How Do You Handicap a 60-Game Baseball Season?

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I was ready for the 2020 baseball season back in March. So damn ready.

I had my tickets to the Mets home opener locked down since the prior winter (looked like it would be deGrom versus Scherzer, too), and had bought a 10-pack of Angels games behind the first base dugout. From that vantage point I looked forward to witnessing the wonder of Mike Trout, live and in person, all summer and into the fall (not to mention Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon).

The anticipation of the Astros upcoming shitshow — 81 road games amidst trashcan-banging, angry mobs — had me excited, and the spring injuries suffered by several key Yankees had me smiling.

Pennant races? I had those figured out, too, eager to see how my predictions would play out over the delightfully long, 162-game MLB season. For the record, I was going Yanks/Twins/A’s as division winners, with Astros-Angels for the Wild Card in the American League, and Mets/Cardinals/Dodgers winning divisions in the Senior Circuit, with the Braves and Reds in the play-in game.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to Opening Day…

And now here we are in late-July sorting through 30-man rosters, a bastardized extra innings format, and cardboard cutouts in the stands (full disclosure, you’ll see mine alongside Copper Springs Roddy in the Foul Ball Zone at A’s games if you look hard enough — if a foul ball hits your cut out, they send it to you! Yes, it’s the little things).

Yup, it looks like we are going to try this after all, folks. Come Thursday night, the 2020 Major League Baseball season will begin, and with any luck, will run clean through to it’s 60-game conclusion, sometime in October.

And that means it’s time to begin forecasting, even during these unprecedented times.

This shortened season is a whole different ballgame (pun intended) for those in the prediction business, but it seems to me there are three primary drivers that will ultimately factor into who emerges as playoff-worthy 60 games from now.

TALENT

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Yeah, the talent factor doesn’t ever go away, whether it’s over 162 games or 60. And that’s good news for fans of the Yankees, Dodgers and Astros, where there seems to be the greatest collection of talent versus the balance of the league’s rosters. But if you think about it, there’s a lot of talent running through both leagues these days. You will find multiple stars dotting the rosters of the Mets, Nationals, Braves, Phillies, Reds, Cubs and Brewers, and I’m not even past the NL Central yet.

And that’s what makes handicapping a short season so challenging. Hot streaks, cold spells, injuries and opt outs (there’s a new term for us prognosticators) all will have their influence on pennant races. And those races will begin in earnest at the season’s halfway point in 2020 (which happens to fall around Labor Day in this new, bizarro world).

What we’re talking about here, folks, is the ultimate puncher’s chance. You could make an argument that over 20 teams have enough star power and fire power to make a run at the dance, which is why our next category will hold extraordinary importance in 2020.

LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE (BAD CHEMISTRY)

This yin/yang category will ultimately separate the contenders from the pretenders in the upcoming, abbreviated season.

Think about this for a second — let’s say some middling team like the Arizona Diamondbacks gets out of the gates hot. Their new workhouse, Madison Bumgarner, feeling fresh and eager to justify his free-agency millions, offers to go on three days rest all year, and comes out firing bb’s. The D-Backs open 15-5, racing to a lead in the NL West before Dodgers fans have finished unwrapping their new Mookie Betts jerseys.

Should Arizona play .500 ball from there forward, they finish 35-25 (which equates to roughly 94 wins in a 162-game season). Such a record pretty much assures them a wild card slot, if not the division title outright. How many teams can give themselves hope with such a thought? Pretty much every team outside Detroit, Miami and Kansas City, if you ask me. And shit, if one of those three clubs comes out on fire? Who knows?

Uncharted territory, remember?

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Which is why the teams with the most talent, who are expected to win, better be careful of the “yang” in this equation — that dreaded “bad chemistry” quicksand that can slow even the fastest of sprinters out of the starting blocks.

Has there ever been a team more primed to suffer a rough start due to bad chemistry and negative karma than the 2020 Houston Astros? If there has, I can’t think of it (okay, I can, but I try never to think about the 1987 Mets).

The Astros ride into the 2020 season universally despised around the league, with a new manager and GM in place, and their 2019 co-ace in pinstripes. Hmmm…better hope they don’t find themselves 14-16 down in Houston at the halfway mark.

And that leads us to our third factor, which is when a sprint breaks out during what we had expected to be a marathon of a baseball season, there will never be more importance placed on the shoulders of the manager and the front office.

LEADERSHIP

I happen to be a believer that the skills that make a baseball manager effective during the regular season are quite different than those that help a team win a competitive series in the playoffs.

If World Series were won on talent alone, the Royals would have won back to back titles in 2014 and 2015. But Ned Yost, a terrible in-game manager, was no match for Bruce Bochy in 2014, and the Giants won their third series in five years because of that mismatch on the top step of the opposing dugouts.

The following year, Yost caught a break when he looked across the diamond and saw his equal in mediocrity — Terry Collins of the Mets. The two field generals essentially cancelled each other out (although Collins earned the ultimate goat horns with the Matt Harvey debacle in Game 5), and the Royals won the title thanks to their superior talent.

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Over the course of a regular season, a great manager may get a team a couple of extra wins, or a poor one may manage them out of about the same. Sometimes that means playoffs versus going home, but on a great team (say, the 2019 Dodgers, for example), the manager’s pros/cons are barely a blip on the chart of a regular season juggernaut.

But it’s a different story when the talent level evens out and the postseason rolls around. Now every strategic decision is magnified. And yes, Dave Roberts looms as about the only thing that could keep the Dodgers from another division title this year, when the shortened calendar will place a greater onus on the manager being a regular-season difference-maker.

Add to that the need for the front office to maneuver, deal and navigate through the minefield of injuries and illness we are surely about to witness, and organizational leadership will likely never play a greater role in the outcome of a single season than it will in 2020.

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Fans in Tampa and Oakland should be feeling the optimism of that competitive advantage, thanks to their sound leadership teams. So should fans of the Evil Empire up in the Bronx. Teams where questionable or invisible leadership could cost a playoff berth? Once again Houston comes to mind, not to mention the epically unstable New York Mets.

With all of that as a backdrop, here are ten early conclusions we here at SportsAttic have drawn with Opening Day heading our way in a matter of days:

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  1. The combination of Dusty Baker’s poor in-game managing skills, the void in the Houston front office, and the cloud of bad karma that’s been circling the Astros since last winter keeps the defending AL champs out of the 2020 playoffs.
  2. Dave Roberts has too much talent in L.A. to miss the playoffs, but once again will come up small in the postseason as the Dodgers miss their best chance to end their World Series drought.
  3. Aaron Boone’s ability to skillfully manage both his clubhouse and between the lines, coupled with the Yankees depth and supreme talent, will take the Bronx Bombers to the best record in baseball and the AL’s top seed come playoff-time.
  4. The second seed in the AL will go to the team with baseball’s second-best front office/field manager combo (and many would argue Beane/Melvin are, at a minimum, Cashman/Boone’s equals) — the Oakland A’s, who finally avoid the Wild Card game and come into October as AL West champions. 
  5. There will be a surprise, “lightning in a bottle” team that makes the playoffs in both leagues. Think Padres, D-Backs, Reds in the NL, and White Sox, Angels, Rangers in the AL. And at least one of them will come in as a division winner.
  6. Look for one team to be eliminated on the final day of the regular season, when they lose an extra innings game after the “inherited” runner on second scores the game-winner. Astros anybody?
  7. Yoenis Cespedes is crowned NL home run king, clubbing over 20 dingers during the shortened regular season, which secures him a huge free agent deal from some desperate AL club in the offseason. Look for that deal to go down in history as one of the worst free agent signings of all time.
  8. Joe Girardi’s ultra-intense style is made to order for the Phils during the “every game matters” 2020 regular season. Philly reaches and wins the NL Wild Card game, earning a date with the top-seeded Mets in the NLDS.
  9. The Rays, everybody’s darlings when the season was set to begin back in March, finish last in the AL East.
  10. The Minnesota Twins earn a Wild Card berth and advance, simply to restore some sense of order to baseball by getting blown out by the Yankees in the ALDS.

And here’s how they’ll finish–

AL East — Yankees

AL Central — White Sox

AL West — A’s

AL Wild Cards — Twins and Angels — Twins advance

NL East — Mets

NL Central — Reds

NL West — Padres

NL Wild Card — Dodgers and Phillies — Phillies advance

ALDS — Yankees over Twins; A’s over White Sox

NLDS — Mets over Phillies; Padres over Reds

ALCS — A’s over Yankees

NLCS — Mets over Padres

World Series — In a rematch of the 1973 Fall Classic, the Mets gain their revenge, winning in 6 games, with Series MVP Jacob deGrom victorious in Games 1 and 5, and earning a three-inning save in the clincher.

You heard it here first — Play Ball!

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How’s a Sports Fan Supposed to Feel About All This?

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It looks like baseball is on the way.

And basketball, and hockey, too. And for all intents and purposes, football season begins in July, too, nowadays. I’m just not sure how to feel about all this.

For many reasons.

We will begin with the easy one.

Some of my most deeply ingrained routines are being messed with here in a big way. I mean, Opening Day in late-July? NBA Finals over Labor Day Weekend? I’ve spent 50 years both reveling in, and taking comfort from, the seasonality of my favorite sports. Even during those years where we lost games (or seasons) due to some form of labor strife or other, the sports were true to their appointed months on the calendar.

This year started out much the same. Baseball gave us pitchers and catchers in February, and all was right with the world. The NBA was plodding through the dog days of their regular season with an exciting playoff tournament taking shape that would overlap with the early-season MLB games, thus providing the right amount of variety and relevance for fans of both sports. Who’d have guessed that only a few months later we’d find ourselves…

Where?

No major sports and a void the size of the Grand Canyon wreaking havoc on all sports fans on a daily basis.

