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The Harper / Papelbon Fallout
NFL Quiz: Who am I? In 1982, I set the NFL record for receiving yards per game at 129.0, and led the league in yards and touchdown receptions despite playing just 8 games. [I finished my career with splits of 559 rec., 8,966 yards, 16.0 avg, and 56 TDs. But I’m not a Hall of Famer.[ Answer below.
St. Louis 99-58
So it would appear Pittsburgh will fall short in its effort to overtake the Cardinals, while the Pirates are three ahead of the Cubs to see who hosts the wild-card contest.
--Race to host NLDS
New York 89-68
Los Angeles 88-69
As I’ve noted, it could be critical for the Mets not to have to face Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw on the road in the shadows of Dodger Stadium, but the weather could be wreaking havoc on the Mets’ chances as Tropical Storm Joaquin threatens the New York area this weekend, with the Mets hosting the Nationals.
Or the Dodgers could lose a few more and hand it to the Mets.
--A.L. Wild-Card race
New York 86-71...+3
Los Angeles 83-74
The Yankees would appear to have home-field advantage for the wild-card contest, but, suddenly, the Angels have reeled off seven-in-a-row to take the lead in the race for the second slot.
--One of the great discussions in the game today is who should receive the N.L. Cy Young Award? David Price and Dallas Keuchel have had very good seasons in the A.L., but Zack Greinke and Jake Arrieta? Historic stuff, sports fans.
The Dodgers’ Greinke, after 7 innings, 2 earned, in a no decision Monday night against the Giants (which San Francisco won in extra innings 3-2), is 18-3, 1.65, with 192 strikeouts in 214 innings.
Chicago’s Arrieta is 21-6, 1.82, 229 strikeouts in 223 IP. Plus, he has 12 straight starts allowing 2 earned or less...18 of 19, which is remarkable. [His ERA over those 19 starts is 0.89.]
Meanwhile, Clayton Kershaw threw a one-hitter on Tuesday as the Dodgers clinched their third-straight N.L. West title in defeating the Giants 8-0.
So Kershaw is 16-7, 2.16, with 294 strikeouts in 229 innings. But how will he fare in the postseason?
--Monday I was driving around, listening to Mike Francesa on WFAN, the sports talk leader in the area, and he is telling a caller that the Jonathan Papelbon / Bryce Harper fight on Sunday “doesn’t matter.”
It matters a ton, Pope (Mike is “The Pope” for derogatory reasons). Harper is the face of the Washington Nationals and Jonathan Papelbon is one of the more successful closers of the past ten years but he’s a [cue Jeff Spicoli].
I described the fight last time, and you all have seen it. Papelbon was suspended by the team for four games without pay, which, coupled with this three-game MLB suspension for an earlier incident, ends Papelbon’s season.
The Nationals held Harper out of their lineup Monday as punishment for his role in the fight.
Harper, in describing the fracas and his reaction to fight back, said: “If you’re in a bar or in the dugout or anywhere, if someone grabs your neck, the first reaction is to do what I did. Like I said, it happens in the game and happens in life. Nothing I can do about it now. It’s just what happened.”
Frankly, no one has ever grabbed my throat like that, but this is not about me....
General Manager Mike Rizzo said “Bryce had some accountability in the issue. We thought that to discipline Papelbon the way we did and not Bryce was unfair. You could see by the type of discipline we placed on both players which was weighed the most.”
Rizzo added: “I love the way Bryce Harper plays, I’ve got no problem with his effort level, the way he hustles. It is the job of the veteran players to point out when they think you’re not playing the game right. Pap must have thought that he wasn’t, and he called him on it. It takes a guy with some guts to call a player out nowadays, but Harp plays the game the right way.”
Harper: “You don’t expect to fight your teammates or anything like that. It’s definitely that we, as the Nationals, don’t pride ourselves on that. We’re a family in here and do the things we can to contribute every day, whether it’s a bullpen guy or starter on the field or on the mound. We have to go about it the right way every single day and if we want to win a World Series we have to stick together and do the things we need to do to win ball games. At the end of the day, that’s the biggest thing, I want to win...and every single guy in this clubhouse, needs to do that on an everyday basis whether that’s me or (Ian) Desmond or Pap or (Jayson Werth).”
