NBA Hierarchy — The Super Teams and The Teams That Picked the Wrong Year to Be Really Good

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SportsAttic is going to save you NBA fans some time today.

There’s an old saying that all you ever need to watch in a basketball game is the final two minutes. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to that theory, when we look ahead to the 2019-20 NBA season, you really won’t need to begin watching until the month of April at the earliest.

The day of tanking for draft picks is colliding with the era of the Super Team, and the big loser is the average NBA fan who enjoys some suspense served over the course of his or her regular season. We’ve got over two months before the first tipoff that matters in the new NBA season, and we can write down with confidence seven of the eight likely Western Conference playoff teams right now.

The Eastern Conference will be more wide open in terms of playoff entrants (my gosh, even the Knicks could sniff a seven or eight seed), but we already know who the four squads most likely to advance to Round 2 are, so let’s just fast forward to April already.

Thus, as a mid-August gift to our loyal NBA-fan followers, we are giving you some time back. Enjoy the pennant races and conclusion of baseball season, and take that leisurely stroll from the diamond right onto the gridiron. Wallow in your Saturdays and Sundays, toggling back and forth between college and the pros all the way through bowl season, the NFL playoffs and this year’s Super Bowl (set for February 2 in Miami, in case you want to mark your calendars and begin planning travel).

You may continue to take your time from there, as pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training and March Madness heats up, because there will be little of interest to pay attention to in the NBA.

Oh sure, you’ll get the made-for-TV Christmas slate to flip to when the third rerun of Christmas Story begins to get monotonous (“Daddy’s gonna kill Ralphie!”), and there will be some intrigue for sure around how the ball sharing is going down in Houston, and over who has the edge in the Battle of the Staples Center, but this regular season figures to be nothing but a formality.

There are eleven NBA teams that will matter this year (twelve if you want to add in Dallas, with Luka and Kristaps hopefully teaming up for a European-themed ride to the west’s eight seed), and basically everybody else will be jockeying for draft positions from October through April.

So with that in mind, we’ll now leap forward to who will be worth paying attention to sometime after MLB’s Opening Day next April, with odds affixed to their chances to take home the NBA title when the dust settles in June.

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THE SUPER TEAMS

  1. Los Angeles Lakers: As much as it pains me to say it, I’m afraid a rested-for-the-first-time-in-a-decade LeBron, plus a walk-year Anthony Davis adds up to too much talent for the rest of the league to derail. Full stop. Despite protestations about how impossible it would be to add useful supporting pieces around their two stars, the Lakers dysfunctional front office pulled it off, and Kyle Kuzma (they didn’t move him for a reason, folks), Rajon Rondo, and maybe still an Andre Iguodala waiting in the wings, will be enough for the two superstars with something to prove to ride to another Lakers banner. Odds: 1-2
  2. Los Angeles Clippers: They are really pick 1-A here. Can Kawhi Leonard possibly pick up where he left off last June? His postseason efforts bringing Toronto its first title were nothing short of heroic, earning him MJ comparisons (the most rarefied of NBA air, and gasp, may I add that such comparisons were justified???), and anointing him the title of Best Player In The League Right Now. Well, Kawhi joins a Clippers team with at least as good a coach in Doc Rivers as the one he leaves behind in Toronto, and a supporting cast that put a scare into the Warriors last spring and takes the floor with a defense-first focus every night. And to that they add Paul George? Hmmm. And why aren’t they the pick over their co-tenant Lakers? Well, the problem is George. He just committed to forming a Super Team in Oklahoma, didn’t he? And then he skips town after the Thunder came up small last spring? Yeah, we can blame Russ and his ball dominant ways all we want, but is George a winner? Will it matter since he’s now paired with Kawhi? We’re going to find out, and ultimately that tale will be told in the Western Conference Finals, when the ultimate battle for Los Angeles basketball supremacy (and de facto NBA title) is waged. Odds: 3-2
  3. Houston Rockets: Poor Mike D’Antoni. He thought last year was going to be his year, and then got the soul-crushing Carmelo Anthony Whammy dumped upon him. Even though he cleaned out that stink in short order, the pall was cast, and ultimately cemented when Chris Paul demonstrated, yet again, why he’ll one day retire with zero rings and the disdain of an entire league as his going away present. So what do the Rockets do? They mortgage the future again and create another Super Team, this time teaming up James Harden with Russell Westbrook. Again, hmmm. Didn’t these two guys make a run at a ring once before? And didn’t that run also include a young Kevin Durant? Okay, we can argue that both Russ and James have evolved into alpha dog superstars since their youthful OKC days, but there’s still only going to be one basketball in play. Look for lots of regular season wins and incredible SportsCenter highlights and statistical references. But then expect a tough first-round playoff matchup versus a squad in our next grouping that shakes Houston’s confidence, followed by a second consecutive round two exit. Odds: 6-1

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GREAT TEAMS THAT PICKED THE WRONG YEAR TO BE REALLY GOOD

4. Philadelphia 76ers: I thought about making the Sixers the fourth Super Team in this listing, but they simply aren’t there yet (and maybe never will be). Tons of talent for sure, but something still smells bad to us here, despite the fact that without a last second, miracle heave from Kawhi Leonard, this team could very well be our league champions today. Yeah, the Embiid/Simmons pairing is young, immature and needs to show us all the championship mettle that was so lacking a year ago. Adding Al Horford was a terrific step in the character direction (and taking the rival Celts down a peg was an added bonus to the Horford signing), but you can’t tell me Josh Richardson is an uptick over Jimmy Butler, and losing J.J. Redick’s leadership and three-point marksmanship will be a tough hole to fill. The fact that no Super Teams live in the Eastern Conference leaves a gaping path to the conference finals for Philly, and with that the opportunity to lose in five to the survivor of the Battle for Los Angeles come June. Odds: 5-1

5. Milwaukee Bucks: The lack of Super Teams in the east is a plus for the Bucks, too, but last year was their moment. And when given the chance to step on the neck of the Raptors and seize the east, Giannis and Milwaukee instead pulled their punch and now see their window closing. Bringing back Khris Middleton was the right move, and they are still a tough contender with a respected coach in Mike Budenholzer, Eric Gordon lighting it up in anonymity from the backcourt, as well as some decent depth, but this team isn’t going to win it all. And probably won’t even emerge from the east. Odds: 10-1

6. Golden State Warriors: How excited are the Dubs to play a season with no title expectations?  I’m guessing pretty damn excited. They’ll still roll out Steph, Draymond and Klay (at some point after the All Star break), and by the time the playoffs roll around, this will be the club the Super Teams don’t want to face. Adding Willie Cauley-Stein at center will prove to be much more important than the D’Angelo Russell acquisition, and in a league with no Super Teams, they could actually be a dark horse to ride Steve Kerr’s ball movement system to an unexpected title. But alas, this is just not that year. They’ll still be more fun to watch in a different, team-basketball kind of way then the KD Super Team Warriors of the past few years, as they christen their new, sold out downtown arena, but it is the wrong year for a sixth consecutive title run to come together in the Bay Area. Odds: 15-1

