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NFL17 Pre-Play: Triumvirate Intact, Patriots Grip On Power Remains Firm

1 Jun

Hail the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft!

Never in the history of sport has a tightly-woven triad of money (owner), brain (coach) & brawn (player) so effectively organized and implemented an operation of success over such a long period of time and with so little apparent friction as have these three, compatible personalities.

Historically, the triumvirate has shown mixed results.

The ancient Romans, building blocks to Western civilization, triumvirated a couple of times (Caesar – Crassus – Pompey 60 BC / Antony – Octavian – Lepidus 43BC), without much claim to victory, save brief respites from war.

Jumping forward to the North American pro sport scene, you’d be hard-pressed to find the same owner, coach (mgr) and top player remaining together winning titles for anywhere near as long as the Foxborough Three have been doing it.

There were the Habs (1944-79), Yanks (1923-62), Celtics & Lakers, dynasties we’ve been talking about for generations but none a triumvirate of top-level talent staying intact for as prolonged a period as these Patriots powerbrokers.

There were the Lombardi – Green Bay teams where ownership (EC – BoD), coach and key offensive player in Bart Starr, the way under-rated Bart Starr, won lots o’ titles but in a much more concentrated timeline (1961 – 68). Condensed greatness is potent (70s Steelers / 80s 49ers) and terrific in its own way but not of the championship continuum on topic here and special too itself.

It’s in the NBA where is found the only real comparison to the Patriots trio-of-time-tested-title-takers, that being the San Antonio Spurs.

The trifecta of Peoria native and current owner Peter Holt (1993), coach Gregg Popovich (1996 >) and recently retired center and championship nexus in Tim Duncan (1997-16) garnered five NBA titles (’99, 03, 05, 07, 14) in sixteen seasons, though never back-to-back (NE: 04-05), requisite for the dynasty.

But that was then, this is now, and wow, the Foxborough Three are defending NFL champions again after their Swing Time SB51 OT win over the ‘gotta’ still be stunned’ Falcons, having made the grade even as their starry starter in Brady had to sit the first four on his Deflategate susp’n. The red, white & blue bunch have been setting and maintaining a standard of sport excellence unlikely to be matched for a long, long time. Never say never, right?

Detractors will bemoan, ‘Hey dingdong, don’t forget Spygate, you fool!’ Always class-acts, and never redundant, the bemoaner boys. Rules violations are wrong, some even bad, i.e., failing to cooperate with an investigation (destroying a phone). But the general public, those with no serious rivalry axe-to-grind or having little interest in promoting their own brand of team who seek ’The Greatest’ award (Cowboys, Steelers, Packers, 49ers), just won’t be too bothered by black-marks on a team’s historical ledger that involve spying or stretching of the rules, outside game-fixing and PEDs. Spys have helped us win wars. A bit off-track here but that’s how the more rationally-minded fan will think.

Can they keep it going? Not forever, they can‘t, as hard as that is to imagine in 2017. Someday Tom will hang up his cleats, Bill hand in his headset one last time and Rob just won’t care anymore. All three have accomplished just about everything they can in the business of football, personally and as a team.

With Tom and Bill both having set the new standard in SB tandem wins with five and the team having set the record for Super Bowl appearances last February in Houston with their ninth (9) (5-4) (Pitt – Dallas – Denver all at eight (8)), about the only achievement unattained is to match and then surpass the Steelers league leading six (6) victories in the Big Game.

But as long as Brady stays healthy and the Foxborough Triumvirate keeps itself amused, an NFL bound to get more amusing, and lengthy, if not better, with Raja Goodell’s kow-tow in relaxing celebration rules, Pats should keep winning.

If you’re expecting to read here roster depth-chart chatter, draft break-downs and musings on New England’s 2017 schedule, forget it. Trust, in Belichick & Company’s judgment and future performance, has never been more earned.

Besides, who’s gonna’ stop ‘em? Anyone in the AFC?

Ben’s a trooper but needs sideline help; Denver & Houston have D but the Os are iffy; Colts & Titans have Os but Ds are doubtful; Raiders Las Vegas engagement came at a bad time for a still maturing Carr; Harbaugh & Flacco know how but is owner listening; KC will play out the string with Reid & Smith; Miami has a good QB in Tannehill but no good game-plan and Cincy, well, they’re Cincy.

In the weaker NFC the Cards turned conundrum; Wilson has D but needs a plan from Pete, not protest (CK); Rodgers needs a run-buddy and a D; Saints showed spunk late; Bucs are rising; Cats didn’t claw back in 2016; Eli is locked-in (‘20); Cousins may’ve peaked and that leaves Atlanta who need to shake off the shame.

Maybe it’s like those other eras with one, or two, dominant clubs, Pack in the 60s, Pitt – Dallas in 70s, 49ers in the 80s: Until the big dog (NE) loses its bite, everyone keeps focusing on the leader of the pack, tripping over their tail at the worst possible times. Course, having a defense that can close the deal is key, its absence to continue to be the biggest issue for most teams in 2017.

But in every NFL season there is the unexpected, that turnaround team where everything begins to click (Falcons / Raiders 2016-17), or sustained success sprouts from where no special tillage had been undertaken (Dallas draft).