So now we back up and read some of the commentary the Monday after the fight.
“ ‘The behavior exhibited by Papelbon yesterday is not acceptable,’ General Manager Mike Rizzo said in a written statement. ‘That is not at all in line with the way our players are expected to conduct themselves, and the Nationals organization will not tolerate it in any way.’....
“Additionally, Papelbon withdrew his appeal of Major League Baseball’s three-game suspension for throwing at Orioles third-baseman Manny Machado. The combination of the two suspensions will bench the closer for the rest of the season....
“Since (Papelbon) was acquired before the July 31 trade deadline, he has a 3.04 ERA in 22 games. He has blown two saves and lost two games in the past three weeks.”
“So, it’s always going to be different for Bryce Harper.
“Of the potential takeaways from Sunday’s affair – in which Harper found Jonathan Papelbon’s hand around his neck – this one may have the longest-lasting ramifications.
“That Papelbon saw fit to bait and then attack Harper in full public view is not a referendum on the Nationals’ recently acquired closer. The jury was in long ago: Paps is several seeds shy of a full melon.
“No, that Papelbon did this to No. 34 at a time when Harper is the best player on the planet, has significant equity in his club’s success and happens to be the most popular athlete in a star-crossed sports city says plenty about how Harper’s perception battle remains an uphill climb.
“Truth: Harper was wrong to publicly air out Papelbon after the closer threw a pair of misguided balls at Manny Machado’s head last week. If Harper had to ‘wear one’ in retaliation, well, that’s the collateral damage of being the best player on a given team.
“That doesn’t make it right, nor does anything in the field of play or clubhouse justify – ever – what Papelbon did to Harper.
“Yet, the team’s tepid response in the dugout and in the aftermath – before suspending Papelbon for the balance of the season Monday – suggested this incident can be filed under standard Clubhouse Family Matters, that it’s a long season, and tempers flare, and misunderstandings between ‘brothers’ happens.
“And if the dozen players that former major leaguer C.J. Nitkowski contacted for a Fox Sports column on the incident are to be believed, Harper even ‘had it coming’ and that it will serve to teach the 22-year-old a lesson.
“With all due respect to the grizzled vets contacted, that notion is absurd.
“This was a poorly-performing player – on the roster less than two months – attacking the presumed NL MVP, a guy who for 148 games has represented baseball excellence while playing the game with passion. Even on the pop fly in question, well, Harper did little to provoke any Baseball Gods....
“Yes, (Harper) receives an inordinate amount of attention. Certainly, he could have turned down Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old, tamping down the hype machine. Yes, pangs of jealously are inevitable when a player younger than some collegians and with less service time than your average lefty reliever receives blue-chip endorsements from sports drinks and apparel companies.
“When Harper was launching his MVP-caliber season earlier this summer, I queried several veteran players about his standing in the game. The praise was faint....One player went so far as to retract Harper’s name after he mentioned it in the same breath as Mike Trout, the unspoken vibe being that Harper hadn’t yet ‘earned it.’
“Well, let’s get one thing clear: .336/.476/.658/41 homers = Earning it.”
“A public viewing was held at Nationals Park on Sunday for one of the worst professional team failures in D.C. sports in a generation. It began as the baseball version of a wake for a disastrous season. Then, to prove the Washington Nationals could make a total team collapse even worse, the wake turned into an earthquake: Jonathan Papelbon started a dugout fight with Bryce Harper....
“As preseason World Series favorites who now won’t even make the playoffs, they have been cut some slack for injuries, a shattered bullpen and novice managing. But for four consecutive years, they also have been accused of choking, sometimes by other teams, after each season ended in tatters....
“Of course, the ruckus started in the Nats’ favorite inning for disasters involving relievers: the eighth. Why rewrite a polished script? The bullpen’s trashed everything else this year; why not fight the likely N.L. MVP? Fan Appreciation Day, indeed....
“(This) will be a symbol of an entire season when everything went wrong and every hidden structural weakness in the franchise was exposed....
“(But the incident) may ultimately serve a purpose. A baseball franchise that has brought joy and anticipation to the D.C. area for the last four years has, in recent weeks, had difficulty facing, much less digesting, the reality of their spectacular flop. Will it learn and rise in the aftermath of a collapse that it still barely acknowledges, much less fathoms?