7. Boston Celtics: We are about to find out just how good a coach Brad Stephens is this year in Boston. And we’ll also get to answer the question of whether Kyrie Irving was truly the problem that derailed the 2018-19 Celtics from what had appeared last summer to be a pre-ordained date with the Dubs in the 2019 Finals. Picking up Kemba Walker was a meh/yawn/whatever signing, but one that had to happen in light of the departures of Kyrie and Terry Rozier, but it’s hard to see that making the Celtics much better than the 2018-19 model. Then pile on the surprise Horford departure, and even with Enes Kantor bringing some much needed toughness in the middle, it’s hard to imagine this club taking out the Bucks or Sixers and making it out of the east, despite their considerable depth and talent. Odds: 20-1

8. Portland Trailblazers: How hard must it be to run the Blazers organization? You’re already boxed in, knowing you have two wildly popular superstars that will never be able to get you over the top to a title, because both reside in your backcourt. You thought you had a center who could be the missing link to take you to the next level, but every time you start to feel a bit giddy over that plan coming together, the talented big man ends up in an awkward heap on your hardwood. So you trade for another center, however he’s grossly overpaid and has already proven incapable of elevating good but not great teams. So you head into the season knowing you have improved an already strong team, but that it really doesn’t matter. Because you’ll probably run into Golden State in the playoffs for what feels like the thousandth year in a row, and you will lose and maybe even get swept. Again. It’s enough to make you drown your sorrows at some cool Rose City vineyard while binging on a couple dozen Voodoo Donuts. Odds: 25-1

9. Denver Nuggets: Sorry Nuggets fans, but we are sensing a regression heading our way from this young, athletic squad in 2019-20. Denver thrived under the Western Conference radar and posted a tremendous regular season a year ago. However, they were exposed by Portland in the playoffs, and still have to be a bit shaken as they regroup for the new campaign with essentially the same club returning. Normally that would bode well for a young squad building title momentum, but with everyone else in the west seemingly improving, look for the Nuggets to be a playoff club that is quickly dismissed by one of the Big Three in round one out west. Odds: 30-1

10. Utah Jazz:  Same for you, Jazz fans. This is another Portland story in the making. Yeah, we all loved the Mike Conley pickup until the real stars started to play musical chairs. Donovan Mitchell isn’t a Level 1 superstar either, and though the supporting cast is strong, it’s no match for the rest of the loaded west. They’ll have to be satisfied with 45 wins, a seven seed, and maybe one win in the first round against the Lakers or Clippers before heading home for summer vacation. Odds: 50-1

11. Brooklyn Nets: To borrow from their Brooklyn Dodgers ancestry, “wait til next year.” This team was a feel-good story a year ago, riding a patient organizational plan and true team effort from solid, veteran role players to earn a playoff berth nobody expected. Now there’s expectations, and with KD on the shelf until 2020-21, those fans anticipating immediate contention are likely to be disappointed. Yup, there’s talent here, and if we are all wrong about Kyrie being a me-first, coach-killing, locker room poison, maybe they’ll climb to 50 wins and make a run at the east. But I just don’t see it. Look for improvement by a few games over 2018-19’s 42-win total, and then a first round, upset defeat at the hands of an inferior squad that plays a lot like last year’s Nets. Odds: 35-1

There you have it. In our present-day world of stress-provoking multi-tasking, with never enough hours in the day to even think about being present and woke, you now have been granted some time back to savor over the next eight months of your NBA Fan lives.

Use it wisely, and we’ll see you in April!

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Topps Time Machine — November, 1970 NFL — What’s in a Name, Anyway?

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Willie Richardson of the Colts was my first card. Well, maybe not the first card, but somehow I remember that he was part of that first tantalizing pack of Topps football cards I opened back in the fall of 1970.

And with that pack (I don’t remember the gum, but I’m guessing it broke in my mouth and a shard of the razor-sharp, pink rectangle cut the hell out of the inside of my cheek), a whole new world to explore opened up to five-year-old me.

I was hooked.

As an impulse buy, I recently went online and purchased the 263-card set from back in 1970, curious as to how many I’d remember, and what those distant memories might stir in me today. Roughly half of the set brought back vivid recollections of moments, people and discoveries long forgotten. I flashed back to the little kid who’d just moved with his family to Convent Station, New Jersey. A kid who couldn’t read yet, but could identify letters, numbers and colors, and who instantly became obsessed, first with the cool team names, and then the heroes who went to battle for them every Sunday.

Lions, Bengals and Bears covered the familiar and always entertaining animal kingdom. Eagles and Falcons (and yes, Jets) came at me by air. There were even Dolphins from the sea (although I hated Aquaman, easily my least favorite cartoon). Cowboys, Vikings and Giants brought a new dimension to the adventures I watched on television. I asked my parents what a Packer was. And a Steeler. And a Raider.

Looking back, it seems strange at first glance why I identify so closely with the 1970 series, when at that time statistics (a staple to most sports card fanatics) meant nothing to me, and my New York Jets fandom had yet to overcome the fact that I preferred the color blue to green. I collected cards every year that followed, but the 1970 shoebox far outnumbered what I added in ’71 or ’72. Why was that, I wonder?

Well, it had everything to do with my sister.

AtticSis was born on November 1st of 1970. And in what I’m sure started as a way to make sure that older bro didn’t feel ignored, or like so much of yesterday’s news, a pack or two of Topps would be thrown my way whenever my parents came into the house and made a beeline for the new arrival. The folks quickly recognized my newfound passion for the cardboard treasures, and in their desire for peace and quiet while getting my sister acclimated, they used the football cards as a sort of five-year-old boy catnip to keep me the heck out of the baby fray.

To give my mom some rest, a nice lady would come by the house a few days a week that November and December, helping out with my sister a couple of hours at a clip (time has erased her name from my memory, so let’s go with “Mabel” as a place holder). Sports karma being what it is, Mabel happened to like and understand football. She noticed my fascination with my football cards, and while AtticSis would sleep, Mabel would explain to me critically important concepts, such as how to organize my cards by teams, using the colors of the players’ jerseys and the identifying letters and colors that surrounded the team names at the bottom of the cards (I knew the alphabet and could count, but hadn’t yet mastered that first-grade construct of putting them all together into the words and stats that would occupy much of the next 50 years of my life).

Mabel supplied me with rubber bands to separate my cards by individual team, and would patiently read me the factoids on the back of the cards — cleverly set up by the evil geniuses at Topps to be revealed by rubbing off a light film with the side of a coin to show a cartoon of the player in question — as I fired away a constant stream of questions.

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Thus it was that after my cards arrived in the mail this week, and I began to flip through my new/old 1970 Topps set, that I immediately recognized Don Herrmann. Herrmann was an otherwise forgettable wide receiver on bad Giants teams of the early-’70’s. But he was unforgettable to me for how his cartoon doppleganger clicked his heels on the back of his football card as he hauled in a 62-yard TD back in 1969 (for years I tried in vain to mimic the Herrmann grab, both heels off the ground in a “clicking” motion while flailing at a spiraling TD pass from the sky).

