Hall of Fame Class of 2020 — Jeter, Simmons and ???

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We started seeing the ballots over the weekend, and the headaches began.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I love the Hall of Fame and all it represents for fans of baseball history. And yes, I annually wring my hands in despair over what I consider to be a watering down process taking place as new voters come on board feeling compelled to submit ten names a year for induction simply because there are spaces for ten names on their ballot.

However, I also recognize that voting on Hall of Fame induction is not an easy task. There are tremendous players coming forward for consideration every year, and not only is this an in depth statistical exercise, there are emotions, likes and dislikes, and warm memories (or in the case of Jeff Kent, maybe not so warm) that influence our preferences.

So rather than wait for today’s announcement of the latest HOF class and begin railing loud and long over those selections that don’t coincide with my be-all/end-all judgements on the topic, I decided to approach things as though I had a vote on this 2020 class (something I truly wish I had, but likely never will).

Like most voters (I hope, anyway), I have some baseline parameters I will follow at the outset of my deliberations. Personal beliefs that I will incorporate into filtering down my selections that are mine only.

We’ll start with the easy one (to me) — no steroid cheats. The damage done to over 100 years of historical, statistical relevance as a result of the video game numbers these cheats put up over a sustained period of time bridging the turn of the 21st century remove them from any consideration. In my personal Hall of Fame pecking order, Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson get my vote long before any of the steroid “stars.” Period.

Next, for a first ballot vote, the player must be incredibly special, both statistically over a long period of time, and in the image that remains impressed within my memory bank when I think back on them as a player. Names like Mays, Seaver and Griffey Jr. come to mind. And yeah, Mariano Rivera.

And lastly, since it is my vote, I allow a level of subjectivity to eliminate anyone from consideration on a year-by-year basis who fails the “flaming asshole” test. This filter is rarely invoked, and when it is, it typically would only mean moving a deserving player back a year or two in their ten-year process of shooting for inclusion. Bottom line — bad behavior warrants consequences.

Taking those prerequisites forward into the Class of 2020 ballot, here’s how I see it:

For starters, I only see sixteen “real” candidates among the dozens on the actual ballot. Those names include those who got enough votes a year ago to return, and a couple of newcomers.

For reference sake, to me the following players represent the “true” 2020 choices– Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Todd Helton, Manny Ramirez, Andy Pettitte, Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Scott Rolen, Larry Walker, Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel, Billy Wagner, Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi.

This list includes everyone with 7.5% (Jones) of the vote or more from a year ago, and only Jeter and Giambi among first-year eligibles (apologies to Bobby Abreu, but Harold Baines got your spot and everyone else like you for the next 100 years with his monumental joke of an induction a year ago).

Okay, let’s get the filtering process started.

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Steroid Cheats

I consider one’s position on whether to include (or not) those implicated for illegal steroids use a personal one among the voters. I also believe it is fruitless for those that believe they should never be inducted into the HOF to try and convince those with the opposite stance otherwise, and vice versa. So we will dispense with my annual rant on the subject, and simply say that on this wannabe voter’s ballot, the names Bonds, Clemens, Ramirez, Sheffield, Pettitte, Giambi and Sosa will forever be left off, and I hope that there are enough folks that feel as I do with real ballots out there to keep these steroid cheats out of the Hall of Fame forever.

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No-Asshole Rule

Proving that there are very few coincidences in life, the majority of the assholes on this year’s ballot were already eliminated in the steroid section (hello Barry, Rog, Sammy, Manny and Shef), but don’t think for a second we’ve forgotten about good, ole Jeff Kemp. Kemp is a tough one, because as a second baseman his offensive numbers warrant strong consideration (377 dingers, 2461 hits), however his arrogant, petulant attitude that permeated his entire career, not to mention his weak-at-best glove work, keep him off my ballot this year, with the caveat I’ll start fresh with him annually until his ten years are up.

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Hall of Very Good

Baseball history is littered with great players who fell just short of the Hall of Fame. This ballot is loaded with more of the same. Scott Rolen, Billy Wagner, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones and Larry Walker all fall into this category.

I worry when the announcement comes out later today that we will hear Walker, Jones and Rolen included among the new HOF members. Walker, in particular, seems to be gaining momentum, which troubles me the way Andre Dawson, Jim Rice and Harold Baines trouble me. Outstanding players all, who to me fall just short of HOF-worthy. But today, when voters seem compelled to choose ten names per ballot regardless, we now annually are subjected to folks like these very good players gaining ground on undeserved immortality.

Walker had 383 homers and 2160 hits in his career, to go with a .313 lifetime average. Super numbers for sure, but not Dave Parker numbers. And Parker remains on the outside looking in. And that doesn’t even begin to open up the whole Coors Field can of worms, when it comes to Walker (the most accomplished of all those who benefit from the thin Colorado air). Yeah, his offensive stats were padded. No doubt. But even with those enormous, Coors-aided numbers on the back of his baseball card, Walker still comes up short of MLB immortality.

So does Jones, who absolutely warrants additional consideration because of his all-time great glove work. In fact, you could argue that few centerfielders were more dominant at both the plate and in the field than Jones was for that ten-year period between 1998 and 2007. But a ten year run gets Jones into the Braves Hall of Fame (or whatever they call it at their new ballpark), not Cooperstown. He didn’t even reach the 2000-hit plateau folks, which to me is a deal-breaker (see Richie Allen for more on this topic).

Rolen benefits from the dearth of third basemen in The Hall, but that shouldn’t be enough to throw a great-yet-not-all-time-great into the mix. Sorry Scott, you’re not a Hall of Famer. And the same goes for Todd Helton (see Walker above), Wagner and (for one more year anyway) Vizquel, who comes soooo close due to his combination of sustained defensive excellence over twenty-plus years and a good-enough bat at the one position that allows that in Cooperstown.

