A Couple of Things I Hate to Admit

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It’s time.  I’ve been putting it off in my head for a few years now, but after yesterday’s coast to coast, fadeaway off glass, game winner to send Toronto home a loser yet again, I have to admit it.  LeBron James is at least the equal of Michael Jordan, and maybe even better.

There I said it.  I’m not a LeBron fan.  Not even a little bit.  I don’t care for how he has anointed himself an important social figure in today’s society; how he responds to adversity by blaming coaches and teammates; and don’t like how he’s orchestrated putting himself in position for titles by using the free agency system and the modern day superstar buddy system to surround himself with talent that make titles almost a foregone conclusion.

Full disclosure I didn’t like MJ much either.  But that was different.  As a Knicks fan I had to watch Michael Jordan rip our hearts out on an annual basis.  We went the entire Patrick Ewing era without a title, and it is all because of His Airness (and for one year Hakeem Olajuwon plus a series of misfires from John Starks). So while I didn’t like Mike during his unbelievable run of titles in the ’90’s, it was more out of selfishness —  a bitter Knicks fan hoping for a result that I knew deep down just was’t to be — than anything Michael actually did to earn my dislike (although to this day I believe the “flu game” against Utah in the 1997 finals was a made-for-TV moment orchestrated by MJ and league commissioner/mob boss David Stern).

It’s akin to how I felt about Derek Jeter all of those years as the Yankees piled up world championships and the Mets…well the Mets…didn’t.  As a result I couldn’t stand Jeter (or Mariano, or Bernie, or Andy, or Posada for that matter), but I couldn’t help but respect him.

With Jordan it was different.  Not only did I respect him, I always felt that when he was on the floor he could somehow, on-demand, will his team to victory.  It was that iron will, along with his other worldly skills that made him the Best Player I’ve Ever Seen In NBA History.

Jordan literally did it all.  Scored at will, played shut down defense on the other team’s best (non-big) player, racked up assists and even could rebound (especially during a game’s most crucial moments).  Most importantly, he raised the play of those around him enormously.  Horace Grant?  Paxson and Kerr?  Bill Cartwright? All of them achieved more by being his teammate than they could ever come up with on their own when playing outside Chicago. He had one “superstar” running mate in Scottie Pippen (no, Dennis Rodman doesn’t count), and I would argue that Jordan gifted Pippen his legacy, as without MJ and those great Bulls teams Pippen would have been a good, occasionally great, NBA player, but not an all-timer.

Notice that every one of the skills I just mentioned, skills that elevated Michael Jordan above and beyond the rest of the NBA for so long, are also skills that LeBron possesses.  Plus he’s just so darn big.  For awhile I’ve tried to hold his enormous size and strength against him when I compare the two players, but at some point you have to give the big man his due.  He doesn’t get hurt (MJ did lose one season early on to injury), runs the court, doesn’t sit down in big games and is the de facto point guard at this late stage of his career.  And now he’s taking on that air of invincibility, which was always the difference-maker in my anointing MJ as the GOAT.

Before going too far into the weeds on this discussion, it’s important to put in appropriate context my personal evolution of opinions regarding the greatest NBA player ever.

I’ll start with an irrational claim based on growing up a Knicks fan — my favorite player all-time is Walt Frazier.  Of course, “favorite” doesn’t mean “best,” and many would argue that Clyde isn’t even the Knicks all-time best player (Patrick makes a strong argument, but that lack of a ring…sorry, Patrick — blame MJ).  And given my personal preference for all things Clyde, I feel it necessary to reference the “Willis Reed” game — Game 7 of the 1970 finals — that will live on forever in Knicks lore. Willis limping out of the locker room on one leg just prior to game time, hitting the first two shots of what would become the clincher of the Knicks first-ever championship, is simply an iconic moment.

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Not only is Willis my second-favorite Knick all-time, I get emotional watching that clip to this day.  But he came out of the game immediately following that frozen moment and Clyde took over from there (and far too few people ever bring that point up!).  All Clyde did that night, after being properly motivated by Willis dragging himself onto the court, was torch the Wilt/West/Baylor/Goodrich Lakers for 36 points, 19 assists and 7 boards.  In a Game 7.  For a team that had never won a title.  In New York City.  Okay, enough said, as I digress.

So Clyde is my favorite, but early on this stat-fascinated kid couldn’t get over Wilt Chamberlain’s numbers on the back of his basketball card (50 a game??!!). From an early age I always felt that air of invincibility on the teams anchored by Wilt in the middle (probably had something to do with that 33-game Lakers winning streak) even though the only title they won during my memory as a basketball fan was on that incredible 1971-72 team that authored the winning streak.

After Wilt there was a lull.  Kareem was awesome, but never eclipsed Wilt in my head, as the sky hook was cool, but not best-ever material.  For a year and a half Bill Walton was the best player on the planet, but never approached best-ever status.  Dr. J was out of this world great, but playing his best years in the ABA kept him out of the best-ever conversation. Fast forward to the Bird-Magic years, and for a time I felt Magic was approaching that elite distinction, but Bird (as annoying as his continued level of excellence was to this Knicks fan) too often seemed every bit Magic’s equal.  Great years, but no best-ever.

Then Michael came along, and that was game, set, match for me (sorry Kobe fans, but to me he’s never even been in the equation for best-ever, more of a selfish stats accumulator who had the good fortune to be on a couple of outstanding teams with tremendous supporting casts).

Until now. I’m not ready to declare King James “better” than Michael, because I still struggle with that whole “makes everyone around him better” piece of the puzzle. Then again, I look at that highly mediocre squad he has squarely on his back this postseason and I have to pause.  Let’s see how this one plays out.  If it ends with LeBron earning yet another ring over the monsters out west, it may be time.

As much as the LeBron admission pains me, this next one cuts to my core.

Strike me down as I type this, but we may be witnessing the best Yankees team yet (at least in my lifetime).  They are freaking scary good.  The fact that Yankees fans are concerned about Neil Walker’s performance (arguably their 12th best non-pitcher on the roster) and wonder how long Jordan Montgomery might be out and how that will impact the season (news flash — Jordan Montgomery is 7-12 with 4.98 ERA if he were to put on a Mets uniform) tells us all you need to know about how good this squad is.

Yeah, the starting rotation isn’t best-in-MLB caliber, but they roll out a guy capable of giving you, at minimum, a quality start every night. And there are arms in reserve (20 teams out there would have Chance Adams as their number three starter right now) that will keep them in games until Cashman makes the inevitable trade for a front line starter this July, utilizing his league best farm system to make that happen without coming close to mortgaging their future.

Because in addition to being off the charts good right now, they are so damn young, too. Gleybar Torres (I think he’s 20??) hitting the game-winner this afternoon pretty much put me over the edge.  And lost in the hysteria of their latest young phenom going deep for the win was the fact that today’s starter, Domingo German, pitched six no-hit innings with 9 K’s (and he’s a fill-in starter for crying out loud!).

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As a Mets fan it’s painful to think about Aaron Judge (the new Jeter in my life) ultimately passing Barry Bonds as the All-Time Homer King (although it will be good to get that steroid-infested loser out of the record books), and his outfield-mate Stanton will probably cross 600 dingers without ever breaking a sweat.  And God forbid Greg Bird finally gets healthy and becomes the first modern-day .400 hitter.  It’s going to happen, right?  Yeah, probably. Do we need to include Miguel Andujar in this discussion?  Really?  Pencil him in for 60 doubles a year out the 7-hole in the batting order until oh, about 2030.