As long as Robert Kraft, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick remain together in good spirits and keep “calm(ing) the envious spirit” in those sporadic challenges to their predominance, efforts that will require a charmed season aided in no small part by a capricious Sporting God set (See; Carolina ‘15 – Dallas ‘16), this 21st century will remain the Patriots Period, period.

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-wikiproject, wc.cca, Ixnay-Beao; Belichick-Kraft-Kerry, wc, US-Department-of-State, 4.25.15; T.Brady, wc, K.Allison, 8.28.09; W.Wood, Topps, 1970.
Posted: 6.1.17 @ 2:13p EST, edit 6.26; Copyright © 2017

MLB17 Chin Music: With Cubs Ascendancy, Baseball’s Spotlight Swings Midwest

4 Jan

Now that the Chicago Cubs have rediscovered their long dormant championship flair, a find expedited by an ownership (Ricketts) that acquired top managerial (Theo Epstein & Joe Maddon) and player talent, the 2017 MLB spotlight swings Midwest, back to the region where major league baseball was first imagined (Hulbert), empowered (NL – 1876) and then came to thrive.

Champions for the 9th time (Cap Anson (6), Frank Chance (2) & Maddon (1)), the new & improved Northsiders seem to have a vision, egos largely in check, are still wearing their classic blue-pinstripes and still lovable even as ticket prices climb. All of it is, of course, a friggin’ nightmare for Cubs regional rivals (Pale Hose, Redbirds, etc.). But then teams of substance love a challenge, right? Right.

cubs-wc-18k-1957-78-sportslogoThe toast of that “toddling town,” the “big shoulder(ed)” Bruins who last November won their first World Series since 1908, that being the 2d in a back-to-back (1907), making it the first dynasty in the World Series era, the same year “Take Me Out To The Ball-Game” made the stadium scene, currently hold the biggest championship sandwich in all of sport. Chomp!

Cubbies (you can still call ’em that) took MLB’s first title in 1876 when the great Al Spalding (Byron, IL) was a top moundsman precedent to launch of his sporting goods empire, and have sandwiched in that 140 years all the good & bad included therein, by way of their 2016 triumph over the hearty Cleveland Indians.

Baseball may not’ve been invented in the old Northwest Territory but its people and their passions certainly played the major role in turning the game, and its entertainment value, into America’s great national pastime.

While the White Stockings (Cubs), led by legendary men like Spalding, Fred Goldsmith, Ross Barnes, Deacon White, Anson, King Kelly, Larry Corcoran, George Gore and John Clarkson, were dominating the new National League in taking 6 of its first 11 championships, including 3-straight (1880-82), 250 miles southwest, German immigrant made-good-in-beer, owner Chris von der Ahe was building his St. Louis Brown Stockings of the rival American Association, a team featuring Charles Comiskey and Bob Caruthers, into an equally titanesque team, one that dominated their fraternity in fashioning their own early dynasty in winning four-straight AA titles (1885-88).

cubs-wc-bpl-1906-196kLook at the line: Harry & George Wright’s Cincinnati Red Stockings (1869), Chicago wheeler-dealer William Hulbert who first conceived of the major league and then worked to keep it alive (1875-6), acting with iron-fist as defacto Commissioner, the White (Cubs) and the Brown Stockings (Cardinals): Boston, New York, Brooklyn, Baltimore, Providence, they all had their glory, some of it sustained, but until Babe Ruth suited up for the majors (Red Sox / Yankees), regardless of what John McGraw might say, west of the Appalachians was where the game’s ‘main office’ would remain until the 1920s.

Since the Yanks gave up their World Series monopoly (1963), the joy of winning has spread from coast-to-coast. Good for baseball, good for fans, worldwide.

Today, it’s the Cubs who stoke Midwestern pride. And as the Bruins are the most popular sport franchise in the nation, even before they raised their latest championship banner, or will come April, that state means plenty.

Their biggest off-season news, exit of table-setter Dexter Fowler to St. Louis. Cubs will miss his run production (84 – 125g) and playoff pop. What they won’t miss of the 30-year old are his SOs (124) and low OBP% (.393).

cubscelebrate-wc-11-3-16-a-pardavilaiii-7mCardinals: Though the Yanks had rebirths in more recent times (70s / the Joes), from 1926 to the present it’s been the Cardinals who, while never fashioning back-to-backs, have been the consistent standard of excellence in the major league game on par with the Highlanders.

Tigers: It’s been 30+ since Michigan’s pride won a WS in that transcendent 1984 when Sparky Anderson & Co. jumped out early and never looked back (.614). Two flags and a half dozen playoffs under Jim Leyland left the franchise hopeful yet frustrated. Aces remain in the aging Verlander and Cabrera, purse-strings tighten on big payroll and Tigers’ ownership seem content to lick their wounds for now.

Indians: Like Detroit, after Mike Hargrove’s two pennants and two WS losses, Tribe lowered expectations for a time. Now back on a mission with the same man who helped quench Red Sox championship drought (x2), hoping Terry Francona can get his club back to another Series, up 3-1 and able to close the deal.