If you’re keeping score at home, that leaves us with The Captain, Derek Jeter, who will go in easily in this, his first year on the ballot (SportsAttic Note: Going to predict that at least one voter leaves Jeter off this year, denying him the honor of joining his teammate Mariano as the only unanimous entrants. Why? I dunno, just a feeling), and Curt Schilling.

Schilling is a lightning rod, and justifiably so. He dances around the margins of the asshole factor, having clearly embraced such a distinction now that his playing days have concluded. He “only” won 216 games in his career, fewer than many MLB hurlers that haven’t garnered entrance into The Hall. But Schilling gets in for me because his regular season excellence is good enough (multiple times winning 20+ — yes, wins still matter to a few of us –, three times striking out over 300 batters), and his historical impact is high.

The guy was 11-2, with a 2.23 ERA in postseason play, covering three different franchises.  He was part of the Red Sox squad that broke the curse in ’04, and offered us the bloody sock moment along the way. He was still with the Sox for their next title in ’07, which was Schilling’s final year as an active player, and he went 3-0 during that postseason run to punctuate an amazing career featuring excellence at the most critical of moments.

And of course he was the World Series co-MVP in 2001 (along with Randy Johnson), when the Diamondbacks ended the Yanks three-year title run in seven games. That was also the year he offered us one of the better baseball quotes of the 21st Century, as he prepared to take on the heavily-favored Bombers, who were said to sometimes win with the pre-ordained aid of “mystique” and “aura” — “when you use the words mystique and aura, those are dancers in a nightclub. Those are not things we concern ourselves with on the ball field.”

So it’s Derek Jeter and Curt Schilling for me. Jeter in his first year of eligibility, and Schilling in year eight, which is about the right amount of time for a guy on the bubble to cool his jets. Welcome to the Hall of Fame, gentlemen.

Ten slots on the ballot, only two worthy of the immortality afforded MLB’s all-time greats, as memorialized in Cooperstown.

And now it’s time to go for the Advil and await the official announcements.

Play ball!

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Championship Sunday –Rodgers Revenge?

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Like some hard-to-kill mutant zombie, SportsAttic is back at it again this week, handicapping what many football fans consider to be the most enjoyable Sunday of the NFL season.

Undeterred by last weekend’s whitewashing, which brought our postseason record to 0-8 (1-7 against the spread — yikes!), we return with an optimistic outlook for the AFC and NFC Championship games set to air this Sunday. You’d be excused if, by now, you’ve decided that the SportsAttic weekly selections have become the most tried and true method for NFL gambling success — if you simply take our picks and go the other way!

However, we here at the SportsAttic Editorial Prognostication Selection Committee (yeah, it’s just me, but tell me that didn’t sound at least a little impressive) are choosing to take the glass-half-full approach, wagering (no pun intended) that we are SO overdue at this point (did I mention that I also swung and missed, taking Clemson to cover in the National Championship game?) that regardless of the methodology we utilize in picking this weekend’s winners, the law of averages will ensure our predictions come up golden.

The choice on how to best capitalize on the following predictions is yours, of course, and without further delay here we go (as always, home team in ALL CAPS):

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49ERS (-7 1/2) over the Packers — I’ve been giving the Niners shit all year. They’re a year away. Overrated. Not as good as the Saints or Seattle. Stumbled through the second half of the season. Then again, I’ve felt similarly doubtful about the Packers, who have feasted on an overrated, mediocre division, all the while riding the mighty shoulders of their one, unquestioned star, Aaron Rodgers. And the point spread feels like a lot for a conference championship matchup between the two teams that earned byes into the Divisional Round. But as much as I hate to say it, given that Bay Area fans are so goddamned spoiled between the MLB Giants’ run at the beginning of the last decade, followed by the Warriors dynasty, and now this Niners resurgence, but San Francisco is head and shoulders the best team left standing in the tournament. And even though I’m rapidly tiring of sappy pregame features on George Kittle, the San Francisco tight end is a complete stud. With the exception of QB (and even QB is close), the 49ers are superior to Green Bay in every facet of the game, with only the defensive secondary being a toss up.  And therein lies the “puncher’s chance” for The Pack. Can Rodgers put the entire Green Bay roster on his shoulders and gunsling his way to the upset in the shadows of his old NorCal stomping grounds? It’s a cool storyline, but I can’t see this one happening. This game will test the power of taking the contrarian approach to a SportsAttic selection. We only need to go back one week to see how the SportsAttic Reverse Indicator derailed the Baltimore Ravens’ title aspirations. You remember the Ravens, right? Clearly the best team left in the tournament a week ago? Playing an overmatched opponent that had already advanced further than their talent would indicate possible? Large point spread be damned, the Ravens were not to be stopped, right? Not so fast… Well, at the risk of uttering the most dangerous four words known to gamblers across the globe, “it’s different this week.” (49ers, 31-20)

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Titans (+7 1/2) over the CHIEFS — And with a few short strokes of the keypad has the unlikely run of the Titans now met an untimely, SportsAttic demise? I’m sorry, but the Chiefs were dead-ass D-E-A-D in the second quarter of last week’s game, until the moment became too big for meathead Bill O’Brien (“It’s 4th and inches, step on the neck you dumbass, get that kicker off the field for God’s sake!!!!!”). And as if O’Brien’s short-arming the golden opportunity to ride his stud QB to a 28-0 second quarter lead wasn’t enough, he elects to try and overcompensate for his gutless faux pas on 4th and inches with that horrific fake punt. At that point North Dakota State University would have found it’s momentum and gone on to paste the Texans. In other words, O’Brien bailed out his counterpart Andy Reid before Reid could realize his annual postseason destiny of losing to an inferior team. Luckily for Reid, the Titans pulled off their upset, giving Reid another chance this Sunday. Can the Titans continue to ride the formula of superhuman Derrick Henry grinding away big chunks of yardage, this time going against the worst defense they’ve faced thus far in the playoffs? Hell yeah they can. Will Ryan Tannehill continue to execute his newfound skills as a “game manager,” minimizing turnovers and controlling the clock, thus keeping the dangerous K.C. offense on the sidelines? Well, that’s the question, really. Despite O’Brien’s foibles last weekend, the Chiefs spectacular offensive run once they’d been given their reprieve was absolutely something to behold. Patrick Mahomes is the best QB left in the Final Four (apologies to Rodgers, but it’s true folks), and if K.C. gets rolling again on Sunday this could get ugly quick. Here’s where the edge of Mike Vrabel over Andy Reid makes the ultimate difference. Look for Tennessee to grind out 40 minutes of possession time, and ride 200 yards on the ground from D-Henry to a shocking appearance in Super Bowl LIV. (Titans, 23-20)