The NFL? Somehow the NFL has managed through this global pandemic “relatively” unscathed. No easy task for a league that can fuck up the most mundane of topics — hey, what constitutes a catch these days, fellas? Preseason camps are getting ready to open, and fans or not, they appear determined to execute on their complete, 16-game schedule come hell or high water.

But here in 2020 — the year of the virus — NFL games will have company on the calendar from both their baseball and hoops brethren, as well as those that earn their living on skates. And I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t feel right.

To get to the core of what’s really bothering me, we can start with baseball.

Yes, the ridiculous, hair-pulling fight between the players and owners was embarrassing for both sides and ill-timed to put it mildly. But what’s emerged from their “agreement” as it pertains to my National Pastime is what is really doing a number on me. Because I’m a staunch traditionalist.

If you ask me (and unfortunately nobody does), there should be no Designated Hitter anywhere in Major League Baseball. I’ve sucked it up with the Junior Circuit flouting the natural order of baseball with their gimmicky use of an extra bat since the early-’70’s, but at least the National League has held the line. Now with this 60-game, farce of a season about to begin, we find a DH thrust upon us in both leagues.

That’s just the crack in the door fans of the DH have been waiting for, and with a new collective bargaining agreement coming our way in 2021, the days of Rick Wise hitting two dingers while throwing a no-hitter may never be seen again. And I’m sorry, but taking the bats out of the hands of pitchers sucks.

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But wait, there’s more!

Are they really serious that extra innings games will now begin with a runner on second base? I guess they decided breaking the tie with a home run hitting contest was too cheesy? Good lord…

Maybe we can bring Charlie Finley’s orange baseballs out of hibernation, too, and use them for one hitter a game for each team. The manager gets to choose any hitter he’d like, in any situation. And if the orange ball gets taken out of the park, they award double the number of runs than would have scored if it had been a “traditional” home run.

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Genius, I tell you.

Meanwhile, I’ve been applauding the NBA for it’s leadership within the world of sports up until recently. Commissioner Adam Silver acted quickly and with authority getting his players off the court and out of the virus’s way before any of the other major sports leagues decided to take action. So it seemed appropriate the NBA was first to come up with a plan to restart things this summer.

But not so fast…

First Kyrie Irving (who won’t even be in the Orlando “bubble” when games resume) tells his fellow players around the league that restarting the season will take attention away from the inroads being made in the areas of social justice and racial equality. And therefore, they should boycott a season’s resumption.

So Kyrie is worried about hurting the greater good, huh? Or is he just pissed that he’s injured (again) and won’t be a part of the restart. Add to that how his old frenemy LeBron stands a good chance of winning a title while Kyrie rehabs back in Brooklyn, and maybe we need to question his real motivation? Hmmm…based on all we’ve seen of Kyrie through the years, I’m going to wager that he is way more bothered by the prospect of watching LeBron win another title than he is motivated to reinforce peaceful protest.

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And what of LeBron? Yes, when not instructing all co-habitants of planet earth on how to think and speak, LBJ is all for getting back on the hardwood. In fact, he counters Kyrie’s social justice argument with one of his own. The King believes that resuming the season will create a more visible platform for players to impact positive change toward racial equality, not hurt those efforts the way Kyrie believes they will.

Admirable? Perhaps, but could there be just a bit of self-interest influencing LeBron’s view? Like how the Lakers stand to be the top seed in the Western Conference if a season is completed? And that this could be his last and best chance to win a ring in a Lakers uniform?

Nah, not LeBron. Not when he has a history of sitting silently watching which way the wind blows on every important national issue, before grabbing the baton and taking his spot at the front of the parade once the lines of demarcation have clearly been drawn by others on social media.

Yeah, it’s all about LeBron wanting that ring.

And we’re not done, NBA. What’s this I see now about players substituting words or phrases concerning racial inequality on the backs of their jerseys in place of their last names when play resumes? C’mon guys, really?

Isn’t the idea of names on the backs of jerseys a fan experience thing? It’s always been done as a way of helping us keep track of who has the ball, or is involved in what activity over the course of a 48-minute game. In fact, those jerseys and their accompanying last names have become such a part of the league’s fabric that we even track which players’ jerseys are “best sellers” over the course of a given season?

Well pardon the skeptic in me, but is it even slightly possible that Commissioner Adam Silver, the owners, and the NBA Players Association may be looking to find alternate revenue opportunities to replace a portion of the money lost due to the pandemic?

C’mon kids, we know you already have the Kawhi Leonard #2 jersey at home, and it’s your most prized piece of NBA apparel. But now to complete the set shouldn’t you pony up another $200 for an official NBA-licensed Clippers #2 jersey? And this one, instead of saying “Leonard” on the back, now says “Equality?” Revenue drivers or change agents? You decide.

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Alright, enough negativity. I’ll leave the rest for the Post’s Phil Mushnick. Because there is another side to this coin.

And that’s this — sports are coming back!

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I saw that the Nationals and Yankees may be opening the MLB schedule. That means Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole on the hill, and I’m already excited. I don’t even care if they both go three innings. From there I boomeranged right back into fan mode.

Yup, I’m already hoping that not enough time has passed for Aaron Judge to be fully healthy. And I’m organizing a pool with my friends where we all pick the name of the major leaguer most likely to be sidelined by the virus first. And of course I select Bryce Harper. Because, you know, we all hate Bryce Harper.

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The DH? Yeah, I absolutely hate that, too. But let’s pencil in Yoenis Cespedes as league MVP right now, for leading the Mets to the division title (will there even be divisions?) with 30 dingers in 60 games from the blue and orange DH slot. Hey, if there’s gotta be a bastardized form of NL baseball being played, let’s at least have the Mets take advantage of it.

And speaking of the Mets (can you believe it’s taken me over 1200 words to get to them?), if there was ever a season made to order for a New York Mets success story, it is the virus-shortened 2020 campaign. For one, we always get off to a fast start, which has never been more important than this year with the abbreviated schedule. Two, in a year where everything is all f-ed up anyway, what better team than the Mets to lay claim to a World Series title. It’s karmic justice, right?

Too bad the Knicks can’t make such an argument and sneak into the NBA play-in tournament, too. Nah — check that — the Knicks are so bad that it’s probably better we just shut them down now and let them begin interviewing the 20 candidates they’ve “narrowed” their search down to in deciding on a new head coach for next season.

But I’ll root for Brooklyn, for sure. How cool would it be for the Nets to make a little noise in the postseason without either of their two big-ticket free agents lacing up a sneaker in the postseason?

Football?

I have to believe Roger Goodell is hard at work in that nicely appointed basement of his, doing his absolute damndest to find something that can blow up the upcoming season. The NFL survived the virtual draft, and even managed to make it must-see TV for many of us. And they finally appear on the verge of framing correctly that patriotism and peaceful protest for social justice and racial equality don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Hell, they’ve even figured out a way to undo the Evil Empire up in New England.

Yeah, there must be an enormous NFL fuck up hurtling toward us like a meteor any day now.

But as Chris Berman says, “that’s why they play the games.”

Okay, bring it on sports leagues — I’m ready.

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Play Ball — You Guys Are Embarrassing Yourselves!

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Am I the only one sick of the painful, back and forth negotiations between owners and players over whether we will see any baseball this season?

Didn’t think so.

As usual when these two sides square off, it will come down to how they divide up the money, and my best guess is the billionaires and the millionaires will both give just enough as time grows short to get us some semblance of a season started by the middle of July.

So, if we all know this is the likely outcome, why must we go through this awful dance, listening to jackasses from both camps posture on a daily basis, whining and pointing fingers, with the only real outcome being that both sides look like selfish assholes?

I wonder what Bert Shepard would think of all of this?

You’ve likely never heard of Bert Shepard, despite his retiring from Major League Baseball with a career E.R.A. of 1.69, which, if he had enough innings to qualify, would be an all-time record.

However, Shepard isn’t remembered for his E.R.A. He is remembered as being the only major league baseball player to ever appear in a game with an artificial leg.

Shepard was a minor league left-hander with a blazing fastball and a penchant for walking hitters. He did stints with, and was released by, both the White Sox and Cardinals organizations in the early-’40’s, before enlisting into the U.S. Army Air Force in early-1943.

He ultimately became a pilot, earning the rank of second lieutenant, and was stationed in Wormingford, England. On his 34th mission over Germany, Shepard’s plane was shot down by anti-aircraft fire. One of the shells hit him in the chin, knocking him out, and another tore through the bottom of his right leg. His plane crashed into the Hamburg ground at an estimated speed of 380 MPH.

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German doctors amputated the leg eleven inches below the knee, and Shepard was sent to a prison camp in Meiningen, Germany. It was there Shepard met Dr. Errey, an imprisoned Canadian medic, who made Shepard an artificial leg. While a prisoner of war, Shepard first learned to walk on his new leg, and then taught himself to throw again on the wooden leg, using a cricket ball during exercise time in the prison camp yard.

In February of 1945, eight months after being captured, Shepard was part of a prisoner exchange and ultimately returned to America. He landed at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he was fitted for a new prosthesis. While at Walter Reed, Shepard was visited by the Undersecretary of War, Robert Patterson, who learned the former pilot had been a baseball player and wanted to resume his career. Patterson was close friends with the owner of the Washington Senators, Clark Griffith, and passed this information along.

Shepard received his new leg on March 10th, and four days later was in College Park, Maryland, for a tryout with the Washington Senators. Shepard always liked to tell people he was “lucky” that it was the right leg he’d lost in the war, since as a left-hander it was the left leg that he pushed off with while driving toward the plate. At the end of March, Griffith had seen enough to sign Shepard to a major league contract. Shepard would work on his control in exhibitions and on the sidelines, with the goal of being added to the staff later in the year.