Next there was the Colts’ Mike Curtis, a damn good linebacker on those Baltimore teams back in the day. I remembered Curtis not for the years of stellar play in the middle of the Colts defense, but for the cartoon hit he was putting on a skeleton, in his sketch on the back of his card (like many five-year-olds of the time, I was a sucker for skeletons).

But my most lasting, back-of-the-card cartoon impression was of the great Jim Marshall, who accomplished so much in his career as a dominant defensive end for the “Purple People Eater” Vikings defenses of the ’70’s. But as I looked at Marshall’s card, the only memory that mattered was his ill-fated, “wrong way” moment, when cartoon-Jim recovered that fumble and took it to the house — only to the wrong house, securing a safety for the other team.

It is plain scary what the memory records from decades ago, when I’m hard pressed to remember what I had for breakfast this morning.

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Of course those gloriously staged Topps pictures on the front of every card lodged deep into my early-in-its-development cerebral cortex back then also.

I look at Carroll Dale, a veteran wideout on those legendary Packers teams of the ’60’s, and today I see a handsome, 32-year-old athlete. But what I remember, is that for some reason I decided as a five-year-old that Carroll Dale was the ugliest human being I’d ever laid eyes on. I couldn’t bear to look at his card without immediately hiding it in my Packers pile, buried under Bart Starr and Gale Gillingham, not to be stared at too long, lest I turned to stone.

Jim Otto, the Hall of Fame Raiders center, locked into my head for different reasons. For one, he was the only player in my entire collection who wore double-zero, which five-year-old me simply didn’t get. What a horrible number choice! Plus, he wore this cool, pointy, horseshoe-looking thingamajig around his neck that, to this day, I’ve never gotten a satisfactory explanation as to the purpose it served.

And to show how our minds play tricks on us over time, I think back to taking my turn at QB in our front yard pickup games with the other kids on my street. Fading back to pass, I’d always extend my left (non-throwing) arm forward, hand clenched in a fist. Why? Because that’s how the Giants’ QB, Fran Tarkenton, did it on his football card. I’ve held onto that memory of the Tarkenton card as fact for damn near 50 years, until last night. When I pulled out the card and took a present-day look, I realized in horror that the scrambling signal-caller’s hand is not in an actual fist, but more of a curl. Huh, you don’t say…

Oh well. The fist still made me feel cool when I was looking downfield for Pete from across the street on a crossing pattern.

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Mostly, though, the NFL names of the day captured my imagination.

The fact that Gale Sayers played for the Bears and that rhymed, made me laugh out loud every time I said it. The Lions’ Lem Barney was a terrific cornerback, but all that mattered to me was that his last name happened to be the same as Fred Flintstone’s next door neighbor.

That Len Hauss spelled his name differently than the “house” I lived in didn’t matter either, because when Mabel read that one to me, spelling was a mere detail that wouldn’t matter for at least another year, and I found the Hauss/house coincidence delightful. Woody Peoples? Even at the age of five, I knew that “peoples” wasn’t a word. Hah!

I recall regaling the three kindergartners who had the misfortune of sharing our four-chair table with me in Mrs. Krimmel’s morning class at Normandy Park School, over how the Lions had a running back who’s name was “far.” Mel Farr to be exact, but it wasn’t close. Get it? That was a real knee-slapper back then.

But the two grandaddy’s of them all, when it came to a kindergartner’s doubled-over, gasp-for-air-hilarious, football player names, belonged to the Redskins’ Chris Hanburger, and Dick Butkus of the Bears. No explanation necessary.

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However, maybe my favorite discovery came the day Mabel explained to me that due to some mysterious confluence of events, the NFL currently boasted two Gene Washingtons! How could that be, I wondered? At this stage of my cognitive development, it didn’t compute that there could be people in the world who shared the exact same name. I could barely contain myself as I explained this phenomenon to my kindergarten seat mates the next morning, hoarsely whispering “and they both play wide receiver, too,” needing to get that last tidbit out despite the shushing coming from Mrs. Krimmel at the front of the room.

Yeah, it was a cool way to spend a Friday night as I sifted through the 263 pieces of cardboard that connected me to a time of innocence and wonder. A few hours spent revisiting how lasting memories form and latch onto us over time. Emerson Boozer, Spider Lockhart, Bubba Smith, Ben Davidson, and the rest. All of them in their prime, glory years, captured in colorful cardboard and planted in the impressionable mind of a soon-to-be NFL lifer.

And would you believe me if I told you there was even one card in that 1970 series of a young wide receiver who also happened to be the “World’s Fastest Human?” There he was, in his Cowboys home whites, smiling for the camera and proudly showing off that familiar, blue number 22. Talk about capturing the imagination of a kid who lived for this sort of thing!

Well, thanks to Topps 1970 football cards, we also know that the “World’s Fastest Human,” Bob Hayes of the Dallas Cowboys, was a partner in a printing firm.

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MLB — Ten Thoughts for the Dog Days of August

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The trade deadline was a bust, and with no August waivers/trade deadline to back it up, we are dancing with the ones that brung us from here on in.

I don’t understand the rationale behind the decision to clip the August trade deadline, but let’s applaud MLB for doing something. Yeah, something meaningless. How about doing something about the damn baseballs before every still-standing hitting record gets blown away, boys? But I digress…

There’s roughly a third of the MLB season remaining, and the Dog Days of August are in full bloom, so what better time to take a long look around both leagues and see what’s what? Here’s ten things to think about as we wait for the pennant and wild card races to sort themselves out after Labor Day:

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  1. The Angels, Rangers and Giants are pretenders. They are all hovering around .500, but this is as good as it will get for these three clubs. And it’s a shame, especially in the Angels case, as they are one of the more entertaining clubs to watch, with All-World Mike Trout heading for another MVP; Japanese marvel Shei Ohtani (he pitches, too?); an on-his-last-legs Albert Pujols; and the defensive wizardry of Andrelton Simmons. Who cares about pitching if you can watch these guys (but yeah, pitching’s why they are a pretender)? And wouldn’t it be fun to see MadBum take the bump in a wild card showdown against Max Scherzer and the Nats? Not only did the Giants front office prohibit Bumgarner from sniffing the playoffs with another club by holding pat at the trade deadline, they will suck the life out of arguably the best postseason pitcher of our time with another meaningless stretch run where the big lefty will put up meh stats in boring games before sparse crowds. Could have been so much better. And the Rangers? Plain and simple, they should have been sellers. New ballpark or no new ballpark, this team had no shot and should have gotten something for Mike Minor while they had the chance. Oh well.
  2. The Red Sox are done. Yes, I’m only slightly trying to buck the inevitable here with a little SportsAttic reverse psychology, and the more teams that pose a threat to the Bombers making the playoffs the better, as far as I’m concerned. But they are toast. For those of you familiar with the unpleasantness of a two-day hangover, how about Boston’s four-month monster still raging in their collective heads here in early-August? All that’s left to wonder at this point is which member of the Bosox pitching staff will punch Dennis Eckersley in the face between now and October (dibs on Chris Sale).
  3. The Phillies will miss the playoffs. Way to make it happen, Bryce Harper! Yeah, yeah, let’s hear about all the injuries. Problem is, every club gets their share of IL trips (has anyone been paying attention to the M*A*S*H unit inhabiting the Bronx this season?). And despite that, there’s enough talent in Philly to contend for the division against the overrated Braves, not slog around with the six other flawed contenders hoping for the one-game, play-in window. Back to the protein shake infomercials, Gabe Kapler.
  4. The Nationals will not just make the playoffs, but make a run in October. Whah?? It’s the Curse of Harper working its contrarian magic in our nation’s capital. All those loaded Washington teams that underperformed during Harper’s postseason tenure in D.C.? Forget about them. The superstar moves up I-95 to Philadelphia and what do the Nats do? Rally from that miserable start all the way to hosting a wild card game. They will win that one (one more time, I really wish Scherzer would face MadBum in that one), and even throw a scare into the mighty Dodgers in the ALDS (you really think Dave Roberts and his boys in blue relish the idea of seeing Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin in a short series?).
  5. The Mets will play meaningful baseball in September. Can they sneak in? Of course they can, but will they? It will take a lot, and if a miracle does occur, it will be on the back of their best-in-class starting rotation. Plus, they’ll need Robinson Cano to play as though they no longer test for steroids, Jeurys Familia to revert to a legit setup man, Pete Alonzo to shake the post-HR derby malaise, and Jeff McNeil to win the batting title. Would that still be enough? For interesting games in September, yes. To sneak into the wild card? Nope. For that, they’d also need Todd Frazier and Wilson Ramos to hit like it was five years ago, Amed Rosario to play like the next Francisco Lindor (weren’t Mets fans sold that bill of goods a few years back?), and Michael Conforto to finally harness all that potential we see in that sweet lefty swing of his into a .350, 15 and 45 stretch run. Too much to ask? Yeah, probably. But they’ll hang around awhile.
  6. Zach Greinke will look like the best investment of 2019 when the Astros sweep their ALDS opponent without breaking a sweat. And then we’ll be reminded in spades why he had the Yankees on his no-trade list at the deadline, when he spits the bit and costs the ‘Stros the ALCS with a couple of clunkers against the Evil Empire.
  7. Minnesota will fall out of their lead in the AL Central and all the way to the second wild card slot with an epic free fall of a finish. Then they’ll go to Oakland and wallop the A’s in the play in game, delighting the waiting Bronx Bombers and their fans (and infuriating AtticBro in the process), who will not notice their lack of quality, front-line starting pitching as they put up double-digits nightly in another postseason Minnesota beatdown.
  8. Aaron Boone will get both Luis Severino and Dellin Betances back for the Yankees stretch run. And the New York skipper will go into October with strict instructions from GM Brian Cashman to do his best Sparky Anderson imitation and channel a modern-day Captain Hook. Remember “reliever ball” from a year ago? Boone’s suspect in-game management and poor decisions around when to yank his starters severely handicapped the Yanks efforts to oust the Red Sox last October. His poor in-game management will still be on display in the 2019 postseason, but with a heavy reliance on Severino as his long-man and the addition of Betances to their loaded pen, look for New York to send Houston home once again.
  9. It’s the Dodgers’ year. Los Angeles fans get a break when the Yankees come calling with perhaps the only manager more inept at in-game decision-making than Dave Roberts. Ultimately the Yanks suspect starting rotation will be exposed, and their gassed pen that powered them by Houston in the ALCS finally caves. Simply too much talent on the L.A. side of the diamond, and Boone won’t be able to expose Roberts foibles despite ample opportunities.
  10. Playoff matchups, anyone? AL Wild Card — A’s vs. Twins. NL Wild Card — Nationals vs. Cubs (bye bye Joe Maddon, two consecutive play-in game losses will conclude his tenure in the Windy City). ALDS — Yankees vs. Twins and Astros vs. Indians. NLDS — Dodgers vs. Nationals and Braves vs. Cardinals. ALCS — Yankees vs. Astros. NLCS — Dodgers vs. Cardinals. World Series — Yankees vs. Dodgers. 2019 Champions — Los Angeles Dodgers.

Sorry to take all the suspense away, baseball fans. With the final third of the 2019 MLB season still to be played and beginning the annual slog through the Dog Days, let’s see just how accurate SportsAttic’s prognostications are.

Play ball!

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MLB Midseason Stats: Fact or Fiction

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Today wraps up Major League Baseball’s first half, and even though statistically we are beyond the actual 81-game midpoint (games played by teams thus far range from a low of 86 by the White Sox to a high of 93 for the Mariners), there are some interesting questions bubbling up within the statistics that drive the game for hardball nerds like us.

Such as, was it really necessary for the Mets to absolutely bombard social media today when Pete Alonso hit his 30th home run this afternoon? Yes, it is an absurd and unexpected total for the big rookie, and even cooler is the fact that it tied a record set by Dave Kingman (Kong!) 43 years ago. But c’mon — Alonso’s two-run shot made it 6-2 Phils, in a game Philly would win by a score of 8-3. In other words, it was a meaningless homer. This is a glimpse into what Mets fans can likely expect out of the season’s second half.

But for about 27 other MLB teams (sorry Royals, Orioles and Marlins), there remains a lot to play for, and with all due respect to Polar Pete, he’s not getting to 50 round trippers this year folks. I call that a “FACT.” 

And as I pored over the statistical tables this afternoon, I wondered about the likelihood of other stars sustaining their first half numbers with the dog days of August beginning to cast their ominous shadow in the distance. So, here’s a few quick hits for consideration over the next several days while we wait for real baseball to resume:

*Christian Yelich is now a combination of Barry Bonds (without the steroid-inflated head) and Roger Maris circa 1961, and will rewrite the MLB record books over the balance of his career. “FICTION”  Yeah, Yelich is on pace to challenge the 60 homer mark as a nice encore to his torrid 2018 second half that won him an MVP out of nowhere, but let’s not put him in Cooperstown just yet. I can see 50 dingers easy out of that sweet swing of his this year, and here’s hoping the Brew Crew make the playoffs, because this guy is so much fun to watch, but he’s actually not even the best player in the NL right now.

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*Cody Bellinger will continue on his tear and become “the lefty Mike Trout,” soon rivaling the Angels superstar for “best in game” status. FACT  The kid’s plain scary right now, and while I don’t envision Bellinger challenging the 60 dinger level this year either, I do see him maintaining a level of excellence that will earn him his first MVP come the awards season. And let’s not forget this guy plays defense, too — at multiple positions, no less — and possesses one of the best arms in baseball. A beast.

*The Dodgers will keep up their .660 pace, win 105 games, make their third straight World Series and win this one. FICTION  Yes, they are darn good. Like they were two years ago, when manager Dave Roberts gift wrapped the 2017 World Series for the Astros. If they can stay healthy, the Los Angelenos should definitely cross 100 wins and be heavy favorites to make their third consecutive Fall Classic. But get the Buffalo Bills jokes ready — they will be on the wrong side of the championship outcome yet again.