Royals: Cast-off from Milwaukee, Ned Yost has managed KC to two flags in three years and a World Series win (‘15), Royals first since 1985 when Dick Howser skipped, Brett hit, Saberhagen won and Quisenberry closed. Stumbled a bit in 2016 but kept heads above water (81-81) and expect to contend again.

arrieta-wsg6-11-2-16-a-pardavilaiii-3-2mBrewers: Kick themselves for thinking Yost the wrong man (fired 2008, 83-67). For a club priding itself on thrift, even if it means one flag in 47 years (‘82), they should kick themselves, hard. Good call on Fielder but at 5’11” and near 300 lbs., how long could it last? Wisconsin taxpayers still waiting for a return (WS) on their Miller Park investment (2001). Patience is a virtue, until it’s not…Mark.

White Sox: Cubs southside rival (1901), Sox play in a park (Guaranteed Rate) whose name changes for dollars, making it occupant’s poor play seem of lesser importance. Champs in 2008, Pale Hose now remind Chicagoans of ‘85 Bears whose single SB win stands as both a testament to excellence and unfulfillment.

Reds: Last pennant, 1990 (win).

Twins: Last pennant, 1991 (win).

Pirates: Last pennant, 1979 (win).

canned-cornSteven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo credit: RizzoCelebrates, wc.cca, 11.3.16, A.PardavilaIII; Cubs-logo, wc, 1957-78, sportslogo; CubsTeam, 1906, Boston-Public-Library, wc; Cubs-Celebrate, wc, 11.3.16, A.PardavilaIII; J.Arrieta, wc, 11.2.16, WS-G6, A.PardavilaIII; can-of-corn
Posted: 1.4.17 @ 11:17am, edit 3:06 EST; Copyright © 2017

MLB16 Chin Music: Cubs Win Is Just More Cloudburst For Rainmaker Epstein

6 Nov

Those Sporting Gods are a funny bunch of deities. Not funny like a “clown,” oh no, but curious, like that monkey on PBS (“George”).

sportingmeetinggods-wc-1630-cv-poelenburgh-3mAt times they seem asleep at the wheel, having no interest whatsoever in the goings-on of sport, letting just about any Whosit on a hot-streak hoist the Title hardware (‘86 Mets, ‘06 Heat, ‘15 GSW, ’14 Seahawks), then, at other times, the Sporting Gods just can’t keep their all-guiding hands off of the controls.

It’s the latter practice that looks to’ve been in operation for major league baseball’s World Series 2016 that pitted two Title-starved opponents in the Cleveland Indians against the Chicago Cubs.

The Gods must’ve had themselves a good long laugh.

Not with the winning Bruins (4-3), the team most pre-season prognosticators pegged to take the title, but in affecting the crazy course by which the Cubbies finally navigated their way, once again (‘07-08), back to the champion’s podium.

As for the Indians, Mgr Terry Francona and Cleveland brass will have ’em back.

chancemcgraw-5-2-1911-gg-bain-loc-wc-66kEmphasis on the adverb ‘again’ as most people, even the raucous revelers on State Street, have no idea (interest) that there were times, like in the 1880s (Cap Anson, King “Hook-Slide” Kelly, John Clarkson) and then early 1900s (Chance, Evers, Tinker, Brown, Kling, Overall, Steinfeldt, Reulbach) when the name Chicago Cubs struck fear into the hearts of men, even the likes of Cobb, Wagner, McGinnity & McGraw.

First, the Gods put the Tribe out front (3-1), building hope for their frustrated fans who hadn‘t had a championship since Red River was in the theaters (“Yeeee-ha!” (‘48)), then they set the Cubs, who hadn’t even taken a pennant since that heart-wrenching year of 1945 (FDR – WW2), storming back to even it up at three, most of their wins coming on the road, no less, at Progressive Field.

And if that weren’t enough to trigger the PVCs, then the deciding game seven (7) goes extra innings (Zzzzz), has a rain-delay and had baseball writers pulling their hair out not knowing which title they were gonna’ post (’Cleveland, City of Champs!’ or ‘Cubs Win, Cubs Win, Cubs Win!’).

james-wc-4-27-8-k-allison-3-8mEven a kingly presence in the crowd (LeBron James) couldn’t turn the trick for the Tribe.

But if there are any fans in sportdom who can fully appreciate both the lows of losing the big match (Indians) and then the cathartic joy that comes with winning the Chalice of a Champion (Cavaliers), it would be those who reside in and around the Forest City, Ohio.

So after all their fun n’ games, why’d the Gods tab Chicago the winner?

If there’s one thing the Divinities will not tolerate, something they simply abhor, it is the haphazard stewardship of baseball records.

If you write about rounders often you will come to rely on the wealth of statistics made available on the web at baseball-reference.com. The same sort of repository exists for many of the major American merriments. When you cut through all the sabrmetric snooze (WAR, OPS, etc.), the site’s smorgasbord of stats is a tremendous baseball resource for which this user is grateful.

gold-medieval-ring-wc-sonofthesands-britain-146kBut when the boys who run the site brazenly decided in-Series to award championship rings to the Indians (appearing as a gold icon next to the relevant year in the “Postseason” section (all now removed)), as early as the close of game three (3) with Tribe up 2-1, the Sporting Gods decided on a winner: The Cubs. There’s that, and the fact that the Northsider’s dry-spell for a World Series winner (1908), whether based at West Side Grounds or Weeghman – Wrigley Field, had Cleveland’s beat by 40 years. Plenty parched.