He started a couple of exhibition games, including one against the Brooklyn Dodgers on July 10th to raise money for war relief, and General Omar Bradley pinned the Airman’s Medal on Shepard’s uniform in a pre-game ceremony. Shepard went out that day and only allowed one hit through the first three innings, before being relieved in the fourth.

On August 4th, 1945, his opportunity finally came. Washington manager Ossie Bluege brought Shepard in to mop up in the 4th inning, with the Senators down 14-2 to the Red Sox. He entered with the bases loaded and two down, and struck out the hitter to end the inning. He would go the distance from there, throwing the next five innings and allowing only one run on three hits.

After the game, Shepard had this to say about his outing:

“There was much more pressure on me than it seemed. If I would have failed, then the manager says ‘I knew I shouldn’t have put him in with that leg.’ But the leg was not a problem, and I didn’t want anyone saying it was.”

Unfortunately for Shepard, the Senators were involved in a pennant race, and Bluege was unwilling to use Shepard in any more contests. Shepard was released on September 30th, and with players beginning to return from active duty, he was unable to make the big league club out of spring training in 1946. The Senators asked him to be a part of their coaching staff, but his bug to play wouldn’t die, and Shepard requested to be sent to the minors to continue his career. He never made it back to the bigs, but the left-hander continued to take the mound and fire away in the minors for another seven years.

In short, Bert Shepard was a complete and utter badass.

One more note about Shepard.

In 1949, he signed to pitch and manage a team in Waterbury, Connecticut. He said the reason he wanted to manage was because “always before I’ve had a manager who was afraid to take a chance on me. Now it’s up to me. Every fourth day when I make up the lineups, that ninth man is going to be B. Shepard, pitcher.”

Shepard was so confident in his ability to pitch, that he even offered to play for $1 for the season. However he also requested to be paid $400 for every win that came with him on the mound. The team ended up signing him to do both jobs for $4000, but by August the club said they could no longer afford to pay him, and Shepard was released.

Now get this — the Waterbury players threatened to go on strike if Shepard was let go. Ultimately a players committee banded together with some local merchants and they raised enough money for Shepard to complete the season.

Bert Shepard was a total badass.

We bring up Bert Shepard now, because despite the fact that MLB has become a multi-billion dollar business enterprise, we’ve got to believe that at their core, at least a few of the owners, and most of the players are still “true” baseball folk. They’ve got to see the rampant destruction taking place as this ridiculous game of chicken goes on, don’t they?

Because baseball isn’t their game, it’s our game.

Baseball was played during the World War II years because the national pastime was deemed essential to keep up the spirits of the nation. Many of the biggest stars were sent overseas — the Yankees alone lost Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Tommy Henrich, and Red Ruffing for parts of seasons during the war — and doors were opened for players like Shepard and Pete Gray, the one-armed outfielder who hit .218 in 77 games for the St. Louis Browns.

Baseball was deemed necessary during World War II. It remains “essential” today.

So please, no more talk about what percentage of pro rated salaries should the players expect. And yeah, we’re all really tired of the owners crying poor over the lack of games, attendance, parking revenues and concessions. Quit the crying and get back to the negotiating table. And don’t leave without a deal in place.

The sad thing is, all this squabbling over how to divide up the MLB billions has overshadowed the discussion that ought to matter most right now. You know, the one about what protocols will be needed to keep the players and all those involved in the game safe and healthy as this global pandemic rages on?

Right, there’s bigger issues out here MLB, in case you haven’t noticed while doing your damndest to get as much of “yours” as you can.

Bert Shepard died a few days before his 88th birthday in June of 2008. I’m glad he’s not here to witness this embarrassing MLB shit show that is all about the money, when there is so much more to tend to in the world today.

Shut up and play ball.

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Sports World Nostalgia — Where Were You Then? The ’70’s

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There’s an enormous void.

Given the tragedy that has struck so many during this pandemic, it feels trivial to complain over the elimination of all sporting events while we search for a way to return our world to normal. But the void is real. We miss our sports and all they bring to us in the way of entertainment, distraction and joy.

However, if there is a silver lining to the dearth of daily sports programming on the tube, it’s that those of us with a bent for nostalgia are getting some unexpected relief as the networks replay fun and exciting games from years past.

My Mets fan buddies back east have been reveling in replays of the postseason runs of 1969 and 1986. Angels fans here in SoCal have been getting a steady diet of vintage hardball from their championship season of 2002. And do we need to further reinforce the hype surrounding MJ and the Bulls teams of the ’90’s? The Last Dance concludes tonight, right? Promise?

Of course, trying to come up with glory days for certain franchises can be more difficult. For example, the other day as I surfed the channel guide out here, I came upon a replay of the 1974-75 NBA eastern conference semifinals between the Washington Bullets and the Buffalo Braves. Why was this relevant to west coast hoops fans? Well, the Braves were the precursor of the current-day Clippers, and since there isn’t much postseason glory to harken back to for fans of the Clips, we had to travel in time all the way back to the mid-’70’s, when the Clippers played their games in Buffalo, New York.

And it was one hell of an enjoyable journey. First of all, we had Brent Musburger calling the game, with the Big O, Oscar Robertson (in full ’70’s splendor with an open neck shirt and maroon sports coat) doing the color commentating. Honestly, I’d forgotten just how good that Braves squad was. Ernie Digregorio (who sat this one out with an injury) was the Buffalo point guard, and the NBA’s consensus fastest man, Randy Smith, was coming into his own as a talented, two-way shooting guard. Garfield Heard was a beast on the glass, with much better offensive moves around the basket than I remembered. And I’d totally forgotten Buffalo had picked up Jimmy McMillian from the Lakers, but there he was, firing away every time he got his hands on the ball.

Dr. Jack Ramsay was stomping around the Buffalo sideline, cursing like a sailor, rolled up program in hand. He’d implemented a fast-paced system built around superstar Bob McAdoo, and the Braves could score in bunches. And man, was McAdoo good. So good that it almost made me understand how the Knicks could have crippled their franchise for years to come when they acquired him a few years down the road. Big Mac’s battles against the uber talented (and often ignored in comparison to other big men of the ’70’s) Elvin Hayes — The Big E!!– was worth the price of admission. Phil Chenier, Wes Unseld and Kevin Porter on the Bullets side of things made this two hours of awesome entertainment.

The real point here, though, is that we are left to ponder “where were we then” when these grainy gems pop up on our screens. During the era when the Bullets-Braves game was played, nine-year-old me was probably shooting baskets in the driveway of my Glendora, CA home. I was no doubt ignoring what was going on in the NBA back east (the Knicks fall from grace was just beginning, but certain not to last very long…) and wondering how the uninteresting Warriors, led by that selfish gunner Rick Barry, could somehow be emerging as favorites out west.

It got me thinking back to the 1970’s, and other memorable sporting event moments of my youth, from a “where was I when that happened” perspective.

I’m guessing all sports fans have their personal list of most meaningful and memorable events, the ones that really left an imprint. The years may have faded out the specifics and details, but the headlines live on deep inside us. While we wait out this interminable slog toward some form of professional sports resumption, it is nice to be able to escape for awhile — to sit back and think back — and construct our lists of the sporting moments that have stayed with us all these years.

Here, in chronological order, is mine, focusing on the decade of the ’70’s — SportsAttic note: for the purpose of this exercise, I’m leaving out the obvious, such as Buddy Harrelson kicking Pete Rose’s ass in the ’73 NLCS and Reggie’s three dingers in the ’77 series, since they’ve already gotten plenty of coverage from prior SportsAttic posts:

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  1. “The Game of the Century” — Nebraska vs. Oklahoma in Norman, OK — 11/25/71

Alabama QB Pat Sullivan won the Heisman Trophy in 1971, but the two best players on the two best teams were flanker Johnny Rodgers of Nebraska and tailback Greg Pruitt of Oklahoma. Rodgers had caught 57 balls for 956 yards and 11 TD’s that year — off the charts numbers when you consider the ground and pound style of the Cornhuskers back then, and six-year-old me considered him the greatest college football player of all time. Period. Pruitt was no slouch though, gaining 9.5 yards per carry for the Sooners back in ’71. The build up to this game earned it the cover of Sports Illustrated, and the game didn’t disappoint. It was a night game, and I didn’t make it anywhere near the end, but all I needed to see was Rodgers take the first punt of the game 72 yards to open the scoring, and all of my opinions about the utter greatness of the receiver who would win the Heisman in 1972 were confirmed. It didn’t matter that Nebraska fullback Jeff Kinney scored the next four TD’s for the Huskers, including the game winner late, because to me this was all about Rodgers besting Pruitt. Anyone else remember this one? I took in the action from a very ’70’s family room sofa in Convent Station, NJ. How ’bout you?

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2. The NFL’s “Longest Game” — Miami Dolphins vs Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City — Christmas Day, 1971

Easy to understand why this one remains lodged in the old memory banks. My sixth Christmas was spent at my great-grandmother’s apartment in Bronxville, NY. It was there I first heard the term “sudden death,” and was instantly fascinated with how a term I understood in its literal context could be applied to a football game. This one never should have gone to OT. Jan Stenerud missed a 32-yard field goal attempt that would have won it for KC in the final seconds of regulation, and then had a 42-yarder blocked in the first OT. Miami would then miss a 52-yarder, also in the first OT, before Garo Yepremian (funny how this little guy showed up in so many early NFL memories for me) redeemed himself and mercifully ended it in OT number two. There were 13 future Hall of Famers involved in this matchup, but it was obscure Chief Ed Podolak’s day — 350 total yards amassed on the ground, in the air and returning punts and kickoffs. I would replay in my mind Lenny Dawson going deep to Otis Taylor for years after that one. What a game!

