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03/02/2015

Weekend Wrapup

[Posted Sunday PM]

Baseball Quiz:
1) Mike Trout has led the A.L. in runs scored in each of the last three seasons. Prior to him, who was the last American Leaguer to lead the league three seasons in a row? 2) In 1968, the year of the pitcher, name the two who led their leagues in runs scored. In the N.L. initials G.B. In the A.L. initials D.M. Answers below.

College Basketball Review

Some big games on Saturday with major NCAA tournament seeding implications.

--But not this one...No. 1 Kentucky moved to 29-0, 16-0 in the SEC, in beating No. 18 Arkansas (23-6, 12-4) 84-67.

--Late Saturday night, No. 3 Gonzaga was surprised at home, 73-70, by BYU (23-8, 13-5 WCC). For the Zags, star Kyle Wiltjer, topic of a Sports Illustrated profile this week and averaging 17 a game, scored just 4 on 2-of-11 shooting. The loss dropped the Zags to 29-2, 17-1, and broke a nation-leading 41-game win streak at home. Very bad loss for them.

--Earlier Saturday, I caught No. 10 Northern Iowa at No. 11 Wichita State and the Shockers prevailed, 74-60, as they had 19 assists and just 3 turnovers! The terrific guard combo of Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet combined for zero TOs.

Wichita State’s starting five goes 6’0”, 6’3”, 6’3”, 6’4” and 6’7” but depending on their bracket, and assuming a 4-seed, they could make more noise than last year’s team that was 34-0 regular-season (before being screwed in its bracket).

The Shockers are now 27-3, 17-1 MVC, while Northern Iowa, who will be just fine and is Sweet 16 bound, is 27-3, 16-2.

--No. 12 Iowa State fell to 20-8, 10-6, in getting upset by Kansas State (15-15, 8-9) in Manhattan, 70-69. Last Monday the Wildcats upset No. 8 Kansas, also at home.

--No. 4 Duke manhandled Syracuse 73-54, but Jahlil Okafor was just 1-of-7 from the foul line and has hit just 5-of-22 from the charity stripe his last three games. That’s gotta change...fast.

--No. 17 Louisville (23-6, 11-5) played one of its best games of the season in blasting Florida State (15-15, 7-10) in Tallahassee as the Cardinals adjust to life without guard Chris Jones, who not only was booted off the team a week ago, but was also just charged with rape.

--Similar to Gonzaga’s loss, my “Pick to Click” No. 24 San Diego State Aztecs had a 29-game home winning streak of their own snapped at the hands of Boise State, 56-46, as the Aztecs fell to 22-7, 12-4, while Boise State, also 22-7, moved into a first-place tie in the Mountain West with SDSU.

I have never seen the Aztecs look worse, as they hit just 32.7% of their shots from the floor. It’s been a similar story all season. They begin to build momentum, have a nice win or two, but then their putrid offense betrays them, or rather betrays coach Steve Fisher.

Experts say Boise State punched their ticket into the Big Dance. I wouldn’t be so sure, though the Broncos have now beaten SDSU twice this season. The Mountain West Conference tournament is huge for both.

--St. John’s had a critical 81-70 win over Georgetown, as the Johnnies are now 20-9, 9-7, while the Hoyas fell to 18-9, 10-6. In winning six of its last seven, St. John’s has virtually locked up a bid.

--North Carolina State (17-12, 8-8) suffered a crushing loss at the hands of Boston College (10-18, 2-14) 79-63. The Eagles were not caught looking ahead to their critical game against Wake Forest on March 7.

--Murray State won its 24th straight, 73-67 over UT Martin, to move to 26-4, 16-0 OVC overall. They have a good guard-forward combo in Cameron Payne and Jarvis Williams. But, as I noted before, they better win the OVC Conference tournament. The OVC really sucks and the Racers can’t count on an at-large bid.

--Sunday, Paul P.’s No. 21 SMU Mustangs lost to defending champ UConn 81-73 in Hartford, as it’s unlikely the Huskies (17-11, 10-6 American) will make it this year. SMU fell to 23-6, 14-3.

--Earlier in the week, on Wednesday, Miami defeated Florida State 81-77, but the story was Seminoles freshman guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who scored 30 points in the final 4:38. He had just five prior to his late heroics.

--Also on Wednesday, I was following the Wake Forest-Virginia game online and at halftime the Deacs trailed, at home, 36-15. The final was 70-34 in the worst performance at Joel Coliseum ever. Virginia had lost 14 of 15 in this arena since 1994-95.

In fact only once since the ACC began in 1953-54 had Wake scored as few as 34 points. Nor had Wake scored as few as 15 points in a half, as it did.

For the game Wake hit 12 of 55 shots (21.8%). This from a team that 10 days earlier almost upset the No. 2 Cavs in Charlottesville, 61-60. You just can’t explain it.

*Sunday, the Deacs hosted Pitt and Wake led 37-35 at half, hitting 7 of 12 from downtown.

And then after trailing 60-53 late, Wake stormed back to deal Pitt (19-11, 8-8) a crushing defeat, 69-66, which dooms the Panthers in terms of the Big Dance. Wake (13-16, 5-11) won despite being outrebounded on the offensive glass 17-5 and hitting just 16-of-28 from the foul line.

So the Deacs have a solid shot at a 6-12 ACC record, which would be a step up for Danny Manning and the program.

--Gregg Easterbrook / Wall Street Journal

“The most recent college champions are Ohio State and Florida State on the gridiron, Connecticut and Louisville on the men’s hardwood. Of these only one, Ohio State, graduated more than 50% of scholarship athletes in the relevant sport in the title year. The schools’ profit for NCAA play in these two sports averaged $30 million last year. That’s before donations inspired by athletics.

“If you ran a college and knew there was substantial money to be had from sports but no requirement to educate athletes, you might cut corners. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill did. Its shameful record is the subject of ‘Cheated,’ an engaging new book by Jay Smith and Mary Willingham.”

As I’ve noted before, a report commissioned by the university and issued last year found that over two decades, 3,100 Chapel Hill students, about half of them athletes, took fake classes that required no work. The average grade was A, which pulled up the GPAs of the sports stars who otherwise might not have been eligible to play.

The book details the same familiar names, like Rashad McCants, a key player on the Tar Heels’ 2005 NCAA title team, who made the dean’s list one semester even though he had done zero work. And Julius Peppers, who failed real classes but had enough ‘Bs’ on fake ones to stay eligible.

“Like many large universities, Chapel Hill has a committee that grants admission waivers to top sports recruits. ‘Cheated’ says that the committee admitted players who scored below 400 on the verbal SAT – that’s the 15th percentile, barely north of illiterate – or who were chronically absent from high school except on game days. There is no chance that a student so poorly prepared for college will earn a diploma. All he can do is generate money for the university.” [Gregg Easterbrook]

NBA

--What an incredible stretch for Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, who on Friday had his third straight triple-double in a 115-112 loss at Portland.

Friday...40 points 13 rebounds 11 assists
Thurs. ...39-14-11
Tues. ...20-11-10

And remember he’s just 6’3”. Westbrook became the first to string three triple-doubles since LeBron James in 2009.

He also tied LeBron (2007-08) and Dwyane Wade (2006-07) for the most 30 point, 10 assist games in one month in the last 15 seasons at 5.

For the season, Westbrook is averaging 26.5 ppg, 8.1 assists, 6.8 reb, 2.0 steals.

But he also suffered a fracture in his right cheek at the end of Friday’s game, had surgery on it, and sat out Sunday’s contest against the Lakers.

--On Thursday, LeBron proved he’s still king, scoring a season-high 42 points and hauling in 11 rebounds as Cleveland beat Golden State 110-99 for their 18th victory in 20 games. In the process James totally outplayed fellow MVP candidate Stephen Curry, who was just 5-of-17 from the field on his way to 18 points, only six after the first quarter.

But then LeBron was given the next night off and the Cavs lost to the Pacers (24-34) 93-86.

And on Sunday, LeBron and the Cavs (37-24) lost in Houston 105-103 in OT, with the Rockets moving to 41-18.

It was LeBron’s second matchup against another MVP contender, James Hardin, and Hardin had 33 to LeBron’s 37, though both made less than 50% of their field goal attempts.

--At one point the Washington Wizards were 31-15, but then they lost 11 of 13 before beating Detroit Saturday night. All kinds of grumblings in D.C. What had looked like a promising postseason is very much in question.

--Picture paying good money Saturday night to see your favorite Phoenix Suns host San Antonio and then have the Suns score 24 points in the first half...24 (fewest in franchise history), shooting 8-of-43 from the field (18.6%) as the Spurs took a 51-24 lead on their way to a 101-74 victory.

--Despite resting four starters, the Atlanta Hawks moved to 47-12 Saturday in beating Miami 93-91.

--The Chicago Bulls received good news on the Derrick Rose front. After his knee surgery was deemed successful, the team is confident he won’t be out more than six weeks.

--Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan is connecting on 72% of his field goal attempts, but just 41% of his free throws. His career success rate at the foul line is .422; the worst in NBA history through his age 26 season.

Last week the San Antonio Spurs put Jordan on the line 28 times, the third-most by anyone in a game since 2000, and Jordan hit just 10. There’s your “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy the rest of the way.

