Three Point Plays — Money, Melo and Doc

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“It’s not about the money.” Pretty much any time I’ve heard that statement uttered through the years it’s meant exactly one thing — it is only about the money.

Tonight at midnight eastern time NBA players are eligible to declare free agency, should  their current contract contain an opt out clause, and all free agents can begin negotiating with other teams. There will be nothing in the way of surprises here, as the haves and have nots of “the association” will use the statement above as their guiding light for decision making.

And we’re not just talking about LeBron, who surprised no one with his decision the other day to opt out and test the free agency waters. I (and seemingly all folks interested in the NBA) have dedicated enough time and attention to The King and his future home over these past several weeks, so I believe it makes sense to put the bullshit meter out there for a few other “stars” who have been staring down this decision deadline:

  1. Of course I have to start with one of my least favorite players and reliable SportsAttic punching bag — Carmelo Anthony. As it became more and more obvious to anyone with eyes (especially Thunder coach Billy Donovan, who had the only vote that mattered) that ‘Melo was absolutely sucking the life out of his Thunder teammates during their painfully short playoff appearance this spring, Anthony defiantly disputed the rumors of his demise. He protested (too much) that a star of his stature could no longer continue to subjugate his stats and skills in the name of helping the team win.  The clear implication being that at this stage of his career (and wealth accumulation, he added, with no attempt at false humility) it “wasn’t about the money.” Rather, finding the right system to fully utilize his “talents” was where his focus would be directed this offseason. So in other words, Carmelo was going to pick principles and legacy over $27.9 million guaranteed Oklahoma City dollars. Uh huh. It was his transparent attempt at admirable talk back in May, that was lame, ridiculous fool-speak to anyone listening with half a brain. ‘Melo has since quietly exercised that player option to stay with the Thunder (the sound you hear in the background is Coach Donovan softly weeping…) rather than test the waters for a new, “principles-based” deal somewhere else.  Of course it was the right decision for Anthony (more like only decision, as not even the most foolhardy of NBA franchises would have approached that obscene option value). It also further cemented popular opinion about what a delusional, me-first, past his prime, coach-killer and has-been Anthony really is. All anyone needs to do is revisit his asinine “principles” quote after his atrocious performance helped usher his Thunder teammates out of the playoffs in round 1 to fully understand his real value in 2018-19. Look for 11 points per game out of ‘Melo this year as Donovan tries to insert him a few minutes every game at moments that won’t totally blow up chances for a Thunder victory. Honorary mention in the “it’s not about the money” category goes to Enes Kanter, he of the “there are five other teams quite interested in me should I decide to opt out” quote as the deadline fast approached. At least Kanter hedged his bets by saying all along he wanted to remain in New York and then strongly endorsed the David Fizdale hiring, creating a “this all makes sense” storyline for him exercising his player option. Oh yeah, he also gets $18.6 million guaranteed for showing his loyalty to the Knickerbockers, and my guess is that is quite a bit more than any of the five “mystery teams” on his list would have forked over.  But Kanter makes the Knicks better, and is a tenacious offensive rebounder who can score. In other words, unlike Carmelo, his best days remain in front of him.

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2. You’d think Nick “Swaggy P” Young might just want to shut his mouth and enjoy the ring he was graciously given by the Warriors this season, wouldn’t you? Of course not. It is such a shame that this guy has somehow claimed a modicum of relevance (proving true the old adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity). In case you missed it, TMZ caught up with Swaggy leaving a L.A. nightclub a week or two back, and asked for his opinion on Canada legalizing marijuana. Now it’s bad enough that TMZ sought out Mr. P for his opinion on anything, but then again, who am I to criticize as I sit here writing about him for the umpteenth time since the playoffs began this spring.  Who knows, maybe he’s actually a P.R. idiot savant? Nope, check that, and remove the word “savant” from that last sentence.  Swaggy P’s response to TMZ veered away from the topic of marijuana (to the TMZ reporter’s delight, no doubt) and instead centered in on perhaps the worst cause anyone could ever choose to champion: “I want people to pass cocaine,” he said. “Everybody needs to do cocaine.” My reaction upon reading this latest stunning example of unfiltered idiocy was to think back to the days of the old stand up comedian, Sam Kinison, who would often react to shockingly absurd scenarios by desperately shrieking: “OH OH OHHHHH!!! HE DIDN’T!!! OOOHHHH!!!” followed by horrifyingly  realistic retching noises of the guttural variety.  Yes, he did, Sam. Yes, he did. I can only imagine the look on Warriors GM Bob Myers face as he and the rest of the Dubs brain trust saw that quote in black and white staring back at them on their various phones and handheld devices. I am going to hazard a strong guess here that Young’s days as a Warrior are over. The sad part is that good ole Swaggy P will actually be on some team’s roster next year.  There he will resume annoying teammates, saying outlandish things to throw dirt on his team’s brand in the community, and doing far too little from the three point line during games to justify all his bad acting and baggage. Swaggy P, ladies and gentlemen, role model and modern-day NBA champion.

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3. Somebody rescue Doc Rivers, please. He’s a true NBA champion.  Broadly respected by teammates and fans when he was a player, and roundly considered one of the top head coaches in the league for the last decade-plus. And now the Los Angeles Clippers have made it clear to all paying attention that they’ve decided they want a new coach. This decision is well within their rights, but instead of simply swallowing hard, eating the money it will cost to send him on his way, and beginning anew, they are setting out on a course of slow torture. The end game is getting Doc to walk on his own, thus preserving cash and a little good faith with the many players in the league who look up to Doc for his honesty and fiery approach to leading his teams. Why is it that weak organizations (and not just sports franchises, for sure) feel the need to make bad situations worse by taking a cowardly approach to problem solving?  The writing was on the wall for a Clippers tear-down a year ago when Chris Paul escaped to Houston.  If any doubt remained, that was erased by the midseason trade of Blake Griffin to Detroit.  Despite those two crushing blows to any chance for near-term success, somehow Doc kept his depleted squad engaged and in the playoff hunt right down to the season’s final days.  He should have gotten a raise and Coach Of The Year votes.  Instead, in a clear case of an unfair fight for power between Doc (who had in years past controlled most personnel decisions for the club) and the team’s front office hierarchy, the Clips delivered a gut punch by trading Doc’s son. Say what you will about Austin Rivers’s contribution to the team’s disharmony, he’s a capable, starting guard for many NBA teams (such as the Clips). All they got in return for Doc’s son was Marcin Gortat, the definition of yesterday’s prototype NBA center (big and slow with a limited shooting range). And a big contract.  Then Deandre Jordan opts out (can you blame him) with sights set (for the second time) on Dallas, where there is some significant young talent being developed (not to mention no Texas state tax). Doc deserves better. My guess is he’ll do what he’s paid to do and coach up the young Clippers to a better record than the roster talent would indicate is possible, while the paper cuts keep coming his way from the L.A. front office.  Here’s hoping he lands in a place where there’s talent in need of the right guiding hand to go from good to great (anyone else think he might be a great fit in Philly?). He deserves one more run and it sure isn’t happening as the Clippers revert to their historical franchise norm of disfunction and last place finishes.