*The Braves will be the only NL team not named the Dodgers to win 100 games this year. FICTION  Everybody loves the Bravos right now, but it is a long season, and even with the benefit of facing so much bleh in their NL East-heavy schedule, they won’t get to the century mark. Pencil them in as division champs (again), but this one won’t be a layup for the young Atlanta squad.

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*Jeff McNeil will keep up his scorched earth pace and lead the majors in hitting this year. FICTION  You get the feeling when watching McNeil that if he wasn’t batting leadoff for the Mets he’d be in an alley somewhere tossing tin cans in the air and smacking them with a broom handle. He’s the ultimate “see the ball, hit the ball” savant, but when you are named an All Star in your first full season in the bigs and go into the Midsummer Classic leading both leagues in Batting Average, your days of sneaking up on folks are numbered. If Alonso remains hot hitting behind him that would be a huge boost, but both these kids are subject to the ups and downs all young ballplayers go through.

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*Josh Bell will finish the year with over 50 home runs and 50 doubles. FACT  I’m sorry, but where did this guy come from? I know, he went for 26 and 90 two years ago, but when he slid to 12 and 62 last year I stopped paying attention. Now I look up and the guy is taking 30 HR’s and doubles into the All Star break? In 1995 Albert Belle reached 50 in both doubles and HR’s, and since then? Nobody. Before Albert Belle? Nobody.  This is effin noteworthy, gang! Here’s saying Josh Bell will join Albert Belle in this historically exclusive MLB club. What will make it even more fascinating, is to watch Josh’s pursuit of 50/50 continue should the Pirates manage to buck the odds and remain in contention. Albert Belle’s Indians were a powerhouse in ’95, and his stats benefitted from that loaded lineup. Josh Bell equalling that feat while playing Pirates games in a pennant race with little lineup protection? Yes, that would be incredible.

*The AL division leaders heading into the break will all still own the top spot when the regular season concludes. FICTION  I haven’t been a Twins buyer all year, and I’m not jumping on the bandwagon just yet. For those still paying attention to the AL Central, the Indians are beginning to play good ball, while Minnesota has leveled off just a bit. A 100-win pace and chance at home field in the ALDS seems like way too much too soon for the Twinkies, so here’s predicting that they end up in a division dogfight down to the season’s last weekend. And finish second to the more experienced Indians. As for the Yanks in the East and the Astros out West? Yup — you can write down that ALCS matchup right now.

*The Red Sox will not defend their World Series title in this year’s postseason. FACT  Outside of Boston, is anyone really sad about this one? Enough winning in Boston already, right? Everything went right last year for the Sawx, and in keeping with the Bosox pattern of taking a year off after winning the World Series, this club hasn’t smelled right since they chose to begin the season with no established closer. There’s still a ton of talent in Beantown, but they also face the toughest division competition, something the Indians/Twins and the A’s don’t have to concern themselves with. See ya next year Red Sox. This year’s AL Wild Card will feature the A’s versus the Twins (and please, please, please send the Twins home and spare us the pain of watching them roll over once again in a playoff series against the Yankees).

*Gabe Kapler will be the Phillies manager for Spring Training 2020. FICTION  Yes, the rock headed Philly field general has outlasted my preseason predictions of an early shit-canning, but that’s simply because he’s gotten to play the Mets so frequently. Talk about underperforming expectations? Somehow I’m guessing that when Phillies owner John Middletown talked about spending so much money this past offseason that it could even be “a little bit stupid,” he didn’t envision Kapler sitting around .500 at midseason. Kapler may make it through the regular season, but he’ll be back doing vitamin supplement videos on YouTube TV by November.

*The Mets are hopelessly out of the Wild Card race heading into the All Star break. FICTION  They are only seven games back in the race for the second wild card. And that is seven back of the Phils! My buddy Palmer texted during yesterday’s game saying that if the Mets were to pull out a win, it would be the catalyst for a historic run to the playoffs (the Mets won, 6-5). Now Palmer’s texting history is littered with preposterous claims, but there are 70 games still to play, and no one is distinguishing themselves in the NL outside of Los Angeles and Atlanta. The Mets have had just about everything go wrong that could, yet the league hasn’t run away from them. If (and yes, this is a BIG IF) BVW’s key offseason pickups (Cano and Diaz) revert to their historic norms and the young bats keep producing? Well, stranger things have happened (and besides, look at this paragraph’s heading — we’re merely stating that the Mets aren’t “hopelessly out of it”), and I can’t get excited about any other mediocre NL club. So let’s sign up for the Dodgers and Braves remaining 1 and 2 in the NL seedings, with Milwaukee thrown in at 3 (Yelich vote). The play-in Wild Card game? Let’s go Cubs-Mets, with deGrom coming up big to advance the Mets and seal the fate of Joe Maddon getting dismissed the day after the postseason concludes.

Ya Gotta Believe!

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Independence Day Celebration of New York Sports

Here’s a quick 4th of July around the horn look at observations pertaining to the most dysfunctional (at least the ones I root for are) of all species — the New York sports franchise.

Mets 

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*Great to see Pete Alonso repping the Mets in this year’s Home Run Derby. Here’s hoping it doesn’t ruin his swing the way it did David Wright’s back in 2006.

*Yep, the Mets have three all-stars, and each are deserving. Sure beats the days of John Stearns or Lee Mazzilli getting the nod because every team has to have one All Star Game rep, even the lousy clubs. Yet why does the 2019 edition of New York Mets seem every bit as bad as those late-’70’s squads?

*To quote an old joke, “there’s gotta be a pony in here somewhere…” — I mean, c’mon, Conforto, J.D. Davis, McNeil, Alonso, Dom Smith, a starting rotation featuring arms any contender would deal for if they came available? Yet we suck. Two words — bullpen, Cano. And that’s entirely on the GM.

*In BVW’s defense, I did think it was cool he sat in the bleachers with the fans for Game 1 of this week’s Citi Field edition of the Subway Series. Gotta believe the security detail was on high alert for that visit, huh?

*Does anyone doubt that once Zack Wheeler gets traded he will win a Cy Young within two seasons? Just please don’t let it happen in pinstripes. Please.

*Why is Jason Vargas still on the roster? I know he’s pitched better this season, but simply for his clubhouse jackassery with the reporter, followed by his stubborn refusal to apologize…cut the bum and send a message.

Yankees

*It’s the 4th of July and I’m already trying to handicap who I need to root for to knock them off in October.

*They are on pace for well over 100 wins, and haven’t been healthy all season. Scary.

*I’m so glad Luke Voit got hurt.

*I’m nearly as happy that despite hitting well, Clint Frazier got sent down. Grow up, Ginger.

Knicks

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*Eldrid Payton, Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Wayne Ellington, Reggie Bullock — I just threw up a little in my mouth.

*I know, Steve Mills, I know…this was your plan all along.

*And yes, absolutely brilliant getting them (five of them anyway) on two year deals with the second being a team option. I feel so much better now. Can’t wait to see the next front office team execute their plan for the free agent class of 2020.

*Does anyone really see Kevin Knox ever being a key cog on a championship roster? I know he’s young, but sometimes you can spot a selfish, one-dimensional coach-killer early on.

*Okay, I am excited to see a full year of Mitchell Robinson starting at center.