*Sunday, the Clippers (39-21) beat the Bulls (37-23) in Chicago 96-86 as Jordan had 26 rebounds, his eighth straight game with 15 or more. But he was 5-of-12 from the foul line.

--Former NBA player Anthony Mason succumbed to his battle with congestive heart failure. There had been stories that after suffering a massive heart attack, he was improving, but he died Saturday. Mason was just 48.

I wrote of his career recently and won’t rehash it but Knicks fans will remember him fondly for his fiery play. Teaming with Patrick Ewing, John Starks and Charles Oakley, the Knicks, under then-coach Pat Riley, had an entertaining and successful run but just couldn’t get over the hump, losing in the 1994 NBA Finals to the Houston Rockets in seven games. As Ewing said on learning of Mason’s passing, “Mase came to play every night and was always ready to go to battle with me every time we stepped on the court together.”

Mason won the NBA’s Sixth Man Award in 1994-95 as a member of the Knicks.

He grew up in Queens, played his college basketball at Tennessee State University, then played in Turkey and Venezuela after being waived by Portland, who had drafted him in the third round of the 1988 draft. Eventually he found his way to the Knicks after short stints with the New Jersey Nets and Denver. 

It was Pat Riley who gave Mase his chance and as his longtime agent, Don Cronson, told ESPN.com’s Ian O’Connor, “Anthony willed himself into the NBA, and very few players can do that. Any NBA team could’ve had him for a nickel, and he turned out to be the perfect Pat Riley player.”

--Yes, those Mason, Ewing, Oakley teams were fun. This year’s 12-46 edition far from it.

The New York Daily News’ Mike Lupica, on the upcoming one-year anniversary of Phil Jackson coming back to the Garden to run things.

“The truth is that one year into this, Knicks fans have no idea whether or not Jackson – and that means Jackson, basketball executive, not basketball coach – has the game to build even a good team, much less a great one. Jason Kidd’s young and athletic Milwaukee Bucks, less than a year into Kidd’s time in Milwaukee, are closer to being a real contender for the title than the Knicks are, or might be anytime soon.

“That doesn’t mean that Jackson can’t do the job before he goes back to Los Angeles for good, and that means before he gets anywhere near the end of his five-year and $60 million deal. It’s just that in his official year of living dangerously at the Garden, he has given nobody – starting with the man who hired him – any indication that he can.”

--Earl Lloyd, the first black player in NBA history, died Thursday, age 86.

Lloyd averaged 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds in 560 regular-season games over nine seasons with Washington, Syracuse and Detroit, making his NBA debut in 1950 for the Washington Capitals.

In 1955, Lloyd and Jim Tucker became the first two black players on an NBA championship team with the Syracuse Nationals.

Lloyd said he never had to deal with racial animosity when it came to his teammates and opposing players, but spectators were a different issue.

Lloyd played his college ball at historically black West Virginia State.

MLB

--Los Angeles Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton suffered a drug relapse involving the use of cocaine and alcohol in the offseason. He has a well-documented history of substance abuse and had been suspended from baseball from February 2004 to June 2006 for related issues.

Hamilton met with Major League Baseball officials in New York on Wednesday and there is no word on his penalty as yet.

One story has it that Hamilton voluntarily went to MLB, that there was no failed test. Earlier this month he underwent shoulder surgery and was to be out at least until May, though for some reason the Angels allowed him to stay at a friend’s house in Houston while he rehabs instead of doing so at the team’s spring training facilities in Arizona.

One of the conditions of Hamilton’s reinstatement in 2006 was that he undergo drug testing three times a week. He’s had two alcohol relapses (2009 and 2012), but in between had an A.L. MVP season with Texas in 2010 and appeared in back-to-back World Series for the Rangers.

But then he signed the monstrous five-year, $125 million deal with the Angels prior to the 2013 season.

Adam Kilgore / Washington Post

“On the night of Oct. 22, 2010, Josh Hamilton stood outside the Texas Rangers clubhouse, drenched in sticky ginger ale and clutching the American League Championship Series MVP trophy. He would not walk inside a locker room full of Korbel-spraying teammates. The stinging-hot smell of alcohol wafted into the hallway. ‘Oh, no,’ Hamilton said. ‘I smell champagne.’

“His eyes bulged. He shook his head. Even at the apex of his baseball career, Hamilton remained wary of his worst impulses. He was still afraid of himself.

“Did he allow himself to relax and release those fears? Did the fear overwhelm him? How Hamilton lost this round of the fight within him, only he could say. But back then, when he reached the World Series to cap an MVP season, Hamilton clearly knew his battle with addiction would last the rest of his life. He could not ever declare victory.”

Mike Vaccaro / New York Post

“We know well the scarlet letters Alex Rodriguez must affix to his pinstriped jersey from now until the end of his playing days and beyond: ‘C’ for ‘cheater,’ ‘L’ for ‘liar,’ and of course ‘S.’ in block type, in the loudest, brightest shade of scarlet possible, for ‘steroid.’

“He knows it, too. Be as jaded as you want as you see the daily penance he serves around autograph seekers. Be as cynical as you want parsing his daily observations for depth and sorrow and regret. The subject he keeps coming back to is the same one: he has been humbled, and it is a humbling that has taken hold....

“You can go up and down the list of those who have been either exposed as steroid cheats or linked to them with circumstantial evidence ranging from sketchy to overwhelming: There forever will be people incapable of separating the player from the sinner, the athlete from the transgressor. Rodriguez may be the most prominent, or may be forced into a virtual Mount Rushmore from Hell alongside Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, but anyone who ever has been stained by steroids has gotten the same treatment:

“We’ll let you play. But we won’t let you forget.

“Which is interesting, given the way we seemingly bent over backwards, sideways and diagonally to forgive athletes involved in baseball’s previous drug scourge. If you are old enough to remember what the 1980s were like, you remember cocaine as a daily part of your life...it was omnipresent, especially if you were a sports fan.

“There was the awful night Len Bias died, of course, followed only eight days later by the death of football player Don Rogers. There were the Mets, whose two signature players – Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry – had Hall of Fame careers trampled by the drugs, and whose most popular player, Keith Hernandez, testified at a Pittsburgh drug trial in which baseball was an unindicted co-conspirator and famously declared coke ‘a demon in me’ and ‘the devil on this earth.’

“Strange, though: few of the players who wound up caught in that cocaine dragnet ever had to face lasting ramifications....

Tim Raines admitted he slid into bases head-first so as not to damage the vials of coke he harbored in the back pocket of his uniform pants...and now he is probably the people’s choice among all baseball fans to make the Hall of Fame.

Paul Molitor’s name surfaced during the Pittsburgh trial. He admitted to using both cocaine and marijuana as a young player. He sailed into the Hall of Fame...

“It’s something of a relevant topic now, too, because Josh Hamilton met with Major League Baseball about an apparent relapse he had this offseason....Most people with compassion understand that when you are dealing with addiction, the fight is every day and forever. Hamilton deserved a measure of empathy and still does.

“But is that the reason why we as a public are quick to forgive how much damage cocaine caused the sport? Not everyone who used was an abuser; most were just kid knuckleheads, looking for good times.....

“We already know what likely will be in the first paragraph of the obituaries of every steroid cheat. That’s their fate. And maybe that’s fair. But we have proven ourselves capable of forgiveness in the past, of moving on, of moving ahead. Can that ever happen for Alex Rodriguez and the others who made the mistake of choosing juice instead of junk as their self-destructive chemical of choice?”

--Staying on topic, former MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent ripped A-Rod on Canada’s TSN “Offside” program.

“I think the Rodriguez situation is a travesty. It’s a remarkable episode in American sports, largely because he’s 40 years old, he’s been telling us over and over that A) he did it, and B) how sorry he is,” said Vincent. “Then when (A-Rod) gets caught again, he says, ‘No I didn’t do it,’ and expects us to believe it.

“The only guy who ever believed him was Mike Francesa on The FAN in New York, who made a fool of himself, believing A-Rod and slamming Selig, when it turned out all along that baseball was 100% correct.”

As reported by Christian Red of the New York Daily News:

“Vincent added that A-Rod is a ‘sad figure’ who the fans now have to endure as he tries to make his baseball comeback.

“ ‘The Yankees owe him money, because they made a terrible deal. We have to put up with it,’ said Vincent. ‘I have no interest in Alex Rodriguez. I think he’s a disgrace. I don’t think we owe him anything as a fan base. I think the sooner it’s over the better. I do not find him attractive. I can feel sorry for him because he’s so stupid. But I can’t really feel very sorry for him.’”

--White Sox pitcher Chris Sale broke his foot unloading stuff from his truck. Sale said it was “just a freak incident. I’ve done it a million times and this time it didn’t work out so well.”

He was in the truck and landed awkwardly jumping off. It seems he is out at least three weeks, which will obviously impact his Opening Day status.

--We note the passing of former major league pitcher Don Johnson, 88. In 1947, the right-hander was the talk of spring training, the Yankees’ most promising rookie. He was a fireballer with a Bob Feller-like leg kick, as noted by Bruce Weber of the New York Times, and in April, Johnson won his first major league start, pitching all 10 innings in a 3-2 win over the Athletics. He won his next start, too – another complete game, 3-1 over the Senators.