Yanks win 110 this year?  It’s not out of the question.  Then a couple of short playoff series with all that power and the fire-breathing bullpen waiting for their first one-run lead?  It is early-May and I’m already waving the white flag, while trying to think of who might have the type of elite starting pitching capable of getting hot and somehow stealing a series from them when the calendar turns to October. The Indians? Sure didn’t look like it this weekend.  The Nats?  They have the starting pitching, but they are in Washington. Next.  The reigning champion Astros?  I’ll pin my hopes on them for now, but that’s more out of hope than confidence. Could be a long year in a string of long years for us Yankee-haters.

Man…tough day swallowing these painful truths.

 

 

A Few of My Favorite Things…

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Is there anything better than a Saturday afternoon with no responsibilities and a full sporting event slate on the tube?  It got me to thinking of a few of my favorite things in the world of sports.

Last second shots. As I write this Marco Belinelli has just hit an off-balance, corner jumper to tie up the Celtics-76ers Game 3 at the buzzer and send it into OT.  Ironic, as Belinelli was already on my board to get a mention in this post for two entirely different reasons.

One, the commentators mentioned what, to me, was a staggering stat about Belinelli — that this was the 55th playoff game of his career. It was amazing to me because it is actually the first playoff game I ever remember seeing him appear in (way to make an impact, Marco).  And two, I couldn’t help but notice how the guy looks totally stoned every time he is captured on camera.  Of course this has nothing to do with last second shots, but just sayin’…

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Unexpected stars. Where did Terry Rozier come from anyway? It’s just cool when a player comes out of nowhere to suddenly become a major story line in a series (or even in general).  And when I get past my jealousy that the Knicks never unearth a guy like Rozier (actually we did, once, when Linsanity took center stage, but Carmelo took it upon himself to suck the fun out of that run, too), it really is pretty amazing to see how the Celts haven’t missed a beat following Kyrie’s injury because this no-name has come off the bench and totally taken charge of the club.  Even if I do continue to accidentally refer to him as Mike (Mike Rozier, the 1983 Heisman winner out of Nebraska), I hope his run continues into what is now appearing to be an inevitable matchup with LeBron and the Cavs in the Eastern Conference finals.

As for Mike Rozier, does anyone happen to remember that his first professional team was none other than the Pittsburgh Maulers of the old USFL?  I actually got to see him in person against my hometown New Jersey Generals back in May of 1984 at the Meadowlands.  The Generals (with Doug Flutie at QB) won the game 16-14, but what I remember most is the biggest and ugliest fan brawl in the stands I’ve ever witnessed.  The entire second deck became the setting for a battle royal.  Like most of these fan fights it started with a few drunk guys throwing beer and then punches.  But oh did it escalate. Literally thousands of people ended up joining in the scrum, throwing haymakers as  dozens upon dozens of security officials poured out of the tunnels and into the fray wearing those yellow SECURITY windbreakers.  I never realized just how many security personnel are employed during a football game, and also couldn’t help wondering where the heck they are all hanging out when there isn’t a riot taking place. The fight lasted almost the entire second half of the game.  Never seen anything like it before or since.  Mike Rozier and the Pittsburgh Maulers everybody.

Surprise playoff runs. I’ve previously stated that hockey is the Achilles heel of my sports fandom, and as a result I will rarely opine on the sport, however if I were a bigger fan I think I might have to jump on the Las Vegas Golden Knights playoff bandwagon. I actually am a marginal San Jose Sharks sympathizer, given their proximity to my home, and should they advance to the Cup I may even attempt to get to a game (after all, there really is nothing quite like the intensity of playoff hockey witnessed in person).  But for now, I simply marvel at the run Vegas is on, leading the series 3-2 and possibly on the verge of a Stanley Cup appearance in their first year as a franchise?  Only in the NHL, I suppose, but still cool.

The last time I got this excited about an unexpected NHL playoff run was back in 1988, when the previously downtrodden New Jersey Devils were throwing a major scare into the Boston Bruins. Following a loss in Game 3, irate Devils coach Jim Schoenfeld confronted referee Don Koharski (who may, or may not, have had a bit of a weight problem), leading to an awkward Koharski spill.

When Koharski pointed the finger at Schoenfeld, accusing him of bumping the big ref, Schoenfeld responded with “good ’cause you fell you fat pig. Have another doughnut.” And from that day on the Devils became my team.  Ahh, fond New Jersey reminiscences on a Saturday afternoon. Good stuff.

The optimism that accompanies the hiring of a new coach. Yes I’m a Knicks fan, and yes I grasp at straws looking for the slightest sign of optimism about the future amidst a dark and foreboding present, but I really like the hiring of David Fizdale as our latest head coach.  We’ve done this new hire drill so frequently over the past 15 years that I need to harken all the way back to the Pat Riley hiring in the early-’90’s that brought us the Patrick Ewing/Charles Oakley/Anthony Mason era to remember feeling this good about our new head man.

I’m not just a hopeless homer either, as I’ve had visceral reactions to big Knicks moves in the past (and I won’t even mention the Carmelo trade, or the resigning here, oops…).  Most notably, I remember with vivid clarity the day the announcement came across WFAN Radio in New York that the Knicks had traded for Stephon Marbury.  I was driving on the Long Island Expressway and had to get off at the first exit I came to and pull over to compose myself.  Wish I had been wrong on that one, but sometimes the internal instincts are screaming truth.  They sure were right about Starbury being a disaster as a Knick, and hopefully they are equally on target with the good vibes I’m feeling about Fizdale today. Oh, and about that Eddy Curry trade…

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Good announcers. Maybe the most important and under appreciated aspect of the fan experience.  Good announcers can turn an exciting game into a lifetime memory.  This afternoon offers a couple of perfect examples.  I’m watching the Mets getting shut out in the 7th by the Rockies as I sit here typing, and despite the continuing futility of our New York Mets, it is a pleasure hearing the voices of Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling and Gary Cohen in the background calling the game.  To me they are the gold standard of current baseball announcers, both in terms of group chemistry, as well as for outstanding game coverage, knowledge, humor and candor.  They make my investment in the MLB Package worthwhile despite the fact that it has completely sabotaged the Mets 12-2 start.

I also must admit to my growing appreciation and respect for Doris Burke.  This is a tough one for me, for as a traditionalist I was slow to warm up to the idea of female game announcers.  And no, that wasn’t a sexist comment (at least I hope it wasn’t).  The idea of having the token female sideline reporter on every football and basketball telecast seems pandering and obvious, and that annoys me as well, but for different reasons. Put the best person in these roles, please! Which is why I am totally hooking onto Ms. Burke’s growing bandwagon of supporters.

As a dad with two daughters (who both happen to be above-average athletes and solidly knowledgeable sports fans I’m proud to say), I am in favor of seeing these glass ceilings broken through, wherever they may exist. Just please let the “breakers” do it on merit.  Doris Burke has done that.  She’s just damn good — smart, informed down to minute details on back stories as well as strategies, and with a cool sense of humor as well.  She is terrific and it’s great to see her getting the accolades her work has earned her.

