Archive | July, 2014

Steelers Big Wheel Ben Roethlisberger

30 Jul

He’s been living smaller down in Mississippi for the past few years.

No longer commanding troops on Battlefield NFL, Brett Favre hung up his cleats for the last time after sprinting off the Vikings (Golden Gopher TCF Bank Stadium) field for the last time, December 20, 2010, after losing to intra-division rival Chicago, 40-14, and now lets his hair grow, opinionates every now & then and took up mentoring (HS coach).

But his spirit, kindred variety, lives on in the person of Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers All Pro, 2-time Super Bowl winning quarterback who in 2014 is set to begin his 11th NFL campaign, all in the steel city.

Kindred spirit aside, Ben won’t be setting any iron-man records like the Mississippi gun-slinger, having missed, on average, two contests each of his previous nine campaigns.

Physically, “Big Ben” is taller (6’5”) and near 20 lbs heavier than 6’2” Brett, though, Favre may be closing the gap on the latter number whilst he enjoys ‘the good life.’

Somewhat surprising to this football fan was that the 10-year tallies of both men balance out pretty close at the same points in their respective NFL journeys:

Roethlisberger           Favre
TDs:         219                       287
INTs:       122                       170
Yards:   43,105              38,627
Cmp%:    63.3                     60.9
Record: (RS):  95-47     103-54
Super Bowls:  3 (2)           2 (1)

And then there are the off-field troubles. They can color a career.

Roethlisberger and Favre are free spirits, part of what makes (made) them the favored risk-takers on the field. Sometimes they’ve gotten too spirited.

Favre went through rehabilitation in the mid-90s for a drug addiction (Vicodin) and in 2010 was fined by the NFL for impeding an investigation into allegations he’d sent offensive text-messages to Jets’ employee Jenn Sterger when he was rostered in NYC.

On Roethlisberger’s debit-ledger there’s an unlicensed motorcycle accident (‘06) and two sexual assault allegations (‘08 and ‘10) where no formal charges were filed but the 2d incident did result in a 4-game suspension to start Steelers’ 2010 season (Wikipedia).

What binds the legacies of these two decorated field generals is the immeasurable but distinctive manner in which both can / could marshal their troops onward to victory.

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When these guys take to the gridiron the energy is palpable and the voltage high.

From the get-go you’ll take notice of their command & control of game-plan and then ensconce yourself in the comfy – cozy realization that winning with these guys is always a real possibility. The proof: 5 Super Bowls between ‘em and a bushel of playoff produce.

Well, almost “always.”

Of late, that “well” of winning (SBs: ‘06, 09 & 11) has been running dry in Pittsburgh.

Since 2012, Steelers have only managed to eke out consecutive 8-8, non-playoff records and, frankly, seem lucky to have even broken even. At times it got so bad it must’ve felt like, “clowns to left of me, jokers to the right,” i.e., Tomlin’s T-day flub (Stealers Wheel).

Weird-ish swings in franchise momentum aren’t unique to Southwest Pennsylvania.

New York’s Giants have been testing the patience of their fan-base since taking home two Lombardis (‘08 & ‘12) during the same Tomlin – Roethlisberger – Polamalu period.

Sometimes a club gets a bit spoiled by success, like that kid who tires of the game, runs home with his prized football and refuses to come out and play for days. Maybe not the best analogy but you get the idea. Disinterest. In Steelers’ case, ownership variety.

Of course, there are the Dallas Cowboys who have gone way beyond “spoiled” and have completely forgotten what “success” is, unless you consider their new stadium and its favored venue status a “success.” That’s great for Jerry Jones’ bank account but doesn’t amount to a hill a’ beans for faithful fandom of the Dallas Group.

But other high achievers, like New England and Green Bay, refuse to rest on their laurels and continue to pile up Ws like it’s their duty, though the Pack, excepting a few stalwarts like Hawk and Burnett, figure to keep on truckin’ without their former trademark defense. Good luck with that, Mike & Ted.

With guys like Brady and Rodgers under center, meeting “duty” was never so enjoyable.

And that’s just what a great quarterback does. He makes watching his team a joy.