— — —

He was near demigod status in his role shaping the Francona Red Sox teams that ended their own championship drought in 2004 and reigned again in 2007. But in doing the same for the parched pin-strippers on Chicago’s Northside (See Also; GM Jed Hoyer), Theo Nathaniel Epstein (b.12.29.73 (NY)) left behind the wunderkind tag and joined a select group of baseball executives (GM – PBO), builders who, when funded ($), create dream seasons and dynasties. It’s a membership that includes Branch Rickey (OH) and Ed Barrow (“born in a covered wagon in Springfield (Ill.)(Wikipedia)).” Big stuff.

inherit-tracy-wc-1960-ua-54kBut with progress comes a cost, a quid pro quo. You gain something, you give something up. For the Cubs and their followers that price may be the ‘lovable’ they’ve been serving up since 1945.

Spencer Tracy (“Henry Drummond”) spoke to this yin-yang thing in Stanley Kramer’s highly acclaimed Scopes Monkey Trial movie, Inherit the Wind (‘60):

Progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it.
Sometimes I think there’s a man who sits behind a counter and says, ‘All right, you can have a telephone but you lose privacy and the charm of distance.
Madam, you may vote but at a price. You lose the right to retreat behind the powder puff or your petticoat. And Mister, you may conquer the air but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline.’”

The faithful, Cubs ownership in the Ricketts family and Manager Joe Maddon, both deserving of the Rainmaker tag themselves, the sports media, all have failed to consider what it will really mean to the Cozy World of Confine now that the Cubs have won their 3rd World Series championship.

epstein-wc-slingsby-9-8-10-688kThe red, white & blue Bruins have built so much out of “nothing” it became the most beloved brand in all of sports. Everybody likes the Cubs, even before 2016. The undying love they engender in their fans nationwide is admired on par with Yankees’ prowess in play.

Winning changes everything. Fenway fans in their 40s understand that. There’s a new expectation, standard in Bean Town and Chicago, too. Anything short of a World Series title gets an incomplete grade. Tension rises, especially amongst the fair-weather fan who jumped the bandwagon and has wherewithal of a wet peanut.

Finally breaking that championship drought (’04 (1918 v Cubs)) can be cathartic for those who still hold the pain from chances that got away (‘67, ‘75, ‘86). But it’s a different mood in Boston these days. Success is sweet but it can be a pretty girl with a fickle heart: Warm when in clover, cold when the chips are down.

And that’s half hyperbole.

The victory parade down Michigan Avenue in November, so thick with confetti The Fugitive could’ve eluded police for days, was a beautiful sight to behold.

chicago-mi-ave-wc-4-9-11-l-fuss-2-8mA man who knew a thing or two about progress was at the Allied controls when the Cubs were in spring training and about to embark on a season that would take them to what was to be their last NL pennant and fall classic prior to 2016 (1945). That man was U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882 – April 12, 1945 (d. Warm Springs, GA)):

This is what 4-termer FDR, the standard by which all Presidents are measured, had to say about progress: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much (Yankees & Cardinals), but whether we provide enough for those who have too little (Royals (2015) and Cubs (2016)).”

Hooray for progress!

.....canned cornSteven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo credit: T.Epstein, wc.cca, 10.22.16, A.PardavilaIII; Sporting(MeetingGods), wc, 1630, CV.Poelenburgh; J.McGraw-F.Chance, wc, 5.2.1911, GG.Bain, LoC; L.James, wc, K.Allison, 4.27.8; gold-medieval-ring, wc, Britain, Sonofthesands; Inherit-the-wind, S.Tracy, UA, 1960; Epstein, wc, 9.8.10, S.Slingsby; MichiganAve., wc, Chicago, L.Fuss, 4.9.11, Canned-corn
Posted: 11.5.16 @ 9:57pm EST; Copyright © 2016

MLB16 Chin Music: The Last Iconic, Hack’s 191 Endures As Ueber-Think Thrives

24 Aug

The Ueber Code: No $tone Unturned

Evanston, Illinois: That’s the birthplace.

It aught tell the reader, onto which of Windy City’s two major league ball-clubs I pin my hopes n’ dreams for World Series glory. It aught.

Not familiar with Chicagoland, beyond sports, its famous residents (Prez Obama, Ray Kroc (McDonald‘s), Carl Sandburg (“Big Shoulders”), Oprah Winfrey, Bill Murray) and the legends (Mrs. O‘Leary, Al Capone, Harry Caray)?

...........Hack.Wilson.smile.faceNo map-app? No problem. Some clues: I think Hank O’Day had moxie to burn while bribe-taking Joe Jackson, human as we all are, has no place in the Hall, ever.

Still in the dark? Hmmm, okay, let’s see…oh, oh, I’ve got it, this should flip the switch: My team was the first dynasty of professional baseball, winning the flag (6) or taking 2nd (3) nine of MLB’s first 15 years (1876 – 90) and today can make a strong case in claim of title to our nation’s most beloved sports franchise, i.e., America’s Team. A claim.

That‘s right, you got it, I’m a Chicago Cubs fan.