But Don Johnson won just three more games for the Yanks and bounced around thereafter with a number of clubs, going 27-38 overall with an unimpressive 4.78 ERA.

He had all kinds of injury issues, and numerous self-inflicted wounds, but in 70 career big league starts, he did have five shutouts.

Years later, Johnson appeared at the 2010 Yankees Old-Timers’ Day, and he recalled, “I was no superstar, but I played with the best players who ever lived, referring to teammates who included Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto. “Joe DiMaggio liked me. He took me under his wing. He said, ‘Stay off the booze and away from the broads.’”

Johnson was asked if he took the advice.

“Hell, no,” he said.

--I just learned of the passing of Minnie Minoso, baseball’s first black Latino ballplayer and Chicago’s first black player in 1951. He was 90.

I may have more on Minnie next time, but the Havana-born player was incredibly popular and more than a few believe he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Minnie played 12 of his 17 seasons with the White Sox and over his career hit .298 (.304 in Chicago) with eight .300 seasons and four 100-RBI campaigns. He also led the A.L. in triples and stolen bases three times.

And Minoso appeared in nine All-Star games and won three Gold Gloves for his play in left field.

White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said, “We have lost our dear friend and a great man. Many tears are falling.”

Minoso was a true Chicago legend. White Sox fan Barack Obama released a statement saying Minoso “will always be Mr. White Sox.”

Minoso is one of only two players to appear in a major league game in five different decades, first coming up with Cleveland in 1949. He got his final hit in 1976 at age 53 and went 0 for 2 in two games in 1980 for the White Sox.

--Finally, I have to update the story of Wake Forest outfielder Kevin Jordan.    It was four years ago Jordan had transplant surgery and he’s on the team today, a redshirt junior who is slated to graduate this spring.

As Cherin C. Poovey wrote in the spring edition of Wake Forest Magazine:

“It will take more than a life-threatening illness, transplant surgery and a fifth year of college to make up for lost time to put the brakes on Kevin Jordan’s dream of playing professional baseball. The Atlanta Braves cap on his head, with its distinctive red ‘A’ logo, hits such a notion out of the park.

“In the inspirational story of this Wake Forest outfielder, the A may very well stand for Attitude – as in positive. Or for his A game – as in a mindset instilled in him by a loving family. Both A’s, it turns out, have been modeled for him every day for the last five years by his coach, Tom Walter, the man whose kidney saved Jordan’s life.

“(Four years after the surgery), the two remain connected, physically and emotionally, by more than a vital organ; they share drive, commitment and a mutual dream: that after Jordan’s graduation in May, he’ll get his chance to play in the Major Leagues. ‘He deserves a chance to play,’ says Walter. ‘He has the physical skills and the mental wherewithal to do it.’ Jordan thinks his story would inspire others to never give up on their dream....

“It was 2010, Jordan’s freshman year, when doctors determined the star athlete from Columbus, Georgia, suffered from an autoimmune virus, which was attacking his body and zapping his strength. From January to June he had gone from being a first-round draft pick by the New York Yankees out of high school to a sick student on a college campus 400 miles from family. He barely knew anyone and had already dropped 40-some pounds from his once 180-pound frame.”

Jordan stayed in school, carrying a full course load, attended baseball practice even though he couldn’t play, hooked himself up to a dialysis machine each night, and waited for a kidney. As I wrote back then, that’s when Walter stepped up.

It’s easily one of the great stories in recent memory. Jordan’s also black. Walter is white. Both have adjusted well and Jordan, now 23, has gained 60 pounds to 200 of solid muscle.

The season is young and I don’t know if Jordan has had some injury issues but through Saturday he had just 9 official at-bats with one hit in the first ten games. Early season college baseball is so difficult, given the normally awful weather conditions, even in North Carolina this February. 

But I’ll follow Jordan the rest of the season and hopefully, even if he doesn’t play that well for the Deacs, some major league team will give him a shot.

[He’ll pick up his degree May 18. Go Deacs!]

I do have to add one other note in looking at the early Wake stats. Our three best players have been freshmen, which is encouraging, and one, pitcher Parker Dunshee from Zionsville, Indiana, is off to a spectacular start. 3-0, 20.1 innings, 0 earned runs, 4 walks, 28 strikeouts. As Ronald Reagan would have said, ‘Not bad, not bad at all.’

NFL

--The Browns signed veteran quarterback Josh McCown. While he didn’t have a good year last season for Tampa Bay, he’s been around and at least can mentor Johnny Manziel and Connor Shaw; which means they won’t be re-signing Brian Hoyer, who becomes a free agent. McCown was also thought to be in the running to go to Buffalo, Chicago or the Jets.

--The Lions released running back Reggie Bush, basically to free up cap space so they can re-sign defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who can become a free agent.

Bush, 30, can still play but only if he can healthy. He only played in 11 games last year, finishing with 297 yards rushing.

--I’m always playing catchup with my reading, especially the periodicals like ESPN The Magazine, and in their Feb. 16 issue there is a piece by Mike Fish on gambler Billy Walters, by many accounts the world’s most successful sports better the past four decades.

Walters gained some notoriety last spring of a different sort with reports that he, Phil Mickelson and billionaire investor Carl Icahn were profiting from insider trading on a few stocks, which all three deny any wrongdoing in but the case remains open, as far as I can tell.

In terms of Bar Chat, though, ESPN interviewed one of Walters ‘runners’ in Vegas who would handle some of his sports bets. When it comes to the NFL, for example, here is how Walters often operates, specifically one of his keys to success.

“Some of his bets were intentional losers, designed to manipulate the bookmakers’ odds. Walters might bet $50,000 on a team giving 3 points, then $75,000 more on the same team when the line reaches 3.5. The moment the line gets to 4, a runner is instructed to immediately place a larger bet – perhaps $250,000 – on the other team. The $125,000 on the initial lines will be lost, but if things go according to plan, the $250,000 on the other side will win enough to make up for it many times over. Walters uses the same method on multiple games, often risking millions each weekend.”

[There’s nothing illegal about manipulating lines.]

Golf Balls

--The PGA Tour had some of its worst weather ever on Saturday at the Honda Classic (Jack’s tournament) and so we go to a Monday morning finish with Paul Casey and Ian Poulter tied at -7 (Casey thru 9 and Poulter thru 7). Patrick Reed is one back, Phil Mickelson three back with plenty of holes to go.

--On missing the cut in his U.S. debut this year, Rory McIlroy said, “Yeah, I’m pissed off.” Others of note missing the cut, Justin Rose, Billy Horschel, Keegan Bradley and Dustin Johnson. D.J. has played four weeks in a row and after a T4 and P2 his previous two events, perhaps a little fatigue set in.

NASCAR

--Following up his win at Daytona, Joey Logano took the pole for Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but NASCAR had a big black eye when 13 drivers didn’t get on the track for qualifying Friday after failing to pass inspection, a situation Jeff Gordon called “absolutely embarrassing.”

Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth were among those stuck in the paddock. But at least most of those who didn’t get out are in the field based on their points from last season, though starting way in the back.

Well I wrote the above on Saturday and Sunday, with temperatures in the 40s and the race delayed by rain, Jimmie Johnson, starting 37th, won his 71st career race, besting Kevin Harvick. For Harvick, who was second at Daytona, it was the fifth straight race going back to last year, when he was Sprint Cup Champion, where he finished first or second.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was third and Logano fourth.

--I always get a kick out of those who say race drivers aren’t athletes.   Here is how NASCAR expert Tom Jensen answered the question in the Washington Post.

“After Jimmie Johnson, who had won his record fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, was nominated for an ESPY Award in 2011, then-Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate launched a Twitter salvo against him: ‘I’ve driven a car on unknown roads at night at 90mph no big deal. No sign of athletism [sic].’

“More recently, Keith Olbermann of ESPN tweeted about NASCAR drivers: ‘If they’re athletes, then so’s every NYC cab driver and anybody doing 70 in 8 packed lanes on any LA freeway.’

“The fact is, racing a car at high speeds for three hours at a time requires athleticism and peak fitness. Upper-body strength is especially important and has been correlated with better performance on the track. Inside the cars, temperatures routinely top 110 degrees, conditions that demand excellent cardiovascular health. And hand, eye and foot coordination is as relevant for NASCAR drivers as it is for other pro athletes. At some tracks, cornering loads are as high as three G’s; drivers must be able to ‘save’ a sliding racecar from hitting the wall at 200mph, significantly faster than the top speed of a typical car on the road.

“To keep up, Johnson, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne and others maintain grueling, sophisticated training regimens that include marathons, triathlons and carefully monitored diets. Edwards underwent a series of athletic tests with the ESPN Sports Science team in 2011, after which host John Brenkus declared: ‘The fact is, these guys are phenomenal athletes whose sport requires incredible strength, endurance and lightning-fast reaction times...NASCAR drivers are some of the best athletes on the planet.’”

So there.

Premier League Standings (thru Sunday)

1. Chelsea 26 games...60 points
2. Man City 27...55
3. Arsenal 27...51
4. Man U 27...50
5. Liverpool 27...48
6. Southampton 27...46
7. Tottenham 26...44
8. Swansea 27...40

Yes, Chelsea and Tottenham have a game in hand, Chelsea defeating the Spurs on Sunday in the League Cup final 2-0 (less important than the FA Cup). But if Tottenham is to continue to give itself a shot for the Champions League it needs to defeat Swansea on Wednesday.