It means each season, every game is hopeful. And in the end, that’s all any fan can ask for each Sunday: hope.

As he has for 10 years, Ben Roethlisberger will give Steelers fans plenty of hope in 2014.

Steven Keys
Brass Tacks
Photo Credits: B.Roethlisberger / 9.9.12 / J.Beall / wc.cca / 3.9m; Roethlisberger – Ward – Obama – Rooney / 5.21.9 / EOoTP / wc.cca / 62k

Edit: 7/30 @ 3:19pm; 7/31 @ 3:07

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Chin Music’14: When .400 Was Fashion

23 Jul

Note: This write is dedicated to actor James Garner (b.1928) who died Saturday at his Brentwood home in Los Angeles.

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A sport enthusiast, Jim was a movie star of the first order (Grand Prix, The Children’s Hour, Murphy’s Romance, Fire in the Sky) but will be best remembered for his game-changing TV series “The Rockford Files (1974-80).” By all accounts, Jim was as likable & loved in real life as his fictional private-eye character, tailor-made to his talents. “Rockfish” or “Jimbo” was a knight-in-shining-Pontiac: street-smart but kind, cautious but brave, ladies man with taste for beer & burrito whose guest list was a hallmark of class that included starry names like Bacall, Cotton, Selleck, Reiner, Hayes, Moreno, Beatty, Cooper, Hartley, Gossett, Towers, Fix, Woods, Warwick, Fix, Powers, Strasberg and Elizondo, among many others.

Pure Baseball

You wouldn’t be going too far out on that proverbial white ash limb in predicting nobody in the major leagues is ever gonna’ hit .400 again.

The 30 win season (McLain ‘68), maybe.

Knocking over 262 hits (Ichiro ‘04), possible.

But to bat .400 today is about as likely as a 2014 sports page sans Manziel, LeBron or Tiger: not very.

About once or twice a decade a player will hover around the mark for a time, then fade away around the All-Star break. After the festivities, the grind sets in, a few bumps & bruises and the hopeful is out of the running by late July.

Ted Williams was the last to achieve the magical mark when he batted .405 in 1941, and did it in style. “The Splendid Splinter” looked Mr. chance straight in the eye and said, ‘(Flip) you, fella! I’m gonna’ hit .400 and that’s that! Now give me a bat.’

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With his Red Sox slated to play a double-header to close it out, Williams sat on a batting average one ten-thousandth of a point under .400 which would technically qualify one for the hallowed mark, had he opted to ‘discover’ an ailment that would sit him for the final two and preserve the achievement. Not an option for “Teddy Ballgame.”

Williams went 5 for 8 and became the stuff of greatness.

His bold nonchalance and respect for how revered marks should be attained, puts Ted’s day on par w/Jackie’s debut (4-15-47), Ruth’s called shot (‘32), Larson’s perfecto (‘56), Gehrig’s farewell (‘39) and Ed Reulbach’s stretch-run, twin-bill shutouts (9-26-08).

The last man to flirt with .400 was another San Diego stalwart (Ted’s POB), the late, great Tony Gwynn (d. 2014). Mr. Padre batted .3938 in 1994.

If one as dedicated to his craft as was Tony, a man with 8 batting titles to his credit, could fall short when so close, that tells you just how tremendously difficult .400 becomes.

A player today could give his spring blood sample by way of baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program and later that same day begin a juicing regimen until it comes out his ears, heaven forbid, and yet still never get close to the big four hundred.

Some records were easy prey. Power marks proved highly susceptible to the PED cheats.

Others appear pretty safe & sound, like Hack Wilson’s 1930 RBI mark of 191, Billy Hamilton’s 198 runs in 1894 and Jack Chesbro’s modern era wins tally of 41 (1904).

But what seems out-of-reach today wasn’t always the case.

For a 40 year period starting in the late 1890s and running up to 1930, hitting .400 was in vogue. Not as common as a curious no-hitter but about on par with the 100-win season.