Nets

*David the Brooklyn Barrister called me out over my reminder in the last SportsAttic post that the Nets are nearly as historically bad a franchise as the Knicks have become. Sorry counselor, but it’s true. Over/under on number of games Kyrie plays for Brooklyn this coming season? How about 40? Yeah, sounds about right.

Rangers/Devils/Islanders

*Sorry for the head fake, NHL fans. No hockey coverage here, but if I did pay attention, I might remark that it seems like the needle is pointing up for all of the Tri-state area hockey teams. Is that true? Could that be possible?

Giants

*Does it say more about how far Eli Manning has fallen, or about the enormous upside of Daniel Jones that the papers are already trying to create a QB controversy for Big Blue. Hint: it’s not about Jones’ upside.

*Given the short shelf life of NFL running backs, is anyone else concerned that the Gints could be wasting valuable years of the magnificent Saquon Barkley’s tire tread during what appears to be a slow and unfocused rebuild?

Jets

*With the sorry state of the aforementioned Knicks and Mets, I’m afraid I have to pin any short-term hopes for sports relevance among my favorite franchises on Gang Green.

*This is a critical year for Sam Darnold’s development. I’m glad they have Le’Veon Bell to give him a weapon out of the backfield, but wouldn’t a frontline deep threat make some sense guys? Robbie Anderson is fast, but not sure we haven’t seen all there is to see with him. Does Wesley Walker have a kid?

*The two young safeties and the two guys named Williams up front give me hope on defense, especially with C.J. Mosley plugged into the middle.

*With camps opening later this month, I’m actually getting excited about the 2019 New York Jets (always a dangerous thing). Is 10-6 too much to ask, including one win over New England? Hell yeah I’d sign up for that right now.

*And then I remember, we are pinning our hopes on this guy to lead us there….

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Happy 4th of July everybody!

 

Three Point Play: Let’s Not Anoint The Brooklyn Nets Just Yet

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So much to write about, so little time. As tempting as it is to dig deeper into the New York Mets bullpen woes, or the fact that the hapless Mets somehow managed to tarnish yesterday’s 50-year Miracle Mets anniversary celebration by declaring two of the squad’s former players dead before their time, there’s really only one direction to go today.

And that’s to Brooklyn.

Give the Nets credit.

They are going for it, and they just signed two of the marquee names available in free agency (we are going with the broadly accepted assumption that Kyrie Irving signs with the Nets as well). Coupled with the strong core that earned the Nets 42 wins and a surprise playoff visit last season, and there is enthusiasm bubbling over out in the borough.

All the sweeter for the Brooklyn basketball franchise has to be the fact that these signings of Kevin Durant and Kyrie (with recent Knick DeAndre Jordan thrown in for good measure) spit right in the eye of their big brother franchise across the East River. The Knicks openly expressed interest in these two stars (it was way more than interest, it was almost a smug wink and nod that these two starts would soon be theirs), and not long ago were roundly considered front-runners to land the duo.

So in the course of one Sunday afternoon, the Nets have inserted themselves into the wide open 2019-20 NBA title contender conversation, while dealing a right cross across the jaw of the cursed Knickerbockers, who have owned New York City hoops fans’ hearts forever, even while the team has stunk up MSG for the better part of the last 19 years.

In fact, the sorry state of the Knickerbocker franchise has allowed the Nets to regroup a little of their own questionable mojo under new ownership, with a capable GM and head coach showing how title contenders and culture can be built to last. The Knicks are so dysfunctional on every level, beginning with the worst owner in professional sports and continuing through the overmatched front office and right down to the head coach who seems more interested in positive PR than winning games, that the Nets can fly below the radar while rebuilding from the ground up. Yes, the Knicks are the definition of a train wreck in a city loaded with contenders for such a title.

However, here’s my question: Can we really trust the Nets just yet?

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Lest we forget, the Nets are not exactly the paradigm of a high-functioning sports franchise. In fact, it was only six years ago when the franchise badly crippled itself with the draft night deal that landed them Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry from Boston in exchange for, well, in exchange for the future of their franchise. The Celtics have ridden that deal to the top of the league since, benefitting from the implosion in Brooklyn and the resulting high draft picks they received in the Garnett fleecing.

Now barely emerging from that soul-crushing deal, a winning culture starting to appear with a selfless and team-first system made up of young, athletic no-names, the Nets have taken this monumental step. And this week’s SportsAttic Three Point Play will point out a few reasons for caution on the way to the victory parade undoubtedly being planned for a year or two from now over in Brooklyn.

  1. They traded Dr. J. It hasn’t reached “selling Babe Ruth” curse proportions just yet, but let’s think about this one for a minute. We (okay, I) bemoan how the Knicks haven’t won an NBA title since 1972-73, but what about the Nets? They’ve been in The Association 42 years and they possess zero titles. And they sold the one chip that had forced the ABA-NBA manager back in 1976, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, ushering in a series of unwatchable rosters that welcomed the Nets to the NBA and set a tone of ineptitude that lingers to this day. In fact, if not for the gold standard daily dumpster fire across the river stealing all the thunder, we’d probably spend more time lamenting how the Nets have been synonymous with losing dating back to their entry into the league.
  2. “Woop-de-damn-do!” Perhaps my favorite NBA quote, from the inimitable Derrick Coleman, back when the Nets were tricking us into thinking they could become consistent contenders (for what seems like the umpteenth time as we reflect back on how often this sort of tease played out in Nets-land). Of course the genesis of the famous Coleman quote took place when former first-round pick Yinka Dare (remember him?) walked innocently into the Nets locker room one afternoon to prepare for the night’s game. Dare was greeted by then-Nets captain Kenny Anderson, with “What up, Stinka.” The following day Coleman quizzed a reporter as to why Kenny’s insult of Dare was such a big story, and was told it was because Anderson was team captain. Coleman considered that response briefly, and then made his historic statement. Those were the New Jersey Nets of the early-’90’s.
  3. The RAC. For those of you outside the New York metropolitan area, The RAC stands for Rutgers Athletic Center. It’s where the Nets played their home games for four years after abandoning Long Island and the Nassau Coliseum, only the home to their two ABA Championship teams and tens of thousands of diehard hoops fans who loved the Nets (in fact, the Nets headed to the NBA in 1976 coming off seasons of 55, 58 and 55 wins respectively, plus the two titles). So to reward their loyal fans upon their entry into the NBA, the Nets immediately sent Dr. J down the New Jersey Turnpike to the 76ers, proceeded to lose 60 games with the likes of Bubbles Hawkins as their go-to scorer, and then left town, heading to a below-par, college arena in central Jersey. Thus began the era of the New Jersey Nets.

So let’s hold off on that parade for just a few minutes now, can we?

As exciting as these signings seem today in the heat of the moment, let’s remember a few things:

*KD won’t play next year, and when he returns in year two of his deal, he’ll be 32 years old and coming off an achilles rehab. This will not be the guy we last saw lighting up the 2019 playoffs for the Warriors.

*Kyrie remains perhaps the biggest poison to a locker room this side of Chris Paul. He will be displacing D’Angelo Russell, who could very well prove to be the superior player over the next couple of years. And oh yeah, have we mentioned that Kyrie is injury prone?

