard signed a $140 million, five-year deal heading into this season, a deal so big that it will limit other moves Portland might make in an effort to improve their roster. That fact can’t be lost on Lillard. And one of the few trade partners out there with enough cap space to take on a contract of Lillard’s size is…yup, our New York Knickerbockers. Couple another early playoff exit with the weight of $40 million per, and maybe, just maybe, Portland starts listening to offers.

So we need a first-round Blazers loss to Denver to push the Portland front office into at least considering what a good return for their superstar might look like. An ouster at the hands of the Nuggets may also push Dame to the boiling point, where he realizes that the clock is ticking on the prime of his career, and he’s unlikely to ever sniff a visit to the finals if he remains loyal to the Rose City.

The Nuggets-Blazers series is currently knotted at 2-2, with Game 5 in Denver Tuesday night. Get on the Nuggets bandwagon, Knicks fans, because if we can’t get Lillard, there isn’t an A-lister in sight that would fit Thibs system, and be able to instantly take us to the next-level promised land of title contender.

Think about it. Do you really believe Bradley Beal is the answer? Beal doesn’t play defense or make the players around him better, so it’s hard to imagine Thibodeau embracing Beal as his new franchise star. Paul George? Puh-lease — winners only need apply for the role of Knicks savior, and George is not that guy. Kawhi Leonard is that kind of guy, but has shown zero interest in New York in the past. Hard to imagine him changing coasts at this point.

No, Damian Lillard is the only answer. So if you are Leon Rose, blessed with draft picks, cap space, and the roster depth that could appeal to a rebuilding club, what do you offer the Blazers for their face of the franchise superstar?

What gets it done? If we were to start with two number ones, a number two, Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox, how would Portland respond? Yes, we can hear the laughter all the way from Oregon already, but hey, you have to start somewhere.

To get Lillard, it will take a lot more. Picks, players, maybe both. Ntilikina and Knox are both young, former lottery picks that many around the league see as serviceable role players in the right system. So we leave them in.

For picks, the Knicks have their own number one, plus Dallas’ this summer. Both picks will be in the teens. They have their own in 2022. And in 2023 they have another of Dallas’ in addition to their own. So five number ones (not to mention six second-rounders) over the next three drafts. Is three first-rounders, two seconds, Ntilikina/Knox and one more piece — a starter to help the Blazers save face during their rebuild — enough to pry Dame away from the PacNorthwest? Maybe, maybe not, but there is only one way to find out.

Or is such a package giving up too much? Mortgaging the future? That’s the riddle we are counting on Rose to solve, and in short order.

Who would be the right Knicks starter to include in such a package to get this deal over the top? Because in reality, I don’t think three number ones, two number twos, and two scrubs get it done. Would adding Mitchell Robinson to such a package be enough?

Portland would undoubtedly ask for RJ Barrett. And if I’m Rose, I don’t make Barrett available. What we are shooting for here is a Knicks team that can be in the conversation for a title next year. For that to happen, we need another year of maturation and improvement out of Barrett similar to what we’ve witnessed in 2020-21.

I can also envision our two number ones from a year ago — Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin — being major contributors to a winning Knicks squad next year. Both are uber athletic with high ceilings. Try to hold onto them, too. That leaves the high-flying Robinson, who would be painful to let go of. But this is Lillard we’re talking about. You have to give to get.

When we think of the 2021-22 Knicks, how does the following sound: a starting five built around Lillard, but also including Reggie Bullock, an improved Barrett, Julius Randle and Nerlens Noel (resign him, Leon). With Toppin, Quickley, Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson forming the second unit alongside some three-and-D wing we pick up as a free agent.

Does that team beat the Nets and their Big Three in the 2022 conference finals? Brooklyn will be a handful for all comers next year, assuming they stay healthy, but a Knicks team that looks something like the above, led by Damian Lillard certainly would go into such a series with a legitimate shot.

Okay, one last thought. What if Portland feels Robinson is damaged goods, or just not enough of a sure thing to put this deal over the top? How would you feel about including Randle in his place? Maybe take back one of the number one picks, add another two?

I have to say, as much as I like Randle and envision him as an extremely effective co-star at Lillard’s side, I’d still include him if that was what it took to seal the deal. We’d need to bank on Toppin, Quickley, and especially Barrett to improve markedly over the summer months, but all three youngsters appear to have that kind of upside.

Plus, this version of the trade would leave enough cap space (after shedding Randle’s salary) to go out and sign a free agent starter that can score. Yes, do it Leon, if you must.

Bottom line here is this year’s Knicks and their surprise success has whet our appetites for more, Leon Rose. We can’t afford to take a step back after finally returning to the playoffs. And one more time — I hope I’m wrong — but this dud of a playoff effort against Atlanta has just raised the stakes on our offseason to an off the charts level.

Get us Damian Lillard, Leon Rose — at any cost, the Knicks need a superstar.