--In the weekend’s marquee matchup, Liverpool dealt Manchester City’s title hopes a huge blow, winning 2-1 in a highly entertaining contest at Anfield...three spectacular goals.

--Saturday, Manchester United defeated Sunderland 2-0 with Wayne Rooney scoring both goals. The significance of this is that he set a record in hitting double figures in Premier League goals for an 11th straight season.

--Improving West Brom dealt Southampton’s Champions League bid a serious blow with a 1-0 win.

Leonard Nimoy

Steve Chawkins / Los Angeles Times

“When Leonard Nimoy was approached about acting in a new TV series called ‘Star Trek,’ he was, like any good Vulcan contemplating a risky mission in a chaotic universe, dispassionate.

“ ‘I really didn’t give it a lot of thought,’ he later recalled. ‘The chance of this becoming anything meaningful was slim.’

“By the time ‘Star Trek’ finished its three-year run in 1969, Nimoy was a cultural touchstone – a living representative of the scientific method, a voice of pure reason in a time of social turmoil, the unflappable and impeccably logical Mr. Spock.”

Nimoy had appeared in plenty of shows up until getting the “Star Trek” job, but never worked in one more than two weeks.

Leonard Simon Nimoy was born on March 26, 1931. His Ukrainian-born father, Max, ran a barber shop in a Boston tenement neighborhood.  At 17, Leonard was cast in a Boston production of a Clifford Odets play “Awake and Sing!” His parents weren’t happy and his father said, “Learn to play the accordion. You can always make a living with an accordion.”

Nimoy briefly studied drama at Boston College, sold vacuum cleaners, and, at 18, left for acting school in California.

But that didn’t work out, he did a stint in the Army, then went back to Los Angeles by the mid-1950s, studying acting and picking up parts on shows like “Dragnet,” “Bonanza,” “Dr. Kildare” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”

It was then in 1965 he drew the attention of Gene Roddenberry, the producer behind the upcoming “Star Trek” series.

Hank Stuever / Washington Post

“Everyone who was in the original ‘Star Trek’ TV series eventually came to terms with its pop-cult status, starting with the fact that ‘Star Trek’ is a life sentence.

“Surrender is the most logical choice. George Takei (Mr. Sulu) has happily reinvented himself as a sort of Oscar Wilde of the fast Facebook post. William Shatner (Captain Kirk) seemed to have exorcised the last of his ‘Star Trek’ demons long ago in a still famous 1986 sketch on ‘Saturday Night Live’ in which he played out his exasperation with the obsessed attendees of yet another ‘Star Trek’ convention at yet another Holiday Inn.

“Leonard Nimoy, who died Friday morning at 83 from obstructive pulmonary disease, also struggled for a while with the notion that no matter what else he did in his life and career (acting, directing, reciting ‘Desiderata’), he would always be Mr. Spock, the logically driven Vulcan he first played in the original ‘Star Trek’ TV series nearly 50 years ago.

“His first memoir was titled ‘I Am Not Spock.’ Twenty years later (once the ‘Star Trek’ movie franchise had validated his and his co-stars’ work and legitimized Trekdom for all) he wrote a second memoir, titled ‘I Am Spock.’

“Who could begrudge any of the original crew members of the USS Enterprise a moment (or a decade, or a lifetime) of identity crises? They signed up for Gene Roddenberry’s prime-time science fiction drama and the show did all right and lasted just long enough (79 episodes over three seasons on NBC) to sell off in syndicated rerun-ville.

“What Nimoy and the others did not know was that they would become the central icons in a new sort of religion, one that stood for science, logic, diversity and universal peace. In this religion, which came with an ever-expanding canon, Nimoy’s Spock served a role that was at once rabbinical and monastic, wise but not preachy, certain but not vain. Rarely has a character in that much makeup felt so perfectly in sync with the actor picked to play him....

“Nimoy and his co-stars taught us the real meaning, or maybe just the Hollywood meaning, of Spock’s trademark, green-blooded salutation: Live long and prosper.

“In that phrase fans can hear hopes for good health and success, but all these years later, we can hear something about giving in and being grateful for what you have.”

Stuff

--I have argued over the years that the Olympics should be scrapped with the focus shifting to each sport’s world championship. Economically it just makes sense.

So I’m reading a book review in The Economist, “Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup” by Andrew Zimbalist and I just have to quote a segment.

“In principle, there is no reason why hosting such events needs to be an economic own-goal. Between television rights, tickets sales, licensing and sponsorships, the most recent summer Olympics, in London, generated $5.2 billion in revenue. In a city with sufficient existing athletic, hotel and transport infrastructure, it would be easy to stage the competition for less than that figure and come away with a healthy profit – as Los Angeles did in the highly successful 1984 summer games. But over the past decades, the IOC, in particular, has appropriated an ever-greater share of the proceeds for itself: the most recent public data reveal that it now pockets more than 70% of Olympic television revenue, compared with less than 4% between 1960 and 1980. And there is little evidence to support the projections that hosting will bring a surge in tourism; Beijing and London both attracted fewer visitors during their summer Olympics in 2008 and 2012 respectively than they had in the same period a year earlier.”

And then you have the insistence on the part of both the IOC and FIFA that the sites build all new facilities, arguing the infrastructure projects “will provide continuing benefits long after the events end. Such claims are almost offensively misleading.”

Mr. Zimbalist points out the white elephants, such as a volleyball stadium in Athens overrun by squatters. In Brazil, site of last summer’s World Cup, one of the new stadiums that seats 40,000 is now used by a second-division team drawing 1,500 fans a game. “All of these structures cost millions of dollars a year to maintain, making the games’ costs their enduring ‘legacy.’”

--Some good news out of China for a change. According to a census by the State Forestry Administration released Saturday, the wild panda population has grown by 268 to a total of 1,864 since 2003.

China began surveying its giant pandas in the 1970s. This is good. Actually, great.

The survey shows 1,246 wild giant pandas live within nature reserves. Nearly three-quarters live in the southwestern province of Sichuan.

Female pandas give birth to about one cub every two years.

The number of giant pandas in captivity grew by 211, more than double the previous survey figure.

However, economic development remains a threat to the panda and its habitat. For example 319 hydropower stations and 1,339 kilometers of roads found their way into the survey; though at least poaching is on the decline. [South China Morning Post]

--According to American Kennel Club rankings released last week, Labrador retrievers reign again as the nation’s top dog for 2014, the 24th year after breaking poodles’ decades-old record in 2013. But bulldogs have hit a new high – No. 4 – while their bat-eared cousins, French bulldogs, sauntered into the top 10 for the first time in nearly a century.

German shepherds, golden retrievers and beagles are also in the top five, withi Yorkshire terriers, poodles, boxers and Rottweilers filling out the top 10. Dachsunds slipped from 10th to 11th. [Jennifer Peltz / Associated Press]

--In New York City, the most popular dog is the French bulldog, displacing the bulldog. Labrador retrievers, German shepherds and golden retrievers round out the top five. [Crain’s New York Business]

--From the Moscow Times: “A man in Moscow had the shock of his life when he awoke from an amorous encounter to discover that his testicles had been surgically removed.

“The 30-year-old man was sitting in a bar when a woman approached him and began chatting to him, he told LifeNews website this week. ‘We drank beer together, and then she suggested we go to a sauna. We went to the sauna, and after that I don’t remember anything,’ he was shown saying from his hospital bed.”

That’s it. No more saunas with beautiful women for me.

--If you were watching the pre-race action before the Daytona 500 last week, Bar Chat Hall of Famer Kid Rock gave a good performance of the title track for his new album, “First Kiss.” I see Rolling Stone gives the album 4 stars, with a great review.

But Kid Rock did catch some negative publicity for his Rolling Stone interview in the current edition. He disses Beyonce, saying he was “flabbergasted” by her success.

“Beyonce, to me, doesn’t have a [expletive] ‘Purple Rain,” referencing Prince’s 1984 album, considered his masterpiece, “but she’s the biggest thing on Earth.

“How can you that big without at least one ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ or ‘Old Time Rock & Roll’?”

So the ‘Beyhive’ fought back, spamming Kid Rock’s Instagram account.

Top 3 songs for the week 3/4/72: #1 “Without You” (Nilsson) #2 “Hurting Each Other” (Carpenters) #3 “Precious And Few” (Climax)...and...#4 “Down By The Lazy River” (The Osmonds...Marie not performing with her brothers yet...instead doing a Weight Watchers commercial...) #5 “Everything I Own” (Bread) #6 “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (Robert John) #7 “Heart Of Gold” (Neil Young...when this came out I thought it was America...) #8 “Let’s Stay Together” (Al Green) #9 “Sweet Seasons” (Carole King) #10 “Bang A Gong (Get It On)” (T. Rex)

Baseball Quiz Answer: 1) Last since Mike Trout to lead the A.L. in runs scored three seasons in a row...Mickey Mantle, 1956-58. 2) In 1968, the Cubs’ Glenn Beckert led the N.L. in runs scored with 98. Detroit’s Dick McAuliffe led the A.L. with 95.

Next Bar Chat, Thursday.