When I think about my all-time favorite announcers (a post for another day, for sure), I can’t help but realize I am fortunate to live in an area with terrific local baseball announcers (to fall back on in the event I’m forced to cancel my MLB Package should the Mets drop under .500), as both the Giants (Kruk and Kuip — although I hated Mike Krukow as a player because he owned the Mets) and the A’s (Ray Fosse is in the elite category in my opinion, and he I liked as part of those great A’s squads of the early-’70’s) put out an awesome announcing team for both TV and radio every night.

Others names to smile and ponder on a lazy afternoon (hopefully without stealing too much material from that upcoming all-time announcer post) would certainly include Bob Murphy on radio doing Mets games, Vin Scully (of course — he could read from the phone book and make it entertaining) and the Madden/Somerall tandem on the CBS lead NFC game back in the ’80’s. And reserve a special section in my history for Marv Albert. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only five-year-old kid sneaking a radio to bed at night and falling asleep to him calling Knicks games during their first championship season back in ’69-’70.  “Yes!”

A business man’s special on a sunny afternoon. Gotta love when the first pitch is prior to 1:00 in the afternoon.  Usually a half-full crowd allowing for easier entrance to and exit from the stadium, and the ability to get on with your day while it’s still light out.  I went to see Giants-Padres the other day at AT&T Park (if you haven’t been yet, please figure out a trip to SF and go, it’s absolutely a Top 5 ballpark).  First pitch: 12:45 p.m. Perfect. The afternoon was sunny and 75 degrees and the ball was traveling toward the right field power alley and McCovey Cove.  Multiple dingers, clam chowder out of a bread bowl and through the tunnel on the way back home to the East Bay by 3:30. The Giants won easily (sorry Padres fans, but I still don’t see where all this hope for the future is coming from, you guys are awful), the orange-clad, pennant waving fans were thrilled, and all was right with the world for those three hours.

Futility streaks. I rooted against the Cubs in the 2016 World Series for the simple reason that I wanted the losing streak to continue.  Nothing against the Cubs or the city of Chicago (sort of indifferent to both actually), but I think those kinds of streaks are good for the fabric of the game.  I rooted against the Red Sox for the same reason during the 2004 World Series (despite being overjoyed when they came back from down 3-0 against the Yanks in the ALCS) and I had hoped the Astros would fall short last year and keep their 0-for-existence World Series run intact.  I strangely like the Indians for reasons I can’t even explain to myself, so should they make it to the Fall Classic this year I’m not sure where my rooting interests will lie. But one thing is for sure, and that’s if the Expos/Nationals somehow get there (and I am supremely confident they won’t for reasons about to be revealed), I will root hard against them (unless they play the Yankees, in which case I will root for a 3-3 tie).

I plain don’t like the D.C. teams.  Some of it is life history and rivalries with the NY sports franchises. Some of it is frankly, just because. To that point, as little attention as I pay to the NHL these days, I am totally rooting for the Penguins to beat the Caps (seems like an annual thing, doesn’t it?) in their series that is taking place right now (Penguins look poised to take a 3 games to 2 lead as I type this). I will delight in seeing the Penguins extend the run of futility for the Caps franchise and their tortured fans for yet another year (yes, there is a long backstory behind this dislike that will be discussed at a later date). And I don’t even like Pittsburgh.  Go Pens!

Sam Darnold. I know, Sam is not a thing, he’s a Jet, but I had to figure out a way to include him in this post.  I am that excited. My new favorite player, number 14 on your scorecard and number 1 in our hearts!  Only 20 years old and with a cannon for an arm, this is the guy we will ride to our first Super Bowl victory since Joe Willie trotted off the field in Miami forefinger held aloft.  I liked Darnold in his two seasons starting at USC and can’t believe he will be in Jets green come the fall.  Hope springs eternal, and at least for now I feel hope that one of my personal futility streaks (I should have noted that I don’t like them when one of my teams is involved — 49 years and counting for the  airplanes) may actually come to an end during my lifetime (c’mon Fizdale, 45 years and counting for the Knickerbockers — exercise those demons!).

 

 

 

 

It Must Be The Shoes

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It’s gotta be my new shoes.  The Mets were solidly in first place, sporting a record of 12-2 on April 15th that was as remarkable as it was unexpected.  In my irrational exuberance over the start none of us Mets fans had anticipated (c’mon, none of us…) I made two highly questionable decisions that I believe may be costing us big time right about now.

First, I called up DirecTV and ordered the MLB Package, ensuring that I could watch from my California home every Mets game played this season (and any other baseball game I wanted for that matter), in what was clearly shaping up to be a 120-win, 42-loss kind of campaign (and by the way, this MLB package purchase was no easy feat, as it meant working through those highly-trained people that man DirecTV’s phones at midnight Pacific time on a Sunday night).

Second, following the well-intentioned yet badly misguided advice of a friend and fellow Mets fan, I went on the New Balance website and custom-designed and purchased my “lucky” New York Mets sneakers you see in the photo above (including, for an extra cost, expedited shipping, and yes, the “NYM” monogram you see in orange on the back of each shoe).

I knew at the time I was tempting the fates (in fact I had nearly torpedoed the Knicks season well before KP’s injury finished them off when, at the urging of the same friend, I nearly designed a similar pair of Knicks custom sneaks back in November of last year), but they just looked so darn good (the Mets, not the sneakers, although I must admit to being pretty damn pleased with my design at the time of the order). It was a classic “double-whammy” and I threw caution to the wind and proceeded anyway.

We sports fans are a superstitious lot in general, and when it comes to our favorite squads we need to tread awfully carefully. No one knows this fundamental rule of sports fandom better than me (during Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS against the Astros I refused to turn on any lights in the house as the game shifted from afternoon to evening, move from my seat, or God-forbid remove my rally cap, until the game had ended and the Mets were safely on their way to the World Series — yup all 16 innings and no bathroom break). Which is why I now lament these recent decisions of mine that were so clearly steeped in the emotion of the moment — I’m supposed to know better.

As if on cue, the Mets immediately blew a late 6-1 lead to the Nationals (anyone else still find themselves calling them the Expos by the way, or is that just me?), costing poor Jacob deGrom another win (more on him in a second), but managed to rebound and hover around .500 P.S. (post sneakers) for a week or so.  Now, still only a couple of weeks later, we sit in second place having been humiliated 11-0 this afternoon by the upstart Braves (and swept at home no less), a game and a half behind Atlanta (really??) in the division race. We’ve gone a miserable 5-9 since I hit “send” and placed my order.

So I’m dealing with a couple of thoughts right about now.  The first comes from the logical side of the brain (right side?  I can never remember…), which throws out that tired old chestnut of “if someone told you when spring training began that we’d be in the first week of May and the Mets would be 17-12 and in second place wouldn’t you have been happy?”  Yes, but…

NOT if you told me it would be in the midst of a catastrophic slide brought on solely (no pun intended) by an idiotic sneaker purchase by yours truly.

Anyway, the real thoughts I’m having are simply about how I might redirect this train wreck I’ve personally caused and somehow save the season before it’s too late.  So idea number one revolves around some sort of ritualistic burning of the sneakers in my backyard.  Maybe include an old Jim McAndrew baseball card in the blaze and/or my autographed 8X10 photo of George Theodore (The Stork!).

