The Hall of Very Good and the Curious Case of Nick Markakis

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Try as I might, I’m still struggling to get past Harold Baines being voted into the MLB Hall of Fame. Yes, pitchers and catchers have reported, and there are a lot of really good baseball stories that should be occupying my mind right now, but I…just…can’t.

So one last post, aimed directly at those “participation trophy” voters who load their ballots with ten names regardless of worthiness, and who I blame this entire mess on. They have created The Hall of Very Good, and like it or not, Harold Baines is their poster child.

And if Baines is in the Hall of Fame, who next? In a clear sign that I am spending way too much time in my own head, I can’t stop thinking about the clear threat Nick Markakis represents to the National Pastime these days.

We all know Markakis. He’s a very good (remember that term), not great, outfielder, who currently calls Atlanta home. He’s best known as a good player on a lot of terrible Orioles teams over the past decade, and in the occasional year where the O’s somehow managed to cobble together a contender, Markakis was usually a key contributor. He plays a solid to above average right field (three gold gloves, including last season) and possesses a plus arm.

In 2018, Markakis’ first with Atlanta, he played all 162 games (no small feat these days), and following a blistering first half made the All Star team for the first time in his career. He cooled off in the season’s second half, but still put up a very good year, hitting .297 with 14 dingers, 93 RBI’s and 43 doubles. His OPS was .806, the fourth highest of his 12-year career.

Okay, so why is this very good, but otherwise unremarkable, outfielder occupying space in my tortured mind?

Because Markakis only recently turned 35 and already has accumulated 2237 hits (474 of them doubles) for his career, that’s why!

Join me in making a few assumptions here. Let’s assume Markakis can put up two more solid years as a starter, two more after that as a platoon player, and one last “hanging on for a final payday” season in his age 39 year.

That’s potentially 600 more hits for his very good career (call it 160 a year as a starter, 100 a year as a platoon player and 80 more before he calls it a career in his final season). Let’s take our assumptions one step further, and anticipate that within those 600 hits, there’s another 120 doubles, 50 HR’s and 300 RBI’s.

Meaning at the conclusion of the 2023 MLB season, Nick Markakis hangs up his spikes with career totals of 2800+ hits, 600 doubles, 230 or so HR’s and 1300 RBI’s. All this to go along with a .280+ batting average and a .775 or so career OPS. Plus the assorted Gold Gloves and aforementioned above-average skillset when he patrolled right field on defense.

By now you know exactly where I’m heading with this. Yup, Harold Baines.

Our newly minted Hall of Very Good inductee enters Cooperstown with career numbers of 2866 hits, 488 doubles, 384 HR’s and 1628 RBI’s, along with a .289 average and an .820 OPS. While rarely playing the field and earning zero Gold Gloves. However, in defense of the very good Mr. Baines, he was a 6-time All Star and finished in the Top 10 of MVP voting twice (even if it was a ninth and tenth place finish).

Harold Baines was a great player. Harold Baines was not a Hall of Fame player.

My fear is that these bozos who’ve been awarded HOF ballots are already rubbing their hands together in eager anticipation of including Markakis on their ballots somewhere around Christmas of 2028. And cue the ghosts of Ty Cobb (currently writhing in flaming agony in one of the lower circles of Dante’s Inferno), Christy Mathewson and The Babe, as they shake their immortal heads in dismay.

The bozos are gonna do it — mark my words. And the way things are going, when the caretakers at Cooperstown clear out room for Markakis’ HOF bust, it will be placed alongside a number of other undeserving recent inductees who will benefit from the voters largesse the same way Jack Morris, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines and Roy Halladay have.

What to do about this seemingly irreversible negative momentum that’s currently watering down Hall of Fame enshrinement? Well, how about pointing out some baselines for voters to consider prior to eagerly scribbling in the maximum ten names on their ballots every year?

If we can agree that two of the better pitching resumes on the outside looking in at our hallowed Hall belong to Tommy John (288 wins, three 20-win seasons, 3.34 ERA) and Jim Kaat (283 wins, three 20-win seasons, 3.45 ERA, not to mention an unprecedented 16 consecutive Gold Gloves), then how about putting one out there for the position players?

Let’s call it the Dave Parker Test.

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If a voter, after carefully considering the candidacy of a player they plan on adding to their overstuffed ballot, can with a straight face tell us that the vote they are casting is for a player of  superior skills and statistics to those of The Cobra, then I’ll give that vote my seal of approval.

You remember Parker, right? Dominant right-fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the ’70’s? Somehow Dave Parker is not in the Hall of Fame. And I’m okay with that, despite his awesome career and the fact that I would have cast a vote for him, because we are talking about the Hall of Fame.

All Cobra did over his 19 year career was hit .290 with an .810 OPS. Inferior stats to Baines, you say? Okay, well consider that in three fewer seasons, Parker accumulated 526 doubles, 339 HR’s, 1493 RBI’s and 2712 hits. He made seven All Star squads (winning MVP in 1979), took home NL MVP honors in 1978 (was a Top 10 vote getter six times) and won the 1977 batting title. Oh, and he had a cannon for an arm in right field, and earned three Gold Gloves while he was at it.

And Parker was a visible and dominant figure of the era. Yes, there was the cocaine scandal in the ’80’s, and maybe his Hall candidacy suffered from that, but I have a hard time understanding why Parker isn’t in Cooperstown, but Harold Baines (not to mention Jim Rice, Andre Dawson and Tim Raines) is.

Here are a few more to think about.

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The sad news from last week that Hall of Famer Frank Robinson had passed away brought to mind his outfield mate with the Reds in the early ’60’s, Vada Pinson.

In an 18-year career, Pinson stroked 2757 hits (leading the league twice, and four times exceeding 200 hits in a season), including 485 doubles, 127 triples, and 256 HR’s. A speedster, he also stole 305 bases, while hitting .286 on his career with a .769 OPS. He appeared in 4 All Star games, and took home a Gold Glove in 1961, the same year he finished third in MVP voting (he was also 10th in 1963). Pinson’s Hall candidacy was hurt by the shadow of Robinson during his Reds days, as well as the fact that he only saw the postseason once, when Cincy was swept by the ’61 Yanks.

Was Vada Pinson a Hall of Famer? Probably not, but you could argue his career surpassed that of Baines and Raines.

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How about Al Oliver? Like Harold Baines, this man could rake.

In a 17-year career, Oliver appeared in seven All Star games and amassed 2743 hits (529 of them doubles). He had a career .303 average (.795 OPS) with 219 dingers and 1326 RBI’s, and made the Top Ten of MVP voting three times. Is Oliver a Hall of Famer? No, to me he’s a classic Hall of Very Good guy, beloved by Pirates fans, overshadowed by Pops and Cobra on those iconic Bucs teams, but no denying he was a very good player in his day.

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And one can’t complete this discussion without taking a quick look at Richie/Dick Allen.

Allen was a statistical monster when he felt like playing. In 15 seasons, he had a lifetime .292 average, and .912 (not a misprint) OPS. He took home Rookie of the Year honors in 1964 and was the AL MVP in 1972 (one of three times he appeared in the Top 10). He appeared in seven All Star Games, and six times finished among the Top 10 in triples in his league (he even led the NL once). For his career, he belted 351 homers and drove in 1119 runs. He “only” tallied 1848 hits, and his annual belly aching likely turned off a number of voters, but Allen may be the closest of them all to belonging in The Hall, certainly more deserving than many of the recent inductees.

My humble request to those holding the honor of casting a Hall of Fame ballot is a simple one: think a little, and don’t view ten slots as a requirement to enter ten names for induction.

Think about Dave Parker and Richie Allen. About Kitty Kaat and Tommy John. And about Willie, Mickey and Joltin’ Joe. Enshrinement at Cooperstown is and always will be an honor, and the voters are entrusted with protecting that honor, not watering it down.

And while you’re at it voters, figure out a way to get Gil Hodges into The Hall!

