1.Farewell Bruno Sammartino.
Sometimes an obscure news item can transport one in time. I hadn’t thought about good ole Bruno and his WWWF championship reign that kicked off my early-teen years of the late-’70’s in what seems like forever. Wrestling was way, way, way off the grid back then. Those were the days of of sleepovers with buddies and trying to catch a few squared-circle matchups airing after midnight on WOR Channel 9 in the New York area.
Vince McMahon (my gosh, how old is he??) was host and announcer, and often the butt of crude jokes from the mouths of bad guy managers like “Classy” Freddy Blassie (“you pencil neck geek!”) and Captain Lou Albano. They were the larger than life characters that made hating the bad guys in all their “beer-belly hanging over their tights” glory (often with foreign objects tucked just out of sight of the easy to fool refs) so easy for us young and impressionable fans.
These days WWE has become a mainstream, multi-billion dollar industry with huge television and merchandising deals, and it is all too easy for me to turn up my nose at those fanatics who tune in to all these staged extravaganzas. Which is why it was healthy for me to get sent back to that time in my youth. I was all in back then. I bought the magazines, my friends and I mimicked the moves (my buddy Palmer had a great Chief Jay Strongbow face — “the chief is confused!”) and we rooted hard for our favorites as if we were talking Mets and Yanks (does anyone else remember scouring the Star Ledger sports section for that small, buried paragraph on a Monday morning with the results from Saturday night’s card at Madison Square Garden that had finished too late to make it into the Sunday editions?).
It was good, clean fun, before girls, beer, etc. starting trumping WOR’s late-night programming on Saturday nights. And Bruno was the king. I remember fans crying legitimate tears when he finally lost the title (and me vehemently disputing the fact that it was all choreographed and “fake” with the nay-saying older kids in the neighborhood).
My guess is if you are reading this you can relate, whether you were a fan of that vacant look on George “The Animal” Steele’s face as his enormous tongue hung from a corner of his crooked mouth, or one who crowed “Polish Power” at the top of your lungs when Ivan Putski hurdled the top rope and made his entrance into the ring, or if you thought it was cool that Superstar Billy Graham’s manager (The Grand Wizard of Wrestling!) slathered baby oil on his overinflated biceps pre-bout (kinda just creepy today, but then again, the Grand Wizard was big-time creepy). It was an hour of pure entertainment. Thanks for the memories Bruno.
2. Not sold on the salt and pepper thing. Tonight’s Mets comeback win against the Nationals was inspiring. Maybe we have something here with this 2018 squad. They don’t quit, the high character guys brought in over the winter are certainly panning out thus far, and (knock wood, knock wood, knock wood) the starting pitching could actually meet the lofty expectations of a year ago.
My one gripe (admittedly more of a gripe when we were down 4-2 after 7 tonight, than after we put up the 9-spot in the 8th) is this whole salt and pepper rallying symbol. Sorry but it seems contrived to me. And while I really like what Todd Frazier has brought to the club (is there a Mets fan out there not psyched to have a real third-baseman in the lineup, and that the “David Wright could be back soon” charade is a thing of the past?), I feel like he came up with the salt and pepper idea sitting in a conference room sipping a latte with his agent back in January.
As much as I despise the Yankees, the whole “thumbs down” thing for them in 2017 was arrived at organically. It was funny, just happened one day (at the expense of a stereotypically bitter Mets fan no less) and ended up being a legit “thing.” The fact that Frazier got the ball rolling on that one makes me even more skeptical this season. Is he now the “symbol guy.” Handing out t-shirts? We haven’t played game 20 out of 162 yet. Sure, maybe we’ll play .700 ball throughout the season with no prolonged slumps, but I just have the feeling that at some point this could become an awkward albatross hanging over the clubhouse.
I mean, what if a couple of pitchers go down, Cespedes and Rosado topple over in a golf cart on an off day and Familia reverts to his 2017 form, not the 2015 reincarnation we are currently witnessing? Say we are 55-70 in August (God forbid, but not completely unrealistic), and 10 games out of the wild card? Do we still grind the pepper when we get a two-out base hit? Hopefully I’m dead wrong and simply stuck in that purgatory familiar to any Mets fan fearful of getting expectations too high after a good start. I know, I know, I’ll probably be doing the darn thing by next week if the winning continues, but just sayin’.
3. If you are Billy Donovan, what do you do about Carmelo as this first-round series with the Jazz turns into a dogfight back in Salt Lake City? The Jazz are young, strong and fast. They play great team defense and move the ball well on offense, with this rookie Mitchell kid announcing to the NBA that his regular season wasn’t a fluke (even though he still finishes second in the Rookie of the Year poll — Ben Simmons is a beast). Down the stretch tonight, with the Thunder AT HOME, it looked like four on five when the Jazz had the ball. Oklahoma City is that disadvantaged on the defensive end, and that’s with George, a plus-plus defender, on the court. And what’s (almost) sad is that this isn’t about Carmelo’s lack of effort on D anymore, it’s his absolute lack of ability.
I’ve always felt the Melo just didn’t care about defense (see photo above, beautifully illustrating what we Knicks fans witnessed on the defensive end during his tenure in NYC), but tonight it became apparent that he just can’t keep up. And on offense he literally heaved two god-awful three-point attempts as the game clock was winding down and the Thunder were still hanging on to a final shred of hope. He just can’t be the guy taking those shots anymore, especially not with Russ and Paul out there in full stud mode.
Donovan is cursed with a thin bench (that’s how you acquire the Paul Georges and Melos these days, by giving up your depth), and removing Anthony entirely would be met with lots of criticism from the jersey-buying, towel-waving Thunder fans who think they still have Melo from five years ago. I stand by my call that if (and after tonight it appears a HUGE if) the Thunder escape the first round and ultimately face the Warriors that they will beat the Dubs. The matchups work for them, but Melo needs to become part of the second unit — a late-in-his-career Bob McAdoo 2.0 — who can fill it up in spurts when their Big Two are getting a blow. And that’s it.
Will be interesting, but having Carmelo on the floor when the game is hanging in the balance will cost Donovan and the Thunder this series.