You really do have to hand it to the NBA. They’ve done a great job of spacing league events in a way that keeps them in the public eye during the offseason.  These days you get the finals running into late-June, followed by the fully hyped NBA draft event (baseball caps and garishly expensive and colorful big/tall suits), giving way quickly to free-agency with annual storylines of intrigue and drama galore.  As those stories play out we’ll have the summer league heating up for the serious hoops wonks among us, and as that wraps up and the last free agent stragglers find their homes for 2018-19, we’ll be ready for training camps to convene.  Let’s give credit where credit is due.  There is no NBA offseason anymore.

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Mailbag — Omar, Newhouse and Mr. Met

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“You come at the king you best not miss.”Omar, The Wire

In addition to being one of the Top 10 greatest television characters in history (not a misprint), Omar’s wisdom resonates in a profound way in today’s world of sports.

I got to thinking of my man Omar this morning when I awoke to a text from Dennis The Dodgers Fan up in Oregon. Dennis pointed out that his boys in blue are 26-9 over their last 35 games. He correctly added that’s good enough for “best in MLB” status during that timeframe. Well, Dennis, that text elicited many different reactions as I began my day.

First, to shed some light on how important that statistic is, may I remind you that the New York Mets were 11-1 in their first 12 games this year.  Easily the best in MLB during that time frame.  So for your sake, here’s hoping your Dodgers handle their recent run of success better than my Metropolitans did.

And here is a second reaction to your pennant waving text, courtesy of the Peanuts gang:

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Not to be outdone by Charles Schulz, Dennis also noted (he was riding the high of last night’s 2-0 Dodgers shutout of the Cubbies, by the way) that the last nine runs scored by the Dodgers had all come via solo home runs. Okay, that’s a cool stat.

Dennis, should you ever tire of being a Wall Street titan, I see a bright future for you here at SportsAttic.  If only you didn’t have that Dodgers-fan stigma holding you back, that is. Good grief!

However a more relevant reaction to Dennis’s text brought me back to Omar’s words. It seems to me that the entire N.L. West (sans San Diego, of course) had their shot during the season’s first three months to take out the reigning king. And they all missed.

Yeah, I know the D’backs are still in first place by a game and a half, but does anyone really expect that to last?  Not if you saw the bungling Mets sweep them out of NYC a month or so ago, you don’t.  Arizona is a decent squad and will likely remain in the Wild Card hunt, but it’s late-June and the big kids are out of school.  Say goodnight, Gracie.

The Giants and their three World Series titles in five years (that seem like a lifetime ago) continue to hang around .500, and marginally in the division race.  I attribute that more to Bruce Bochy somehow coaxing one last surge of muscle memory from his aging, pitching-deprived squad than realistic contention.  They should be sellers next month  (Mad-Bum anyone?), but my money’s on them deluding themselves into thinking they can make a run and standing pat.

More than any franchise, the Giants hierarchy is committed to never disappointing their loyal fan base by waving the white flag. It is an admirable trait, but in this case it will prove problematic. There is no young talent in the minors to utilize for a meaningful roster add, so standing pat is their best case. Sorry SF fans, you’ll just have to keep riding the Dubs title-wave for these summer months. Look for the Giants to finish 75-87.

The Rockies are busy killing more pitchers’s careers (somewhere Mike Hampton is laughing hysterically) and can’t be taken seriously despite their usual altitude-enriched slugging numbers. And the Padres…well, let’s just say that any franchise that has steadfastly clung to mustard-yellow as one of their cornerstone uniform colors for nearly 50 years deserves their annual cellar dweller positioning and this year will be no different.

They all had their chance at the king while the Dodgers fought injuries and indifference until Justin Turner returned from the DL. Now the king has survived the coup (oh yeah, and Kershaw’s back).  Look for heads to roll. Dodgers take the division by at least 10 games.

Other much appreciated feedback from the mailbag these past couple of weeks included:

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*Dolphins67 conjuring up the memory of Robert Newhouse and those thunderous thighs pounding away at the middle of defenses leading the way for young Tony Dorsett in the late-’70’s. Newhouse actually rushed for 930 yards (in a 14 game season, no less) in his first year as a starter and featured back for the Cowboys back in ’75. Then the Boys wisely asked him to play a supporting role when Tony D. arrived in town a couple of years later. Newhouse — punishing, prototype, badass fullback.

Also duly noted was Dolphins67’s not-so-subtle disclaimer that he is NOT a Cowboys fan.  Never would have guessed that from the email handle! But it’s funny that all of us who grew up in that era (except for those front-running fans of “America’s Team”) feel the need to pointedly distance ourselves from even the slightest chance we could be suspected of being a Dallas Cowboy sympathizer. I understand. Really, I do.

*AC in NorCal inquired as to whether SportsAttic accepted requests and followed that by asking for a future post on racket sports.  Answers in order would be “yes” and “no.” Sorry, but I will not add any fuel to this whole pickle ball phenomenon that seems to be slowly gripping my hometown.

*Lawrence in Mountain Lakes offered a “Who cares?” shoutout to my post on LeBron James being destined to join the Lakers in the fall. If I remember correctly, Lawrence, you and I sat next to each other at The Garden back in the early-’90’s watching Anthony Mason break the Indiana Pacers hearts by single-handedly avoiding their lame attempt at a full court press to preserve a playoff game win.  You cared. I cared. All 19,000+ of us cared that day. A lot. I know today’s Knicks can rip the heart out of even the most passionate of their faithful, but I stand by my (unanswered) question back to you:  “Would you care if LeBron came to NY?”

I will, however, accept Lawrence’s condolences passed along to Mets fans everywhere on the plight of our moribund franchise.  Nothing quite like the magnanimous Yankees fan throwing a little sunshine our way while boasting a .667 winning percentage.

*Let me thank Ron in D.C. for his recent SportsAttic follow, and also for him refraining from attacking me for my denigration of what surely must be his second favorite song (after Bruce’s Born to Run, I’m guessing) — Hail To The Redskins.