As a player Hodges maxed out as a first baseman worthy of the tippy top of the Hall of Very Good. But add in the work he did as skipper during the Miracle Mets run of 50 seasons ago, and you can’t tell me he hasn’t earned legendary status (heck, the guy even won 76 games managing the Senators in 1967 for gosh sakes!). Put him in.

That’s it (for another year anyway). Back to pitchers and catchers — play ball!

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Who Are MLB’s Current Hall of Famers?

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Try as I might, Harold Baines continues to haunt me.

And I really hate making this about Harold Baines, who I’m sure is rightfully thrilled over his election into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. No, this is about the voters who have watered down this process to the point where enshrinement into Cooperstown runs the risk of losing the special meaning of immortality reserved for the Ruths, Cobbs and Riveras of the world.

So rather than continue to rail about the current day HOF voters who seem committed to putting ten names on their annual ballots because…(well, because there are ten slots available to them, that’s why!), I decided to put my keyboard where my mouth is and grant myself a ballot to induct a new class of Hall of Famers, with a couple of caveats:

  1. They must be active major league players in 2019 (for example, Ichiro won’t be brought up again in this column, as number one, he’s a lock, and number two, he’s not really on an active roster today despite any gimmicks the Mariners might have planned for Opening Day)
  2. Like those with an annual vote on Cooperstown induction, my ballot has ten spaces to potentially cast a vote for a player deemed worthy (however — key point here — you don’t have to use all ten, or even one, if not one player strikes the voter as warranting induction)
  3. Statistics used for consideration run through 2018, with no projecting forward, so names like Mike Trout won’t be among the inductees simply because, despite his undeniable greatness, he has not yet accumulated a body of work that is Hall of Fame worthy (add names like Buster Posey, Nolan Arenado, Manny Machado and even Jose Altuve — who’s steadily climbing into the territory of “in a few more years on his current trajectory”). The rationale behind this decision could be called the Joe Mauer Factor, meaning shit happens along the way to a Hall of Fame career that sometimes none of us can anticipate. One day you see a likely Cooperstown-bound catcher, and then the next he becomes a light-hitting first baseman who receives a justifiably warm sendoff from the Minnesota faithful on the final day of a great, but not Hall-worthy, career.

With these ground rules in place, we’ve arranged our most closely considered candidates from present-day MLB into the following three categories:

THE LOCKS: Nothing more needed. They are in, perhaps even on the first ballot, and now it’s simply a matter of seeing where the final statistical numbers total out when their eventual retirement comes along.

THE CLOSE BUT NOT LOCKS: Easily the toughest category to assess, as this gets into that murky area that torments voters, where we are forced to decide between “really good” and “all-time great.”

THE  LOCKS WITH A FEW MORE GOOD YEARS: These players may be superior in the present day game to THE CLOSE BUT NOT LOCKS, except for the fact that their accumulated numbers don’t get them across the Cooperstown threshold just yet. However, it would be a surprise if they don’t find themselves in the lock category two to three years from now if they are able to maintain their excellence.

What will not appear in this post is the much lengthier list of Hall of Very Good candidates. Those present day stars who should never be enshrined anywhere beyond their home team’s “circle of honor”-styled recognition museums. These are the players littering the ballots of today’s voters in their annual exercise to “get to ten.”

Nope, today we are sticking with a filter that strives to define baseball immortality. Ten ballots and somewhere in the neighborhood of 800-900 eligible and active major leaguers. Only the best of the best need be considered. Here’s my ballot:

THE LOCKS: There are only two active players worthy today from my admittedly biased vantage point — Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera.

Pujols would even garner first ballot inclusion on this list, given his fundamentally flawless resume of 3000+ hits, 600+ HR’s and a lifetime .302 batting average. For the stat heads we can throw in his .936 lifetime OPS and remind everyone of all the accolades heaped upon him over his 18-year career, beginning with his Rookie of the Year honor in 2001 as a Cardinal third baseman. Add in three MVP’s, six Silver Sluggers and two Gold Gloves, and this one is a no brainer. But he also throws in a World Series title (three-home run game anyone?) and an NLCS MVP. Nuff said.

Cabrera (who also played his share of third base before settling in as a first baseman) is a lock as well, only the most feared hitter of his time, who actually managed to beat out Trout as MVP in 2012 and 2013. Cabrera boasts a .316 lifetime average (and .946 lifetime OPS), with 465 dingers, 556 doubles and 1635 RBI’s. In a vacuum these are staggering numbers, but will pale a bit next to Pujols’ superhuman totals. No matter, Miggy is a lock, although I wouldn’t put him in first ballot, even with those two MVP’s and seven Silver Sluggers. First ballot selections need to remain the rarified air of Hall of Fame inclusion.

By the way, if Adrian Beltre had remained active he’d be on this list, too, but his retirement takes him out of today’s consideration. However, it’s worth noting his amazing glove, 3000+ hits, 477 round trippers, 636 two-base hits and unique pet peeve surrounding never wanting anyone to touch his head, makes him a lock, too, when his time rolls around.

CLOSE BUT NOT LOCKS: Cue the controversy. Here’s where I throw out the gauntlet to those participation-trophy, “10 slots/10 names on my ballot” wankers who are slowly watering down The Hall, threatening to turn the shrine into an unrecognizable, mundane Hall of Very Good.

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We’ll start with the two pitchers, C.C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander. Are these two Hall of Famers, or just outstanding pitchers who have accumulated terrific stats over their respective careers? Should they remain on the outside looking in alongside the likes of Tommy John and Kitty Kaat, or lock arms next to the bronze busts of Whitey Ford and Old Pete Alexander?

I do have to tip my hat here to one of the innate challenges voters face in their selection process — how do you reconcile objectivity around players you happen to really like? That’s my Sabathia dilemma. The Hefty Lefty enters 2019 with 246 wins and a lifetime ERA of 3.70. He’s signed for the year and backed by a loaded offensive squad that almost surely will allow him to cross the round number milestones of 250 wins and 3000 strikeouts before this year’s All Star break, health permitting (he sits at 2996 K’s as pitchers and catchers begin to report).

Sabathia boasts a World Series ring and an ALCS MVP from 2009, and a Cy Young in 2007. Naysayers would point to his abandonment of his teammates to address his alcohol issues on the eve of the 2015 Wild Card game as a reason to keep him out, although others might give him a pass here, for putting family and his life and health first. Should that matter? Well, if steroids play a role in the voter decision-making process (stay tuned for that one in a couple of paragraphs), it says here that being a stand up guy should also matter. For this voter, it goes in the plus column (sorry, Geno).

Verdict: C.C. doesn’t make this ballot, but here’s betting all the tea in China the actual voters add him to their watered down submissions when the time comes.

If we are keeping C.C. out, does that help or hurt Verlander’s candidacy? Well, both, sort of. While Verlander hasn’t approached the accumulation level of Sabathia’s career stats, you could argue his level of excellence has exceeded the big lefty’s.

Currently, Verlander sits at “only” 204-123 on his career. He has a lifetime ERA of 3.39 and just north of 2700 K’s. For comparison sake, I offer that Roy Halladay (who should NOT have been inducted — totally a Hall of Very Good selection — but is a relevant stat marker here nonetheless) compiled a lifetime record of 203-105 with a 3.38 ERA and 2117 K’s.

Doc’s stats look an awful lot like Verlander’s numbers today, plus you can add in that Kate Upton’s better half also has a Rookie of the Year in 2006 to his credit, plus the double-whammy MVP/Cy Young year of 2011 going for him. Add in his World Series title where he essentially was the difference-maker in getting the Astros over the top in 2017 (we can’t forget his dominant ALCS that year that garnered him series MVP), and yes, this guy is so close.

Verdict: Verlander doesn’t make this ballot either, as I just can’t get there with his current career stats (reminding me too much of Doc H., who’s sentiment-driven induction wasn’t warranted by his underlying numbers). In Verlander’s case, though, I expect him to fully deserve future induction, as I see him putting up a few more strong years that will make him an easy “yes” when his time comes. Just not today.

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On the position player side of things, I only identify two more current stars worthy of the “close” label — Robinson Cano and Yadier Molina.