Idea #2 would be to return to the New Balance site and order customized sneaks of each of our primary rivals contending for  National League supremacy, and rotate wearing a pair whenever the Mets faced off against one of them (thinking Nationals/Expos, Braves, Cubs, Cardinals, D’backs, Rockies, Dodgers, etc.). However I’m afraid the baseball gods would see through that one, plus it’s too expensive and would take more effort than I feel I can expend.

Three, I could try to place the blame at the doorstep of DirecTV and cancel my subscription to that hexed MLB package.  Hahahahaha… I’m sure we can all agree that there is no way they will let me cancel (certainly not with any hopes of recouping my annual fee that was no doubt debited from my account within seconds of me completing my order). Not to mention the apoplexy I’m certain to feel while frantically screaming “REPRESENTATIVE” and “DON’T YOU DARE PUT ME ON HOLD AGAIN” over and over again into my iPhone…I am sweating and feeling shortness of breath just imagining the degree of difficulty involved here.

Sorry my fellow Mets fans, but I suppose we are simply stuck.  I will fall on the sword and take full responsibility going forward every time we see a recurrence of some variation of Jake deGrom hyperextending his elbow (while batting, for chrissakes), or for every headline about Matt Harvey making an ass out of himself (before miraculously finding himself in 2019 while wearing a Yankees uniform and winning 15 games — we know that one is coming, don’t we?), or when we all collectively scratch our heads and wonder how someone with the filthy stuff that Steven Matz possesses in his left arm can possibly stink it up so badly every fifth day — yup, I’m to blame.  The burden is a heavy one, I won’t lie.

I really can only come up with one other viable solution, and even that is a long shot.  I will make one final attempt at “reversing the curse of the orange and blue shoes” using my own secret powers in a quest for good over evil. Many of you close to me are well aware that my frequent predictions often have the unintended effect of causing the exact opposite result of what I anticipate happening to actually happen. Armed with the acknowledgement of that painful reality, let’s see if the following sure-fire prognostications can move the needle for us in a positive way:

*Yoenis Cespedes never gets his average above .250 this year and ends the year with a Granderson-like HR/RBI line of 19/41 (but gets his handicap back to single-digits, which is a good thing since he will have the entire month of October to spend on the links)

*deGrom’s elbow turns out okay, but he breaks a toe covering first on a slow roller to Jay Bruce (playing out of position at first base and making a poor toss behind Jake causing him to lose his balance before breaking the big digit stumbling over the bag) on  Memorial Day weekend.  He returns but is never the same, ending the year with an ERA over 5

*Amed Rosario never hits, but does lead the league in errors, as well as gaining notoriety for having the lamest beard in the National League

*Tomas Nido and Jose Lobaton join D’Arnaud and Plawecki on the DL as the Mets set a new MLB record with 5 catchers DL’d at one time (who is the fifth you say?  Why none other than J.T.  Realmuto, who gets shelved only one game after we acquire him for Brandon Nimmo and Dominic Smith in a trade initially applauded by the masses)

*Brandon Nimmo becomes the Marlins lone representative at the All Star Game after hitting .380 with a .475 OBP following his trade for Realmuto, quickly joining the ranks of Nolan Ryan, Amos Otis, Jeff Reardon and countless others in the pantheon of “great ones that got traded away”

*Dominic Smith balloons back up to 300 pounds as he dives deep into the wonderful culinary delicacies and nightlife of South Beach, while watching his batting average remain below the Mendoza Line for the Marlins despite amassing over 400 AB’s following the trade for Realmuto (sorry but had to include a cheap shot at Smith, since it’s so easy)

*Jeurys Familia is suspended by the team for punching out Dave Eiland after Eiland questions the big closer’s manhood for refusing to throw inside following his 11th blown save of the year in mid-June.  New closer?  Yup, Matt Harvey

*Jose Reyes ends the year as our starting centerfielder following a collision between Juan Lagares and Michael Conforto that lands both players on the DL, while bringing back memories of other great collisions in Mets history, like Mike Cameron and Carlos Beltran and Don Hahn and George Theodore (The Stork!)

*Todd Frazier sets a new club mark with his 200th strikeout in late-August, and flips off the fans on his way back to the dugout amidst a chorus of boos streaming from thousands of fans all doing the salt and pepper motion, which months before had morphed into a form of ridicule employed by the Mets faithful to show their disgust for Frazier and his .190 average and 11 dingers

Okay, I think that’s enough. Now let’s hope that all that negative karma combines with my penchant for picking the wrong side of the trade and counteracts the shoe curse before the 2018 season totally gets away from us. Additionally, I will begin thinking about positive predictions I can make about the crosstown Yanks to see if I can transfer all of our recent bad luck over to the Bronx.  Stay tuned and fingers crossed.

*Oh and one more for good measure — Mr. Met proclaims to the world we are #1 once again in 2018!

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Just couldn’t resist that one. But then again, hey, if someone told you back in February that we’d by 17-12 and challenging for the division lead on May 3rd…

Hosing in Salt Lake City (and other NBA musings)

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*Okay, so who out there was rooting for Oklahoma City last night? Didn’t think so.  Outside of the great state of Oklahoma, I can’t imagine there were too many not on the bandwagon of the upstart Jazz. Personally, I was thrilled to see the Thunder go down, had rooted for that outcome heading into the game, and other than my small desire simply to see how the Jazz might respond to a Game 7 on the road (not well was my best guess), there was just so little to like about OKC (hello, Carmelo!). So all the Jazz do is lose their point guard seven minutes in (Rubio already had 3 assists at that point), yet still manage to pull away in the third and hold off the Thunder down the stretch, as the veteran OKC squad desperately tried to stay alive and bring things back home for a 7th game. So I should be happy, but…

But man did the Thunder get jobbed on that non-call at the end.  After what seemed like umpteen OKC attempts at a game-tying three had rimmed out in multiple, agonizing caroms, the unspeakable actually happened.  Gobert fouls George in the act of shooting a three, and a desperate Jazz team was now visibly teetering on the brink.  Except no foul was called, and it was awful.

Would George have converted all three from the stripe and tied the game with almost no time left?  No way to know, although my own opinion is that he would have hit all three despite the fact that he’d suffered through a dreadful shooting night up to that point. Even if he just hits two of three, I saw little chance that the Jazz would go down and execute on the offensive end, and the game seemed to be unequivocally slipping from their grasp.

And how about the official’s post-game explanation that Gobert had jumped to the left and George had leaned into him, thus earning the “no-call?” Nope.  C’mon guys, this was on television! We all saw it. Yeah Gobert jumped left, and yeah, George leaned.  And yeah, a foul should have been called. Yup, it was a hosing of the first degree.

So instead of an agonizing choke for the second game in a row, the Jazz move on into what should be a five-game (maybe 6) series loss to the top-seeded Rockets. And let the finger pointing by the Thunder’s “Big Two and a Half” begin in earnest (tonight’s NY Post Sports online headline:  “Carmelo Anthony is done making sacrifices for Thunder”). Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…I’ll give you $28 million reasons Carmelo doesn’t opt out of that ridiculous contract of his (thank you, Phil Jackson).  It will actually make for a fascinating case study to see what Melo actually does (he says the money’s been made and this is about “figuring out what I want out of the rest of my career, what I want in my future, what am I willing to accept, if I’m willing to accept that at all.” Uh huh).