Ron is undoubtedly still celebrating the removal of the term “long-suffering” from the first name of Capitals fans everywhere (you’re still welcome, D.C. fans). I’m just thankful the afterglow of capturing The Cup is powerful enough to distract Redskins fans from my attack on their sacred cow.

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*And apologies to JZ in Alamo, CA for assuming the purple and gold design on his backyard corn hole targets were an homage to the Los Angeles Lakers. Silly me to not immediately associate those colors with his beloved Minnesota Vikings. And additional apologies for bringing up Gary Anderson’s miss in the ’98 NFC Championship game.

JZ’s reaction to my indiscretion brought back fond memories of the one and only Marshall Eriksen, the How I Met Your Mother character who hailed from Minnesota and screamed out in agony anytime anyone brought up Gary Anderson or that ill-fated shank.  In all likelihood JZ is still ranting on about how Anderson hadn’t missed all year, etc. etc. etc. I know it is small solace JZ, but try to remember that records in futility (ya know, like most Super Bowls lost without a win) are good for the sport.

*And to all of you (too many to recognize individually) who opined in absolute disgust over my man Patrick’s admittedly cringe-worthy Munson quote from twenty-plus years ago, you may rest in the knowledge that the tally since that time is Yankees World Series titles — 4, Mets (and Patrick and I) — 0. And I don’t see that tally improving for the blue and orange any time soon, I am sad to say.

*On that somber note, a final image comes from Michaela in D.C., bravely carrying the Mets flag down in Nationals country.  I think this says it all:

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It’s Not Easy Being a Fan

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Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson ended my baseball season yesterday for all intents and purposes. On June 22nd. With four months to go. Correction, he ended the “root for” portion of my season and ushered in the “root against” segment, before we’d even reached the season’s midway point, let alone the All Star break.

It got me to thinking (sulking) about my tortured existence as a fan of the New York Mets. It just isn’t easy, and I truly don’t believe it’s only a matter of the grass always being greener when I look across the aisle at Yankees fans waving all those pennants and imagine how much easier they must have it.

Here’s the thing, though. We Mets fans are continuing to pay the tax on a gift from the Baseball Gods nearly 32 years ago. The only tax in my life today I truly don’t mind paying. Think back to that night of October 25, 1986. The Mets were dead as fried chicken, down two runs as they came to bat in the bottom of the 10th.  Then, with two outs, the unlikeliest of rallies ensued.

We all know the outcome, so I will spare you the play by play. Instead, freeze the frame as Mookie’s slow roller is making it’s way toward Bill Buckner at first (unfathomably still in the game despite legs that barely kept him standing at this late stage of his career — thank you, John McNamara).

What would you imagine the response would have been if time had indeed stood still at that moment, and the universe were to query any random Mets fan, any age, anywhere, watching the game at that exact moment,  the following question (cue the thunderous, booming, Baseball God-like voice now)?

“It is your choice right now, tortured Mets fan. Billy Bucks can pick up this routine grounder, tag the bag, and you play on in extra innings with a Red Sox victory sending you home. Or he can stumble awkwardly toward the ball, distracted by Mookie’s speed, the screaming fans and the extreme shooting pains coursing through both of his shins, and allow the slow roller to squirt through his legs as Ray Knight pogo sticks his way across home plate with the game’s winning run.  And oh yeah, for good measure you’ll beat Bruce Hurst and his lefty slop a couple of days later to take home the World Series title. But beware Mets fan, because choosing the World Series win here in 1986 will come with a cost. In return for this favor from the Baseball Gods, you will forgo winning another World Series for the duration of your lifetime, and to twist the knife a bit deeper we will throw in several extended periods of absolutely atrocious baseball by your New York Mets, occasionally interspersed with near misses at another championship.  Choose wisely, Mets fan, choose wisely.”

Every one of us would have opted for the miraculous outcome that played out that night without a second’s hesitation. In fact, who’s to say that’s not exactly what happened, as we all know the Baseball Gods have the ability to erase a fan’s memory after closing a deal of this magnitude. Still, sign me up.

To this day, Mookie’s roller, Buckner’s error, and the entire glorious comeback in Game 6 is by far the highlight of my lifetime as a sports fan (in fact, one Father’s Day years back I forced my two daughters, at that time about ages 5 and 8 to watch Game 6 with me in its entirety).  So do your worst Mr. Alderson, because you can’t take that memory away from me no matter how long you may take before finally DFA-ing Hansel Robles.

How is it that these roots of sports fandom grow so deep, you say? There’s some nature versus nurture here, if you ask me.

On the nature side of the ball, some fans are simply born into it. I can’t help but feel that  most New York Giants football fans fall into this first category. Anyone who’s ever been to Rod’s in Spring Lake, NJ, on the Saturday before a Giants home game knows the sight of three generations of Giants fans wolfing down burgers and beers as they allot their family’s tickets for the following morning’s tailgate. It is a completely endearing slice of our nation’s cultural fabric. Really.

I believe that many of sport’s flagship franchises boast this kind of generational allegiance.  Think Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers in football.  The Yankees (groan, it’s too easy I say, just too god damned easy!), St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs and Red Sox, among many other clubs, in baseball.  It is a long list. And it’s a list that makes sports allegiances so delicious to witness and thoroughly enjoyable to be a part of.

The nurture side is a bit more complicated. It begins with the era you grow up in. I have many friends today that feverishly root on the Miami Dolphins because of the amazing run that franchise had in the ’70’s (three consecutive Super Bowl appearances, two wins, including that awesome undefeated season in ’72).

Shula’s square jaw, the Killer B’s and the two-headed monster of Csonka-Kiick (and let’s not overlook Mercury Morris — I defy you to find a kid aged 7-11 back in 1973 who didn’t think Mercury Morris was the most badass of all the cool running backs in the NFL) in the backfield lured thousands of impressionable young fans across the entire country onto their teal and orange bandwagon. And once on board they never wavered in their allegiance, even when teal long ago became one of the lamest colors in the league (could there be a tax on that perfect ’72 season I have to ask? After all, you had Marino for all those years, but no rings since ’73, right? Just sayin’).

For that same reason the New York Tri-state region boasts legions of fans of the Steelers, Cowboys and Raiders.  Today’s age 50-something fans, who weren’t born into a generational allegiance, were forced to gravitate toward cool, winning organizations to escape the losing of the Giants and Jets of the ’70’s. You really can’t blame them looking back today.

Personally, while I just missed the ’69 Mets and ’68 Jets, the exuberance from those unexpected championships still permeated the New Jersey home I grew up in. It was a fun and exciting rite of passage being able to join in on the kitchen table sports conversations as my early infatuation with those recent champions took off (SportsBro footnote:  I’m still waiting for that return to glory with the Jets; the Mets gave us a fun run in ’73 — save Seaver for Game 7, Yogi, please! — and rewarded our loyalty big time with the ’86 World Series).