Just like I found the Sabathia candidacy challenging for me due to the fact that I’m a fan and appreciator of all he brings to the ballpark every day, I’m equally challenged on the other side of the pendulum by Cano. In Robbie’s case, I’m not a fan. Yes, part of this is the whole Pinstripes stigma (which shows just how much I do like C.C., as I’m able to even overlook that in his case), which when coupled with his long history of not running hard to first base and his steroid suspension last season, forces him to face an uphill climb on this ballot.

But the guy has posted some serious numbers. North of 300 HR’s and 500 doubles as an above-average defensive second-baseman (two Gold Gloves) goes way beyond Hall of Fame table stakes for consideration. His 2470 hits, five Silver Sluggers and lifetime batting average of .304 (.848 OPS) places him among the elite second basemen in history (think Joe Morgan and Ryne Sandberg for comparison markers).

Verdict: Cano doesn’t get my vote. Despite my desire to maintain objectivity, I simply don’t care for him and his ‘roid suspension is still too fresh (and validates a lot of the whispers about his pumped up numbers and A-Rod friendship during his days in the Bronx). However, in Cano’s case, he has five years left on his contract, and even allowing for the inevitable Mets-related decline that so many have suffered before him, he’s even odds to get to 3000 hits before hanging up the cleats, which will be enough for certain induction when the time comes.

In Molina’s case, we are forced to invoke the “catcher qualification” asterisk as we consider his merits. That means what may normally appear pedestrian numbers, such as a lifetime .282 average and .740 OPS, to go with 146 HR’s and 1850 hits, must be viewed differently when remembering all he did behind the plate while compiling those offensive stats.

Molina is the best defensive catcher of his era, boasting nine Gold Gloves to accompany  being the spiritual leader on two World Series winners. Add to that a 2018 Roberto Clemente award and his clutch, NLCS-clinching HR that broke the hearts of Mets fans everywhere back in 2006, and Molina’s candidacy is legit right now.

Verdict: Yadier gets my vote. Even if he doesn’t play another game. Not a first ballot guy by any means, but he goes in as the best of his era at the most physically challenging of positions, and a winner and clutch leader along the way. And he’s not done. One day we’ll see Yadier Molina on the “Lock” list.

Bottom line on the “Close” category is that “close” doesn’t mean “in.” A valuable lesson for those feeling the need to populate their ballot with ten names annually come hell or high water. Just ask Dwight Evans (appropriately on the outside looking in from the land of “Close”) about this one (that one’s for you, too, Geno).

LOCKS WITH A FEW MORE GOOD YEARS: When I think about the candidates that populate this category, it is actually more star-studded than the “Close” roster. But sustained success is a critical part of my criteria, and as a result these stars still have to continue producing at elite levels just a bit more to earn a vote on my ballot.

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You have to start with Clayton Kershaw here. To begin with, let’s drop the statistical comparisons to Sandy Koufax as justification that CK is already Hall-worthy. True, Koufax was 165-87 with 2396 K’s and a lifetime 2.76 ERA when arm troubled ended his career prematurely. Not the accumulation-type of stats most look for when thinking about Hall of Fame candidates. But he was Koufax. Easily the most dominant starter, regular season and postseason, of his time, and an all-time, Mount Rushmore-kind of great.

Kershaw compares similarly to Sandy’s career numbers, with his 153-69 record, 2275 K’s and 2.39 lifetime ERA. He even replicated Verlander’s double-whammy MVP/Cy Young season in 2017, not to mention two other Cy’s, one Gold Glove and a Clemente Award to boot. Compelling for sure, but not there yet in this voter’s estimation.

Plus there’s the whole postseason thing…I hate to bring it up, as Kershaw is another player I really enjoy rooting for, but the reality is he hasn’t put his team on his back in the postseason when they’ve needed him most. And that matters.

We need to see two to three more years of outstanding numbers, helped along by one studly postseason appearance (a ring would sure go a long way here). Don’t put him in just yet, voters…please.

If we are leaving out Kershaw and asking for more, that spells doom for “Mad” Max Scherzer. Another stud with numbers eerily similar to CK’s and a statistical head of steam that actually gives me greater confidence that when all is said and done his candidacy will be stronger than the Dodger lefty’s.

Currently Scherzer is 159-82 with 2449 K’s and a 3.22 lifetime ERA. Add to that three Cy Young Awards plus a near-miss in 2018, when he hit the 300-strikeout mark, and Scherzer’s on a collision course with The Hall. But not yet. Give him five more years, with three of them at his current level of supreme dominance and he joins the ranks of the Locks. But not today.

Lastly, in this age of closers earning contracts north of $10 million a year and riding the giddy wave of Mariano Rivera’s historic, unanimous induction last month, where does that leave the current best in the biz (and unemployed), Craig Kimbrel? He offers sustained dominance, incredible stats, a World Series ring and that funky arm hang thing of his (for the record, I hate that, but it is memorable).

Kimbrel’s candidacy starts with being the most dominant closer of the post-Rivera era. His lifetime average stat line includes 42 saves and a 1.91 ERA over a nine-year run. His 333 total saves are impressive, as is his .91 ratio of walks/hits per innings pitched. But I need to see him keep it going for a few more years. Get him to 400 saves and I put him in the “close” category. I believe it is important to remember that we are at the front end of establishing what all-time great stats for closers looks like, and we need special here. Kimbrel’s still a few years away.

(SportsAttic Note: Two names that came soclose to landing in this category were Zack Greinke and Jon Lester. Both appear destined to end up in the “Close” column, but for now I’ve decided to keep them as examples of those who are best identified with the Hall of Very Good. Stay tuned for the upcoming post.)

And there it is, my present day, active player ballot will include only three names, despite the temptation of ten ballot slots calling out their alluring siren’s song to unsuspecting voters. If this vote happened today, I vote in:

*Albert Pujols — first ballot

*Miguel Cabrera — likely in year two or three of his eligibility

*Yadier Molina — more like year four or five

But they are all in — Hall of Famers and all-time greats. As it should be if one is going to keep the company of the Babe, Hank and the Big Train.

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Rams 20, Patriots 17 — Those Who Ignore History Are Doomed To Repeat It

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Welcome to SportsAttic’s final prediction of the 2018 NFL Season. Our even-Steven, .500 performance during the course of the 2018 NFL year, played out weekly in the SixPicks columns, qualifies us for nothing, but today is a day when everybody is 0-0 with an equal chance to become an NFL Nostradamus.

And fortunately for all of you gridiron fans, there’s a roadmap already out there that if you keep an open mind will lead you directly to the outcome of today’s matchup. So here goes:

Rams (+2.5) over the Patriots — Join me if you will in our Super Bowl Time Machine, heading back to a day exactly 17 years ago, when unfathomably I found myself rooting for the underdog New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI. On this day, the Greatest Show on Turf, 16-2 Rams (St. Louis version, but still…) were expected to put a whuppin’ on the upstart Patriots, led by a second-year QB who had stepped in when Drew Bledsoe got hurt and led his team to an unexpected AFC Championship, aided by an egregiously bad call in the AFC title game (sound familiar? Stick with me here).

The Pats were led by a young head coach who had earned a couple of ring’s more than a decade earlier as  defensive coordinator for Bill Parcells’ Giants, but had yet to prove himself as the man in charge. However, there was a school of  thought that if anyone could devise a scheme to stop Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk and the rest of the Rams’ offensive juggernaut, it might be young Bill Belichick. And New England’s young head coach did indeed devise a brilliant game plan that resulted in his Pats taking a 17-3 lead into the 4th Quarter that night. Yet those of us watching in shock still felt like the favored Rams would ultimately figure things out. They were just too talented not to.