If he surprises us all and decides to put his legacy where his mouth is and opts out it will be telling to see where he signs.  Who wants him?  Does he really think LeBron will let him tag along wherever he goes in hopes of scabbing a cheap, end-of-career ring? LeBron is a lot of things, but dumb isn’t one of them, and he can’t possibly see how Melo can help him win somewhere, can he?  Can he?

Instead, look for Melo to parlay the one-year and $28 mil remaining into a multi-year deal with a second-tier team looking to sell a few tickets while the rebuild takes hold (Atlanta? Memphis?). Maybe three years, $45 million? Plus a free reign to shoot every time down the court with defensive effort optional?  Sign him up.  Legacy my ass.

Some other thoughts:

*Did anyone else find the Bucks-Celtics series incredibly uninteresting?  I know it’s been an uphill climb of a year for the Celtics, whose two most entertaining players are both out for the season (one since the campaign’s first game), and the fact that they are advancing at all is a huge credit to the guys they are putting on the floor, plus the great coach and strong front office.  But man, wake me when they get eliminated (by Philly in 6 in the next round methinks) will ya? I mean we had a Game 7 tonight and there was never even a question as to the outcome.

I blame the Bucks for that, as you could argue they are every bit as talented as the Jazz, were facing a lesser opponent (Celtics are not as good as the Thunder), but throughout this series looked happy to simply show up at home, while barely competing on the road.  And then quietly and dutifully go home for good, satisfied they’d taken the depleted Celts to 7 games.  So don’t blame the Celtics for winning a blah series, but don’t blame me for not caring.  Even a little. Ugh…

*If Steph Curry never gets back to 100% is he a Hall of Famer? Right now he’s got roughly 14,000 points, a career average of 23.2 points per game and 4000+ assists (just under 7 a game) over 9 seasons.  Oh yeah, and two titles (three if the NBA hadn’t shamelessly given the 2016 title to LeBron and the city of Cleveland).  That’s not a Hall of Fame career, at least at this juncture on statistics alone.  And if foot, ankle and knee woes begin to rob him of his quickness, hamper his ability to play defense, and get off that shot with his usual lightning-quick release, what happens to him?  Give him three more years as an above-average starter playing 65 games a year and averaging low-20’s and he starts to get close to 20,000 points, That, along with the titles (another this year? I’m thinking no…), and now he’s on the doorstep of The Hall. But not yet.

Steph’s lower leg injuries scare me, so let’s take my statistical projections one dramatic step forward and give him five more productive, but injury-riddled years, where he becomes a one-dimensional, spot-up shooter playing 20-25 minutes a game in 55 or so games a year? Now he’s finishing up in more of a Ray Allen-at-the-end type of stat line with 12-14 points a game, thus dropping his overall PPG average closer to 20 for his career and leaving him in a vulnerable spot with respect to The Hall.  He just concluded a regular season where he played in 51 games in his age 29 season, averaging 26.4 points and 6.1 assists. He’s going to be 30 soon and he seems to be taking longer and longer to heal when injured. Hmmmm…

For comparison sake, take a look at another awesome scorer who lit it up for awhile before injuries derailed his statistical juggernaut:

Tracy McGrady:  Hall of Famer. His last big statistical year was when he averaged 24.6 in his age 27 year with Houston in 2006-2007.  The following year he averaged 21.6 and appeared in 66 games.  He then played in 35, 30 and 30 games in the following three years, before rebounding with a role-player type of season for Detroit in 2010-11, averaging 8 points in 23 minutes per over 72 games.  He played one more year and retired with a career 19.6 average and just under 19,000 total points.  And never won a title.  But he got into The Hall. The prevailing sentiment being that when he was at his spectacular best, T-Mac was elite, and the fact that it continued uninterrupted (for the most part) over seven consecutive seasons sealed the deal.

How much are Steph’s titles worth to his legacy?  Says here they are pretty darn important (although adding one more this year would sure be a difference maker).  No title this year and a couple more injury-decimated seasons followed by an early-30’s retirement, and he is no lock.

*Will the Pelicans get swept? What if Boogie Cousins never got hurt? Both tough questions, but I’ll go with “no” and “no playoffs.”

I like how the Pelicans match up with Golden State in this series despite the destruction that’s taking place about 20 miles west of me at Oracle Arena tonight. Yes, in front of 20,000 hysterically gleeful Dubs fans, all clad in gold (yellow, really) t-shirts cheering hard for every three right to the final buzzer.

Rondo and Holiday are a tough backcourt for the Dubs to dominate though, and could steal at least one game on their own.  I’ll also give Anthony Davis one game of dominance and that makes it at least a 6-game series.  Don’t see it going further than that, but those Dubs fans better hope they make it out of this one healthy, as they’ll need all hands on deck for the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals, the series we all want to see.

And as for Boogie?  I love the guy.  He’s just so fun to watch, but this is a classic case of the team concept actually being stronger after the elite player goes out with an injury.  The New Orleans system is better with AD having room to roam and let his entire array of freakish skills be on display.  Hard to do that with Boogie needing the ball so much.  I’m afraid the problem is Cousins may actually be one of those guys who’s so much fun to watch but will never take a team all the way (see Wilkins, Dominique; Iverson, Allen; Haywood, Spencer). As much as it would be fun to see him in a Knicks uniform at MSG next year, we can’t.  Simply can’t.  Just can’t.  Please don’t! That is, if we are serious about building a real team that can contend one day.  Sorry Boogie.

*Anyone give the Pacers a chance going into Cleveland for Game 7 tomorrow? Me either. He’s still LeBron. I will bet that Indy gives us a better show than the Bucks did in Boston today, but we haven’t heard the last of The King during this postseason, and my bet is they will also take out the Raptors in Round 2 (and that one won’t go 7). Cleveland beating up on the Raptors will in turn set up my best case scenario in the Eastern Conference Finals, with Philly hosting the Brons (I mean Cavs).  Simmons, Embiid, and company will have to grow up fast in that one, but I feel like we may be witnessing the Ben Simmons Coming Out Party here in May and June of 2018, so look for the year of the Liberty Bell to continue if that one comes off as I expect it to.

In the meantime, look for 44/12/12 from King James tomorrow night, while one of his supporting cast members figures out how to do just enough to push them over the top in a close one (Larry Nance Jr. anyone?).  And oh by the way — short the Pacers next year.  Regression back to the mean for Oladipo and not enough upside going forward for the rest of that roster (except maybe Sabonis).  Fun while it lasted, but good night Indiana.