The Knicks had a sustained run of pristine, selfless championship basketball going on as I first got hooked on hoops, so that one was a no brainer. Not unlike how here in the Bay Area today millions of young Warriors fans are growing up die hards and will never leave that bandwagon, no matter how hard the law of averages crashes down on them when this magical run comes to its inevitable conclusion (as an aside here, a fellow Knicks fan pointed out to me that Warriors fans have gotten to enjoy more championships in the last four years than we Knicks fans have in our entire lifetime.  Thanks for pointing that out, Tony.  At least we have the Fizdale era to look forward to while we pray the league intercedes on our behalf and forces ownership into a sale).

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I was fortunate enough to grow up in a sports fan household. However there were no diehard allegiances influencing my early year fan choices. All the influential people of  my childhood had enjoyed rooting affiliations through the years that I got to learn about, but there was never any pressure.

Dad grew up in the New York area but was enamored with the 111-win Cleveland Indians of 1954. He loved their incredible pitching staff and lamented what could have been if Herb Score hadn’t taken that line drive off his forehead.  I give him props for his contrarian approach in rooting for the Indians during the heyday of New York baseball in the ’50’s when the Yanks, Giants and Dodgers seemed to be in the Series every year.

Mom was a quiet Yankees fan in the ’70’s (and remains a slightly less quiet one today), but was always supportive of the Mets (probably because she saw the pain being inflicted on her eldest child regularly by the boys in blue and orange). In her youth she had rooted for the Brooklyn Dodgers, but I believe that may have had more to do with  Duke Snider’s winning smile than anything the Bums were doing on the diamond.

Grandpa Jack was a Phillies fan, which amused me to no end growing up, as they were always so darn hapless. But he was from Pennsylvania-Dutch country and the geographical “nature” part of his fan upbringing was a strong one. I learned from him the important lesson that you didn’t waver in your support just because you were saddled with a string of last place finishes. I was happy for him when “his Phils” finally brought him a title in 1980, even if that jerk Pete Rose was on the squad.

My Grandpa Perce was a baseball fan first, and a Yankees fan second. He never pressed me about the Yanks, opting instead to introduce me to some of the game’s historic characters. It was at his suggestion I first read “Nice Guys Finish Last” and immediately became the world’s biggest Leo Durocher fan.

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I can’t resist a Durocher footnote here as I expand on this point — “The Lip” had an absolutely historic and fascinating career. Think about the following:

*He was a teammate of Ruth and Gehrig on the Yankees in the ’20’s.

*He was captain and shortstop of the World Champion “Gashouse Gang” Cardinals, who won one of the most exciting World Series in baseball history over the Tigers in 1934.

*Player-Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1941 when the Yankees had the improbable “strike 3, wild pitch” comeback in Game 3 and went on to beat the Dodgers in 5

*Suspended from baseball for the entire 1947 campaign for his known association with gamblers.

*Moved crosstown midseason from the Dodgers to the Giants as manager in 1948. Just think about that for a sec.  Imagine Aaron Boone leaving the Yankees tomorrow and taking over as manager of the Mets the following day. Leo did that and for awhile was reviled by fans of both clubs.

*Managed the “Shot Heard Round The World” Giants in 1951 when Bobby Thompson sent the Dodgers home with his famous HR.

*Managed the final New York Giants World Series winner to a sweep of my Dad’s heavily favored Indians in 1954.

*Was manager of the Cubs when they blew that huge August lead to the Miracle Mets in 1969.

Okay, that’s enough.  Read it yourself. Still in my Top 5 of baseball books to this day.

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So those formative years and how young fans are nurtured contribute significantly to their long-term maturation process as today’s fanatics march their way into adulthood. C’mon, doesn’t anyone wish they could have been a fly on the wall for the early years and upbringing of those Redskins fans that wear the dresses and pigs noses to home games these days?

Another SportsBro aside: I had the misfortune of owning Redskins season tickets for a couple of years while living in the D.C. area back in the late-’90’s. My least favorite song in the world? You guessed it — “Hail to the Redskins.” Maybe the NFL will ban that song — and the band that plays it (a band? uh huh…) — when they finally strip the Washington franchise of their “Redskins” moniker?

And don’t you wonder what kind of “nurturing” was going on in those households where the Black Hole Raiders fans grew up?  Or those lunatics that make up the Dawg Pound in Cleveland?

I know, it’s easy to take shots at other fans, especially those less sophisticated, less knowledgeable, classless and lacking passion. You know, the ones that root for the other guys. Guilty as charged. I tend to believe that I and my Mets/Jets/Knicks-fan brethren are at the top of the sports fan pyramid. Our extended period of futility (a combined 127 years for those scoring at home — good grief) only underscores what tremendous, loyal  fans we must be.

And it doesn’t end with the self-congratulatory approach we take in our impeccable support of our chosen franchises.  We also form biases around likes, dislikes and character (or more frequently character defects) based on sports team affiliation.  Yankees fans take longer to win me over and earn my trust.  I admit it.  And I’m far more likely to embrace a fellow Mets fan into my inner circle without much due diligence or background checking than I ever would if introduced to a Celtics fan, or worse, a Cowboys fan.

Talk about profiling! Niners fans? More interested in chardonnay in the luxury suites than in paying attention to the second half of the game. Dodgers fans? Arrive in the third, leave in the 7th. Can’t tell a slider from a curveball. Fans of new franchises? Newbies.  Can’t possibly be knowledgeable. Raiders fans? Welllll, we all love and respect Raiders fans and feel their pain as they await another relocation of their team. They’re simply awesome fans.

I could go on and on, except for the fact that I already have.

So root, root, root for the home team. Make whatever deal is necessary with whatever deity you bow to or fear the most, and hope you can one day experience just a fraction of the euphoria that Warriors fans today believe is their divine right.

It’s not easy being a fan.

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Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust — Blocking Backs

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I know. The NBA draft is going on right now as I type 35,000 feet in the air. Apparently the Knicks maintained their recent tradition of picking a teenager with their “not high enough” first round draft pick. I can hardly wait to read all the quotes about “raw talent”  and “wingspan” sure to be coming my way in the next few days. Yippee. Who knows, maybe they caught lightning in a bottle tonight? It won’t change the fact that there are likely 60+ losses coming our way next year as the odds continue to increase I may never witness another championship banner hanging at MSG.