“On Saturday, after elimination, (Matt) Williams encountered a century-old ritual for every manager – face the music. What does it all mean, Matt? Now that it’s over, own up; share your analysis or feelings. Or just change expression.
“ ‘We have to win tomorrow,’ Williams said.
“No you don’t. You’re mathematically dead. Would the captain of the Titanic say, ‘We have to put that iceberg behind us and get ready for tomorrow’?....
“The unfortunate permanent memory may be of Williams explaining how he could see the fight ‘out of the corner of my eye’ but not think much of it and send Papelbon back out to pitch the ninth inning. Elephant in room please call Matt.
“Williams has gone from Captain Obvious in his news conferences to Captain Oblivious in his own dugout. Fine man, great career in baseball. Manager?”
“Bryce Harper got choked Sunday afternoon for being Bryce Harper.
“Jonathan Papelbon remains a relative outsider to the Washington Nationals but is a self-appointed flame bearer of baseball code. He attacked Harper because he subscribed to the outdated, lazy perception that Harper is a young punk who should know his place. Let us be clear about Harper’s place: He is the best baseball player in the world, the surefire Most Valuable Player of the National League and a 22-year-old who handled a sea of dysfunction with grace and professionalism. During a rotten season for a franchise in crisis, he was the very best thing about the Washington Nationals.
“The notion that Harper is a malcontent or a cocky hothead or a threat to the game’s integrity is, to borrow a phrase, tired. He plays as hard as any teammate would expect – with the apparent exception of Papelbon, a guy who’s played about 1,200 fewer innings than him this season.
“One insane thing about Sunday is that Harper did run out that pop-up. He muttered in frustration, tossed his bat, shook his head and trotted down the line. He reached the base. In Game 155 of a mathematically dead season, that constitutes running it out. That counts.
“It counts, that is, unless you are looking for a reason to vilify Harper. In the aftermath of Sunday’s fracas, a small chorus of former players have risen to back Papelbon. They, like Papelbon, are castigating the obsolete idea of Bryce Harper rather than reckoning with the MVP who is the only reason the Nationals season cannot be considered a total waste....
“Since Harper’s rookie season, he has had to fight his persona in both his own clubhouse and others. He starred in commercials, both MLB-produced and for products he endorsed, that compared him to a superhero. Players, both teammates and opponents, could glance at one another and ask, ‘What’s he done?’ It became a familiar refrain to belittle Harper for others celebrating his potential and ignoring paltry results. (That those results were historic for a player his age is another debate.)
“There is now a new answer to that question. This season, Harper could become the third player since 2000 to lead the majors in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. The other two are Barry Bonds an Miguel Cabrera.
“The Nationals place more on his shoulders than any player, a burden he embraces. He accepts media request. He signs autographs before games. He is every kid’s favorite player, and he accommodates as many as he can, especially ones in dire situations. Each month, as part of his Harper’s Heroes program, he hosts a group of kids with cancer at Nationals Park.
“Monday afternoon, the Nationals will play their last game at Nationals Park. Under a gunmetal-gray sky, the affair will double as a funeral for a season. If Harper plays [Ed. he didn’t], it will be the last time home fans watch him until next spring. They should all appreciate what he has done this season, for both his brilliance and his deportment. They should all thank him for being Bryce Harper.”
As for Jonathon Papelbon, the Nationals owe him $11 million next season, but it’s assumed someone else will pick him up
--Monday night, Green Bay defeated Kansas City 38-28 in a game at Lambeau Field that wasn’t as close as the final score seems to indicate.
Despite their many injuries to key personnel, the Packers are off to their first 3-0 start since 2011 as Aaron Rodgers threw for 333 yards and five touchdowns for a team record fifth time. James Jones, the former Packer, let go by the Giants, who then returned to Green Bay, caught seven passes for 139 yards and a touchdown.
--The latest is that Ben Roethlisberger will be out four to six weeks with a sprained medial collateral ligament and a bone bruise, Michael Vick taking the helm.
As for New Orleans’ Drew Brees, once again there are some saying the now 36-year-old is near the end of the line with his latest shoulder issue that will cause him to miss several games, though the team is disputing this.