 

Three Quick Hits Across the Sports Spectrum

Football:  Okay, I’ll just say it.  How will the Jets foul up tonight’s draft? My worries center around the two teams drafting in front of them, the Browns and Giants.  If there is one franchise that can outdo the Jets in terms of shooting themselves in the foot, it’s the Browns.  So I anticipate them starting things off with the unexpected.  Like maybe they take Barkley (kicking off office pools all across Cleveland as to which preseason game will he suffer the major knee injury during), causing the Giants to trade down out of the 2-hole.  Pick-a-name takes the Giants spot at #2 (Bills maybe?) and takes Mayfield.  So do the Jets go for Broadway Sam at that point?  Or do they pull a Johnny Lam Jones 2.0 and draft the guard out of Notre Dame, figuring the Teddy Bridgewater regime is ready to roll.  Look for the unexpected in the draft’s first half hour and here’s hoping the Jets just stay steady and by accident they end up with Mayfield or Darnold (last what if — Browns take Darnold #1 and the Giants trade down, leaving some other team to come and take Mayfield #2.  Now what?  Logical thinking says Rosen becomes a Jet, and I like Rosen, but…we are the Jets and didn’t the kid have two concussions last year at UCLA?  It’s not easy being green…)

Basketball:  What a gut check for the Thunder last night at home agains the Jazz!  I have to admit I turned it off when the lead got to 25 in Utah’s favor in the 3rd.  So Billy Donovan opted for the go-simple approach from there — let his two stars win it, and they did.  Notice I said two.  Russ and Paul George are true beasts. Melo will be more and more of a ghost to the extent that the playoffs continue for OKC. And that’s the only way they pull this thing out. Of real interest to me though, is how the Jazz bounce back in Game 6 at home.  To me, this is by far the most interesting first-round series going, and I can’t help but wonder if the young Jazz had too much, too soon, what with their blazing finish to the regular season and then going up 3-1 (and by 25 points in the 3rd quarter of Game 5).  We will learn a lot about this highly entertaining squad in Game 6, as I give them ZERO chance to go back to Oklahoma for a Game 7 and pull it out. Here’s hoping I don’t have to hunt for NBA TV to watch Game 6 tomorrow night!

Baseball:  What’s up with Kershaw?  Six walks against the Marlins last night?  Man…something smells wrong in DodgerTown right about now.  Maybe it’s Matt Kemp.  It kind of seems like anything he touches goes the wrong way, even when he plays well.  And all the feel good stories from a year ago seem a little askew right about now.  Bellinger with a gaping hole in his swing; Wood no longer unbeatable; Turner still out; Kanley looking like all those innings have caught up to him — logic tells me there’s too much talent on the roster for them not at least get a Wild Card, but the NL West is the league’s toughest division this year, and if Clayton isn’t right I don’t see another ace emerging to lead them out of the wilderness.  Stay tuned.

Unbreakable

I had one heckuva blog post all ready to go at about 12:12 eastern time last night/this morning (midnight, in other words), when a combination of bad luck and my sorely lacking  technical skills conspired to delete the post as well as my futile attempt to save it in this thing called “the cloud.”. Given the hour and my inability to retain thoughts all that much longer than it takes to type them into my trusty laptop, that one is history. Gone, goodbye.

However, I do remember the gist of how I had ended things right around 12:13 a.m.  I had concluded the post with my list of the Five Unbreakable Records of Major League Baseball.  As with everything associated with The Sports Attic, these are my own biased opinions, and I’m interested in any and all other records you may consider the equals of these five.  Here they are:

  1. Cy Young’s 511 wins.  This one isn’t even worth debating and should lead off everyone’s list.  The bigger question today may be is there currently an active pitcher who will get to 300 wins?  Or, will we see another 300-gamewinner in our lifetime? My answers to those two questions are “no” and “yes” (hoping for a long life, which I will surely need if I expect to be here for the next Knicks championship parade).
  2. Cal Ripken’s 2632 consecutive games played streak.  No one approaches half of this record total ever again.  And yes, “ever ” is a long time for sure, but no one will get halfway.  Ever.
  3. Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak.  I remember Pete Rose getting to 44 and it seemed like if anyone could handle the pressure and grind it was him.  Nope.  Today’s bullpen specialization makes this one impossible to break.
  4. Hack Wilson’s 191 RBI’s in 1930.  This is like a video game number.  And by the way, this record was always 190, but somehow in the late-1990’s MLB added another ribbie to the Hacker, taking his current total to 191.  Nice to see that even Hack Wilson benefitted from inflated power numbers during the steroid era!
  5. Johnny Vänder Meer’s two consecutive no-hitters.  This is somewhat of a trick stat (and also one of my favorites to dish out at cocktail parties if I can manage to steer the conversation to arcane baseball stats), as someone could come along one day and throw two no-no’s in a row, but that would only tie the record, not break it.  I strongly believe it will never be equalled (“never” is a long time, too, by the way), but without a doubt no one comes along and breaks”Double No-Hit Johnny’s” mark with three no-hitters in a row.

I had stumbled upon the idea discussing MLB’s most unbreakable records after going through a favorite airplane exercise of mine, which is annualizing out early season stats to see what trends (or preposterous run rates) form at certain mileposts of the season. The 20-game mark is a good one, as there is enough critical mass to see a little of both, plus the math is pretty easy (the only kind of math I choose to engage in these days), as you just take the stats today and multiply by 8 to get roughly to that 160 game season total needed for comparison-sake.

So for example, Johnny Cueto (who won his second decision the other day) is currently on track for 16 wins for the Giants, possibly signaling a bounce back year for him.  At the same time, Patrick Corbin is on track for 32 wins.  Not only is that one preposterous, but coupled with his absurd comments in yesterday’s New York Post about wanting to be a Yankee one day so he can be part of a playoff team (huh?), immediately moved him to the front of my line of people to root against for the remainder of this baseball season.

Someone needs to tell Mr. Corbin that his Diamondbacks have the best record in the Senior Circuit (a few games better than his beloved Yanks, by the way) and were a playoff team last year.  I can envision the Post being passed around the Arizona locker room as I type this with a whole lot of head shaking going on.  He best keep up his Dizzy Dean impersonation circa 1934, as those kind of quotes don’t fly for a .500 pitcher (which, by the way, is what Corbin’s history tells us he is).

The stat that got me going down the road of unbreakable records using my “times 8” theory though, was seeing Didi Gregorious currently on track for 192 RBI’s.  Preposterous and absurd? Absolutely and also the result of a scorching start by the guy who replaced Derek Jeter (and seems poised to extend the torture session Jeter annually inflicted upon Mets fans another 10 years or so).  Which makes Hack Wilson’s 191 RBI record all the more impressive, as taking the hottest start in MLB this year, annualizing it out (with a slight boost, as the Bombers have actually played 21 games thus far in 2018) still only barely bests Wilson’s all-time mark.

But enough of that, because thinking about baseball’s unbreakable records took tonight’s  new and improved blog in a new direction. If we turn our attention to the other major sports, what are their unbreakable marks, and do they matter to us fans as much as the MLB records do? My quick answer is sort of in certain instances, but generally much less so.

I love the history of baseball and how the statistics allow us to compare players of different eras with at least the semblance of a level playing field baseline to begin the debate.  My disdain for those who were the main villains of the Steroid Era comes primarily from the statistical distortion it threw into this sacred historical perspective (that and the fact that somehow the worst offenders also seemed to be the biggest assholes in the game at the time — Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, A-Rod, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens. They messed up history, so hell yeah keep them out of the HOF as far as I’m concerned, even if I would let Rose and Shoeless Joe in tomorrow if given a vote).  Topic for another post.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the two other major sports (remember, I’m sorry but just not capable of speaking intelligently on the NHL, but guessing Gretzky probably has some stats that would have made their way into this post if I were), and see what records achieve  “unbreakable” status.  We’ll begin with the NFL, because it’s easier.