So in an effort to focus on happier subjects, I turn my attention to the gridiron.  The Jets are currently tied for first place in the AFC East (maybe the last time I’ll be able to say that in 2018), and thus currently occupy first position for me as I root for something (anything) positive to happen from one of my teams (yup, scary thought that the Jets are my great hope currently, and double-yup, it’s almost July, so time to wave the white flag on the Mets season and begin deciding who I’m going to root for to upend the Yankees in the playoffs come October).

Rather than dwell on the present, I got to thinking about those ground and pound days of my football fan childhood. Back then it seemed like every NFL team had an iconic featured halfback grinding out first downs, and 1000 yard rushing seasons meant something because the schedule only had 14 games. And in front of every one of those storied featured backs racking up the yardage on Sundays was a monster of a fullback clearing the way.  So I figured I’d take a quick crack at a few NFL thoughts and lead off with props to a couple of those unsung bad asses of the early-’70’s.

  1. My three favorite fullbacks (not named Matt Snell — who should have been MVP of Super Bowl III, for those of you keeping score at home). Oddly, when I began thinking about those “good old days,” of NFL seasons past, the teams that came to mind are three of my least favorite today.  I can’t stand the Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills, and the Cleveland Browns are mostly irrelevant to me, except for the fact that, as I’ve mentioned in prior posts, I do enjoy a good run of futility, believing it is good for the fabric of any sport. So thanks for that anyway, Browns. Funny how biases form and evolve through the years, isn’t it? Because when I harken back to those years of youthful innocence the first badass, blocking backs that spring to mind are Bo Scott of the Browns, Jim Braxton of the Bills and Charlie Harraway of the Redskins. Don’t ask me why, but I loved those guys and still have football cards of all three today.  They cleared the way for LeRoy Kelly, O.J. Simpson and Larry Brown on some strong, talented teams of that era. What is also funny to me is how huge those fullbacks seemed back in the day.  Scott and Harraway were 6’3, 215 and Braxton weighed in at 6’1, 245. Guys that size are running 4.4 40-yard-dashes today at the combine and getting drafted as tailbacks. Back then they were good for a few screens out of the backfield, the occasional carry when the A-lister was getting a breather, and otherwise spent Sunday afternoons cracking helmets with the likes of Willie Lanier, Mean Joe Greene and Bob Lilly as they cleared the way for LeRoy, O.J. and Larry up the middle.  Interestingly, both Harraway and Scott were a bit older than their backfield counterparts, and the  steep, end of career decline in yardage for both Larry Brown and LeRoy Kelly began immediately following the retirement of their trusted fullback. Not a coincidence if you ask me. When I was looking at Braxton’s stats, I also had a surprise. I was completely convinced he was the sole fullback leading the way for O.J. in his 2003-yard 1973 season. Wrong. Thanks to NFL.com I learned that Braxton only played in six of the Bills’s 14 games that year and that Larry Watkins was the fullback leading the way for Juice the majority of games during that record breaking season.  Larry Watkins? Huh. Anyway, as a kid I was always fascinated on Monday mornings to see the contrasting rushing stats that would show a line something like Brown going for 27-118-1 and Harraway with 6-14-1. Who was more important to their team’s success though? Hard to say.
  2. Over-Under Win Totals! The over-under win thresholds for 2018’s NFC squads were released today, and for some reason this really excited me (three hour flight delays at Newark Airport — thank you United Airlines — will lower my excitement bar considerably). I quickly identified two absolute gimmes right out of the gate in the NFC east, with the Eagles coming in at 10.5 and the Giants at 6. Give me the under on the Eagles and the over on the Giants right now, please. You can’t tell me there isn’t a Liberty Bell-sized hangover heading like a freight train toward the entire Philadelphia Eagles organization.  They sneak up on no one this year. The offseason banquet circuit always exacts a toll on the stars, and all the coin flips that came up heads for them in 2017 will inevitably see a few landing tails in 2018. I don’t think they’ll even get to 10, but that extra 1/2 makes this one an easy one. The Giants on the other hand are quite likely this year’s Eagles. They get OBJ back along with the already HOF-enshrined Saquon Barkley (yes, New York Football-Giant fans are a wee bit enthused about Mr. Barkley coming to town), a competent coach and a better O-line, plus a last place schedule.  Their defense can’t be as bad as it looked all last year, can it?  The Giants are my pick to win the East this year and an over/under of only six wins seems like a layup. I didn’t see any other obvious ones in the NFC, although I was  tempted to go under on the Saints’s 9.5 and the 49ers 9. I think the Niners are still at least a year away, but maybe I’m swayed by all the euphoric Bay Area fans predicting great things, so I can’t say they don’t get to nine with any degree of certainty.  I’m staying away from that one. And are the Saints really a 10-win team?  Doesn’t seem like it, but that division is so difficult to handicap that I’ll stay away from that one, too.  The Gints and Iggles are gifts from Vegas, so I’ll rest on those two for now and see what the AFC brings me when I wake up tomorrow.
  3. Snell, Boozer and Namath, my all-time favorite backfield. My earliest football memories are from the seasons of 1970 and 1971.  In other words, I just missed the Jets only Super Bowl win back in January of 1969. Yet the positive sentiment of that unexpected upset of the Colts was still quite alive and well when I first began forming my fan allegiances, so my team became the Jets and my favorite Jet a running back.  Emerson Boozer, he of the high-kneed running style that invited injury but was still super cool back then. Boozer was followed closely by Broadway Joe and the aforementioned Matt Snell in my personal pecking order of favorites.  In time Richie Caster would take over for the retired Snell as third on my depth chart of idols. What I find somewhat fascinating when I think back on that time, was that I never saw a Jets team with any combination of those players finish above .500 as a kid.  But to this day, those are the guys on my personal Mount Rushmore of New York Jets legends. Same with the Giants. The Giants were my second favorite team growing up (and even overtook the Jets for about a twenty year period from the mid-’80’s to early-2000’s  as my bandwagon of choice, before I resumed my Gang Green fanaticism — more on that embarrassing about face in a future post). When I think of my all-time favorite Giants players, I start with Spider Lockhart and Ron Johnson from those terrible Yale Bowl Giants squads of the ’70’s, way before I begin waxing poetic about LT, Harry Carson and Phil Simms (but man were those Big Blue teams of Parcells fun to watch) from the Super Bowl winners in ’86 and ’90. Point being that it isn’t the record, it’s the uniform that creates that early bond, and those first, larger than life heroes stay on that pedestal forever. I suppose we can file this last point under the category of “just sayin.'” Nothing like a little nostalgia to kill time on a six hour flight.