Stone cold locks. Take them to the bank. The tide is turning. Winning time, folks, winning time.

See you on Sunday!

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How to Top a Perfect Wild Card Weekend?

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Yeah, I went 0-4 last weekend, but c’mon! Who’d have guessed that…

*Sean McDermott would forget how to coach following a near-perfect Buffalo first half?

*Mike Vrabel would out-Belichick Belichick?

*Carson Wentz would leave early with an injury (okay, I suppose you might have guessed that one)?

*Josh McCown was still in the league??

*Tom Brady and Drew Brees would finally play like 40-somethings on the same weekend?

*Kirk Cousins would win a meaningful game?

*J.J. Watt would not just stay healthy the entire game, but wreak havoc?

Besides, I would argue there is the exact same degree of difficulty involved for a prognosticator to perfectly forecast four games the wrong way, as there is to correctly pick all four winners (go ahead, try it). And hey, we were actually 1-3 against the spread (just sayin’ and thanks for covering, Titans).

Plus, everyone knows Wild Card Weekend is simply the warm up band for Divisional Round Weekend, when the talent level moves up a notch along with the stakes.

So here we go one more time — doubling down, moving our chips to the middle of the table, you’re either in, or you’re out — Jim Fassel-style circa 2000 (home team in ALL CAPS as always):

Vikings (+7) over the 49ERS — If you are one of the haters out there taking the SportsAttic picks and going the other way in amassing your gambling fortune, even I would encourage you to go against us here. These damn Vikings! All that talent, and they just suck you in time and again. And then when you can’t stand the pain anymore and decide to ride their hapless inability to win the big one, they go and kick the Saints’ ass in New Orleans. I just don’t know anymore. But I do feel like the Niners staggered into this postseason, one Pete Carroll delay of game gift away from losing their bye week, and that they have big time exposure in their secondary. I like a shootout here, but I’m going with the Vikes, and not just to cover. Upset Special! (Vikings, 31-30)

RAVENS (-8.5) over the Titans — I don’t feel good about this one either. Such is the life of a prognosticator coming off an 0-4 whitewash during Wild Card Weekend, I suppose, but let’s face some facts. The Ravens are guided by a second-year QB. Yeah, Lamar Jackson has been a beast and appears unstoppable right about now, but as the great Bill Parcells used to say “let’s not send him to Canton just yet.” The Ravens certainly appear to be the head and shoulders favorite to emerge from the AFC in a couple weeks time, but this was a Baltimore team most had going 7-9 or even 6-10 in the preseason reviews. Well, even so, this weekend’s pick is more about the Titans being out of their league in Round 2 against any of the remaining playoff teams, and my sense is that Tennessee is simply happy to be here. Don’t expect style points from either side this week, but Baltimore moves on. (Ravens, 24-10)

Texans (+9.5) over the CHIEFS — Repeat after me:  TOO MANY POINTS! Yes, it’s only Wednesday, and perhaps this line shrinks as kickoff nears, but c’mon now, do we really think Kansas City is that much better than Houston? Patrick Mahomes gives the Chiefs a built-in advantage most weeks at the most important position on the field. Not so this week, with Deshaun Watson riding high after putting the entire Texans franchise on his back and pulling out that improbable comeback against the Bills last Saturday. And Houston’s defensive front, sparked by J.J. Watt’s return, was downright ferocious in the second half. Now factor in Andy Reid and his track record of coming up small in big spots when his team is heavily favored, and this seems like a layup against such a wide spread. Not that Titans HC Bill O’Brien distinguished himself even a little bit last weekend either, he just had the benefit of not being quite as awful as McDermott when the game went to shit in the final minutes. Which coach will do the least damage to his own troops this Sunday? I’m going with O’Brien. And if I’m taking Houston to cover, I may as well shoot for the outright win. Besides, don’t we all want to see that D-Wat versus L-Jax matchup next weekend in the AFC Championship Game? (Texans, 37-31)

Seahawks (+3) over the PACKERS — Here’s hoping it starts snowing in Green Bay today and doesn’t stop until sometime Monday morning. This should be an old-fashioned grinder, and I like the Seahawks if it is. Beast Mode has his sea legs back, and a questionable Packers D awaits, while the Seattle D looked real tough last weekend, even if it was against a bunch of Philly stand ins. The Seahawks can handle the cold, too (anyone been to Seattle in January?), and despite not looking great against the Philly M*A*S*H unit on Sunday, Russell Wilson seems like he’s having one of those “meant to be” kind of years. Aaron Rodgers will keep Green Bay close, but the Pack have been pretenders all year, and that becomes all too clear by Sunday night. (Seahawks, 17-16)

So there you have it — three upsets leading to a Ravens-Texans and Vikings-Seahawks Championship double-header next Sunday afternoon.

And as for SportsAttic rebounding from the startling debacle that took place last weekend? Lock these picks in now — contrarians be warned — you can take ’em to the house!