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If you read what Babe Ruth said on the subject, you’d think it was a cinch. When pressed on whether he’d have hit .400 if not for his home run swing, Bambino brashly responded, “Four hundred, hell, I coulda’ hit .500!” And he probably could’ve (‘23 – .3927)!

It’s a very special stratosphere these 20 men inhabit.

And to those who would besmirch these early years of baseball, declaring them unworthy of inclusion, I’d say that MLB and Elias chose long ago to bestow major status on these formative years (1876 – 1900) and their five leagues (National, AA, Players, Federal & Union), not just for color & tradition but because these body-armor & cortisone free days were as challenging, skillful and visceral a time as any in the history of our great sport.

The .400 breakdowns:

By the decade:

1880s: 4
1890s: 11
1900s: 1
1910s: 3
1920s: 7
1930s: 1
1940s: 1

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Highest figure: .439, Hugh Duffy, 1894

Repeaters (5 players):

Rogers Hornsby (3): 1922 (.401); 1925 (.402); 1924 (.423)
Ty Cobb (3): 1922 (.401); 1912 (.408); 1911 (.419)
Ed Delahanty (3): 1894 (.404); 1895 (.404); 1899 (.409)
George Sisler (2): 1920 (.407); 1922 (.419)
Jesse Burkett (2): 1895 (.405); 1896 (.409)

First Achiever: Ross Barnes: 1876, .428
Last: Ted Williams: 1941, .405

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Lefties: 9

Righties: 10

Switchies: 1 (Tuck Turner, 1894, .417)

Tallest: Ted Williams: 6’3”
Shortest: “Wee” Willie Keeler: 5’4”

AL (1901®) 6
NL: 2

Hot-beds of Hit-Machines:

St. Louis: Dunlap (1-UA), Hornsby (3-NL), O’Neill (1-AA) & Sisler (2-AL): 7
Philadelphia: Thompson (1-NL), Turner (1-NL), Delahanty (3-NL) & Hamilton (1-NL): 6
Detroit: Cobb (3-AL) & Heilmann (1-AL): 4
Boston: Duffy (1-NL) & Williams (1-AL): 2
Chicago: Barnes (1-NL) & Jackson (1-AL): 2
Cleveland: Burkett (2-NL): 2
Baltimore: Keeler (1-NL) & Jennings (1-NL): 2

......E.Delahanty.wc.cca.1903.98k

 

 

 

 

 

Philadelphia on Fire!

In 1894, four Phillies topped .400: Bill Hamilton (.403), Sam Thompson (.414), Fred Dunlap (.412) and Ed Delahanty (.404) for a whopping .350 team BA.

Oh so close:

Cap Anson, .3994, 1881
Frank O’Doul, .3981, 1929
Harry Heilmann, .3980, 1927
George Brett (#48), .3898, 1980
Rod Carew (#55), .3880, 1977

That’s the history. Question for the here & now, can it be done again?

I wouldn’t bet the farm on it but there is reason for some optimism.

Teddy (MLB 1939 – 60) was a wizard with the bat and one unique individual but he did put his pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us. If he could do it, others can too.

As that “mighty warrior” of Wales and the Arabian desert once said, “Nothing is written (T.E. Lawrence),” i.e., we, not fate, control our destiny.

......Lajoie.Wagner.wc.cca.1904.BPL.176k

 

 

 

 

 

So, what would be the trademarks of a batsman to hit the big four double-zero?

1) It starts with the brain: having the mindset, the desire, the dedication to hit .400. That’s not as simple as it sounds.

Post-WW2, power-ball’s been the norm, for hitters, pitchers and managers alike (See: E. Weaver). It’s how the biggest money deals get gotten and keeps kids oogling & googling.

2) You needn’t sacrifice the long-ball. Look at Ted (521 hr / .634 slg / .482! ob%), Ruth, Aaron, Mays, Pujols, all crushin’ it w/ regularity and getting’ on base w/ habit. But don’t live in the weight room, either.

3) Contact, not slugging, is key. That means patience at the plate. Selectivity. A command of the strike zone, i.e., a keen batter‘s eye. No more than 30 – 40 whiffs a season.

4) The best hitters never stop being students of the game, which is why every name listed here was head of his class.