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Bar Chat

03/02/2015

Weekend Wrapup

[Posted Sunday PM]

Baseball Quiz:
1) Mike Trout has led the A.L. in runs scored in each of the last three seasons. Prior to him, who was the last American Leaguer to lead the league three seasons in a row? 2) In 1968, the year of the pitcher, name the two who led their leagues in runs scored. In the N.L. initials G.B. In the A.L. initials D.M. Answers below.

College Basketball Review

Some big games on Saturday with major NCAA tournament seeding implications.

--But not this one...No. 1 Kentucky moved to 29-0, 16-0 in the SEC, in beating No. 18 Arkansas (23-6, 12-4) 84-67.

--Late Saturday night, No. 3 Gonzaga was surprised at home, 73-70, by BYU (23-8, 13-5 WCC). For the Zags, star Kyle Wiltjer, topic of a Sports Illustrated profile this week and averaging 17 a game, scored just 4 on 2-of-11 shooting. The loss dropped the Zags to 29-2, 17-1, and broke a nation-leading 41-game win streak at home. Very bad loss for them.

--Earlier Saturday, I caught No. 10 Northern Iowa at No. 11 Wichita State and the Shockers prevailed, 74-60, as they had 19 assists and just 3 turnovers! The terrific guard combo of Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet combined for zero TOs.

Wichita State’s starting five goes 6’0”, 6’3”, 6’3”, 6’4” and 6’7” but depending on their bracket, and assuming a 4-seed, they could make more noise than last year’s team that was 34-0 regular-season (before being screwed in its bracket).

The Shockers are now 27-3, 17-1 MVC, while Northern Iowa, who will be just fine and is Sweet 16 bound, is 27-3, 16-2.

--No. 12 Iowa State fell to 20-8, 10-6, in getting upset by Kansas State (15-15, 8-9) in Manhattan, 70-69. Last Monday the Wildcats upset No. 8 Kansas, also at home.

--No. 4 Duke manhandled Syracuse 73-54, but Jahlil Okafor was just 1-of-7 from the foul line and has hit just 5-of-22 from the charity stripe his last three games. That’s gotta change...fast.

--No. 17 Louisville (23-6, 11-5) played one of its best games of the season in blasting Florida State (15-15, 7-10) in Tallahassee as the Cardinals adjust to life without guard Chris Jones, who not only was booted off the team a week ago, but was also just charged with rape.

--Similar to Gonzaga’s loss, my “Pick to Click” No. 24 San Diego State Aztecs had a 29-game home winning streak of their own snapped at the hands of Boise State, 56-46, as the Aztecs fell to 22-7, 12-4, while Boise State, also 22-7, moved into a first-place tie in the Mountain West with SDSU.

I have never seen the Aztecs look worse, as they hit just 32.7% of their shots from the floor. It’s been a similar story all season. They begin to build momentum, have a nice win or two, but then their putrid offense betrays them, or rather betrays coach Steve Fisher.

Experts say Boise State punched their ticket into the Big Dance. I wouldn’t be so sure, though the Broncos have now beaten SDSU twice this season. The Mountain West Conference tournament is huge for both.

--St. John’s had a critical 81-70 win over Georgetown, as the Johnnies are now 20-9, 9-7, while the Hoyas fell to 18-9, 10-6. In winning six of its last seven, St. John’s has virtually locked up a bid.

--North Carolina State (17-12, 8-8) suffered a crushing loss at the hands of Boston College (10-18, 2-14) 79-63. The Eagles were not caught looking ahead to their critical game against Wake Forest on March 7.

--Murray State won its 24th straight, 73-67 over UT Martin, to move to 26-4, 16-0 OVC overall. They have a good guard-forward combo in Cameron Payne and Jarvis Williams. But, as I noted before, they better win the OVC Conference tournament. The OVC really sucks and the Racers can’t count on an at-large bid.

--Sunday, Paul P.’s No. 21 SMU Mustangs lost to defending champ UConn 81-73 in Hartford, as it’s unlikely the Huskies (17-11, 10-6 American) will make it this year. SMU fell to 23-6, 14-3.

--Earlier in the week, on Wednesday, Miami defeated Florida State 81-77, but the story was Seminoles freshman guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who scored 30 points in the final 4:38. He had just five prior to his late heroics.

--Also on Wednesday, I was following the Wake Forest-Virginia game online and at halftime the Deacs trailed, at home, 36-15. The final was 70-34 in the worst performance at Joel Coliseum ever. Virginia had lost 14 of 15 in this arena since 1994-95.

In fact only once since the ACC began in 1953-54 had Wake scored as few as 34 points. Nor had Wake scored as few as 15 points in a half, as it did.

For the game Wake hit 12 of 55 shots (21.8%). This from a team that 10 days earlier almost upset the No. 2 Cavs in Charlottesville, 61-60. You just can’t explain it.

*Sunday, the Deacs hosted Pitt and Wake led 37-35 at half, hitting 7 of 12 from downtown.

And then after trailing 60-53 late, Wake stormed back to deal Pitt (19-11, 8-8) a crushing defeat, 69-66, which dooms the Panthers in terms of the Big Dance. Wake (13-16, 5-11) won despite being outrebounded on the offensive glass 17-5 and hitting just 16-of-28 from the foul line.

So the Deacs have a solid shot at a 6-12 ACC record, which would be a step up for Danny Manning and the program.

--Gregg Easterbrook / Wall Street Journal

“The most recent college champions are Ohio State and Florida State on the gridiron, Connecticut and Louisville on the men’s hardwood. Of these only one, Ohio State, graduated more than 50% of scholarship athletes in the relevant sport in the title year. The schools’ profit for NCAA play in these two sports averaged $30 million last year. That’s before donations inspired by athletics.

“If you ran a college and knew there was substantial money to be had from sports but no requirement to educate athletes, you might cut corners. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill did. Its shameful record is the subject of ‘Cheated,’ an engaging new book by Jay Smith and Mary Willingham.”

As I’ve noted before, a report commissioned by the university and issued last year found that over two decades, 3,100 Chapel Hill students, about half of them athletes, took fake classes that required no work. The average grade was A, which pulled up the GPAs of the sports stars who otherwise might not have been eligible to play.

The book details the same familiar names, like Rashad McCants, a key player on the Tar Heels’ 2005 NCAA title team, who made the dean’s list one semester even though he had done zero work. And Julius Peppers, who failed real classes but had enough ‘Bs’ on fake ones to stay eligible.

“Like many large universities, Chapel Hill has a committee that grants admission waivers to top sports recruits. ‘Cheated’ says that the committee admitted players who scored below 400 on the verbal SAT – that’s the 15th percentile, barely north of illiterate – or who were chronically absent from high school except on game days. There is no chance that a student so poorly prepared for college will earn a diploma. All he can do is generate money for the university.” [Gregg Easterbrook]

NBA

--What an incredible stretch for Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, who on Friday had his third straight triple-double in a 115-112 loss at Portland.

Friday...40 points 13 rebounds 11 assists
Thurs. ...39-14-11
Tues. ...20-11-10

And remember he’s just 6’3”. Westbrook became the first to string three triple-doubles since LeBron James in 2009.

He also tied LeBron (2007-08) and Dwyane Wade (2006-07) for the most 30 point, 10 assist games in one month in the last 15 seasons at 5.

For the season, Westbrook is averaging 26.5 ppg, 8.1 assists, 6.8 reb, 2.0 steals.

But he also suffered a fracture in his right cheek at the end of Friday’s game, had surgery on it, and sat out Sunday’s contest against the Lakers.

--On Thursday, LeBron proved he’s still king, scoring a season-high 42 points and hauling in 11 rebounds as Cleveland beat Golden State 110-99 for their 18th victory in 20 games. In the process James totally outplayed fellow MVP candidate Stephen Curry, who was just 5-of-17 from the field on his way to 18 points, only six after the first quarter.

But then LeBron was given the next night off and the Cavs lost to the Pacers (24-34) 93-86.

And on Sunday, LeBron and the Cavs (37-24) lost in Houston 105-103 in OT, with the Rockets moving to 41-18.

It was LeBron’s second matchup against another MVP contender, James Hardin, and Hardin had 33 to LeBron’s 37, though both made less than 50% of their field goal attempts.

--At one point the Washington Wizards were 31-15, but then they lost 11 of 13 before beating Detroit Saturday night. All kinds of grumblings in D.C. What had looked like a promising postseason is very much in question.

--Picture paying good money Saturday night to see your favorite Phoenix Suns host San Antonio and then have the Suns score 24 points in the first half...24 (fewest in franchise history), shooting 8-of-43 from the field (18.6%) as the Spurs took a 51-24 lead on their way to a 101-74 victory.

--Despite resting four starters, the Atlanta Hawks moved to 47-12 Saturday in beating Miami 93-91.

--The Chicago Bulls received good news on the Derrick Rose front. After his knee surgery was deemed successful, the team is confident he won’t be out more than six weeks.

--Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan is connecting on 72% of his field goal attempts, but just 41% of his free throws. His career success rate at the foul line is .422; the worst in NBA history through his age 26 season.

Last week the San Antonio Spurs put Jordan on the line 28 times, the third-most by anyone in a game since 2000, and Jordan hit just 10. There’s your “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy the rest of the way.