(And as a wise man once said of me in my youth — or maybe it was a few weeks ago — “never in doubt, rarely right.”)

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NFL Wild Card Weekend Picks — Beware the Bills!

Happy New Year all! With 2020 upon us, we here at SportsAttic sense a palpable sea change at work, one that will have lasting repercussions on the world of sports this year and beyond.

Yup, we are making the bold proclamation that “out with the old” includes the horrific prognostications that dotted our SportsAttic columns throughout much of 2019. To put it succinctly, we are feeling it!

So we will not delay even a single day into the new decade before unleashing upon an unsuspecting public four, sure-fire NFL picks that, if followed by our legion of adoring readers, will ensure riches and glory as your NFL wagering endeavors take on next-level financial relevance with the onset of “the tournament.”

However, before we lay out our 2020 NFL Postseason Sure Things, there are a couple of thoughts that need to be passed along in the aftermath of the annual Black Monday slaughtering that claimed the scalps of several head coaches just two days ago.

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First, help me here — wasn’t Ron Rivera supposed to be the offseason’s hot head coaching candidate? And without so much as a “let me think about it,” he signs a deal with the Washington Redskins? Washington??

The spectacular magnitude of Rivera’s poor judgement here, joining forces with Little Danny Snyder and the most dysfunctional bunch this side of James Dolan’s New York Knickerbockers, is a clear indicator that Rivera is not of sound mind. So wait a second, maybe this signing does make sense?

In some bizarro Groucho Marx twist (“I don’t want to be a member of any club that would have someone like me as a member”), Rivera’s frighteningly inept decision-making in accepting a contract from Snyder and the Redskins actually makes him the perfect choice in Washington.

Right? Think about it. It makes sense. I think.

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And while on the subject of the NFC East, did anyone happen to catch Giants GM Dave Gettleman’s presser after firing head coach Pat Shurmur the other day? Many Giants fans felt Gettleman should have been shown the door right alongside Shurmur. After all, he is the guy who assembled the absurd hodgepodge of a roster that threatens to suck the spirit out of young superstar Saquon Barkley if left unchecked.

My sense after watching Gettleman manage to display both extreme arrogance and a clueless outlook on the direction of his team, is to wonder if perhaps franchise owners John Mara and Steve Tisch simply wanted to see the GM publicly tortured by the rabid New York media. After all, Gettleman had spent most of the season hiding from reporters while Shurmur ate shit week after embarrassing week. Mara and Tisch are nothing if not all about fair play.

Whatever the reason, if you are a Giants fan, you have to wonder if things can change for the better under Gettleman’s watch. So here’s a proposal — why not go after Jim Harbaugh?

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I mean, can’t we declare the U. of Michigan homecoming over now?

Harbaugh leading the New York Football Giants would fire up their loyal and suffering fanbase, and provide the right kind of strong guidance and stability for young QB Daniel Jones, as he enters the critical second year of his learning curve. Yeah, Harbaugh can be a handful off the field, and not exactly central casting for the ultra-conservative Giants organization, but hey, neither was Bill Parcells, and that one worked out okay.

If I’m Mara and Tisch, I pull out all the stops to get a Harbaugh meeting, and then I back up the Brinks truck, along with a promise of complete control of all football decisions. Have Gettleman report into Harbaugh, and run the off-field football operations for a year. At that point, Harbaugh can decide whether he wants to keep Gettleman (any wagers on that one?), or bring in his own guy to upgrade their overlooked analytics department and handle salary cap issues.

The Giants are flat-lining, and just watched the only worse-run franchise in their division make a positive splash with the Rivera hiring. They need to be bold, and that’s not waiting around hoping Jerry Jones sends Jason Garrett their way. Harbaugh would be a game-changer.

Again, think about it.

Okay, on to the Wild Card predictions (home team in all caps):

Bills (+2.5) over TEXANS — There’s always at least one upset on Wild Card Weekend, and here it is. Yeah, the J.J. Watt return will fire up the Houston fans and his teammates, but this Buffalo defense is for real, and will eat up Deshaun Watson and take the crowd out of it by putting up points early.  Look for Josh Allen to send a message that Lamar Jackson isn’t the only dual-threat QB to come out of the vaunted 2018 draft. Bills, 24-16.

Titans (+5) over the PATRIOTS — Technically this isn’t an upset call. The Pats don’t have the offense to cover here, but will do enough on their home field to stay alive one more week. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel knows Bill Belichick as well as anyone in the league, and will ride monstrous Derrick Henry hard, but in the end look for the GOAT to drive downfield and win a nail biter on a late field goal. Patriots, 20-17.

SAINTS (-8) over the Vikings — Too many New Orleans weapons for the Vikings to keep pace. Besides, you never really bought into the whole “new and improved Kirk Cousins” storyline, did you? If you are in one of those NFL Playoff fantasy leagues, I sure hope you went with Drew Brees with your first pick. He will pile up the stats in this one. Saints, 37-17.

EAGLES (+1.5) over the Seahawks — This will be upset number two of the weekend, although it doesn’t feel like much of an upset call when we go with the division champ, playing at home, over the wild card squad that just got off a cross country flight. Bottom line here is that Seattle looked like a team running on fumes when they expired one delay of game penalty short of the division title on Sunday night. Meanwhile the Eagles are one of the NFC’s hottest teams, even if their momentum was built on wins over terrible teams. Here’s hoping for some cold, nasty Philly weather, a muddy field, with fans being ejected by the cops for throwing snowballs at the opposing team’s players. Yes, an old fashioned Philadelphia playoff game. Eagles, 19-17.

There’s Week One for you, folks. Write them down in ink, and we’ll tackle the Divisional Round when the dust settles.

Happy New Year!

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The NFL’s Lost Franchises

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The NFL could really use the Houston Oilers right about now.