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo Credits: T.Cobb & J.Jackson / 1913 – wc.cca – LoC;  C.Stevens & J.Garner / 1959 -wc.cca;  T.Williams / 1940 – wc.cca – Bowman;  G.Sisler, B.Ruth & T.Cobb / 10.4.24 – wc.cca – LoC;  H.Duffy / 1902 – LoC;  R.Hornsby / 7.9.28 – TIME – wc.cca;  E.Delahanty / 1903 – wc.cca;  N.Lajoie & H.Wagner / 1904 – BPL – wc.cca

LeBron James’ Lego® Legacy

1 Jul

Image

To bump the World Cup off the anchor desk teleprompter in late June, well, such a story had better be one bodacious bit of breaking news.

That’s what happened in the AM last week Tuesday. Care to guess what it was?

A beloved star’s unexpected retirement announcement? Not this time.

The sobering, sad news on the passing of a sport icon? Not that either.

Report of a celebrated sport figure having spent time in custody of local police with sketchy details on the circumstance? There were none.

Another wind-gauging politico just announced they’ve come to a belief, after giving tacit approval in silence for decades, that the NFL’s Washington franchise has a racist motif and then proceeded to board the anti-Redskins bandwagon? Nope, not last week.

Rich Sherman contacted Jon Manziel about working part-time crowd control on his front lawn, w/ Leer jet ride included, to occupy the throngs of on-lookers invited to his King County estate by the Seattle Times, so Dick can come & go peaceably? No, didn’t happen.

The big news: announcement that current Mr. NBA LeBron James had invoked the power to conclude his 6-yr. contract w/ Miami and opt for quasi-free agency (7-1), passing on the remaining 2-years of scheduled salary at $21M (avg) yearly.

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Shortly after the report, Heat general manager Pat Riley stated he, the team, expected the opt-out and welcomes the opportunity to sit down and talk with their megastar.

Back in 2010 when Cavalier James (reads like 40s pirate flick) was at a career crossroads pondering whether to stay in Cleveland or find greener pastures, I thought he’d stay put.

He didn’t, of course, and has gone on to forge a formidable legacy in Miami.

James recent opt-out, while certainly a necessary prelude to a decision to move on, is more likely a first step to re-organization of, and re-vesting in, his Miami Heat venture.

Whether he re-signs with MIA or goes elsewhere he’s likely to get much the same deal: a yearly salary upwards of $23 million, for a term of 4 to 5 seasons.

It would be surprising, at this juncture in time, if James got the happy feet again.

He’s had a tremendous run in FLA: four Finals, back-to-back O’Briens and friendships formed. That he wants more (“max?”) moolah and a re-commitment from Heat owner Micky Arison (D1: Napier), is understandable.

Teammates Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem have reportedly followed LJ’s lead and also opted out of their Miami contracts to become free agents.

One view holds that their actions are designed, not to take full advantage of free agency but rather to create a status that allows restructuring of their deals, some paid more, some less, and make money available for Heat acquisitions this off-season. Team spirit.

Lending credence to that notion may be a realization that presently, it’s not exactly a bull market where Chris & Dwyane’s services are concerned.

Wade is in fade (knee / age), as ‘14 Finals evidenced, having seen his best days, and Bosh didn’t exactly distinguish himself, either, though, not many Heat did (Spurs: 4-1). It fuels speculation on to whom DW might pass the torch, making the C. Anthony acquisition a topic of talk. Carm’s top talent but hasn’t shown same floor savvy as Wade or Nowitzki.

Bolstering belief that Miami’s “Three Amigos” will sit-tite in S. Beach is the fact that, for those with a relocation bent, pickens for top-tier teams in today’s NBA are about as slim as the toy aisle day before Christmas, whether cap friendly or purse-string pursed.

That sparsity of opulent opportunities was likely one of the topics the Miami trio jawed Wednesday when they reportedly met for chow, two trying to keep one (LJ) in fold.