And like any Bruins backer worth their weight in beehive bounty, I accept the White Sox as a necessity to Chicago’s baseball gestalt, appreciating their one-half part in helping make that rare state, a metropolis supporting two major league teams (NYC, SF Bay, LA metro). Were they members of rival operations, i.e., a Federal, Players or American Association, that’d be even the better (quality & cost controls), but the Courts and compliant media don’t see it that way and most fans, even with $20 nachos, aren’t squawkin.’ Buuurp!

..........Comiskey.wc.thm.1910.BPLI’d appreciate South Siders even more had they chosen to keep “Old Roman” Charles Comiskey’s (1859-31) name for their new digs (1991-02), one that drips with cachet, first gaining national prominence in late 1880s as key cog in those great St. Louis Browns clubs (AA) and then of course as founder of Chicago’s entrant into the new rival American League, rather than cave to corporate shill, i.e., US Cellular, a tag with about as much cachet as a corn-dog n’ cola. Buuurp!

Nevertheless, I do hold the Pale Hose in higher regard than HFCS, most TV and fellow Evanstonian Peter Ueberroth who as Commissioner in ‘84 PS gave Cubs playoff chances, their first in 40 years (25 more than Padres existed), the short shrift in awarding the Garvey – Gwynn Padres home-field (SD 3-2), even as San Diego was five up in the loss column over the Sandburg – Sutcliffe North-siders, then strong-armed the Cubs into installing lights in the friendly confines.

Not very nice, Peter.

And not all too bright either, given that this baseball version of America’s Team was likely the favored opponent of neutralites around baseball nation who were eagerly anticipating the match-up with Sparky’s roaring Tigers (DET 4-1 SD).

But that sort of play was $OP for Pete in his two Directorships, the first selling the summer semi-Olympics in Los Angeles (Commies stay home after Corporates boycott Moscow (80)), then in steering MLB operations (Oct.1984-89), a procedure that would change the business of sport management forever.

..........Ueberroth.wc.USGov.thm.WrigleyWhile his baseball reign was a cup o’ coffee in Commissioner time, his directives have had staying power, becoming the template for sport leaders from coast to coast in both professional and semi-pro (NCAA) ranks.

The Ueber Principle: Maximization of profit potential (MPP). Nothing’s sacred, nothing’s off the table. Everything in the sport is either a billboard or bargaining chip in a profit scheme. If it doesn’t turn a buck, it’s out with the recyclables, Dude. Continuity, style, history, reflection, ‘Where’s the consumerism in those, Loser?’ Oy vey.

In a real sense, Pete’s tack was an outgrowth from Earl Butz’ game-plan for US farm families in the 70s, President Nixon & Ford’s landscape-changing Secretary of Agriculture: ‘Get big or get out!’ Sans the subsidies (anti-trust?), but ballparks no small contributor to the push on high-fructose corn syrup consumption.

And it’s not just greedy owners and media minions who push the UP, union rank n’ file (& Retainers) are at the front of the profit parade. When it comes to money in sport the enemies (owners) of my enemies (players) are friends. Cha-ching!

Ueberroth’s predecessor Bowie Kuhn (1969-84) was no Ernie Banks (“Let’s play two!”) and had his critics in owners (Finley / Steinbrenner) and players both (Flood / Mays & Mantle (casino ties)). But the Maryland native and former NL lawyer did exude a sporting spirit in maintaining a competitive field, backed the induction of Negro League greats into the Hall as their BoD resisted and had an awares of the corrupting influence that some forms of profiteering can have on a game‘s integrity (fantasy gamble, etc.). Cufflink with a conscience?

.....Kuhn.wc.MLB.1982.thmToday, those kind of views will make you a sauropod, flagged straight into the tar-pits. Gulp!

The games are no longer pastimes but merely vehicles for money-makers with smallest of pretense given to quaint notions of reflection & trust. No surprise then that most players now live by the Machiavellian (or Orson Wellesian (The War of the Worlds (radio ‘38))) credo: ‘Ends ($$) justify the means (PEDs),’ or, in present verbage, ‘Cheat if you can get away with it (smirk), even if you don’t (See: Lance, Braun, A-Rod, Lochte, Al-Jazeera 4, etc.) because you’ll get a Disney gig either way. Honk!

And the passengers taken for a ride in the vehicle? Young consumers, of course, the most malleable market who slurp celebrity n’ selling-points the media’s all too eager to pour (Goodell’s grim, rule change needed, officiating awful, etc.).

Hoping for Hatchlings

With the 2016 Cubs cruising to a Central crown, a 2nd straight post-season and most people’s pick to win their first Pennant in over 70 years, you might think I’d be giddy with good vibrations. And then you’d probably be new to sports.

.........Wrigley.wc.Jblesage.5.28.08.thmIf there’s one thing a well-weathered Wrigleyite is not, it is a chicken-counter, as in before those proverbial eggs get hatched. Hatchlings here being the necessary deeds & titles (playoff ticket punched, NLDS win, NLCS, etc) that must be in-hand for residence in Champion City.

The caution comes from generations of fan disappointment, starting with every Cubs contender post-1918, from Hippo Vaughn’s hopefuls, who had a higher BA (.210 v .186), scored more total runs (Red Sox’ Ruth top RBI man (2))) and lower ERA (2.18 v 2.30) than their ‘victorious’ Boston opponents, to last season’s NLCS fellows of fizzle (0-4 NYM) and 11 other post-season busts in between.