Things feel a little stale to me these days. We’re so saturated with Brady, Belichick and the Patriots that we can’t even summon a meaningful level of outrage over their most recent and blatant bust for cheating. “Yawn, it was only for the Bengals game, so does it really matter? Yawn.”

We’ve got ten teams within a game or two of .500 as the league’s long-stated goal of parity becomes more and more a reality, and the NFL’s answer to fan concerns over too sterile and impersonal a product?

Choreographed touchdown celebrations.

Can I really be the only fan that detests these painstakingly rehearsed touchdown celebrations? Give me Jim Brown stomping over four defenders on the way to a go-ahead touchdown, and then calmly handing the ball to the ref as he does that slow trot of his back to the sideline, where he’ll drink water from a paper cup and wait to go back out and run over some more guys in opposing jerseys.

Give me more grit in the form of forearm shivers, turf stuck in face-masks, and games played in the rain and snow. Make every team go back to playing on converted baseball diamonds like the Raiders still do (or at least did), and figure out how to computer simulate Pat Summerall’s voice for the play-by-play. Do something, NFL, before we finally have that season where everybody finishes 8-8, except for the 14-2 Patriots (with 49-year-old Tom Brady at QB), and the 2-14 Washington Football Club.

A couple of buddies and I were sharing photos of various sports memorabilia collections earlier today, and a Warren Moon-autograph Oilers helmet popped into my I-phone text messages. The wave of nostalgia that accompanied that pic caused me to pause and remember those good old NFL days, and how much fun they were, in comparison to the league today.

Let’s start with this one — has there ever been a more enormous drop in character and cool factor than when the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee twenty-two seasons ago?

I don’t think so. Even when the Titans were really strong, their best players were bland as hell. I mean, c’mon, Eddie George grinding his way toward a thousand yards rushing year after year, getting there via an unimaginative 3.2 yards a carry? Steve McNair never truly getting to that next level of greatness (you know, like a Warren Moon level), despite having all those physical tools?

Yeah, the old Oilers may not have ever made the Super Bowl, but give me Earl Campbell and his impossibly monstrous thighs, making defensive backs wince and opt for arm tackles when they saw him rumbling downfield. Meanwhile there was Bum Phillips, looking like a million bucks with his shades and ten gallon hat, shooting us all that sly, prison warden smile of his from the Oilers sideline.

Today’s NFL needs more Oilers and less Titans (Tennessee Titans, that is, not the 1960-1962 AFL version, which we’ll get to in just a minute).

So all this got me to thinking (always a dangerous thing), what are the Top Five NFL franchises we miss the most these days, when character and guts are in short supply, lost to the corporate enterprise and prescribed sterility of today’s No Fun League?

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  1. Houston Oilers — Quick, name the five coolest Tennessee Titans off the top of your head. Okay, how about in the entire history of the Tennessee Titans, not just this year’s team. Yeah, I thought so. Oilers? Well, we can start with Earl and Bum, but then we’ve got Dan Pastorini, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, Elvin Bethea, Curley Culp, Warren Moon, hell, even Bubba Smith did a stint in Houston at the end of his career. When we speak of NFL Cool, there’s little that rivals the Mean Joe Greene, Immaculate Reception Pittsburgh dynasty of the 1970’s, but those powder blue and white bad asses from southeastern Texas gave the Steelers everything they had in their mid- to late-’70’s street fights, and their oil rig helmet logo was simply best in class. The gold standard.

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2. The Steagles — The 1943 NFL had a problem in Pennsylvania. Because so many players had been lost to the war, both the Eagles and Steelers were struggling to put together a full roster. And thus were born the Steagles. Were they the Philadelphia Steagles or did they represent the city of Pittsburgh, you ask? Welllll…not sure exactly, although they did play four home games in Philly compared to only two in Pittsburgh. But that’s not really the point here, folks. The NFL put two flagship teams together and made it into one, and hardly anybody talks about it today. Here’s a quick SportsAttic idea — how ’bout we try this concept out in 2020 with the two New York City football franchises? We could call them the Jents. Catchy, huh? Problem is they’d still only go 6-10 at best. The Steagles? They went 5-4-1, and here’s the best part — they did it with co-Head-coaches! You can look it up.

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3. Baltimore Colts — Yup, the coolness factor of this team was off the charts. From the awesome simplicity of the white helmet with the blue horseshoe, to Unitas’s buzzcut and black, hightop shoes, the Colts oozed character. Add to it a classic and timeless blue collar city that loved football and the players who were lunchpail members of their Baltimore neighborhood, drinking with them at the corner bars and greeting them at their offseason restaurants. That very real bond makes it all the more tragic the way Bob Irsay absconded with this community treasure under the dark of night, skulking off to Indianapolis, of all places. The Colts D-line of the ’50’s was really the first to create its own identity and capture the imagination of a fanbase. Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb (an enormous for the day 6’6, 284 pounds), raspy voiced Art Donovan, and WWII vet Gino Marchetti collapsing pockets Sunday after Sunday and terrorizing quarterbacks across the NFL. That’s how this proud franchise should be remembered. Yeah, the Indy version owns a Lombardi Trophy, but the Baltimore Colts gave us the Greatest Game Ever Played and Lydell Mitchell.

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4. Cleveland Rams — Before the whole Los Angeles to St. Louis and back to Los Angeles saga defined the Rams, the franchise was actually born in Cleveland. Incredibly, the Rams were NFL champions in 1945, and then they moved to L.A.! To this day, the Rams remain the only major sport champion to relocate for the following season. Now when you consider the city in question is Cleveland, it begins to make a bit more sense, but get this —  the very next year following the desertion of their Rams, the Cleveland Browns were born. And Paul Brown’s All American Football Conference entry became an immediate dynasty, winning AAFC titles in the league’s first four seasons of existence, and then winning the title again in 1950 after joining the NFL. For good measure, Brown’s Browns won two more titles in 1954 and 1955. For those counting, that’s eight titles in eleven years. For Cleveland football clubs. And one final note about that Cleveland Rams championship team of 1945 — their QB was a guy by the name of Bob Waterfield, who’s results included 14 TD’s against 17 interceptions, while completing 52% of his passes. And he was named 1st Team All-Pro! Today those stats get you benched and booed off the field.