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3. 1972 Summer Olympics — USSR vs United States 9/9/72 — Munich, Germany

I was back on the couch in that Convent Station, NJ family room for this one. What I remember most is my father’s extreme, visceral reaction as the United States was blatantly robbed of a gold medal in front of the entire world. This was back before USA Basketball turned olympic hoops into a farce by including pros and creating the Dream Team. As it was explained to seven-year-old me back then, the coolest part of olympic basketball was that our amateurs took on pros from around the world and still won every four years. In fact, the USA had collected all seven gold medals awarded since hoops became a part of the games (with the USSR frustrated by only silver for the prior five of them). Despite a chippy and hard fought game that included the Americans’ top scorer getting ejected early in the second half, and a mugging of Doug Collins as the clock wound down where no technical was called, Collins somehow dusted himself off and hit two free throws that should have ended the game with another gold medal for Team USA. Not so fast. A blatant disregard for scoreboard operation, the rulebook, and player substitutions gave the USSR three tries at a full length desperation inbounds pass. Long-armed, 6’11 Tom McMillen was even moved six feet from the baseline by the refs to better facilitate the USSR’s third try at winning the game. And yup, that one connected, giving the USSR the gold and my dad a near-coronary.

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4. The Bruins streak comes to an end — UCLA vs Notre Dame, 1/19/74 — South Bend, Indiana

My family moved to Southern California in the early-’70’s, at the height of UCLA Basketball’s dominance. The Bruins, under the leadership of the legendary John Wooden, won seven straight national championships and 88 consecutive games (72 of the 88 by double digits!) heading into their January matchup with the second-ranked Fighting Irish. The streak was at 1092 days and counting, and eight-year-old me had no reason to think it would ever end (UCLA had not lost a basketball game the entire time my family had lived in the state of California). Especially since that day Bill Walton was returning, having missed the previous three games with a bad back. Notre Dame had a terrific team, featuring Adrian Dantley and John Shumate, but in addition to Walton, UCLA put out a lineup that included future NBAers in Keith Wilkes and David Meyers. To this day, this UCLA hoops fan believes they should have won that one in South Bend, too. As time was running out, Walton missed a short turn around off an inbounds pass, and the Bruins had two more cracks at it, including a missed Meyers tip-in that I still can’t believe didn’t go down. Shumate finally pulled down the rebound for the Irish, launching the ball toward the rafters — the streak was over.

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5. The “Anthony Davis Game” — USC vs Notre Dame — The Coliseum/Los Angeles, CA —  11/30/74

Southern California sports fans gained some measure of revenge against their tormentors from South Bend later in 1974, when the best USC football team ever assembled hosted the Fighting Irish at The Coliseum. The Trojans were loaded as they were for most of the ’70’s, but it was always about the tailback at USC. In 1974, that tailback was Anthony Davis, and he was having an unbelievable year — one that should have led to him taking home the Heisman Trophy. To my utter disbelief, the Trojans fell behind 24-0 in the first half, and it appeared their national title dreams were in the process of being dashed in a rout at the hands of one of their biggest rivals. But just before halftime, Davis returned a kickoff from his own end zone, taking it all the way (fun fact — Davis averaged 42.5 yards per kickoff return in 1974). The extra point missed, but the Trojans didn’t look back on their way to scoring 55 unanswered points. Most of the 55 came on the back of the spectacular Davis, who produced one of the most prolific performances in NCAA football history. Those 55 points  came in only 17 minutes of play, absolutely destroying the Golden Domers. But for Davis, the performance was a little too late. Back in those bygone days, the Heisman voting deadline was prior to the end of the regular season, so voters didn’t get to factor in Davis’ performance against Notre Dame, and the trophy went to Ohio State’s Archie Griffin in yet another travesty of justice. This contest was viewed in the family room of another very ’70’s home located in Glendora, CA. Where were you the day Anthony Davis went wild?

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6. Chris Chambliss Game Winner — New York Yankees vs Kansas City Royals, ALCS Game 5 — 10/14/76 — Yankee Stadium

It’s hard to imagine there was a time when this lifelong Mets fan actually liked and rooted for the New York Yankees, but that was the case back in 1976 when the Bombers returned to the postseason for the first time in my lifetime. The Yanks of ’76 were a likable ball club that had been constructed by a combination of smart trades that brought players like Mickey Rivers, Ed Figueroa and Lou Piniella to the Bronx, and free agency (Catfish Hunter). The ’76 ALCS began an epic rivalry that would last much of the next decade between the Yanks and Royals, and the  teams were always evenly matched. This one appeared to be heading toward an easy clinching party for the Bombers, when Figueroa (working on three days rest) coasted into the 8th up 6-3. But Billy Martin lifted him after giving up a leadoff single, and before you could say Grant Jackson (really, what was Martin thinking), George Brett tied things up with a three-run homer that nobody other than Brett remembers to this day. That’s because in the bottom of the ninth, the Yanks strong, silent first baseman, Chris Chambliss, turned on Mark Littell’s first pitch and launched his game-winner (we didn’t call them walk-offs back then). As an added element of excitement for 11-year-old me, watching in yet another very ’70’s family room, this one in Morris Township, NJ, Chambliss was unable to make it completely around the bases. The delirious crowd had stormed the field and an ugly scene unfolded. My last memory of that night was seeing the burly Chambliss turn into a fullback, bowling over fans as he ran for his life into the Yankees dugout. I worried that Chambliss’ not touching home plate could constitute a forfeiture, but was reassured when I read in the next day’s Star-Ledger that they’d brought him out later to ceremoniously touch the ground where home plate had once been (a lucky fan had taken off with the actual plate).

So there’s your view into the nostalgic vault of AtticBro’s 1970’s sports world head. Let’s hear from SportsAttic Nation — when you think back on your most meaningful sports memories from the decade of the 1970’s, what comes to mind?

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MJ Delivers Pain Anew Thanks to The Last Dance

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Yeah, I watched it, too.

I wasn’t going to, and didn’t really want to, but there is such a dearth of original sports programming on the tube right now… I felt as though I had no choice.

ESPN’s The Last Dance aired Sunday. I knew it would be painful, but didn’t think it could compare to the agony experienced, courtesy of Michael Jordan, the first time around. I was wrong.

Because Michael Jordan was then, and remains today, the enemy. And Scottie Pippen will always be his overrated sidekick. And Phil Jackson is still the gangly, sanctimonious blowhard, who without MJ would never have risen beyond the ranks of quirky assistant coaches.

Some context here.

I started out a Michael Jordan fan. Liked him at Carolina, and had nothing against him when he joined the moribund Chicago Bulls for the 1984-85 season. The Bulls had never been a rival of the New York Knicks, and at that time there was no reason for concern over what the future might hold. As good as MJ was right from the get-go, many fans (including this one) regarded him as a helluva scorer who was incredibly entertaining to watch, but unlikely to ever win big. Because the scorers never did (see Wilkins, Dominique; or McAdoo, Bob).

When the Bulls faced the Celtics in the playoffs back in ’86, I enjoyed Michael’s coming out party like the rest of the country. I took particular delight in seeing him make what was, in my opinion, the best Celtics team ever assembled, sweat a little during their opening-round victory. It was the Celtics who still occupied prime head space when it came to Knicks fans and their NBA arch enemies, and we knew our time was coming with Bird & Co. showing signs of getting old.

For Knicks fans, our fortunes had begun to change during the postseason a year earlier, when we came out of the draft lottery with the first pick and Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing on the way.

Now the seven-foot Ewing was exactly the kind of player that carried a franchise to multiple titles, like Bill Russell had in the ’60’s, and Abdul-Jabbar more recently. When Rick Pitino came to town and began to change our losing culture a couple of years later, aided in large part by the enthusiasm of a young Mark Jackson at the point, the Knicks’ future appeared bright.

SportsAttic Note: It seems unfathomable looking back today, but between the 1987-88 season — Pitino’s first in New York — and the 2000-2001 season — one year after Ewing’s last in New York — the Knicks made the postseason fourteen years in a row, including two appearances in the finals, and another two conference finals. Yes, the New York Knicks!

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Pitino implemented a frenetic, high-pressure defensive system that featured a lot of full-court pressing, and surrounded Ewing with a bunch of raw, three-point shooting youngsters, and they rode that model to a 52-30 record and the 1988-’89 division crown. They swept the 76ers out in the first round in three straight (including a classless scene where they somehow found a push broom and brought in out onto the Philly floor when Game 3 had concluded) and moved on to the conference semis to face Michael and the Bulls.

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The Bulls had won 47 games during the ’88-’89 season, and upset a 57-win Cavaliers team in the first round, with Jordan breaking hearts all across Cleveland with his jumper (The Shot) to win the deciding Game 5 over an outstretched Craig Ehlo — a moment that is certain to be captured in an upcoming episode of The Last Dance.

Still, the Knicks were division champs, and the Bulls entered the playoffs a seven-seed. We all knew Jordan was a force, but felt Chicago would simply be a stepping stone to the conference finals once Pitino figured out how to stop the Bulls only threat. Not so fast. The Bulls came into Madison Square Garden and stole home court advantage in Game 1 behind 34 points from Jordan, and in doing so sent a message to us Knicks fans that we had a real problem on our hands.

In the next three Bulls wins (they bounced out the Knicks in six games), Jordan went off for 40, 47, and 40 points, and that was the last we saw of Rick Pitino on the Knicks bench. The Bulls and MJ didn’t get past the Pistons that year or the next, allowing us haters our final shot at MJ, saying that as spectacular as he was, he wasn’t a star that could win the big ones.

Not…so…fast.

I really can’t go much further on this topic, because the mere mention of Charles Smith makes me go into convulsions (GO…UP…STRONG…WHAT…THE…FUCK???), but suffice it to say that decade of the ’90’s was a challenging one for the Knickerbockers and their fans.

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Pat Riley came along and instilled a toughness, defense, and character that had been missing since the ’70’s, and again we felt our time was near. An assortment of talented players, full of personality and fun to watch, were uncovered by Riles — gritty guys like John Starks and Anthony Mason — and with the early-’90’s upon us, every year felt like it would be the year for the Knicks to return to past glory.