As the game neared it’s completion, the Rams started to wear down the Pats D, and finally tied things up at 17 with 1:30 remaining when Warner hit Ricky Proehl with a 26-yard TD. It appeared we’d be witnessing the first OT game in Super Bowl history. Surely, having lost all momentum, the Patriots would sit on the ball and hope for a lucky coin flip to start the extra period, and maybe sneak away with a cheap FG win. Failing that, it was obvious to all the Rams would come away with their second Super Bowl championship in three years. But Belichick bucked conventional wisdom and put the game in his young QB’s hands, and we watched NFL history begin to pivot in those final 90 seconds, as Tom Brady cooly drove his team into position for a game-winning Adam Vinatieri field goal. The Pats were champs, by a score of 20-17, taking the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy in the process, and the Rams began a slow painful decline that would ultimately lead them to relocate back west in an effort to rediscover their mojo.

Yup, exactly 17 years ago this surprising drama played out in front of all of us. Who’d have guessed that that upset win would trigger a Patriots’ run of dominance that continues today? And now, 17 years to the day later, most believe New England is poised to easily capture their sixth Lombardi Trophy over that same Rams franchise they got it all started against back when New England was the lovable underdog.

But not so fast.

Today’s upstart underdog is the Los Angeles Rams, who boast the youngest head coach in the league, broadly heralded as the future paradigm of sideline geniuses (albeit this time from the offensive side of the ball). They have a precocious, third-year QB behind center, and stand in Atlanta today as the NFC title holder having benefitted from what most would call the worst (and highest profile) officiating gaffe in the history of the league (tuck rule, anyone?).

So as Giants Head Coach Jim Fassel once said, I’m pushing all my Girl Scout cookies to the middle of the jamboree (or something like that, Fassel’s Giants got absolutely destroyed by the Ravens in the Super Bowl that year), and rooting for the Football Gods to even things out for us fans once and for all this afternoon. That’s right, the Pats dynasty officially ends today (who knows, maybe they’ll deteriorate so badly following this loss  that fifteen years or so from now they’ll be forced to move to Hartford?), and the era of Sean McVay and Jared Goff begins.

As for the game itself? In the biggest games look for the biggest stars to step up. That means Aaron Donald on defense introducing himself to the casual fan as the most disruptive defensive lineman to don cleats in the last ten years (we all know that if Brady loses a Super Bowl, it is typically because the opposing team’s D-line makes his life miserable), and Todd Gurley (remember him?) rambles for north of 150 yards as he shares co-MVP honors with Donald. Yes, history is our road map here. (Rams on a FG in the final minute, 20-17)

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And for those of you who share my love of NFL nostalgia, here’s hoping we are all talking about some unique moment that makes today’s game memorable for generations to come, when we reconvene at the water cooler tomorrow morning (think Sean Payton calling a game-changing onside kick to start the second half in Super Bowl XLIV, or Nick Foles sneaking out of the backfield for a TD reception a year ago).

As an announcer who always made NFL highlights more fun because of his unbridled enthusiasm once said, “that’s why they play the games!”).

So on that note, here’s five quick ones from the memory banks that I always revert to when remembering great Super Bowl moments of years past:

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Garo Yepremian tries to “keek a touchdown” in Super Bowl VII: Those undefeated Dolphins were so dominant (despite the fact the Jets had them dead to rights in their second matchup that year) that this game played out exactly as 7-year-old me expected. The Redskins never had a chance, but when the Dolphins lined up for a meaningless, late FG attempt, one of my favorite memories ensued, as a blocked field goal resulted in the little Dolphins kicker trying to throw a panic-stricken pass that slipped from his grasp, before he futilely tried to bat the erratically bouncing pigskin out of bounds. Instead it ended up in the hands of Mike Bass, who took it to the house, giving the Skins a late touchdown that made the final score look closer than the game really was.

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Lynn Swan’s acrobatic catches in Super Bowl X:  The first one is the one I’ll always remember, as Swann corrals the batted ball while lying prone on his back. He hauled in a 64-yard bomb later in the game to seal his MVP performance, but look at that concentration!

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Phil McConkey’s tip from Mark Bavaro for a TD in Super Bowl XXI:  Sometimes it’s just a team’s day. And when that day arrives on Super Bowl Sunday, it creates lasting memories. Super Bowl XXI was a celebration of all things Giants, from the always quotable Jersey-guy, Bill Parcells, to LT, to MVP Phil Simms. It seemed like every feel-good supporting player from Zeke Mowatt to Raul Allegre got to take a turn down in Miami that day. The game was already in hand in the 3rd Quarter, with the Giants up 26-10, when Simms saw an open Bavaro in the end zone, but his pass was a bit high and deflected off the tight end’s finger tips into the waiting arms of the Giants’ super spark plug McConkey, who cradled the TD in his arms as he slid to the ground. Yup, it was all coming up Giants that day.

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William “The Refrigerator” Perry scoring a TD in Super Bowl XX:  Yeah, we were all probably a little tired of the Super Bowl Shuffle Bears by the time this anti-climactic matchup kicked off. But that Bears squad of 1985 remains the most dominant I’ve seen in my lifetime over a full season. And even though we’d seen The Frig launch his enormous self through defenses for TD’s a few times already during the ’85 season, this was the Super Bowl, and seeing the big man pound through the New England defensive line for a score was a fun memory of that all-time great team.

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The Titans fall just short: One of the better played Super Bowls you never hear folks talk about pitted the Rams and Titans back in January of 2000. Kurt Warner hit his favorite target, Isaac Bruce, to put the Rams up 23-16 late in the fourth quarter, but it appeared they may have scored “too soon,” as with 1:54 left on the clock Steve McNair went to work driving his Titans down the field. With six ticks remaining, McNair had one more play to send the game to the Super Bowl’s first OT. The Titan QB connected with Kevin Dyson at the four yard line, and it appeared the game would be tied until Mike Jones (yes, the Mike Jones) made the Super Bowl victory-saving tackle for the Rams, pulling down Dyson by the ankles as the lanky wideout stretched out for all he was worth, falling a yard short.

Mike Jones. Phil McConkey. Max McGee. Larry Brown. You never know who the unexpected hero may be, but here’s hoping we have a close game in the fourth quarter today, and that something memorable happens along the way to make us smile, shake our heads, and harken back to it every year when future Super Bowls roll around.

And for today, forget the objectivity — Go Rams!

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“What In Tarnation’s Going On Around Here?!?”

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You said it, Yosemite Sam.

It just never occurred to me until now that the beloved and beleaguered cartoon character foil of Bugs Bunny was a closet Knicks fan all these years.

I mean, seriously, what’s a Knicks fan to do right about now?

Where’s Anthony Davis?

How about our Unicorn?

Didn’t we at least get another pick this summer for KP?

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As the immortal Sam Kinison might say if he were alive to see this latest misadventure in Knickerbocker Land, “OOOHHH, OOOHHH, OOOHHH,” followed by guttural, retching noises.

And I’m not being overly dramatic here. You’d think us Knicks fans would be immune to this sort of thing by now, but nah. Every new misstep is a fresh shot to the solar plexus.

Let’s review: A couple of nights ago the Knicks realized what has appeared to be their destiny since this stink bomb of a season began back in October, when they lost yet again and claimed undisputed possession of the NBA’s worst record.

Then the fates threw us fans a brief lifeline of hope. Anthony Davis asked the Pelicans for a trade, and simply due to a roster loaded with bloated contracts and lots of cap space, the Knicks were considered a possibility to acquire arguably the league’s best big man. Slim chance, yes, but a chance nonetheless.

However, before even an offer could be made for The Brow, a story broke that franchise cornerstone and lone Knicks building block, Kristaps Porzingis, had asked to be traded. Apparently the bright 23-year-old was concerned about the current state of the Knicks and their “plan” for the future. Gee, can’t imagine that, can you?

I had not even had the chance to validate if the KP trade-request story was “fake news” before the Knicks had shipped their 7’3″, face of the franchise off to Dallas. Huh?

We also included in the trade the team’s only scoring threat (and yes, his ridiculous, above-market contract — we live for silver linings here in Knicks Land); one of our collection of miscast point guards; and a guy who makes north of $10 million a year but Coach Fizdale chooses not to play (in case you aren’t sure, as there are multiple characters in this Greek Tragedy of an organization that fit that description, we’re talking about Courtney Lee).