*Sunday, the Clippers (39-21) beat the Bulls (37-23) in Chicago 96-86 as Jordan had 26 rebounds, his eighth straight game with 15 or more. But he was 5-of-12 from the foul line.

--Former NBA player Anthony Mason succumbed to his battle with congestive heart failure. There had been stories that after suffering a massive heart attack, he was improving, but he died Saturday. Mason was just 48.

I wrote of his career recently and won’t rehash it but Knicks fans will remember him fondly for his fiery play. Teaming with Patrick Ewing, John Starks and Charles Oakley, the Knicks, under then-coach Pat Riley, had an entertaining and successful run but just couldn’t get over the hump, losing in the 1994 NBA Finals to the Houston Rockets in seven games. As Ewing said on learning of Mason’s passing, “Mase came to play every night and was always ready to go to battle with me every time we stepped on the court together.”

Mason won the NBA’s Sixth Man Award in 1994-95 as a member of the Knicks.

He grew up in Queens, played his college basketball at Tennessee State University, then played in Turkey and Venezuela after being waived by Portland, who had drafted him in the third round of the 1988 draft. Eventually he found his way to the Knicks after short stints with the New Jersey Nets and Denver. 

It was Pat Riley who gave Mase his chance and as his longtime agent, Don Cronson, told ESPN.com’s Ian O’Connor, “Anthony willed himself into the NBA, and very few players can do that. Any NBA team could’ve had him for a nickel, and he turned out to be the perfect Pat Riley player.”

--Yes, those Mason, Ewing, Oakley teams were fun. This year’s 12-46 edition far from it.

The New York Daily News’ Mike Lupica, on the upcoming one-year anniversary of Phil Jackson coming back to the Garden to run things.

“The truth is that one year into this, Knicks fans have no idea whether or not Jackson – and that means Jackson, basketball executive, not basketball coach – has the game to build even a good team, much less a great one. Jason Kidd’s young and athletic Milwaukee Bucks, less than a year into Kidd’s time in Milwaukee, are closer to being a real contender for the title than the Knicks are, or might be anytime soon.

“That doesn’t mean that Jackson can’t do the job before he goes back to Los Angeles for good, and that means before he gets anywhere near the end of his five-year and $60 million deal. It’s just that in his official year of living dangerously at the Garden, he has given nobody – starting with the man who hired him – any indication that he can.”

--Earl Lloyd, the first black player in NBA history, died Thursday, age 86.

Lloyd averaged 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds in 560 regular-season games over nine seasons with Washington, Syracuse and Detroit, making his NBA debut in 1950 for the Washington Capitals.

In 1955, Lloyd and Jim Tucker became the first two black players on an NBA championship team with the Syracuse Nationals.

Lloyd said he never had to deal with racial animosity when it came to his teammates and opposing players, but spectators were a different issue.

Lloyd played his college ball at historically black West Virginia State.

MLB

--Los Angeles Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton suffered a drug relapse involving the use of cocaine and alcohol in the offseason. He has a well-documented history of substance abuse and had been suspended from baseball from February 2004 to June 2006 for related issues.

Hamilton met with Major League Baseball officials in New York on Wednesday and there is no word on his penalty as yet.

One story has it that Hamilton voluntarily went to MLB, that there was no failed test. Earlier this month he underwent shoulder surgery and was to be out at least until May, though for some reason the Angels allowed him to stay at a friend’s house in Houston while he rehabs instead of doing so at the team’s spring training facilities in Arizona.

One of the conditions of Hamilton’s reinstatement in 2006 was that he undergo drug testing three times a week. He’s had two alcohol relapses (2009 and 2012), but in between had an A.L. MVP season with Texas in 2010 and appeared in back-to-back World Series for the Rangers.

But then he signed the monstrous five-year, $125 million deal with the Angels prior to the 2013 season.

Adam Kilgore / Washington Post

“On the night of Oct. 22, 2010, Josh Hamilton stood outside the Texas Rangers clubhouse, drenched in sticky ginger ale and clutching the American League Championship Series MVP trophy. He would not walk inside a locker room full of Korbel-spraying teammates. The stinging-hot smell of alcohol wafted into the hallway. ‘Oh, no,’ Hamilton said. ‘I smell champagne.’

“His eyes bulged. He shook his head. Even at the apex of his baseball career, Hamilton remained wary of his worst impulses. He was still afraid of himself.

“Did he allow himself to relax and release those fears? Did the fear overwhelm him? How Hamilton lost this round of the fight within him, only he could say. But back then, when he reached the World Series to cap an MVP season, Hamilton clearly knew his battle with addiction would last the rest of his life. He could not ever declare victory.”

Mike Vaccaro / New York Post

“We know well the scarlet letters Alex Rodriguez must affix to his pinstriped jersey from now until the end of his playing days and beyond: ‘C’ for ‘cheater,’ ‘L’ for ‘liar,’ and of course ‘S.’ in block type, in the loudest, brightest shade of scarlet possible, for ‘steroid.’

“He knows it, too. Be as jaded as you want as you see the daily penance he serves around autograph seekers. Be as cynical as you want parsing his daily observations for depth and sorrow and regret. The subject he keeps coming back to is the same one: he has been humbled, and it is a humbling that has taken hold....

“You can go up and down the list of those who have been either exposed as steroid cheats or linked to them with circumstantial evidence ranging from sketchy to overwhelming: There forever will be people incapable of separating the player from the sinner, the athlete from the transgressor. Rodriguez may be the most prominent, or may be forced into a virtual Mount Rushmore from Hell alongside Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, but anyone who ever has been stained by steroids has gotten the same treatment:

“We’ll let you play. But we won’t let you forget.

“Which is interesting, given the way we seemingly bent over backwards, sideways and diagonally to forgive athletes involved in baseball’s previous drug scourge. If you are old enough to remember what the 1980s were like, you remember cocaine as a daily part of your life...it was omnipresent, especially if you were a sports fan.

“There was the awful night Len Bias died, of course, followed only eight days later by the death of football player Don Rogers. There were the Mets, whose two signature players – Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry – had Hall of Fame careers trampled by the drugs, and whose most popular player, Keith Hernandez, testified at a Pittsburgh drug trial in which baseball was an unindicted co-conspirator and famously declared coke ‘a demon in me’ and ‘the devil on this earth.’

“Strange, though: few of the players who wound up caught in that cocaine dragnet ever had to face lasting ramifications....

Tim Raines admitted he slid into bases head-first so as not to damage the vials of coke he harbored in the back pocket of his uniform pants...and now he is probably the people’s choice among all baseball fans to make the Hall of Fame.

Paul Molitor’s name surfaced during the Pittsburgh trial. He admitted to using both cocaine and marijuana as a young player. He sailed into the Hall of Fame...

“It’s something of a relevant topic now, too, because Josh Hamilton met with Major League Baseball about an apparent relapse he had this offseason....Most people with compassion understand that when you are dealing with addiction, the fight is every day and forever. Hamilton deserved a measure of empathy and still does.

“But is that the reason why we as a public are quick to forgive how much damage cocaine caused the sport? Not everyone who used was an abuser; most were just kid knuckleheads, looking for good times.....

“We already know what likely will be in the first paragraph of the obituaries of every steroid cheat. That’s their fate. And maybe that’s fair. But we have proven ourselves capable of forgiveness in the past, of moving on, of moving ahead. Can that ever happen for Alex Rodriguez and the others who made the mistake of choosing juice instead of junk as their self-destructive chemical of choice?”

--Staying on topic, former MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent ripped A-Rod on Canada’s TSN “Offside” program.

“I think the Rodriguez situation is a travesty. It’s a remarkable episode in American sports, largely because he’s 40 years old, he’s been telling us over and over that A) he did it, and B) how sorry he is,” said Vincent. “Then when (A-Rod) gets caught again, he says, ‘No I didn’t do it,’ and expects us to believe it.

“The only guy who ever believed him was Mike Francesa on The FAN in New York, who made a fool of himself, believing A-Rod and slamming Selig, when it turned out all along that baseball was 100% correct.”

As reported by Christian Red of the New York Daily News:

“Vincent added that A-Rod is a ‘sad figure’ who the fans now have to endure as he tries to make his baseball comeback.

“ ‘The Yankees owe him money, because they made a terrible deal. We have to put up with it,’ said Vincent. ‘I have no interest in Alex Rodriguez. I think he’s a disgrace. I don’t think we owe him anything as a fan base. I think the sooner it’s over the better. I do not find him attractive. I can feel sorry for him because he’s so stupid. But I can’t really feel very sorry for him.’”

--White Sox pitcher Chris Sale broke his foot unloading stuff from his truck. Sale said it was “just a freak incident. I’ve done it a million times and this time it didn’t work out so well.”

He was in the truck and landed awkwardly jumping off. It seems he is out at least three weeks, which will obviously impact his Opening Day status.

--We note the passing of former major league pitcher Don Johnson, 88. In 1947, the right-hander was the talk of spring training, the Yankees’ most promising rookie. He was a fireballer with a Bob Feller-like leg kick, as noted by Bruce Weber of the New York Times, and in April, Johnson won his first major league start, pitching all 10 innings in a 3-2 win over the Athletics. He won his next start, too – another complete game, 3-1 over the Senators.