The year where we finally would send Michael Jordan home.

We certainly had our moments, but when the final results were tallied, all we really had to show for our run of success was a deep hatred of MJ. Yeah, we hated Michael, and for good measure we hated his selfish, always-whining toady, Scottie Pippen. We even extended our hatred to the entire city of Chicago, and that ref-baiting, fake-intellectual coach of theirs — Big Chief Triangle (thank you, Jeff Van Gundy).

Charles Smith (Riles! Why was Smith in the game at such a crucial moment? Why?) cost us our best shot to put the sneaker on Michael’s throat in ’93. Then, during Game 7 of the ’94 finals, Starks picked a terrible time to go ice cold, and compounded matters by steadfastly refusing to pass to any of his teammates. A year later there was the missed finger roll by Patrick that sent Indy to the finals, when we all knew 1995 had to be our year.

MJ had given us a two-year window to claim a title while he swung and missed badly at curveballs, and we had come up empty.

And now Michael was back. The GOAT put together another three-peat beginning in the ’95-’96 season, and that run concluded with the film crew on hand putting together much of the footage that The Last Dance is built around. By then Patrick was on the down slope of a magnificent (ring-less) career, and injuries were starting to become a recurring problem for our star.

The Big Fella missed the finals in ’99 (note that Jordan left the Bulls twice during the Knicks 14-year playoff streak, and each time New York made the finals the very next season), leaving us defenseless against a Spurs squad that boasted both a young Tim Duncan and The Admiral, David Robinson. And while there was one more conference finals loss to come against the Pacers during Patrick’s last year as a Knick, Michael had essentially ripped our hearts out over a decade when we had the best Knickerbockers teams of my adult life on the floor, and number 33 jumping center.

And I know, we Knicks fans aren’t the only ones that can look back on those days ruefully. Charles Barkley sits in his TNT studio without a ring today in large part thanks to MJ’s dominance. Karl Malone and John Stockton sit at home, also ring-less. There are more.

I was lucky enough to catch Wilt Chamberlain toward the end of his career. And Kareem from the beginning of his. Magic and Bird at their best were always contenders, too. But Michael Jordan was the best I’ve ever seen — the one and only GOAT.

The pain remains real, watching him all over again. But at least there is the silver lining in knowing that the younger generation of hoops fans can finally gain some understanding as to why us old guys laugh and shake our heads when they claim LeBron James is the GOAT.

It was and is Mike. And it really isn’t close.

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Willie, Rickey and The Duke? All-Time New York Mets Starting Lineup

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When Mets fans choose among the franchise all-time greats, we don’t have the luxury of waxing poetic over whether we want Mantle or DiMaggio as our starting centerfielder. No, our debate is more along the lines of who ya got at second? Felix Millan or Edgardo Alfonzo? (For the record, the correct choice is Millan.)

Then there is that difficult dividing line one must cross when constructing all-time teams — the line that forces fans to choose between “best” and “favorite.” For instance, if we consider “body of work while playing for the New York Mets,” our “best” centerfielder would be Mookie Wilson. Favorite? That’s a deep, personal conversation for every Mets fan, but for me, it will always be Tommie Agee.

These last several weeks in lockdown, bemoaning a barren sports landscape, have given those of us who think about such things time to ponder a myriad of all-time starting fives, defensive lines, batting orders and starting rotations. To shake things up a bit, and out of deference to the Mets historic knack for trading all-time greats before their prime, or acquiring legendary names long after, SportsAttic has decided to put together the New York Mets All-Time Lineup — consisting of the best major leaguers to ever don a Mets uniform, (and this is the important part) regardless of how long their stay may have been in Queens.

So here we go (and yeah, we’ll start in the deep end of the pool, with the near-impossible decision surrounding three Mets Hall of Famers — yes, you read that right):

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CATCHER: It’s hard to pick a starting backstop when you have three hall of famers to consider. But that’s our task leading off here, and choosing between a three-time MVP; The Kid, who was synonymous with our most recent World Series champion; and the man who delivered the 9/11 game-winner, is the Rubik’s Cube of Mets puzzles. However, the rules say we have to make a pick, and we’ll go with Mike Piazza. Yogi gets DQ’d for all those years in pinstripes (not to mention managing us out of the ’73 World Series), and while the heartstrings cry out for Gary Carter and his unabashed enthusiasm that introduced us to the curtain call, Piazza’s sustained excellence at the plate just edges out Kid in the closest call we have at any of our positions. Winner: Mike Piazza

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FIRST BASE: This is another close one, and not because we have stars in our eyes over all those juiced-ball dingers Pete Alonso hit last year. At first blush this was a dead heat between Gil Hodges and Keith Hernandez. Like Berra, Hodges was a fading New York hero brought to Shea way past his prime to try and sell tickets on those lousy early editions of the Mets. While his time as a Met was brief and undistinguished (as a player, anyway), his career body of work is borderline Hall of Fame, and that’s before we consider his outstanding glove. Speaking of gloves, our beloved Mex was the gold standard for guys my age when we look back on iconic Mets stars of the past. The dilemma here is that there’s an actual Hall of Famer here we have to consider, Eddie Murray. Murray is a member of the elite .300/500 club, and like Mickey Mantle, did it as a switch hitter. While we may not consider him in the class of a Hernandez or Hodges when it comes to the glove, his career fielding percentage actually slots in exactly between Hodges’ .992 and Keith’s .994 (yeah, stats guys, Murray threw around the leather at .993). So who’s the pick? Well, it’s my list and I’m passing up Murray, who was surly and underwhelming during his two years at Shea, and going with Keith. Winner: Keith Hernandez

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SECOND BASE: It is so much fun to harken back to the days when Millan seemed like he was choking up all the way to the bat’s label while hitting second for all those lovable Mets teams of the early- to mid-’70’s. Or shake our heads in retrospect at Fonzie’s power numbers hitting third for Bobby V.’s contenders around the turn of the century. But this one really isn’t close. Yeah, Roberto Alomar was an enormous bust as a Met, but his Hall of Fame career as one of the best second baseman in the game overrides the disappointment he dished to us all when he arrived in New York amidst much hoopla. Winner: Robbie Alomar

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SHORTSTOP: As tough as our choice behind the plate may have been, the selection for shortstop on our All-Time is that easy. Has their ever been a more exciting home grown star for the New York Mets than Jose Reyes? He was the type of player you came to the ballpark to watch, be it in the field, on the bases or at the plate. A Reyes triple up the alley was worth the price of admission and always concluded with the signature chant — Jo-zayyyy, Jose, Jose, Jose… He won a batting title, led the league in steals and triples multiple times and came within a Beltran-called-strike-three of leading our ’06 squad to the World Series. Winner: Jose Reyes

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THIRD BASE: At first this one felt like a no-brainer, too. The Mets dearth of quality third-sackers (Wayne Garrett, Mike Cubbage, Joe Foy, Bob Aspromonte, Lenny Randle, etc.) over the years was part of the Mets quirky history up until Captain America came on the scene. Manning the left side of the infield with Reyes, David Wright was our answer to Derek Jeter across town, and appeared to be Cooperstown-bound. That was before a new stadium with impossibly deep and high outfield walls robbed him of his power numbers, though, and then injuries took care of the rest. So this choice was as easy as Reyes at short, right? Not so fast. There was a pretty fair third baseman by the name of Ken Boyer the Mets brought on board in 1966 — once again to much fanfare. Like Berra and Hodges before him, his track record with his former team didn’t translate into results at Shea. But check the numbers, Boyer was nearly an equal of Wright’s when we look at all-time stats, and most who saw him play would argue Boyer was the far superior third baseman. To further complicate matters, don’t forget about the converted Atlanta Braves catcher, who became a league MVP at third after being traded to St. Louis for Orlando Cepeda, and would one day become the only player-manager in Mets history. Joe Torre showed up in blue and orange in the mid-’70’s (you guessed it, right after his best years were behind him), and immediately regressed in skills so markedly that we felt like we had another Jim Fregosi on our hands. One could make a solid case that Torre was the most accomplished third baseman of the bunch, but again, it’s my list and Wright is the pick. We’ll leave Torre for Yankees fans to deal with when choosing between he and Casey for the Bombers’ all-time manager’s spot. And Boyer? Well, he was only a Met for a year and a half, and David was, well, Captain America. Winner: David Wright

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CENTERFIELD: Say Hey. Nuff said (although much love to my boyhood favorite Agee, not to mention Mookie, Nails and the first ever batter in Mets franchise history — Richie Ashburn). Winner: Willie Mays

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LEFT FIELD: The sentimental choice here is Cleon Jones, for his spectacular 1969 campaign when he led the league in hitting for most of the season (he finished third) and caught Davey Johnson’s fly ball to conclude the most unexpected World Series win in MLB history). But Rickey says don’t forget about Rickey. Yeah, Rickey may have concluded his blue and orange tenure playing cards in the clubhouse while his team was engaged in an extra-innings fight for their playoff lives on the field, but this one is nearly as lopsided as going with Mays in center. Winner: Rickey Henderson

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RIGHT FIELD: Oh, dilemmas. If we go strictly on stats as a right fielder, Bobby Bonilla is the choice (egads!). Of course, there’s no EFFING way we EVER let Bonilla back in the house (it’s bad enough dealing with “Bobby Bonilla Day” every year when his deferred money pays out). And revisiting the Bobby Bo years is unnecessary when the franchise’s all-time home run king once owned right field at Shea Stadium. Straw was our first truly GREAT homegrown position player, and for an eight-year stretch beginning with his Rookie of the Year campaign in ’83, it appeared he’d also be a sure-fire Hall of Famer. But similar to those incredibly talented Mets teams he was a part of in the ’80’s, so much more was expected due to all the physical gifts Darryl Strawberry possessed. Meanwhile, remembering that we are measuring all-time greatness for those who wore a Mets uniform at some time during their career, there was another Mets right-fielder who would one day be enshrined in Cooperstown by the name of Duke Snider. Indeed, The Duke was even captured in song as the third of the holy trinity of 1950’s New York centerfielders, when he’d put up huge numbers for those excellent Brooklyn Dodgers clubs of the day. And check the old scorecards — Duke played 293 career games in right, including 63 for our 1963 New York Mets. Add to that the fact that Duke Snider was AtticMom’s favorite player as a little girl growing up in the ’40’s,  and Darryl comes up just short. Winner: Duke Snider