*There will still only be one basketball in play at a time in Brooklyn per NBA rules, so one must wonder what the ball-dominant style of Irving will do to the development of all those young pieces the Nets have so skillfully assembled over the last couple of years.

Okay, maybe this is Knicks bitterness speaking, but I’m actually a bit relieved that the Knicks didn’t end up with KD or Kyrie. The potential for the bad outcomes mentioned above would have been stone cold locks had the two free agents donned the blue and orange at MSG.

At least the Nets have a strong chance for relevance and contention now. It is an optimistic time in Brooklyn, and everyone from the new owner to GM Sean Marks to head coach Kenny Atkinson seem professional and high caliber. Will the Nets be contenders by 2020-21?

Only time will tell, but let’s just close with the reminder that New York boasts not one, but two, NBA franchises with checkered histories.

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Sports Media Then and Now

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I miss the days of pajamas and Sunday mornings, pulling the rubber band off the rolled up newspaper and spreading the sports section out all over our dining room floor. The initial scan and deliberation, deciding which article to read first.

I almost always began with the recap of the previous night’s Mets game (or Knicks, depending on the season), but it was a veritable overflow of critical information that any young sports fan had to know about.

The Newark Star-Ledger was the paper I grew up on, and to this day I would argue that from the early-’70’s to the late-’90’s (when newspapers all started falling by the wayside), the Star-Ledger (we never added “Newark” to the moniker back in the day, it was always just the Star-Ledger, or Ledger) Sports Section was consistently head and shoulders superior to all others. Best in class, period. And not just for the tri-state area — we are talking across the entire country! Heck, the whole, wide world!

The Sunday Ledger’s expanded Sports Section was the grandaddy of them all, of course, because you always had a Saturday game to digest, plus you had the columns from all the staff writers and senior editors on their respective sports (Dan Castellano on baseball and the Mets was my personal favorite), plus there was the grid.

You know what I’m referring to, dontcha? That weekly table listing every hitter and pitcher in both leagues, with all their important vitals (average, HR’s, RBI’s, ERA — none of this OPS or WAR stuff that annoys the hell out of me these days). I could spend hours on the grid.

Important questions often emerged from scouring the grid, such as “can Ron Blomberg really get enough official at bats to lead the league in hitting this year?” or “how can a hitter as good as Hal McRae really be dead last in the entire American League?”

For good measure, the Ledger would throw in individual stats for the Mets and Yanks separately with their own tables covering the entire active rosters (and update them after every game — are you listening New York Post?). But maybe the best tidbits were those you’d find buried among the classifieds and horse racing results in the final few pages of the sports section.

That’s where the true gems could be uncovered. Like wrestling results — “Ivan Putski won again — Polish Power!” — or small, waiver-wire transactions, like young Hank Webb being sent down to Triple-A after another awful start. Yup, you could spend hours poring over the abundance of information pulled together in that awesome, grainy collection of pressed pulp and ink that was sure to leave a stain on the carpet when you were done (sorry, mom).

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I got to thinking about how we used to consume sports news as I waited for my flight to Dallas to take off. On my phone I’d just reviewed in detail my New York Post app, getting caught up on all the New York action from the previous day (Mets lost again and their bullpen still sucks. Yanks won again and traded for the leading home run hitter in the AL, apparently just to rub Mets fans noses in it).

Intermittently I flipped over to the Facebook app, where amid all the pictures of graduations and household pets I caught a posting of the New York Times article from 50 years ago reviewing the Mets trade for Donn Clendenon from the Expos (we got that one right, at least, although it probably speaks more to the Expos nascent front office back then).

Then I jumped over to Twitter, where I saw a couple of cool, old photos, one of Walter Payton and Earl Campbell together back in the ’70’s — a couple of great backs wearing number 34 (note they were wearing, not exchanging, jerseys) — and one showing Terry Bradshaw and Jim McMahon yucking it up on the sidelines after a game in the mid-’80’s. We can only hazard a guess as to what those two Mensa members had been discussing.

Back on Facebook, another post popped up from a page I follow offering to sell a 1954 Ted Williams Topps baseball card to the highest bidder, and over on Instagram I see that apparently Genie Bouchard is in London this morning. And additionally, it appears the tennis star/IG Model has recently auctioned off her match-worn sneakers from her latest early-round knockout, this one at the French Open, to reward her fans and celebrate reaching that all-important milestone of two million followers.

Huh. Match-worn sneaks?

Not exactly Ivan Putski, but interesting nonetheless.

As an admitted traditionalist, but also a sports fan with huge appetite for anything nostalgic, I wonder — is this the Golden Age for those of us who wake up ready to eat, drink and sleep sports? Or are we all actually suffering from this embarrassment of riches, unknowingly getting sucked into information overload — sports fan version?

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Like on most important existential topics, I don’t have a clear answer here, but perhaps it is simply another example of today’s world not being better or worse than the “good old days,” but just different?

As a kid, I lived for the four minutes of sports coverage at the back end of the 6:00 evening news that my father insisted on tuning to daily. Warner Wolf was the king as far as I was concerned, poking fun at Mr. G. the weatherman, and making his predictably inaccurate selections of the weekend’s upcoming football games (yeah, sounds familiar).

Bill Mazur was a surly and unappealing talking head who had somehow garnered a short, erratic time slot to talk sports on one of the local channels (Channel 9, I think), and I couldn’t stand him. But I watched him. Every time I could. Because it was sports information, and I needed it. Yeah, in those days, you either worked your schedule around when sports news fleetingly flashed at you on the television, or hoped you’d luck into a segment like Mazer’s while surfing from Channel 2 to 13 and back, before heading to bed.

Then in the ’80’s George Michael’s Sports Machine came along on Sunday nights, and I felt as though I’d died and gone to heaven. All sports, highlight after highlight, with amusing, insightful and in depth commentary. Yeah, he was a homer for the Redskins, but I didn’t care too much, because this was appointment viewing aimed specifically at me, and it carried me through the college years. What a way to close out your weekend!

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But print media was my foundation. When the family moved west in the ’70’s I switched my allegiances to the L.A. Times sports section. I found it to be a solid runner up to the Ledger, with the added benefit of broad college football and basketball coverage, something that was more of an afterthought back in New Jersey (let’s face it, Wooden’s UCLA Bruins and the USC gridiron powers of the ’70’s demanded coverage, and the uninspiring sports programs of Seton Hall and Rutgers back east simply couldn’t compare).

In addition to the daily papers, at an early age I developed a long-term relationship with Sports Illustrated that continues to this day. I still subscribe, and if the wifi had precluded me from working on my blog on this morning’s flight (as so often is the case with United Airlines, a consistently bad horror show 30,000 feet in the air), I’d be diving into the latest issue, even though, much like my beloved Mets, Knicks and Jets, SI has fallen on hard times these days.

I mean, c’mon, it is perfectly understandable if the poor economics facing all newsstand publications these days force the publishers to adopt an every other week distribution format, but don’t lie to me and tell me it’s the same amount of sports content. It isn’t, and oh by the way, while we are on the subject, stop pandering to the politically correct by choosing to cover certain sports that few readers (or me, at least) care about.