Regardless, I am ready for some football.  Get them into the camps and let’s go already.  J-E-T-S, JETS, JETS, JETS! We’re tied for first with 16 games to go, who could ask for more than that?

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Three Base Hits — Happy Father’s Day

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Leading off, I couldn’t resist revisiting one of my favorite announcer lines of all-time in honor of Father’s Day.

Of course it is from the one and only Ralph Kiner, who along with Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy cemented my lifelong addiction to the New York Mets back in the ’70’s.

One Father’s Day in years past, after a few beers in the booth (back when such behavior was considered charming, if not necessarily encouraged), Ralph passed on a little good cheer to his listeners with the following (and I won’t have it word for word, but you’ll get the idea):

“On this special day, I just want to say to all the fathers out there, Happy Birthday!”

Thank you, Ralph. Thank you.

Second, I saw on Facebook this morning that Ron LeFlore (then of the the Expos) led the majors in stolen bases with 97 in 1980 (while missing a bunch of games due to injury)! How’d I miss this?  Apparently his teammate Tony Scott swiped 63 more to set the record for a pair on the same club.  Tony Scott?  Anyone? Anyone??

Wow, 160 stolen bases between the two of them and I barely remember LeFlore as an Expo (he’ll always be a Tiger to me), and only faintly recall Tony Scott. Let’s chalk that one up to the ’80’s and other activities that obviously preempted my intensity of baseball fandom for a couple of years.  Need to do some research and read up.

Lastly, the Mets won a game and scored more than three runs last night!  The way things have been going of late, that’s worth a pause and celebration all it’s own. Canyon of Heroes, here we come!

 

Three Base Hits: The Triple, Miggy and Lance

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Chief Wilson had 36 of them in 1912. Sam Crawford had 309 in his career. Triples, that is. The three base hit. Some would argue it’s the most exciting play in baseball.

Some would also argue that I’m not a good listener. Okay, maybe I’m not.  A childhood spent too close to the blare of classic rock music pulsating out of gigantic speakers is my go-to excuse when friends point out I’m not paying attention to things they say to me. The doctor I sought out on the topic seemed to think it was less a hearing issue and more of an interest issue.  Meaning he felt I tuned out when not interested. Fair enough — somehow I don’t think I’m the only one guilty of that offense.

So while all of this may be partially true, when it comes to feedback on the SportsAttic, I am listening intently and always trying to come up with ways to improve my posts. I’ve noted the feedback (most recently from SportsDaughter1, who is always both constructive and on target when she makes a suggestion) that for even the most engaged readers, 3000+ words a few times a week can be, shall we say, daunting.

Which brings me back to the triple. I tend to speak and write in threes.  Three examples to support a point. Three paragraphs between the opening statement and closing passage  in an essay. So how can I insert some “threes” into SportsAttic and offer the occasional respite to busy readers with so many different social media options at their fingertips?

Because I acknowledge that I tend to be wordy (if you’ve read any of my previous posts, you are likely agreeing with that last statement). While I remain steadfast in my intent to continue to fully flesh out most of my upcoming anchor topics to extreme levels of detail (minutiae?), I also want to introduce the occasional shorter entry into the mix, and so, with that goal in mind, I give you Three Base Hits.

Depending on the sporting season, Three Base Hits may become Three Yards And A Cloud of Dust or Three Point Plays, but the gist of it will be three quick points on the sport in question (my preference is to keep it to football, baseball and basketball, although it is quite tempting today to add in Three-Putt as I watch the U.S. Open and Shinnecock make grown men cry), with brevity the goal. In all honesty, I’m not sure I can do it, but it is worth the old college try. So here goes:

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The Triple

I now return to Chief Wilson and Sam Crawford from an era when triples mattered. Awhile back I listed out some of the baseball records I consider to be unbreakable.  My bad for ignoring the triple, as my list had the potential to be much longer. Let’s begin by adding Chief Wilson’s (pictured at the top of the post) 36 triples back in 1912 to the list of the unbreakable baseball records. Right up there with Cy Young’s 511 wins.

At the risk of sounding like some old, traditionalist crank, the players today just don’t run hard enough from the crack of the bat to leg out lots of triples. Add to that the fact that homers garner the big contract nowadays, and we can quickly conclude that no one will ever even hit 25 triples again.  Ever.

Some stats to back that up: no modern major leaguer has hit as many as 25 triples in a season. In fact, the highest total since 1950 belongs to Curtis Granderson of all people, who hit 23 of them in 2007.  That’s only good enough for 22nd on the all-time list, by the way.

The next two modern players who pop up on the all-time triples in a season rankings are two who caught my attention for different reasons. Lance Johnson (a surprise, with 21 as a Met in 1996 — more to follow on that), and Willie Wilson (21 in 1985) are tied for 75th all-time. Johnson, a solid and unremarkable outfielder, I hadn’t thought about in years. Wilson was a star for the Royals, but always a B-lister after George Brett, Hal McRae, Big John Mayberry and others.

Johnson’s inclusion surprised me, as I would have guessed Jose Reyes held the Mets record for most triples in a single season (Jose’s best was 19 and as a quick aside, I don’t know that there’s ever been more excitement at Shea Stadium than when Reyes would line one in the alley and take off with a three-bagger on his mind — Hoooo-Zayyyy, JO-SE/JO-SE/JO-SE!).  Reyes is the Mets all-time triples leader (110 at last count), but Johnson in ’96 is the single season man.

Wilson’s presence among the all-timers didn’t surprise me, but it did jog loose a long ago memory. As a young kid I saw him single-handedly take apart Madison (NJ) High School to win the state championship for Summit (NJ) High — in football.  In fact, Wilson led Summit to back to back NJ state football titles in 1972 and 1973, and played both ways! What an athlete, and it is the raw natural athlete that accumulates lots of triples. Today’s players are too busy honing their trendy uppercut swing to think about the extra base when one of their bombs falls short of the seats.

Wilson is also the top modern era player in career triples with 147 (which only places him 55th all-time). The only almost-modern player above Wilson on the all-time triples chart is Roberto Clemente with 166 (tied for 27th all-time), and he played his last game in 1972. In other words, it is safe to say that Sam Crawford’s all-time total of 309 triples will never be broken. Ever.

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Miggy

Easily the saddest news from last week’s world of sports came when the MLB Network news  crawl at the bottom of my TV announced that Miguel Cabrera had torn his biceps tendon and was out for the season. Not only do I understand that to be an excruciatingly painful injury, with a long and uncertain recovery to follow, but at Cabrera’s age it could mean the end of a wonderful career is at hand. Miggy is 35, and while still a dangerous bat who would have been a terrific late-season pickup for a pennant contender, he has begun the inevitable slide toward the final curtain of what to me has been a Hall of Fame career.