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STARTING ROTATION: An absolute embarrassment of riches to choose from as we assemble our all-time New York Mets rotation. Of course you have to start with The Franchise, Tom Seaver. And with Tom Terrific as our ace, we can add a little bit of everything to the mix. There’s one Hall of Famer we got rid of before he became immortal — say hello, Nolan Ryan! And another HOFer we acquired long after the magic had begun to erode. Yup, Warren Spahn and his 363 career wins donned the blue and orange for the first half of the ’65 season, and from the looks of the picture above, it must have been right around Spahnie’s 50th birthday. Throw in Pedro Martinez, who kickstarted our brief return to respectability during the mid-2000’s when he elected to sign with us as a free agent. Now you are four-fifths of the way to the best rotation ever assembled. Over their storied history, the Mets actually had a fifth future Hall of Famer toe the rubber at Shea, when Tommy Glavine anchored the staff following his time as co-ace down in Atlanta. And Glavine’s 300-plus wins make for a damn strong pedigree, but when it comes to an all-time Mets rotation, can we really move on without at least even discussing Doc Gooden? No, Doc’s all-time stats aren’t in the same league as his HOF mound mates, but for one magical season back in 1985, there’s never been a more dominant New York Mets starter. Like his frenemy Straw, so much more was expected of Gooden than came to pass, but if we’re picking between Glavine in his prime versus 20-year-old Doc for one start? Yeah, sorry Tommy. Winners: Seaver, Ryan, Spahn, Martinez, Gooden

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BULLPEN: We decided to go with one lefty and one right-hander to complete our all-time Mets squad with a lockdown bullpen, for those rare instances when one of our vaunted, all-time starters couldn’t finish what they’d begun. Both bullpen slots created selection challenges for very different reasons. Start with Jesse Orosco. Jesse throwing his glove in the air before jumping into Gary Carter’s bearhug following Game 7 of the ’86 Series will forever be burned into the memory of many a Mets fan. Orosco was far from dominant, but during his time with the Mets was usually effective, and occasionally even touched elite. He then went on to set the record for most games pitched in MLB history, the only hurler to ever cross the 1200 appearance barrier. Yeesh! But did Orosco ever truly touch us Mets fans the way two other lefty relievers did? There’s “Ya Gotta Believe” Tug McGraw, and Brooklyn’s own Johnny Franco to consider here, and while Franco may have boasted slightly better stats as a Met than Tugger, we’re still going with McGraw in another photo finish. The righty? There have been few right-handed closers in Mets history who make fans light up when thinking of their time on the hill at Shea or Citi. Whether it’s Armando Benitez unable to close the door in Game 1 against the Yanks in 2000, or Jeurys Familia getting hung with three “L’s” against the Royals in ’15, either big man elicits more groans than happy memories. Ron Taylor was the main fireman back in ’69, but we rarely think about Taylor when looking back on our all-time great relievers. Again, though, we have to factor in that we can choose from those who rose to prominence elsewhere, part of the long list of prospects given up on by the Mets before their time had arrived. Under that rationale, the list improves dramatically, and we land on Jeff Reardon. You remember Reardon, right? The bearded setup man (to Neil Allen for crying out loud!) we chose to send to the Expos for a washed up Ellis Valentine? The same Reardon who went on to become number ten on the all-time saves list? Yeah, that Jeff Reardon. Honorable mention to Rick Aguilera, who had slightly inferior career stats to Reardon, but was his equal when we consider talented young arms we traded away. Winners: Tug McGraw and Jeff Reardon

So there you have it. Painful at times, but all Mets, for all time. Cue the song — We’re Talking Baseball…Willie, Rickey, and The Duke…

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10 Quick Sports Thoughts for a Friday Afternoon

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How about a quick break from whatever you may be doing during our national timeout? No heavy lifting here, folks, just random thoughts on the world of sports with no (okay, only a few) references to the Coronavirus. Here we go with a quick Top 10:

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  1. So sad to hear Curly Neal passed away. Is there an aging hoops fan out there that didn’t romanticize the Harlem Globetrotters growing up? I think not.
  2. I’m seeing a lot of Top 5 posts on social media regarding NBA greats. I almost always disagree with the selections, especially when the one doing the posting is a young NBA star (can somebody please introduce Trae Young to YouTube?), who’s grasp of league history only goes as far back as Michael Jordan. So to set the record straight once and for all, here it is — All-Time NBA Top 5 — Wilt, MJ, Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, Kareem (disclaimers — I just missed Bill Russell growing up, so he’s off the board, will never include Havlicek or West on general principal — Larry Legend was hard enough — and feel like LeBron is a near miss — call him the sixth man). All-Time New York Knickerbockers Top 5 — Patrick Ewing, Willis Reed (we’ll play him at power forward, like when he was a rookie), Clyde Frazier, Earl the Pearl (was tempted by both Dick Barnett and Alan Houston here, but stuck with Monroe) and Anthony Mason (we need an enforcer, and I take Mase’s defense and ball handling over Oak — barely).
  3. Who is Sam Darnold going to throw to this year? Better pick a wide receiver early and get it right, Jets.
  4. Why is LeBron James so dead set against resuming the season without fans present? We will be watching, King. I promise.
  5. Whenever I hear about the virus striking someone famous that I also happen to admire, I can’t help being thrown for a major loop. Hearing today that Doris Burke tested positive really made my knees buckle. Get well soon, Doris, we need you.
  6. As much as I can’t stand the Yankees, I am a fan of Aaron Judge. But I’m starting to worry we may have another Pete Reiser on our hands (look him up, kids). Credit to Aaron Boone for debunking the absurd idea of making Judge a first baseman to protect him from further harm. Disregard the mammoth homers, the guy is fun to watch play right field (better than Mookie Betts — apologies to Geno the Sawx Fan).
  7. Everybody forgets how big a guy Muhammad Ali was, especially for a fighter known to “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” Do yourself a favor during our national lockdown, and watch the incredible sports documentary, “When We Were Kings,” about the Ali-Foreman bout in Zaire back in ’74. We all remember Big George Foreman as this epic giant, but there is Ali, staring down Big George eyeball to eyeball. Ali weighed in at 216 pounds for that fight, spread out over his 6’3 frame. A big heavyweight for the day. How would The Greatest fare against today’s heavyweight champ, Tyson Fury, a true monster at 6’9 and 285 pounds? Ali would knock him out ten times out of ten. And I happen to like Fury, that’s just how good Ali was (and how far today’s heavyweights have fallen).
  8. I wonder if Noah Syndergaard will post more shirtless photos on Twitter during his 15-month rehab from Tommy John surgery? I suppose these days we should expect all power pitchers to experience TJ surgery at some point in their career, but c’mon! Only the Mets can find a way to lose arguably their most popular pitcher while the sport is on hiatus, and then manage to anger the country’s entire population by publicly sending him in for his surgery during a pandemic. LFGM.
  9. What would I think if I was an NFL General Manager in search of a starting QB, and all I had to choose from was Cam Newton, Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton? Well, I’d probably think a lot of things, such as (in no particularly order ) — How do I feel about going 7-9 this year? Is going 7-9 that much better than signing none of the three and going 4-12? Which is worse, letting Winston kill me slowly with 30 picks at critical, game-changing moments, or having to deal with Newton’s ridiculous press conference outfits as the losses pile up week after week? Has there ever been a successful, red-haired QB in the NFL (spoiler alert — nope)? When was the last time I updated my resume? Is ESPN hiring?
  10. And finally… Top 5 Worst Professional Sports Franchise Owners Today — 1. James Dolan; 2. Daniel Snyder; 3. Fred Wilpon; 4. Mark Davis; 5. Michael Jordan. Let the record show that MJ made two SportsAttic Top 5 lists today — an accomplishment truly worthy of a GOAT.

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Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust — The Distraction of Football, Hello to Free Agency, and Brady

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This time of year is usually dominated by March Madness, with the NFL playing a distant second fiddle, entertaining gridiron die hards only, with its combines, free agency and the draft.

Not so in 2020. Speaking personally, I don’t know that I’ve ever been so dialed in to the early days of football free agency. And not just because the GOAT is leaving the Evil Empire while we Jets fans play the role of the freed munchkins in the Wizard of Oz (“ding-dong, the GOAT is gone…”). Nope, we sports fans needed something, and the NFL has scratched an itch of pandemic proportions.

Now I can actually go to my NY Post app, press “sports,” and get something other than coronavirus-related accounts of minor leaguers at Yankees camp getting diagnosed. Or KD and three other Nets suffering the same fate. Or speculation on when/if the NBA will pick up the season again, or when MLB may deem it safe to roll out Opening Day, or, or, or (enough already — I can’t get away from this topic, and it’s even saturated my sports pages).

But that’s right, there’s real sports stuff going on again, folks. And I, for one, needed NFL free agency bad. So with that as our backdrop, we’ll dive into a quick turn of Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust, focusing today on real pigskin happenings that should impact a season I damn sure hope we all get to witness in its entirety come the fall.