Wilson Watch: The New 61

But there is an achievement so impressive, so weighty that Bruins’ backers can, around late-August of every season, reflect upon with pride and satisfaction, one that’s not likely to be eclipsed anytime soon if ever, and that is Hall of Famer Hack Wilson’s eye-popping 1930 single-season tally of 191 RBIs.

This season, that satisfaction came earlier as the only challenges to the 191 were mounted by Ed Encarnacion (TOR) and Nolan Arenado (COL) who just hit the 100 RBI mark last week. With five weeks to go it’s safe to say, “forget about it.”

........Hack-wilson_bat.thmHack’s record will likely stand for another winter and is so frozen in place it’s gonna’ take a serious bump-up in greenhouse gas emissions and disappearance of at least one polar cap to melt the icy wall of invincibility that seems to surround the mark.

There are many tremendous single-season records in MLB’s annals that’ve been achieved, challenged and sometimes bested since it‘s first opening day in 1876.

A short list of some unique and still standing notables:

· Boston Beaneater Hugh Duffy bats .440, wins NL Triple Crown in 1894;
· Same season, Phillies’ Billy Hamilton crosses home plate 198 times;
· Christy Mathewson wins 31 (1.27) and tosses 3 CG-SOs in 1905 Series;
· Ed Walsh wins 40 in ‘08 (1.42 / 464 IN / 42 CG) as Sox team bats .224;
· Ruth’s 1921: 177r, .378ba, 16tp, .846slg, 17sb, 145bb, 59hr and 171rbi;
· Indians’ Joe Sewell strikes out a mere four times in 608 at-bats in 1925;
· Rogers Hornsby wins 2nd Triple Crown in 1925 batting .403 (.401 ‘22);
· AL Leader in HR, R, SLG & OB%, Ted Williams hits .406 in style (41);
· Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson breaks MLB color barrier, wins ROY in ‘47;
· A’s Bill Fischer pitches 84.1 straight innings w/out issuing a walk in ‘62;
· B. Gibson (22-9 / 1.12) & D. McLain (31-6 / 28 CG) go pitch crazy in 1968;
· O. Hershiser throws 59 scoreless innings en route to ‘88 Series win (A’s).

Some sportologists try to sell the theory that the ‘streak’ is baseball’s grandest feat for its high stress and unassailability. And to that I say, poppycock, Doc.

.......Barrow.Ruth.Frazee.McInnis.wc.1918.TSN.282kSuch marks may prove invincible once sanctioned but anything subject to official scoring (Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio’s 56) or personal discretion (Cal Ripken’s 2632) will, upon closer inspection, reveal weak-links in their chains of greatness.

Ever since Yankees’ GM Ed Barrow snatched the Babe from Beantown (‘19), fans have thrilled at power-ball. Goodbye spitters, dead-ball hitters and “Hit ‘em where they ain‘t” (Keeler),..hello lively ball, home run call and “Holy cow, he did it (Rizzuto)!”

In supplanting Ruth’s 60 single-season homer mark (‘27) in 1961, Maris’ number became the biggest jewel in the crown of baseball exploits and holy grail every big bopper in the game wanted to grasp. If the stars aligned, both homer marks did invite serious challenges: Foxx (58 / ‘32); Wilson (56 / ‘30); Greenberg (58 / ’38); Kiner (54 / ‘49); Griffey (56 / ‘97).

But it was the possibility which made them enticing and then easy prey for the performance-enhancing slugs.

Juicers blew by the iconic 61 like it suddenly didn’t exist, as fans & media went ga-ga over Mark & Sammy (’98). The hypocrites could fill every park in the land.

.......Sisler.Ruth.Cobb.10.4.24.wc.929k.LoCSome of the great bat marks felled in recent years:

Maris’ 61, SS – HR (‘61), bested by Mark McGwire & Sammy Sosa (‘98), then Barry Bonds’ 73 (‘01);
Hank Aaron’s 755 career HR (‘76), overtaken by San Francisco Giants Bonds’ 762 total in 2007;
George Sisler’s SS – 257 hits (‘20), surpassed by Seattle Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki in 2004 with 262 safeties.

Baseball’s governors have a sticky-wicket on their manicured hands: What does Elias Sports Bureau do about Bonds tainted tallies (73 / 762)? Does Ichiro get a pass? Not bold-decision makers and, as noted, focused on coin rather than history, Manfred & Co. will likely continue on the ‘do-nothing’ path and leave the mess for future generations to resolve. Guardians of the game? Ugh.

What the major league game clearly needs is an injection of some Kenesaw Mountain Landisonium to give baseball back its courage and clarity, in play, ownership, management, media coverage and record-keeping, a bedrock component since 1876 . Get Pfizer on that one, STAT.

As such, Roger’s fabled 61 will never regain its former luster, leaving one, last, great, untouched single-season, power mark, free from the grimy fingerprints left by drug-cheats, calling-cards ignored by baseball’s cops on the beat (MLB & collectors in media) who seem only interested in making their pension.

......Hack.Wilson.Goudey.wc.1933.thmWilson’s gargantuan RBI record has stood the test of time (86 years) and serves as testament to what a man on a team stamped Good Dugout Seal-of-Approval can achieve w/out body armor, cortisone, PEDs and $30M-a-year (K).