In return we get Dennis Smith, a shoot-first, second-year point guard surrounded by question marks about his upside. Understandably, the Knicks brass had tired of reading about how they had passed up Smith when they selected Frank Ntilikina in the first round of the draft a year ago (thanks again, Big Chief Triangle), so they decided to bring Smith aboard and provide us this reminder nightly. At the same time, adding Smith also allows the Knicks to keep the number of point guards on the roster who were taken with Top 10 draft picks at three. You’ve gotta lead the league in something, I suppose.

Yes, in return we received two first-rounders, but I haven’t completed my logarithm yet that we need to decipher all that must transpire for us to actually use these future picks, not to mention where these picks are likely to fall in the draft order. Lastly, we accepted two serviceable veterans (with, most importantly, large, expiring contracts).

Those veterans, Wesley Matthews and DeAndre Jordan, initially were announced as keepers for the balance of this season, to provide a steadying influence on the young Knicks roster (and maybe help break the franchise-record home losing streak currently at 13 games and counting). The following day that stance was amended to indicate both players would soon be released. Okay.

And yes, I’ve heard the optimistic spin we fans could choose to apply in the aftermath of this latest teardown of the already-in-progress teardown. One more time. Huh?

Now our Knickerbockers have cap space for not just one, but two max deals this summer! Not to mention we keep our prized draft pick (we have a 14% chance of the top overall pick, but it could also drop as low as #5, even if we keep our current stranglehold on the league’s worst record — and yes I’m jaded, but if I had to hazard a guess as to whether the Knicks ultimate draft slot will be nearer #1 or #5, I know which end of that pendulum I’d select).

Then yesterday the spin campaign heated up in earnest. A New York Post article quoted an “unnamed” league executive, who claims the Knicks know they will be able to acquire Kevin Durant this summer as a free agent, thus making the Porzingis trade a stroke of genius. Hmmm…

I can’t help but wonder if this “unnamed” exec answers to the name Steve Mills? And the Knicks are “confident” and “certain” that Durant may be coming aboard? If you listen to the skinny superstar talk, it sounds like even he doesn’t know what he’s going to do this summer. In fact, the only thing Durant has ever been clear on about the Knicks is that he loved Porzingis’s upside — coining the “Unicorn” nickname a couple of years back. But Durant’s dad is a Knicks fan, so, okay, that’s good enough for me — KD’s coming!

Oy vey.

All I know is that today will begin the era of Dennis Smith as a 30 points per game scorer, because there is literally nobody else remaining on this New York roster capable of putting the ball in the hoop. Oh, except for Enes Kanter. But he’s chained to the bench because Fiz has youngsters to develop.

A quick aside on Coach Fizdale — he was run out of town following a surprise playoff berth in Memphis because he couldn’t get along with Marc Gasol, a European star and the Grizzlies’ best player. Then he begins playing mind games with Kanter before the coach’s first season in New York has hit the halfway point, ultimately benching the Turkish big man for no apparent reason. All this despite Kanter doing everything he can to make the team better on and off the court, and with KP in street clothes, being the Knicks’…wait for it…best player.

Now another European star is hitting the road on Fizdale’s watch (need we point out KP would have been our best player if he had returned next season?), asking his way out of town because of questions regarding the team’s long-term direction, which presumably includes Coach Fiz as our leader. Is it safe to assume we won’t be seeing any free agents from overseas coming to MSG any time soon?

But back to my original question. What’s a Knicks fan to do?

As painful as it is to type this statement, I’m on board for the duration. I like what the Nets are doing in Brooklyn, but I’ve never been a Nets fan, despite them being the “other” NBA team in my home market most of my life. The Dubs don’t need any more fans, so my current local bandwagon is out, and the Lakers made themselves impossible to root for when they brought The King on board last summer.

The Clippers? I’m sorry, I just nodded off typing those two words.

Nope, I’m a Knickerbocker fan for life. And think about it — I’m still here despite the following small sampling of a few of the more egregious groin shots my favorite team has delivered to me over the past 40 years or so:

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Starbury — I had to pull off the Long Island Expressway and find the side of the road so I could safely scream at the top of my lungs when the Marbury announcement came over the air on WFAN radio back in January of 2004. We gave up five players, two first-rounders and cash for maybe the most negative influence ever to grace the Garden floor for the home team. The first major move of the Isiah Thomas regime was a telling sign of things to come. Which reminds me, I should have led with…

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“Fire Isiah” — Talk about the reverse-Midas touch. Has anyone ruined more businesses/franchises in their post-playing career foray into the “real world” than Isiah Thomas? He would make anyone’s all-time worst Top 10 list for General Managers, and was equally bad when finally banished to the bench to mop up his time in New York as the team’s head coach. The only positive memory of Thomas’s “Reign Of Error” comes when I think back to how much my 10-year-old daughter loved chanting “Fire Isiah” along with 19,000-plus of her closest friends during our visits to the Garden during the dark, final days of Thomas’s tenure.

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Jerome James — Isiah gave the big man $30 million dollars following the 2004-2005 season in a 5-year deal as reward for James having posted two strong playoff series that spring while playing for Seattle. Buoyed by his new contract, James went on an epic eating binge, gaining at least 50 pounds before training camp. Our latest savior was coming off a season where he’d averaged a whopping 4.9 points and 3 boards in Seattle, yet he somehow couldn’t even match that in his first year with the Knicks, seeing his stats decline to 3 points and 2 rebounds per outing. And that was his best statistical showing during his time in the Big Apple. Really. It was.

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Eddy Curry — Yep, Isiah again. Curry was the centerpiece of Isiah’s October, 2005 trade (apparently the woebegone Knicks GM wanted to see if he could find the one center in the league that could out-eat Jerome James) that cost the Knicks two first-rounders (who the Bulls turned into Joakim Noah and LaMarcus Aldridge — in fairness the Knicks did get one back from the Bulls that became Wilson Chandler, one of the pieces that later would bring Carmelo Anthony to town — I’m softly sobbing right now). Curry would team with Starbury as the core of one of the most difficult to root for squads in New York Knicks history.

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He Who Should Not Be Named — The one constant. His team made the NBA Finals in 1999, and who knows what might have happened if Patrick Ewing had been healthy and active for that series against the Spurs. Since then? Not just bad teams, but ludicrously bad. Laughingstock bad. Unwatchable bad. Strip the team from him bad. And now here we are. No stars. No plan. And no confidence that even with a high draft pick coming and tons of cap space that we will come close to getting this thing right on his watch. Thanks, Jim. Oops, I mean He Who Should Not Be Named.

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So good luck in Dallas, KP. We will miss seeing the continued development of The Unicorn at the World’s Most Famous Arena, but have no fear — there is zero doubt KP will go for 50/25/10/10 (the Latvian Quadruple Double) on his first visit back to his former home (if the league has a sense of humor, they will set that one up for Christmas Day 2019).

And as for us Knicks fans? Well, at least we won all those titles when Patrick Ewing roamed the paint. Wait, what?

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OOOHHH, OOOHHH, OOOHHH!!!

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Three Point Play — Melo the Bull, The Brow and the Mysterious Disappearance of Enes Kanter

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Beggars can’t be choosers.

He’s back, and that’s what really matters, I suppose. But it is just so darn unsatisfying!

Look at it this way — let’s say you have a favorite food, one that you’ve had an unending supply of, and never tire of enjoying. Then one day, it’s gone and you can’t find more, no matter how hard you try or where you look. Anywhere. And your cravings are increasing in intensity.

We’ll use chocolate as an example. I happen to have a sweet tooth, and one of my guilty pleasures is enjoying chocolate for dessert or as a late-night snack I shouldn’t have — you get the idea. Now if I were to come home one night and find that the world’s supply of chocolate had dried up, it would be a real bummer. I’d complain a lot, and try to find some sort of substitute, knowing deep down that no such thing existed.