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5. The Titans of New York — You know there may be a problem on the field when your biggest star is your head coach, who last threw a pass in competition in 1952. NFL icon Sammy Baugh led the precursor to the New York Jets during the AFL’s first two seasons of 1960 and 1961, finishing 7-7 each year. One of a select few franchises who’s home city actually followed the team nickname, the Titans performance on the field was as forgettable as their drab navy and gold unis, which resembled a small college’s practice tear-aways. The Titans did give us future Hall of Famer Don Maynard, who would go on to become Joe Namath’s favorite target during the Jets’ glory days of the late-1960’s. The Titans slipped to 5-9 under Bulldog Turner (SportsAttic aside — the NFL could also use more coaches named Bulldog in today’s game) in 1962, and ultimately the franchise decided to change names, uniform colors and start anew. Still, despite the lack of stars and on-field success, we’ll take these Titans of New York over today’s bland Tennessee offering, and not even pause to think about it.

There you have it — the SportsAttic Five — five franchises that stand for something meaningful in the game’s rich 100-year history, nostalgic reminders of the game at its best for fans to ponder while waiting for yet another New England playoff run in today’s antiseptic and watered down NFL.

Let’s Go Steagles!

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Three Base Hit: MLB Winter Meetings — The Elliott Maddox Syndrome

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Never is the chasm between being a Mets fan and a Yankees fan more pronounced than at the conclusion of the MLB Winter Meetings.

We Mets fans always enter into the fray with such optimism, only to come home a few days later reminded why we are still waiting for the franchise’s third World Series title — 33 years (and counting) after the last one came our way courtesy of a ground ball through the legs of Billy Buckner.

Come with me, if you will, on a journey back to the winter of 1977.

The Yankees were riding high off their first World Series title since the days of Mantle and Maris in 1962. Reggie Jackson, their marquee free agent signing from the prior winter, had homered on three consecutive swings to ice the ’77 title for the Bronx Bombers, who’d gone 100-62 that regular season before edging the Royals in the ALCS and claiming the World Series over a highly competitive Dodgers squad.

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In addition to an incredibly potent offense and strong starting rotation (which hadn’t even seen Ron Guidry at his most dominating yet), the Yanks bullpen boasted the 1977 Cy Young Award-winning lefty closer, Sparky Lyle. Never one to become complacent, New York owner George Steinbrenner went out into the free agent market that winter and outbid all comers for the best available free agent on the market, flame-throwing righty reliever Goose Gossage.

It was another overt case of the rich getting richer, and Yankees haters everywhere (they’ve been around a long time, folks) bemoaned how New York was looking to buy another title only one year after doing so via the Reggie signing the year before.

As Mets fans, we had watched the Yankees flex their financial muscles that prior offseason with no moves of our own to get excited about, and wondered what we might muster in December of 1977 to try and keep pace with our crosstown rivals. Well, not to be outdone, the Mets and tightwad team President M. Donald Grant went out and signed not one, but two free agents.

The headliner of the two Mets signings was Elliott Maddox. Not exactly a Catfish or a Goose, let alone a superstar who would one day have an entire calendar month and a candy bar named after him.

Maddox was a journeyman outfielder, who’s only notoriety with New York baseball fans up to that point had come when he fell and blew out a knee in Shea Stadium’s right field chasing a fly ball a few years earlier (Maddox had been a Yankee at the time, and the Bombers had been temporarily relegated to sharing Shea with the Mets while the original Yankee Stadium was being renovated).

The still-gimpy Maddox would go on to hit .257 in 1978 for the Mets, with two homers and a paltry 39 RBI’s (over in the Bronx, Gossage would assume the closer role from Lyle and become a driving figure in the Yanks second consecutive World Series victory). Maddox lasted two more years in Queens before retiring following the 1980 season, ultimately dedicating his time to suing the city of New York over the knee injury he’d sustained on that fateful fall years back in the Shea Stadium outfield.

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The Mets, however, weren’t done. Determined to outdo the Yankees in at least one way, and realizing the Maddox signing wasn’t moving the needle when it came to capturing the New York tabloids’ back pages, the Mets decided to dust off the vault once more and sign up an unprecedented  second free agent. That’s how the infamous Tom Hausman became a member of the Mets staff for the 1978 campaign.

The forgettable Hausman appeared in 10 games in ’78, going 3-3 over 51 innings with a 4.70 E.R.A. While the Yanks were on the way to their “Bronx Zoo” World Series title, the Mets would go 66-96 and finish last in the NL East.

And with that stale taste of 1978 still in Mets fans mouths, SportsAttic brings you the following Three Base Hit of knee jerk reactions to the 2019 MLB Winter Meetings.

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Yeah, the Yanks may have signed Gerritt Cole, but the Mets came away with two starting pitchers!

Yes, it’s the age old debate of quality versus quantity once again, isn’t it?

The Yanks won 103 games in 2019, and most would argue the biggest reason they didn’t win it all (or at least advance past the ALCS) was the presence of Gerritt Cole on the mound for the Houston Astros. Well, we now can add Cole to the front of the pinstripe rotation for 2020 (and an astounding eight more years after that), to accompany what has a high likelihood of being an even more dominant Yankees roster (assuming a return to health for Luis Severino, Giancarlo Stanton and a host of others) this coming season.

Vegas and other betting outlets have already inserted the Yanks as prohibitive favorites to win the World Series next October. As for their orange and blue rivals over in Queens?