This is bad news for the entire game of baseball, as Miggy is one of the MLB’s true good guys and fan ambassadors. For a period of time a few years back, I was fortunate enough to regularly sit in the second row of the special seats on the field behind home plate at the Coliseum in Oakland when the A’s were in town. From that “up close and personal” vantage point I got to see a lot of Miguel Cabrera, and he rarely disappointed.

For whatever reason, the Tigers were often the visiting team when I was at the game. An extremely cool feature of these field level seats was that the fans entered through the same corridor that the visiting team traveled between their clubhouse and dugout (I’m sure this was not a popular feature for visiting players, but super awesome for the fans). It allowed fans in this section to truly get a feel for the personalities of the guys wearing the jerseys on the field.

Before games, Miggy would always be out holding court and laughing with everyone — teammates, opponents, umpires, fans, photographers, grounds crew, you name it.  He would dish it out to the fans and take it with a laugh and a smile when the trash talk and barbs boomeranged back at him. He embodied the joy and innocence of our national pastime and made the fans feel like a part of things. He was as authentic and genuine as they come.

There was one particular time when he’d been joking and fake-arguing back and forth with a fan a few rows behind me about whether or not he’d get a hit that day. All in fun, with lots of gesturing and general hilarity, while he loosened up in the on deck circle. So of course Miggy effortlessly strokes the first pitch he sees on a rope into left field for a single.  As he rounded first base, he could barely contain himself, laughing and pointing at the fan in our section, in an obvious “I told you so” moment. We all laughed with him.  A moment shared with the greatest hitter in baseball back in the summer of 2013.

Fast forward to that fall. American League Division Series Game 5 — Tigers versus A’s in Oakland.  A’s rookie Sonny Gray was on the mound and matching zeros against Tigers ace Justin Verlander for the first three innings. It was tense on the field and in the crowd, with a classic elimination-game pitchers duel taking shape.

Miggy didn’t seem tense, though. He leaned against the rail in front of our seats as Gray began the 4th, doing the standard Miggy back and forth chatter, smile never leaving his face. Except this time a fan in the row behind us took it too far, with a personal insult that left all of us within earshot cringing.  Cabrera’s entire complexion changed as he scanned the crowd for the offending patron (for a terrifying moment I was concerned he thought I was the loud mouth, so I silently pointed my finger to the row behind me as I sunk low in my seat). He ID’d the loser in question and cast a cold blooded stare.

Then he turned his back on us and took the rest of his on deck swings in silence.  The first pitch he sees from Gray he launches — DEEP — into the left field seats. One run was all Verlander would need on this night.  The Tigers would move on and the A’s would go home. And those of us in the first three rows knew the real backstory.

As Cabrera crossed the plate after his blast and solemnly bumped fists with Victor Martinez, not once needing to cast a glance our way (his point had been made), my daughter leaned over to me and whispered, “Dad, I think I’m happy he just did that.” I whispered back, “Me too, Bear.  Me, too.” That night SportsDaughter2 became a Tigers fan (for the duration of the 2013 postseason, anyway) and Miguel Cabrera became my favorite player in MLB.

Heal up fast big man, and put up a strong 2019 so you can call it a career on your own terms.

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Lance

I had to return to Lance Johnson, because in the offense-starved history of the New York Mets, it is quite possible that Lance Johnson authored the most statistically impressive campaign in franchise history. Better than Darryl, or Keith, or Kid or Mikey P. More than Reyes or Wright or Rusty. The problem for Lance was that it happened in 1996.

Kind of like that old philosophy class question about if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it did it make any noise? The ’96 Mets were an uninteresting, bad ball club.  They went 71-91, finished in 4th place under the stewardship of Dallas Green (most of the year — Bobby V. replaced him for the last 30 games or so) in that dark age we can all now refer to as “PP” (Pre-Piazza).

In front of a million and a half  fans (they have not drawn that small a home gate since), Lance Johnson hit .333 with those 21 triples, which set a Mets single-season record still standing today (and I say likely to last a looooong time). In addition to those headlines, he also did the following:

*227 hits — another franchise record — by far

*117 runs scored

*31 doubles

*9 HR’s and 69 RBI’s from the leadoff slot

*160 games played and 682 AB’s

My gosh — Lance Johnson? And yet it never gets mentioned. By anyone. What’s perhaps even more amazing is that Johnson was gone midway through the following season, traded to the Cubs while he was only hitting .309!

Take a bow, Lance, for producing the most prolific offensive season of any New York Met, any year, any era.  As Casey would say, you could look it up.

And yeah, this post ran longer than intended.  Oh well. Happy Father’s Day everyone!

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The Glory of Shinnecock — Go Tiger?

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I’m sorry, but who the heck are these guys and where did the PGA find them? Talk about central casting.  There’s a Ricky and a Rory. A Jordan and a Justin. And a Jason and a Dustin. Who’s a Johnson. I’m not entirely convinced they aren’t all the same guy.  Can’t we put an end to it by just referring to the whole lot as “Not Tiger?”

They are tall and lean and seem super bland to me.  I know they hit the ball a ton — 300 yards on the fly with silky smooth swings — and they’ve all got the requisite hot wives/girlfriends (one of them’s even Wayne’s Gretzky’s daughter, right?), too. But they are just so…darn…uninteresting.

For variety there’s the Irish one, I guess. The brogue is kind of cool and disarming at first, but don’t I also remember his ex-fiancee making fun of his diminutive stature back when they broke up? And doesn’t he seem to sulk a lot when things don’t go well (why I no longer play golf, I might add — things often didn’t go well for me)? And he’s supposed to be the coolest one of these clones, isn’t he?

I’ve heard my golf fanatic friends tell me how this is the golden age of golf.  Not buying it. Granted, I’m not a close follower of professional golf any longer, finally coming to terms (after a couple of decades of kidding myself while rarely breaking 100) with the fact that I was never going to be any good at the game. I will watch (superficially) this weekend, though, for a couple of reasons important only to me (which I believe is how most of us approach decisions pertaining to our weekend sports programming).

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First, I love the golf course.  Shinnecock and I go all the way back to 2004, when the fates collided in such a way that somehow I became the local event host for clients of a major investment firm (who had paid top dollar for U.S. Open sponsorship rights). The firm had relocated me to Long Island less than a year earlier, and the Hamptons happened to be part of my region of responsibility, so that meant I was given the keys to the golfing kingdom for four days that June.