  1. Sorry NFL fans — in this age of readjusting rules annually to drive whatever may impact television ratings most positively, you simply can’t put any record in the out of reach category.  That is the short answer, but we did say five, soooo…
  2. As a kid when O.J. Simpson rushed for 2003 yards in only 14 games during the 1973 season I thought that would ever be equalled. Not only was it, but it was bested by great, but not iconic, backs like Adrian Peterson and Eric Dickerson (and even a “who’s that guy” named Jamal Lewis).  Barry Sanders beat it, too, but he was iconic.
  3. Dan Marino’s 1984 season was the best I ever witnessed by a QB.  He threw 48 touchdown passes before the rules were overwhelmingly stacked in the QB’s and receiver’s favor.  And even if the guys that came along years later and topped him were true Mount Rushmore types (as an aside, my Mount Rushmore of all-time NFL QB’s are Brady, Manning, Unitas, Namath…uh, I mean, Montana), I’m not convinced someone like Marcus Mariota, a good not great QB, won’t have a season where the moon, stars, offensive rules changes and right offensive coordinator all align into a 55 TD season.  Could happen.
  4. Emmit Smith’s career rushing record?  C’mon.  Barry Sanders would have blown by that if he hadn’t walked away when he did.  Look for Saquon Barkley at the top of this list one day.
  5. Okay, I will throw this out there, but it is with high levels of trepidation.  Jerry Rice caught 1549 balls for over 22,000 yards.  Today those totals rank number one by a solid margin.  Unbreakable?  Maybe, but dangerous terrain trying to call any NFL stat that is forward-pass-related unbreakable in today’s NFL.

Okay, so “unbreakable” doesn’t really apply to the NFL.  What about the NBA? This is really a Wilt Chamberlain discussion, as The Dipper posted such extreme numbers early in his career that most of his records will never be challenged, but still worth a look:

  1. We all have to immediately go to Wilt’s 100 point game (against the Knicks, of course, but no he wasn’t defended by Carmelo Anthony, or he would have gotten to at least 110). Is it unbreakable?  Welllll…a brittle and old Kobe Bryant scored 60 in the final game of his career, didn’t he? Of all of Wilt’s records, this is the one I can’t say with 100 percent conviction won’t get broken.  In today’s NBA, where stars are universally supported and promoted by the league, protected by the refs and idolized by the role players, is it too far fetched to imagine that LeBron might one day wake up and decide he wants to break Wilt’s single-game points record?  So Bron posts his intentions on Twitter, informs the Cavs front office and coaches this is going to happen, and with enthusiastic support from both his teammates and opponents (none of whom would want to do anything to alienate The King and risk the chance to one day wave the towel for him at the end of the Cavs bench), goes out and scores exactly 101.  Sorry, but could happen.  SMH.
  2. In Wilt’s third year in Philly he averaged 50.4 points per game.  Even Russ Westbrook can’t touch that one.  Yes, unbreakable
  3. In Wilt’s second year in the league he averaged 27.2 rebounds per game.  That one’s safe, too.  And I don’t care how bad the league’s collective shooting percentage was in the early-’60’s,  this one is mind boggling.
  4. And to finish this off, Wilt had 55 rebounds in a game in that same second season. Talk about bucking the whole Sophomore Jinx storyline. That record has zero risk of being broken.
  5. Despite those first four phenomenal records (three of which are unequivocally unbreakable), my personal favorite Wilt stat has nothing to do with points or rebounds.  In 1961-62 he averaged 48.5 minutes per game. He played every minute in 79 of the 82 games that year.  Add in overtime games and he actually averaged more than a full game played a night.  Unreal.

If you are ever bored go to NBA.com and hit up the list of records Wilt holds. It just goes on, and on, and on…

Michael Jordan remains the greatest NBA player I’ve ever seen (footnote that I only caught the tail end of Chamberlain’s career), but Wilt’s stats are absolutely staggering.

So while I may not have been able to recapture last night’s blog now currently drifting aimlessly in cyberspace, this one gives you the core concepts — Five Unbreakable MLB Records, “Times 8” philosophy for looking at standings and box scores at the 20-game mark of the baseball season, root agains Patrick Corbin, Hack Wilson was an absolute beast — I think that about covers it.

Topps Time Machine — Destination 1972

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Who remembers Walt Williams?  If you do, you probably can’t help but insert his nickname here — “No Neck.”  I’ve been killing some time recently going back to the days of my youth by leafing through old baseball card albums and shoe boxes that used to be prominently stored in my boyhood closet (in fact, when I remember those days of the early ’70’s, there was a curious dichotomy between the complete chaos of all things strewn about my bedroom, and the meticulous system of order I had put in place to properly classify my baseball cards).

As I look through these cards today I find it fascinating to compare and contrast the reactions I have now versus those I recall having had as a kid. The ballplayers captured back in the 1972 Series were all 20 to 30 years older than I was, and today those same stars, benchwarmers and solid major leaguers are all 20 to 30 years younger than I am.  Circle of life, or something?

So when I look today, I fondly recall the uber-cool nickname of Walt “No Neck” Williams, but I can’t help but find it puzzling why no one took a look at Ed Brinkman’s 1972 Topps card and began calling him Ed “Long Neck” Brinkman.  Or Ed “Two Necks” Brinkman.  In fact, if I was either the Tigers or White Sox GM back in the day (by the way, to this day I consider being the General Manager of a major league baseball team to be the absolute most desirable profession going — something current-me has in common with 7-year-old-me), I most certainly would have orchestrated a trade to add one to the other, or maybe for each other, just for the “neck comparison.”

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I mean, come on, take a look at Brinkman!  Missed opportunity all around back in ’72. And while on the subject, Brinkman actually had a well above-average career, spent mostly with the Senators and Tigers, with a plus glove and occasional pop as well (14 HR’s in ’74).  What happened to those days when the shortstop was an automatic out?  I kind of miss those slick fielding, choke-up-the-bat and hope-for-the-best shortstops of the early-’70’s.  In my preferred division, the NL East, at that time the starting short stops included our beloved Buddy Harrelson, Don Kessinger in Chicago, Dal Maxvill for the Cards and Larry Bowa for the Phils.  Over in the NL West you had Roger Metzger in Houston and Sonny Jackson in Atlanta.  Punch and Judy’s all around.

Slot that skinny guy into the 8-hole in the order and pencil in a .225 average with 2 homers and 37 RBI’s over the course of 500+ AB’s and call it a day.  No Cal Ripkens or A-Rods back then, and there was something that felt right about that if you ask me.

But I digress.  Flipping through those ’72’s, there seems today to be so many untold backstories dying for a caption practically jumping out of the staged batting stances and defensive ready positions that the Topps photography teams used for their shoots in the early ’70’s.  For instance, let’s start with poor Lee May for a second.

In 1970 he was an anchor in the middle of the order for the initial version of the Big Red Machine. He absolutely mashed NL pitching and helped lead the Reds to the World Series (in Sparky Anderson’s first year as Reds manager), where they lost to a scary good Orioles team. In 1971 he followed that up by finishing third in the NL in round trippers during what was a down year for nearly all of his Reds teammates.  They finished under .500 and May was basically the only guy who didn’t take a notable step back in his stats.