Occasionally I might read about, or see on TV, a report hinting at chocolate’s imminent return. The first couple of times I get excited, only to have my hopes dashed when it doesn’t come to pass. Eventually I learn to live with my chocolate deprivation, and life moves on. Albeit a far less enjoyable and satisfying life.

Then one day another chocolate rumor surfaces, and this time it seems like it could be the real thing. Chocolate is returning, but there’s a catch. It is only available to you in one unexpected way. You can now have your nightly fix of chocolate, but only in the form of chocolate-covered broccoli (or insert one of your own least favorite foods here, whose match with chocolate might seem repulsive to you).

Well, that’s how I feel sitting here today imagining Carmelo Anthony as a member of the Chicago Bulls.

I’m glad he’s back, and future SportsAttic posts should be markedly more enjoyable as a result of his return to action. But the Bulls? Melo has landed in the broccoli. Yuck.

I mean, how intriguing will it be when Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen become annoyed by Melo’s unwillingness to share the ball? Or when Robin Lopez throws his hands up in disgust when Melo’s time-honored, matador-style of defense allows another uncontested drive into the paint for an easy two? Or when whoever coaches the Bulls these days tries to sugarcoat how Melo has destroyed team chemistry, recognizing that when his team is going to finish 50 games below .500, chemistry by definition is already pretty darn bad.

Oh well. At least he’s back, and there’s still time before the trade deadline to see Melo  shipped somewhere where his coach killing ways can derail yet another contender. Here’s hoping.

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And speaking of irrelevant, is there anyone out there who actually thinks the Knicks can come up with a viable way to entice the Pelicans to trade them Anthony Davis?

How about offering up the entire New York roster? Yes, everyone goes. Assistant coaches, the training staff, the entire supply closet full of balls, towels and shower sandals.

Heck, we can fill in around AD with castoffs from the G League and waiver wire pickups and the Knicks will immediately become more competitive. They’ve lost 21 of their last 23 in Knickerbocker-land, and you can’t tell me The Brow and four guys from the Bayonne YMCA won’t match that record between now and season’s end.

Okay, I acknowledge that trading an entire roster is probably unrealistic.

But something is going to have to give here, don’t you agree? Will The Association allow Davis and his agent (shamelessly shilling for his meal ticket, LeBron) to orchestrate the big center’s trade to LaLa Land?

I sure hope not.

The fine print in the CBA has ruled out the Celtics as a bidder until this summer, so the obvious stop for AD is Los Angeles. Yet that seems too easy. Such an obvious and  preposterous ratings grab would even manage to embarrass the shameless NBA offices if such a trade were consummated.

Instead, what the league should do is go all in on the two-fer of all two-fers. A double-whammy of epic proportion.

First, Commissioner Adam Silver must step up authoritatively in defense of his league’s balance of power, and put a stop to this decade-long sham of allowing LBJ to dictate roster formations. The Commish needs to strike down any Lakers trade attempt for AD. Period.

David Stern set the precedent for such blunt-force authority back when he said  “no, eff YOU” to Chris Paul, when the me-first point guard tried to send himself to the Lakers and sneak into title contention. C’mon Adam, it will feel good to retake control back from The King. Dontcha think?

And second, still drunk with the power he’s just reclaimed from LeBron, Silver should  proceed to address the second-most obvious problem with his league today — the abject embarrassment taking place nightly at the World’s Most Famous Arena. .

Force the trade, Adam Silver. Anthony Davis to New York.

In return make the Knickerbockers give up Enes Kanter (more on him in a second), Tim Hardaway (even if the Knicks have to eat a big piece of next year’s contract — which they totally deserve after signing him to that ludicrous free agent deal a year ago, overpaying by $20 mill for a guy nobody wanted), Frank Ntilikina (poor kid — never had a chance after Big Chief Triangle made him the final and lasting symbol of his New York City futility), Mitchell Robinson, and next year’s lottery pick (which will likely be a top three  slot).

Sub in Kristaps Porzingis, if you must, for the draft pick, but understand the following will undoubtedly happen given this is the Knicks we are talking about:

  1. If New York trades their 2019 lottery pick, there is no way it doesn’t turn into the first pick in the draft, and Zion Williamson will become a Hall of Famer.
  2. If the Knicks choose to keep the pick, it will be no better than the number three slot after the lottery ping pong balls find their landing spots (residue of the Patrick Ewing deal with the devil consummated back in the summer of 1985).
  3. If they send Porzingis to the Pelicans and keep the pick, The Unicorn will come back at 100 percent health next season, and put up 25 and 10, on the way to a legendary career that will make him the toast of the Big Easy when he retires 20 years from now and gets elected mayor.
  4. Mitchell Robinson will completely dominate AD every time the Pelicans face the Knicks for the next 10 years.

And Anthony Davis as a New York Knick? Wellll…

Let me start by throwing a few big man savior names at you from Knickerbockers rosters of years past:

*Bob McAdoo

*Spencer Haywood

*Marvin Webster

*Amare Stoudamire

*Carmelo

(I’d add Walt Bellamy here, but they traded him for Dave DeBuschere before he could formally be called a mistake, ushering in the salad years we all thought would never end back in the early-’70’s.)

Right now you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who considers The Brow to be anything less than a Top 5 player in the entire NBA. And to that I offer you two words:

Dwight

Howard

I know, I know. That’s not fair to Davis, who’s head and shoulders more talented, with a far more diverse skillset, than Dwight Howard in his prime. But it wasn’t that long ago that everybody loved Howard, too.

And we are talking about the Knicks here.

Force the trade anyway, Commissioner Silver. If Davis morphs into Medical Bill Cartwright on the plane ride into Gotham, the Knicks can’t be any worse off than the putrid squad we are currently being forced to watch.

Plus, it’s hard to imagine even David Fizdale being able to concoct a reason to sit The Brow game after game.

Which brings us to:

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Enes Kanter.

Double-Double machine. Tireless offensive rebounder. Enforcer and fearless protector of teammates. Exuding an intensity that somehow comes across as joyous while running up  and down the court, never wanting to take a seat.

Nope, Fiz isn’t putting a guy like that on the floor. Not when he’s got Luke Kornet.

The league just fined Anthony Davis $50,000 because his agent violated tampering rules, yet they ignore Fizdale’s blatant nightly tanking. Explain that to me.

Do they not care because of this new rule where the three most awful teams all have an equal shot at the lottery’s first pick? There has to be a reason, because otherwise I don’t see how the league can sit idly by while New York’s best player (subjective for sure, but tell me who’s a better player on this woeful roster) and fan favorite gathers dust on the bench. Meanwhile, the Knicks continue to lose at a record pace.

Do something, somebody!

Free Enes and get him to a contender in time to make a difference come playoff time (Brooklyn?). And if the Knicks can somehow come away with Anthony Davis while this wrong is righted, that’s all the better. But ignoring Fizdale’s horrific management of this situation is plain wrong on every level.

Are you listening, Adam Silver?

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Hall of Fame Three Base Hit — Mariano, Present Day Starters, The Reliever Era

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And it was unanimous!

As much of a traditionalist as I may be, I was completely okay with Mariano Rivera being the first unanimous selection into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. As for the rest of the selections, and incredibly poor use of ballots by the voters? Wellll…

Give me a minute on that, as I’m not sullying Mo’s moment with a rant.

I heard the complaints over the unanimity of Rivera’s selection: “Babe and Gehrig weren’t unanimous. Neither was Cy Young, so how can Mariano Rivera go in first ballot unanimously when these other baseball Gods did not?”

I won’t even default to the cop out excuse of “well, these are different times” (we’ll get to that one when we dive into the starting pitchers section of this post).

To me, the reality behind Mariano Rivera’s unanimous selection is that in the history of baseball, no one was better at the job of closer than Mariano. And it wasn’t close. He was the best pitcher on each of the Yankees’ title teams during his run, and with apologies to Derek Jeter, maybe their best player period.

(By the way, if you want to read an incredible tribute to Mariano Rivera, go to The Players Tribune site — one of these days I’ll hire an intern who can create links here — and see Derek Jeter’s piece honoring his teammate. Thanks to Copper Springs Roddy for passing along.)