--Miami signed defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a six-year, $114 million contract and in three games he has seven tackles and has yet to get his first sack.
--The autopsy report came out on Evan Murray, the Warren Hills (N.J.) high school player who died Friday night from a hit(s) received in a game with my alma mater, Summit, and the medical examiner ruled he died from a lacerated spleen (and massive internal bleeding due to the laceration).
It was also determined Murray had an abnormally enlarged spleen that made it more susceptible to injury, according to the ME’s office.
There was no evidence of head trauma or heart disease. The manner of death was ruled an accident.
While as I wrote last time details are sketchy, teammates have said “he had taken a couple of hard hits late in the first half, including a helmet to the stomach,” as reported by Jim Deegan of LehighValleyLive.com and NJ.com.
Senior tackle Oscar V. (no reason for me to list the full name) said, “The last play before the half, he got hit and we helped him to the sideline.”
Murray gave a thumbs up sign before he was placed in an ambulance, according to a witness. He died at the hospital.
I never read the social media comments after a story. I form my own opinions given what I think are the facts. But I read some comments regarding this topic and was appalled at the jerks who jumped to conclusions and are now, for example, blaming the hospital.
Yes, it is possible the hospital (which I know from family experience is a good one) could have been looking for a head injury while the bleeding was going on, but, if true, that will eventually come out.
For now, once again we offer our prayers to the Murray family and his friends at Warren Hills, as well as the Summit football players, who we know are shaken too.
But it must be said, as I noted last time and have for years, this hurts the sport as thousands more parents say, “Enough...Bobby, you are not playing football.”
I mean think of it. A hit to the chest is a normal hit in football. Spearing is illegal, but I’m not going there in this instance.
I noted last time the crowd at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on Sunday, some 13,000 short of capacity, even with thousands of Steelers fans being there, and this is a harbinger of things to come.
I don’t care how great the television ratings today are. Interest in football will dry up in a flash when that inevitable day arrives...the death of an NFL (or Division I college) player occurring in front of our eyes.
Ken Belson / New York Times...writing about the decline in high school football, following Murray’s death.
“The viability of football at the high school level remains unquestioned in most communities in the United States. But situations like the one in Maplewood (Mo., where they disbanded the football team) are becoming more familiar....
(Evan) Murray was the third high school football player this season to die directly from injuries in a game. Five football players died last year, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research....
“Despite the popularity of college and professional football, the number of male high school football players has fallen to about 1.08 million this year, a 2.4 percent decline from five years ago....
“Declining youth participation rates have started to worry the NFL because the league’s long-term health could be affected. The league has donated tens of millions of dollars to USA Football, which has been training coaches and promoting a safe-tackling program to reassure parents.
“NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, speaking at a conference in New Orleans this month, said the sport was ‘safer than ever’ because of awareness about injuries.’”
--I’m very curious to see how No. 1 Ohio State plays at 4-0 Indiana. No. 13 Alabama (3-1) at 8 Georgia (4-0) is an important contest, as is 6 Note Dame (4-0) at 12 Clemson (3-0) Saturday night in Death Valley.
--The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen opined on a topic on many of our minds as we watch college football. Geez, these games are long.
Specifically, the average time of a game this year is expected to be about 3 hours 20 minutes. Last year’s average of 3:22 is the dubious record, 11 minutes more than the pace of 2008-09.
--SMU’s campus is in a state of depression after it was announced on Tuesday that Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown will be suspended for nine games this season, while his Mustangs were handed a postseason ban for the upcoming season, due to an NCAA investigation that uncovered numerous rules violations.
“Brown was hit with a ‘lack of control’ charge and given a two-year show-cause order. He’ll now be required to attend an NCAA Regional Rules seminar during each year of the show-cause period,” as reported by CBSSports.com.
Also, the Mustangs have been placed on three years’ probation, plus they lose three scholarships for three straight years starting in 2016-17. [The school had already self-imposed a two-scholarship reduction for 2015-16.]