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So how do the Reds reward him?  Yup, they traded him.  And didn’t just trade him, but sent him to what at that time was a hopeless outpost of desperation — Houston. Now full disclosure here — the Reds got Joe Morgan in return for May and Tommy Helms (another above-average middle infielder back in the day), but he wasn’t Joe Morgan the Hall of Famer at that point in his career, so you really can’t blame Lee if he was a bit bewildered when the Topps team arrived on the scene that spring.

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If that expression on poor Lee May’s face doesn’t say “you traded me where???” then I don’t know what does.  And in classic Topps style, I’m pretty sure that the Astros logo on Lee’s helmet was painted in by the team back at the lab.  Yup, Lee May.  To his credit he kept on hitting, even in the Astrodome in front of crowds of 11,000 or so, but it was never the same for ole Lee.

A couple of others I found funny.  Take a look at the expression on Bobby Valentine’s face here.  In the spring of ’72 he was being touted as the next great Dodger, and everyone had high expectations (including I’m sure Bobby V) for what he would accomplish in Dodger Blue.

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As sure as Lee May looked to me like he was about to burst into tears in his 1972 Topps card, the inimitable Bobby V is clearly announcing himself to the world in his card (by the way, I was always a fan of the “backhand reach” pose that Topps frequently used with middle infielders) with his best “Hey, look at me!” smile.  With the benefit of 45 years of history now at our disposable, what we can say with certainty is that the baseball world was getting an early glimpse at someone who would go on to distinguish himself as one of MLB’s biggest horse’s asses, first as a player and later as a manager (and yes, he got us to the 2000 series, but he also put on a fake nose and mustache in the dugout once, too — defense rests).

Not to be outdone, Billy Martin’s 1972 Topps offering speaks volumes.

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Take a close look at Billy’s left hand resting on the bat.  Yup, he’s flipping Topps (and I suppose both 7-year-old me and 50-something-year-old me) the bird!  And again, armed with the benefit of the historical rearview mirror, we just know that’s no accident. While Bobby Valentine’s shit-eater of a smile only foreshadowed years of all-about-me, smartest-guy-in-the-dugout narcissism, Martin’s middle finger salute simply confirmed what all who had witnessed both his playing and managerial career to date in 1972 already knew — he was one of the all-time great jackasses of the game.

Only a couple more.  This seemingly harmless Dave Duncan card contains a jewel for those interested in obscure statistical anomalies.  Duncan was an above-average catcher with some pop for several great A’s teams, including their first World Series winner in 1972. However, he is perhaps best known for becoming one of the game’s most esteemed pitching coaches following the conclusion of his playing career, primarily working his magic on championship staffs managed by Tony LaRussa in Chicago, Oakland and St. Louis.  But for baseball wonks like yours truly, here’s what caught my eye:

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In 1969 Dave Duncan recorded 127 AB’s for the A’s and hit .126.  Really?? He hit .126 and stuck around for over 120 AB’s??  Today he doesn’t last more than 10 games with that stat line, but back then the catchers were in the lineup for their gloves/arms and for the pitchers.  So you could appear in more than a third of your team’s games (58 in 1969 for Duncan) and not hit a lick.  Wow, not sure why this strikes me as amazing, but it does.

While on the subject of those great A’s teams of the early ’70’s, was there a cooler pitcher (heck, was there a cooler Major Leaguer) than Vida Blue?  From his name itself (kudos to his parents for coming up with “Vida”), to his off-the-hook 1971 stats as essentially a rookie (only 312 IP, 24-8 record with a 1.82 ERA and 8 shutouts, not to mention 301 K’s) that earned him both MVP and Cy Young awards, the guy was just bad ass.  Plus he could hit reasonably well for a pitcher and chose to run off the mound at the end of the inning during a time when starters always walked back to the dugout (shout out to Mel Stottlemeyer who also ran as I recall — I’m sure there are others, but I just remember Vida Blue and Mel).

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And yes, this is the 1971 Topps (my personal favorite by the way, for those awesome black borders), and even though a year prior to my 1972 Time Machine destination, it just had to make it into this post for the peace sign (or at least what I like to think today was a peace sign).  Vida is still kicking around the Bay Area these days, primarily as a community ambassador for the Giants, with whom he resurrected his career in the late-’70’s, and he is roundly revered by all as simply a great guy, but to me he will always be an A’s starter with that peace sign in the air. Yup, so cool.

Last note from the Time Machine.  It’s interesting what memories get jogged loose when stepping back in time to another era.  Who remembers Cleo James?

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Guessing this may be a darn small fan club.  Most of us baseball fans have that one game they remember that got them hooked.  Mine was on June 23, 1970 (thanks once again to Baseballreference.com for taking a random memory and finding the exact game when it took place), when the Mets were in the process of winning an exceptionally exciting afternoon tilt in extra innings against the Cubs, 12-10.  My memorable moment took place in the 5th, when the Cubs erased an 8-5 Mets lead with a rally that included a speedy Cleo James racing around from first on a Randy Hundley double to tie things at 8.

It was a bang-bang- play at the plate and as the ump signaled safe I raced off screaming to my parents about the injustices of my Mets losing a BIG lead (more foreshadowing here Mets fans about what my future as a diehard would so frequently feel like) and that the WORST PART was that the Cubs player who tied the game was CLEON JAMES.

Not the at-the-time clean shaven Cleon Jones of the Mets, but a faster, cooler Cleon who was part of the hated Cubs (did every team have a “Cleon” I wondered?), and who had just ruined my afternoon! I’m not sure which was more frustrating to me at the time, the loss of the lead or the patronizing way my parents tried to tell me I must be mistaken about the identity of the Cub who had scored.

There surely could not be another Cleon in the league, let alone one with the last name “James,” so similar to our Cleon’s, they explained to me. Try as I might, all I got was that “isn’t he cute” reaction that made me want to start kicking grownup shins with reckless abandon.  The fact that the following morning’s Star Ledger sports column and recap vindicated me (sort of, since his name was Cleo, not Cleon) did little to ease the pain.  At least the Mets had come back and won in extras. And I was hooked as a Mets fan and remember that sequence to this day.

Fast forward to May 1, 1972, somewhere near Madison, NJ.  My friend Roddy’s birthday party (he was a year younger than me and also a fledgling card collector and baseball fan, although through some bad decision-making ended up a fan of the Yankees) included a “colored peanut scavenger hunt” with peanuts painted colors spread around Roddy’s yard to be collected by the dozens of party attendees, with corresponding points allotted for the various colors, and totals to be tallied at the end (of course anyone reading knows the real reason for the hunt was so the kids would be tired and sleep on the car ride home).  Being a year older than most of Roddy’s other friends counted for a lot at that age, and somehow my peanut colors added up to the most points.

To this day I remember my Aunt Alida smiling at me as she came outside with the prize (she had a great smile, my Aunt Alida), saying “I had a feeling you might win something today” before tossing me one of those super, three-pack, clear plastic covered Topps packages. This was the Magnus Opus for us card collectors, and what made those “three-packs” particularly awesome was the whole see-through thing, meaning you could get an idea of which ballplayers were waiting for you inside those plastic vaults.  And on top of that first sleeve, there in all his glory, was Cleo James.  Still have the card above, and will always have that memory.

If you are sitting on any old cards and have some time to kill (or maybe a mood that needs to be turned around), I recommend getting into that Time Machine and seeing where it takes you.  Nothing but good destinations await.