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Lou Gehrig was legendary, but are we really ready to declare him the best first baseman in the history of baseball? No. In his own era you could argue for Jimmy Foxx or Bill Terry as near equals.

Ruth? Beyond legend, he changed the game and had a stadium named after him, not to mention a little league. But unequivocal best outfielder in history? That’s a tall order, even for The Bambino.

The list goes on, and you could arguably take it across the entire world of sports (stay tuned for that upcoming post). I challenge you to come up with any all-time great who dominated over an entire career (I mean, c’mon, Rivera was the best reliever in baseball in his final year in the bigs), was the key to championship teams, rising to the occasion in the most pressure-packed of moments, and was head and shoulders the best in their sport — ever — at doing whatever they did.

Unanimous indeed.

And in a fitting dose of symmetry, did anyone else happen to notice that Mariano Rivera’s induction announcement came on the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday? The last player allowed to wear Jackie Robinson’s hallowed number 42, retired in honor of the pioneer and hero who broke the MLB color barrier (could there have been a better final man to wear that jersey than Rivera?), the dignified and classy Rivera, himself a man of color, earns unanimous induction into the Hall of Fame, wearing his Yankees cap and Jackie’s 42. On MLK Day.

Perfect.

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Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s have at it.

Mike Mussina and Roy Halladay don’t belong in the Hall of Fame (for the purpose of today’s post, we’ll leave Edgar Martinez out of this, but if you read my last post on this topic, you’ll know I supported his induction). Sorry, folks, this voting travesty is a direct reflection on the “participation trophy” era of sports, with writers feeling the need to write in ten names on their ballots simply because they are given ten spaces to do so.

One more time: TEN ISN’T A REQUIREMENT, IT IS A MAXIMUM

Moose was a great pitcher (an Oriole by the way, who finished his career on some great Yankees teams that allowed him to pad stats that got him elected this year — I sure as heck hope he doesn’t go in with his Yankees cap on, but I digress…) who belongs in the company of Jim Kaat (283 wins) and Tommy John (288) — wonderful pitchers who accumulated big stats over long successful careers, but weren’t Hall-worthy.

Halladay benefitted from the sadness surrounding his recent passing, but that shouldn’t be a data point for Hall of Fame entry. Doc was tremendous. But in the years he was tremendous, did we ever step back and think “wow, aren’t we lucky to be able to watch this guy pitch,” the way we did when Pedro Martinez was at his most unhittable. Or Koufax. Or Maddux.

Sitting with Kitty, TJ and Moose in the crowd this summer cheering on Rivera (as opposed to signing autographs punctuated with “HOF”) should be Jack Morris and Bert Blyleven. Outstanding pitchers all, but never to be confused with the few elites of their respective eras.

It is not the “Hall of Very Good.”

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I’ve thought about this a lot in the last few days since The Hall announcement came out. Do we need to begin to assess starting pitchers differently when we approach Hall of Fame worthiness?  In these days of “quality” starts equating to a 4.50 ERA, and 200 innings signaling too much of a workload for all but the freaks of nature, should we be lowering, or changing, our standards?

It is highly likely we never see another 300 game winner (Justin Verlander? When I scan the list of active wins leaders, he seems the only one with a shot). Everyone keeps telling me that wins are an overrated stat anyway (although the last I checked, the team with the best overall ERA or WAR totals doesn’t get an automatic playoff bid).

Shutouts and complete games? If some stud hurler can one day talk his manager into letting him finish what he started five times in a season, he’ll take the Complete Game title by a landslide. A complete game shutout is about as common as a Big Foot sighting these days.

Yes, it’s a different time for starters, but to me that’s another cheap excuse to water down Hall of Fame entry. Looking at the list of Hall of Fame hurlers with fewer wins than Mussina (270), you run across names like Bob Gibson (251), Whitey Ford (236), Pedro (219) and Koufax (165). Hall of Fame legends all. I’m sorry, but Halladay and Mussina aren’t at that level.

And if you’re bored and have a few minutes, explain to me the Andy Pettitte thinking. Now, first of all, I don’t believe Pettitte is a HOFer either. Great pitcher on amazing Yankees teams, but never the guy I thought of ace on any of those clubs, Pettitte only garnered 9.9% of the vote this year. Was this a steroid reaction? His numbers (256 wins) come scarily close to those of Moose, plus he won more rings, threw from the left side (should that matter?), and had more 20-win seasons. But Mussina clears the 75% barrier and Andy barely moves the needle. I just don’t get it. Both of those guys belong in that gathering for really good, not great, players, just below the line to immortality.

To me, it’s not just wins, although I do still default to that (as my man Herm Edwards said, “You play to win the game!”). We give these guys “W’s” for a reason, so I choose to start there. Yet to me it’s overall dominance. When the time comes, I see Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Verlander as the most likely present day starting pitchers to be deserving HOF candidates, and each of them still needs to extend their excellence for at least a couple more seasons.

The current two winningest pitchers active in MLB are Bartolo Colon (247) and C.C. Sabathia (246). As a baseball fan, I happen to love both of these guys. I mean, Big Sexy? You bet I like him — steroid stain and all. The guy is simply a joy to watch and I hope he’s still waddling out there tossing that off speed slop when he’s 50.

And Sabathia — the “hefty lefty?” Talk about a stand up guy. A horse. An ace. Awesome teammate. Owns the inside of the plate and first guy out of the dugout if a teammate gets thrown at. A flat out badass.

I come close with C.C., but to me he falls just short also. Talk to me in his ninth or tenth year on the ballot (if the “fill in the ten blanks” ballot stuffers haven’t already inducted him by then, that is), and maybe I’ll think differently, but to me he’s just below that immortal line. This is sacred ground we are protecting here, folks!

There is still room for starting pitchers in The Hall, but not at the same pace of induction as the old days. Yes, the game has changed, and we should see that in induction patterns of the modern day starter, not by watering the selection process down to keep the flow steady.

Which brings me back to the relievers.

So the game has changed, and perhaps the slack created in dropping the number of Hall of Fame inductees from the starting pitcher ranks should be taken up from the reliever corps? We all see the importance of a strong bullpen increasing by the year.

The “opener”; middle innings guys getting All Star berths; guaranteed contracts north of $10,000,000-per going to the elite closers (money well spent if you ask me — I mean, how many games would Jake deGrom have won last year if Mo had been his closer?) — this is all new.

Until Hoyt Wilhelm got inducted in 1985, the Hall of Fame boasted zero relievers. And Wilhelm had all sorts of gimmicks going for him in addition to a deserving resume — first pitcher to appear in over 1000 games, a knuckler, homered in his first at bat in the bigs, successful spot starter (over 200 innings for the 1959 O’s), not to mention prominent figure on a World Series winner (’54 Giants).

It took another seven years for the next reliever to get in — Rollie Fingers. Only the signature reliever of the ’70’s and ’80’s as bullpens rose from the shadows to prominence (Fingers’ wax mustache taken from the silent film era didn’t hurt either).

Twenty-seven years after Fingers selection, there are only another five firemen that have graced The Hall: Goose Gossage, Trevor Hoffman (who I still struggle to understand, despite the huge save totals — if Lee Smith isn’t in, Hoffman shouldn’t be either), Bruce Sutter (he invented a pitch), Dennis Eckersley, and now Mariano (you may choose to add John Smoltz here, but I still think of him as more of a starter, but like Eck it was his successful crossover to lights out reliever that earned him his Hall nod).

Looking around the league today and trying to project out as to who will one day earn their way into The Hall (yes, another upcoming post), there are more relievers worthy of consideration in today’s game than starters.

No, there is likely never going to be another Mariano Rivera among them (and if there is, please God, don’t drop him in the Bronx during my lifetime), but consider a few of these names: Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen (is K-Rod still active?). Not to mention the countless young guys throwing gas and hitting 40 saves a year, who, should they stay healthy and sustain their early success, could warrant consideration.