There is a page on Twitter (Or do they call them sites? Handles?) called Super 70s Sports that makes me laugh out loud at least once a day. This afternoon they had a two minute video clip from the beginning of a 1978 Monday Night Football game between the Bears and Vikings. Man, I was ready to put the pads on and stick a hand in the dirt right there. The video began with shots of Walter Payton’s record-setting, 275-yard game against Minnesota the prior Thanksgiving, before rolling into some grainy Fran Tarkenton footage, all the while narrated by the voice — Howard Cosell — synonymous with MNF and the NFL for those of us who grew up during that time. Cue the goosebumps.

The pre-game clip had some funky graphics typical of late-’70’s television, featuring forward-thinking design work, that included a team by team population of the TV screen featuring every NFL helmet and their proud logo of the day (bring back the Houston Oilers — please!). Yeah, I’m ready for some football.

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Which brings me to free agency. The New York Football Giants are spending some of their hard-earned salary cap money this offseason to try and salvage  a little self-respect for the franchise. And while we should all be forgiven if our confidence in GM Dave Gettleman is shaken following these last few years of questionable decisions (and franchise-tagging Leonard Williams did nothing to lessen our concerns), it is fun to speculate in our heads over whether or not new Gints head man Joe Judge is going to be the next innovative young NFL leader, or just another consolation prize hire by Big Blue who’s in way over his head.

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And across the MetLife Stadium parking lot, Gang Green made a couple of signings themselves. Nothing to the level of Le’Veon Bell a year ago, but the type of below the radar additions that hopefully begin to shore up the needy infrastructure on both sides of the ball for the Super Bowl-starved franchise.

We Jets fans must assume new GM Joe Douglas will address the glaring need for a game-breaking receiver in the upcoming draft, which seems loaded with quality wideouts more than capable of hauling in passes from Sam Darnold for the next ten years or so. Meanwhile, one can’t help but wonder what the whispering campaign is out there that is keeping teams from signing speedster Robbie Anderson (hmmm — questionable character, some drop issues and a reputation for sloppy route running? Anyone? Anyone?)? Yeah, all solid, true football stock for us fans to pick over with our sports cupboards otherwise bare.

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And there remain a few big free agent chips yet to fall, so this NFL diversion remains far from over. Jadeveon Clowney remains available, and sure should sound appealing to either New York football club, not to mention about a dozen others. Twenty million per year? Call it a million a sack for Clowney’s services, and yeah, most teams (and especially their fans) would sign up for that right now.

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There are also still some intriguing QB’s floating around. Cam Newton? Jameis Winston? It says here that one of those guys ends up a Patriot this season, giving Bill Belichick the chance to cement his legacy as the Head Coaching GOAT by winning one more ring with a new guy behind center, and a completely revamped style of play. Stay tuned, folks.

And oh yeah…speaking of QB’s…

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Well Tommy Boy didn’t waste any time, did he? Tampa Bay? Really? I’m sure no state income tax was a nice draw. And those stud receivers he inherits from Winston will certainly look wonderful when TB12 walks into his first unfamiliar camp in twenty years.

But c’mon. None of us really thought he’d go to Tampa, did we? I know, he had $30 million reasons to make the choice he did, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that there isn’t a lack of cashflow in the Brady/Bundchen household. Personnel and playbook control? Inside knowledge that there are a couple more big-ticket playmakers on the way to solidify the Buccaneers D? There’s gotta be more to this one somewhere, but only time will tell. And that’s what makes this story so much damn fun!

In the meantime, more entertaining articles will be heading our way, chronicling  Montana the Chief and Namath the Ram, all adding some level of historical context and nostalgic memories for us fans so in need of the distractions the world or sports has always provided us.

So thank you, NFL, for stepping forward and filling our entertainment/distraction void at a time when we really needed you guys.

Are we ready for some football? Hell yeah.

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Sports World Villains of our Youth

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Well, it looks like we have some time on or hands, sports fans.

For the foreseeable future we will all have to make due with the ongoing highlight reel of our mind’s eye. The loop that takes us from one memorable sports moment to the next as we replay our personal histories as sports fans. From Ali to Namath to Seaver and the Fraziers (Clyde and Joe). From Borg and Evert to Henry and Say Hey. The heroes are the easy ones for us to remember.

But for every hero of our youth, there were always villains. The foils to our stars, who showed up just to spoil our celebrations, while knocking the players we idolized down a peg or two, teaching young fans about life through lessons on the hardwood, ice and fields of play.

So who were those athletes you chose to hate and why?  With literally everything else in the world of sports currently being canceled (yeah, I know, postponed), we decided to take a deep dive back in time and remember those we loved to hate while growing up.

Basketball

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My sports fan memory goes back to the year 1970, which for a New York sports fan was about as fantastic a time as we’ve ever known. The New York Knickerbockers were the center of the basketball universe with their “hit the open man” approach to offense and suffocating team defense. The Knicks would win titles in 1970 and ’73, and reach the finals in ’72, an incredible run of championship caliber basketball (yeah, the Knicks!) that would spoil and trick us young New York hoop fans into believing this was how the NBA was supposed to work.

For me, Knicks basketball revolved around number 10, Walt “Clyde” Frazier. Clyde was the epitome of cool, and led the Knicks to those first two titles in franchise history, each time over the superior-on-paper Los Angeles Lakers. What made those victories even sweeter, was seeing Clyde win out over The Logo himself, Jerry West. West was just so damn tough. He didn’t give an inch to Clyde on defense, and seemed to hit every big bucket the Lakers needed down the stretch. Oh how I grew to hate Jerry West and his consistent excellence for trying to deny me my titles during my formative years as an NBA fan!

The championship team of 1969-70 was sent home the following year by the hated Baltimore Bullets. The ’73 champs were supplanted in 1974 by the despised Boston Celtics. For a young fan growing up, any matchup pitting the Knicks and those two arch rivals was appointment viewing (or frequently appointment listening, via the transistor radio I would sneak with me to bed at night).

While I developed a deep dislike for every player on the Celtics, the ugliest face of Boston for me always belonged to JoJo White, Clyde’s frequent matchup as a scoring point guard. White was nowhere near as cool as Frazier, and to my dismay shared the same jersey number 10, which seemed like sacrilege at the time (uniform numbers were really important to me as a young fan, you?). More often than not, White would match Clyde’s 20 points and six assists, and play a tough man-to-man D against my favorite player. God, I couldn’t stand JoJo White. And when you teamed up JoJo with John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, Don Nelson and Paul Silas, well, the Celts were really that good. And that only made me hate them more, not to mention suffer even deeper cuts when they beat us, as they all too frequently did.

If you took off driving in the other direction and went south on I-95, there waited the gritty Bullets, tough like the city they played in, and the team name that would be banished by the league a couple of decades later.

My second favorite player (favorite player lists could often go three to five deep, especially after Earl Monroe came to New York) on those legendary Knicks teams was our captain, Willis Reed. The wars he waged against the Bullets’ center, a long-armed, rebounding machine named Wes Unseld (who to this day possessed the best outlet pass I’ve ever seen) were epic and remain indelibly etched into my brain. Unseld didn’t score much, although his hook shot was hard for Willis to defend, and when the Bullets sent the Knicks home on the way to their finals date with Lew Alcindor and the Bucks in 1971, I cried (and swore to hate those dastardly Bullets to the end of my days).

Football 

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On the gridiron, the Jets were recent Super Bowl champions when I took up residency on their bandwagon back in 1970, and although I had missed out on the greatest moment in Gang Green history, there was still plenty of momentum remaining to attract new Jets fans as the ’70’s rolled around.

Of course most of our enthusiasm revolved around Broadway Joe, but as my NFL fandom was taking shape, Namath was becoming  less and less of a game-changer. Too many punishing hits and a lack of mobility sent him to the sidelines with a variety of injuries during my early years rooting on the Airplanes.

The frustration of not having our best player under center week in and week out was only exacerbated by coinciding with an incredible run of dominance by a division foe (sound familiar?) who seemed to sweep us every year (yeah, this does feel familiar), and were a near annual participant in the early Super Bowls of my youth (yeesh, enough already).

Yeah, the Miami Dolphins felt nearly unbeatable (and in ’72 they actually were), led by their future Hall of Fame head coach (here we go again). Yet the one I reserved my greatest enmity for was their QB, a teal and orange, number-12-wearing knockoff (there go those uniform numbers again — to me, only Joe Namath possessed enough cool to truly deserve to wear the vaunted number 12) who went by the name of Bob Griese.

As Dolphins QB, Griese was way too chipper and perfect (here comes the deja vu all over again) for my liking — always smiling, with the weird last name that was so easy for grade school kids to make fun of. And if all that wasn’t enough, he even had that awful Vitalis commercial that played at every station break, where he magically transitioned from a “wet-head” to the “dry look,” with the tagline he shamelessly spat at all of us out in TV land — “but they are still going to call me Griese.” Yeah, I hated Bob Griese.

Oh, and while still harboring dark thoughts over Namath’s injuries and the accompanying missed opportunities, honorable mention here goes to Mike Lucci. Lucci was a solid, unspectacular middle linebacker for the Lions who had the audacity to intercept a Namath preseason pass one year, leading to Broadway Joe separating his shoulder making the tackle on the return. Oh, how I hated Lucci for that inexcusable transgression, immediately yanking his trading card from the shoebox marked “football,” and drawing black eyes on the front of the card (a seven-year-old’s equivalent to leaving a severed horse head in his bed) before mutilating the card beyond recognition. Yeah, pox on you to this day, Mike Lucci.

Baseball

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No surprises here, right folks?

You don’t go picking a fight with Buddy Harrelson (Buddy Harrelson!), who you outweigh by like a hundred pounds, and get away unscathed when it comes to a young Met fan’s eternal dislike.

The Mets were on their way to an unexpected World Series for the second time in five years (it is somewhat surreal typing these sentences describing the abundance of championships played in and won by the Knicks, Jets and Mets back in the early-’70’s, by the way), upsetting the heavily favored Reds (who’d taken Oakland the full seven in the previous year’s Fall Classic), when Pete Rose barreled into Buddy at second base and all hell broke loose. Buddy even managed to land a couple of shots before the burly gambler with the soup bowl haircut took him down as both benches and bullpens emptied.