The 191 is the new standard for power prowess, benchmark for immortality. It’s the new 61. But you won’t hear that on Disney (ESPN) or MLB Network.

Had Hack painted his masterpiece with a New York brush (NYG 1923-25) instead of Chicago, epicenter of trains, Great Lakes traffic, commodities & Midwest flair, Gotham City scribes would’ve immortalized Wilson’s fantastic feat in poetry & prose (See; Franklin Pierce Adams). As it stands, the media mecca of America will never pay homage to a record set by a Second City sultan.

Another reason Hack’s 191 is marginalized: So few have challenged it.

There were Gehrig (184 / ‘31), Greenberg (183 / ‘37) & Foxx (175 / ‘38), but even with today’s advantages in armor, medicine, nite n’ lites, travel-zip, more games, AL-DH, Denver and lower mound, 153 (T. Davis / ’62) and 165 (M. Ramirez / ’99) are closest anyone’s gotten in over 60y. Tigers Miguel Cabrera stood at 130 with five weeks+ left in the 2012 season and finished with a thud (139).

RBIs need three things: Base-runners, a team-mentality and general health.

......MeetingGods.wc.1630.Poelenburch.RPG-Mauritshuis.3mRuth ushered in homer-ball but Depression era players were frugal fellows, never forgetting the purpose behind batting: Score runs, win games! Today’s Home Run Derby mindset sneers at OBP and then, when the table is set, too many batters ( & Mgrs) fixate on the long ball.

Maybe the Sporting Gods guard the 191 as an emblem to an era. Good riddance to segregation and the fixola (1919) which was embedding but honoring the days free of nightly walk-off bunny-hop hysteria, Gatorade® drench, shave cream pie-in-the-face routine, drag pants, body armor, late-game World Series snooze (Zzzz), drug cheats (PEDs), tinker-bells (in rule change), sabrmetrics nor hanger-ons who hope for Hall call. Only records most 30s guys cared about spun on a Victrola.

And maybe Cubs finally take the Pennant again this season, maybe they don’t.

What’s certain now and likely to remain certain for the foreseeable future is that practically no one remembers who won the Pennants or World Series two years ago but nearly every baseball fan worth their weight in salted peanuts n’ franks knows the name of the man who holds major league baseball’s single-season runs-batted-in mark. “Hackidu” it’s you! That aught tell you something about the sacrosanct status of records, Mr. Manfred. So get crackin!’

.....canned cornSteven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo Credit: H.Wilson-R.Hornsby, Chicago Cubs; H.Wilson; C.Comiskey, BPL, 1910, wc.cca; P.Ueberroth, wc, Wrigley, US.Gov; B.Kuhn, wc, 1982, MLB; Wrigley.Field, Jblesage, wc, 5.28.8; H.Wilson; E.Barrow, B.Ruth, H.Frazee, S.McInnis, wc, 1918, TSN; G.Sisler, B.Ruth, T.Cobb, LoC, wc, 10.4.24; Wilson, Goudey, wc, 1933; Meeting.Gods, wc, 1630, Poelenburch, RPG-Mauritshuis; Canned-corn
Posted: 8.24.16 @ 2:17pm EST; Copyright © 2016

Chin Music’14: Exit Jeter, Enter A-Rod

30 Sep

Mood Swing

They’ll feel the breeze clear over in Jersey, once that change in mood starts swingin’ across the great Metropolis.

As Derek Jeter, newest member of the vaunted pinstripe pantheon, exits stage left for golf, girls & good food (go easy, DJ (See; Thomas & Maddux)), and Alex Rodriguez of the tarnished reputation (‘14 PED susp’n) re-enters stage right and re-rosters with the New York Yankees, the change in the air will be palpable. And that’s not all bad.

..........ARod.082611.wc.cca.K.Allison.thumb

The mood (& pitches) may’ve been groovin’ in Derek’s NYC farewell (v BAL) but Yanks captain was running near empty most of ‘14. Alex just may have some gas left in his tank.

Though, if I had my druthers, the 39-year old A-Rod would never be rostered again in the majors, i.e., banned-for-life, w/legal prejudice. Of course, you’d need monarchical-power, backed by a strong, well-compensated military alliance to pull that one off.

Today’s sport union is a powerful entity, advocating for its player membership seemingly at all costs, sometimes to the great detriment of the game’s integrity (PEDs), the fans trust and even the players themselves (long term health).

The same could be written of the owners and their Commissioner advocate (See; Silver & gambling push), but then cufflinks, apart from the rare case (J. Irsay), don’t send a bad message to kids on drugs & alcohol and are minor leaguers compared to players major league skill-set for criminal misdeeds.

Fear is the great motivator.

Were collegiate and pro athletes banned-for-life after one positive PED test result (no shortage of notice), a rigid standard like that proposed for domestic abuse and other serious crimes in the NFL, the use of performance-enhancing drugs would plummet.

As it stands today, the sliding stigma that attaches for the first failed test and resultant susp’n, is small deterrent to drug cheats when millions ($) are to be gained in risking violation of what are still half-measured, substance abuse policies.