When I first received this news it seemed pretty cool to me (and to all the friends I immediately began bragging to). I even got to play a practice round (I shot 111) as they were grooming the course for the upcoming major, and I came away with bags, hats, shirts and golf balls all bearing the cool Indian head Shinnecock logo, along with that uber-cool U.S. Open insignia.

Lunch in the 100+-year-old clubhouse was included with my practice round, and it didn’t even matter that there was no air conditioning or that we played most of the morning in a sideways-rain downpour of biblical proportions. I lost at least a dozen balls in that monstrous fescue and had the time of my life doing it. All was good.

Until it was less good. What hadn’t been explained to me by my superiors was that my “hosting” responsibilities included having to turn away the daily requests for tickets coming  from seemingly every local client (with the exception of the elite few who had placed so much money at the firm — eff-you money was the expression, I believe — that they were able to strong-arm their way to free passes plus access to the ultra-exclusive hospitality tent — it was all about the hospitality tent).

Temperatures were expected to be approaching 100, with Long Island’s legendary humidity along for the ride, and in no time access to that corporate hospitality tent became something people were more than willing to throw a punch or two over. And I was the gatekeeper.

For those of you unfamiliar with the communication dynamics of those who inhabit the great nation of Long Island, let’s just say “direct” and “blunt” are understatements.  As the calendar turned to May and the Open was less than a month away, I was receiving no fewer than 10 client phone calls a day that usually went along the lines of the following:

Me: “Hello?”

Client: “Hey — gimme tickets or I’m gonna take all my money out of that lousy firm of yours.” 

Only Long Islanders were far more creative with their verbiage than to use the word “lousy.” Rarely did a call end with pleasantries and I developed a knack for letting all incoming calls go to voicemail until the storage space was used up, then deleting them all and beginning the process anew.

When tournament week arrived, the phone threats dissipated.  I made my way out east on Day 2, and it truly was a memorable viewing experience.  In addition to the god-awful heat and worse than expected gridlock (I foolishly opted to drive the 55 miles from my home in Lloyd Harbor to Southampton — those of you familiar with Long Island traffic are nodding your heads in sympathy right about now), what I remember most were the colorful array of main characters slugging it out against Shinnecock’s gorgeous backdrop.  All while thousands of golf fanatics rooted aggressively for their favorites and with even more fervor against everyone else.

To this day, the only golf name that resonates with my daughters beyond “Tiger” is “Easy.” Ernie “Big Easy” Els was one of the favorites heading into the ’04 Open, and for whatever reason, my girls, ages seven and four at the time, absolutely loved that nickname. He became their favorite golfer from the sight of the first ball in the air.

“How’s Easy doing?” and “Is Easy winning?” were daily questions from both girls, and there was legit disappointment in their eyes when I had to let them know that some guy named Retief had bagged Easy’s trophy (Big Ernie had found the final day out east anything but “easy,” dropping like a stone out of contention with a final day 80 for a ten-over). My girls didn’t seem to need that level of detail around Els’s final round collapse, but stats have always been important to me.

So when you compare then and now (and “then” really wasn’t that long ago), what happened? We need more Ernie’s and fewer Justin/Dustin’s if you ask me.  Els was big, with a bit of a belly and an occasional mean streak and always appeared a little unkempt.  Oh yeah, and he was eminently likable.  Then you had lanky Vijay Singh, chain smoking his way through his rounds, all the while keeping up a running banter with his caddy, opponents and the gallery. I still remember his laugh echoing in the air when some fan had hurled a particularly funny insult his way.

Tiger was there, of course, but fortunately never a factor that year, finishing in a tie for 17th. The real fun came on Sunday, as the crowd, growing increasingly inebriated, continually ignored the pleas from the marshalls for quiet, and relentlessly tried to hound Goosen into coughing up his lead. It seemed like the entire island wanted to see Phil Mickelson win his first U.S. Open. Alas, Goosen held on and Lefty picked up another second.

Yeah, we need more Ernie’s and Phil’s and Retief’s and Vijay’s, and fewer guys that appear as though they were hired to portray what a golfer is supposed to look like for some travel brochure.

Despite my curmudgeon-like disdain for today’s stars, I will be watching. Having the Open return to Shinnecock brings back a lot of fond memories from my time on The Island, and I am nothing if not a sucker for nostalgia of the sporting event variety.  But there’s a second reason, too (didn’t that sound a little like, “but wait, there’s more, I haven’t gotten to 3000 words yet?”).

For those of you who happened to read my post from a few weeks back, when I wandered into the Sports Book during a trip to Vegas, I have a betting interest that comes along with this tournament.  And it’s a betting interest I’m totally patting myself on the back for, I might add.

I believe I’ve created the perfect hedge for the 2018 U.S. Open. For starters, I’ve got money on Tiger Woods at 20-1. I have often noted my lack of affection for Mr. Woods, with the only two things I do like about him being the fact that he’s going bald and that he’s unlikely to break Nicklaus’s record for career majors. So then why put money on him, one might ask?

Because I couldn’t resist 20-1 odds. So much has been written and said by the pundits this year about Tiger’s valiant comeback that it seemed to me these odds were way out of whack.  Based on what I’ve read, he’s playing better, feeling healthy, had a couple of close calls leading up to the Masters, then disappointed everyone by not contending at Augusta.

I caught my 20-1 odds (now all the way back down to 14-1 last I saw) in the aftermath of his poor Masters performance, and there’s nothing us sports fans love more than the feeling that we’ve made a smart bet.  I had to jump on it, and I know it will make watching golf this weekend that much more interesting to me as a result. And worst case, I have that perfect hedge.

Because if it turns out I didn’t get it right, and Tiger’s an also ran over the next four days, I’m perfectly okay with that outcome.  Because I can’t stand Tiger (high five a kid while you’re walking to the next hole for chrissakes, would ya Tiger?). And a terrible showing will undoubtedly result in lots of pathetic closeups of Woods cursing and removing his cap in frustration (thus revealing his dramatically receding hairline). It will make for happy viewing for yours truly on Father’s Day.

Therein lies my perfect hedge.  If Tiger puts it together and wins his first major in 10 years, I benefit financially (which I’m not embarrassed to say I will shamelessly root for until Tiger falls out of it).  If he loses and I lose my bet, I’m still happy because I really don’t want him to win.  I’m guessing the tortured sports fans out there who are reading this understand exactly where I’m coming from.  Don’t you?

So hit ’em straight Ricky, Rory, Justin, Dustin, Jason, Justin and all the other PGA Tour cardboard cutouts that will be out taking their swings tomorrow. I’m guessing one of you “Not Tigers” comes out on top, but like all of my old friends on Long Island (and most middle aged guys across the country and the world) — I’ll be rooting for Phil.

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