Once again not to be outdone, the Mets stepped to the plate at this year’s Winter Meetings and signed not one, but two forgettable hurlers in hopes of filling the void at the back end of their starting rotation.

Michael Wacha of the Cardinals was the first signing at the just-concluded MLB Winter Meetings by Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen (is it just me, or does BVW seem more overmatched in his GM role with every passing hour?). While there exists some potential that perhaps the Mets are buying low with Wacha, who was at one time considered a future star in St. Louis before injuries turned him into a gamble, his poor performance a year ago left him free for the Mets to grab with a one-year, $3 million dollar contract (roughly $32 million less than Cole will earn in 2020 with the Yanks).

Emboldened by his unimpeded path to the Wacha signing, Van Wagenen also went all in with another one-year deal for 2016 Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello. Porcello is a classic innings eater (Jason Vargas, anyone? Anyone??), who’s shocking rise to prominence in his Cy-winning 2016 campaign has not come close to being duplicated in the three seasons since.

(SportsAttic Note: Not to be skeptical here, but harkening back once again to yesteryear, does anyone else remember when the Mets signed a former Cy Young Award winning innings eater off the scrap heap back in 1980? The Padres’ Randy Jones? Just sayin’…)

These signings were made, at least in part, to offset the loss of the Mets’ own free agent, hard throwing righty Pete Wheeler, who ventured down the NJ Turnpike to the divisional rival Phils for a ridiculously big contract of his own.

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Now anyone familiar with the Mets storied history of watching departed players find a higher gear with a close competitor is probably expecting something along the lines of a 22-6 ledger from Wheeler (not to mention at least four wins against his former team that will ultimately be the difference between the Mets grabbing the second wild card and sitting out the playoffs once again) when the dust settles on 2020.

Sure, it could be that Wheeler is the missing rotation piece that catapults the Phils back into next season’s postseason, but not so fast — for this signing, SportsAttic is going on record right now as predicting the Wheeler acquisition will be the worst of the 2019 offseason.

Sending a fly ball pitcher down to that bandbox in Philly, with their impatient, hostile fan base waiting to pounce on the first sign of weakness, is a recipe for disaster. Especially when one remembers that Wheeler has a history of arm trouble. Look for the proverbial fight at the bat rack this season when Wheeler toes the rubber against his former mates. Ya heard it hear first!

Is this just another instance of Mets fan bitterness and sour grapes? You bet your ass it is. But it’s my blog and my prediction, and I stand by it.

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How much is a World Series title worth these days? Apparently $245 million in the District of Columbia.

Let me start with this — I am a converted Stephen Strasburg fan. His 2019 postseason performance was blood and guts personified. As much as the Nats title run was a true team effort in every sense of the expression, Strasburg kicking ass under the toughest of circumstances and brightest lights this October was something to behold.

But seven years at $35 million a year??

We will assume that the Nationals have experienced a spike in season ticket sales as a result of their first World Series title since the Great Depression. There should also be a level of revenue enhancement due to the associated concessions sales increase that accompanies higher attendance volume, plus advertising rate hikes that are justified by their 2019 success. So the money is there. But this seems like an awfully excessive thank you gesture to a guy who’d pretty much told everyone he’d gladly come back to D.C. if the Nats would just make a reasonable offer.

Bidding against themselves, the Expos (yes, I still love referring to Washington as the Expos) decided to go seven years on a pitcher who will turn 39 in the final year of this contract, and has an injury history of his own. Scott Boras must be pinching himself right now over all he accomplished in one week of meetings to rid himself of the label as the agent who waits until the last second before advising clients to sign an offer sheet.

Which brings me to the California Angels.

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Can the Angels hit their way to the postseason?

I know. They haven’t been the California Angels in years. But can anyone outside the Angels front office tell me with confidence what city they actually claim as their own these days? For the record, they play their games in Anaheim, California. I’m fairly certain at one time they even adopted the too long and awkward moniker of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Okayyyy…

According the the Angels MLB website, today the Angels are officially the Los Angeles Angels. Also for the record, Anaheim is roughly 26 miles from Los Angeles. For those of you familiar with LA-area traffic, you know that those 26 miles may as well be 100 most summer afternoons. But I digress.

The real point here is that Anaheim’s (ahem) acquisition of Nats slugger and postseason hero Anthony Rendon puts together one of the most potent batting orders this side of the Bronx.

Rendon will take his place in the order right behind all-world Mike Trout (imagine Trout with Rendon as his lineup protection!), with badass freak Shohei Ohtani following in the cleanup spot. Add to that formidable trio power-hitting Justin Upton, Andrelton Simmons and, just for kicks, future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. It all adds up to must see viewing, and almost makes me hope MLB brings back the juiced ball for one more season (almost)!

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If only the Angels could earns wins and losses via the old Home Run Derby format, they might actually make a case for challenging the Astros in 2020. But alas, MLB rules don’t work that way (not yet, anyway, God forbid). Anaheim/LA/California still needs somebody to take the mound and try to keep the opponent under five runs or so a game, which has been a daunting task for the Halos these past several years.

But wait! Let’s not forget that the Angels signed their own ace two winters ago. The biggest free agent signing of the 2017 offseason didn’t throw a single inning in 2019 due to arm troubles. That their returning ace happens to double as the Angels DH makes the 2020 season all the more intriguing.

We might just get to see Shohei Ohtani the pitcher backed by that awesome offense once a week or more during the upcoming season, and if they add a couple more legit rotation arms to the modern-day Babe Ruth before the winter ends, Arte Moreno’s Angels may finally have the right pieces surrounding superstar Mike Trout to bring a contender to Orange County.

Play Ball!

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“Go New York, Go New York, Go!”

Anybody else remember that catchy ditty from the run up to the 1994 NBA Finals?