But Don Johnson won just three more games for the Yanks and bounced around thereafter with a number of clubs, going 27-38 overall with an unimpressive 4.78 ERA.

He had all kinds of injury issues, and numerous self-inflicted wounds, but in 70 career big league starts, he did have five shutouts.

Years later, Johnson appeared at the 2010 Yankees Old-Timers’ Day, and he recalled, “I was no superstar, but I played with the best players who ever lived, referring to teammates who included Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto. “Joe DiMaggio liked me. He took me under his wing. He said, ‘Stay off the booze and away from the broads.’”

Johnson was asked if he took the advice.

“Hell, no,” he said.

--I just learned of the passing of Minnie Minoso, baseball’s first black Latino ballplayer and Chicago’s first black player in 1951. He was 90.

I may have more on Minnie next time, but the Havana-born player was incredibly popular and more than a few believe he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Minnie played 12 of his 17 seasons with the White Sox and over his career hit .298 (.304 in Chicago) with eight .300 seasons and four 100-RBI campaigns. He also led the A.L. in triples and stolen bases three times.

And Minoso appeared in nine All-Star games and won three Gold Gloves for his play in left field.

White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said, “We have lost our dear friend and a great man. Many tears are falling.”

Minoso was a true Chicago legend. White Sox fan Barack Obama released a statement saying Minoso “will always be Mr. White Sox.”

Minoso is one of only two players to appear in a major league game in five different decades, first coming up with Cleveland in 1949. He got his final hit in 1976 at age 53 and went 0 for 2 in two games in 1980 for the White Sox.

--Finally, I have to update the story of Wake Forest outfielder Kevin Jordan.    It was four years ago Jordan had transplant surgery and he’s on the team today, a redshirt junior who is slated to graduate this spring.

As Cherin C. Poovey wrote in the spring edition of Wake Forest Magazine:

“It will take more than a life-threatening illness, transplant surgery and a fifth year of college to make up for lost time to put the brakes on Kevin Jordan’s dream of playing professional baseball. The Atlanta Braves cap on his head, with its distinctive red ‘A’ logo, hits such a notion out of the park.

“In the inspirational story of this Wake Forest outfielder, the A may very well stand for Attitude – as in positive. Or for his A game – as in a mindset instilled in him by a loving family. Both A’s, it turns out, have been modeled for him every day for the last five years by his coach, Tom Walter, the man whose kidney saved Jordan’s life.

“(Four years after the surgery), the two remain connected, physically and emotionally, by more than a vital organ; they share drive, commitment and a mutual dream: that after Jordan’s graduation in May, he’ll get his chance to play in the Major Leagues. ‘He deserves a chance to play,’ says Walter. ‘He has the physical skills and the mental wherewithal to do it.’ Jordan thinks his story would inspire others to never give up on their dream....

“It was 2010, Jordan’s freshman year, when doctors determined the star athlete from Columbus, Georgia, suffered from an autoimmune virus, which was attacking his body and zapping his strength. From January to June he had gone from being a first-round draft pick by the New York Yankees out of high school to a sick student on a college campus 400 miles from family. He barely knew anyone and had already dropped 40-some pounds from his once 180-pound frame.”

Jordan stayed in school, carrying a full course load, attended baseball practice even though he couldn’t play, hooked himself up to a dialysis machine each night, and waited for a kidney. As I wrote back then, that’s when Walter stepped up.

It’s easily one of the great stories in recent memory. Jordan’s also black. Walter is white. Both have adjusted well and Jordan, now 23, has gained 60 pounds to 200 of solid muscle.

The season is young and I don’t know if Jordan has had some injury issues but through Saturday he had just 9 official at-bats with one hit in the first ten games. Early season college baseball is so difficult, given the normally awful weather conditions, even in North Carolina this February. 

But I’ll follow Jordan the rest of the season and hopefully, even if he doesn’t play that well for the Deacs, some major league team will give him a shot.

[He’ll pick up his degree May 18. Go Deacs!]

I do have to add one other note in looking at the early Wake stats. Our three best players have been freshmen, which is encouraging, and one, pitcher Parker Dunshee from Zionsville, Indiana, is off to a spectacular start. 3-0, 20.1 innings, 0 earned runs, 4 walks, 28 strikeouts. As Ronald Reagan would have said, ‘Not bad, not bad at all.’

NFL

--The Browns signed veteran quarterback Josh McCown. While he didn’t have a good year last season for Tampa Bay, he’s been around and at least can mentor Johnny Manziel and Connor Shaw; which means they won’t be re-signing Brian Hoyer, who becomes a free agent. McCown was also thought to be in the running to go to Buffalo, Chicago or the Jets.

--The Lions released running back Reggie Bush, basically to free up cap space so they can re-sign defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who can become a free agent.

Bush, 30, can still play but only if he can healthy. He only played in 11 games last year, finishing with 297 yards rushing.

--I’m always playing catchup with my reading, especially the periodicals like ESPN The Magazine, and in their Feb. 16 issue there is a piece by Mike Fish on gambler Billy Walters, by many accounts the world’s most successful sports better the past four decades.

Walters gained some notoriety last spring of a different sort with reports that he, Phil Mickelson and billionaire investor Carl Icahn were profiting from insider trading on a few stocks, which all three deny any wrongdoing in but the case remains open, as far as I can tell.

In terms of Bar Chat, though, ESPN interviewed one of Walters ‘runners’ in Vegas who would handle some of his sports bets. When it comes to the NFL, for example, here is how Walters often operates, specifically one of his keys to success.

“Some of his bets were intentional losers, designed to manipulate the bookmakers’ odds. Walters might bet $50,000 on a team giving 3 points, then $75,000 more on the same team when the line reaches 3.5. The moment the line gets to 4, a runner is instructed to immediately place a larger bet – perhaps $250,000 – on the other team. The $125,000 on the initial lines will be lost, but if things go according to plan, the $250,000 on the other side will win enough to make up for it many times over. Walters uses the same method on multiple games, often risking millions each weekend.”

[There’s nothing illegal about manipulating lines.]

Golf Balls

--The PGA Tour had some of its worst weather ever on Saturday at the Honda Classic (Jack’s tournament) and so we go to a Monday morning finish with Paul Casey and Ian Poulter tied at -7 (Casey thru 9 and Poulter thru 7). Patrick Reed is one back, Phil Mickelson three back with plenty of holes to go.

--On missing the cut in his U.S. debut this year, Rory McIlroy said, “Yeah, I’m pissed off.” Others of note missing the cut, Justin Rose, Billy Horschel, Keegan Bradley and Dustin Johnson. D.J. has played four weeks in a row and after a T4 and P2 his previous two events, perhaps a little fatigue set in.

NASCAR

--Following up his win at Daytona, Joey Logano took the pole for Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but NASCAR had a big black eye when 13 drivers didn’t get on the track for qualifying Friday after failing to pass inspection, a situation Jeff Gordon called “absolutely embarrassing.”

Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth were among those stuck in the paddock. But at least most of those who didn’t get out are in the field based on their points from last season, though starting way in the back.

Well I wrote the above on Saturday and Sunday, with temperatures in the 40s and the race delayed by rain, Jimmie Johnson, starting 37th, won his 71st career race, besting Kevin Harvick. For Harvick, who was second at Daytona, it was the fifth straight race going back to last year, when he was Sprint Cup Champion, where he finished first or second.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was third and Logano fourth.

--I always get a kick out of those who say race drivers aren’t athletes.   Here is how NASCAR expert Tom Jensen answered the question in the Washington Post.

“After Jimmie Johnson, who had won his record fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, was nominated for an ESPY Award in 2011, then-Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate launched a Twitter salvo against him: ‘I’ve driven a car on unknown roads at night at 90mph no big deal. No sign of athletism [sic].’

“More recently, Keith Olbermann of ESPN tweeted about NASCAR drivers: ‘If they’re athletes, then so’s every NYC cab driver and anybody doing 70 in 8 packed lanes on any LA freeway.’

“The fact is, racing a car at high speeds for three hours at a time requires athleticism and peak fitness. Upper-body strength is especially important and has been correlated with better performance on the track. Inside the cars, temperatures routinely top 110 degrees, conditions that demand excellent cardiovascular health. And hand, eye and foot coordination is as relevant for NASCAR drivers as it is for other pro athletes. At some tracks, cornering loads are as high as three G’s; drivers must be able to ‘save’ a sliding racecar from hitting the wall at 200mph, significantly faster than the top speed of a typical car on the road.

“To keep up, Johnson, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne and others maintain grueling, sophisticated training regimens that include marathons, triathlons and carefully monitored diets. Edwards underwent a series of athletic tests with the ESPN Sports Science team in 2011, after which host John Brenkus declared: ‘The fact is, these guys are phenomenal athletes whose sport requires incredible strength, endurance and lightning-fast reaction times...NASCAR drivers are some of the best athletes on the planet.’”

So there.

Premier League Standings (thru Sunday)

1. Chelsea 26 games...60 points
2. Man City 27...55
3. Arsenal 27...51
4. Man U 27...50
5. Liverpool 27...48
6. Southampton 27...46
7. Tottenham 26...44
8. Swansea 27...40

Yes, Chelsea and Tottenham have a game in hand, Chelsea defeating the Spurs on Sunday in the League Cup final 2-0 (less important than the FA Cup). But if Tottenham is to continue to give itself a shot for the Champions League it needs to defeat Swansea on Wednesday.