..........Cashman.062509.jimmyack205.wc.cca.thumb

One can assume NYY top brass have swept most the bad feelings arising from A-Rod’s 2014 Biogenesis susp’n under the proverbial rug. Yanks are contractually bound to Alex for near $60M (3y) and, with tepid team tallies (84-78; BA .245 (#11-AL)); OB% (14); runs (14) hit (13)) bringing up the League rear, the Steinbrenners, GM Brian Cashman and Mgr Joe Girardi are hoping the former MVP still has enough spike on his cleats and speed in his swing to add some much needed punch to a low-impact New York line-up.

Now it’s A-Rod‘s team, for better or for worse.

“Decline and (near) Fall of the (2014 Athletics)”

A baseball funk is like quicksand, the harder you try to get out, the more it pulls you in.

Funk is what the 2014 Oakland Athletics have been experiencing since mid-summer but managed to pull themselves out Sunday night, clinching the remaining American League wild-card spot on last day of the regular season in besting the Texas Rangers, 4-0.

The Swing-less A’s were in serious danger of becoming this season’s sad collapse story, having comfortably led the AL-West for two-thirds the season. Then GM Billy Beane of Moneyball (‘11) fame made major pick-ups in the all-important pitcher department, chiefly, Jeff Samardzija (Cubs) and playoff patina’d Jon Lester (BOS / 11gs – 2.11 (3-0 WS)), hoping to cruise to the division title. But nobody booked it and Oakland went in a tailspin for the next six weeks, just barely pulling out at the last minute.

..........Beane&DePodesta.090911.GabboT.thumb

Most opinionators lay blame at doorstep of Mr. Beane, godfather of sabermetrics, for choosing to part w/ former A’s slugger, Yoenis Cespedes in acquiring Lester. While it’s true the Athletics’ team batting average (#9-AL) made hitters a premium pre-trade (162g #13 / .244), in his four seasons on the Bay (‘14: .256 / 17 hr / 67 rbi), most of Yoe’s biggest moments seem to’ve come in the home run derby (2x champ).

Besides, gotta’ admire Bill’s boldness in breaking with recent A’s tradition of playing it cool at trade-time and instead, taking the plunge this year in obvious effort to break with their other contemporary trend of bottoming-out in the post-season. Sensical.

A’s (Lester) will fly to KC to take on 2nd-half wunderkinds, the Royals (Shields) Tuesday night, who make their first playoff appearance since days of Brett & Saberhagen (‘85).

Oakland’s playoff birthing wasn’t exactly a breech presentation, more like collapsing w/ finish tape in hand. It won’t make ‘em favorites but in Athletics’ favor is knowledge that all you need do today is make it into the 2nd season (PS) and ANYTHING can happen.

The sporting gods love determination and surprises (See: FLA ‘03 & STL ‘11).

Legacy Planner

Joining Alex in the Butterfly Club (nerves) this spring will be rookie invites hoping to “show,” along w/ baseball’s newly appointed Commissioner, Rob Manfred.

Rob, like other Commissioners before, has a long association with baseball, having served in some legal capacity since ‘87, including his current post as COO. He’s a veteran of the lawyer league but an unknown to fandom and maybe most in media as well.

Hopefully, Manfred’s given serious thought to what imprint he’d like to leave on MLB, whether that’s simply the mark of money (owners & affiliates), or something bigger like restoring integrity and a broadly felt excitement to the national pastime that goes beyond transitory gimmicks (HRD / IR) and fads (drag pants, bunny hops & sugar-water baths).

Rob’s should do list:

1) Affirm lifetime ban on Pete Rose

Unclear message on gambling we don’t need, Rob (i.e., MasterCard Rose invite). No player nor cult of personality is bigger than the game;

2) Close window tight on PED cheaters

Add an in-season blood draw to the half-measured spring sample, from every player or institute cutting-edge biological passport stratagem, then watch the typical player weight drop from 210 to 190 in a year’s time;

..........Manfred.071514.A.Pardavila.thumb

3) Keep designated hitter rule in AL or eliminate all together

Time to bury the trite DH debate that arises each year from quarters seeking to expand it into the Senior circuit but who likely get as much thrill from baseball as they do from their Law & Order re-runs. Those who love the game and pass it down WANT the League distinction and DON’T want more homogenization (inter-league). American devotees favor a power game while DH-free National disciples live for the strategy-based play. It’s called allegiance, Rob. Mess with it because of faux-fans (saberheads) and watch NBA move into #2.

4) Fix MLB record book. Asterisks, strikes, whatever, but do it soon. Bedrock stuff;

5) Daytime World Series

A necessary part of becoming a Restoration Commissioner, putting back into baseball that which the past four Czars took out, those special elements that made it America’s favorite pastime for over a 100 years. Not every game need be day-light. Can’t expect greed to be bridled. Like Godzilla (pre-‘64), you can’t stop it, just hope to submerge it for a time. One game would be sweet. And it won’t be the Super Bowl (thank god), but just might become the best thing: a national Series Skip Day (work & school / 2:00 EST). Be bold.

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo credits: A.Rodriguez / 9.29.07 / wc.cca / K.Allison; A.Rodriguez / 8.26.11 / wc.cca / K.Allison; B.Beane & DePodesta / 9.9.11 / wc.cca / GabboT; B.Cashman / 6.26.09 / wc.cca / jimmyack205; R.Manfred / wc.cca / 7.15.14 / A.Pardavila
Posted: 9.30.14 @ 1:21pm EST