You remember the ’94 Finals, right? For us Knicks fans, it was the top of the proverbial market. Pat Riley on the bench, Patrick Ewing jumping center. A tenacious defense that made layups by the opposing team akin to taking one’s life in his own hands. That hated soul-crusher from Chicago was off playing minor league baseball somewhere, and the title that had eluded Knicks fans since 1973 was ours for the taking.

We all know where it went from there.

John Starks couldn’t throw it in the ocean in Game 7, and inexplicably Riles kept him in the game, while (less inexplicably) Starks kept hoisting increasingly desperate heaves from all over the perimeter. The Knicks never could close the gap and time ran out. Maybe it was the “Go New York” song/video that jinxed us? I don’t know, but with the exception of that unlikely run following the strike-shortened 1999 season, when we really didn’t stand a chance in the finals with Ewing injured and going up against young Tim Duncan and the Spurs, there have been far too few hoops thrills for us Knickerbocker fans since.

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And now, in case you missed it, the Knicks have fired another coach.

I grew tired of Coach Fiz’s “all hat, no cattle” act months ago. However, in fairness to the now departed former-coach, I’m not sure even the sainted Riley, circa-1994, could have done much more with this awful hodgepodge of overpaid, veteran role players, immature teens, and G-League wannabe’s.

So now we are going to reset again, hoping that maybe there’s a quality GM out there foolish or desperate enough to take control of the team should our owner, He Who Shall Not Be Named, actually wise up long enough to kick out the ridiculously incompetent front office duo of Steve Mills and Scott Perry.

Truth be told, we really have no idea as to the competence, or lack thereof, of Perry, who seems content to walk about a half step behind Mills while nodding affirmatively whenever his boss speaks. Mills though? His inept body of work goes back so far, and with such outsized horrific decisions (remember he was even part of the Isiah Thomas years), that it makes one wonder what he holds over Dolan’s head that’s allowed him to keep his seat all this time.

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Enough already. Let’s clean house (yet again) and start over. How long might it take for an actual rebuild at America’s Most Famous Arena to take hold?

Wellllll….assuming that our despised joke of an owner is actually willing to step back and cede control to a real basketball man (a big if, we all know), would five years be too ambitious a timeframe for the Knicks to start to produce a consistent winner? You know, drafting well, making wise free agent signings, and draining the cultural swamp that’s become a reeking cesspool since the days of “Go New York, Go New York, Go.” Yeah, five years is ambitious, but we’d sign up for that in an instant given the disaster we find ourselves forced to watch right now.

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Hmmmm…five years. That timeframe has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

That’s right. Across the river, out at Citi Field, there’s legitimate hope this December for the first time in a looooong time. All it took was for fans to hear that tightfisted owner Fred Wilpon (and his little dog Toto, I mean, his son/COO Jeff) would be exiting the building in five years. Don’t let it hit you in the ass, boys!

Now, forget for a second that five years sounds like an effin’ eternity to me and all Mets fans, and try to focus on the long game. They’re going. And please, somebody reassure me this isn’t one of those delightful-beyond-belief dreams we have, where somewhere along the way we realize things are going so freaking well that it just can’t be real, and then we wake up all bummed out. The Wilpons said they’d go, right? And not just leave, but hand the keys on the way out to some super rich guy with a hedge fund background? Please, don’t fuck with us on something of this magnitude, Wilpons. You promised you’d leave, right?

Welllll…a lot can happen on the way to the bank as we all know, but hey, it’s hope. And not just the normal Winter Meetings-trade for Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano-paying for them with our best prospects since apparently the days of Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden-kind of hope. This is real.

But yeah, we’re going to have to wait. I know, the half-full storyline is that a guy with the wealth of Steve Cohen won’t sit around for any amount of time and not begin to inject his opinions (and greenbacks, we hope) into the franchise he’s rooted for since he was a kid. So maybe it won’t be the full five years, but in the meantime, we’re not getting any younger around here folks. My buddy Geno the Sawx Fan tells me that when hedge fund money took over his ballclub, life was changed forever. So there is precedent, but hey, we are the New York Mets.

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And the Mets ownership tree has delivered only two World Series championships in our entire 57-year history (and none in the last 33 years, but who’s counting). So let Mr. Cohen figure out how to broom the Wilpon Boys (and their toady Saul Katz, for God’s sake, please) sooner rather than later, and then may he start throwing that fortune of his around in a way that allows us to feel like a big market club at long last. Is that too much to ask?

So to recap, we have hope in Queens, but of the long-term, everything must fall exactly according to plan variety. We have a new coach named Mike Miller at The Garden, but the same lousy front office, backed by the worst owner in professional sports (apologies to Dan Snyder).

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And think about this horrifying thought, New York sports fans — right now (excluding the Yankees, who grudgingly have earned their own separate class in such discussions following 100 years of pretty much uninterrupted excellence) the most well run (non-hockey) franchise in the New York metropolitan area today is none other than the Brooklyn Nets.

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The Giants? That needle is pointed down, down, down, with the unthinkable happening as Big Blue fans are now beginning to question their long-admired ownership group. It does seem like Saquon Barkley is about as good a starting point for a rebuild as exists in pro sports today, but still, right now? Yeesh.

The Jets? They squeaked by the full-on-tank Dolphins today only because a last second field goal was set up by a shaky pass interference review call. Ownership issues abound for Gang Green also, with Chris Johnson no doubt being one of the few humans in the Tri-State area who truly wants to see both the Wilpons and James Dolan hang onto their teams. Hey, when you are being chased by a bear, you only need to outrun your friends to avoid harm, right?

Yup, it’s certainly a sign of the apocalypse when the woebegone Nets are the team to emulate when trying to pull your franchise out of the toilet. But such is the state of New York sports today.

As Casey Stengel once said in that endearing way of his that none of us realized at the time was setting a tone of incompetence for our franchise that would cast it’s pall over the majority of the next six decades, “can’t anybody here play this game?”

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