--In the weekend’s marquee matchup, Liverpool dealt Manchester City’s title hopes a huge blow, winning 2-1 in a highly entertaining contest at Anfield...three spectacular goals.

--Saturday, Manchester United defeated Sunderland 2-0 with Wayne Rooney scoring both goals. The significance of this is that he set a record in hitting double figures in Premier League goals for an 11th straight season.

--Improving West Brom dealt Southampton’s Champions League bid a serious blow with a 1-0 win.

Leonard Nimoy

Steve Chawkins / Los Angeles Times

“When Leonard Nimoy was approached about acting in a new TV series called ‘Star Trek,’ he was, like any good Vulcan contemplating a risky mission in a chaotic universe, dispassionate.

“ ‘I really didn’t give it a lot of thought,’ he later recalled. ‘The chance of this becoming anything meaningful was slim.’

“By the time ‘Star Trek’ finished its three-year run in 1969, Nimoy was a cultural touchstone – a living representative of the scientific method, a voice of pure reason in a time of social turmoil, the unflappable and impeccably logical Mr. Spock.”

Nimoy had appeared in plenty of shows up until getting the “Star Trek” job, but never worked in one more than two weeks.

Leonard Simon Nimoy was born on March 26, 1931. His Ukrainian-born father, Max, ran a barber shop in a Boston tenement neighborhood.  At 17, Leonard was cast in a Boston production of a Clifford Odets play “Awake and Sing!” His parents weren’t happy and his father said, “Learn to play the accordion. You can always make a living with an accordion.”

Nimoy briefly studied drama at Boston College, sold vacuum cleaners, and, at 18, left for acting school in California.

But that didn’t work out, he did a stint in the Army, then went back to Los Angeles by the mid-1950s, studying acting and picking up parts on shows like “Dragnet,” “Bonanza,” “Dr. Kildare” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”

It was then in 1965 he drew the attention of Gene Roddenberry, the producer behind the upcoming “Star Trek” series.

Hank Stuever / Washington Post

“Everyone who was in the original ‘Star Trek’ TV series eventually came to terms with its pop-cult status, starting with the fact that ‘Star Trek’ is a life sentence.

“Surrender is the most logical choice. George Takei (Mr. Sulu) has happily reinvented himself as a sort of Oscar Wilde of the fast Facebook post. William Shatner (Captain Kirk) seemed to have exorcised the last of his ‘Star Trek’ demons long ago in a still famous 1986 sketch on ‘Saturday Night Live’ in which he played out his exasperation with the obsessed attendees of yet another ‘Star Trek’ convention at yet another Holiday Inn.

“Leonard Nimoy, who died Friday morning at 83 from obstructive pulmonary disease, also struggled for a while with the notion that no matter what else he did in his life and career (acting, directing, reciting ‘Desiderata’), he would always be Mr. Spock, the logically driven Vulcan he first played in the original ‘Star Trek’ TV series nearly 50 years ago.

“His first memoir was titled ‘I Am Not Spock.’ Twenty years later (once the ‘Star Trek’ movie franchise had validated his and his co-stars’ work and legitimized Trekdom for all) he wrote a second memoir, titled ‘I Am Spock.’

“Who could begrudge any of the original crew members of the USS Enterprise a moment (or a decade, or a lifetime) of identity crises? They signed up for Gene Roddenberry’s prime-time science fiction drama and the show did all right and lasted just long enough (79 episodes over three seasons on NBC) to sell off in syndicated rerun-ville.

“What Nimoy and the others did not know was that they would become the central icons in a new sort of religion, one that stood for science, logic, diversity and universal peace. In this religion, which came with an ever-expanding canon, Nimoy’s Spock served a role that was at once rabbinical and monastic, wise but not preachy, certain but not vain. Rarely has a character in that much makeup felt so perfectly in sync with the actor picked to play him....

“Nimoy and his co-stars taught us the real meaning, or maybe just the Hollywood meaning, of Spock’s trademark, green-blooded salutation: Live long and prosper.

“In that phrase fans can hear hopes for good health and success, but all these years later, we can hear something about giving in and being grateful for what you have.”

Stuff

--I have argued over the years that the Olympics should be scrapped with the focus shifting to each sport’s world championship. Economically it just makes sense.

So I’m reading a book review in The Economist, “Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup” by Andrew Zimbalist and I just have to quote a segment.

“In principle, there is no reason why hosting such events needs to be an economic own-goal. Between television rights, tickets sales, licensing and sponsorships, the most recent summer Olympics, in London, generated $5.2 billion in revenue. In a city with sufficient existing athletic, hotel and transport infrastructure, it would be easy to stage the competition for less than that figure and come away with a healthy profit – as Los Angeles did in the highly successful 1984 summer games. But over the past decades, the IOC, in particular, has appropriated an ever-greater share of the proceeds for itself: the most recent public data reveal that it now pockets more than 70% of Olympic television revenue, compared with less than 4% between 1960 and 1980. And there is little evidence to support the projections that hosting will bring a surge in tourism; Beijing and London both attracted fewer visitors during their summer Olympics in 2008 and 2012 respectively than they had in the same period a year earlier.”

And then you have the insistence on the part of both the IOC and FIFA that the sites build all new facilities, arguing the infrastructure projects “will provide continuing benefits long after the events end. Such claims are almost offensively misleading.”

Mr. Zimbalist points out the white elephants, such as a volleyball stadium in Athens overrun by squatters. In Brazil, site of last summer’s World Cup, one of the new stadiums that seats 40,000 is now used by a second-division team drawing 1,500 fans a game. “All of these structures cost millions of dollars a year to maintain, making the games’ costs their enduring ‘legacy.’”

--Some good news out of China for a change. According to a census by the State Forestry Administration released Saturday, the wild panda population has grown by 268 to a total of 1,864 since 2003.

China began surveying its giant pandas in the 1970s. This is good. Actually, great.

The survey shows 1,246 wild giant pandas live within nature reserves. Nearly three-quarters live in the southwestern province of Sichuan.

Female pandas give birth to about one cub every two years.

The number of giant pandas in captivity grew by 211, more than double the previous survey figure.

However, economic development remains a threat to the panda and its habitat. For example 319 hydropower stations and 1,339 kilometers of roads found their way into the survey; though at least poaching is on the decline. [South China Morning Post]

--According to American Kennel Club rankings released last week, Labrador retrievers reign again as the nation’s top dog for 2014, the 24th year after breaking poodles’ decades-old record in 2013. But bulldogs have hit a new high – No. 4 – while their bat-eared cousins, French bulldogs, sauntered into the top 10 for the first time in nearly a century.

German shepherds, golden retrievers and beagles are also in the top five, withi Yorkshire terriers, poodles, boxers and Rottweilers filling out the top 10. Dachsunds slipped from 10th to 11th. [Jennifer Peltz / Associated Press]

--In New York City, the most popular dog is the French bulldog, displacing the bulldog. Labrador retrievers, German shepherds and golden retrievers round out the top five. [Crain’s New York Business]

--From the Moscow Times: “A man in Moscow had the shock of his life when he awoke from an amorous encounter to discover that his testicles had been surgically removed.

“The 30-year-old man was sitting in a bar when a woman approached him and began chatting to him, he told LifeNews website this week. ‘We drank beer together, and then she suggested we go to a sauna. We went to the sauna, and after that I don’t remember anything,’ he was shown saying from his hospital bed.”

That’s it. No more saunas with beautiful women for me.

--If you were watching the pre-race action before the Daytona 500 last week, Bar Chat Hall of Famer Kid Rock gave a good performance of the title track for his new album, “First Kiss.” I see Rolling Stone gives the album 4 stars, with a great review.

But Kid Rock did catch some negative publicity for his Rolling Stone interview in the current edition. He disses Beyonce, saying he was “flabbergasted” by her success.

“Beyonce, to me, doesn’t have a [expletive] ‘Purple Rain,” referencing Prince’s 1984 album, considered his masterpiece, “but she’s the biggest thing on Earth.

“How can you that big without at least one ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ or ‘Old Time Rock & Roll’?”

So the ‘Beyhive’ fought back, spamming Kid Rock’s Instagram account.

Top 3 songs for the week 3/4/72: #1 “Without You” (Nilsson) #2 “Hurting Each Other” (Carpenters) #3 “Precious And Few” (Climax)...and...#4 “Down By The Lazy River” (The Osmonds...Marie not performing with her brothers yet...instead doing a Weight Watchers commercial...) #5 “Everything I Own” (Bread) #6 “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (Robert John) #7 “Heart Of Gold” (Neil Young...when this came out I thought it was America...) #8 “Let’s Stay Together” (Al Green) #9 “Sweet Seasons” (Carole King) #10 “Bang A Gong (Get It On)” (T. Rex)

Baseball Quiz Answer: 1) Last since Mike Trout to lead the A.L. in runs scored three seasons in a row...Mickey Mantle, 1956-58. 2) In 1968, the Cubs’ Glenn Beckert led the N.L. in runs scored with 98. Detroit’s Dick McAuliffe led the A.L. with 95.

Next Bar Chat, Thursday.