Much of this involves the recruitment of Keith Frazier and the NCAA found that a former assistant, Ulric Maligi, “encouraged (Frazier) to enroll in an online course to meet NCAA initial eligibility standards and be admitted to the university. After he enrolled in the course, a former men’s basketball administrative assistant obtained the student’s username and password then completed all of his coursework. The student-athlete received fraudulent credit for the course and, as a result, competed while ineligible during his freshman season. When speaking with NCAA enforcement staff, the student-athlete admitted that the former administrative assistant asked him to provide false information during the interview. In its decision, the panel noted it is very troubled that academic advising was administered by athletics staff.” [CBSSports.com]
The NCAA does not allege Brown had direct knowledge or involvement in the misconduct. But he did not report it upon learning of it in 2014 for more than a month, and the NCAA alleges Brown was not initially truthful when asked about the potential violations.
So Brown has now been sanctioned at three schools where he ran the program...SMU, UCLA and Kansas. Tuesday, Brown insisted he never lied and that he quickly corrected a statement he made after being “blindsided” by a question during an interview with the NCAA and added that “I didn’t lie to investigators.”
“When I found out about what happened, I told the parties involved to do the right thing,” Brown said. “In hindsight, I wish I would have done more.”
SMU has 15 days to decide whether to appeal the penalties, including those levied on....
SMU men’s golf team, one of the best in the land, which was banned from postseason play and will incur scholarship reductions because of “multiple violations” that involved “recruiting and unethical conduct,” according to an NCAA report released Tuesday as well.
So this means that Bryson DeChambeau, the reigning NCAA champion, will not be able to defend his title in the NCAA Championship on May 27-June 1 in Eugene, Ore.
DeChambeau also won the U.S. Amateur in August, which earned him invitations into next year’s first three majors.
According to the NCAA, the SMU golf operation was nothing more than a den of corruption. The NCAA alleges the former head golf coach and an assistant engaged in 64 impermissible recruiting contacts with 10 men’s golf prospects and seven parents of men’s golf prospects between Dec. 6, 2012, and Oct. 23, 2013.
The coach in charge at the time, John Gregory, resigned on Aug. 8, 2014, and now won’t be able to seek employment at an NCAA member school until Sept. 2019.
--Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose suffered a left orbital fracture during Tuesday’s practice and will undergo surgery Wednesday. A timetable for his recovery won’t be known until after, but talk about injury prone. Rose tore the ACL in his left knee in April 2012 and missed the 2012-13 season. He then tore the medial meniscus in his right knee in November 2013 and missed 71 games in the 2013-14 campaign.
All told, Rose has played in only 100 regular-season games since signing a five-year max extension worth close to $95 million before the 2011-12 season.
--For the record, sans the $10 million bonus for winning the FedEx Cup title, the $12,030,465 Jordan Spieth earned on the PGA Tour this season was $1.125 million more than the old record held by Vijay Singh (2004).
--Tony Stewart is announcing this afternoon that the 2016 Sprint Cup season will be his last.
--This was embarrassing. Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge won the Berlin Marathon on Sunday, but his custom Nike sneakers began falling apart less than an hour into the race. The insoles slipped out of the back of his shoes. He had been testing a prototype racing flat, according to a spokesman for Nike.
Top 3 songs for the week 9/29/62: #1 “Sherry” (The 4 Seasons...their first hit...) #2 “Ramblin’ Rose” (Nat King Cole...the one and only...) #3 “Green Onions” (Booker T. & The MG’s...popular “Sopranos” background tune...)... and...#4 “Monster Mash” (Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers...could not stand this one...) #5 “Sheila” (Tommy Roe) #6 “Let’s Dance” (Chris Montez...his top hit, but “Call Me” and “The More I See You” far better...) #7 “Alley Cat” (Bent Fabric and His Piano...to say this one hasn’t aged well is an understatement...) #8 “Patches” (Dickey Lee) #9 “You Belong To Me” (The Duprees... these guys were great...) #10 “Teen Age Idol” (Ricky Nelson...easily one of the most underrated artists of all time...)
NFL Qui Answer: San Diego’s Wes Chandler holds the record for receiving yards per game in a single season, 129.0 in 1982. He also led the league in yards at 1,032 and with his 9 touchdowns, despite playing in only 8 games.
Calvin Johnson holds the record for total receiving yards in a season, 1,964 in 2012, but his per game average was 122.8.