Side-bar: I’ve never liked the clique in Miami, preferring Alex Dumas’ team-take, “All for one and one for all (Three Musketeers).” But it did give me an idea for a TV commercial: McDonalds® drive-thru, Wade at the wheel, LeBron special ordering and Bosh in the back-seat rolling his eyes: ‘Just order already, big guy! It’s all good.’

Irrelevancy is reversible (See; Heat), knowing that ‘some assembly is required,’ but most of those w/payroll play (PHX, PHI, UTAH, DET, CLT & ORL), lack the lustrous lure.

Dallas: That dog won’t hunt. Mark Cuban has the cap-jack but has reportedly stated his Mavericks won’t be paying top dollar for traveling men this round-up;

Midwestern fare: It’s where LeBron’s roots lay, but you can’t go home (Cavs), not until the end game, and Detroit is too close. Besides cap crunch, Bulls limbo’d on Rose and no one wants in middle of Durant – Westbrook thing, not unless ‘dude space’ opens up.

East Coast Bias: Knicks & Celtics don’t have c-space but ‘where there‘s will there‘s a way,’ sometimes. Other Clevelanders have taken to the brightly lite stage that is NYC, i.e., Steinbrenner, and easy to appreciate what Jim Dolan (MSG) is trying to achieve in Jackson’s hire (Riley – MIA), but that world is not for country LeBron, not yet, anyway.

California Dreamin: Still Earth’s top destination, but only Lakers have loot for one of the celebrity & on-court caliber of Mr. James. The Minnesota transplant has become NBA flag-ship, topping Celtics, Spurs, Bulls, Knicks and Heat. Lakers are title laden (16) and Los Angeles world’s capital of all things entertaining. Sounds like James Country.

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And what about Kobe Bryant? It’s still his team.

Could the Lakers’ legend co-exist with the NBA logo that is LeBron? He did it before w/Shaq, and appeared willing with Dwight who proved a bird of a different feather.

And with a healthy Bryant(?), James would have again that which he must: a maestro.

LeBron, like Shaq, is not a natural born leader. Physically, a tremendous talent, he relies on a multi-skilled player like Wade to set a tone, feed the flow. What Wade at times lacks in maturity off the hardwood, he seems to have an abundance of on the court.

Question on Bryant and Wade: How long does that knee, the body hold up? Wade’s fade is why Miami did not three-peat against vintage Spurs. If LeBron set up shop at Staples Center, how long could he count on the current Lakers’ superstar?

It’s a dice roll in workman’s dungarees, were James to relocate again, which brings us to maybe the best reason he doesn’t leave Miami: his family. Florida is home.

LeBron James is still in his prime, and believe it or not, there’s room to improve, i.e., embracing inside presence. That can actually bode well for whomever signs the man.

If it’s Miami he favors, content with his life and having already forged a legacy of note, the Heat remaining viable is important. And in order to nurture that winning way to which James has come accustomed, Wade’s proxy is a big step.

It’s fair to assume Arison plans to keep the party-barge afloat ($) but he may already have memories to last a life-time (See; J. Jones). Don’t count those chickens yet, Heaters.

If by some chance James makes a change, he’ll need a tough exterior and building permit (team $$) to add the structure necessary (roster) to make his new House Beautiful®.

.....Lego-cube-heights.11.24.11.wc.cca.Andreasstolz

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, or enhance a legacy, as it were:

1) You can go the usual route: stay put, make house (team) improvements, try to bring home the accolade bacon (titles / MVP) and build your on-court legend, or;

2) Be bold and go Lego®. It’s that rare player who takes on the challenge of helping draft a blueprint to construct a crown palace in a new setting. Ruth & Jabbar did it, Favre & Gretzky tried. Owners & GMs do it, coaches can, but a player, that’s rarified air indeed.

When James NBA story is written, his most telling chapter won’t be of his on-court prowess but instead that which details LeBron’s panache for building winners.

Steven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo Credit: Bausteine von Lego / 5.28.14 / R. Roletschek / wc.gnu.fdl;  Wade & James / wc.cca / K. Allison / 3.30.11;  L. James / wc.cca / 1.15.14 / K. Allison;  Lego-cube-heights / 11.24.11 / wc.cca / Andreasstoltz