And what about names like Dellin Betances? I know, he’s not a closer, but hit up his stats when you have a minute. If he tacks on another five to seven similar seasons to his career history thus far, you can’t tell me he doesn’t at least warrant a discussion. The guy’s been that dominant.

That’s my real point here. Sustained excellence and dominance at an elite level to where the entire league stops to take notice. To me, that’s the Hall of Fame.

Let the individual teams honor that next level down with their Walls of Fame, Monument Parks and Honor Guards to memorialize the Harold Baines’s, Tim Raines’s, Doc Halladays and Jim Rice’s of the world.

Save Cooperstown for the legends.

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Boogie’s Back and This Could Get Scary

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Maybe I’ve been in denial.

I’ve been patting myself on the back a bit as the Warriors have shown signs of slippage early in this NBA campaign. I had even talked myself into thinking that the return from injury by DeMarcus Cousins could be the final nail in the culture coffin currently being constructed by Draymond Green and Kevin Durant over in Oakland.

My skepticism has no doubt been fueled by the unabashed joy and general giddiness bordering on euphoria exhibited daily by Bay Area hoops fans. I was uncertain if this over-the-top enthusiasm, born out of three titles in four years, could actually grow louder and more pronounced here in the East Bay. I have my answer.

Last night’s debut by the one and only Boogie Cousins was a celebration of all that is right with this Warriors bandwagon as they march toward what the locals believe is a preordained Three-Peat come June. Everybody, and I mean everybody, tuned in last night for what would otherwise have been an ordinary matchup against the incredibly dull Los Angeles Clippers, on the road, in the historically lackluster NBA month of January.

DeMarcus Cousins’ return from injury made this one appointment viewing.

Sure, Boogie’s a ball hog. A coach killer. He is often matador-like on defense. Teammates have lined up to crucify him following his departure first from Sacramento and more recently New Orleans. But let’s acknowledge a few things here:

*The man’s nearly seven feet tall and a legit threat from the three-point line

*His history is that of a 25-12 guy, who set his career best in assists per game (5.4) during his last injury-free campaign

*He can handle the ball better than any of the three point guards currently employed by the New York Knickerbockers

*Cousins represents the one thing this year’s edition of the Dubs juggernaut lacked — a meaningful big body who can score in a half court game, from the low post, come the postseason. His presence also makes it a dangerous proposition for an opposing coach to choose to double Steph Curry and/or KD, lest leave Boogie open inside or out

In other words, the Warriors, who were arguably already head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the league before last night (and reigning champs two years running, should we try to forget), are now infinitely more dangerous and well rounded.

Yes, infinitely.

Boogie’s debut last night couldn’t have been scripted any better if the league consulted with Steve Kerr pregame. First points coming off a monstrous dunk, nimble rotations on defense (didn’t see that coming), a sweet three-point stroke, and running the floor in complete defiance of the fact that he’s still recovering from an achilles tear. Yikes.

And the big man was having fun. The Golden State bench was practically locking arms in appreciation of a combination of what Boogie brings to the squad as we head into the meaningful portion of the regular season, and the fact that his energy and enthusiasm flew in the face of the selfishness the naysayers have been predicting (hoping for?) since his signing over the summer.

So will the Warriors get their Three-Peat?

It’s hard to argue against it based on what we witnessed last night. But here’s a few things to think about if you join me in always feeling the need to root against Goliath, the Evil Empire, Tom Brady, Google…okay, okay you get the idea.

*Cousins being activated doesn’t mean he stays healthy. I’m not rooting for Boogie to be felled by injury (I actually have always enjoyed Boogie Cousins, in all his delightful complexity), but pounding 300 pounds nightly on a repaired achilles tendon is risky business. Will he stay on the court?

*The aging Warriors nucleus remains a fact, as does the simmering cultural fractures. Steph’s ankles are always a concern; Draymond is a loose cannon with diminishing stats; Klay is Klay, but seems to be missing his target more than we’ve become accustomed to; and KD seems a little disinterested to me. Perhaps Durant’s looking ahead to when he can try to build his own team and garner a title that he won’t be vilified for (and for the record, yes, the skinny man would look great in a Knicks uniform next season)?

*There remain some significant threats on the Warriors path to another title (Boston, Philly and Toronto all are strong contenders in the east, and Houston, Utah and OKC will be looking for a pound of Dubs flesh when the postseason commences). The West is once again loaded, and while I see no one that can legitimately strike fear into the local bandwagon riders out here, I do see some taxing, physical matchups awaiting the champs when the playoffs begin, including one that inevitably will include LeBron. Expect the King to do everything but sell popcorn at the Staples Center concession stands when that matchup gets dropped into our waiting laps this Spring.

*And then there’s Wilt.

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Yup, the Big Dipper Factor is worth noting here. You remember Wilt Chamberlain, dontcha? Wilt was the first reigning NBA MVP to ever be traded, following the 1967-68 season (if you’re wondering, he “only” posted 24.3/23.8/8.6 that season). His 76ers had won the first title of the big center’s career with a near-perfect season in 1966-67, but one year later Wilt worked the league to move his face of the NBA west, where Hollywood crossover opportunities abounded (sound familiar, anyone?).

The Sixers had little choice (a Wilt staple had always been to threaten to sit out if his demands weren’t met), and sent him to Los Angeles that July, in return receiving Darrall Imhoff, Jerry Chambers and Archie Clark from the Lakers.

Yes, you can look it up.

Cries throughout the league cascaded down upon the first ever SuperTeam. Wilt would be joining Lakers superstars Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, forming a nucleus of future Hall of Famers who shared in common a decade-long torment at the hands of the Bill Russell/Red Auerbach Celtics.

(A little more context on the magnitude of this trade — during the 1967-68 season, prior to Wilt’s departure from Philly, West had averaged 26.3 points and 6.1 assists. Baylor had gone for 26.6 points, 12.2 boards and 4.6 assists per game. To this star-studded partnership, Wilt added another 20.5 points and 21.1 rebounds in his first year out west, while subjugating his ego and looking less for his own shot in an effort to blend in with the homegrown stars.)

An annual Lakers championship parade seemed a forgone conclusion.

Not so fast.

Chamberlain spent five years in Los Angeles before calling it a career following the 1972-73 season. His Lakers “SuperTeams” made it to four finals in those five years (only missing out in 1970-71, to the Alcindor/Robertson SuperTeam — see, this is not a recent phenomena — assembled in Milwaukee to earn the Big O the only title of his legendary career), but delivered only one championship to LaLa Land (the 1971-72 team, which in the humble opinion of this writer remains the greatest NBA team of all time).

Wilt’s Lakers lost in seven instant classics to Russell in the Celtic legend’s swan song season of 1968-69, and again in seven the following year to the Reed/DeBuschere/Frazier Knicks (the team that made me a diehard hoops fan for life, by the way).

Lew Alcindor and the Big O had their moment in 1970-71, before the Big Dipper at last broke through for his lone L.A. title, in 1971-72 (his second and last championship — and the only ring of West’s amazing career).

The Lakers lost again, this time in five games, to the Knicks in Chamberlain’s final year in the league (by the way, as an aside to reinforce the incredible legend that is Wilt Chamberlain — in Wilt’s “retirement year” of 1972-73, he played in all 82 games, averaging 43.2 minutes per game, 18.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists — at the age of 36. Yeesh).

Those Lakers/Chamberlain SuperTeams had five cracks at it with Wilt in the pivot, and came away with just the lone championship of the 1971-72 team.

So in other words, SuperTeams are no guarantee of a championship (LeBron can also attest to this fact).

However, of one thing I am certain.

Boogie’s return makes The Association eminently more interesting today than it was yesterday at this time. Everybody loves a villain to root against, and if the Warriors weren’t already there pre-Cousins, they sit proudly on their Iron Throne this morning (I mean, c’mon, is anyone outside of New England hoping to see Tom Brady and the Pats win in Kansas City tomorrow?).

So cheers to hoops fans everywhere! The NBA is FAN-tastic, and we are ready to Boogie in the season’s second half.

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