I’m sorry, but a full issue — or damn near it, anyway — dedicated to women’s soccer and the World Cup is overkill, especially right on the heels of having featured several members of the same women’s soccer squad in last month’s swimsuit issue. If I were a skeptic, I’d hazard a guess that there could be some financial connection between the upcoming World Cup and SI, but we will save the conspiracy theories for another day.

(SportsAttic aside — is it just me, or do others also feel like a leacherous creep if they dare open up the SI Swimsuit Issue in a public setting? It’s bad enough being a member of the universally despised demographic of over-50 white males, without throwing gas on that fire by pulling out a magazine showing nothing but women less than half my age in various stages of undress. I can’t help looking over my shoulder, anticipating an angry mob of pant-suited feminists descending upon me, ready to snatch my magazine from my age-spotted hands to beat me to death with it, while being raucously cheered on by the other passengers on the plane. Sigh.)

However, I digress.

Anyway, here’s my quick and personal Top 5 of sports media sources, past and present, along with a note or two on why they were, or how they could be, useful to me and my fellow sports fans:

PAST

  1. Newark Star-Ledger Sports: Give me a Jerry Izenberg column on the first page, talking about Muhammad Ali or Y.A. Tittle, or some little known fact about a long-ago Super Bowl. Follow that with columns from Castellano and the Kleins — Dave on the NFL and the football Giants, Moss on the Yanks and the American League — and throw in all the local New York beat writers. The Ledger. Nothing better — retired champion, never to be challenged again.
  2. Warner Wolf on CBS Channel 2: Before we had “The Swami” and “SVP” on ESPN, there was Warner, guaranteeing if the viewer followed his picks (and went the opposite way) they were a lock for betting success. Then flashing to a fan passed out in the upper deck at Shea Stadium and leading into his next segment with his “and Mr. G was at the game!” call. Priceless stuff.
  3. Los Angeles Times Sports: The ’70’s were the time to be a young sports fan in Southern California. Wooden’s Bruins were in the midst of their incredible unbeaten streak. McKay’s Trojans were winning national championships with Student Body Right. The Dodgers’ vaunted core was beginning to form with Cey, Russel, Lopes and Garvey finding their way to their appropriate spots in the Chavez Ravine infield (before the Dodgers finally figured out this grouping and rode it to the 1974 World Series, that infield featured Garvey trying to play third, Russell as an outfielder because an aging Maury Wills was still at short, Lee Lacy as the second baseman of the future, with Billy Buckner the heir to Wes Parker at first — really, you could look it up). Plus you had some formidable L.A. pro football drama, and the weekly debate over James Harris or Pat Haden or Ron Jaworski for the always close-but-no-cigar Rams was intense.
  4. Sports Illustrated: It was the photos that got me hooked. Ali, Secretariat, O.J. The articles were too long for me as a kid, but when I figured out how inspiring the writing could be, too, I was all in, and still am to this day.
  5. New York Times Sports: Just kidding to make sure you’re all still paying attention. This list ends at four. The NY Times was, is, and always will be, the worst sports section on the planet.

PRESENT

  1. ESPN: I don’t care if it is overexposed. Nothing compares, and now that they’ve ditched that dreadful pairing of Michael Smith and Jamele Hill I can go back to watching without the need to keep my remote within reach. And east coast fans, I know Scott Van Pelt comes on late back there, but he’s the best in the business, bar none. Relatable, witty and having so much fun with his guests and sidekick, Stanford Steve. It’s like hanging with that guy you don’t see very often, but when you do you can’t wait to dive into the latest in the world of sports. Record it if you can’t stay up that late, or…
  2. Twitter: Used to be my least favorite social media medium, but I chalk that up to not recognizing how to make it work for me. In addition to following my favorite sports writers and commentators (hello SVP, Buster Olney and Joel Sherman), I’ve found a helluva lot of “retro” and “vintage” sports sites that bring back obscure and fun memories from my sports fan days of old. Plus, there’s the real time element of wondering why the heck Jason Vargas just left a game he seemed to be cruising in, only to learn via Twitter he has a cramp (a cramp?) in his calf. And Dickie V. Lots of Dickie V. The guy loves Twitter. He gives updates on everything, not just college hoops (MLB, his grandkids, a stranger he befriended at dinner the night before), and he may just be the nicest, most genuine guy in the entire world of sports.
  3. Facebook: I know it’s fashionable to blast Facebook. And sure, there’s a lot I don’t care for, mostly pertaining to the aggressive political views overshared by many, but if you join a few clubs, groups and sites that share a passion of yours (and block — but stay friends with — basically everyone else), the Facebook experience becomes a steady feed of information that matters to you. Right now I enjoy posts from MLB, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, ’69 Mets, and various sports card collectible pages (some photos, some where you can go in and purchase), along with all my favorite team sites (and the Sopranos page, Classic Movies, yeah, it’s a long list).
  4. Instagram: Similar to my Facebook strategy, I prefer to cherry-pick certain meaningful InstaGram pages (meaningful to me, anyway, and apparently two million other Genie Bouchard fans) to follow, and enjoy a wide range of interesting photos and commentary on the world of sports, plus the added bonus of old movie clips, satire (The Onion cracks me up) and humor. Now if I could only find a way to post SportsAttic blogs on IG, this site would vault all the way to #2 on my list.
  5. New York Post phone app: Maybe the ritual I miss the most from my days commuting from New Jersey to New York City every morning is forking over my fifty cents to buy the best hour of entertainment known to man. Starting from the back cover (of course), I could usually make my way completely through the sports section and entertainment pages before arriving at my lower-Manhattan destination. I’ve transitioned (begrudgingly) over to the electronic version, and despite still preferring the feel of newspaper in my hands, I’ve embraced the economy and convenience of having The Post’s irresistibly campy articles and features just a finger tap away. The Post is my current undisputed champion of New York sports coverage, filling the void left when the Ledger succumbed to the financial pressures of today and became it’s current shell of its old self.

So is today’s media better, worse or just different?

I’m going with just different. The memory of learning how to read a boxscore, or understand movement in the daily MLB divisional standings via my voracious consumption of the Star-Ledger sports section makes me smile to this day.

But laughing out loud and pausing Scott Van Pelt so I can rewind and share a “Bad Beat”  segment with the rest of my family on a Sunday night is pretty cool stuff, too.

Would watching Warner Wolf have felt so special if I could have dialed him up 24/7 on a tablet back in the ’70’s? I don’t know the answer to that one either, but I do know that appointment viewing with the family and sharing a laugh at Mr. G’s expense always felt good back in the grade school years.

Then again, what I wouldn’t have given back in my childhood to be able to touch a button and read about Willie Mays’ catch in the ’54 World Series, or see a clip “on demand” of Ali’s “phantom punch” against Liston.

Special times then and now. The common thread? Sports as a timeline for life well lived, with vivid memories, shared joy and anguish among friends and strangers, and always the knowledge that tomorrow will offer up more unique moments and experiences to be enjoyed.

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