Maybe the most memorable part of the whole scene was the fans in the left field bleachers at Shea Stadium showering all forms of garbage upon Rose when he took the field in the bottom of the inning. For young AtticBro, panic set in, thinking somehow this completely justified uprising by the Mets faithful could cause us to forfeit the game, losing our ticket to the World Series. However, cooler heads prevailed — in the form of Yogi Berra and Willie Mays walking out to the warning track in left, where they politely urged the fans to let the game go on without interruption, no matter how blatant Mr. Rose’s scumbaggery had undoubtedly been.

It was unquestionably Yogi’s finest hour as Mets manager, even if all of us did wish that the whiskey bottle that had whistled by Rose’s head moments before had found its mark.

Hockey

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Yes, there was a time when hockey mattered to AtticBro. Remember, this was North Jersey in the early-’70’s. Being a hockey fan was something of a requirement, and with the wave of titles flowing through New York sports, six-year-old me simply expected that the Rangers would be taking their turn and hoisting the Stanley Cup in 1972.

That Rangers squad was one for the ages, with Jean Ratelle centering a deadly line with Rod Gilbert and Vic Hadfield on the wings, while Brad Park anchored the defense in front of the tremendous goaltending tandem on Eddie Giacomin and Gilles Villemure. But a funny thing happened on the way to the parade, when a villain showed up so nefarious that he damn near ruined the Rangers franchise for the next twenty years.

Bobby Orr may be everybody’s favorite defenseman, but to me he was the guy that broke my heart and stole my NHL Championship. Years later I picked up a signed black and white photo of Orr’s famous, celebratory leap after clinching his first Cup in 1970, because it is such an incredibly cool sports photo, but hell, I still hate him.

Honorable Mention

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Over the years the villains have become too many to count. Larry Legend and Michael Jordan tag-teamed my Knickerbockers for the better part of two decades, ensuring that the highlight hoops moment of my life as a young adult would remain winning the lottery to draft Patrick Ewing, not a Ewing-led championship.

And pugnacious Billy Martin’s booze-fueled rants, antics and circus-like firings/hirings with George Steinbrenner facilitated my growing contempt for the Bronx Bombers as the ’70’s gave way to the ’80’s.

Nor should we forget Ilie Nastase, who ushered in an unexpected, WWE-like bad boy character onto the tennis scene in the mid-’70’s, making it easier for us all to later despise Super Brat John McEnroe and the many petulant tennis stars that would follow in their wake.

And finally, who can forget big-mouthed Dexter Manley? Manley was the face of all of those overrated Redskins teams that nearly ruined football for me during my college years down in Virginia (hey, if there’s a players strike in the NFL, pencil in those Redskins for a Super Bowl title). Give Manley credit though, the man knew how to get to the quarterback (and oh did he own the Giants’ Brad Benson), but that just made us all hate Manley with even more fervor.

The parade of evil doers will continue well past our time and into the tapestries of forever sports memories currently being woven by our kids and grandkids. Stand by, watch, and enjoy as their rooting interests are cemented and superstars chosen for  unbridled adoration through the ages.

It’s yet another aspect of what makes the world of sports so much more for us than a program we watch for a couple of hours on the television. It’s part of our history, our life, our identity. And that’s why it’s so much darn fun to kill a little time thinking back, occupying the mind with those memories, still vivid despite the passing years, from when our heroes fought off the villains.

We can all benefit from a pleasant distraction or two right about now, can’t we?

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Ten Thoughts and Five Predictions Around the World of Sports

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Early March is an interesting time for sports fans.

March Madness is coming fast, but we haven’t gotten into the big tourneys yet, so we have time before all-encompassing bedlam hits.

The NFL is distant in our rearview mirror, and we haven’t fully engaged free agency and the draft just.

Basketball is in its dog days, limping through schedule-filler following their All Star break, and still not near enough the playoff stretch run to keep our interest. And besides, the teams that matter have been locked in for months.

Baseball? Which scandal do we want to address first? Sign stealing in 2017 is too easy. How about doctoring baseballs? Or one of the most notorious steroid cheats in the history of the sport now being the headliner in the Sunday Night Baseball booth? Or all kinds of funky future playoff scenarios being bandied about in the press that no one in MLB with a say will comment on (although I am in favor of ditching the one-game play-in wild card idea).

And yeah, I know, there’s probably interesting things going on in hockey, but I’m still not paying attention to the ice.

In an attempt to fill this fluky void in the sporting schedule, SportsAttic goes around the word of sports, offering ten thoughts for the sports fan’s consideration. Let’s begin.

  1. Yeah, I’m still pissed off at the whole disgraceful Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, but if we are in the business of silver linings, at least it was the Yankees that took the biggest hosing (we are counting 2019 as well here, folks, as I remain unwilling to buy that Altuve wasn’t on the wrong side of some scum-baggery when he hit that walk off against Chapman). Honorable mention hosing goes to the Dodgers, which also doesn’t bring tears to my eyes. Yes, the bitterness of Mets fans knows no bounds.
  2. I turned on the XFL last weekend and was blown away by the quality of play being far better than anticipated. Some of the quirky ideas, like how they are handling kickoffs and making the extra point more interesting I liked, too. Way back when (the ’80’s) I was a diehard USFL fan for a few years, and felt like there was a cool place being carved out for football in the spring (until Trump blew up the league). So I’m cautiously placing a toe on the XFL bandwagon and will absolutely tune in again.
  3. Speaking of off the beaten path team sports, I happened to attend a World Team Tennis event last weekend. I think the WTT must be experienced in person for the full effect to work for most fans, but I believe even non-tennis fanatics could have some fun here. Lots of music (which takes some getting used to, but ultimately works) and fan interaction, but maybe the best part was that even the “names” on the court seemed to be having fun. In fact, I’m pretty sure I saw a self-effacing smile flash across the visage of that all-time ice princess, Maria Sharapova. The team format is a significant departure (in a positive way) from the traditional hand to hand combat of the sport, and the crowds are small, so fans are close to the action. Highly recommended for folks looking for something different to do with the kids or grandkids.
  4. I am totally caught up in the “where will Tom Brady go as a free agent” storyline. Will we have Johnny Unitas as a Charger and Joe Namath as a Los Angeles Ram? Or will it be…oh, that’s right, there isn’t an example where the aging superstar QB changed franchises and came away with a Lombardi Trophy. Think about it — Favre, Montana, Manning. Oh shit, Peyton Manning. There goes that theory. Anyway, I still consider Brady’s free agency to be the most interesting plot for us to follow this offseason.
  5. And how will we handicap the Pats sans Tom Brady? You can’t help but wonder how much of the genius of Bill Belichick comes from having the GOAT under center. The one year Brady was out hurt? No playoffs for New England. Who was the QB when Belichick coached the Browns? Exactly.
  6. Zion Williamson is the biggest story in The Association right now. Seems like he’s on TNT or ESPN every night. Spoiler alert — the Pelicans still suck, folks. Full stop. Here’s a vote for Memphis as the eight seed out west, and Ja Morant getting his first taste of playoff action under the bright lights in Los Angeles. Williamson is putting up superstar numbers nightly, but I’m not ready to anoint him the next game-changing young star. Let’s see him stay healthy for a full season and make the supporting cast around him better (yeah, like MJ used to) and then we can talk.
  7. I’m glad Steph Curry is back. It would have been easy for he and the Warriors to decide to just shut it down for the year, saving him to come back refreshed next season, along with a lottery pick and his Splash Brother, Klay. But would that have been fair to the fans? Right, it wouldn’t have, especially considering the top dollar those fans are dropping at every home game in their new arena to watch lousy basketball. So bringing him back now was the right thing. Props to the Dubs and Curry for stepping up.
  8. I’m a Mets fan but if the over/under for Pete Alonzo homers in 2020 is 35, I’m taking the under. Between what I suspect will be a slightly less juiced baseball, and some level of sophomore jinx in the form of the rest of the league having the offseason to analyze how to attack him, I just can’t envision MVP numbers coming from the Polar Bear. Even so, I’ll sign up for 32 with 90+ ribbies right now, and putting those kind of stats in the middle of what should be a strong orange and blue lineup? Yeah, that will be just fine.
  9. I was never going to watch another professional fight. Turns out never is a really long time. Nothing beats the hype associated with a legit heavyweight title fight. And it seems like we hadn’t had one of those since the days of Evander Holyfield. Well, Tyson Fury taking on Deontay Wilder completely sucked me in, and it was the first time in forever that I can say the pay per view spend was more than worth it. And yeah, Fury is the real deal. Enormous human being, with good footwork and exceptional, technical boxing skills. There’s never been anything like this guy. And a showman on top of that (singing American Pie in the ring after the fight normally would send me racing for the remote to change the channel, but the big Brit is totally fucking likable). I hope his reign is a long one.
  10. Time to eat a little crow. Carmelo Anthony has been a productive, below the radar contributor to the Blazers since his signing earlier this season. Coming off the bench after sitting out a year, he’s done whatever’s been asked of him and done it well, while respecting that Portland is Damian Lillard’s team. Didn’t expect it, and never thought I’d hear myself saying this, but if Memphis falters, I wouldn’t mind seeing ‘Melo and the Blazers sneak into the playoffs as the eight seed.

Added Bonus — Five Predictions Certain to Happen

  1. Seton Hall wins the NCAA hoops title.
  2. Brady ends up a Charger, and they win 10 games and make the playoffs.
  3. Pats go 9-7 and don’t.
  4. Fury knocks out Wilder again in the rematch in July.
  5. The Bucks get to 70 wins, but lose in the finals to the Lakers.

Enjoy your weekend sports fans!

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